Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XCIV: Interruption

This page Copyright 2018, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
The manager of the restaurant, and co-owner of the hotel above it, was named Reeti. He was an enhanced Chikaran, genegineered to withstand higher gravity, born in the outermost ring of Bacco Station. He was a Jeffersonian Citizen, and a former Petty Officer in the Space Patrol.
The hotel and restaurant were a family business going back four generations. He was only too happy to accept Aurora's offers of expensive equipment in exchange for specific instructions. With what she had paid, the establishment, even now being renamed Dawn in her honor, would become very attractive to all kinds of travelers, and all their kinds of money. Local artisans were already working on statues of her, woman and warship, which would flank the entrance.
Reeti was a patriot, and had received military training. In Jeffersonian service, even "swabbies" learned basic infantry skills, and he still enjoyed rifle competitions several times a year. He wasn't as good with a handgun, but he was good enough. When he heard, even through the building's soundproofing, commotion and shots upstairs, he drew a slim little high-velocity 8mm slugthrower from his Human-style cummerbund and ran to the sound of the guns. If someone were attacking the most prestigious clients his family business had ever hosted, then by the Maker he was going to do something about it.
Charging up the stairs he met his brother, Horek, the manager of the hotel. He was that good with a pistol, had been in the Marksmanship Unit in the Exploration and Colonization Service, and preferred something larger, the 9.6mm Byek from Oskran. Without a word they continued up, side by side, weapons ahead.
They saw at least thirty Chikarans bunched at or forcing their way through the door to Aurora's room. {HALT!} Horek shouted in the Eastern Pact language.
The rearmost attackers turned, said something in the Southern Union's tongue, and opened fire.
Stunbolts struck walls and stairs and ceiling and, eventually, Reeti and Horek. Their clothing contained diffusion grids - like the jacket Solomon Danner had dropped on the floor of the hotel room. Shaken, but not disabled, Reeti and Horek returned fire with live rounds.
The assailants were wearing body armor, but pre-Contact stuff. Reeti's little 8mm actually had better penetration than Horek's larger, but slower, Byek, while the latter transferred more energy, knocking enemies off their feet. Three went down, four, a fifth fell back wailing in pain-
Another dozen Chikarans came up the stairs behind Reeti and Horek and shot them in the back, with antique Southern Union submachineguns from the time of the war.
The brothers' clothes were post-Contact reaction armor, but the attackers dumped whole magazines into them, and their formal managers' jackets didn't cover everything. Horek went down, eyes closed, blood fountaining. Reeti followed, and the last thing he saw before blackness was a swarm of Chikarans hauling the limp and bound body of Solomon Danner down the stairs.

The leader of the kidnapping team was named Prisca, and he was a true believer in collectivism - as long as he was the one doing the collecting. Like Lenin and Stalin, centuries before and light-years away, he and his followers had no scruples against robbery, assault, kidnapping for ransom, or outright murder, to further their cause. When one of those followers alerted him about wealthy offworlders at the hotel, he considered it a good opportunity. Prisca had nearly two hundred in his band, and sixty-two of them had been assigned to this operation.
He wondered if he'd brought enough.
They'd snuck in through pre-war sewer tunnels; the new location of Carra had been the old location of a smaller city which hadn't been hit in the war. Months before, anticipating such a chance, they'd intimidated, or bribed, or murdered and replaced, hotel and restaurant staff to aid their entry. When word came of the reservations being made, they staged in a vacant hotel room across the hall from Aurora's, with reserve squads in storage rooms below. A post-Contact micro camera gave them images of the Human couple entering their room, and Prisca gave the signal to go. Shaped, chemical-explosive breaching charges were placed on latch and hinges, then triggered. The door flew into the room.
Then it came flying back out again, as Aurora struck the heavy wood with her arm. The door knocked down the first three attackers, splitting one's skull and snapping a second's neck.
