nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

Post by Tomyris » Mon Sep 23, 2019 7:09 pm

Act 5

Arriving on the surface of the planet, Nah’dur and her team got to work. As promised she had five technicians, plus Fera’xero, a security squad, and of course lurking somewhere around, Fei’nur. They rode vehicles from the Marine vehicle pool out to the entry-tunnel gates of the selected hive-city so that they could beam down inside of a secured area, but they were unarmed utility vehicles, in case they had to be abandoned.

A bejeweled and robed older Numeraian bowed and scraped his upper limbs to the ground when they met their welcoming party. “I am Sub-Vizier Ter’mitran. Queen Tisararam is ever-pleased to be of assistance to the National Transitional Council, and you shall be follow us to let you begin your sampling.”

“Sub-Vizier, we are honoured. I am Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur. Please do lead on.” With a nod, they started below, Fera’xero with a drone at his side, sampling as they moved further down into the hive city.

While the appearance of things was as expected, that had not stopped Fei’nur from flexing her fingers on her sidearm during the entire journey, starting as soon as they had headed underground. She could never forget Balos.

As they approached the lower caverns, they saw before them, illuminated with bioluminescence and some artificial light, an immense expanse of open caverns, in which buildings were made of stalactite and stalagmite-shapes inside of open halls, with many of the Numeraians moving about. Nah’dur stopped for a moment. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“And all natural, they’re converting the dirt to cement with their own bodies’ enzymes through the Tiral plant,” Fera’xero added, studying the output from his sensors. “They’re able to build underground caverns as large as we can with those techniques.”

And that is what this… targeted lacing of the planet might interrupt… Fei’nur glanced about. The open spaces, at least, were quite different. “It is impressive, I admit.”

“All right, let’s start by sampling the main structural supports,” she gestured to the columns that had been left in place and successively plastered again and again with enyzmes until they were like concrete bridge pylons.

“Agreed, Surgeon-Commander,” Fera’xero concurred, and started for one at the centre of the great market down in the depths of the city. Around them, tens of thousands of Numeraians hummed and chattered.

Gods, but could it be more exposed? Fei’nur shifted to at least get a wall at her back. I have an ill feeling of this. As long as her tactical links stayed up, the Colonel could convince herself it might be nothing.

Back aboard the Huáscar, life went on. The regular watch rotations held, and Zhen’var was in her office while an Officer-of-the-Watch held the ship, going over reports and holding meetings. Toward the end of her office hours, Lieutenant Arterus tr’Rllaillieu, the ship’s Rihannsu navigator, came in for an appointment that he had requested.

“Lieutenant tr’Rllaillieu. Sit, and be at ease.” Her ever-present mug of chai was on her desk, as she folded her hands before her and leaned fractionally forwards.

He moved to sit, but being at ease seemed beyond him in that moment. “I meant to have this meeting sooner, but the needs of our deployment made it impossible, Captain. As you know, I visited my cousin while I was on leave.”

“You are here now, and I am so aware, Lieutenant.” Her tone was casual, as Zhen’var tried to divine the direction the meeting was going.

“She reintroduced me to the woman who saved our lives from the Tal Shiar,” Arterus said, and hesitated. “I do not understand it at all, Captain, but… She introduced herself to us. Her name is Danaine Taruar. Captain, she was one of the most honourable humans I know, she had Mnhei’sahe in her veins, she was a woman of fire as the Elements go, and stronger and steadier than many Rihannsu.” He looked down for a moment. “And she’s an Aristo.”

The Captain’s mouth opened fractionally, her eyes widening in shock. “You… mean to say… are you certain, Lieutenant…? That matches nothing we know so far of them, as you know. Do you think there is anything untoward about her actions thus far..?”

“Captain… I shall be plain with you. She introduced herself as a personal emissary of the Eubian Emperor. And she said she wanted to meet with someone in the Alliance who was absolutely trustworthy, with whom she could establish a line of communication.”

Without even thinking, Zhen’var let out a soft puff of a sigh. “Arre, you mean me, do you not, Lieutenant? If so, very well.”

“Khre’Riov,” he addressed her, stumbling and then pushing himself up to attention. “It is uncomfortable for me. Her people are thought the most evil known, now that we have beaten the Reich. But she said she needed our help and that her Emperor needed our help, and she wants to talk. And I owe her my life, and my cousin’s life as well.”

Veherr, Lieutenant, I do not speak dismissively. I am willing - eager, even, to, assist. Even if I feel io stelam 'nil io cehlaer sometimes.”

He laughed, the tension broken. “Thank you, Captain. I have secure comm codes to the Far Star for you. I owe it to do right by her, and you.” He extended the small chit.

“Thank you. I shall use them when there are not multiple warships who might be far too eager to eavesdrop within hailing distance.” Taking the chit, she stood. “If there was nothing else, I need to take supper before standing watch.”

“Of course, Captain.” It was as they both rose that the alerts started.

On the surface, Nah’dur and Fera’xero had been carefully leading the sampling effort when Fera’xero, inscrutable under his mask, took a few steps over toward Fei’nur and activated the short range commlink channel. “Colonel, we are being watched. There is an automated sensor grid feeding information out on us. Inconspicious and very sophisticated.

