A fictionalised account of current events leading to the rise of the new Ghar Empire, By Tim Bancroft.
Location: Duret IV, Duret system, southern borders of the Algoryn Prosperate.
Note: To simplify matters, we tend to refer to Ghar with ‘he’ or ‘they’ as Ghar have no birth sexual identity and only adopt gender stereotypes when somewhat lacking in Ghar-normal outlooks.
High Commander Karg stepped from the lift platform onto the bridge of his command ship. It gave Karg immense satisfaction, even pleasure, to see all the bridge crew straightening and working even more studiously at their tasks and controls. That most were wearing combat arrays and could not see their commander was even more pleasing. The new command Batch 12-44 is responding as predicted, he thought to himself. My own troops, loyal to me and my pheromone signature.
Karg had already begun recycling senior officers with the green – but loyal – replacements from batch 44, but there were just too many Ghar ships, too many battlegroups. I shall have to accelerate batch 45.
Karg waddled towards the Admiral’s chair, one deliberately built to take his abnormally large Ghar frame. Captain GRGY nodded, acknowledging Karg’s presence, but remained focused on the planetary tactical display on the main bridge screen. Across the surface of the display blinked the red tags showing Ghar assault shuttles; in space were larger tags, each marked with the identifiers showing Ghar destroyers, pickets and, most importantly, the troop transports.
‘Are we sure the core army of the rebels is on-planet, Captain Gurgey?’
‘And locals, yes, sir. This was a planet of the Algoryn Degenerates,’ replied Captain GRGY, ‘and it was falling to Fartok’s rebels.’ GRGY pointed to a side display that showed little more than one of the planet’s three small moons and an expanding debris field. ‘We found empty transports protected by light combat vessels and destroyed them.’
‘Could we not have captured and used them?’
‘Probably not, sir. They were Degenerate vessels. They fought badly, but to the end. Proof, if we needed it, that Fartok’s forces are nothing but miserable Outcasts.’ GRGY paused. ‘I suspect Fartok was trying to out-smart you, my lord, by sending his main fleet elsewhere.’
‘But I was too smart for him, it seems. Again. Very good.’ Karg frowned and pointed to a warning light flashing in one corner of the display. ‘What is that warning of?’
‘It is merely a warning that sensor quality through the debris field is significantly reduced – more than expected. It’s probably because of the decaying degenerate power plants, but I had a picket take up position on the other side, just in case, sir, with a direct feed from its sensors. The transmission is patchy, no doubt due to interference from the debris, but they show nothing.’
Karg scanned the myriad displays in front of him, most of them feeds from the Force Commanders’ combat arrays. They showed multiple views of a furious battle on the planet’s surface. ‘Where is the confirmed sighting of Fartok?’ he snapped. ‘I need to see him for myself.’
The captain gestured to a screen on the other side of the bridge. ‘I have it ready for you, sir. We have confirmed sightings of Fartok in his battlesuit. That is a combat feed from forward elements of Battlegroup Five. One troop is in sight of Fartok’s adulterated armour and its human weaponry at all times.’ As if on cue, the flares of a rapid-firing plasma weapon spattered across a squad of Reaver battlesuits, melting the legs off two before it shut off. On another feed, Outcasts died in the crossfire between battlesuit scourers and Rebel mag weapons. ‘Fartok’s forces are fighting for their lives, sir; Battlegroups Four and Five have him trapped and the last of Battlegroup Three is dropping, now. Battlegroup Nine’s annihilation is assured.’
‘Excellent!’ grunted Karg. ‘To success! Carry on with the plan.’ To one side was a flagon of what the humans regarded as fine wine. One of the bodyguards saw Karg’s glance and filled a wine glass – again, captured from humans – and handed it to their boss. Karg sipped and nodded. ‘Very good.’ In truth, the wine tasted acidic and sour. I might as well be drinking pressed flowers. Not that Karg could admit such a flavour. One must display confidence in our superiority with the spoils of war. It was a new doctrine of his, one he felt was superior to Fartok’s habit of adopting the fallen enemy’s weapons.
The screen feeds changed as the battle plan evolved, local commanders adjusting as necessary. The last of the assault shuttles converged on a few, critical points, blocking off retreat for the Rebel forces. Elsewhere, Ghar destroyers closed formation and began bombarding the surface.
