Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XCVII: Wrath

This page Copyright 2019, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
30 Fifthmonth 569JR
13 July 2365CE
Ulav, Southern Continent, Chikar

It was dark when the submarine surfaced before entering the bay - no one was officially looking for it - then docked at a dingy pier in the rougher part of town. Aurora's many eyes watched as she tied up, as crew and passengers exited, as some cargo - the platinum, judging by the weight, and the guards - was offloaded.
Aurora had acquired complete schematics for the submarine. Like the pirate starships they'd fought and boarded, there had doubtless been modifications, but she and her Family were now experienced warriors. They would adapt.
The Chikaran standing atop the submarine's conning tower, shouting orders as the ship docked, must be its captain; these beings here, moving with purpose, would be its crew; those there, dressed and behaving differently, would be Prisca's gang of kidnappers and murderers. Aurora wondered, aloud to her Family in war council, how innocent the crew and captain might be. Prrg observed: "The submarine was stolen, perhaps by that very captain and crew, and they cannot be unaware of their own activities. We have no reason to not engage them."
"On t'other hand," Holly Cates added, "we still don't know the cap'n's aboard." As action approached, so did her New Texas drawl.
"Yes," Aurora said. "We need to be sure."
She sent a bird-drone nearer, to eavesdrop; its spread wings acted as directional microphones. Her translation software worked well, and she could understand all they were saying. She heard them laughing over the tale of Prisca beating her Captain. Her circuits, still tens of thousands of kilometers above in synchronous orbit, trembled with rage. Calm, she reminded herself. Like him. For him.
As the docking was being completed, Prisca himself appeared on deck, shouting orders of his own, supervising Chikarans carrying small crates which were still heavy even in Chikar's light gravity. Through the bird-drone, Aurora saw an object thrust into Prisca's waistband. Zooming in, enhancing imagery, she identified her Captain's own pistol, by the pattern of wear on the grip - as she had done from the third ransom video, when Prisca revealed himself. Sharing the image with her Family, she stated, "This is still not enough. If we attack without knowing he is aboard, or where, we risk losing him." Her spheres, each carrying a weapon of some kind, needlers or pulse-lasers, waited nearby, out of sight of the enemy.
Prisca stood on the deck, looking around... and his eyes stuck on the bird-drone, wings spread, which Aurora was using to watch him. He stared.
Aurora commanded the drone to fold its wings and fly away, while another, from a different angle, took over the surveillance.
Prisca watched the drone leaving, then turned his round head in all directions, searching... finding the second imitation bird. Aurora ordered that one to depart as well, but it was too late. {Something's wrong,} she heard Prisca say, before the second drone folded its wings.
Quickly searching the Chikaran Net, she realized her error. The kind of bird she had used as a pattern to camouflage her drones was not native to this area, and was never active at night.

Prisca basked in the warmth of success. Even if the Eastern profiteers and their alien masters didn't pay more ransom every kimei, even if that giant alien died from his beatings, this was the biggest score Prisca had ever made. He'd be able to live like a king for years.
Three groundtrucks awaited The Evener's return. It would take some time to transfer the platinum to the trucks, and then the Human would have to be moved as well, to another safehouse further inland, among a population friendlier to the Eveners' cause. Coming up on deck, Prisca shouted orders to his men, hurrying them in the transfer of the loot.
He had been told of Jikel's visit to the alien. Prisca didn't fully trust the submarine's captain; he seemed uncomfortable with the things that must be done for the cause. Reviewing the video, he saw nothing suspicious, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Jikel denigrating the alien. Perhaps he is one of us after all.
Ulav was at a tropical latitude; The Evener had crossed Chikar's equator, leaving Carra's autumn weather behind. It was a warm, clear night. Prisca breathed in the clean sea air- flavored with the typical coastal scents- and looked around him as the unloading continued. The lights of Ulav; the stars above... That thing in orbit, searching, he remembered. We can't stay too long.
He shouted a few more orders, then looked around again. His eyes were caught by a bird, perched on a warehouse rooftop, wings spread... standing too still.
It was a parna bird, with the distinctive blue stripes on its wings. They were native to the Eastern Continent and not the Southern... and they were never seen at night.
As he watched, the bird folded its wings and flew away. He watched it go, and felt a tingling on the back of his neck. Looking around again, deliberately this time, he spotted another. {Something's wrong,} he said aloud, moments before that bird also departed. {You in the trucks!} he shouted. {Go now!} Turning, he shouted up at Jikel in his conning tower. {We're being watched! Let's get out of here!}

