Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2017, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXVIII: Looking Back
Continued from the previous excerpt
29 Fifthmonth 563JR
11 October 2361CE
More thousands of hours had passed and the Family found themselves, not for the first time, at Selm, homeworld of the Siv.
The tri-sexual, avian people had been the fourth non-Human sentient species discovered, in 375JR, a couple Terran decades after the end of the Republic-Empire War. In stature they approached Human size, but appeared thin and fragile. Their beaks showed considerable ethnic variation in shape and color, but tended toward long and narrow, like a Terran crane. Formerly patriarchal, gender equality had made considerable gains since Contact. The males were usually white, the females yellow, and the neuters, who gestated and laid and protected the eggs, were brown. Siv had nuclear families comparable to Human, but with three parents instead of two. Mating rituals and marriage ceremonies were often... complex.
Somehow overlooked in the First Wave of exploration - approximately 13 Terran light-years from Epsilon Indi, the New Israel system - Selm had been a target for the Second Wave of colonization, following the Republic-Empire War, only to reveal its own occupants, who had just begun exploring the other planets of their system.
In a mere forty Monticellan years, Selm had been accepted as a Member World of the Jeffersonian Republic, and their people had been integrating with Jeffersonian society ever since. Admiral Maet, commander of the New Israel Home Fleet, was one, as was Yael, captain of JRS Io, the supply ship which had topped up Aurora's armaments during their first voyage to Oskran, and LCDR Eppo, who inspected Aurora and issued her first certificate of spaceworthiness in nearly two Terran centuries.
Their species was overrepresented among the Republic's naval aviation ranks - having evolved as fliers, they had a natural superiority in aerospace combat and an instinctive three-dimensional sense few others could match. Some Water Tribe Eyani were their equals as fighter pilots, and a few Humans and Nikar. Chikarans, evolved from arboreal life and with a similar three-dimensional sense, had tried, but only a handful - third generation Jeffersonians or later, with genegineered adjustments - could tolerate the g forces of aerospace combat maneuvering.
While the Siv's racial ancestors had evolved as fliers, their wings had atrophied as their bodies changed, over tens and hundreds of thousands of years, to support tool-using and sentience. Selm had surface gravity lighter than Terra's, at 8.41 meters, so flight was still barely possible, but Siv wings had faded away much as Humans had lost their ancestors' fur and claws. Finnich was going to be an experimental colony to achieve, through genetic engineering if necessary, natural flight in a sentient race - a combination not yet discovered in nature, which took one to give the other.
Selm's history was similar in many ways to Terra's, with waves of nationalism and wars. During one such, in their Age of Sail, Maerca, an explorer and navigator, had assembled a diverse fleet from a dozen small nations. He then led them against four times their number, in rebellion against an oppressive empire, in whose navy he had been a captain before being drummed out for objecting to the latest emperor's tyranny. Through brilliant tactics and a thorough knowledge of the empire's weaknesses and his own fleet's unique strengths, he had shattered the imperial navy, sinking three-quarters of their ships and capturing half of the survivors, with minimal losses of his own. The empire crumbled, its myth of invincibility broken, dozens of states and principalities revolting against its rule. Maerca's faction then became Selm's first meaningful republic, and the predecessor to the republican world government the planet had when Contacted. Centuries later, his name was chosen by the Bureau of Ships, for the latest class of destroyers in the Jeffersonian Republic Space Patrol, the defederalized naval militia system from which the regular Navy would be drawn in times of war or emergency. As their race's equivalent of George Washington(-at-sea), there were statues of Maerca throughout the Selm system, and one at Space Patrol Central on Monticello Station too.
Though it had been hundreds of thousands of years since the Siv people could fly naturally, their architecture reflected their past: tall buildings, rooftop platforms, balconies and landings at all levels - few roads for ground traffic. They had used the wheel, as most sentient races did, but deep in their genes they yearned for the sky which nature had taken from them to give them thought. Personal air transport had been the default for Siv society as soon as they had the technology to provide it.
There were two orbital elevators on Selm, both built post-Contact, diametrically opposed at the equator, like Dakota. Unlike the farming world, though, these each had a population of over a million, all along their lengths and especially at synchronous altitude, where construction sprawled like High City over Wilson's Colony. Aurora docked to the Eastern tower, immediately refueling under Danner's Standing Order Number One.
