Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XCV: Terror

This page Copyright 2018, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
26 Fifthmonth 569JR
8 July 2365CE
Chikar

Twenty-one mi was about twenty-five Human hours - one Chikaran day. Chikaran culture divided the day into three parts of seven mi each, the first for waking and working, the second for home life, and the last for sleep. Prisca had given three local days for his demands to be met.
The video was released on the Chikaran Net at 1:6:0 local time - just before the end of the work cycle, and just in time for the evening news. Planetary media picked it up and sensationalized it. Someone leaked what little security video had been recorded before the kidnappers destroyed the cameras. Solomon and Aurora were seen holding hands at the restaurant table, and media muckrakers speculated wildly on that... and for once, like a broken clock being right twice a day (thrice in the Chikaran proverb), they were largely correct.

The Chikaran Triumvirate were between outrage and humiliation. They pledged the full resources of their government to the search and rescue of Solomon Danner... but there was a catch, demonstrated years before by Danner himself, at the Battle of Adda: "We cannot negotiate with or pay ransom to terrorists," Gorak told Aurora.
"I know. I ask that you say as much, publicly. I, on the other hand, can act outside your authority, and offer the ransom myself." At the Triumvirate's expressions, Aurora's hologram showed none of her own.
Aurora, again in several places at once, sent a sphere to a news studio to be interviewed. From the sphere she projected her Human hologram, as she had before the creation of her gynoid. When asked, she explained, "My mind remains in my ship. The woman was not myself, but an extension, remotely controlled-" she blinked her hologram off- "like this small device." Resuming the hologram, she continued, her intangible face now showing fear: "The government of Chikar and of the Republic cannot and will not pay ransom, but I can. I am working to assemble the demanded amount. More than half has already been acquired. I beg for the safe return of my Captain, without further harm."

Useful images of the kidnappers were found, compared to criminal databases; the leader was identified as Prisca, a great-descendant of what had been the upper echelons of the Southern Pact's leadership before and during the war. Like all communists, he was a hypocrite: preaching equality, demanding hereditary rule. He'd been making trouble for years, had been labor-imprisoned for theft but never quite convicted of capital crimes; his life was forfeit now, as were his followers', for at least two of the Big Nine crimes.
Dawn had burned, but standard fire-suppression systems had saved most of it, as did two of Carra's four competing firefighting services, to which Dawn had paid the necessary subscriptions; the services cooperated for duplicate subscribers, and their equipment was standardized. The Chikaran branch of the Republic Investigators Corps was digging in for forensic evidence but with the kidnappers identified it was kind of moot. Witnesses gave little more than the cameras had. Of more importance was trying to find where Danner had been taken. Essentially nothing of that could be learned from the ransom video. The sphere Aurora had sent through the secret door had also been shot down shortly after reaching the sewer. Drainage from rainfall had washed away any hope of tracking them through the tunnels, but teams, and more of Aurora's spheres, were searching nonetheless, at every branching and exit.
Reeti was in intensive care at Carra General Hospital, with twenty-odd bullets in his back. His brother Horek was dead, as were five other members of Dawn's staff, from the firefight; and at least three more from earlier, to make room for Prisca's substitutes, who had now fled and disappeared. Several more staff and some guests had been wounded, and a guest had also been killed. Security video showed the brothers charging to the defense of their customers, and media were praising them, while priests of the Maker prayed on their backwards knees for Reeti's recovery. A commentator had made a comparison to the passenger liner Morning Flower, a quarter of a Republic century ago, and the mysterious ship's officer who had stopped the takeover but had never been identified. The brothers were to receive the Legion of Valor, the non-military equivalent of the Bronze Star.

Humanoid extensions of Aurora were landing across Chikar, with swarms of her white 15cm sensor spheres - and other drones, disguised as local birds, as she had done at Ude. Aurora remained in synchronous orbit over Carra, coordinating through the same Marsten Device link she had established for her date. Her extensions had powerful computers of their own, and while not sentient by themselves, could handle most situations without waiting for instructions from her central mind. These extensions wore plain metal or composites, and were obviously not organic- but their design was the same she had based her gynoid upon, with superhuman strength, speed, and senses. Unfortunately she had only a dozen aboard, to search an entire world. She was fabbing more as fast as she could, cutting many a cosmetic corner, but that would take time her Captain did not have.
A replacement for her gynoid was at the bottom of her list. The only reason for its existence was missing and in danger.
Her spheres and similar drones she kept stockpiled in dozens; nearly two hundred were now on the surface, hitching rides in her own shuttles and Flitters and FlyCycles, faster than they could move themselves. It was difficult for non-Chikarans to tell one Chikaran from another, or even to tell male from female. Aurora didn't have that problem, with artificial facial-recognition ability. As she had at Ude, she flew her hovering eyes to the very edge of Jeffersonian privacy laws, hunting almost randomly for a match with any of the faces seen in Dawn's security videos, through her own gynoid's eyes during the fight, and known associates in IC databases. Prrg, Holly and Grbblb were standing by in their power-armor with Three Boat, ready for rapid suborbital deployment anywhere on the planet. Sarah would pilot that shuttle, not Aurora; after the Landing on Danforth, Aurora had run simulations, and found there were still some things an organic mind could do better than even the best computer.
Chikar was a Member World of the Jeffersonian Republic, with all the protections of the Republic's Constitution. There was no great surveillance apparatus here, no streetlight cameras, no spy satellites, and of course no central tracking system for traffic. Thus, there was no telling where the attackers had emerged from the sewer, whether a particular vehicle had picked up Danner and the kidnappers, or where it might have gone.
Solomon would call even his own death a price worth paying, to restrain government and preserve liberty. It is my own rights as an individual he swore his oath to defend - as I did. I must remember that as I search for him. His disappointment in her would be as painful a wound as his death.

