Travin Rumanski was a survivor.
During the Great War, he survived in the ghettos of Scande, even as both his brothers died – one killed by Dark Wrath soldiers, one killed by Grand Army bombing. After the war, when the new nation of the Scandian League was created, Travin ushered in a communist revolution, and when division in the communist leadership broke out, he purged his rivals.
Since the Great War, he survived for twenty-five years as the undisputed master of one of the Web’s Great Powers. Travin was a deeply unsentimental pragmatist, but there was on possession he still kept: a rare photo of himself with Prime Minister Rhodes Palmerston, King Doan Pendouris, and Mic Hosluft. Of the four men who built the Great Powers – who built the modern Web – Travin was the only one still living.
These days, he rarely stayed in one place for long. Even the fortified headquarters of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension) felt too unsafe for him. Dozens of bunkers across the dimension, each supposedly proof against an Ultima blast, had been constructed for Travin; he moved between them, rarely staying in one place for long. He often had body doubles make appearances in his stead. As they say, it’s not paranoia if they are out to get out.
Despite his rather lengthy official title as General Secretary of the All-Union Communist Party (of the Dragon Dimension), Travin was more commonly referred to simply as koyzha , the Scandish word for “boss.”
Deep in this underground bunker, the heads of Travin’s military and intelligence services stood before him. There was Pitne Earthclaw, the Gramorian who had done her best to whip the space forces into shape despite limited resources. There was Georgi Tarkov, a massive black human, in charge of SLCM-Sea, who had built one of the Web’s leading blue ocean navies around carrier task forces and Orca special operations. There was Ivan Gletkin, Chief of S/31, an efficient sociopath with a balding and bespectacled appearance resembling a middle-aged accountant. S/31 – the League’s intelligence services – boasted deep cover agents throughout the Web and a cadre of Spetsnatz super-soldiers.
And, of course, there was Halder Skalice, in charge of the entire Scandian League Combined Military, including thousands of tanks, mechanized infantry, and the elite mecha forces of the Dracoforms Service. Halder was a forest clanner – an anthromorphic wolf-man – and he was getting on in years (by forest clan standards), but his stunning tactical victories in the Leviathan War and other successful campaigns made him one of the Web’s most feared commanders.
These men were some of the most capable and ruthless in the Web, people who had at their command some of the most fearsome intelligence and military forces of any nation. Travin could execute any of them on a whim.
They were gathered here to discuss if they should plunge the Web again into a massive war between the Great Powers. The operative question was simple: could Scande win?
“This is a possible opportunity,” said Gletkin, the intelligence chief. “King Edge was well-liked throughout the Web, and he had a personal relationship with many potential allies. King Naquan Kurita…doesn’t.”
“The Guardians will fight,” growled Halder. The forest clanner shifted uncomfortably beneath the folds of his dust-grey uniform. “Eblan was their Coalition partner during their war of aggression against the Merge League.”
Travin nodded. “A showdown with Guardia has been inevitable ever since they made themselves the enemies of peace and freedom. What of the other so-called Great Powers?”
This was the critical question for everyone in the room. The Scandian League Combined Military was a fearsome beast, and the Scandians thought they could win against any one of the other Great Powers. But against multiple enemies, the story was different. No Great Power was strong enough to fight two of the other powers, and so the balance of terror persisted.
The Esper Union has been consumed by internal difficulties for the past decade,” said Halder. “They are a shell of their former selves. This is not the Esper Union of Hannibal and TO Halberg…I can assure you of that.”
“Doma is a bit of a wildcard, though,” said Gletkin. The small kingdom had managed to attain independence during the Esper Union’s time of internal strife – it was a bit of an upstart, and as such was difficult for the spymaster to predict. “The newly-independent country may wish to assert itself on the global stage…but as for the Esper Union itself, I agree with Comrade Skalice. The leadership is just not committed to a Second Leviathan War.”
