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Sirens of Fear and Sense (Chronicle)

1


Caldari Providence Directorate Headquarters, New Caldari

January 26th, YC115


The hall was golden white, a prismatic front chamber of narrow glass walls. She'd always found it a strangely ostentatious scheme for a man so given to brute force politics, but she supposed everybody was allowed their idiosyncrasies, and Tibus Heth surely had not shown many of those through her time as his personal assistant. At least not until the past few weeks.

"The incident has had quite an effect on him," Dr. Kiras was saying as they passed through the glass corridor, their steps clacking off the polished surfaces in unconscious unison.

Miss Marisaki nodded. "What are the biggest issues?"

"Well, he's been pretty tight-lipped with me about it, but I'm cleared for conversation with a lot of the brass, and to my mind there has been a definite pattern showing. Delusional ideation, heavy anxiety, obsessive neurosis. By most accounts he's seeing shadows in every corner, and by some accounts they're closing in on him."

"That's nothing new," she replied. "To some degree he always thinks there's a conspiracy going on somewhere. And I mean, in the strictest sense, he's probably right."

"Of course," said the doctor. "Pardon me, Miss Marisaki. I'm first and foremost a physician, of course, and it's not for me to speculate on political truth and lies. But there are... you see, there are certain hints, certain psychological markers," and here he stopped for a bit and pinched his upper lip pensively, "that indicate that he may not be arriving at all of his conclusions in the, ahh... the healthiest of fashions."

Miss Marisaki regarded him for a moment. "The Derj's," she said.

Dr. Kiras nodded ruefully. "It could be," he said. "The deposits are growing bigger. He is starting to show more pathway damage. It could very well be that the trauma of the incident, combined with the stress caused by these worries, is accelerating the process."

"How can it be reversed?"

"Reversed is..." the doctor shrugged apologetically and shook his head, "very optimistic. Medically, it's always difficult to say. It's such a recently discovered disease that its mechanisms aren't fully clear to us yet. Psychologically, though, there is some evidence to indicate that paradigm and attitude can play a significant part in slowing down the advance of symptoms."

"You're telling me he'll live longer if he stays positive?"

"In so many words, yes."

"The foremost physician in the Caldari State is telling me mantras are gonna save our leader's life?"

"Not at all, Miss Marisaki. I just mean that if he's under this kind of stress in the first place, medical measures are less likely to be effective. It takes a strong immune system to not succumb, and he is directly weakening his own with every day he passes worrying. His refusal to accept psychiatric help is most worrying in this capacity."

"Thank you, doctor," she said. "You are dismissed."

The doctor spent just a split second staring at her with his lip bitten, then he bowed slightly to her, turned and left. She herself turned toward the incongruous steel door at the corridor's end, but then stopped again to briefly speak into a wrist-mounted radio:

"Imara Marisaki, Head Office, Clearance 5, requisitioning all conversational records between Doctor Rami Kiras, PDID 2420, and any officers Clearance 4 and above for the last month and a half. Confidentiality breach, executive override 4419. Required on my desk by noon today. Thank you."

She straightened herself, discreetly tucked away a small crease on the front of her suit, squared her shoulders and pushed a button next to the door. A three-tone chime of square waves, hollow in the glass corridor, announced her presence.

"Executor Heth, sir?" she said. "May I come in?"

There was another chime. The door slid open.


--


The room Miss Marisaki now stepped into was a jarring counterpoint to the welcoming gleam of the outside corridor. Her superior, Tibus Heth, Executor of the Caldari State and undoubtedly its most powerful single person, had designed his quarters expressly to provide himself with an element of surprise whenever state visits were called for. Lulled into their customary sense of comfort and splendor by the tastefully opulent corridor, guests would suddenly enter a chamber so small and sparse as to almost seem like a prison cell, were it not for the little things restricted to prisoners on even the best days in the State: a small flower in a tiny windowsill with sharp needles of light from behind it rendering its outline into chiaroscuro, a picture in a frame next to a simple cot with several blankets, and a desk with a small control console on it, at which a gray-haired gray-eyed man now sat, engrossed in a datapad sitting on his lap. Lines of worry etched him from eyes to ears. His sallow cheeks were salted with stubble.

"How are you feeling, sir?" she asked.

Heth didn't look up from the luminous datapad in his hands. "Good as can be expected," he replied. "They're still at it." He brought his balled hand up from the datapad, then abruptly splayed his fingers open. A moving image was thrown into the space above the pad, showing a man and a woman standing in front of a broken billboard. The man was wearing a leather jacket with a giant golden logo emblazoned on it, the emblem of an anti-Provist movement active in the low-sec constellations of The Forge. The two of them were screaming at someone behind the camera.