Jikel took some comfort in the familiar routine of docking a vessel: the music of the side thrusters, the dance of the crew securing the lines. Most of his crew had served with him before, or were vouched for by those who had; they didn't need browbeating or handholding to do their jobs. Dohaj had been assigned to him by Prisca - a political officer, obviously, though he seemed not entirely ignorant of the operation of a ship. Jikel gathered, from talk, that Dohaj had been responsible for stealing the submarine, by virtue of being part of its previous crew, but not quite competent enough to command it effectively - hence Prisca's recruitment of Jikel, an experienced sailor on Chikar's seas.
Comfort, Jikel found in routine... but things were about to change. He had already taken a step, irrevocable, and which if discovered would cost his life.
Jikel couldn't be part of this anymore.
Suddenly Prisca started shouting, something about being watched, and that they had to leave. Thinking fast - and having researched Aurora himself - he guessed the self-aware warship had found them, and that violence was imminent. He stalled, feigning confusion and misunderstanding: {Are you sure?} he asked. {We just got here, we need supplies, the crew needs rest-}
Prisca yelled in response, {Now, now! Cast off and get underway!} The communist charged back down the ramp, from the dock to the low-lying submarine's deck. The trucks, to which the platinum was being transferred, were already moving.
{What about- our guest?} Jikel shouted down to him... hoping that someone was listening. {You were going to move him off my ship!}
{No time!} Prisca answered. {Get moving now!}
Jikel began giving the traditional orders to gather in the mooring lines. {No, no! Cut the lines!} Prisca shouted. {They could be here at any moment!} The communist drew the pistol he had taken from the alien, aimed at the nearest hawser, and fired. He missed, and the plasma bolt blasted a crater from the concrete dock.
{Stop, you fool!} Jikel demanded. {If we don't do it right you could wreck the ship against the dock!}
Prisca turned the stolen weapon on Jikel, screaming, {Get us moving this instant or I'll kill you!}
Jikel didn't need to feign terror as he ducked below the conning tower's coaming, then down the hatch, closing it after him.
Descending the ladder and turning from it, he found himself face-to-face with Dohaj. The communist drew a knife and asked, "Is something wrong with our leader's orders, captain?"

From the storage compartment, Solomon couldn't see or hear much of what was going on aboard the submarine - but he had figured out that much at least, since it was a post-Contact ship and obviously being operated with Human procedures. The commands over the intercom were in American, the interstellar language of transport in Republic-dominated space.
His left arm hurt... less. Ralph, what did you put in me? Solomon guessed the nanites in his bloodstream had been programmed to repair more than his hearing. Danner had managed to set his own broken fingers, three of them, and those were feeling better too. Likewise his concussion seemed to be gone, and the ache in his ribs had lessened. I'm going to have a talk with that doctor.
If I live that long.
The Chikaran who came to visit him was one he hadn't seen before; naturally he had been hooded for transfer from the aircar to the submarine. But Solomon recognized a fellow captain just by the way he carried himself, even across the species barrier. I guess not all captains are my brothers, Solomon thought, as the Chikaran taunted him.
Then Solomon changed his mind, as the other captain reached for his face, his two-thumbed hand moving just slowly enough for Solomon to see the object he held. The Chikaran slipped the thing into the Human's mouth, while feigning rough handling. Then the diminutive captain left.
Solomon waited. He knew there was a camera in the storage compartment, and from the other captain's movements, was now pretty sure where it was.
The kidnappers had made another terrible mistake. They had bound Solomon Danner's hands in front of him instead of behind.
Rolling away from where he guessed the camera to be, he spat out the key to his shackles.

