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GATE: The Janus Campaign

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Kiyone4ever, May 14, 2019.

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  1. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    I started this fic on September 4, 2017 over on the Sufficient Velocity forum. Now, after some 130K words, I bring it here to hopefully find a new batch of victims... err, readers.

    With appearances from characters from Gore Vidal's 'The Best Man', the acclaimed Television series MASH, nods to 'You're Under Arrest' and the 'Honorverse', it is with some trepidation I present:

    The Janus Campaign

    Every generation has moments, instants of time that transfix in the human memory. The moments that divide everything into 'before' and 'after'. The moments that men look back and ask: 'Where were you…'

    'Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?'

    'Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?'

    'Where were you when the Towers fell?'


    Sometimes these are momentous moments of accomplishment, of celebration.

    'Where were you when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon?'

    'Where were you when the Berlin Wall came down?'


    More often we recall the tragedies. The moments when the inconceivable happened.

    'Where were you when the Challenger blew up?'

    'Where were you….''

    'Where were you when The Gate opened and the world changed forever?'

    The opening of The Gate was an event that will be remembered both as a day of horrible brutality and terror but also as the day that our entire concept of our universe and our reality was challenged...

    Chapter 1: Tourist Season...

    It was two in the morning, Eastern time and President John Merwin was staring grimly down the table in the situation room. This was it. The first real test of an untried President.

    The 'Accidental President' Merwin thought to himself. Going into last summer's convention, It was assumed that either the veteran Secretary of State, William Russell or the Populist Senator Joseph Dirrell would be the party nominee and the presumed victor against a disorganized and fractured opposition. Merwin would never know why Russell had suddenly withdrawn from the race and thrown all of his considerable weight behind Merwin's candidacy and virtually assuring him the Presidency. All Russell had ever said was 'The best man won.' And with that, a relatively unknown governor had been set on the road to the nation's highest office. Once in office, Merwin quickly established himself as a leader who knew how to reach across party lines and build consensus. But this was different. This was his first test as a World Leader and like the Presidency itself had come literally out of nowhere. Now in the nerve center of the White House, the President was getting a report via satellite from Ambassador Stevens.

    "Tom? What's going on over there? It looks like a total mess from here but I need to know specifically what you and your staff are hearing now."

    "Hostiles are moving on the Government district, Mr. President. You probably have better information than I do on that sir."

    "Mr. President? If I may suggest something?" General Conyers, Commandant of the Marine Corps leaned forward in his seat.

    "By all means General."

    "We can evacuate our embassy. Using helicopters from Yokosuka and Yokota, we can get our people out, but…"

    "But many of the other embassies will probably be overrun." The President concluded.

    "Yes, Mr. President. " Conyers agreed. "On the other hand, Our embassy is closest to the Prime Minister's residence and the Diet. We should evacuate the other embassies there and use our choppers to reinforce. We'll be in a much better position to hold out until the Japanese can drive the invaders out."

    "Agreed." Merwin turned to the Secretary of State. "Henry, have your people pass the word. Advise every government to pull their people back to our embassy I mean everyone, Henry. The Russians, the Chinese, even the Iranians and the Syrians. Anybody who isn't a Roman wannabe."

    "Damn Boxer Rebellion all over again." Army Chief of Staff General Ramsey shook his head.

    "Marines held then. We'll do it again now." Conyers avowed.

    "That's what I wanted to hear General. Now… What about overland relief?"

    "I'm afraid not." The head of the Joint Chiefs warned. "We just don't have the equipment or manpower in place. We can start airlifting Marines from Okinawa but with what we have right now, we're better off sealing our own bases. With your permission, we can start mobilizing our air mobile units but then we have another matter to consider Mr. President."

    "Yes?"

    "Who is to say that the gate or whatever it is that opened up in Tokyo is a one off thing? We have to consider the possibility that what we're seeing in Tokyo could happen somewhere else."

    "Do you believe it will, General?"

    "My gut says no sir. I think what we are seeing is somebody's maximum effort. They saw an opportunity and they went full in. Truth is that this invasion or whatever it is is going to get ground up and spit out. The only question is how many civilians will be lost. Given that, I don't think we are up against an enemy with a strategic plan. That said, it's axiomatic in the military that we consider the worst way we could get hit and take precautions accordingly."

    "Point taken. That said, Oscar, I'll be sending you to Capitol Hill." Merwin addressed Vice-President Anderson. "Try to make them feel in the loop enough where they aren't all over the media second-guessing us."

    "What about Dirrell?"

    "I suppose I'll have to deal with him myself. Sorry, Oscar but we both know that Joseph Dirrell won't take a meeting with Saint Peter when he thinks he deserves the personal attention of the Lord Almighty himself!"

    "True enough John. But they tell me such are the burdens of the Presidency."

    "But DO tell his populousness that the mountain must call upon Prime Minister Hojo first." Merwin quipped.

    "Of course Mr. President."

    The President nodded, turning to his National Science Adviser, "Doctor Cole, while this is currently a military and political matter, there is still the question of just what the hell happened this morning. That portal or whatever it is, how does it work? Do we have the means to close it if necessary?Is it a natural phenomenon? If not, then how do we explain the idea that kind of tech is being utilized by people who don't seem to have invented gunpowder yet?"

    The worn and wrinkled physicist met the President's speculative gaze calmly. "Obviously, a direct scientific analysis will have to wait until the military and political situation allows but I will start contacting my peers and start at least trying to provide some grounded theories about what we are seeing.I will caution that until we can directly investigate the phenomenon, theories and speculation is all we can offer in the short run."

    "That will have to do. Get back to me with recommendations for who and what we need to begin a direct investigation as soon as possible." Merwin stood."Alright, gentlemen. We have our work cut out for us. Let's get to it."

    ***

    In Tokyo, Prime Minister Hojo set the phone down with a sigh. Having been evacuated to a secure location as soon as the magnitude of the events unfolding in Ginza had become apparent, he was already faced with one invasion. The last thing he, his party, and, indeed, many of his countrymen wished to see were reminders of the last one. His military advisors were confident they could handle sword-wielding savages but on the political front, the new American President had outflanked him. No. The Americans couldn't simply evacuate their embassy and wait. They were digging in and encouraging all the other foreign diplomats to join them.

    If the American embassy fell, it would be a disaster that his government would be blamed for. If the embassy held, then it would be a victory of 'American Defiance' in the face of overwhelming odds.

    Worse was President Merwin's polite but firm suggestion that he should invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty in this matter. Once that bottle was uncorked…

    He had calls to make. Damage control to be done.

    ***

    At the same time, in the streets of the city known to its inhabitants as Tokyo, the Imperial Legate was concerned. He was not concerned that victory would escape him. The people of this land were sheep! Aside from a few terrified mages who appeared to make up the feeble defenses of this realm and either quickly ran or died or both, they were faced with a weak people who scurried like rats before his troops.

    No. He was not afraid of losing. He was concerned with the state of his legions. Perhaps it had been the obvious wealth of this land that had made its people so complacent and unworthy of battle. Perhaps. But his problem was that this obvious wealth was proving a dangerous temptation, especially to his auxiliaries. They had the right of plunder of course, as any conquering army did, but the riches here were tempting his soldiers to loot before he had secured their victory. He understood that the Emperor expected slaves and ample plunder but he was going to have to put some discipline back into his army and he was going to have a very long talk with the young commander of his 5th Legion. The Viscount was an arrogant boy whose political connections and family name had carried him to a place of leadership far in excess of his abilities as a soldier. The supply train had not even fully cleared the Gate and the little whelp was already sending plunder and slaves back for his close friend Prince Zorzal!

    If he doesn't get control of his men and start acting like a soldier, I don't care who his patrons are! I'll have his hide!

    And there was his other concern: He needed to find a suitable location to camp his supply wagons and the wives and children of his army. Though he would send out foraging parties, he could not count on any meaningful results until he learned more about this land. This campaign having been thrown together much too quickly for his liking with not even a basic scouting before the entire expedition had been fully committed.

    But it is the Emperor's command. As soldiers, we will adapt and overcome. Tonight I will lie beside my wife and grumble an old soldier's complaints and she will laugh softly 'The familiar rumblings of an old bear!' It will be welcome as it always is.

    But no time for that now. There is much to be done.
    To the West, 7th Legion was pushing on a concentration of what appeared to be the local militia. To the North, his crack 1st and 3rd Legions were preparing to move on what appeared to be a palace of some sort. He needed to have his siege engines brought up. To the east, 6th Legion had occupied what appeared to be a very large market of some kind. Apparently, fishing was a major industry here. That would at least alleviate some of his worries about a local food supply though it wouldn't help with forage for his horses. In the South, 2nd, 4th, and 9th Legions were driving hard with little opposition except for a couple of isolated outposts which had been easily overrun, and a large tower whose defenders had already slain the commander of 2nd Legion and inflicted severe casualties. The Legate was confident that 1st and 3rd Legions could handle the objective in front of them. He needed to take charge of the battle to the South. Once that was in hand he would decide where to direct his supply wagons and summon the commander of the 5th Legion for explanations...

    ***

    It was only shortly after that the wagons of the supply train finally cleared the Gate, Octavia, wife of Germanicus, Legate of the Imperial Army, spared a glance at the immense towers around her. This city was like nothing she had ever seen. The closest she could compare it to was possibly Rondel. Was this a city of wizards? She briefly wondered then shook her head. She had work to do. Though of course having no official standing in the Army, as the wife of its commanding Legate, her instructions were treated as if they came from the Legate himself. Officers ignored her 'suggestions' at their peril.

    Behind her in the center of the column, the wagons carrying the wives of senior officers and their children, (including her own daughter and sons.) were well protected. In addition to the normal household servants and slaves, she had several Warrior Bunnies guarding the children These were a long time in service to her house, from a small tribe which had nearly been wiped out by more powerful neighbors. She knew they would guard their charges with an unmatched ferocity.

    By now, she knew most of the wives well enough that they understood their role. There were a few young women who were new to all of this. She took a personal interest in guiding them. And then there were a few she would simply have to tolerate, such as Lady Agrippina. The brainless, spoiled twit just happened to be the daughter of a prominent Senator and the new wife of the commander of the 8th Legion. Apparently, the twit had insisted on accompanying the army in order to assure herself better pickings of the loot and treasures of this new land. So Octavia had assigned her the task of watching over the scribes who would enumerate and record any treasures taken. The greedy little idiot thanked me for my consideration. Well, at least it will keep her out of my way.

    There were animals that needed to be rendered. She ordered messengers to inquire as to where a source of clean water might be found. Bandages to be readied for the wounded. As soon as her husband sent word as to where the Army would camp, she would send out workers to dig ditches for sanitation. Compared to the work in fighting an army, the task of feeding and caring for that army was a much more difficult task. Enough of that! Your husband will well deserve his triumph when we return home. And his triumph is yours. Is it not enough, Octavia? She chided herself mildly.

    As she waited for a messenger from her husband, she was surprised to see soldiers escorting captives toward the Gate. It seemed a completely inappropriate timing to her. Briefly, she watched them. All in shock, terrified. A particularly pretty girl trying to hold on to a young man but was pulled away from him. It was unlikely they would ever see each other again. For a moment she pitied the girl. Perhaps she would inquire about the girl later.

    In the meantime, a dispatch rider arrived to direct heavy siege engines. The same rider also carried a message directing the supply wagons to move south to where the 6th and 11th Legions were holding along a river. 12th Legion would hold the area around the Gate. But if word from her husband was welcome, Octavia was beginning to become aware of other things that were more worrisome: Overhead, she should have been able to see signs of the dragon riders that served as scouts for the army. She had not seen a sign of them. There were plenty of explanations for this naturally, but it troubled her nonetheless.

    ***

    Now, at this point, In any discussion of the Battle of Ginza, it is useful to consider the unique considerations that shaped it. While the invasion was; from any practical point of view, doomed to fail at the start, The success of the 1st Division under General Hazama was no means assured. While it seems implausible that an army, no matter how large, using swords, spears, longbows, and horse cavalry could defeat a modern army complete with machine guns, tanks, and attack helicopters, we must consider that the Imperial Army that entered Ginza consisted of some twenty legions, totaling 100,000 combatants. General Hazama's 1st Division consisted of only 6,300. Even this is an inaccurate comparison when one considers the true number of troops available at the point of contact was probably closer to 2,000 given that the component 34th and 32nd regiments did not respond out of Camp Nerima, where the 1st Regiment and the core support and logistical formations of 1st Division were based, but from other, more distant bases. The 34th Regiment responding out of Gotenba and the 32nd Regiment coming down from Saitama.

    It can be questioned whether the number of JSDF troops engaged could have had any effect on the possible outcomes of the battle, but it can and should be noted that the mere possession of superior technology has not always guaranteed victory in battle. The Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 between the Zulu nation and the British Empire being a prime example, where a force of some 20,000 Zulu's armed mostly with traditional spears attacked a mixed force of some 1,800 British and Colonial troops, inflicting some 60% casualties with a loss of 1,000 of their own.

    While near universally, all such victories tend to be short lived and repaid with devastating retaliatory results, it is clearly possible that under other conditions, the Empire could have overrun and destroyed the 1st Regiment and done considerably greater damage than they actually inflicted during the Battle in Tokyo.

    It is to be certain that the JSDF had the overwhelming advantage in technology and sheer firepower but it must be noted that the conditions of the battlefield greatly inhibited the full use of those advantages. Fighting in the streets of the largest city in the world was simply not an environment for heavy divisional artillery and although the use of attack helicopters would effectively blind the Imperial Army's scouting ability, the operation of those helicopters was severely curtailed amid the urban canyons. The great advantage in mobility was also rendered virtually moot as the JSDF's columns pressed through a city in panic. While the relief of the Imperial Palace was a demonstration of the firepower of a modern infantry, much of the fighting was of the ugly, close-in variety at the platoon and squad level.

    Conversely, the Imperial Army was operating under equally debilitating circumstances. Circumstances that deprived the Imperials of the ability to concentrate their vastly superior numbers against the JSDF even if they had realized a need to do so,

    Unique to the operating conditions of the Imperial Army was that unlike a conventional invasion with a definable target which one could approach along a focused line of advance, the Imperial Army was literally thrust into the center of an unknown enemy. The nature of the Gate and lack of advanced scouting meant that every direction was a possible axis of threat or opportunity. This mandated that the army would be broken into its component legions. As the old saying went:' It proved much easier to break the many branches than the tree itself.'

    It may help to consider the Gate as the center of a clock face. By necessity, the 20 legions were evenly deployed to all points, with one legion assigned to cover the Gate itself. But the units deployed from the one o'clock to five O'clock positions quickly reached the west bank of the Sumida river. This being a seemingly secure flank, requiring minimal coverage, only three of the eight legions deployed here were considered necessary to hold. The other five being quickly sent west. In the event, these 25,000 troops would only make matters worse for the Imperial Army as events progressed.

    ***

    Hours later, President Merwin set down the hastily written draft of the address he was preparing to give shortly as a very grim General Ramsey entered the Oval Office.

    "General, the look on your face tells me things just got worse. The embassy?" Merwin guessed, anticipating the worst.

    "The embassy is holding firm. They've held off three assaults so far. Looks like someone's got his drawers in a twist about it too Looks like they're pulling in more troops, preparing for another attack. But that's not what has us worried."

    "Let's have it."

    "There is a hospital, St. Luke's, is completely surrounded. The University campus next door is occupied. We're looking at thousands of civilians trapped."

    "Can we evacuate by helicopter?" Merwin had the unhappy feeling it wouldn't be that easy.

    "Not possible."

    "No helipad?"

    "No helipad. The embassy at least is next to the Akasaka Intercity Tower, which has one. At St. Luke's there is simply no place to even improvise one. The grounds around the hospital are completely overrun."

    "That's just great! Any suggestions?"

    "No good ones. We can land troops on the other side of the river and commandeer boats. Make a cross river assault but that will take time. And lord only knows what will happen in the meantime." The General sighed. "At least we got one lucky break."

    "What's that?"

    "It's August. There's an elementary school next to the university. At least it's summer break."

    "Thank God for that." The President agreed.


    ***

    On the grounds of the Hamarikyu Gardens, Octavia found the commander of the 6th Legion setting up his command tent.

    "It is good to find a place with grass and trees. These towers make me uneasy." 6th Legion's legate admitted to Octavia.

    "Indeed. Still, I must admit that this land must have impressive builders."

    "All brain and no spine though." The Legate replied. "Will they do nothing to protect their homes even?"

    "I noticed much writing here," Octavia observed. " Most of it is strange but I see writing that looks like the High Tongue. Have you found anyone who can speak the High Tongue? That would be very useful."

    "We have taken prisoners. I will have the scribes check to see if any speak our tongues."

    "If so, treat them well and bring them to me. I would speak with them. And of course, if anyone speaks the Father Tongue or the Learned Tongue, I would see them as well."

    "Of course, milady."

    "I've been accused of a great many things, general. Being a lady is seldom one." She answered wryly.


    ***

    To Be Continued
     
  2. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 2: Ask For Directions

    Gone were the rings under his eyes, the outward signs of worry and stress covered by the veteran army of makeup and wardrobe people. Political leadership was part substance and part appearance and heaven help you if you forgot that. In a time of crisis, the people needed The President, a wise and confident fountain of strength and will, not the mere mortal man who had doubts and worries. In politics, empathy was laudable. Fear and worry were unacceptable.

    Displaying a face of firm confidence and determination, President Merwin looked directly ahead and addressed a nation, and a world waiting to see what kind of man America's President was.

    "Good afternoon. By now most of us have heard the reports of the sudden, unprovoked attack in Tokyo. We know nothing as to who is responsible or what motives they may have, but we know that such aggression must not be left unanswered. In the face of such bald aggression, we cannot think of this as a Japanese problem. It is nothing less than a challenge to all of us who live on this good Earth. Japanese, Americans, Russians, Chinese, French, German, Korean… Whatever our creed, we are all neighbors in a shared community of nations.

    Make no mistake. Today's unfolding tragedy in Tokyo could just as easily have been in Washington or New York, or Moscow, or London, or Paris, or Beijing. Or perhaps in Singapore, or Nairobi. Some nation where the sheer force of numbers we are witnessing might prove irresistible. Until we know more about this enemy, we must prepare. For both war and peace. Destruction as well as reconciliation.

    The first step must be to secure the safety of populations now under threat. To that end, and after discussion with the Prime Minister of Japan and in consultation with our allies, I am invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between ourselves and Japan. It will not be the policy of this government to stand idly by while the citizens of one of our closest allies are under attack. I direct that our armed forces in Japan will coordinate with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and act promptly and judiciously in securing the safety of lives and the integrity of sovereign soil.

    But this can only be a first step. It shall be our policy to seek out those who have orchestrated this assault, that they may answer for it. And to take whatever steps are necessary and possible to attain peace and security.

    But beyond that, I ask all of you who are watching or listening to me now to look beyond the tragedy and terror of this day I want you all to consider for a moment that those who have attacked Japan on this day are of no nation known on Earth. Wherever they come from and however they arrived here, they represent peoples formerly unknown to us.

    Consider that for a moment: Whatever system of beliefs we may hold, we can no longer hold ourselves as the lump sum of creation. What we choose to do with that knowledge is up to each of us:

    We can react either with fear or with hope. It would be natural to be afraid. There are unknown minds and voices outside our cozy little world. It unsettles us. This is perfectly natural.

    But I implore my fellow citizens of this world to move beyond fear. We no longer sit alone in an empty universe. We must hope. To reach out to those other voices in the cosmos. To teach if we are called upon, to learn if we are fortunate.

    Let us go forward in dedication and firm conviction. Under the grace of Almighty God, we will secure our righteous victory and then guided by his wisdom we can secure a just and lasting peace.

    God bless us all.

    Amen."


    ***


    The official authorization aside, the available US forces were already in motion insofar as there was much that they could do. While Marines assigned to USS Ronald Reagan had been ferried to reinforce the US Embassy, the bulk of American infantry power stationed in Japan; the Marines of 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, were either in Okinawa or aboard the Assault Ship Bonhomme Richard, now conducting maneuvers off Australia.

    But wars are fought with what is available and not with what one would wish to have on hand. To that end, the Captains of the ships based at Yokosuka, many of whom had experience patrolling the coast of East Africa where Somali pirates still raided unwary shipping, deployed ship's cutters with detachments of men equipped with M14 battle rifles to proceed up the Sumida river and engage hostiles situated on the west bank of the river.

    To the west, lead elements of the Japanese 1st Regiment first made contact with the 7th Legion. General Hazama ordered his lead companies to drive through the enemy without stopping until they reached the Imperial Palace. As much as the imbalance in technology, it was this aggressive charge which caught the 7th Legion off guard, expecting to be the ones attacking, they anticipated swarming and overwhelming a static defense. Hazama's companies cut through the enemy like a chainsaw in a daisy patch, with the general only authorizing his trailing company to break from his column and directly engage the enemy.

    The Commander of the 7th Legion died unable to comprehend what was happening as he attempted to lead a charge against the Type 87 armored scout vehicles of Hazama's Reconnaissance Company. Bereft of its commander, 7th Legion disintegrated in chaos and confusion, the individual cohorts acting with neither understanding or cohesion. Some tried to attack. Most froze in place, unable to understand what was happening. At least one Centurion had enough presence of mind to send out messengers to try and alert the rest of the army to this inexplicable new threat. In the end, most of the 7th Legion died at this point, although some survivors tried to escape and remained at large for days in a pattern that would be repeated by other forward legions in the western edge of the combat zone.

    Very few soldiers would survive from these units. Especially those legions unfortunate enough to be caught in the path of the 34th Regiment and the 1st Tank Battalion as they charged up from Gotenba.

    1st and 3rd Legions, besieging the Imperial Palace, died virtually to a man as the 1st Regiment's main body engaged them outside the Palace walls. The few survivors running back toward the Gate arrived nearly simultaneously with dispatch messengers from the 7th Legion as the five legions Germanicus had released from his eastern reaches came up in support of their brethren. This led to a cascade of chaos and confusion as entire legions now sought to withdraw to the Gate. This included the 5th Legion, still on its self-assigned mission of delivering slaves and other looted materials to the Gate, even in the absence of its commander, who had been summoned by Germanicus.

    Only in the Southeastern section of the front were matters not already descending into a total disaster. Future historians would credit Octavia, wife of Germanicus, and several students from St. Luke's University, who managed to respond calmly and who, when presented with the chance for dialogue, kept their wits enough to communicate effectively to Octavia. By informing her of the identity of St. Luke's hospital, they undoubtedly averted a massacre as the 4th Cohort of the 6th Legion was preparing to storm the building. Using the students as intermediaries, Octavia established the hospital as neutral, protected ground, provided that the staff of the hospital agree to tend imperial wounded as well.

    This foresight and acts of goodwill worked in the favor of Octavia and the soldiers of 6th Legion as panicked riders began arriving with word of the utter annihilation of three entire legions. In the absence of Germanicus, 6th Legion's commander ordered his troops to dig in. This veteran commander not wishing that his command become part of the general hysteria which seemed to be taking hold. Having lost men to the waterborne attacks along the river, The 6th attempted to engage the attacking boats with ballista but were unable to inflict damage on the rapidly maneuvering small craft. In any case, the ballista crews were also in the effective range of the sailors' M14s.

    As another messenger reported in, Octavia urgently sought some word of her husband's whereabouts.

    "The Legate was still in command when I left." The messenger answered. "The enemy attack at range. We can't get close enough to kill the wizards with our cold steel! They won't fight us in the open!"

    Octavia shook her head. "I think we have very much underestimated those who we would make our enemies, Decurion Tiercellus." She pointed to the hospital. "That place is a healer's guild. I want all our wounded directed there. Do you understand?"

    "Yes, ma'am!" The young officer turned his mount about and rode back toward where he had just come.

    Octavia turned to the students who had been helping her talk to those in charge of the hospital. "I would ask one of you to go and tell the healers we will have desperate need of them shortly I think. The rest of you stay with my children. My house guards will keep you as safe as anyone here. Forgive me but I must do what I can to save what I can of a hundred thousand sons."


    ***​


    In the end, many who might have survived died on the streets of Tokyo. Their avenues of either escape or seeking aid barred by the chaos caused by the panic of relatively hale and whole troops from six legions which comprised the bulk of the estimated 35,000 men that would manage to escape Ginza before General Hazama was able to throw the full power of his three regiments and his tanks into the battle and cut off the retreat of several thousand more. The JSDF would capture some 6,000 Imperial troops, mostly in small bands, not including severely wounded prisoners.

    But the largest single surrender occurred the evening of August 13th. With communications between St. Luke's Hospital and the outside world still open, Octavia and the commander of 6th Legion were able to parlay the surrender of some 4,800 men of the 6th Legion, some 2,000 from other units, and several hundred casualties, as well as some 4,000 noncombatants. The actual surrender, generated some controversy when the officer designated to receive the surrender, Rear Admiral Gunichi Toyoda, was delayed in arrival. The commander of the 6th Legion thus presented his sword and unit standard to the commander of USS Shiloh's boat detachment as he landed to help oversee security arrangements. Admiral Toyoda arriving in his best dress white uniform only to find nearly 12,000 non-indigenous detainees already having offered and been granted surrender by a US Navy Senior Lieutenant. The Japanese government soon responded to the awkward turn of events by acknowledging both Lieutenant Bowen's fait accompli, and the complete responsibility of the United States government for the holding, care, and treatment of said detainees.

    With the first battle won and lost, all that remained of the Empire's Expeditionary Army rested under watchful eyes and under the stars of a heaven unknown.
     
  3. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 3: Where Are We Now?


    The Pacific Allies now found themselves responsible for nearly 20,000 uninvited guests. The sheer logistics of the problem should have been the final nail in the argument of some Japanese Nationalists who even now wanted to declare this situation an ‘internal matter of the Japanese people’. This was despite the fact that the fighting had involved non-Japanese, threatened non-Japanese, and with the assault on various embassies, had; in terms of diplomatic covenant, concerned non-Japanese soil. Certainly, the Imperials did not consider themselves to be Japanese.


    Even the 6,000 odd prisoners taken by Japanese forces were proving to be problematic. 6,000 prisoners represented an eight percent increase on an already overcrowded Japanese Prison system. It was equally obvious that the Japanese had no experience in holding military prisoners in the past several decades and that they would be under intense scrutiny from the international community. Even domestically, the mere rumor that Prime Minister Hojo’s government intended to hold prisoners in former US bases on Okinawa had resulted in very vocal protests by Okinawans. Complicating matters further was the presence of a number of demi-humans among the Imperial troops. In the end, it was decided to hold both these prisoners and the prisoners held by the United States on the island of Io To, known to Americans more famously as Iwo Jima, having no current civilian population but having a JSDF outpost and an American airstrip in active operation. The only exceptions were prisoners needing significant medical care and unable to travel. Both the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Navy Seabees quickly deployed men and equipment and, joined by JSDF combat engineers, set to work building the facilities for what came to be known as “Camp Charon’. Prisoners on the volcanic island began to call it by another name., a name that American guards initially understood as ‘’Hades’ Hole’, but to the prisoners, this was ‘Hardy’s Hole’.


    To add to security, military prisoners were blindfolded and flown out at night aboard blacked out C-130 transports after having been given a full medical check and a preliminary ‘interview’. Once processed and flown to Iwo, the prisoners were separated by recorded rank with separate facilities for housing and dining. The goal being to disorientate the prisoners to facilitate questioning and to reduce mischief among the prisoners. It being suspected that officers would be the ones most likely to stir up organized trouble. Prisoner schedules were organized by hut and included daily calisthenics and classes in reading and writing. Those desiring luxuries such as additional or desirable food commodities, spare clothing or bedding could volunteer for work details around the camp. The theory being that idle hands were best avoided.


    Naturally, their living spaces, eating areas, indeed all areas accessible to prisoners were under constant electronic eavesdropping and surveillance. Every conversation recorded and saved for analysis.

    The noncombatants were a thornier matter. While they had to be detained, they were not enumerated as prisoners. Sending them to Iwo Jima was immediately ruled out as an additional safety concern. Compounding the issue was that there were 4,000 individuals who had no concept of how to live in a modern, technological society. In the end, the US Navy erected temporary accommodations at Fleet Activities Yokosuka while it considered negotiating with Japanese officials to lease and renovate the Negishi Housing Annex.


    From the start, it was clear that the full support and cooperation of Legate Germanicus’ wife Octavia would be required to maintain a safe and secure environment for both the detainees and the population around them. Fortunately, the revelation that there was at least some shared language helped as her hosts provided a liaison officer.


    The officer; one Junior Grade Lieutenant William Taylor, USN, was politely introduced by Captain West, Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Octavia soon found she had inherited another son to watch over and fuss upon as she had been doing ever since her husband had been a ranking centurion. This son was just a bit odder than most.


    Whether that was true when counted among his own people, Octavia had no way to judge but while his physical appearance was unremarkable with dark brown nearly black straight hair, an average height for a human, with perhaps a little less muscle than her husband might prefer in casting about for their daughter’s future husband. Of course, her husband would inevitably find some criminal failing in any young man associated with his daughter but Lucilla was about to turn fourteen. Her prospects for marriage would have been excellent, given the family bloodline and her father’s prominence in the Imperial Army. But that had been last week. This week, Octavia and her children were prisoners and her husband’s whereabouts unknown to her. In protecting her children's’ futures, Octavia would consider a great many things. Better that perhaps her daughter take a husband from among the conquerors than to see her children as slaves.


    But at any rate, the Lieutenant’s brown eyes bespoke a gentleness that seemed at odds with a warrior. He was a learned young man, a trait which Octavia approved, though it struck her that this society as a whole seemed to be considerably more educated than her own. Despite a complexion not too unlike her husband’s, his facial structure seemed closer to the high bloodlines. It was a curious combination to be sure. According to Captain West, Lieutenant Taylor’s assignment was to assist Octavia and the other noncombatant ‘detainees’ (a curious terminology for captives of war.) in adjusting to their new environment and making certain that the needs for their health and well-being were met.


    For the moment that meant everyone getting a medical examination and basic vaccinations and immunizations. To allay the possible concerns of Lady Octavia and the other mothers and the fears of the children, Taylor agreed to let one of the doctors perform a full physical, complete with drawing blood and shots on him with Octavia, her children, and her house guards all watching. Never mind that I have had a fear of needles since childhood, Taylor mused to himself.


    Still, it paid dividends to see 5-year-old Marcus calmly enduring his examination and shots while Felecia, his warrior bunny guard sternly watched the doctor without incident. Taylor carefully explained to Octavia the concept of vaccination and that among the injections were protections against certain illnesses, showing her a text describing the symptoms of a number of maladies; While Octavia did not know Typhoid or measles by name, she was well aware of their symptoms. And smallpox, while called variola in the Father tongue, smallpox was a name she recognized. A disease that inspired dread throughout the Empire. And these people have virtually eliminated it? That her children were now protected from its grasp was a matter for no small thanks


    Then she addressed a matter that was of personal concern to herself and every other wife present.


    “Lieutenant, we must know which of us are still married and which of us are now widows in this foolish venture.”


    “I can get lists of the names of prisoners held by both my government and the Japanese. That will be a start. After that, there are hundreds of patients currently in the hospital that haven’t been identified. I’ll need a list of names to check against the prisoner lists. Next, we will start taking the names and descriptions and try to check them against patients. After that, any personal identifiers such as rings, signets of office… anything we can use to check against the dead. I have to warn you that the bodies might be hard to identify.”


    “I am a soldier’s wife, whether my husband breathes still or not, Lieutenant. I am no stranger to the ugly sights of war.”


    “Fair enough. Ma’am.”


    "Thank you, Lieutenant. I know you will do everything you can. But for now, let us speak of other things." Octavia managed a genuine smile. "For instance: How did you end up here?"

    "I volunteered," Taylor told her mildly. "Your people are a complete mystery to us but there are too many things about you that suggest there has to be a connection to our own history. It can't just be a coincidence. It's a puzzle I couldn't resist!" For once, the fact that he had gained his commission through the NROTC program instead of the Naval Academy had worked in his favor, since he had been able to take more credits in the humanities than an average Annapolis graduate would get. This might not have been how he envisioned his career to go but it felt like the universe had given him a good roll. And he intended to make the most of his luck.

    Octavia regarded the young officer with amused interest. "Of course to us, it is your people who are proving so very inscrutable. A mystery for a mystery then! Shall we pierce the fog between us?"


    ***​


    Yokota: Headquarters, United States Forces Japan


    Winston Churchill famously noted that the only thing worse than waging war with allies was waging war without them. There were many in Japan in the days following the Battle in Tokyo who would have disagreed. As for Lieutenant General Hazama, he would note in a reversal of Clausewitz that ‘Politics is warfare by other means.’


    At any event, command in a coalition tended to be a delicate matter but in the event, the Operation into the Gate was organized under the Commander PacCom as the ‘Janus Theater Command’. (The designation ‘Janus’ for the world beyond the Gate was first applied by an intelligence officer on PacCom’s staff and soon gained wide acceptance in opposition to the designation of ‘Special Region’ applied by the Japanese Government.) This placed the senior US Admiral in the Pacific in overall command of the Allied effort. It was considered an auspicious sign that this officer was the son of an American father and a Japanese mother. As such, he came to symbolize the unity of the Allied command structure in the eyes of the general public.


    Directly commanding ‘Task Force Janus’ was JSDF Lieutenant General Hazama, who had led the counterattack against Germanicus’ legions in the Battle of Tokyo. His forces were built primarily around his own tested 1st Division and the 12th Air Assault Brigade. The American contingent consisted initially of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.


    The USAF saw little call to deploy 5th Generation air superiority fighters but the Japanese assigned the 301st Tactical Fighter Squadron. The US 16th Special Operations Squadron was assigned to add its AC-130 gunships to the festivities. There obviously seemed to be little need for conventional naval power, but the USN was even at this point considering that some type of brown water capability might at least be called for. Obviously, the Navy Seabees would be of vital need in the coming campaign.


    Although there would be small contingents from other nations, these formations would provide the majority of allied fighting power. Thus, it was here at Yokota, in front of PacCom, designated, Supreme Commander Allied Forces that General Hazama laid out his plan for penetrating beyond the Gate.


    “Our first concern; of course, is that we have the same lack of intelligence that seems to have hindered the enemy’s own invasion. We estimate that some 30 to 40 thousand enemy troops escaped. I would not want to have them waiting for us the minute we cross to their side. We propose to conduct a very basic reconnaissance by unmanned remote vehicles. Once we at least have a general picture of the ground, we can formulate a plan to take and hold the other side of the Gate.”


    “Assuming we don’t have a signal disruption when the drones transit.” Colonel Emerson, the Commander of the 31st MEU noted.



    “It is a possibility,” Hazama admitted. Given his druthers, he would have already conducted such scouting. The problem was that containment was an absolute priority. Construction of the fences, checkpoints, and the massive dome that would become iconic was already well underway. It was not an environment conducive to drone operations, and while it pained the General to know that there were fellow Japanese taken and trapped on the other side of that Gate, they had to make sure that this side of the Gate was secured before pushing on to the other side. “But we have to start somewhere. At any rate, we have to seize the hub and quickly establish a ring of firebases to hold our perimeter until we can fully deploy and dig in. Until we can get our main base up and running, we will be at our most vulnerable. Casualties may be heavy.”



    “No one said our line of work was guaranteed to be safe,” Emerson remarked.


    ComPac nodded in grim agreement. “Let us only pray that if we must spend good men’s lives in battle, that those lives are not needlessly wasted.”
     
  4. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 4: The Most Dangerous Weapons and Wars of Words

    Camp Augustus: Yokosuka, Japan


    When I get leave, William Taylor idly thought, the first thing I am going to do is go get authentic Brooklyn style pizza. No. First a breakfast of pancakes with a huge slab of ham or bacon, lots of bacon and hash browns! Screw the consequences! Not that the Saderans, Lady Octavia said their Capital city was called Sadera, although she didn’t refer to the Empire as anything other than 'The Empire', didn't set a good table to those they considered ‘friend’. Once their livestock and other foodstuffs had passed inspection and arrangements had been made so they could cook without accidentally burning anything down, they seemed much more at ease than with the stuff that was being catered in. But then again, who would want to face the rest of their life on a diet of MREs, known commonly as Meals Rejected by Everyone. Last night’s chicken had been especially nice, with a flavor that was definitely NOT just like chicken… or at least not like the mass-produced birds that dominated the American market. Still, there’s nothing like the taste of home. A taste of home. I may not be home but at least I know I’ll get back there someday.


    Sharing a meal was a good way to get to know someone and if he really wanted these people to trust him, he had to be among them, breaking bread, taking quarters on premises and making his door available whenever needed.


    Of course, the Saderans didn’t do breakfast per se, only the noon meal and the evening meal with small meals throughout the day. So after a shower, shave, and donning his uniform, Taylor headed for Senior Chief Richardson’s office to check the overnight duty log and grab an apple danish before going to see Lady Octavia.


    “Ah! Good Morning Lieutenant,” Octavia greeted pleasantly as her Majordomo escorted Lieutenant Taylor into the space she was using as her sitting room, her daughter sat by the window, reading to her brothers.


    Taylor was starting to acclimate to the oddities of Janian English. The oddest part was that there was Janian English. Latin, Greek, some sort of mutation of one or both? That was not a complete surprise considering an army looking and behaving like ancient Romans, but a recognizable form of English? It had been so completely unexpected. The two branches of the language seemed to have diverged sometime in the past six hundred years but still drifting in the same general direction. It was one of many little curiosities that his superiors wanted him to find an explanation for. Fortunately, it seemed simpler to go from American English to Janian than the reverse but Octavia and her daughter had both demonstrated that they had no fear of a language that routinely dragged other tongues into dark alleys and mugged them for vocabulary as they both eagerly devoured any books he brought them. Interestingly, while Shakespeare was completely new to them, Chaucer was not only familiar to them but Octavia’s daughter, Lucilla actually brought out a family copy of his works to compare it with one Taylor had provided.


    “Good morning, ma’am, I trust you slept well?”


    “Quite comfortably, all things considered. Lieutenant,” Octavia answered, rising to greet him and burying behind the calm facade of her visage, the dread, and nightmares that had been weighing on her ever since the surrender and gestured to a chair across from her. “Please sit? Before we discuss today’s business, there is something I must ask you.”


    Taylor took the indicated seat across from Octavia, who then properly reseated herself.


    “Lieutenant, what will become of my children?” Octavia asked quietly.


    Taylor looked at her confused. “What do you mean?”


    Octavia sighed. “I have been a soldier’s wife for many years and I have seen many a campaign. Perhaps the Empire… Perhaps we have earned this humbling. But I will do anything to save my children from a life in chains. Lucilla is of age to marry…”


    Taken aback, Taylor raised a hand in protest. “Please. ma’am, I want you to listen to me: I swear to you that no one is going to put your children into slavery. We don’t do things like that. All that will happen is your family will stay here until such time as our governments reach an agreement and then you’ll go home. I swear on my honor.” He faced her squarely. “Besides, in my country, your daughter is legally still too young to marry. And a good thing because if she is as formidable as her mother, then the world will need at least another couple of years to be ready for her!” He added with a wry smile.


    Octavia blinked. This world was; indeed, strange. “She might not be willing to wait that long. At least not for just any man. She might consider waiting for a certain man.” She teased, feeling a flood of relief upon her.


    He glanced nervously over at Lucilla, who merely turned a glance of her own and nodded politely with a smile and returned to the story she was reading to her brothers. “At any rate, I have some news on the lists you gave me. “


    “Yes?” Octavia felt herself tense.


    “As I said, identifying the dead will take time and in some cases if at all may take more exotic means that we have at our disposal.” Bodies mutilated by machine gun fire and high explosives were usually hard to identify. DNA testing would be necessary in many cases, provided of course that the soldier in question had any blood kin that could be tested. “That aside, I can tell you that your husband is alive. I don’t have the details but he was wounded while leading an attack on our embassy. He’s alive and recovering aboard the hospital ship Mercy.”


    “May my children and I go see him?”


    “I will see what I can do. He is still a prisoner of war.” Taylor reminded.


    “Of course, I could not ask more of you Lieutenant. Still, this is wonderful news for myself and my family.”


    “I’m glad I could deliver it.”



    ***​



    Yokota, Headquarters: Janus Theater Command.


    Scouting the area beyond the gate proved more involved than originally expected. The first remote scout looked akin to one of the Martian remote rovers, albeit built on the cheap. It had simple programming to return back through the Gate either when its battery power reached fifty percent or whenever the drone registered damage. The drone had low-light, infrared, and normal video cameras and redundant radio antennae to allow for manual operator control and telemetry along with a home weather station kit bolted on.


    On September 12, the scout, nicknamed ‘Peepers’, rolled through the Gate. At first, the mission seemed to go well. Radio signals between the rover and its handlers remained steady. As operators ran a systems check. all seemed well until two hours into the mission, when contact was suddenly lost. Three hours later, ‘Peepers’ weakly limped back through the Gate. Analysis later showed that an orc apparently took offense at the odd creature wandering around and decided to bash it with a heavy club. Despite the brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy. “Peepers’ survived its encounter beyond the Gate.


    Still, the intelligence was vital if the Allies wished to prevent the same thing from happening to the first wave of troops they intended to deploy through the Gate. UAVs had greater success. Their overhead camera images providing both topographical data as well as identifying enemy defenses and troop concentrations, though at least one came back bearing the scars of an encounter with a dragon of some sort. As for ‘Peepers’s role on the ground, smaller versions each carrying but one or two sensors had better luck in not attracting unwanted attention. With their data in hand, General Hazama’s staff began drawing up plans for the initial assault. While on the other side, the Empire made plans of its own.


    In the month since the abortive invasion through the Gate, two separate battles were waged around Alnus Hill and in Sadera itself. The first battle was a struggle by two legions under Germanicus’s command that he had prudently left behind almost as an afterthought in case of total disaster. Now that event had apparently come to pass and the commander of these troops, Legate Titian quickly asserted his authority as Second in command to Germanicus himself, to stop the headlong flight of Imperial Troops from the battle beyond the Gate. In a show of his determination, Titian ordered his two legions to block the route of the fleeing 14th Legion and threatened to attack if the 14th did not stand down. The panicked exodus stopped. In a demonstration of his resolve, he relieved the commander of the 14th of his post and then proceeded to subject the legion to Decimation. The execution of 500 legionnaires apparently having the desired effect as discipline was restored in the fleeing troops and Titian, now possessing over 40,000 men, began to interview the survivors for his report and to construct defenses against an anticipated counter- assault.


    The other battle was a political battle in which the veteran soldier Titian was completely outmatched. Senator and Mage Godasen had been responsible for the project to stabilize the Gate and based upon a very few abduction raids conducted in the months prior had advised Emperor Molto that a campaign should be assembled. He had also lobbied for overall command of the campaign but was passed over in favor of the vastly more experienced Germanicus. Godasen made no secret of his dislike for Germanicus or for Titian and proceeded to undermine Titian’s command by denying them necessary supplies and by reporting that the apparent failure of the invasion was a result of a failure of nerve by its commander and downplaying as inherently ludicrous, the reports of massed armies of mages who had wiped out two-thirds of the army. This manipulation was also based partly on Godasen’s conviction that it would be better to allow any enemy to proceed unimpeded through the Gate to where he could surround and destroy them in the open. Due to this political assault, Titian found he could only support 15,000 troops on Alnus, reducing his fighting force by sixty percent. But even this force should have been quite formidable to any opponent trying to clear an army through the Gate. Had Titian still been in command of 40,000 troops at the time General Hazama’s force attacked, the contest could have ended far differently but Godasen's machinations had forced him to dismiss all but three legions for lack of provender only days before General Hazama's tanks came thundering out of the Gate. Though not before having contributed weeks of backbreaking labor fortifying Titian's defenses



    ***​



    “We will need to strike with unparalleled speed and violence,” Hazama noted. “We have tracked the Janian Day-Night cycle. About two hours before dawn will be our optimum time to attack. All our tanks will be carrying a 90% load out of M908 Obstacle Defeating and cannister rounds for the initial assault. We do not expect many targets requiring armor piercing rounds."


    "We must quickly disrupt the first line defenses and scatter them. We will open a perimeter with tanks and light assault vehicles large enough to start deploying our field guns. Please note that the use of phosphorous munitions has been forbidden at this time.” Hazama looked to a short squat grim-faced American Colonel in the back of the room. “Colonel Potter, we’ll need your 407th Combat Support Hospital ready to set up as quickly as possible. We’ll try to give you enough room to work but the enemy might not cooperate. We know that once identified, the enemy treated St. Luke’s Hospital as neutral ground but don’t expect the same consideration here.”


    “Understood General,” The old veteran answered. He’d seen four previous conflicts and fervently hoped this one would be his last. He had a few concerns he needed to discuss with the General but they would have to hold until later. Specifically, a Combat Support Hospital had about 250 beds. This was fewer than previous configurations as it was assumed there would always be sufficient airlift capacity to evacuate recovering patients elsewhere. That would not be the case here so available bed space would need to be increased accordingly.


    In the meantime, Hazama continued his briefing.


    “On the issue of prisoners: Again, we have no clear picture on how our enemies will react if backed into a hopeless situation, assuming they even recognize it as such. In our experiences during the Battle in Tokyo, some enemy acted in a rational manner and surrendered willingly. Others were completely fanatical and attempted to kill soldiers offering them quarter. I will tell all of you and for you to tell your men, that you are to protect themselves and fellow Allied troops first! If there is even a shred of doubt whether an enemy will surrender and comply with instructions, then you must act as if they are still belligerents.”


    Near the front of the room, a Lt. Colonel wearing the patch of the 101st Airborne raised his hand.


    “General, complying with instructions assumes the ability to communicate with the enemy. None of us speak Hobbit.”


    A few light laughs went up, mainly among the Americans. General Hazama smiled.


    “We have identified a number of languages in use. A few speak clearly recognizable Greek. Many of those identified as from their nobility speak a form of English, but the most common language is a strain of the Latin family. It seems somewhere mixed between Latin, Italian, and French. We have linguists compiling phrase-books and those should be distributed by the end of the week….”

    To Be Continued.
     
    James Wilt and warlock7 like this.
  5. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 5: Eye of the Needle


    Alnus Hill


    Legate Titian calmly walked his lines as was his habit. It was his own granted reward for toiling with the politics he was forced to confront on a nearly constant basis. The inner ring had been completed to his specifications: Sloping embankments of earth dropped off to a nearly sheer thirty-foot drop. At the base, a trench had been dug and partially filled with tar and pitch. He had lit torches placed every ten feet to turn the trench into a veritable Phlegethon on command. A ring of archers stood on constant watch. Parapets lined the only direct route to the Gate and eight spotting towers circled the inner perimeter. Caltrops liberally salted the ground on the other side of the trench.


    But as satisfactory as Titian found this portion of his defenses, he was less than pleased with the progress of the successive layers and the main reason for this dissatisfaction was now strolling toward him with a rather smug look.


    “Senator.” Titian greeted coolly, using Godasen’s political title rather than his military rank.


    “Legate. I see your troops are being kept busy.” The Senator noted mildly, glancing about.


    “Insofar as I have men and the materials I need. I have neither adequate stone, nor concrete, nor engineers, nor enough wood. The rations which I requested are not arriving so I am forced to scrounge for provender to keep an adequate enough supply of labor long enough to compensate for all the other commodities to which I am being denied.”


    “Well, you know I have discussed your requests and your situation at length with the Senate and the Emperor himself. Both the Senate and His Majesty feel you are being a bit alarmist.” Godasen informed oily. “By the way.” He added as if an afterthought, “How is the morale of your troops? I can only imagine how they must feel: Being made to cower behind earthen works before the Gate that is the doorway to the riches and conquests granted us by the Gods.”


    Titian ignored the prodding. ”You speak as though the Gods themselves entrust you with their plans.”


    The Senator looked at him curiously. “You sound as if you have no faith in the Gods.”


    “The Gods will do as they please, our own desires heedless,” Titian replied. “I place my faith in the exertions of men and little faith in those save mine own.” He pointed toward the Gate. “They will come. Spies, their contraptions, eyes upon us. They will come.”


    Godasen smiled brightly. “Then let them! The sooner they come! Let them come! I have seen the testimony. Our enemies hide and fight from cover using magic to compensate for their weakness and cowardice in arms; The sooner their armies come, the sooner we will surround them and destroy them in the open. Then we will return to our duty.”


    “Our duty?”


    “To govern the nations in power; to dictate their rule in peace; to raise up the peoples we have conquered and throw down the proud who resist.” Godasen paraphrased the ancient work.


    “It seems our enemies do not see the need to be raised up, nor for us to dictate their rule.”


