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RTH Official Snippet #4

"Hell's Gate" and "Hell Hath No Fury", by David, Linda Evans, and Joelle Presby, take the clash of science and magic to a whole new dimension...join us in a friendly discussion of this engrossing series!
RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Jun 05, 2015 5:24 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

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Sorry this is running late, what with heart surgeries and finishing up the final page proofs on Sword of the South, I've kinda had my hands full.

_________________________________________________________

Chapter Three

Commander of One Thousand Klayrman Toralk glowered at the report in his personal crystal. It was neatly organized and illustrated by half a dozen color-coded graphs and charts — obviously, the intelligence types had figured out how to get the best out of their wordprocessing spellware — but it made grim and ugly reading.

We are so screwed, he reflected glumly, and paged ahead to the latest dispatch from Commander of One Hundred Faryx Helika.

Helika’s 5001st Strike had been the weakest of the First Provisional Talon’s three strikes when the Arcanan Expeditionary Force set out on this nightmare journey. That had made it easy enough to dispense with it and assign it to the purely secondary advance up what the Sharonians called the Kelsayr Chain, but that had changed. In theory, an Air Force talon should have consisted of three full strength strikes of twelve fighting dragons each. In fact, Toralk’s talon consisted of — or would consist of, after Helika’s arrival — the 5001st’s three reds and three blacks, the three blacks which were all that survived of the 3012th Strike, and the six reds and five blacks of the 2029th. Of course, there no longer was a 3012th; Toralk had officially disbanded it and assigned its survivors to the 2029th.

Twenty, he thought bitterly. A whole twenty out of the thirty-six I ought to have, and not a yellow among them. Not that anyone this side of a lunatic would send yellows in against Sharonian defenses that know they’re coming!

They’d paid a savage price to discover what alert Sharonian artillery could do to strafing dragons, and Toralk blamed himself for it. They’d captured Sharonian “field guns” and “machine guns” in their advance from Hell’s Gate, and that loathsome bile toad Neshok had actually experimented with them and sent the results of his experiments forward. Toralk could tell himself — honestly — that Neshok’s experiments had been far from complete. That Neshok had both underestimated the range their “field guns” could attain, and provided no information at all about “shells” that exploded in mid-air and threw out hundreds of smaller projectiles. He suspected those were probably the “shrapnel shells” which had turned up in the intelligence summaries with a question mark behind them, so perhaps a fair-minded man (not that Toralk had the least desire to be fair-minded where Alivar Neshok was concerned) would have to admit the interrogator had at least given him the best information available. But Neshok hadn’t warned him at allabout the weapons the Sharonians called “pedestal guns.” Not, Toralk admitted bitterly, that it would have made any difference. The thousand wanted to think that if he’d realized there was a weapon which could fire explosive shells at such a high rate he would have re-thought his plan to attack Fort Salby. Unfortunately, he knew better. He’d allowed himself — and the late Five Hundred Myr — to not simply expect the element of surprise but to make their entire attack plan depend upon it.

And it didn’t help anything when Myr took it upon himself to throw good money after bad. Toralk felt his jaw muscles tensing again and forced himself to relax them. If the idiot —

He made himself let go of the thought. He’d been a strike dragon pilot himself in his day. He knew the breed, knew how their minds worked. And because he had been, and because he did know, he understood exactly what Cerlohs Myr had been thinking — or not thinking — after the Sharonians somehow managed to ambush his dragons on their way to the target.

Toralk still couldn’t see how the Sharonians could have known where to dig in those machine guns on either flank of the approach valley he and Myr had chosen from their maps, yet he’d come to the conclusion they must have known. There was no other possible explanation for why those machine guns had been positioned on those hot, dry hillsides so far away from the line of the Sharonian “railroad” and the road running beside it. They’d been in exactly the right spot, and nothing Neshok’s interrogation teams had wrung out of their prisoners explained how the Sharonians had gotten them there in time. So far, at least, there’d been no mention of any of the bizarre Sharonian Talents which could have predicted Myr’s approach route with the necessary precision.

