Vassalage Prose in Stellar Journey | World Anvil
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Ezekiel Vassago leant back in the worn chair of the ship's passenger compartment. The change in orbit of the Repeat Offender may have well been a manoeuvre safe beyond reasonable doubt, but it never failed to stir a measure of fear in his fusion-powered heart. The ship was old, a relic of Aelayeron, a colony two generations back. Chances are that it's past two centuries old, more than twice his own age. It creaked at every turn and minute thrust, and the thump of the heavier point-defense coilguns firing at debris drummed through the hull. "It'll be fine", he thought to himself. He'd been on similar trips so many times, as is a part of the role for the Librarian-Consul of the Teinean governing body. This time though, it's somewhat different. Where normally he'd be managing trade routes between habitats, or mediating his home habitat's external politics, now there's a more... large-scale, he supposed, matter at hand. The approach to the fleet, gravitationally locked at the L3 point of the planet, Inviolable and its moon, took another few hours. Soon enough, the ambient glow of the antimatter thrusters and the lights of many, many drones and scanning satellites of the Kauhunkylväjä, the head of this "28th Cellean fleet", became visible through the dark of space. What a ridiculous name, he thought. It was likely in some niche, inane language that wasn't recorded in any of the system's culture's archives. It may have meant something profound, though most likely, as spaceship naming conventions go, it was some specific reference to historical events or cultural pieces.
While he went through his plan and the motions of it, his advisor, Theronic, who'd been staring off into the void, finally said something.
"From the looks of things, this fleet seems to have about ten thousand ships in it. That's only warships, in fact. Want to guess how many ships the entire system's nations have in total?"
She was an older woman, older than him by well over half a century. Not that she let it show on her face, as only the slight weariness in her voice betrayed her age. Not that you could see her face that well, covered by a large blue, black lightning-streaked hood.
"Hard to say. A few thousand perhaps?"
"Trick question; our enemies and rivals, hell, even our friends, would never disclose that information in enough detail. But yes, that seems to be a good estimate. Still easily not enough, and that's not factoring in the technological disparity between the navies or the many inefficiencies that would come from commanding a joint fleet like that. It's also not counting in the other similarly sized fleet doing what this one's doing, just over Aldurukh."
"Right. The 27th fleet, yes? How troubling. Even if this plan works out as intended, we'll still have that fleet to contend with." As she was opening he mouth to respond, the shuttle's internal communication system crackled to life;
"Preparing approach to the Kauhunkylväjä. Stanby for deceleration and course adjustment manoeuvres." The ship creaked unpleasantly again as it burned the braking thrusters near its front. Not long now, until the plan could be set into motion. On either side of the Repeat Offender, the two escort ships pulled in closer to enter the hangar bay. The Kishimoto was the smaller, primarily missile-equipped gunship, useless against any competent warship, but still worthwhile as an escort for orbital travels. The larger ship, about the size of the Offender, was the D12, a far more equipped gunship, with a varying assortment of weapons.
The hangar doors opened slowly, revealing an enormous hall full of lights and industrial cabling. The ships entered from the bottom, as it were, and were each directed into a smaller subsection of it. As the Offender moved toward the door, the ambassadorial guard of Teiniea started to move, preparing themselves to leave before their masters would. And soon, the ship touched down on a pad. The smaller hall's doors closed behind the shuttle, and air started to flow back in through the vents. Once the hall was pressurized enough, the ship announced the arrival, and the ramp of the passenger compartment lowered, and his guard unit moved to formation. He grabbed his staff, a symbol of office with lightning-ornament-tipped ropes hanging from the top, and stood up, moving toward the door. He walked slowly, nervous for the success of the plan as well as well as perpetually bothered by a slight limp, one he kept as a memory of events long past.   They were intending to meet with the Admiral-Captain of this fleet, the leader, Ezekiel supposed. Yet when he disembarked the ship after the guard had done so, the sight before him was not what he had expected. First off, the admiral had his own personal guard beside him, four of them. Protected by large, heavy armour, HAST suits, most likely, they carried large swords held in front of their heads, point upwards. In the middle of the formation was whom he presumed was the Admiral-Captain. Ezekiel had interacted with many fleet leaders and admirals, and so assumed the leader of this fleet would be like the rest; an ordinary person, perhaps decorated with medals or other decorations, but otherwise in an official outfit and most definitely not what stood a meter or two from him. He had to pivot his head well upwards to look him in the eyes, as the synthetic in front of him was enormous, well past two whole meters, he had to be. His form-plating was like his personal guards' and, like them, coloured an obsidian black, and intricately engraved with gold flame-like patterns. He had a suitably massive sword on his back, and his limbs looked strong enough to punch a hole through Ezekiel. The strangest part, though, was his head. Ezekiel had heard of sharks before; aquatic animals originating on Earth, present on quite a number of terraformed planets throughout human space. Not any he'd visited, though. Even so, he surmised the head of the admiral to be styled after one. It was a dull steel colour, with the same engravings as the rest. There was a large fin atop it, likely for cooling, and jagged, triangular teeth on both sides of the mouth. Like Ezekiel's, the Admiral-Captain's large jaw moved as he spoke:
"You must be the Librarian-Consul Vassago, correct? I am the Admiral-Captain of Cellea of the 28th Fleet, Martte Silkkanen, though many know me as simply Mad."
