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Chapter 15: Cyclops Dream

I have returned. The so-called 'Great Powers' flail blindly, but I see clearly, for I have the sight of the one true eye. Come, my children, for I alone can guide you through the darkness which threatens to engulf our galaxy. The future is mine, my children; envy and greed have conquered it for me.

Iskander, First of the New Reflections

As Grand Admiral Tobias Cranmer had witnessed in the reports from Karnus and Madigant, the uprisings on Iskandria were far from unique. Although Iskandria saw the densest concentrations of necropoli, and the largest numbers of the power-armoured Neo-Iskandrian legions, similar events were transpiring across the thirty-three worlds of Iskander's old empire, the stream of proclamations issuing forth from the Phaeros ensuring both coordination and a single, unyielding purpose.

Many worlds fell without even a struggle. On Epirion, the fertile valleys and coastlines were struck by pro-Iskandrian uprisings and waves of popular support. Though the corporations Interplanetary Pioneers and Consolidated Agronomics and Fisheries of Solaris possessed influence in the planetary parliament, it was still, technically speaking, a representative government. Unable to stomach the enormous casualties which a civil war would have caused, Prime Minister Aeschines submitted to the demands of the mob.

On Onu-Yesh III, the situation was considerably less pleasant. The world was still in a militarised state since the VASA-backed uprisings and the assassination of Censor Gemellus, which had shaken the Ironglass Senate's faith in the planet's security in 3155. Thus, when the necropoli rose at the Senatorial Sanctum of the city of Locris, and rioting mobs gathered in the face of years of tyrannical Junker rule, they found five full-strength Legions waiting for them, which immediately moved to crush the rebellion in typically unsubtle Junker fashion, instituting conscription and threatening the execution of all who would stand against the Ironglass Senate. Senator Cordus, trapped inside the Senatorial Sanctum when the necropoli rose, was killed in the early stages of the fighting, but this only caused Praetor Tullus of the CLXXX Scorpions to attack more fiercely, for Tullus knew full well that he could - and would - be held responsible if he failed to justify his command with victory. For the second time in living memory, the sweeping plazas surrounding the administrative centre have been blasted to rubble by artillery, and the city has descended into bloody streetfighting which, so far, has shown no signs of abating.

The Junkers were less prepared on the dusty, resource-rich world of neighboring Pommigral. The smaller local garrisons, coupled with the widely dispersed mining outposts and industrial townships, made it virtually impossible for the Legions to force the Neo-Iskandrians and their accompanying revolutionaries into a straight fight. Despite some spirited action on the part of the Sandrunner and Dune Raider Cohorts, the Junkers found themselves over-extended in a futile attempt to be everywhere at once. Their armies quickly found themselves cut off from supplies, or picked apart in a series of skirmishes, leaving the mineral wealth of Pommigral in the hands of the Neo-Iskandrians.

On the river-deltas of Persis, the emerging Neo-Iskandrians discovered a world ruled by a Synthan puppet-government, the populace kept entertained and pacified by a variety of holographic and somnological virtual reality software... and the subliminal messaging that came with it. For all this, the Syntha military prescence was relatively light, a single termite-city overlooking the spires of Persepolis, the planetary capital. Unable to rely on local uprisings as so many of his fellows had done, General Attalus launched a lightning strike against the centre of Persepolis - and, specifically, against the Avesta central database system, a complex of cogitators and coolant systems, terminating in a vast repository of electronically stored information, nine stories high. Militarily speaking, Avesta was irrelevant, but if there was one thing which the Syntha value above all else, it was knowledge. Attalus' action provoked Persepolis' Androsynth security contingent into a decidedly un-Synthan all-out attack... just as Attalus had hoped. Though his initial assault force died to a man, the massed waves of Androsynths descending on Avesta provided the Neo-Iskandrians with an ideal artillery target, and, as the last of the assault force gave their lives against the oncoming waves of Syntha, the remainder of Attalus' forces smashed into the Syntha flanks, sending the Androsynths into something like confusion as they the faced the convergent threats. Attalus' forces paid dearly for his victory, but, when the gunfire died down, the Syntha army lay mangled and smashed throughout the city streets, and the Avesta central database - together with the centuries of knowledge which it represented - burned, dense clouds of black ash billowing into the sky.

