Not long after that ill thought out raid I received information that would be vital to the hunt for admiral Buchloren. I arranged to meet up with the two Aurora class Russian battleships that had decided not to go with admiral Sikorsky to investigate the Horde. But when I met with them at the rendezvous point there was also two new Athena class battleships and two whole ECF strike groups worth of ships waiting at the rendezvous point.
I was stunned to see that the ECF had gotten back in the war. After the battle of Durga it had sounded like they were completely and utterly done with the war. As soon as I saw them I immediately flew over to their flagship, named Liberty. To meet their commander. Dorcas was probably retired again, although he may have switched out his body. I hoped that I would get to work with Santander again, he had been a pleasure to work with. There was a dozen other people I thought it could be, but I wanted to be surprised I told the crew that I did not want to be told who was running this cattle drive as I waited in the officers briefing room.
In my walk from the hangar deck to the officers room I couldn’t help but notice that this ship was being run differently than what I was used to from Eutopians. Liberty was a newer ship, with a greater degree of automation and a smaller crew than her predecessors. However she was filled with supplies, most of them armaments of some sort. Previous Eutopian doctrine following the battle of Enceladus called for single decisive battles. This thing looked like it was loaded down for a long, grueling voyage hunting for villains.
Any doubt I may have had as to the purpose of the redeployed Eutopian fleet dissolved when I met their new admiral. As he swaggered into the room and my heart stopped. The commander of these two task forces was Virgil Dufour, the most infamous Eutopian in history. Most Eutopians had come to Earth to trade, or enlighten us degenerate, depraved, statist humans. Or to simply enjoy our planet. Dufour had come to kill. He had adopted a French name shortly after landing on Earth. Not long after acquiring his new name he started carving up European politicians and moneyed elites like turkeys. I looked down to his hip, he still carried the not quite a knife, not quite a short sword machete looking thing with a butter knife shaped blade that he had proudly posed with in the photo on the cover of his book.
“My Part in the Second European Renaissance. Tearing apart corruption for fun and profit.”
He claimed in that book that he had killed over four hundred people with that blade.
God this guy was terrifying. Every living thing has an aura to it. Most people ignore it. Unless the living thing is a Singer in which case you can’t help but be overwhelmed. Dufor was almost as overwhelming, but while a Singer radiated peace, logic and calm. Dufor broadcasted an air of utter chaos and an intangible rage under a veneer of charisma. I couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes, they were as overwhelming as Drakous’s eyes. But with evil instead of love.
My hand instinctively went for my revolver. He was in a cyborg body, so much as I couldn’t stand to look him in the face I would have to put one right between those impossibly malevolent eyes to have any chance of killing him. He threw his hands up and shouted, “whoa, why the gunslinging Hammond!?”
“Because you are a fucking monster! Boudicca talked of you as the blackest mark on the history of her people. Now you are in an admirals uniform! What lunacy is this? How did you become the commander of the ECF!?”
“Funny story actually. After I wrapped up my disagreement with the Austro-Hungarian empire I was approached by Skipjack Unlimited to help them with a rather unique problem. They had just inked a deal with the Russians to exchange technologies in exchange for resources and extensive reforms in the Russian Empire. This deal was going to turn Russia topsy turvy. The Czar and his family was protected by their proximity to the Singers. Even the dumbest Russian psychopath knows not to fuck with them. Their Navy however was in a complete shambles until Rickover came along and cleaned everything up. Until he completed that project it was my job to protect SU’s interests in Russia. I was what allowed Rickover to build his fleet. I protected him, his dockyards, even the small machine shops that made the parts of the parts of his ships. Once his ships started flying I went back to my usual fare of dealing with political corruption.”
“Sometime later the deep space rebellion happened and I was hired as a consultant to the ECF. You know my people don’t have too much experience with hunting down criminals. The ECF needed my knowledge, and my viciousness. Shortly before everyone in the Caribbean had their heads exploded I was made the captain of the cruiser Vigilance. I have been part of this war since the beginning. You just didn’t know about it.”
He smiled smugly, showing off his huge perfect teeth.
“Now the war is getting ugly again so the ECF decided that they wanted someone with determination, ferocity and experience working with the Russians to command their newest task force. Someone who has experience hunting determined and heavily armed prey. I was the natural choice, so here I am. I am not going to harm you ms Hammond. I always had the highest respect for you and your family before this current unpleasantness and I respect you more now for everything you have done in this war. So please take your hand off the gun! If I wanted you dead I would have purged the atmosphere in this room before I walked in.”
“So, now I have to deal with you.”
“Yep, you are stuck with me until one of us takes down Buchloren.”
I sighed and asked, “okay, what are you bringing on this mission?”