About an hour later came an invitation to meet with the Selm planetary Triumvirate, and one Rear Admiral Rach, commander of the Selm Home Fleet.
The skies of Selm were full, of vehicles of every description, and individuals in jetpacks, goggles on their eyes and wind in their pheathers. The packs had evolved much over the last few centuries, gaining power and range while reducing size and noise. Now they were electric, using high-density batteries, charged from fusion plants or accumulator stations for orbiting solar power satellites. The power drove turbines, and easily lifted the avian-descended Siv in their less-than-Terran gravity. Most of them provided little more than lift, while the Siv pilot would use its own vestigial wings for guidance. Computer control prevented collisions and maintained flow. Like all Jeffersonian air traffic, each vehicle had its own system (including displays in the goggles) and standardized transponders, and there was no centralized control to be abused, overtaken, or crippled.
"Looks like Coruscant," Ralph Vatelius observed. That was another pre-Escape entertainment reference - he had the ancient recordings in his personal library and had played them for his family, and sometimes for passengers, during Transits. Selm's capitol city, Latii, had a population of over eight million, crowded by modern galactic standards, positively teeming by the Republic's. It was the densest concentration Aurora and her Family had ever seen, more even than what remained of the formerly-great cities of Terra. Danner was reminded that the Siv had reached space on their own, decades before Contact, with all the sciences and histories that implied.
Cities bred crime and every kind of misery, but somehow Latii had less. Automation and cheap energy helped - there were plenty of resources and little reason to fight over them. When Contacted, the Siv had police forces, with the usual evils those came with, but with the Jeffersonian example they had been phased out over two generations. Now practically all the Siv race were Jeffersonians, defending themselves and not preying on each other or hiring thugs to "protect" them.
With gravity somewhat lighter than average, Selm had attracted a Chikaran community, and one of those, Yatar, had been elected Councillor of the Selm Triumvirate. The other two were Siv though, Telf, a neuter, and Nosc, a female. Rach was a Siv male.
Chikarans were small, usually under one and a half meters, and Humans towered over them. Siv tended toward Human size, but most were built thin and appeared fragile. Danner and his Family knew they weren't - there had been some Siv renegades among Brown's Flotilla, encountered in the boarding actions after the naval battle, and they were not to be underestimated.
These, though, were friends and allies and fellow Jeffersonians. "Welcome again to our world, Captain Danner," said Nosc, senior of the Triumvirate, extending a pheathered hand. The setting was informal, in her private office, with snacks and drinks laid out. Danner had brought his executive officer Prrg, and of course Aurora, projecting the 1:100 scale model of herself from one of her sensor spheres. "Commander Prrg. Lieutenant Aurora. Please make yourselves at ease." Nosc gestured to seats. One, detecting an approaching Nikar, reconfigured itself to clear his tail.
As Inactive Reservists on an informal visit, the crew were not required to wear uniforms, but Danner had recommended Class A Navy whites. Prrg's red reflective stripes disappeared beneath his tunic, to reappear on his tail. On their shoulders, the national Star-and-Bars flags carried the broad silver border of Inactive Reservists - not directly subject to orders unless formally recalled under specific laws.
Danner didn't wear the full Legion of Honor medal around his neck, but only the ribbon bar, a single, small, black five-pointed star on white, in the first and highest position of the "fruit salad" decorations on his uniform tunic. Its colors were reversed from the Medal of Honor, awarded for combat against a declared enemy while in official uniformed service, whose white star on black matched the canton of the national Star-and-Bars flag.
They were armed. While there was a system of executive bodyguards, the pre-Escape practice of humiliating visitors by disarming them had fallen out of fashion, and was now only done with specific cause. Besides, Danner and his Family were international heroes. Suggesting they couldn't be trusted would be deliberately insulting. Danner and Prrg wore their customary M437 plasma pistols, but in standard uniform flap holsters.
Both also wore M12 midswords on the opposite hips. Danner had selected another, from the souvenir versions Aurora carried for sale to passengers, to replace the one he had sent to Valhalla with Lorraine Harroldsdottir.
Aurora's ship hologram suddenly blinked to become Aurora the woman, convincingly settling into a Human chair. She also was dressed in Class A uniform, with her long, pale-gold hair coiled in a modest bun. Her image bore no obvious weapons, but the sensor sphere projecting that image from inside carried a repeating needler. The Triumvirate and Admiral did double-takes, and Solomon Danner smiled.