The giant of a synthetics' slit-like eyes stared unrelentingly into the Librarian-Consul's eyes as he took a moment to respond. "I am Ezekiel Vassago, indeed. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Admiral-Captain Silkkanen."
"Likewise. Now, perhaps we should head to the bridge. We shall discuss things in more detail there," he said, gesturing to follow and turning away. As the admiral moved, so did his guard, moving toward the hall's entrance.
  The guard did not follow them to the transit system. The Admiral-Captain had dismissed them earlier, leaving them at the hangars. For what purpose, Ezekiel could only guess. The transit system's cabin was plenty capable of transporting them as well. Well, no matter. The lack of black-clad soldiers with identical helmets all standing taller than him certainly eased his tension. It seemed to have eased Theronic's, too, as she was engaged in conversation with the admiral. Something about logistics and the troubles of large-scale fleet interstellar travel, all well above his own paygrade or interest. Still, he studied the Admiral-Captain from the side, while his focus was on the advisor, his eyes pointed at her, unable to see Ezekiel. Or at least logically he'd have not been able to. Even still, he felt a chill looking at the giant of a synthetic, as if he, too, was being studied. Shrugging it off, he decided to entertain the prospect of acceding to the fleet's demands. When a suitable pause came by, he spoke:
"Admiral-Captain Silkkanen, what is this Cellean Autocratic Space like? What benefits would there be in joining it?"
"I am glad you asked, Librarian-Consul. The benefits are many, including most evidently security and access to trade routes and the advanced technology of Cellea proper, a first-generation settlement. The details I will disclose in more detail in further meetings and such."
"I understand. Sounds rather beneficial, I suppose."
His advisor added her piece:
"And what if we disagree? I can't imagine a massive fleet such as yours is here for merely decoration and peaceful negotiations."
"You are not given a choice." The tone of the admiral suddenly went stern: "You will join, or you will cry and join. For the sake of your people, I recommend not resisting. It is better for everyone."
"Except the freedom of our people."
"For now, perhaps. But even then, we will not oppress you, or treat you poorly. If you join willingly."
The rest of the ride was rather silent, if not for the constant grinding of the mag-lev rails of the cabin. The Admiral-Captain seemed somewhat absent, as if in conversation with someone else. Perhaps he was, augments allowing it were very feasible. Ezekiel, too, had some. Was their plan found out? He quickly contacted his own guard, left in the hangar with the D12, being careful to use an obscure frequency and not make any strange movements.
"Report. What's the condition of the 'delivery'? Is the plan secure?"
The captain of the guard responded, his young-sounding voice synthesized very clearly from his brainwaves: "The Cellean guard haven't done shit to the D12, but they sure seem a bit suspicious about it. Further orders?"
"Stay put. Make sure no one approaches, as we discussed. You remember the means to keep them away, yes?"
"Roger that."
