“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.”
Noticing several civilians at the edge of the restricted zone around the captured dreadnought, I lean over to Zane and whisper, “Why are they prostrating themselves? I didn't tell them to do that!”
Surveying the civilians, he coughs and covers his mouth. “Many of them were still at the surface when you... performed your song. Those who were in the living areas also heard it, even if they didn’t witness it personally. Also, those who were wavering in their beliefs now think that you are a living goddess. Maybe you should discourage such rumours.”
He glances at a group of men and women who are helping us to remove the aftermath of the battle. From time to time, they look at me with worship in their eyes.
“Oh.” That's a problem. Or is it? Religious belief is a mighty weapon for controlling the dumb masses. I could use that to create a better society. What if I create a religion which encourages science and education? “Let them think what they want. As long as they don't develop a tendency to sacrifice others on an altar it should be okay.”
I turn back to watch the huge dreadnought, the newest of my toys. It needs a few upgrades, but that's all. If nothing else, I can also use it as a platform for experimental technologies. The cloaking function is also a wonderful gimmick. Sadly, the technology isn’t adaptable for Illum.
After defeating the Invaders, I took a quick stroll through the dreadnought and inspected it. The cloaking effect is achieved by a complicated network of runes which run over the whole ship. That's not practical for something of Illum's size. I am even surprised that the Empire bothered to install the technology on the huge dreadnought. It would make much more sense to equip a smaller frigate with the necessary runes.
Though, it was the prince's personal ship. Maybe that was reason enough to give it the newest technologies.
I had to cut my inspection short because of all the bodies. Janice’s zombies made a mess when they cleared out the ship. Illum's guards also stormed the ship after Wisen fled the battle. They took a lot of prisoners, mainly non-combatants like slaves and support staff. I turn and take a look at the large group of people who were herded out of the ship. They are lined up on the street and are being guarded by my soldiers.
One of our men approaches us and kneels down in front of me. “We count one hundred and seventeen slaves, forty-three soldiers of the Empire, thirteen magicians who were responsible for the ship's functions. What should we do with them?”
I purse my lips, considering it. It's not like they have any use to me. I also don't want to keep over a hundred prisoners inside closed off living quarters. Illum is doing fine with food, but feeding so many people who aren't a part of the community is a pain in the ass. It would set an unwelcome precedent. Who knows how many prisoners I might have to take in the future?
It also would be annoying to check their background stories to determine the level of their guilt.
“Take off the slave collars from the slaves and throw the cursed things overboard. I don't want such artefacts on Illum. If a slave can't deal with his or her freedom, release them from their misery. Give the remaining slaves weapons and allow them to do anything they want to the Empire's soldiers.
“If any of the imperialists are alive afterwards, give them the opportunity to swear a magical oath on serving Illum loyally. If they don't, throw them overboard after you interrogate them.”
The soldier hesitates but bows his head. “It will be done.” Having received his orders, he retreats quickly.
As expected, Zane protests. “You can't give the slaves weapons to murder the Empire's citizens!”
Raising an eyebrow, I study him for a long moment. “Why not? As I see it, if there is a truly deserving person among the imperialists, he or she will have earned the slaves’ respect. I am simply taking a short-cut instead of interrogating everyone. Nobody is paying me to re-educate my enemies if such a thing is even possible.”
I cut him off by raising my hand. “I am the one who knows the Empire's culture best. I lived among them for decades. Before you spout nonsense about changing their ways, or to check if they agree with slavery, allow me to tell you this. It's not my responsibility.”
Zane looks confused. “Excuse me?”
“Their well-being isn't my responsibility. It's that simple. I have an obligation to the people of Illum. These men and women,” I gesture at the captives, “followed their superiors, committing an act of war against me. They are not my responsibility. Whatever actions a person commits or assists, he or she has to be prepared to be on the receiving end. If I kill someone, I have to be prepared to be killed myself.”
Zane nods. “Then I'll deal with them if that's okay. I’ll take over the responsibility.”
Taken aback, I shrug. “As long as I don't end up with a prison camp.”
He nods and walks away to follow the soldier from earlier.