“The Eutopos Combat Fleet has seven battleships and thirty Orion class cruisers. Most of them are still undergoing refit so they sent me out with these two battleships and six cruisers that are still out in deep space. What do you have?”
“Big Blue, four German battleships, a third of the English Fleet and a quarter of the Auxiliary Fleet and the two Russian battleships over there. I think that trumps your little fleet.”
“No need to start a dick measuring contest. Besides, I think you would lose! Now, since you have been out here longer than I have do you have any leads on where mr Buchloren is?”
“Well, that’s a ticklish subject. It seems that Ossirin Buchloren has decided to come in for a negotiation. He sent an small unarmed ship to the Ristavron system and informed my people there that he wants to talk.”
Dufort looked over to the window. My ship was floating effortlessly in the distance. “I take it you will handle this negotiation? I will not be allowed to do my usual thing?”
“Of course not, we are not savages.”
“That might be a mistake. As much as war is a slog between two huge groups of people, or machines, or lifeforms you cannot underestimate the importance of one strong leader. From what I have learned of this asshole he already has the foundation of a serious cult of personality. The Empire lacked morale. They were fighting for nebulous, almost incomprehensible goals under the command of an indifferent and criminally incompetent leadership. They are gone, now they have a strong leader commanding loyal legions of followers who fight for a clear goal. To defend their territory and planets from our encroachment.”
“I see your point, but this negotiation might lead to peace.”
“Peace! What can you call peace if one side or another is still armed. It’s a truce at most allowing the weakened party an opportunity to recuperate, reload and come back stronger than ever. No, the Empire must be completely and utterly exterminated. Their ships scrapped, their cities smashed their very culture buried under a billion tons of rock. You Earthlings may have been able to learn some manners. But these creatures? no, they are irredeemable. Perhaps in a few generations we can get them up to some manageable standard. But for now they are as useless as rabid feral dogs. My predecessors may have had qualms about finishing these beasts off. You can rest assured I won’t.”
“Now, until you have something to point my guns at, I don’t see what else we have to talk about. Please tell me how your little negotiations go.”
He showed me the door. I gladly departed from his ship. I had never heard an Eutopian talk like that. Much as they may have looked down their noses at Earthlings they always claimed that they saw such potential in us. This guy was a true butcher. He saw anything not useful as dead meat to be chopped off and fed to dogs. I couldn’t help but feel that things were about to get much harder.
About five days after my unpleasant meeting with admiral Dufour admiral Buchloren arrived to the scheduled negotiation on Ristavron 4. He showed up in a cargo ship which deployed a standard imperial shuttlecraft, albeit one that had been fitted with an antigravity drive.
The meeting happened in a field full of tulips outside the Coal Castle. Seemed like the best place to have such a meeting. The admiral disembarked from his craft, he was unarmed as we agreed to. He walked right up to me and shook my hand.
He wasn’t as tall as most Drankmastarian military staff. Still pretty big though, over six and a half feet tall. Very muscular, with a square jaw, short hair and a short goatee and mustache. Rather handsome, in a rough sort of way. I could see why he had become such a respected officer. He had the eyes of someone you would follow to the gates of hell.
He took a cup of tea that had been set out for us. He spoke first.
“Admiral Hammond, let me say that you have done an excellent job of maintaining our base here. Ristavron 4 was infamous as being one of the most shoddily run strongpoints in the empire.
“You speak English!?”
“I think it is important to know how ones enemy thinks.”
“Well, that brings me to the obvious question admiral. Why are we still enemies? Why do you and those under your command fight on after your government has resigned from the battle?”
He solemnly put the cup down and asked.
“Have you heard of the planet Santreek?”
“Sounds familiar, think it belongs to some of my friends at the moment.”
“Santreek is a planet that is sacred to my people. It was the site of the third great battle of unity. Eighty thousand of my predecessors died there. After the battle was over a memorial was built to the fallen. A great pillar of mozumilite. Not far from the main memorial a smaller memorial was built. The general who commanded that campaign had built a memorial to his son. Who was killed during the battle by an errant airstrike from our own side. This is a small stone shrine that few are allowed to see. It is guarded at all times by five warriors. This duty is considered to be one of the highest honors in our army.”
“The Eutopos Combat Fleet destroyed the three cruisers that were guarding the planet. They bombarded the planet from orbit. When they came down to the surface they found what was left of the populace in the area near the memorial around it praying to the spirits of their forbearers to save them from this terror. Rain was pouring down as a hundred cyborgs marched towards them. A man stepped forth from the huddled crowd, armed with a knife. He rushed the invaders commanding officer. The officer grabbed this man and spoke, in our language. “I have come here because you have aggressed on me and my people. This, and further acts of aggression will not be tolerated.”
