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The Strategy







From: The Highest ... Treason

General Sebastian MacMaine, sometime Colonel of Earth's Space Force,
and presently a General of the Kerothi Fleet, looked at the array of
stars that appeared to drift by the main viewplate of his flagship, the
blaster-boat Shudos.

Behind him, General Tallis was saying, "You've done well, Sepastian.
Better than anyone could have really expected. Three battles so far,
and every one of them won by a margin far greater than anticipated. Any
ideas that anyone may have had that you were not wholly working for the
Kerothi cause has certainly been dispelled."

"Thanks, Tallis." MacMaine turned to look at the Kerothi officer. "I
only hope that I can keep it up. Now that we're ready for the big push,
I can't help but wonder what would happen if I were to lose a battle."

"Frankly," Tallis said, "that would depend on several things, the main
one being whether or not it appeared that you had deliberately thrown
the advantage to the enemy. But nobody expects you, or anyone else, to
win every time. Even the most brilliant commander can make an honest
mistake, and if it can be shown that it was an honest mistake, and
one, furthermore, that he could not have been expected to avoid, he
wouldn't be punished for it. In your case, I'll admit that the
investigation would be a great deal more thorough than normal, and that
you wouldn't get as much of the benefit of the doubt as another officer
might, but unless there is a deliberate error I doubt that anything
serious would happen."

"Do you really believe that, Tallis, or is it just wishful thinking on
your part, knowing as you do that your punishment will be the same as
mine if I fail?" MacMaine asked flatly.

Tallis didn't hesitate. "If I didn't believe it, I would ask to be
relieved as your Guardian. And the moment I did that, you would be
removed from command. The moment I feel that you are not acting for the
best interests of Keroth, I will act--not only to protect myself, but
to protect my people."

"That's fair enough," MacMaine said. "But how about the others?"

"I cannot speak for my fellow officers--only for myself." Then Tallis'
voice became cold. "Just keep your hands clean, Sepastian, and all will
be well. You will not be punished for mistakes--only for crimes. If you
are planning no crimes, this worry of yours is needless."

"I ceased to worry about myself long ago," MacMaine said coolly. "I do
not fear personal death, not even by Excommunication. My sole worry is
about the ultimate outcome of the war if I should fail. That, and
nothing more."

"I believe you," Tallis said. "Let us say no more about it. Your
actions are difficult for us to understand, in some ways, that's all.
No Kerothi would ever change his allegiance as you have. Nor has any
Earth officer that we have captured shown any desire to do so. Oh, some
of them have agreed to do almost anything we wanted them to, but these
were not the intelligent ones, and even they were only doing it to save
their own miserable hides.

"Still, you are an exceptional man, Sepastian, unlike any other of your
race, as far as we know. Perhaps it is simply that you are the only one
with enough wisdom to seek your intellectual equals rather than remain
loyal to a mass of stupid animals who are fit only to be slaves."

"It was because I foresaw their eventual enslavement that I acted as I
did," MacMaine admitted. "As I saw it, I had only two choices--to
remain as I was and become a slave to the Kerothi or to put myself in
your hands willingly and hope for the best. As you----"

He was interrupted by a harsh voice from a nearby speaker.

"Battle stations! Battle stations! Enemy fleet in detector range!
Contact in twelve minutes!"

* * * * *

Tallis and MacMaine headed for the Command Room at a fast trot. The
three other Kerothi who made up the Strategy Staff came in at almost
the same time. There was a flurry of activity as the computers and
viewers were readied for action, then the Kerothi looked expectantly at
the Earthman.

MacMaine looked at the detector screens. The deployment of the
approaching Earth fleet was almost as he had expected it would be.
There were slight differences, but they would require only minor
changes in the strategy he had mapped out from the information brought
in by the Kerothi scout ships.

Undoubtedly, the Kerothi position had been relayed to the Earth
commander by their own advance scouts buzzing about in tiny, one-man
shells just small enough to be undetectable at normal range.

