Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part LXXXVIII: Control

This page Copyright 2021, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
5 Fifthmonth 561JR
10 June 2360CE
Galactic West, Beyond the Frontier

Saito, head of Tozama-Tenno's imperial intelligence service, knelt and bowed before his lord, giving his report. Tozama, in his throne, stared at the man as his tale of disaster unfolded.
"Kajima Juzo, Captain of Takao, one of Korei's escorting cruisers, remained loyal to you, Tozama-Tenno. He was subdued and confined during Sakami's takeover, but through your tutelage in computer sciences and his own strength, regained control of his ship and crew. Sakami's mutineers were executed at his orders and some by his hand.
"Unfortunately, he was too late to prevent Sakami's strike on the Sherrington system with relativistic weapons. However, when Inagami-sama sent his override codes, Kajima-daisa was able to circumvent them, establish communication with Inagami-sama, and declare his loyalty. Together they began recovering the other ships of Korei's fleet.
"It would appear, however, that Sakami, and some of his mutinous captains, were also able to regain control of their ships - fourteen of the small gunships and one tanker. We do not know where they have gone, but we expect they have fled to the Ude system, of which Sakami was granted governorship. I have dispatched a stealth ship to observe and report without being detected."
Saito paused, swallowed, and continued. "As the rest of the mutineers fled, one gunship, which I believe was Sakami's own, briefly returned to Korei. Before disappearing again, that ship released a spread of relativistic kinetic weapons, targeted along Korei's length. Korei was destroyed, along with several other nearby ships, still disabled and unable to evade fragments. There were very few survivors. Inagami-sama has not yet been found among them. The nature of the attack makes recovery of remains... improbable." Saito fell silent, head bowed, knee and fist to floor.
"...Leave me," Tozama rasped. Saito backed away on hands and knees, rose, turned, departed.
For a minute after the hatch sealed, Tozama was silent. Then, throwing back his head, in agony, in loss, in defeat, he screamed.
His screams continued until he could scream no more. When finally he fell silent again, his attendants worked up the courage to enter the throne room, and then to carry his limp and unconscious form to his chambers.

18 Fourthmonth 562JR
4 January 2361CE

Months, in planet-bound terms, had passed.
If Tozama's Empire of Space could be said to have a center, Ude was far from it. It would take time for Saito's observation ship to reach the system, confirm the mutineers' presence, send word; more time for Tozama's vengeance to arrive.
Sakami's wolves, freed of their Emperor's constraints but also cut loose from his support and protection, had hunted where they willed... or more truly, where they could. Several supply containers had been positioned for contingency before the intended raid on Sherrington; they were returned to occasionally, restocked by the renegade tanker, or a gunship or two making supply runs to Ude. Repairs were made to the gunships' systems, restoring function but not the heavy encryption Tozama's Empire used. Sakami worried about the potential vulnerability and set his people to improving security; but he could not restore the imperial systems, lest the Blood Rose catch them and use more backdoors he was not aware of.
He and his followers returned to their previous ways: preying on small, remote, independent colonies, or pouncing on stray ships as they Transitioned from hyperspace, low on fuel and needing minutes to recharge the Initiator of a Marsten Drive. Yellowbird was one such ship; Loring another.
Sakami was blamed for breaking his promise to his own pack of wolves. He fought four duels, survived two assassination attempts, purged his own ranks. From the survivors he selected trustworthy subordinates: John Morton; Mike Brand; a man known only as Trawley. These kept the Udese slaves working, producing food and metals for use, no longer by the Blood Rose, but for Sakami alone.
Ude became their base of operations, but Sakami knew it couldn't last. He knew Tozama and the Blood Rose would come for them, and soon. As he returned from yet another hunting trip, he was already making plans to leave. Tozama-Tenno's lessons were worthy: planets were vulnerable, they were traps. Sakami had collected data, during his years of service to the Empire. With time, and help, he could build his own Balloon World, his own emperor-ship, somewhere far beyond Tozama's reach. He could begin his own empire and, long delayed, keep his promise.
Gunships 6, 16 and 19 Transitioned to realspace three light-seconds from Ude, lining up for entry and landing at the little spaceport across the lake from the control shack and barracks. Minutes after touching down, hatches were opened, crews hurried out to hook up for refueling, waste disposal, resupply. Sakami's crews disembarked, they did not yet know for the last time, to their barracks on Ude.
Indeed, for the last time. But not as Sakami intended either.

At first he thought the Blood Rose had found them, that he was fighting his former comrades, but quickly he saw they were Asgardians - mainstream, not the Seven Axes. Before his screens went blank he also saw two suits of power-armor, at least one bearing the Jeffersonian flag on its chest.
The Asgardians' numbers were about equal to his own, but Sakami's wolfpack was outclassed. This fight could not be won - and there was no escape. The gunships in orbit were not responding, doubtless already captured, their crews neutralized, and the battle would end long before any of the grounded ships could be refueled. "Damn them all!" he shouted to his men. "Don't let them take you alive! Drag as many to Hell with you as you can!"
Through a viewport, Sakami saw enemy parties splitting off to attack the grounded ships - none of which were responding. Their systems had been overridden, again, this time by brute force from a superior computer, probably in an Asgardian or Jeffersonian starship in orbit, masquerading as a prize. Hatches obeyed the attackers, not the crews. Internal communications were down; personal comms were jammed. He could not direct the fight.
Soon Number 6's CIC was under assault. The hatch snapped open, fire from Sakami's men poured out... hitting nothing. A grenade bounced off a bulkhead. Sakami ducked and covered, trying to protect eyes and ears - in a moment's glimpse he had identified a stun grenade. It detonated, stupefying even when prepared. Raising his weapon, he sought a target-
A plasma rifle's muzzle poked around the hatch opening, spraying golden bolts of energy. Several struck him, shocking, burning - stunbolts. They wanted him alive.... No! I am a wolf! I will not spend my last moments caged! By force of will he attempted to rise again-
A small white ball hovered into the compartment. Something stung his neck, and all went dark.

