THE BATTLE OF TITAN
Titan was, by all appearances, technologically behind. Its ships still relied heavily on chemical engines to spark the ionic drives. Its communication satellites were bulky, eschewing the miniaturization of the rest of the colonies.
The campuses in the Saturnine system followed the lead of the largest campus on Titan. The larger campuses at Rhea, Iapetus, Enceladus, Tethys, and Dione were in essence part of a Titanian hegemony, particularly since all of the campuses save those on Mimas and Phoebe were designed by Marshall Mara Chandra in the decades leading up to the battle.
Rhea in particular, given its close proximity to Titan compared to Enceladus or Dione, followed Titan’s lead closely. There was little question when it came to an armed conflict which way the rest of the moons of Saturn would go.
The issue was ability. None of these moons were much more than research science and astronomical centers. All were ill-equipped for military conflict. They lent what little aid they could and then prepared for the eventual surrender once Titan fell.
When Wilhelm’s fleet arrived at Titan, they found the skies cluttered with outdated and bulky satellites. After a thorough scan, it turned out that the satellites were for communication and carried no weaponry at all. Wilhelm remotely took control of the satellites and kept a live feed of his signal beaming towards Mars, Venus, and Europa, wanting to show a live feed of the destruction of Titan.
Titan gave no sign of defense. There were no ships in the skies to meet his force, and there was no communication bouncing from satellite to satellite. The whole moon had gone “dark.”
Wilhelm scattered his fleet to select areas around the moon, creating a solid blockade that could prevent any ship, no matter how small, from leaving the surface.
Due to the intense coldness of Titan, infrared scans were nearly useless, especially since the campuses around Titan were well over 40 meters underground. Each ship had a full complement of tungsten lances that could completely destroy a campus, but the depth underground meant that a lot of ordinance was needed to dig deep enough to reach a campus’ hull. This is one reason why Wilhelm insisted on bringing his supply chain with him.
He had the invasion planned out in two phases: bombardment and invasion.
The bombardment took the form of tungsten lances, or grav bombs, that were launched from orbit. These lances had little in the way of a guidance system. Instead, they relied on an overwhelming impact to sew destruction.
In order to get terminal velocity on the tungsten lances, Marshall Wilhelm brought his fleet into a medium orbit and cleared the way to launch the lances. The lances would do a couple of orbits around Titan to build up speed. Eventually, their orbits would elongate until they were in the perfect position to fall on the target, letting the immense inertia build into a massively explosive force.
Wilhelm’s plan, once the lances hit, was to descend onto the surface and lead a marine assault on the cracked open bases. With this in mind, Wilhelm had collected five thousand, three hundred and twelve soldiers, many of whom were specially trained in breach and invade tactics.
The fleet was also prepared with a series of small interceptor fighters that could head off any incoming attacks.
This was a fleet he had been preparing for a very long time.
Once the fleet was in position, Wilhelm called a halt. They only waited on his command.
“Are you sure this is where you want to do this?” Mara asked. “Shit, are you sure you want to do it this way at all?”
Jazmynde nodded. “It’s the only way. Wilhelm expects this to go the way it always has. He thinks he gets to choose the battleground, which would immediately give him an advantage. I think it’s time to change the type of engagement here. Mabel gets to be my camera. Okay for you, Mabel?”
Mabel nodded. “Were ready.”
“Mara,” Jazmynde said, “You start. This is your home.” She turned to Mabel, handed her a card, and said, “Broadcast this to Wilhelm. Be sure to hold your head still while you stream. We don’t want to look shaky here. This is theater.”
“This is gibberish,” Mabel said.
“It’s meaningful to me,” Jazmynde said, smiling.
She turned to Mara. “Stick to what we agreed on. Wilhelm will gloat. He will goad you. He’ll try to make you lose control of yourself. You must not do that. Remember your audience.”
Mara cleared her throat. “I guess I am ready.”
