Aphelion Issue 238, Volume 23
April 2019
 
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Decima

by Philip Berry




Borderland precinct emergency service, Capp colony, 6th colonial shell, Tarnon empire.
Caller: Beth Flentta, Junior School teacher

Emergency call, transcript

: Borderland emergency service, how can I help?

] They’ve gone.

: Who’s gone Madam?

] The children, the children. Help us! (crying). Please hurry! The Pier of Lights, Pale Lake. Pleeeease.

: An interceptor is already on its way Madam. Please calm yourself. Are you currently in danger?

] We all are. All of us. They were in the lake, the children, they just disappeared. They made holes in the water.

: How many children Madam? Are you their teacher?

] Five. The water just fell into the holes, there were waves, whirlpools, the others nearly drowned.

: How many are you in total?

] Thirty. And three teachers. Please, you must find them, please…

: ETA is two arcs, you should be able to see the Interceptor coming from the ranges now. Please take the children onto land…

] I have, I have.

: Good, now stay calm. What is your name?

] Beth Flentta. I see the ship, it’s here! I’ve got to go. Sorry, thank you, thank you.

Ends


*****



Officer Zenko Gat, first responder Pale Lake incident, Borderland precinct, Capp colony Oral report, recorded on return to Hub (transcript)

“I saw them clearly as I circled down to the landing area. The class was sheltering in a viewing cabin, but one of the teachers was still on the pier, waving, pointing out to the lake. The surface was calm, but I could see wet splashes across the pier, suggesting there had been high waves. I landed and ran to the pier. As I approached the lake began to swell. The light, which had been fading anyway, darkened further. The teacher screamed and pointed. There was a body on the surface of the water, but it was not a school child. As I was estimating the distance and preparing to dive in the teacher shouted and pointed to another. Then another, and another, and finally a fifth. They were in a tight group. Four were motionless, one was trying to swim. I dived in and headed for the moving body.

"As I approached she rolled over to face me. She had grey eyes, but I could not see her hair, as she wore a warrior’s helmet, and for clothes she wore an armoured vest and a knee length, fine metal skirt. It looked like some sort battle dress from a history book. I held off, but she reached out, and cried, “It’s done... it’s done... help me, help me.” I held her and pulled her to the pier. The teacher reached down and helped her up. Then the teacher recognised her. “Esther, is it you? Esther?” The female nodded, weeping. She was one of the missing girls, but grown up, an adult. I went for the others, I reached every one of them in turn, but they were all dead. They had wounds, they were bleeding from the upper body. I don’t understand. They were children, and they came back as soldiers. I don’t understand.”

Ends


*****



Dr Lasme Yun, receiving psychologist, Pale Lake incident, Capp Colony

Psychological evaluation (excerpt)

Esther’s last memory relates to the school trip, specifically jumping into the water from the Pier of Lights. The children were allowed into the water ten at a time, and Esther was in the first group. She remembers being a confident swimmer. She remembers nothing of what happened after the disappearance. The next reported memory is of thrashing in the same water as an adult, in battle dress. She felt pain, which she attributes to the transportation, but she had clearly been held by the neck resulting in bruises which must have hurt her.

Over three days I probed her memory using verbal, non-verbal/ non-invasive and non-verbal/invasive methods. Mobile electroencephalographic readings revealed no voluntary concealment whatsoever. I was not able to uncover any details of her time off the planet. We have no insights into her experience. The only clues are emotional. She remembers anger being directed at her, she remembers an atmosphere of vengeance, she expresses grief for the four friends who were killed, but overlying this there is also deep sense of satisfaction (hence her comment, ‘It’s done.’ – she cannot say what is done) The positives have neutralised the negatives. She is at peace, yet she has no formed theories to explain the incident.

Ends


*****



Benzalen Franc, Aide de Camp to 2nd rank General Ezekial Ket-Den, Gralian Army

Genth Offensive - Diary Entry

We are in stalemate, which for an expeditionary force is the precursor to defeat. We can sustain ourselves only for so long. They don’t admit it in the General’s tent, they don’t let themselves voice it, but we all know it. None of the aides want to appear negative, we encourage our generals when they go off into offensive strategies, but the most realistic discussions are defensive.

Tonight I threw light-maps over the wooden table that must be taken wherever we strike camp. Ket-Den models himself on the ancients, maintaining traditional ways, boots always buffed to a high shine, a real fire crackling in the corner despite our fears that it will catch at the tent’s side. He has a slight lisp, which should make him sound soft and vulnerable, but no way - it gives him a quiet menace.

