Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2021, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXXXIV: Pirate
Continued from the previous excerpt
Galactic West - the Frontier
He began again, with a new name, and yet another face: Tozama Daiki. The symbols he chose could be read as "outsider with great wisdom".
For years Tamura's empire had been shipping contraband and slaves to Frontier worlds. Organizations, some his own, some under the control of others, grew to receive and distribute them. The ships and colonies attracted pirates. The pirates attracted Tozama Daiki.
Among Tamura's last acts had been to designate Tozama as his successor and arrange for an uninterrupted chain of command. Tozama's identity had already been created, mentioned in conversation or messages, though no one had "met" him before. Tozama's face was created in a computer, the surgery performed by a robot whose memory was then erased. Tozama's ship, filled with Tamura's followers, now his, made for the Frontier, and a world Tamura had controlled.
Only Inagami knew Tozama was Tamura. Still none living knew either was Kazuo Nakayama.
Tamura's empire rarely employed people other than Human, and showed great preference toward those of Japanese descent. On the planet Chikusei, the oyabun was named Kanagawa Reizo.
Kanagawa welcomed Tozama warmly, on the surface, while inwardly seething at what he saw as a usurpation of the position he had built over years of hard, bloody work. Tozama, using Kazuo Nakayama's computer skills, eavesdropped on Kanagawa's conversations with subordinates, in which he expressed his displeasure and contempt for Tozama, and even disrespect for Tamura. The Outsider played the recordings before witnesses, and challenged the oyabun to a duel, for breaking his oath to their "dead" lord.
Kanagawa's mansion was built in the style of an ancient Japanese castle - like the home in which Kazuo Nakayama had been born, and the homes Tamura Ken had owned in Old Nippon on Terra. They met in Kanagawa's audience chamber, attended by his subordinates and Tozama's, including Inagami.
The katana evolved as a slashing weapon, but a skilled user could thrust. Dodging Kanagawa's first and only swing, Tozama drove the point of his Mitsuhira blade through the other man's heart, holding him upright as his blood poured out, staring into the oyabun's eyes until the light in them was extinguished.
Kanagawa's corpse slid wetly off Tozama's blade, sprawling on the tatami mats before the oyabun's own throne. Tozama performed the chiburui, the blood-cleaning stroke, spraying Kanagawa's followers with droplets of red. Holding the sword before him, Tozama, speaking in nihongo, said: "Tamura Ken is dead. Kanagawa Reizo is dead. Tozama Daiki rules here now. Submit and obey, or die." At his right side and a pace behind, Inagami drew his own sword, made for him by the Tamura, now Tozama clan's exclusive swordsmith. Likewise at Tozama's left, Sakami did the same.
The smile on the enforcers' faces showed no fear. Inagami, too, had tested himself in the underground arenas, and knew his own ability... and its limits. More than once, the promoters of the death-duels had suggested a contest between Inagami - whose stage name was Chi no Kaze, "Blood Wind" - and Kuro-To. While the Black Sword feigned interest, Blood Wind openly stated, from behind his own voice-altering mask, that "Kuro-To is the better swordsman. He would kill me, and I have no wish to die." Sakami had not gone to the arenas, but sparred constantly with his old friend, and sometimes with Tozama himself. Three of the most skilled and powerful swordsmen in the galaxy glared over their blades at the yakuza of Chikusei.
As Inagami had done years before, Kanagawa's followers knelt before their new daimyo.
Not all the crime on the Frontier was under Tozama's control - far from it, in such a vast volume of space. New colonization efforts pressed ever outward, and predators followed, to feast on what other people had built and harvested. Some colonies were wiped out, picked clean, by the short-sighted. Others, more thoughtful, took over, made slaves of their victims instead of corpses, fed and preserved their sentient livestock instead of slaughtering them for immediate gain.
These predators also preyed on each other. After losing three ships to another pirate, Tozama set an ambush.
He hadn't just been buying smuggling and slaving ships. He kept legitimate operations for cover, even controlling companies whose stock was publicly traded in Republic markets, but privately he had also been acquiring hulls suitable for fighting. Some were conversions of freighters and tankers and liners. Others were surplus warships, from the Republic and beyond. With slave labor and stolen materials, he had already begun building a secret shipyard, orbiting an uninhabitable planet in a remote system not too different from RAS1441.
