Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part CXXV: Wager for a World

This page Copyright 2020, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
1 Thirdmonth 573JR
22 September 2367CE

It was Yonn's challenge which came to Tozama-Tenno's attention first.
The Emperor had paused to refresh himself atop a ziggurat neighboring the one Nalat Yonn so fondly remembered. Alran servers there were terrorized back to work, after those who dared resist were executed. Food and drink flowed, and his uchuu-no-okami, their power-armor set aside, now feasted more leisurely.
An occasional female scream could be heard from adjacent rooms. In many ways, Alran were very like Humans.
After the loss of Inagami, Tozama had been careful to not trust or confide too deeply in anyone. John Copeland was commander of his navy; Kajima Juzo led one of his most powerful fleets; the man known only as Saito controlled his network of spies, organic and technological; but none were his friends.
Tozama Daiki would never have a friend again.
He did have servants, however, of whom he had grown fond. One such was his adjutant, Nakata Kazuhiro. He had distinguished himself as an infantry squad leader, then platoon leader, then company commander, in previous invasions. He had come to Tozama's attention, and the Emperor had selected him for his personal assistant, giving him personal training in the arts of the computer and the sword.
That man approached him now, raising his left arm to project from the 'puter on his wrist. "Tozama-Tenno," Nakata said, "a member of the Triumvirate of this state has finally surfaced. He has challenged you to single combat." Muted, video of Yonn appeared, in battledress, surrounded by the Executive Guard and mutilated Flike corpses, issuing his challenge.
Tozama rarely let himself become intoxicated - rarely let himself lose control - so the snifter of crel brandy he now set down was small, and not empty. He smiled. "Better late than never," the Emperor of Space announced. "Who is this person, and where?"
"Here in the city, sama. It is Nalat Yonn, most senior of the Lii Confederation council."
Tozama often studied intelligence data personally. "The name is familiar."
"He has a connection, sama, to the cruiser Aurora, which you have ordered a watch for." Nakata brought up Yonn's dossier and transmitted it to his Emperor's own device.
Tozama smiled again. "Perhaps he can provide that ship's location." Tozama had expressed a desire to engage Aurora in ship-to-ship combat, with his own specially-built cruiser, Mikasa. Admiral Copeland had objected to this desire, stating that the Emperor must not endanger himself in such ways. He also expressed the same concerns for Tozama's habit of joining infantry assaults, but in both cases he understood that leading from the front helped cement loyalty among Tozama's followers, securing his position. "Contact the man and have him escorted here," Tozama ordered. Like others in Arriod, this ziggurat had rooftop restaurants, bars and lounges, and a parklike open space. It would serve for a dueling ground. "And... issue orders to our forces in this system - to the Flike and the Nikar as well of course - to halt their advances and predations. The orders may not be followed, but issue them anyway. Even my enemies must see that I follow my own rules."

The device taken from the Flike squad leader's corpse said, in American, "The Emperor of Space accepts the challenge from Councilor Nalat Yonn. We have your location. Remain in place and display a white flag. Power-armored Humans of the Blood Rose will arrive to escort you to the Emperor's presence. They shall be marked with white."
In minutes, five such invaders appeared. Their armor was similar to Jeffersonian, functionally, but styled more decoratively, and with some variation. Yonn's combat visor, connected to his own 'puter, told him these were believed to be Hatamoto, Bannermen, of the Blood Rose, the most elite and privileged warriors Tozama claimed: his own personal guard. Each carried a plasma rifle on one vambrace and a repeating grenade launcher on the other; on their backs were a pair of missiles, one anti-armor, one SAM; beside these, or at their hips, were swords of the traditional Japanese style. Their helmets had sweeping crests like the ancient samurai; their faceplates, each unique, were demons. White bedsheets had been draped and secured diagonally across their torsos, like sashes. Without words, four fell in at the corners of Yonn's squad, while the fifth, evidently the ranking member by his more-elaborate armor, gestured a direction and began walking.
They did not ask or order that Yonn or the Executive Guard surrender their weapons. The Alran did not offer. Yonn and each member of his squad carried at least one hand-petard, a shaped-charge grenade capable of piercing Jeffersonian, and presumably enemy, power-armor. Unspoken, these were not reached for. More was at stake.
As they walked toward the center of Arriod, Yonn and the Guards noticed the Flike footsoldiers had halted in place, no longer feasting on Alran, no longer looting or attacking. It quickly became apparent that a cease-fire had been ordered. That much, at least, of Yonn's plan was as he had hoped.
During his tour of the Jeffersonian Republic, Yonn had studied the histories and cultures of the Republic's races. On the return voyage to Oskran, he had spent many hours across a yvit board in conversation with Holly Cates, or across a dining table with Solomon Danner, both of whom were students of Human military history. They had introduced him to the maxims of Napoleon, including the one foremost in his mind now:
"Ask me for anything but time."