‘Are the humans likely to be a problem, Captain Gurgey?’
‘Not really, sir – merely an annoyance as they are heavily dug in. We have already destroyed most of their anti-orbital batteries and the destroyers take them out whenever they reveal themselves. It will take time, of course, but success is guaranteed with the overwhelming numbers you have assigned to this assault.’
‘So, no surprises possible from the slovenly Algoryn?’
‘No, sir. Assault commanders on the ground have determined the capabilities and threat potential of the humans launching flank attacks. Our destroyers are maintaining a bombardment to ensure the Degenerate ground forces stay in their bunkers.
‘Nothing is being left to chance.’
‘Good. Very good, indeed.’ Karg nodded and waved to the feed showing Fartok’s battlesuit fighting against overwhelming odds. ‘Have that feed put through to my shuttle. I am going down to the surface: I wish to be there when that treacherous Outcast finally dies and crush its bones under the feet of my crawler.’
Part II: Fartok’s Defeat
General Fahlen Ko’Be looked askance at his intelligence commander. ‘Can you repeat that?’
Commander Hetch took a deep breath. ‘Yes, sir. We have Infiltrators on the ground: the Ghar are fighting each other and ignoring us.’
‘Rebels and Karg’s Empire, I take it?’
‘Yes, sir. Fartok’s Rebel ships were destroyed – not that there were too many of them. And the orbital bombardment from Empire ships is only hitting anti-orbit batteries and units who show themselves in the open: they are ignoring any bunkered or hidden troops.’
‘I take it we can’t pull back the Infiltrators and leave it to scout probes?’
‘No, sir’, replied Hetch. ‘All our probes are getting too much interference from the Ghar weaponry and reactors. Even the Infiltrators are in deep concealment and not relying on their camo-buddies.’ She gestured to the wall of the briefing room and pulled up a 2D projected image. ‘This is a wide feed of one of the main conflict areas from an Infiltrator.’ In the image Ghar disruptor bombs spewed their pollution into the countryside, mag weapons stitched their lines of death across Outcasts and along the ground; Ghar scourers and luggers spat their projectors. Explosions were constant – from both sides – and at one point a line of plasma fire lit up the attacking battlesuits. ‘We believe the plasma fire is from Fartok, himself.’
General Ko’Be leant back. ‘So, we have a bit of a reprieve.’ He tapped the table. ‘Observations, anyone?’
Ered Janar, the junior Field Operations Commander spoke up. ‘If Karg’s lot hadn’t showed up, we could have relatively easily dealt with the Rebels. The force who landed were far too few to take the planet – it seems the few ships the Navy had here were taken by surprise when they did so.’ He shrugged. ‘There’s no sense to it that we can make out. The Navy was engaging the Rebel ships – all captured, human ships, by the way – when the Empire destroyers turned up.’
‘And that’s when they left us to it,’ muttered Ko’Be. ‘Not that I blame them. I’m assuming they’re hiding elsewhere in the system.’
Ered Janar nodded. ‘Hiding in the upper atmosphere of Duret V, we believe.’ He turned his attention to the display. ‘That’s odd…’
As they watched, another Ghar lander sunk from the sky. Rather than drop like the others, this one was almost sedate in its flight path – and the path would lead it well behind the lines. Command Hetch muttered into her wrist com and the image refocused.
The Ghar lander touched down gently and its loading ramp lowered. Battlesuits waddled out, closely followed by a command crawler and yet more battlesuits. Except this crawler was customised. At a word from Hetch, the image zoomed in on the commander, a grossly obese Ghar who had chained Ghar to either side of him – or it.
General Ko’Be stared at the image. ‘It can’t be. Is that…?’
‘It’s Karg, sir,’ breathed Hetch. ‘We have both Karg and Fartok on-planet at the same time.’
Ko’Be’s attention switched to his Artillery Officer, Ess Vahn. ‘Do we have any planet-scorchers?’
Ess Vahn shook her head. ‘No. But…’ She thought for a moment, pulled up a private holodisplay and waved through the displays. Moments later she looked up. ‘We can manufacture some wide-area scorchers from what we have available.’ She nodded to the screen. ‘Enough to take out several hundred kiloyan square, at least.’
