Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part CVII: Mission

This page Copyright 2019, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
Frashkra was still on Selm, but he was no longer alone. Three other Flike defectors and would-be rebels had joined him in exile.
These three, led by one named Krishto, had made off with one of the new Flike destroyers, Swiftclaw-class, and a half-dozen of their species' subsentient females in cryogenic suspension. It was revealed to Solomon's Family that Laura Starrett's second Navy Cross had been earned through causing that ship to self-destruct, after very quickly looting it for data, in such a way that the pursuing Flike Navy could find no evidence of Republic involvement, or of the exiles' survival.
Solomon, a student of history including naval, drew a comparison to the Sol Belt Incident of 173JR, and expressed his genuine respect for Commander Starrett's accomplishment. Starrett returned the respect, having studied the Battles of Mark's World, Adda, and Illyria. She told him: "That sort of thing scares the hell out of me. Beams and missiles and slugs every which-way and no chance for a lowly SEAL to duck. At least you could return fire." She also expressed respect for his ground combat. The video of his boarding Gunship #6 on Ude had, in the pre-Escape term, "gone viral".
Asgardian women were still sending breeding proposals, and the Asgardian Genetics Institute kept increasing the amount of metal they offered for a sample of Solomon's DNA. He continued to decline. He had seen his children, in a Transition-induced hallucination, and as impossible as he knew they were, he could not bear the thought of others.

16 Thirdmonth 571JR
12 July 2366CE

The ranch that had formed Frashkra's comfortable prison for years was in the deep interior of the same continent as Latii, the Selm planetary capitol. Ten by ten kilometers, it was surrounded by unsettled land, plains and forests, for at least fifty kilometers in any direction. Frashkra was tracked, with an implant like those Aurora's crew wore, but he was not restrained; he was allowed to roam and hunt with little interference. He had earned his captors' trust, and knew better than to allow himself to be seen.
Frashkra had never been a frontline, upper-caste warrior; his clan had been sworn to practical slavery to another. When first awakening in Republic captivity, he had lacked the battle skills to be expected of the ruling, warrior, caste. In his years of separation from his own kind, he had requested from his generous captors few things. One had been all the warrior training they could provide.
Some had come in text or video from other Flike - refugees, traitors, survivors of lost battles like himself, disgraced renegades and outcasts, all now sheltering under the Star and Bars - often secretly, believed dead by the Empire. Some, rarely, came from Jeffersonian Navy SEALs and Marine Rangers of multiple species, who welcomed in their own turn the chance to spar with a real live Flike, and to pass what they learned on to their comrades. Some came from the history of Frashkra's own people, stolen from guarded archives and smuggled off Kmar by Flike rebels.
A sparring robot was constructed for him; its cost was considered fair, for the insight he gave toward the Republic's potential enemy. Frashkra had become a pilot, though he would barely fit in Human-designed vehicles. He could work a ship's gun, use computers, wield and maintain a variety of small arms and heavier weapons. His use of the American language now approached fluency, and he had picked up useful words and phrases in others. Hunting, training, sparring, learning, teaching - this was Frashkra's life, for half a Terran decade.
Krishto's arrival, with females, had upset Frashkra's comfortable, if sad, solitude. Suitable facilities for concealing Flike were not plentiful, and had to be used to their best capacities. Krishto had secretly made contact with the Republic before stealing the warship with his fellows, and was prepared to coexist peacefully with one of lower status; his companions, Karrok and Tkkro, were not. Dominance games between these apex predators began immediately. Tkkro was the first to challenge Frashkra, claiming imagined insult. Krishto, grateful to shelter in the Republic, attempted to intervene, but Frashkra declined being rescued. It was Frashkra's first real fight against a real member of his own species.
It took him a while, and some serious wounds of his own, but eventually Frashkra had the notably larger Tkkro in a very painful position beneath him, strangling him just enough to render him unconscious. {I will not kill you,} Frashkra declared before Tkkro blacked out. {The knowledge you possess is of value to our hosts, and I do not wish to diminish my comfort or privileges.}
Flike females were about Human-sized, and the brightest were perhaps as intelligent as Terran dogs. Once Tkkro had recovered from their duel, he had taken one of the two he had claimed during their escape from Kmar, and placed her hand in Frashkra's - a gesture of cross-caste respect rarely heard of outside ancient song. In Tkkro's eyes, Frashkra had proven himself an equal warrior.
Karrok made no challenge of his own, and for the next three Terran years, four Selman, the three former warriors and one former slave had lived peacefully together, plotting the overthrow of their distant ruler. Cubs had been born, and were being raised with care. As was usual for Flike breeding, each impregnated female gave birth to twins, one male and one female. They developed rapidly physically, but the males tended to come to sentience slowly, their predator instincts and reflexes overwhelming reason, typically until at least ten Terran years old. The females never did become sentient, in the accepted definition, and were truly little more than animals. Frashkra and Karrok would be returning home to Kmar, while Krishto and Tkkro would remain on Selm to raise their children.