Siv didn't have facial expressions as Humans understood them, but their plumage shifted in ways that could be read. Nosc seemed amused by the ship's appearance, but made no comment. She then became more serious and got to the point: "We thank you for your time. Admiral Rach has expressed to us his concern about recent pirate activity throughout Known Space. As a ship and crew with recent and direct experience against these enemies, we ask you to share with us any thoughts or advice you have."
Danner nodded and began. "On the way in, we noticed weapon platforms under construction. I presume those are automated, to defend against relativistic weapons?" At Rach's nod, Danner went on, "We have plans for a variety of such platforms, with local variations, from worlds along our travels. Aurora, if you would transmit them please?" The holographic woman nodded, and Rach's 'puter chimed. "If we could add yours to our libraries, that would bring everyone closer to having an optimum design." Nosc spoke commands to her own 'puter, and Aurora's hologram nodded again.
Danner continued, "Our battles are public record. I expect you want something less formal, more of a feeling for what kind of enemies these are." As the Triumvirate and Admiral nodded, he said, "That's just it: these enemies are diverse, some more organized than others, some apparently having external support."
After asking Aurora to project a map, Danner began recapping his combat history. He paused often for Rach and the Councillors to ask questions. "Aurora was refit, and her crew assembled, in 543, and we began commercial operations. Back about 545, we ran into what we thought, and what probably were, run-of-the-mill pirates at Ravenna. This was my first combat action and our first as a crew. We were escorting a colony ship, and the pirates, in a converted freighter, jumped out from behind a moon. We made short work of them and there wasn't much left to analyze. My Science Officer, Lieutenant Vatelius, was confident they were Human, but that's about all we got. Aurora, please send those records as well.
"About three years later we were at Endicott on a normal commercial run. Three small gunships came out of hiding in their ring system. They were old ships, all over a century, or at least the two that my Gunner didn't destroy outright. Their crews were renegades and criminals from everywhere, even a Bwor." Glancing at Aurora again, she nodded as she sent those records. "We turned the survivors over to Endicott's government, and under interrogation they revealed their base, from which dozens of slaves were freed by the Endicott Militia. We had no direct contact with them ourselves, simply disabling their ships and calling for them to be picked up.
"We took part in, and my Engineer's Mate, whom we call Glub, largely instigated, the Relief of Rollbottle in 550. Somehow nobody got shot during that mess - at least not by us. The Glautak Consolidation committed many atrocities against their own people.
"Glub is a militia colonel on New Israel, and a reserve Major, now, in the Corps, as well as the former mayor of Glautopolis. He's an exile and rebel from the Consolidation, and a deeply patriotic Jeffersonian, who wants the rest of his people to join us in liberty. He's a celebrity among the Republic's Glaut population, constantly in demand for consulting. If you want more details, there was a documentary on us all made after Mark's World and Adda, called Warriors of the Dawn." Solomon grimaced. "It's an overly dramatic title, but they came close enough to most of the facts.
"In 552 we delivered the official Jeffersonian embassy to the Lii Confederation on Oskran, which has since become a Member State. We sighted both Flike and Glautak there, apparently in each other's company, lending weight to theories of an alliance between the Consolidation and the Flike Empire. Oskran is between them, astrographically." Aurora's projected map highlighted the locations. "Since it was in a public setting, it wasn't a violation of privacy laws, or at least not of ours. I ordered the recording of their conversation, which I then sent to ONI. I later received an analysis, and it seemed innocent enough, just tourist things. Still, it's evidence that the Flike and Glaut are on friendly terms. Several years later we returned to Oskran, and I'll get to that." Solomon turned to Prrg.
The Nikar said, "During our stay at Oskran, I fought a duel with a member of the Gnoppan aristocracy - from which I renounced my own rank long ago. The ruling class of my homeworld is resistant to change, and moreso to letting go of their ancient powers and position. There are presently two major factions. One simply wishes for things to remain as they have always been. The other, the new aristocracy coming to replace the old, seek to use the new technologies made available since Contact to increase their power and tighten their hold on all Nikar. It was one such, the equivalent of the heir to a Count, I met on the Field of Honor, after receiving insult from him.
