The survival story of "Endgame," and all of the Woman At War series, is set to the backdrop of the Great War between the diverse Trieste Union and the Mitasterite Empire. While it mirrors large aspects of World War 2, the narrative called for a little creativity. Even working under the assumption that conflict is essentially about money and power, I wanted a way to keep the motivations grounded in something we can understand today.
Mitasteros is an industrialized and largely-denuded planet, so her caste-system citizens are suffering from a number of toxic-born illnesses. Chief among them is the so-called gorrahtz, a debilitating and lethal cancer. The Pashunderrans, Mitasteros' closest neighbors, put doctors to work and began delivering a cure. Something went predictably wrong. The Mitasterites turned on their would-be saviors and revved a propaganda machine--blame instead of gratitude. (The Mitasterite leadership also had a hand in this fiasco, but governments are always quick to hide culpability.) Grounds for a Declaration of War.
In this scene, heroine June Vereeth, Prubius (a Pashunderran), Esch, Bohl and Dhani are spending the night in a cave, waiting out a blizzard. (This happens after a failed invasion by the so-called Mitties.) They talk about what soldiers talk about--how it all got started.
“The short version is that the Mitasterites have so completely carved up their own planet and their own species," Prubius said. "That caste system they have is one example. By the socio-economics view, forty-three percent of Mitasterites now fall into the three strata below the slave line, and another thirty-one percent are stuck in the so-called Mighty Mid group. These people never eat tuna steak or travel off-planet. Our own soldiers live like princes by comparison. The caste system keeps people where they are. Everything serves industry, there.”
“But they’re surviving,” Esch put in. “I mean, based on yesterday’s pooch-screw, one might argue that segments of their species are thriving. Or thriving enough. The biological imperative is there, at least.”
“Ah, that is my point,” Prubius went on. “Segments of their species. If one peels back the layers of military and upper-crust propaganda, they would find a sickly race stricken by numerous diseases. The bio-researchers concur: The gorrahtz was born from lengthy, mass exposure to the heavy-metal particulates in the air and water. It comes from their own factories. If you will pardon my cynicism, it only makes natural sense that the disease flourished primarily among the populations least equipped to combat it: Those below the slave line.”
“Really,” Bohl said, lying down. He was resting his head in his hand, resembling a great philosopher at the moment. “So what you are saying is this disease was permitted to hit the lower castes?”
Prubius shrugged. “Obviously, the Mitties have always had the financial resources to fight such a plague—even the two strains which are contagious. The leadership chose to purge some areas and pretend the rest was contained. It was not.”
“You used the word ‘purge’. Do you mean termination?”
“Extermination is closer, I think, Captain. I cannot recall if the disease first hit the kokjum, their lowest caste. Those people are treated like rats. Whatever the case, the Mittie heads found the easiest solution was to eradicate the problem at the source. The kokjum got it first, so villages and whole towns were cut from the healthy beast.”
“Cut? How?” Dhani asked.
“Fire is cheap. I have seen the protocol details. Their military has patterns of aerial deployment to create a firestorm. If it happens during the dry winter, not even viruses could live within the target area.”
"Damn," I breathed.