Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2019, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part CXIII: Into the Mouth of the Wolf
Continued from the previous excerpt
Well, that was perhaps unfair, Danner reflected, as Aurora returned to hyperspace. There had been many operations which were quite simple, even peaceful. But he was again reminded of Councilor Yatar's words on Selm:
"Trouble and fate of every kind appear to seek out you and your Family."
Both Ghardd and Karrok recovered from their injuries during the 400-hour Transit to Kmar. Frashkra had received what amounted to only scratches, and healed quickly. Ralph had saved Ghardd's arm, barely; he was keeping an eye on it, and tinkering with repair nanites. Ghardd's leg had broken cleanly enough, and been set correctly; all Ralph did for that was to add a proper cast. As for Karrok, even with the astoundingly-robust digestive and immune system of a healthy adult male Flike, he would have died in agony from the gut wound, without modern treatment. Such treatment was not unknown among Flike, but also not widespread, and some viewed it with suspicion, while others, not unlike their Glautak allies, saw it as weakness and interference with natural selection. Watching adored females and cubs die of infections, while their government forbade treatment which could have saved them, was one of the factors leading Flike to treason and rebellion.
Aurora had no new passengers past Sidonia, and Ghardd's family were being kept in an empty grav-ring section, whose rotation was now set for eleven point three meters perceived gravity, as on the surface of Kmar. Ghardd requested and described necessities for the female and cubs, who were all still animals; even the male child would not be capable of speech for years more. At least they were mostly housebroken, once Ghardd demonstrated the facilities. Food was delivered by Aurora's robots, still from the meat gathered on their previous hunting trips, and Ghardd spent as much time with his family as he could, keeping them as calm as possible in their forced confinement. Visits from Karrok and Frashkra aided in the childrens' socialization and development.
Ghardd, born and raised on Dgad, had seen nothing of the wider galaxy, and was sometimes overwhelmed. Frashkra and Karrok guided him, teaching him how to use technology and modern conveniences. They also taught him battle skills; like Frashkra, Ghardd had come from the lower caste, who were expected to serve, not fight.
Noting this, Ralph Vatelius of all people offered an addition to the training, in the form of history lessons. Though Ralph had never fired a shot in anger, and hadn't even thrown a sincere punch since Club Eyan at Anvil, he turned out to have a good understanding of military history, as an offshoot of his interest in pre-Escape popular culture. Joined with enthusiasm by Sergeant Major Cates and Captain Danner, Ralph pointed out guerilla movements throughout Human history, from New Israel all the way back to Lexington and Concord, where farmers and shopkeepers stood against the strongest army in their world. The Flike exiles paid attention.
7 Sixthmonth 572JR
5 June 2367CE
All this time, the new ambassador to Kmar and his staff had stayed aboard and out of sight, served by Aurora's robots, making use of recreational and exercise facilities when no other passengers would see. They and the Flike exiles were aware of each other's presence but had no interaction, for operational security on both sides. Now it was time for their own mission to begin. The Jeffersonian Space Patrol light cruiser Tel Aviv was visiting Kmar, and arrived about fifteen hours after Aurora, immediately announcing that she had the new ambassador aboard. The ambassadorial staff were quietly transferred during a courtesy visit as Tel Aviv docked directly to her great-grandmother Aurora before either reached Kmar's orbit, and that deception was complete.
So ended the first part of Aurora's mission, and began the second and third. As she approached Kmar, she released many stealth probes, some disguised as space debris or natural asteroids. Their inner workings were not obviously Jeffersonian, instead using components and design styles from other nations, even what had been learned of the Glautak Consolidation's technology. If found, the probes would not point to the Republic, and might even sow distrust and weaken the Flike-Glautak Alliance.
Meanwhile another Jeffersonian ship, Hazel Merchant, a cargoliner and Reserve Privateer, docked with Aurora once she made orbit. In this "courtesy call" the Flike exiles and fugitives were transferred, to be smuggled onto the planet and into safehouses.
"We shall never forget all you have done for us," Frashkra said, clasping hands with Danner and Aurora both as they floated at the connecting hatch. "Every Flike who desires peace and freedom owes you a great debt."
Placing a hand on Frashkra's leathery shoulder, Solomon replied, "Humans have prophets too. One of ours warned us: 'You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once.' Take care, my friend."
Dgad had been colonized only a few years after the Flike had been Contacted, which was in 529JR. It was still raw and untamed, with little infrastructure, all construction relatively new. Kmar was a homeworld, and had been unified and ruled by the same dynasty for centuries. Some of their buildings in regular use were thousands of years old. Since Contact there had been a construction boom, and towers of steel and glass now rose next to pyramids and ziggurats. Pre-Contact ground traffic had been animal-driven; much still was, now mingling with powered ground vehicles and air transport. A spaceport had grown adjacent to the Imperial City, and ships thundered and roared overhead.
There had been a population boom as well, especially among the upper, warrior, caste, who did have access to galactic medicine and nutrition. Karrok reported a sort of middle caste arising on Kmar: new creches for the mass raising of male cubs, in which parentage was suddenly less important than it had been to Flike for thousands of years. Young male Flike were being raised en masse to view the state as their family and the Emperor as their father. The first of these were reaching maturity now, swaggering on city streets like the Brownshirts of old, certain in their indoctrination of superiority.
It bore repetition that Flike females were not sentient people, but Flike traditional family structure still regarded them with affection. In these creches, the mass-bred females, the sisters of this new breed of warriors, were being sold wholesale, or recycled into the creches as breeding stock, with no regard to their relations. This too was a cause of rebellion against the Jagrash dynasty.