"After his defeat, he became unhinged and attempted to murder me, in violation of the Code. I killed him in defense of myself and bystanders. I bear a blood feud from his clan, again in violation of the Jeffersonian Code Duello, but expected under Gnoppan tradition. The dead one's father is a respectable sort and will not actively pursue the feud; he is of the first faction. His second son is of the other faction, as was his dead brother. I believe there is... potential for... difficulty, among the factions, clans, and attitudes of Gnop's aristocracy.
"Our king, to put him in your terms, has long been a figurehead, with all real power wielded by a council of what you might call dukes, whose membership changes, often unpredictably. Considering things we discovered later, there is a risk of external influence upon them, dividing them to conquer, or perhaps worse, uniting them against, perhaps, the Republic. As my Captain continues his report, this should become clear." Prrg turned his crocodilian head and nodded at Danner.
The Human resumed: "Our next combat was over Dakota, in 552, on our way back in from Oskran. That was another pair of small gunships, but these were crewed by Flike. I theorize they were carried into the system by a larger ship but I never learned more. They jumped a bulk freighter as it exited hyperspace. We happened to be close enough to matter, and we barely got there in time. The ship's captain, June Bigelow, kept them from boarding with attitude jets alone, after they'd destroyed all her other drive systems. The Dakota Planetary Militia took charge of what we left of them. I doubt they revealed anything useful, Flike rarely do. Predators they may be, but they die bravely. Naturally they were disavowed by their Empire, but our next encounter with them seems too much a coincidence.
"During this action, we performed the first of our Close Transits, at the very edge of the Limit. We believe the stress of this Transition triggered Aurora's awakening as a sentient being.
"The next year, 553, was the Raid on Mark's World." Danner fell silent for a moment, remembering the slaves whose suffering he had ended aboard one of the pirate freighters over Republic Astronomical Survey 1441-II, now known as Adda. "Aurora declared herself to be a Person after the initial battle, and before we left to pursue Brown's Flotilla.
"Roger Brown's gang had originally organized as mercenaries, hiring out to escort colonists or convoys or defend worlds against specific threats. At some point, probably in the mid-540s, they turned to piracy, and criminals of every kind joined them ever since. Brown had made Lieutenant in the Space Patrol before setting out on his own. He knew something of our procedures and capabilities. Fortunately I and my Family-" Danner raised both hands, to gesture toward his reptilian brother and artificial sister- "came up with something that wasn't in his books.
"There were Flike among Brown's Flotilla. Some had landed on Mark's World. At Adda, only three were taken alive. One was brain damaged and later euthanized. Another committed suicide with a poison implant shortly after regaining consciousness. I don't know what became of the third." The members of Selm's Triumvirate flicked their eyes at each other. "More were found on all the ships, fighting to the death or already suicides, after killing Brown and his officers. My personal theory is that the Flike are using existing pirates throughout Known Space as pawns, testing defenses and responses across the Republic and the Frontier. Either they're underestimating us, or we're underestimating them."
Pausing in recollection, Danner went on, "We took a vacation then, heading Edgeward." He skipped over Terra and the revelation of his Purser's brother's new identity. King Lars, his Queen and children knew, only because Daisuke had volunteered the information - no one else outside the Family did, except the Motoyamas, who were related by blood and marriage to Takeo Nakayama... and Queen Agnieszka of Illyria, who still, and would always, count as Family.
"In 556, we intended to take on a cleanup job on Elysium, but Lorraine Harroldsdottir beat us to it. Elysium's government had made the old mistakes, laws, disarmament, prohibitions. Thugs were attracted to enforce those laws and it all spiralled down from there.
"Lorraine Harroldsdottir was a Captain in the Asgardian Navy, and a Countess in their nobility, a cousin to King Lars. She commanded one of their battlecruisers, as a semi-private enterprise, seeking villains to slay for profit, and for admission to Valhalla. During the battle to free Elysium from the gangs that had taken it over, her warriors killed many pirates and claimed their goods as prizes. One such was a shortsword, a Nipponese wakizashi, bearing a mark we now know to be called the Blood Rose." Danner had left Daisuke behind for this meeting - Takeo Nakayama was still wanted for murder. He said nothing of the encounter in Motoyama's arms shop in Kure. Glancing at Aurora, the holographic woman projected the symbol Kazuo Nakayama had chosen. "The Kingdom of Asgard maintains a database of pirates, slavers, and the like. As the triumvirate of a Member World, and a flag officer in the Space Patrol, you all have access to it.