"Amazing how little the people truly comprehend, try as we might to educate them," said Heth, setting the datapad on his lap and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "And the capsuleers are fanning the flames, I hear. No great surprise there. What's on the agenda for this morning?"

"A fair few things, sir." She sat in a chair on the desk's opposite side. "Haatakan Oiritsuu is still asking to speak with you. She said it was only going to get more urgent, until suddenly it would be too late. Not entirely sure what she means by that."

"Let her wait," said Heth, his hand on his forehead, his elbow resting on the edge of the desk. It was impossible to see whether he was surreptitiously reading the datapad. "Her information these past few weeks has been contradictory and misleading," he continued. "I want to keep her guessing for now. Just watch her for a few days and report anything she does to me. Every little gesture, every peep, you understand?"

"Understood, sir. Secondly, the reports coming in from the expeditionary forces continue to be dire. We've lost even more ground. Resources are stretched."

Heth nodded gravely, then asked: "What about my investigation? Anything new?"

"Nothing, sir," replied Miss Marisaki. "The only thing we still know reliably is what we've known since the beginning: your assailant was one of our own, and he was working in conjunction with an unknown force of capsuleers."

Heth was silent for a little bit. He placed the datapad on the table, drew a deep breath and stood up. Just as he did so he grabbed the edge of the table with a sudden grimace. Miss Marisaki furrowed her brow.

"Sir, Doctor Kiras has expressed concern for your... " she began.

"Doctor Kiras," said Heth, waving a hand at her. "I don't trust that man. You know what he said to me? Told me I would feel better if I talked to a qualified professional. I asked him, what are you if not a qualified professional? He said it's not so simple. I told him would a qualified professional help me root out my conspirators? He didn't have much of an answer for that." He walked over to the small window, grasped one of the plant's leaves between thumb and forefinger, stroked it gently.

"I would like you to place a classified message to a Dr. Yoshun, at the Corporate & Family Practices Clinic in Sarogar, North Arcurio," he said presently. "Tell him I need to see him, here, at his earliest convenience, and that the matter is urgent."

"Very well, sir," said Miss Marisaki, noting down the order. She swallowed hard, steeled herself, then broached the subject she had been dreading all morning. "Then there is the matter of your Directive, sir, from yesterday," she said.

Heth looked at her and a measure of focus came into his bloodshot eyes. "I trust it's being put into place post-haste," he said.

"Not quite, sir," she replied.

For the first two years of her job, she had been terrified whenever that purposeful gaze burrowed into her, certain that if her words failed her she would find a quick professional grave at the State hierarchy's foul-smelling roots, with the rest of the bottom-feeders, parasites and other things that crawled. Somehow her ambition had always overridden her fear, though, and she had become adept at finding inspiration within the very pressure of those moments where every word, gesture and inflection counted for so infinitely more than the sum of their parts. It was for this reason that she was probably the only person in the entire Caldari State that could have delivered to Tibus Heth the message contained in her next few words.

She cleared her throat and spoke.


2


Caldari Providence Directorate Headquarters, New Caldari

ONE DAY EARLIER


Caldari Navy Grand Admiral Morda Engsten had been quiet and unassuming this afternoon; generally brusque and imposing, her manner today was uncharacteristically laid back. She seemed almost apologetic. Miss Marisaki couldn't recall seeing the Admiral behave this way before, and found herself increasingly curious about what lay behind the older woman's strange facade.

"You see," the Admiral was saying, "there's simply no way that the War Room could ever accept a command like this, particularly in this kind of time frame. For one thing it's tactically unsound. We have reports that the Federation has been setting up clone soldier enclaves on Corfeu for weeks now, and we've only recently started an initiative to incorporate ours into our existing squadrons. Added to that, our expeditionary forces have been taking heavy losses. We're stretched far beyond our limits. I mean, we're barely holding on to Caldari Prime as it is. Scrapping our most valuable military resource..."

"Retooling," interrupted Miss Marisaki.

"Whatever you want to call it. Pulling the clone soldiers is not an option. Doing so at this point would be nothing short of suicidal. Every single member of the Command Council is against it." Slowly, like a cold wave washing up to nip at the heels during high tide, her voice had gained power as she spoke, and she was now tapping on the tabletop in front of her with two fingers, accentuating her points.