Toralk wasn’t ready to conclude that that meant there wasn’t such a talent, and Shartahk knew Neshok’s interrogation methods were unlikely to encourage anyone to volunteer information that wasn’t dragged out of him. If there was such a Talent, however, and if it operated with any degree of reliability, the implications were terrifying. How could anyone defeat an enemy who literally knew when, where, and how he was coming? But if that sort of Talent existed, how had the Sharonians been so surprised by the AEF’s initial attacks? And even assuming it had only come into play after the attack began, he came back again and again to the Sharonian possession of their Voice communications system. If anyone had possessed a Talent capable not simply of realizing an attack was coming but of predicting its exact route accurately enough — and far enough in advance — to dig in heavy machine guns on either side of exactly the one of several valleys the leading dragon strike might have followed, then surely the Voices could have passed that warning farther down-chain, as well. For someone without arcanely aided combat engineers, it must have taken the better part of at least three days’ hard labor to prepare the defenses of Fort Salby as thoroughly as they’d been prepared. So if some bizarre Talent farther up-chain from Traisum had managed to predict the attack in time for them to accomplish that much, why hadn’t the warning been passed still farther in that ample time window?

Stop beating your head against that particular wall, Klayrman, he told himself again. Maybe you were just lucky in Karys. Maybe they did send a warning to Fort Mosanik but they had too little advance notice for it to get there before you hit it and took out its Voice. File this one under the “Never, Never, Ever Take Liberties Against Sharonians Again Just Because You Think You Have The Advantage of Surprise” heading and get on with where we go from here.

He grimaced, wondering if one reason his mind insisted on fretting itself against the question of how the Sharonians had managed it was because of how little he wanted to contemplate the options available to the AEF in the aftermath of Fort Salby. Helika’s strike would arrive within the next eighteen to twenty hours, but there wouldn’t be any more battle dragons for at least another two or three months. Nor were there any replacements for the eighteen transport dragons who’d been killed or too badly wounded for the dragon healers to return to service. That left his 1st Provisional AATC Aerie with only a hundred and seventy transports, and that was too few for a field force operating the next godsdamned thing to thirty thousand miles beyond the nearest sliderhead.

A single transport could carry loads weighing up to about a quarter of its own mass, which on average came to about fifteen tons of cargo. For short hops that could be boosted to as much as twenty or even twenty-five tons, but the cost in endurance and operational range was high. Levitation spells could double normal capacities, but spells with that sort of power requirement was magister-level work, and the military never had enough magister-level Gifts to meet its needs. The Army Air Transport Command belonged to the Air Force, despite its name and despite strenuous efforts by the Army to hang onto it, and Toralk had put in his own time as a junior officer commanding transport strikes and even talons. As a result, he was well aware of the acute limits on the uniformed personnel who could charge levitation accumulators, especially once they got too far forward to tap the power nets established in more heavily inhabited universes. There were very good reasons the AATC operated from nodal bases where it could assemble its most strongly Gifted techs to charge as many accumulators as possible. It kept such valuable personnel safely out of harm’s way, rather than parceling them out in tenth-mark packets, working in isolation too close to the sharp end of the stick, and it was generally simpler and more efficient to ship the charged accumulators — which weighed barely two pounds each, after all —forward to where they were needed.

Except that no one in his worst nightmares had dreamed anyone might ever need to supply such a force this big out at the arse-end of nowhere, and Commander of Two Thousand mul Gurthak had been forced to strip the dozen closest universes of transports to give Toralk what he had. Anything mul Gurthak had left was absolutely essential to maintaining the Expeditionary Force’s rear area transport requirements, not to mention the forts and sparse civilian populations scattered through those universes. That cupboard was bare, and there wouldn’t be any more dragons popping out of it anytime soon.