    The pleasantness on the Senator’s face faded. “Then we must throw them down. Let them come!”


    “When they come,” Titian addressed Godasen squarely. “We must destroy them upon this hill. We will defeat them here or we will lose the war.”


    “I find your attitude rather defeatist. The Senator hissed.


    “It is always the prerogative of the Emperor and the Senate to remove me from command here,” Titian noted. “Of course, if I am to be relieved then I have no place here. In that happy event, I will need to return to the Capital and in the event that Sacred Alnus falls to the enemy, then it will be my regretful duty to tell His Majesty how my efforts to avert such a disgrace were undermined.”


    The frustration on Godasen’s face was clearly evident. He wished so dearly to send Titian away. The prize of a glorious victory he wished for himself alone but the penalty for failure would equally be his. No, it was best if Titian stayed here. When the enemy was defeated, Godasen would make certain it was his version of events that were reported to the Senate and His Majesty.


    And if the unthinkable happened, then Godasen would make certain that the blame was laid on Titian’s head and not his own. Perhaps, with luck, the enemy would favor Godasen and remove the Legate permanently.


    “I will leave you to your work Legate,” Godasen said at last.


    Titian watched the Senator leave. He could do the same calculations in his head that Godasen could. The Senator would either claim victory or condemn him for any defeat. Such considerations were immaterial. Titian was a devoted soldier of the Empire and he would do whatever was necessary and possible to protect it.


    In the coming days, his ingenuity and skill would be severely tested.



    ***​



    Camp Augustus


    Lady Octavia had been granted permission to see her husband the afternoon following making her request of Lieutenant Taylor. In fact, it seemed that the Lieutenant’s superiors couldn’t leap fast enough for the opportunity such an act of goodwill might provide. The arrangement was quickly made for Lieutenant Taylor to take Lady Octavia and her children aboard USNS Mercy, accompanied by a single unarmed retainer. They would be accompanied by three Marine guards and a driver, with two more sentries posted on Germanicus’s door. This was both as a precaution, especially in regard to the Warrior Bunny, whose presence was deemed vital for Octavia in regards to the safety of her children, and to provide maximum safety for the Legate’s family.


    The carefully monitored visit was a major morale boost to both Germanicus and his family. The relief of his family’s safety and their humane treatment did much to improve the legate’s health and helped him form a favorable view of his captors that would pay handsome dividends down the line.


    “Thank you again, Lieutenant, “Octavia told Taylor the next day. “Being able to see my husband and hear his voice has taken a tremendous weight from my spirit. And the children as well, This morning is the first morning since we arrived that I’ve seen Antonius and Marcus playing.”


    “Oh?”


    Octavia nodded. “And Lucilla! She’s filled with life today! She reminds me of myself at her age.”


    “Your daughter has already struck me as being very formidable,” Taylor noted.


    “Yes, but until today much of the fire in her heart had faded. She’s much more herself again now!” Octavia chuckled. “She’s a very spirited girl”


    She’s saying that up to now, that girl has been sedate? Heaven help the man she sets a fancy to! Taylor offered up in mental prayer. “It seems your husband certainly appreciated the lunch you brought him,” Taylor noted as a means of changing the subject just slightly, “A touch of home. I certainly can’t fault him for that. I think they make hospital cooking as bland and tasteless as possible to encourage people to get better just to escape the food.”


    ‘Speaking of which,” Octavia smirked. “I’m told you have arranged a feast of traditional American foods for this evening?”


    “Well, normally we hold the feast of Thanksgiving in November, but by the time November rolls around, it will be almost impossible for me to get five hundred turkeys and the associated fixing. So under the circumstances, I figured we would just hold the feast now and celebrate what your people are thankful for instead.” Taylor left unmentioned the rumors circulating that some of the people assigned to Camp Augustus might be reassigned once the invasion went through, they would get to enjoy Thanksgiving with a family, even if not their own.

    “And just what is a ‘turkey’?” Lady Octavia asked.


    “A large fowl, bigger than chickens, ducks, or geese and that goes well with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.”


    “And something about a ‘movie’? What is that?”


    “Well, imagine if you went to a play and a scribe wrote down everything that happened,” Taylor told her. “Now imagine that instead of writing down words to describe everything, that the scribe could make a record of the sounds and the sight of the performers so that you could see that same performance of that play later. Especially convenient if the play had so many characters that you could only hope to get them to act it out once..”


    “I see.” Octavia nodded. Admittedly it seemed like more magic but was undoubtedly more of the ‘technology’ that the people of this world used in place of magic. “And what is this movie about?”

    Taylor had given careful consideration to showing these people any sort of contemporary media. Books were easy enough. Many of the noble ladies, especially Lady Octavia and her daughter, devoured almost any books he brought them. He was carefully working music up from classical. But television and movies had been a cultural minefield of epic proportions. Taylor wanted something that would speak to his nation's highest ideals and aspirations, even if those ideals were not always met. He had wanted to show them Gettysburg, but Chief Richardson had respectfully reminded the young officer that their guests would not have the same frame of reference as an American and maybe it would be better to ease them in with something more relatable. After a time, he opted for Richard Harris in 'Camelot'.

    "It's about a legendary warrior King named Arthur who tries to rule his lands with a fair and just hand but his kingdom falls because of pride, ambition, and forbidden love."

    "An interesting choice."

    "Wise man say that young officer who listens to his Chiefs go farther than an officer with ears closed." He replied

    "I was right!" Octavia teased gently. "My new son is a warrior and a philosopher."

    Taylor blushed a bit at that. “In the meantime, I am told you had an interesting morning?”


    “Ah, yes. Lady Agrippina has been in great distress over finding out that rather than dying on the field of battle, her dashing new husband and his entire legion fled for the Gate and abandoned her.”


    “Ouch!” Taylor winced at that. Then she noticed Octavia smirking.


    “She was devastated at first but now she has a very healthy anger burning. For a young lady I expected to be little more than a spoiled and dull bore, she has quite a creative imagination! She now has fire and a purpose and I will provide her with guidance.” She noticed a touch of alarm on Taylor’s face. “Oh! Don’t worry! I can guarantee that the only one who has anything to truly fear is Legate Marius.”


    “Then before I go check on the preparations for tonight's Thanksgiving feast, allow me to offer up a prayer of thanks that I am not he!”

    "By all means, Lieutenant! By all means!" Octavia agreed.


    ***​


    Alnus Hill


    A few days later, Janus Theater Command decided it was finally time to move.


    On the other side of the Gate, another unremarkable night was passing for the troops still under Titian’s command. What had stood at nearly 45,000 men was now 15,000. Most of the other troops were now encamped twenty miles away with Senator Godasen’s main body, which now numbered 130,000 strong. But Godasen, much like Earth's General Haig, a century before him, had failed to understand that the relative strength of the opposing armies was not in numbers of men, but in the sheer power and flexibility of those armies. One cannot say that, in fact, Legate Titian fully understood the math involved himself but he had understood enough to conclude that an open field engagement was the last thing he wanted in a confrontation with his other-worldly enemies.


    To that end, Titian’s men continued to work on expanding the defenses around the Gate. All those men not standing the walls were put to work entrenching, building barricades, and scrounging for resources. But even the most dedicated soldiers simply had to sleep at some time.


    This was the case for Titian and 13,000 of his men when the clock ticked down to H-Hour on Operation Jupiter. Most of the remainder were archers, spotters, and torchbearers waiting for dawn to come so they could be relieved after another long and tedious night on the wall. The first inkling of warning any of these men had was a growing rumble coming from the Gate. Senior Centurion Nerva moved with admirable swiftness, not hesitating in the slightest to order an alarm sounded, nor in ordering the torchbearers to fire the trench surrounding the Gate. Any assault by infantry, even one equipped with modern weapons, would have taken significant casualties trying to fight its way out but against armor and motorized infantry, slings and arrows and spears would be little avail.


    This is not to say that it was a bloodless battle for the Pacific Allies. The burning pitch surrounding the oncoming invaders played havoc with both low-light vision and infra-red spotting. Also, Sergeant Ieyasu Hashimoto was killed as he attempted to clear Imperial troops from atop their parapets with the 12,7 mm machine gun mounted on his Type 74 tank. Even as a score of Imperials fell torn apart by Hashimoto’s bullets, the Sergeant was hit with an arrow in his throat, an unlucky shot in a barrage of arrows fired desperately by the defenders. His fellow tankers avenged his death many times over as M-908 anti-obstacle rounds pounded the earthworks, collapsing large sections and demolishing a ballista as its crew tried futilely to engage the armor behemoths advancing on them. Some tanks then switching to cannister rounds with awful effect as meantime, Legate Titian tried desperately to assemble his men and formulate a response.


    Dispatching riders to alert Godasen’s main army, Titian dispatched mages to fan the flames of the inner trench line. These auxiliaries were cut down, caught in a conflict, not of their making and their understanding. Knowing that his enemies would surely move toward the only clear access in his defenses, Titian rallied cavalry to meet them only to be killed, sword in hand as he charged headlong into the gap, a hundred riders behind him all wiped out as a Type 10 tank fired cannister shot into their massed ranks.


    It was at this point that bereft of its commander, Titian’s army broke. Some men fought in suicidal charges, while other men fought from the incomplete secondary and tertiary defenses. Some ran in whatever direction they could and others simply froze and huddled where they were. Some too frightened, some too tired, and others simply broken.


    By dawn, the fighting was reduced to infantry squads flushing holdouts out of the smashed fortifications and medics sorting through the human carnage. This phase of operations proved much more dangerous to the Allied troops than the actual battle had been. More than a few wounds and fatalities were incurred in this manner.


    Meanwhile, some twenty miles away, Senator Godasen had received word of the battle and news of Titian’s demise. Still, Godasen declined to move on Alnus. Convinced of both his numerical and moral superiority, Godasen waited, hoping to draw the enemy out into the open on ground of his choosing, unaware that the Empire had already lost its best chance to stop the Allied invasion.
     
  6. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    They Fought and We Operated

    O.R. 407th Combat Support Hospital


    Colonel Sherman Potter grimly stepped into the OR as Nurse Able helped finish securing his mask. Most of the casualties coming in now were Saderan Imperials and there were plenty of them. He had just finished meeting with General Hazama about getting the full hospital up and running soonest. As of yet, only the barest essentials were finished although he was told that the Post-Op module should be ready shortly. He made a quick survey around the room. Outside, Captains Spalding and Ho were handling preop, Captain Pak was in charge of triage. In the OR, the rest of his doctors were hard at work. His attention lingered a moment on Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, The man was an excellent surgeon, but here that wasn't enough. A surgeon had to be fast as well as good here.

    "Winchester! Move on! The bodies are literally piling up out there! Neatness doesn't count!" Colonel Potter hollered as Corporal O'Reilly reported another batch of wounded arriving.

    "Colonel, I refuse to rush a bowel resection." The aristocratic Bostonian huffed in reply. "Why am I even here?"

    "You're here, Winchester because we're supposed to have an even dozen surgeons and you're number twelve. Now put it into overdrive! We don't have time to waste. Hunnicutt! Help Winchester!" Potter ordered.

    "On it colonel. Kellye, close for me." Captain Hunnicutt instructed his nurse and then rushed over to Winchester's table.

    "Now see here! Colonel!" An irate Winchester protested.

    "Zip it, Winchester! Shut your yap and pay attention." Potter ordered.

    At the next table, Major Burns groaned as the next casualty was brought in. "Oh my god! It's bad enough we have to work on the enemy but this one isn't even human! I don't even know why they brought this thing in here! I'm no veterinarian!"

    "You're no doctor either Frank." Trapper John countered.

    At the table behind Burns, Henry Blake turned around and looked. On the table was a slightly built girl of an apparent human age of 17 and with bluish green feathers and bird-like feet. Henry sighed. "Colonel, for once I agree with Frank. If this kid is going to have a chance at all, Pierce had better handle it."

    "What about it Pierce?" Potter asked, not looking up from his own work.

    "I think we're out of danger here. Newsome? Finish up for me will you?"

    "Do I get to sew my initials in the stitches?"

    "Only on the inside," Pierce replied as he changed gloves and shouldered Burns out of the way. "What a mess. Frank! Go find another table to work on your malpractice!'

    "Colonel Potter!" Burns protested indignantly. He might not have wanted to operate on a non-human but he could not stand to be shunted aside either.

    "BURNS! Get a patient and start doctoring!"

    Pierce put the flustered Major out of his mind as he looked over this young girl's injuries. "What a mess. "Who says the human race isn't advancing. Every war we find improved ways to kill our fellow man. Or in this case our fellow avian. Even the operation could be fatal. She's already lost a lot of blood and we can't use any of ours. Margaret, get all the PolyHeme we have." PolyHeme was an oxygen-carrying blood substitute. At present, PolyHeme was considered less than satisfactory for general use but did have the advantages in that it would not cause incompatibility reactions. In Pierce's thinking, it was the only choice that would not be 100% fatal to this girl.

    "You know that's still experimental." Major Houlihan noted.

    "What else can we do? If we don't use it she'll bleed to death during the operation." He could only hope that her internal structure was similar enough to human that he could piece it all back together again.

    "I'll get it right away." The Major hurried to retrieve the PolyHeme.

    "Good. Now let's see if we can patch things up between the races as it were."

    "Now if they'll take a break from making more casualties," Hunnicutt observed sourly.

    "No such luck," Trapper noted. "What? Quit on all the fun?" He quipped. "Retractor." He said to Lieutenant Dish, who promptly provided the requested instrument.

    "Remember that these fellows are the lucky ones." Potter reminded them.

    "Be that as it may, Colonel," Captain Newsome replied. "This fellow might not be too happy when he gets his bill. I'm sure I'm not on his HMO plan."

    "Don't let Frank hear you say that." Piece quipped. "He just might refuse to operate altogether. On the other hand, go ahead and say it. It might save some lives."

    Several hours later, a tired Colonel Potter asked Radar for a count on the wounded waiting.

    "That's the last of them, sir." The young corporal checked his clipboard.

    "And a good thing too!" Corporal Klinger put in. "If this keeps up, I'm gonna start bucking for a psycho discharge!"

    "Not a chance Klinger," Pierce told him. "We're all already crazy. Why do you think we're here?"

    "That was good work in there people," Potter told them all. "Pierce, that was one helluva bang up job you did on that avian girl."

    "Well someone had to Colonel. Someone did a bang up job on her already."

    "Figures you'd sympathize will the enemy." Burns scorned.

    "I always sympathize with kids that have had their insides spilled all over their outsides. It's a doctor thing. You wouldn't understand."

    "What I wouldn't do for a long shower." Hunnicutt mused.

    "I'm going to wash my face and go find a nice corner to pass out in." Captain Pak commented. "If anyone needs me, have a nurse wake me, slowly."

    "Father Mulcahy said something about sandwiches." Henry Blake noted. "I'll wait for that."

    "Well, the good news is that General Hazama says we have top priority from the construction and logistics folks."

    "I suppose that's something." Trapper said tiredly.

    "Actually Colonel?" Radar hesitated. "There is ONE more patient. She walked in under her own power but I think you should take a look at her personally Colonel."

    "Well, show her in Radar."

    "Yes, sir." O'Reilly stepped out and returned a moment later accompanied by the clopping of hooves. A beautiful Chestnut mare followed behind him.

    "It's a horse sir…."
     
  7. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 6: Mulberrys and Bridges


    Alnus Hill, Temporary HeadQuarters: Task Force Janus


    In the trailer that was serving as General Hazama’s temporary headquarters, Hazama held an emergency meeting of his senior commanders. On the table before them under a plexiglass overlay was an enlarged overhead photo of the surrounding area as seen from UAV surveillance drones.


    Hazama marked their own position with a black grease pen. He then drew a large red circle to their east. “As we know, there is a large army encamped 20 miles east of us. A rough estimate puts it at well over 100,000 men. As we have not been able to conduct a reconnaissance mission since insertion, we don’t know whether that army is on the move yet or not.”


    “While it would be nice if they just sat there and waited for us to blow them off the map, I think we have to predicate our actions on the assumption that they’re already on the move.” Marine Colonel Emerson concluded.


    “Agreed.” Hazama nodded. “Recommendations?”


    Colonel Lowe, commanding the 1st Brigade Combat Team- ‘Bastogne’ of the 101st Airborne Division scowled. “My preference would be to hit them head-on. Unfortunately, our logistics are a mess. Air support is zilch, our artillery is towed only and our vehicles will have to rely on the fuel in their tanks for the moment.”


    “They’ve got a huge army.”Emerson pointed out. “If they split their force…”


    “Whatever we do, we have to keep them off ‘Gibraltar’” Lowe said, using the code designation of what the locals called Alnus Hill. “The engineers need time to get POLE operational and then we can get our helicopters operational.” POLE stood for Pipe Operational Logistic Express and once connected would maintain a stable flow of gasoline, aviation gas, and diesel fuel, the lifeblood of a modern military. There also was a pneumatic tube for the delivery of other cargo. The intent was to reduce demand for vehicles transiting the Gate.


    Colonel Kengun grunted in agreement “The sooner my helicopters can fly, the better for all of us.”


    “Especially since we’re effectively blind without them,” Lowe added.


    “Which again only underscores our problems.” Hazama reminded them. “I need solutions!”


    “We should use a squad of LAVs to scout whether their army has begun moving. Then we can bring up our artillery.” Colonel Kamo advised.


    Hazama frowned in thought. “Agreed, but remind them to avoid being drawn into a standing action. Without air support and with most of our troops still required to cover Gibraltar, you cannot afford to attempt to fight 100-1 odds. As primitive as their equipment and doctrine may be, these are still professional soldiers. We will not take them lightly. We want to encourage them to be cautious of attacking us head on while we get ourselves sorted out. We are not seeking a general engagement at this time.”


    Colonel Kamo frowned unhappily at this. He was confident in his troops’ ability to handle an army of primitives. He had been both pleased and frustrated at the Battle in Tokyo. Pleased at how easily his men had routed an army nearly as big as this one but frustrated that while General Hazama had led the main force of the division out of Nerima to great glory, Kamo’s role had amounted to little more than clean up after pushing down from Saitama with the 32nd Regiment. With General Hazama’s orders, there would be little chance of a decisive glory. Hazama continued, unaware of his subordinate’s thoughts.


    “In the meantime, we’ll start setting up forward observation bases. I don’t want to chance another army surprising us. We have no concrete intelligence on how many men the enemy can field. This may be the bulk of their army but if it isn’t, I have no intention of being surprised.” Hazama indicated a ring of smaller hills around Gibraltar. “Colonel Emerson, I want you to deploy a company each to these three hills.” He indicated three hills covering them to the north. “Colonel Lowe, you will place a company on each of these three hills to the south.”


    The two Americans acknowledged their instructions.


    “I will be meeting with Commander Miller for a briefing on our construction teams,” Hazama told them. “Dismissed.”



    ***​



    Command Tent: Grand Imperial Army, 20 miles east of Alnus Hill


    “We have had three more riders come in from Alnus!” General Galba jabbed a finger at the map. “May we now consider it confirmed that Alnus has fallen to the enemy?” He demanded of Senator Godasen. “Or do you still consider it hysteria?” The veteran cavalry commander demanded in disdain. The Senator had made it quite clear the “The Gods” would never allow sacred Alnus to fall into barbarian hands and that they were merely waiting for calmer heads to prevail before they entered the Gate to avenge their brothers and conquer the godless barbarians.


    Godasen flushed darkly. He was being openly mocked now. Damn Titian and whatever Fate had allowed this sacrilege to happen! “Yes, reluctantly I must conclude that Legate Titian has failed in his mission and allowed Sacred Alnus Hill to be taken.”


    “Then we must march in strength NOW!” Galba insisted, to the approval of the other commanders.


    Godasen suppressed a grimace. That was not the battle he had wanted to fight. He wanted to fight an open battle where he could surround and annihilate his enemy, not a close assault on Alnus Hill where the enemy might slip back through the Gate and deny his victory. Unfortunately, the longer he waited here, the more disaffection he would engender from his subordinates. There was no choice.


    “Very well! The Army will march to Alnus at once!”


    “To Alnus!” His generals raised their fists in anticipation.



    ***​



    Camp Augustus


    Lady Octavia noted that there was definitely a change in her people this morning. Last night’s feast had been a wonderful move! Her people were more at ease around their ‘hosts’, who; in turn, though still professional, seemed a bit more at ease around them. All but one:


    “Lieutenant? There is something troubling you.” It was a statement, not a question. “Have out with it!” Although she was smiling, this was not a request but a command to one she considered as part of her family.


    “What gave me away?” Taylor asked.


    “For starters, last night: When someone presents a story, they usually don’t tend to look either bored or perplexed by it. During last night’s ‘movie’, you appeared to be both at times. That tells me you may know tales of this King Arthur, but you did not know that telling at all. That wasn’t what you originally planned to present, was it?” She looked at him with her best ‘motherly’ look.


    “I guess if I was going to make an emergency substitution, I should have shown ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’.”


    “My son, You are babbling.”


    Taylor sighed. “Alright. I originally planned to show you a movie called ‘Gettysburg’. It’s about a battle in my country’s Civil War. Probably the single most important battle in that war. I wanted to show you a bit about who we Americans are.”


    “And why didn’t you?”


    “Because Chief Richardson was right. A movie wasn’t the best way to make the points I had in mind.”


    “Some things are better simply stated rather than talked around by parable,” Octavia told him. “Now what is so significant that you let it eat at you rather than discuss it openly?”


    “Alright. Slavery. To your people, it’s the normal way of things. To mine it is one of the most vile institutions ever created.”


    “Go on,” Octavia commanded. That’s why he was so shocked when I worried that my children would be made slaves. Why would I not? We brought slaves with us, The Empire wages war to obtain them. And yet, we have not seen a single slave here.


    “It is a horrible thing to us and yet…”


    “And yet I have brought such a thing into your sight as if it were no more than our tunics.’ She placed a kind hand on his shoulder. “I do wish you had only said this much sooner.”


    “If you had been a monster, it would have been easy to yell at you and tell you how completely messed up you and your whole civilization were. But you’ve been a considerate, rational, and compassionate person. And seriously? What would the yelling have accomplished? Aside from making me look like a maniac in your eyes, it wouldn’t have actually helped anyone.”


    “While I do appreciate the not yelling, the not discussing also does no good to anyone either,” Octavia replied. “As you have said, in the Empire, it is the natural way of things. But here I have had the horrible privilege of having all the protections and pretenses of my world stripped away.” She took a deep breath “At home, I congratulate myself that my house follows the old laws. We do not beat our slaves. They are well fed, well clothed. They are taught reading and writing. A slave may even earn the money to buy his or her freedom. And yet here I feared for my children not because I saw men who would be cruel masters, but that I want more for them than that. My self-congratulation cannot hold up against that. Hypocrisy is not a trait I tolerate from others and I do not like to find it in myself, William.” She said, using his given name for the first time.


    She stood up and looked out into the courtyard. “I do not know if the Empire is ready to become what your people are. It is still the way things are for my people to hold slaves. It is such an integral part of our society and our economy that many will revulse at the notion of simply dismissing slavery.


    “But here, in this place, there is no room, no excuse, and no need for it. All those held as slaves here shall be free under the law of the Empire.” She stated with all finality.


    Then a thought occurred to her. "Tell me, Lieutenant. What will happen when you find the people taken from your world? When you find the people holding them?”


    Taylor considered his answer for a moment.“We will demand their immediate release and if the Empire refuses, we will make it increasingly expensive and painful to keep our people from us. Those found who have mistreated our people we will want them for war crimes I expect. Peace Treaty or no, the people of the world will want someone directly punished.”


    Octavia nodded in understanding. “And on one other matter.’ She faced Taylor directly.


    “Yes, Lady Octavia?”


    “William James Taylor Octavus, as a son of my House, you must never again hold your mind secret to me. You will not allow such matters to fester in silence.”


    Taylor blinked. “I don’t recall becoming…”


    She cut him off with a pleased look as the cat that had just swallowed the proverbial canary. “As the Lady of one of the Great Houses of the Empire, as I say, it is done!”



    ***​



    Hill 105: Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.


    Assigned to cover the north side of Hill 105, dubbed ‘Alamo East’ by the Marines of Echo Company, 2nd Platoon had set up observation on the surrounding ground, part of a critical advanced warning network for the men back at Gibraltar.


    So far everything had been quiet, but somewhere about eight miles away was one massive army. Echo Company was instructed to observe, report, and to withdraw if confronted in force.


    “Movement on the hill, LT.” Corporal Ames reported calmly.


    2nd Lieutenant Mayer and Platoon Sergeant Killian immediately came over to Ames’ vantage point to have a look for themselves. Far from the scouts of a great army, all any of them could see was a weathered-looking peasant poking around with frustration.


    “Looks harmless enough but you and I will go see if we can get our visitor to find a safer bunch of rocks to go poking about.” The Lieutenant told Killian, who nodded agreement. and the two men picked their way down the hill to the startled local.


    He seemed to flinch at their sudden appearance. “You’re not bandits, are you? I don’t have anything worth taking right now and I promise I really wouldn’t be enough fun to be worth killing!”


    Had either of the two Marines considered it for a moment, they might have been impressed at how well this local spoke their language While it was true that the local noble class were known to speak a variant of English, it was reported that the normal common dialect was a mangled form of Latin. As it was, they were merely concerned about calming this poor man down.


    “Easy there friend,” Mayer told him with open hands. “We’re not bandits. What brings you out here by yourself? If there are bandits out here, isn’t it a bit dangerous to go poking around?”


    “Oh! Well, I’m a shepherd. My sheep were all frightened off by loud thunder coming from Alnus Hill during the night!” He shrugged helplessly. “They’re all I have so what else am I to do?”


    The two Marines looked at each other On the one hand, having anyone poking about was a potential security risk. On the other hand, the Allies weren’t planning on using their might to go killing, locking up, or terrifying the local shepherds. It wasn’t as if this character had a hidden radio or anything.


    The Lieutenant considered it for a moment. “We have some friends who we’ll ask to keep an eye out for your flock. In the meantime, why don’t you come up the hill and we’ll share some food with you and maybe you can tell us about yourself and folks around here?”


    The shepherd nodded in thankful relief “Thank you! You are very generous! Oh! My name is Corus! It is nice to meet you!”


    “Well Corus, follow me and we’ll go talk to some friends,” Mayer told him and started back up the hill with Killian bringing up the rear.


    As Corus followed the Lieutenant, he briefly glanced over in the direction of Alnus Hill. Hardy, I wonder if you have any idea what you have done?
     
    James Wilt, warlock7 and rifern like this.
  8. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Here is part 2 of the side story. Enjoy.

    They Fought, We Operated

    Orphan of the Storm



    This was not the first time her world had ended. Once she had been a proud warrior and her tribe ruled unchallenged over their lands. There were other tribes of ‘Warrior Bunnies’, as the humans called them, but the Tribe of the Veldt was the strongest. Tribal warfare had been the natural state of affairs, especially since there were so few males of their kind. Neighboring tribes often raided each other for breeding males and warred over hunting grounds (Their kind were omnivorous, contrary to the expectations of Earth Humans.)

    Over a great many generations, they had discovered to their delight that human males were also viable for mating. Though tribal law demanded that the Queen be of pure blood, mixed blood warrior bunnies were virtually indistinguishable from their foremothers. So sometimes a tribe would raid human settlements or caravans as well. Attacking caravans or capturing lone travelers was preferable. It was low risk to their warriors and due to their far superior reflexes and strength, there was less risk of accidentally killing the very males they needed. And seldom did these males complain. Being too weak to fight or perform heavy labor, they were perfectly suited to handle their role in the survival of the tribe.


    Unfortunately, they had raided these caravans and settlements too often. The local governments and the wealthy trading houses who had suffered losses demanded action to stop these raids. To that end, the Emperor ordered an army to march into the Veldt. At its head was his own son, Prince Zorzal, who planned to make an example of the Warrior Bunnies and also to make a profit in conjunction with many of those same trading houses. Houses which also dealt in slaves in addition to other commodities,


    In response to the open invasion of their territory, all of the tribes united under the leadership of Queen Tyuule to fight a war more brutal than anything they had ever seen in their history. Warrior Bunnies were no stranger to violence but the ruthless efficiency in which the Empire conducted war was new to them. The Empire distinguished not between destroying their enemies in open battle or burning villages to the ground. In fact, it almost seemed that their enemy preferred to make war on the young and the aged, and the infirm. While it was true that in a few of the Tribal Wars, the losing Tribes had collapsed in the aftermath, the way that the Empire made war had been a complete shock.


    In the course of the war, the Tribes smashed forces sometimes thrice their numbers time after time but more Imperial Troops always replaced them as the numbers of the Warriors of the Tribes dwindled. Then after a systematic burning of villages and setting fire to hunting grounds by the Empire, the Tribes were broken, spent. Queen Tyuule herself declared her intention to meet with the Imperial Crown Prince and attempt to negotiate an end to the war.


    Then had come the betrayal: The Imperials announced that Queen Tyuule had made an agreement, but only to surrender herself into the safe custody of the Empire in exchange for her abdication. The Tribes were given two choices: enslavement or death. Without Tyuule, there was no longer a unifying leader to continue the war. The Empire smashed the remaining tribes one by one until they surrendered or died. Tyuule’s own tribe had been left for last. They were left with the disgrace of their Queen’s cowardice and betrayal and left in a hopeless position. Then the Empire came to finish the job.


    But when they came, at last, they found a city already in flames as the surviving inhabitants had opted to deny Zorzal his final victory. They destroyed their homes and fled to uncertain futures. In a rage, Zorzal placed a bounty on every Warrior Bunny remaining free in Falmart. Money enough that the trackers and the merely desperate were everywhere.


    Parna had fled with her battle sisters Delilah and Griine. Together they survived, living off the land, hiding, fearing what the next day would bring. It was all finally too much when the gods finally led their path to the Imperial Capital itself and to the Akusho District. It had rained the night before and her belly ached with emptiness. There was no hope. At that moment she only saw three choices: She could keep running, enduring an endless life of being hunted, of being hungry, of being useless. She could end it all. Take her knife. Or she could just stop running. Just go into Akusho. Just trade a broken will and dignity to be safe. To have a meal, maybe a bed. It was just an ear.


    So Parna stood up and took out her knife and cut off her left ear and walked into Akusho.


    In Akusho, Parna was property to be had for the taking. She was passed around until she came into the possession of a Centurion who had both a hot streak at dice and a sharp dagger to back up his luck. And now her Master’s luck had run out.


    He had told her with satisfaction that she would be accompanying him through the Gate to a new world where the Empire had found a land brimming with plunder and slaves. Of course, as they were known to be a weak people, he would need her all the more since any slaves he claimed would need to be ‘broken in’. Parna’s soul warred between the relief she felt at not being in danger of being discarded and the sick feeling she felt when he talked so casually about putting others in collars as she herself wore. He had been quite irritated to learn that his legion was being assigned to watch Alnus Hill and the Gate while the invasion got underway. That irritation turning to shock as the remains of the once mighty Imperial Expedition returned to Alnus in a near panic. Soon Legate Titian had every spare man building defenses. Parna was put to work carrying stone, the work had been 12 hours a day and then as she slept, she awoke to hear a strange grinding rumble. A few feet away, her Master slept. She knew better than to wake him without very good reason.


    So she slipped out of the tent and listened. And then she saw the night itself catch fire. And then she saw the huge metal beasts that spat fire from their snouts. Strange men pointing spears of black that cracked with a loud report. Imperial soldiers falling everywhere. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The almost joy in seeing the hateful Imperial soldiers cut down like wheat before a scythe and the terror that she too could die or worse, be left to face whatever monsters these were. Only her superior hearing and reflexes allowed her to find safe cover.


    Eventually, the noise died down. She could hear the moans and sobs from dying soldiers now. She listened for the sound of her Master. If he was alive and she did not come, then she would be punished. But she did not hear his voice. But as she hid, she heard other voices that spoke in a tongue that Parna had heard the higher priced ladies in Akusho speaking. They had even taught her a little. Strange men pointing their fire spears and searching the bodies. As she listened, she waited for the loud bark of those weapons as the invaders finished off the dying Imperials. Strangely this did not happen. Instead, they seemed to be checking the bodies for signs of life. Some they would bandage and treat as if the soldier was one of their own.


    Still, she had no desire to test their benevolence. She hid until they were gone. Then she snuck back to her Master’s tent. In front lay her master’s body, still half naked where he had fallen, the look of pure astonishment frozen on his face. Knowing that he was dead made it simple to dismiss him from her thoughts. She knew not whether Emory or Hardy claimed his soul and nor did she care. To her small satisfaction, she found her clothes locked in a trunk at the foot of his mat. She bundled them up in his pack along with anything that might be useful: his coin purse, some flour, and salted meat and the jewel-encrusted dagger her master had been wearing the night he won her.


    The next thing that occurred to her was the question of where she should go now. Quietly she snuck away from Alnus Hill. She thought the safest place to go would be back to Akusho. If she was found out in the open, they might assume she had attacked her master and if so she would be put to death. So, guided by the ancient sky, she headed toward Sadera.


    That is until she found a leathery-skinned old human sitting on a rock as if waiting for her. She tensed and he gently chuckled.


    “I’m just a foolish old shepherd who has lost his flock! Surely you have nothing to fear in me!” He looked at her mildly. “Why would you go back to the people that put you here in the first place?” He asked her in the old tongue.


    “Where else can I go?” she asked desperately.


    “You are a bright young girl.” He told her. “What isn’t bright is doing the same thing over and expecting a different outcome! Go back to Alnus! Are the newcomers really to be feared or are they friends you haven’t met yet?”


    “They’ve killed thousands of Imperial soldiers! They might kill me!”


    “And yet you are alive. And if you return to Akusho? Then they will surely kill you, will they not? A slave who may have killed her Master? How can any owner trust such a slave?”


    Parna’s right ear drooped as she considered the truth of the shepherd’s words. “Perhaps I could stay with you?”


    He shook his head. “I am but a foolish shepherd who has lost his flock! You deserve something better!” He pointed back to Alnus. “Take a chance on something better!”


    She slowly nodded. She didn’t believe it but it made the most sense. So she headed back for Alnus, quietly sneaking her way back. As she left the shepherd, she heard him chuckle. “Looks like I found one! Now to go meet some of these newcomers for myself!”



    It took little time for Parna to return to the Hill but already the newcomers were changing it in incredible ways. New buildings of odd material stood where some of the tents had been. She watched cautiously from the shadows and then she heard a sound he hadn’t heard in almost three years. Animals! The chittering of guinea pigs and other small animals and a gentle voice speaking to them:


    “I know… I know… But there’s nothing to be scared of now, This is where they’re gonna put the mess tent so it’s as safe as anything. Now look, I gotta go do corporal stuff. I left you some nice veggies and fruit and some walnuts. So I gotta leave your cages here but I’ll be back! Don’t you little guys worry! I’ll be back, Cause you know… us little guys gotta stick together…”
     
  9. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 7: Game of Position

    Hill 107 'Little Round Top'

    Captain Decker, Commanding officer, Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team 'Bastogne, listened carefully to the radio reports coming in from the scouting force that 1st Division had sent out. The natives were definitely on the move and making a straight line for 'Gibraltar'. That made the ground his men were standing on very important, being one of two main hills that flanked the enemy's axis of approach.

    Estimates of the enemy force were somewhere around 130,000 men. This was roughly the size of the armies at the Battle of Philippi. Against this mass of men was a force one-tenth that size busily trying to sort itself out through the single worst logistical chokepoint in military history.

    Decker's mind went back to his grandfather's stories of Chinese human wave attacks in Korea following the Yalu offensive. An enemy who was willing to throw away enough lives to get in close could do a lot of damage even though Decker could not believe their current enemy could possibly defeat them. Although it's possible those guys are thinking the same thing. He considered. At any rate, the best way to keep the enemy at bay was to break up his formation at range with indirect fire from the batteries of 155 mm howitzers the Japanese had brought with them.

    That called for forward spotting and people in the best position for that mission were his men on Little Round Top on the enemy's left flank and the Marines on Alamo East on the enemy right. While General Hazama and Colonels Lowe and Emerson had made it clear that they did not expect either force to ride it down in flames if the enemy attacked their positions in strength, the longer those spotters could direct the artillery fire, the more successful they would be in breaking up the enemy's attack. As he looked out on the huge force marching before him, he sorely wished he had at least some of the Brigade's 105s with him.

    "So do you think they'll try taking this hill?" Lieutenant Carter, his executive officer asked.

    "I would. Sergeant Graham!" He called to his runner. "Get all the platoon leaders up here on the double."

    "Yes, sir."


    ***​


    In Column, Grand Imperial Army

    Some Generals lead from the front. Godasen was not of this mold. Even facing a battle he expected to win handily, there were always some unfortunate souls who went on to Emroy's embrace. Senator Godasen had no intention of being one of them. Instead, he and his staff rode with the 30th Legion, located immediately behind the lead ranks. This is not to say that the Senator lacked any appreciation for the military arts, merely that he had a fine appreciation for his own importance. But as his army marched toward Alnus, his eyes caught on the hills flanking his approach. He did not like the prospect of enemy scouts watching him. On the other hand, being in a better position to observe any possible movement by his enemy was perfect military sense. He turned to Crassus La Nias, commander of the 30th Legion and addressed this.

    "I want two turmae each to secure each of those two flanking hills immediately."

    "Yes, Sir."


    ***​


    Hill 107 'Little Round Top'

    "Inbound!" Sergeant Wilkins announced as he looked through his field glasses. "Cavalry… Looks like sixty or so."

    Decker frowned in thought. A few mortar rounds and the company's M240 machine guns should be plenty to handle this force The only question is whether the Imperials would take the hint and leave well enough alone once this first attack was repulsed. He very much doubted it.

    "Set the mortars with High Explosive rounds and fuses on proximity setting. I'd rather finish these guys before they get a good look at our positions, just in case one of them does the smart thing and gets the hell outta Dodge once we open up on them." Captain Decker had dispersed his Javelin teams amongst his rifle platoons but kept the mortars near the top of the hill with his command unit.

    "In the meantime, we had better let Gibraltar know our situation."


    ***​


    Alnus Hill

    In his command vehicle, General Hazama listened to the latest reports coming from Little Round Top and Alamo East. Fortunately, it did not appear that these probing attacks would jeopardize the ability of the spotters on those hills to direct the fire of his artillery batteries. He considered reinforcing the outpost hills in case the enemy decided to throw more their way but the more units he sent racing all over the map, the more confusing things would become. Confusion was an ally of the enemy, wasting precious time and energy. He did make a note to see what could be done to help Colonel Lowe expedite the deployment of his 105s onto the outpost hills.

    Beyond that, there was precious little for the General to do for the moment but wait and stay out of his people's way...


    ***​


    In Column, Grand Imperial Army

    It had taken less than an hour for Godasen to learn that both cavalry detachments had been all but wiped out. In that time, the leading ranks of his army had advanced four miles and now as his mind tried to understand the wizardry that had killed them, he was about to be introduced to destructive magic on a level so powerful it beggared his imagination as with a sudden scream through the air, the earth erupted in smoke and fire, tearing into the ranks of the 34th legion directly ahead, shattering men like the hammer of an angry god.

    What manner of sorcery is this? Godasen wondered as more explosions erupted across the front three legions. He turned to Crassus.

    "We've been lured into a trap! They must have powerful magic users on the hills flanking our approach!"

    "What are your orders?" Crassus asked, a wave of panic starting to rise within him.

    "As the representative of the Imperial Senate, I am issuing an edict. Send messengers to all commanders that any failure to obey orders or any display of cowardice in the face of the enemy shall be immediately punishable by death!" He gestured to the hills "They attack as wolves against the bear. We must clear our flanks while we continue to press on Sacred Alnus!'

    He quickly checked the standards behind him. "I want the 40th and 28th legions to take the hill to our right and the 56th and 32nd legions to take the hill on our left! I want prisoners if at all possible." Also, this will keep the enemy occupied as we close on Alnus.

    "Yes, sir!" Crassus acknowledged.

    In the meantime, some twelve miles away, Hazama's artillery batteries, sighted in by the spotters on hills 105 and 107, adjusted their aim and opened up another salvo which scattered broken men, both dead and living, as Imperial officers, themselves shocked and terrified, tried to get control of their troops. Godasen watched as the 39th legion practically fell apart.

    "Order quick march!"

    Crassus paled. "But sir! The men will be worn out by the time they reach Alnus!"

    Godasen glowered. "They can be tired or they can be dead!"

    "Yes, sir!" Crassus hurriedly replied lest his hesitation be mistaken for disobedience.

    Godasen merely nodded. He needed this man. His relations with the army had often been difficult. Commanders like Germanicus and Titian dismissed him for being too much of a Politicker and a dilettante. But Crassus was different and he shared one particular trait with Godasen: Ambition.

    Crassus longed for the power and prestige of political office. Godasen would sponsor his political prospects and Crassus backed his benefactor's standing with the army. Now they needed each other most of all.


    ***​


    Alamo East

    Captain James Douglas, USMC, peered through his field glasses again. Yes, there were definitely two enemy formations breaking from the main body and heading in their direction. Captain Decker had reported the same over at Little Round Top. An estimated 11,000 men were heading for each of the two hills, guarded by little more than 200 men each. In the meantime, there were still 100,000 men heading for Gibraltar and the Gate. The artillery would take a heavy toll but unlike a video game, the ammunition expended did not just magically appear next to the guns. An average 155mm gun was expected to fire a conservative estimate of 200 rounds in a day. To supply that much ammunition to the eight batteries of heavy guns available to Task Force Janus meant the delivery of some 270 TONS of ammunition a day at the same time the Gate was feeding in construction equipment, food, fuel, helicopters, medical supplies. It was the Achilles heel of the Allied Forces.

    Most of what ammunition there was would of necessity have to be directed on the main body threatening Gibraltar. Captains Douglas and Decker would be able to request some limited fire support but by and large, they would have to rely on their own abilities to endure the human tidal wave bearing down on them.


    ***​


    Little Round Top

    "Alright. Lieutenant, how many M-MPIMS do we have?" Captain Decker asked his XO as they went over defensive plans. The M-MPIMS was a replacement for the old M-18 Claymore mines, being smaller and with a reduced rear clearance area and capable of being fitted with laser or camera control options.

    "Sixty sir. We have them spread out to cover a 120-degree arc accommodating the most likely approaches, angled to conform to the slope of the hill."

    "Good. I want 3rd platoon to leave one squad covering its sector and send a squad each to 1st and 2nd platoons." It was a risk in leaving a third of his perimeter so weak, but that arc was facing Gibraltar. Decker needed his men facing the enemy. "I want the Javelin teams I assigned 3rd platoon up here. Also, warn the men to fire short careful aimed bursts only. They run out of ammunition, we'll have to throw rocks at them."

    "Yes, sir." The Lieutenant paused. "Captain? Do you think it will get that bad? I mean, won't our artillery break them up pretty good?"

    "If men did the sensible thing, then the Charge of the Light Brigade would never have taken place. We can hope but we can't count on the enemy giving up. Lieutenant? Did you know that after Pickett's Charge, a lot of Confederate soldiers wanted Lee to give it another go?"

    "No, sir." The Lieutenant was surprised.

    "We think we know how a rational mind will react. Well, every culture has a slightly different idea of what 'rational' is. That's why we assume the worst case in our business. We can't afford to assume the other guy isn't trying to kill us. We plan accordingly."

    "Yes, sir."


    ***​


    Hill 102: South of Alnus, 'Pork Chop Hill'

    "Roger, Six. Standing by to execute 'Fast Shuffle'," Major Stoltz acknowledged his orders from Battalion. "Executing Special Delivery now!" At a nod, one Humvee raced off for Little Round Top.


    ***​


    56th Legion, 1 mile East of Little Round Top

    Aemilianus was two things at this moment as he neared the hill: Terrified and Angry. The destruction of so many of his men was absolutely horrifying as he saw his legionaries shattered and maimed. That somehow this was the work, not of the gods, but of other men, men that fought not openly on the field of battle, but as cowards, killing from afar made him furious. Senator Godasen wanted prisoners. So be it. Aemilianus intended to spare two of the enemy on the hill before him. He fully intended that the rest would be beheaded and their cowardly souls could rot in Hardy's domain!

    "As long as these cowards live! Let not one man among us turn from his duty! Conquer, or die!"


    ***​


    In Column, Grand Imperial Army

    Godasen noted with relief as the ripple of explosions ceased to tear into his columns. His assessment had apparently been correct: Now directly confronted, the enemy mages were too busy trying to save their own skins to further disrupt his march on Alnus. He knew that the troops he had dispatched to take the two hills were taking dreadful losses but he still had no doubt that enough of his men would reach the tops and put cold steel to the enemy.

    The first of these assumptions then evaporated as, without warning, the foul enemy magic once more tore into his forward Legions.

    Any relief that the Legions attacking Little Round Top and Alamo East might have felt, as the big guns of Task Force Janus turned their attention back to the main body of the Imperial Army vanished shortly thereafter as the first lines of Claymores detonated, spewing hundreds of metal balls each into the ranks of the 40th and 56th Legions.

    Aemilianus swore as his mount reared, frightened by the explosions which had detonated behind him. He looked back to see his command dying. But their lives didn't matter anymore. Emroy would be pleased with their sacrifice in battle. Aemilianus was only concerned that their killers go back to their thrice-damned mistress.

    Behind them, The 32nd Legion bore witness as Aemilianus rallied his surviving troops in a headlong charge up the hill. He and his Cavalry racing far ahead of the foot and into a hail of fire from M4 Carbines. Aemilianus thus fell with no great declaration of defiance, no immortal words. Only a footnote in the day's bloody toll.

    On the other flank, much the same fate saw the remains of the 40th Legion chopped down by the highly accurate fire from the new M27 Rifles the Marine Corps had issued many of the troops deploying to Janus.

    Despite the carnage ahead of them, the 32nd and 28h Legions pressed onward.


    ***​


    Alnus Hill

    General Hazama had been carefully listening to the reports from his subunit commanders. The outpost hills were still feeding good FO observation to his artillery and a sizeable chunk of the enemy had diverted to attack those positions. His men had been working unceasingly to unload ammunition stores and supplies and now he was almost ready.

    "Standby to commence Operation Raiden."

    To Be Continued...
     
    James Wilt, warlock7 and rifern like this.
  10. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 8: Somebody Else's War

    32nd Legion, Approaching Little Round Top

    Theodosius Du Marrel, who held the rank of miles in the Imperial Army, marched toward the nondescript little hill with a feeling of dread that few of his current compatriots could understand. Until a few short weeks ago, he had been part of the 11th Legion and one of over 100,000 fighting men of the Imperial Expeditionary Army. Now he was one of some 30,000 men who had escaped the disaster on the other side of the Gate and the subsequent Incursion by the hell sworn who lived there.

    At first, he and every other man among the survivors had been put to work by Legate Titian, building defenses, but gradually, most of the survivors had been reassigned to Godasen's Grand Imperial Army, where it was quickly apparent that the Senator had a different set of priorities. New men and officers were transferred into the surviving Legions so they could monitor and report on the reliability of those units. In the meantime, others such as himself had been transferred out.

    Theodosius was not certain why he had been chosen to be reassigned. Was it because he was considered particularly suspect? It could simply have been to make room for one of Godasen's 'Objectivirs' as many half-jokingly referred to them For whatever reason, he had been reassigned to the 32nd Legion. As for his former compatriots, the 11th Legion now marched in the center of the army, where they could neither hesitate from battle nor disengage without a 'more reliable' unit at their backs. As added insurance, 'Loyal' cohorts now leavened the ranks of the 'suspect' units. It was quite clear that Godasen intended for a tight lid to be placed down on what had happened to the Expedition.

    That had not stopped Theodosius from trying to describe to his new companions just what he had seen on that awful day. They simply were not inclined to listen, as they made humorous sport of the issue:

    "So tell us about the Gate Worlders, Miles!" His new commanding Centurion had ordered. "I hear they are all at least twelve feet tall and their fangs drip with blood! I hear their eyes glow a burning red right into a man's soul and after that, a man loses the feeling in his extremity. Tell us how they whoop and chant to their War gods and lick blood from their hands. Tell us, Miles! Is all that true? Is that why you all ran?"

    His new tent mates had all laughed but Theodosius hook his head.

    "You don’t understand. None of you do. They look like ordinary men but they are as different from men as gods and monsters. They don’t cry to Emroy or any other god when in battle. It’s as if they are completely indifferent to the Gods. Their blood does not burn as normal men’s would. They are cold. My century blundered into a small group riding in a magic iron carriage…"

    Someone had snorted in derision at that. "...or it was pulled by phantom steeds! I only know there were no horses and it moved faster than a chariot at the Maximus!" He shot back. "There were FOUR men. Our Centurion offered them honorable challenge: Whether they understood or not, I don't know but as he charged at them, they struck him down with their thunder staves as if he was nothing to them! Their eyes cold as if even the act of spilling blood in battle, or at least our blood, was no more than killing vermin. Not worthy of hailing to the gods and then they looked at us as if we were rats with those same soulless eyes and started killing us. So yes I ran! I ran as fast as I could to get away from those soulless things!"