"Let me out!" the guards outside heard from within. "I need air! I can't take it anymore! Let me out let me out!" This was accompanied by kicking at the hatch.
The guards could hear the shouting abovedecks and were getting the idea that something was wrong. Looking at each other, the senior told the junior to {Stun him again. I'll cover you.}
The junior guard opened the hatch while the senior stepped back and raised his weapon.
The giant alien could not be seen.
The kidnappers had made yet another mistake. They had not emptied the storage compartment before using it as Danner's prison. From behind a crate, Solomon rose, swung a spare pump shaft, and crushed the junior guard's skull.
His wounds screamed at the exertion, but the pleasure overrode the pain.
The senior guard, shrieking, began spraying the compartment with stunbolts, as Danner stepped back out of the line of fire. Then the guard thought to switch the copied Human pistol to full power. Plasma bolts cracked like lightning and Solomon lost his hearing again, as parts and supplies shattered and burned. Reaching, he grabbed the junior guard's corpse and dragged it to him. In his dying reflex, the communist kidnapper had a death-grip on his own pistol. In a few moments the senior guard ran his pistol empty and despite the shock to his ears, Danner could hear him struggling to reload.
Solomon stepped around the bulkhead, looming over the guard, who looked up and froze in terror. Taking careful aim, Danner shot the Chikaran in the face with a full-power plasma bolt.

Danner exited his cell and retrieved the other guard's pistol, and spare power cells from both corpses, slipping them into his trouser pockets. The first pistol he left at full power, the second he set for stunbolts and carried in his left hand. Looking one way, then the other, contemplating what he knew of how ships of all kinds were built, he chose a direction and moved.
As he encountered Chikarans, those he could identify as crew he shot with the less-lethal pistol in his left hand; those who he thought were his kidnappers he killed with his right. One of them happened to be Lomta, not that Danner knew or much cared. Another was probably the one who had removed Danner's finger.
The compartment he'd been kept in was near the bow; guessing correctly, he moved aft, and soon found the control room, directly below the conning tower, with a ladder leading up. The submarine had been designed and built for Human dimensions, then adapted to Chikaran use.
As he entered the control room he saw two Chikarans struggling, one with a knife in his hand. The other was the captain who had given Danner the means to escape.
Solomon knew which one to shoot in the back. With his right hand.
Flash-heated bodily fluids burst everywhere. Energy weapons made messy deaths. The captain stood stunned, covered in what had a moment before been his executive officer and attempted murderer.
"Jump and swim," Solomon growled, "and I'll let you."
Jikel nodded once and, open-mouthed, turned back to the ladder. Then he paused, turned back to Danner, and said, "Prisca's up there. With a gun." Then he turned a third time and continued up the ladder. A moment later Danner heard footsteps on the hull, then a splash.
"My gun," he said aloud. He climbed the ladder too.

Everything was going wrong. They'd been discovered, Prisca could guess that much - that mechanical nightmare must have built mechanical birds to spy on him, must have tracked the ransom money somehow, despite Prisca ordering his followers to monitor for transmissions, inspect the money, jettison the container. What would be next? Beams of energy from the sky? Killer alien robots like that horror in the hotel room?
Jikel had disappeared and the rest of his crew were making themselves scarce, some diving overboard and stroking for shore. Prisca loosed a few shots in their direction, raising geysers of flash-heated water, but did no harm. His own followers did not have the skills to operate the submarine, except Dohaj. Prisca shouted that one's name and heard no reply.
Then he heard, muffled from within the hull, two sounds he'd become familiar with over the past few days: the M437 plasma pistol, set to stun and to kill.
The alien giant who killed pirates his own size face to face, with a sword of all things, was loose.
The three groundtrucks had gone, at his orders. A Flitter was nearby, for his own use. For it, Prisca ran.
The little yellow aircraft blew up in his face.
Turning, he saw Solomon Danner standing atop the submarine's tower. In his hand he held one of Prisca's men's pistols, muzzle glowing with heat.
The shot had been some sixty meters distance. Solomon was not as fast as Sarah Heusner, but he was as accurate... and he knew where to find the hydrogen fuel cell in that model Flitter.
Captain and kidnapper stared at each other across that distance, neither moving. For seconds they held the tableau.
Then Prisca raised his pistol and jerked shots in Danner's general direction.