“Grand Marshall Wilhelm Aston, urgent. Message to Grand Marshall Wilhelm Aston, urgent. From Grand Marshall Mara Chandra. Repeat, from Grand Marshall Mara Chandra, urgent.”
Sam rushed over to Wilhelm, who was standing on the bridge looking at the displays of Titan arrayed around him. “Titan is broadcasting to you, sir.”
“Finally,” Wilhelm whispered. He grinned. “I was wondering when they would come knocking. Is it an unconditional surrender?”
“No sir, it looks like a message from the Marshall herself.”
Wilhelm’s smile broadened. “I’ll take this in my room. Do not disturb me under any circumstances save imminent death or attack.” He rushed from the room to his private office.
Once the door was closed, he rushed to his desk, aimed the camera at his couch, then sat down. He tried a few poses, then decided the best one was a casual lean against the armrest.
“Activate,” he said, and an image appeared before his eyes.
Mara was there. She didn’t look a single moment older than she ever did. There was something of the perpetual child about her. She sat at rigid attention in front of…
‘What is that,’ Wilhelm wondered.
He shook his head slightly. “Mara, how wonderful to see you!” he said, smiling.
She nodded slightly. “I wish I could say the same of you, Wilhelm. You appear to have come for battle. I have to wonder why.”
Wilhelm chuckled. “Well, first of all, there is the death of Marshall Jaz… wait. I have to ask. Where are you, Mara?”
Mara looked behind her. “Oh, a reminder of what you are going to destroy.”
“It looks like a…”
“It’s a kindergarten, Wilhelm.” Mara glanced behind her. There were holographic displays of animals in bright, primary colors, stuffed animals on the floor mixed among art supplies dropped on the floor in the way a child abandons their playthings.
Mara nodded. “Yes, this is where our children begin their education. Mabel, please look around.”
Wilhelm watched as the view scanned the room. In the back of the room, children were reading from tablets while a pedagogue lead them through their lessons.
The view glided back over to Mara.
Wilhelm shook his head. “Gathering human shields, Mara?”
“Do you break into someone’s house and accuse their parents of holding their own children hostage? This is their home, Wilhelm.”
“Yet you show me children to perhaps dissuade me from doing punishing you for your crimes. I imagine you aren’t going to come up here of your own volition.”
“What crime is that, Wilhelm?”
He smiled. “Well, for the masses I would say the death of Jazmynde, but do we really need to play this game? Are you going to come up on your own volition, or do we get to do this the fun way.”
Mara looked behind her, then stared at Wilhelm again. “The fun way meaning destroying everyone here?”
Wilhelm sighed. “It’s just us now. There’s no Yumi here, no Jazzy, certainly no Leader. It’s come down to you and me like it always should have, and we both know it is going to be me. You think you’re going to sit this one out protected in your shell, but there’s no Jazzy around anymore to negotiate your ass out of the fire. I have the might of my people behind me, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve had to prepare. I am going to crack that place open and woe betide any shit who is in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Mara frowned and opened her mouth, then stopped.
“There’s the Mara silence we all know and love. But no insightful comments? How about ‘I surrender.’ No one needs to get hurt, Mara. Well… maybe they do, but let’s pretend a while longer.”
“And if I didn’t kill Jazmynde? If I am innocent?”
Wilhelm laughed. “Does it matter? You are finished being an stone in my shoe. I have the might and the will, and I am here. I should ask you to surrender, but I hope you don’t.”
Mara nodded. The camera moved over to a deep tan, elderly woman with very short white hair. She was wearing a dark gray, thin top. The children were in view of the camera and continued reading behind her.
“Wilhelm, I’m touched,” Jazmynde said. “You’ve brought an entire fleet to avenge me!”
Wilhelm stared open mouthed. “Jazzy…”
“Jazmynde, please. We’ve known each other for decades and you know I’ve never liked that name.”
“… Jazmynde, you’re…”
“Alive. Yes. I was sincerely touched by the tributes you and Yumi released. I’ll encourage others to allow people to assume they are dead whenever they need a boost to their self-esteem.”
