Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part CXIV: Deceit

This page Copyright 2019, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
26 Sixthmonth 572JR
30 June 2367CE
Grashal

Space was big and not every star had a habitable world. Grashal was ten light-years from Kmar. At 171.4 times lightspeed, plus realspace maneuvering, it took Aurora some 550 hours to leave one planet and reach the other.
She found a world even less developed than Dgad. Houses were mud-brick or even wattle-and-daub, except for some sheetmetal or sheet-plastic prefabs for government functions. Living conditions were primitive, with crude corrals for livestock and open-air butchers' shops even more noisome than Dgad's. That was within walking distance of the planet's "capitol", Grashatta, and within sight of the "spaceport" which consisted of a suitably flat part of the landscape. From orbit Aurora zoomed in on villages that appeared preindustrial in every way. Even Ude seemed more advanced. Aurora released probes here too, but there was little for them to report, and few opportunities to do so; she was the only Jeffersonian ship to visit the planet in nearly four Republic years.
Through her telescopes, she saw fusion torches in operation, deep in the outer system. To her husband and Captain, she speculated warships in transit, refueling from comets. To the Republic, they sent coded reports by Marsten Device.

Her cargo was the last of the meats and manufactured goods she had brought from the Central Worlds, or loaded at Sidonia's evacuation-sales. Heshfer was the importer on this world, and also the governor. He was considerably less friendly toward aliens than the other Flike they had met, and Prrg did the negotiating, coached through earbud by Daisuke; the Nikar at least looked like a fellow predator. The same prejudice was why only Nikar or Eyani were accepted as Republic diplomats to the Flike Empire.
Her holds empty - and Grashal having nothing worth loading as exports - Aurora prepared to return to Jeffersonian space. But she couldn't; her other mission was not complete. The Republic needed fresh information from within the Glautak Consolidation.
Aurora could not visit a world of the Consolidation as a ship of trade; the Republic's embargo still stood. Nor could she simply show up and take pictures as a Republic-flagged warship; that would be an act of open hostility and a violation of the Consolidation's sovereignty. Subterfuge was needed... and there was a legal needle to be threaded.

Independent Starship Gabrielle was not Republic-flagged, but there was an alert on the Net accusing her of transporting goods from Republic space to the Consolidation. There was also an allegation of slavery, abducting Jeffersonian Subjects or Citizens for sale as labor - or food - to the Glaut or the Flike or both. She was known to be operating in this region, and just as Aurora began boosting for Grashal's hyperspace limit, Gabrielle Transitioned in, at a range of some dozen light-seconds.
Aurora's alarm sounded and she automatically activated her Reserve Privateer status. "Intercept," Captain Danner ordered, "and open a channel. -Starship Gabrielle, this is Jeffersonian Reserve Privateer Aurora. You are wanted under Jeffersonian Republic warrants for violation of trade sanctions and charges of kidnapping and slavery. Cease acceleration, surrender and prepare to be boarded."
Gabrielle cut her torches but did not respond; she was redirecting her fusion plants' output to recharging her Marsten Drive. Long before Aurora could have entered weapons range, Gabrielle Transitioned to hyperspace again.
Just as Solomon Danner's father had told him would happen, nearly two Republic years ago on Alexandria.

