7: Plague, Mystery, Panic, Rebellion, Power

19:48 Fri 08 Sep 2006. Updated: 13:54 09 Sep 2006
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Thirty years before, the Rethril system had been one of the most prosperous in the Empire. A teeming cityworld, it was a jewel in Redmane’s crown. Then came the plagues.

The plagues killed everyone. Without exception, everyone on the planet. Nobody knew why, and even how was difficult to determine.

They spread. Not far, but a little. They killed too quickly to get from planet to planet, but ghost ships showed up at all of Rethril’s main trading partners.

The plagues destroyed the system, devastated the sector economy, and provoked outright revolt against the Empire. This was suppressed, but the simmering tensions and the ruination of the entire sector were felt for decades.

So was the fear. As a major trading hub, Rethril had dense social ties with many other worlds, and almost every world in the sector lost friends and families—in some cases, entire clans. What had caused the plague, or if it really was plague, was unknown. Fear of another outbreak ran deep for years. In order to ensure that the economy didn’t collapse completely, the sector governor had to force planets, literally at Naval gunpoint, to accept commercial and passenger traffic.

Theories abounded. Rebel cells, a corporate mishap, a doomsday cult, a military weapon, a military experiment gone wrong, some new parasite, a punishment from the Emperor, an alien organism, an alien first strike, a cover-up for the actual destruction of the planet, a cover-up for an ongoing experiment requiring the entire planet and all of its inhabitants. The guesses were legion, and made many careers. But absolute answers were never found. The mystery remained, the questions were still asked. There was no proof.

But now Bruce Lawrenceson had it. Redmane caused the entire catastrophe, and he held the records of the experiments responsible.

(300 words)

The above is part of a series of microfiction pieces.

3 Responses to “7: Plague, Mystery, Panic, Rebellion, Power”

  1. NiallM Says:

    The bastards!!

  2. NiallM Says:

    eagerly awaits next episode

    Also, can a naval ship /really/ hold a planet at gunpoint?

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Whoops, somehow skipped replying to this…

    Yes, yes it can. It can bombard the planet from anywhere, and can do nasty things like wander off to a nearby asteroid belt, accelerate an asteroid at the planet, move alongside the asteroid and polish off whatever defenses are mustered, and thereby effectively “nuke from orbit” without the nukes. (Which is not to say the naval ship wouldn’t also have nukes.)

    The advantages of mobility and, for want of a better word, “height”, make any well-armed vessel a nightmare for a planet to deal with. Some planets are exceptions, and have defenses (including their own ships), but generally the defenders are at significant tactical advantage. Which is why the Empire jealously guards the armed pre-eminence of Naval vessels.

    Also, finally: “at Naval gunpoint” doesn’t imply “at the gunpoint of a single ship”.

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