A ship full of "colonists" - fraud and kidnap victims, more accurately - landed on the Frontier world of Sandstrom. Half a local day later, two pirate gunships followed. Over two hundred pirates, well-armed and -armored, swarmed the new settlement.
Kanagawa's former army, in whose retraining Tozama had taken a direct hand, erupted from concealment, where they had been waiting for over a hundred hours, having been delivered by another of Tozama's ships. Some of the pirates were killed, but most were disabled with stunbolts and captured. Tozama had plans for them.
In orbit, the pirates' mothership, incautiously deep inside the hyperspace limit, found itself painted by Marsten Detectors, from a pair of frigates which had hidden behind a pair of small, close-orbiting moons. The man who had once been Kazuo Nakayama had computer skills to challenge Sarah Heusner and Grbblb. He had selected subordinates to train in those arts. The pirate ship's computer was commanded to reduce air pressure below the point where Common Life could function without suits. More of Tozama's soldiers boarded, and secured prisoners before restoring the atmosphere.
The ship was called Bluefin and her captain called himself John Copeland. He was a Human male of mostly European descent and of less than fifty Terran years. After losing consciousness as his own ship betrayed him, Copeland awoke in chains, prostrated before what had been his own Captain's Chair. The first thing he saw was a pair of space-booted Human feet.
Inagami grabbed Copeland's chains from behind and jerked him into a kneeling position. Now Copeland saw a Human of Asian stock, standing in an armored spacesuit decorated like an ancient samurai, with a plasma pistol butt-forward on his right hip and a pair of swords at his left. His captor's helmet was removed, held by a servant - an attractive young Asian girl - to the Asian man's left. There was blood on the outside of the faceplate, and more on his spacesuit's armor.
The man spoke, in unaccented American: "I am Tozama Daiki. You have stolen three of my ships, and killed many of my followers."
"End me and be done!" Copeland snarled. Since going on the account many years before, he always knew he would come to this.
Tozama smiled. "Spirit!" he said, calmly. "Defiance! No sense of guilt or shame!" Tozama seated himself in Copeland's command chair. "I can use you."
"I've heard of you," Copeland said, suddenly calmer outwardly, though his mind raced. "You took over after Tamura died." A corpse had been provided, in the smoldering ruins of Tamura's Hokkaido mansion. An apparently-self-inflicted laser pulse to the head had left little to identify.
"Operations on Terra are no longer profitable," Tozama said. "My predecessor had the foresight to decentralize our empire, moving beyond the reach of meddlesome civilization. He charged me, as his heir, to continue and expand his businesses. I intend to do so."
"And you need people. The competent kind."
"The fact that you took my ships demonstrates your competence. Demonstrate your loyalty by returning or replacing them."
Once upon a time, Copeland had been something of a scholar, and a student of history, before a series of unfortunate events drove him away from civilization. "An enlightened lord," he said, "protects and rewards his vassals. I've seen the stick. Where's the carrot?"
"You will have the protection of my empire. Support for your ships, safe harbors for your crews. Material rewards far greater than you have been able to achieve on your own, in an organized and reliable manner. Full tanks and full bellies, markets for your goods, your wounds treated, beds you can sleep in without waking to knives at your throats. In return, you and yours must pledge loyalty to me, on pain of death."
Copeland made up his mind. "Yaeyama Maru and Sokuten are two Transits away, orbiting the planet I use for a base. Hashidate Maru is a couple light-hours from here, supporting this operation."
Tozama shifted his head minutely, and Inagami unlocked Copeland's chains. The pirate captain stood... then knelt before his lord. "Tozama-sama. I and my men are yours to command."
From his belt, Tozama removed the sheathed wakizashi, which he'd had made for this occasion. It bore the same markings as the Nakayama clan's stolen Mitsuhira katana - black, with a stylized red rose in full bloom. Tozama extended the weapon toward Copeland.
