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The Emerald Sea: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Saturday, April 3, 2004 02:05 EST



    Herzer turned left and headed south when he reached the road then quickly moved Diablo to the side as a dispatch rider came trotting from the direction of town. The rider, who was a private in the Federal Army by the look of it, gave him a glance then a salute as he passed. Herzer returned it abstractedly, concentrating on a problem that hadn’t been mentioned except in its lack: manpower.

    At the time of the Fall, world population had been just about one billion. The aftermath of the Fall had not seen as much die off as anticipated, mostly because of small towns like Raven’s Mill. But the, effectively total, loss of technology had created enormous implications that were just beginning to sink in. The one that was near and dear to his heart was military manpower. The military technology available was pre-gunpowder due to the explosive prohibitions still slavishly followed by Mother. Historical battles in pre-gunpowder days meant that each side had to have a near parity of forces.

    But raising large armies was practically out; there was too great of a labor shortage. Conscripting large groups meant that something vital simply wouldn’t occur, farming, manufacturing, something was going to fail.

    Thus it was up to relatively small handfuls of soldiers to protect civilization from the barbarians. And to protect the new and faltering United Free States from the various feudal war-lords and the technological despotism of New Destiny.

    Like a ship captain of old, Herzer lusted for more men, more soldiers. Too many times he had had to fight in battles outnumbered. Mike would make a superlative soldier but he needed to be right where he was, farming.

    Some of that was relieved by new/old technology. The harvesting that Mike was engaged upon would have been done by a team of six, at least, in pre-industrial times. Powered looms, Bessemer forges, meant that there were fewer people producing more per person. But even with the productivity increase there weren’t enough workers for all the potential positions. Which meant fewer soldiers as well.

    It was an insoluble problem, but one that he wrestled with constantly. The dispatch rider, for example, was supported by way-stations in the controlled areas of Overjay. Each of the way-stations, though, had to be manned, and what’s more had to have horses at it. Figuring out a better means of communication would mean freeing up all of those people, and horses, for soldiers. Which might have meant sending more than one barely trained lieutenant to Harzburg and ending the problem in a week instead of a year and a half.

    These musings carried him through the fields on the way to town and up to the gates. Most of the fields had been cleared before he left but he saw new orchards on the hillsides as well as new outbuildings. The town, whatever Courtney might think, continued to build. There was work going on at the top of the hills north of town as well but it was more martial in nature. A wooden gate was under construction and a stockade stretched up the hill to the Academy on the right. On the left the stockade had been torn down and a bed of gravel followed the track of the top of the hill.

    “Lieutenant Herrick,” the team leader of the gate guards said, nodding his head.

    “The Duke’s pushing ahead on the curtain walls?” Herzer asked, nodding at the gravel which was being dropped by ox carts then leveled out by prisoners. More than a few of them were Changed from the brief foray by Dionys McCanoc against the town. They were, as far as anyone could tell, normal people who had been caught up by McCanoc and converted, against their wills, into soldiers for him. The actions of the raiders even before their attack on the town had been such that life sentences had been handed down for all of them. There was, however, a good bit of sentiment suggesting that at some point the “normal” humans might be rehabilitated. The Changed, however, short of being Changed “back”, were subject to no such sympathy. Generalized sympathy for what had occurred to them, yes, but not direct sympathy for their plight because they were as vicious as a pack of oversized weasels. They were incredibly strong, short, and brutish in appearance and had the personality of a rabid pit-bull. They had been christened orcs on first sight and the description had stuck.

    Whenever Herzer, personally, felt sorry for them he just watched a group of them, like this one, working, and got over it. They were unwilling to work except under threat of moment to moment punishment and spent more time fighting among themselves than working. Slowly, over the last couple of years, their numbers had been reduced through one accident or murder or another until it looked like clemency might be unnecessary; in another couple of years they’d have killed each other off.

    In a way the use that the prisoners were put to was a shame; they’d make decent sword fodder. For that matter, the Changed were apparently New Destiny’s idea of what made good soldiers. Which just showed that New Destiny had its head firmly up its ass. They were tough and aggressive but they also had a strong tendency to break if they took too many casualties and were impossible to discipline. They were just fine with scream and charge but no damned good at holding a shield line.