Anyway I lit up the maps, steered a bird’s eye view across the battle terrain of the day, then further afield, over enemy lines into Tarnon-held territory. We examined the landscapes, the features, the rivers, and pretended to consider a forward move, around the bulk of the forces. Then reality kicked in: the Genth chasm. It sits in front of us, a thick black gash on the map. We must cross this if we are to storm the Tarnonian capital. But how, when the approach is so exposed and their missiles rain so heavily?

I ranged up and back with the light-map, then focussed down on our back lines, and the territory into which our forces must eventually find safety in defeat. I can only admit it here. As aide-de-camp I see all the mortality data. We have lost four million from nineteen planets on this single campaign. They come here in arms and battle-dress, they believe the propaganda they have heard at home, our force of numbers, our invincible strength, they arrive in lines, in huge rectangles under the barely visible force-fields… I see them smiling, it’s warm and windless under there, but when they advance and stare at the chasm’s maw up the smiles fade.

I stand above them, calculating, judging trajectories. The Tarnonian volleys fly, I watch the missiles’ arc and hope that our spies have at last found the frequencies needed to block them. But no, they sink through the force field, barely slowing in descent. They flare above the new recruits, destroying them. And tomorrow the same, and the day after the same again… until, one day, we run out of recruits.

Or... we find the right frequency, and neutralise those missiles. That’s all we need, one failed salvo. That will give us time to charge across the chasm and enter Tarn Origin City for the first time. It’s all we need. One - good - day.

End


*****



Dr Sebastian Pemta, Chief of Pathology, Academic Health Centre, Capp Colony

Post Mortem, main findings and comparisons of bodies recovered from Pale Lake Incident

I examined 4 bodies, 2 adult men and 2 adult women. Herein are comparative observations. Please refer to individual files for measurements, organ weights, biochemical analyses and permanent images.

All the bodies were well nourished. The wrists and ankles showed no marks of captivity such as binding or chain sores. On the right upper arm of each body there was a faint series of numbers, ten figures in each. These number series were evidently made by sub-epidermal laser. It is not possible to say when, but the preserved proportions suggest they were inscribed in adulthood.

Cause of death for each person was a sabre cut to the angle of the neck and shoulder, although in three bodies there were additional wounds to legs and torso.

Traces of blood were detected using a nucleic sweep scan. There were no visible traces, but the lake water may have washed most of it off.

Further analysis of these blood traces confirmed that it did not come from any of the four corpses (there was also no match with a sample taken from the survivor Esther Wan). The sources were Tarnonian and alien. Amplification techniques revealed fragments of Gralian sub-nucleic structure. I am 96.7% confident the alien blood traces were Gralian.

End


*****



Gralian council of war, Genth offensive
Present: General Ezekial Ket-Den, General Penlan, General Dakin.

Minutes taken from permatrack recording

General Ezekial Ket-Den: This is total war General Penlan, we must consider all solutions. All!

General Penlan: What do you mean?

General Ezekial Ket-Den: I mean it is time to sink to their level. We cannot maintain the moral high-ground, it is nave, we are being annihilated. The men and women know this. I see it in their eyes as they approach the chasm. They no longer believe we can cross it. And tomorrow’s soldiers, those who have not yet been recruited from the wider Gralian Empire, are coming to hear of the daily disaster. I sense mutiny. We need a win. By any means.

General Penlan: Well tell us! What do you have in mind?

General Ezekial Ket-Den: A way to replenish our ranks.

General Penlan: Good. That is good. More, please. Where from?

General Ezekial Ket-Den: The homes of our enemy.

General Penlan: Tarnons? What do you mean?

General Ezekial Ket-Den: What I said. I know of a way to take Tarnon’s from their worlds and insert them into our ranks.

General Penlan: How? It is absurd. It… it breaks…

General Ezekial Ket-Den: The rules of war? The Third Convention? You think we should be noble, observe the rules even as our lands are overrun and our way of life is repressed? This is what I mean. Total war.

General Penlan: What is the technology? If you can take Tarnonians away from their planets why not just kill them all, or all those of military age. Just wipe them off the battle field?

General Ezekial Ket-Den: No, the technique is iso-densitronic and iso-volumetric. It does not destroy, it only transfers mass. And only biological mass.