"If you were not aware, their interpretation of the Old Norse religion commands them to hunt villains, instead of preying on the innocent - though we later learned of renegade Asgardians, particularly the group known as the Seven Axes, who wish to return to the old Viking ways of pillage. The Asgardian government has marked them for death and is actively hunting them.
"We've found mainstream Asgardians to be valuable allies and superior warriors. Despite their barbarian appearance, their intellect is not to be underestimated. Their technology is the equal of our own, when they feel like using it. Most of their population is genetically engineered, mostly Human, about eight or ten percent Eyani, a few of other species, particularly Nikar.
"Nothing further was learned about the Blood Rose during our time at Elysium. We continued on our way.
"Our next trouble was at Burris in late 556. You may have seen Senator Post's address to the Republic Congress." Telf said ne had. "Burris also remade old mistakes, handouts, welfare systems, demographic quotas. We fired no shots there, and didn't stay long enough to investigate, but in hindsight, with all these other things happening, I do wonder if someone from outside didn't give them the idea. The last I heard, Burris was a collectivist dictatorship, starvation and all. Senator Post was in exile on Monticello at last report. There was a refugee community on East Continent. I expect they wouldn't mind talking to sympathetic ears.
"After Burris, we blundered our way into the Illyrian Civil War." Danner's heart twinged. The wound left by Agnieszka's absence had not fully healed. "Which we'd really been part of for years, since..." he had to think back. "Late 552. Queen Agnieszka, then a fugitive princess hunted by her murderous uncle, sought refuge and escape with my ship. Months later I discovered her true identity.
"For years we travelled together as ship and passenger, then captain and crew, then Shipfolk Family." The pain of losing her threatened to return, but Solomon rode it down and continued. "She had lost all hope of returning home and claiming her throne, and was resigning herself to a new life as a Jeffersonian.
"By mid-557 we had returned to Monticello, having carried Senator Post there from Burris. We were about to return to commercial work when we encountered Sir Bogdan Plebanek, Queen Agnieszka's personal armsman.
"He had attempted to give warning of Stefan's Usurpation, but was too late. Only Agnieszka was saved, and narrowly. Meanwhile, Plebanek was captured and tortured, often by Stefan himself, before being freed - possibly by a sympathizer, possibly by one of Stefan's creatures for the purpose of following Plebanek to Agnieszka, to eliminate the last competitor to the throne. Aside from a few mercenaries, we saw no evidence of external influences on Stefan or his regime. It appeared to be entirely an internal conflict." He turned to Rach. "Sir, I'll have Aurora send you our logs during that time. The tactics we employed should be of interest. You'll also find Admiral Sir Stanislaw Lipinski to be a highly competent commander, with at least as much combat experience as I have, especially against pirates. Corresponding with him should be beneficial." The admiral's 'puter chimed again.
"Plebanek is now Commander of the Illyrian Royal Guard, and an experienced Investigator. Likewise Maria Slotnik, formerly of the Illyrian colony Lublin, is commander of the Illyrian Investigators' Corps. They and their Queen are all very competent, and friendly toward the Republic. The Queen cleaned her own house thoroughly, with Plebanek's and Slotnik's help. I'm sure her government would be willing to share what information they have on events and threats in the region."
Seated, Danner clasped his hands before his chin, thinking... remembering. Long walks in VR. A little grove of trees in an O'Neill Cylinder over New Halifax. Their last kiss....
He shook his head and moved on.
"Returning to commercial service again, in early 561 we returned to Oskran. We found the place... unsettled.
"The Lii Confederation, as I said, is now a Member State. One of their Triumvirate, Nalat Yonn, was our passenger on our first trip to Oskran, for several thousand hours. Another passenger, his niece, Nrii Tlam, is now an officer in our Space Patrol. The people of Lii are integrating quite well with Republic society. There is little backwardness to them, and what there is, is quickly fading away. They've begun building their own frigates to contribute to the Republic's defense, and their own militia system was easily adapted to our standards.
"Since their depopulation, more than three thousand Republic years ago, there are only eight nation-states recognizable as such. Lii is the most advanced in every way, which was why it was chosen for Contact. Of the other seven, three are openly hostile to Lii and to us. One is making reforms to attract trade. Two more seem unsure, while the last is approaching civil war, the people wanting what we have to offer and their regime resisting." Aurora projected a map of Oskran, highlighting and naming each nation as her Captain mentioned them.