At Iskander's birthplace on Madigant, vast urban mobs formed up to support the Neo-Iskandrian legions, loudly proclaiming the birth of a new Iskandrian empire. For almost as long as Madigant had been a settled colony, it had been a hotbed of revolutionary idealism and dissent. Despite, or, perhaps, because of this, the planet's main export lay in its private security firms, which ensured that the initial stages of the uprising were fierce in the extreme, as rioter and mercenary turned on each other in an orgy of fire and destruction. Though it was clear from the beginning that the Neo-Iskandrian troops were getting the better of it, when the end came, it was not through force of arms. Quietly contacting each security firm in turn, Neo-Iskandrian General Eumenes questioned how the governor intended to pay them with his infrastructure in ruins, and offered instead the spoils of a thousand worlds as part of the Neo-Iskandrian armies. To a man, the mercenary leaders sided with Eumenes; defeat, after all, did not pay the bills.

At Orchitin, the last world on which Iskander had been seen before his supposed death, a band of rebels siezed control of the Bucephalus, the flagship of Iskander's old fleet, left floating in planetary orbit as a memorial vessel. More than once, VASA had attempted to have the old ship, a symbol of dissent, scrapped, but had been stopped each time by massive popular protests. In an attempt to quash the insurrection before it could properly form, and knowing the psychological impact that the destruction of the ancient dreadnought would surely have on the soldiers fighting on the planet below, a pair of patrol ships, VASA Hawk-class cruisers, closed in on the hijacked vessel, guns blazing. To their credit, the rebels managed to get the Bucephalus' engines and weapon systems online in record time, but the dreadnought was a slow, ponderous vessel compared to the Hawks, and the rebel crew inexperienced. The Hawks ran rings around the older dreadnought, avoiding its main weapon batteries while they poured fire into its flanks. With several decks gone, and parts of their internal atmosphere ablaze, the rebels were preparing to give their lives dearly when a Neo-Iskandrian capital ship and two escorts appeared on their sensors, closing fast. The two Hawks peeled off to engage this new threat, leaving the Bucephalus to burn itself out. Straining its damaged engines as far as they would go, the Bucephalus came about, unleashing a ragged volley of fire into the aft of one Hawk, smashing its generator. Left adrift, the crippled ship was easy prey for the incoming Neo-Iskandrians, and its squad-mate was to follow soon after. The blazing fireballs of the destroyed Hawks, visible from the planet's surface, were met with great cheers from rebels and Neo-Iskandrian soldiers alike.

Strategically, the carefully hidden Neo-Iskandrian fleet and what local vessels they could steal or bribe to their cause could not hope to defeat the navies of the Tripartite Confederacy on equal terms. But, as they had proved in the Karnus system, they seemed adept at striking at precisely the right moment, which gave their vessels an effectiveness which seemed out of proportion to their numbers. This was only exacerbated by their tendency to use almost Junker-like tactics of raiding and commerce warfare, such as the pirates of the Lycian asteroid belts. It was suspected that they must have been bribed with offers of technology, for nothing else would explain their sudden aggressiveness towards Viridian merchant convoys in the area, or the suspiciously Neo-Iskandrian-style energy weapons which they were able to bring to bear (though how long Iskander would retain the notoriously fickle loyalties of the Lycian pirates was anyone's guess).

On Iskandria, the war was only intensifying. The Viridians, in particular, found themselves unusually hard-pressed with Koralon to the east, Syntha to the south, and, suddenly, Neo-Iskandrians to the west. Fighting was particularly intense across the hydroponic gardens and wind-farms surrounding Neo-Karas, which found itself cut off from the rest of the Viridian holdings on Iskandria by the necropoli, which formed a jagged, irregular line across the east of Cordillera District. Realising that this line of fortifications posed a great threat to his ability to supply his men and manoeuvre strategically, General Vonic Isambard has organised a joint counter-offensive with VASA, bringing up Regiments of Suppressors by mono-rail, supported by units of the dreaded Black Legion, in a desperate attempt to break the Neo-Iskandrian line.

