He hadn’t been sure his friend would answer the call, but Acklaran stood by the shuttle port’s primary landing bay and allowed himself a small smile as the transport descended, touching down a little roughly, but on Oanerath once more. The ramp lowered from the rear, and his friend Seluban stepped off. The smile vanished as Acklaran thought of who else should have been present to welcome Seluban. Zarthara was dead, De’rata had declined to come (she had stressed that she had work to do within the Council’s halls), and Risharath… Well, Acklaran wasn’t pleased about the path the young man was on. Ike’reth had a lot on his own agenda, and Markaret was adjusting to her reshaped role. Still, at least he is back.
“My friend.” Seluban said simply, summing up months of turbulent events. “What wonders have we accomplished!” They shook hands, and Seluban broke into a beaming grin. “I would be lying if I claimed to never doubt our success.”
“You would not be alone.” Acklaran smiled again. “But that was the past, and now we can shape our future, together.”
They started walking, where a road vehicle waited to take them to the Command Conclave. “I am sorry to hear of Zarthara.” Seluban said quietly.
“From what Risharath told me, she sacrificed herself to ensure he completed their mission. She died fighting, with honour, for the betterment of all Chon’ith.”
“How is Risharath? He could still serve the cause.”
“He has sunk to the bottom of a bottle. Acklaran said unhappily. “Though never stated, I believe he loved Zarthara. When I briefly spoke with him, he appeared bitter, full of self-contempt.”
“That is a great pity. Risharath showed more courage than he thought himself capable of.” Reminisced Seluban.
“Not everyone can emerge from this without scars, but I wish he would at least remain in contact. I am concerned for him.” Acklaran shook his head, breaking up the clouds of such thoughts, and looked at Seluban as they approached the waiting car. “Though I was more concerned for you, throughout all of this.”
“Me?” Seluban looked confused.
“I know how you wanted this to proceed Seluban.” Acklaran placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You wanted this to be bloodless, I know you did. Do not let too much guilt into your heart, our people have known fighting and war since the Makers first seeded us on Oanareth.”
“I… I think I will never stop wondering if there might have been another way.” Seluban replied ruefully. “But you are right. In the end, we did what we had to.”
Acklaran nodded. “And we will have saved future generations.”
The pair got into the car, and it sped off for the Command Conclave.
Upon their arrival, Acklaran stopped Seluban just outside the street entrance to the main building. “I need you to join me on the Council.” He said.
“Don’t say you cannot. This, all this, was set in motion because you had ideas, and the conviction to act upon them, at great personal risk and sacrifice.” Acklaran’s voice was firm. “You deserve redemption, and as more than a adviser from the shadows.”
“I helped bring an alien fleet here. They allowed me to sneak back to Oanareth, but if they see me on the Council they might use that to manipulate me, us.”
“They won’t. It runs the risk of encouraging us to back to war, and that will lead them to a war against the Cadj that they cannot win. I’m sure the humans know this.”
“It’s too risky Acklaran.” Seluban looked at his friend with worried eyes. “I am still the visible face of the Resistance, and there are still those who would cling to the old ways. I will make targets of everyone around me.”
“Don’t be so foolish, or so arrogant as to believe you are the only one who might face danger because of this. You need to do your duty, and I cannot do it without you.” Acklaran replied harshly, then his expression softened.
“I am sorry, but we need you, I need you… And, well, you shall see for yourself. Follow me.”
The pair smiled politely at the receptionist, and descended in the halls of the Command Conclave. Seluban was still trying to process the events that had led him to this point, when he rounded a corner, and his heart caught in his throat.
There she was, looking as beautiful as she ever been.
“Kel’aress…” He could barely speak.
“Seluban.” Brown eyes beamed with unconcealed emotion. Her green skin seemed to glow. Her smile stretched from ear to ear.
“I… I missed you.” He took a few steps forward. She reached out a hand, and he took it. His heart quickened, and he finally noticed she was wearing the blue jacket he’d bought her, the very first item he’d bought her, one that held good luck. “I wanted…”
She pressed a finger to his lips. “I know. I never stopped knowing.”
Just over two and a half weeks later, the primary conference room of CNSS Manticore was a busy place. Admiral Hawk, Admiral Fischer, Captain Egwu and Captain Cooper were all present, along with a few face. Hawk rubbed his beard and tried to pretend the presence of a senator wasn’t an inconvenience, though he suspected the senator wasn’t fooled for a moment.
At 66 years old, an age that that might once have been considered advanced middle age, but now was seen more as just middle age, Senator Haruko Isikawa had experienced, sharp and alert brown eyes, that absorbed every subtlety and every nuance. Her soft facial features and slightly shorter stature had lulled many a political opponent into a false sense of security, and she had taken delight in letting those opponents defeat themselves. She sat with an aide (doubling as bodyguard) behind her, which added to Hawk’s discomfort. A civilian was running around his base, with a weapon, and though they were all on the same side, he wasn’t happy.
Isikawa straightened her tie. “I would like to thank you once again Admiral Hawk, for receiving me. I appreciate the notice was short.”
“It is my pleasure Senator. I appreciate you wouldn’t have made a lengthy trip from earth unless it was urgent.”
“Quite.” She paused to take a slow sip of water from the glass in front of her. “The Senate wishes to convey its thanks to the Navy, you and your personnel have done an amazing job of bringing this war to an end. There will be recognition of outstanding military action and service when the time is right.” She finished her plaudits. “Now the Senate wishes to discuss what happens next.”
“Well, to begin Senator…” Began Fischer. “I’m not altogether sure the war is truly over.”
Hawk suppressed a groan. Since the fleet’s return, they’d talked for a few days straight about this.
The Senator’s probing gaze turned to Fischer. “What do you mean Admiral?”