Watching the positions on the screens carefully, MacMaine called out a
series of numbers in an unhurried voice and watched as the orders,
relayed by the Kerothi staff, changed the position of parts of the
Kerothi fleet. Then, as the computer-led Earth fleet jockeyed to
compensate for the change in the Kerothi deployment, MacMaine called
out more orders.

The High Commander of Keroth had called MacMaine a "computing animal,"
but the term was far from accurate. MacMaine couldn't possibly have
computed all the variables in that battle, and he didn't try. It was a
matter of human intuition against mechanical logic. The advantage lay
with MacMaine, for, while the computer could not logically fathom the
intuitive processes of its human opponent, MacMaine could and did have
an intuitive grasp of the machine's logic. MacMaine didn't need to know
every variable in the pattern; he only needed to know the pattern as a
whole.

The Shudos was well in the rear of the main body of the Kerothi
fleet. There was every necessity for keeping MacMaine's flagship out of
as much of the fighting as possible.

When the first contact was made, MacMaine was certain of the outcome.
His voice became a steady drone as he called out instructions to the
staff officers; his mind was so fully occupied with the moving pattern
before him that he noticed nothing else in the room around him.

Spaceship against spaceship, the two fleets locked in battle. The
warheads of ultralight torpedoes flared their eye-searing explosions
soundlessly into the void; ships exploded like overcharged beer bottles
as blaster energy caught them and smashed through their screens; men
and machines flamed and died, scattering the stripped nuclei of their
component atoms through the screaming silence of space.

And through it all, Sebastian MacMaine watched dispassionately, calling
out his orders as ten Earthmen died for every Kerothi death.

This was a crucial battle. The big push toward the center of Earth's
cluster of worlds had begun. Until now, the Kerothi had been fighting
the outposts, the planets on the fringes of Earth's sphere of influence
which were only lightly colonized, and therefore relatively easy to
take. Earth's strongest fleets were out there, to protect planets that
could not protect themselves.

Inside that periphery were the more densely populated planets, the
self-sufficient colonies which were more or less able to defend
themselves without too much reliance on space fleets as such. But now
that the backbone of the Earth's Space Force had been all but broken,
it would be a relatively easy matter to mop up planet after planet,
since each one could be surrounded separately, pounded into surrender,
and secured before going on to the next. That, at least, had been the
original Kerothi intention. But MacMaine had told them that there was
another way--a way which, if it succeeded, would save time, lives, and
money for the Kerothi. And, if it failed, MacMaine said, they would be
no worse off, they would simply have to resume the original plan.

* * * * *

Now, the first of the big colony planets was to be taken. When the
protecting Earth fleet was reduced to tatters, the Kerothi would go on
to Houston's World as the first step in the big push toward Earth
itself.

But MacMaine wasn't thinking of that phase of the war. That was still
in the future, while the hellish space battle was still at hand.

He lost track of time as he watched the Kerothi fleet take advantage of
their superior tactical position and tear the Earth fleet to bits. Not
until he saw the remains of the Earth fleet turn tail and run did he
realize that the battle had been won.

The Kerothi fleet consolidated itself. There was no point in pursuing
the fleeting Earth ships; that would only break up the solidity of the
Kerothi deployment. The losers could afford to scatter; the winners
could not. Early in the war, the Kerothi had used that trick against
Earth; the Kerothi had broken and fled, and the Earth fleet had split
up to chase them down. The scattered Earth ships had suddenly found
that they had been led into traps composed of hidden clusters of
Kerothi ships. Naturally, the trick had never worked again for either
side.

"All right," MacMaine said when it was all over, "let's get on to
Houston's World."

The staff men, including Tallis, were already on their feet,
congratulating MacMaine and shaking his hands. Even General Hokotan,
the Headquarters Staff man, who had been transferred temporarily to the
Fleet Force to keep an eye on both MacMaine and Tallis, was
enthusiastically pounding MacMaine's shoulder.