    Using them as garrison in a town that was being particularly resistant to reason had its attractions. Renan came to mind as did Tarson. But Raven’s Mill, not to mention the Freedom Coalition, couldn’t do something like that; they were the good guys.

    Diablo knew the way home and had broken into a trot beyond the construction on the wall so before Herzer knew it he was at the gates of the Academy. He realized it when he heard a familiar voice.

    "You appear to be thinking deep thoughts, Lieutenant."

    “Just considering the lack of manpower, Gunny,” Herzer replied with a grin. Master Centurion Rutherford A. “Gunny” Thompson had been a reenactor prior to the Fall. In his latter career he had specialized as a non-commissioned officer in the Norau Marines, a position called “Gunnery Sergeant” and he had lived his life for years in that role to the point that he lived, eat and breathed the model, in his mind, of such a person.

    As it turned out, he had more background for the role than most people had realized. He was born shortly before his parents decided to move to the province of Anarchia, a region that was maintained, prior to the Fall, in a non-technological environment. Gunny had never been too sure what happened to his folks after they emigrated but it was probably similar to what had happened to Duke Edmund’s brother. It was an area used as a “bleed off” for people that didn’t want to live in paradise and it was anything but. Anarchia, in those days, had been run by groups of feudal war-lords and newcomers had a tendency to die in distressing numbers. Gunny had grown up in that environment, eventually becoming one of the punk soldiers of the “Baron” of Melbun. It was there that he had first run afoul of Duke Edmund, when the man born by the name of Charles came looking for his missing brother and decided that Anarchia needed a good shaking up. The “Baron” had learned, the hard way, that undisciplined gang members didn’t stand a chance against a disciplined army and the survivors of the Baron’s men had been inducted in the burgeoning army of Charles The Great.

    That had been years ago, centuries before Herzer was born. Afterwards, when Anarchia was pacified and the sad story of his brother pieced together, “Charles” had returned to the world and become “Edmund Talbot”, just another reenactor. And with him had come his friend, and unbeknownst to anyone his senior non-commissioned officer, Arthur Rutherford.

    After the Fall, Gunny made his way to Raven’s Mill and took up his position again, trainer for the new corps of Blood Lords.

    Of which Herzer was, by far and away, the best known member.

    “You do what you can with what you’ve got,” the NCO said with a shrug. “We’re doing well enough,” he added, gesturing around.

    The area at the base of Raven’s Hill had been part of the Faire grounds prior to the Fall. As the town began accepting refugees the area had first been used as a processing area then with the establishment of the Blood Lord academy the Hill had been turned over to the Academy.

    Where a few buildings had once stood there were now headquarters, barracks, stables and on the top of the hill, one of the highest in the area, was a building fortress.

    Herzer considered the answer as he looked around. While it was true it was also the reason that Gunny was going to always be an NCO. His focus was on the troops, not where they might come from. Training them was his passion with using them in battle a close second. But he always thought at those, essentially tactical, levels. Herzer was, slowly, learning to think beyond the here and now, a trick he was picking up from Duke Edmund. The New Destiny forces had the same manpower problems as the Freedom Coalition. Their answer had been to support forces that were hampering the Coalition while building, from reports, a large army in Ropasa.

    Gunny could, and would, focus on training the raw troops given to him like a laser. And the end product was excellent, as Herzer himself had proven. But he distrusted allies and gave most of his thought processes to better use what he was given. It was up to officers to find more bodies and integrate untrained allies.

    Because no matter how good the Blood Lords were, and they were very good, there was no way the relative handful of fully trained soldiers could stand up to the army that Paul was building.

    “Well, we’ll be getting some new recruits from Harzburg and some of the surrounding towns, soon,” Herzer replied, walking Diablo over to his paddock. “Then we’ll have more to do with.”

    He dismounted and started stripping off Diablo’s tack as a pony-sized unicorn, followed by a young colt nearly her own size, came trotting over.

    “Hi, Herzer,” the unicorn said in a high-pitched voice. “I’m glad you’re back.”

