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Excerpt, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, v8: Desolation

At 0630 on May 3, SE 800, year 2 of the New Imperial Calendar, the Galactic Imperial Navy began its entry into Iserlohn Corridor under the direct command of Kaiser Reinhard. Even after losing more than a million souls in the first skirmishes of the battle, the imperial forces still numbered 146,600 ships and 16.2 million officers and men, with more in reserve at the rear—specifically, 15,200 ships under the command of Senior Admiral August Samuel Wahlen, currently stationed between the corridor and the former alliance capital Planet Heinessen. Yang Wen-li’s fleet, on the other hand, was already down to fewer than 20,000 ships. In terms of sheer numbers, the two sides simply bore no comparison.

Kaiser Reinhard was on the bridge of the fleet flagship Brünhild, where the viewscreen showed the Imperial Navy vanguard clearing mines as they advanced.

The “Silent Commander,” Senior Admiral Ernst von Eisenach, had been chosen by the kaiser to lead the strike force that would follow.

“These orders are the greatest honor a warrior could possibly receive. I shall spare no effort to carry out Your Majesty’s wishes, and if those efforts should be insufficient I shall apologize with my life. Sieg Kaiser!”

…is what Eisenbach did not say, instead making only a deferential, silent bow before leaving the kaiser’s presence.

One by one, the other admirals received their orders and set off to their posts. Wittenfeld, who had tasted the bitter chalice of defeat in the first engagement, was given temporary command of the former Fahrenheit Fleet in addition to his own, giving him almost twenty thousand ships in total. The implication was as clear to Wittenfeld as it was to everyone else: the kaiser had high expectations of the ferocious commander’s burning desire for revenge.

Neidhart Müller, youngest of the senior admirals, was assigned to guard the rear. He had played this role at almost every stage of the kaiser’s Great Campaign since its commencement the previous year. The truth was that the Imperial Navy simply could not eliminate the uncertainty that lay in its wake as it advanced across the galaxy. Behind them stretched a vast territory that had once belonged to their now-defeated enemy. If organized rebellion should arise, it might be beyond the ability of even the seasoned Wahlen to put down. In such a case, Müller would turn back from the battlefield and cooperate with Wahlen to secure the widest possible route back to the empire’s home territory for the rest of the fleet. He was also responsible for defending against enemy attack from the rear, although that seemed impossible in their present situation.

The man who had been entrusted with the vanguard and tasked with cleaning the minefield as he plunged into the depths of the corridor was Vice Admiral Rolf Otto Brauhitsch. It was a grueling operation of more than half a day, but he completed this assignment eventually.

Brauhitsch had formerly served under Siegfried Kircheis. After Kircheis’s death, he had come under the direct command of Reinhard. Whether on the front lines or at the rear, his ability to deal with situations as they arose was first-rate, and his meticulous advance preparations and decisive leadership in battle belied his youth. Sometimes, however, he was accused of forgetting the preparations he himself had made and rushing in blindly. Perhaps it was simply that while his bravery was inborn, his attention to detail was the fruit of conscious effort.

At 2100 on May 3, Brauhitsch fired his first volley at the Yang Fleet. Return fire tore through the dark void toward him precisely fifteen seconds later. Points and beams of light multiplied by the half second until his screen had become a vast, rippling curtain of light.

From this moment on, Iserlohn Corridor was a dizzying kaleidoscope of devastation and slaughter.

###

 

In short order, the Brauhitsch Fleet was taking concentrated fire. Worse yet, the minefield behind them made retreat all but impossible.

This was all as expected—indeed, part of their strategy. Brauhitsch car- ried out the instructions he had received from the kaiser and divided his 6,400 ships into squadrons of one hundred to avoid the concentration of enemy fire, but the fleet took no little damage while executing this maneuver. With walls of fire and light penning them in both fore and aft, the vanguard of the Imperial Navy had been forced into a perilous position.

At 0220 on May 4, secretary-general of Supreme Command Headquar- ters Marshal von Reuentahl ordered the commencement of the operation’s second phase.

The release of directional Seffl particles began. The minefield was run through by five invisible pillars of cloud, which when ignited became five vast dragons of flame dancing in the void. It was both a magnificent sight and a ferocious manifestation of the terror within that very magnificence. Eventually the dragons burned themselves out, leaving five tunnels through the minefield like the fingers of some colossal god that had seized the dragons and crushed them.

