While the basic mechanisms of space travel were universal, the engineers of the Outer Rim and Core Planets took different approaches to the construction of the useful parts of the ship around the gravity foil. Core Planets engineers kept companionways and crew compartments small, with numerous hand-holds to help crew cope with abrupt changes in apparent gravity as the ship maneuvered.
Outer Rim ships, on the other hand, relied on complex rotating compartments to stand in for the acceleration of gravity, giving them a fixed sense of up and down. During close maneuvers around stars and planets, or in interstellar space, the ship felt more stable to the passengers.
The Outer Rim bases, like their ships, were complex, open, composite structures. The Outer Rim engineers did not seek to maximize the internal volume available. While less efficient, they were far more comfortable than the Core Planets structures.
To hem in Core expansion, the Outer Rim military planners started creating a web of bases separating the two empires. The design was as open and flexible as one of their bases or ships. I would box out the Core Planets and leave the Outer Rim easy access to large, unexplored regions of the galaxy. In addition to Core Planets expansion, the Outer Rim planners found themselves trying to establish territory around the indigenous Cephalopods as well as heavily armed but non-aligned humans. Henry base was only one of many battle lines at the edge of the Outer Rim’s empire.
A small but daring fleet of Outer Rim ships circled the Outer Rim’s Duquesne base. The bombardment of the Duquesne defenses was relentless. The Duquesne cannons fired innumerable high-pressure ion bursts. Every Core Planet ship was damaged; some continued to attack in spite of visible holes in the hull. Streams of junk streamed out of more than one Outer Rim cannon platform. The Core ships were in constant motion, ruthless, and expertly managed.
The vast Carillon base was a virtual twin of the Outer Rim’s base at Duquesne. Baron Dieskau, who controlled Carillon, was grateful that the battle for his base would be very different from the battle at Duquense. Unlike most of the military officers throughout the Outer Rim, Dieskau was a career soldier who was not appointed to his post because of his title or hereditary rank. Beyond the basics of studying military strategy and tactics, he had refused high-level appointments based on his title as Baron, taking low-level assignments where he had put in long, hard hours of labor to make a military campaign work efficiently. The royally appointed Governor of the cluster had courted him for the position of supreme military commander of the Outer Rim’s most vulnerable frontier base.
Dieskau was a tall man with an intimidating intensity. He leaned into every word and gesture, pushing people back. He was loud, and expected to hear a “yes, Baron” at the end of every sentence. He was not in good physical condition; endless worry and his natural intensity gave him a sickly thinness.
In the control station of the Carillon base, Dieskau and Colonel Montgomery watched the transmission from Duquesne. Colonel Montgomery was a well-bred scion of a family of moderate, relatively new, nobility. If his uncle had more influence in the Outer Rim royal court, he could have been a General, or assigned to a squadron closer to the heavily contested border between the Core and the Outer Rim. As it was, his lack of position at court was reflected in a station on an outpost impossibly far from royal notice.
Montgomery was a few inches shorter, with endlessly elaborate hair and beard. He was not fat, but neither was he in good physical condition. He was a soldier in title only. Habituated to a life of wealth, he drank and ate far more than he should and relied on cosmetic surgery to create a veneer of health.
Dieskau nudged an intelligence officer, motioning at a different part of the display. The officer changed the transmission’s point of view.
“It is well managed. A very well managed attack. These ships here, do you see them? Pause.” The transmission paused with a sudden, voluminous silence. Dieskau pointed out a cluster of ships. The intelligence officer highlighted the cluster.
Montgomery was uninterested; when Dieskau paused the transmission, this only increased his irritation. “These are mere skirmishes, Dieskau. The real war is being fought elsewhere!”
“Baron,” Dieskau corrected him. Dieskau motioned to the intelligence officer to resume the transmission. The intense bombardment almost drowned him out as he continued.
“These ships are clearly following the lead of this frigate. Commanded by some very clever Lieutenant. I’ll have this analyzed, but I think this particular Lieutenant has traded ships several times during the attack, retiring damaged ships and pressing the attack again. He will return covered in glory, if he survives.”
The transmission played; Core planets ships threaded between the cannon blasts. A blast and a sudden flare showed where a cannon emplacement was destroyed by concentrated fire from several Core planets ships. Dieskau nodded approvingly.
“He’s a Core planets officer,” Montgomery said, resentfully.
“He’s an opponent. Some day we may face him. You know, if he survives, he may be put in front of those people for an elected office.” Dieskau sneered at the word “elected.” It was common opinion that the endless elections of the Core planets republics were a kind of circus to coerce the weak-minded billions into following their natural leaders.
The noise level from the transmission increased as the attack peaked in ferocity. The General defending Duquesne was begging for assistance. The Core Planets had finally pierced through their defenses. Soon, the final defense would involve hand-to-hand combat throughout the corridors and companionways of the base itself.
“Turn it off,” Dieskau said, walking away from the display.
Montgomery watched him pace around the control station. The station was not so much a “room” as a central nexus for all of the interconnections of the base. A number of halls and connectors branched out of the area. The intelligence and management crews had their workstations here. It was the equivalent of the bridge on a warship. From this place, Dieskau controlled the base, the cluster’s fleet and all of the frontier between Outer Rim bases of Niagara, Duquesne and Acadia.