“The Chon’ith are led by a faith that honours war and conquest.” Fischer began. “They see domination of humanity as religiously ordained.”
“They also saw all but the most rudimentary of tactics and strategy as an affront to their beliefs, and yet, within a few months, they’ve changed.” Hawk added, shooting a pointed look at Fischer.
“That’s what worries me – they’ve adapted their faith, but they haven’t abandoned it.” Fischer looked back to Isikawa. “We’ve captured several copies of their holy book over the past few months. They won’t be interested in peace.”
“We can still outsmart them, and we still have a pretty big technological advantage.” Hawk insisted. “They can’t threaten us, they’ve finally woken up to that.”
“With respect Ryan, that’s not true, you saw the after-action reports, when we pushed them into a corner, forced them to be desperate enough to try something different, they destroyed or disabled seventeen of my battleships!”
“I appreciate that Johanna…” Hawk replied, a little tetchily. “But we’re not going to see them all develop the tactical genius of Napoleon overnight, and they’re not going to close the technological gap any time soon. We hold the cards here.”
“We had them on the ropes, in their home system. We should have forced them to surrender.” Fischer’s voice was hard.
“We need to work with them to fight these Cadj.” Hawk said. “And besides, you know they would never surrender, they’d have fought us to the last man if we’d demanded that.”
“That’s right, they won’t surrender. They won’t give up. As I said, their faith hasn’t changed, they’ve merely adapted their approach to it. In the span of a few months, nearly every Chon’ith has come around to a new way of thinking…” She let that thought trail off.
“Admirals…” Isikawa held up a hand. “I appreciate lively debate, I am a senator after all.” She smiled her best disarming smile. “However, the Senate’s view is that the Cadj are a more dangerous, long-term threat, and it would be better for us if there were a barrier between us and them. We have also consulted our trade partners and made them aware of the Cadj. The Reun, Zakians and Artigastians lent us material aid against the Chon’ith, and they will continue to do so against the Cadj. We will have the resources available to us, should we need them.”
Both Hawk and Fischer remained silent, though their eyes met, and they did their best not to glare at each other.
“We will see if the Cadj can be reasoned with.” Isikawa continued. “The Chon’ith may not have tried, but if peace can be established with the Cadj, it will allow us to focus our efforts on the border with the Chon’ith.”
“I believe that would be wise.” Said Fischer cautiously.
“I agree.” Added Hawk neutrally.
“Good. As the two ranking officers in this region, I imagine you both have a lot of work to do, and I will leave you with orders to prepare another mission to Cadj territory. Make contact with them, see if diplomatic relations can be established, and keep the Chon’ith informed. If we have served as an example of how to do things differently, perhaps showing them negotiation and talking can resolve conflict might spur them to do the same.”
Fischer was silent, but her face betrayed how she felt about such a notion. Hawk had to admit, he wasn’t sure himself, but it was worth a try.
Senator Isikawa stood. “If you do not object, I shall retire to my quarters, and leave tomorrow morning. I do not wish to be under your feet any longer than I have to.”
Hawk nodded. “I appreciate your discretion Senator.”
“Good evening everyone.” Isikawa left the Naval officers behind, expecting the argument to continue.
Hawk put his hands on the table. “We’ll watch them Johanna. We’ll keep a very close watch on them.”
Fischer stood, making to leave, and Captain Cooper also got up. “It won’t be enough. I hope it will be, but I know it won’t.”
They left, leaving Hawk with Egwu.
“She might be right Sir, to a degree.” She said, looking at him. “Oh, I agree it will take a while for them to be a threat, but if we let them get the chance…”
“We won’t give them that chance Sachi.” Replied Hawk confidently. “We just won’t.”
Within a few weeks, Seluban and Acklaran had met with the leaders of every major (and several minor) Conclaves. The people had been willing to change, but now needed guidance and grounding across not merely how to fight wars, but across much of society. If power could be attained through more than just pure strength, what else could be achieved with a new, different mindset?
Figuring it all out was not like fighting a war, and for both the former Resistance leaders, the endless wave of meetings and committees and conferences were excruciatingly tedious. Some members of the Council had stepped aside for new blood in the wake of new thinking, and those members were eager to embrace the new ways. Older ones had as much ability to change as mountains had to move, and Seluban had found himself resisting the urge to put a few of them through the solid marble tables of their offices.
It was only a grim focus to get things done that kept him going through long, lengthy debates and arguments (that, and being able to see his mate and children after some very long days). Seeing the reports come in from all over the Empire, showing the impact of that fateful broadcast, had been gratifying, and it showed him something else too – perhaps his people had long been willing to change, deep down, on some subconscious level. They had just needed a spark, and a push, and now they were on a path to something that would ultimately be more powerful.
It wasn’t all working well. There were pockets of Chon’ith all over the Empire who refused to accept anything other than the blind charge as a means to glory. Anything else was heretical, and they sought to punish any Chon’ith who disagreed with them. It had saddened Seluban to have to dispatch Enforcers and soldiers to seek out and capture the renegades, but they were actively harming other Chon’ith, which left him no choice.
The decree about Coward’s Forge had been the most controversial. The Words called for cowards to be placed there as a form of punishment, but they also suggested redemption was possible. Seluban and Acklaran had declared it would no longer be the cesspit of misery it had become, and whilst Chon’ith who refused to fight when commanded, or those who disrespected the Words, would be banished there, they should be educated and rehabilitated, not left half-starved and treated like scum. The notion had appalled the more conservative elements of society, and those within the Council and Conclaves ranks had quit in disgust. Seluban did not care, for they had never experienced for themselves anything other than luxury.
Still, all in all the revolution had been a remarkable success. As Seluban took a long measured drink from his mug of mead, watching his children play, he felt hope for the future.