Biographies of Captain Solomon Danner, Jeffersonian Republic Navy Reserve, Legion of Honor, Bronze Star, Crimson Band, Knight of Illyria, Ambassador to and Governor of Ude, slayer of pirates, liberator of slaves, avenger of genocide, The Man Who Saved Rockville, began running on Chikaran media. Warriors of the Dawn hit the Net in its entirety, with biographies of the rest of the crew. Aurora's interview with Helen Crandall on Enric, and her testimony in the trial of Bunn and Burgundy at Nuovo Venezia, followed. Aurora's own sphere-video of Danner boarding Gunship Number Six on Ude was publicized, showing him fighting and killing with pistol and sword - and it was pointed out how many Chikarans were needed to abduct him, and how many died in the attempt.
Prisca, waiting for news in the pre-war farmhouse above Danner's prison, was first overjoyed that he had caught a true celebrity after all - surely even the greedy profiteers of the Pact would pay! -Then, watching Danner in action, he ordered the man bound hand and foot at all times, and tripled the guard on the cellar.
Prisca became confused as the reports turned to descriptions of Aurora, and Aurora, and when a Human woman who looked exactly like the machine he had destroyed in the hotel appeared on screens and in holotanks. Doing his own Net research he found a fantastic tale of a computer, a ship, that had somehow come to life.
His followers followed the same reports, and began expressing doubts. His most trusted subordinate, Lomta, struggled to keep them in line. One loudly expressed disillusionment and made to leave. Lomta grabbed that one's shoulder, spun him around to face him, and plunged a knife into the dissenter's heart. {Traitor,} Lomta hissed as the other died. Brandishing the dripping blade he rounded on the others. {How dare you question our leader? Our cause? The Union will rise again!}
Turning back to Prisca, Lomta asked quietly, {Should we move him?}
{No,} the leader answered. Gesturing at the screen showing the 'pedia entry for Aurora, he said, {This... thing... is not to be underestimated, and neither is Danner. Moving him would risk discovery and escape both. We stay here.}

Technically, Prrg was now Aurora's commanding officer... but felt no particular need to dissuade his thirty-one-thousand-ton sister-of-mass-destruction from her path; and the ship had not activated under government authority. Instead he became her executive officer, coordinating and facilitating her efforts with the rest of the Family and with Chikaran assets. He arranged for Chikaran-based fabbers to take over production of her robot extensions and sensor drones, and for more raw materials to be delivered for her own. Significant rewards of hard metal were offered, from Aurora's personal accounts, for information-leading-to.
All her Family joined the hunt, each contributing their special skills. Jack Epstein and Daisuke Taniyama were expert organizers and logisticians, keeping information and supplies flowing. Trllbl and Hlossh helped Jenny keep fabbers running planetside and aboard, and helped Aurora simplify her extensions' designs for faster production. Ralph and Delilah began growing a replacement for Solomon's finger, and, to increase cooperation from the Chikaran people, helped plan a Marsten-Vatelius-Blain facility, not far from Dawn. There was not yet a method of regeneration for Chikarans, unlike most other Common Life, but Ralph's breakthrough with Glaut regen had led to the very edge of a breakthrough for Chikaran. Even Clancy contributed, hitting the talk-show circuit and relating tale after colorful tale of his Captain's and Family's adventures, explaining the history of Terran attempts at communism, raising sympathy for Danner and hatred toward his kidnappers.

