....In the Shade

by Zen Master

Copyright© 2017 by Zen Master

Science Fiction Story: Sometimes your turn is up. There's nothing you can do about it. All that matters now is to make it count.

Tags: Military   War   Space  

“Then we shall fight in the shade.”

{Author’s note: I had this scene running through my mind, and I wasn’t gonna get anything else done until I wrote it down. Problem is, it’s the opening engagement of an interstellar war, and I’m not up to writing all THAT unless someone’s paying me for it. So, anyone who can use this is free to do so. -ZM}

Final Report on the Battle at Enri 17, Appendix 7:

Part 1 - The last transmission received from FS Lima before hostilities began:

[begin transcript]

“Is it my turn now? Yes? Thank you. Let me start by complimenting you on your extraordinarily detailed description of how great and wonderful and powerful your empire is. Unfortunately, it was all completely wasted. How long did it take? About half an hour, while I patiently waited for you to get done so we could get to something meaningful? Do your people’s work have any value? If so, you just completely wasted a half hour of skilled labor time for however many thousands of people are in your fleet. What’s more important, you just gave, without any coercion at all, a free half hour to our entire Federation to prepare for your invasion.

The reason that half hour was wasted was because of what you chose to speak about. All of your people already know how great and wonderful your empire is, so they didn’t need to be told, and my people? My people don’t give a shit. None of them are ever going to be PART of your empire, so they don’t care about it.”

“You are going to surrender your fleet...”

“Oh, shut up. I listened to you blather for half an hour, and you can listen to me for that long, too. You and I, we are equals here. You command all empire forces here, and I command all Federation forces here. Regardless of the forces present, we are equals and if I listened to you then you will damn well shut up and listen to what I want to say. I can guarantee that you will hear something that your empire will want to know about.

Now, as I was saying, my people have been here before. Back in the beginning of our history, there was a great empire which thought that it should be even bigger and greater. The people it attacked in one of it’s campaigns asked their neighbors for help, and those neighbors gave it.

Well, the empire saw that as an excuse to invade those neighbors, too, but that didn’t go well at all. Basically, they got their heads cut off and handed to them with a ‘nice try, please try again later’.

Now, the empire was separated from these people by a small sea, and the land on both sides was mountainous for hundreds of miles, so it wasn’t easy to attack each other.

Still, this was an insult that the empire could not bear, that a small group of city-states that couldn’t even get along with each other could fight them off, so they gathered an immense army to invade as well as a huge fleet to protect them as they crossed.

The Persian King went along to provide any leadership needed, as well as to claim personal credit for the victory. The historians on both sides claimed that the Persians sent a million men to subdue the Greeks, but these days we’re pretty sure that that was an exaggeration. This was back when the height of technology was a cow walking in circles, driving a grain mill. How could those people feed that many soldiers?

Anyway, it was a lot, a completely overwhelming force. Many of the Greeks counseled surrender, as otherwise their cities would be destroyed with all in them when they were captured. Many other Greeks vowed to fight, though, as if their cities never got captured they didn’t need to worry about being destroyed. Still, the arguing took time, and the Persian army reached Greece before they were ready.

Several cities sent out a small force to try to slow the Persians down while they prepared. Sparta, known for its soldiers, sent its king and 300 men. As insignificant as this number was, this was the largest contingent so King Leonidas was accepted as the overall commander for the force. They got to a mountain pass a few days before the invaders, and started building a stone wall as fast as they could.

This pass was next to the ocean and there was no good way around it, and there was a hot spring nearby, so the pass was known as the ‘hot gates’, or in Greek ‘Thermopylae’.

When the Persian advance guard reached the pass, there were 1000 or so Greeks there to defend it. They tried to rush the pass, but got thrown back with horrible losses. The Spartan soldiers WERE better than the Persian soldiers, and numbers can only do so much. In the confined space of the pass, superior numbers didn’t mean much at all.

After several failed assaults, the Persian advance guard pulled back to wait for the rest of the army. When it arrived, the Persian emperor sent an official to talk to the defenders.

The Persian envoy wasted a lot of time doing the same thing you just did, talking about how great his empire was, how large his army was, and what the fate of the Greeks surely must be if they didn’t surrender. King Leonidas didn’t care. He had orders to defend the homes of his fathers and children by slowing the approaching army, and defending this pass was the best way to do that.