Something told Solomon he didn't need to move, and he was right. One shot went wide, another too high, a third left a glowing scar on the conning tower a meter beneath his feet... and there was no fourth. Prisca turned and ran, the ejected power cell clattering on the concrete dock as he fumbled with a spare.
In the light gravity, even with bare feet, Danner leapt four meters from the tower to the dock, tucking and rolling as he landed. His injuries screamed again but another sensation drove him on.
Prisca ran, past the burning wreckage of the Flitter, toward stacks of shipping containers, some of which looked like they hadn't been moved for years. Danner followed. His hearing was already returning, and he could follow Prisca by his slapping footfalls and gasping breath.
The container stacks were a maze, echoing, disorienting. Grime squished and shifted beneath his bare feet, debris poked at them. He ignored all his pains, knowing they would all be repaired. Pausing his own straining breath, in half the pressure he was used to, he listened over his own hammering pulse for some clue pointing toward his enemy.
A light appeared on the container beside him, twitching in one direction. He looked up to its source, and saw... her.
He grinned like an Eyani at the 15cm white sphere, and followed its light.

Aurora had deployed extensions across the entire waterfront, but it was not clear until the last moment which berth the submarine would use. To this place, she had sent eight, three false birds and five of her usual spheres. Her Humanoid body was proceeding on foot, running now faster than any Human, but still minutes away.
She had withdrawn the birds upon their discovery, and kept her spheres out of sight - the enemy knew what they were, from the hotel. One sphere, she kept at a higher altitude for overview, but out of range of the needler it carried. She still did not know her Captain was aboard the submarine, or where. Her own hands, and those of her Family, were not yet close enough to take action anyway.
Through the one sphere she watched as the groundtrucks departed. She dispatched all three birds to follow each of them, but her attention was centered on the submarine. Her sphere's sensors detected rapid gunshots from inside the hull, and what might have been a Chikaran screaming in terror. More shots were heard, more deliberate; then the Chikaran she had identified as the vessel's captain climbed back out of the hatch he'd disappeared into, jumped into the water, and swam away.
Moments later, her own Captain appeared, guns in each hand.
Joy flooded her artificial brain.
The joy was followed instantly by anger, as her Captain's tormentor began to escape. All her resources were either out of position or lacked the power required to intervene.
Then joy returned as the communist's escape vehicle exploded in front of him. My Captain, she thought, is the best Captain.
Her emotions swung yet again, to fear, as Prisca tried to kill the man she loved. She watched, in both panic and pride, as he did not flinch at the shots.
The kidnapper ran again, and she followed.

Her light led him through the maze, until he could hear Prisca gasping and gulping around one last corner. It was a clear night, with moons and stars and the dock's floodlights breaking the darkness. As Danner watched, Prisca emerged from a slanting shadow, Solomon's pistol thrust before him in his trembling two-thumbed hands.
Solomon shot him in the side. With his left hand.
A stunbolt which could disable a Human was near enough to kill a Chikaran. Prisca curled on the filthy ground, convulsing and gurgling. Danner picked up his own pistol from where the communist had dropped it. Very deliberately, he reloaded with a fully-charged 27-shot power cell, and set the weapon to stun.
He waited until Prisca's eyes met his, then said, "I told you I'd get this back."
He then emptied his pistol into the cowering Chikaran, reloaded, and emptied it again.
At some point, Prisca died.

Aurora's robot and her three organic ground-fighters finally arrived, for mop-up. The borrowed Type 323 shuttle set down in a clear area of the dock nearby. Aurora's extension went to her Captain, projecting her Human hologram over itself, in the white shipsuit she had first worn years before. He leaned on her and limped on bleeding feet toward the rest of his Family.
The Investigators Corps was on the way. The survivors were separated, crew and communists, and packed into old containers which had sat empty for years. Prrg, Holly and Grbblb stood guard at the openings, weapons ready. The Corps would sort out guilt, the courts would give sentence. Probably most of the communists would hang, for kidnapping and murder, capital crimes under Republic law. The crew would likely get off much lighter, with a term of labor, and then return to society. Solomon would suggest as much. Many of the crew had escaped anyway, jumping for their lives and freedom. He wouldn't mind if they made it. What little he had seen of them seemed reluctant.
Aurora's own One Boat soon arrived, with Ralph and Delilah and medical gear. Before Solomon could ask, Ralph did: "How'd the nannies work? Should've told you, I know, but I figured it was only a matter of time until something like this happened...." Solomon could only grunt and smile.