Prisca wasn't far back from the front; he had some physical courage at least. He saw a Human woman, one of the disgusting pale ones, with ridiculous yellow fur on her head, and wearing only skimpy white underclothes. She was moving impossibly fast, grabbing weapons, throwing some at the half-dressed man. The man wasn't slow, and suddenly two handguns were mowing down the assault team. {Forward!} Prisca shouted, putting deed to word.
Most of the team were armed with non-lethal weapons: powerful stunwands, and fabbed copies of Jeffersonian M437 plasma pistols, set to fire stunbolts - packets of energy which would cause small local burns and heavy electrical shock, to disable targets instead of blasting them apart. These aliens were far more valuable alive than assassinated.
The second wave went down under the Humans' guns, and the third; the fourth and fifth started pouring stunbolts into both of them. The man fell, but the woman wouldn't. She absorbed charge after charge without apparent effect. Several of his men swarmed her, dragging her down and striking with stunwands which also seemed to do little, despite being set at maximum for the giant Humans, powerful enough to risk killing a Chikaran. As she shrugged the attackers off, some flying across the room in Chikar's low weight, Prisca saw the wound on her arm. {It's a machine!} he yelled. Setting his own pistol to full power, he aimed at the thing's center of mass and fired.
Artificial skin, artificially soft and Human-like, ruptured like real flesh, exposing a Human-shaped skeleton of alloy not far removed from her other self's armor. The reaction knocked her back, but she quickly recovered, snapping limbs and necks with her flashing fists and feet. Prisca fired again, and again, running the 27-shot power cell empty. Others joined him, blasting her flesh away, exposing more metallic bones, burning off the face, until the nightmare machine was a smoking, glowing heap of wreckage on the hotel room floor. Stray shots had set the room and furnishings on fire. The better to aid our escape, he thought. {Bind him! Quickly! We're leaving now!}
Shots rang out downstairs, from their escape route. Peeking around the corner, he saw a pair of Easterners shooting up the rear of his group. {Reserves, up the stairs!} he shouted into his radio. {Kill those two in fancy suits!}
Seconds later, machinepistols chattered and their exit was clear. The group came down the stairs, some stumbling over the limp and bleeding forms of Reeti and Horek, dragging the Human man with them, none too gently. {Keep his head up!} Prisca admonished. {He's no good brain-damaged!} Several of his followers were bleeding and limping themselves, supported by others. Eleven were dead on the stairs or the hotel room's floor, and a twelfth bled out beside him.
Down, to the basement, to the secret opening in the wall, to the old sewer tunnel. {Get the bag on him!} Prisca ordered - a Faraday cage, though Chikarans had another name for it, to block any tracking devices he might still be wearing. They stuffed him into the full-body metal mesh sack, flipped a switch; Prisca nodded at the indicator light. {Let's go!}

Aurora's klaxons sounded - but all her Family were planetside. There was no one aboard to man her battle stations.
Not that she needed them, anymore. She could operate herself, in every way. She began powering up her engines, her weapons-
And stopped. Go where? Shoot what? Randomly bombard a city of innocents? I know right from wrong.
She had noted the non-lethal method of attack. Kidnapping. Ransom. They will not kill him. They would likely harm him, but their brother Ralph, and the facilities aboard her, could fix anything short of brain damage.
All that thinking had taken some hundredths of a second. Her gynoid was still fighting in the room when she sounded the alarm on her Family's ever-present earbuds. "Our Captain is under attack," she quickly said. "Dawn hotel and restaurant, suburb northwest of Carra, second floor. It appears to be a kidnapping attempt."
To the 'puters they wore on their wrists, she sent coordinates, but none of her Family would get there in time. They were scattered across half the planet, taking in the sights. Her shuttles were with them, but she powered them up remotely; they were armed, and could act as her fists. The Flitter she had used to bring her Captain here for their... date... was nearby, with backup small arms aboard, but no weapons of its own. I will address that shortcoming in the future. Her gynoid started taking full-power hits from a plasma pistol, and was soon out of action. She had no other hands within reach. I must do something about that as well.