So it was when Aurora returned again to Selm, homeworld of the Siv race. Elections and term limits had changed the Triumvirate, but Rach was still in command of the Selm Home Fleet, having gained a third star as Vice Admiral. Drado, a Siv neuter, was the new senior member of the Triumvirate. Carao, a white-plumaged male, was second, and Nakta, another neuter, was third. Drado was a Patrol veteran while the others had taken non-military paths to their Citizenship.
Aurora's visit to Selm was explained as a routine merchant voyage; Siv had developed a taste for Alexandrian neoprawns, much as the Boksi had. Aurora had brought a live cargo, in hopes it would become a breeding population for farming. The planet Kshir's magnetic field interfered somehow with the neoprawns' breeding impulse, but perhaps Selm's would be different.
Danner, Prrg, and Aurora's gynoid met again with Rach, and the newly-elected Triumvirate. Drado, the naval veteran, understood the importance of Aurora's mission; so did Nakta, who had earned nis Citizenship the same way Jenny Blain had, by building Marsten Drives, then serving on Reserve Privateers. Ne had also been briefed, with nis fellow Councilors, on the existence of the Blain Drive.
Carao had earned his Citizenship in a less-usual way, as a clerk, a data-pusher, a bureaucrat. Not unlike Victor Bunn, he had jumped from one desk job to another, riding each to a higher, but necessarily different, position; entrenched bureaucrats were hunted down, by non-government watchdog groups, and publicized until they were shamed into real work. Carao had threaded the needle, never quite coming to the watchdogs' attention, slipping between departments and bureaus and agencies. He had made connections with like-minded people who helped each other along, from one sinecure to the next.
Then, like Bunn, he had started running for office - again carefully, gaming the system to maximize his use of term limits. Somehow he got enough Citizens to vote for him as Councilor... or got enough votes, which may not be the same thing. As fine as the Republic was, no government of organic life could be perfect. The watchdogs were investigating but hadn't found enough evidence to bet their credibility on.
Simply, Carao was a career politician, enjoying the benefits and influence of his position without anything like real work, for which he had little aptitude in any case. Such creatures were rare in the Jeffersonian Republic, but - as evidenced by Victor Bunn - not yet extinct.