Ko’Be sat back in satisfaction. ‘That should be enough to take them both out.’ That the explosives might annihilate his own command and himself was ignored. ‘How long?’
‘An hour, perhaps, depending on whether we still have access to the deeper munitions dumps and who we have available. And whether we can finish the fabricator repairs.’
Ko’Be turned to Janar and Hetch. ‘Make specialists available.’ He stood and addressed the assembled commanders. ‘We may suffer casualties, and will raze a sizeable area of the planet’s surface, but we have a chance to cause irreparable damage to the Ghar command hierarchy.’ The assembled Algoryn nodded in acknowledgement: they knew the risks, but knew the gain – the lesson of Zyra was etched into the heart of every Algoryn. ‘This is our number one pri–’
Whatever he was about to say was drowned out by an exclamation from Commander Hetch. She highlighted the focus of the display and zoomed in. At the centre of the display was Karg’s crawler; in front of it was the battle-scarred, purple-tinged suit of Fartok. Around the central figures, the fighting had eased, a temporary calm.
As they watched, a pair of Outcasts clambered onto the battered and kludged-together battlesuit and pulled it apart. The pilot fell forward and out, only restrained from falling to the ground by a half-destroyed harness and its spinal connectors. Blood oozed from fresh wounds across the pilot’s shoulders and chest. The pair of Outcasts ripped off the pilot’s combat array and tilted its head to face Karg.
The injured pilot smiled briefly, then passed out.
The display zoomed in on Karg’s expression. Though the Algoryn commanders could not hear the words, they watched as Karg screamed at his subordinates, flailed his arms and whipped the chained Outcasts beside him. Karg’s bloated face became purple with rage.
The dangling pilot was ignored.
‘What is he saying?’ barked General Ko’Be.
‘I’m not sure,’ said Commander Hetch. ‘Karg is moving too much for me to lip-read Ghar.’ She smiled. ‘But I don’t think that’s Fartok he’s captured.’
Part III: The Massacre of Duret IV
It was almost quiet in the Algoryn command conference centre on Duret IV, those present digesting the sight of a frustrated Karg on the screen before them. The quiet did not last long: klaxons sounded and General Ko’Be glanced expectantly at the door to the adjoining comm centre. A scanner lieutenant burst through, tapping on her wrist comp as she did so. ‘Sorry, sirs, but this is important.’ She overrode the display and threw plots and shots onto the screens around the walls.
The images and scans were from moments earlier, the space above Duret IV – or, more particularly, the moons. As they watched one moon seemed to shatter, blowing apart into a myriad fragments. Moments later, the sensors machine intelligence resolved the shards as each shed surface coatings to reveal their true nature: ships, a whole armada. From the dark side of the other moons rose similar shapes, each shedding dust and rock and detritus meant to disguise their true shapes.
It was an armada: Ghar ships, Freeborn frigates, Algoryn armed transports – even an ancient, Boromite clanship. All showed signs of extensive battle damage and hasty repairs but now, in place of their own weapon systems, each carried visible signs of Ghar disruptor launchers and ship-scourers.
The tech-lieutenant bracketed the ships and traced a sensor plot from Karg’s fleet to the moons: all three passed through the debris cloud that was all that remained of Fartok’s original ‘fleet’. ‘We think the debris field was deliberately created to act as a screen again Karg’s ship-sensors,’ she said. She switched to another display that showed a picket moving aside to allow the new armada to pass completely unmolested. ‘The picket on watch duty just let the new ships through, without any warning as far as we can tell – perhaps it was already commanded by a Fartok sympathiser.’ She switched back to the main display where the newly-arrived armada was focusing all its firepower on Karg’s destroyers.
‘That has to be Fartok’s complete fleet,’ said General Ko’Be. ‘He brought them all here. Why? For a showdown with Karg?’
The ponderous masses of the Ghar destroyers above Duret IV turned to face the oncoming armada. Fire lanced between the two fleets, disruptor bombs carved chunks out of ships, Karg’s transports abandoned their launch stations and turned to add their own batteries of ship-scourers to the fray.
General Ko’Be was the first to react. ‘The planetary bombardment’s lifted. Ess Vahn, have all batteries surface and focus fire on Karg’s destroyers.’ He marked a line on the display. ‘That new fleet may well be Fartok. He’s positioned his ships so anti-ship fire against him is almost impossible, but we can take out one Ghar fleet, at least.’