    The rest of them had all just laughed and shook their heads. "Stick close!" One had told him in reply. "When they come, you'll see they're just barbarians. Maybe when you see how they die, Maybe you'll remember where you left your manhood."

    All that was important to them was his self-admission that he had run. The jokes began over who would watch the coward. Whether they needed to take him to a woman so he could remember his manhood. How they would tease him to 'Tell the story again!' But Theodosius knew that he would rather Hardy claim him for eternity and put him to work in the pits of her lair rather than face those soulless men again, lest they devour his soul as he feared they had the thousands struck down far from Emroy's protective embrace.

    And now he was marching to face them again. How had it come to this? The second son of a tenant farmer, Theodosius had joined the army lured by the promise of pay, loot, and glory. After his ten years, he could leave the army and buy a piece of land of his own! First, he would buy a little piece of land for his parents so they could have their own garden to till. If the plunder and slaves were as bountiful for the taking as the rumors claimed, he'd buy a couple of slaves for them so they would have a couple of strong backs to help them. His father could watch him raise his own sons, instead of working himself into an early grave. He would be the master of his own little kingdom, built with his own hands, his skill, and his loyalty.

    Instead, he saw only the prospect of death and his mother crying over his torn body. He briefly wondered how his friends were doing. Not the idiots marching beside him, but the tent brothers he had trained with, fought beside, played cards and shared humor with. Would any of them live through this?

    Ahead, they watched as the 56th Legion was cut down. The survivors backing down the slope to reform on the 32nd. The centurion of the lead century raised his sword to direct his men forward as the Legate nodded and then suddenly the Centurion's head jerked violently back. The man was already dead as he fell from his horse. Heedlessly, the Legate ordered his men on…

    "Good shot Corporal." Sergeant Pryce told the squad's marksman approvingly. Apparently, the locals didn't know to stop throwing good money in after bad and it was going to cost them.

    Corporal Madigan only nodded the slightest in acknowledgment of his squad leader as he chambered a fresh round. Unfortunately, the other officer had prudently moved back as he directed his men forward.

    Further up the slope, the rest of 2nd squad, 2nd platoon waited company's situation had been improved somewhat by the arrival of medics from Charlie Company, along with a squad of men who were busy deploying Claymores they had brought with them in case the enemy decided to try something more sophisticated than a straight in charge and tried to get around A Company's flank. Major Stoltz intended to send two of his rifle platoons to reinforce A Company and hold Pork Chop with the remainder. Still, one could not help but be intimidated by the sight of nearly 8000 men heading up their hill with barely 300 to stop them. Modern weapons or not, everyone knew that if the enemy DID manage to get close, it would get very ugly, very fast.

    Some wondered if this crummy little hill was worth it. Captain Decker told them that the longer they stayed on that hill, the more effective the artillery would be in breaking up the huge army bearing down on their brothers and that intended to cut them off from home. That made this ground that A Company would hold dear.

    Let the politicians and generals decide on 'war aims' and 'strategy' and the like, These were not the things that mattered to the men on Little Round Top. Let the big shots fight for grand ideals. On this day, these men fought for each other and fought to see home again one day.

    In Column, Grand Imperial Army

    Godasen glared in frustration at one of the two small hills as messengers informed him of the results of the initial assaults. It was inconceivable that the Imperial Army was suffering such losses while being completely unable to come to grips with the enemy. Taking a more careful look at the topography, he summoned Crassus to his side. Within minutes, orders were being passed. Orders that promised to make matters more difficult for the men on Little Round Top and Alamo East.

    Little Round Top

    "They're coming again!" Private Rollins announced unnecessarily as the deep ranks of Imperial soldiers began advancing again. Apparently, someone with a brain was in charge down there Captain Decker noted as the enemy front broadened, extending to twice its previous length, the shallower but broader formation meant that it would not be as easy to stack the enemy up under fire.

    "Keep your heads down. Aim careful, No rock and roll! Remember, if you see a guy giving orders, drop him. Platoon leaders, squad leaders, fire team leaders… We're not here to fight to the last man. I expect you to use good judgment in deciding when to fall back. Don't wait for orders on this, gentlemen. Now… Screaming Eagles! Send 'em to hell!"

    Theodosius looked uneasily back up the hill as Legate Nerva ordered the 32nd to lengthen its lines. Behind them, the 47th Legion had been ordered to join the attack. Around him, his fellow legionnaires were beginning to feel the same dread that Theodosius, himself had lived with for months as they began to march past the bodies of dead comrades or some not yet dead. Some having dragged themselves behind trees or other bits of terrain. Officers who would have otherwise have put such men to the sword for their cowardice ignored them as they fought to suppress their own rising fear.

    Alamo East

    For the Marines on Alamo East, a major threat was developing as a mass of cavalry began assembling. The gentler slope making for more manageable terrain for cavalry than the steep hillside of Little Round Top. Captain Douglas could call in limited artillery support but doubted that it would stop the force coming at them.

    "We'll give them a hell of a bloody nose first." Douglas promised."And then we get the hell out of here."

    Vehicle Assembly Area, Gibraltar

    Sergeant Minato Akira of the JSDF 1st Tank Battalion waited impatiently for the order from General Hazama to commence 'Operation Raiden'. The fuel tanks had been checked. The ammunition had been replenished. All vehicle crews had finished whatever maintenance was required. Minato's Type 10 tank would be in the vanguard of this attack, less for the 120 mm smoothbore cannon it carried, than for its 70 kilometers per hour speed. General Hazama intended to take a page from the American General Patton, who declared a tank's machine guns and not the main cannon were the true primary weapons of a tank. To that end, great care had been taken to assure that enough 12.7 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition was recovered from the incoming supply trucks to fully load every vehicle committed to the attack.

    General Hazama believed one of the best ways to disrupt an enemy attack was with an attack of your own. Sergeant Minato was certain that the enemy would find a motorized charge led by some eighty tanks to be very disruptive.

    Now they waited for the artillery to finish its work and then once the General issued the order to attack, Sergeant Minato would give these barbarians who had dared invade his homeland a lesson in modern warfare.

    Alamo East

    Corus carefully watched the soldiers around him, these 'Marines'.It helped that they had wanted to ask him questions of their own. Basically, things like where he was from, where were the nearest villages, and if he knew anything about the army now moving on their positions.

    Of course, he could not say much about the Imperial Army but he helpfully located the local villages. The Marines said something about making sure the villages didn't 'catch accidental fire'. They did not press with their questions, seemingly satisfied that he was just a harmless local.

    But now he was in an ideal position to see how these strangers fought He wondered just what else that would reveal.

    Imperial Cavalry, approaching the base of Alamo East

    Ignoring the battered ranks of infantry, some 2,000 Cavalry had hastily assembled for an all-out charge on Alamo East With speed and the sharpened tips of their lances, they expected to overrun the barbarians holding the hill before them.

    In column, Grand Imperial Army

    "Damned magicians!." A trooper spat venomously, just in Godasen's hearing as he rode past the ranks.

    "And where are our mages?" another complained.

    It was unsurprising to Godasen that mere commoners had no real understanding of battle magic. Magic wielders in the Imperial Army came in two general types: The most common magic users were demi-humans, most of them slaves impressed into army service. The demi-human races tended to have a higher percentage of individuals with magic potential. Elemental magic proving quite useful in disrupting enemy archers and in providing limited cover through darkness or fog spells although the current battle was far beyond the scope of such abilities and thus far, wind magic had proven incapable of deflecting the long-range magic used by the barbarians. Elven magic was known to be extremely potent but elves wanted nothing to do with the affairs of the Empire. Their skills in both combat and magic tended to make their small communities not worth the trouble to attack.

    As for the majority of human mages, most considered all pursuits other than their own research to be beneath them. The few Imperial citizens with the vision enough to see beyond the mere academic were a valuable resource that took years of training to learn their craft and were not so expendable as common were certainly never meant to stand in the van of battle. To that end, mages in the Imperial Army were specialists, much like siege weaponeers. Those that Godasen had available rode nearby in the center of the army, shielded from battle until their talents were required.

    Or at least that was the theory. The magic used by their enemy seemed to be capable of reaching far into the ranks of his army. For a moment, Godasen was envious of his enemies. Though known to be a weak people, they had still managed to refine incredible magic. And Godasen desperately wanted to know their secrets. If he could master that kind of power, then no honors, riches, or titles in Falmart would be beyond his reach. Though upon consideration, perhaps the Imperial throne was a fantasy best left as such. No one in his right mind would challenge Emperor Molt without being absolutely certain of quick success. Emperor Molt had not stayed in power without demonstrating a willingness to destroy anyone he believed even a remote threat to his authority. Even with the power, Godasen hoped to master from all of this, it would be best to keep himself in his Majesty's good graces

    But back to the current problem was that the never to be sufficiently cursed barbarians were tearing bloody chunks out of his army and visibly stealing the will of his men to press forward. IF they could only reach Alnus and get within sword' reach of the enemy! Godasen now regretted dismissing Titian's repeated insistence that the army should remain concentrated on Sacred Alnus itself. Godasen had perhaps let his own ambitions cloud his judgment on that and now a price in blood would have to be paid. Just as long as it was not his own then.

    It was this moment that the universe literally came apart for the Imperial Senator and mage. Still miles away, Battery B of General Hazama's artillery fired its last salvo. Guided by spotters on Little Round Top, who; even with the fighting on their hill, had noted an unusually heavy concentration of messenger activity. One gun fired for ranging and then Godasen heard the shrill whistle of death as the shell landed short. The Senator's stomach turned as shattered bodies were hurtled skyward. His mind thinking frantically as he realized somehow the enemy had deduced his location.

    "SHIELD!" He screamed to his mages, hoping their combined ability could resist the enemy magic. Then, fall corrected by observation, the other guns of Battery B fired. In the event, Godasen would have been gratified to know that his hopes had not been completely unfounded as the barrier they had put up had, indeed, prevented a tight patch of ground from being chewed into another bloody hole in the landscape. Unfortunately, his horse had been understandably terrified by the experience and reared back, throwing the Senator to the ground, stunning him. Likewise, the concussive force exerted upon the shields his mages had hastily erected left most of them similarly dazed or at least drained.

    At this point, Legate Crassus, seeing that his patron would perhaps be a better asset off the battlefield, ordered the dazed politician evacuated to safety. Crassus would have to press this battle on his own. But as the hellish thunder finally stopped, Crassus had no inkling that he was now in command of a battle that no commander in the history of the Empire could have saved as General Hazama calmly ordered Operation Raiden to begin.

    Gibraltar

    General Patton's comments about the primary weapons of a tank should not be construed as considering tanks as glorified machine gun platforms but rather the recognition that infantry still decided the winner of a battle, as in the end, it was still infantry that held the ground. A tank's mission was to facilitate this in Patton's view, whether that be by fending off opposing armor or by disrupting the enemy's infantry.

    In General Hazama's case, he faced no recognizable armor force but he did face a huge amount of infantry that needed disrupting. To this end, The primary weapons of Hazama's tanks were their speed and ability to grind up job lots worth of Imperial troops being almost secondary to the shock they would generate in the tanks themselves were the wedge. Behind them came Assault Vehicles, to whom much of the job of actually killing the infantry would fall. The 12.7 mm guns on the tanks being primarily tasked with anti-air work, fending off the Imperial Wyvern Riders who constituted the Empire's 'Air Cav' units. Mounted infantry in Humvees and their Japanese equivalents would then clean up. Hazama was counting on a sudden, sharp, violent thrust to shatter the cohesion of the huge army in front of them. Events would show his confidence was not misplaced.

    Alamo East

    At this point, this Second Battle of Alnus broke down into three separate engagements: The Attack of the Imperial Cavalry on Alamo East, the assault on Little Round Top, and Hazama's thrust against the main body of the Imperial Army, as the outcome of the main engagement could no longer affect either of the secondary actions… or at least not in the short term.

    Captain Douglas was quite cognizant of this as the massed force of Imperial cavalry began their charge up the hill. His Marines could bloody this force quite heavily but could not stop it. Dropping mortar fire down on the swiftly advancing enemy had already taken a toll on them but Douglas did not want his men to wait until the enemy had a chance to get up close and personal. With their mission to direct the artillery fire from the main base at Gibraltar concluded, it was time to leave Alamo East. The Marines would be back later but for now, the risk to the lives of HIS Marines was not worth any more wasted time on this hill.

    "Alright Marines! Time to go! Load up the casualties and get your gear stowed! It's time to get the hell out of Dodge!" Douglas turned to Corus.

    "It's your choice to come with us or stay here, but I'm thinking this is going to be a very unhealthy place to be hanging around in a few minutes."

    The old shepherd nodded. "Yes, I think you are right. Those men are going to be bitterly disappointed to find you gone when they arrive. I would rather not face their disappointment." Inwardly, the god smiled. It was sad that so many leaders would have insisted on fighting and dying for a hill for no reason other than pride. Corus was not a pacifistic god but blood spilled in the name of glory, ego, or vanity was an unacceptable waste to him. There was nothing to be accomplished by staying on this hill. It was time to go for all of them.

    Unaware of the thoughts of his guest, Captain Douglas smiled ruefully at the old man's assessment. "Yes, I can imagine so. Well, just follow Corporal Rice. He'll get you squared away. We'll be leaving in just a couple of minutes." He turned to his radio operator. "Sergeant Hill, get me a pen and a sheet of paper."

    "Yes, sir!"

    Corus watched as the Captain took pen in hand and wrote out a note and then took his KA-Bar and used it to pin the note to a nearby tree., making sure that the anchor and globe of the Corps were clearly visible. He then strode confidently to his Humvee, checking to make sure nothing else was left behind, then he got in and secured himself.

    "What was that about, sir?"His driver asked.

    "I left the lease agreement for the new tenants, they decide they want to stay here at our homey little retreat, then they better know who is going to come to collect the rent." Douglas clicked on his mic.

    "Time's a wasting, boys! Commence Alydar."

    With that, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines departed Alamo East, leaving behind a good many Imperial dead and a promise to return.

    With the Imperial Main Body now having pushed past the flanking hills of Alamo East and Little Round Top, many were the thousands of Imperial soldiers who greeted the cessation of the unholy thunder of the barbarian magic with a mix of relief and the anticipation that now deprived of tricks, the insolent enemy would be ground to dust before them. Of course, there were still many who had a terrible feeling, some based on their experience beyond the Gate, and others, merely entertaining a great dread, that the worst had not passed.

    With overall command of Imperial forces having now fallen to Legate Crassus and the cessation of fire from Hazama's artillery batteries, the resolve of the army briefly rebounded. Or at least the resolve of the army's surviving commanders rebounded. Thus buoyed, they urged their men on, straw men marching into a buzzsaw.

    At the front of the line, the battered, bloody, nervous, and angry soldiers who had survived thus far heard the unfamiliar sounds of internal combustion engines running flat out for the first and in many cases, the last time. These men simply had no time to process what was happening to them. This was perhaps merciful as many were still in a state of shock as they were overrun and cut down. Galba was among these men, having ridden to the front of the army to demonstrate his resolve to the men. He, like so many others, died unable to grasp what was happening.

    This was in sharp contrast to the ranks immediately behind them who had enough time to see the leading units of the army smashed like a sandcastle under an ogre's foot. Huge monsters from a nightmare world sneezing fire and whose 'feet' were smeared red from the bodies that they had 'trampled' over. These men had time enough for fear but little else. The secondary ranks were now trapped between Hazama's mobile assault and the mass of troops coming up behind them who still had no idea of what was happening. Some men tried to fight. Fine swords of Damascus steel shattered against armor designed to withstand the high-velocity rounds fired from Soviet Cold War era tanks. Some archers managing to loose arrows before being reduced to hamburger by automatic fire. Other men tried to run. Scant few succeeding. There was no time to run and no place to run as the following ranks pushed forward, unaware of what was happening in front. Some men dropped to their knees, pleading with the gods for survival, others simply froze, unable to even panic.

    Legate Crassus died sometime around this point as he selected one of the huge Type 10 tanks and charged the beast, a war cry to Emroy from his throat. Whether machine-gunned, blown apart by cannon fire, or simply crushed under the tank's treads, no survivor could definitively state. It was irrelevant.

    At this point, the army came apart. The disaster was now upon the six remaining legions that had escaped to battle beyond the Gate and despite the precautions of senior army commanders, these men were less afraid of their fellow legionnaires than the enemy now in front of them. In many cases, troops now turned violently on their fellows, determined to cut their way out through their own if need be. By now, even the troops in the rear of the huge formation were becoming aware that things had gone horribly wrong. The commanders of eight legions, seeing the breakdown of the army, elected to withdraw from the field in good order, abandoning a doomed battle.

    Little Round Top

    The final action to conclude on this longest day was the battle on Little Round mopping up the main body of the Imperial army would go on, the action at Little Round Top was the last engagement whose outcome was to be fully determined. The advantage of terrain and superior weapons balanced by the sheer number of attackers.

    Ironically, the collapse of the main Imperial Army added incentive to the attackers: Now denied an avenue of retreat, they had all the more impetus to take Little Round Top. As casualties mounted on both sides, it did look like it might indeed be possible for the Imperials to force the Americans from the hill, until the 47th Legion found itself under attack from their own rear. These men could be forgiven for thinking that the disaster which had overtaken the main army was now coming around to encircle and engulf them but what actually was happening was that, deprived of their own hill, the Marines of Echo Company had made a high speed run around the rear of the Imperial Army to launch their own attack on the troops attacking Little Round Top. With no place to go, the commander of the 47th ordered two cohorts of his men to turn about and dig into the slope of the hill while the remainder continued to advance. This was a viable idea if there had been time to dig in but instead, it merely diminished the force advancing toward the summit.

    Up ahead, the survivors of the 56th and 32nd Legions continued to advance on the defenders, paying a bloody toll for every foot of ground. Still, victory seemed within reach but with the report of an enemy force at his rear, Nerva found himself between hammer and anvil. He could still 'win' but it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Looking to his men as his mentor, Germanicus had always taught was a commander's duty, Nerva ordered the Legion standard struck.

    In the middle of this, Miles Theodosius found himself surrounded by his nightmare. It seemed inescapable now. Enemies advancing both from the front and from behind, the legion standard had fallen and soon he would die. He wanted so much to live! To just go home! He clutched his sword tight, bracing himself for the end.

    "Do you really want that?" Someone spoke in a voice that sounded a bit like one of his uncles. "Has not enough blood been spilled for Emroy's sake this day?"

    Theodosius looked to see a not unkindly old man gesture to him with open arms, standing between him and several men wearing clothes that were a blotch of greens and browns. The men, armed in the same way as other of the enemies from beyond the Gate, looked wary but apparently were content to let the old man speak.

    "You have lives with many possibilities. Do not choose to end them now." The old man addressed the small group of Imperial soldiers.

    Theodosius and his companions looked at each other and then dropped their swords.

    Captain Douglas looked at Corus consideringly as his men took Theodosius and the others into custody. "That was impressive."

    "I just told them what they needed to hear, Captain. Now… forgive me but all this excitement has been a bit much on an old man. I am going to go check the stream for any of my flock." He smiled. "May the gods bless you and your men, Captain."

    To Be Continued...
     
  11. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Rabbit Run



    For the next several days, Parna stayed in the shadows, still a little bit afraid of the men who had so completely destroyed the Imperial Army. She kept to the edges of the great encampment, awestruck and a bit intimidated by the pace and scale of construction beyond. Parna also stayed away from the enclosure where thousands of Imperial soldiers were kept under guard.



    The one place where she felt the most secure was out behind the buildings with the red and white symbols drawn on them. She had surmised that this was a place where healers worked. It was also the place where she felt safest. Every day she watched the bespectacled little human come and feed and tend the little animals in their cages.



    “Sorry, I’m late.” Parna heard him tell the little animals. “I got stopped by Major Burns. Boy! Is he rough! I thought he just hated people, but he hates us too!"



    That confused and worried Parna a bit. Was this gentle human not considered a 'person' among his own kind?



    “Well, here you go.” He said opening their cages in turn and giving each of the animals some of the vegetables on the tray he carried as he checked their fur and gently petted them. “Now you’re eating as good as we do. Boy am I sorry for that!”



    At that time, the thunderous sounds of blasting shook the air as the engineers demolished more of the old defensive works. It was a sound that frightened Parna as much as it did the animals. She took comfort in the soothing tones of the small human's voice as he calmed the little creatures.



    “It’s alright. It’s just part of the war.” He told them. “You know, if you were American animals, you’d be safe a long way from here. Or maybe not,” he considered. “I’m an American animal and I’m here.”



    As she watched, she envied the little creatures even if she did occasionally snatch a stray morsel from their cages after dark when no one was around. It had been over three years since anyone had spoken to her with that tone of kindness and unconditional care and devotion. She tensed just a little, as a much taller human, wearing a hat adorned with what Parna recognized as fishing lures, although fancier and more colorful than the simple hand-tied ones she knew, approached.



    “So Radar? How’s the menagerie doing?”



    “Oh! Just fine sir. A little shaken up what with all the explosions and such but they’re alright now.” The small human looked up at the other one. “Uh? Is something wrong sir?”



    The taller man just smiled. “No, Radar. Everything is going fine. Well, except for all the casualties but that’s what happens when young men decide to play soldier. No, your work has been outstanding, Radar. You may not be a doctor, but a lot of men owe you their lives because of how well you help keep things going. We’d never have been able to get set up so fast if it weren’t for you. No, Colonel Potter is happy, I’m happy. The only one with any complaints is Major Burns and he’s such an anal retentive that both Colonel Potter and myself were treated to a memo on the proper and uniform usage of mess tray compartments.” The taller man groaned as the source of his annoyance came into view.



    “Colonel Blake! How long are we going to put up with Corporal O’Reilly’s vermin?”



    “Frank, I’m way overdue for my first cup of coffee this morning, so can you just tell me who shoved a pole up your butt so I can assign someone to have it removed?”



    "This little zoo is completely against regulations Henry. It’s also a health hazard.”



    “That’s not true sir! I always keep their cages clean!”



    “Well, one of your little rats bit me!” The weasel-faced human complained.



    “They’re not rats! They’re Guinea Pigs!”



    “Easy Radar.” The tall man said. “Frank, what was your finger doing in his cage anyway?”



    “I was checking to see what O’Reilly was feeding these little beggars. O’Reilly’s been sneaking food from the mess tent out to his little ‘friends’.”



    “It was garbage, sir! They were going to throw it out!”



    “Relax Radar. Frank, I’m warning you. It’s gonna get put in your file that you don’t work and play well with others.”



    “Shoddy discipline Henry. An enlisted man needs to know his place!” Burns glared at Radar.



    From her vantage point hidden behind a cluster of discarded crates, Parna flinched at the tone many abusive masters used to berate their slaves.


    “I’ll be sure to pass that along to Colonel Potter the next time he’s cleaning his Good Conduct Medal,” Blake replied. This seemed to make the other man shrink nervously. Parna having no way of knowing that a Good Conduct medal was an award that only an enlisted man could be given.


    The small human turned back to his animals and then paused. His eyes were filled with curiosity as he held up a very fine black hair. “Colonel? Take a look at this.”


    “Okay, I can see it’s a black hair.”


    “Thing is that it’s too fine for human hair and black hairs don’t grow on white rabbits, sir.” He seemed to study it more closely. “But it feels and looks like a rabbit hair. But how did it get here?”


    He quirked his head. As if sensing something. If he had been one of her people, she could just picture his ears springing up, ‘twanged’ by something, some flaw around him. “I think somebody is watching us.”


    “Are you sure?” The taller man asked.


    “Positive sir.”


    “Can’t be.” The weasel-faced man objected. “If someone were hiding back here, I’m sure the sentries would have spotted them by now.”


    “Your faith in the sentries is duly noted Frank but I’ll put my trust in Radar’s instincts. I’d better go get some MPs.”


    “Could you maybe not sir? I don’t think whoever it is, wants to hurt anyone. They didn’t even hurt my animals. I’ll bet whoever it is, they're probably hungry and pretty scared. I don’t wanna scare them any more than they already are, sirs.”


    “This isn’t like a stray dog, Radar. The only folks that have been hanging around here that aren’t dressed like us have been people who probably wouldn’t mind killing us!”


    “But those guys are mostly humans, right? Whoever this is, I’m sure they aren’t one of them.”


    “I hope you’re right Radar.”


    “Me too, sir.”


    Parna froze, controlling every breath, still afraid to get caught.


    And then it happened…


    “There’s the little beggar! Sabotage! Sabotage!” Frank lunged at the cornered Bunny Girl, tackling her amid a pile of crates and other discarded material. Parna twisted in his grip, quickly turning the tables on the Major.


    Realizing he was physically very overmatched, Frank Burns, being Frank Burns, did what his instincts told him to do. He screamed for help in his highest, shrillest voice he could manage.



    “Help! Help! Somebody! Help!”



    It took only a few seconds for a crowd of people to rush out of the mess to see what was happening. Parna eyed them all fearfully, knowing she couldn’t get away and too afraid to let go of Burns.


    Trapper John put up his hands to the crowd. “Everybody stay calm. Keep your distance. Let’s try not to make any sudden moves folks.”



    “I don’t think she cares that much about the rest of us.” Spearchucker Jones commented. “Looks like most of her attention is on Frank.”



    “But what did I do?” Burns squeaked in fear.


    “You mean aside from tackling her, Frank?” Henry rolled his eyes.


    Hawkeye slapped himself and gestured. “Frank! It’s obvious! It’s that lucky rabbit’s foot you carry! She wants her brother’s foot back!”



    Parna paid no heed to the other humans. She was frozen with fear, then she heard that gentle voice speaking to her.



    “Easy now. It’s alright. I promise no one is gonna hurt you. Okay?” Radar spoke in a calm soothing tone.



    “What in Sam Hill is going on out here?” Colonel Potter demanded, coming up on the scene after hurrying from his office.



    “It’s okay Colonel. It’s okay.” Radar repeated, more for Parna than for the Colonel’s benefit. Radar reached out to gently touch the Warrior Bunny on the shoulder. “Boy, that’s soft.” He observed in that calm, soothing tone. “I promise nothing bad is going to happen, okay?”



    “O’Reilly!” Burns pleaded, “Don’t let her hurt me!”



    ”Just don’t make any sudden moves, Frank,” Henry told him. “Don’t panic.”



    “Who’s panicking?”



    “You are, Frank!”



    “Henry? What the devil is going on?” Potter repeated.


    “Frank found a stowaway, sir. And like every woman he’s ever met, he doesn’t know what to do with her or how to get rid of her.”



    “It’s okay,” Hawkeye spoke calmly, adding his voice to Radar‘s, who began to gently rub circles on Parna’s back to calm her. “No one is going to hurt you, especially not Major Quiver there. Right, Frank?”



    “Right!” Burns let out a nervous laugh. “I’d never hurt anyone! Honest!”



    “Wouldn’t believe that.” Radar muttered under his breath but continued to sooth the Warrior Bunny. “No one is gonna hurt nobody. I promise you that. Major Burns just likes to bark a lot. But you gotta try not to let it get to you. He’s not so bad. He even tries to help people sometimes. And I promise just about everyone around here is pretty good people. I’m not gonna let anybody hurt you, and we’re all gonna try and help you but you gotta let go of Major Burns.” Radar gently told her. “Come on, let us help you, okay? I think Major Burns is plenty scared and real sorry for what he done. Right Major?”



    “Uh huh… Very, so very, very, very, very scared and very, very, very sorry.” Burns looked to both Radar and Parna with a pleading look in his terror-stricken eyes.



    Parna released her grip, she felt her fear subside as the small human, as Radar, her mind corrected, guided her off the terrified Major Burns.



    “It’s okay. You’re safe here. No one is gonna hurt you or nothing. There are lots of people who want to help you, including me. So? Do you got a name?”



    “Parna.” She said in a small voice. “My name is Parna.”



    “Parna? That’s a pretty name. I’m Walter.”




    ***​




    A few minutes later, Parna was in the infirmary, being given a careful examination by Captain Hunnicutt and Major Houlihan. The entire time, Radar staying within close proximity. Hawkeye stepping over to brief Colonel Potter.



    “Alright Hawkeye, I’ve convinced Burns not to press charges. What General Hazama and I want to find out is how the hell she got that close, right past the sentries.”


    “Hazama already knows?”


    “It’s called the chain of command. I had to file a report as soon as I got back to my office. Luckily, Hazama’s so busy, he’s letting us handle this. Now tell me what you’ve got.”



    “What we’ve got is a traumatized and scared girl with black fur and a little powder puff tail that wants to start carrying a fuzzy little corporal for security. Did you notice the ear?”



    “Yeah?”



    “I think it may have been self-inflicted.”



    “My God.” Potter shook his head in dismay at the idea.”Well, Henry is calling Naval Intelligence. Apparently, they have a little more information about her people.”



    “How does the Navy know?”



    “Apparently there are a few being detained at Yokosuka. They’ve got a basic medical rundown and some history from interviewing the ones there.”



    “Well at least somebody knows something.”



    “I hate to bring this up, Hawkeye, but we’re gonna need our company clerk back at some point.”



    “Yeah but he’s the only one who seems able to keep her calmed down. She starts shaking when he gets too far away. And I don’t think Radar’s of a mind to leave her anyway.”



    “Alright. I’ll have Klinger fill in for him. Just make sure he takes care of himself.”



    “Right. While we’re at it, it might be a good idea to get Sid Freedman over here.”



    “I’ll make the call.”
     
  12. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    This is a bonus piece written by jwolfe_beta on the SV board and is faithfully replicated here.


    AN: Because M*A*S*H was far from laughs at times.

    -The Briefing-

    It was a somewhat tense meeting among of the command staff and senior members of the 407th (well those that could attend the meeting, the life of an army surgeon was hectic at the very least) and the messenger from the Intel boys back home. The bad news was that there was a messenger in the first place instead of a message. Which meant that the ISC thought this was dicey information (and Potter didn't want more stress). The good news was that this one was saner than Flagg (not that was saying much).

    "Alright." The man started. "Everyone here knows how gossip spreads in army bases but my superiors requested that you try and only inform the officers here. Or more realistically, when it does spread to the non-coms, try and keep things semi-calm."

    Pierce nodded and without getting up from his chair, kicked the office's door-frame once. "That means stop listening in Klinger, we'll fill you in on the juicy parts later."

    "No idea what you're talking about sir." Came a voice from outside the office that tried it's hardest to sound innocent. "I'm just filing some reports." It did not succeed.

    "Klinger!" Potter growled.

    "Right, I just remembered that some forms needed to be sent over to post-op, very important, gotta be done right away, bye sirs!" Rapid footsteps sounded as Klinger beat a hasty retreat.

    Reactions varied. Pierce and Hunnicutt chuckled, Winchester looked mildly amused, Houlihan was affronted and Potter barely even blinked. The stunts of company clerks were far from a new thing for him.

    "Thank you, captain, now we can get down to brass tacks." The officer retrieved a file from his briefcase and began to leaf through the contained files. "Two days ago, Col. Potter requested additional information based on the discovery of the Leporid girl by Corp. O'Reilly-"

    "Leporid? The girl has a name, captain." Potter interjected, somewhat irate at the seeming dehumanization of the patients at his CSH. Didn't matter if the young lady was human or not, there were certain things the old army surgeon would not accept.

    "I do believe Colonel, that the label used is a placeholder for the name of the young girl's....people," Winchester answered. "Simplistically based on the taxonomic family Leporidae in which rabbits and hares are placed." His near eye-roll showed his opinion of the so-called 'wit' of the army choosing such a title.

    "At least until we can find out they call themselves. So far we haven't exactly had the opportunity to get into their national history. Boys back home have been focusing on who the people that declared war on us are." The intel officer said with a shrug before extracted some stapled together papers.

    "As for treating her and any other.....exotic patients, the labs have the first round of compatibility tests done so you can have a list of dos and don'ts. Most are common sense but there are a few allergies and bad reactions to things we don't even think about in most of our new neighbors, human and otherwise."

    Houlihan took the offered document and started flicking through them, muttering as she started cataloging all the minor and major changes that her nurses would have to do.

    "As for the girl's.....condition, we believe it to be directly related to the overall culture of the nation answering the title of The Saderan Empire which attacked Japan through the Gate. While it isn't a perfect match, from what has been found, these people seem to be very similar to the classical Roman empire."

    A muttered curse of "Veni, Vedi, Vici." came from Winchester.

    Pierce, however, was somewhat skeptical. "What's the problem? Home of Latin, toga parties, overblown circuses and 'Et Tu Brute?'."

    "It's not about who they are, Hawk. It's about how they treat everyone else isn't it?" Hunnicutt added, directing the question towards the messenger.

    The captain nodded. "Correct Captain Hunnicutt. Any other peoples are considered nothing but barbarians with no rights and whose destiny is to be conquered and their lands taken. If you must deal with them particularly outside the camp, ensure that you have armed backup. Do not expect anything resembling Geneva convention codes of conduct."

    "The young miss Parna was an escaped slave no doubt." Winchester's voice was steady but you could easily tell he was upset. "And in regards to her removed ear?"

    At this, the man was visibly uncomfortable. "From what we have been able to find out, it is a common 'mark of ownership' that Saderans perform on newly enslaved Leporids. I can't say what a self-inflicted form of it might mean."

    "I hope that you people gave Dr. Freedman the 411 about this before he got here," Pierce asked, visibly trying to retain his calm.

    "The psychiatrists were the first we told. Last item on the agenda is that you will be getting additional personnel and equipment."

    At this, there was a collective blink from the 407 staff. The army and government just giving them extra hands and goods? That sort of thing just didn't happen.

    "Specifically some specialists on loan from the CDC, containment and sterilization equipment along with antibiotics and vaccines. In particular 20,000 doses of vaccine code V041 ICD-9." This left most present with puzzled expressions, as the code didn't appear to ring any bells.

    Apart from one."Sweet Nefertiti!" Potter exclaimed, his face going nearly as white as his hair. "Why in the name of Sweet Fanny Adams are you sending us that much Smallpox vaccine?"

    "Smallpox vaccine?" Hunnicutt questioned in surprise. "Are you saying we could face a bioweapons attack of some kind? I mean, even then our guys should have already been vaccinated and you're sending us more doses than we have people out here."

    "A needed precaution sir. During the Interrogations, plagues were mentioned and some of the symptoms of one described do resemble smallpox. I'm no expert but this is a whole new world with a civilization that has large urban centers, people and livestock sharing space, pre-modern sewage systems and to top it off, multiple near-human species living alongside them adds a whole new element to zoonosis. Not to mention the number of prisoners and Saderan wounded here, an outbreak is a possibility we can't ignore. Also, the experts feel there is a very real chance we will encounter a brand new disease or an unknown variation on an existing one. So they're sending everything."

    "Well son, I guess you folks have your reasons for being so twitchy. I just hope you're seeing smoke with no fire. This old war-horse doesn't need any more surprises."

    After that last bombshell, the meeting degenerated to more mundane matters. As it wound down and the officer left to head back through the Gate the five started trying to figure out new policy and how to properly brief the rest. Another day at an army hospital, another SNAFU to work through.

    AN2: The Empire is from transplanted Romans from Earth and the Antonine Plague might have been caused by smallpox. Either way, there are going to be all new diseases that the army would have to be ready for. It just makes sense that the hospital would be among the first to be informed.
    AN3: And yes, Potter has a bunch of weird sayings that he would use in the show terms 'Potterisms'.
     
  13. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    A/N: ~ denotes speaking in Japanese~

    Chapter 9: Turn


    Special Detention Facility, Yokosuka


    My son, I envy that tonight you will rest under the stars of my homeland and I wish you good fortune in your travels but I must say I wish you were still here. Your successor is a complete lackwit! Also, the next time I see you, I must remember to give you that ring. I need to thank Chief Richardson for helping me find a craftsman to handle the work. Even if Imperial Suwani and Denari are not the coins of this realm, gold and silver are still gold and silver. Even here, wealth has its uses. Now if I could only buy your successor a heart and some brains…


    To say that relations between Lady Octavia and Lieutenant Fallon, the new liaison officer, were frigid was like describing a typhoon as ‘mildly inclement weather’. For one thing, Octavia was informed that she would have to make a request through Senior Chief Richardson to see Lieutenant Fallon at his convenience.


    Done were polite conversations over shared meals. It seemed that politics and displays of dominance were the new order of the game. The one meeting Octavia had with Lieutenant Fallon had been a ham-handed farce with Fallon either unable or unwilling to hide the condescension in his eyes.


    Fortunately, Octavia was a seasoned veteran of years of military and court politics, concealing her emotions behind a facade of well-practiced smiles and courtly manners. It was a mark of her ability; indeed, that she was able to mask the anger, frustration, and worry that she felt that all the work and goodwill accomplished to date might be jeopardized by one arrogant and petty little man. Perhaps it is good to know that even such an advanced culture had its share of self-important cretins, Octavia thought to herself, but if Lieutenant Fallon believed he could intimidate her, then he was very mistaken. Your people may reign supreme on the battlefield young man, but you have entered MY arena. May whatever gods you believe in have mercy on your soul for I will have none.


    Gibraltar



    “Lieutenant, beating these people in the field isn’t the question. We can wipe the map with them at any time and any place we choose. What we need is to be able to start talking to these people. That’s why you’re here. No one else has spent as much time actually sitting down with these people and talking with them. That’s the kind of expertise we need now.”


    “Yes, sir.”


    “We need to go out and meet the locals, reassure them that their new neighbors aren’t a bunch of kill-happy maniacs. We want to show them we’re good neighbors and along the way, we need to map out their social and political structure so we can start figuring out who to talk to about ending this little war.”


    Colonel Emerson’s words echoed in Taylor’s head as he left the Colonel’s newly completed office and headed for what would become the base’s main motor pool, although at the moment it amounted to an unpaved parking lot. Looking around himself, the base certainly looked impressive, even if still in an early stage of construction.


    The planned design for the main compound was a rather elegant looking star-shaped fortress. This was despite the protests of many American engineers. who felt the design inefficient and impractical. The Japanese view of the structure prevailed as they argued that the base was unlikely to face serious attack once completed and that the design should, therefore, be as much as a political and cultural statement as a military installation. Once completed, most Americans would fondly refer to it as the ‘Starbase’.


    As he strode past the unfinished Marine barracks, he continued to think back to his meeting.


    “You’ll be working as part of the Third Deep Reconnaissance Squad under First Lieutenant Youji Itami. The Hero of Ginza, I’m sure you must have seen the big commendation ceremony and press blitz.”


    “Can’t say I did sir. I think I was busy discussing anthrax testing on livestock that day.”


    Emerson chuckled. “Fair enough, Lieutenant. Just if someone ever decides to pin a medal on you, try and pay attention.”


    “Certainly sir.”


    “At any rate, you’ll be there to observe and assist where possible. Itami will be in command.”


    “What sort of officer is Itami, sir?”


    “He’s Special Forces and his performance in Ginza speaks for itself. That said, he’s got some notes in his file which concern me. It’s a mixed bag Lieutenant." Emerson frowned. “Lieutenant, listen carefully to me, son, I know you’re Navy, not Marines, but you’re still an American officer. If things start falling apart out there, do what you have to. Don’t politely follow a bad situation into the ground. Use your best judgment and we’ll sort it out later.”


    “Aye, sir.”


    Taylor certainly hoped he would never be caught in any such situation. Wearing the green and tan camouflage of the Marine Corps in no way made him Chesty Puller and he had no inclination to pretend he was.


    Presently, he walked up on a small group of JSDF infantry and knew he had found the group he was looking for as he overheard the skinny Lieutenant address the others,


    ~ I am Itami, commander of Recon Squad Three.~


    Taylor heard the Lieutenant mutter something about missing the Yurikamome.


    ~All right! Let’s get going!~


    Don’t tell me nobody told these guys I was coming. This could be awkward.


    “Excuse me, Lieutenant.’ He spoke in a firm but respectful voice.”Lieutenant Youji Itami?”


    The officer looked at him with a blank expression as Taylor saluted him. Taylor was not the most spit-shined officer in the service, but the importance of making a good initial impression had long been impressed upon him.


    Taylor waited for Itami to return his salute before continuing.


    “Lieutenant Taylor, United States Navy. I have orders to report to you as unit observer.”


    “Oh!” Itami’s confused expression yielded to recognition. “I forgot about that! Well! Welcome aboard. Time to get going, eh?”


    “It’s your campaign, Lieutenant.” Taylor nodded and at Itami’s gesture, got into the Humvee waiting in the lead position. Technically it was a Toyota High Mobility Vehicle, but to Taylor, the distinction was as meaningless as the difference between a DC-3 and the Japanese produced L2D ‘Tabby’ that was a licensed copy of the famed Douglas airliner. That is to say, none at all. Being one of two dozen recon teams, 3rd Recon was one of the teams assigned to the North East quadrant. Driving at a conservative speed they reached a small village shortly after noon. The village was marked in one of the earlier aerial surveys so the unit was able to halt about half a mile from the village gate while Itami discussed the best way to approach the small community.


    “Best not to all of us drive up to the front door out of the blue. “ Taylor commented.


    “Yes, I agree.” Itami nodded. “I think you and Sergeant Kurokawa should go.”


    “Just the two of us, hmm?” Taylor raised an eyebrow,


    “Of course not, Sergeants Kuribayashi and Tomita will go with you.”


    Taylor shook his head. “Yes, but then our little group would be missing that command presence it so desperately cries out for. I just don’t see how we can pull this off without you Lieutenant.” Taylor grinned.


    Kurokawa looked at the two men with amusement.”If you two strong men are too frightened, I can handle this on my own.” The medic told them.


    Both Lieutenants looked at her. “No way. You, Sergeant, are the single most indispensable person here.” Taylor told her flatly.


    “That’s right” Itami agreed..”Fine. Kurokawa and I will go in first. Taylor, you and Kuribayashi will follow behind us.”


    “Right.” Taylor retrieved the M4 Carbine that the Marines had issued him and made doubly certain the safety was on. Yeah… I’m a friggin’ Real American Hero. I’ll probably blow my own foot off. Following behind Itami and Kurokawa, Taylor and Kuribayashi walked down the well-worn cart path.


    ~Great!~ Shino muttered to herself. ~We’re doomed! Our L-T is gone in the head and what do we need with…~


    Taylor mentally tensed.


    ~...a sailor?~ Shino finished.


    Taylor chuckled. ~Just in case the enemy uses a battleship to block the road, Sergeant.~


    Shino whirled her head in surprise.


    ~Yes, Sergeant Kuribayashi. I speak Japanese.~ He shrugged. ~At least I speak it well enough to thank you for not saying ‘gaijin’ just now.~


    ~But… You didn’t say… We’ve all been speaking English for nothing?~ Shino sputtered.


    ~Did anyone ask if I spoke Japanese? I just let everyone make their own assumptions. Once I was certain that it wouldn’t endanger the mission, I figured I would just hold onto that piece of information. You can learn a lot about someone if he doesn’t think you can understand what he’s really saying.~


    Kuribayashi grinned in recognition. ~A ploy then sir.~


    ~Yes and one I’d appreciate if you didn’t spoil for everyone else. I’ve been listening to your Lieutenant and Sergeant Kurata carry on about Cat-girls and Elves and manga and anime and whatnot for HOURS and biting my tongue. I’m just afraid they’ll start singing.~


    ~May the heavens save us!~


    ~By all means Sergeant.~


    Presently, Kurokawa and Itami reached the village gate to begin making contact. Taylor and Kuribayashi holding back a few yards in cover, keeping a watchful eye just to be safe. Everyone in 3rd Recon would have agreed that Kurokawa had a face and demeanor that folks easily warmed to. Taylor had to admit that Itami’s ability to play the part of a loveable goof was probably also useful in helping coax the reluctant villagers to feel safe as Itami signaled for Taylor and Kuribayashi to join them and then ordered the rest of the squad to come up. Taylor read the sign above the gate.


    “‘Coda Village’. A nice private gated community for those who like to live off the beaten path.” Remembering his language lessons with Lucilla, Taylor stepped up to help Itami talk with the village elder. Though Itami did not know it, Lady Octavia had been kind enough to assign her house scribe to put together the phrasebook that Itami was now holding and rather horribly mangling. To further put the locals at ease, Taylor took out the coin purse Octavia had given him and bought some local produce.


    Kuribayashi looked at him with interest.


    “It’s my allowance money,” he said simply


    The Village elder, a man named Aelred, helped them fill in some of the details on their map, local place names, features not notable from the air and where nearby roads led. Taylor filed the man’s name in his own notes as it helped him piece together the riddle of just who the Saderans were.


    Soon it was time to move on. There was a forest ahead that they should reach in time to make camp. Unfortunately, the banter between Itami and Kurata over fantasy creatures and manga and anime finally gave way to singing as the pair burst into the theme for ‘Mei Company’.


    Taylor groaned inwardly. You two have no respect for the classics: Space Battleship Yamato, Rurouni Kenshin, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and as for magical girls? My Waifu could beat up your waifu. My other waifu could beat up you! He thought, resisting the urge to mutiny as the singing continued.


    Further down the road, they followed a stream to the outskirts of the forest only to find it ablaze. The little convoy stopped as they got out to get a better look with their field glasses.


    That’s when they got their first look at the Flame Dragon.


    ~It’s like a one-headed King Ghidorah.~ Sergeant Major Kuwahara exclaimed.


    ~That stuff’s so old, Pops!~ Itami remarked.


    ~More like Tolkien’s Smaug, Sergeant Major, but what I want to know is: Where’s Godzilla when you really need him?~


    Most everyone turned to look at Taylor in surprise. He waved it off. ~Later,~ he said flatly as Kuribayashi stepped up.


    ~Commander Itami, what will we do now?~


    ~Kuribayashi-chan, I’m too scared to go alone. Wanna come with me?~


    ~No thank you.~


    ~Oh, okay then.~


    For his own part, Taylor was perfectly willing to take the better part of valor. Challenging Smaug without a plan seemed a good way to end up on the wrong side of a flambeing. Then the massive beast flew off, apparently satisfied with his day’s work. And I sure hope it’s a ‘he’!


    Itami drew their attention back to the immediate moment. ~Do you think that dragon has a habit of burning down forests for no reason?~


    ~If you’re interested in dragon behavior, why don’t you go after it yourself, Commander?~ Kuribayashi remarked flippantly.


    Itami paid it no heed. ~No, I mean, don’t you remember what they told us at Coda Village? About there being a settlement in the forest?~


    ~Oh crap!~Kurata exclaimed.


    ~Looks like we’ll have to set up camp later!~ Itami told them.


    ~Understood,~ Kuwuhara acknowledged. ~All units! Prepare to move out!~


    As they got back in their vehicles, it began to rain.
     
  14. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    A/N: Characters are speaking Japanese unless otherwise noted.

    Chapter 10: Dragon Road


    Third Recon Squad, Koan Forest


    They arrived at what had once been the Kowan settlement a couple of hours after nightfall. For most of the night, the flames were still too hot to permit entry beyond the edge of the woods. After dawn, with the ground still smoldering, the squad moved in to investigate. The acrid smoke still stinging the eyes. Here and there persistent embers burned and the remains of once proud trees continued to smolder. The smell reminded Taylor of a charcoal pit and they were in it. Where once had been bright greens, the vibrant colors of life, all that was left was black and grey, the colors of death. The only sounds were the sounds of their footfalls amid a moonscape, unnaturally devoid of even insect life. The only thing that looked even remotely intact was the well in what once must have been the center of the village. If one looked carefully, it was still possible to see the depression in the ground where a well-worn footpath cut through the village, with one end leading down to the stream and the other end leading into what yesterday had been forest.


    "Base has responded to our contact report." Private Tozu reported.


    About damn time! Taylor thought angrily. They had reported their sighting of the dragon the evening before as an extremely large and destructive biological, apparently a dragon. Apparently, the radio watch had not flagged it as urgent, so it had taken precious time to work its way through the chain of command.


    "What do they say?" Itami asked.


    "Message received. Report further sightings. Request for air support is being taken under advisement."


    And thanks for nothing. Taylor groused silently to himself. Sure, their report might seem incredible but what was normal out here anyway?


    "The ground is still hot." Sergeant Major Kuwahara noted


    "It’ll be a miracle if there are any survivors." Sergeant Kurata commented


    "Let’s assume there are," Taylor replied. "If you were in this village, where would you run to for safety?" Taylor looked around. Let’s get the opinion of a ground pounder on this. "Kuribayashi!"


