Earth Defense: The Rise and Fall of Khonsu III
The immediate aftermath of the Capella tragedy was marked by grief, mourning, and shocked silence. Amongst Terrans, there was at least some consolation; Terran politicians publically and ardently committed themselves to the cause of the return to Terra.
Amongst Vasudans there was no such solace to be found. On the morning of January 2nd, 2368, Emperor Khonsu II was found dead of an apparent stroke. Heroic medical efforts to resuscitate the fallen Emperor met with no success, leading one of the Emperorís bodyguards to suggest that something from above had simply swept down and claimed him. Vasudans went about their lives with the stoic determination of a people accustomed to tragedy. On the streets and in the great chambers of Vasudan worlds, in the guts of Vasudan warships and the holds of Vasudan freighters, the proverb was passed: Ďa people birthed in sorrow, die in sorrow.í
Khonsu III, eldest son of his father, assumed the throne in a ceremony attended by Terran politicians and his younger brother Mihos IV. Six days later he announced the first major act of his reign: the reinstitution of the Vasudan Parliament. Strong leadership would be needed in the days to come, Khonsu III proclaimed, and the Vasudan people drew their strength from tradition.
Khonsu IIIís first year of rule was marked by vigorous political maneuvering, skilled economic policy, and a gregarious willingness to openly dialogue with and express favor towards the Terrans. His brother Mihos IV retired to his home territory, the Vasudan Admiralty, where some parties Ė including Mihosí close friend Admiral Ahmose Ė grumbled that the new Emperor was rapidly turning the Vasudan species into a stepping-stool for the Terrans and their needs.
As the recovery from Capella proceeded, and Khonsu III spent more and more of his time and legislative effort working alongside and building contact with the Terrans, these rumblings began to spread. Khonsu III was an excellent politician and a capable leader, but he seemed insensitive to the pride of his own people. Of what use were wealth and power, some Vasudans began to ask, if the Emperor became a Terran lapdog? Why did the Emperor focus his energies on the pursuit of distant goals rather than tending to the glory of Vasuda?
In spite of this discontent in the military, Khonsu III was overwhelmingly popular amongst younger, more cosmopolitan Vasudans. Raised in a society no longer dominated by the great cultural hub of Vasuda Prime, Khonsu III represented a new, dynamic element of the Vasudan population, one that saw fit to discard many of the ancient traditions that, in the eyes of the young, held the Vasudans back.
The years after Capella were kind to the GTVA. The Terrans made progress on their Sol Gate, assisted by vast teams of Ancient experts and reactor engineers supplied by Khonsu III. New warships and new weapons, all of joint design, entered commission. The Emperor took his fatherís policies of joint defense to heart and extended them into cultural and social matters, making appearances in the Terran media, speaking to Terran youth, taking up Terran culture and crafts. His xenophilic fascinations were, in his own words, a product of his belief that traditional Vasudan culture was inherently xenophobic and counterproductive, unsuited to a rapidly changing new world. Trade between Terrans and Vasudans opened up new markets, joint colonization exploited newly colonized systems with unparalleled efficiency, and economies boomed.
But even as wealth multiplied, the slow trickle of political power away from the Vasudans and into Terran hands continued. Conservative elements of Vasudan society were troubled by the Emperorís flexibility. The Parliament that Khonsu III had instituted seemed intent on insinuating its influence deep into the Admiralty and Vasudan culture itself. The Parliament members, like Khonsu, were populist heroes, appealing to a youth suspicious of the hidebound warrior tradition.
At the urgings of Admiral Ahmose, Mihos IV made a political stand against his brotherís policies. Rallying older, more traditional Vasudans, Mihos IV advocated for a more respectful treatment of Vasudan tradition, the dissolution of the byzantine Parliament, and a return to the proud warrior culture of the past. Although Mihos was politically inept and unsuited to the maneuverings of Parliament, he had deep support amongst the Vasudan Admiralty and a degree of popular appeal founded on his personal strength and perceived integrity. Although his bloc in Parliament was small, Mihos was able to organize a coalition that opposed what he called Khonsu IIIís Ďsubservient and disrespectful behaviorí in negotiations with the Terrans.
The critical flashpoint in this debate was the issue of trade with Mirfak. Zero-G industry, gas mining, and pharmaceuticals flourished in this remote, almost purely Vasudan system, generating immense quantities of wealth for Khonsuís people. But, with Capella destroyed, the only access to Mirfak for trade ships was through Epsilon Pegasi, a Terran-controlled systems whose politicians remained, even after the NTF rebellion, strongly Vasudophobic. The inevitable post-Capella negotiations in the GTVA General Assembly came to be characterized by a certain political pattern: Terran politicians and diplomats again and again used the threat of restricted or taxed trade from Mirfak as a stick to influence Vasudan policy. Conversely, the prospect of reduced shipping costs and additional freight volume from Terran ships was employed as an incentive. Khonsu III, eager to ingratiate himself with his Terran allies, made little effort to stand up to these tactics. By contrast, he appeared intent on deploying Vasudan Ďsoft powerí to influence Epsilon Pegasi, allowing Vasudan medical clinics and industrial employment to filter into the neighboring system and gradually bring its inhabitants around.