‘What if it’s what he wants, though?’ asked Commander Hetch. ‘Should we do his work for him? Much as I hate to admit it, Fartok is a strategic genius.’
‘It is most likely exactly what he wants, Commander, but he’s given us an opportunity to hurt a Ghar fleet that we cannot ignore.’ Moments late anti-orbital penetrators streamed into space from the resurfaced Algoryn batteries, smashing into the rear of the destroyers to add to the fire from the oncoming ships. Ghar destroyers crumpled inwards under the combined fire from shipboard disruptor cannon and the Algoryn munition’s own mass disruptor fields.
The assembled Algoryn watched in silence. One display was still focused on Karg and they could not help but notice Karg’s command crawler lumbering back into the hold of his personal shuttle. But that was a mere distraction as, minutes later, the last of Karg’s destroyers fell silent and the transports they were protecting halted their own fire and moved aside to allow the oncoming fleet to position itself in orbit.
‘They’ve done what they never do to us: they’ve surrendered!’ exclaimed Commander Hetch.
‘That seems obvious,’ said General Ko’Be. ‘Retract the anti-ship batteries, immediately.’ Ess Vahn tapped at her display and the batteries ceased firing, but even as she did so, Ghar picket ships amongst the oncoming ships began redirecting fire at the Algoryn ground stations. The barrage was lighter than that from the destroyers, but accurate enough to destroy the batteries or keep them below ground.
The final piece of Fartok’s plan fell into place. The Ghar armada repositioned itself above the site of the surface battle, then launched every missile and fired every battery they had at Karg’s forces. Karg’s shuttle was taking to the air when it was struck by a stream of ship-scourer fire, then a hail of ship-scale disruptor bombs weakened its back and cracked it open. The shuttle split into two and fell back to ground, but the fire against it continued, relentless in its destruction until not one piece of the shuttle could be recognised as coming from a ship. Even then, disruptor shells rained down on the wreckage, making sure of Karg’s demise.
Ghar on the ground finished any local skirmishes and streamed back to the surviving assault shuttles. The barrage shifted to focus on the surrounding Algoryn positions as well as the site of the Algoryn anti-ship batteries.
‘Should we counter?’ asked Ess Vahn.
General Ko’Be shook his head. ‘No. They’re pulling back. Commanders Janar and Hetch: have your troops on the surface focus everything on capturing isolating Rebel Ghar. We need to interrogate whoever was part of this plan to find out just what Fartok intends.’
Part IV: The High Council Debate
The news spread like wildfire, a cascade of data across the Prosperate’s information networks. The newsflash even brought a suspension of activity in the simmering, cold civil war between the Algoryn Traditionalists and Progressives. From there, Freeborn traders took the message to the IMTels, from where it spread even faster.
The Algoryn High Council was summoned to an emergency session. The speaker spent no time yielding the floor to Intelligence Division General, Councillor Gudess ma Taryn. Rumours were rife; the council floor was silent as she took his place behind the podium and her first words echoed in the silence.
‘Ghar High Commander Karg has been killed.’ A gasp swept around the chamber and even Ess Ma Rahq paled. But there was more and ma Taryn held up her hand to silence the room. ‘Reliable intelligence indicates he was killed in combat by Rebel commander Fartok.’ A holo shimmered into existence above her head showing data sources, routes into the Algoryn intelligence network. A map of the Prosperate borders appeared. ‘Further, Rebels have virtually disappeared from our borders.’
‘Where did they go?’ snapped Ess ma Rahq.
‘We believe they have pulled back to staging centres. Fartok’s ship was last glimpsed in the nexus heading towards where we believe Gharon Prime to be located.’
‘A coup?’ came a question from the delegates.
Ma Taryn nodded. ‘The possibility crossed our minds. Either that or a cleansing. We sent a small flotilla on a raid into Ghar territory and it captured a Ghar picket – at some cost, I should add.’ She paused. ‘We interrogated the crew; the news isn’t good.’
‘Another cleansing?’ said First Councillor Foran Du’Rel. ‘I though Karg had already carried out a cleansing of inefficient.’
‘He did. But he killed very few. Apparently, he preferred to humiliate them instead, through being Outcast. It was why Fartok’s Rebels did so well: huge numbers of Outcasts and Exiles joined his cause.’