    "Yes, sir?" She responded quickly


    Taylor frowned at the ground. He knew that it was best for an officer not to look ignorant. In this case, he could justifiably state it was outside his realm of expertise but it was still a bad precedent. On the other hand, If he acted as if he were being the teacher, using the Socratic method to guide Kuribayashi to the answers, he would merely be displaying the traits of a good officer. "Walk me through this Sergeant. Study this ground. You are escorting a high priority target Where do you go to try and escape?"


    Shino considered Taylor’s question carefully, trying to picture herself amid the calamity that had occurred here. "Away from the deep woods. Anywhere but there."


    "Why?" Taylor asked. "Don’t you want to get into deeper cover?" He challenged, making sure to maintain a calm and neutral tone.


    Shino closed her eyes, with her arms crossed over her chest as she imagined herself heading for the cover of the deep woods but saw the flames spreading faster than she could run."Yes, but the woods are a trap. Escaping the dragon means nothing if I can’t escape the fire."


    Taylor nodded approvingly. "The stream then." They had followed its course to arrive at the woods. Perhaps survivors had followed it further along in their efforts to escape."Follow it further South?" He suggested in that same inquiring manner


    Shino opened her eyes, turning them to the stream bank where the sound of water burbling on its course was the only truly natural sound to be heard, studying it with a level gaze and nodded in agreement, pleased that the Lieutenant was relying on her. In the back of her subconscious, she probably realized that as a Naval officer, Taylor truly did not know the answers to the questions he posed. But it was good to know he had faith in her to find the right answers and saving face in a way that reflected well upon both of them. In a way, it was very Japanese. "Hai!"


    As the two started to follow up on their hunch, Itami sat down on the edge of a well to take a drink from his canteen, the unnatural heat affecting everyone. First Sergeant Tomita made a report to him.


    "We’ve counted thirty-two structures or rather what’s left of thirty-two structures. But so far, we have only found twenty-seven bodies. Obviously, it’s too few. Most were probably trapped in the rubble when the buildings collapsed in the fire."


    Itami sighed, running the numbers. "Assuming three persons per building, a hundred people died." War was one thing. This was something different. The inhabitants of this village could not have been considered a serious threat to a creature as large and as powerful as that dragon and the charred remains of at least two-dozen victims told them this was not the act of a normal predator. Predators killed and ate. This was simply murder.


    Tomita shook his head as he could not find words adequate to describe the anguish he felt in his heart for these people His hands clenching at his sides, his innards twisting in a knot. "Terrible," he said finally, knowing it was altogether insufficient a word for this.


    Itami nodded. "We should report that the dragons here may attack settlements." Only by thinking of his duties could he pull his mind and feelings from the awfulness around them. Moreover, he had to be the example for his squad. No matter how horrible this all was, they still had a job to do and for once, Itami was thankful for it.


    "Even the small dragons that the enemy used as aerial cavalry were resistant to rifle fire. It took 12.7 mm machine guns with armor piercing rounds to penetrate. Something as big as this thing? We’re going to need a lot more firepower." Tomita noted.


    "It’s a problem." Itami agreed. "Best to find its nest. I wouldn’t want to try fighting it in the open." Itami dropped a bucket into the well, hoping to refill his canteen. Instead, it made a hollow ‘clunk’ as it hit something solid.


    Tomita took out a flashlight and shone its beam down into the well. That’s when Itami and Tomita saw there was someone there…


    ***​


    In the meantime, Taylor and Kuribayashi continued to head south, following the stream. Here the ground was cool. If anyone had gotten this far, they were probably alive for the moment. That’s when Shino heard it first. It sounded like a voice, young and insistent and speaking a language neither Taylor or Kuribayashi recognized.


    "Mom! Mom! Please don’t leave me. Someone will find us."


    Shino held up a hand and signaled a direction to Taylor, who nodded. They heard a second voice, more mature, fainter, as if tired.


    "My son… I love you so much. I promise I am not ready to leave you."


    Taylor did not recognize the language but hopefully, being close to Coda Village, these people might speak Popularii, the form of Latin in use in this world.


    "Hello? Is anyone there? We’re here to help!" I expect Lucilla would give me low scores for my diction, but hopefully, I did well enough to be understood.


    Taylor and Kuribayashi heard the young voice first as they got closer.


    "They must be from Coda Village mom. We’ll be okay now, right?"


    "Of course, we will, Galador. We’ll be fine." Though the boy’s mother did not believe this. Villagers seldom came this way and she had no expectation that they would take in Elves. Especially when in all likelihood, they too would soon be fleeing from the Flame Dragon. But there was no choice but to hope. She heard the footfalls and then with her son huddled in her arms, she looked up to see two of the strangest humans she had ever seen in her three hundred and eight years.


    Taylor nodded to Shino, who thumbed her mic open. "We have found two survivors. South on the stream bank."


    "Roger. We have also found a survivor." Kurata’s voice came back. "The Lieutenant has gone down into a well to retrieve her. She appears to be alive but unconscious. Do you need Kurokawa?"


    Lieutenant Taylor shook his head ‘no’. If their survivor was unconscious, then the medic was definitely needed there, not here.


    "Negative. Kuribayashi out."


    They took a moment to get a look at the two elves before them. The mother was covered in soot and had some cuts and bruises. The son was physically unharmed. Both were shivering slightly from being out in a cold rain all night. Taylor took off his field jacket and wrapped it gently around the mother. Shino likewise took her jacket off and after waiting for a nod from his mother put it around the boy. The mother winced in pain as she tried to stand on a twisted ankle.


    No wonder why they didn’t get any further. Taylor realized.


    "Lieutenant?" Kuribayashi asked. "Should we continue searching for survivors?"


    "No. If anyone else made it out of all that, they’re probably long gone. These two need our help now. Let’s head back."


    "Roger!" Shino picked up the boy, who spoke to them in the local human dialect of Popularii and identified himself proudly as Galador and said his mother’s name was Aenaire.


    After bandaging Aenaire’s ankle, Taylor carried her on his back to where the rest of the squad was waiting. Taylor lowered Aenaire gently down so Kurokawa could examine her once the medic was finished tending her other patient. It did not take a medic to know that what Aenaire and her son needed right now was to get warm. He looked around. "Somebody breakout some blankets and if anyone would care to donate a clean undershirt and shorts? And somebody, look into our ration kits and break out some soup or something? Let’s get some heated up for these two and get them in one of the trucks and crank up the heater."


    A chorus of Yes sirs’ and ‘Rogers’ and ‘Hais’ resounded as meantime, Aenaire got her first clear look at the other survivor amid these strange humans.


    "Tuka!" She exclaimed in the Elven tongue, recognizing those golden locks and the serene face of the younger girl who now lay unconscious under the ministrations of what must be a healer. That her father, Hodor was nowhere in evidence, however, could only mean that he had perished with all the others. Aenaire glanced around, hoping that perhaps she might see the warm and strong face of her brother Gadrel. It was he who had directed her to take Galador and run for the stream as he grabbed their father’s prized bow, determined to ensure their survival, even at the cost of his own life.


    But in her heart, she had accepted that Gadrel was, indeed, dead. In the days ahead, she would mourn many, but for now, she embraced the knowledge that she, her son, and Tuka had all survived.


    As to their current situation, it was obvious that these humans were not simple villagers by any means. Their demeanor and their clothes, while unusual, clearly bespoke their status as soldiers. And yet they carried neither swords, nor spears, nor shields, nor armor. As she held the cup of soup that had been given her, she considered that instead of making a fire, they had simply poured water into a pouch and from that had produced hot soup. Perhaps these people were an order of wizards? She thought to herself. But this still made little sense. Perhaps she would learn more later, but for now, it was enough to hold her son.


    So the Third Recon Squad got underway once more. Behind and unknown to any of them, three other survivors of Kowan Village continued to flee, unknowing of what had transpired in the remains of their village.


    In the meantime, Itami decided that the best course of action would be to head back to Coda Village and see if perhaps they could take in the survivors of this settlement. With the three Elves loaded into the back of the Humvee, where Kurokawa could tend them, the little convoy headed back to Coda Village. Reaching the village in under an hour, Itami and Taylor met immediately with the Village Elder. Unfortunately, this meeting had not produced a solution to what to do with the survivors of the Koan Forest village as the elder told them that not only could Coda Village not take in the elves but with a Flame dragon active in the area, they would have to evacuate Coda Village immediately.


    To that end, Itami offered for Third Recon to assist the evacuation. It was an all-hands exercise helping to pack wagons, prioritizing what had to be taken and then what could be taken. Lieutenant William Taylor might not be proficient in the arts of infantry combat, but what he did possess was intense training in the art of damage control taught by the most demanding of practitioners in the world.


    With that in mind, Taylor quickly found the Village blacksmith and carpenter. Promising them room in Third Recon’s own vehicles if needed, Taylor had them inspect and shore up every wagon in the village. If time was of the essence, then it would not be wasted in haste. This did not prevent the loss of a wagon from overloading, but it did prevent others from breaking down as the refugees from Coda Village set out, not knowing where they would go.


    Getting into the Humvee, Taylor smiled at Kurokawa, who was still tending to the girl identified as Tuka while the other elves and three curious local boys looked on. Then he stuck his head up front and addressed Itami. "I suppose we’ll have to report this to base."


    Itami leaned back with an apparent lack of concern. "The radio doesn’t seem to be working. Must be atmospherics or some such."


    "Must be." Taylor agreed and left it at that and withdrew into the back and turned to Aenaire. Fortunately, Aenaire and her son both understood Popularii. This made conversation at least possible, although awkward since no one was speaking in his or her native language.


    "How are you?" Taylor asked in that shared tongue.


    Aenaire looked at her son who was resting peacefully by her side. "I am alive and with the most precious thing in my world safe by my side. I would say that makes me very happy, even with what we’ve lost." She ventured a warm smile. "And what land do you people come from? You certainly aren’t from Coda Village, nor from the Empire, I would say."


    "We come from lands far away."


    "You come from beyond the sacred beginning then?"


    "The Gate you mean?"


    "Yes. Though I have not seen it open in my span, My father told stories of meeting men from beyond the Gate.." Aenaire replied.


    "Well, it appears that someone sent an army through that Gate and into the land of Japan, whence most of the soldiers here are from. We have come to explain to them this was not a good idea."


    "I see. And what will you do with the lands you conquer?"


    "We aren’t here to conquer, though we intend to hold on to this Gate to make certain another such transgression doesn’t occur."


    "And the people of these lands? How will you treat them?"


    "To those who will only accept war, we can only give war and war is something we have learned horribly well. But to those who would offer us friendship, then I only hope our leaders will choose to act as friends." He glanced at Kurokawa and Itami, who were discussing calling for more vehicles as apparently, Itami had not bothered telling the medic about the radio being ‘broken’, and at Kurata. "As we wish to be as friends."


    Their discussion was interrupted by Kurata reporting. "Someone’s coming from up ahead."


    Taylor smiled at Aenaire. "I had better check what’s going on."


    Itami looked through his field glasses. "Crows?" He then jumped back in surprise to see a pretty young girl carrying a halberd, sitting as if waiting for them. Her bright rose-colored eyes sparkled mischievously as the thin smile on her lips suggested anticipation.


    "A Gothic Lolita girl?!" Itami exclaimed. Taylor stuck his head back up front for a look. Presently, the girl stood up and walked calmly toward them, halberd held upright.


    "Where do you come from?" She asked mildly. Taylor was reminded of a judge who wished to see if the suspect would attempt to lie his way out of trouble when the judge already knew the truth. Something about her attire was sending an urgent signal to his brain to recall some important piece of information he had been told. "Where are you going?" She added.


    Apparently, without their phrasebooks open, this line of inquiry left Itami and Kurata at a loss to comprehend. Taylor frowned, trying to remember.


    "She appears to be a child," Kurokawa noted. Just then, the three Coda children bounded out of the back of the vehicle in delight and recognition.


    "It’s the oracle!" They exclaimed.


    Oracle? Crap! Taylor thought as it clicked. Lady Octavia herself had taught him to know the major temples, gods, and their apostles.


    For us, Lieutenant, the Gods of our world are not a question of belief or faith as they are in yours. They are a part of our lives and their apostles walk among us. We ask for their favor but the gods do as they wish and their apostles carry out those wishes. Your tools and weapons may be far greater than any beheld in our world my son but you are still mortal. I give you this knowledge so you may avoid the displeasure of one who is not. I ask you not to rely solely on the protection of your God, but in the mind he fashioned for you, for our Gods will not spare you in his name. They would slay you and bring the matter up with him at his convenience.



    Out in front of the truck, the children and several other villagers rushed to greet the oracle. These people she greeted in a manner appearing most friendly as she repeated her first question to them.


    To the Oracle, they told the tale of their flight from Coda Village.


    "They appear to be praying to her," Kurokawa noted.


    "So there’s some religious reason for that weird outfit?" Itami wondered.


    "Ho boy… Is there ever!" Taylor told them as the Oracle turned her head toward them. It was as if she had heard and even understood Itami’s remark about her clothing.


    "Who are these strange people?" She asked the children as she studied the truck and Itami intently.


    "They saved us! They’re good people!" One of the boys proclaimed.


    "So you aren’t being forced out of your village?" The Oracle asked to be certain.


    "Nope!" He told her.


    Out of the mouths of children comes the truth! Taylor agreed hopefully in his mind.


    She seemed to relax a little as she again studied the truck. "How does this move?"

    "I don’t know but it’s way comfier than our carts!" The boy told her.


    "Oh? A comfy ride huh?" She licked her lips in a most unsettling way as she looked up at Itami. "I’d like to see how it feels to ride it too."


    Taylor had to give Itami credit for going down with a sinking ship as Itami so innocently recited the words in Popularii that were at the very front of the phrasebooks they had been issued.


    "Hello? How are you?" Itami got out in stilted Popularii.


    "Well, Lieutenant,” Taylor told Itami. "I think I’ll grab my gear and hop the half ton."


    Itami blinked as the Apostle smiled at him intently.


    In the meantime, Aenaire looked at Taylor as he grabbed his gear. He explained. "Lieutenant Itami is going to be having company and I wouldn’t want them to be too crowded."


    "Ah!" She said, observing the Oracle. "If we might, I think Galador and I would join you?"


    "I don’t see why not!" He said. As they exited the vehicle, he bowed to the Oracle. "Rory Mercury, your name precedes you. The Lord of the Forbidden Interior awaits your presence."


    Rory smiled and gave an accepting bow in return and then hopped into the Hummer.


    Taylor suppressing a smirk as the Oracle began to make Itami’s life more interesting.


    "Traitor!" Itami called out as Taylor walked away.


    “You’ll get over it Itami,” Taylor replied as he opened the door to the half-ton and Aenaire and Galador got in and he followed, closing the door. Space was a little tight with Galador forced to sit in his mother’s lap, but it was definitely the more peaceful ride as the column got back underway.



    To Be Continued.
     
  15. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 11: Journey’s End, Journeys Begin


    Gibraltar


    The encounter with the Flame Dragon had been an exercise in frustration for Lieutenant Taylor. The M4 carbine he carried simply did not have the punch to be of use as they attempted to distract the beast from the civilians. Filled with a feeling of powerlessness, all he could do was to watch as Aenaire held her son and voiced a desperate prayer, which perhaps had been answered as in the end, Third Recon had succeeded in driving off the beast. In the aftermath, muttering that he hoped the Marines were having better atmospherics, Taylor radioed in for helicopters to conduct an emergency medical evacuation.


    It could well be considered fortunate that those victims burned by the dragon’s breathe did not linger before passing into death, but several who sustained injuries from toppling wagons and falls did survive due to the prompt medical care. In the end, some 119 refugees from Coda Village perished. It was all very sobering.


    And yet, while the survivors mourned, they also expressed great gratitude, for all of them had truly expected to die, and yet most of them were alive. The majority of them sought shelter with relatives in neighboring towns and villages, and a few, mostly, the elderly or young without surviving kin and a few souls simply deciding that the company of these strangers in green was as much preferred as to any other strangers somewhere else. These refugees would become the first residents of the town of Alnus. But for now, by decree upon high, they were the responsibility of the officers and personnel of Third Recon Squad. On top of that, both Itami and Taylor had reports to file and if Major Hioaki had no desire to make any further inquiries into the antics of the two young officers, they both were called to give a direct report to Colonel Emerson, who made a promise that there would be a thorough review of radio procedures as he stared at them with impenetrable ice blue eyes. After which he congratulated the pair with a “Well done!” and dismissed them from his office.


    What would have disturbed them all to know that they were not the only ones making reports and that; in fact, a copy of Itami’s initial report had been leaked to members of the Diet and from there to sources in the media within scant hours.


    But the repercussions of this were still yet to be felt as the other squads continued surveying the countryside and making contact with other villages and small towns in the area. A patrol of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment having a particularly eventful encounter with a sizeable force of armed Brigands who made the mistake of thinking they were hitting a trade caravan.


    And while other units continued to patrol. Third Recon was now responsible for the housing, clothing, and feeding of the refugees from Coda Village and the Kowan settlement.


    “Kurokawa and Kuribayashi: Go get some rations from the mess,” Itami told them. “Tomita: You and Kurata go over to supply and requisition tents. Taylor, go and talk to the Construction Battalion about arranging more permanent lodgings. I’ll get started on the paperwork.” Itami said in resignation.


    “Right. I’ll meet with the engineers after I go down to the hospital and check on the villagers that were medevaced there.” Taylor agreed. He wanted not only to check on the villagers but to get a doctor and nurse to give all the refugees full physicals. He also planned to drop by the Marine Mess and get rations there. After all, no need for them to be only exposed to Japanese food and culture. That reminds me, I need to drop by the PX. I need to pick up a portable DVD player.


    “Hey. Itami.” A very immaculate JSDF 1st Lieutenant addressed Itami.


    “Yanagida?” Itami acknowledged the other man.


    “Come with me,” Yanagida told Itami, casting a wary eye at Taylor for the briefest of moments. Taylor pretended not to notice.


    “I’ll see you after I’ve met with the Seabees, Itami.” He turned and acknowledged Yanagida. “Lieutenant,” Taylor nodded and headed for the base hospital.


    It was shortly after nightfall that Taylor caught up with Itami. After briefing the JSDF officer on his discussion with the engineers, Taylor brought him up to speed on the medical cases. “Well, the doctors seem confident that every one of the villagers that we had airlifted in will make full recoveries. So that will bring our refugee population to what? Forty-Seven I think? So…? What did Yanagida want?”


    Itami sighed. On the one hand, he had known his fellow JSDF officer considerably longer than he had the American and if Yanagida’s pride could be touchy at times, he was unwaveringly loyal to his brother officers and of course to Japan. On the other hand, Taylor had proven himself out in the field. He had earned respect from the men and women of Third Recon Squad. He had earned trust. Well, it wasn’t Itami’s deal anyway. He just wanted to get his job done and go home someday, hopefully before the next Comiket.


    “Yanagida says this world is an opportunity for Japan. The air is clean and resources untapped. He wonders if maybe…”



    “If maybe somebody should take advantage of this opportunity? Does he really believe that crap?” Taylor shook his head.

    Itami sighed, looking up at the sky as if searching for something. "I wonder if my Great Grandfather ever saw it coming?" He murmured.

    "Hmm?" Taylor inquired.

    "I'm hardly the first generation of my family to wear the uniform, you know. Just the first since the war. My great-grandfather served, just as did his father and his before him. I think, if they knew how it would all end, they would still have served. I only wonder if they could see where it went wrong? 'Eight corners of the World under one roof'." Itami shook his head.

    Taylor paused thoughtfully. “It’s an old, tired tale Itami. Japan wasn't the first country to play that game. 'Manifest Destiny' sounded like a pretty good idea to the pioneers. Just like it sounded like a good idea to someone to send an army through that Gate to attack Tokyo because it was there.” Taylor said with a sour tone. He then fixed his gaze on a particularly bright star in the sky. It might have been a planet, or maybe it was a star he knew from Earth’s sky. It was fascinating to ponder. Maybe someday he would learn what the locals called it.


    “But, ask the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Sioux, the Crow, and the Cheyenne about what ‘Manifest Destiny’ did for them. Ask Hawaii if they ever miss the days when they were their own kingdom."

    "Okinawa too." Itami agreed. "And the Philippines." He added with shame in his eyes. "Yanagida is wrong. This place isn't important for what it can do for Japan. It's important so we can prove we've learned not to do those things again."

    Taylor nodded. “We’re deciding the fate of a world that never asked us to." He closed his eyes. "When it's all over, what will we leave behind? Hopefully more than just a McDonald's on the corner and a Toyota dealer on Main street."

    The two men looked squarely at each other, a silent agreement confirmed. “Well, the big calls will be made above our pay grades," Taylor said. "Tomorrow, we’ll do what we can for forty-seven people who need our help. Good night Itami.”


    “Good night, Taylor.”



    ***​



    In the morning, work started by having each of the refugees (Those that were able, those still recovering in the hospital would be interviewed later.) identify themselves for the record, giving their names and any details like place of origin or trade. Itami making notes for administrative purposes and Taylor making his own notes for the record he was compiling for cultural study and analysis.


    Before they began, Itami had a quiet question for Taylor as he noticed The Oracle watching him with an unsettling look in her eyes.


    “How did you recognize her back on the road?” Itami asked sotto voce.


    Taylor chuckled but kept his own voice equally discreet. “When one of the Great Noble Ladies of the Empire gives you tips and advice on her native land, if you have any sense, you listen. As mother explained it to me, the local pantheon is similar in a behavioral sense to the classic Greco-Roman gods, with the exception being that the gods have been observed, if rarely, to directly intervene in matters in Falmart, The Apostles are ascended mortals who have been granted power by the gods to act on their behalf. Quite literally, Rory Mercury is the personal hatchet woman of the god of Darkness.” Taylor smirked. “I was also told that usually, it’s best if the gods don’t notice you. Good luck with that.”


    As Itami dared to look back at Rory, he nodded nervously, not noting lesser points that Taylor had just mentioned, but Kuribayashi and Kurokawa had both caught one thing, in particular, they intended to ask their observer about later.


    “Right…,” Itami muttered then turned to his clipboard to begin registering their little group.


    Altestan? Sounds Anglo-Saxon, like a variation on Aethelstan, one of the earliest English Kings. Taylor noted. Rory Mercury... At the least, the identity of the old Roman pantheon made it out here, if not the active worship.


    They all noticed the hesitation of the girl Tuka. Aenaire placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. After the list was finished, Kurata held up the phrasebook for Itami as the Lieutenant announced to the refugees that they were going to begin work on permanent lodgings, As Itami worked his way through the translation, Taylor winced, knowing that Lucilla would have hit Itami with a brick at this point to end the suffering of her poor native tongue.


    Kurata also seemed unsure as to whether continued language courses were helping Itami in the slightest but somehow the message did seem to get across and soon the Seabees were hard at work on the first homes, storage buildings and even the first businesses as both the Coda Village carpenter and blacksmith had thought that the prospect of reopening at Alnus a more interesting and possibly more profitable venture than relocating to villages that already had such craftsmen in residence. The refugees were also exposed to both Japanese and American cultures through food, stories, and music and conversely were invited to share their own culture with the men and women of Third Recon.


    Lieutenant Taylor noted that the young apprentice mage, Lelei Laleena, seemed almost a sponge in her ability to soak up new language and customs, while Tuka Luna Marceau seemed to fixate on Lieutenant Itami and Rory Mercury seemed to have an intense interest in everything around her but with a special interest in Itami.


    Soon, the new housing was complete. Included among the amenities provided to the refugees was a Japanese style public bath constructed JSDF engineers. This and the common dining hall became the two major social hubs of the community.


    Aenaire found time to relax as her son and some of the other boys learned the basics of baseball from some of the off-duty personnel, with some time to herself, she joined Lelei, Rory and young Tuka in the bath.


    Both Rory and Lelei marveled at the accommodations in such a remote place. Aenaire could not help but agree. It was very soothing.


    “Itami said there would be a bath every day,” Lelei noted.


    “Itami? Ah! Of the JSDF.” Rory recalled.


    “Itami?” Tuka asked with sudden interest. “Is that the man that saved me?” She seemed embarrassed by the intensity of her own inquiry and clarified in a much more subdued voice, “Um, I was wondering if he was the one who saved me when I was lying unconscious in the village well.”


    “Yes,” Lelei answered. “It should have been Itami’s squad that saved you.”


    Aenaire smiled warmly. “They rescued my son and myself also but from what I understand, Itami practically vaulted in after you. I’m almost jealous Tuka!”


    “Itami.” Tuka blushed a bit as she savored the name.


    “And I hear that the other one, what is his name? Taylor has taken rather a bit of interest in you, Aenaire.” Rory teased.


    “Oh! He has been very kind but it’s nothing more than that.” Aenaire dismissed. “Besides, my son is the only one I need in my life right now. Being a mother gives one different priorities after all. On the other hand, it would only be natural for Tuka to have an interest in Itami.” Aenaire suggested, feeling that anything which would provide an anchor and new focus for the girl would be welcome.


    “Ever since that day, I’ve been unable to repay those who helped me. I wonder if it’s okay for me to be here.” Tuka replied.


    “It's fine,” Rory told her. “Most of the people here just lost their families.”


    Tuka looked uncomfortable at this but it quickly passed.


    “Anyway,” Rory observed to Lelei, “You've learned a lot of their language.”


    “I’m still studying but I’m starting to understand them a little.”


    “You mean the JSDF?” Tuka asked.


    “Yes. They are warriors from a country called Japan. But Taylor is from a country called America, or at least I think or the United States, I’m not sure which. And they and other countries have warriors here and are together called the Pacific Alliance. And there are even more countries than that all beyond the Gate.”


    “Other countries?” Tuka wondered at the idea of so many different people out there.


    “Sounds interesting!” Rory mused.


    “There’s a whole world we know nothing about beyond the Gate,” Lelei noted in fascination.


    “May it prove to be a kind and just world,” Aenaire noted as she considered her son’s future.



    ***​



    Princess Pina Co Lada walked out suppressing her frustration after her interview with King Duran of the Kingdom of the Elbe.

    I could have handled that better. Pina thought to herself. In threatening to destroy Duran’s Kingdom over her offended sense of pride that Duran would not just suggest, but blatantly accuse her father of deliberately engineering the massacre of Allied troops, she let slip a bit of her father’s notorious temper. Of course, Pina did not believe such a thing! But to take out her anger on a man who had clearly already been through an unimaginable ordeal was not the behavior worthy of a princess or a knight. What bothered her even more in the most secret and objective corners of her being was that she knew her father was quite capable of engineering such a thing if it suited his purposes. Deep inside, a small part of her wondered why her father had assigned her Order to scout the enemy. Many of her knights dearly wished to draw blood against the barbarians holding Sacred Alnus. Many of them had kin who had failed to return from the expedition to that other world and the thoughts of what had happened to them burned in the minds of many of her knights. Knights such as her dearest friends Bozes and Panache, whom both exclaimed a desire to prove the true cowardice of their enemies. Was her father truly capable of manipulating her pride and that of her knights into some reckless act?


    No. Her father was merely challenging them to assure their mettle was up to the task at hand. That was all.


    But she still had a course of action to decide. For weeks, Pina and her two most valuable advisers, Grey and Hamilton, and the stalwart Norma had been traveling the ways, stopping in any small village or hamlet to listen for any rumors or information of their enemy and their plans and movements. Currently, three of the companies of her order were encamped outside this little shire. Bozes commanded the Company of the Yellow Rose. Panache, the Company of the White Rose, and Vifita held command of the Company of the Red Rose in Pina’s absence.


    In planning the movements of her knights, Pina opted to take a gamble. Though the main column would have to travel west via the Appia way to make the best time and not outrun its supply wagons, Pina’s own party would make use of small roads and head Southwest until they reached the Dessria way, where the rest of the order could catch up with them.


    With the word from Princess Pina passed on from Sir Grey, the Rose Order got underway. For Panache Fure Kalgi, this mission was a very personal quest indeed. How she had tried to convince her little brother to join the Order, but their father, the current Baron Kalgi wanted his son to be part of a ‘real’ army and the news of the Grand Expedition had been enough for the Baron to call in old favors to get his 15-year-old son a commission under the command of Legate Germanicus. Unwittingly, their father had sent Panache’s beloved brother Tiberius to his death. Panache wondered if she would ever forgive her father for that. She only knew for certain that blood called for blood and she planned to collect.



    ***​


    As Princess Pina’s party rode away from the hospice, the old shepherd shook his head fondly and walked into Duran’s room. “Her Highness seemed to be perturbed.”


    Duran sighed at the old shepherd who had smuggled him away from bloody Alnus to this place of sanctuary. “She has her father’s pride, I fear.”


    “Perhaps,” the shepherd allowed. “But I believe she has her mother’s integrity.”


    “You would know, wouldn’t you?” Duran chuckled.


    “I pride myself on being a good judge of character.” The shepherd said simply. “Do you think she would carry out her threat to destroy the Kingdom of the Elbe?”


    “No,” Duran answered. “She has a tender spot and I just hit her in that spot, very hard.”


    “It was necessary though. She can’t be a good leader by ignoring painful truths. But while she may not be truly inclined to do you harm, I think you know there are others who would be most relieved by your death and if Princess Pina could find you…”


    “Then so can others. But with Crown Prince Andar ignoring my direct messages, I fear even my own home Kingdom is not currently a healthy place to be. I seriously do not think it would be wise to go to Sadera either.”


    “Well then! If you cannot go home because of betrayal, and the homes of friends are also denied for that same reason, then there is but one choice!”


    Duran’s eyes went wide as he followed the shepherd’s train of logic.


    “Really, your highness, The enemy at Alnus only tried to kill you. At the very least, they have not betrayed you.”


    “To think we snuck away from that place and you intend we should simply sneak back! You are living proof that the gods are mad when insanity is the best plan!”


    The shepherd smiled. “The gods didn’t make the world crazy, you humans did that… With help from a few of the gods perhaps,” he admitted.


    Despite himself, Duran laughed.



    ***​


    To Be Continued...
     
  16. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    By Guest Author jwolfe


    -Aftermath-

    "Attention, attention. Incoming wounded. All personnel report to pre-op immediately."

    "Of all the wake-up calls from my afternoon nap, that had to have been contender for the top five least desired," Pierce grumbled as he and the other surgeons of the 407th were scrubbing up.

    "I hear ya, Hawk." Trapper replied as his gloves and mask were slid on. "Though last I checked there wasn't any more fighting, so what and who hit these folks?"

    Potter snorted as he started backing into Op. "Nothing official to my ears and the rumor mill is apparently grinding slow today. Alright people, let's greet our new neighbors."

    "And what a proper introduction it is. Up to one's elbows in the individual's intestines." Charles snarked in reply.

    ----------

    "Lord have mercy, this boy is reminding me far too much of the bad old days in 'Nam after the army's napalm strikes."

    "Sounds like the community BBQ we do back in Crab Apple Cove going horribly, horribly wrong. Cuts and torn ligaments here. Looks like she kept trying to run which made it even worse. How's your bleeder, Charles?"

    "Tch. It appears that for once a corpsman with the infantry managed to retain some of the simplistic first-aid knowledge hammered into their empty skulls. The tourniquet was crudely (if correctly) applied and with my skills, the man should retain usage of his arm."

    "Nurse, show that x-ray again? Damn (sorry father). When this one recovers we need to take him into Tokyo to buy some lottery tickets. Shattered arm and cracked ribs like a car hit him but no sign of punctured organs."

    ----------

    "None of those people were soldiers, hell some of them were just kids. What was the army doing having a fight with them in the middle of it?" Hunnicutt growled. The fact that his patient had been a young girl no older then his daughter had set the man on a slow boil.

    "What I want to know is where all the burns came from. Last I checked the military hadn't suddenly decided flamethrowers were the bee's knee's again." Pierce retorted, gazing into his coffee as if it held the secrets of the universe (or at least of wakefulness).

    Almost as if on cue, the doors opened to admit a corporal who always had his ears to the ground and a nose for trades. "That I can answer, good sirs. Radar's busy sorting the Colonel's paperwork that you'll have to look over-"

    "Joy, just what I always wanted to do after a long bout of surgery. Can't he take care of it?" Potter groaned, leaning back against the wall.

    "He hasn't managed to duplicate your signature well enough yet sir. In regards to the source of our new houseguests, apparently one of the patrols was helping a village evacuate when a dragon decided to drop in for a few flybys."

    "Horse hockey! One of those overgrown geckos couldn't do this much damage if our boys were there helping."

    "Yeah well according to people to talked to the troopers, if those wryms that came through the Gate were helicopters, sir." And at this Klinger spread his arms wide and flicked his fingers outward as if describing the classic gigantic one-that-got-away. "This one? Was a jumbo jet. It only backed off when somebody managed to hit it with a rocket."

    AN: Because that dragon caused a lot of damage before getting driven off. And it wasn't just fire as it was shown diving to ground level and slashing through the refugee column. Even if it didn't bite down or directly hit with a claw, even a glancing hit by something that big moving at that speed would really mess you up.
    AN2: And yes, in a couple of M*A*S*H episodes, Radar talks to Potter and is indicated to take care of minor paperwork/red tape that the Colonel is technically supposed read over but is apparently the stereotypical bureaucratic hogwash that doesn't really need the resident CO's input.
     
  17. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    New Family


    Major Sidney Freedman strode into the company clerk’s office, where Corporal Klinger was busy checking over the quartermaster's sheet. The first trick in making trades was knowing exactly what you had to work with.


    “Is Colonel Potter in, Corporal?” Freedman asked.


    “Yes, sir. He’s waiting for you now Major.”


    “Thank you, Corporal. By the way, what’s with the rack of dresses back there?” Freedman jerked a finger behind them.


    “Care package from my mom! She worries about me as I am her only son so she sent me the dresses my Great Uncle wore to get out of Korea!”


    “He probably had better legs than you do, Corporal. You aren’t planning on wearing those are you?”


    “Hard to tell sir, seeing villagers come in here all torn up because a reject from a Godzilla movie decided to drop in really makes me not want to be here right now. On the other hand, with no disrespect to Uncle Akim’s impeccable fashion sense, but around this place? Who’d even notice? Maybe if I ate a jeep or something?”


    “You’ll only give yourself disappointment and a bad case of indigestion,” Sidney said as he pushed open the door to Colonel Potter’s office. Colonel Potter, Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, and Captains Pierce and Hunnicutt were there waiting.


    “Hello, Sidney.” Captain Pierce greeted from his seat. How’s business?”


    “Too good. This whole country could use a giant roll of mental floss.” He looked at Colonel Potter. “So you’ve got a special case for me?”


    Potter nodded. “Her name is Parna, the stuffed shirts are referring to her as a ‘Leporid’. All we know is that she was apparently hiding right under our noses and surviving on the camp scraps when Radar found her and since then, she stays as close to him as she can and gets into a panic if he’s gone for too long. There’s also the manner of a self-inflicted injury.”


    “I read the report on that,” Freedman confirmed. “Well, this is new territory for me. Let’s be clear here. Culturally, biologically, developmentally, we have no guarantee her responses or cues will be the same as yours or mine.”


    “Not like we have a choice if we’re gonna help this girl,” Potter replied.


    “True enough. Well, I guess I should have a little chat with her. Where is she now?”


    “I think she and Radar are over in the mess.” Henry Blake said. “Should I send Klinger over to get her?”


    “No. Better to do this in an environment where she feels most comfortable. I think I’ll wander over to the mess for a cup of coffee.” Freedman answered.


    “Industrial strength, just like you like it, Sidney,” Pierce told him.


    “Why don’t you boys go ahead and join him?” Potter suggested. “I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of paperwork to catch up on.”


    “Alright, then Colonel,” Henry replied. The four men walked over to the mess to find Radar and Parna sitting together with a laptop computer in front of them being used as a video player. As they approached, they could hear a familiar voice: Eh, what's up doc? Roman Legion convention or somethin'?


    “Ah! The classics!” Hawkeye mused. “Plato, Tolstoy, Fritz Freleng.”


    Radar looked up at the officers. “Oh! Hello sirs! Parna and I just finished a language lesson so we’re taking a little break.”


    “Language lessons?” Hawkeye remarked. “You teaching her or her teaching you?”


    “Cut it out, sir!” Radar replied. He hated being teased like that, especially now, around her. He could see she was still watching the screen as Bugs Bunny tripped a squad of Roman soldiers. She grinned broadly and then paused the video.


    “Radar?” She started with amusement and waited for him to look at her before continuing. She rather preferred to call him ‘Walter’ but that was his private name, not to be used with so many people around. “He looks like one of the People.” Parna pointed to the screen. “But he is naked. I do not think he is one of the People.” She said consideringly. “I think he is great trickster god!”


    “Well but he’s not…” Radar began to protest, certain that was not a good thing to encourage.


    She smiled and put a finger to his lips. “You say it is your law that no one can tell others what to believe! This is a good law I think.”


    “Well yeah.” Radar had to agree on that.


    “Looks like you’ve been busy Corporal.” Major Freedman noted in amusement.


    “That’s true,” BJ noted. “You’ve already taught her more about our country than Major Burns will ever understand.”


    “Parna?” Henry Blake addressed her. “This is Doctor Freedman. He’d like to talk to you.”


    “Hello, Doctor Freedman,” Parna said shyly.


    “Hello, Parna. Parna? Do you know what a psychiatrist is?”


    “No.” She looked at him curiously.


    “Well, while these doctors heal the body, my specialty is the mind. A mind can be in pain too Parna. That’s why I’m here. Because these good people are concerned that you seem to have been through an awful lot and you may still be hurting from it in ways you don’t even understand yourself.”


    “Am I hurt?” Parna asked feeling confused.


    “That’s what I want to find out. In order to do that I want to talk to you in private.”


    The Bunny girl looked apprehensively at Radar.


    “Corporal O’Reilly can come if you want.”


    “Please Radar?” She asked in a quiet voice.


    “Sure, I’ll come.”


    “Alright then,” Sidney told them. We can use the VIP quarters.” He turned to the surgeons. “Excuse us, gentlemen.”


    “Sure thing Sidney.” Henry Blake replied. “Parna, I’ll tell Major Houlihan where you are.” Major Houlihan had quickly taken on the role as mother figure and indeed reminded Parna a great deal of her Tribe mothers


    “Thank you, Colonel Blake.”



    ***​



    A couple of hours later, Radar escorted Parna back to her cot in Radar’s office. Radar gently put a blanket on her and pulled the curtain partition that Klinger helped him put up, closed. This was actually Radar’s cot but with her insistence on staying close to him, it was the best arrangement they could do. He had a folding cot resting against the wall but he did not think he would much want to sleep tonight having heard some of what Parna had been through.


    In the meantime, Sidney went on into Colonel Potter’s office to discuss his findings and recommendations with the senior staff. In this instance, Potter and Blake, Majors Winchester, Burns and Houlihan, and Captains Pierce and McIntyre.


    “How bad is it?” Potter asked straight off.


    “Pretty bad. Not the worst case I’ve seen but bad enough. First thing is she has to stay here. Sending her any place else may very well push her right over the edge.”


    “I hate to break it to you Sidney, but that sounds an awful lot like holding an AA meeting in a bar. We’re not exactly brimming over with sanity ourselves.” Pierce objected.


    “On the contrary, for the most part, you people are probably some of the sanest people I’ve ever met. Eccentricity is not insanity. You people have the job of picking up the pieces from mankind’s worst past time and you find a way to use insanity as a defense against the real madness that is all around us. Parna doesn’t have that defense. She barely has a ‘self’ anymore, and if she has to leave, what’s left of her may well unravel completely.”


    “Just what happened to her?” Henry Blake asked.


    “War,” Sidney told them. “Her people are used to war on the small scale anyway. One band goes out and does a little raiding. Another tribe retaliates. It’s all geared to the survival of the tribe. And then they caught the attention of the Saderan Empire. The Empire gave them a war, unlike anything they knew. A war of total annihilation. Surrender as slaves or die.”


    “Don’t get me wrong.” Sidney continued. Sometimes one tribe would push another tribe over the edge but the survivors either became members of the winning tribe or were generally allowed to go settle elsewhere. This was different. The Empire made it clear they intended to break all the tribes for good. So they banded together. But they weren’t prepared to deal with the way the Empire made war. The tribes raided villages but the Empire leveled them. It was total war and the Empire won.”


    “But for Parna, that was just the beginning. You see, her tribe’s Queen united all the tribes to fight the Empire but when she saw the war was lost, it seems she bailed and surrendered herself.”


    “A regular Benedita Arnold,” Trapper noted sourly.


    “So naturally, the whole coalition came apart and her tribe was smeared with the dishonor. The Empire took their time getting around to finishing her tribe off so when they came, her people burned their own villages and became fugitives. They lost the war and their tribe but they still had their pride and self-worth.” Freedman told them.


    “So what happened?” Hawkeye asked.


    “After three years of running and hiding, she broke,” Sidney told them. “For one minute she was cold and hungry and miserable and just for a minute, the desire to have a warm bed and a full stomach was too much. All she had to do to get it was to give up one ear and everything she cared about she had left. Everyone she cared about and every last bit of self-respect she had.”


    “You can’t tell me her friends wouldn’t forgive her.” Hawkeye objected. “They must have been under the same stress, right? And there must be hundreds at least who were taken as, slaves. It’s not like she’s alone on that account.”


    “Doesn’t matter, Hawkeye. She made the choice. Even if the whole world forgave her, she has to forgive herself and she’s not there yet.”


    “So what do we do?” Potter asked.


    “Luckily, she found herself an anchor. Her connection to Corporal O’Reilly has allowed her to maintain the ability to forge new ties. But she needs to be built back up. She needs to feel like a useful individual who has value as a person.”


    “Give her a job and some responsibility?” Hawkeye considered.


    “Wouldn’t that just make her a servant? Replacing the old masters with new ones?” Houlihan worried.


    “Not if she has a place as part of the family,” Potter told her. “Under the MAVNI program, non-citizens can be recruited into the military if they possess skills deemed vital to the service. As I see it, most of our beds are full of people who don’t speak the same lingo we do. That’s a problem for both treatment and security. As it happens, I think we have one or two individuals, not in the US military but who possess both the language and cultural skills we need and the desire for a fresh start.” The Colonel noted the Avian girl named Koirre (pronounced choir) in their care, identified as being a ‘Siren’ as another possible candidate, considering the treatment given to her by human prisoners had gotten so severe that she had been removed to an isolated recovery room for her own safety.


    “Begging your pardon, Colonel,” Winchester truly did not wish to say anything but he felt there was no choice. “But the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program was suspended in 2014.”


    “Fortunately, the brass realized we would be needing help in those very areas of expertise and, provided we found appropriate willing applicants, MAVNI was unsuspended. So let’s get Parna and Koirre in here and I’ll administer the oath of enlistment. They’ll be mustered in at a grade of Specialist 4 and will have rank, pay, and privileges as such.”


    “I hate to say it, but for once, here’s to enlisting in the Army!” Trapper noted.


    “I can’t believe you said that,” Hawkeye smirked.


    “You can’t believe it? I can’t believe I said that!”


    “Margaret?” Potter continued. “You’ll be in charge of training them in military customs and etiquette.”


    “Yes, sir!”


    “Major Burns? Any objections? Keep ‘em to yourself.” Potter looked up. “Any other suggestions, Sidney?”


    “That sounds like a promising start. I’ll drop in every once in a while to see how things are going.”


    “Thanks again, Sidney.”


    “Don’t mention it. Poker game still on for tonight?”


    “Seven O’clock.” Hawkeye confirmed, “And if you have any extra aces up your sleeve? Be imaginative and don’t make them all spades.”
     
    James Wilt, warlock7 and rifern like this.
  18. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 12: Italica


    Recon Squad Three: Gibraltar


    “So we’re a delivery service now?” Kurata groused as Rory tossed in two heavy sacks of dragon scales. The girls said that the scales would fetch a considerable price from the wealthy merchant houses and that would allow the refugees a degree of self-sufficiency. Third Recon, on Lieutenant Itami’s discretion, would transport them to the trade city of Italica, where Rory, Lelei, and Tuka would negotiate a deal.


    “You’d rather sit around here and do scut work?” Taylor asked him. “Besides, you’re the one who wants to go meet Catgirls and Sorceresses and stuff. To do that, you gotta get out there. You aren’t going to find them waiting for you here.”


    “You really think we’ll find a Catgirl, Lieutenant?” Kurata asked with enthusiasm.


    Me and my big mouth, Taylor groaned to himself.


    “Maybe,” Itami replied noncommittally as he leaned back in his seat. “Anyway, it’s good for the refugees to provide for themselves. Also, this will be a good chance for us to see how trade works out here.” He fiddled with his cellphone. “Another update!” He exclaimed happily as he got a new notification on a web novel he had been following.


    “He’s hopeless,” Kurata muttered.


    Taylor rolled his eyes. If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black. He looked behind himself to see Tuka getting onboard after a moment’s hesitation, followed by Kurokawa, and Sergeant Major Kuwahara.


    “Alright. Let’s go!” Itami called out over his mic. With that, the little convoy set off for Italica.


    Soon, everyone settled in. Kurata chuckling as Kuwahara showed Lelei his compass, sounding like a teacher with a favored pupil rather than the ‘Drill Sergeant from Hell’ that was his reputation among the junior enlisted men. Rory was enjoying teasing Tuka just a bit in a playful manner.



    Taylor enjoyed himself by reading one of his old Sci-Fi novels. He liked the Honorverse series but had to admit the earlier books were better than the later ones. His reading was cut short by a report from Kurata.



    “There’s smoke ahead to our right.” The driver reported. Taylor turned down the corner of the page and closed the book, then turned to get a look. Not again. He thought darkly, recalling the last time they had seen smoke.


    “Kurata, does this road take us by the source of that smoke?” Itami asked.


    “Actually it takes us right to it,” Kurata answered.


    “This is the second time we’ve seen smoke rising into the sky,” Itami noted, reflecting Taylor’s thoughts. After a brief discussion, Itami decided to proceed but keeping a watchful eye on the skies and on their perimeter. Disconcertingly, Rory seemed to have a look of anticipation in her expression. Itami asked her what she sensed.


    “I smell blood!” Rory answered, licking her lips.


    Yes, Taylor thought. It was going to be one of those days.


    ***​


    Outside the Walls of Italica


    Almost! They had almost broken through, The bandit leader told himself. Not too long ago, he had been a mid-ranking officer in a real army, a Captain in the army of Toumaren just as many of his men had been soldiers in that army. That had changed with the Allied Nations assaults on Alnus. These men did not understand what had gone wrong at Alnus. They only knew the men who preceded them had not returned and nor had their noble lords. They had not received either the Glory nor the pay they had been promised.


    This left them with two options: Return home in humiliation with nothing to show for it or to take up banditry. The weak had long gone home. And then an opportunity was presented: A high ranking Saderan official had arranged to meet a few leaders such as himself with an offer: Destroy the city of Italica. Aside from the considerable plunder in the city, this would be patron had brought several chests filled with gold that would be delivered once the city was destroyed. Though their prospective patron refused to discuss names, Boras, son of Jerrod, recognized Senator Godasen by his trappings, if not by his name. It was immaterial though. Boras and his men would have their glory and gold besides.


    And they were now very close to their goal now. They had nearly broken through the South Gate today after hitting it for two days. The defense had been spirited and they had taken heavy losses but the prize was in their grasp now. He still had over seven hundred men of the approximately twelve hundred they had fielded at the start and still stronger than the five hundred men he had led as Captain of the Second Company of the Toumaren Heavy Foot. It helped that the past two days fighting had removed any serious rivals to his leadership. He had been willing to let the others ‘have the honor’ of leading the assaults while he and the men most loyal to him, many of whom he had known in their home county practically since boyhood, waited for their moment.


    And now Boras sensed an opportunity. He had served during the siege of Turicum and his experience in that battle was playing in his mind. While the defense of Italica had been spirited, the enemy commander had not attempted to take control of the battle. He had responded effectively, if unimaginatively to threats as they developed but had not attempted to exert his own will on the battle. Boras sensed he was fighting a commander with little if any actual practical experience. They were well trained obviously, but as yet, lacked the seasoning required to go beyond responding to threats to taking control of the battle.


    Looking at the defenders’ position, the enemy commander had to expect that he would continue to batter away at what now was clearly the weak point in the city’s defenses at the South Gate. The defender could not leave it exposed, but at the same time, the outer line would crack for certain with one more solid push. The defenders had to see that as plainly as he did. That left a containment defense as the logical option but it would take a sizeable commitment of men. Instead, Boras would hit them at the east gate. Not only would the defending troops be spread thinner here as they covered the south gate, but a good commander would try to take his most tired troops and position them away from the expected axis of threat if possible. If all went as planned, his men would hit the defenders by surprise in a spot where their men were both too few and too worn down to stop them.