General Penlan: But still, you could use it to...

General Ezekial Ket-Den: No. We must use it well, ingeniously. It will not win the war on its own, but the message it sends will generate absolute nihilism, a complete loss of morale in the Tarnonian leadership. br>
General Penlan: You can actually deliver this? Where did you...?

General Ezekial Ket-Den: No matter. We vote. Dakin? Rouse yourself. Do you agree?

End


*****



Thaspa’s ‘History of The Wars of The Spiral Arm’

Chapter 205

The tide began to turn in Year: Haze. A new technology was developed and applied – biomass transfer. It was weaponised by teams of scientists working on an unnamed moon, funded by and according to the instructions of General Ezekial Ket-Den. A cargo ship carried the generator into orbit around one of Tarnon’s colony planets, Capp. One in ten adult men and women were taken. They appeared fifteen arcs later in the ranks of the Gralians, on Tarnon itself, armed and bewildered. They did not rebel, they did not dare to question. They were placed into the front ranks and moved forward under the protection of force-fields that were routinely penetrated by missiles fired from their own armies. Millions were killed, but Gralian losses were minimised and morale was preserved. The Tarnonian leadership, its empire unwieldy and over-bureaucratic, did notice a reduction in the provincial out-post of Capp initially, despite the signals and representations that began to arrive in central government.

End


*****



Legionnaire Paulus Servilianus serving under General Scipio Africanus, 2nd Punic war, Earth, Year: 215 BC

Journal entry

A visiting commander has come to learn from our General, Scipio Africanus. Carthage will soon fall, we are sure of it, but elsewhere the empire’s battles do not go so well, and the Emperor has decreed that other generals should come here to learn. This visitor is intense. He says little, and when he does he speaks quietly. I know why, I was near him yesterday - he has a speech impediment! So he watches, he nods, he makes mental notes. He was especially interested when, around the campfire last night, the officers were described the old practise of decimation. I spoke, because I have seen it. It’s not as old as they say.

I was standing in line after the battle of ________, in the losing ranks. Our commander, Genterex, old and grumpy always, and horribly scarred, walked up and down the ranks and abused us for our cowardice and our weakness. I had seen soldiers retreating, and pretending to be dead on the field. He announced that 1 in 10 of us would lose our lives, according to fate.

We looked from side to side, making calculations, trying to count along the lines. Fear swept through us. Some of us vomited. A few tried to change places, having decided they were standing in a 10 position. It was stupid. Centurions honed in on those who tried to move and took them out front. One or two tried to run away, down the ravine behind us, but they were quickly found.

I stood still, and made peace with my Gods and my family. I closed my eyes. I heard a faint tap, but I did not feel it. Genterex had touched the shoulder of the man two places down from me. He was dragged forward, crying. The chosen were placed on the edge of the ravine. Other soldiers, by no means willing, were given instructions, and in a blur of arms, blood and screams the work of correction was begun. But this was not the biggest shock. Their places were taken by those we had captured. Gerenterex forced them into line, while we looked on disbelievingly. He made them fight for us, and they did. They had no choice. We sent them forward, to soak up the first salvoes of catapult and fire. It worked. We won the campaign, and we loved Gerenterex for it.

I told this story, and our visitor listened, fascinated. I never saw him again. He just walked away into the night.

End


*****



Pan-Galactic Truth & Transparency Commission
Source – Encrypted minutes from Tarnon Strategic External Operations (TSEO). Chair of TSEOU (unnamed ‘A’) and unknown interlocutor.

File #54

A - I have an idea.

B - For...?

A - Victory, what else?

B - In the war? It’s barely started, what do you mean? These skirmishes on the outer shell could fizzle out.

A - No. You know as well as I that a sectoral war is inevitable. It was inevitable as soon as the Gralian emperor looked to this quadrant and saw attractive planets within our sphere of influence. In fact it was inevitable when nature, in its wisdom, decided that organic reproduction and the evolution of two similarly capable species would take place in two separate location in the galaxy. It’s what we do... expand, steal, fight!

B - And your idea?

A - The Gralian armies will advance to the very gates of our capital. I have analysed our strengths. There will be many off-planet battles, but they will advance. We must accept this... you and I. We must plan for that day, and not allow ourselves to be pulled into minor stratagems elsewhere. Of course the preliminary battles must be fought well and with all our will, to drain the Gralians of as many resources as possible, but you and I must play the long game. We must arrange things so that when the Gralians are outside our gates, we have a plan. Do you understand? It will make us unpopular. We will be accused of disloyalty. But please do not doubt my loyalty for one moment.