‘So what’s different?’ The question came from Councillor Attarez Ko’Be, the head of one of the most influential optimate mochs.
‘Fartok has chosen a strategy of reconciliation with Karg’s Outcasts. This has been accompanied by what appears to be a ruthless extermination – or recycling as the Ghar call it – of Karg’s closest supporters.’
‘You know this, how?’ Again, a barked question from ma Rahq.
‘The picket had a high number of reintegrated Outcasts – and they were proud of being reaccepted into the Empire.’ Ma Taryn glanced at her notes. ‘Some are even retaining the Outcast name and weapons as a sign of pride.’
‘So they’re disorganised, lacking structure and in disarray?’ A sneering tone from Ko’Be. ‘We should be acting now to recapture our lost systems.’
Ma Rahq interrupted ma Taryn before she could answer. ‘Disarray is unlikely. I suspect this is worse than we fear. Fartok is brilliant, unorthodox – for a Ghar – and canny. If anything, this is just a regrouping before he takes over where Karg left off.’ It was her turn to sneer at Ko’Be. ‘And you have obviously never been near a Ghar battlefield and captured planet, Ser Ko’Be, else you would know they leave nothing but a useless, polluted wasteland!’
‘Order!’ snapped Foran Du’Rel. ‘I will have respect in this chamber.’
Ma Rahq smiled faintly. ‘Order indeed, Ser chairman.’ She inclined her head. ‘My apologies, Ser Ko’Be.’ She turned to Ma Taryn. ‘Continue, please.’
Ma Taryn inclined her head to Ess Ma Rahq. ‘The interrogator’s impression was that Fartok’s magnanimous actions has made them even more loyal to Fartok than they were before – and defiant towards humans. We encountered a fair number of Ghar crew who were not as nauseated at the sight of a human than we might have expected.’
‘Any further insight into Fartok’s activity?’
‘We have still not located Gharon Prime. And have received no more direct information but are predicting their actions from shipping paths and passive sensor beacons in infiltrated systems. Karg did not unify the Ghar, but divide them, our prisoners suggesting he suspended Ghar rule and replaced them with sycophants who were loyal to him, not the cause. Yes, ships are heading away from the borders and Ghar are slowing their expansion…’ She trailed off, glanced round the assembled councillors.
Ma Taryn sighed. ‘We believe this is temporary – just a lull, if you will – whilst they reorganise under Fartok, re-equip and renew their expansion.’
‘What about the impending collapse?’ A question from the shadows, one of the thirteen homeworld representatives. ‘From what I understand, they are likely to consolidate when faced with a Nexus collapse. Surely a withdrawal is more likely to be a reaction to that?’
Once more Ma Rahq’s withering tone lashed out and her gaze tried to find the source of the question. ‘The collapse – if the Nexus is collapsing – means nothing to the Ghar. Indeed, they may just use it as an excuse to establish several more prime worlds, all the better to continue their assault on panhumanity when reconnected. Perhaps we should allow Intelligence Division to state their findings and deductions.’
Several speakers looked at Ma Rahq with suspicion: an encouraged speaker was normally providing information already divulged to Ma Rahq’s Special Division. Ess Ma Rahq ignored them. ‘Ma Taryn,’ she said, ‘what is the view of the Intelligence Division on this matter?’
‘Unfortunately, the worst case. We expect Fartok to convince the Supreme Commander of Karg’s betrayal of Ghar values. We expect him to be confirmed as Ghar High Commander, second only to their Supreme Commander. Our simulations all point to one result: we anticipate he will distribute his loyal Rebels, returning Exiles, and numerous pardoned Outcast officers amongst the Ghar forces, so bringing their senior ranks back up to operational numbers. Next step would be to immediately launch a number of targeted attacks intent on boosting Ghar resources, perhaps on less well defended worlds in the Determinate, and then move against Prosperate worlds before the Vorl Ordo can make any co-ordinated action.’
There was silence. Another question came, this time from the Janar representative.
‘Can we stop them?’
‘Piecemeal, yes. We still have superior technology and better troops. But we are spread out amongst the affiliate worlds.’
‘Then we need to recall Tar Es.’