“I am not surprised.” the burst transmission came back, as her cybernetics started to move to a higher energy consumption state. “Be ready for ambuscade.”

“Surgeon-Commander!” She called out, with a hint of exasperation projecting into her tone. “How much longer will it be?” When Nah’dur turned, Fei’nur delicately scratched at her cheek, with a single extended claw.

“Thirty tango charlies,” Nah’dur answered. That sounded like some form of time measure to confuse the person surveiling them, but actually it was a warning to the rest of the team in turn. She had gotten it, and immediately, too.

The sensors were foreign, Fei’nur could divine that much, which meant her people were - to her reckoning - about to end up in the middle of some proxy skirmish. As to which power vying over the planet it was, that didn’t matter, not yet. She started to wander off - trying to break contact enough to have a chance to activate the stealth gear that was her equalizer in such a situation.

A group of Numeraians rushed out from the midst of the market toward one of Nah’dur’s outer sampling teams. One of the security team with them spun toward the attackers. “TIC team four engaging!” Crackled over the comm as a burst of charge fire seared into the carapaces of the group of attackers.

Shovel to White, we are under attack! Beam up if possible!

The request was met with static, nothing more than static, as the distinctive sound and sight of Aururian guns firing from the group of Numeraians. The security personnel who had accompanied them from the NTC forces were already gone, disappearing just as the group from the Huáscar prepared for the ambush.

Nah’dur was already on her belly with her main group, firing in enfilade down on the group attacking her team, even though they only had sidearms. The other four outlying sample teams were pulling back when a cart next to a stand in the market exploded, and one of the science techs and a Security Corporal collapsed from the massive shock from an IED overwhelming their personal shields.

Fei’nur bit back the curse that wanted to slip from her lips, as she activated her stealth gear and tried to break contact to repay the ambush. Nah’dur’s efforts were going to be tested; Imperial weapons would do heavy damage to anyone not in full armour, and most of the team was very much not. The massive number of shield activations the distributed flechettes produced would also serve to quickly drain the shields

Nah’dur’s central group was laying down a heavy fire with their pulse pistols, which led to Team Four begin to fall back toward the base of the column. Hundreds of Numeraians were fleeing in every direction, but dozens were also approaching.

Shovel,” Nah’dur’s voice crackled over the comm. “Smarty.” Some wondered if Nah’dur actually grasped her callsign, but she had accepted it regardless. “Can you finish supporting team four? I can try to reach the wounded from team two if you do.

Two clicks over tactical comms were the reply as Fei’nur started moving. If she could be picked up by the enemy’s sensors, this was going to be very painful.

Nah’dur, covered by two security personnel, dashed down toward the fallen from team two. Ostensibly an ambush, Fera’xero’s drone began to attack the ambush position, having detected it from where it flitted above. Nah’dur fiddled with something and threw an object through the air which exploded in a sheet of flame nearby, before rolling down under the cover of the two pulse rifles toward the wounded. A few flechettes spattered off her shield to no effect.

Fei’nur’s stealth held up. She was down among the attackers in an instant, and using first silenced gun and then knife began to methodically demolish them as Team Four retreated back toward the central column. Splashes of ichor and shattered carapace as knives found chinks and rifle made them, the Spectre demolished her enemies invisibly, sowing panic in them. Practicing to survive encountering the Gaim had served her well.

Team Four was exfiltrating its own wounded back into the central position. Nah’dur went over the two wounded by the bomb. She paused, pale for a moment, at the question of which one to pull back, as they were both bad off. But then Fera’xero was at her side.

“Surgeon-Commander, you could use a stretcher-bearer.”

“I haven’t any stretchers, Fera’xero, but here we are.” And with that, Nah’dur grabbed the science tech and slung her over shoulders with her pistol out and barking to keep heads down. By contrast, Fera’xero could only half-drag the security man back, but he kept up with Nah’dur’s frenetic sprint.

As they fell back, Fei’nur did too, but she left behind an annihilated attack force in a carnage of shattered limbs and bodies. The fire was still coming at them from the curved walls of buildings rising like droplets from the floor of the cave around them, where Numeraians in position fired up at them, but it didn’t offer the same kind of cover as buildings above would have.

There had been sixteen, and four were wounded, two seriously. Nah’dur looked at her patients and then at her pistol, and spoke aloud, as though she were simply absolutely confident that Fei’nur was there as her broad feline eyes under that distinctive bob of red hair swept around, seeing clearly in the bioluminescence as a human might not, seeing the dashing groups of Numeraians converging.

“Battlemaster, thank you. We succeeded at our tactical objective of evacuating the wounded, but I am concerned that this has all the makings of a last stand.”

“Fera’xero, try and get at least a pulse code through the jamming. Nah’dur, prepare your teams to attempt extraction!”

Nah’dur nodded and issued the order, and then dropped her voice. “Fei’nur, I have the samples. Someone really wanted us to not get those samples. Please take them and exfiltrate yourself beyond the perimeter of the jamming. You can send for help, and you can get the material they didn’t want us to have, out.”

Damn you, Nah’dur. Damn you for having your mother’s pragmatic wit. Hold, Nah, hold, I will be back. Samples, now, seconds count.” The Colonel’s voice was thick with emotion.

