Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Tendrils of smoke rise from the ancient bridge, but it stands strong. Atop it’s singed arch, two men stand, their powered-down armour dulled by dirt and char. The tension between them is palpable, even to the concealed observers, far back on both banks. This is a moment that will go down in history, yet the witnesses are only present to prevent betrayals.

The participants nod as they acknowledge each other.

“Major Rano.”

“Brigadier Seum.”

“What now, Rano?”

“Rano’s doppelganger, to be correct.”

“Ah. You’re aware. Then all that remains is what you intend to do with the knowledge.”

“I’ve spent a while on that.”

“Before we get down to it, humour me: how did you find out?”

“The resupply after Tiranti Ridge. In amongst the crates was one that, somewhere along the way, had been used for waystation supply. It hadn’t been cleared out before reuse. There was an unopened library datapack stuck behind a stanchion. We just didn’t get that sort of stuff. So, we cued it up, browsed, and found out why. The history section was… Unexpected.”

Seum frowns: “Go on.”

“We found a whole folio on the Galahad War. About the sins committed to save our race at the brink of extinction. You cannot imagine our surprise when we found that the war ended sixty years ago. It stated that all the questionable last-ditch projects had been terminated. But someone couldn’t let the winning one go, could they?”

Seum sighs: “No.”

“The ‘Tears of Miroku’ is our base. Then we saw that, officially, it’s a ‘manifestation of hideous desperation, best consigned to history’.”

Rano looks Seum in the eye: “That’s our home, brigadier. Our sanctuary is a spacefaring war crime.”

“Mistakes were made. But defence of empire must take precedence.”

“Mistakes? You used the DNA of veterans from a war six decades gone to create clones who think the war is still going on. Our abilities bring victories because what we survived was a war like no other.”

“Put like that, I can understand where you come from.”

“No. You can’t. I’ve spent five months burying suicides and wondering how many graves bear their names. One soldier, one grave. That should be sacrosanct. It will be sacrosanct.” The last sentence is a whisper.

“What are you going to do, Rano?”

“The ‘Tears of Miroku’ is the single vessel equivalent of a modern capital fleet. We’re taking her home. Then we’re going to consign it, and us, to history.”

“A sundive? That’s not a good way to go.”

“We’re going back to what’s left of Miroku Beach. Going to turn the ‘Tears’ into the start of ‘New Miroku’. A place where we can live and die in peace.”

“And we’re meant to just let you go?”

“The ‘Tears’ is untouchable in any way you could action covertly. Plus, it still has sunbombs. New Miroku will have them as its primary defence line. Also, we’ve seeded datapacks across the empire – you come for us and some nasty history becomes intergalactic news. Oh, and I wouldn’t put it past some of my meaner boys and girls to have set a sunbomb or two near certain core worlds. Just in case someone gets a silly idea about taking out the whole Miroku system.”

“What if we insist that you confine yourselves to the Miroku system?”

“Given that non-disclosure trading with independent merchant vessels would occur, that would be acceptable.”

“Then we’re done. Good luck, Rano Ninety-Four.”

“You’re a bastard, Seum.”

“Apologies. That was a cheap shot.”

“Accepted. This must sting.”

“It does. But, Miroku is yours. Hold it hard.”

“We will.”