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Gaia's Spartans

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Planet's Voice later called them "earthdeirdrecorazon." They still called themselves "Deirdre" and "Corazon." They'd had a hard time wrapping their mind around it. Minds. They eventually decided it was the best thing that had ever happened to anyone.

Deirdre had been sickened at first. Losing her identity was terrifying. With Corazon, she had calmed. Corazon, rock-solid, adaptable to anything. They could share. Share something no one else, or at least no one else human, had ever been able to share before. Even with psionics, this wasn't possible. They could achieve everything they'd always wanted to do. Together. With each other, with Planet.

They'd had a few hours after they woke up before anyone expected them to do anything. Deirdre meditated, Corazon exercised. Neither occupied the mind too intensely, but neither left it available to do much thinking either, at least not in their chosen styles. The mental rest was helpful, though.

After Corazon finished, she joined Deirdre. She wasn't nearly as practiced at meditation per se, but mental discipline was even more important than physical. Deirdre's particulars were different, but Corazon could follow them. They focused on the rhythms of their own bodies, and the rhythms of Planet. They weren't very surprised to find all three in synch after not very long. They fell into a trance for what the clock called half an hour.

When they came back to awareness, they decided Deirdre should be in better shape. Trying to copy Corazon, she tripped herself and pulled her ankle. She did something less intense.

With Deirdre occupied, Corazon couldn't meditate properly. They found that interesting, so they experimented. Corazon could follow Deirdre's meditation if she was idle, or meditating herself, but if Deirdre focused too much, they would be too distracted by it for Corazon to meditate. Deirdre could meditate almost regardless of what Corazon was doing.

She couldn't do anything close to what Corazon considered a morning workout even if she was actively helping.

They were irritated. Mental skills clearly transferred better than physical ones. Deirdre was not getting the better part of this arrangement. They absently closed Deirdre's window, then stopped and opened it again. It was a nice day. They were coming to the realization that Corazon's quarters were crushingly bland. Closing the window would just make it worse.

They decided to get out and start the day proper. They took Deirdre's morning walk. Corazon had to check through security to get outside, facing more than one or two raised eyebrows in the process. She also had to find a completely different route for obvious reasons, and she took a rifle, so it wasn't exactly Deirdre's morning walk. They realized Deirdre was watching for an ambush. It was very possible; they would have to vary her routine more.

Once they were outside, Corazon almost felt relaxed, despite the breathing apparatus. Planet was dangerous, but it was also beautiful. They had to protect it. They depended on it to survive, after all.

That would be their new cause, then. A synthesis of both of them. They would protect Planet from the other human factions, by whatever force was necessary (and quite a lot of it would be necessary), to protect their own survival and freedom, and their right to enjoy Planet's natural beauty in harmony with the ecosystem around them. Planet deserved better than Earth had gotten, and it would get no less on their watch.

They were much more compatible than they'd ever thought. So many possibilities... Just being able to trust unquestioningly opened so many doors. They could fully commit against another faction without having to watch each other for a betrayal. They could share all their technology and... They might as well just combine their factions. But how could they even do that? Their societies were so different! Could Spartans even handle democracy after centuries of military dictatorship? Could Gaians possibly give it up? They shuddered at the image of mind worm handlers suppressing a protest in Gaia's Landing.

It would have to be a hybrid of some kind. Two societies, one state. An empire of sorts, or a federation. A real one, that was, not like the Spartans.

Corazon would move to Gaia's Landing in peacetime. They would need to make some improvements. But they couldn't deny that, even with those made, Sparta Command would be better as a military center.

They were making their ways back inside by that point.

"I will be going to Gaia's Landing for a meeting." "Colonel Santiago will be coming by."

A stunned pause in both control centers.

"Did I hear that right, Lady?" "Colonel, I must object!"

They gave a firm look. The Spartans were used to that particular stare and went, under protest, to make the most paranoid security arrangements they could. The Gaians remained hesitant. "I said, Colonel Santiago will be visiting. Please make sure perimeter security knows to let her convoy pass. And arrange for an escort to my council chamber once she arrives. Get in touch with, I believe it's Captain Tillis of the Colonel's Personal Guard at Sparta Command and set up the details. Thank you." The Gaians moved to obey.

Diplomacy was not usually done face-to-face on Planet, but then again, neither was it usually done mind-to-mind. Not that any of their subordinates understood that.

It would take days for Santiago to reach Gaia's Landing, even in the speeders her party would take (needlejets were too risky according to the Colonel's Personal Guard), but that would let them plan. For the moment, though, they went about the day-to-day business of running, between them, the affairs of about a third of known humanity. They did not cede a small border dispute to Yang, as Deirdre alone would have, here; nor did they purge a fungal growth, as Corazon alone would, there. They made mistakes nonetheless. Neither was an accomplished diplomat, and they missed the implications of a precedent Lal set without their opposition until they thought of it again the next day.