Nah’dur handed them up and smiled. “I’m no more interested in dying than she was. Give me your rifle, Fei?” Fire cracked into the cemented dirt around them.

Appearing was a combat pack, ammunition, and rifle, as the samples vanished. A quick feeling of a hug was the last Nah’dur felt, before there was a soft; “Good hunting.”

Nah’dur checked the rifle and looked around at her group. She had thirteen effectives, two of them wounded, and there must be around two hundred Numeraians shooting at them. She sighted down the barrel of the rifle on which Fei’nur had taught her to shoot quite a long time ago, and caressed the familiar trigger. A Numeraian clinging to a building toppled off in a desperate screaming skitter of legs still trying to work.

“Fera’xero, make sure the drones are still up and focus them on covering us from being flanked!” The Surgeon-Commander was unquestionably in command of the defence as she adjusted the positions of what was really a squad.

“Commander, I’ve got three hundred and sixty degree coverage.”

“Then I’ll synch with my omnitool for targeting…” She watched as a holographic heads-up display was projected from the omnitool that automatically adjusted for the capabilities of even the old but highly effective rifle in her hands, a derivative of a Centauri make. Crosshairs centred around another Numeraian and she fired again. “Synch your omnitools to the drones and project targeting aids!” She ordered, mostly for the effect of the science techs who weren’t trained in the technique. Even as she spoke she focused in on another target with the assistance of the drones and fired again. Another Numeraian dropped.

As Fei’nur reached the bottom of the hill, she did what she could to make the odds better for the young woman she had raised from a kit. She didn’t have her rifle, but she had her knives. A squad of Numeraians pressing in on the flank of Nah’dur’s position disintegrated into a flurry of ichor and death as she passed through them, not sparing even a second to come to a stop as she escaped, because even one second could be one second too late--but that didn’t stop her from descending on them like a ghost and killing or maiming or wounding a half-dozen as she passed through them.

Above Fei’nur on the hill, Nah’dur made the familiar sound of her rifle bark again. As long as it was firing when she returned, all was well.

On the bridge, Zhen’var and Arterus reached their stations at the same time.

“Report!” Zhen’var’s voice cracked across the bridge as she moved in a beeline to her command chair.

Will Atreiad, on duty as the ship’s XO and tired, bags under his eyes, but now sharply alert, rose to give Zhen’var the chair, finishing off the last of his coffee. “Captain, we just received a burst transmission from Colonel Fei’nur. Nah’dur’s team is pinned down inside the city under attack by hundreds of insurgents. They’re being jammed. Once we knew what to look for, we were able to pinpoint the jamming field. It’s preventing comms and transport. She wants the QRF and fast movers, ASAP.”

“We can launch Alert Five and have fast movers over the city in eight minutes, Captain,” Stasia Héen’s voice came in over tactical comms from her position in PriFly.

“Do it, Chief. Comms, deconflict with the other ships… and prepare to Away the Reaction Force, with alacrity! Major Richards, bring everything!”

“We’re going to need a secure perimeter to bring down the tanks since they can’t beam manned,” Major Richards answered from tactical control in the Marine wing.

“Can we have the wing secure the perimeter?” Will asked as the tactical plot was brought up by Elia as her first action on arriving on the bridge straight from sleep. She was somehow as perfectly made up as ever. That let Will point to the tunnel entrances. “We could establish a clear perimeter and attack anyone who moves into it.”

“Chief Héen?” She threw the question to the Air Boss; not the Wing leader who was still in the midst of scrambling and sorting out his squadrons.

“Each ready bird launched with two cluster bomblet dispensers, Captain, precisely for CAS. We could do it. Need some way to warn people to stay clear by the ROE.”

“Options, everyone?” Zhen’var was throwing problems at her subordinates, and trusting them to come up with solutions.

“We can beam drones down first to warn the locals,” Janice answered. “I’ll start implementing immediately.”

“As soon as the drones are in place, we’ll prep the cargo transporters for the tanks and then execute as soon as the ready flight is in position to intervene,” Elia answered.

“Execute immediately.”

“Roger that, Captain,” Janice answered. “Ops, stand by for drone transport tags…”

Come on, come on… Zhen’var quietly murmured a prayer inside her own thoughts, as Fei’nur, her mission completed, had reversed course, sprinting back the way she came.

“Drone transport complete,” Elia reported. “We have an incoming communication from Secretary Yulassana’s ship.”

“Put her on my side screen. What is our estimated time over target?”

“Two minutes, thirty seconds. I cleared them, Captain, but they’re not cleared hot yet,” Stasia answered.

The Gersallian Undersecretary appeared on splitscreen, looking furious. “Captain, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I must make it clear, under no circumstances can you damage the integrity of that city. It’s a critical base of support for the National Transitional Council. Firing into it and opening it to light would be a grave act by Numeraian morality.”

“Undersecretary, I have troops in contact and multiple wounded, they are under heavy attack and on the verge of being overwhelmed. I am deploying my QRF. Unless you wish me to ask for help from the Empire or League forces, we are at extreme risk of losing the entire survey team under those restrictions.”

“A survey team may be a necessary price for peace,” Yulassana answered. “I am truly sorry, Captain, but you must not damage the city.”