“What about our units at Duquesne?” Montgomery asked, making no effort to hide is resentment of Dieskau’s callous study of the attack.
Dieskau smirked at Montgomery. “The Core Planets have attacked the Duquesne and the Acadia. The Niagara and the Carillon will be next,” Dieskau said, shouting over the din of the battle. “We must look to our own defenses.”
Without looking to the intelligence officer stationed here, Montgomery reached over and switched off the transmission himself.
In the sudden quiet, Dieskau looked closely at Montgomery. “They won’t destroy the Duquesne, you know. They can’t. They haven’t planned for it.” Dieskau moved back to the situation table, he leaned over it to get his face close to Montgomery’s. “They have no reserves — and no nearby bases from which to resupply. When they finally beat down the defenses, they won’t be able to hold the base. It’s sad, really. Such a waste of life for no useful outcome to either side.”
Montgomery glanced at the intelligence officer standing beside Dieskau. Montgomery wondered if he noted the disloyalty of Dieskau’s words?
Dieskau reached past the intelligence officer to punch some controls and bring up a series of command menus and options, setting up an engagement scenario. When the scenario started, the Duquesne was surrounded again by Core planets forces. Brushed aside, the intelligence officer sighed, almost pouting.
“Now, if I were attacking Duquesne, I’d have staged some support here and here.” On the display, additional ships were put into position to support the attack. Montgomery stepped back from what could be reported as a treasonous conversation.
Dieskau moved around the situation table, pursuing Montgomery.
“You look shocked. Have you not thought these things through? They’ll take Acadia, you know.” Dieskau followed Montgomery.
Montgomery continued to back up. “The Outer Rim military leaders might be — you know — suspicious of you plotting the downfall of one of our frontier trade outposts.”
Dieskau stopped stalking Montgomery around the control station.
“Plotting?” Dieskau started laughing. “You think that because I am a mercenary that I’d sell myself to the Core, just for money?” Dieskau’s laugh was a cold bark with no real mirth. “This is a matter of honor and glory. And it is a matter of stopping the Core’s advances.”
Dieskau went back to the situation table. He motioned to the intelligence officer, who resumed operation of the controls. The planning display that showed the attack on Duquesne vanished. The Duquesne was replaced by a cartographic display showing the Carillon and an extensive dust and debris star system. Beyond the dust system were marked several Core planets bases. Between the Carillon and the Core bases, a number of colored sectors materialized.
“And now to the problem we must solve. What is the most important key to victory? Intelligence. Colonel, you will deploy scouts between our base and this gas or dust cloud here.”
Dieskau looked up at Montgomery. Montgomery had not given a crisp “yes, Baron.” Instead, he had gaped at Dieskau.
“Yes,” Dieskau acknowledged, “we will be pushing the border toward their new base. Border skirmishes will convince that horrid Squid, Caughnawaga, that war is inevitable. Now go.”
Montgomery stood up straight, staring with open enmity at Dieskau. Colonel Montgomery was a Lord and his uncle was a Chamberlain at the Imperial court of the Outer Rim. He could not be talked to like he was some kind of common-born soldier impressed into the service from a prison planet.
Dieskau smirked at Montgomery. “Questions?” he asked.
Dieskau’s social affront was compounded by the monstrosity of using Cephalopods as allies to fend off the Core Planets attack. Everyone knew they were double-dealing, lying, stealing, primitive creatures. Montgomery glared, outraged. He had heard a rumor that the imperial court was growing suspicious of Cephalopod loyalty. Dieskau grinned.
“How can you trust those Cephalopods?” Montgomery asked.
Dieskau closed with Montgomery, hissing in his anger, “Don’t patronize me. You don’t like me. I’ve been brought in to command your troops and you chafe. Am I right?”
Montgomery recognized that his question had hit Dieskau hard. It appeared that Dieskau’s reckless calm could be upset by any threat to his strategic plans.
Dieskau closed in until his and Montgomery’s faces almost touched. He fumed quietly, “Do your duty and your cause will be advanced. Nothing I do can help me. If I lose, I die. If I win, the glory I earn will give you a governorship.”
Montgomery grinned in triumph as he saw Dieskau’s vulnerability. As a mercenary outsider, Dieskau would get nothing from his victories but money. The real reward was power and control; this would be doled out to the various noblemen attached to the military command. Since this made Dieskau bitter, it left him open to manipulation.
Montgomery smirked triumphantly. He smile faded as he said “It would be a frontier outpost.”
Dieskau sighed and leaned on the situation display table. “A time will come when this is not frontier. You will have created the legacy that will make your heirs wealthy. Humor me.” Dieskau looked up at Montgomery with unconcealed enmity. “Ready your men.”
Montgomery smirked at Dieskau as be began to consider ways in which Dieskau could be manipulated.
Dieskau straightened himself. His moment of weakness was past. He resumed a new level of fiery intensity. “Now,” he said.
Colonel Montgomery looked around at his personal staff. He wondered if they, like him, were considering their own futures and how their actions would be judged by someone far away in the Outer Rim Home Worlds. If Dieskau was going to provoke a border skirmish, it was crucial that they consider the appearance of every move they made. Montgomery wondered if the patrols would be ordered to escalate from minor civilian problems to more serious military confrontations.