Wilhelm stammered, then asked, “Why didn’t you contact us?”
Jasmynde sighed. “I was hibernating. Travelling here, which you can imagine me took some time. I came here to talk with my old friend Mara, I go out of range for a while and everyone assumes I am dead. Next thing I know, you’re on your way. So I figured I could wait here until you arrived so we could talk like sane people. No communications delay, no waiting around for a hour or more to hear your reply. We get to chat live. I missed that. So as you can see, I am perfectly safe.”
Wilhelm recovered himself and grinned. “I am so glad to see you alive. I am particularly glad to see you there. This takes care of so many issues.”
There was a knocking at Wilhelm’s door. “Go away,” Wilhelm yelled. He turned back to the camera. “I can see you aren’t going to surrender, so I am afraid I have to do what is necessary.”
“What if we do surrender,” Jazmynde asked.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that last message. So, it is a pity you won’t surrender. I guess I’ll just have to kill you both.”
Jazmynde sighed testily. “Oh, don’t be a child, Wilhelm. If it is just us, you can at least be honest with what you want. Don’t do that whole garbled message bullshit. It’s beneath me, if it isn’t beneath you. Is it that you just want to kill me and Mara? Is that all this is?”
Wilhelm shook his head. “Not at first, no. Well, I did want to kill Mara. But you, Jazzy… we really were heartbroken when we lost you. Well, at least Yumi was, I think. She’s so circumspect sometimes. But on the trip here to avenge you, I got to thinking about how it was for the best that you were dead. And the fact that you’re not… well, that can be changed.
“It was all going to come down to this anyway, Jazzy. It was idiotic of you not to see it, with your talk of alliances and compacts and such. There can only be one leader, and Mara certainly isn’t going to be it.”
“I assume Yumi isn’t either?”
Wilhelm sighed. “I love Yumi, but I can see her positioning herself away from me, that sneaky shit. I can’t allow that. Besides, Yumi as the unifying leader of all of our diaspora? I am sure that everyone will appreciate getting their meals on time, but the woman is not a wartime leader.”
“Nor are you a peacetime one, Wilhelm. Will it take constant war to keep you in power?”
Wilhelm looked thoughtfully in the distance. “If that’s what it takes. There’s no one else to take the place as leader.”
Jazmynde shook her head. “And what if there doesn’t have to be a leader? What if our campuses don’t need a big boss to tell them what to do?
“When has that ever worked in human history,” Wilhelm laughed.
“When was it ever seriously tried, Wilhelm? We’ve gone from boss to boss and the only way it ends up is the boss gets to rule whoever is left. It’s a waste, and all of us loathe waste.”
“Wheat from the chaff,” Wilhelm said. “Every loss is an acceptable loss when it comes to humanity’s future. We can’t rush to the future in an undisciplined mob. Humans need to be lead. They need leaders.”
“I think you lack imagination. Are you willing to kill these kids to become the leader you want to be?”
Wilhelm shrugged. “There’s always more children.”
Jazmynde nodded. “I suppose your first act as leader is deciding whose children gets to die for your greater good.”
“Well, it sounds so cynical when you say it, Jazzy,” Wilhelm said. “I am doing this for the future.”
“Your future, maybe, but there is no future for the kids you kill, Wilhelm.”
“There’s no future for Titan’s children, no. But there are more worlds than just your own. So far as I can see it, with you and Mara there, I’ve taken care of two-thirds of the problem.”
“Yumi is the third?”
Wilhelm nodded. “I wish it weren’t so. I do love her, but we both knew this was not meant to be. I’ll kill her soon enough. As I’ve said before, there can be only one sun, and only one of us has a a fleet.”
Jazmynde shook her head. “You treat us like were were Earthlings, willing to follow some bloviating asshole into the grinder. We’re colonists; pioneers. Our forebears came out here to learn, explore, and rebel, not to follow some brutish shit who wants to make all the mistakes that Earth has made. I have greater hopes for us out here. Our world is a hostile nothing-scape where we have to carefully husband every resource. We cannot waste, especially human blood.”