No one had said “Second Leviathan War” yet, but that was, of course, what they were contemplating. The last Leviathan War seventeen years ago was the last time the Great Powers had come to blows, and although it was the Esper Union and Scandian League that fought each other, it was the Tasnica Republic that emerged after the war as the pre-eminent Great Power. Since that time, Tasnica had tried to promote peace and stability in the Web, in order to protect their economy and trade.
“So, what about Tasnica?” asked Pitne Earthclaw. The diminutive mole-person had been placed in charge of SLCM-Space after the previous leader was liquidated for his inadequate performance. She had initiated a new ship construction program intended to bring SLCM-Space in line with the other Great Powers – but it was not finished yet. In the inter-service rivalry between Sea, Ground, and Space, Space was often left a distant third. (SLCM-Air having been essentially been divided between the other services some time ago.)
“Our defenses around Crystal III are strong,” said Pitne, “with our mighty battlestation, the Righteous and Resilient Fist backing up multiple fighters and cruisers. We can stand up to the Guardian Crystalspace Fleet, but if the Tasnicans are involved, we can’t stop both.”
“They might have fought for King Edge, but they won’t fight for King Naquan,” said Gletkin. There was no need to read any spy reports on the matter – the Tasnican media, and many Tasnican politicians, were openly critical of the new king.
“Do you think Guardia could convince the Tasnicans to change sides?”
“Unlikely,” said Halder. “Relations between Tasnica and Guardia are the worst they have been in years. Tensions over Mana IV are high…and there was that business with the Import-Export Group.”
“I concur with Comrade Skalice,” said Gletkin. “I would add that the peace faction in Tasnica is quite strong.”
“Pacifists,” spat Travin. “Useful idiots.”
“Of course,” added Gletkin, pedantically, “there was at one point an anticommunist faction in Tasnican politics. But since Rycar Mountbatten was disgraced for his involvement in the Worus Mercenary Scandal, they have no high-level voices. The war will be over before the Tasnicans can make up their mind.”
Halder shook his head. “Don’t be so sure,” he said. “Once this begins, we have no way of knowing how it will end. War has its fortunes…good and bad.”
The Georgi Tarkov laughed – he was a big, dark skin manned, with a deep belly laugh. As head of SLCM-Sea, he had built a formidable navy at a time when most of the Web was ignoring the world’s oceans, forcing the rest of the web to play catch-up. “Perhaps Comrade Skalice has lost his stomach for a fight?” he chided. “You are getting old, my dear Halder…perhaps you should let someone else head this war?”
“Like who?” retorted Halder. “You?”
“I do not know why you should lead this Second Leviathan War,” said Tarkov, “after you failed to lead us to victory in the First.”
Halder tensed. This was a sore spot for him; despite his many brilliant tactical victories, strategic success had eluded him. For the battles he had won, he did not win the war. As in involuntary tick, he pulled his lips back, revealing his wolfish fangs. “ Tarkov ,” he spat, “you have done well when you can drive your ships around the Web unopposed, or when you need to bully Delvia or Fabul or something…but how long has it been since you’ve had been in a real fight?”
“SLCM-Sea has extensively wargamed against the Coalition Allied Navy, the Esperian Oceanic Forces, and the Republic Navy.”
“Wargames are one thing, war is another,” chided Halder.
“With the decline of the Kriesgnavee, we’ve been the only ones to keep alive the savage, yet noble art of oceanic combat!” insisted Tarkov.
Travin frowned. He did not like his generals squabbling.
He did not even need to say a word to send a chill through the room. Halder and Tarkov – respectively the leaders of one of the Web’s strongest armies and one of its strongest navies – fell into an ashamed silence.
Travin icily put the meeting back on track. “What about Eblan itself?”
“King Naquan has the support of most of the noble houses, and of the military,” said Gletkin.
“He’s quite popular with the military, actually,” added Halder. “He fought alongside them in Merge. Despite his noble status, he insisted on being treated as a common soldier. He was twice decorated for courage.”
“You sound almost as if you admire him, Halder,” said Tarkov.