    “Hi, Barb. Admit it, though, you’re glad Diablo’s back,” Herzer chuckled, opening up the gate and letting his mount into the paddock.

    “H’zer!” the colt shrilled then butted Diablo in the side with his short, stumpy horn. “D’ablo!”

    “He doesn’t really know who you are,” Barb replied, ignoring the jibe. “He does that with everybody.”

    Prior to the Fall, Barb Branson had been through several Changes and just prior to the Fall she had turned herself into a unicorn. The Fall had caught her in that form and after several unpleasant experiences in the aftermath she had been recaptured from Dionys’ forces. Despite the fact that she was now in better hands she found herself unable to adapt to “human” society and lived with the horses, and Diablo particularly. The relationship had been the source of some crude jokes initially but now had become so normal the people of the town barely considered it. The colt was the result of mating with Diablo and seemed to be progressing somewhere between a human baby and a horse. He had been able to walk almost immediately but speech was a relatively recent acquisition.

    “He’s growing fast,” Herzer said with a nod. The colt, from reports, had been barely the size of a cat when born and now stood taller than his mother at the withers. He looked as if he was going to try for his sire’s size.

    “And getting into everything,” Barb sighed. She went over to the feed supply and slipped her horn into a hole. A lever inside dispensed a measure of grain and she nipped at the colt to keep him away as Diablo walked over to feed. “We had to fix this so his horn wouldn’t reach; he figured out how to use it when he was about three months old.”

    “Well, take good care of Diablo,” Herzer said. The horse in question looked up at his name then took another mouthful of grain and, still chewing, walked to the center of the paddock. When he was in the right spot he lay down and rolled onto his back, writhing from side to side to get the dust good and thick. He rolled until he was well covered in dust then walked back to the trough to finish his feed. Barb had stood by patiently, keeping the youngster away, until he returned. “Anything you need?”

    “Nope, we’re fine,” Barb said. “Thanks for setting this up.”

    “Not a problem,” Herzer said. He carried the tack into the barn attached to the paddock and put it away then picked up his baggage and headed to the barracks. As a Blood Lord officer he had a room of his own but it was Spartan in the extreme. Every time he returned he promised that he’d do something about decorating but he never did. The room had a rough bed, a desk, a footlocker, an armor stand and a wall-locker. He dumped his gear on the ground and then stripped off his armor, working his shoulders around as the weight came off. Then he carefully put away everything that didn’t need immediate cleaning. He knew there was an orderly around somewhere and he could leave the cleaning of his clothes and armor to the orderly’s attention.

    He drew the short sword he’d been carrying and checked its edge but he’d cleaned and honed it since the last time he used it so it didn’t need anything. He polished and oiled it out of habit then considered his next moves.

    He was supposed to report to Duke Edmund but he figured he could at least get the road grime off before he did. The question was whether to walk across town and use the baths or just shower at the barracks. Finally he decided on the latter and stripped off his clothes, wrapping a towel around his waist.

    The showers had been added to the barracks just before he left. There wasn’t much to them, just a series of spigots overhead surrounded by concrete floor and walls. Compared to the bathhouse they were positively Spartan, but it beat the heck out of walking all the way across town. For some reason he really didn’t want to talk to half the people in town, which is more or less what would happen if he headed to the baths.

    The barracks were deserted this time of day – the instructors were out chivvying students or working in their offices, which were across the quad, and the permanent guards were drilling – and he wandered down the corridor alone. The showers were at the center of the wooden building, past officer territory and into the area where the NCOs bunked. He nodded at the charge of quarters as he passed then turned into the bathroom.

    There was an orderly in there cleaning up but, again, he just nodded at him then walked into the shower room, pulling the towel off and hanging it on a hook before turning on the water.

    It took forever to get hot, but that it was still better than anything Harzburg had. There was a sliver of soap on a ledge and he used it liberally including on his hair. The latter was starting to get long again and it was about time for a cut. But that, at least, would have to wait. By now the Duke would have heard he was back. He turned off the shower and grabbed his towel, heading back to his room.