    He also had Myuute as an edge to play. The Siren might not have liked her current company, but she knew who owned her chain and would apply her talents as he so directed. All in all Boras was very much looking forward to finishing this battle tonight but for now, it was time to rest up and prepare for the night’s deadly business.


    ***​

    3rd Recon Squad


    As the vehicles of Third Recon approached the battered south gate of Italica, a strong voice issued challenge from the battlements.


    “They want us to approach and be seen.” Lelei translated.


    “Taylor,” Itami decided. “You and I should accompany the girls to the gate. Everyone else will wait for now.” The two officers and three native women walked calmly up to the gate and Itami firmly but politely knocked. After a moment’s pause, the door swung wide open and smacked Itami right in the face, stunning him and knocking him flat as a distinguishedly dressed young woman greeted an enthusiastic welcome, only to come face to face with three shocked young ladies and a sprawled out JSDF Lieutenant.

    Standing to one side, Taylor winced. “That had to hurt.” He could hear the Sergeant Major calling Itami, no doubt having seen the lieutenant go down. Taylor keyed his own mic: “We’re alright. Itami just found out that the front door swings out instead of in. He’s fine. Everything is still nominal. Over.”


    “Roger that.”


    In moments, their over-exuberant greeter was being liberally berated by Tuka as she splashed Itami with water from his canteen. As Rory decided to give further encouragement to Itami, Taylor noted that the young woman who had opened the gate was twitching on the brink of panic, much like a young officer who knew he had screwed up in front of a visiting Admiral and was dreading the repercussions that he expected to follow.


    As Rory grinned down into Itami’s face, he bolted upright, “Are we inside the gate?”


    Taylor simply nodded.


    “So who is going to explain what is going on?” Itami asked with a sigh as the mass of citizenry all stared at the young noblewoman.


    “Me?!” She exclaimed aghast, hoping someone else could take this possible disaster off her hands. To her relief and just a little embarrassment, her loyal aide Hamilton now spoke with a ring of authority.


    “Impudent fools!” She declared in defense of her liege. ”This is an affront to The Third Imperial Princess! Pina Co Lada!” The girl announced in clearly recognizable Imperial English.


    Shit! Taylor swore to himself as he recognized the name of the Imperial Princess. Apparently, Lucilla had been considering joining the Knightly Order the Princess had formed and commanded but following her mother’s wishes, had promised to wait until she was at least 16 before placing her name for consideration. This lovely little mess was starting to take on serious implications. Dammit, Jim! I’m a historian, not a diplomat!


    Itami and the girls gasped in surprise as a confounded Princess Pina bade them all to follow as she attempted to explain the situation.


    Taylor made a mental note to see if perchance, the Count of Formar had been among the survivors of the Ginza Invasion. The odds were not promising but he could at least check. This he promised as he looked upon Myui, the lonely child who now sat as Countess Formar. He turned his attention back to the Princess.


    “We need to hold out for three more days before my knights can arrive to relieve the city,” she told them. “But few of the men here are trained soldiers. They have courage, but courage alone will not be enough, I fear. But perhaps the gods will that Italica might yet be spared.” She looked carefully at them. “Particularly if you are the ‘Men in Green’ that the rumors tell of?”


    “And what do these rumors say, your Highness?” Taylor asked curiously.


    “That you drove off an ancient flame dragon?”


    “Not soon enough,” Itami replied. “People still died.” He said with regret.


    “Will you help us?” Pina said at last.

    Itami considered it but for a moment, glancing over at Taylor, who nodded only slightly and reaffirming the decision he had already made.


    “Yes,” Itami told her. “After all, we can’t exactly sell these dragon scales with all this going on.”


    “Very well.” Pina decided. “We will have you defend the south gate.”


    As Itami started to nod his agreement, Taylor raised a finger in point. “If I may,” he looked between Itami and Pina, who both paused with interest. “Itami, our communications are a lot better than theirs. Someone should stay with the command node as a relay if needed.”


    Itami considered this. While he did not want to spread his people too thin, Taylor’s suggestion did make sense. Furthermore, Taylor was not a trained infantry soldier.


    “Right. You should stay with her Highness.” Itami agreed. He toggled his mic. “Kuwahara, we’ve run into a situation. I’ll explain when I see you. You’re cleared to enter the South Gate, Wait there for me.”


    “Roger.”


    A few minutes later, Taylor was able to inform Princess Pina that the rest of Third Recon had deployed along the south gate. He noted that Pina and Hamilton both eyed him with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. The Knight, Grey, on the other hand, seemed more bemused than anything else.


    “So the Man in Green would face this battle unarmed? Do not worry, the noble Hamilton will undoubtedly protect you.” Grey teased them both.


    Taylor raised an eyebrow as Hamilton flustered.


    “Good to know.” Taylor nodded calmly. At least he hoped he looked calm. In truth, he was holding butterflies in his belly. Uncomfortably he felt Hamilton and Princess Pina eyeing him.


    “You’ve never been in a battle before,” Pina observed, recognizing the forced calm that was a match for her own.


    “No. I’m not like Itami and the others. This isn’t the sort of war I trained to fight. But for better or worse, here I am. I have a job to do “


    “As do I,” Pina answered.


    “We both have a duty to protect people who can’t fight back,” Taylor replied. “I think when this day is over, that might be worth talking about.”


    Pina almost seemed to smile. “Perhaps.”


    ***​

    Gibraltar

    “You can’t make it back today?” Major Hioaki questioned incredulously. “What do you mean, Itami?” This was unbelievable! Hioaki was not reassured by Itami’s response:


    “Well, uh, we’ve kind of gotten caught up in a battle.”


    No! This was not happening! He was not going to be held responsible for whatever mess Itami had managed to get himself entangled in. Hioaki was not going to be the one to incur the displeasure of the Diet, the Defense Ministry, or higher command simply because Itami had to blunder into something rather than getting his worthless ass back so he could answer the direct summons of the Diet!


    “Why aren’t you more concerned about this?” The Major demanded to know. Surely at least some of the importance of his situation must be clear to even that daft fool of a Lieutenant. “What about the Diet summons?”


    “Oh yeah, that’s right!” Itami sounded as if he had managed to forget something that important! It was unbelievable and calculated to come down right on Hioaki’s head.


    “So, I have a request…”


    ***​

    Office of Commander, Task Force Janus


    General Hazama calmly listened to the somewhat rattled report from the major, including Lieutenant Itami’s request. Much to Hioaki’s extreme distress, Colonel Emerson chuckled.


    “General, I gotta say, Itami and Taylor are going to do impressive things in this war. Provided they don’t get themselves killed first.”


    “I think you are quite correct colonel. This is our first direct contact with a representative of the Saderan Empire that did not immediately result in hostilities. If we are going to secure any advantage of this opportunity, I think we must grant Lieutenant Itami’s request for support.”


    Colonel Lowe frowned as he fingered Italica on the map. “It will be dark before we can get reinforcements up there and I wouldn’t advise a nighttime insertion. IFF will be next to impossible for the locals. Rather than relief, we could accidentally cause a panic. That said, we should plan to relieve the city by air around dawn.”


    Colonel Kengun nodded agreement. “We request the honor of the assignment General!” Kengun’s xo nodded agreement.


    “We have Hi-Fidelity speakers mounted and Wagner on CD.”


    Colonel Emerson fought the urge to roll his eyes at this, though knowing his own men would undoubtedly have a more jarring selection in music.


    General Hazama, despite some minor misgivings, made the decision to assign the mission to Colonel Kengun, however, Hazama also elected to send a contingent of Marines in support in case it became necessary to engage in the sort of urban warfare which his Japanese troops had no practical experience in. As much as it might ruffle the pride of some of his people, Hazama was fully aware of the practical limitations of the JSDF in terms of training and institutional experience. This mixed force would arrive at dawn local time. Third Recon and the defenders of Italica only had to hold until then.


    ***​

    Italica


    “When are they coming?” Pina murmured to herself. She had made the best plans she knew how and now she could only await the outcome. Taylor followed her gaze to the darkened south gate where Itami and the others were waiting. Her plan was simple, perhaps ruthless, but It made logical sense, offering up a seemingly weak force as bait to trap and destroy the enemy with the least risk to the outmatched locals.


    In the waiting darkness, a volley of flaming arrows was the first warning as the bandits made their move on the east gate. As their leader had expected, the vast majority of the defenders were caught completely off guard as Sir Norma sent word back to Princess Pina and hurried to rally the defenders, hoping they could hold the wall long enough to pull men from the west gate and the reserves assembled for the secondary line at the south gate.


    Upon receiving word of the attack on the east gate, Princess Pina realized quickly how dangerous the situation was as she sampled the bitter taste of assumptions gone wrong. Despite Sir Norma’s efforts and with their arrows nullified by the wind magic of Myuute, the defenders at the east gate were simply too few and too worn down to resist this new assault. Norma and the few survivors desperately trying to hold the upper part of the wall even as bandits swarmed over.


    “It fell so easily,” Pina said in a hushed voice. “I had no idea reality could be so different from one’s plans.”


    “The other guy has plans too,” Taylor reminded her. “You’re the one who has to turn this around.” He faced her squarely. “Forget those plans! That’s yesterday! What do you do now? That’s what counts!”


    Quickly the bandits managed to open the east gate, letting scores more of their number to flood in as the first line collapsed completely. And here, the lack of trained soldiers among the defenders proved disastrous as the bandits were able to goad the more spirited of the defenders to compromise their own lines even as Pina desperately bade for them to hold fast. The untrained and ill-equipped defenders charging into the reach of experienced and battle-hardened enemies who proceeded to cut them down as surely as the Pacific Allies had shattered the armies at Alnus.


    Pina watched in horror. “Why is this happening?” She asked softly as if trapped in a dream. Down below, the townspeople called for reinforcements.


    “Where are the men in green?”


    She had been so certain of her plan at the time. It made perfect sense to offer up the men in green as a decoy. To draw the action unto them but now she knew for her temerity and treachery that the men in green would leave her to reap the consequences. “Even if I called for them, they wouldn’t come. Not after I sent them on a suicide mission to the south gate.”


    Taylor frowned. She’s freezing up. Damn it! Taylor! You’re an officer! Act like one. He toggled his radio. “Itami! The Princess urgently requests all possible reinforcement to the east gate! Step on it Itami!”


    Pina turned her head in surprise as Itami answered.


    “Roger! We’ll leave the half-ton and four men here. We’ll be there as fast as we can!”


    Taylor smirked. “Your message has been received, Princess. What are your orders?”




    TO BE CONTINUED
     
  19. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 13: What Happens in Italica...


    Appia Way (Several Hours Earlier)


    Upon receipt of Princess Pina’s dispatch from Italica, her senior commanders met in a hastily assembled council of war. Bozes looked grimly at her companions as she pointed to the fortress city on the map.


    “Three days! It will take three days for the Order to reach Italica!”


    “By then it could be too late!” Panache objected.


    “Yes. Even forcing the march, it will still take two days and the foot will be worn out.” Bozes reasoned, referring to the infantry. “What we will do is this: Vifita, you will take command of the main force. Move them along as fast as you can, ready to fight. Panache, you and I will take our best riders and horses and hurry on to Italica!”


    Vifita acknowledged her instructions unhappily, although she understood their sense. She still would have preferred to be part of the advanced party but someone had to remain in command here. She looked at her two friends. “I’ll see you at Italica then.”


    “At Italica,” Bozes promised.



    East Gate, Italica


    Sir Norma knew it was coming apart around him. It had all happened with stunning speed but now he and a handful of militia were desperately trying to hold at least part of the upper wall, lest the bandits take it and get archers in a position to fire down into the second line of defense. As more bandits came over the wall and through the open gate, Norma felt like he would be washed away in a tidal wave of hostile forces. But he was a knight and upon his sacred honor, would never yield in the face of such filth as these brigands. The common townsmen who had already given their lives had proven their courage and worth as men far beyond their killers and Norma would honor their sacrifice either with victory or his own mortal blood.


    “Defend this area with your lives!” Norma told the surviving militia who remained at his side, even as still more bandits fell upon them. Norma slashed out at one, then another. He was the better fighter but there was nothing he could do as he sensed the third bandit behind him and knew he was dead, a heavy blow stunning him and sending him falling to the ground some thirty feet below.


    “The enemy commander is slain!” Boras cried in triumph to his men as the body of Sir Norma fell from atop the wall, Boras raised his sword aloft to his men. The battle was all but won, only necessary now to spur his men on to its end.


    “Listen up men! Now, this is war!” It was a statement whose ironic truth he would never understand as suddenly, he felt a hot, burning pain and looked down to see three small holes in the front of his armor. His last thought in this world was an odd curiosity about what had just happened before he fell, his body falling next to that of the knight he had just killed. With his death, also perished the dark and ugly secret truth that had brought these men to Italica.


    With the sudden, death of Boras, the bandit army hesitated as its leader fell as if struck from the heavens. Still, they were so close. Surely victory was in their grasp if they just pushed ahead and took hold of it!


    “Hold firm!” Boras’ second in command ordered. “Press on!” He shouted as bandits continued to storm over the wall as well as through the east gate. For these men, the death of their leader had given them pause but the fact that the manner of his death was so incomprehensible it assured that convinced their victory was still in hand, the bandits would only be paused for a moment.


    For Myuute, it was as if the ancient gods had deemed her personally worthy of a favor. Not that she really expected the bandit army to lose but Myuute began to conceive that it could happen. If so, then she did not want to stand out as part of that army. Of course, it was still probable the bandits would win. In that case, desertion would be a fatal mistake, but now inside the city walls, she planned to find an out of the way spot and see if the gods truly did hold her in their favor.


    In any event, the bandits now redoubled their efforts to secure their prize before any more inexplicable things happened.


    Possibly the single person most aided by the momentary hesitation of the bandit army was by far the most important one. Princess Pina had found herself stunned as her plans unraveled before her, culminating in the death of Norma. She had lost any control over this battle. Yet in a few moments, things had changed yet again. In the moment of the bandits’ hesitation, Pina shook herself free from the quicksand.


    “The men in green are coming! Hold fast!” Pina shouted to the citizens of Italica.


    Grey surveyed the situation quickly. “We need to clear the east wall. Then we can contain the breach.”


    Pina nodded and hoped there were still enough people to do the job. “Archers to me! Archers to me! Grey! Find whatever men you can and retake the wall! We’ll pocket them inside the gate!”


    “At once!” Grey smiled, glad to see his princess regain her confidence.


    Taylor, meantime wished his Carbine had a full auto mode so he could sweep the wall with it but the model M4 he carried only had options for semi-automatic and three round burst modes. In any event this was probably just as well, Taylor figured as if he went full auto, he would burn through his magazines at a dangerous rate and it was useless as a suppression measure since the enemy did not have enough understanding of his weapon or any sort of firearms to know to duck when bullets started flying. So he had to calm himself, pick targets of value at opportunity, control his breathing and focus. Or in the words of Wyatt Earp: ‘Take your time and be quick about it!’. He hoped the others would get here soon.


    Enroute From the South Gate

    “She runs fast!” Kurata commented as he maneuvered the truck, trying to keep up with the Apostle of Emroy.


    “Just don’t lose her,” Itami ordered.


    “Yes, sir!” Kurata affirmed


    Rory raced as fast as she could to battle, her blood burning and demanding release. It was as she told Itami: Life and death were intimately bound. To have a death with meaning required a life with meaning and an appreciation of life required an appreciation of mortality. While she occasionally fibbed and told people that she literally could not die, part of the exhilaration of battle was the danger. Claiming the lives of those who did not respect life gave her purpose, while the danger gave a euphoria to being alive. This was something that she very much feared losing when she ascended, therefore she reveled in the moment.


    Behind her, she knew Itami and his people were following. These men in green were a curious lot. They were interesting and thought in new and interesting ways. Helping them would be fun. Just ahead was the east gate. Now the fun could begin!


    At least Rory saw it that way. To the brigands, the amused laughter of the apostle was the end of their happy little war. They had thought to bring war upon a peaceful people. They believed that to offer up the blood of those who could not fight back would ensure the favor of the Dark God Emroy but to the Apostle of Emroy, these men were fools. Had they either the wit or heart to understand courage or valor, then perhaps she could have felt something other than disdain for them. But they held no mercy, nor honor and she was their reward


    Those in the best position to observe her movements did not live to share their insights into the fluidity of her motion. It was a ballet of death and every move perfectly timed and executed, a master demonstrating her art as amateurs tried to find a solution to the problem she posed, Soon Kuribayashi rushed in, as much drawn to battle as Rory, the two complementing each other’s moves and Rory smiling, regarding Shino as a disciple, a hand-chosen agent of death. This continued with Itami and Tomita covering their backs while Master Sergeant Nishina, Kurata and privates Tozu, Sasagawa, and Katsumoto joined Lieutenant Taylor and the surviving archers Princess Pina had summoned in keeping fire on the east wall as the brigands desperately tried to work around Rory and Shino who continued to cut down the bandits storming through the east gate like wheat at harvest. But avoiding Rory the Reaper only meant that those coming over the wall had to contend with Sir Grey and those volunteers he had gathered, and now they had a clear advantage in cover fire with Taylor's carbine and with Myuute no longer acting to disperse the arrows from the surviving Italican archers


    This dance of death continued until the rays of dawn arose and Rory paused, now like a conductor with a single gesture summoning an unimaginable tornado of devastation upon the bandits outside the city walls as Colonel Kengun’s helicopters and those of the Marines arrived and began their attack. Some men tried to fight, many tried to run, rushing desperately to get inside the safety of Italica’s walls. Some froze in place, covering themselves in terror and some laughed, having been driven insane by what was happening around them.


    Then the order was given to clear the target area inside the gate. Not that there were that many, this was merely to be the final note in a symphony of death, As the strange men in green carried away the Priestess of Emroy and ran from the giant iron dragonfly, a few of the bandits sensed what it portended in the general if not in specifics and dropped their weapons and raced toward the inner defense line. Most were too confused or stunned as the helicopter’s 20mm Gatling cannon opened fire. Active resistance ceased at this point as JSDF and Marine troops started landing and began mop-up operations.


    Taylor saw that Hamilton and Princess Pina had been just as stunned as the bandits had been.


    “A monster.” Hamilton breathed staring at the helicopter.


    Pina looked at Taylor. “An Iron Pegasus? What is this? A violence that destroys everything and power that crushes everything. What is this thing?”


    Taylor shook himself, looking away at the carnage which made him ill inside. “This is war. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty and we’re very good at it.” He sank to his knees exhausted and emotionally spent. “But it’s over. Thank God it’s over.”


    Down below, he heard one of the townspeople thank one of the soldiers.


    “You saved our town. Thank you! Whose army are you?”


    “We’re with the Pacific Allied Forces.”


    Pina felt a chill as she faced one of the hovering ‘Iron Pegasi.’ Whether it was appropriate or not, Taylor draped his jacket over her shoulders, She had seen enough and given a choice between a small kindness and nothing, Taylor opted for a kindness. Perhaps even more than Pina needed it, he needed it, if for no other reason than to affirm his own humanity.


    “If you will excuse me, Your Highness? I should probably go report in.”


    “Of course,” Pina gave a small smile and offered the jacket back. “Thank you. But I’m all right now.” She told him. She appreciated the gesture but she needed to be an Imperial Princess right now, a being of iron, not of mortal fibers. Especially as she realized the terrifying truth: That these men in green were the enemy. These were the men that had decimated the Imperial Army and who held sacred Alnus Hill.


    Strange that such noble and kind men could be the enemy. But they were and she, The Imperial Princess, had invited them into one of the most important cities of the Empire. If they chose to, they could take the city with open arms. It only remained to be seen how high a price the men in green would demand for their services.


    ***


    With Lelei’s assistance, Itami and Taylor handled the minor negotiations concerning the establishment of the ‘Alnus Trading Cooperative’ and matters concerning the aftermath of the battle. While accepting the claims on prisoners as put forth by Hamilton as the negotiator for Princess Pina and Countess Myui, Itami specifically requested that he be allowed to select a number of prisoners for ‘interrogation’. Taylor was not surprised to see Itami exclusively select female prisoners, obviously fearing that though they were not apparently willing volunteers of the bandit army, they might still be subjected to ‘reprisals’ from the native populace.


    Itami also insisted on assurance that the remaining prisoners would be treated humanely. The notion that people who had tried to kill and pillage the city should be given any consideration went down hard for Hamilton but she recognized she had no leverage in the negotiations to refuse. Taylor resisting the temptation to compare the attack on Italica with the attempted invasion of Tokyo. That might not only be provocatory but open up matters that were not appropriate to discuss at this point. They did negotiate for the possible establishment of a diplomatic mission. But beyond that were topics for another day as they took their leave of Princess Pina and the girls returned to their mission of selling the dragon scales they had collected. Taylor making a note to inquire into the disposition of the corpses of the dragons killed in the attack on Ginza but while in Italica, he too had business to attend as he waited for the girls to finish their negotiations with the merchant Lyudo before sitting down with him to discuss other business.


    It was interesting to note that Lyudo and his surroundings made Taylor think of Renaissance Florence. Lyudo was obviously doing quite well for himself, judging from the art on the wall and the furnishings of his office. There was a good chance that if he did not know the people Taylor was looking for, he certainly knew people who knew.


    As the girls left, Rory eyed him curiously, Taylor merely shrugged. “I’ll be along in a little while.” He sat down and set a gold cinque piece on the table


    “I need to speak to merchants who specialize in a very specific commodity.” He told Lyudo.


    “I’m sure that we can provide whatever goods you are looking for,” Lyudo replied confidently.


    I hope not, for your sake. Taylor thought. “Slaves.”


    “Oh no! I’m afraid that is one commodity we don’t trade in here. The previous Count of Formar had very strong opinions on the subject.”


    “Good. But I’m certain you know people who do deal in slaves. I want to know who those people are and where they are and I’ll pay top price to get that information. I would also suggest that if you have friends or family in the trade, you encourage them to get out of the business.”


    Lyudo considered it. Slaves were a vulgar commodity in Lyudo’s view and if he could make a profit selling the names, then this information was simply another commodity. And Lyudo only sold top quality merchandise.


    “I think we can supply you with what you need, sir.”


    About an hour later Taylor carefully folded the list and slipped it into his jacket. He was certain that the men on this list would be getting visitors soon. He took his leave of Lyudo and headed to the south gate, where the rest of the team was waiting. It had cost him a fair amount of his ‘allowance’ but if it was accurate, would be well worth the price.


    “Sorry, just had to take care of one last thing.” He told Itami.


    Itami tiredly waved it off. “As long as we’re ready now.”


    “As far as I know,” Taylor replied. After he got in the truck, Taylor secured the list in his note binder for safe keeping.


    The girls were all nearly wiped out from the long last 24 hours or so. They all were. Up front, Itami was dozing contented. Taylor jotted notes on his observations on Princess Pina, Hamilton, Formar, and Lyudo. What he really wanted was to study history as written by the locals but that would have to wait, quite probably until after the war. Lady Octavia had been more concerned with him understanding the Empire as it currently existed rather than discussing history and that was sensible but it left him wanting to know more. Feeling just as tired as anyone else, he stowed his notebook and put his head back and closed his eyes…


    Only to be jarred fully awake by Kurata suddenly hitting the brakes. Helping poor Lelei up off the floor, he then turned his attention up front.


    “Smoke up ahead!” Kurata reported.


    “More smoke?” Itami asked as Taylor leaned forward. “It’s coming this way?” Itami wondered, confused.


    “That’s not smoke, that’s dust!” Taylor corrected. “Somebody’s in a real hurry.”


    ***


    “They’re moving fast for ordinary carriages,” Panache noted calling to Bozes.


    “Yes. And they are heading on a direct line out of Italica. I want them stopped!”


    “This could be part of that other world army.” Panache agreed.


    Bozes nodded. “Possibly. If they are, that’s all the more reason we need to make sure they don’t escape. Milet!” She called to one of the other knights.”I want six of you to block the road behind those carriages! The rest of us will cut them off. If they try to leave the road, we’ll have the advantage!”


    “Yes, ma’am!” The eager brunette haired knight replied and waved for the knights behind her to follow and break from the main group.


    ***


    “I can’t get a good look,” Itami complained as he tried to get a view through his field glasses.


    “I see something!” Kurata announced, bringing up his own binoculars.


    “What is it?” Itami asked.


    “A Tiara!” Kurata answered.


    “Oh, a tiara. Okay.” Itami responded confused. “A Tiara?!”


    “Blonde hair in ringlets!” Kurata continued. Itami hanging off each word as he brought his own glasses back up.


    “I’ve sighted one blonde girl with Ringlets, one beautiful girl in boys’ clothes, and several hot girls behind them!”


    “What are they doing, Sergeant?” Taylor demanded. Was this a contact report or the fashion parade?.


    “Those are Roses!” Itami announced looking at the standard held aloft.


    “Crap!” Taylor realized. “And Princess Pina’s knights are here.” He said while Itami and Kurata babbled about ringlets and who was what flower. If the enemy doesn’t kill us, I may strangle those two myself! Let’s hope this can be handled peacefully.


    “All units alert status.” The voice of Sergeant Major Kuwahara called over the radio.


    “Hold up, old man. No overt shows of hostility. It could violate the treaty.” Itami cautioned in reply as the seven riders approached their little convoy.


    Good call. Taylor agreed. Gunning down a bunch of Princess Pina’s personal retainers and friends really wouldn’t do much to help the peace. Why did we not specifically get a copy of the agreement or at least a writ of safe passage with Pina’s signature and seal? I know we were all tired but that was stupid. Oh right. We sent our copy of the treaty back with Colonel Kengun! Genius move that!


    “Roger.”


    “This is Private Higashi. We’ve got riders behind us!”


    “So the road is cut behind us,” Taylor noted sourly.


    Currently, Panache, or the ‘White Rose’ as Itami identified her, approached the half ton and addressed Sergeant Major Kuwahara with a tone of authority.


    “Where did you come from?”


    “We’re returning home from Italica,” he replied.


    “Going to where?” She pressed.


    “Alnus...” The Sergeant began to answer as Taylor nearly facepalmed, less than surprised as the woman drew her sword and lances were now lowered in their direction.


    Unbelievable! Good going! Taylor thought. You could have said ‘Nagoya’ or ‘Sendai’, or ‘Cleveland’ for crying out loud! But you had to tell them we were going to Alnus! Can this get any worse?


    “The hill of Alnus?” She repeated in wrath.


    It was clear one side was paying attention today, Taylor thought. And they’re not happy, surprise, surprise.


    “Old man! Don’t let any of our guys fire.” Itami instructed over the radio and then turned to Taylor. “Maybe I can calm things down.” He said and reached for the door handle.


    “Hold on. Maybe they’ll listen to talk but I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve got a plan.”


    “A good one?” Itami asked.


    “Good as in ‘will it get our people out of here without starting a battle’? Yes. Good as in I like it? Not at all. But if we run, they’ll chase us. Unless we toss them some bait.”


    “I hate this plan,” Itami muttered as he got out a minute or so later.


    “I hate this plan too and it’s my plan.” Taylor agreed as he got out the back


    In the meantime, Bozes had dismounted and grabbed onto Kuwahara’s shirt.


    “Are you the enemy from another world?” She demanded.


    It's all a matter of perspective, Taylor thought as Itami addressed the ‘Yellow Rose’.


    “Excuse me, Has my man done something to offend you?” Itami asked politely. The intent of his tone was apparently lost on the knights he was addressing as Panache lowered her sword at him.


    “Surender!” She demanded quite firmly.


    Well, she’s clearly established who is in control here. Taylor frowned, noting one of the other knights shifting her mount to watch him carefully.


    “Now calm down,” Itami answered carefully. “I’m sure we can work this out.”


    Bozes rewarding him for his careful tone by slapping him hard across the face. “SIlence!”


    Taylor could hear Kuwahara ordering the others to hold their fire. He glanced over at Itami as Itami ordered everyone else to pull out. Miss Yellow Rose snagging him by the back of his collar as the trucks pulled out. Taylor and Itami watched them go as each man found a sword pointed directly at his neck. Itami, this may have been my plan, but I still blame you! You and Kurata! As he glanced over at Itami, the words of one of his waifus passed through his thoughts. Mihoshi! I swear I’m going to kill you!
     
  20. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Before we finish with Italica, here is a good spot to get away from the canon fire for a moment.

    Interlude


    Letters Home


    To the Honorable Lady Panache Fure Kalgi, Knight Commander of The Rose Order:


    My Dearest Sister:


    I am not sure why I am writing this. Maybe that I am starting to believe it when they tell us we’ll go home someday. On the other hand, I’m not sure that father would want to hear from me right now. This isn’t exactly the glorious homecoming he expected. I know he thought this would be so easy. To be fair so did I. We were the greatest army ever assembled by the greatest empire the world had ever known, of course, it was going to be easy. We would win in a week and send home wagons of gold, slaves, and riches and the girls eager to fall into our arms and all the natives in awe of us.


    We lost before we ever got here. That's the truth. We were like country peasants going to the capital to show how worldly we were. These people aren’t like the Empire and it is probably a good thing. They could have easily killed all of us if they wanted. I’m still not completely sure why they didn’t.


    Maybe now might be a good time to tell you about where I am. We call this place ‘Hardy’s Hole’. It’s an island that’s all one big smoldering volcano. The guards call this place ‘Camp Charon’. I asked one of the guards who Charon was and he told me that Charon ferries the souls of the dead into Hardy’s realm. For some reason, they call her ‘Hades’. I think they don’t know the gods like we do. There is a priest here. (They call him a chaplain) But his god seems a little odd. He’s hard to describe. The best I can compare is if grandfather were a god. He gets disappointed when you break his rules but still looks after everyone. At least that’s what they say. But they’ve got other gods that don’t seem to have anything to do with him. I think the gods left here a long time ago and so everyone just has stories about the gods. Maybe they’re lucky that way.


    Anyway, we live in huts assigned according to rank. I’m the lowest ranking of twelve officers assigned to our hut. For a prison, it’s actually pretty comfortable. If my cot isn’t exactly up to mother’s standards, it is still much better than lying on the floor. There is no bath, but there is a shower. Warm water is a privilege. Privileges are granted based on behavior rather than rank: military or social. Likewise, food is plentiful if not epicurean. On the other hand, not even the lowliest has ever been made to eat molded, rotten, or spoiled food.


    Viscount Maio started a riot when he had a rumor spread that these ‘Americans’ (Most of the guards are from a place called America. The rest are from Japan. Japan is the country we attacked. It’s like if barbarians had attacked the Kingdom of the Elbe, not even knowing the Empire was right there.) Anyway, that the Americans were serving dead demi-humans as food. A couple of guards were hurt and so were several prisoners. I don’t think the Viscount expected the guards to use lightning to stun rioting prisoners.


    He also didn’t expect Colonel Masters to track it back to him. Colonel Masters runs the camp. She’s like you, I think. Not someone I would want to make angry. Two days after the riot, Colonel Masters had the entire camp assemble and I don’t know how but she cast Viscount Maio’s voice for everyone to hear, saying how stupid non-humans were and hoping that the riot would kill a lot of both guards and demi-humans. The guards had to keep the non-humans from rioting again and attacking the rest of us and Maio was put in ‘solitary confinement’ That’s basically more like a normal prison cell, ‘for his own safety’, they called it. Colonel Masters summoned him to her office just before and those who saw him afterward said they had never seen him so pale.


    But back to what my day is like here. They go to great lengths to make sure we occupy our time. They have taught us some of their games and organize huts or groups of huts into teams. Volleyball is popular. It’s a game of two sides punching a large ball over a ‘net’ and keeping it up until it goes to the other team’s territory. It’s harder than it sounds but I’m actually pretty good at it according to the guards. The guards said they would like to teach us another game called ‘baseball’ but they can’t because of security. Apparently, it involves two teams and one team are given clubs while the other team throws balls at them. I’d rather be holding the club I think.


    They have classrooms to teach us their languages. The Americans speak a variant of the High Tongue. Japanese is much different though. The letters are different from anything I’ve ever seen except maybe Elven.


    There is a small shop to buy luxuries like the paper and the ink I am using. We earn the money by volunteering for work details. Don’t worry, it’s nothing dangerous. They say they have laws about how they can treat prisoners. Seems like a hassle but I’m not going to complain.


    A few weeks ago they shipped in more prisoners. Have they really taken Alnus Hill? It’s a silly question since I’ve talked to soldiers that were there. ‘Shipped’ might not be the right word for it. For the first time, I got to see how I got here from the outside. They actually fly a giant mechanical dragon and the people are inside it! Probably why they blindfolded us for the trip. Had I known I probably would have been in a panic. Not like you. I’ll bet you would have loved it.


    From what the newcomers tell me, we’ve now lost the better part of 300,000 men. I’m going to say something. Father would call it cowardice but we can’t fight this enemy. We’ll lose everything if we try. Please don’t think me a coward. I’m not afraid of dying but I don’t want to die for nothing and more importantly, I wake up in cold sweats having nightmares about the Emperor ordering you into battle and you riding your favorite horse, Imperator into battle with the rest of the Order. It always ends the same: I get there after the battle to find you all dead. I’m scared of that more than anything else Panache!


    As I said, I’m expecting father won’t understand. He was hoping this campaign would give him something to pretend to be proud of. So he could swap lies with his old friends from his old campaigns and ask which of their daughters were ready to be married without being too embarrassed in front of his friends. Well, I’m not dead. I think that puts me ahead in the competition now.


    I’m sorry if I sound bitter but all I want is to see all of you safe and I don’t care about honors and triumphs. I miss you.


    I hope I will be able to send this letter someday and that it finds you well.


    With love, Tiberius.
     
  21. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 14: Stepping Off


    Dessria Way

    The two lieutenants watched the vehicles of 3rd Recon Squad peel out in a cloud of dust with a mixture of relief and worry. They were relieved as the knights had been too taken off guard to give prompt chase and as the vehicles accelerated away, the knights, as Taylor expected, had settled for the birds in hand rather than engage in a futile chase as to their surprise, the other world carriages had no apparent difficulty with the terrain.


    On the other hand, the two lieutenants now had the complete and undivided attention of over a dozen unhappy knights.


    “So how do we get out of this?” Itami asked Taylor.


    “Let me get back to you on that.” Taylor replied calmly, never taking his eyes off ‘White Rose’. “Who commands here?” Taylor demanded with all the authority he could put into his voice.


    “I am Bozes Co Palesti!” ‘Yellow Rose’ replied, asserting her own authority. “Daughter of Marquis Palesti and Knight Commander of the Rose Order! You are our prisoners!” She insisted, continuing to hold her sword at Itami’s throat. “We will go to Italica and you will answer the questions of the Imperial Princess,” Bozes eyes narrowed. “And if Her Imperial Highness has been harmed…” She left the threat unspoken but clear.


    Taylor carefully turned his head to address her, “We look forward to seeing Her Imperial Highness again.”


    “Search them,” ‘White Rose’ ordered two other knights,


    All right, Itami thought. Just remain calm. This might work out. They’re taking reasonable precautions but they don’t seem as antagonistic toward Taylor as toward me. Speaking with respect but demanding respect. Maybe that’s what I did wrong? My posture and voice were too submissive? Well, It will be alright now. We’ll go to Italica and that Princess will straighten it all out. Though I thought she said her knights were coming from the east? If they were coming up this road, why didn’t we spot them on our way into Italica? We either should have passed them or they should have beaten us there.


    Well, looks like there will be time to figure that out later, Itami decided as one of the knights searched him and removed his combat knife and sidearm among other things, the latter presumably more as an item of interest rather than interpreted as a threat, the former with a little bit of a frown. Still, it seemed that things would sort themselves out. The second knight searching Taylor in a likewise fashion.

    Panache waited impatiently. She knew that part of her wanted to find an excuse, any excuse to lash out at these men. Were they not the enemy after all? Were they not of the people who had taken her little brother from her? The same people who now invaded her homeland?


    And yet these men were prisoners. And she was a Knight Commander in the Rose Order. She knew that many ‘real’ soldiers, legionaries thought the Order and its ideals were a joke, that notions of honor and chivalry were meaningless. The question was what did she truly believe. She could take out her anger, frustration, and pain on these men. In exchange, she would admit that the detractors of the Order were right. That her own honor, as well as that of both the Order as a whole and that of Her Imperial Highness, counted for nothing. And that the admiration Tiberius had always shown for his older sister had been misplaced. Yes, she wanted to best this enemy in battle but if they were barbarians and cowards, must she become one herself? And as she uneasily watched these men, she began to think that she had erred in that hasty acceptance of ‘common knowledge’. Had they not sacrificed their freedom for their fellows? Was that not in keeping with the same ideals she claimed to believe in?


    Milet finished searching the fairer of the two men and presented the items she had confiscated to Panache. Likewise, Zivana had finished searching the shorter one and handed anything of interest to Bozes. Among the items handed to her, Panache eyed a simple coin purse with suspicion as she opened it to find Imperial Cinque and Silver Denarii. Perhaps I was premature in thinking better of these men?


    “And what might you be doing with these?” She asked the fairer man in a tone of warning.


    “Given to me by Lady Octavia, wife of Legate Germanicus,” he replied.


    Panache raised an eyebrow in surprise at that name. Octavia was a name that commanded respect even in the absence of her husband. “And what service might you have provided that house?“


    “My Lady simply said that if I was to carry the name Octavus, then I should have a proper allowance and also something about commissioning a good swordsmith. Apparently, it amuses mother that my people create amazing things but can’t craft a decent sword worthy of Her House name.”


    “Why didn’t you say something about this earlier?” The other man protested, apparently equally surprised and ignoring the stunned look on Bozes face.


    “First off, it’s bad form to trade off the family name. Second, would you believe it if one of them told you she was adopted by Admiral Togo’s granddaughter?”


    “Who?” The shorter one asked.


    “Unbelievable. You don’t even know the name of one of the greatest heroes of your own country… Un-flipping-believable.” The fairer man replied in apparent dismay at his compatriot. “I thought we agreed that the first priority was getting our people out of here before somebody made a mistake?” The two men seemed to be too busy to remember they were both still prisoners.


    “Of course!” The shorter man agreed. “I was hoping to tell them we have an agreement with Princess Pina but if I can’t get a word in edgewise?”


    “But OUR copy of the agreement went back with Colonel Kengun,” The other man replied. “I doubt they’ll just take our word for it.”


    Bozes cleared her throat for attention, still holding her sword at Itami. “Interesting claims that you cannot prove at this time.”


    “Whether we accept these claims,” Panache added, “You are still our prisoners. However, accepting that you may be speaking truthfully…” Panache paused in thought. Taking the prisoners to Italica on foot was not an option. Time was of the essence and if in fact, these men were not lying, dragging them behind galloping horses might not be a good move.


    But Panache and Bozes were not about to simply trust these men either or to take careless chances. Obviously, the prisoners would have to be doubled up each with a knight on horseback and therefore, Bozes and Panache ordered the prisoners secured with wrists tied on the backs of their horses.


    Several minutes later, the troop got underway for Italica at a full gallop.


    “This isn’t exactly what I had in mind!” Itami cried as he bounced roughly on the back of Bozes’s horse.


    ***​

    Watching at a wary distance and undercover, the rest of 3rd Recon Squad carefully eyed the proceedings through field glasses.


    “Well, at least they aren’t dead.” Kuwahara quipped as the knights rode off toward Italica.


    “So what are we going to do?” Shino demanded.


    “First thing we’re going to do is to notify command that Lieutenant Itami and Lieutenant Taylor are engaged in negotiations and attempting to build goodwill. We want to keep the threat or use of force to a minimum.” Kuwahara reminded them. “Second thing is for us to follow at a distance. I think we can be relatively certain they are heading for Italica but I don’t intend to get caught by surprise again.”


    “Right.” Shino agreed.


    “Third is that rotating in shifts, everyone is to get a twenty-minute nap. Tired people make mistakes. That’s part of what got us in this situation, to begin with.” The old Sergeant Major admonished. Whatever course of action they took, they needed to be alert and not fighting their own fatigue.

    ***​

    Horseback riding lessons, Taylor thought to himself as they neared the gates of Italica once more. ‘Mother’ is going to say ‘I told you so’ when she finds out about this. She did offer to have someone teach me but no, this was a skill I was sure wouldn't come up. Well, it did and I feel like my lunch might too. Taylor was not exactly sure what had caused it, though perhaps Itami’s attempts to steady himself by bracing his hands on Lady Bozes’ behind might have had something to do with it as Bozes had suddenly and without warning, bet Panache ten denarii over which of them would reach the city gate first. The following miles had taught Taylor a few things. First was that Lady Panache was highly competitive, accepting her compatriot’s challenge without any hesitation. The second was that thankfully, Panache was the better rider as she was able to keep pace with Bozes without jumping over rocks and ditches. The third point was that Taylor did not want to get on the bad side of these women, even in a state of truce as Itami could now attest.

    Finally Panache reached the gate of Italica, much to her relief not only finding a city not only secure, as Taylor and Itami had promised but to find the rest of the advanced detachment having already arrived at the East gate as planned as Lady Merisa recognized the Order’s colors and commanded the Gate be opened while she sent a messenger to inform Princess Pina that her Knight Commanders had arrived. Panache looked back over her shoulder at Bozes and grinned in satisfaction as Bozes nodded in relief. Bozes entered the gate and addressed Merisa as she approached.

    “We have prisoners for Her Highness to question.” Bozes declared as she dismounted her horse. As she drew a knife and cut Itami’s bindings, the exhausted and thoroughly nauseous and unsteady JSDF officer unceremoniously slumped off the horse and to the ground. To Bozes’ surprise, a gasp of shock and dismay came out of the gathering crowd of locals as two of the city guard rushed forward to pick up Itami.


    Panache watched this and carefully dismounted, gesturing for Merisa. Panache cut Taylor’s bindings. “Help me with this prisoner.” As they eased Taylor down, he sank to his knees, spent. Panache and Bozes shared a look. This was going to be a difficult day.

    A few minutes later, Bozes, Panache, Merisa, and Milet escorted the two prisoners to Countess Formar’s mansion, where Princess Pina was ensconced. Entering the great room where Her Imperial Highness was waiting for them. Itami was now partially conscious though quite insensate and Taylor was trying and failing to follow the proceedings through a haze of exhaustion, his body stiff and sore and the two men slumped, sitting on the floor with their backs against the wall as Bozes and Panache knelt before Princess Pina to give their report.


    Bozes began: “Highness, after receiving your message, we elected to form a fast detachment to ride ahead of our main force. Approaching Italica, Panache and I took several volunteers and opted to circle around to the South Gate where your message informed us the bandits were attacking. We hoped to reconnoiter their numbers and attempt to locate their camp. If we could surprise their camp with a determined mounted attack, we believed we could rout them in short order.” Bozes took a breath, noting how Her Highnesses eyes were glancing over to where Hamilton was trying to get Itami to respond to her.


    “We encountered a small group of unusual carriages heading south, away from Italica, I ordered them stopped. At which point we confirmed that they were part of the other world enemy at Alnus. We demanded their surrender. The two officers surrendering to give the carriages an opportunity to escape. They…” Her report was cut off as Pina dashed a wine goblet at her longtime friend and companion.


    “Gods damned! Do you two have the slightest idea of what you’ve done!” Pina cried in anger, fear, and frustration. “You idiots!”


    “Your Highness?” Panache asked, stunned by Pina’s violent outburst as she took a cloth to tend the cut now bleeding on Bozes' forehead. “What have we done wrong?”


    “Can’t you tell?” Pina growled, looking to where Itami had just collapsed.


    “They said there was an agreement but…” Panache tried to explain.


    “Yes! An agreement that you two broke the day it was signed!”


    “We did not know if they were telling the truth!” Bozes explained. “If they had been lying, we needed to detain them. I admit that I did initially strike one of them but once we took them into custody, we didn’t intentionally injure them.”


    “You have no idea of how dangerous their people are. I saw with my own eyes the terrible engines and magics at their command! That you are here at all is by their choice! Their power renders honor, valor, and glory meaningless! If they choose to use this incident as an excuse to attack us, nothing could stand in their way! I will do everything I can to prevent that power from being turned on the Empire.” She turned to Hamilton.


    “Hamilton! Find Kaine! Inform her that Itami and Taylor are to be treated and cared for as honored guests. She is to take personal responsibility for them!”


    “Yes, your Highness!”


    Pina then turned to her two beloved friends and sighed. “Your actions were understandable but very unfortunate. Go rest. I must try to think of a way to fix this mess.”


    Relieved to see at least some of the anger gone from their Princess, liege, and friend, Bozes and Panache accepted their dismissal, bowed and left as Pina worried and tried to think of how to salvage this.

    ***​

    The bed was soft, the sheets were crisp and clean. There was a warm breeze and a gentle fragrance like lilacs in the air and every part of William Taylor’s body ached as he woke. It was certainly the most comfortable bed he had ever been in. This was almost certainly a room in Countess Formar’s mansion. It probably won’t be long before the rest of the squad gets here. Well, I suppose that it’s time to wake up. As his eyes focused, he glanced around




    Three young ladies in the uniform of the Formar Palace maids stood at his bedside, eyeing him with curious expressions. The first was a bunny girl. It actually sort of figures, Taylor considered, thinking about Lady Octavia’s own personal guards and retainers. Well hello, Thumper! He thought as he got a good look at her. Past the ears which were brown, to the blonde hair and hazel eyes. The other girls were a human with striking red hair and green eyes and surprise, surprise! a catgirl. Well, Kurata, they’re here, Taylor mused, gazing upon the black hair and Blue black fur. My! Luna! What big eyes you have!


    Presently they bowed and smiled.


    “You are awake master!” ‘Thumper’ greeted him. She looked at the red-haired maid. “I will go inform Kaine that Master Taylor is awake.” She turned back to Taylor and curtsied. “Excuse me, Master,” she said and then left the room, to return but only a couple minutes later with the older, matronly woman, Taylor remembered from the negotiations as being Kaine, the head of Countess Myui’s household staff.


    Currently, the older woman began to speak.


    “Ah! Lieutenant Taylor! Thesa told me you were awake. This is good news! I was just on my way to check on Sir Itami. You both have been treated horribly in exchange for your valor here. We would not blame either of you if you chose to destroy Italica in retribution for the wrongs done to you both. I will pledge Sir Itami my own hands in carrying out his vengeance but I only ask that Countess Myui be spared!”


    Lieutenant Taylor blinked at this proclamation. They really thought that destroying a city was the proper response for Lese-majeste.


    “I’m certain it won’t come to that,” He replied.


    Kaine breathed a sigh of relief, although there was still considerable concern remaining in her expression. “It is good of you to say that. I only hope Sir Itami is as understanding. I will report to him that the knights responsible for the affront done you both have been firmly rebuked by Princess Pina and she has commanded that you both should receive our finest care.”


    “Well, I don’t recall those knights having been here when we made the agreement with the Princess and with Italica, so I can’t objectively fault them for taking action against a presumed enemy. Seriously, there were mistakes on both sides and I am glad that we managed to prevent escalation.” Taylor answered.


    “Again, I hope that Sir Itami agrees with your generous assessment. In the meantime, I am assigning Thesa, Katrine, and Madelyn to tend to your injuries and any need you may have.”


    “That’s very kind of you,” Taylor noticed that the Bunny girl was eyeing him with a smile as were the other two, if more subtly.


    “Again, it is nothing for one of the warriors who saved our city.” The woman replied and then left leaving the three maids behind.


    Well, this HAS to be worth 5 stars in the Michelin Guide. Taylor thought as he resigned himself to cruel fate: Sooner or later the rest of the squad is going to show up and then it’s back to work!

    ***​

    Meeting with Bozes and Panache, Princess Pina sighed.


    “You attacked the Alliance, to whom we had guaranteed safe passage, taking hostage both Sir Itami and Sir Taylor. This is a serious breach of our treaty. They possess the power to fight off a Flame Dragon. If they make this a reason to make war with us, you can easily imagine what would happen to the Empire.”


    “Yes,” Bozes admitted quietly. The two knights were shaken by how their apprehension of two of the bandits their Emperor had proclaimed were vested on sacred Alnus hill had turned into the threat of a war more devastating than anything they ever imagined.