That was bad enough, but there’d never been enough accumulators, either. Still worse, the nearest real stockpile had been in Ucala, at the end of the slider net from New Arcana, 24,300 miles behind Arcana’s first encounter with the Sharonians, and they’d advanced over four thousand miles since then. That was the next best thing to three hundred hours’ flight time for a transport dragon, and a transport needed periodic breaks in flight and at least several hours rest per day, not to mention downtime for things like eating. All of which meant it was a sixteen-day trip — one way — between Ucala and Toralk’s tent here in the universe Sharona had christened Karys. Even more unhappily, the Ucala stockpile had been completely depleted by the heavy transport demands required to build up the AEF’s main logistic base in Mahritha and keep moving this far forward. Commander of Five Hundred Mantou Lyshair, the acting CO of Toralk’s AATC detachment, was down to an accumulator inventory far below the minimum level specified by The Book, and that was another situation that wasn’t going to get better anytime soon.

And because it isn’t, the transports Lyshair does have are forced to fly without accumulators, which is exhausting the dragons faster and hauling half the tonnage to boot. And then there’s the little problem of fodder and dragon feed, he reminded himself glumly.

The terrain between portals in both Karys and Failcham was hot, dry, and arid. There’d been little Sharonian civilian presence in either of them, which meant there’d also been little farmland to provide fodder for the cavalry’s horses or fresh food to vary the men’s diet, and there’d been neither domesticated animals nor large herds of wild animals to provide meat for the dragons or the cavalry’s unicorns. The wicked losses Gyras Urlan’s heavy dragoons had suffered in the final lunge at Fort Salby had reduced the number of horses they had to feed, but there were plenty of the hungry creatures left, and transporting enough food for all of the Expeditionary Force’s draft animals — and humans; let’s not forget them, Klayrman, he reminded himself — only increased the workload on the pilots and beasts of Lyshair’s exhausted aerie still further.

We don’t have a choice, he decided. I’m going to have to rotate the transport talons at least as far back as Thermyn to hunt.

That would be better than two thousand miles, but the portal between Thermyn and Failcham was in central Yanko, and a relatively short hop from there would take them to the vast, rolling plains of western Andara with its endless herds of bison. The hunting would be good, the game would be plentiful, the talon he rotated back would have good eating while it was there, and hunting parties could take enough additional bison to be shipped forward to Karys when it returned.

Of course, it’s going to cost me a quarter of my transports, he reflected glumly. And given the number of carnivorous mouths we have to feed, I’ll have to authorize Lyshair to dip into his levitation accumulators to haul the meat back. At least we’re in good shape for food preservation spells, so it won’t rot before it gets eaten. That’s not going to help with the fodder, though.

He frowned unhappily, then sighed. Two Thousand Harshu wasn’t going to like it, but they’d have to send the horses back along with the transports. A winter on the Western Plains of Andara would be no picnic, even for the arcanely enhanced cavalry mounts, but it would be better than trying to graze them here.

Sure, it’ll be better, but that’s sort of like saying amputation’s better than gangrene! Our biggest single advantage over the Sharonians is our mobility, and that’s oozing away from us while we sit here. Thank Trembo Fire Heel for the Traisum Cut! At least without dragons of their own those bastards aren’t going to be coming down it after us anytime soon. Unfortunately . . . .

He sighed again and paged to the brief report he was going to have to discuss with Harshu. Until that unmitigated bastard Carthos got here from the secondary advance Harshu had recalled, Klayrman Toralk, for his sins, remained the second ranking officer of the AEF. That made him Mayrkos Harshu’s senior officer, and that made it his unwelcome job to share his staff’s estimates — guesstimates, really — of Sharonian transport capabilities with his superior. Frankly, he was half convinced those guesstimates were wildly pessimistic, but only half. And if they weren’t, if the Sharonians really could pack two or three dragonweights of freight into a single one of their railroad cars . . .