    In the main bathroom there was a row of spigots spilling water into a concrete trough with a long metal mirror mounted over it. Herzer paused by it to survey his face. He’d had hair-growth on his face stopped prior to the Fall so he didn’t have to worry about five-o’clock-shadow. His hair was a tad long, starting to touch his ears at least, but it would pass. Only the Blood Lords conformed to Gunny’s remarkable standards of personal grooming.

    He headed back to his room and began donning a fresh uniform. It was a tad loose, he’d lost weight on the Harzburg mission along with everything else, but it still fit well enough. Cosilk underpants and shirt, gray cosilk trousers and the kimono-like over-tunic. The latter’s lapel and trim was in light blue, from time immemorial the color of infantry, and there was a blue stripe down the outside of the trousers. Blue for the infantry, yellow for cavalry, green for the archers and red for engineers. He stopped before putting the tunic on and pinned the two pips of a lieutenant to the lapel. He looked at it for a moment then shrugged.

    “Might as well go full blast,” he muttered, opening up the footlocker and extracting a small leather box. From it he pulled a device like a shield which he pinned on the left upper breast of the kimono. Below it he pinned four medals. The one on the uppermost row was a representation of a gold laurel. The three on the row below were a silver eagle, wings outspread, another shield, formed in bronze and pair of crossed swords.

    As soon as the medals were arranged to his satisfaction he slipped into the kimono and belted it with his sword-belt. He picked up his sword, gave it an automatic check, and slipped it onto the belt. Normally the weapon sat high on his right side, attached to his armor but he’d spent so much time in both configurations either one was relatively comfortable.

    He stepped out of the room and down the corridor to the main entrance.

    “If anyone asks for me I’ve gone to report to Duke Edmund,” Herzer said as he headed for the double doors at the front of the building.

    “Yes, sir,” the Charge of Quarters replied. He was reading something and didn’t look up.

    Herzer paused and turned on one heel. “That’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to write down, private,” he growled.

    “Yes, sir,” the private replied in a much more focused voice. He opened his ledger and reached for the quill standing in an ink bottle. Herzer nodded at him then turned and walked out the door.



    “Come,” Sheida said at the door chime.

    Her aide, Harry Chambers came in followed by a tall, thin, dark haired man. He could have been anything from thirty to two hundred. He had an expression of slightly distracted amiability on his face as he nodded at the Council member.

    “Joel Travante,” Sheida breathed. “Welcome. Most welcome, sir. Sit, please. Harry, if you don’t mind?”

    “Not at all,” Harry said, stepping out and cycling the door shut.

    As the door shut the man in the float chair changed subtly. Whereas he had been smiling, the smile dropped from his face to be replaced by a blank, hard mask and his languid pose, while not shifting a millimeter, dropped away. He went from seeming to be a nice, simple, professional to something that looked more like a drawn sword.

    “How are you?” Sheida asked, nodding at him, hard. “Where have you been?”

    “In the Asur Islands, ma’am,” the inspector said, sitting forward and nodding back. He had a deep, baritone voice and his eyes were blue and cold. Prior to the Fall, the world had had little crime. With nearly infinite wealth, personal protection fields and the availability of semi-legal means to fulfill even the darkest fantasies, there was very little opportunity or need to cause it.

    There were, however, individuals who for various reasons committed offenses of one sort or another.

    Given that people could live any sort of life they desired, it required an odd person to commit crime, especially particularly vicious and predatory crimes. And with a life of luxury, it required an even odder person to devote their life to finding criminals.

    But just as there were persons who could not resist breaking laws, there were others that had something in them that drove them to search, find and just as often destroy the worst of the criminals. These were the Council Inspectors. There were very few of them, no more than a hundred in the year prior to the Fall, and most of them worked part-time. But among them there was an elite, the Special Inspectors, who had powers nearly equaling the Council. And Inspectors only got to be Special Inspectors by both having a long career of tracking down the worst of the criminals and by showing exemplary conduct in doing it. Joel Travante had been a Special Inspector for nearly forty years prior to the Fall.

    Direct access to Mother’s DNA database was closely restricted. To obtain a general DNA search required a plurality of Council Member approval and a direct location search required a super majority. But prior to the Fall the inspectors had enormous resources to find their subjects. The slightest clue at the site of a crime could be used to track down the perpetrator. A shred of DNA, a fiber of clothing, any distinctive chemical or biological residue and the inspectors had a lead that they would follow until they died or hell froze over.