Head bowed, Copeland took the shortsword in both hands, then slid it into his belt, at his left hip, edge-up in the correct Japanese tradition. Tozama commanded, "Stand, my friend."
Inagami kept a straight face; gaijin this Copeland might be, but he knew Japanese ways, and showed proper respect.
Sakami openly frowned at a foreign barbarian being so quickly elevated.
For years Tozama repeated the method, gathering one pirate band after another into the Blood Rose: Bellamy's Reavers, Red Sally, the Harrison Gang, Geoffrey's Greencoats, Brown's Flotilla, Franz the Albino, the Seven Axes. Those who would not submit were exterminated. Those who showed proper respect were called brothers.
Each could prey as they wished on their own time, and with their own resources, but they were forbidden from attacking or feuding with each other, and when called to Tozama's service, they would answer or be expelled from the brotherhood. When given missions by the Blood Rose, they were also given support, fuel, munitions, supplies, information. When hunting for themselves, a percentage of their loot gave them access to the Blood Rose's support structure, including shipyards and hospitals. It was like a twisted, inside-out version of the Republic's Reserve Privateer system.
Tozama expanded his reach, taking over some small, distant, independent colonies. Having departed settled space with low budgets and little publicity, these would get lost in the shuffle. Colonists would often be poor, failures in the lives they were born to, seeking a reset. Some were loners with no families to miss them. Some were entire families with no one left behind. Few would be remembered, when communications, if there had ever been any, ceased.
Tozama also claimed a few virgin worlds of his own. Some had native sentient populations, overseen by trusted subordinates as governors or viceroys - Ude would in time be one of them, assigned to Sakami: conveniently located, rich in resources. These worlds also provided slave labor, or if they proved too troublesome, they were massacred, and slaves from other worlds were brought in to work the farms and mines.
Tozama took part in many raids himself, leading from the front, slaying and reaving by his own hand - securing the loyalty of his vassals, through fear and admiration both. With his Mitsuhira blade, Tamura ended the lives of presidents and kings and chancellors of distant planets, Human or otherwise. Those with the courage to face him with their own swords or spears or axes earned, with their deaths, leniency for their people. Those who allowed cowards to rule them became slaves. In all cases, their worlds became bases for the Blood Rose, where ships and pirates could rest and refit.
In a Monticellan decade, Tozama's empire had taken thirteen worlds in twelve systems, enslaving two other races and waging genocide against a third. His fleet grew to nearly two hundred ships, most of them armed, more than forty built for fighting. Only rumors reached Republic space, and were dismissed as fantasy or drunken exaggeration.
Inagami was second only to Tozama; Copeland was the next in rank, serving as admiral, with a staff of administrators. Sakami served Inagami, alternating between satisfaction and frustration.
Tozama's own secret base, which his followers took to calling the Rose Garden, was a lifeless system more than a hundred light-years from Terra. Though no life, Common or otherwise, could survive there without artificial means, the system was rich in resources. Only the captains of Tozama's ships - and few of them - knew the Rose Garden's coordinates. That was a secret that would inevitably come out... but Tozama had a plan.
Robots, self-replicating, spread through the system, mining, refining, building. Raids under the Blood Rose's orders were focused on power plants, drive components, life support consumables, building supplies, fabbers, construction 'bots. Higher prices were paid for such goods brought to the Blood Rose's bases. Tozama's legitimate businesses in civilized space were also used to openly purchase what could not be conveniently stolen. These were shipped and transshipped, "sold" and "resold", or even "stolen" from himself, until the goods could not be traced.
Tozama began building ships of his own - little two-kiloton gunships, fast and versatile, well-armed for their size, capable of landing nearly a hundred troops each for planetside raids, and quickly loading loot. False panels gave misleading profiles. As mass production of the gunships accelerated in automated asteroid shipyards, they were distributed among the pirates of the Blood Rose, based on worlds Tozama had conquered.
He also began building larger, more powerful ships which, at least on a simulation screen, could stand up to their equivalents from national navies. Crews for all of these were carefully recruited - deserters or dishonorable discharges, crooked merchants, talented beginners and amateurs.
Then, Tozama began building something else.
Continued in the next excerpt....