"This 'taint' Heth is obsessed with," she continued, still crescendoing, "is the unsubstantiated brainchild of an Empress who's grown unstable through gaining too much power too soon. Not the first time that's happened in history, I'm sure you'll agree. There is no hard evidence to indicate that it's true whatsoever. Any new technology on this level brings with it its inherent dangers. The rogue soldier who made the attempt on the Executor's life has been interrogated multiple times and found to be nothing more than a stark raving lunatic. The conspiracy is all in our esteemed Executor's mind."

Miss Marisaki felt a flush of anger. "Is there any precedent, Admiral," she asked, looking down at her documents and studiously avoiding eye contact with Engsten, "for the Council to completely veto a directive from the Chief Executor?"

"No," said Admiral Engsten curtly, "but it's a measure we can take nonetheless. You know the law as well as I do."

"It's classified as an extreme measure, though," replied Miss Marisaki, "so it must abide by all the legal ramifications implied in such cases."

"We are well aware of that, Miss Marisaki, and we've discussed it at length. I suppose we'll see how far Executor Heth is willing to go in this brinksmanship game of his, but despite his recent behavior we still place our faith in his understanding that a prolonged legal battle at this level – not to mention at this point in time – is going to undermine the entire structure he's been attempting to build. Should it come to that, the members of the Council will no doubt find our places within any new structure. The Executor might not be so fortunate." Her words had grown soft again, an ominous receding tide.

"Admiral, what you're saying can quite easily be interpreted as treasonous," said Miss Marisaki.

"If the leader refuses to take responsibility for his own declining health and act accordingly," replied Admiral Engsten, "then he cannot be expected to take responsibility for his own nation. This is not treason, Miss Marisaki, far from it. This is concern for the State, over the needs of one man. Anyone is fallible, even more so if they are blind to their own fallibility."

"I think I have heard quite enough of this," said Miss Marisaki, standing up. "You will hear from the Executor before long. Good day, Admiral Engsten."

The Admiral's eyes followed her out of the room.


3


Kuisen City

IKAMI V, Ikami System, The Forge Region

January 27th, YC115


"We got a clone squad coming in," said Staff Sergeant Uha.

"No shit?" said his Assistant Squad Leader, Corporal Okawari.

"Yep shit." Uha's weapon was laid out field-stripped in front of him. He removed a large elongated piece of metal from the table.

His companion watched him with interest. "Why you getting rid of your IR mount?" he asked.

"Not worth the weight for riot control," replied Uha. "We're only zapping crowds anyway, don't need the accuracy. Much rather stay mobile, use the headgear if I get into some kind of one-on-one. Less accurate, but these guys don't have anything long range anyway. Bunch of pebble shooters at best."

"Yeah, I guess," said Okawari. "I dunno, I like the original heft. Used to it."

"Yep. Well. You're about twice my size, so I guess it makes sense," said Uha and chuckled.

A brief silence passed while the Staff Sergeant continued to clean his weapon. "They're going to try mixing the squads," he said, suddenly. "Don't let any of our guys hear it yet, but they're gonna put a cloner in every squad."

Okawari looked incredulous. "What the f..."

"Yeah. They wanna explore opportunities for cooperation. Try to break the ice a bit." He smiled grimly down his gun barrel.

"Ice?" said Okawari. "Ice?! Do they not remember what happened at the joint training op last week? Or the month before? Hell, don't they remember Okushin? The Heth attempt?! That was a goddamned cloner!"

"That's unconfirmed, Corporal. Those are just rumors."

"Oh, come on. Don't toe the party line with me, Shio," said the bigger man, momentarily forgetting, as he so often did with his friend, that he was subordinate. "The way he was throwing those guys around, nobody's gonna tell me that was any kind of normal god damn soldier. And then they dragged him away and nobody's heard a peep since? Seriously."

"Our orders are orders, Corporal. Orders trump hearsay when you're a soldier, remember?" He inserted a pin into his rifle's receiver, then unfolded his stock with a sharp clack, not looking at his second-in-command. "Now we've got an anti-Provist rally to attend to, and we gotta live with our new comrade, however long that is. He should be here any minute now."

"Wonderful," said the big man, turning to exit the mobile bunker. He opened the door to reveal, in the gathering darkness, the outline of a distant city whose lights threw a purple streak across the sky. "Sure he's a goddamned charmer like the rest of 'em."

Casting one last baleful look at his friend and squad leader, he slapped his helmet on and went outside.


--


Some three hours later the two men were standing in the middle of a square formation of riot-equipped soldiers, facing down a mob composed of State citizens who had been taken to the edge of their tolerance, who rested content in their righteous cause, who knew that their time had finally come.