Halder waved his hand. “He makes a fine soldier, but he’s a poor commander. He bungled the Three Week War, and during the Coalition-Merge War he was not given any positions of any real responsibility. And, since he’s become King, he has yet to appoint anyone to fill his old job as Shogun. The Eblanese Kingdom Armed Forces have a leadership vacuum.”
Gletkin continued, as though Halder’s interjection never happened. “Although Naquan Kurita is popular with the military, he is hated in certain circles.”
“Like who?” asked Pitne, the gramorian.
“Like us,” answered Halder, the forest clanner. “Guy’s practically a human supremacist.”
“He believes the Eblan’s non-human population is susceptible to communist infiltration,” said Gletkin. “So he has clamped down on them. Which, of course, has radicalized them and made them more open to communist infiltration. There’s also the non-ethnic Eblanese population, who are outraged that some of King Edge’s reforms are being rolled back.”
“This is an opportunity,” said Travin. “We have the chance to strike before he consolidates his control. The oppressed peoples of Eblan will welcome us as liberators, and they will rally behind Ichiro Mitsuhama.”
Ichiro Mitsuhama was a noble who sympathized with the plight of Eblan’s downtrodden, which had led to him working with communist movements and the Scandian League. He had been rotting in an Eblanese jail for ten years – but he had been writing, and his “Letters from Prison” had earned him fame and status as a man of the people. He was popular among the common people, and technically as a noble his claim to the throne was about as good as the Kuritas. The Eblanese people would never submit to a foreign invader – but they might accept a King who was more favorable to Travin.
Of course, one of the ways that Naquan could consolidate his support was by defeating a foreign invader, and the Eblanese Kingdom Armed Forces were no pushover. “EKAF has two parts,” said Halder, “there’s the Mobile Corps. They are well-trained, well-equipped, all volunteers, and many are veterans of the Coalition-Merge War. Then there’s the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army are mostly conscripts, and they are lacking heavy equipment; I don’t anticipate much of a fight from them.” The SLCM Central Command war plan for Eblan was all about a quick victory – getting stuck in a quagmire there would allow Guardia to counterattack. The hope was to win quickly in Eblan, and then march on Truce with reinforcements from Ticondera and Kuvalla.
“For our plan to succeed,” said Halder, looking at Pitne Earthclaw and Georgi Tarkov, “ you need to stop the Guardians from reinforcing. SLCM-Sea needs to stop them from coming by sea, and SLCM-Space needs to prevent them from reinforcing from orbit.”
“The Coalition Allied Navy is divided between Crystal and Gate,” said Tarkov. “If we concentrate our force and hit them by surprise, we will have the advantage.”
Earthclaw sighed; she had hoped to have another few years to build up more ships before the inevitable fight with the Guardians. “With our battlestation, we can hold Crystal III orbit….but what about the other nations of Crystal?”
Besides Eblan, there were several nations in Crystal: the magocratic Mysidian Commonwealth (a member of the Communist Protectorate and Scande’s ally), Fabul (a fascist country that basically hated everyone), Baron (a once-strong country, mostly isolationist these days), and Toria, a nation whose dynamic leader, Tally Quorsen, had long dreamed of a unified Crystal dimension.
“The Mysidians are with us, of course,” said Travin. Halder was quite glad for this – with the Mysidians supporting his troops, his forces would have a lot more magic users at his disposal than the Eblanese.
Gletkin slicked his hair back, covering his bald spot. “The Dwarven Underground Kingdom won’t help Eblan…Naquan wasted no time in insulting the dwarven ambassador, and he has publicly condemned dwarves and muls in Eblan as a criminal, violent element. And the drow of Zhanduril…well, they don’t get involved with surface affairs very often.”
“What about the Torians?” asked Halder. The Torian Rangers had proven themselves in the Leviathan War, and although the Torians did not have a large army, they had a handful of elite units which could turn the tide.