‘We need to defend the homeworlds,’ snapped Ko’Be. ‘Then the member systems. And we need to consolidate forces on the Southern borders.’ He glanced at Ma Rahq. ‘Tar Es can wait – he’s stirred up enough trouble as it is.’
‘We need every good strategist we have!’
‘Would you suggest we bring back the Ma’Req?’
Microphones were silenced as Du’Rel held up a hand. ‘Order, please. Dispositions are best left to the military councils of the thirteen worlds. For now, I think we all need to understand the briefing. This meeting of the Algoryn High Council is adjourned for three hours whilst we do so.’
Part V: The Chamber of Victory
The feet on Fartok’s battlesuit clanged on the scarred, metal floor of Gharon Prime’s Passage to Victory. To one side scurried MRRK-27, staff in hand, misshapen head atop a too-slender neck wobbling from side to side. Ahead stood the massive doors to the Supreme Commander’s throne room, to either side bodyguards in full battlesuits, scourers aimed at Fartok, plasma claws opening and closing in readiness. Defense turrets whirred and centred their own disruptor cannon.
‘Halt,’ boomed a voice from a suit’s speakers. ‘You may not enter.’
‘By whose orders?’ snapped Fartok. ‘I am High Commander Fartok 12-40-13 demanding urgent audience with the Supreme Commander. A threat to all Ghar – a threat to victory!’
The speaker was hesitant. ‘By order of High Commander Karg.’
‘Karg 12‐40‐9 is dead. Posthumously court-martialled and found wanting, betraying the rule of the Ghar and misleading the Supreme Commander.’
‘You were Outcast. You cannot court-martial anyone. Turn around or we will recycle you.’
‘I did not court-martial Karg. The traitor’s own officers convened the court.’ Fartok swiped the secure findings from his combat array into theirs. ‘These are the findings,’ said Fartok, then waited, patiently.
‘No officer was more senior than Force Commander,’ said the guard, no doubt the more senior of the pair.
‘All Karg’s senior ranks had died. All the officers had battlefield promotions to senior positions, as stated in the findings, so had authority to convene the court. Make particular note of the orders in appendix 2, point 1 and point 2.’
There was another pause. The bodyguard were never chosen for their intelligence – indeed, it spoke much that they had allowed Fartok to approach without shooting. ‘It orders you to personally have audience with the Supreme Commander without delay, irrespective of status; point 2 specifies all are to grant you and your entourage safe passage.’
‘Then obey your orders.’
‘Then dismount. None may enter the Chamber of Victory when armoured.’ Fartok opened the battlesuit, waited for the spinal connections to run through their agonising withdrawal, then jumped to the ground. The weapons lowered. ‘Lugger and grenades, too.’
Fartok complied. The suits stepped to either side and the doors slid open to reveal the dimly lit throne room beyond. The sounds of a life support system – beeps, hisses and mechanical clanks – came from the far end at which there was a dais. On the dais was the Supreme Commander – Fartok’s Emperor – reclining in a bed beside the throne, a surgeon and two nurse-Ghar nearby. The emperor wore a combat array and spinal connections led to the throne.
‘Approach, Fartok.’ wheezed the Supreme Commander – the emperor of all Ghar. Fartok stepped forward into the gloom, NRRK-27 following close behind. ‘I was expecting you.’ The emperor’s breathing was laboured. ‘Have you come to kill me?’
‘No, sir!’ Fartok sounded shocked. ‘The opposite. I come to save all Ghar.’ Fartok and NRRK continued moving forward, crossing all the cue lines until they reached the line on the floor reserved for High Commanders. Fartok went to one knee. ‘I come to warn of all the treachery that Karg has undertaken, how that traitor emulated the panhumans and strayed from the Ghar Rule, how they betrayed whole army groups and how your information feeds have been manipulated.’ Fartok could not keep the anger from their voice. ‘Karg betrayed you and the Rule!’
The emperor was silent. ‘And who is this with you?’
‘NRRK-27, sir. A prophet with insight of our enemies who speaks for those troopers wrongly Outcast.’
‘I have heard that name. Can it speak?’
‘I can speak, Supreme Commander.’ NRRK’s head bobbed. ‘I see how the panhuman filth regards us, how they have rejoiced at the chaos Karg brought to our ranks, how Karg weakened us. I have testimony from all those Ghar who were affected and cast out.’
‘How do I know that what you tell me is the truth?’