Zhen’var’s claws scraped across her armrests, and her lips pressed into a flat, thin line. “Huascar Actual, Out.” She killed the connection herself. “They can courts-martial me if it becomes necessary. Alternatives?”

They were looking around uncomfortably at each other. Stasia broke the silence, thinking back to her life in the opening years of the 21st century and all the lore of that time. An idea hit her. “As much as I hate to set someone else up for a shit job, Captain, why not have the tanks do a thunder run to reinforce their position?” She added, quietly: “Ready flight capping.” Nobody had told Stasia to stop working, after all.

“Transporting tanks now,” Elia affirmed. This was the Huáscar, they didn’t need orders to do their jobs.

“It is an acceptable plan. Keep the ready flight orbiting on station as long as possible.”

“We have armed locals approaching the tanks, Captain!” Stasia’s voice pitched more urgently. She brought up the drone footage which showed Numeraians dashing and covering toward them before the entrance to the city. As she did she was saying “continue continue continue” in the background to the pilots who had asked for weapons release authority, indicating directives to maintain holding pattern and not engage.

“Combat beam-ins commenced,” Elia stripped everything from her speech except that needed to convey the urgency of the situation.

“Ground forces are fire free. Wing, I need craft down there with weapons that will not cause structural damage.”

“They can’t establish a perimeter in time, Captain,” Elia went to the wide-screen view of the drones as a tactical output. “Does the Wing have permission to engage hostiles on the surface?”

“They cannot damage the hive. With that restriction, they may engage!”

“You are cleared hot for popcorn,” Stasia directed immediately with her old-school headphones fixed over her hair in the glass dome of PriFly.

The Ready Flight lead was Lieutenant Artesia. “Four-Eee Lead,” she identified herself, meaning SC-4 Flight Epsilon, “to PriFly Actual, we confirm, cleared hot for popcorn.” She flipped to her inter-bird channel. “We’re rolling hot--popcorn only. Arm and confirm.”

As the chorus came back, she brought them around on heading November Echo zero-five two. “Engage as fragged,” she ordered, bringing up her tactical display that linked to the drones. Cluster munitions were assigned to individual areas of armed activity, she could even see the guns firing as they engaged Major Richards’ QRF. Her in-flight computers confirmed targeting assignments and adjusted the cluster munitions pattern. The HUD indicator went red.

“Pickle One.” Her leftside cluster munition dispenser flushed eighty taclink guided grenade-sized bombs whose fins popped out and began to guide them into the pattern. Engines roaring the four fighters completed their attack with a scream in the distant sky.

Eighteen seconds later, the bomblets, “popcorn”, started to detonate in a crackling series of explosions, sparks and smoke around the beam-in position of the QRF.

“Check turn one-eighty left.” Artesia brought the wing back around as the smoke cleared and activated the short-range taclink. “Motown,” she addressed Janice by her code name, “this is Ready Lead. Are you clear?”

“Hostiles neutralized Four-eee, we are clear.”

“Four-eee to Flight, cease fire and cap.”

“Targets neutralized, the QRF is assuming defensive positions and Leftenant Har’un’s tankers are mounting up, Captain,” Elia reported with quiet satisfaction.

“Shastra se shakti. They are released to push to the survey team’s location with all dispatch.”

“Confirmed,” Major Richards reported. “We’ll follow them in, Captain.”

Will and Elia exchanged a glance. Elia looked at her chrono. “Twelve minutes since we went to alert, Captain.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Her hands had not moved from where they clutched her armrests all the while. In a firefight as had been reported, that was an eternity.

“The tanks are going in.” The viewscreen flashed to the drone view showing the three massive beasts, repainted in Alliance Marine colours, lunging into the tunnel.

“Gods help them,” Will muttered under his breath.

When Fei’nur had reached the column, she could see the chatter of many rifles around her as the Numeraians fired into the base of the column. She could see, still, the sharp, crisp shots of the rifles from the top. The drones had been taken out, all except for one, Fera’xero’s personal drone--but one was enough, the rifles kept methodically taking shots and kept methodically killing. Fei’nur had not been too late to get back. The Surgeon-Commander had now held her position for twenty minutes--thirteen against hundreds, she had done well by any measure, but there were fitfully few in the way of rifles still shooting, and the enemy pressed closer and closer.

Her eyes swept the scene - it was taken in with a moment’s pause, then she was moving again, scrambling up. One of the enemy with a proper long range weapon, or a satchel of grenades... that would be her first target. She had to turn the situation, and fast.

She saw a knot that had been delivering a barrage of rocket-grenades while working a light squad weapon, and moved toward them decisively. The fire kept up a methodical tempo from the base of the column, so accurate that they were firing slowly, aimed shots that didn’t miss, to conserve ammunition.

It was a movement of second nature, her first knife slipping into her hand… She moved, low and quick, from cover to cover, using the noise of combat to mask her approach. Close enough for a final rush, then contact, as she lept, the first strike sinking deep between chitinous plates. Already she was moving, the blade yanked free by her off-hand and another striking for another of the gun crew.

It was a massacre in stealth. Wounded Numeraians retreating, chittering in fear, the entire line in that area again quieted as the ghost returned, this invisible figure who had been tearing through them before, and now returned to tear through them again. Stumbling away from where Fei’nur was, it left her a free path with the weapons to the top of the scree slope.