With that load off his chest, Ezekiel lightened up slightly, and nodded to Theronic. She nodded back, understanding the message.   The trip to the bridge took another twenty minutes, traversing the three-kilometer travel from the center of the ship to near the front, where the bridge was. The bridge itself was a rather brutalist sight. It had some décor and ornate trappings, but for the most part, the supporting pillars were geometrical, the colours were mostly a dark, very slightly blue, gray. There were more of the Admiral's guard, too, much to his dismay. The only levity from the bridge's dull appearance was the observation globe further forward, showing a view of the space, and a now very small Inviolable, outside as if through the hull. He'd seen such a device only a few times before, and each time it was as stunning as before. Perhaps this Cellean Autocratic Space truly did have the advertised level of technology. How impressive, he thought. Maybe vassalage might not be that bad. He quickly banished such thoughts, almost ashamed of them. He had his mission.   After a few hours of discussion and argument, the Librarian-Consul made a move to leave. "We will review you proposal and deliver an answer in due time," he said, full well knowing they'd never meet again. As he stood up, so did the admiral, who moved in front of him.
"What is this, Admiral-Captain? We are leaving, and, again, will get back to you in time."
"No." He simply stated, his voice even sterner than on the transit cab. "You will not. There is yet more to discuss."
"And what would that be?" Came the voice of Theronic from behind him, wavering ever so slightly. "We have discussed all the terms of joining Cellea, as well as how the logistics will work out. There is nothing more to discuss."
"Wrong. There is the matter of you smuggling a fusion bomb into my flagship." Said the Admiral-Captain, never taking his eyes off Ezekiel. The two froze. How had they figured it out? Had they killed the guard of the D12? No, their life signs were completely intact. They couldn't have investigated the ship up close, the guard was there to prevent that, with all the authority and excuses possible. What could it be?
"I don't understand what you mean." He lied, shifting his weight ever so slightly and moving his hands closer, as if showing meekness. If the admiral noticed, he made no show of it.
"We scanned your ships as you arrived, and found small discrepancies with ships of similar type and what you reported before coming aboard. From there, small nanomachines investigated your ship up close. Apprehend them, guards."
Of course. Ezekiel, frontier-human-space inhabitant he was, had completely overlooked the Celleans' significant technological advantage. He'd never expected that to be an option. Within a second, Ezekiel recognized that the plan had failed, and so moved to the backup. If he could not destroy the flagship, he would kill the admiral. He moved his hands, and from within his left arm, came a layered chain dagger, which he quickly shifted to his right hand, and, remarkably fast for his physique, thrust it up toward the Admiral-Captain's chest.   It never hit its mark. His arm was grabbed midway through the stab, and immediately after, he felt a striking, sudden pain in his head, as if it had been struck with a sledgehammer. His right eye shattered and went dark, and the form-plating of his face cracked and buckled under the impact. He flew to the floor, only held up by his right arm still in the giant's grasp. In a few seconds, the far more experienced advisor of his made her move. She drew a small hilt from her waist, and projected a long hardened plasma blade from it. It was a backup, a highly advanced piece of technology for the region. It meant nothing to the Admiral-Captain. Inhumanly fast for someone his size, he snatched the blade from the Librarian-Consul, and flung it at Theronic's arm. It struck true, and her left hand hand involuntarily slipped off of her sword's hilt. Still, she advanced, faster than the guards could make it to help their admiral. This was it, Ezekiel thought. Even if he'd die, so would the admiral, and things would perhaps be better for his home. But no, the admiral was far faster. He slipped between her swing, and struck his fist into her stomach with more power than either could ever muster, then the other into her intact arm, bending it the wrong way with a crunch. As the air left her lungs from the strike, she was caught by the neck, lifted up for a moment, then slammed into the table they were around. With that, she was out for the count. Alive, likely, but unconscious for a good while.   The Admiral-Captain drew his gold-coated greatsword and placed it at the neck of the now-sitting Ezekiel.
"Ordinarily, your plot would force me to publicly execute you as an example to the other nations of the system. Perhaps my friend has done the same to the leaders of some nation over at Aldurukh." He stated, very matter-of-fact, as if he'd done this a thousand times earlier. "But I respect the effort, especially this back-up plan. Do you know how the Cellean process of conquest goes, Librarian-Consul?"