As civilized as this approach was, it led to bitter disputes between Mihos IV and Khonsu III in the Vasudan Parliament. The Vasudans were a proud people, and even amongst them, brothers in particular were known for their pride. Khonsu III characterized his younger sibling as a stumbling, clumsy, forceful primitive; Mihos IV accused his older brother of being a shameful, degenerate, subservient cur who would exchange his own body for that of a Terran if given the chance. Their respective power blocs rallied behind them. While Mihosí followers were smaller in number and less culturally influential, they gained the support of major industry leaders disturbed by Khonsu IIIís willingness to share power and cooperate with the Terrans. ĎVasuda First and Foremostí became the rallying cry of the Vasudan Reformation Camp. Where Khonsu III saw an opportunity to enlighten Epsilon Pegasiís backwards inhabitants, Mihos IV and his followers excoriated the decision to send good Vasudans into the hands of racist, ignorant savages. They directed additional criticism towards Khonsu IIIís relative inattention to pure Vasudan military strength and his decision to bring the Vasudan economy and political system closer to the Terrans. The VRC was not particularly anti-Terran, but it resented the effects of Terran presence on Vasudan society.
They were, for the most part, ignored.
As the years dragged on the court and parliamentary intrigues of the Vasudans seemed likely to swallow Mihos IV. But the Vasudan Reformation Camp soldiered on, its ranks swollen by those who felt Vasudan culture was disintegrating or those who were simply unready for greater Terran-Vasudan unity on a political, economic, and military level. The debates between the two brothers waxed and waned in frequency and vituperousness. The rift between the two great poles of Vasudan society widened and entrenched even as economic prosperity continued and Terran-Vasudan culture grew steadily more intertwined.
And then it all collapsed. The first disintegration was economic. In 2380 interspecies trade took a brief and natural downturn Ė a combination of momentarily high fuel costs, lowered demand, and the saturation of both Terran and Vasudan markets. The fluctuation triggered a panic that revealed the utter instability of the Vasudan economic system. Dozens of post-Capellan trade agreements written to favor struggling Terran economies now shackled the Vasudan infrastructure and dragged it into recession. The desperate turned to the Emperorís generous social welfare programs, but found no solace. Vasudan subjects were shocked to discover that their own governmental coffers were nearly empty. Khonsu III had devoted the wealth of the prosperous period not to securing the security of his people but to ambitious research into Ancient culture and archaeology and Ė most shockingly Ė the construction of the Terran subspace portal in Delta Serpentis. The return to Sol, still in progress, had been financed in no small part by the Vasudans.
The crisis worsened. At the lowest point, sixty million tons of ore from a Vasudan world could not purchase the fuel required simply to move the ore to Terran space. The last straw was the Terran reaction to the collapse. Instead of aiding their Vasudan counterparts, as Khonsu III had once done for them, the Terrans looked to shoring up their own economies and advocated a laissez faire recovery to the incredible depression.
The ranks of the Vasudan Reformation Camp boomed. Aging Vasudans once fervently in favor of Khonsu IIIís pro-Terran attitudes, now embittered and disappointed, cast their lot in with Mihos IV. Parliament swelled with VRC members. Mihos IV moved aggressively, uncharacteristically driven to consolidate his power. In 2385, after a round of elections that placed the VRC in majority control of the Parliament (ironic, given the VRC's own opposition to that very body of government), and in the face of a paucity of Terran aid and incredible suffering on every major Vasudan world, Mihos IV attempted a gambit not seen since before the Great War: he rallied Parliament in an attempt to force Khonsu III to abdicate.
Khonsu III refused.
Mihos IV asked the Admiralty to back his request to gain the throne. Led by Admiral Ahmose, major elements of the Admiralty consented. Enraged and shocked, Khonsu III dissolved Parliament and ordered his brother to publically denounce his own actions.
Mihos IV would not.
Riots erupted across Vasudan space. The Terrans withdrew their ambassadors as tensions rose. Populist uprisings were violently suppressed by police forces loyal to Khonsu III. In Antares, Mihos loyalists suicide bombed a police headquarters with a surplus Cyclops warhead, devastating an entire metropolitan area. Mihos IV accused Khonsu III of planting false evidence to justify increasingly harsh police action. Indignant, Khonsu III ordered Mihos IV placed under house arrest.
In July 2385, Vasudan marines off the destroyer Astarte, under the command of Admiral Ahmose, freed Mihos IV from his arrest in a daring raid. Khonsu III ordered the Admiralty to relieve Ahmose and hand Mihos IV over into Imperial custody.
In response, the Vasudan Reformation Camp declared Khonsu III a pretender and a traitor and began open civil war against the Imperial regime. Elements of Khonsu IIIís own bodyguards attempted to arrest him, but were killed by loyal bodyguards and Terran GTVI operatives. As warships under VRC command closed on Aldebaran, the Terrans spirited Khonsu III away to Beta Aquilae. By this point he arguably had more Terran allies and friends than Vasudans.
Within three months sixty percent of the Vasudan fleet was firmly under the control of the VRC and most of the civilian population had aligned itself with Mihos IV. The reformers controlled Alpha Centauri, Deneb, Altair, and Vasuda Prime, along with vast industrial might and strategic node connections that isolated the Loyalist-held capital at Aldebaran. The Loyalists, outnumbered and outgunned but armed with immense outrage at the disloyal conduct of the rebels, held fast in Aldebaran, supported both covertly and overtly by Terran military assets.
From Beta Aquilae, Khonsu III promised his loyal subjects that he would return to safeguard them from the pretender.
In Aldebaran, Mihos IV drove his VRC Reformers against the Loyalist ramparts, furious and completely deaf to calls for negotiation.
In Delta Serpentis, the GTD Orpheus and its elite task Strategic Command task force prepared for the first transit through the completed Sol Gate.
For the first time since the death of Capella, the Alliance was on the path towards total war.