Wilhelm nodded. “I’ve heard all of this from you before with your weeping and whining over the next conquest the Leader planned. It never stopped you from planning those conquests.”
“I guided him away from your advice, that mostly being ‘blow it all up and start again, and who cares who dies?'”
He shrugged. “You can’t carve ship parts without leftover metal. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the realities of war.”
“A compelling argument for stopping war altogether.”
“And a useless one,” Wilhelm said. “War will always be with us. A wise ruler always prepares for it, and sometimes preparation means striking first. Anyway, Jazzy, it was lovely to see you one last time. Now I feel like I got to say goodbye properly. Mara, not so lovely to see you, but I am glad you’re there. This should take no time at all.”
“But Wilhelm,” Jazmynde begged. “This isn’t necessary! There are children on this base! This is the home to multiple generations of people!”
“This is now how it’s supposed to go!” Mara yelled. “Please listen to reason! Our children are here!”
Wilhelm nodded and smiled. “And there will be again someday, if I decide Titan is worth repairing. They just won’t be your children. Sorry that you wouldn’t surrender. I’ll be sure to relay your defiance to the rest of the crew.”
Wilhelm signed off.
Someone was knocking on Wilhelm’s door. He smiled and hopped off of his couch. Things were going better than he had planned. Mara and Jazmynde were together on the same target. All that would leave was Yumi, and he could handle her. He might even let her live.
“Coming!” Wilhelm yelled. He opened the door. It was Sam.
“Sir, you had better come with me.”
“Gladly!” Wilhelm said and rushed to the bridge.
He entered the bridge and instantly adopted a rueful expression. “They wouldn’t surrender,” Wilhelm said sadly, “so unfortunately it is time to begin. Prepare to launch the lances.”
When no one answered, he looked up. Everyone was staring at him.
“What?” He asked.
“I can’t imagine it will take him very long to contact us,” Jazmynde said. “He’s going to be pretty mad.”
A signal came in for Jazmynde and Mara. “Let’s wait a moment,” Jazmynde said. “No need to rush this.”
Jazmynde turned around and watched the children read. She smiled slightly and fell in love just a little bit.
“Receive,” Jazmynde said. “Private channel encrypt, Mara, Mabel.”
“You shit!” Wilhelm yelled. “You utter shit! What have you done?!”
“Wilhelm!” Jazmynde said. “I am sorry we didn’t answer sooner. We’re preparing for your invasion. How is it going? I’ve never been on the receiving end of one of yours.”
“I’ll kill you!” he screamed.
“Unlikely,” Jazmynde said. “But I’ll give you a chance. Waiting.”
“What in the…”
“Shhhh!” Jazmynde hissed. “Waiting on those bombs. I’ve gathered the kids up to age thirteen in one area so you can kill them easier.”
Wilhelm grabbed a pen and threw it at the monitor. It bounced off and twirled into the background. “What have you done?!”
“Oh,” Jazmynde said. “Well, remember our talk? I shared that conversation. With everyone. Everywhere. Every node in the whole Solar System. I jammed open our secret communication. Don’t worry. This conversation is private. Say hi, Mara.”
“Hi,” Mara said sheepishly.
“And a special thanks to my camera, Mabel. And of course you, Wilhelm, without whom…”
“I am going to fucking destroy your…”
“Not now, Wilhelm, the adult is talking. I flipped open the communications array. You, me, Mara, Yumi… no more privacy for us. No more privacy for everyone. Do you know why?”
There was silence while Wilhelm fumed.
“No guesses? Because all of the dirty shit we leaders do requires secrecy. We’re so very brave so long as we can be brave anonymously. We can get good people to do unspeakable things, so long as we keep the real reasons secret and rely on our charisma. But once people see what the real goals are… well, the sane ones think better of it. There comes a point with everyone where they just can’t follow orders anymore and still feel like they’re a good person. We arrived at that point about five minutes ago. Have something to add, Wilhelm?”