If they can, they may be slower than we are, but they’ve got the godsdamned railroad built all the way to the portal. Once whatever they have in the pipeline starts arriving in Traisum, they’ll be able to build up quickly — probably even more quickly than we could if we had as many levitation accumulators as we wanted! Each load’ll take longer to make the trip, but a single “train” as long as the work trains that pulled out of Karys after the prisoner exchange can carry as much as all my transports together. And that’s assuming the transports have the accumulators to double up!

That, he decided, was a very unpleasant thought indeed.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by Astelon   » Fri Jun 05, 2015 6:02 pm

Astelon
Commander

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Yeah! New Snippet. Thank you.

Lots of new information on Arcanan Abilities. I will have to spend some time looking them over and thinking about consequences.

Things that stick out:
Power nets in more heavily settled universes, interesting.
How much the "averqage" transport dragon can move.
Low state of Arcanan supplies.
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by ksandgren   » Fri Jun 05, 2015 7:37 pm

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Thanks for the new snippet, rfc!
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by Keith_w   » Fri Jun 05, 2015 8:11 pm

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Commodore

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Location: Ontario, Canada

Thank you for the snippet RFC, very glad to hear that you are doing better.
--
A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by brnicholas   » Fri Jun 05, 2015 8:21 pm

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Thank You!! Much new information.

Nicholas
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by Castenea   » Fri Jun 05, 2015 10:46 pm

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Sounds like the logistics bottleneck is going to cause the Arcanans trouble getting their expeditionary force out of the meatgrinder they have gotten themselves in.

Specualtion on my part is that this book will cover the advance of the Sharonians back to the swamp portal and the political consequences of what they find on the way there. Sharona has limited lift capacity once beyond the rail head (though still greater than the Arcanans believe), and the swamp portal is a logistics bottleneck that will impede advance by both sides, but the Sharonians more, untill a port is built there.
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by jeremyr   » Sat Jun 06, 2015 12:41 am

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Thanks, can't wait for the book.
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by SCC   » Sat Jun 06, 2015 2:19 am

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Interesting about the supply of dragons, far more then I thought they had (Of course, no mention of wounded is made). Didn't they start out short of battle dragons?
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by bkwormlisa   » Sat Jun 06, 2015 9:15 am

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I was wondering the same thing. We knew there were only three of the 3012th Strike left, and I don't think we had numbers for the 5001th, but where did the 2029th come from? It obviously wasn't available for the attack on Fort Salby - Toralk specifically thought that he had only three dragons fit to fight - but it doesn't sound like Helika had it either.

It's also a lot of transport dragons, and they can haul more than I would have thought practical. How the heck do they normally feed dragons, especially in heavily populated worlds?

Strange thought: Since dragons are accumulators in their own right as Gadrial says (they recharge themselves for each breath weapon), maybe there's more to them than just weapons? Perhaps they have some levitation spells built in too. It would have been a great original reason for them to be accumulators, before the Mythalans added breath weapons. That would explain how something that size could fly at all
SCC wrote:Interesting about the supply of dragons, far more then I thought they had (Of course, no mention of wounded is made). Didn't they start out short of battle dragons?
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Re: RTH Official Snippet #4
Post by brnicholas   » Sat Jun 06, 2015 9:59 am

brnicholas
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There are more battle dragons then I thought too but I'm finding in general that when we look too closely continuity gets a bit funny. Do people know do the authors want that ignored, explained away, or pointed to?

In any case. In Chapter 28 if HHNF Toralk thinks he has only three battle dragons left and latter in the same book 50 Fahrlo thinks of himself as the senior officer of the "First Provisional Talon" which after the attack on Fort Salby consists of three dragons.

On the other hand, Hell's Gate Chapter 52 says they started with two complete air force talons plus four yellows. Using the numbers for a talon given in this snippet that comes out to 76 battle dragons. I didn't think they lost near 56 battle dragons in HHNF.

The best I can come up for making this make sense is that maybe the second talon is a cross between battle and transport dragons that has been functioning as transports? If they are switching back and forth between counting some dragons as transport or battle dragons that might explain the discrepancies.

Nicholas
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