Thirty mi after the release of the video, Aurora had assembled the four gragg of platinum - half from her own vaults, the rest by transferring credit from offworld accounts for local metal. She publicized images of the result and her hologram said, "The ransom is ready. Please, contact me at once for the exchange, and prepare to release my Captain."
The response came in less than two Human hours, in a short video showing Solomon bound and chained, but eyes still flashing as Prisca said: "The platinum is to be delivered to the following coordinates." Numbers were read, and Aurora quickly displayed them on a projection of Chikar's globe: far out to sea. "Secure the platinum in a Number Five shipping container and drop it. Ensure the container is perforated so that it sinks. You have one-half mi to make the drop." Aurora projected a holographic countdown, in both Chikaran and Human time. "If the deadline is not met, if the payment is not correct, if any attempt is made to track or follow the payment, the alien dies... slowly. If all these conditions are met, we will tell you where to find him." Prisca didn't say when, or in what condition.
"A submarine," Prrg rumbled to his sister's hologram. The crew were still on the surface, gathered at Dawn's hotel lobby, prepared for whatever their roles might be. Outside, the platinum bars were stacked on pallets in Three Boat's cargo bay, guarded by four of Aurora's Humanoid extensions, one her own, three produced to a simplified design from local fabbers. Cut-down M437 plasma pistols were mounted to their arms.
"Yes," she answered, "and not enough time to place assets or prepare for interception, without being noticed."
"They have centuries of kidnapping experience to draw upon," Ralph added. "Including Human. We even put instructions in our entertainment programs."
Jack Epstein said, "There's a place right across town with empty containers." Of course the cargomaster would know that, would have learned it minutes after exiting hyperspace. He was already tapping his wrist-'puter to contact the dealer. Sarah powered up Three Boat to fly there, while Hlossh, Grbblb and Trllbl prepared to transfer the metal and also prepared the shuttle's cargo bay for the drop.
In minutes a container had been purchased, and the dealer and her employees enthusiastically shot holes in it with their sidearms, careful to not make any large enough for the bars to fall through. When Three Boat arrived, lifters at the container yard shifted the pallets into the container, then Epstein and the Engineer's Mates secured everything as best they could.
The container yard had a fabber. Most places of business did. Aurora, quickly paying a day's price for a few minutes' time, took it over.
With all preparations made, Sarah piloted Three Boat to a hypersonic suborbital hop, breaking a few windows and a few local traffic laws - for which only token fines would be levied, if any. The whole planet was watching, and petty law enforcement would be answered with mobs and nooses, as the Founders intended. Reaching the coordinates, Sarah brought the shuttle to a hover, the aft cargo door opened, she nosed the craft up, and the container slid into the sea. In seconds it had filled with water and disappeared. Sarah turned away and piloted the shuttle back to Carra.

The submarine was of post-Contact construction, used for underwater industry, not least mining. It had a wet/dry cargo bay and a number of manipulators and tools. It was a little older than Solomon Danner and not the cleanest or safest ship in Chikar's waters. It had been stolen years ago by Prisca's band, and used for smuggling, mostly of people and weapons - not that the things themselves were prohibited under Republic law, but their intents were. Its crew of twelve were all Southern Unionists, and loyal followers of Prisca.
The coordinates were for an undersea plateau - the submarine's captain didn't trust his vessel in deep water. Even at a mere 80 meters depth, the hull groaned alarmingly as it approached the sunken container. The Number Five had been chosen for its dimensions, two by two by five meters, with attachment points on all sides. No matter how the container struck the bottom it would be easy for the submarine to grapple and hoist; no matter how the cargo shifted inside, it would not be enough to throw the carrying vessel off balance. The crew brought the container up, through the cargo lock; the sea was replaced by air; the container opened... three metric tons of platinum beheld.
Half a mi after the drop and several kilometers away, the submarine's captain came to communication depth, raised an antenna, and sent a burst signal to Prisca.

"Congratulations," Prisca said to Danner. "Your ransom has been paid. Perhaps that mechanical abomination loves you too."
"Yes," he answered, outwardly calm. "She does."
They hadn't talked since Danner's arrival and the loss of his finger. They hadn't sent it anywhere as proof; they just wanted to inflict pain, to prove they could. They'd dropped the appendage in the cellar's dirt, just beyond reach of the shackles. He'd been fed bread and water, twice; the waste bucket had not been emptied, but in the cold it didn't smell much.
Solomon and Prisca stared at each other. If he kills me, Danner thought, no one will ever pay ransom to him again. Even someone delusional enough to believe in communism should know that.
Prisca drew Solomon's own pistol from his waistband and shot him in the chest.
It was another stunbolt, and Solomon convulsed, again, in agony. I guess there's no building a tolerance for these things, he thought. At least he'd managed to clench his jaw and avoid biting his tongue this time.
Prisca pulled obviously weighted gloves from a back pocket and put them on.
Solomon, shackled to the cellar floor and chained hand and foot, prepared himself.
"Now," Prisca said, "you will pay for your crimes."
Pointing out how imaginary those crimes were would have been a waste of breath, and Solomon knew he would need every bit of the thin Chikaran air.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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