"Where's the cloner?" said Okawari.

Uha looked around. "He should be easy to pick out. Asshole's even bigger than you."

"Then why am I not seeing him anywhere?" said Okawari, scanning the crowd.

"He's supposed to be at your nine, front echelon edge," said Uha. "It's..." He put his hand to the side of his helmet. "Wait one. Copy, this is Tarkan Squadron."

Uha's great head swieveled around the square. Beyond the mass of protesters, he could see a broken wall with graffiti on it. Squinting, he was able to make out a number.

514.

"Say again, Kaura leader," said Uha. He looked up, scanned the buildings lining the square. Behind his visor, Okawari could see that his friend's eyes were wide.

He turned his head again to look where Uha was looking, and just then a deafening explosion shook the ground underneath them. Another one followed, then another one, and soon the purple streak thrown by this unfortunate city had turned a deep dark hue of red.


4


Caldari Providence Directorate Headquarters, New Caldari

January 27th, YC115


Imara Marisaki was sitting in her office, reviewing her information. Heth had grown upset at the news of the Command Council's decision, so upset that before she even fully knew why, she had found herself couching the matter in subtle untruths that shielded him from the full gravity of the situation. If he won't see a shrink, she thought now, rationalizing her actions as cold sweat pushed its way down her back, I'll just have to god damn well act as one.

She was aware that she'd suddenly plunged herself neck-deep into a dangerous situation, and while the potential consequences for herself terrified her deeply, they were nothing next to the prospect of having Heth do something drastic at this sensitive juncture. He still held executive power, so if he felt like pushing it all the way against his opponents in the War Room, he would be able to do untold damage in the short term, before any legal ramifications would fully come to the fore.

Trying to get a better grasp on the state of her superior, she had been looking over Dr. Kiras's transcripts of interviews with commanding officers. None were particularly heartening. One of them called the Executor a dangerously unstable presence. Another outright questioned his sanity. Everywhere she saw indications of mistrust and hostility. Ignoring the knot in her gut, she made a mental note to leave those reports well out of Heth's hands at all costs.

Her disturbed reverie was interrupted by her aide at the door. His face was ashen and his hands quivered as he wordlessly passed her a datapad. Within seconds, the ashenness had spread to her face as well.

"Notify him I'm on the way. Right now," she said, standing up.


--


"Sir."

"What is it, Miss Marisaki?"

"Sir, there have been... there have been several... attacks."

"Attacks?"

"Yes, sir. Coordinated. All of them at anti-Provist rallies. It appears they were all... they were all carried out by clone soldiers."

"Clone soldiers."

"Yes, sir."

"Killing civilians."

"Yes, sir."

"At rallies where those civilians are protesting my government."

Miss Marisaki swallowed hard. "Yes, sir."

Leaden silence blanketed the room. Summoning up all her courage, with fire burning through her gut and her syllables coming in uneven staccato, she said:

"That's not all, sir. One of the attacks... was..." – she took a quick breath – "was carried out in Arcurio."

Heth's eyes drilled into her. His lips parted slightly.

"North... Arcurio. Sir." She cast her eyes down, and the next word came in a meek whisper: "Sarogar." Her regular composure was nowhere to be found. She was naked to the elements.

A long silence passed. Then:

"I would like you to do something for me, Miss Marisaki."

"Anything, sir."

"I would like you to mobilize the Navy, the armed forces and every single corporate force we have. Get a list of the locations of every single soldier clone vat we have, every single trooper enclave, every bunker, every barracks. Do you understand me? Every single one. I want them eradicated."

"Sir..." she paused. "Sir, the Council will..."

"The War Room can do as the War Room sees fit. If they wish to stand in my way, they are welcome to try their level best. This is an executive order, to be carried out immediately. Immediately, Miss Marisaki." The soft tone of his voice and his absolute composure were more terrifying to her at that moment than any outburst she had ever seen from him.

"Y... yes, sir," she stammered, and made to leave.

"One more thing before you go."

She turned again. His face didn't seem so gray anymore.

"Get me Haatakan Oiritsuu," he said.

"As you wish, sir."

She left the room. Heth sat down again.

There was a very short silence, and then Haatakan Oiritsuu, former leader of the Kaalakiota Corporation and his unwilling hostage-ally, appeared on his datapad, surrounded by her garden of flowers.

Her face was absolutely impassive. She raised her eyebrows, cocked her head slightly, and as she cut the head off a blooming red flower she mouthed the words:

Too late.


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