Fei’nur lost no time in grabbing the launcher and as much ammunition as she could, lifting it with a grunt, displacing from the scene of slaughter she had created… for another firing point. Fire and move before they counter...

Arriving at the best firing point she could, the gunfire against the position of Nah’dur and her team was starting to increase again, as the Numeraians recovered their situational awareness and once more pressed the attack.

Burn. She opened fire, three rounds, as quick as she could, then displaced at a run, targeting enemy heavy weapons. Once clear, she fired again, then repeated the tactic.

Against any lesser concentration of numbers, she might have single-handedly defeated the attack, but now, crawling over the bodies of others, Numeraians continued to push closer to the position of the Surgeon-Commander and her technicians and Marine guards on the unengaged side of the column, even as Fei’nur worked her way around, disrupting the attack as best she could.

This is not going to work… Fei’nur thought to herself, almost in despair, as she read the tactical situation. There has to be an enemy command group for coordination… Working blind, she tried to use her omnitool to trace Numeraian tactical signals. She found there were none, though there was a troubling anomaly that the omnitool kept trying to classify as a chemical weapon.

It was enough for her to activate the built in filtering she had been given, which replaced most of her sinuses. Pheremone-driven communication, like other insects… Nah’dur will be interested later. It was an idle thought as she, in that moment, wished Aururian weapons had power cells that overloaded as easily as Klingon disruptors.

Then there was a rumbling in the distance, growing swiftly louder. It was familiar to her heart and soul, it was the brutal, churning, clanking, grinding of a heavy tank. And it was drawing very rapidly closer to her. A moment later, a distinctive, hideous sound of a heavy disruptor cannon tore through the air and disturbed the bioluminescence around her.

Her heart surged. This close… “This is Shovel. Stand by for tac-link.”

“Shovel, this is Panzer!” Leftenant Har’un’s voice came through. But it scarcely needed introductions. The shattering and crashing sounds of the deflector shields on the tanks having been configured like cattle catches and plows on locomotives, battering aside any vehicles in their way as they charged down the streets, was soon clearly heard. The main guns weren’t firing, but the pulse disruptors used as light guns on the tanks were firing continuously at anyone armed that came within sight of their HUDs.

“We’ll be at your position in two minutes, Ma’am! This city isn’t big!” One of the tanks power-skidded through a turn with one track locking, bashing two cars outside of the way with its deflector shields, setting off airbags and crumpling metal. Now it was lined up in a straight shot to the column.

People were fleeing absolutely as fast as they could, emptying the streets and running. Soon there were no more vehicle impacts because there was no more left in their way as the tanks rushed onwards.

“Painting targets, Panzer. Friendlies marked.” Fei’nur’s clipped voice came back. She knew by the original plan that the power armour company would be following. “Fire free.”

The tanks zoomed down the radial streets that converged with the column, and now they opened up once more, firing as they drove, tracking and engaging with both of their light guns each, the one normally for anti-air/anti-missile and the anti-personnel cannon. Flames and searing energy criss-crossed the battlefield from the disruptors until the tanks rushed out toward the column and began to circle it into defensive positions, firing as they did.

On top of the hill, the firing slacked. Nah’dur, fastidious and practical, put down the rifle and picked up her medikit. All of a sudden, they had gone from barely hanging on to a surfeit of firepower. They had gone from hopeless, personal shields down, to an overwhelming position.

“We are in position, Shovel!”

“Prepare to extract multiple wounded! Hold the perimeter via fire!” Fei’nur was clambering up the column as quickly as she could. “This is Shovel, away team, give me a status report!”

“Seven C-200’s, two tulips,” Nah’dur’s voice answered methodically. “I’m treating everyone.”

By now there was no more shooting in the city. As the power-armour came charging down, the attackers melted into the mass of the fleeing and hiding civilians. Except for the howling of automated alarms and the confused warnings of loudspeakers to seek shelter, a kind of brief silence, punctuated by occasional shots and by the whine of the tank engines, now fell over the entire hive-city.

“Shovel to White, prepare for emergency evacuation of the survey team! We will investigate the scene.”

There was still static from the jamming. But now, Elia’s voice came through. The powerful transmitters on the tanks could burn through, partially. “White Actual to Shovel, you’re going to evac them by ground, we still can’t beam.”

“Understood! QRF, prepare detachment to evacuate casualties! Scan your local areas and gather what evidence you can!”

The personnel from the QRF went to work securing the perimeter as a group brought up the light tactical vehicles to evacuate casualties. Major Richards stepped up to Fei’nur and saluted. “We came as quick as we could, Colonel.”

“I know. We have losses. We need to get them to beam-up as quickly as possible. Back the way you came is quickest, but they might attempt another attack. Unlikely, however. Opinions?” Clipped and sharp, the old Spectre was taking in the scene and weighing her options.

“The faster we move the better. Do we have what we came for? Let’s bug out, Colonel. Unless they left anyone for us to interrogate, but I doubt it.”

“I will sweep. Thank you, Major. Be ready to depart as soon as the Surgeon clears us to.”