B – I am with you. Now tell me, what do you have in mind?

A – First, some history. I have studied their most talented General, Ezekial Ket-Den. He is harsh, he is ingenious. He will surprise us. And I know something else about him. He looks back to history. He has toured armies and battles across time to learn tactics and techniques. My people have tracked him, and that information is the understanding how he will conduct himself. He has visited one planet and one era several times – the only one he has re-visited - a pre-technological civilisation on a planet near the edge of the quadrant. It may soon become part of the Gralian empire. He visited eight times. He saw something there that fascinated him, evidently, and I think I know what it was.

B – What was it?

A – Using your enemies. Taking prisoners to fill your own ranks.

B – That is absurd.

A – It sounds absurd. But it works. It did work. It might work again. We must make sure it works. If we are prepared, we can use Ezekial Ket-Den’s weakness for the past to our advantage. But it will mean making sacrifices. We, you, must be ready.

End


*****



Geostationary relay above Tarn Origin City.

Voice capture

I’ll be quick my love, we’re not supposed to be making contact. But this may be the last chance. We’re doing fine, I don’t feel too bad. The field above our heads throbs and hums, they have told us it has been strengthened. And up ahead – they marched passed us this morning, thousands and thousands of them – are reinforcements. I don’t recognise their kind, the faces are different, they are taller. I think they come from the periphery. But they are at the front. Our commander, General Ezekial Ket-Den, is protecting us. He’s put the foreign legions in harm’s way. I’ve got to go, the time has come. We’re moving, we’re marching for the chasm.

End


*****



Cabinet meeting, Tarn Origin City.

Minutes

Her Excellency and First Lord Martha Panlik: I can’t believe you’re asking this.

Fleet Admiral Blain: It’s disgusting.

Interior Minister Haldre: It’s... something!

TSEO chair (unnamed ‘A’): It doesn’t matter what it is. You can agree, or not agree. All I can say is this – I know war, and this is war predictable... this is a stratagem that will bring you victory.

Her Excellency and First Lord Martha Panlik: But what you propose requires us to stand by and watch as hundreds of thousands are taken, used...

Interior Minister Haldre: Run it by me again...

TSEO chair (unnamed ‘A’): Their strongest general, Ket-Den, will take people from outside the theatre of war, our people. I know he will. And we must let him.

Her Excellency and First Lord Martha Panlik: How many?

TSEO chair (unnamed ‘A’): It will not be measured in numbers, but in time. We need time enough to play our cards.

Her Excellency and First Lord Martha Panlik: But how many... you must have an estimate.

TSEO chair (unnamed ‘A’): Perhaps a million. Perhaps two.

Fleet Admiral Blain: WHAT!?

TSEO chair (unnamed ‘A’): It is absolutely necessary.

Fleet Admiral Blain: Can we really ask that of our people?

TSEO chair (unnamed ‘A’): Far away from here our enemies are be making hard decisions too, decisions designed to destroy us. I apologise Your Excellency, I don’t think a moral debate is what is needed here. It is the practical debate that should concern us. Can it be done? Yes. Can I deliver it? Yes. Will you, in this room, make the decision? Shall we vote?

End


*****



Pan-Galactic Truth & Transparency Commission
Chief of TSEO (unnamed; ‘A’)

Private voice archive

A. The cabinet is in favour. I have called it Project Decima. I just hope I have read Ket-Den correctly. Decisions cannot be made in the fog of doubt. I must be confident. I must be sure.

End


*****



Benzalen Franc, Aide de Camp to 2nd rank General Ezekial Ket-Den, Genth Offensive.

Diary entry

General Ezekial is a genius. He has replenished our ranks with mercenaries! Somehow he, and those we had begun to doubt, have found a way to bring in reinforcements. They look different, but I know where they come from. I think I’m the only one of the General’s staff who knows, and I have kept it to myself.

My grandmother kept a disc-icon in her quarters, and I remember turning it in my hands when we visited. He was her first love, she told me once, in a whisper. Even then, relationship with Tarnonians were frowned upon. I remember his long chin, his narrow eyes, the flat forehead... he looked different. And these new soldiers, the men and the women, they look a little like him, not home-planet Tarnonian, but related. From somewhere in the Empire. They are deserters, bought in to strengthen our armies.