“He lifted the man off the ground, punched into his chest and tore out his still beating heart. Then he threw the man at the column. Smearing the sacred stone with blood. Then he started walking, to the shrine of the fallen son. In front of everyone he threw a grenade into the shrine. Then he shouted to the crowd. ‘My name is Virgil Dufour, if any man, woman or child here wishes to challenge me I will face them in armed or unarmed combat. Things are going to change around here, you aren’t going to like most of what we have to say at first. In time you will come to understand that we are here to bring you to your full potential and free you from the shackles of your government, your culture and your past. For now, all I ask is that you behave yourselves. If you are incapable of doing that then I will personally erase your civilization from this planet.’
“Then he dropped the heart in front of the crowd and said, ‘I will see you around.”
“Okay, and your point is?”
“This man Dufour is now in charge of the ECF. As far as I am concerned he is guilty of war crimes. He has defiled and destroyed our most sacred places. My government may have folded in the face of your attack. But I will not, and neither will those under my command. They see you creatures for what you really are. You are beasts, monsters, murderers. We may be distantly related, but we share nothing. You have nothing that defines civilization besides technology. No culture, no rituals, no love. None of you are capable of love.”
“That’s amusing, coming from you.”
“This is exactly what I mean, you react to such a statement with such a crass remark. Such a flippant tone, why should I be surprised?”
“I don’t know how much you know about the early days of this dust up. But when the web-way portal your government built punched through to the space around my planet it had been intentionally sabotaged to kill my civilization. Then when your first ship came through its officers demanded our enslavement. You aggressed on us and though the different fleets that have joined this battle have somewhat varying agendas we all agree that we aren’t going to stop killing you until you stop trying to kill us. Love, rituals, culture. That doesn’t count for shit when someone is trying to hurt you. All that matters then is survival.”
“And don’t take it all so personally. That’s what Eutopian’s do. They show up, reveal vast areas of your life and culture to be useless or dangerous, fuck up your shit, apologize, buy stuff, sell stuff. Then they leave. They don’t kill anyone who they believe is not trying to kill them. As for Dufour blowing up that shrine? He is an asshole I admit. I don’t care for him but he gets results so now he is in charge of the ECF in the field.”
“Well, I suppose this conversation is over then. We will not bend and you will not yield. I look forward to seeing your shattered body floating through the space outside my ship.”
“Really? you are willing to spend God knows how many lives and ships continuing to fight a war that should be over? All over some jerk blowing up a shrine dedicated to the memory of a man accidentally killed by his own father?”
“I suppose you could say that. But no, it is because I can not yield my sacred honor to those who have none.”
“You come to me claiming to talk about honor. Let me tell you my honor. My honor is that I do not rule over millions of enslaved peons. My honor is humanity, in all its forms. Triumphant and living together in harmony. Your honor is the echoing voices of your dead. Weighing on the brains of the living as a waking nightmare. You are shackled by your past. With this vague notion of a golden age that is long past and probably wasn’t all that great to begin with. You stole and built magnificent technologies, then squandered them by not sharing them.”
I had pissed him off now. His enormous fist was trembling with rage. If he decided to punch me I would probably not survive a single hit. At the same time he had to know that if he killed me a dozen bullets would be winging their way to his skull immediately afterwards. I roared at him.
“Admiral, this is your final warning. Regardless of what you may be able to put together, we have won. Even if you somehow rally every surviving warrior and force our ships back to Earth we have broadcasted the truth of your society all over your inhabited worlds. Your serfs will not stand for this society anymore. In time we will come back, by which point we will be so technologically advanced that you probably won’t recognize us anymore. Wether we remain in this region, go home, or move on the result will be the same. The war is over and we fucking won!”
He stood up and stated. “Then I am obliged to do everything I can to stop you.”
He went back to his ship. That wasn’t a negotiation, from the moment I saw him I could see that he had no intention of ever giving up. This was a sizing up. He couldn’t get me to touch a communication stone so he had to figure out who I was directly. Part of me was flattered. But mostly I was just irritated that this one hard-ass had decided to make the lives of me and everyone I knew much harder than they needed to be. I could taste the scent of his tranquil fury as he walked back to his shuttle.
Still I could admit that I could Buchloren’s point. However much I disagreed with it. Dufort had been sent out specifically to deal with this guy and said guy was going to continue fighting specifically because of Dufour’s actions. That was great, just frigging great.
Dufort sent a cruiser to chase Buchloren’s cargo ship. However once his cargo ship transited over to the next star system over the crew of the cruiser found four identical cargo ships and an enemy heavy cruiser to keep them busy while the cargo ships took off to god knows where. The rogue admiral disappeared into the ether. Still, it would be awhile until he would be able to get back to wherever the heck he was hiding out. So task force V was deployed to hunt him down.