No one aboard was supposed to know that Hokotan was a Headquarters
officer, but MacMaine had spotted the spy rather easily. There was a
difference between the fighters of the Fleet and the politicoes of
Headquarters. The politicoes were no harder, perhaps, nor more
ruthless, than the fighters, but they were of a different breed. Theirs
was the ruthlessness of the bully who steps on those who are weaker
rather than the ruthlessness of the man who kills only to win a battle.
MacMaine had the feeling that the Headquarters Staff preferred to spend
their time browbeating their underlings rather than risk their necks
with someone who could fight back, however weakly.

General Hokotan seemed to have more of the fighting quality than most
HQ men, but he wasn't a Fleet Officer at heart. He couldn't be compared
to Tallis without looking small and mean.

As a matter of cold fact, very few of the officers were in anyway
comparable to Tallis--not even the Fleet men. The more MacMaine learned
of the Kerothi, the more he realized just how lucky he had been that it
had been Tallis, and not some other Kerothi general, who had been
captured by the Earth forces. He was not at all sure that his plan
would have worked at all with any of the other officers he had met.

Tallis, like MacMaine, was an unusual specimen of his race.

* * * * *

MacMaine took the congratulations of the Kerothi officers with a look
of pleasure on his face, and when they had subsided somewhat, he
grinned and said:

"Let's get a little work done around here, shall we? We have a planet
to reduce yet."

They laughed. Reducing a planet didn't require strategy--only
fire-power. The planet-based defenses couldn't maneuver, but the energy
reserve of a planet is greater than that of any fleet, no matter how
large. Each defense point would have to be cut down individually by the
massed power of the fleet, cut down one by one until the planet was
helpless. The planet as a whole might have more energy reserve than the
fleet, but no individual defense point did. The problem was to avoid
being hit by the rest of the defense points while one single point was
bearing the brunt of the fleet's attack. It wasn't without danger, but
it could be done.

And for a job like that, MacMaine's special abilities weren't needed.
He could only watch and wait until it was over.

So he watched and waited. Unlike the short-time fury of a space battle,
the reduction of a planet took days of steady pounding. When it was
over, the blaster-boats of the Kerothi fleet and the shuttles from the
great battle cruisers landed on Houston's World and took possession of
the planet.

* * * * *

MacMaine was waiting in his cabin when General Hokotan brought the news
that the planet was secured.

"They are ours," the HQ spy said with a superior smile. "The sniveling
animals didn't even seem to want to defend themselves. They don't even
know how to fight a hand-to-hand battle. How could such things have
ever evolved intelligence enough to conquer space?" Hokotan enjoyed
making such remarks to MacMaine's face, knowing that since MacMaine was
technically a Kerothi he couldn't show any emotion when the enemy was
insulted.

MacMaine showed none. "Got them all, eh?" he said.

"All but a few who scattered into the hills and forests. But not many
of them had the guts to leave the security of their cities, even though
we were occupying them."

"How many are left alive?"

"An estimated hundred and fifty million, more or less."

"Good. That should be enough to set an example. I picked Houston's
World because we can withdraw from it without weakening our position;
its position in space is such that it would constitute no menace to us
even if we never reduced it. That way, we can be sure that our little
message is received on Earth."

Hokotan's grin was wolfish. "And the whole weak-hearted race will shake
with fear, eh?"

"Exactly. Tallis can speak English well enough to be understood. Have
him make the announcement to them. He can word it however he likes, but
the essence is to be this: Houston's World resisted the occupation by
Kerothi troops; an example must be made of them to show them what
happens to Earthmen who resist."

"That's all?"

"That's enough. Oh, by the way, make sure that there are plenty of
their cargo spaceships in good working order; I doubt that we've ruined
them all, but if we have, repair some of them.

"And, too, you'd better make sure that you allow some of the merchant
spacemen to 'escape,' just in case there are no space pilots among
those who took to the hills. We want to make sure that someone can use
those ships to take the news back to Earth."

"And the rest?" Hokotan asked, with an expectant look. He knew what was
to be done, but he wanted to hear MacMaine say it again.

MacMaine obliged.

"Hang them. Every man, every woman, every child. I want them to be
decorating every lamppost and roof-beam on the planet, dangling like
overripe fruit when the Earth forces return."





Next: The Results

Previous: The Traitor



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