    Or the whole world came apart.

    “What were you doing there at the Fall?” Sheida asked.

    “There was a person who had committed a string of offenses,” Joel said, one cheek twitching for just a moment. “Primarily rape and murder, concentrating on very young females. He would…seduce them in order to get them to drop their shields and then…ensure that they were too overwhelmed to raise them…afterward.” His jaw worked for just a moment and he shook his head angrily.

    “I had a hard gene coding on the person, he’d been going by the name Rob Morescue, mostly, but he had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. None of the secondary surveillance systems picked him, or his DNA, up, anywhere. I was able to secure the information that the person had turned themselves into a kraken. I had reason to suspect that he was residing somewhere in the deep trenches near the Asur Islands. I had been asking around; there was a pretty large delphino population in the area as well as orcas and various fishermen and sailors. At the time of the Fall I had gotten three confirmed sightings of a kraken in the area and was about to perform a search of the depths. Then, with the Fall, I was forced to forego my investigation.”

    “And since?” Sheida asked.

    “I took a job with one of the local sailors who had converted to commercial fishing,” Travante replied. “In time I was able to secure my own vessel, a small sailing caique. When New Destiny forces took over the island I maintained my cover as a visiting tourist and post-Fall fisherman. When the time was right and the weather looked good I set sail for the mainland.”

    “In a fishing caique?” Sheida said, aghast. “How large?”

    “Four meters, ma’am,” Joel replied. “I had reason to suspect that some of the orcas that had willingly joined the New Destiny forces had suspicions that I was not all that I had said. Some of my questions, pre-Fall, had apparently been insufficiently circumspect. And, frankly, ma’am, I didn’t think much of New Destiny’s charter or actions. So as soon as I felt it was probable I’d survive, I set sail. It’s not that difficult of a sail from the Asur Islands to Norau, providing nothing goes wrong.”

    “Charts?” Sheida asked. “Navigation?”

    “I was able by that time to secure a compass and had some training from my previous employer at stellar and oceanic current navigation,” Joel said, shrugging as if a three thousand kilometer voyage across empty ocean in a small boat was no great feat. “Dorado tended to congregate around the boat so that I had a ready supply of food. I had a large store of water when I left and picked up more from occasional rain-showers. I made landfall on the coast of Flora ninety-three days after setting sail, made my way up the coast to the base at Newfell, contacted a person that I had known prior to the Fall and was put in touch with the Freedom Coalition rump of the Council. Upon being summoned by you I traveled by stagecoach and horse to Chian and was ported here.”

    “Amazing, Inspector,” Sheida said. “Will it bother you if I say ‘a bit too amazing’?”

    “No ma’am,” the inspector replied. “If you wish to perform truth detection, feel free.” Like most intrusive protocols, truth detection required permission of the subject or agreement by a plurality of the Council.

    Sheida frowned and then shrugged, drawing a smidgeon of power and running a lie detector test on the surface of the inspector’s thoughts. There was no indication that he had any reservations about his story. He had some personal problems that were beating at him, though.

    “What’s wrong?” Sheida asked. “You’re calm on the surface but you’re not so calm underneath.”

    “It is…personal ma’am,” the inspector said, then sighed. “My wife and daughter are missing. I’m aware that most families were broken by the Fall, ma’am, but it doesn’t make me any happier. Now that I’m back in contact with higher, I am hoping that I can search records to try to find them. The problem is…as far as I knew, my wife was in the Briton Isles at the Fall. What is worse, my daughter was in Ropasa visiting friends.” He paused and then shrugged again. “Frankly, ma’am, I’m afraid that if New Destiny finds out who they are, and that I’m working for you, they will use it as a hold on me. If they do so…” He paused, his face hard. “I will be in a very uncomfortable position.”

    “An uncomfortable position indeed,” Sheida frowned. “For reasons that I’ll get into in a moment, don’t discuss that with anyone except myself. If you encounter anyone who knew you before the Fall, tell them that you have definite proof that both of them died during the Fall.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Travante said, his face hard. “They might have.”