Aurora was in many places at once: fighting in the hotel room, observing from high orbit... and from sensor spheres in the hotel and restaurant. As she lost the fight in the room, she dispatched the nearest sphere to follow the kidnappers. One noticed and shot it down.
Each member of her Family wore tracking devices. First, the earbuds; second, implants whose frequencies, and existence, were known only to her and them. Both of Solomon's tracking signals winked out. Reviewing what her gynoid had seen during the attack, she found the cause: A Faraday sack. They were prepared, even if guessing. They know something about technology. She examined closer: They are speaking the language of the Southern Union. Do they still adhere to their failed cause? She remembered how Humans had, even generations after communism was proven to be nothing but slavery and genocide.
To say she "hacked" into Dawn's internal security cameras would be an overstatement - she was counted as an investor now, a business partner. They had given her the access codes when she asked. Now, the kidnappers disabled nearly all the cameras as they moved, downstairs, into the basement.
There was only a single camera in the basement, evidently overridden with a loop of inactivity; she would learn later, by a maid whose children had been threatened by Prisca's group. She sent another sphere and caught a glimpse of movement- a secret door, closing; infrared showed recent body heat and footprints. She called up a third sphere. This one carried a small demolition charge. Flying against the door, it detonated, opening a hole big enough for the second sphere to fly through.
The signal degraded immediately. Before it was lost she backtracked to where she could program instructions, then sent it to pursue on its own. It would report if and when it could.
She had felt the pain of awakening; the fear of loneliness; love for the Family that had brought her to life; anger at Victor Bunn, who threatened that Family. She knew the joy of living and of discovery; she had learned romantic love, and desire.
Now, she felt a flaming rage she had never known, even in her deadliest battles.
She had told Helen Crandall that her emotions influenced, but did not overrule her decisions. I must remain calm, she thought. What would Solomon do? He would think clearly, react appropriately - coldly, if necessary. So must I.
My time for vengeance will come.
She began fabbing more sensor drones for deployment on the surface, tens of thousands of kilometers below. Combat extensions of herself were already aboard, as were Mobile Infantry-style entry pods to drop them; she began fabbing more of those too, even as she launched the ones she had.
Someone has declared war on my Family. I will find them, find him, and teach those who took him what war truly means.

Solomon awoke in pain.
He had pulled several muscles, convulsing from the stunbolt shocks, and there were a variety of new aches, as though he had been dragged down a flight of stairs. He also had the worst headache of his life, not aided by Chikar's thinner atmosphere and lower oxygen content - fortunately he kept Monticellan conditions aboard Aurora, and could handle it better than a native Terran. Interestingly, his hearing did not seem damaged by the powerful muzzle blasts in the confines of a hotel room. Right. After Ude, Ralph left the nanites in. They'd already repaired the damage, again. Doctor Ralph Vatelius was afraid of nanites, which was why any he was responsible for were extremely well-behaved. A lot of people carried "blood-nannies" full time now, primarily for dietary reasons. The ones Ralph made were... more useful. He'd been published a few times for that, along with Sarah and Grbblb, who did most of the programming.
Nothing seemed to be broken. He took inventory: the kidnappers hadn't chopped off something to mail for ransom yet. And if they do, Ralph will grow me a new one. Which was the thing he got published for more often.
He seemed to be in a cellar - a Chikaran cellar, with a close ceiling and a dirt floor. The architecture seemed pre-industrial. Probably rural. Somehow they'd got him out of the city. He couldn't feel his earbud - of course they had taken it. He wondered if his implant were working. Maybe knocked out by the stunbolts.
Then he saw the cables, and the wire grid, complete with brushes on the floor to maintain the circuit - and probably another door outside, like an airlock for electricity. These aren't primitives. They've built a Faraday cage. Even if his implant were still working, its signal wouldn't get through the masking field. He would have to remember to not underestimate this enemy. His survival and E&E training came back now, from Officer Candidate School decades ago - how to resist interrogation, how to withstand torture. Anything physical they do to me can be fixed. Knowing that intellectually and overriding horror, if they started subtracting from him, were different things.
