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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: the Sandstone Dossier

Sandstone is the codeword for an incredibly secret Imperial Navy Intelligence briefing. How secret is it?
  • It's so secret that before you can be briefed on it, Imperial Navy Intelligence puts remote-kill devices inside you. (The usual method is about a gram of TL15 thermite-analog encased in medical-grade plastic and placed between the hemispheres of the brain, wired to a meson transmission receiver that uses the entire spine as an antenna. One coded transmission and your brain boils inside your skull.)
  • It's so secret that those briefed on the subject are forbidden to transmit the details using any electronic means -- i.e. everything needs to be done either by hand or via dumb machine, with the machine being destroyed after use. 
  • It's so secret that there is only ONE copy of the information in all of the Imperium, and that information has been laser-etched into paper-thin sheets of bonded superdense armor plates. (This is not so much to prevent forgery as it is to ensure that if you see a copy you will KNOW it is either fake or illegally duplicated, and take appropriate action.)
  • It's so secret that the current bearer of the Sandstone Dossier (which is transported in a Secure Storage Unit keyed only to the bearer) carries an Imperial Warrant -- written by hand and signed by Emperor Strephon himself. 
It's kind of a big deal. 
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
The Sandstone Dossier, for all its secrecy, actually contains a very simple secret:  the Fourth Frontier War was a Zhodani ruse.

Hidden within logistic reports, intelligence analyses, after-action reports and asset debriefings, the truth would be nearly impossible to ascertain if the Dossier's elements were not collected and cross-referenced. However, with everything numbered, scrutinized, and laid plain, the following facts begin to appear with troubling amounts of credibility:
  1. The Fourth Frontier War seems to have started for no reason other than over-aggressive Zhodani admirals  taking insult over the Imperium re-opening a naval base at Quar. "Triggered by a border incident" is the phrase used most often. 
  2. Said Zhodani admirals, initially unprepared for war, attacked Jewell subsector with an eye towards isolating and enveloping it -- but why, then, attack Yres and Menorb in Regina subsector?
  3. The entire operation was sloppy and not indicative of Zhodani strategy. All previous Frontier Wars had been initiated by the Zhodani, and each war had a specific goal in mind -- usually halting Imperial expansion within the region, or creating a demilitarized space between the two polities. However, Zhodani strategy during the Fourth Frontier War was overly ambitious, with no way to reinforce their gains in time to hold against the inevitable Imperial reinforcements. 
  4. The theory that the Zhodani admiralty were hotheaded can be discounted. Aboard every Consulate capital ship is a psionic political officer, whose job is to ensure that the ship's commanding officer is acting for the good of the Consulate and not for the sake of his ambition. 
  5. Therefore, the Fourth Frontier War had to be deliberate. But why?
  6. The reader is referred to the Crisis of 99:
    In the latter half of the 700s, high Imperial figures (including the Office of the Emperor) became convinced that the approximately 60 percent of the psionics institutes within the region spinward of Corridor sector were being financed, at least in part, by Zhodani money. The Zhodani were believed by many at that time to be laying the groundwork for a "fifth column" to operate in Imperial space during a war planned to break out between 810 and 820. The Imperium moved to combat this via the psionic suppressions: Evidence of scandal was uncovered (or perhaps it was merely fabricated) and released with careful attention to public opinion. Simultaneously, high level officials at the sector and subsector levels were apprised of the true situation, and both the Zhodani and theVargr states were informed, through private channels, that the Imperium knew of the upcoming war and was prepared for it. War was averted.
  7. Supposition follows: If the Zhodani attempted to manipulate the Imperium though sabotage or sleeper agents once, they might try it again 300 years later. 
  8. Further supposition: To do so on a scale that would prove effective, and within a useful timeline, would require an influx of agents far greater than could be reliably smuggled past Imperial borders. However, wars destroy records and create refugees. 
  9. Analyses of war damage and refugee numbers indicate that government complexes, data centers, and X-boat routes were targeted just enough to create bureaucratic confusion and lost credentials that refugees without proper identification would not be considered unusual, but not so much that it looked like the Zhodani were specifically targeting civilian information. 
  10. These deep-cover Tozjabr agents (usually posing as married couples or other family units) then insinuated themselves into the fabric of Imperial culture, bearing children (who are now fully-credentialed Imperial Citizens) and indoctrinating them in Zhodani beliefs, politics, and cultural values. 
  11. Most, if not all of these agents and their children, are believed to be psionic. 
  12. It has now been 24 years since the start of the Fourth Frontier War. These children of Tozjabr agents are becoming adults and integrating into all elements of Imperial society. 
In other words, the Sandstone Dossier declares that long-term, deep-cover Zhodani agents could be anywhere. It would take minimal gene therapy to have them look like regular Imperial citizens (the odd DNA sequence could be explained by the many generations of cross-fertilization that occurs along borders), and the goal of these agents is to change the culture of the Third Imperium and, by doing so, alter its way of life.

How? By joining society and moving it in directions that are sympathetic to the Zhodani philosophy. People in power can be manipulated by a variety of means -- blackmail, bribery, outright psionic manipulation -- but such people are always monitored, and if they're found to be compromised, they can be isolated and their damage mitigated. 

But how do you defend against several hundred people who are slowly altering the course of history and culture just by being themselves? A local schoolteacher can begin to teach students that the Zhodani ought to be understood instead of feared. A popular entertainer can come out as "I'm psionic -- and it's not my fault! Don't hate me for an accident of my genetics!" A journalist can question the Imperial line that the Zhodani have started every war by demonstrating that each time, the Imperium was up to something shady. And someone in the military or in politics can slowly shift policy in a direction away from distrust and towards acceptance.

How do you detect an agent when they're indistinguishable from someone who sincerely means well? Who acts not out of greed or fear, but because they truly believe in what they're doing? And if you just jail or shoot someone who disagrees with the party line, you will end up creating more internal dissent -- and this isn't even considering the moral implications of shooting an innocent citizen because you disagree with their politics. How can you even know who the enemy is?

You can't. That's the point. 

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