I sigh and look up to the drifting fleet of imperial ships. Three dreadnoughts and thirty-two smaller airships of various sizes survived the battle. Well, three and a half dreadnoughts. The one which was hit by my first wave of missiles is a wreck. I am surprised that it’s still in the air. Also, the poor fellows who will have to clean up the bodies will have a bad time.
Zane returns after half an hour. “I sorted it out and I got a message from our fighters.”
I don't ask for his instructions regarding the prisoners, but I can see that our guards are taking the captives away. “How did the fighters fare?”
“Not as good as we hoped, but also not as bad as it could have been. The Sociocrathy's weapon platforms were equipped with the same defensive spells as the Empire's ships. The energy rays proved very effective against small ships,” he reports.
I wince. “You didn't know about those spells when you made your assumptions. How many did we lose?”
Zane pulls down the corners of his mouth. “One hundred and eighty-three fighters were shot down, but only fourty-seven pilots died. The others managed to escape the wrecks with their levitation gear. They were picked up after the battle was over.”
“That's almost half of our fighters!” I exclaim.
He raises a finger. “But only an eighth of our pilots. Most of them were taken down in the first few seconds of the battle. The ones who stayed in the air learned a lot after they spread out and used evasive manoeuvres. The weapon platforms are a hundred and fifty metres in length, with a crew of eighty. The loss of fighters seems dramatic, but if we put it in terms of materials and men, then it isn't that much. Our fleet of fighters took on a force with thrice their weight in materials and far more manpower.
“Looking at it like that, the fighter's concept proved to be a success. We lost far fewer people and material than we destroyed. Given how fast Illum can replenish the lost equipment, that's hardly a concern for us. Though we need to devise a way for the jets to stay out of range of the air defences of larger ships. Maybe we can mount the rockets onto the fighters?
“The bigger ships, the corvettes, faired much better than the fighters and the bombers. Their mounted force cannons allowed them to strafe and evade while shooting at the enemy. Their better shields also allowed them to survive a glancing hit from those energy rays. The fighter's weapons are fixed, so they have to align their nose with the target in order to shoot. That's when most of them got taken down. The bombers have more range with their energy weapons, but ultimately they suffer the same problem.” He ends his explanation by crossing his arms behind himself.
I scratch my chin. “The size of the fighters and bombers makes it hard to mount weapons which can swivel and pivot. Whatever type of weapon we choose, it needs enough punch to break through the barriers. Without smarter rockets, it would be hard to re-equip the existing designs.”
Rockets without friend-or-foe-recognition are too dangerous to use in large, messy battles. The very least we would need is some type of lock-in target recognition which can be controlled by the pilot.
“It would slow down rocket production considerably,” I muse.
Zane shrugs. “To be honest, I wasn't too impressed by the cheap versions. Switch the ship production to corvettes and stockpile smarter rockets until we have enough to equip the fighters. As it is, we don't need more fighters or bombers. The ones we have will do a fine job at hunting down lone targets or little groups. As it is, I am reluctant to deploy them against large amounts of airships.”
Sighing, I turn and walk back towards the palace. “I was supposed to have the technological and strategic advantage. How did Rufus even know what the Empire and the Sociocrathy have to look out for?”
“Rufus isn't the type who likes to fight, but he is smart.” A voice from above us startles me.
Janice lowers herself to the ground, landing next to us. “And let's be honest, he knows that you are a technology freak. He also knows that you are somewhat restricted by time and resources, so it was likely that you would choose a path that gets you as much as possible within the limited amount of time that's available to you.”
She tilts her head. “He surely prepared them for a number of scenarios. Instructing them on tactics against many small enemies was just one of the obvious ones. I know for a fact that the energy rays and the huge liquid fireballs aren't spells which are normally used by airship commanders. Their large fireball-spell is too wasteful and slow to use it on normal airships. The spell was specifically designed for a target like Illum. It even had a component which was aimed at taking down barriers.”
Zane nods. “I was also surprised by how fast they thought of countermeasures. The same spells were used by the Empire and the Sociocrathy, so it's safe to assume that they were given to them.”
We discuss the situation further, but there are no new insights. Janice excuses herself when we reach my office. Upon stepping inside, I find Lucifer on my office chair. The ghost-cat looks up and yawns upon noticing me.
“Don’t tell me that you slept during the whole fight!”