War of the Second Iteration, Book One

“The trap in which you played an unwitting role was laid many months before your probe came into this system. We knew a large scale offensive was in the planning stages, an attempt by the current rulers of the Republic to divert their people from their own internal divisions. We ordered our defenses to direct the offensive to this part of the Confederation, in an attempt to bring forces of the Republic as close to the point of contact between the Commonwealth and Confederation space as we could. You see, my friends,” and his gaze swept the room as he spoke, “we already knew you were out there, and that contact between the Commonwealth and the Confederation of Clans was imminent.”

The room was stunned into silence. No one even shifted in a chair. Then, finally, Moresh said, “You set us up from the very beginning.”

“Yes,” Kr’nai Ersha said quietly.

“How long have you been aware of the Commonwealth?” Sadov demanded.

“For almost three of your years,” the Leyra’an replied. “The system you name Eriola is actually within what we consider Confederation space. It has been our habit for many years now to quietly investigate new systems without actually sending ships, in case the Republic was there first. This time we spotted your probeship, instead. We have monitored the settlement of Eriola since then, withdrawing only when you started using the other node. This was only the first such encounter. We have quietly withdrawn from several systems, since then, in the hope that you would continue to expand into this sector. And you did.”

“Why not simply contact us, and ask for help?” Moresh demanded.

“I was unable to convince the Clan Councils of the wisdom of such a plan. In fact, I was forbidden to reveal our presence,” Kr’nai Ersha replied. “So, with the help of those who support me out here on the frontier, I made it impossible for the three civilizations to avoid contact. We fell back in a way that led the Republic through sparsely-settled systems and into this sector, and when your probe arrived here, we let the route to Pr’pri system become the path of least resistance.” He lowered his gaze to the table with a sigh. “There was never a very firm plan, of course. How could there be? So much was left to chance, and chance very nearly undid us.”

“We’re listening,” Moresh prompted when he fell silent.

“The fighting went badly for us. The systems under assault did not fall to the Republic in the order we expected, and a planned line of escape for refugees was lost, sending them all here, where the trap was set. We tried, oh how we tried, to get everyone away from here, before it was too late!”

“Everyone?” Moresh asked coldly.

“I speak only of our own people,” Kr’nai Ersha admitted. “Your presence in this system was, of course, essential. From my studies of Human history, or rather, that of the Republic, I knew they harbored certain fears concerning the Humanity their ancestors left behind. I also know that a great many citizens of the Republic have prayed for the day of reunion, hoping for reconciliation with the people their forefathers abandoned. No matter which opinion was held by the commander of the attacking fleet, and I did not know Andrew Kester would lead the inevitable assault, I believed the reunion, happening here, would be too great a surprise to allow them to follow through on their battle plan.”

“You were wrong,” said Moresh.

“And I acknowledged such a possibility, to myself at least,” Kr’nai Ersha replied. “This is why the fleet remained concealed the entire time you were here. I could not help the fear that whoever commanded the Republic’s fleet would refuse to believe you, and so I made ready a back-up plan, which in the end was the plan I used. That particular deception was as much for your protection as any…”

“They think we are on your side,” Moresh said in a low voice, the tone of which seemed to lower the temperature of the room.

Robert studied his Captain closely, his heart beating so hard he felt the pulse clearly in his throat. This was not the woman he had known for so many years. She could be hard, he knew, as well as uncompromising. But he had never seen in her such a capacity for rage, and anything but a cold rage, as it turned out.

“In time they will…” Kr’nai Ersha began.

“They think we’ve taken sides, damn you!” And her right hand slammed down sharply on the tabletop.

Robert jumped in his seat at the hard sound, and was aware that everyone around him flinched and blinked, as if evading a blow. He had never heard Captain Moresh raise her voice in such a way, much less provide a visible demonstration of anger. Even the Leyra’an flinched, almost in unison. Robert found that he had clenched his fists, and with an effort relaxed them.

“You want us to mediate an end to this war of yours,” Sadov said more quietly. “To do that it is essential we appear neutral. You have badly and deeply compromised that neutrality!”

“Only for the short term, I am sure,” Kr’nai Ersha insisted. “Yes, we hope you can bring peace, but I cannot ask my leaders, my people, to begin negotiations while the Republic is actively invading the Confederation of Clans! I needed you here to stop their advance.”

“Did you ever send the message we prepared for the Republic?” Sadov demanded.

“Yes, but apparently they did not take it seriously,” Kr’nai Ersha replied.

“If they had done so,” his niece added, “none of this would have happened.”

“Gaia,” and Sadov rubbed at his temples as if in pain.

“You should have abandoned your plan,” Moresh said in a voice that returned to a normal volume, but remained frigid in tone. “If not for us, then for the sake of those ships by the node that you knew could not defend themselves. Or did you feel the need to motivate us?”

Robert braced himself for furious denials from the Leyra’an, but though Kr’nai Ersha stiffened and clenched his fists, teeth flashing for a moment into clear view, he made no reply. It was Kr’nai Melep who spoke, meeting the Captain’s anger eye to eye without flinching. “We had watchers posted,” she said softly. “They were to warn us of any fleet movements toward the node in Arla’not System. We should have had time to move the ships back. The watchers failed us, which means they are dead. The loss of so many ships was not a part of our plan!”

“Nor did we expect the Republic to attack unarmed ships,” Kr’nai Ersha said bitterly, his eyes directed toward the table. “This they have not done before, and is why we used ships in disguise,” he added with bitter irony. He looked up at Moresh, eyes flashing with emotion, wet with tears. “You have no idea how that felt, to see my calculated deception take those innocent lives. To stand on your ship and watch my people die and be able to do nothing!” His voice had an odd, strangled catch to it. He paused and seemed to hold his breath for a moment as if fighting for self-control. “I wanted to kill them, the invading ships,” he went on darkly. “I wanted to watch them die! And I had at hand,” and he stretched out his right hand toward the Captain, “the power to utterly wipe them out!” Now he was meeting the Captain’s eyes and he clenched that hand into a fist as he nearly shouted the words at her. When he continued his voice was harsh and broken, a struggle to push words through powerful emotions. “But even more I want this all to end! Can you not see?” He looked around at those assembled, eyes glittering. “It must end! And to accomplish this I will do whatever I must. Use whatever I must.” The upraised arm dropped to his side. “My apologies I reserve for my own people. Those who paid the price, and those who must now grieve.”

Posted May 11, 2017 by underdesertstars

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