Frashkra and Karrok were not at this meeting, but they were the topic. "I object to removing vital intelligence assets from our control," Carao said. "We may need them, as translators, or for some other purpose."
The unofficial nature of Aurora's mission did not carry the weight of official orders from the Pentamvirate; Carao actually had some ground to object upon. But his arguments were stupid. Computer translation of the Flike languages was more than adequate, except for obscure dialects which neither Frashkra nor Karrok knew, and two other Flike, whose experience in their own culture was more recent, were staying behind.
Danner explained as much, as tactfully as he could. Still Carao objected. "No, I don't think we should allow it," he said to his fellow Councilors. "I'm sorry, Captain, but we must refuse your request."
"And I must approve it," Drado said. "This is why the Republic uses a Triumvirate for planetary leadership. Carao, you overstep, attempting to use your one voice in place of three."
"Well! There's no reason to get hostile about it! Besides, Nakta agrees with me, don't you, Nakta?"
"I do not, Carao." As the male's eyes widened and pheaters rippled, the neuter continued: "Your presence on this Council has always puzzled me. You have no military experience, no work experience outside of politics, and your electoral victory over Fothic was questionable to say the least."
"How dare you imply-"
"Do you take offense?" Nakta asked, very deliberately. The brown neuter may not have received military training, but had become enamored of the Human-developed midsword. Ne'd earned a bronze medal in the Republic Olympics with it, once upon a time. A Siv's beak could not smile like a Human or Eyani face, but body language and the set of nis pheathers communicated a predatory grin. Danner could see this confrontation had been some time coming.
Like most career politicians, Carao was a coward, both moral and physical. "...No," he finally answered.
"Good," Drado said. "It would be inconvenient to hold a special election." There hadn't yet been an actual duel between members of the same planetary Triumvirate, but if there had, working together effectively afterward was unlikely. One or the other contestant would be expected to resign, if the duel hadn't progressed beyond the traditional first blood. The Founder, Kurt Vetter, had pondered such cases and left recordings of his opinions, as well as the Code Duello Nuevo, of which he had been co-author. "Let me remind all present," Drado continued... while looking only at Carao, "that revealing, in any way, the existence of our foreign guests, or of recent technological developments, would be an act of treason." For which the Republic-wide penalty was death. Drado knew what Carao was, and had just put him on notice that any leaks to the media would point to him first.
It appeared that Carao's career as a politician was near its end. Captain Danner took comfort in the thought that the Republic's government was still self-correcting.

Danner and Aurora had both been corresponding with Frashkra in the years since their first meeting. Great care was taken to encrypt their messages, and roundabout procedures were used to avoid revealing Frashkra's existence or location. This slowed communication, but Rach appreciated the caution. The vice admiral flew with Danner in Aurora's Three Boat to the ranch. The medium shuttle was underloaded with a Human, a gynoid, a Nikar, and a Siv, but it would be bringing two larger beings back, and some of their possessions.
Frashkra by himself, and the others joining him, had been making some changes to the ranch, to better suit their Flike lifestyle and their larger physiques. Though originally built by and for Siv, most of the buildings already had high enough ceilings; now, doorways had been enlarged, new ones added. Flike didn't like being enclosed. Studying Flike culture, Danner had learned that their buildings were spacious, and the difference between indoors and out was difficult to define. They also tended to prefer warmer climates, and had not expanded far beyond the temperate regions of their homeworld, Kmar. The ranch was at thirty-seven degrees north latitude, in a region which rarely saw snow. They'd requested exercise equipment too. Selm's gravity was lighter than Kmar's, which was about eleven and a quarter meters. As Danner, Aurora, Prrg and Rach arrived, they saw Tkkro and Krishto finishing up a weightlifting set. Frashkra and Karrok raised open hands in welcome as the shuttle touched down.
"Welcome, Honored One! Welcome, Solomon-Captain! Welcome, Rach-Admiral! Welcome, Prrg-Officer!" Frashkra called as the group walked toward the ranch house. "I would say, 'welcome to my home', but it is not to be such for much longer." Frashkra's command of the American language had grown admirably in the past few years. The others were still working on theirs, but Aurora could translate to earbuds in real time. Spares had been brought for everyone.
Danner clasped hands with Frashkra, and then so did Aurora. Frashkra almost fell to his knees in shock; when last they'd met, Aurora had been an intangible holographic projection. He had learned from the messages they exchanged that she had constructed a gynoid for herself, but had not fully processed the information. The other three Flike also showed deference to the blonde Humanoid form, despite towering over her and the others. More messages had told Aurora's Family that Frashkra's fellows also knew of the prophecy, and how he had told them of his previous meeting with the being who might be its fulfillment.