    Their Princess continued. She had to avert this disaster by any means necessary. She looked upon her knights, her friends, with resolve and regret,


    “We must make them willing to forget this incident ever happened.” Pina averted her gaze from her two friends and stared down into her own lap, dismayed by what she was about to order them to do. “And you need to use your bodies to accomplish that.” She met their stunned eyes levelly. “You both deserve better than this but…” Her voice trailed off. Her two closest friends: Bozes could almost certainly claim the hand of any man in the Empire and Panache… Pina did not like engaging in palace gossip but it was generally known, though not spoken above a whisper, that Panache and Pina’s half-brother Diablos had been connected until a recent falling out between them. Pina had seen her pain and out of respect and care for Panache, never questioned her about what had happened, though her brother’s retainers were apparently much less discreet: Apparently Diablos had deemed it unworthy of his efforts to grant a particular favor to Panache and use his influence on her behalf. And now Pina had no choice but to ask this of her...


    “As a daughter born to a noble family, I know what to do in such a situation. I shall offer my body up for the sake of you and the Empire.” Bozes answered in true devotion to her Princess.


    Panache closed her eyes. It was a necessary sacrifice. She would handle the other barbarian.


    “For you, for the order and for the Empire,” Panache affirmed, already steeling herself for the ordeal to come.

    ***​

    Taylor remembered touring 'The Breakers', the Vanderbilt Mansion in Newport, once. He recalled how imposing and isolating the bedrooms had seemed. Thankfully, although impressive, Countess Formar’s Mansion still felt warm and embracing. As he waited for the rest of the squad to get here, Thesa, Katrine, and Madelyn continued to fuss over him. He would have been lying if he said he wasn’t enjoying it. In the meantime, he felt reasonably certain the squad was somewhere in the city by now. Finally, he noticed Thesa’s ears raise as if having picked up just the slightest sound.


    “We have visitors outside.”


    “The rest of Sir Itami’s men perhaps?” Madelyn considered. “I will see Kaine In case it is someone who would harm our guests, Master Taylor will be safe under your eyes.” Madelyn proceeded to the door that connected Taylor’s room to the one where Lieutenant Itami was being tended to.


    “Mamina and Persia are looking into it,” Kaine informed her.


    In short order, it was confirmed that 3rd Recon had arrived and Lieutenant Itami had declared a ‘cultural exchange’, resulting in a veritable celebration in his room. Lieutenant Taylor still not feeling quite up to carrying his weary and still sore body to Itami’s suite, waved for his minders to go enjoy the impromptu gathering rather than sit with him, listening to the merriment from a distance. Maybe Katrine will use Kurata as a scratching post? Mind what you wish for Sergeant. Taylor was content to simply rest.


    So it was that Taylor was alone as Panache entered the suite. Truly only her devotion to Pina could give her the strength to do this thing. Of all the men in the Empire, Panache had only allowed Prince Diablos to touch her in an intimate fashion and even that was something she had no intention of allowing again. Not after he had so clearly demonstrated how little her concerns mattered to him! But now she had a duty to her Princess and to the Empire. The daughter of Baron Kalgi wore an outfit of only the finest silks available in the Empire. She took a deep breath and entered the room.


    The American looked up in surprise as Panache entered. He remembered her quite well from before but the outfit she wore was something unexpected. See through? But then this whole thing had been one unexpected mess. At least it didn’t seem as if she planned to kick the crap out of him. Not that he thought that the locals would take well to that if she did but no. Something else was at play here and recalling his long discussions on Saderan customs and societal rules with Lady Octavia, Taylor had a fairly good idea what. The trick was in handling this without it blowing up in his face. First, acknowledge her presence and assess the situation without creating or furthering expectations.


    “Mi’lady? I apologize if these are supposed to be your chambers? One of us seems to be confused and I’m sure it’s me.”


    Panache blinked. On the one hand, he was being quite courteous in tone. On the other hand, did this simpleton not understand that she was offering herself to him? Or worse? Was he being insulting by feigning ignorance? Am I not attractive enough? Not woman enough for him? The thought began to raise her ire. She forced herself to suppress it.


    Princess Pina’s will on this matter was clear. The JSDF and its allies were not to be antagonized into making war against the Empire. Unfortunately, Panache and Bozes had given provocation and would have to rectify this matter.



    “Does the sight of me offend you, Sir Taylor?” She asked him.


    Taylor blinked. “Not at all My lady. The sight of you is quite pleasing. Although why you would grant me the privilege escapes me.”


    Panache allowed some of her annoyance and frustration to fade. So he finds me attractive. But could he truly not understand my purpose here? Surely he is not so clueless?


    “I have acted in a manner unbecoming toward you and I must atone for my error. Please… allow me to expunge my offense upon your person.”


    The lieutenant looked wide-eyed. This is really a thing here. This is truly a feudal society. The easy thing would be to go along with her. The right thing though… Damn it! Why can’t the easy thing and the right thing ever be the same thing?


    “My lady,” he began carefully, “I fear you proceed from a false assumption.” He raised a hand to stop her objection. “While you would do me a greater pleasure and honor than I merit, my honor would be forfeit. Your beauty is undeniable but I can only shame myself to be with you under your duress.”


    Panache was dumbfounded. This did not conform to the rules of her own society. It was oddly touching that the preservation of her dignity was considered a point of honor for the ‘barbarian’. I guess that too has been a disservice born of ignorance to term a people ‘barbarian’ without knowing who they are. But it remained that she had a duty to her princess.


    “I thank you for your kindness, but I must atone for my error,” Panache told him. “And I must fulfill the commands of my Princess.”


    “Why would she think this was necessary?” Taylor asked.


    “Because we violated the treaty she signed with you. Her Highness feels you might wish to use our offense as provocation to war upon us and Her Highness wishes to avoid this. To that end, I will do whatever I must.”


    Taylor pushed his aching body up out of bed and knelt before her.


    “I pledge to you upon my sacred honor that such a thing will not happen. The fault was not yours. If anything, having secured Princess Pina’s pledge of safe passage, it certainly should have occurred either to Lieutenant Itami or me to ask for a writ proving that such a guarantee had been given. That we did not is our error, not yours. You have nothing to atone for and my report to my superiors will state exactly that.” Taylor promised.


    Panache bowed her head in acceptance and relief. “You have my thanks.”


    Taylor simply nodded. At least until he heard Kuribayashi.


    “What? Lieutenant Taylor is proposing!” Shino exclaimed as she happened to look through the open doorway between the two rooms. Taylor and Panache suddenly had over a dozen people staring at them. Most of them with stunned expressions, mostly giving way to smiles and grins.


    Itami’s grin was perhaps the most insufferable of all. “Do it! He’s a great catch!”


    That’s not helping, Itami! Taylor thought and then a moment later witnessed a certain karmic justice as Bozes, angered from being completely ignored, leaped up onto Itami’s bed and slapped him hard across the face.


    Panache slumped.


    “Oh dear.” Taylor sighed.

    ***​

    It was only minutes later that Princess Pina was informed that an incident had occurred involving Lieutenant Itami. Her heart sank as Bozes admitted striking Itami again. Pina scrambled to find some way to repair the damage she believed to have been done. Her sense of panic rising when she was informed that Lieutenant Itami had been recalled to testify before Japan’s National Diet. Seeing the situation slipping from her grasp, Pina declared without preamble that she would accompany Third Recon back to Alnus to offer a formal apology to Itami’s superiors. After some discussion, the Princess would go to Alnus with an escort, accompanied by Bozes, Panache, and Hamilton. The latter was a last minute suggestion by Lieutenant Taylor as it only made sense for Princess Pina’s Aide-de-camp, the very person who had put the negotiations between Italica and the Pacific Allies to paper, to be there to record everything and if needed, to comment on details regarding the agreement. As for Panache, it seemed reasonable….


    Or do I just want to see her more? Taylor wondered. That's ridiculous! And at any rate, it was her insistence that she lead an escort for Her Highness.


    We’ve radioed in our escort and passengers and our ETA. I’m sure that General Hazama and Colonel Lowe will make a suitable demonstration for their visit. Rory is right. It might not be Itami’s intent, but they want the Princess to know fear like she’s never imagined. They can’t defeat us. We can break them. We can destroy them. And then what?


    With Panache’s insistence on an escort for Princess Pina, Taylor informed them that General Hazama had agreed the escort would be allowed to carry swords but not to draw them and that Panache needed to select knights who would not startle easily. Panache selected Merisa, Milet, Zivana, and as her second in command, a knight by the name of Vermouth a tall lean, blonde haired young woman who had also been part of Bozes and Panache’s advanced scouting party earlier.


    “You’re going to have to leave your horses here,” Taylor told Panache. “There’s too much chance of the horses spooking on the way in.”


    “More of your ‘Iron carriages’ then?” Panache asked.


    “No, by helicopter: The ‘Iron Pegasi’ as Her Highness called them. It will be faster. I’ll be flying back with you so you will be waiting when Princess Pina arrives.”


    Panache grinned in anticipation. She loved speed. She had wanted to find a trainer to teach her to ride a dragon mount but given Hamilton’s descriptions of the Iron Pegasi, this promised to be even more exhilarating. Her excitement only grew as she set eyes on the huge CH-53K King Stallion set down with two squads of Marines on board.


    “We will await your safe arrival at Alnus, your Highness.” Panache told her liege before boarding the ‘Iron Pegasus’ The marines keeping watchful eye on their guests though they need not have worried. With the exception of Panache whose fascination and excitement only grew as the helicopter accelerated to cruising speed, the knights accompanying her were too stunned to do more than feign calm and pray to the gods that the ride would soon end.


    In a very short time, the King Stallion landed back at Alnus Base, dubbed ‘Fort Defiance’ by those in the American contingent. After the arrival of Princess Pina, Taylor was ordered to report to Colonel Lowe for debriefing while Pina, Bozes, and Hamilton were escorted to General Hazama’s office and Kurokawa and Shino showed Panache and her knights to guest quarters.


    Hours later, Pina and her companions returned from their meeting with General Hazama and to the shock of Panache and the others, announced that she intended to go through the Gate to Japan. In the meantime, Lieutenant Taylor had been informed that in the morning he would accompany Pina’s group along with Itami and Sergeants Tomita and Shino. Passing Itami's open door, Taylor noted Lelei asleep on the 1st Lieutenant’s cot and Itami fast asleep beside it. He gently closed the door. He had plenty of work still to do before he hit his rack for the night.


    Tomorrow, after breakfast and a stop at medical for mandatory examinations, it would be time to take Princess Pina through the looking glass.


    ***​


    United States Embassy in Tokyo


    Ambassador Stevens set the phone back on its cradle and looked up at his visitor with a smile. “Looks like we’ve finally found the opening we’ve been looking for.”


    William Russell, special representative of President John Merwin, nodded. “It’s damn well about time.”
     
  22. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
    May 14, 2019
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    And Stir…


    “407th Combat Support Hospital, Corporal O’Reilly speaking. Yes, sir! One moment sir.” Radar punched a button. “Colonel Potter? Call on line one sir. General Hazama.”


    “Thank you, Radar,” the colonel acknowledged and picked up the phone. After a couple of minutes, Potter called out to his company clerk.“Radar!”


    The corporal stuck his head in the Colonel’s office. “Yes, sir?”


    “I want the senior staff to meet me in the mess tent in ten minutes. Get Klinger over here to man the phone cause I want you, Parna, and Koire there too.”


    “Yes, sir. Is something wrong sir?” Radar worried.


    “No, son. For once, things just might be going right for a change.”

    ****************************************************************************************************************************

    Ten minutes later, the senior staff was assembled and waiting.


    “Well boys and girls, less than fifteen minutes ago, I got a call from General Hazama.”


    “Don’t tell me,” Hawkeye cut in. “We’re surrendering.”


    “How dare you suggest such a thing!” Major Houlihan protested.


    “She’s right Hawk. They may have us in the Javelin and the steeplechase but we’ll catch up in the pole vault and high hurdles.” Trapper put in.


    “Let’s can the shenanigans folks.” Potter mildly admonished. He looked down the table, making sure everyone was paying attention. “If all goes well, we may be one step closer to ending this little fracas.”


    “We’re finally going on the offensive?” Major Burns asked with apparent relish. “Of course what we really should do is some round the clock bombing! That’ll teach these savages!”


    “Frank!” Pierce pointed angrily. “Shut up or I’ll suture your mouth shut! Rolling over their armies with tanks and artillery isn’t enough for you? Your kind won’t even be satisfied blasting them back to the Stone Age! Just how much is enough for you?”


    “Pierce!” Henry Blake cut in. “As much as I’d like to watch you surgically remove Frank’s foot out of his mouth, I’d even more rather find out about any chance I might see my wife and kids any time this century.”


    “Thank you, Henry,” Colonel Potter nodded and then stared sternly at Pierce and Burns. “Now if I may be allowed to continue. I’ve been informed that in connection with the other day’s casualties we got in from the city of Italica, our people made contact with a high ranking member of the Saderan Imperial family and she has announced her intention to go to Tokyo and try to lay the groundwork for talking peace.” He gave them all a moment to consider this and then continued: “Naturally, she and her party will need to undergo full medical examinations before they go through the Gate. We don’t want to accidentally let in some unknown disease or take unnecessary risks with their health either. This means that for the next few hours, they’ll be our guests. Keep this in mind that you people will be the last people they see before heading to our world. The manner in which you comport yourselves will affect how they view us and may well affect whether this initial dialogue gets off on the right foot.”


    “So how many VIPs are we talking about, sir?” Blake asked.


    “Aside from Her Imperial Highness, Princess Pina Co Lada…”


    “Pina Co Lada?” Trapper asked incredulously.


    “I’ll drink to that!” Hawkeye smirked.


    “Get it out of your system boys,” Potter told them.


    The two surgeons, along with BJ Hunnicutt, let out just a little more laughter, then forced themselves to stop although huge smirks remained on their faces.


    “As I was saying, she’ll be accompanied by seven of her people. Also, the Japanese Diet has requested that some of the locals testify in regards to our presence here. It looks like we’re getting three of the locals, plus three JSDF folks and one of our officers. So that’s fifteen guests. General Hazama wants us to get them processed as fast as we can. In the meantime, you will be on your best behavior. Do you read me, Burns? I’m not going to have an incident because you can’t keep that big yap shut.”


    Major Burns seemed to shrink back in his seat.


    Parna raised a hand timidly. “Colonel Potter, sir?”


    “What is it Parna?” He asked mildly.


    “Shall I report to my quarters until after Her Imperial Highness has left? My presence might offend her.” She nervously touched what remained of her left ear.


    A quick glance over at Koire told Potter that the Siren was thinking along the same lines. “Negative,” he declared firmly and regarded them both levelly. “I know your hearts are in the right place ladies but that’s not how we do things. I want you to take a look at those uniforms you are wearing. You two wear the same uniforms as the rest of us. If there is going to be any real peace here, those uniforms have to command respect. And how can the uniform command respect if we don’t insist that the person wearing it be respected? If Her Highness or any of her people have a problem with that, then they will just have to get over it. In fact, I want you two front and center today. Koire, you will be on duty in the Post-op ward. Parna, you and Radar will assist with the exams. And I am making this a direct order, ladies: You are not to take any crap from anyone. Understood?”


    “Yes, Colonel,” Koire answered.


    “Yes, Colonel Potter.” Parna acknowledged.


    “Good. Henry, you’ll oversee the welcome wagon.”


    “Where will you be sir?”


    “Well, seeing as we invited an actual group of knights here and told them to leave their horses at home, someone remembered we still have a few horses left over from the start of this mess corralled to keep them outta harms way and suggested that somebody with a little horse sense help pick out a few sturdy mounts for them to take back when they leave. Might be a little more dignified of a return for them.”


    “Ah! A little horsing around, I see.” Hawkeye grinned.


    “What I wouldn’t give to be one of those horses,” BJ admitted. “Parole, go home and see the wife and colts…”


    “Yeah, with you there Beej” Trapper agreed.


    “Well boys, all I can say is that if we do our jobs right, we may be closer to the day we all go home.


    ****************************************************************************************************************************


    Although beset with a mix of anxiousness and trepidation to cross the gate, it was urgent for Princess Pina to learn as much as possible about the Pacific Allies. That they had the power to dominate the Empire on the battlefield had been demonstrated to her in overwhelming and exquisitely, terrifyingly choreographed detail. But Pina needed to know more if she was going to have a chance at salvaging this situation. A small portion of her mind holding out a hope that if she survived this, she might learn what they could do for the Empire. If they were so inclined, Pina reminded herself. The Empire hasn’t exactly been making a good impression, not that the Empire ever cared about what other nations thought before. But we have to now. No, not we... I must succeed. Whatever it takes to stay their hand.


    Pina had considered sending one of her knights immediately back to Italica with a brief report on what she had learned so far but rejected that plan since Pina could picture the Senate losing their collective minds in panic and demanding ‘One final overwhelming attack on the barbarians!’ Such a move would not only result in the destruction of everything that remained of the Empire’s Army but destroy a generation of the Empire’s sons and then, thoroughly convinced the Empire could never be trusted to seek peace, the Pacific Allies would sweep over the Empire and destroy them, Pina was quite certain. Or perhaps her Father and the Senate would regard her report as the panicked delusions of a little girl playing at war and she would be told to ‘let those who truly understood these things do their jobs’.


    No. She needed to learn as much as she could first and then she had to figure out how to make the Senate and her father understand a truth even the more peacefully inclined members of the Senate would not wish to hear.


    At Pina’s side, Hamilton, Bozes, and Panache stood, with the other four knights in rank behind them. Panache resisted the temptation to fidget in her dress attire. If the train had reached Italica before all this, she could at least have argued for the unit’s ceremonial armor rather than this ungainly thing she now wore but that was not to be and she would have to make the most of it, She did note with a mix of amusement and sympathy that Taylor looked equally uncomfortable in his uniform, which he called ‘Dress Blues’ At least the garb Panache now wore was not as uncomfortably hot as Taylor’s uniform appeared to be.


    What she did not know was that Taylor was thanking his status as a junior officer and thus would not be required to carry the Navy sword in case he had to don full dress. In truth, he did not wish to be embarrassed by carrying a pretty little sword with no edge… especially not in front of Panache.


    Presently, they were introduced to Colonel Potter, Here was a man who exuded calm and command presence despite his short size and grandfatherly face.


    “Welcome to the 407th, your Highness. I know you must be anxious to get this done with and we’ll try to expedite things as best we can. In the meantime, my second in command,” Potter nodded to the tall, affable-looking man next to him. “Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake will be happy to show you around our little outfit and I understand there’s a need for good horses heading back home. That’s more my expertise than any of these younger folks around here so I’ll personally be overseeing that.”


    Princess Pina nodded. “Thank you, Colonel. Panache is our best rider so as soon as she is free to do so, she will see to selecting appropriate mounts for our return home.”


    “Perhaps Lieutenant Taylor could be of assistance,” Shino suggested with just a touch of a smirk.


    Taylor noted with tightly controlled irritation that Itami was practically grinning at this. “I’m afraid that’s outside my skill set Sergeant,” Taylor said carefully. “Of course I’ll be happy to help in any way I can,” he added quickly, not wishing to sound as if he was trying to avoid being in Panache’s company. Well, this suddenly got awkward.


    “Of course, Lieutenant,” Panache replied attempting not to offend. “We would welcome your accompaniment.”


    Shino nodded in self-confirmation, while Colonel Potter shrugged aware that there were undertones that he was not privy to. It wasn’t his concern.


    “Well, then we’ll get you two on the top of the queue.” Potter agreed. “Well, let's get moving, shall we, your Highness?”


    “By all means, Colonel.” Pina agreed, eyeing Panache curiously. There was a certain touch of redness in her cheeks and in Taylor’s as well. Did something happen? Did part of my other plan actually work? I will need to discreetly inquire with Panache later. But that was for another time.


    They followed Colonel Potter into the hospital and soon the examinations were ready to start. Colonel Potter introduced them to Captain Pierce in his capacity as Chief Surgeon and Major Houlihan as head nurse.


    “And assisting them will be Corporal O'Reilly and Specialist 4, Parna.” Potter waited for any sign of reaction to Parna’s presence.


    Princess Pina took careful note of Parna, including the fact that she wore the same uniform as many of the people she had seen here. The message was quite clear: Parna was to be considered and treated as one of them.


    “Corporal O’Reilly,” Pina bowed her head in acknowledgment. “Specialist Parna.” We appreciate your efforts here today.” Pina made it clear to her own people how she expected them to behave. Though the idea of allowing a non-human to wear the same uniform, thus implying that she had the same privileges, was something that could never happen in the Imperial Army. Pina reminded herself again that these people were different and they also were too dangerous to risk insulting. She and her people needed to learn about these people, not foolishly antagonize them.


    At this point, Colonel Potter seemed satisfied to step back and allow his people to handle matters.


    As promised, Taylor and Panache were processed first. As he had in Yokosuka, Taylor volunteered to allow their visitors to watch just exactly what was involved in this kind of examination and pointing out that their exams would have a good deal more privacy. Once completed, Taylor stood aside and waited as Panache stepped forward and her exam was carried out with the proper degree of privacy and without incident.


    Ignoring the eyes following them, the two followed Colonel Potter out to where the surviving Saderan horses were being kept.


    “This way folks. I’ve already got men waiting on us,” Potter told them.


    With Captain Hunnicutt and Nurse Kellye and Captain McIntyre and Nurse Ginger Bayliss also joining in, the remaining exams were completed in short order. All that remained was for blood and culture samples to be processed. Corporal O’Reilly taking custody of the samples.


    “I’ll get these to the lab right away.” Radar promised. He then looked to Lt. Colonel Blake. “Will there be anything else sir?”


    “No Radar, I think that will be all for now. You and Parna can go.”


    “Thank you, sir, I should go relieve Klinger.”


    “You go ahead then,” Blake told Radar and then added an afterthought. “By the way Radar. How are the language lessons going?”


    “Oh! Good sir! Parna is even already teaching me some of her language.” O’Reilly considered. “It’s tricky though. You gotta follow some really soft tones and I’m not used to how to form the words off my tongue. I can’t shape the sounds right yet.”


    “We will practice with tongue today,” Parna stated, her focus on Radar blocking out everything else.


    Trapper John McIntyre grinned. “Be gentle with him, okay?”


    “Have fun kids!” Hawkeye chimed in as they left.


    Henry Blake shook his head and suppressed the desire to roll his eyes at Pierce and McIntyre but then returned his attention to Princess Pina. “Now if you’ll follow me?” He invited. “Your Highness.” He addressed her.. “We would like to give you a brief tour of our little outfit.”


    “Thank you, Colonel Blake.” Pina agreed.


    “This way then,” Blake invited.


    “Just one moment Henry, if you wouldn’t mind?” Trapper interrupted. “I need just a moment to consult with my colleague?” He said pointing to Hawkeye. “Promise Henry, It will only take a minute.”


    “Well make it snappy McIntyre!”


    “We promise,” Trapper repeated. He then whispered to Hawkeye and pointed to one of Pina’s knights.


    “No kidding?” Hawkeye asked.


    “I’m serious,” Trapper repeated.


    “Well then. We’ll just see, won’t we.” Hawkeye told him, both men smiling in shared amusement as Pierce walked over to a glass sitting on the counter.


    “That better not be what I think it is, Pierce,” Henry warned.


    “Relax Henry, I was just finishing breakfast when Potter called us all in. And I promise I only ate the olive.” Hawkeye replied, swirling the contents of the glass as he walked over to one of Pina’s knights.


    “My! You’re a very lovely young lady. Would you tell us your name?”


    “Vermouth, daughter of Count Idryis.” The tall, blonde knight replied.


    “Well, then Vermouth, daughter of Count Idryis, I must say that’s quite a mouthful. You really need a business card for that” He told the perplexed knight. “Hold this please.” He handed her the glass and grinned.


    “You’re right Trap! Vermouth holding a glass of gin! And the perfect martini is born!”


    “Oh, very cute you two, Can we hold off on the comedy hour?” Blake sighed.


    “Who’s laughing? Mankind has been searching for the ultimate martini for ages. And now the search is over. Because this is something I’d like to drink-in every day.” Pierce turned to the confused knight and gently took the glass from her hand and passed it to Trapper. Then Pierce bowed with just a little flourish of the arm and wrist.


    “Thank you, my lady. Your grace in all of this is a delight to behold. You’ve got some real social class.”


    He turned from the still puzzled but now blushing knight to the perpetually puzzled if kind-hearted Henry Blake. “All done Henry. I think we can move along now.”


    “Gee, thanks, Hawkeye. You know I could have sworn I outrank you.”


    “You do Henry.” Trapper replied. “But you’re too good an egg to hold that over us.”


    “Like I said: Thanks,” Henry said with resignation and then turned to a perplexed Princess Pina. “As I was saying if you’ll follow me?”


    “Of course.” Pina agreed’ She looked over at Itami, Tomita, and Kuribayashi but saw that the JSDF people were seemingly as puzzled as she was over this behavior. These Americans were Taylor’s people. Perhaps he might have been able to make some sense of this but he was off with Panache. Well, nothing to be done for it. At least no one seemed hostile.


    “Not to brag, well maybe just a little,” Henry told them, “but we have a ninety-eight percent survival rate once a patient reaches our door.”


    “And Imperial soldiers?” Hamilton asked.


    “Once they get here,” Pierce answered directly, “they’re patients same as ours. And we do our best to keep them alive no matter what uniform they had on. Your people, our people, that’s not important here. What’s important is doing everything we can to keep these kids alive.”


    “Your people follow Hippocrates’ oath to an enviable degree.” Hamilton acknowledged.


    “We’re doctors. Either you believe in the value of a life or you don’t. It’s not a concept that allows for exceptions.” BJ Hunnicutt replied.


    Hamilton nodded in consideration.


    “May we see our soldiers?” Pina asked Blake directly.


    “I don’t see why not.” Henry agreed.


    “Maybe if you could get them to calm down a bit?” Hawkeye suggested. “It’s really not a great thing to have to have armed guards stationed in our post-op to make sure these kids don’t keep trying to hurt themselves, the doctors, or our other patients.”


    “Of course, Captain,” Pina agreed.


    The group proceeded to the Post-Op Ward where Koire was using very strong language indeed to a scowling Saderan who reluctantly stopped pulling at his IV. Pina suppressed a blush at the words used and Father Mulcahy, who had been conversing with another patient, was wide-eyed in surprise.


    “She sure told him!” BJ remarked.


    “Yeah but what?” Blake wondered.


    Father Mulcahy removed his glasses and wiped the lenses. Setting them back in place he sighed. “Well… It’s been a few years since the seminary, so even if the local Latin hadn’t drifted a bit, I’m just a little rusty but I think she was saying something about being stubborn and also casting aspersions on his father’s mating habits.”


    Pina nodded. “More or less. The exact phrasing was a little more… descriptive.” She then switched to Populari and addressed the annoyed young Saderan soldier. “What is your name, soldier?”


    The soldier’s intended next scornful reply stuck in his throat as he recognized the armor of Imperial Knights and realized who was addressing him. As he reflexively swallowed, he recognized now also the garments of the Priestess of Emroy. “Your Highness! Your Eminence! I…” He stammered. “I am Decanus Decius El Valorus.”


    “And have you been mistreated?”


    He wanted to rail at the indignity of being poked and prodded by these savages and being made to share space with lesser beings as well as being addressed by that Siren, daring to speak down to him simply because her new masters considered her equal to them. A degenerate race to be sure. “I… They… “ He hesitated. The stern look in Her Imperial Highness’ eyes told him that this would not be an acceptable answer. “No your Highness.”


    Pina nodded. “Very Good. Maintain your discipline but remember that the Empire needs live soldiers, not dead heroes. Any man who puts personal glory above the needs of the Empire is a traitor.” She told him coolly, not shouting but in a voice meant for every Saderan in the room.


    “Yes, your highness!”


    “Good. All of you will conduct yourself properly. You will behave honorably. You are to observe and learn everything you can about your hosts and will inform other soldiers you may encounter to do the same.”


    “Of course…” Rory Mercury smirked. “If you wish to pass on to Emroy’s embrace, I will oblige.” She said, shifting her grip on her halberd slightly.


    “Koire?” Henry Blake asked. “What are they saying?”


    “Respectfully, sir, I don’t think you want to know.”


    “Good enough for me,” Blake agreed.


    While the blood of most Saderans chilled at the Apostle’s pronouncement, the particular Saderan officer whom Father Mulcahy had just been conversing with let the tiniest smile slip. He addressed Mulcahy in Saderan English, a touch of triumph.


    “Father, I have enjoyed our little chats but today I’m afraid I must declare the victory. You have yet to prove your god but the Apostle of Emroy is here. The divine agent of the God of Darkness.”


    Mulcahy smiled. “And there you see my God.”


    “I’m afraid I don’t understand?”


    “Caim,” Mulcahy addressed the Centurion by his first name. “That young man over there has managed to injure himself several times, attacked doctors and nurses and he is not alone in either deed and certainly not thought. And yet, with the choice of death offered, we can see he wants to live. Think about that. You all have been face to face with death and yet here you are. Here all of you are, in spite of the sheer odds against surviving the battles, you are here. Despite your wounds, because of the skill of these surgeons, you survived. And because of the grace of God, your Imperial Highness and the Apostle of Emroy are here. And confronted by your own Apostle of Death… I see men who want life! That is the glory of my God.”


    “Perhaps Father.” The Centurion replied. “Perhaps.”


    “I can ask no more than an open mind my son.”


    In the meantime, with Colonel Potter’s assistance, Panache had finished selecting ten quality mounts which would be waiting for Pina and her knights when they were ready to return to Italica.


    “You have a splendid eye for horses, Colonel Potter.” Panache complimented. “Perhaps sometime I will have the chance to show you 'Imperator'. You will never find a better steed!” She boasted.


    “I’ll look forward to it,” Potter promised as they headed back to the hospital. The Colonel cast an appraising eye at Lt. Taylor. “You really don’t know much about horses do you son?”


    “As I told Sergeant Kuribayashi, it’s not exactly my skill set.”


    “So why did you volunteer to come out here lieutenant?”


    “Sir, there are times when lacking the ability to help does not excuse one from offering to try.”


    Potter looked between Taylor and Panache for just a moment and nodded. “I think I can see that. Just make sure that never gets you in a spot you can’t get out of son.”


    “Noted sir.”


    Potter chuckled to himself. Soon they caught up with the rest of the group waiting in the mess. Parna and Radar were also there and as they had told everyone, Parna was teaching Radar bits of her own language.


    “Not too loud.” Parna reminded him. “Ours is a delicate language. It would be like shouting ‘hello’.”


    Radar nodded and carefully repeated the phrase Parna had given him, letting it flow delicately. Parna beamed happily.


    “Yes! That was very good!”


    “What is it I’m saying?”


    “Don’t worry about that, Radar!” Parna told him with a smile. “For now we are just working on the shape of the sounds and tone control.”


    “Oh! Okay.”


    As Colonel Potter poured himself a cup of coffee, Corporal Klinger rushed in with a stack of files. “Colonel! Nurse Able said you wanted these lab results right away!”


    “Thank you, Klinger.” As he took the proffered papers, Potter introduced Klinger to Princess Pina. "Your Highness, this is Corporal Klinger. Klinger, this is Her Imperial Highness: Princess Pina Co Lada. She intends to go start talking about getting this little mess over."


    "And then we can all go home?"


    "That's right."


    Klinger fell to his knees with clasped hands. "Bless you, your Highness! Bless you! May your stars shine bright in the heavens! May the desert winds always blow in your favor! And may all of your children be born with small noses! Bless you!"


    “Don’t mind him,” Hawkeye told her Highness. “He’s only saying in his very distinctive manner what we all feel inside.”


    Potter meanwhile checked over the lab results. “Well, the good news is that the lab work all came back clean. You are officially all cleared to pass through to Tokyo.”


    “Thank you, Colonel,” Pina replied with feigned calm and confidence.


    “If you can find a way to make peace,” Pierce told her. “I realize we are technically still the enemy and not your main concern in all this but you do this, we’ll all be eternally grateful… Because, while the air here maybe just a little cleaner and the sky a little brighter, it's not a place most of us want to be. No place is ever as wonderful as home. And if you can do this, we all get to go home and I’ll be eternally grateful.” Pierce smiled with deep sincerity. Then the smile widened as he looked at her and all her knights. His voice louder as he continued: “And I promise you if you do this, when I get home, the first thing I do after sleeping for a week will be to go to a bar and drink in all your honors until I can’t sit up anymore!” Pierce stepped back as Colonel Potter nodded.


    “Good luck your highness. The horses will be waiting when you get back and if there’s anything else we can do for you, ask.”


    “Again, thank you, Colonel Potter. Thank you all. If the Gods will it.” She looked to Father Mulcahy. “Or God as the case may be, then there will be peace.” Before stepping into the waiting van, she turned to address Vermouth.

    “Remember your instructions. Return to Italica and discuss this with Grey and Vifita only. I want the order to remain at Italica at least until my return.”


    “Yes, your highness.”


    “Then it is time.” Pina entered the van and Sergeant Tomita helped her with her seatbelt and closed the door. As Tomita got in the driver’s seat, Pina prayed a silent prayer to all the gods: The Gods of Falmart, whose motives she didn’t quite trust, the God of Father Mulcahy, whom Pina didn’t really understand yet, and any other gods that might be listening that she might succeed in her task.


    And now the Gate awaited.
     
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  23. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Through the Looking Glass, Part 1


    As her Princess stood in shocked awe at the gleaming towers of Tokyo, Panache tried to put herself in the eyes of her brother on the day, now four months past that the Imperial Army marched confidently through the gate into a world, unlike anything any of them could have possibly imagined. This city was huge, with towers of glass and iron rather than the comparatively more modest stone, brick, and marble buildings of Sadera. Towers everywhere obscuring what lay beyond, the army’s commanders would have no frame of reference to help them understand this place and to her horror, as she began to pay closer attention to the people living in these towers and moving past on the street beyond the iron fence and the gatehouse, she began to picture how the people here must have reacted to the sudden appearance of an army bent on looting and conquest appearing from out of nowhere.


    The Demi-Human Auxiliaries had probably run wild in these streets and many Legionaries scarcely better.


    Tiberius would have been sickened by it. He had their mother’s heart and kindness and then the army would have been confronted by the defenders of this land, facing angry warriors whose homes had been violated and who had wielded unbelievable destructive power. She shivered, even as the Elven girl Tuka shivered but unlike Tuka, this was not from the cold in the air.


    At the gatehouse, they were met by a man who introduced himself as Komakado. Taylor explaining to those who didn’t understand Japanese that this was the head of the security detail assigned to escort them while in Tokyo. Taylor sighed as he heard Kuribayashi’s stunned disbelief to the revelation that Lieutenant Itami had somehow qualified Special Forces.


    Not that Taylor understood it either. There was always the chance that Itami’s file had been doctored for some reason or that political shenanigans were involved or just perhaps Itami really was that good? Nah! Taylor dismissed the notion. Itami was trained but if anyone would ask Taylor for one word to describe Itami, what word would that be? He considered: The single word that came to mind was affable but beyond that, Taylor began to believe he was starting to put the pieces together. The man that could pass rigorous training without wanting to live that life. A man whose hobby was more important than his career. It occurred to Taylor that every choice Itami had made was an escape. He could pass those training programs because he had to. In the service, he escaped the outside world and still supported his hobby, which was an escape. His specialty in Ranger Training: Evasion and escape. The one thing Itami could be counted to give his full attention to was getting away from things.


    And that was the key. Erwin Rommel had once said there were four kinds of officers: The Stupid and Lazy ones were generally harmless, Rommel opined that these men could safely be left alone. The Smart and Industrious officers were good staff officers. The remaining two were the Dumb and Industrious sorts whose determination inevitably led to more work and complications for everyone. These men were to be rooted out at all costs. Finally were the officers which Rommel described as the Smart and Lazy ones: These men would find ways to achieve their goals with the least amount of effort possible. These men were the best leaders Rommel thought. Apparently, someone had believed this true of Itami. But was it enough? If Itami had been running toward a goal, it might have been but if Itami were running away from something? Well, one either kept running or what one was running from eventually caught up.


    Something to think about alright Taylor. And where are you going? Are you running at all? Or just standing still? Taylor sighed. He was a Naval Officer, not a psychiatrist and he had a job to do. There’s a Star Trek reference in there, he told himself.


    Security arrangements now in place, they boarded a bus with Itami instructing the driver to head for a popular high-end fashion store. It was deemed inappropriate for Tuka to give testimony before the Diet wearing blue jeans. On arrival, with the assistance of the store staff, Tuka was outfitted in a rather nice business suit, one that complimented her build quite well. Coming to NBC this fall: Elven Law. Taylor chuckled to himself. A guaranteed hit.


    After this, a short break for food seemed to be in order. To Taylor’s surprise, Itami opted for Gyudon. It wasn’t that Taylor had any dislike for Beef Bowls, Though I would practically KILL for some authentic Brooklyn style pizza…


    “Itami? Why this place? We’re escorting the Imperial Princess and well, not to put too fine a point on it but if this were Los Angeles and I had us pull into a Taco Bell, that might not fly too well.”


    “We only have vouchers for 500 yen per meal. Budget’s tight.”


    Taylor rolled his eyes. “Seriously? Itami, we’re officers. This is the part where we pull out our wallets, bite the bullet for a more upscale meal and file the paperwork to get reimbursed.”


    Itami grimaced. “You know you can’t use your allowance here.” He replied in reference to the coin purse Taylor still carried.


    “Itami… the service pays me a good forty-five hundred dollars a month basic pay. I live on base, I have virtually no bills and no social life. Saving money is not my biggest problem.”


    “You don’t have an ex-wife either,” Itami muttered.


    “Ehh?”A number of heads turned with varying degrees of shock and disbelief.


    “Who would marry him?” Kuribayashi exclaimed incredulously.


    Itami gave her a cross look. “You make it sound strange that I could possibly be married.” He looked at Taylor. “It is a long story.”


    “No doubt. “ Taylor agreed. “But the main point is that between your ex and your hobby, you are broke.”


    “Pretty much,” Itami sighed.


    Taylor smirked and held up his cell phone. “Well, I got a text while we were getting Tuka dressed to kill. Mother is expecting us for dinner.”


    “You keep referring to her as your mother. Is that even legal?” Itami asked. “I assume you’re not referring to your birth mother.”


    “No. Mom doesn’t do dinner parties. As for the legality? I have no idea what Imperial law is on the subject but I am not going to be the fool that challenges that woman’s will. If you want to be the guy that questions 'whether she is allowed to do something she has already decided' is a ‘thing’, then by all means and its been nice knowing you.”


    “I’ll pass on that.”


    “Very wise of you.” Taylor agreed.


    “Thank you.” Itami paused as he fished out his own cell phone and pulled up a text. “You think I could bring a ‘plus one’ for dinner? Risa has been texting me. The usual,” Itami shrugged. “She’s out of food, money, the electricity is about to be cut off and she has a deadline with her publisher.”


    “Ah! The usual,” Taylor agreed.”You’re going to have to explain this to me sometime. You know it’s your butt if she turns out to be a security risk?”


    “I know but please! Risa’s only interest and care is her work. I doubt anyone will find anything subversive about a doujin writer… At least nothing criminally subversive,” Itami added. “So?”


    “I don’t think mother will have a problem,” Taylor told him. “She says that not even pitched battle is an excuse for poor manners and inhospitality. Of course, if someone is determined to be of ill manners, then I expect she’d be pretty ruthless about them.”


    “Duly noted.”


    ****​

    After eating, the group reboarded the bus and headed for the Diet building. Much to Princess Pina’s surprise, Itami informed her that while Itami, Rory, Lelei, and Tuka would give testimony before the Diet, Pina and her party would instead be taken to a different location for a meeting with Allied representatives.


    Driving to the Foreign Ministry, the group paid no particular attention to the black Mercedes which left the ministry as they were pulling in. What did catch Taylor’s attention was the familiar face of Chief Richardson waiting for them.


    Taylor quickly introduced the Chief. “I got your text but I take it you’re here for more than just to tell me ‘Soup’s on’.”


    “Yes sir, just follow me Lieutenant.” the Chief led them into the Ministry building and out a side exit where a grey Chevy Suburban in US Navy markings was waiting. “Sorry for all the cloak and dagger sir,” Richardson said once everyone was seated and belted in. “There’s been a security leak. Somebody leaked info to a certain member of the Government opposition. We don’t know how much got leaked so we’re heading for Yokosuka. Vice Minister Shirayuri will be waiting for us there. I do have one piece of good news sir,” The Chief noted as he put the vehicle in drive.


    “Oh?” Taylor noted that the Chief was eager to tell this, so it probably involved an officer making a fool of himself. He was not to be disappointed in this assumption.


    “Remember Lieutenant Fallon?”


    “Yes Chief, I remember him quite well.” He recalled quite well Fallon’s describing the difference between a Lieutenant and a Lieutenant junior grade to him.


    “You may be the last person who does, LT.” Richardson allowed himself to smirk. “He picked trouble with the wrong lady!”


    “Oh, really?”


    “I may have had a small role.”Richardson smiled. “Sir, with all respect, on the rare occasion, the wrong man gets put in the wrong place and well… Fleet politics isn’t pretty sir," the Chief noted. “Anyway, it took one week for Lieutenant Fallon to be replaced. You’ll like Lieutenant Colonel Mihara. She’s good people. For a Marine, of course.”


    “Anything else I should know, Chief?”


    “There was a thing or two but your mother will fill you in sir. She’d have my ugly head if I spoiled her surprise and with her, I’m not sure that’s a figure of speech.”


    “I read you Chief,” Taylor replied.


    It was not long before they arrived at Yokosuka. Passing the guard station, Pina and her knights took notice that there were many people in uniforms like those worn by Taylor and Chief Richardson but virtually none wearing uniforms like Itami, Tomita, or Kuribayashi. Pina mulled on this. For some reason it was unsettling. The Empire would never have allowed another nation a base on its territory but they would use such a base in someone else’s country.


    That suggested something very disturbing: Pina had accepted that Itami’s country was vastly more powerful than the Empire. She had assumed that this Pacific Alliance was an alliance of equals or that Taylor’s country was a client state of Japan in much the same way her father had summoned the armies of the Empire’s vassal states. But now it began to dawn on her that Taylor’s country was the dominant partner, backing up an ally the Empire had been foolish enough to attack. The power of Japan was enough to give Pina nightmares. That another nation might be more powerful still, was terrifying.


    “Here we are, folks!” Chief Richardson announced. “Sadera West! No littering, no loitering, and please don’t feed the pigeons.” The vehicle came to a stop before an impassive woman who looked to be in her late thirties and wore the olive green uniform of a Marine Lieutenant Colonel. Though not even five feet tall, this woman still radiated command authority and presence. Taylor briefly thought she was like a more seasoned and mature version of Kuribayashi. On exiting the vehicle, Taylor saluted her and introduced Pina and her party and sergeants Tomita and Kuribayashi.


    “Your Imperial Highness, I am Lieutenant Colonel Mihara, United States Marine Corps. “If you will kindly follow me, Lady Octavia, Vice Minister Shirayuri and Special Envoy Russell are waiting for us.”


    Entering the familiar main hall, Taylor took note that Lady Octavia was not seated in her customary place at the head of the long table. Across from Octavia were seated three individuals who were definitely not Saderans. Taylor assumed the woman seated across from Octavia was Vice Minister Shirayuri. Next to her was a tall man greying hair and wisened eyes that Taylor recognized immediately. Henry Russell was, to say the least, a bit old-fashioned in his approach to campaigning. Where Joseph Dirrell had been a master of the 30-second sound bite, the former Secretary of State was at his best in a debate. Those skills had brought him close to becoming President of the United States.


    And now it appeared that the career statesman and diplomat was President Merwin’s representative on the ‘Janus Question’ Taylor wished him well. The third individual, seated on Mr. Russell’s left was introduced as Koji Sugawara of the Japanese Foreign Ministry.


    Octavia rose with pride. “Madame Vice Minister, Mister Ambassador, Mister Sugawara, I introduce to you, Her Imperial Highness, Princess Pina Co Lada.”


    Pina smiled and gave a slight nod to Lady Octavia. Privately, Pina had to admit just how much she envied the older woman’s apparent calm. Not only surviving among people who had no reason to wish her well but apparently thriving.


    Octavia took a moment to address a family issue. “My daughter, Lucilla and my sons Antonius and Marcus all wanted to be here when you arrived but there are serious matters to discuss first. I promised them you would be here for dinner but again, weighty matters set before us first.” She turned to the Vice Minister, who addressed Pina with courtesy but also frankness.


    ”These will not be formal peace talks but we can hopefully establish a solid foundation for such talks. Mister Sugawara and I will represent Japan, Mister Russell is here at the behest of our American allies and of course, we appreciate both the efforts of Lady Octavia as hostess for these discussions and your own efforts, your Highness. Your willingness to come here gives us hope that a satisfactory resolution can be made to the current unpleasantries and possibly someday, a more rewarding and mutually beneficial future can be created”.


    Octavia then gestured for one of her household maids to withdraw seats for Her Highness, Lady Hamilton, Bozes, and Panache on Octavia’s left.


    “Lieutenant,” Colonel Mihara told Taylor. “I’m certain you remember where the Rec. Lounge is. You and Sergeants Tomita and Kuribayashi can avail yourselves of the facilities while the discussions are in progress.”


    “Yes, ma’am.” Taylor acknowledged the dismissal. Diplomacy, like all forms of war, was best left to the professionals.


    It should have been little surprise that the large television in the rec room was tuned to coverage of the hearing before the Diet. Presently, the camera followed Tuka as she stepped down from testifying. All things considered, Taylor was glad that Aenaire had declined his invitation to come to Japan. This was growing into a circus.


    “Attention on deck!” Chief Richardson barked, saving more than one man from letting slip an unfortunate comment in Taylor’s presence as everyone bolted upright.


    “As you were people.” Taylor smiled. “Just remember those girls are like my little sisters,”


    “Lieutenant? You know those girls?” Petty Officer Sanchez asked.


    “Like I said, like my little sisters.”


    “Begging your pardon, sir.” A Petty Officer 2nd remarked, gesturing to the screen where Rory Mercury was taking the stand. “But she doesn't act like anybody’s little sister.’


    “That’s because she’s the apostle of death. I watched her kill two score men with a halberd as if she was doing a ballet.”


    “What’s a halberd, Lieutenant?” The petty officer asked.


    ‘It’s a long, heavy bladed weapon that dices, slices and makes tons of julienne fries out of idiots who don’t get out of her way.”


    Meanwhile, in the meeting hall, Princess Pina was immensely grateful to have the sharp mind of Hamilton at her side. The form of the High Tongue used here was reasonably close to what they used at home but ‘reasonably’ close still left room for error and that, above all else, Pina was well aware she had to avoid. The Empire was not a nation that excelled in diplomacy in the way most nations understood it. For centuries, diplomacy consisted of what the Empire wanted and making it clear how far they would push to get it. This was different. They had finally run up against nations that could not be threatened and bullied by Imperial might. Japan and America were nations that could crush the Empire with ease if they chose to do so. That they had not yet done so offered Pina a small hope that she might save The Empire, although it was dawning on her that there were many living in its lands who would shed no tears if the Empire was destroyed.


    If having Hamilton at her side was a blessing in this discussion, then the presence of Lady Octavia was truly a gift from the gods. The older woman was an anchor of calm and she had apparently garnered a good amount of trust and respect from the Japanese and Americans. Pina had many things she wanted to ask her later but for now, she merely envied Lady Octavia’s skill at guiding the discussions. It was also apparent that someone had spent considerable time with Octavia discussing issues that might come up well ahead of time.


    “Your Highness, Madame Vice Minister, before we move on to the issue of Prisoners and Detainees,” Octavia made the slightest ironic smile at that. “I should address the concept of reparations. Namely that while it would be altogether appropriate for the Empire to make a considered redress to the victims of the Ginza incident, that not only has the Empire already suffered serious loss in life that will affect the Empire for the next generation on all levels of society,but that I will caution,” she said addressing those on the other side of the table. “There are practical limits to just how much the Empire can do without dangerously destabilizing itself. This could lead to unnecessary grief later. I understand that the fall of what you call the ‘Weimar Republic’ was partially a result of such heavy a burden?”


    Pina certainly had no idea what this ‘Weimar Republic’ was but the Japanese and American representatives clearly understood the reference, with Mister Russell leaning back with a nod and an appreciative smile.


    “You seem to know a fair amount about our history.”


    “Thank you. It helps make understanding each other easier. Certainly, peace must be based on understanding each other?”


    “Very true.” Russell agreed.


    “Of course ending a war should be seen beyond simply defeating an enemy if one can seize the opportunity to make an ally instead. Don’t you agree, Your Highness?”


    Pina took to this with enthusiasm.”Yes! Absolutely.” Pina was not certain of how she would convince her father or the Senate to see things in that light but this was a path that would assure the survival of her nation.