Ten of the Executive Guard had joined Yonn when he left the Redoubt. With farmer Torin, that made a total of seventeen in their party. They divided themselves among the ziggurat's elevators and rode to the top of the building.
Yonn's vision turned as red as the enemy's armor, as he first laid eyes on the enthroned figure of Tozama Daiki.
Hovering remotes were recording the scene from all angles and, Yonn's visor told him, broadcasting it openly. There were also native cameras here in the rooftop bar-and-lounge. Yonn knew there were stealthed satellites still in orbit which the invaders had not yet destroyed. The Navy, wherever they were, would receive this too, by Marsten Device, in or near realtime.
The Emperor saw the fury in the Councilor's face, and smiled. "One of us shall kill the other," he stated, "very soon. But I wish to converse with you first. All of you, be seated. Take food and drink." The terrified Alran servers circulated with trays and carts. There was no thought of poison; twisted though it might be, Tozama had a code of honor. He would kill, he would murder, but he would do it openly.
Yonn was conflicted. He had no illusions about his skill with a sword, he had never been a warrior and only briefly a soldier, long before Contact; he had come here to die. Yet his plan was to spend his life on behalf of his world and people for as much advantage as he could gain. Here, within sword's reach of the greatest villain of the age, Yonn struggled to restrain his bloodlust... to buy for his nation, for his friends, more irreplaceable time.
And so, with a great effort of will, he sat two meters from the man who had brought suffering and terror to his entire world, took a glass, and drank. The others, knowing his mind, followed his example.
"Before we begin," Tozama asked, "what will you tell me of the ship Aurora, her captain, and her crew?"
Yonn replied, "Do you ask me where they are? I have no idea, except that they are coming to kill you and all your kind."
That Aurora still survived was obvious, from Tozama's question. "You traveled with them, lived with them," the Emperor stated; he had reviewed Yonn's dossier while waiting for the Councilor to arrive. "Repeatedly they have come to my attention. I wish to... know them."
"If you had not declared war on all civilization, they could be sitting here, answering your questions themselves. What drives a man to such evil?"
Tozama smiled thinly. "That is a story... which shall never be told.
"Returning to my question: I have of course gathered what information I could," Tozama continued. "The captain, Solomon Danner. Rising from frustrated bureaucrat to celebrated warrior, decorated hero, successful ambassador, wealthy merchant. As someone who knows him personally, as a friend to him, tell me... what sort of man is he?"
"Brilliant," Yonn answered. "One of the... swiftest minds I have ever encountered. Fearless, but not reckless. He has the gift of seeing... how pieces fit together, and the spaces between them; in senses both large and small, from a single-ship engagement to a planetary treaty. Honorable; his word is iron and he will keep it unto death. Generous, kind; I would even say loving, but never weak. Ruthless, when necessary... and yet never cruel.
"He is... superior."
Tozama's heart quickened.
A worthy opponent.
"...The ship?" Tozama asked. "The artificial intelligence?"
"The same as her captain, adding great beauty, outward and within. Compassion, kindness... joyfulness in her own existence; and unrelenting fierceness in battle. Together they are unstoppable, greater than their sum."
Tears of joyful anticipation welled in the Emperor's eyes. "And one more: the ship's... bookkeeper? Taniyama."
Yonn was taken aback for a moment, at the unexpectedness. His eyes narrowed. "A quiet man. All I know of him is, his Family find him worthy, and there are no worthier beings in the galaxy."
Tozama sighed, for the pleasure yet to come. "Thank you, Councilor. I look forward to meeting them myself."
"I am certain they are on their way."
Tozama smiled. "And that is why you revealed yourself, is it not? To delay me, my armies and navies, while they approach."
Yonn answered plainly: "Yes."
Tozama tilted his head, staring at Yonn, considering. "You seek to use my own code against me. Yet... you have not abided by my code." Yonn tensed in his seat, as did his companions. "When I allow mercy to my conquered populations, it is only when their leadership has the courage to face me at once, in the very moments of my conquest. You, Councilor, did not."
"Are you then refusing my challenge?"
"Of course not. I would not deny myself the pleasure of slaying you. But my rules must be... adjusted.
"You must wound me, Nalat Yonn, First Triumvir of the Lii Confederation. You must spill my blood, in however small an amount, to earn the mercy you seek for your nation and your race."
Tozama smiled yet again. "Of all the beings who have faced my sword, only one man ever has."
"Then that is my final goal in this life." Yonn stood. "Tozama Daiki, you have murdered millions of innocent people," he pronounced. "You have murdered worlds. Your one life is insufficient to pay for your crimes, but I have come for that price."
"Your civilized notions of innocence and guilt are false," Tozama replied, also rising from his seat. "Evil, you called me a moment ago. There is no evil, no good. There are only the strong... and the weak. Strength will rule this galaxy. It is the natural order, it has always been so, since savages scratched on the walls of their caves!"
Tozama now stepped toward Yonn, and continued: "From time to time, place to place, people such as yourself raise masks and curtains before this universal truth. You tell your treasured lies, you count your useless votes, you goad the beast into a temporary cage, but he... I... will always escape.
"I shall always exist," Tozama stated, his voice rising. "I am the god of war and chaos and destruction! None of your civilizations shall ever defeat me! You may drive me back, for a generation or a century, you may destroy this mortal vessel and the next and the next, but I shall always return!
"I AM THE WOLF!" he shouted, then almost whispered: "And I... am eternal."
"Then let us continue our ancient struggle," Yonn answered, "now."
Tozama smiled as the pleasure rose within him... for here was a man who understood.