    “I hope not,” Sheida replied. “We have very few assets in Ropasa or the Briton Isles. I think it unwise, furthermore, to put out any sort of feelers about your wife and daughter. Our intelligence assets have been being… ‘rolled up’ is the term, compromised and just as often interrogated and then Changed, with unfortunate regularity.”

    “In that case, ma’am,” the inspector said, “please do not put out any feelers.”

    “The unfortunate regularity is what I wish to discuss with you,” Sheida said.

    “I’m beginning to suspect that while we have not been able to get much intelligence out of New Destiny’s areas, the reverse is not the case.” She summoned a holographic representation of Norau and pointed to a series of red dots.

    “While we can prevent Paul’s associates from teleporting into our territory, we cannot prevent communications or avatars,” she said. “But by the same token, since we’ve locked out virtually all programs under pass codes, we can detect when non-Coalition pass codes are being used, and non-Coalition avatars or projections are entering our territory. These are records of all such transmissions over the last six months.”

    “That’s…bad,” Travante said, looking at the traces. They dotted the map like pustulant sores and were found wherever there were latter day concentrations of survivors. “This is just the last six months?”

    “Yes,” Sheida frowned. “Some of them might be avatars appearing for a look at some occurrence. Paul still has a slight surplus of energy over ours and he is apparently using it for the development of intelligence.”

    “Wise of him,” Travante said. “Trying to throw it at your shields, unless it’s extremely high power, would be a waste of assets.”

    “But the problem is that we’re losing agents,” Sheida frowned. “And bleeding information to the enemy. You’re not the first Inspector to turn up, although you’re the first special. And I’ve set most of them on this problem. Eventually, I want you to have a close look at…possible problems in our higher command.”

    “You mean in the Council?” Travante frowned.

    “No, I’m sure of all of our Council members,” Sheida replied. “I’d like you to investigate other possibilities. But before you do that…are you up for a long ride again?”

    “At your command, ma’am,” the inspector said.

    “I want you to go back to Newfell Base,” Sheida replied. “There’s a mission which is being prepared there. We’re definitely losing data from Newfell. There is probably more than one source. But I want you to insinuate yourself into the mission, probably as a sailor on the ship given your recent experience, and try to determine if there is an agent or agents amongst the crew. When you return from that mission, you’ll probably stay at Newfell, or in the Fleet, pending the outcome of the investigation.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” the inspector said.

    “Just that?” Sheida smiled. “Back on horses and stage coaches, all the way across the continent?”

    “How do I contact you, ma’am?” was all Travante asked.

    “Hold out your left wrist, face up,” Sheida said. When he did she waved her fingers over his wrist and, for a moment, a picture of an eagle was superimposed on it as if by a tattoo, then faded.

    “If you need to contact me, touch the eagle and say or think my name,” Sheida replied. “Sheida, Sheida Ghorbani, whatever. Just think of me. Edmund Talbot, who is a long-term friend and as trustworthy as they come, is going to be on the mission. If you need assistance, contact him. He will be informed that there is an agent of mine present. Try not to step on each other’s toes.”

    “I won’t, ma’am,” the agent said, rubbing his wrist. There had been no feeling to the invisible tattoo, but there was a psychosomatic tingle left behind.

    “As it turns out, you won’t have to take the coaches back,” Sheida said with a smile. “Although you might prefer it. There’s a dragon, a wyvern rather, that is headed that way. He’ll take you to Washan. You’ll need to hop once you get there to make it to Fleet headquarters before the mission leaves.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “I will keep an inquiry out in my own awareness for your wife and daughter,” Sheida said. “If I find any information about either of them, I will contact you.”

    “Thank you,” Travante said.

    “Harry will give you your traveling money and brief you on how to get more,” Sheida said. “He’s not aware of your mission; you’re only going to be sent as far as Washan. Make the rest of the journey on your own.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Travante said, standing up. “By your leave.”

    “Good luck, inspector,” Sheida replied, standing up and touching his shoulder as she led him to the door. “I will pray for, and search for, your family.”

    “And I will pray for you and yours,” Travante said, his face changing into a mask of amiable competence as the door opened.

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