“Tally Quorsen has tried to avoid confrontation with communism,” said Gletkin. “The Torians are developing an impressive new mecha…but it is not ready yet. If we do not antagonize them directly, they probably won’t bother us. They’re more concerned with Fabul.”
“As long as we control the seas and space, it’s not like they could get troops to Eblan anyway,” said Tarkov. “We should also consider ramping up our support for the Revolutionary Army of Damcyan, to keep the Fabul army busy.”
Damcyan had been occupied by Toria and Fabul since the end of the first Leviathan War, nearly fifteen years ago.
Travin shook his head. “This era of the four great powers is ending,” he said. “It was a pleasant fiction for a time, but nothing lasts forever. After the war – when Scande is the superpower and capitalism lies prostrate – we will be able to settle accounts in the ledger…we can free Damcyan, help the FTSR re-unite Ticondera, and restore Tycoon to Merge.”
“We have to beat Guardia first,” said Halder. The other service chiefs glanced sideways at him; probably any other man in the League would be executed for daring to be so blunt to koyzha , but Halder could get away with it.
“Guardian power hasn’t been the same since their unravelling,” said Gletkin. “Eblan is important because it was one of Guardia’s key allies. With Eblan out of the way, they are virtually alone in fighting us, Ticondera, Kuvalla, the Mysidian Commonwealth, and the Merge League.”
This was, of course, the key question. If Scande could beat Guardia, than this was the time to fight. If they couldn’t, it was better to do what Scande had done during the forties: build their capability and bide their time.
“What about the Alliance Congress?” asked Halder – after all, part of the reason for forming the Alliance Congress was explicitly to prevent the kind of war they were now contemplating.
“The New Peace died with Rhodes Palmerston,” said Travin. “Whatever semblance of unity and protection it provided it a phantom…a memory. The dirty little secret of his desire to preserve peace in the Web was that it was a Web with Tasnica on top. Sooner or later, someone is going to end this charade of ‘peace’…if we don’t attack the Guardians today, the Guardians may attack us tomorrow.”
“But,” said Halder, “what about Celiose?”
“Celiose?” asked Pitne Earthclaw. “I think he’s getting old.”
Travin glared at the gramorian. “We all get old…or we die.” He grinned ghoulishly – one of the only times Halder had ever seen Travin smile. It sent a chill through the room. “I remember, just after the revolution, some idiots in our government wanted to make war on the Grand Army, because they believed, like Caidin, that it was a tool of the capitalist oppressors. They did not understand that it was suicide to make war on the GA…but I did. It was idiotic to fight GACA – you had to work within GACA. Twenty-five years ago the Grand Army dominated all political questions in the Web. But the nations of the Web didn’t like it, and we conspired to weaken the GA so we could all have our own little imperialist wars. And then we cut the Grand Army’s budget, so we could have more money for our own militaries to continue to fight with each other. We were all so afraid that the Grand Army may turn on us, we made it impossible for it to be a threat anymore.”
Halder shook his head. “It’s true the GA isn’t what it used to be,” he said, “but there’s no soldier alive who would underestimate an army led by Celiose.”
“I saw Celiose, recently,” said Travin. Travin was sounding uncharacteristically conversational; almost friendly. “I was in Albrook for the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the victory of the Great War. Celiose looked tired . He wasn’t tired of fighting – he is tired of peace. They say he’s finally going to retire – finally keep his promise to poor Shana. Even if he did want to act to stop our war, the House of Lords would never support him – they’ve opposed the deployment of the GA in any conflict between the member states since the Imperialist War. Besides…once we win the war, we will basically run GACA anyway.”
“So have you settled it, then?” asked Halder. “If the Alliance Congress won’t stop us, we can take Eblan easily…and then we can prepare for the showdown with Guardia.”
There was a moment of silence in the room.
Travin Rumanski was a survivor – and the reason he had survived was that he was a brutal pragmatist. He wasn’t about to launch a war he didn’t think he could win.
“Do it,” said Travin. “It is time to usher in a new era. Let us bring the Web communism.”