He awoke strapped to a bunk in his own men's barracks. Above him stood three beings, all Human: a surprisingly-small woman of south-Asian color and type, but wearing Asgardian kit and, he saw, a naval Captain's miniature insignia; from briefings he recognized her as Harroldsdottir, who destroyed Tozama's plan for Elysium. A European man - Solomon Danner, who had disrupted and then retaliated against the deep-penetration raid on Mark's World years before. And, a Nihonjin, or at least a Nikkei, a swordsman of some ability proven during the boarding actions against Brown's Flotilla, and who had later appeared as public relations officer for that same Jeffersonian cruiser, Aurora.
Sakami would have been interested, but there was no time.

23 Fourthmonth 562JR
9 January 2361CE
Galactic West, Beyond the Frontier

For days Tozama had lain in bed, tended only by robots and his personal physician. Slowly he recovered... but he was not the same. He had lost much: his closest, perhaps his only friend, Inagami. The element of surprise had also been lost, as the worlds and nations of civilized space were now in a frenzy of building automated weapon platforms to defend against sudden relativistic strikes. The building programs were accompanied by renewed enthusiasm for militia exercises and preparedness, in all levels and castes of society. Jeffersonian dreadnoughts and carriers were being brought out of mothballs, refit, updated, returned to duty. Another block of Maerca-class destroyers had been authorized, using improvements developed over previous years, not least by Aurora. Regular-military enlistment rates were up, and the Republic's Reserve Privateer Bureau also reported an increase of thirty percent in the number of ships meeting the requirements for service. Years of work had been thrown away by Sakami's impatience. Years more would be required to repair the damage to Tozama's plans.
Speculation in the media of Known Space was wild, as some details of the Sherrington Atrocity became known, and others never would be. Kajima Juzo, the loyal cruiser captain, had taken initiative - after, he assured his Emperor, making sure, often with his own spacesuited eyes, that no survivors could be found. Using surviving ships to push them, he disposed of the fragments of Korei and other ships wrecked by Sakami's final strike, into one of the Sherrington system's gas giants, where not even Jeffersonian powers could reach them. The last pieces had disappeared before Aurora's fleet from Bluegrass arrived.
Aurora... that ship had foiled Tozama's plans three times, twice directly at Dakota and Mark's World, now robbing him of his revenge against Sakami. Saito's stealth ship had reached Ude only shortly before Aurora, had witnessed and eavesdropped on her defeat of Group Twelve, had watched as Sakami returned and was also destroyed.
Tozama had planned such exquisite tortures for the man who had murdered his friend - who had turned traitor to both Tozama and Inagami - who had ruined the work of decades. He would have made Sakami's punishment public, forced all the wolves of the Blood Rose to watch, to learn from the example, the terrible price of disobedience.
His vengeance had been stolen.

Tozama turned his frustration toward the rest of his wolves. "I have been too lenient!" his enormous hologram declared from within Jimmu. "My generosity and tolerance has been answered with betrayal! When a wolf does not obey the rules of the pack, he is cast out!"
Purge swept through the ranks of the Blood Rose, the Empire of Space. All who had grumbled, who had expressed impatience or dissatisfaction, who had sympathized with Sakami, were now marked. Some, by Tozama's judgement, were immediately put to death. Others, less vocal, were given chances for redemption, to prove their loyalty to their Emperor - often by publicly executing their former comrades.

Tozama did not hold himself blameless either. He had ignored his own advice, acted too soon, reached for too much. Even before Sakami's betrayal and the disaster which followed, civilization had been awakening to his threat. He explained as much to Copeland and Kajima, now his closest surviving advisors and confidants, vowing, "I will not make the same mistake again."
"We must withdraw," Tozama informed Admiral Copeland, and now Vice-Admiral Kajima. "For a time. We shall expand further into the unexplored galaxy. There will be other worlds and peoples to feast upon, while we reorganize. The Blood Rose will cease operations in Known Space. Each pirate may do as he wishes, but those who follow me must obey; those who remain will be without my support. We must give the civilized states time... to grow complacent. To question the expense of their defenses. To forget that we exist.
"Then, when we are truly ready, we shall return, and keep our oath. To rule."

The Blood Rose's withdrawal from explored space was not absolute. Many operations remained there; shell corporations, corrupt politicians, Saito's intelligence-gathering apparatus. Alliance with the haughty Glautak Consolidation, who were now building even more ships, for themselves, for the Blood Rose, and for Tozama's other allies, the Flike Empire and the divided Nikar aristocracy. Rare materials, or finished goods more easily acquired in the known galaxy, would continue flowing to Tozama, but more slowly, more discreetly.
Saito's operatives maintained contact with Known Space, using private Marsten Devices and deep-space relays, hidden in the blackness between stars like the supply containers. When plans for the Sixth Generation-Improved Marsten Drive had been released to the public domain, Tozama ordered it implemented throughout his fleet... noting with bitterness that its source was again that same ship, Aurora.
Tozama directed Saito to keep a close eye on that antique cruiser, to keep his emperor always apprised of its location and doings, to learn everything possible about its crew. A time would come for making examples.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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