Wilhelm remained silent.
“You and Yumi worked so hard to make me beloved after my death, and I do appreciate it. I was satisfied to see that others share your opinion. I figured if people saw me alive and saw you wanting to remedy that, well…
“If ‘character’ is what you do when people aren’t watching, it is also what you do when you think people aren’t watching. Everyone has seen your character, Wilhelm. So what did they do?”
Jazmynde waited. “Well? I can still see you. I have control of your camera as well.”
“How, you disgusting shit? How?”
Jazmynde smirked. “Who’s communication array do you think you are using? I was with the Leader when he built this army, long before you ever showed up. I built the infrastructure that Yumi uses. I gathered the shipwrights who designed your fleet. I was his strategic right hand. Did you think I was merely a soothsayer? He wasn’t a ‘details’ kind of guy. He loved the big picture.
“I myself love details, so I handled them. Details like putting together a broadcasting network that spans a solar system and allows for subroutines that lets certain people seize control of the means of communication. Or details about ship design and AI that responds to certain commands that do things like deactivate control, all coded of course to voiceprint and internal casting. The Leader was so impressed when I set it up for him. He didn’t trust anyone. He never thought to ask if I did it for myself.”
She crossed her legs and sighed casually. “All of these years, all of you have been playing with my toys. You call me a witch? You’re fucking right I’m a witch. All communications are open and unencrypted, save the ones I want to keep private. And they remain open until I say they are closed. So again, what did your people do?”
“I am locked in my room! That’s what they did,” Wilhelm yelled.
Jazmynde nodded. “As appropriate with terrible children. They didn’t kill you, though. I do love it when people justify my faith in them. Usually, I have faith in the goodness of people despite their every effort to prove me wrong.
“So, Wilhelm. Darling. It’s over. You once feared what it would be like when the Leader no longer needed you. The Leader is gone and you are out of a job. Everyone knows you now: not the charismatic man who could talk a person into spacewalking without a helmet, but the man who wanted to glass children. But there is good news for you in all of this.”
Wilhelm narrowed his eyes. “What.”
Jazmynde smirked. “People are going to completely forget about your failure at Io.”
“As usual, you enjoy yourself at other’s expense,” Wilhelm said. “You’ve destroyed our people’s chance at unity. We were so close to unification, Jazmynde. But for your selfishness, we…”
Mara yelled, “You don’t get to talk about killing children and then seize the moral high ground, Wilhelm!”
Jazmynde sighed. “I get the feeling that this conversation is unprofitable. Perhaps you need some time alone. I will give Yumi a call and ask her opinion about things. I get the feeling she will be happy to see me alive. You, perhaps not as much so. And perhaps a discussion with your second in command. I think he’s about to get promoted!”
Wilhelm leaned forward. “If you think that…”
“Dismissed, Wilhelm.” She cut off the communication.
Mara grinned. “That went better than I thought,” she said.
Jazmynde shook her head sadly. “There were so many ways that could have gone wrong. I was hoping there was still humanity in the people he trained. It helps we don’t come from a militaristic society.
“We could have blown up those satellites and made the orbit unusable, we could have launched our attacks from Rhea. It would have been glorious according to Wilhelm’s perspective. And we would have eventually lost, everyone here, those children included, being killed for someone else’s greater good.”
“And what of Wilhelm,” Mabel asked.
Jazmynde shrugged. “We’ll see. I take no pleasure in this. He was a very able man once. If there can be something in him saved, maybe I will save it. He’s been warped from too many people obeying him without question. That isn’t good for anyone. Especially me.”
Jazmynde stood up. “Okay, friends, lets see to our guests.”
They walked out of the kindergarten together, down a long hallway towards the docks.
After the final broadcast, nearly every ship in the fleet took the long voyage back to their berths by the command of Lead Marshall Jazmynde Sargsyan, after a brief refueling at Enceladus.
The flagship of the fleet, the Eagle, landed on Titan as per Marshall Mara Chandra’s request, where Wilhelm was imprisoned.