The Imperial Southern Border Fleet had an impressive advantage in numbers over the Union defenders at Thassal. With over 70 vessels to around 30 combat-ready Union ships, even with basic barrage tactics they would have easily routed the Union vessels. But Fleet Admiral Gottwald wanted more than a rout. He would accept no less than the Union’s total destruction.
In his view, the way to achieve this was to preemptively split into two fleets in a strategy to trap the Union forces amid a barrage from two sides. Kampfgruppe Kosz, commanded by the Admiral’s most trusted officers, remained on course for Thassal. He expected the battle would be joined in the broad, open plain just before the trench fissure itself. He would command the rest of the fleet personally, carefully maneuvering through a series of rocky highlands known to the Union as Konev’s Mountain, and then descending on the Union flank once they were out in the open.
Admiral Gottwald was convinced of the genius of his strategy. Had those Union thugs even conceived of a flanking maneuver? Did they even post scouts? They would fall to the Imperial art of war perfected over generations. He would win; he was already planning his next move.
It was not the Union that concerned him most. He’d make worse enemies soon.
Taming the barbarians was just a steppingstone to his rise.
“I’ll have to give my thanks to that moron Groessen in hell. If there was one man in this Navy who would shoot first no matter the cost to himself, it would be the good old Duke.”
In the vast, throne room-like command pod of his flagship, the Strasser, Admiral Gottwald stood above his command staff, whose stations were recessed below his own and arrayed around him. All of them had been well taught to mind their own business. There was one voice of sheepish dissent that came from his secretary. She clutched a circular medallion on a chain and mumbled.
“Sir, with all due respect, is it truly proper to slander this man in death?”
“Who’s to say it is slander? You?”
Had it not been his niece, he certainly would have treated her far worse. Instead, he found it amusing to argue with her. As a devout Solceanist she was an easy target for logical argument.
“We don’t know what happened sir–”
“What happened is immaterial. We’re already set on our course.”
Once upon a time, Duke Groessen had been the nobleman in charge of a large portion of the Thassalid territory. Upon the Union uprising, his stature vastly diminished. All Dukes had to perform military duties for the Emperor. Groessen’s domain shrunk to such an extent that all he could do was patrol a strip of border and wait with his hands on his lap, cursing his fortunes.
He was easy prey for Gottwald’s machinations. All he needed was a mission to die for.
With his death, there was immediate cause to reprimand and suppress the Union, but that was less important. There was also no legitimate claim to much of Union territory anymore.
Lands, and vassals to tap into, would soon play a major role in Imperial politics.
Gottwald was not a noble. He was pure military. He had no domains of his own, either to govern nor to exploit for advantage. However, in the coming storm, blood would only go so far. If he could capture the materials and industry of the Union, he would be a Duke in all but name.
“That old bastard will soon perish. There are already significant factions marshalling all of their resources. With Prince Erich deployed to the Ayre Reach, this will be our only chance for us to secure a potential base of power. The Southern Border Fleet is the weakest fleet in the Empire. But with the resources of Ferris at our disposal, we will be undoubtedly relevant to the outcome.”
There was a dawning realization upon the gentle eyes of his niece. As a God-fearing woman, the Lèse-majesté would not have upset her, for the Solceanists believed in the Light-Giver above the surface and placed their faith in him over their imperial duty. Perhaps, however, the scope of current events had finally struck her as an everyday citizen amid the coming chaos.
She made no comment about the state of the Empire. But her expression was troubled.
“Can the Southern Border Fleet truly overturn the Union sir? After all these years?”
Admiral Gottwald smiled.
“We have never seriously tried. They are mere gnats. If it were not for the Republic putting pressure on us, we would have crushed them already. It was the hope that Prince Erich could bloody the Republic enough for a ceasefire, allowing us to march on the Union freely. But that’s a future that’s not worth speaking of, except for this: the Union stands no chance against us.”
On a computer screen hovering just in front of his chair, was a map of the Union territories, with projected enemy deployment and the projected pace of both of his fleets. Soon the pincer would wrap around the enemy’s forces, and their total defeat would inevitably follow. Admiral Gottwald would cease to merely be the Empire’s lookout on the wild frontier. In his own right, perhaps, he could become a king. Or he might just settle for being among those to crown the next.
“Besides, we don’t need to conquer all the Union. If Ferris falls, those cowards will simply hide in the fortresses at Solstice and wait for better tides. We need only cow them into obedience. They were slaves once. A sufficient drubbing from their masters will render them docile.”
Admiral Gottwald sat back on his chair and silently bid his niece to stand at his side.
Obedient, yet sheepishly clutching her little sun icon, she joined him.
“All stations report. We should be seeing the enemy, and our allies.”
There was a generalized murmur among the specialists charged with sonar detection.
On the Admiral’s minicomputer, the sonar readings and their interpretation appeared.
Admiral Gottwald stared at it, dumbfounded.
His hands were shaking. He could not accept what he saw.