7 Firstmonth 573JR
16 July 2367CE
Drbbldd

Danner knew where Gabrielle was going, but they went through the motions, which was also good practice. Jenny Blain used Aurora's sensors to find Gabrielle's hyperspace wake, the traces of charged particles which leaked through into realspace. Aurora pursued.
Gabrielle was an ONI ship, and a chameleon, like the shell Aurora had wrapped around herself during the Illyrian Civil War. With false panels and engine adjustments she could change her name, her appearance, her drive signature, a dozen identities swapped however was most useful. About twenty kilotons, she was armed like a destroyer, the weapons concealed; she could also land on a planet if necessary. She carried enough internal fuel for two typical hyperspace Transits, and equipment to mine more.
Her crew rotated also, ONI operatives, double agents, even real criminals turned to the Republic's service to escape a noose. The present complement had been building relationships with certain Glautak importers for years, starting shortly after the Republic imposed trade sanctions following the Rollbottle Business. Eyani-built, Russian-modified, armed with a mishmash of castoffs, her illusion of a tramp smuggler was convincing. She was often boarded and inspected by suspicious customers, and so she could not appear too well-equipped or -maintained; her fabbers were not as advanced, her telescopes and computers not as powerful, as modern ships which could operate openly and purchase service from proper shipyards.
Aurora was far more capable of true reconnaissance, but she needed an excuse to enter Consolidation space. Her role as a Reserve Privateer in pursuit of criminals who may have victimized Jeffersonians would serve, under provisions of the Treaty of 420JR.
Which Prrg made explicit to the Glautak bureaucrat on the other side of the screen, making sure the molluscoid saw his Republic Navy Reserve uniform and his fifty teeth, as Aurora Transitioned over Drbbldd less than a light-second behind Gabrielle's own Close Transit of well under three. "Naturally you are free to file formal complaints with the Jeffersonian Republic's State Department," Prrg explained with a carnivore grin, "but it would be your world and your planetary government found to be in violation of the treaty your own national leadership renewed just three Republic years ago. Of course, if you want more trade sanctions to be imposed as a result...?"
Glaut didn't exactly have a face on which expressions could be read by alien eyes, but this one - Frddlp - somehow conveyed disgust, mixed with revulsion and a little terror. "Starship Gabrielle is here on legitimate business and has committed no crimes under our laws. They are under the protection of the Consolidation! Any attempt to interfere with their operations will be considered an act of war!"
With a Human-like sigh and flicker of reptilian tongue, Prrg reminded Frddlp that "Article Two, Section Three, of the Treaty clearly gives Jeffersonian warships and Reserve Privateers clearance to pursue declared criminals under duly issued warrants." A facsimile appeared on Frddlp's screen. "Which we have." The Glautak - its gender was not obvious - began another threatening protest and Prrg, in full apex-predator mode, hiss-screech-snapped "Enough! We will apprehend this criminal and you will not interfere. You should accept that whatever illicit goods you expect to get your share of are lost to you. My ship is Aurora, who defeated two ships far larger and more powerful than herself at the Battle of Adda. Your recent naval buildup may be sufficient to destroy us, but by Tyggl of the Two Tails we will take half of them with us! Now stand clear or burn!" He closed the channel.
Gabrielle had, all this time, been plunging deeper into the Drbbldd system, boosting to intercept the smaller of two stations in orbit around the habitable world, and to reach the protective umbrella of the Glaut Navy's weapons. She was inside the hyper limit and could not Transition without crippling damage or outright destruction.
All carefully choreographed.
Now Gabrielle changed her vector, trying to boost back out of the limit, but there was no time. Aurora and her Class Ten Marsten Guns would be in range before any ship, however finely tuned, could safely escape to hyperspace. A Glaut heavy cruiser began boosting to put itself between Gabrielle and Aurora. Aurora illuminated the ship with her Marsten Detector, and the cruiser cut acceleration and returned to a stable orbit.
Gabrielle's course was now taking her away from the planet, but still would not reach the limit of safe Transition in time. Aurora fired OMS rockets and RCS jets to adjust her course, and in the clouds of exhaust, stealth probes were launched. These too would take hundreds or thousands of hours to reach useful vantage points, and other ships like Gabrielle would receive the data they collected.
Finally, Aurora intercepted Gabrielle nearly two light-seconds from the planet. Beams were fired, debris could be seen fluttering away, then Gabrielle ceased acceleration and Aurora came alongside.

Gabrielle's captain was Human, Jacob Greeley, secretly a Commander in the Jeffersonian Republic Navy Reserve, whose Bureau of Personnel records had been falsified to show a dishonorable discharge for desertion as a Lieutenant. His crew was mixed, including Eyani, Boksi, Nikar and Siv; some were undercover ONI operatives like himself, others were criminals and his prisoners, working off their sentences, their lives in his hands. No Glaut, of either caste, for this rotation; the Consolidation considered all Glaut to be government property and could not tolerate any beyond their control.
Greeley couldn't help grinning as the airlock opened and he presented a battered old M12 midsword to Captain Danner. "I surrender my ship to you, Captain," he said.
Solomon chuckled as he drew the blade, flourished it once, sheathed it, and handed it back. "On your honor, Captain," he replied. "We'll fuss about here for a few hours to make it look right, then we'll pretend to put a prize crew aboard and take you out of the system. You have a report?"
Greeley nodded and produced a datachip. "Our sensors aren't as good as yours, they can't be or we'd raise suspicions, but we have gathered some useful data - ship types and movements, a few drive signatures. We've collected more data on violations of the embargo." Greeley's expression soured at this.
"Bad?"
"They've been pressuring me to bring in slaves, and I've had to agree. This 'capture' gives me an exit, just in time. Old Gabby will never come back to this system. She'll get reconfigured, renamed, me too, then we'll go to work on the other side of the Republic."
"A lonely career."
Greeley shrugged. "It suits me. Some people are... wired different, you know? I'm one of them. They pay me a lot, I can retire anytime, if I don't get killed. It doesn't bother me, and I know I'm doing my part."
"Your record?" Solomon asked. He'd been briefed on Greeley's false and real histories.
Greeley waved a hand. "I have copies of documents and recordings clearing my name, backed up in a few places. Not here of course, in case the enemy finds it, but there's a code I can give, if some other Privateer catches me without knowing, and wants to shove me out a 'lock."
"It's hard to imagine choosing such a life."
"How is what you're doing any different?" Greeley asked with a smile. "Here you are, spying for our country." At this Solomon's face contorted, thinking of the promise he made to his wife to not place her at risk. "You know my record, I've read yours," Greeley continued. "Comfy life you've got, lots of money, you could retire too, sit on any beach in the Republic. Yet you still risk that life, the lives of your crew. Like I do mine... but not just like." Greeley shook his head in awe. "Adda... that was incredible. I never could have done that."
"And I couldn't do what you do," Solomon answered. The men shook hands.