"We go in, we look, we leave. No fighting, no shooting. No prophecies." These were Solomon's words to his ship and wife, and his crew and Family. It had seemed to make sense back on Alexandria, but now that he was here he was having trouble believing he'd let himself be talked into the journey, and the risk of Frashkra's prophecy coming true.
Aurora's overt cargo to Kmar was much the same as to Dgad; fabbers, serving robots, luxury items, particularly foodstuffs, mostly meat, but also seasonings, spices and the like, as more of the Empire's upper class acquired tastes for galactic cuisine. Their merchant contact on this world was named Navakh. Like Mrakh, he had considerably less prejudice against aliens than most of his race; but while Mrakh had rarely left Dgad, of which world he had been one of the initial colonists from Kmar, Navakh was well-traveled, having visited and even lived on several Republic worlds. He spoke American with as little accent as Frashkra, and was familiar with galactic technology and customs.
He even seemed friendly. "Welcome, my friends, to Navakh's Emporium!" he boomed - he was a little bigger than average even for a Flike male, and the biggest one any of Aurora's Family had yet encountered. "Come, let us make each other wealthy!" Navakh was of the upper caste, but old, no longer expected to fight. Before Contact, the comfort of such a being's retirement would depend on his accomplishments as a warrior and accumulation of wealth in younger years, or rewards through official recognition of service to the Empire. Now, old warriors had more options. Solomon's father advised him to not trust Navakh. ONI wasn't sure if he was simply what he seemed, or a front for the Empire, being used as a conduit for information and resources the Republic would rather the Empire didn't have.
That aside, payment had been agreed upon in advance, but Daisuke and Navakh haggled some slight adjustments due to market forces during Transit. Before Contact, Flike didn't know what platinum or rhodium were, but had learned since, and had already figured out gold. Metal went one way, goods the other, unloaded by Aurora's robots under the direction of Jack Epstein and Navakh's employees.
More drones were released as well, disguised - carefully researched this time - as native bird- or insect-equivalents. These, and the space probes released on the way in, would report, with heavy encryption and in roundabout ways, to the ONI operatives masquerading as embassy staff.
There weren't deliberate tourist attractions on Kmar either, but there were sights to be seen. The Imperial City boasted the Emperor's Palace, some parts of it at least six thousand Republic years old but constantly added to. Flike had both more and less sentimentality and attachment to history than Humans, depending on the subject and context. Aurora brought her white sensor spheres but kept them close; an unattended drone would be viewed with hostility and likely destroyed; if traced, its owner might face prison or worse. Her camouflaged drones spread wider, and upon her departure their control would be handed over to the ONI operatives at the embassy.
While orbiting the world, she also looked with her ship-body's eyes. On the surface she found the creches Karrok had described, along with barracks and training grounds for large numbers of Flike warriors - who were evidently being organized and disciplined to far higher standards than ever before. Some of her drones made the long flight to these army bases and found Flike training with modern energy weapons and even panzers. She recorded video of infantry training, with scarred old warriors serving as instructors, teaching them to fight as units instead of as individual predators. She also saw mockups of what could only be troop landers, to simulate a planetary assault. The training buildings in their mock town were Human-sized. Popup targets were vaguely Human or Eyani, but there was no detail to the painted uniforms. The Flike were getting ready to invade somebody.
Aurora's optics were the best to be had. Even without her drones or active sensors, she could see deep into Kmar's system, and found shipyards, concentrations of warships, even what appeared to be a fleet exercise. She could not make positive identifications, but speculated that the numbers reported by her father-in-law on Alexandria had increased. She sent these observations discreetly to the embassy, along with what she could gather of their engine emissions, the spectral profiles of their fusion torches.
Kmar was the fourth planet from its sun, and the only habitable one; the fifth was an airless rock like a double-size Luna, but heavy with resources. On and above it, shipyards had been built. Even with her optics, fine details could not be seen at interplanetary distances, but she could tell the architecture had a Glaut influence - which merely confirmed the Alliance both races were now speaking of openly. The little gunships used in the Sherrington Atrocity, and alleged to be used by the Blood Rose, were not evident, but Aurora found what might have been another shipyard orbiting a moon of the seventh planet, a gas giant.
They couldn't stay suspiciously long, which suited Danner fine... but he didn't much like his next destination either. Needing to keep the illusion of ordinary merchant operations, they contracted for a load of native meat - which Jack Epstein insisted be containerized by the sellers, and Daisuke Taniyama haggled reduced liability for - bound for Grashal, the third and newest Flike colony.
The next world after Grashal was Drbbldd, under control of the Glautak Consolidation, the suspected source of the gunships used to deliver relativistic weapons against Sherrington, and an intended target of Aurora's secret reconnaissance mission.
As the crew made preparations to depart, Aurora announced: "My Captain-" that meant official business; otherwise she would have said "husband"- "there has been an attempt to access my central computer."
Instantly alert in his acceleration couch on the bridge, Solomon asked, "Where and when?"
"Moments ago, originating from the third Flike orbital station. The attacker attempted to use my connection to the Net as a means to penetrate my firewall. The attempt was through standard radio, and was easily repulsed."
"Hmm." Danner wasn't surprised; he and his ship were spying on the Flike after all. "No damage, no loss?"
"None, my Captain. Although...."
"The attack... felt... Human."
"It is... difficult to express. I...." she trailed off.
"Woman's intuition, eh?" Solomon grinned. "I'll take your word for it. Probably one of the mercenaries dad mentioned the Flike had hired. No threat to you, I take it?"
"Certainly not!" she answered through her gynoid, as that being entered the bridge, having been helping secure cargo. She took her own couch beside his, leaned close, and whispered, "Only you are allowed to penetrate my defenses."
Smiling, he took her hand in his as she strapped in, then ordered, "Helm, break orbit and make for the hyper limit. Set course for Grashal."
Continued in the next excerpt....