The conference ended when the Persian envoy gave what he thought would be a clinching argument. ‘Our archers are so numerous that their arrows will block the sun.’

Sparta’s King Leonidas the First is said to have replied “Then we shall fight in the shade.”

Well, there really wasn’t anything else to be said after that. The Persian envoy had to return to his emperor with word that the defenders would not be budged, and the attack was on.

It took the Persians several more days, almost a week, to break through the defenses at Thermopylae, and their losses were obscene, in the tens of thousands. King Leonidas sent all the other groups home, once it was clear that they would soon fall. Only his 300 Spartans stayed with him to the end. During the time he was buying, the Greek city-states stopped squabbling and armed every man who could hold a spear. The harvest doesn’t matter, if we’re all slaves or dead.

By the time it was too late in the year to continue, the Persian army had conquered about half of Greece. But, it was the northern half with few cities, just towns and villages and farms. They had yet to reach the south with all the important cities. And they had lost about a third of their army. The Greeks fought over every rock, every stream, every road, every mountain.

When winter set in, the Persian emperor had to return home to deal with other problems, leaving about half of what was left of his army. The Greeks overwhelmed it during the winter, and by the spring when the Persians could invade again the Greeks had retaken everything they had lost. What was more, their fleet went out seeking the Persian fleet and destroyed it in a series of battles, preventing any more landings on their shores. It was a whole generation before the Persian empire could try again, and by that time the Greeks really were ready for them.

True story? All except what was said in that conference is known without question. Too many eye-witnesses saw the battle and told their children. There’s even a stone monument at Thermopylae, listing the names of all 300 Spartans who stood with their king to delay the Persians as long as possible. It’s been damaged several times over the centuries, but the Greeks keep replacing it. They are not going to forget those 300 Spartans, and they won’t let anyone else forget them, either.

Unfortunately, all the Greeks who were there for that conference died within days, so only the Persians really knew what was said. And the Greek historians were famous for putting words in the mouths of people who were safely dead and couldn’t object, so Leonidus’ answer was probably made up later.

On the other hand, Herodotus, the Greek historian who gave us this tale, lived less than a hundred years later and he had visited Persia and he got this story from the Persians themselves. He was accounted by his contemporaries as far more honest than most story-tellers, so maybe it is true.

This war became a defining event for our people. Forever afterward, our home world was divided between the East, with huge empires run by emperors who could do whatever they wanted and common people who had no say in their lives, and the West, those lands protected behind Greece. Those lands grew up on the Greek model, with many small states that competed in every way possible, often fighting, but always uniting when necessary to defeat an invader. Occasionally, those states would combine into a kingdom or federation, and have both the power of an empire and the freedom of a small nation.

The Eastern empires kept trying. No matter how huge, how powerful, and how rich an empire became, their armies always broke on those mountains and the soldiers fighting to protect their homes. One empire actually conquered Greece, 2000 years later, but it broke on the nations behind Greece and within a few hundred years Greece, too, was free again.

It wasn’t our empires who reached out into space. They always waste their energy trying to conquer the world. It was those small cities and nations, who often banded together to accomplish something great. To a very great degree, our current Federation is the great-grandchild of those tiny Greek city-states. Certainly, I and my men are descended from the 300, and we still hold their values.

In closing, I want to point out that we aren’t here to defeat your fleet. I don’t think we can, with what we have present. We’re here for two other reasons.

First, we are here at the instructions of our leaders, to do what we can to stop this invasion. If that means we fight, then we fight. If that means we die, then we die.

Second, we are here to defend the homes of our ancestors and our children. If doing that means that we fight and die here today, then the lesson you will take back to your emperor is exactly how much it will cost you to win this war. Your empire doesn’t have enough to pay that cost, in any currency you want to pay in.

It’s been 80 years since we first contacted your empire. We’ve avoided war that whole time. It hasn’t been peaceful, we lose more ships to ‘accidents’ in your empire than everywhere else combined. It’s amazing how unsafe your empire is. We know that you are waylaying isolated Terran ships and examining them. That’s why we only put our older, less advanced ships like my squadron on your border. It’s okay, since we realized what you’re doing we’ve been going into your empire and stealing your ships, too. You may have noticed. You may even want to use it as an excuse to attack us. Well, you can take back to your emperor that we didn’t start until we caught you doing it.

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