High-speed cruisers poured into the five tunnels.

When they emerged into the corridor, the former alliance forces quickly showered them in fire, and many exploded into balls of flame. However, it was impossible to maintain suppressive fire on five entrances at once—and, above all, the cruisers were a diversion. While the Yang Fleet’s attention was focused on the five tunnels, the Imperial Navy’s main forces were making their entry through the path that Brauhitsch had so painstakingly cleared into the corridor proper.

After two hours of pitched battle, the imperial military finally established what might be called a bridgehead within Iserlohn Corridor.

The pure-white form of Kaiser Reinhard’s flagship Brünhild emerged into the corridor at 1200 on May 5, and the Yang Fleet’s communications channel filled at once with vocalized tension and anxiety.

Excerpt, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, v7: Tempest

On January 12, leading the entire fleet that was under his command, Lutz departed from Iserlohn Fortress. The fleet was composed of more than 15,000 vessels, and the embarkation of this stately swarm of light flecks was picked up by the Yang Fleet right away—though since this was being done for show, that was only natural.

“Admiral Lutz has left Iserlohn.”

On January 13, that report from Bagdash was greeted with cheers and whistles among the crew of the Yang Fleet. Another of “Yang Wen-li’s miracles” was on the verge of coming to pass, and it was how well theyfought that would determine whether or not it came true. Voices rose up calling for an advance celebration, and in no time bottles of whiskey were passing from hand to hand, each soldier drinking in turn.

In the midst of such a cheerful, fearless crew, not even calm, imperturbable Merkatz—whom some even called “the Yang Fleet’s only gentleman”—could maintain the dignified aloofness of his imperial days. Although he just touched his lips to the drink for appearances’ sake, when he awkwardly raised aloft a small flask of whiskey, the applause and the cheers grew even louder, and that was when he opened his mouth with something important to say.

“We have Lutz acting in accordance with our plan, but Lutz must also think that he has us acting according to his plan. He is an outstanding tactician, and the fleet he commands is ten times the size of ours. Unless we can gain control of the fortress before he turns around and overwhelms us, our chance for victory will be lost forever. The battle to capture the fortress will commence immediately. Vice Admiral von Schönkopf, I’d like to ask you to command the front line.”

“You can rest assured, Admiral. Just leave it to me.”

Von Schönkopf saluted, showing not a hint of apprehension. In that year of SE 800, he would turn thirty-six, a graceful gentleman in his prime. Watching him, Julian was remembering Yang’s explanation of the plan to capture the fortress.

“…Lutz is a fine admiral. He understands just how important Iserlohn is, so even if the kaiser orders him to mobilize, it’s possible that he’ll stay put and beg him to reconsider. And even if he departs Iserlohn per the kaiser’s command, there’s no telling when he might catch on to our plan and turn back. That’s why we’re letting him know up front what our plan is. If he sits there and doesn’t mobilize, there’s nothing we can do, but depending on how we leak the intel, we can probably make him think that he’s catching us in a trap. And to catch us in that trap, it will be necessary for him to be a certain distance away from the fortress. The farther away he moves, the easier it gets for our plan to succeed. You may think I’m relying too much on cheap tricks, but cheap tricks are what we need… so that Lutz can see through them…”

Lutz fell splendidly into Yang’s trap. At that time, the orthodox tactician—who under normal circumstances would have led a large force and an impregnable fortress to crush Yang’s group head-on without resorting to stopgap tricks—was 800,000 kilometers from port, watch­ing on the screen of his flagship as the Yang fleet bore down on the fortress.

“They’ve fallen for it, those wandering bandits.”

Kornelias Lutz was hardly what might he called a frivolous man, but just this once, he couldn’t contain the joy that was bubbling up inside him. At long last, Yang Wen-li, that living treasure trove of trickery and ingenious plans, was about to become ensnared in his own trap, and the knee of the Imperial Navy would soon weigh heavily against his neck.

His joy, however, was not to be long-lived. Though he waited and waited, the white column of Thor’s Hammer—the fortress’s main cannon, capable at any moment of erasing those impertinent enemies from the sky at point-blank range—never roared forth. The commanding officer’s eyes were locked on the screen, while behind him, his staff officers were exchanging uneasy and suspicious glances.

