Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Space glittered as if strewn with crystals, millions of fragments ranging from a few kilos to hundreds of tonnes reflecting the distant sun. Colonel Defarris turned from the screens, right hand waving in frustration as the left raked his hair back.

“Stop me if I missed anything: Twenty centuries ago, the planet of Salarden was united under a single leader. He decided that the use of range weapons weakened a warrior’s resolve and instituted hideous penalties for owning anything capable of killing at a distance. That has resulted in an interstellar nation that considers any race using ranged weapons inferior.”

Captain Reonid nodded. “Correct.”

“That’s FUBAR.”

“Not really, sir. It’s just strange to us. Their culture hybridises the British chivalric model with the codified society of feudal Japan. The military caste call themselves Ledarnin. They are masters of a new form of interstellar combat.”

Defarris deadpanned: “Space-fu?”

Reonid smiled. “Stilettos.”

Defarris looked horrified. “Transvestite knights?”

“Not shoes; knives.”

“What?”

“The Ledarnin went into space and had to find a new way to melee without breaching what had become a racial psychosis. They started with forms of jousting, then as technology advanced, their ships became their lances.”

Defarris spun and pointed to the screens. “Are you telling me that space-knights charged the Sixth Battlegroup?”

Reonid sighed. “They call them Sunderlaw. Imagine two stiletto blades mounted at ninety degrees to each other. Where the crosspiece would be is the cockpit. The hilt is where the engines are. The ‘blade’ is made of an incredibly dense alloy and is a hundred metres long. The cockpit is housed within enormous armoured shock-damping mechanisms and the engines are immense. Their commanders each have ridiculous cityships called Bowcastles. Each one has a complement of pilots sworn to dedicated service. Wars are settled by chosen champions, fighting one-on-one. The duels take days or minutes, depending on who makes the first error. The skills required to impale a cockpit or disable a drive are precise. The ships of the Sixth Battlegroup were nothing more than slow targets to them. Our energy weapons are useless against the alloy of the Sunderlaws and our shields cannot cope with huge objects travelling that fast; in normal space, there is nothing faster than the mark eleven Sunderlaw.”

“We have armoured hulls!”

“Our definition of adequate armour will need revision. There is vidmon of a Sunderlaw going through the ‘Vanquisher’ bow to stern without slowing appreciably.”

Defarris choked out: “That’s a kilometre. Good god. We’ll have to stand off and bombard Salarden.”

“And only kill non combatants. Their entire military caste is based in Bowcastles and there are hundreds of them. The bigger ones are damn near the size of our Moon.”

Signalman Talloe ran on to the observation deck, message pad in hand.

“Sir! Flash from Earth!”

Defarris took the pad, keyed it and paled as he read out the opening paragraph: “The Bowcastle ‘Dawnheart’ has appeared and deployed two thousand Sunderlaw inside Mars’ orbit. The Lords of Dawnheart have informed Congress that they will perform a ‘Glory Strike’ on Earth unless we recognise the sovereignty of the Salarden Empire.”

Reonid checked the glossary: “That’s using Sunderlaw as manned meteors. They have the speed and weight to penetrate atmosphere with multi-kiloton impacts.”

Defarris sighed. “We are ordered to stand down. Negotiations are underway.”

Reonid looked out at the sparkling remains, his voice sorrowfully quoting an ancient memoir: “When sufficient crosses cannot be found to mark our fallen and blades are at our children’s throats, let the battlefield remain unmarked, for we did not fight. We were massacred.”

 

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