Hard Power Exit
Bijan Ardakan, Administrator, sat crouched over a small, hammered silver table on a flat, rainswept roof. He let the rain splash into his coffee.
The rain cooled the brew. Watered down the concentrate. Gave it delicacy.
His grey suit was only wool, and it did its best against the drizzle.
He checked his watch. It counted down.
“Diplomacy wins worlds.”
Bijan was a child when his mentor told him this.
“Never turn to the easy way. You build nothing the easy way.”
Bijan stacked blocks in perfect towers.
“Good Bijan. I only want you ever to build.”
Worlds divided by words. The word for world is The Mighty’s Word.
Bijan liked to write in pencil, and he had snapped his last.
Fifty years on this world and it had come to this. A people, shattered. A church in turmoil.
War. Bitter failure.
Still, he must speak to them.
“They have not obeyed” the emissary priests muttered and shook their heads. “They refuse to be saved. Heathens. They spit in the face of the Mighty, and so the world must be made clean.”
Bijan ignored them, listened to his subaltern whispering though his subdermal aurals.
“Fifteen now. And a sixteenth. That makes an estimated hundred and sixty thousand evacuated. Shuttle seventeen is currently loading. I place departure at 0200, impact at 0230. We cannot save everyone, sir.”
“The Yalta is holding in the projected path,” Solh whispered. “Their TacComm… does not predict tactical success.”
“How bad?” Bijan ignored the priest council in the room with him.
The cold, dead air. The monsoon building outside.
Bijan closed his eyes. He was losing.
Bijan strode across the tarmac, his coat buttoned. Still, he held it closed, squinting against the lash of rain and thruster exhaust.
“She can carry a hundred, maybe two.” The pilot who walked alongside him spoke with a clipped accent. Somewhere Distal.
“And if you leave the cavalry behind?”
The pilot balked. She looked to the shuttle, at the squad of marines hurrying to load their gear.
“I will tell them,” Bijan said. “I will give the order.”
The pilot’s shoulders dropped, relieved.
“I am re-assigning you, pursuant to Union Administrative Code 3, to assist in the defense and evacuation of this world.”
“We’re not a combat unit. These guns,” their sergeant gestured with his helm. “They’re just flashlights. Comms lasers, for training.”
Bijan set his jaw. “You have access to my licenses.”
The motor pool stank and clamored, the heat bleeding off the printer had Bijan sweating through his undershirt.
The pilots worked hurriedly to attach the freshly printed hardware to their chassis.
The sergeant printed Bijan an antimateriel rifle and a hardplate.
The whispers that followed Bijan through the holdout trench were reverent; he was the Grey Man, and none of the militia had seen him this close. Some had even doubted his existence.
They reached out to him, touched the hem of his coat.
Bijan crouched between the legs of a Saladin, nauseous. The stasis field pricked pins and needles through him.
The night was still and warm. Behind, the orange glow of the last lights of the city.
It would be the first target, as was their doctrine.
The sergeant whispered into his comms, though he did not need to.
“Look to the horizon. The sun rises there in two and a half hours. We make it to day and we’ll be alright.”
A cry from somewhere down the line.
Above, a new star had burst into life. Night turned to day for an instant, and then faded.
“That was the Yalta,” Solh muttered. “Landfall is imminent.”
The city’s guns began to fire, the cloth-tear rip of anti-air rounds followed the light, seconds behind.
“Shield your eyes,” the amplified voice from the Saladin chassis.
A red-pink flash, but no heat.
“How much farther?”
Bijan looked down. A young militia, androgene, marched at his side.
“And it is safe there?”
“We will see. But I do hope.”
Bijan, his coat thrown over his shoulder and sleeves rolled, walked the perimeter. Two chassis had made it. Hundreds of androgene.
This was Union ground. An unholy place.
Solh in-frame walked beside him.
“It has been a while, Bijan,” the NHP said. “Terrible, all this.”
Never bring your people the gun, this Bijan’s mentor had told him. A weapon is a betrayal. It does not mean strength: it means fear.
Coffee means strength. To sit a king at your table, and win a world through words.
Throw down your weapons. Let us talk.
The Warpriest walked through the ruins of the profane temple, a sweet cloth pressed to his nose.
Behind, a young acolyte hurried. The boy read the Word, so that the Warpriest’s ears would not suffer the crackle of burning dead.
The Grey Man, held by two manquellers.
“Demon. Sweet-tongue. What are you? What plane do you call home?”
“I have told you already. My name is Bijan Ardakan. I am the Administrator of this world, and I demand to--”
“You twist my words. I said what are you, demon?”
“I am human.”
The Warpriest watched his manquellers drag the unconscious demon away.
He took another sniff of his sweet cloth.
Another world, free from the false god Union, it who held all things in its grasp.
The Warpriest gave a prayer in thanks.
His death would be a small thing, for he had shown the power of the Word Manifest.
“Sir,” a manqueller at his side. “The battlescape is alight: We have shattered their Demon Gate, the survivors will make for this world.”
Now, to war.