*****



Ambassador Nadia Susman, Representative of 6th colonial shell collective

Communication to Tarn Origin City under diplomatic seal(excerpt)

...they have taken our people. Capp’s adult population has been reduced by ten percent. We cannot survive another wave. The colony will no longer be viable.

End


*****



Pan-Galactic Truth & Transparency Commission
Chief of TSEO (unnamed; ‘A’)

Private voice archive

A The first report has come in. Ezekial Ket-Den, the butcher, has begun his perverse ‘decimation’ as I predicted. It must continue unabated until the time is right. Until the group has been recruited. Not yet.

End


*****



Her Excellency and First Lord Martha Panlik (Supreme military commander)

War Order #43

To: Chief of TSEO (unnamed ‘A’)

Our colonial losses are too great. You are hereby ordered to initiate Project Decima before the second wave. Do not hesitate. Do not await technological optimisation.

End


*****



Interrogation behind Gralian front line at Genth
Present - General Ezekial Ket-Den, Esther Wan, interrogator (unnamed).

Transcript

General Ezekial Ket-Den: What are those markings?

Esther Wan (struggling to speak): Code... Frequencies.

General Ezekial Ket-Den: For what?

Esther Wan: I told him... we want to help, we want the war to end.

General Ezekial Ket-Den: You’re babbling. How do these numbers help us?

Esther Wan: All together... five together... make the frequency, the progression... missile frequency... shield freq...

General Ezekial Ket-Den: You seriously expect me to believe that you have brought the key to calculating the shield frequencies needed to deflect Tarnonian missiles?

Esther Wan: It’s why we came. We five... we are just a tiny fraction of the disaffected. Our warlords have failed, allowed you to advance to our capital, allowed you to steal men and women from our colonies... it’s time for it to stop.

General Ezekial Ket-Den: Prove they work, these numbers.

Esther Wan: Take the numbers, apply them, see what happens...

Pause.

General Ezekial Ket-Den: (to interrogator) Get the others. Record the numbers, give them to the shield technicians. Run them.

End


*****



Professor Mikal Brund, Chief Investigator, Decima project, Institute of Ballistics and Martial Defense, Tarn Origin City.

Laboratory log book, pages 62-65

Challenge - rendering the trail invisible.

Currently - silver, photonic ripples, impossible to abrogate while tail continues to transmit data.

Options, to d/w War Cabinet liason –

1. Maintain trail masking work-stream, my estimate to achieve full invisibility = 2 years

2. Accept trace photonic signature; this is a high level military decision, ?only one hit needed to achieve data backflow.

I favour 2.

End


*****



Benzalen Franc, Aide de Camp to 2nd rank General Ezekial Ket-Den, Genth Offensive

Diary entry

It’s happened. We have the frequency! We have it. I watched from high up the mountain, standing outside the General’s tent. The missile flew in leaving a faint trace of silver in the fading light. I had seen the same thing many times before, seen the shell sink through the field, but this one was different. It descended, it entered the field, but it was held... and then it blew, harmlessly, its light spreading across the field’s roof. The silver trail pulsed with energy, then it faded. And below, all the soldiers, Gralians, even the mercenaries, they lived! They shouted, they held each other. At last we can repulse the Tarnonian ordnance. The good day has come.


*****



Thaspa’s ‘History of The Wars of The Spiral Arm’.

Chapter 206

Liberated from fear, protected now from the missiles that continued to come down (only to fizzle in the force-field) the Gralian army approached the chasm. Their drones threw platinum seeds across the gap and countless bridges composed of linear crystals rapidly distilled from the mineral rich atmosphere. The armies marched forward and for the first time Gralian feet touched the formal boundary of Tarn Origin City.

End


*****



Pan-Galactic Truth & Transparency Commission
Source – Encrypted minutes from Tarnon Strategic External Operations (TSEO). Unnamed interlocutors.

File #56

A. To make the Gralians believe they are traitors they will need to be a cohesive group. They will need to look and sound as though they know each other, they must be familiar.

B. A family?

A. No, it’s too unlikely. A locality.

B. But from what you were saying previously, we must take them when they are mere children... if, indeed, the training will take as long as you think.