“Why isn’t Thor’s Hammer firing?” Lutz shouted. A nervous, agitated sweat dampened the brow of the Imperial Navy’s intrepid admiral. His carefully timed, intricately constructed plan was beginning to collapse like a wall of sand.

###

On the other side of an 800,000-kilometer void, the tension inside Iser­lohn Fortress had rapidly grown into worry, followed by panic. Operators flooded the comm channels with a mixture of screams and curses, and their fingers raced vainly across their keyboards as though they were amateur pianists.

“It isn’t working!”

“No response!”

“Control is not possible!”

Their cries resounded against one another. Numerous transmissions had been broadcast from the rapidly closing Yang Fleet. One of them that Iserlohn’s computers picked up was a string of words no operator could have considered a normal transmission—“For health and beauty, have a cup of tea after every meal”—and in that instant, all defensive systems immediately went down.

Vice Admiral Wöhler, entrusted by Lutz with the vital mission of defending the fortress, could feel something akin to a toothache shooting through his mental circuitry. The sense of victory he had felt up until a moment ago had been purged from his body, replaced by the oppressive weight of a nightmare presaging doom.

“Break off computer control and switch over to manual! Fire Thor’s Hammer at all costs!” The orders caught in his throat, and wouldn’t eas­ily leave his mouth.

Despair transformed into sound, and leapt from the operator’s mouth.

“It’s no good, Commander! It’s impossible!”

Understanding and terror invaded Vice Admiral Wöhler’s right and left lungs, and finding it increasingly hard to breathe, he sat there frozen in the command seat.

That keyword for disabling the fortress defenses had been the seed of Yang Wen-li’s magic trick—one he had planted one year ago, when he had fled from the fortress. Even so, what an absurd pass phrase! For his part, Yang felt he had worked very hard to come up with an utterance that carried no risk of being used in Iserlohn’s official transmissions dur­ing the next few years—although not even he could have put up a strong argument for it in terms of stylishness and taste.

Clearly, there had to be another phrase to unlock the systems, but as a practical problem, discovering it was an impossibility.

When the Imperial Navy had recovered Iserlohn, a large number of ultra-low-frequency bombs had been discovered. It had been believed that the fleeing Free Planets’ forces had tried and failed to detonate the fortress. However, when he thought about it now, that had actually been an exceedingly clever feint, designed to divert the Imperial Navy’s eyes from the real trap.

“The enemy is about to storm the port!”

“Close the gates! Don’t let them inside!”

Although the order was given, the reply was not hard to guess. When he heard the operator’s cry that the gates couldn’t he closed, Wöhler stood up from the command seat, and gave the order to prepare for hand-to-hand combat. The air inside the fortress vibrated with the sound of alarms.

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THE THOUSAND YEAR BEACH giveaway contest winners!

The Thousand Year Beach is out today! Go buy it…unless you’re one of our four winners! And they are…

Jason, who got sentimental about William Gibson’s Neuromancer!

Jim Rion, who was interested in Tad Williams’s Otherland and its use of the Xhosa language.

Intern Jessica selected John Austin as a winner, perhaps because rather than despite the fact that his answer was just “?” (We get it, the intern wants more challenging assignments.)

Finally, Tatianna, for not just talking about The Matrix, but also The Animatrix!

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THE THOUSAND YEAR BEACH giveaway contest

We are back, with our latest title, TOBI Hirotaka’s The Thousand Year Beach! A story of a long-abandoned virtual reality environment—think something like a TinyMUD or Second Life, but utterly immersive—facing an invasion from inexplicable outside forces, the book is already getting a bit of a buzz. Subscription box Page Habit has selected The Thousand Year Beach as its June science fiction title and we’re looking to help spread the word further with one of our giveaway contests!

You may know the drill by now: respond to this post with a little essay, anecdote, or poem about your favorite book, comic, film, or videogame that focuses on Virtual Reality. Write it up in English, Japanese, Spanish, German, Chinese, or Greek—we ship anywhere! (But we don’t ready every language, just those listed.) On Friday we’ll pick the four answers we like best and ship out the copies.

Are you ready for some mind-blowing SF that is also a literal “beach book”? Get to commenting!

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