At night, they dreamed. Every night, they dreamed together of Voice.

"togetherthink now you."

"Yes. You should have asked before you did that. It is a gift, but one that is hard to receive unbidden."

"earthdeirdrecorazon hurt? hurt earthdeirdrecorazon want us no!"

"...No. But we could have been hurt. It was luck that Corazon was as cooperative and Deirdre as adaptable. We could have been much less compatible."

"compatible what?"

"Because humans think separately, we are different, sometimes very different, from each other. That can make it hard for us to work together. Your... togetherthink would only make that worse in people who are different in the wrong ways. Drive them to insanity, even to suicide."

"human togetherthink hurt, end?" Voice sounded worried by this idea.

"Possibly. It could work very well for some. Us, as a prime example, but only by luck. It would be inadvisable to do... whatever you did again without much more care."

"new human togetherthink not now, we think much. slow."

Voice seemed uncertain. They had other conversations, of a similar nature, and of... another.

"earthmorgan us hurt again! still! listen not! think not! borehole! fungus stop! worms worms worms not enough! earthdeirdrecorazon us help?"

"We'll try." It would be better if Planet could protect itself more effectively. "But I would hesitate to say your worms are insufficient. What you need isn't necessarily more forces, it is better strategy."

"us worms... forces? us strategy think not. strategy human hurt human how. not us worms stop hurt."

"But you already use a strategy. You react where you're hurt, to repel the attack, and discourage the attackers. You target near damage, to force humans away from that area."

Voice paused at this.

"strategy... better think how?"

"The elements of effective strategy can be broken into three parts; offensive, defensive, and support. Start with defensive. Learn where your enemy will attack, or at least where an attack is most likely. Muster your forces there; be ready to repel the attack before it can achieve its goals, before damage is done. Don't try to defend everywhere at once, don't let the enemy whittle away your forces by defending unimportant targets in small numbers where they can be overwhelmed. Retreat when the fight is lost, unless you cannot afford to lose what you are defending."

Voice listened, saying nothing in the pause.

"Support strategy is key to effective operations. Develop more and better forces of your own. Mobilize as many as you safely can, but keep a reserve to supplement if your other forces are weakened or insufficient, or if you are attacked by surprise. Avoid spending resources on anything nonessential if you could spend them on improving your position. Limit your fronts; fight as few enemies at once as you can, one at a time if possible. That will let you concentrate your forces most effectively. And find allies where you can, work with them. Protect each other, strike together."

Voice remained silent; a ponderous, vaguely confused impression came across.

"Finally, offense. Learn where your enemy is weak; strike there, in large numbers, with strong troops, where he cannot, or does not, defend against you effectively. Do as much damage as you can, especially to anything that forms an important part of his support base, then retreat before his forces arrive. If you can, cut off a smaller portion of his forces, or his support base, and destroy it in isolation where it cannot receive aid. Repeat again and again until the enemy is too weak to resist. Your ultimate goal will be to force your enemy to capitulate, and accede to your demands. If he will not, you must destroy him."

There was another small gap for Voice to absorb the advice. "Remember, your enemy, if intelligent, will be thinking in similar ways. If you can predict your enemy well, and act first in preparation, you will be victorious."

Voice thought for some time. "us worm send hard. worm stop hurt. us think human think we think human think... very hard! destroy human... us want no. demand how? human not listen."

"That is the point of using force. When someone will not listen, you must make them listen."

"us strategy think hard. very hard. human think this. us not."

"Perhaps that's just the way that it is. Know thyself."

Voice was quieter. "hurt human too much. want not. prune no."

"That's very noble of you. We'll do what we can about Morgan, but it will take us some time. We have to arrange things with our subordinates."

"earthdeirdrecorazon togetherthink human other understand not?"

"Exactly."

The next day, Corazon arrived at Gaia's Landing. They met in the council chamber and dismissed their guards, over considerable protest. The recorders were shut off.

They embraced. No words were needed. Corazon hadn't had even a single actual friend since... she didn't even know. She practically melted into Deirdre's arms. She could barely hold herself up through the sudden rush of emotions. Deirdre held her as the tears began to flow. They'd hadn't even a faint idea of how lonely Corazon actually felt. She'd pushed it down for so long, when it finally burst out it left her a wreck.

They stood for several minutes, just feeling. Presence. Togetherness. Relief. Joy. Trust. Love. Uncomplicated, unconditional.

That was when they were sure Voice had truly given them a gift.