A. It will.

B. A group of children who know each other. Easy. A class. A school class.

A. That’s it.

B. We just need to choose a system, a planet.

A. The Gralians will choose the planet. Our group will come from the planet where the recruitment takes place. They will be in the second wave of recruits, their story, which we will have been drilled into them, will be that they are sick of war, critical of their leaders’ conduct of war... hence, they bring with them a gift.

B. We can be that flexible? Train and insert a cohesive group from a specific system at such short notice?

A. Our technology can be directed to any system, in relatively short order. If we bring the group in from a system unaffected by people-theft they will be detected – differences in accents, appearance, even genetic signature.

B. But how do we prepare them?

A. I have a solution to that. They must come from a different time. Their subconscious cannot contain any pre-judgements concerning the history of the war. We need clean minds for the training.

B. Then go back, surely, to a pre-war generation.

A. No, we can only go forward. You can’t take people with accomplished futures out of time and get them to change course. Not safely. So they must come from the future, and not just that, from many centuries hence, where the history that we are living now has become bland, and emotion regarding Grale flattened. We cannot send in people with any significant emotional overlay. The furthest forward we can reach is 500 years. That’s the envelope we will apply.

B. But how long do we have? Once we know the identity of planet from which Ket-Den has taken our people?

A. Strangely, a great deal of time. We activate the transfer after Ket-Den’s first mass transportation, assess their suitability, train them in a parallel time circuit, send them in fully prepared, and wait...

B. Parallel?

A. A time-bud. Self-contained. However long the training takes, to us it will be instantaneous.

B. Brilliant. [Pause] I have a question. You will think I’m being... pathetic, perhaps.

A. Go on.

B. Can we give them back? These ‘traitors’. Can we give them back to their families when they have completed their mission?

A. We can. But it will not necessarily be a happy return. They might not all survive.

Pause

A. But these are details. We are talking about the survival of our people.

B. We will be judged on the details.

A. We will be judged on the million who must be sacrificed to allow us access. But do not worry... when history judges us we will be deep underground, you and I.

End


*****



450th centenary of the birth of Professor Mikal Brund, Chief Investigator, Decima project

Sector-wide broadcast (extract)

...and is chiefly remembered for achievements that brought him no glory during his lifetime. Through his inspiring scientific leadership and intellectual persistence the Institute of Ballistics and Martial Defense developed a missile that was able to ‘steal’ vital codes from Gralian defense intelligence systems during the Genth Offensive. By means that are still obscure, and that will remain secret until the Pan-Galactic Truth & Transparency Commission begins its work fifty years from now, congruency between the Gralian defense shield and our own missiles was achieved, allowing formulae to be relayed back to Tarn Origin City. The war turned on this stratagem. When commanders in Tarn Origin City received these formulae they were able to take control of the shields and all those Gralian forces who stood under their protection. Slowly, inexorably, those who had crossed the numerous crystalline bridges were forced back, over the edge of chasm to their deaths. Those who had not yet crossed the chasm were driven down the sheer face of the mountain from which they had looked down on our ancestors with such confidence. The Gralian commanders could not turn of the fields or modify their frequencies in time. Resurgent Tarnonian forces advanced up the mountain, across the chasm and through the invaders’ seemingly endless encampment spread across the plain beyond...


*****



Pure-Sky Junior School, Capp colony

School report on Esther Wan, age 9, by teacher Beth Flentta (excerpt)

‘Esther is distractible. Sometimes it is as though her mind is elsewhere. Yet she is highly intelligent, and confident in her own abilities. She is strongly attached to four friends, and despite my efforts to encourage a broader range of relationships this ’clique’ appears indestructible. Together, they present a formidable front, and, while in no way unpleasant or rude, give the impression of putting the world to rights. Esther is their leader in intellect and in play. Next term I hope to...

End


*****



Pan-Galactic Truth & Transparency Commission
Chief of TSEO (unnamed)

Private voice archive

I met our future today. She is only nine. She has been taken from her own world and her own time without warning, without permission. Yet she seems to accept her predicament, it is as though she was prepared for her life to be something more, something important. She and her four friends are perfect together, and I am confident that we can train them. I have decided that twenty is the correct age for deployment. We will tattoo the missile frequencies when they are eighteen. Eleven years... they must be kept safe, but at the same time they must be hardened. The training school that we have built in the time-bud will serve both purposes – I have seen it. And having seen them, the children, I have decided that they will be returned to their own world afterwards. For their families. I can predict much, but I cannot predict how many, if any, will survive.