“Understood.” Above them Nah’dur was supervising loading the casualties. Now that she came into view, it was clear she had understated a few things; she actually had a bandage wrapped around one of her arms, with blood leaking through it, but seemed completely unaffected.

Fei’nur snapped holos, grabbing samples and weapons for later study, working her way up towards Nah’dur.

“Colonel,” she nodded almost formally as she got another casualty secured, and then looked up with guileless eyes. “Are you proud of me?”

All Fei’nur could get out, seeing Nah’dur wounded, but having kept her team alive, was a silent, jerky nod of affirmation.

“It’s nothing. I’ll run the dermal regenerator on it on the way back so I can start the surgeries myself,” Nah’dur answered mildly, and then reached with her good hand for the grab-iron. “Shrapnel from a rocket grenade, that’s all. They managed to burn through my personal shield, you know.”

“Of course. We… will speak later, Nah’dur.”

On the bridge of the Huáscar, there was no time for the tension to lessen. Elia’s lips were tightly pursed as she looked to Zhen’var. “Captain, the Imperial fleet has raised shields.”

“Get me communications before this escalates further, please.” Tension underlay the command, as Zhen’var frowned darkly.

“Commander Huáscar, this is Admiral Afyhova. You have conducted an engagement against the surface of Garatnam. Why?”

“A scientific survey team was attacked by a heavily-armed and numerous unknown force inside a hive under the Xiteran Plateau, Admiral. I deployed my Quick Reaction Force to attempt a rescue. The survivors are being extracted now.” Her voice was clipped and quick.

“You have my condolences for the attack, Captain Zhen’var. However, one of my duties is to insure the safety and security of the Numeraian people. You have informed me that the sovereignty of this planet remains under the League. Why didn’t the League respond instead of your forces, Captain? Why didn’t Admiral Bonnet respond?”

“The situation devolved rapidly, Admiral, and the Alliance is providing security for League forces during the final period before their withdrawal.”

“If the League cannot maintain order on the planet, then they do not have effective sovereignty over it, Captain!” As though to someone just outside of the audio pickup, and very intentionally so that her own voice was in the audio pickup, she spoke again immediately. “Move the Task Force into orbit of Garatnam and prepare the Fleet Marine Forces for a landing. I want a brigade on the planet in one hour and the full division on the planet in eight.”

Zhen’var’s finger reached for a button on the arm of her chair. An ear-piercing klaxon began to sound. “Admiral, if you take this action, I shall be forced to interpose my ship between yourself and the planet. My orders are explicitly clear. The situation on the planet is under control.”

“You are killing Numeraians, Captain. That is not under control.

“I was not going to leave my crew members to die.” Zhen’var was being forced onto the defensive, and she hated it. This entire mission had pushed her to the back foot and kept her there.

There was a pause, and the feed was good enough to pick up the sound of the Malagasy Admiral’s breathing. “Very well,” she said after a moment, perhaps having put herself in Zhen’var’s position emotionally. Perhaps having been deterred by the prospect of a fight with the Alliance. Perhaps both. “Let me see if there is any information we can provide you about the attack.”

Elia almost physically sagged in relief at her post. A slow string of tension started to ease from the bridge.

“Your help would be appreciated, Admiral. Operations, stand the ship down to Condition Two until the survivors and QRF are back aboard, thence resume Condition Three.” She didn’t let the relief show, but they had come dangerously close to a war.

“Now, Comms, please get me the Deputy Undersecretary. I will take it in my ready room.” Time to pay the piper…

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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

Post by Tomyris » Thu Sep 26, 2019 4:43 am

Act 6

Yulassana looked like the legendary calmness of a Gersallian had been badly impacted by the recent events when her image formed on the holo about five minutes later. “Captain Zhen’var?” She asked almost hesitantly.

“Deputy Undersecretary.” She nodded her head sharply. “The science team was extracted with two fatalities. The Imperial squadron has been held off by threat, for now. The local situation is, in a word, catastrophic.”

“...To put it mildly. Do you believe it was instigated by the Aururians, then? Shall we begin to coordinate with Admiral Bonnet to hold the planet? I could go over to the Aururian flagship and negotiate for us, Captain…”

“I believe someone wishes us to, ma’am. As to whether it was , that is less certain. I would not have confidence in such an assertion at present.”

Yulassana took a breath, and looked at Zhen’var narrowly. “Captain, powerful people back home want us to be friends with the League. Regardless of what the facts on the ground are.”

“I do not think a friendship built on a foundation of lies is one worth having, ma’am. Once my teams are back aboard, I will be attempting to move forward with decolonization support, as per my orders.” Her voice was deceptively calm.

“You will keep your tripwire forces in place on the planet?”

“As long as they can carry out their mission, yes. I will regenerate my quick reaction force as rapidly as I can, Madame Deputy Undersecretary.”

“When will you have the results of the analysis? The Surgeon-Commander’s, I mean.”

“She was also wounded, as soon as she can be spared to give me an estimate, it shall be shared.” While she understood the impatience, Nah’dur was also her best surgeon.

“I understand, and you have my condolences about the entire situation, Captain… But if violence begins on the surface of the planet at this point it is now very unlikely that we will be able to keep it from spiralling.