    “And now on the topic of Prisoners and Internees.” Vice Minister Shirayuri announced. “Currently, our governments are holding approximately seventeen-thousand military prisoners. Also, there are four thousand non-military internees in the care of the American Government." This total included prisoners taken during the battles at Alnus as well as the Ginza Invasion.


    “That’s twenty-one thousand Imperial citizens!” Hamilton exclaimed.


    “Speaking of which,” Octavia commented. “Your Highness can be assured that we have been treated quite well. Not only those of us considered non-military but I have been allowed to see my husband who was severely injured in the initial invasion. He is recovering and I have no reason to believe they have been anything less than diligent in his care.”


    Russell nodded. “We have very firm laws governing the treatment of prisoners.”


    “And how much to get them back?” Pina asked in a calm and businesslike tone. Prisoner ransom was certainly a concept the Empire knew well.


    “We do not engage in the practice of prisoner ransom and we will be happy to release a small number as a sign of good faith. Also, we are obligated to release civilian internees at the earliest practicable time,” Shirayuri replied. To which Lady Octavia shook her head.


    “At present, I must suggest that it would not be wise for us to return to the Empire.” She turned to Pina. “Our position here might tend to make us suspect to those who inevitably will not want peace. Our families and lands would be easy targets. “


    Pina considered this. Though part of her wanted to insist that no one could be so insane as to wish to continue a war with nations so much more powerful than her own, she had to recognize that peace might be a harder sell to both her father and the Senate than she wanted to believe. Her father could not be seen as acting from a position of weakness and the Senate had a mix of those who either feared damage to their own power if branded a coward or might actually be unable to understand and accept that the Empire was in a completely untenable position.


    “Very well. I would wish to have your steady counsel close at hand, my lady but I understand your position.”


    “Thank you, your Highness. I have some thoughts about the governance of my House in my absence but they are better suited until after we finish our official discussions for the day.”


    “As for military prisoners,” Sugawara noted, “We have cataloged all known names here.” He slid over two heavy bound volumes. “We would be prepared to release a few prisoners immediately as a show of good faith.”


    “And a reciprocal act on our part,” Pina noted.


    Sitting at the end of the Imperial delegation, Panache looked apprehensively at the two large volumes. Seventeen thousand names! That was more than one in ten of the soldiers that the Empire had marched through the gate. It is possible my brother’s name could be written there. And if it isn’t?


    “We wish to look over the names first, of course,” Pina noted,


    “Certainly. Now as that concludes the formal list of topics, is there anything else we should discuss?” The Vice Minister asked.


    “Actually,” Lady Octavia smiled. ‘I do have a matter of family concerns to be addressed…”


    ***​


    While the discussions continued, Itami pulled up to the gate about an hour late, his ex-wife sitting in the front passenger seat, clutching her laptop. Every few seconds she turned to glare at Itami.


    “I said I was sorry Risa.” Itami sighed as the woman continued to glare while clutching her laptop like a mother protecting her child.


    “They forced the door to my apartment! Detained me! Took my laptop! All of my work is on that! I’m behind as it is!”


    “I explained to them it was a misunderstanding.” Itami defended himself.


    “They knocked down my door and detained me for ‘A suspicious volume of text and email traffic’?”


    “Everyone is a bit jumpy. Especially Public Security. This is important!”


    “So is my work! I’m not a security risk! They had no reason to handcuff me!”


    “You bit one of the officers!” Itami objected.


    “He was taking my laptop! Like I said! All my work is in there!”


    “Look, you were cleared and they promised to fix the door.”


    “Small favors.” The small young woman groused.


    At this point, Itami noticed Taylor, Tomita, and Kuribayashi watching them expectantly.


    “Um...everyone, this is Risa. She is my ex-wife.”


    “Welcome to Camp Augustus, Risa,” Taylor greeted her. “So Itami, I see your day has been a rousing success!”


    “Define ‘success’,” Itami groaned.
     
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  24. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 16 Through The Looking Glass, Part 2:


    “Well, Pina is still in discussion right now. We can wait in the Rec Lounge while they finish up.” Taylor turned to Rory, “Besides, there are a bunch of people who would be thrilled to meet these young ladies, especially Rory, who just might be the most popular person in the world right now.”


    Itami winced as he recalled the scene on the floor of the Diet. Representative Kohara hopefully would never know how close she had come to experiencing Rory’s wrath. “I certainly could have done without the excitement,” He replied as they followed Taylor into the building.


    “I suppose so but what’s done is done and Rory just did what most people dream of doing and got away with it. I can only imagine what viral media is going to do with that.” They entered the lounge area and Taylor nodded to Chief Richardson.


    “Attention on deck!” The Chief called.


    “At ease,” Taylor instructed and then smiled. “Gentlemen… Ladies… I’m sure you will recognize our guests. Remember what I said: I consider these ladies to be like my own family. And Lieutenant Itami and Sergeants Kuribayashi and Tomita all share my feelings on this matter.


    Also, I do not recommend offering Rory your immortal soul. She takes contracts seriously.”


    “I wouldn’t mind!” A voice called from the back of the room. Taylor noted Rory begin to smile in a predatory manner.


    “Be that as it may, Uncle Sam has already claimed first dibs on that so that’s a non-starter.”


    “So close Charlie!” Someone called to the disappointed petty officer.


    She could break your heart boys but better your heart than your spine, Taylor thought.

    In a few minutes, they were joined by Lady Lucilla who addressed and greeted Taylor warmly. “Brother! It is good to see you!” She hugged him fondly, “Dinner will be ready shortly. They’ve been roasting a whole hog in honor of your return!” Lucilla looked around, noting Rory, Tuka, and Lelei. “Well brother, the famed Apostle of Emroy, a High Elf, and a mage! You have a knack for meeting interesting people. Even Her Imperial Highness and two of the Rose Order’s Knight Commanders!” A touch of excitement crept into her voice. “Do you know them well brother?”


    Taylor would have been glad if Shino Kuribayashi had not begun to smirk or if Rory had not opted for mischief at his expense.


    “Love at first sight!” Shino announced. “We saw him propose to Lady Panache.”


    Rory nodded. “I’d be happy to preside over the bonding,” She stated with amusement.


    “I didn’t…” Taylor began to protest.


    “Mother will be so pleased!” Lucilla exclaimed.


    Taylor kept a mask of calm on his face. Kuribayashi! I will get you! Someday, somehow, I will get you for this! Not that he had anything against Lady Panache, in fact, he found her both attractive and fascinating but it was certainly a one-sided attraction. This was not the time to indulge in a schoolboy crush.


    Lucilla merely smiled. “I had better help Antonius and Marcus get ready for dinner! Felicia will fetch you when dinner is ready.” Of course, she needed to relay this bit of social intelligence concerning her foster brother, what others would term ‘gossip’, to her mother. “Until then brother.” Lucilla excused herself.


    At dinner then at the suggestion of Lucilla, Taylor, and Panache found themselves seated next to each other. This was to the approval of Lady Octavia and Princess Pina and the amusement of Rory, Itami, and Kuribayashi. Panache also noticed an amused twinkle in the eye of her dear friend Bozes. Of course, Panache also noticed the slightest blushing by Bozes as she took a seat next to Sergeant Tomita.


    So! You would have Her Highness and everyone else distracted for a bit, my dear friend! Just understand that sooner or later, they will all realize there is nothing between Taylor and myself. I have no time for wistful fantasy while my heart pains over the fate of Tiberius. Besides, even were my heart not heavy with worry, I am sure that Taylor could not have an interest in what my father calls ‘such an unnatural girl’ like me.


    Now ensconced in her traditional place at the head of the table, Lady Octavia waited for all of her guests to be seated before rising, goblet in hand.


    “Your Imperial Highness, Vice-Minister Shirayuri, Ambassador Russell, Lords and Ladies, Esteemed Guests, it is my pleasure to see you all tonight. Before we commence feasting, there is an important matter of business we must address. After careful consultation with Colonel Mihara and Ambassador Russell, I feel it is an appropriate time to address an important matter. None of us here can deny that a great change looms for the Empire. This is not the first time our people have been confronted with change. I intend that my family and my House will continue and may yet even prosper in the face of the uncertainties that lie ahead of us. But that will require knowledge beyond my own and an understanding of the world with which the Empire has collided. This is why I have chosen an heir from the blood of this new world. By the laws and customs of our people, I name William James Taylor as my son and legal heir. That in the eyes of the Empire he is William James Taylor Octavus. That one day he will inherit the title and lands of my father. That I believe him an honorable man, I trust that he will act to protect Our family and conduct himself honorably in all things. I would not ask that he betray the oaths or trusts of his people as only a person without honor would ask such and only a person without honor would accept such and those are traits unworthy of Our House. My son, as suited to your station as heir of my house, It is time you carried the signet of our house. Antonius?”


    The older of Octavia’s two natural born sons rose from his seat and stepped to his mother with Marcus right behind him. Antonius handed his mother a small box which she opened and studied with satisfaction. Come here, my son.” Octavia told Taylor warmly.


    As Taylor rose from his seat, Kuribayashi gave a curious glance at Ambassador Russell. “Forgive me but I thought it was against American law for its citizens to accept any titles or gifts from foreign governments?”


    Russell smiled. “The exact wording in the Constitution is that ‘No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State’. I think Congress will accept a recommendation to allow this. The potential for the establishment of ties with a possible future ally and trading partner far outweighs any risk.” There it was, from a military perspective, the United States did not consider the Empire to be any particular threat or challenge but rather an opportunity to be cultivated before opposing powers managed to get a foot in the door. What was unspoken were that there would still be consequences to come.


    Her Imperial Highness listened very attentively to all this. Lady Octavia had made it clear she was acting in the interests of her House and Family. If the Empire chose to take a path of self-destruction, her House would survive. Pina would pay heed to her wisdom as she wondered what would become of the Empire. What would become of those who would try to deny the truths that Lady Octavia and now Pina herself could see so plainly and what would become of the rest of them?



    As Taylor stood in front of Lady Octavia, she showed him the jeweled ring which bore the emblem of her house. As she placed it on his finger, she addressed the room. “Here, before Her Imperial Highness, I affirm that as the bearer of this ring, you are the rightful heir to House Octavus.” She added, “I intended for you to have this before you left but it took a little longer than I had hoped for the craftsman to complete. I am relieved that the delay did not cause you any serious trouble.”


    Bozes shuffled a little nervously and Panache fought to suppress her own embarrassment that they had very nearly given extreme affront to one of the great houses of the Empire.


    “Nothing that we couldn’t handle,” Taylor answered mildly, to which she raised an eyebrow.


    Panache cleared her throat and looked at Bozes who nodded. “There was an incident. We detained your son as a possible enemy combatant.” Panache stated with more calm than she felt.



    Octavia smiled. “My son! You have a talent for making the acquaintance of some of the most distinguished daughters in the entire Empire! I trust that difficulties were minor?”


    “Completely. Lady Bozes and Lady Panache acted with all due restraint and chivalry.”


    Bozes, Panache, and Princess Pina herself felt a measure of relief at this. Things were bad enough without borrowing even more trouble.


    “Good! I look forward to discussing family matters later. Now! Sit! Tonight’s feast has been prepared in your honor, my son.”


    The food was excellent. The conversation was generally lively as Princess Pina expressed considerable interest in Risa and her work. The subject also eliciting interest from Lady Bozes and amusement from Colonel Mihara. Ambassador Russell fielded numerous questions from Hamilton about the governments of Japan and the United States


    “It is a fascinating system,” Hamilton declared finally. “But ‘Democracy’ on the national level would be an impractical government model in our world. It depends too much upon a learned population to function. On a small scale, it’s fine. Villagers ought to know their village and understand its problems but understanding the matters of the entire nation requires an educated and informed population with the time and inclination to contemplate such things.”


    Ambassador Russell listened thoughtfully and nodded. What the young woman had said was correct in regards to an educated and informed population. Americans often referred to having three branches of government, each designed to keep the others in check but in reality, there were four legs upon which American democracy stood. The responsibility of that fourth branch often overlooked and ignored at peril. “It is not a perfect system and it requires a lot of effort but my people would never want to live any other way.” This was one reason why Russell fervently hoped that talks between the Pacific powers and the Empire proved fruitful. He did not want to see yet another in history’s long list of ham-fisted attempts at ‘nation-building’ Democracy had to be built and nurtured from within a society and while it was the system he believed in, he suspected it would take a minimum of several decades at least to foster the changes required for an American style government to work in the lands now ruled by the Empire.


    In the meantime, Lucilla eagerly questioned Princess Pina and Bozes and Panache about the Rose Order.


    “You would wish to join the Order?” Pina asked Lucilla with a touch of disbelief. After all, had not their current circumstances demonstrated that the entire Imperial way of war was now completely obsolete?


    “Absolutely! Once we return home and if mother and father permit it, I should certainly ask your Highness to consider my appointment.”


    “Then if that is your wish I will do so.”


    “Thank you, Your Highness!”


    Octavia chuckled. “Lucilla has admired the Order ever since my husband and I took her to see your knights in tournament two years ago. It was most impressive.”


    “Thank you,” Pina answered with a touch of pride returning.


    As dinner progressed, Panache began to feel somewhat more at ease, enough to finally inquire on the matter dearest to her thoughts. “Colonel Mihara? I was wondering. I have not had a chance to look over the lists you provided us but my younger brother was given a commission in our expeditionary army. I was hoping if he might be held, prisoner. I know the Vice Minister said that your people did not practice ransoming prisoners but if at least I knew he was alive and could send a message to him?”


    “By your leave Colonel,” Taylor suggested. “I’ll look into it.”


    “Certainly Lieutenant. “


    “Thank you, ma’am.”


    “After you’ve seen to that if you and Lady Panache would join us in the sitting room?” Octavia invited.


    “Of course. “


    After dinner, It only took a few moments to locate the name of Tiberius Kalgi in the prisoner database.


    “You said this was your younger brother?” Taylor asked Panache as he brought up her brother’s file and picture. This boy looked too young to be sitting in the middle of a prison camp.


    Panache smiled, feeling relief that at least Tiberius was alive and apparently safe. “He’s fifteen.”


    “Your army normally grant commissions to fifteen-year-olds?”


    “Sixteen is the normal age,” Panache explained. “But our father traded some favors to get him an early commission. Father didn’t want Tiberius to ‘miss on the opportunity’ for glory.” Her tone spoke volumes about how she felt about that.


    “I take it you didn’t think that was such a good idea.”


    “Tiberius would do anything to please our father but he’s a poet. A thinker. Let him learn and build!”


    “So, first commission, what would they have him doing?”Taylor asked.


    “Most probably serving as a messenger.” Panache replied. “It’s a good first assignment to acclimate a new officer to the army.”


    “I see. Well, it is normal practice to allow prisoners to send and receive letters and receive packages. That won’t be a problem.”


    “Thank you.” She felt a weight had been lifted from her heart. “Our mother will be very much relieved.”


    “It was my pleasure.”


    After a not unpleasant walk, Taylor and Panache reported to Lady Octavia’s sitting room. Ambassador Russell and Vice Minister Shirayuri had both taken their leave by this point but Octavia’s other guests along with Colonel Mihara, several of the ranking Saderan ladies, Octavia’s natural children, along with the faithful Felicia and two Marine guards were present.


    “I sense there is good news to report, my Lady?” Octavia asked Panache solicitously, noting the eased demeanor of the young woman.


    “Yes, milady. My brother is alive and safe!” Panache reported.


    “That is excellent news indeed!” Princess Pina agreed.


    “Now with that happy bit of news,” Octavia continued. “There is one last matter my son. Thanks to Chief Richardson, I was able to commission a swordsmith capable of forging a sword worthy of Our house name. Lucilla?”


    Her daughter retrieved a long case and with a proud smile, set it on the table in front of her brother and opened it.


    “I am told it is forged from something called ‘L6 steel,” Octavia stated. “The workmanship does appear excellent.” She looked over at Colonel Mihara. “Colonel? As this room is quite secure and guarded, would it be alright to allow Her Highness and her companions to examine this?”


    Colonel Mihara nodded her assent to the Marine sentries “I guess it would take a swordsman to truly appreciate a sword.”


    “Thank you, Colonel. I may love Lieutenant Taylor as any mother would a son, but he is simply not yet versed in the ways of the sword. I will need to find a suitable teacher for him.” She turned to Pina’s party: “Ladies? As we’ve said, it takes an expert to recognize a quality blade...”

    ***​

    Camp Charon, Iwo Jima

    Early the following morning, Tiberius, son of Baron Kalgi was told to gather his kit and report to Colonel Masters office. The grim-faced sergeant giving no hint as to why. Tiberius's hut mates were certain that the boy had violated some taboo or had otherwise offended 'The Dread Lady' as Masters was called in whispered murmurs. Sergeant Giardelli calmly escorted the teen to the Camp commander's office.

    "Thank you, sergeant. Wait outside," the Colonel instructed.

    "Yes, ma'am."

    Alone before the inscrutable gaze of 'The Dread Lady', Tiberius stood absolutely still as she studied him wordlessly for what seemed like an eternity when the impossible happened: The Dread Lady smiled.

    "Tiberius El Kalgi, after a careful review of new information, it seems we have made a mistake. We had originally classified you as a combatant but according to new information, that appears to have been in error. In a minute, Sergeant Giardelli will take you to our mess for breakfast and then you will wait for transportation to Camp Augustus. Congratulations, you're on your way back to the world."
     
    James Wilt and rifern like this.
  25. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    Chapter 17: Tokyo Drift


    Risa greeted the morning with a fair amount of satisfaction. She had escaped the cold, dark confines of her apartment and the empty refrigerator inside and Yoji had promised that the heat, light, and water would be back on by this evening. She had scored a very satisfying meal. And didn’t everything seem better on a full stomach? And this morning’s prospects looked bright as well. Breakfast was an excellent notion and with Yoji’s stipend payments in hand, it was a good idea to go shopping. Luckily, Itami had suggested it would be a good idea to take their off-world visitors to see the stores and markets in Tokyo. Risa had some suggestions on exactly where to go, of course.


    The other satisfactory result of last night was the wealth of stories and gossip she had heard. It was perfect fodder for inspiration. Before heading off to breakfast, she opened a new document on her laptop and typed: ‘Shiroi Saten wo kiru Kishin-tachi’, or translated: ‘Knights in White Satin’.


    At this same early hour. Princess Pina and her knight companions were sitting down to a meeting with Lady Octavia and a few other notable Saderan Ladies, Lady Agrippina among them. Under the mentoring of Lady Octavia, Agrippina’s anger had been honed to a sharp edge, the woman being given a focus and clarity she had previously lacked after having been abandoned by her so recent spouse.


    The casual observer might mistake the single red rose set on the table to be decorative in nature, perhaps symbolic of Pina’s knightly order but it was a sign: This meeting was to be held in strictest confidence, sub rosa, meaning ‘beneath the rose’. To ensure that they were secure from eavesdroppers, at least human ones, Octavia had Felicia and one of her battle sisters standing guard, ears alert for the slightest sound of intrusion or disturbance.


    “You need not worry, your Highness,” Octavia assured her. “Their clan are the most loyal retainers of my House.”


    “Of course, my Lady,” Pina replied calmly. “And I appreciate you and your Ladies meeting with me so early. I do not know how long I will be staying here in Japan but before I return to the Empire I require the benefit of your wise counsel. It is no exaggeration to say the Empire faces the greatest danger in its history. I came here to find an avenue for securing peace before we are completely destroyed.” Pina paused. “At the same time, I cannot sanction a peace which results in our annihilation by surrender and quiescence. I ask you to guide me.”


    Octavia nodded. “Very well, your Highness. Then I will be succinct as I say that your presence is a fortunate circumstance as with all respect, no other member of the Imperial Line enjoys your advantages of clear perspective and apolitical standing.” She continued: “Your father will have a hard time ending this war having presided over its inception. The war faction in the Senate is strong and for the Emperor to seek peace without some tangible victory, some material gain for the Empire, he would lose face before the Senate.”


    ”It will be necessary to sway at least some of the Senators of the War faction first,” Pina concluded. “Many sons of Senators and prominent nobles may be held here. Their release might persuade their kinsmen to adopt a more favorable attitude.”


    “Perhaps,” Octavia replied. “Though many of them may well be too stung in their pride to appreciate their good fortune. Still, we can hope,” she agreed. “On the other hand, I must believe that your brother, Prince Zorzal, will strongly oppose any peace talks. It is known that the Prince has cultivated friends among the merchant guilds and many of the Senate’s war faction. As the presumptive heir to the throne, he has been hard at work establishing his own power base and the core of his influence is built upon the continued aggressive expansion of the Empire and the acquisition of ‘easy’ riches.”


    “I will need to keep a low profile around him then.” Pina agreed.


    “And then there is Prince Diablo.” Many noted Panache’s jaw set hard at the mention of the younger Prince’s name. Lady Octavia seemed not to notice as she continued.


    “While Prince Diablo is certainly capable of reasoning the war is unwinnable, he is perhaps too clever for his own good. He is born to conspiracy. He publicly supported the expedition while privately making certain Prince Zorzal was denied a role in it. If he tries to manipulate the powers of this world we may find they do not play the game the same way.”


    Pina sighed. She could not deny Octavia’s appraisal of the situation. Her father had taught one of her brothers to seize power and the other to manipulate it. One lacked the subtlety of their father while the other lacked the directness needed to command authority. He had divided them well and neither of them could gain the Imperial throne without his support and blessing. As for Pina, he had mostly left her to her own devices as she was not seen as a serious candidate to ascend to the throne.


    Perhaps it was for the best that her lessons had been learned away from the attention of their father whom she loved but could not at this point confide in. But as daunting as her task seemed, what worried Pina the most was just exactly what price Japan and her allies would demand to secure peace. She trusted Itami and Taylor. She believed that General Hazama and Minister Shirayuri and Ambassador Russell were all honorable people but there were men like Hazama’s aide who had a predatory look in his eyes. What would they take in exchange for peace?


    As if sensing Pina’s thoughts, Octavia turned to the other side of the equation. “As to the intentions and goals of the Japanese and Americans and their allies, It is certainly difficult to read the intentions of people whose ways are so different from our own. I will note this is why it was important for me to find an heir from among them. He will better understand many dangers we cannot conceive. It is my sincerest hope that in bringing him into My House, he will be vested in protecting it.” She smiled, “however, it is still possible to consider their aims in the broader sense ourselves:


    “If their design was simple conquest, which we cannot deny is well within their ability, then they would have no need to conduct any negotiations at all. In the scenario of a direct invasion, delay favors us and not them. It is safe to conclude that conquest is not their intended aim. I must carefully add that they still can do so at any time they choose if negotiations fail to produce acceptable results for them.”


    Pina looked to Bozes, Panache, and Hamilton. Each of them carefully nodding in consideration of this. The logic was unassailable.


    “They could still desire concessions of territory,” Hamilton noted.


    “Indeed. Though from what I have seen, their agriculture must be vastly superior to ours for them to be able to support cities like this one. They clearly have no need of our croplands. Now, of course, they might desire more room to spread out and expand. But from what you describe happened at Italica, it at least sounds as if they do not currently desire our territory… beyond securing control of the Gate.”


    “The Gate is the key after all,” Pina agreed. “With it in their hands, they control the board. I see no outcome where they do not insist on holding sacred Alnus and the ground immediately surrounding it. Even if they make no other claims, this will be bitter medicine for many but it is inevitable.”


    “True,” Octavia agreed. “And I see no way to make the medicine go down any easier.”


    Pina pondered this. It would be preferable if this unpalatable matter could be allowed to quietly pass without comment as a fait accompli. But this was an unrealistic hope and everyone knew it. It might be best to state matters openly, better than the opposition bringing it up at the wrong moment. She put this matter aside to ponder later as Hamilton suggested another disturbing possibility.


    “A city so large must take a great deal of labor to build. What if they intend to use the Empire as a source of slave labor?”


    Pina’s heart froze at the thought. Slavery had always been a part of the Empire. It was not something she particularly gave thought. She may have found slave dealers a generally loathsome lot and her older brother’s association with them and the rumors of how he treated his slaves were disturbing but while a few eccentric nobles had denounced the practice in their lands, it was still the normal way of things. After all, the Empire frequently went to war to ensure a steady source of slaves. Funny how a shift in one’s place in the scheme of things altered one’s perspectives. Though the notion seemed incongruent to the behavior of Itami and Taylor and the Allied troops at Italica, her mind still began to imagine the sight of thousands of Imperial citizens in chains.


    These thoughts were dismissed by Lady Octavia. “No. That won’t happen. In fact, the cultures here view slavery as vile and uncivilized. The mere presence of slavery in the Empire will be offensive to them. More serious is that some of their citizens were sent back to the Empire as slaves in the first hours of our incursion into their territory. They will be absolutely furious where it comes to their own people being enslaved.”


    “We will have to discreetly inquire as to their whereabouts,” Pina replied. “We need to prove at least a good faith effort to return their people.”


    “That would wise, your Highness,” Octavia agreed.


    ‘Yes. Unfortunately, we still don’t know what they might want, what we can bargain with,” Hamilton commented. “They asked for a reparations payment of more gold than has been mined in the entire history of the Empire and when we told them that, they seemed unconcerned. Almost as if they already have something else in mind.”.


    “Perhaps today’s tour of the city will give us some clues,” Pina replied.


    A very short time later, with Chief Richardson driving, a bus with heavy tinted windows cleared the main gate. Richardson glanced back at his passengers with a grin as he keyed his radio. “Tourist Wagon to sentinels: We are on the move. On your cue.”


    A slightly accented voice answered him: “Acknowledged Tourist Wagon. Commencing ‘Hospitality’, let’s get you on the highway.”


    “Roger that.”


    As the bus lumbered onto the main road, two sets of vehicles began following it, each in a rolling relay.


    Hamilton cringed as their bus hit a pothole.


    “There is at least one thing that the Empire can claim, your Highness. Imperial roads are certainly much better maintained,” Hamilton noted drily.


    “Asphalt,” Taylor told them. “It’s cheaper than concrete, quick to set but not nearly as durable.” He smiled ruefully. “Even our concrete probably isn’t as good as yours, since I’m betting you probably still use the old Roman recipe. Our concrete will last about fifty years. There are still sections of Roman roads still usable after two thousand. Still, we do have a few tricks up our sleeves.”


    “No doubt,” Panache replied mildly.


    With this event being put on with far less preparation time that anyone would have liked, the operation was, of necessity, rather free-form in nature. Ideally, the Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with Public Security, would have carefully planned out an itinerary. Security forces would have been deployed in advance but in this case, there had been literally no time to plan and whether the Foreign Ministry and the American State Department liked it or not, Lieutenants Itami and Taylor had by far the best rapport and understanding of their off-world guests. It was necessary to rely on these men to follow a set of hastily composed guidelines and to use discretion and provide a heads up to Public Security. Of course, this did mean that there were fewer parties who knew the planned movements of their guests. This was well as there were dangerous leaks of information which had still not been fully tracked.


    The party followed a route passing the site of the new Tokyo World Trade Center South Tower, where their visitors could witness modern construction methods at work. Even for Lelei, Rory, and Tuka, who had witnessed at least a sample of modern building techniques in the building of Camp Alnus it was impressive. For Princess Pina and her party, it was nothing short of astonishing.


    “Even the greatest towers in Sadera are nothing next to this,” Pina breathed, next to her, Bozes nodded in shock.


    Were their group smaller, perhaps, Itami might have considered splitting up but under the circumstances, it was best for everyone to stay in one location. Their first stop was the Junkudo Ikebukuro bookstore. It was here that Risa helped Pina and Bozes discover walls filled with Manga. It was as Risa began to discuss the Yaoi titles that were her bread and butter that Pina noted an interesting phenomenon as Tomita, who had originally agreed to assist them in a search for ‘art’, seemed to look embarrassed and get very quiet as if trying to quietly fade from sight.


    Hmmm… I wonder if Itami or Taylor will react the same way? Perhaps I could ask Sergeant Kuribayashi? Or maybe I should simply experiment for myself? Looking around, she spotted her target. “Ah! Itami!”


    In the meantime, with assistance from Shino, Lelei quickly found the science section. Books on astronomy, physics, and chemistry were eagerly seized by the young mage. Rory was fascinated by books on the various mythologies of this world, while Tuka found books on zoology, as well as collections of poetry and songs and even cooking. At the same time, Taylor, Panache, and Hamilton were on the floor where books printed in English were. Taylor looking for books on government and history, especially histories covering Rome and on England in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. All told, the group purchased some seventy books of various types and not including Pina making a virtual clean sweep of the yaoi manga. Fortunately, the Japanese government was picking up the tab for everything but some personal purchases by Itami, Taylor, Shino, and Tomita. The cashier had an understandably pleased expression as she rang up the group’s purchases.


    After a tour of the Tsukiji market, a break for lunch was in order. Of course, this was also an opportunity to demonstrate the full scope of Japan’s Capital with a visit to Skytree tower, dining with a full panoramic view of the city below stretching to the horizon.


    Even Rory was struck by the view before she grinned. “Hardy would never dare to come here, so near the heavens!”


    Pina nodded. “This is… They truly are giants,” she breathed. “They can raise us up or crush us underfoot.” Briefly, she imagined such a tower rising above Sadera. The wealth and prosperity she saw here she wanted for her people but her people could not simply take it. They would have to earn this.


    “The Musashi?” Taylor asked, looking around the restaurant and the very expensive looking fittings. “How did you manage to get a group this size into the Musashi with no reservation?”


    Itami looked a little embarrassed. “I know someone who has that kind of pull.”


    “Well, I’m impressed. Glad you’re learning to use your powers for good.”


    Of course, Shino took it upon herself to organize the seating with a little input from Bozes. This left Itami sitting between Rory and Tuka with Lelei directly facing him and Risa and Shino in a good position to watch his discomfort while Pina sat with Bozes on her left and Hamilton across from her and Panache next to Hamilton. Shino smirked as Taylor pulled out Lady Panache’s seat before taking his own beside her, an act matched by Tomita as he ‘coincidentally’ found himself next to Bozes.


    If the ramen shop Itami had taken them to the previous day had been a sampling of common but hearty food, the Musashi was an experience in high-end Japanese-French Fusion cuisine, an epicurean experience unmatched even in Emperor Molt’s palace.


    Light conversation accompanied the food and the stunning view. Afterward came fashion shopping. Unlike the hurried shopping to prepare Tuka for her testimony before the Diet, this was a broader cultural sampling with Risa and Kuribayashi as primary guides for their guests and Itami, Tomita, and Taylor a captive audience. At one point, even Kuribayashi finding herself slightly embarrassed if very smugly pleased as Panache quietly took her aside to ask for help with intimate fashion, the results of their consultation were not readily revealed although some purchases had apparently been made, Panache still being rather puzzled by what she saw but trusting Shino’s judgment in the matter.


    Next, the group headed for Akihabara. Among the purchases, Lelei and Hamilton each found heavy duty laptops with solar charging cells. Lelei, fascinated with having a world of knowledge literally at her fingertips and Hamilton seeing the potential for organizing and storing data in a small and secure place. It was during this time that Itami was informed that decoy bus had been ambushed near Tokyo Tower.


    Pina’s face paled at this news, her companions closing around her protectively, Tuka looking to Itami for reassurance while Lelei considered and Rory prepared for a possible fight. Shino instinctively scanning for threats.


    “What happened?” Taylor asked.


    “Some injuries on our side, Several hostiles killed, five in custody,” Itami answered. “Also our trip to Hakone has been canceled due to unacceptable security risks on site,” Itami replied.


    “Well…” Taylor considered, “I guess it’s time to call it a day.”

    As they drove back to Yokosuka, Pina asked the question that everyone wanted to be answered:


    “Why? We come under a flag of peace to make peace! Who would want to attack us?”


    “I don’t know,” Itami admitted.


    Taylor considered carefully. “As I see it, there are two groups of people out there who would want something to happen: Most obvious are people who lost loved ones in the attack on Ginza and just want to lash out against somebody for their pain. These people are a very sympathetic cause to get people who ought to know better to talk about things they maybe shouldn’t but usually don’t have the reach that this sort of thing requires. Someone had access to both information and assets to act on it in a timely fashion.”


    Pina nodded. She could understand the anger and grief that might drive someone to wish them harm and she could hold no ill will toward them… But this other party…


    “Why though? If not revenge, then what?”


    “To embarrass the current Japanese and/or American government in a major public fashion. After Tuka, Lelei, and Rory’s testimony before the Diet, they’ve become celebrities in the popular press. And if the current American and Japanese governments failed to protect them? Imagine if your father invited a ruler from another land to be his guest in Sadera and something happened to that person.”


    “It would publicly humiliate my father.”


    “And weaken him politically?”


    Pina nodded. “Yes.”


    “There you have it. I don’t know what the interrogators and investigators will find but my guess is that all of you were made targets of opportunity in someone else’s power play.”


    “I don’t like the sound of that,” Pina replied.


    “Neither do we, Princess!” Bozes replied, Panache and Hamilton nodding in agreement. “Whoever has made a target and pawn of you have made an enemy this day! The Order has a long memory and we will not forget either a friend or an enemy!”


    Panache growled. “Let them pray to whatever gods they hold that we never find them! Our steel will be drawn upon their flesh!”


    Rory nodded with a cold smile. “A blood oath is given then.”


    Itami and Taylor both felt relief these words were not directed at either of them. Soon they returned to Yokosuka. Chief Richardson and his group were waiting for them. The chief waving away the corpsman checking him over.


    “Welcome back LT! Have a nice trip, sir?”


    Taylor looked at the group of mostly female Marines standing around next to their rather dented bus. “A lot more peaceful than yours, Chief.” He pointed at the sizeable dent on the vehicle’s starboard side. “What happened?” Taylor asked for everyone in his group to hear.


    “Cement truck rammed us, forced us into a concrete barrier. Then they tried storming the bus! Shit! Being tased sucks, LT! Don’t misunderstand me, sir. Great to have kevlar armor, but it doesn’t cover everything and they tased me right under the armpit! And then all hell breaks loose as this big guy, must have been six eight and built like a brick house, he tried reaching for our resident priestess of death.” He nodded at Corporal Nakamura, who smirked with satisfaction, “and she kicked him in the throat! Broke the hyoid, and then the guy behind him got a nine-millimeter lobotomy. They probably thought that securing the bus was going to be the easy part!”


    Rory gave a considering look to Nakamura. “Oh?”


    “Nakamura! Front and center!” Richardson called out.


    Corporal Nakamura, called ‘Buns’ by her squad mates, stepped forward still wearing Rory’s spare outfit. She saluted Lieutenant Taylor and then turned to Rory. To the casual observer, Rory and Nakamura were virtually indistinguishable.


    “Sorry for the blood stains on your outfit, your eminence. I’ll make sure to clean it before I return it.”


    Rory smiled. “No need to concern yourself. Emroy is pleased with your work this day.” It truly was a shame she could not claim her own apostles yet. Both this girl and Kuribayashi would have been excellent candidates, Rory thought. “You may keep it as a token of Emroy’s favor.”


    Nakamura bowed and thew a wicked grin at Chief Richardson, who had been teasing her lightly before they left.


    Great, she’s now literally the Herald of Death. Just what this base needs… another Marine with a swelled head. Richardson thought sourly. “Anyway, LT, Public Security took the survivors into custody.” He chanced a glance over at Panache before looking back to his lieutenant. “By the way, I checked when we got in. The kid’s here. His flight arrived around mid-morning.”


    “Outstanding! Well, Senior Chief I’m sure mother has someone showing him around. And a fairly good idea who at that. So better get somebody to track him down.” He looked over at Nakamura as he caught the wicked gleam in the Chief’s eye. “Preferably someone who isn’t a dead ringer for the Angel of Death.”


    “Right sir” Richardson agreed. “Locke!” He called to the tall blonde woman who had been Tuka’s decoy. Unlike most of Richardson’s group, Locke wasn’t a Marine. The yeoman had been chosen simply because there was no one else closer to Tuka’s complexion and build. Still, she had comported herself well and the Chief would have no problem filling out the paperwork to make sure that his kids all received proper credit and recognition for their performance.


    “Yes, Senior Chief?”


    “Go find Miss Lucilla and see if she knows where our newest guest is. Get him over to the common room. We’ll be there shortly, so get the lead out!”


    “Yes, Senior Chief!” Locke double-timed it into the main building,


    Taylor turned to Princess Pina. “I’m told they are just taking care of a last-minute surprise. Everything should be ready now though...”
     
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  26. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    The Janus Campaign

    Chapter 18: From There to Here And Back Again


    "Tiberius!" Panache exclaimed in surprise and pure elation as she saw her brother walk into the room, escorted by Lady Lucilla.

    "Panache!" The young teen's face lit in joy and astonishment before also recognizing the Imperial Princess. Tiberius knelt before them. "Forgive me, your Highness."

    "There is nothing to forgive," Pina replied mildly. "It speaks well of the bond between the two of you. Stand and join us! I am sure you have many tales to tell us of your experiences in this new world."

    "Ah... Yes, your Highness!" His face flushed crimson as he warred within himself, trying to present himself with control and dignity as he stood before his Princess. It had been safe to admire her and her beauty from a respectable distance but personally face to face with her and in front of his sister and several of the Empire's most renown Ladies, Tiberius had a sinking feeling he was only managing to look like a fool.

    It was Lady Lucilla who came to his rescue. "Forgive me, your Highness and noble Ladies, I believe that My Lord is still much fatigued from his journey." She touched his elbow "Come you should take some refreshment!" Lucilla told Tiberius, guiding him over to a long table set with drink and hor d' oeuvres. "If her Highness and Ladies would follow me?"

    Pina barely suppressed a smirk at this as the young man was led away. Panache was less successful and thanked the gods that her brother's attention was now fully centered on the raven-haired young lady holding his arm.

    Well, father! It would seem Tiberius is managing quite well without your help! He's been found by a smart girl who looks like she knows a prize when she sees it!

    ***​

    "I trust your tour went well, Your Highness?" Colonel Mihara asked solicitously as she and Lady Octavia greeted Pina and the others.

    "Yes, it was very interesting," Pina answered. "It also underscores that I need to return home at the earliest practicable time so as to start work on bringing a conclusion to this war."

    "Of course, your Highness," Mihara replied and paused. "I would like to discuss a request from my Government if it is convenient?"

    Pina nodded. "Of course, after supper, I will be holding council with my aides and leading ladies. Join us and we can discuss it then. If that is acceptable?"

    "Perfectly, Your Highness." Mihara agreed. This would also provide Mihara the opportunity to inform Her Highness of other, somewhat disturbing news.

    Indeed, hours later, Pina Co Lada was quite disturbed and yelling loudly indeed.

    "WHAT?" Pina slammed her palms down on the table as she rose in anger.

    Colonel Mihara calmly regarded Pina's look of absolute fury and waited a moment as it washed past before repeating the news. "Whether by design as part of a campaign of scorched earth or the fallout of the destruction of the Imperial and Allied armies at Alnus, a number of settlements between Alnus and Sadera have been completely destroyed. Our people have had encounters with apparent Imperial units in several villages and have also encountered refugees from destroyed villages and settlements. We, of course, will do our best to provide relief for any refugees that find their way to Alnus." She carefully refrained from mentioning that while manageable for now, Janus Command was concerned about increasing strain on their logistical tether. In response, patrols had been stepped up but it was only a first step. Mihara studied Her Highness as Pina frowned and considered the situation. The threat of roving bands of brigands, even some formerly Imperial troops turned to looting and plundering was bad enough as she had learned at Italica but the thought that this might be part of a deliberate policy by her father chilled her.

    Damn it, Father! These people aren't like any army the Empire has ever faced! They don't need our food or our wells. They can probably strike Sadera any time they choose! We only make enemies of our own people! Odd that only a few months ago, she would have seen her father's strategy as eminently sensible. And how narrow her own vision had been! Strange how one of the first things she saw upon having her eyes opened was how completely blind she had been. Silently, she prayed that this had not been her father's will but she could not dismiss the thought either. Though she loved her father dearly, she knew he could be extremely ruthless if he had to be.

    Some of the Saderan Noble Ladies in attendance responded to the news with clearly horrified looks. They had lands in that region and these were certainly under possible threat. Lady Octavia herself remained impassive despite the fact that both her husband's lands and the estate of her late father lay in this area. There was nothing to be done for it, they would be spared or not, though she would ask her son if he could at least check on them and make sure their people were safe.

    Pina frowned. It did not matter so much who was responsible. Only that she had a duty to act. She turned to her Knight Commanders. "Lady Panache! When we return to Italica, The Company of the White Rose will remain there with our foot. I will want mounted patrols of the main roads and of the local villages and estates. Under my own authority as Princess of the Imperial Line, all local garrisons will be at your disposal to protect these villages and lands. Anyone caught looting will be put to the sword. I will also leave you half of the company of the Red Rose. The remainder along with the company of the Yellow Rose will accompany me back to Sadera."

    "Yes, your Highness!" Panache answered. "But what if we encounter Imperial troops under orders from His Imperial Majesty?" Panache echoing Pina's own concerns.

    Pina smiled wryly. "In theory, in that event, you would have no choice but to stand down. However, even if my father gave an order to burn any such villages and estates, father would never actually sign such an order. He's not about to make unneeded enemies in the Senate or among the merchant guilds by pinning his name to possibly destroying their lands or goods and profits. Therefore, in the absence of a signed order from The Emperor himself, you will have my signed orders to request compliance from all Imperial forces and to prevent brigands, pirates, or marauders of any sort from doing harm to Imperial lives and property."

    "Yes Princess," Panache replied as a swelling of pride for her Princess and the Order filled her heart.

    Pina then turned to the Representative of the Allied forces among them: "Colonel Mihara? In accordance with the Italica agreement, I humbly request aid and support in protecting and securing the well being of the city of Italica and its surrounding area..."

    Over the next few hours, plans were offered, considered, and revised as they discussed the particulars of the repatriation of Saderan civilians, the protection of Italica and the surrounding region under the Italica agreement and other assorted matters.

    Despite an unofficial request from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Princess Pina decided that she could not join Tuka, Lelei, and Rory Mercury in a flower-laying ceremony at the memorial for those killed during the invasion of Tokyo. There was a small but quantifiable risk that if her father or others learned of this in the current political climate in Sadera, she could be declared a traitor and possibly even face execution. If the negotiations bore fruit, then she would certainly wish to return and honor those fallen. Hopefully, it would show the people of this world a more positive face for the Empire.
    We need all the goodwill we can get, Pina thought sourly.

    ***​

    The following morning, Itami and Taylor were summoned to Colonel Mihara's office.

    "You gentlemen have new orders," she told them. "Lieutenant Itami, Third Recon will join Her Imperial Highness and escort Ambassador Russell and Mister Sugawara to Italica. From there, the Princess and her retainers will discreetly escort our diplomats the rest of the way to Sadera where Princess Pina has graciously offered her personal palace and estate to house our diplomatic mission." Japanese Public Security personnel, as well as Department of State Security agents and a Marine security team, would be sent in unobtrusively as soon as practicable. This detail had been a point of debate between Japanese and American officials. The Japanese had wanted to be less conspicuous with the presence of their security detail in the Imperial Capital. The American government decided, however, that a proper security detachment was non-negotiable. While no one wished to be so blatant as to endanger Princess Pina's survival in either the literal or political sense, hard experience dictated that appropriate security measures would be taken.

    "Vice Minister Shirayuri will arrive sometime after that point." Mihara then turned to Taylor."Lieutenant Taylor, Her Imperial Highness has given permission for a scientific mission to set up in Italica. As you have established a good rapport with Princess Pina and her senior commanders, particularly Lady Panache, who will be Her Highness's representative in Italica, you will accompany the rest of Third Recon to Italica and then act as our liaison once the science team arrives." She smiled lightly. "And, as many of the Saderan non-combatants will be returning to the Empire, I will be assigning Senior Chief Richardson and a few experienced hands to assist you. Also, as Princess Pina's knights will be expanding their patrols in the area, Her Highness has agreed that a platoon of Marines should be stationed in Italica to assist in the local defenses."

    "Yes, ma'am."

    "Dismissed."

    ***​

    "Are you certain you won't come back with us?" Panache asked her brother finally as Princess Pina's Party and the first group of Saderan Repatriates made ready to leave for the Gate.

    Tiberius shook his head as he gave his sister a small smile. "I don't think that's a good idea. Father wouldn't understand. Not yet anyway." He turned to look at Lucilla, who squeezed his hand. "Besides, this is where I need to be right now." He handed a letter to Panache. "Could you make sure mother gets this?"

    "I will take care of it personally," Panache promised.

    "Thank you. Tell mother I love her?"

    "Of course."

    "Be safe," Tiberius told her.

    "I'll do my best."

    In the meantime, as her daughter looked after Tiberius, Lady Octavia discussed last minute details with her son.

    "I've marked the locations of the major estates on this map, If you could at least inquire about them, it would be very helpful for those contemplating a return to the Empire. As Lady Agrippina's estate lies to the South and East of Alnus, it is likely undamaged and therefore Lady Agrippina will be returning to the Empire today. I entrust her safe passage into your care."

    The fair-skinned noblewoman brushed a lock of honey blonde hair from her face and bowed her head deferentially. "My Lord."

    Taylor returned the gesture. "My Lady." There was a twinkle of anticipation in Agrippina's eyes and Taylor was happy that he was not the object of the woman's thoughts as she prepared to return to her lands. Lady Octavia had taken a proud woman broken less by capture and more by betrayal and reforged her with cold purpose and now the hour of her retribution drew near.

    "Also," Octavia gestured to one of her house retainers. A warrior bunny with a light cream coat and wheat blonde hair stepped forward. Taylor recognized her as Aurelia. "I have discussed this with your commanders. As my heir, Aurelia will accompany you henceforth. I am certain you will find her useful." She addressed the warrior Bunny with a smile. "Obey him as you would me. We leave our heir in your care."

    Aurelia bowed, "As you will, My Lady." A touch of pride and satisfaction showing in her voice. She turned to Taylor. "As you will, My Lord," she said with pride as Octavia put a hand up to cover her smirk.

    Taylor shook his head and glanced over at Chief Richardson. "Are we ready to roll Chief?"

    "That we are sir!"

    Taylor looked at Itami and Princess Pina. "Your Highness, Shall we go home?"
     
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  27. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Just Another Day



    Following Princess Pina’s instructions, Vermouth and Milet, Knights of the Rose Order, remained at Alnus Hill while their companions, Zivana and Merisa had returned to Italica to keep Vifita, apprised of the current situation. As Pina had instructed them to learn all they could, Vermouth and Milet each carefully observed the goings on around them. With their access sensibly enough restricted, the two stayed around the base corral and the facilities of the 407th Combat Support Hospital for the most part, although the pair had visited the growing refugee community nearby. It was becoming less a gathering of refugees and more an actual town. The invaders encouraged the refugees to take up their old crafts if possible and had managed to convince a few of the local farms to do business with Alnus. Not by threat, but by the offer of a new market where their crops and livestock fetched good prices, paid either in Imperial coin or in paper scrip as the farmers chose. Much of the Imperial coin was confiscated from the pay chests of the legions shattered in the battles at Alnus but interestingly, most of the new businesses in Alnus Town and even a few of the farmers seemed to prefer the scrip issued by the Pacific Allies.


    A constabulary made up of locals had been established and even included non-humans in its ranks. Many of these were auxiliaries pressed into service of either the Imperial Army or one of its vassal states. These individuals felt neither love nor loyalty to the Empire and the chance to start anew without the Imperial yoke had been quite appealing to them. And here they lived in relative harmony with men and women, supposedly subjects of the Empire but whose true loyalties had been to their own communities which were no more, and their families, who were here, enjoying a life of comforts unknown in Sadera and security backed up by the “Men in Green.”


    To encourage trade, the outworlders had opened a store they called a ‘PX’ or exchange and staffed it with locals who were paid quite handsomely. The array of goods varied from clothing of design and fabrics unheard of in the Empire to metal cooking wares and luxuries like those oh so wonderful bars called ‘chocolate’, although these tended to be too sweet for more than a small taste for Vermouth’s liking.


    The day after Princess Pina departed for Tokyo, Colonel Potter invited Vermouth and Milet to a meeting of senior personnel and selected staff. In this case, Henry Blake, Major Houlihan, Captains Pierce, McIntyre, Newsome, and Hunnicutt as well as Father Mulcahy, Radar O’Reilly, Koire, and Parna as well as a bespectacled staff sergeant wearing the insignia of the Veterinary Corps and a Marine wearing the silver bars of a first lieutenant.


    “Before we begin, allow me to introduce Lieutenant Jones and Staff Sergeant Panetti. Now, I need people for a couple of details I need to send out. The first one is to go to Alnus Town. As you know, the engineers have built a flour mill for the local residents. We’re trying to encourage greater self-sufficiency and a working economy, plus as long as proper sanitation is met, then the local bread might better than what we get back home since all the nutrients aren’t processed into oblivion. A few of the natives are setting up bakeries and food stalls and such but they won’t be allowed to sell to our people until they pass a basic health and sanitation inspection. Radar?”