End


*****



Thaspa’s ‘History of The Wars of The Spiral Arm’

Chapter 207

The Gralian armies struck camp on the plain and looked down over the Tarnon capital that spread down the side of the mountain and onto the flatlands below. They had the high ground, and their commanders roamed the tents and the fires to see their soldiers and spread the scent of victory. The transported Tarnons who had formed the vanguard and crossed the chasm first, albeit hesitantly and under duress, their boots crunching on the unpolished crystal aggregates, were corralled on one side. They eyed the edge of the chasm and feared the worst. Night fell. Come the morning, the Gralian army would descend with fearsome momentum.

The surrounding force-field made the stars above them wobble and shift as the ancient light was refracted. This was the only visual evidence that the field was active. Its presence made the army sleep more soundly; word had got around that that it was impervious now, the Tarnonian missile frequencies having been delivered by traitors.

The Tarnons’ terrible trap was sprung in the dead of night. Gralian soldiers at the camp’s edge felt themselves pushed from their ground-mates and rolled out of their tents. An invisible pressure, a wall of air, nudged them acorss the camp, through smouldering fires, over cooking pots, towards the chasm. They began to pile up on one another. The force-field had turned against them. They could not escape it. The edge of the chasm drew ever closer.

And thus, the tide turned. The fifty-year war that had brought a Gralian force within sight of the Tarn Origin City began to draw to an end.

End


*****



Geostationary relay above Tarn Origin City.

Voice capture, positive identification - Benzalen Franc, Aide de Camp to 2nd rank General Ezekial Ket-Den

One day you may hear this, I know there are sensors in the atmosphere... even if you don’t... You will, I know you will. I will always love you Mary, and Jason, my dear boy, I hope you will remember me as a loyal man, with a little bravery... I saw them, the fifth columnists, the ones my General interrogated and believed, the mercenaries with a secret so great even I was not forbidden to see them. I saw them running from the camp today, immediately after our forces on the other side of the chasm were so brutally murdered, swept over the edge, screaming, flailing, but silent to us, encapsulated in the force-field that was supposed to protect them. It was the five, I know it, something they brought with them, a betrayal. My General has left the camp, his many advisors persuaded him to seek safety, to get back onto the plain ... but I refused, I belong here with the men and women I helped organise into those powerless ranks. So I chased them, the five, past smouldering fires and half dismantled tents, I chased them, with a small force under my command, and I slew them, all but one. I looked them in the eye before I struck with my sword, and I demanded that they told me what they had done. And one of them, a woman, she smiled up at me, and she bared her arm, and she pointed to the numbers barely visible on the skin, and she laughed. I struck her dead. The fifth, their leader, she stared back at me, her eyes calm, as though she knew what must happen, but as I raised by arm she disappeared. The man holding her by the neck fell forward, confused. And the four whom I had executed, they too had gone, sunk into the dead grass, dissolved into the fearful atmosphere. It was they who tricked us, deceived my General, I am sure... Remember my good deeds Jason, Mary, forgive my evil deeds... all were done to ensure a better future for the Gralian people...

End


*****



From Former Chief of TSEO (unnamed ‘A’).

Post-dated letter to the Five Families of Capp, bearing instruction: ‘to be delivered by TSEO (or its derivative) agents on the occasion of a disappearance 500 years from now’

Dear _________

You will not have heard of me, nor me of you. But by now you will have lost a child, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently through terrible injuries or the trauma of travel through space and time. If the latter, I am truly sorry. Let me explain, everything...

End


*****



on the 550th anniversary of the Battle of the Chasm of Genth, Tarn Origin City.

Order of Service (excerpt)

Welcome

1st prayer – ‘The consolations of sacrifice’

All rise

Hymn 346 – ‘History and me’

Congregation will be seated.

We will be joined by the congregation on Capp for a communal tour of the terrain around the chasm, facilitated by Archbishop Mallin IV. Having risen up the East face of Tarn Mount the combined congregation will meet below Wan peak, where the five million Tarnonian and Gralian casualties will be remembered. Would all members of the congregation wishing to be involved please ensure that the image-association pill attached to this programme is taken during Archbishop Mallin’s introduction.

End



THE END


2019 Philip Berry

Bio: Philip Berry lives in London. His SF has appeared in The Corona Book of SF, Metaphorosis, Nebula Rift, Daily Science Fiction and Ellipsiszine among others. In 2017 he published a collection of 30 stories called Bonewhite Light..

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