NRRK-27 wobbled and leant on their staff. ‘Sir, even now there are loyal troopers reconnecting your data feeds to the larger network that fills Gharon Prime. Sir.’
There was silence. ‘I see. Karg told me there was sabotage, substantially limited data due to your activities, Outcast.’
‘I dislike stating it so blatantly, my lord, but Karg lied,’ said Fartok. ‘To you, personally, Supreme Commander. He broke one of the most fundamental laws in the Rule.’
‘And you are not?’ The emperor sighed. ‘12-40 has been a troublesome batch. And the following batches were all corrupted in some way. All but you from 12-40 have been killed.’
‘Then destroy the hatchery and rebuild it, sir. It would be the only way to ensure it is safe. Make 12-44 the last batch from that hatchery.’
’12-44? That was Karg’s new scheme to enhance loyalty to a single High Commander. It was claimed the officers in such a batch would be more effective – evidence was presented to support the alterations.’
‘All fabricated! My lord, Karg was deliberately misleading you. Destroy those clones and the hatchery – the clones are loyal only to Karg, not to the Rule.’ Beside Fartok, Nurk’s head wobbled in agreement.
The Supreme Commander’s voice was harsh. ‘Many clone officers from 12-44 are already in the outlying battlegroups. How can I tell what is true?’ The Emperor’s voice faded to almost a whisper.
From outside, Fartok’s battle array chimed a complex, electronic tune. Fartok smiled. ‘See for yourself, Supreme Commander. That notification was from the survivors of Battlegroup Nine – all your databanks and feeds are back online. Examine the records and loyalties of the officers who served Karg; see how my Battlegroup Nine – and others – served the Rule, even when Outcast, by fighting against the human scum; see how poorly the Empire functioned under Karg’s inefficiencies.’
‘You tell me what to do?’
‘As an honest advisor must in testing times, my lord. I provide more data, open access and truths that can be verified; Karg restricted such data, prevented such access.’
‘We will do so,’ replied the Ghar Emperor. ‘Before you are dismissed, Fartok, what is the real purpose of you coming before me?’
‘Simply to allow me to save the Empire and succeed. Reinstate me as High Commander of Battlegroup Nine, confirm me as Senior High Commander; revoke all the Outcast declarations of Karg and the disloyal traitors; allow me to serve you by relaunching the struggle of the Ghar against the appalling degenerates that are the NuHu and their panhuman servants. And allow me to establish truly loyal secondary worlds, quiescent but ready to come online if the Nexus collapses and we then reconnect.’ Fartok paused. ‘And I must ask again that you destroy hatchery 12. It has produced too many Ghar who are not loyal to you but to themselves.’
The emperor lay silent a while as the telltales on his personal combat array flashed rapidly. ‘The feeds have returned, as you claim…’ The Emperor’s voice was suddenly stronger. ‘You will have my decision within the hour. Perhaps sooner.’
‘I will wait here. I am confident of success.’ Fartok glanced at the hovering medic and nurses. ‘May I also recommend that you replace any Karg-appointed medics, my lord, and with immediate effect?’ He took a deep breath and gave the salute he had waited so long to give his commander. ‘To success!’
‘To success, indeed,’ echoed the Supreme Commander and leant back. Again, telltales flashed on the Emperor’s combat array and the throne room guards clanked into the room, their scourers levelled at the medics. ‘Leave me,’ wheezed the Emperor to the medics. ‘I am ordering replacements. You are to be held pending trial.’ The trio hung their heads in shame, avoided Nurk’s malevolent gaze and sidled out under the gaze of the guards, keeping a wide berth around Fartok.
The Supreme Commander watched them leave and waited for the great doors to clang shut with an ominous boom. His gaze fell on Fartok and there was a single whisper. ‘Maybe Batch 12-40 wasn’t wasted after all.’ Fartok did not respond. ‘The Empire will prevail, after all.’ The Chamber of Victory fell silent once more. All that remained was the wheezing of the Supreme Commander’s breath – and the clanking and hissing of the equipment into which they were plugged.
Fartok sat and waited: he could be patient. After all, it was not his success that he was working for, but the triumph of the Empire over the evil that was humanity. As a Supreme Commander in waiting, Fartok was confident that success against the humans was inevitable.
The Empire would prevail.