Further south, in Pergama Sector, 4.96 Kappa played a complicated, stylised game of strike, parry and counter-strike with her Neo-Iskandrian opponents as she moved to consolidate her siege, each side thinking several moves ahead, each side using every predictive, adaptive or calculative tool at their disposal, each side attempting to out-analyse and out-think their opponent as much as outfight them. Kappa knew that every moment she kept the Neo-Iskandrians off-balance was another moment in which would allow the MLRS systems of her Hades grav-tanks to continue their punishing bombardment of the fortifications of Iskander's mausoleum. Unlike the Viridian and VASA forces to the north, there was one factor that the Syntha did not have to worry about, and that was marauding bands of pro-Iskandrian militants operating behind their lines, for the Syntha had taken great care to sterilise the city of all life, human and Koralon alike, as they advanced. For 4.96 Kappa, this would simplify the equation enormously: pure, logical, mathematics, the cold calculus of the void, was predictable - rebels and insurrectionists, born in chaos and motivated by irrationality, were frequently not. After a long history of dealing with rash and vainglorious cultures, this was, for the Syntha, war in its purest form.

The Junkers were not so fortunate in this regard. Although the sprawling front of the Legion offensive on Iskandria Minor was not geographically adjacent to any of the necropoli, there were many on Iskandria Minor to whom Iskander's message of revolution appealed, especially after having seen so many of their fathers, brothers and neighbors conscripted to fill out the ranks of the Iskandrian Legions, or having witnessed the savagery and bloodlust of the Gladiators who had formed Ironglass' first wave. Already deeply embroiled fighting Triad gangers and Gladiator renegades at the rear of the Legion battle-line, the Junkers launched their own propaganda blitz in response to Iskander's speeches and proclamations. Incitata Francisca of the Comitia Curiata's Department of Public Information roundly denounced Iskander as a traitor against the Tripartite Confederacy and humanity as a whole, calling the pro-Iskandrian militants terrorists and reactionaries, reminding citizens of the great victories which the Confederacy had already won, and warning them of the fate which awaited traitors at the hands of Ironglass military justice. Simultaneously, the Junker leaders, whose suspicions of potent artefacts and technology left over from the reign of Iskander had apparently been confirmed, began to launch a series of raids on Neo-Iskandrian holdings, using both warbands of Gladiators and flocks of Volturnus assault craft launched from across the Ophidian Straits, loaded with Legion troops. Though the Viridians and VASA were thankful that the time-honoured Junker practice of raiding and looting was, for once, working in their favour, there were many who feared that these raids were only a preliminary stage to the Junkers attempting to establish a foothold on Iskandria Major - a foothold which they would surely be loathe to relinquish.

Science has never been able to prove that the Koralon possess any emotion which we could term 'humour' or 'amusement', and, indeed, attempting to project human feelings and motivations onto such a fundamentally inhuman race has been the cause of no small number of military disasters in the past. Even so, in the position which the Koralon found themselves, a human commander might well have felt amusement. Cold, unsympathetic intelligences might have noted that, although yet more human soldiers had thrown themselves into the fight, to reclaim the world which the Koralon had won for themselves, the only result had been to pull troops away from the Koralon-controlled Sectors, and further enable the slow, calculated warping of the metropolis and its inhabitants alike into something more to the aliens' liking. The Reef City they had built, which slowly grew, deep within the Nephrite Ocean, seemed ever more secure, as their enemies turned ever more of their recources against one another. The great Tripartite fleet, which had hovered over their world like the sword of Damocles, was gone, as was the stream of human reinforcements which its presence had ensured. If the Koralon had been anything like humans, they might have chuckled softly, and plotted their next move...