2950-12-06 – Tales from the Service: The Tabernacle at the Front

The Incarnation still has not made a major attack against Maribel. The last week has seen a small amount of skirmishing around mining colonies in nearby systems which primarily feed Maribel’s system economy, but it is my understanding that these were raid-scale actions, and that most featured only a single Tyrant-type heavy cruiser executing the sort of high-velocity, smash-and-dash mission which characterized the first phase of this war.

Though obviously these raids are intended to prevent raw materials from reaching refineries and slowing repairs to the numerous Fifth Fleet ships damaged in action throughout the latter half of the year, I see this as having little direct impact. Most of the parts and materiel used to repair Confederated Navy warships are shipped in directly from yards in the Core Worlds, and any parts common enough to be made locally probably exist in significant stockpile in Maribel and nearby systems.

Maribel is, after all, not properly besieged; no enemy effort has been made to interdict supply lines to the still-free part of the Frontier or into Farthing’s Chain toward the Core Worlds. Even the convoys heading for Sagittarius Gate remain largely untroubled.

I am still not sure why Admiral Venturi okayed this, but a most remarkable vessel arrived at Maribel today, diverting from its tour of the worlds of Farthing’s Chain. Holy Tabernacle, a starship built for and largely by the faithful of the technology-averse Holy Order of Penderites. Its stated purpose for coming here is to help relocate a significant number of Penderites evacuated from the small colony at MacNeil’s End, invaded by the Incarnation this past May. To that end Tabernacle arrived alongside a sizable hauler hastily refitted to transport refugees; between the two ships, the entire Penderite refugee community on Maribel can be transported.

Since we have seen Holy Tabernacle in this space before thanks to the contribution of its skipper, a Penderite-sympathetic spacer named Sandra Ibsen, I was hoping to see her contribute another account of mystery related to the plot to kill Grand Hierophant Uberto Toloni, the mortal leader of the Penderites. I was not disappointed in this hope. Captain Ibsen related a rather interesting incident that happened barely six hours after Toloni’s arrival on Maribel, which will require at least two weekly episodes to relate.

When Holy Tabernacle came to ponderous rest on Maribel soil, there was no eager throng waiting for its grand personnel ramp to descend, hoping to greet the Grand Hierophant of the Penderites with cheering acclamation. Other than two light aircraft swirling in for a landing nearby to deposit a gaggle of planetary officials and a couple of reporters, the salt pans outside the ship were empty for miles, gradually rising toward the Ueda Mountains which marched in pastel blue ranks to the south and east.

Beyond those mountains, Sandra knew, was Maribel City, the sprawling boom-town spaceport which boasted more citizens than almost every other planet on the Frontier, and more even than most of the worlds of the more settled Farthing’s Chain. She’d made landfall there once in her career as a merchant spacer, years ago, before the war, and even then it had been a freewheeling place, a city of vibrant commerce, but also of debauchery, where the fortunes of the Frontier were stripped away from their winners and relocated to more established interests.

“Not your usual sort of reception, Your Eminence.” Captain Sandra Ibsen shook her head, gesturing at the camera feeds. “Maribel’s no place for Penderites.”

“All the more reason why we must be here, Sister Ibsen.” Toloni clasped his hands together. “Fifteen thousand of our faithful doubtless care for the place no more than you do.”

Sandra bowed her head. “Of course. The ground team should already be unloading your caravan.” After five assassination attempts earlier in the year, she had quietly set the techs to modifying the Grand Hierophant’s huge ground-car, increasing its armor and adding an electronic warning system Toloni would protest, if he knew about it.

The Hierophant gestured to Sandra. “Join me. The crew doubtless needs you little while the ship is grounded.”

Sandra winced. “I’d… honestly rather not, sir. The last time I put my boots in this planet’s dirt, I regretted it.”

Toloni’s eyes twinkled over his characteristically enigmatic smile as he reached for his scepter of office, resting against the bulkhead. “Humor me.”

Sandra hesitated, then stood from her chair, pulled out her comms earpiece, and gestured to one of the other bridge officers to take over. Toloni was right; Holy Tabernacle didn’t need a skipper while it was resting on the salt pans.

As she joined him in the long spiral stairs that wound through the ship to obviate Penderites from using standard lift technology, Sandra snuck a look at the old man. “It’s about the assassins, isn’t it?” Everyone on board knew about the assassination attempts, of course, and most knew that all five of the would-be killers had been placed into the custody of Toloni’s honor guard, and held in Tabernacle’s small brig for months. Few knew that they had been offloaded into the dubious care of a Bureau of Counter-Intelligence task force which suspected Incarnation involvement in the attacks, and fewer still knew that the five men were all connected through a Maribel native, a datasphere fashionista named Delilah Brahms-Walton.

“I had hoped you’d guess.” Toloni nodded. “Yes, there has been a development. After we see to our displaced faithful, I have arranged a talk with our friend Miss Brahms-Walton.”

Given that Toloni used the ship’s comms only when he could not avoid it, Sandra assumed that his use of “arranged” here meant that the chief of his security detail had arranged it. “Is this talk going to be voluntary?”

Toloni shrugged, that playful look Sandra knew meant trouble appearing in his eyes. “I suppose we’ll see. It is a great opportunity for outreach to the masses.”

Sandra blinked. “You’re going to confront this woman in public? Your eminence, that’s suicide. I won’t let you-”

“Peace.” Toloni held up a gnarled hand. “It is already in motion.”

Sandra gritted her teeth and followed in silence; she wasn’t responsible for the Grand Hierophant’s personal safety on the ground, but she still would feel responsible if he were to come to harm.

At the bottom of the winding stair, a trio of garishly uniformed, rifle-toting honor-guards met Sandra and Toloni, snapping fine salutes before bracketing their master as he stepped out onto the landing and began the long descent to the ground. Already, the two aircraft had landed, and a knot of people were tromping across the salt pans toward the foot of the ramp, and already, a pair of honor guards waited there. Somewhere aft, the whirring of the vehicle lift told Sandra that the huge ground-car would be ready for its master soon.

At the foot of the ramp, Toloni thumped the foot of his scepter on the hard-packed dirt, then bowed his head in prayer for another safe landing. Sandra prayed as well, though hers was more of a fervent wish to return with Toloni to Holy Tabernacle as soon and as safely as possible.