Zhen’var’s expression stiffened. “If open violence begins, the Aururians will land, ma’am. I cannot stop them. What we are at in orbit is now as the surface; a tripwire that will not stop what-ever force trips it.”

“Then ask the Aururians what we need to do to make sure that we secure the independence of Garatnam,” Yulassana answered, plainly. “It is our shared objective, after all.”

“You may not like the answer, ma’am, but I shall get it for you.”

“I can work with the answer, Captain. Let’s not let Garatnam down.”

“I understand. Until later.” Zhen’var would wait for the connection to drop, before letting out a soft sigh. “Communications, I need a channel with Admiral Afyhova, without any other vessels outside her fleet knowing.”

“Let me speak with Commander Poniatowska for a moment, Captain,” Bor’erj answered from the comms section.

“Thank you, Ensign.” While she waited, she sent a normal-priority request for updates to Nah’dur’s omnitool.

The evacuees had reached an evac transport, since some were not stable enough to be recovered via transporter, and were now on their way to the ship. We’ll be able to begin surgeries in five minutes, Nah’dur said cheerfully when she got the alert.

Thank you. We have just almost gone to war with the Aururians, so your original mission retains a priority second only to life-saving. Was the admittedly somewhat terse reply sent back.

Oh, well, I don’t want to go to war with them! Don’t worry, I think I can save everyone.

Thank you, Nah’dur. I will buy you the time you need.
Dropping the connection, Captain Zhen’var reached for her mug and cradled it, leaning back in her chair. It never seemed simple for her ship, never at all…

“Message coming in for you from the Resolution, Captain,” Elia’s voice sounded over the intercom. “We’ve got the link secure.”

“Thank you, Commander. Link it to my Ready Room terminal.” Straightening, Zhen’var squared herself to face the pickup. She was not a diplomat… but, just perhaps, she could avert the conflict that seemed to threaten to erupt over this world.

“Captain, we speak again rather quickly.” Afyhova looked like she was in her own ready room and perhaps completely alone, which would help, perhaps.

“We do, and on a more pleasant note, I hope . I wish to extend an invitation to you; to present the terms under which that your Empire would support the independence of Garantam.” It was the first time the Aururians had even been consulted in the matter.

Afyhova was actually silent for a moment, staring sharply at Zhen’var. Then, a faint smile touched her lips. “Of course, Captain. We want the Assembly of Queens to have the ability to veto the sale of land or mining rights on the surface, and the assumption of foreign debt. If the constitution of the National Transitional Council is amended to include those terms, specifically that the Assembly will include all the Queens, regardless of their political orientation, then we have a basis to be confident that the government of Garatnam is protecting the interests of the Numeraian people.”

Zhen’var’s expression froze for a moment. “That… is all?” Disbelief coloured her voice. That seemed so simple to her, at least. Perhaps she was mistaken, but… Oh. The conservative and reformer divide. That is likely the issue .

“Of course, we want guarantees Garatnam’s system will not be used by League forces. But that is a matter between the two of our nations,” Afyhova said modestly. “Yes, we are satisfied the Numeraian Queens will find their own way to protect their people, if they are given the chance to. The concern is that the brave women who have ruled their hives by custom for centuries, whom we have worked with to free their people, were seeing themselves be sold into economic slavery under the simulcra of independence. Our intention is merely to preserve for them their freedom of action and thus the liberty of the Numeraians. They have committed not to resort to arms in that case, and so we will satisfy our own obligations viz. the planet, since their hives were who we armed.”

“May I have a moment with the representatives of my government to communicate your terms, Admiral?” It seems a breakthrough, if the NTC will accept it… if.

“If you want, but the Ambassador in Portland communicated those terms a month ago,” Afyhova sniffed. “I am sorry, Captain, but your government has not left you in an enviable position. It seems they were led astray by the slick League briefings on the drug production problem on the surface.”

The Dilgar woman’s face visibly fell. “I… see. I shall still make the utmost effort at a local resolution, Admiral, even if it may take longer than I had hoped.” She was holding the situation together by the tips of her demi-claws, barely, and was unsure how much longer she could.

“I will give you your time. We can wait. We have requested the Queens not make any moves, and they assented.”

“If they have any information regarding the attack upon my survey team…” Her voice grew leaden as she glanced down to Fei’nur’s initial report. “The attackers were armed with Imperial weapons, Admiral.”

“I am not surprised. Send me the serial numbers and I am sure I can match them to weapons captured by the League during our past wars. Might I remind you that probably a million or more small arms have fallen into their hands in major battles? We have not been victorious in every fight, and even in a victory the enemy may capture some of our arms,” she answered, looking sincere. “Of course, they’ve probably been burned off.”

“You understand the optics of the situation, I am sure. I shall communicate your terms, and if you wish, we can continue the negotiations in person, aboard your ship?” Trying to show trust, for now, this was the danger point in space. The planet was another matter entirely.

“That’s agreeable. You’ll bring the Undersecretary?”

“That is my intention, correct. Thank you for your kind forebearance thus far, Admiral Afyhova. My communications officer will be in contact. We will speak again shortly.” As soon as the connection dropped, she was back on her console; “Captain to Flight Operations, please prepare my yacht for departure. Communications, get me Deputy Undersecretary Yulassana once again, please. Commander Atreiad, I will be departing the ship for negotiations.”