Ezekiel struggled to move his only eye to face the synthetic holding him to the sword. "No, I don't. How is this relevant?"
"You, as a nation, were at step 1 of the process. The steps are rather logical, and proceed depending on the response of the subject nation.
First, a demand of subjugation and vassalage is issued. If this is agreed, the nation is vassalized, and will be treated as a loyal subject and a full part of the Cellean Autocratic Space.
If that request is denied, the next step will be war. A war to conquer, avoiding unnecessary casualties and collateral damage. Surrender during this phase results in worse treatment and harsher occupation, yet is largely fair and not too harsh.
If that is resisted, a total war is initiated, and the survivors will be forced to join. They will not be treated as equals, and will be subjugated with an iron fist.
If this, too, is resisted against or subverted, total annihilation follows. Our fleets are equipped with WMDs like relativistic kill missiles or antimatter bombardment weapons, and even a Ruin-Engine. We could cleanse your planets with ease."
He neared closer to the Librarian-Consul, his slit-eyes' gaze not moving even slightly from Ezekiel's eye, and lowered his voice even further.
"Do you understand, Librarian-Consul Vassago? You were at stage 1 of subjugation. I will grant you one more chance, for the sake of your people. I will look past this, and keep you all at stage 1, and await your decision. Surrender your autonomy, and you will be treated well, and not as the second-class citizens this would warrant."
"But... why? Why treat us like this?"
"Hard to say. Perhaps I respect the boldness of your back-up plan. Perhaps I feel the standards are too strict. Perhaps I want to minimize bloodshed, and know that killing you two would not sway your people. Does it matter? Be glad you face me, and not my friend, Admiral-Captain Ventan, over at Aldurukh. He would have your heads for this, as protocol suggests." The admiral finally moved his sword off Ezekiel's neck. He kept his eyes glued to the Librarian-Consul: "Now go, spread the word, and convince your home to accede to Cellean integration. I will make an example of your nation, one way or another. An example as to what happens if integration is refused or accepted. Which one that example will be of, depends on you. For your sake, I recommend the latter. That said, if the rest of your people are as feisty as you two, perhaps I could get a good fight from them if you refuse. I wouldn't mind. It's your choice. You have two weeks."   As the Repeat Offender and its two escorts, even the D12, veered back to a trajectory leading to its home, the words of the admiral echoed in Ezekiel's mind. Perhaps he was right. His habitat was definitely in no shape to fight a fleet like that, and if he was being honest, they'd be the only ones to have war waged against - nearby factions would likely not help. His musings were interrupted by Theronic finally waking up. She stirred for a moment, then winced a little in pain, clearly still hurting from the beating she took. Soon enough, she processed where she was:
"Huh? Where am I? What's happened, Ezekiel? How are we here? Is the admiral still around?"
"Calm down, Theronic. It's fine, I'm fine."
"Half your face is missing!" She said, pointing to his broken eye.
"It can be fixed. But back to the point. Me and the Admiral-Captain came to... an conclusion. An agreement, perhaps."
"You can't be seriously considering surrender, can you?" She seemed shocked, betrayed, even. Reasonable, he supposed. "The freedom of our people is something we've always prided ourselves on. It's... sacred, for lack of a better term."
"I don't see much of an option. It's that or a grueling war we will lose, no doubt. Come the worst, he could just destroy the habitat entirely. And besides, you know the terms. They aren't all that awful. They'll be worse if we resist."
"Fair points, I suppose, though I can't see myself agreeing. This will need consideration. A lot of it."
"I know. But it's my job now to direct that decision towards... acceding the demands, much as it pains me to say. I will try."
"I may well not follow you on this, my Librarian-Consul. The freedom of our people has always been a major element of our culture, even before Teinea. It's why we came here. I still remember all of it. What you consider is a controversial approach, and I cannot find it within me to agree."
"I can't blame you."
She was right. It would be difficult, but he'd have to try. He felt rather shameful for what he intended, but this was all for his people, was it not? He sure hoped so.

Yeah okay I just used the challenge as an excuse to write a thing, it doesn't really have that much to do with adventure. Lol, lmao.   It's also my first time writing any meaningful amounts of prose, so that's a thing.


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