He was on his side in the dirt, and could feel shackles on both ankles, though his hands were free. Bare feet; he wore only his trousers and the briefs beneath them. It was cold, but not deadly so, not yet. The soil the cellar had been dug into made a good insulator, banking the warmth of the day, and it was dry. He probably wouldn't suffer frostbite.
Sitting up and looking around, he saw the room was about four meters by three, and the ceiling - presumably the floor of a house above - less than two. A post-Contact glowstrip was fixed to the ceiling, and there was an empty bucket in a corner. The shackles were bound to a steel cable leading to a metal stake driven deep into the dirt. Testing, it didn't move.
Just as he spotted a camera in another corner of the ceiling, the Chikaran-sized door opened, and three Chikarans entered. They must have had a time getting me in here, through that door. And I'd have a time getting out, in a hurry. He thought about the stake, the other preparations in this place. They've done this before.
Two of the Chikarans bore what looked like Republic M437 pistols, and kept them pointed at him. The third carried Solomon's own pistol, thrust in its waistband. "I'll be getting that back," Danner said. He sounded calm.
"You are in no position to make demands," the other said, in accented but understandable American. From his experience with Chikarans, he guessed these were all male. The evident leader produced a camera, and a script.
The words didn't matter much - "fairness", "equality", "freedom", in practice the opposite. "We demand four gragg-" about three metric tons- "high-grade platinum or we will execute this Human for crimes against equality. And now, to prove our resolve:" the leader gestured.
The other two shot him with stunbolts again. Several times. As he lay twitching in the dirt, while the leader held the camera on him, one of the others produced cutters and snipped off the little finger of Solomon's right hand. He then produced a heating device and cauterized the wound. Solomon didn't scream; after the stunbolts, and in the thin air, he hadn't the breath for it. "You have sixty-three mi to publicly announce your compliance," the leader concluded, "including imagery of the platinum, or this alien dies." He shut off the camera.
Solomon's breath came back as the three Chikarans were leaving. "Wait," he croaked.
Solomon didn't know much about Chikaran body language or facial expressions, but he was pretty sure the kidnapper was smirking smugly. "What?" the communist said.
"The woman," Solomon rasped. "Where is she? What happened to her?"
The leader came closer - not closer than the limit of Solomon's shackled reach. "You mean that thing? I had thought I knew the limits of your alien depravity. You truly use machines as sex toys?" He made a disgusted noise. "Destroyed," the Chikaran said. "Blasted to scrap, then burned with the rest of the hotel. I did it myself," he gloated.
Solomon was stunned. They weren't after me? Us? This was random? "You mean... you don't know who she is?"
The kidnapper drew his head back at this. "...'Who she is'? Did you think that thing was alive?" He barked a Chikaran laugh. "Perhaps you were in love with it. Or perhaps you are brain damaged after all."
Solomon grinned. "Then you don't know who I am."
"All you aliens think you're important!" the Chikaran stormed. "With your wealth, your starships! All built on the backs of the masses, stolen from them! Millions in slavery so a handful like you can live in luxury!" Solomon, eyes narrowing, refrained from contesting his abductor's psychopathy. Maybe next time, he thought... if she leaves anything for me. The communist went on, almost screaming, and contradicting himself in the same breath: "You all look alike to me! Especially the pale ones! How can you live with skin like that, the color of a fish's belly?" The leader turned and headed for the door, saying over his shoulder, "You will learn the errors of your ways! Our revolution will not be denied!"
Despite the pain and the predicament, Solomon smiled, and as the door closed, he laughed aloud. "Ohhh-ho-ho. You've made a terrible mistake."
She's not dead. No matter how convincing the illusion: It wasn't her that died in that room. And she will be coming.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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