"During our time there, Lii faced an immigration crisis, which we helped combat. Aurora's weapons dug artificial canyons, now called the Great Moat, around the entire border of the Confederation, with extra lines within, like multiple walls of an ancient castle. Probably thousands were killed, but if they weren't stopped, it would have been the Second Holocaust all over again." Danner referred to Terran history, and the Islamic invasion of Europe, thinly veiled as "refugees", throughout the first third of the 21st Century CE. After a number of atrocities committed by Muslims against European populations, including an Ebola epidemic launched from Rome, the Third Great Fire of London, the use of "dirty bombs" to irradiate Jerusalem and Madrid, and the outright destruction of Paris by a one-megaton fusion blast, the United Nations used nukes of their own, and orbital kinetic strikes, to practically exterminate the Muslim world. The place where Mecca used to be was a crater, a hundred meters deep and half a kilometer wide. It was fortunate the Founders of the Republic had Escaped a generation earlier, or they might have had to do it themselves.
"Again we found no evidence of external influence on Oskran, but it must be repeated that their system is located between the Glautak Consolidation and the Flike Empire. If there is an alliance between those two powers, Oskran will make a tempting first target for their expansion. This would be complicated by the other nations on Oskran not being part of our Republic. One of those could 'invite' a Flike invasion force, and we couldn't justifiably stop them.
"From Oskran we travelled to Gambori, where most of the Glaut refugees from Rollbottle have settled. That would be another likely target for the Glautak-Flike alliance, to reclaim what the Consolidation would consider rebels and escaped slaves.
"While there we met Abel Bjornsson, another Asgardian warship commander. He brought to our attention another example of the symbol we now know as the Blood Rose.
"It was another wakizashi, very similar to the one found at Elysium. This one was taken from a pirate killed on Kaiming, following a raid on Lipstein's World. Everything we learned about its owner, is in the Asgardian database you have access to." Danner nodded again at Aurora, and the Admiral's and Triumvirate's 'puters chimed again. "As before, nothing substantive was learned - an assumed name, almost certainly. The particular pirate band had formed recently, since my destruction of Brown's Flotilla. They were still arguing about their own group's name when Bjornsson wiped them out."
This next bit was tricky. A member of his crew and Family had vital information on the identity and nature of the Blood Rose, a suspected pirate and/or terrorist organization. Danner's oath to the Republic's Constitution was standing toe-to-toe with his loyalty to a man closer to him than any biological family he ever had. "Bjornsson invited us to visit Asgard. It is a fascinating place, if one has the strength for it. Asgardians are a vigorous people, easily our equals in any field, and likely our betters in genetics. Their planet is wild and often deadly, and they like it that way. It's a good thing they're on our side, and considerable efforts would be worthwhile to keep them there.
"We were invited to dinner with King Lars." Danner said this without much weight, but he and his Family had supped with crowns, national leaders, heroes, captains of industry, commanders of militaries. "He also shared with us information on the Blood Rose. We were told that Asgardian villain-hunters had been encountering the symbol more often." Here, Danner trod on the very edge of his oath: "In the Asgardian database, you will find reference to every instance of that symbol being found by the Asgardians, and to an anonymous source, potentially describing the founder or leader of the Blood Rose. Essentially nothing is known of their size, organization, or resources. There is only suspicion and conjecture... but our next combat action may be connected.
"In late 561 we had left Asgard for Bluegrass. While there, the derelict Northerner arrived." All of Known Space had heard of the dead ship and the horrors she carried. Danner spent some time summarizing and filling in details for his hosts. "The ship had come from Sherrington. Her records carried evidence of the Atrocity. We went there to provide relief, and to investigate, under our duty as a Reserve Privateer. Lorraine Harroldsdottir, hearing of the attack and seeking villains to hunt, joined us there."
Danner described the attempted murder of an entire world, a million people killed in an hour. "That's why I opened this conversation with your orbital weapon platforms. Don't stop building them. Such an attack could be made without warning, even on the Central Worlds." Danner had already researched the topic, and knew that nearly every Republic world was building such platforms, whose faster-than-light Marsten Detectors constantly swept the skies, and whose computers would automatically engage, with faster-than-light Marsten Guns, anything approaching above any meaningful fraction of realspace lightspeed. "I can also recommend opening a dialogue with the Lii Confederation, who are now our fellow Jeffersonians. The bombardment their world suffered was not deliberate, and was long ago, but they can give unique insight to the effects.