The Emperor gestured, and Nakata brought forth the same Mitsuhira katana Hrooja of Shreegok had died wielding.
Tozama had earlier removed his power-armor and replaced it with black combat utilities, a holstered plasma pistol, and a web belt. He now doffed the equipment, reducing himself to tunic and trousers and boots, and his two swords: the katana he had murdered his parents to claim, and a comparable wakizashi he had paid half his weight in gold for.
Yonn followed the example, removing his load-bearing gear, the power packs for his plasma rifle and pistol, the grenades, the body armor, until he wore only Republic Marine-issue camouflage fatigues and his M12 midsword. The other katana was placed in his hands. The Emperor walked to the rooftop plaza as Oskran's sun began to set, and the Councilor followed. Facing each other at a few paces distance, they drew their blades.
The katana was unfamiliar to Yonn, but it was also lighter than he expected, and superbly balanced. The blade was black, as all such of the Heretic's creations were; a result of the still-secret process to create the unbreakable cermet alloy. Yet, it was also polished, somehow, to a mirror finish, gleaming in the sunset, dancing in the flickering light of gas torches which had already existed around the rooftop plaza. Tozama allowed Yonn a few moments to learn the weapon's balance, and to prepare himself. The Emperor, confident in his skill, would allow the Councilor to strike first.
Yonn thought of his niece, his world, his race, and raised his blade.

Nalat Yonn was not completely ignorant of the way of the sword, or of the one he now held. He had not told Tozama all he knew of Daisuke Taniyama.
The Ship's Purser for Independent Starship Aurora was a talented swordsman, and owned one of the rarest and most legendary blades in the galaxy: a wakizashi crafted by the Heretic, Daisuke Mitsuhira. Its creation was still a closely-guarded family secret, but others had speculated that the blade, with a cutting edge only a few molecules wide, was itself a single molecule, or had some properties of one, resulting in its unbreakable and incorruptible nature.
The man known as Taniyama had not revealed to anyone outside his Shipfolk Family how he acquired the blade, or its significance as the third ever made by the Heretic's hands. Yet, in the months of their journey from Monticello to Oskran, Yonn and Taniyama had spoken more than he had intimated to Tozama... and Daisuke had shared at least some measure of his skill with Nalat.
Yonn began with a high position, the sword vertical above his head, lending weight to a downward strike. Tozama responded with a low stance, from which he could raise his blade to parry.
There was another secret Yonn had kept. Tozama was right-handed.
Nalat was ambidextrous.
He feinted with a downward stroke from right to left. As Tozama's sword began to rise in response, Yonn changed direction, to his own left, toward Tozama's right side, from which the Emperor's blade was moving away.
With speed and reflexes honed since childhood, in lessons from his hated father, in duels during the building of his first criminal empire, in more against rival pirates, and yet more against presidents and kings and tribal chiefs on twenty worlds, Tozama Daiki changed the direction of his own blade. The mysterious ceramic alloy met itself, ringing both like and unlike steel. Yonn's blade was forced down and away, with more momentum than the Councilor could overcome.
Tozama recovered his own movement and reversed his sword's motion, its molecular edge passing with little resistance through both of Yonn's arms, and his entire torso.
Nalat Yonn fell in four pieces.
Tozama performed the chiburui. Droplets of Yonn's blood spattered across the rooftop plaza. None but microscopic traces remained on the non-corrodable blade, and Tozama returned it to its sheath, lined with artificial diamond to contain its edge, and nanites to clean it more thoroughly.
As Nakata knelt to recover the other sword from Yonn's severed hands, Tozama gazed down at his opponent and stated, "You have failed. Your world and people will be consumed. Take this knowledge with you to whatever Hell you fear."
In the last moments of his life, Yonn gasped out: "I have failed... but they... will not."
Continued in the next excerpt....
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