Flike cuisine was... less complex than most other sentient races, though some among them had grown to appreciate more sophisticated fare. Flike could and often did consume Common Life meat raw, but cooked food offered their biology the same advantages as Human and other species. Though Flike were mostly carnivorous, they did occasionally eat vegetable matter to improve digestion. Since Contact with the Republic about a quarter of a Terran century earlier, their eating habits had expanded... for better and worse.
In his previous life, before being conscripted to Brown's Flotilla through his clan's obligation to another, Frashkra had been rather a refined person, the equivalent of an elementary-school teacher, as well-read and broadly-educated himself as the regime of Emperor Jagrash the Fourth would allow. In the years of his exile he had been granted access to the Jeffersonian Net, and drank from that fountain like a man who had crossed a desert. So, it was mostly a Human-style meal he had prepared for his guests, using recipes and techniques he had learned from Charles Clancy, for whom Frashkra had not been his first Flike customer. The meat was something like venison, from a deer-analogue native to Selm, which, Frashkra said proudly, he had brought down himself, bare-handed, from ambush. "The creature died quickly," he assured his guests, "in more surprise than pain or fear." The flavor bore out his words. Karrok had become skilled at breadmaking, while Krishto and Tkkro had added gardening to their talents as warriors. Perfectly-cooked vegetables accompanied the meat, and fruits had gone into pies for dessert.
As the sparring robot - the size and shape of an adult male Flike - brought out that last, Karrok commented, {I hope this is not to be the 'last supper' from the Humans' Christian religion.}
Danner's mission to Flike space and beyond was unofficial and deniable, not without risk, but Aurora could shoot or maneuver her way out of most conceivable trouble. Frashkra and Karrok would be smuggled back to Kmar, to foment resistance and rebellion against Jagrash. They'd be facing torture and execution, along with their entire clans, if discovered, and there would be practically nothing their Jeffersonian friends could do to help.
Durnot wine from Ude had spread through the Jeffersonian market, and Danner had brought some. Raising a glass, he toasted: "Success to our missions, and confusion to our enemies." The rest acclaimed the sentiment and drank. The ranch house, intended to draw tourists, had been built with a large stone fireplace. As glasses were emptied, Frashkra was first to hurl his into the hearth to shatter.

Rach accompanied the party up to orbit and to Aurora, happy for another excuse to tour the famous ship, and to make notes of her many improvements. The commanders of the Home Fleets of every Member World which had one, had also been briefed on the Blain Drive, and the new Helium-3 power plants, with their improved superconductors, which were spreading less secretly. Again the ship had docked to the Eastern Tower, one of Selm's pair of orbital elevators; this one was most convenient for reasons of orbital mechanics and landing, relative to Latii and the ranch. Rach would continue from here to resume his flag station aboard the heavy cruiser Doscal.
The two Flike were shown to their quarters, neighboring sections of the aft grav-ring. They were getting first-class berths, each with an entire section to himself; as much space and privacy as could be provided. These sections, balanced as necessary on the opposite side of the ring, would be extended further than normal, to provide them with the same perceived weight as Kmar. When the rings were retracted a hatch could be opened between them if desired; otherwise they would have to use the inflatable lift cars to reach Aurora's central hull and continue to another ring-section. They brought few possessions of their own: spacesuits custom-fabbed for them, personal weapons, 'puters stuffed full of libraries. Both Flike would be using assumed names - Kirnor and Harjag - during their missions of subversion, which might take years. Flike usually wore little more than loincloths, precious metals, and weapons. Their choices of these would support their cover identities, having nothing to do with their past lives.
Their females had been left behind, along with anything that might identify the two rebels; that included the traditional necklaces of baby-teeth shed by their sons, which had great sentimental value to Flike males. Subsentient the females were, but still possessed of maternal instincts, and their presence was necessary for proper development of their children. Procreation carried much cultural weight among Flike, and whatever befell them on Kmar, the two males would take comfort in knowing that at least part of their bloodlines would survive.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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