The Kraken, the Glautomorphic computer avatar Grbblb and Sarah Heusner had created for the Glaut Resistance years ago, had long since spread throughout the Consolidation, despite censorship and suppression which were often brutal. Thousands had been publicly murdered or privately disappeared by Consolidation Security, for the crime of possessing or distributing the image or his subversive message. Thousands more had been tortured, maimed as Grbblb and Trllbl had been, then released, to be shunned by their terrorized society, often driven to suicide. The same occurred on all the worlds of the Consolidation, especially since the Jeffersonian trade embargo had reduced the number of foreign visitors and witnesses - a horribly unintended consequence.
On a previous visit, Gabrielle had dropped a Marsten Device in Drbbldd's nearer asteroid belt, suitably disguised. The Glaut Resistance on this world made careful use of it, coordinating with ONI and Glaut exiles in the Republic, and other Resistance cells in the Consolidation. So far there had not been open attacks, but sabotage was increasing, as were propaganda and subversion efforts. Danner and Aurora were aware of the arrangement, but not the Device's exact location, nor any contact codes for the Resistance on Drbbldd. However unlikely it was that Aurora would be captured with such secrets intact, operational security dictated there was no need to know. The other end of the line, however, became aware that Aurora was in the system.
Aurora and Gabrielle, docked together, had been coasting away from Drbbldd, toward the outer system and a bit north of the ecliptic also. If any Consolidation telescopes had been watching, it would have seemed that the cruiser was capturing and pacifying the smuggler, probably securing prisoners and placing a prize crew aboard to return Gabrielle to the Republic and justice. Now the vessels separated and Transitioned to the outer system to refuel. The Consolidation would probably interpret that as a violation of sovereignty, so both ships' transponders were switched off, and they were careful to collect their fuel from the outsystem side of a large body, so they couldn't be seen directly from the inner system.
As that operation was underway, Aurora announced an incoming message, routed through the hidden Device and then broadcast from a repeater elsewhere in the system, which would shortly self-destruct, to conceal the signal's origin. She and her Captain had not been given contact information for the Resistance, but had been given recognition codes in case the Resistance needed to contact them. This message bore such a code, from Hnndgb, or so she was known to call herself, leader of the Drbbldd cell. It was text only, burst-transmitted and encrypted, and was a plea for help. "Cell members and families discovered," it read. "Massacre imminent. Urgently request extraction." The message included coordinates on Drbbldd's surface.
Grbblb was unofficially a member of the Resistance, and Captain Danner shared the message with him. The Glautak exile was visibly disturbed, even across the species barrier of body language, but shortly answered, "There is nothing we can do, Captain. There is no way we can land on the surface to effect a rescue without igniting the very war we seek to defuse."
Aurora's gynoid took her ship-brother's tentacle in one hand, and her husband's hand in the other. "It may also be a trap," she pointed out. "It may be the Consolidation using these codes and sending this message, fishing for a response, to reveal us as a covert asset, or at least to intercept more codes if we respond."
"I agree," Danner said, his face grim. "We can't afford to answer at all." He turned to Aurora's gynoid. "I wonder if this is a coordinated effort, connected to the cyberattack at Dgad? We've no friends in the Consolidation or the Empire." Aurora had been responsible for disrupting two pirate raids which involved Flike, and had led the effort to evacuate Glaut refugees from Rllbtl, exposing the Consolidation's brutality to the galaxy. Both regimes would be out to get her. "I say we've accomplished our mission and then some, the enemy is on to us, and we should leave."
Continued in the next excerpt....
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