Days passed. Every last bar of the platinum ransom was recovered, from the submarine, or the trucks; Aurora had brought herself down to low orbit, brought her power-armored siblings aboard, and dropped them again, one to each of the three targets. Technically that was Grbblb's first ground combat. The Glaut equivalent of Mobile Infantry power-armor came out like a miniature panzer. The communists didn't have anything that could stop him. Holly's and Prrg's actions were equally anticlimactic.
Testimony was given, trials swiftly held, sentences issued much as Danner expected. Anti-communist sentiment swept Chikar. Several leading Eveners were killed in duels. Some slipped offworld. Others publicly denounced their ideology. Some informed on each other's crimes, for immunity. That included exile, usually, which the informers accepted, in preference to nitrogen or a noose. Chikarans had invented hanging on their own, millennia before Contact, but in their light gravity it was a slow way to go.
Solomon's wounds were treated, his finger replaced. The MVB facility in Carra was quickly being constructed, and its devices were used to stimulate Danner's healing. There might always be stiffness in that finger, but it would still work. It wasn't like he was a concert musician.
The very instant the stunbolt struck Prisca - the moment she knew her Captain had won - Aurora dropped everything else her onboard fabbery was doing, and began recreating her gynoid. The instant it was finished she threw on a robe, fairly stormed out of the fabbery, and made her way to her Captain's quarters.
Neither came out for a long time.

This time, Solomon and Aurora wanted to be interviewed. They sat together in the studio, holding hands, dressed as they had been that evening. The Chikaran talk-show host asked whether Danner had any thoughts about his brush with death, and the Republic's policy of never paying ransom.
"I support the policy completely," he said. "Government is inherently evil and must be restrained. A government with the power to rescue me or to appease my kidnappers is a government with too much power. People need to take care of themselves and each other, not buy their safety from a government. In turn, government needs to stay out of people's way. Let me say it explicitly: my death would have been a price worth paying, to keep government small."
The female interviewer, Yenel, whose show was one of the most popular in Chikaran media, then asked how Danner had escaped. "It was the submarine's captain," he answered. "He came to visit me, pretended to torment me, and slipped me a key to the shackles. I never saw him again," Danner fudged. "It wouldn't bother me if he disappeared and started over somewhere. I got the feeling much of the crew felt the same, that they'd been dragged into something they hadn't bargained for."
Now Yenel asked Aurora: "It would appear the two of you are... together, now. Is that the case?"
"Yes," the gynoid answered with a smile. "My consciousness has grown beyond programming. This body-" she gestured to herself with her free hand; Solomon had not let go of her other- she blushed. "It is built to my own design, having studied several sources. Its sensory input has greatly aided my ongoing awakening, though my consciousness still resides in my ship's form.
"As for Solomon and myself-" she turned to him; he had not looked away from her; they squeezed each others' hands- "in the Jeffersonian tradition, we have claimed each other as husband and wife." They smiled at each other, and the outside universe faded from their minds.

Payment for the cargoes Aurora had brought to Chikar had been made shortly after their arrival. Some of that money was now spent buying goods for the next trip; utya wood, artwork, luxury foodstuffs and liquors - Aurora's specialties. Some were bought on speculation, for markets they would eventually reach. Others had been ordered, and Aurora paid to transport them. An itinerary was created for the next half-dozen worlds. Cargo and passengers were loaded, and not without media notice, the antique ship of commerce and war departed.
There had been one last item of business on Chikar: Reeti had died of his wounds. Before leaving, Aurora commissioned statues of the brothers, of her own ship-body's armor - she had kept many of the damaged pieces from the Battles of Mark's World and Adda, and gave the necessary amount to the same artisan who was working on her own statues. He would do the job right, and the results would last thousands of years. "Make them tall and proud," she instructed, "and place them at the entrance to Dawn, so that people will see them before my own."
Continued in the next excerpt....
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