    “Yes, Colonel?”


    “Have you any thought to what we discussed yesterday?”


    “Yes, sir. I went over to supply and got a bunch of Charlie flags. We can post them on establishments that pass inspection.” Charlie being signal shorthand for ‘Yes’ or ‘affirmative’, it would be a sign that did not require translating into English, Japanese, Popularii or any of the other multitude of applicable languages.


    “Good thinking Radar. By the way, those sergeant stripes look good on you, son. They’ve been long overdue.”


    Radar glanced down at his new stripes. He wasn’t quite used to them yet. “Thank you, sir.”


    For her part, Parna was practically preening over Radar’s promotion. Somehow, his success felt like hers.


    In the meantime, Colonel Potter continued with the matters at hand. “Sergeant Panetti will conduct the food safety inspections in Alnus and in conjunction, I need one team to conduct some basic health screenings and make sure that everyone is up to speed on hygiene practices. Remind them if they feel sick, to come to see us. We don’t want them just going on business as usual.”


    Hawkeye looked over at Sergeant Panetti. So you’re the guy who handles food inspections? You know, we’ve got one of your ‘Ten Most Wanted’ working in the mess hall right this minute. I don’t suppose you have the power to arrest the cook, do you?”


    “For assault with a deadly entree,” Trapper John added.


    Colonel Potter merely rolled his eyes and continued. “The other bunch is going to go out to some of the local villages and extend the hand of a good neighbor. Do a little trust-building As a precaution, Lieutenant Jones and a few of his Marines will accompany them. Lieutenant?” Potter invited.


    “My men and I have reconnoitered some of these villages. The residents are friendly enough but the countryside is a bit lawless with bandits. A lot of them are survivors and deserters from the armies that we fought.”


    “Who did you have in mind for the two teams, Colonel?” Henry Blake asked.


    “We’ll need one doctor and one nurse on each detail along with two corpsmen. I’ll want Koire to go with the detail going into Alnus Town and Parna, you’ll go with the other detail. As for Doctors, I, have a staff meeting with General Hazama I need to attend. That means I’ll need to leave you in charge here, Henry.”


    “Yes, sir.” Henry sounded just a little disappointed. Not only did he need a few hours away but he hated trying to deal with both Frank Burns’ flakiness and Winchester’s imperiousness.


    Potter gave him an apologetic look. “Sorry Henry, When I get back, you can have a couple of days in Tokyo.”


    “Thank you, sir!” Henry perked up. A couple of days back in the real world, actually be able to call home and talk to his wife, then find a Japanese Steakhouse, a cold beer and a hot sake and a soft bed might as well be a trip to paradise.


    “You might want to stay clear of Sumida, Henry,” Hawkeye suggested. “I don’t think the police have forgiven Trapper and me for aggressive passing in a no passing zone last month.”


    “I suppose you two were drunk and speeding too?” Henry groaned.


    “Absolutely not! We were completely sober! We simply flagged down a traffic cop so we could get directions to the Asahi Beer Hall.”


    “It was only after they got out that Hawkeye started going a little too fast.” Trapper put in.


    “Can you blame me? She was gorgeous and her partner wasn’t half bad either.”


    “That would be why I got a complaint from the Captain of the Bokotou Police Station.” Colonel Potter glared at the two of them. “In the meantime, the doctors we send out will need to be both capable and approachable, doctors who will put the right face on us to the local public. So, Captain Newsome will go into Alnus and BJ will go make the rounds on the villages of Sybaris and Affpuddle.”


    “Affpuddle?” Hawkeye smirked, looking at Hunnicutt. “Better bring your galoshes.”


    Potter gave Pierce a look. “Anyway, Margaret?”


    Houlihan nodded. “Nurse Cutler will go to Alnus, I’ll accompany Captain Hunnicutt myself.”


    “Good,” Potter nodded.


    “Colonel?” Father Mulcahy asked.


    “Yes, Padre?”


    “I’d like to go visit the local villages myself if you’ll allow it.”


    Potter considered it for a moment. With long hours conversing with Saderan patients helping the padre adapt his abilities in Latin to speaking the native Popularii, Mulcahy could be a considerably useful asset. “Alright, but if those marines tell you to hit the deck, you do it, Padre. That goes for all of you.”


    “Yes, sir. Thank you, Colonel!” Mulcahy answered.


    “Yes, sir,” Hunnicutt replied seriously.


    “Good, now as for the rest, O’Donnell and Conway will go to Alnus and Radar, you and Klinger will join Captain Hunnicutt’s team.”


    “Yes, Colonel.” Radar looked up reassuringly at Parna as this was her first trip off base since they had found her.


    Then Potter addressed the two young knights in their midst. “As I said, you two ladies are welcome to join the party. See how we do things.”


    Vermouth paused but a moment. “Milet, you will go to Alnus Town. I will accompany Major Houlihan and Captain Hunnicutt.”


    “Alright then ladies, get saddled up then, they’ll be leaving in an hour.”

    ***​


    Village of Sybaris


    Before leaving Alnus, Captain Hunnicutt’s group was joined by a team from the Army Corps of Engineers, led by Lieutenant Strickland. His task was to make a basic survey of the villages. Ostensibly, his team was to see what services the Allied forces could offer to their neighbors but also,` the higher-ups were considering detailing squads to protect villages that chose to trade with them. It was believed that a small force would be adequate to handle most situations and in any case, support would only be a radio call away.


    Of course, it was imperative that the locals had to actively agree to this. Every other major nation on Earth was carefully watching the Pacific Forces, looking for any openings or mistakes to exploit in the court of international opinion. Further, public opinion in Japan, The United States, and in other member nations, while currently supportive, could turn without warning. The testimony of Rory Mercury, Tuka Luna Marceau, and Lelei la Lelena before the Diet was helping in terms of maintaining general public support for the expedition but the battle of public relations was a constant struggle unless you lost.


    From Vermouth’s perspective, it was certainly the oddest ‘invasion’ she had ever heard of. Diligently, she began recording her observations in a notebook thoughtfully provided by Sergeant O’Reilly. It was odd that even the paper these people used had a different character to it. As she wrote her name, Radar glanced over in curiosity.


    Vermouþ Du Idryis, Dauȝter of Count Idryis.


    “Pardon my saying, ma’am but I don’t think I’ve ever seen writing like that.”


    Vermouth looked up equally curious. To her understanding, the young Sergeant was equivalent to a scribe, a position of learning. In a way, he reminded her of a calmer version of Hamilton.


    Captain Hunnicutt shook his head. “Now, now Radar. It’s never polite to read a ladies private thoughts.” He gently admonished.


    “Oh! Nothing like that, I assure you both.” Vermouth dismissed mildly. “What seems so unusual to you?”


    “Well, you’ve got a ‘b’ with a little tail on it and what’s with the ‘3’ here?” Radar pointed to the fourth word.


    BJ chuckled. “Well, Radar, those are actually letters of the alphabet we don’t use anymore. If I remember my language arts courses, that ‘b’ with the tail is called ‘thorn’ it’s just a ‘th’ sound. The other one is called a ‘yogh’. It’s a rough ‘gh’. We don’t use that sound much except when we’re speaking ‘Klingon’.”


    Radar frowned. “Oh! No. How am I going to get my paperwork done now? I’m gonna have to get a new keyboard.”


    For her part, Vermouth made a mental note to find out about this ‘Klingon’.



    In the meantime, Lieutenant Jones finished conversing with the village mayor and guided the bemused old man over to the small convoy of iron carriages. Although the presence of both an Imperial Knight and a Warrior Bunny did initially create just the slightest confusion for the locals, introductions proceeded fairly smoothly and with permissions given, Strickland’s survey team got to work mapping out the village and its environs.


    After some initial hesitation, a few of the locals finally came forward for medical attention. With Radar and Klinger and even Father Mulcahy fetching supplies from their Hummer and Parna assisting in translation, Captain Hunnicutt and Major Houlihan began to tend a few of the residents. It was not the same as the long shifts they had endured in surgery after the fierce battles but there was something about treating the normal injuries and maladies of an ordinary life.


    Their last patient of the day was a young woman who was expecting her first child. Her husband being fraught with worry.


    “I begged her to entreat the blessings of Miritta before we were married but Cara refused. She was afraid my feelings for her would change. I swear it’s not true!”


    “Miritta?” Father Mulcahy asked in a tone that was a mix of concern and curiosity.


    “Miritta is the Goddess of Fertility. She is supposed to protect expectant mothers,” Parna explained, translating into English. “But this protection comes at a price. Her followers are expected to either serve as prostitutes in brothels run by her priestesses or a couple may make a tithing instead.” Parna scowled. “Of course, Miritta’s priestesses favor human followers.


    “Good Heavens!” Father Mulcahy exclaimed.


    “Don’t sound so surprised, Father,” Hunnicutt told him. “It seems Miritta’s interest is in spreading certain seed as widely as possible as it were.”


    “It’s barbaric!” Margaret objected.


    “Margaret, your judgments are showing,” BJ said mildly. While privately he agreed with the Major, It was not their place to value judge the local cultures or belief systems.


    “My apologies, Doctor.” Intellectually, Margaret knew BJ was right. They would not be able to establish trust and a working relationship with these people by condemning their beliefs And they could not help people like Cara and her husband without their trust and cooperation. Still, it rankled the Major to no end.


    Captain Hunnicutt looked at the couple with a gentle smile. “I’ve never confused myself for a god but I think we can help. Cara? If you’ll allow it, Major Houlihan and I are going to give you a brief examination and then we’ll see if we can find out anything about how the baby is doing.” BJ paused as Parna translated this.


    “I won’t have to give myself to Miritta’s will?” The young woman asked in surprised relief.


    Once Parna finished translating, BJ shook his head. "We have a different union. Father?” He gestured to Mulcahy. “Would you take this young man outside while we take a look at this young lady?”


    “Of course, BJ.” Mulcahy gently led Cara’s husband out of the room.


    “Don’t worry, my son. Cara is in very capable hands. Now… Why don’t you tell me about Miritta and the other gods? I’ve met the Apostle of Emroy. A very intimidating presence, I must say. But I would like to know more. If you wouldn’t mind?”


    With the young man and Mulcahy outside, BJ and Houlihan set to work. A while later, BJ stepped outside and gestured to Cara’s husband.


    “Come on in. Cara’s been listening to something you might want to hear,” Hunnicutt announced with a broad smile.


    The young man stepped inside to see his wife propped up comfortably as Hunnicutt placed the chest piece of his stethoscope to Cara’s belly and nodded in satisfaction as he then slipped the earpieces into the young man’s ears.


    “Hear that? That’s the heartbeat of a strong, healthy baby. I’ll drop by every once in a while to make sure everything progresses smoothly but it looks to me like, in about three months, you’ll be having a healthy baby. Come on Margaret, let’s give these two some time alone.”


    Some days made the rest all worthwhile.
     
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  28. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 19: Crossroads


    Compared to the party which had accompanied her to Tokyo, the procession which now joined the Imperial Princess back through the Gate was a veritable triumph. In a way, there was as much truth as irony in that statement, for in coming to Tokyo, Pina Co Lada had secured more of a victory than the combined armies of the Empire and its allies had been able to manage.


    In all, some five hundred Imperial citizens had elected to be repatriated in this first group. Some of these intended to remain at the Alnus settlement but most would continue on to Italica and then to their respective homes across the Empire. Joining them would be the first contingent of the Janus Academic Mission: A collection of scientists and scholars ranging from geologists to sociologists, linguists to zoologists, and astronomers to historians. Trucks filled with equipment and supplies and with military assigned drivers joined the column of horses and wagons that proceeded through the gate.


    “And most of this mess is now my responsibility.” William Taylor sighed, scowling as Itami laughed.


    “How do you figure?”


    “Simple: After escorting the Lady Agrippina home and hoping she doesn’t find her spouse dwelling within, I take up residence as liaison in Italica. I get to make sure the science jockeys heading there are taken care of and kept happy, while at the same time making sure they don’t over-step their bounds and create an incident of some sort. At the same time, as Pina’s knights will be conducting patrols out of Italica, I have to make sure that Lady Panache and our people are on the same page so there isn’t another incident like what happened to us.”


    “You’re the best person for the job,” Itami replied nonchalantly.


    “I highly doubt it.”


    “Better you than me anyway,” Itami countered. “Too much responsibility.”


    “I hate you,” Taylor replied.


    At least he wasn’t entirely alone in his new posting, he reflected. With the first reduction in the population of detainees in her care, Colonel Mihara had reassigned Senior Chief Richardson and a number of other personnel to Italica with Taylor. This included Corporal Nakamura, who had been only half-jokingly dubbed the ‘Disciple of Death’ by her squadmates. What particularly disturbed Taylor about this is that Nakamura had reported to him hefting her own naginata, at which time she confirmed her status as a practitioner of naginatajutsu.


    Of course, this didn’t account for Aurelia. The Warrior Bunny was fast becoming a more constant companion than Taylor’s own shadow. Fortunately, she was quick to grasp the boundaries required by operational security even if her understanding of personal boundaries was a bit different from Taylor’s…


    ***​


    “She’s what?” Colonel Mihara asked in surprise as she and Lady Octavia watched the convoy get underway.


    Octavia smiled wryly. “I said that Aurelia is my husband’s oldest daughter, born to Videlia, my husband’s favorite concubine.”


    “I imagine that would be awkward,” Mihara told her.


    “Only in that as non-humans, Videlia, and Aurelia not allowed the rights of marriage as recognized under Imperial Law. Under those same laws, Aurelia cannot claim any rights of inheritance from Germanicus. The irony is not lost on me that I can adopt a foreigner and since he is human, he can inherit my father’s titles but because of her heritage, Aurelia is denied the same rights.”


    “And I’m suspecting that you had something very specific in mind when you assigned Aurelia to be Taylor’s minder,” Mihara replied.


    “Of course!” Octavia admitted. “While I understand your culture has a different view on such things, The title of ‘concubine’ is not a dirty word in our society. Were something to develop between them, I would be quite happy.”


    “It was my impression that you were hoping something would spark between Mister Taylor and Lady Panache?”


    “I still am! I’ve noticed how they’ve been looking at each other when they didn’t think anyone was watching. And their marriage would cement him in the upper reaches of our society. Panache’s mother is a good and sensible woman, so I expect she too would quickly see the advantages of such a union. Even if the light in her daughter’s eyes wasn’t more than enough,” Octavia answered.


    “But in our culture, the two situations would not be viewed as mutually excluding. My husband has been with Videlia almost as long as he has been with me. We all understand each other quite well and there have been days when even the great soldier has found himself outnumbered and outmaneuvered. It is for them to choose. If my son finds himself with both of those very strong-willed young women at his side, I will be happy for him. If he chooses either of them, I will still be happy for him, and if he ends up with neither of them, I will simply hope that he finds the happiness he seeks. These things will resolve themselves as they should. Even an arch-plotter such as myself can only nudge the course of such things.”


    “I think if any such situation arises, it would be best kept on the other side of the Gate. The details of such best not discussed.” Mihara replied drily.


    “I suppose you are correct,” Octavia agreed. “Though I must admit, that for such an advanced culture, your people could probably stand to loosen up a little.” She smirked at the Colonel.


    “I suppose that includes me as well, My lady?” Mihara asked mildly.


    “Perhaps just a little. If I get back to the Empire, there’s a wonderful little place I would like to take you, where the masseuses are all Vulpins,” she said only half teasing. “They really know how to work the stress out.”


    ***​


    Somewhere in the void between worlds, as the convoy transitted the Gate, William Taylor Octavus shivered.


    “Is something wrong, my lord?” Aurelia asked, immediately noticing his discomfort.


    “I don’t know,” he admitted. “To be honest, I’m not sure I want to know. Don’t worry about it,” he told her.


    “Yes, my lord,” Aurelia answered, venturing a small smile. When Lady Octavia had informed her that she would be accompanying the heir back to their homelands, Octavia had explained everything that was expected of her but also that this was an opportunity, that she hoped Aurelia would know the feelings that Octavia and Aurelia’s mother shared for her father.


    Just be open to your possibilities, Octavia had told her.


    Soon transit was completed. While Her Imperial Highness was understandably anxious to hurry on to Italica, she needed to gather up Milet and Vermouth, her knights in residence, and debrief them before becoming acquainted with the horses Panache had selected for the return trip. In the meantime, Lieutenant Yanagida was waiting for them with instructions to escort the diplomatic party to General Hazama’s office.


    For his part, Taylor reported in with Colonel Emerson before going down to the settlement camp to check on Aenaire and her son. With only three elves in Alnus settlement, he worried about them. Tuka seemed content as long as she was near Itami but Aenaire was a single mother cut off from her culture. Her considerable skills of less importance at Alnus. Taylor had some ideas on that as he and Aurelia walked down the neat line of cottages to one where a plum tree and a pair of blackthorns were now growing, carefully tended out front, still quite small but adding a definite touch of warmth and character to the environment. Taylor firmly but politely knocked.


    After a moment or two, the door opened to the pleasant face of Aenaire. At three hundred, the High Elf combined classical beauty with a quiet serenity.


    “Ah! Hello, Taylor!” She greeted. “Your journey went well, I trust?”


    “It was eventful,” he replied mildly, glancing over at Aurelia. “Oh! This is Aurelia, my newly assigned minder.”


    The Warrior Bunny bowed in deference to the Elf. “It is a pleasure to meet one of the High Race, though I am surprised to meet one so far from the Great Northern Forests.”


    “While the vast majority of our people live there, there are villages scattered across the continent at least. I have, in fact, heard tales of seafaring elves. So it is possible that our people reach beyond Falmart.” She shook her head. “But forgive me. We need not stand in the doorway all day! Please, come in.” Aenaire smiled, inviting them inside.”Please, sit!” She retrieved two cups and filled them with cider before filling another for herself.


    “I’m glad someone is keeping an eye on this one,” the elf indicated Taylor to Aurelia. “It seems he has a talent for falling into trouble.”


    “My Lady has noted the same thing,” Aurelia remarked.


    “Indeed?”


    Taylor rolled his eyes. “I’m sitting right here, you know.” He reminded them.


    “A good thing too,” Aenaire teased. “You’re where we can both keep an eye on you.”


    “Itami’s the one getting into trouble!” Taylor objected. “I just happen to be there when he does.” It was time to change the subject. “Anyway, I came by to see how you and Galador were doing.”


    Aenaire gave a wistful smile. “I cannot complain. We are alive and together thanks to you. Our needs are met. I make a little money by making preserves and other things. There is still small game to be had and I’ve finished building a simple bow.” She paused. “Mainly, I worry about Galador. It isn’t that the other children are unkind. But he is the only elf. It’s hard for him to fit in.”


    “I may be able to help with that,” Taylor considered after a moment of consideration. “I’m being sent to the City of Italica. My people want to learn more about this world so they’re sending scholars of all kinds and The Imperial Princess has agreed to let them set up their studies in Italica. I have a fair relationship with the knight she’s leaving in charge there so I’m supposed to be the ‘go-between’ between her and these scholars, making sure everyone gets along. I’d like you and Galador to come with me. I’m certain there will be people who will want to talk to you at length about your culture, your language, the history of your people and your stories. And I know that there are races other than humans living in Italica. Galador wouldn’t have to feel like he was the only one different there.”


    Aenaire considered the offer. “I’m not sure. Where would we live? And we can’t rely on charity forever. What would I do when not conversing with these learned men of yours?”


    Taylor thought for a moment. “You’ll both be welcome in my home. And you said it yourself. I need as much help looking after myself as I can get. I mean it.”


    “Are you sure?” She glanced between Taylor and Aurelia. The Warrior Bunny’s eyes seem to twinkle mischievously.


    “I insist. Please come?”


    Aenaire thought carefully and nodded. “Alright.”


    “Good! It’s settled then!”


    Aenaire nodded. It wasn’t like anyone would ever hold them to the details of this little agreement.


    In the meantime, Aurelia suppressed a smirk. She wasn’t entirely certain but if she was correct in her understanding... Oh! My Lord! If you only knew what you’ve gotten yourself into!”


    ***​


    Not far from Aenaire’s quarters, Rory Mercury was receiving a visitor of her own. The worn features of the shepherd were by now a familiar sight to the soldiers and refugees around Alnus and few seemed to take any particular notice of his comings and goings as he talked about looking for his flock. It was of no real surprise that the old man would come to pay respect to the Apostle of Emroy as she was seen by many as the patron of the Alnus settlement.


    “Shall we take a walk, your eminence?”


    Rory nodded pleasantly at the invitation.


    “So little one? I heard that you went on a little adventure?”


    Rory nodded, reminding herself once more that though mostly ignored among the deities of Falmart, that Corus was far from merely an aspect of the forge god Duncan and was in fact much older than Duncan or indeed, older than any of the twelve exalted ones. “It is an amazing world beyond the Gate.”


    The old one nodded. “I would imagine! I have seen that their weapons are far beyond those of this world. Probably beyond what Hardy imagines but what else did you see?”


    “A city that stretches as far as human eyes can see, towers rising into the sky and filled with millions of people!” Rory considered everything she had seen carefully, especially the people who looked at her and the others with curiosity and those who had wanted to use them for their own ends. “Millions of people. They have great wealth and abundance. Still, all human… the noble and the petty, generous and greedy. Humans with ambitions… As a people, they are the same as any other but their knowledge gives them the potential to do both great and terrible things.”


    “Just as do we,” Corus reminded her. “Which is more dangerous, knowledge or ignorance?”


    Rory smiled. “Knowledge can either harm or help. Ignorance can destroy but it can never create.”


    “Very good!” The old shepherd replied.



    “And that knowledge is coming as I see that Hardy has let the children jam the door open,” Corus noted. “I’ll have to have a talk with her soon.”


    Rory shivered slightly. Hardy made even her nervous but if Corus said that he was planning to go into Hardy’s realm, then the underworld would be no safe haven for its mistress if the older god decided to ‘admonish’ her.


    Corus noted Rory’s expression and waved it off. “Even with all of her flaws… Even though I have had to fix a few of her mistakes... I would not wish to see her hurt. But change is coming. Ignoring it won’t help.”


    Rory frowned as she considered the sights she had seen in the other world.


    “Of course, we’ve done our collective best to keep the races of this world from advancing too much. Whether that means too much for their own good or what we’re comfortable with is the question,” Corus noted. “Children need to grow. Sometimes, they even need to feel pain, as much as we would wish otherwise.”


    Rory turned to look upon the old god. “What are you thinking?”


    “That by keeping them from growing, we’re inhibiting our own advancement. The gods play with their toys and break them when they get bored. That’s not enough for me.” He stopped and smiled.


    “In the meantime, your final ascension will be only a few years. You must be excited.”


    “There are things I will miss,” Rory admitted.


    “Oh? Tell me.”


    “I will lose the ability to feel! I want to live, not just exist.”


    At this, the old shepherd laughed in genuine amusement. Rory flashed him a look and he held up his hand in apology.


    “I’m sorry, child but you believe that nonsense?” He asked in disbelief.


    “Nonsense?” Rory objected.


    “Total nonsense! Do I strike you as a being who doesn’t feel? Is a lack of feeling why Hardy pines to have you in her chambers?”


    Rory threw him a disgusted look at that but Corus merely continued.


    “This lack of emotion must be why Emroy is such a calm, mellow figure. Oh! Rory! A sword is still a sword, no matter what metal it is forged from or how it is reforged. All born of mortal flesh! We are who we are!” He gently placed a hand on her shoulder.


    “If a new age is to come, there will be a need for someone to help guide it. “


    “I am still the Apostle of Emroy. I must follow his will.” Rory reminded.


    “As long as he gets his blood and souls and trust me! As long as mortals are mortals, he will! Emroy does not care how you carry out your duties. Trust me on this.” Corus smiled.


    “Well! I feel I have taken enough of your time, your eminence! I must be about my flock! May the gods find you in their favor!” With that, the shepherd left Rory with things to consider, including one particular and personally relevant observation.

    Youji... I think this game just became much more interesting!
     
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  29. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 20: Making Friends and Influencing People


    The journey to Italica was peaceful enough, even with the long column of trucks carrying everything from solar power generators to a mobile Doppler radar, weather balloons, a 50” telescope, even a mobile kitchen. As the presence of the Science team constituted an expansion of the terms of the original Italica agreement, it was proposed that in exchange for allowing the Science Mission to stay in Italica, the engineers would rig electric lights to cover the city walls as well as infrared and night-vision cameras to improve the city’s defense. Two radio transmitters were set up in case either anyone required evacuation or Italica required reinforcement from Alnus And as many of the scientists enjoyed their creature comforts, portable hot water heaters were brought in and were also made available to Countess Myui and those residing in Formar Manor. This was despite the objections of one of the team’s sociologists, who objected to the ‘technological contamination’ of the local culture. The rigging of electric light and erecting the radio transmitters were considered non-negotiable by both the Pacific Forces and by Princess Pina, acting on Countess Myui’s behalf while Doctor Stevens objections to other conveniences were ended by the astronomy team who were themselves quite partial to warm baths instead of cold showers and who refused to go without hot coffee or tea during their late night observations.


    While the scientists and engineers sorted themselves out, Princess Pina’s party stopped to rest before continuing on to the Jade Palace. Pina and her ranking knights, accompanied by Third Recon and the Diplomatic party remained in Italica a day and a half before moving on. Lady Panache promised to return to Italica at the earliest practicable moment but not only was her presence at the Jade Palace required as a matter of protocol, Panache needed to arrange for the resupply of the Order’s forces now stationed in Italica. She also had a matter of familial importance to attend to before returning. Millet would take temporary command of the garrison until then.


    With the need to have someone trusted by the local populace around to make sure the new neighbors did not get out of hand, the mission to escort Lady Agrippina home to her estate and lands east near the Blue Sea was put on hold. Taylor offering his apologies to the young noblewoman.


    “No need, Lord Octavus, I quite understand. Besides, it might be to my advantage to remain here for a time and gather the local news first. If that son of a jackal is enjoying the comforts of my home, I should take the proper time to prepare my homecoming. I don’t suppose you would allow me to continue my lessons with Corporal Nakamura?”


    Taylor chuckled, “I’m sure we can arrange something.” Internally, he supposed he should feel some level of sympathy, empathy, or pity for the dumb bastard who had made the mistake of crossing this woman but oddly, found none.


    “Thank you. I never would have thought such arts would be so… satisfying.”


    This time, Taylor shivered inside.


    *** ​


    Lordom Valley, Cave of Refuge, Circle of the Elders


    Nayu Haa Nin, warrior of the Dushi clan, knelt before the elders next to her fellow warrior Yao Haa Dushi. While Yao was a direct scion of the Dushi line, her presence here was solely due to her extensive skills and the great trust the elders had in her. Nayu’s own presence here puzzled her. While not without considerable skill of her own, Nayu was forty years Yao’s junior and not quite up to Yao’s standing as a warrior, although it could be said that her very survival in these current times of trouble was, in itself, an indicator of her skill… Or at least her luck. Nayu envied Yao’s composure under the steady gaze of the Elders.


    The truth was that the Elders themselves envied Yao’s apparent composure for they themselves very much feared the future and now found themselves with only a single, desperate gambit to save what remained of their tribe. None of them could explain why the great beast had awoken so early from its slumber. Relying on the detailed accounts of the past several hundred years, they should have had at least a couple of decades before needing to scout out new lands and migrating away from the ancient places while the creature fed and prepared itself to renew its slumber. Such was the normal cycle of things. Eventually, the beast would return to its sleep and when the tribe returned, they would rejoice as new life arose from the ashes.


    But this time, all knowledge had failed them. Hundreds had died and their thriving village had been laid to waste as the Great Beast attacked with a hellish fury, a fury which could only be called ‘Hate’.


    Yet, even amid the horror of those first days, it was noted that the beast was injured. The first and most immediately beneficial injury was that the creature’s left eye had been destroyed, the shaft of an arrow still struck fast in it. This gave at least a chance to evade the monster, hiding in its blind zone. The other injury was one that confounded them all: The Beast was missing its left forearm. It was perplexing as no weapon of mortal wielding could have done such harm. Some wondered if it had fought some other terrible beast and suffered the wound in some titanic encounter.


    In the coming days, the truth was revealed to them, although a truth so fantastic any people less desperate would have been inclined to dismiss it as pure fancy. From a few of the tribe’s returning traders came rumors of mysterious warriors with strange weapons that had been responsible for wounding the Flame Dragon and driving it away after it dared to attack people in their protection. A handful of other travelers confirmed these rumors and added that these ‘Men in Green’ had also utterly destroyed a horde of bandits at the city of Italica, slaughtering hundreds of bandits in mere minutes with no loss to their own. Such power could be the key to their salvation! If they could only find these ‘Men in Green’ and persuade them to use their power on the tribe’s behalf.


    Beyond the unbelievable power they held, little was known about the ‘Men in Green’. They were apparently a human tribe, but not of the Empire. The Elders surmised that they came from the Gate of All Beginnings of which their ancient texts spoke. This, along with the information in the rumors suggested that the Green Men would be found in the lands North of Schwartz Woods. It was precious little to go on.


    At least there was the fact they were human. Humans were a race the Dark Elves understood quite well. Like them and less like their distant cousins, the High Elves, Humans were beings of passion, in fact nearly wildly so at times. In those passions, the Elders hoped to find some means of persuading the Green Men to aid them.


    Initially, the Elders planned to send only Yao Haa Dushi on this mission but as they considered the situation more carefully, plans were amended. First of all, came the very somber realization that perhaps help would not come to the Dushi Tribe. In that unfortunate event, the Dushi needed to take some action to preserve something of their lineage and identity.


    For this reason, even though it would, in fact, be impossible to evacuate the entire surviving population or even any large number of them, the Elders selected three couples, all healthy and between the ages of two and four hundred to leave the Valley of Lordom and start anew, elsewhere. The Elders did not provide any instructions beyond this to those selected, feeling they would have to decide for themselves the best way to go about their task.


    As to the task of securing help from the Green Men, the simple fact was that ‘North’ was a lot of ground to cover. A second set of ears and eyes could be of tremendous value in the search and a second set of hands as well.


    “Yao Haa Dushi! Nayu Haa Nin! To you, we entrust the future of our tribe! Yao! Not only do you possess unequaled skill, cunning, and spirit ability among our surviving warriors, but you, who have suffered great tragedy, have remained faithful in all ways to our beliefs and way of life. To aid you in your task, we entrust to you the greatest treasure of our tribe.”


    A second Elder then addressed Nayu. “Nayu Haa Nin, you have amply demonstrated the traits cleverness, guile, and adaptability. Your spirit remains strong even in this time of troubles and your skills as a warrior are well honed.”


    The First Elder resumed. “The weight of our very continued survival as a tribe now rests upon your shoulders. Yao, Nayu, you both understand why as women, you were chosen as our emissaries, do you not?”


    “Certainly,” Yao replied, embracing her mission.


    “Yes,” Nayu answered. She too understood quite plainly the Elders’ reasoning. Most human societies were politically and militarily male-dominated. This was simple knowledge. Common experience had also taught that many humans found Elves, particularly Elven females, highly exotic and desirable. If using this fact helped secure the aid of the Green Men and brought the Great Beast closer to its end, then Yao and Nayu would do so.


    “Then go!” The third Elder commanded them. “Bring back the Green Men to help us!”


    It was Yao who answered. “Yes! We will complete our task and return. If my body is the price for the head of the Dragon, I will pay it gladly.” As she rose and turned to leave, Nayu rose and followed her out of the Circle of Elders. They had to provision and pack for the journey.


    Beyond the logistics of their mission, Nayu kept her thoughts to herself. We base our survival on the random tales of mysterious warriors from beyond. The Elders grasp at other men’s straws! Still, it is all we have. She did not discuss her thoughts with Yao, not wanting her words to be taken as defeatist, nor as a challenge to the Elders. She very much had doubts about the wisdom of the Elders in this whole matter but this was the only real hope for most of their people and she would not undermine their mission through careless actions or words. Still, before leaving the caverns that were now the sole sanctuary for the surviving eight hundred Dark Elves of Schartz Woods, Nayu paid a final visit to her mother. The five-hundred-year-old woman smiled proudly at her daughter.


    “I am heartened that the Elders have chosen you for this task,” Indras told her daughter. “I have a few small items that might be useful to you, acquired in my days of traveling,” she said as she went and retrieved a simple, wooden chest. Ironic that it had survived the devastation of their village because Indras kept it hidden, buried under a slab of stone in the ground beneath her bed. The Elders had thought with some satisfaction that she was symbolically burying that part of her past. But from her vantage, she was merely protecting it and keeping it close as she always had. For this reason, this second most valued of her treasures survived. She brushed the lid of the carefully crafted chest with a fond smile and warm memories before opening it. First, she removed a small, tightly bound book and then several rolled sheets of parchment.


    “My journal and maps! I think you’ll find these useful.”


    Nayu took these with care. As she began to offer her thanks, her mother raised a finger to pause her. “Also, take these as well.” First, she opened a silver orb and smiled as it seemed to still be in working order. “This has guided me over the most important miles of my life.” She placed it in Nayu’s hand. Nayu looked at it reverently before placing it gently in a carry pouch.


    Next, Indras removed two leather sheaths. The straps were a bit worn but still serviceable. The blades they carried were still deadly sharp. “An enemy is most vulnerable when he believes you are helpless,” she reminded her daughter.


    “Yes mother,” Nayu answered, rolling up her detached sleeves and carefully strapping the sheaths in place and rolled the sleeves back down.


    Then after carefully inspecting its condition, Indras reverently handed her a well-tended balestrino with a polished wood grip. “Thankfully, your father understood this lesson as well. I know you know how to use this.”


    “Of course!” Nayu agreed, taking careful hold of the weapon. “I promise to return it safely.”


    “More important that it return you safe,” Her mother replied. Finally, she took out a delicately crafted silver chain, it held a silver ring carefully engraved in both Elven and human letters. Indras fastened it around her daughter’s neck. “His spirit will go with you.”


    Nayu bowed her head in thanks. “I swear we will succeed. We will bring help.”


    Indras embraced her daughter with all the love and pride a parent could have for her child. “If there is help to be had for us, I know you will find it!”


    ***​


    Back in Italica, Bartholomew, Head Butler of Countess Myui’s household watched the procession of outworlders with growing concern. His concern was hardly out of any loyalty to the Empire but he was a man with expensive needs and therefore heavy debts. His patron took care of both of those things, provided Bartholomew continued to provide useful information. The extent and nature of the outworlder presence in Italica coupled with the Imperial Princess’s consorting with them and their agents certainly constituted valuable information. Bartholomew’s main worry was getting his reports out as the outsiders began to establish a presence in the city.


    Fortunately, his usual courier arrived on his usual schedule,.There was a quick exchange of letters: One from his ‘Brother’ in Sadera and a ‘reply’ promptly returned. Hopefully ‘Brother’ would be pleased with the information he was sending. Bartholomew was feeling a desire to take a trip to Sadera soon himself. He realized his patron would never let him off the hook, not now. But if Kaine or the other maids ever discovered his activities, things might get very unhealthy for him. Kaine and most of Myui’s maid staff were fanatically devoted to the Countess and if he were exposed, a sudden change in scenery would be a very good idea. Perhaps, he thought, his patron might have other work, not quite so risky.


    On the other hand, retiring altogether might be a better idea and if he were planning on retiring, he would need plenty of funds saved up. And that meant providing his patron with something worth the gold.


    For that reason, he realized that the influx of outworlders into the city was an opportunity as well as a potential problem. From the looks of them, many of these newcomers were not soldiers but academics. Bartholomew had met many of their kind in Rondel and academics tended to lack a soldier’s discipline and often liked nothing better than to talk about their work and other things. Hopefully, an opportunity would present itself.


    ***​


    It was dawn, the morning after Princess Pina’s party reached Italica that two riders departed the East Gate bound for Sadera. Their instructions were clear. While Flavius carried the provisions for the trip, his sister was entrusted with the finances for their mission. This only made sense in Flavius’ view as his sister was by far the more dangerous fighter of the pair.


    As per their instructions, they needed to be discreet as possible They were to negotiate, bargain, bribe and if necessary steal and even kill.


    As many found in these days, there was much to do and little time.
     
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  30. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    A Time For All Seasons

    Camp Augustus

    Tiberius El Kalgi noticed as the camp began to take on a slightly more festive decor, particularly the trees brought in and adorned with lights and other ornamentation. He voiced his curiosity to the Lady Lucilla as he helped her with preparations for the coming Saturnalia celebration.

    "I didn't think that the people here celebrated the Old Gods?" Tiberius remarked.

    Lucilla laughed with humor. "I don't think they do. But then neither do many of us," she replied. "No, it's a celebration called Christmas," Lucilla smiled. She paused as she considered best how to explain. "Next year the timing won't be so close to our Saturnalia but they have a lot in common, or so I've read and been told." She considered. "You've noticed that they use a version of the Old Reform Calendar?"

    Tiberius nodded. "Yes, three hundred and sixty-five days in twelve months. And they use the seven day week, not the eight-day week we use."

    "That's correct, my lord," Lucilla nodded. "Whereas our calendar is of three hundred and eighty-eight days with twelve equal months of four eight-day weeks and the seasons each marked by the intercalendaral days of Autumnal and Vernal Equinox and Winter and Summer Solstice," she explained. "That they use the old calendar is further proof, if any is needed that this world is not a new world but it is the world of human origins." Not that Lucilla or her mother required any further evidence. The Japanese Language might seem as alien as Elven but the fact that recognizable forms of both the High and common tongues existed here was well beyond any coincidence. The joke that they had traveled to invade a world which had once given breath to their ancestors.

    "In this case, the two calendars simply happen to fall conveniently close to having the same Winter Solstice," Lucilla noted.

    "So this 'Christmas' is a celebration of the solstice?"

    "Not entirely. You see, here, the temples of the Old Gods fell out of favor, just as with our people. But not because of the Twelve. Here, a religion called Christianity took hold in the Empire of the Old Lore. It isn't the only religion in this world but it is in one form or other, one of the most important ones. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Son of their God. I don't claim to understand it but the point to remember is that the date of this birth was agreed upon as being on December 25, to coincide with Saturnalia, which was still a popular festival. Clever to offer a token to those who didn't follow the new religion by 'borrowing' everyone's favorite holiday. Just like our people, people just can't say 'no' to a good excuse for a party!" Lucilla grinned. While Saturnalia was considered a relic of the Old Gods, the Gods of Falmart had left the cherished celebration intact, under 'new management' as it were.

    "And even if their beliefs aren't the same as ours," Lucilla noted. "Peace and goodwill to all are things worth celebrating in any culture."

    Tiberius nodded in agreement. Then he noticed a certain gleam in the Lady's eye.

    "Now, my lord! As those of us here at Camp Augustus will be celebrating both Saturnalia and Christmas, I need your help with hanging the mistletoe!"

    ***​

    City of Italica

    Aenaire sat contentedly as she finished the stitching on the new shirt that she was going to give her son in the morning. While thankful for the clothes that Taylor and Itami's people had provided them with, there was something to be said for preserving at least some pieces of their Elven heritage. And besides, it was identical to the shirt she was making for Taylor. William, her mind corrected. It was still true that her son was all she needed but for the first time in decades, Aenaire wanted. She wanted to share her life with another again. What her mind had justified out of convenience, her heart now truly desired. And if their time together might be measured by the brief span of a human lifetime, then she still wanted it so. And she now hoped her son would know a kind and good father, even if only for a few decades.

    Cautiously, she had sounded out Aurelia on this. The Warrior Bunny laughed. "I know the Lady Octavia has certain plans and hopes for My Lord. That said, I think she would approve that the strength of the People and the spirit of the Lady Panache be united with the serenity of one such as yourself. As we have noted, My Lord is much in need of being looked after."

    With that assurance, Aenaire watched fondly as William sat telling another tale to Galador. Her son had listened with rapt interest to tales about the Vulcans, who were like Elves but lived far away among the stars, and their kin, the Romulans, who like the Dark Elves had chosen a different path from their brethren, and to tales of the great Elven warrior Legolas and his human brother who fought together to defeat great evil in the lands of Middle-Earth and the wise queen Galadriel at whose description her son giggled and caused Aenaire to blush. And now her son listened eagerly as another story began.

    "Now listen closely, this is a tale of an elf who lives on Earth to this very day and this is his special night!"

    "Special night?"Galador asked.

    "Ah yes! They call him by many names but in this story, he is known as Saint Nicholas. As it was said that he was the jolliest soul in the world, he was entrusted with a special mission to help spread joy to children throughout the world. Now… Most of the time, he works in secret, helping those he can and gathering magical energy which he uses on his big night where he travels all over the world, giving gifts to good children and releasing all the magic of generosity and kindness he has gathered throughout the year so it can warm the hearts of men and encourage them to hold and spread that same magic themselves," Taylor told him.

    "Now, this story is almost two hundred years old. So your mom was hardly much older than you when it was written."

    Galador nodded, listening attentively.

    "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…"

    ***

    House Vallis (The City of Avaricum, along the Appia Way)

    Sulla Du Vallis was having one of those days again, he thought as he poured himself another cup of wine. He should try to be festive. It was the season of Saturnalia and someone had delivered ten casks of ale to his house. By now, his men were all either passed out from drinking or nowhere to be found.

    He wasn't quite sure how it had come to this. When the current war started, he had a contract to supply provisions to the army. He also had his hand in slaves, mostly laborers but with a new campaign looming, Sulla sensed an opportunity to break into a higher class market. He had sold off most of his current stock of slaves at below market value to have gold in hand. When the army began sending slaves back from the new conquests, they would pass through Avaricum before reaching the markets in Sadera and that meant he would have a chance at first pick. Being the first able to supply such rare commodities would finally give Sulla his opportunity at becoming a high-end merchant. He figured it would be simple to turn a hefty profit. So as 5th Legion marched through with the first taken slaves, Sulla paid for twenty: Ten men and ten women. This had turned out to be a huge mistake. Instead of an economic boom, the private market had collapsed overnight as he had learned through his connections that the expedition had turned into a complete disaster! Not only would a new stream of slaves not be entering the market but the expected mass of soldiers returning home with pockets full of gold had been decimated instead. The Empire's appetite for luxury goods had not been completely quelled but it had been greatly diminished. What the Empire needed now, he was told, were strong laborers.

    To that, the men were soon requisitioned by the Empire. Sulla was paid a fair if disappointing sum for them as their physical development was considered unimpressive. This left ten barbarian women who spoke in a strange tongue and for which he had no buyer and no connections to help him find one. They quickly became a massive headache. Learning that several of them spoke High Tongue should have been a blessing but instead it only helped them communicate with the other slaves. It was a miserable trap. He did not know how to break them as he wished because they were too valuable as potential assets and he could not damage them lest they become unappealing to prospective buyers. Had he the experience of an actual high-end dealer, he would have learned techniques to punish them without leaving observable marks but he was used to field slaves and using more direct methods when one of them got out of line. But they were the only stock he had and he could not risk accidentally killing one of them even if it might cow the others. Further, whereas he was having to constantly keep an eye on his own employees, when they were sober, he thought, his slaves had begun bonding and while he knew he might have a slave killed if they dared to strike him the looks a couple of the others gave when he raised a hand at any of them scared him as they seemed to sense his failings in handling such valuable and temperamental merchandise. He was well aware that these two could kill him and even if it cost their lives it would not make him less dead. So for now, he could only hope that the Empire's fortunes would reverse themselves into a climate where their value as luxury goods would be attained. So he fed them and clothed them and he needed to drink more. At least he had no wife complaining about the state of his business.

    It was at this time during the last day of Saturnalia, that a heavy knock sounded on Sulla's door. Seeing most of his associates were already passed out from drink and the rest, doing gods only knew what, Sulla pushed himself up from the table and answered the door.

    "Better not be some drunken fool!" He muttered as he stalked to the door. "I've enough of them that work for me." He opened the door to find two quite well-dressed individuals, one man and one woman, both about eighteen years or so. The young man spoke first.

    "Good evening. We are looking for a Sulla Du Vallis? We understand he deals in certain goods of which we have need."

    Sulla nodded. "Yes! That would be me! Please come in, lord…?"

    "I am Flavius Co Cacola. This is my sister Dyet. We understand you deal in slaves?"

    "Yes! The market has been a bit soft lately but I do have some."

    "Excellent! House Cacola has need of many workers. More than a few of our tenant farmers signed up for the recent… campaign…" Flavius said the last word as if it had a sour taste. "I think you can see where our problem lay. Few have returned and with no one to work the fields…"

    "Ah… yes, my lord. Unfortunately, all my male slaves were requisitioned by order of the Senate."

    Dyet smiled predatorily. "A woman can work a field as well as a man. The important thing is that the work gets done. I would like to inspect what you have. If the quality is satisfactory, we will offer a fair price. Brother? While I inspect these slaves, why don't you and Master Vallis start discussing the details? Unless they're all worthless, we'll need a wagon and provisions for the journey."

    "Certainly sister," Flavius agreed. Sulla shook his head.

    "My lady, I can't advise you to go into the slave quarters unescorted. I'm afraid some of them are a bit… high spirited and unfortunately as you can see around you, my 'help' is useless."

    "Fortunately," Dyet said, pulling out a long dagger. "We don't need them pretty and if one of them thinks to touch a daughter of a noble line, they'll regret it," she growled. "Now, where are these 'high-spirited' girls? I need to see if they're worth our time and money."

    Sulla frowned. "I have no use for damaged slaves, my lady."

    "Yes, yes," Dyet dismissed. "You'll be compensated, you have my word. Now, show me."

    Vallis inwardly flinched. "Right this way." He gestured and opened a locked door, revealing a room some twenty by twenty-five feet, containing seventeen slaves. Twelve were humans, one Warrior Bunny, two catgirls, an avian and a Draconian.

    "These might do, brother. I'll examine them. You handle the details," Dyet announced.

    "Certainly, sister." Flavius replied and guided Sulla back to the table."Master Vallis? A drink if you would? My father considers it bad form to do business with a man you would not drink with."

    Sulla nodded, although still concerned that the stupid girls might yet ruin this deal, it seemed the gods had granted him favor this Saturnalia.

    As the girls looked at her with a mix of surprise and fear, Dyet smiled and put a finger to her lips. "Nihongo ga hanashimasu ka?" She had been told it meant 'Do you speak Japanese', and at this, nine of the human girls eyes went wide and several of them also pointed to a tenth, a blonde girl of fair complexion and started to explain something in rapid-fire Japanese that Dyet assumed meant that she was also one of those taken in Ginza.

    "Do any of you speak English?" She then asked. Six of the nine nodded as did the tenth girl. Dyet smiled. "Tell your friends to play along if you want to leave here." She then spoke similarly to the others in Popularii. After a few minutes, she called out to her brother. "I'm done here. These will do for a start."

    "Good! I think we can reach an equitable bargain." Over the next two hours, details were discussed and drinks were had… at least by a now happy and somewhat hazy Sulla. Flavius and his sister politely appearing to drink but both of them needing to avoid the ill effects of drunkenness and neither of them caring for the poor quality of Sulla's wine.

    Finally, with the contracts signed and Sulla on the verge of passing out, Dyet ushered the girls into a wagon.

    As Sulla watched the wagon get underway, he contemplated the gold now in his pockets and his intoxicated employees. Perhaps it was time for a change of scenery?

    "Not a bad day's work!" Flavius commented a few minutes later as they headed east. They needed to reach Mursa before turning south to follow along the coast of the Blue Sea before reaching their destination.

    "Not at all, brother. Her Highness will be pleased with our start but you worried me there for a bit," she admitted.

    "I worried you?" Flavius asked. "I was sure you were going to start a riot!"

    "I had everything under control. I was more worried that you were going to low-ball us out of a deal!"

    "We already had to pay for ten casks of ale."

    "True, hopefully, that sort won't ever learn to question free ale on Saturnalia," Dyet replied as she rode alongside the wagon which Flavius now drove, his own horse trailing.

    In the back of the wagon, the girls discussed their sudden change in fortunes. Dyet informed them that they would have to travel south along the Blue Sea where they would all be taken care of at a private estate until Dyet and her brother were able to track down as many more of the Ginza captives as possible without risking anyone realizing that someone was searching for those individuals in particular.

    One of the girls frowned as she tried to recall the date. Somehow it seemed important. Had she known, it was now 1:07 AM on the morning of December 25th, Tokyo time.

    And they had just been given a Christmas miracle.

    Watching from the distance, an old shepherd looked up to the heavens and smiled.
     
    James Wilt, waffelmeister and rifern like this.
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