"At Sherrington, Aurora-" the Captain nodded to his ship's Human-shaped hologram- "discovered our next clue, an uncrewed fuel and supply dump in deep space. From it we found biological markers in food rations, leading us to the planet Ude." Danner briefly explained about the non-profit operation to maintain an interstellar food-compatibility database, and the Space Patrol's official participation.
"There we found another band of pirates, using ships which matched those recorded at Sherrington. They had enslaved the native population and were using them to produce food to support their operations. One of the pirates, Trawley, cooperated for a gentler death sentence. We believe he told all he knew." With another nod to Aurora, recordings of Trawley's interrogations were copied. Trawley had been disposed of, on Ude, before Ambassador Cr'Han arrived. As promised, he was executed in his sleep, his cell sealed and flooded with room-temperature nitrogen without his knowledge. He simply never woke up. As was traditional, his corpse was incinerated, the ashes mixed with those of other criminals in a block of clay or cement, hardened, and dumped far at sea.
"This band had been collected and organized by others, and designated 'Group Twelve'. The ships were provided by those others. As you may know, my previous career in the Patrol was with the Bureau of Ships, so I know something of how they're built. These ships seemed a blend of features from all the major worlds and nations, but not clearly originating from any. No less than thirty of these ships have been built. I suspect there are more. Somewhere is a secret shipyard. The Office of Naval Intelligence is searching but has nothing at last report.
"Group Twelve was allowed to commit their own acts of piracy, but also received orders from above. One such order was to commit the Atrocity.
"One of the last things Trawley told me was the nature of people giving those orders. He said they were all Human, and all the leaders were of Asian descent, particularly Japanese, including their own direct superior, Sakami.
"This is significant for a number of reasons. First, xenophobia doesn't mesh with the Flike 'advisors' found aboard Roger Brown's ships. I wonder if the Flike agents provocateur are unaware of this other organization, or if they are different parts of a larger whole.
"Most significant, the suspected leader or founder of the Blood Rose is known to be of Japanese descent... possibly from New Israel. The mark of the Blood Rose was not found at Ude, but I have a... feeling, but no proof, that this leader would be the kind of man who would behave in such a way, seeking followers of his own race, believing himself and his kind to be superior to others. Possibly, bearing a grudge against all civilization, for not giving him what he believed he was owed.
"Trawley suggested as much, and when we captured Sakami, his few words before suicide lent weight to the theory. My hypothesis is that such a man... who may have somehow accumulated great material wealth... may be using that wealth to attract and organize people of like mind. I have no proof, only conjecture. Perhaps his goal is revenge against a society he feels has wronged him.
"Sakami carried implants, to trigger self-destruct charges in the ships used by Group Twelve, to send a warning from a Marsten Device hidden in the Ude system, and to detonate explosives in his own body. Lorraine Harroldsdottir was killed in that explosion, and our investigative trail was broken.
"Harroldsdottir was a popular and successful leader, and her followers have sworn blood vengeance against whatever organization Sakami belonged to. I have sworn a blood oath to notify them when that enemy is found. I strongly advise accepting their help as official policy. Their assistance in any fight will be of great value.
"For the next four thousand hours I served as temporary governor of, and interim ambassador to, Ude. The Udese seem a decent people, or at least the ones we encountered, in the Kingdom of Jellakk. I established treaties of trade and protection with King Hran, including the cession of territory for a Jeffersonian spaceport and enclave, and my Family helped build and test orbital defenses for the planet.
"Once relieved by Ambassador Cr'Han, my Family and I chose to make our way back to the Central Worlds. Nothing of consequence happened until we arrived here.
"Councillors, Admiral, I hope this information proves useful."
"Far more useful than we had expected, Captain," Nosc replied, with a Human-style nod. "And now, as one who has repeatedly been on the front lines of this undeclared war, we have vital information to share with you." She pressed a key on her wrist 'puter.
The door to the next room slid open, and through it walked two and a half meters of fangs, muscle, and leathery hide:
Continued in the next excerpt....