“On it, Captain,” Stasia’s voice came back. “We’ll have you ready to go in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll update the Watch rotation,” Will Atreiad answered back.

“Deputy Undersecretary on your line, Captain,” Bor’erj reported.

“Well done, thank you.” Her expression was guarded when the comms-line flickered back into view. “Deputy Undersecretary, I have the Aururian terms, and have arranged on your behalf an in-person negotiation with Admiral Afyhova. My yacht is being prepared for the two of us to depart.”

“Thank you, Captain. I will beam aboard and meet you at your yacht, then,” she answered after a moment. “I am thankful you were able to obtain the willingness of the Aururians to meet.”

“We will speak once you arrive, ma’am.” Zhen’var’s voice was starting to show some of the stress she was feeling, being balanced on a knife-edge so long. As she cut the connection and moved to get her dress uniform, the Dilgar woman shook her head slightly. It was getting harder and harder to divine the true motives of everyone around.

Meanwhile, Nah’dur had arrived back on the Huáscar. Having already run the dermal regenerator until her wound was healed, she flexed confidently at it, sprayed over with plastic synthflesh to keep the regenerated tissue from cracking open. It hurt, and it was a bright hairless pink blazon across her arm, but it was fully functional.

“Commander Fera’xero?”

“Surgeon-Commander?” The Quarian Science officer looked back.

“My team can prep the surgery. Let’s get the samples started before I go in for the first one, it won’t slow it down, and you can finish the analytics while I’m in the surgical theatre.”

“You think it’s that important?” Fera’xero’s vocoder flashed.

“I believe it is a matter of objective fact that it is so important,” Nah’dur replied. “Possibly far more important than the lives of anyone I’m operating on, though don’t repeat that, please.”

“...Of course, Surgeon-Commander. Let’s get started.”

“Good!” She was already off at a brisk pace to the biohazard lab. “Even all that said, we don’t have much time.”

Fera’xero had mixed feelings about the biohazard lab. A suit breach there was definitely instant death, but on the other hand, it also put all of the other humanoids on equal terms with him. He followed, shaking his head at the young Dilgar. She was not afraid of the biohazard lab. Their universal vaccine remained a source of wonder, awe, and for Quarians, envy.

Ten minutes later, Zhen’var’s Captain’s yacht was pushing off from the Huáscar, with Yulassana seated by her in the travel lounge. It was a short trip, with warp drive.

“The short briefing, Madame Undersecretary, is that the Aururians want certain traditional rights of the Queens protected as part of the constitutional regime after independence.That their Assembly can exercise a veto upon the assumption of external debt, or upon the sale of land and mining rights on the surface of the planet. Their suspicion comes from them having communicated these terms to Portland a month ago, and having received no reply to them.” She spoke quickly, accent rising and falling.

“A decision was made that the Aururian terms were anti-democratic and that by working closely with the League we could successfully transition Garatnam to independence without consenting to those terms,” Yulassana answered, finally admitting to the background behind the entire affair. “So here we are.”

“Aururian negotiation, Colonel Fei’nur tells me, rarely involves retreating from a formal position. Once it is so stated, so it remains, to be accepted or rejected.” Her shoulders visibly slumped. It had seemed so simple to her .

“You are really upset about this, Captain,” Yulassana said softly, maybe even a little wondering. The Mess Tech on the yacht brought them both tea, the Gersallian woman looking thoughtfully at the Dilgar for a while.

“It had seemed a very simple solution, given my own complex history and the cultures I have known. India was birthed in agreements of accession, as were elements of the Imperium.” The Dilgar woman paused, and sipped at her tea. “I have no interest in being the Captain responsible for starting an inter-universal war, Madame Deputy Undersecretary.”

“You’re an interesting case in the Alliance, Captain. There are some who think the concession of appointing you was too great, that you are too friendly to autocrats and laws which lead to bad ends. There are others who think you are too soft. Your appointment was at a high level for diplomatic purposes, and of course, some people have second thoughts at Warmaster Shai’jhur’s structure of government, and at the independence of her policy. Your late exploits have definitely made your name known in Portland as one of a dozen or so of our active Starship Captains who make waves.”

“Not all states…” She paused. “ Why is a monarchy with a constitution guiding it considered so ill? Sometimes autocrats create good ends, when the situation is unfortunate enough. What we must do is manage the transition back to one founded in freedom and natural law, for autocracy has never stayed good. My family, we are aristocrats, if relatively minor ones. My thoughts should be expected, should they not? I seek to follow my oaths and my orders.”

“I don’t know… Yes, harmony is better. Customs are better followed than abrogated. It’s a complicated situation, Captain. Numeraian Queens are far more intelligent and capable than their specialised children, but the hive population is still individually sapient. They came from insects that were not quite as controlled as stereotypical species of ants or bees, they are like, ironically considering the connection with Aururia, Australian bees in that case. So there is a certain measure of resentment by the social reformers the League created toward involvement of the Queens in politics. Namely because the majority of a hive-city’s population will vote in lockstep with the Queen, trusting her to have the best judgement, it happened that way during past experiments the League conducted in allowing limited self-government, so they ended them, which started the insurrection.”

“By which you mean, the NTC will find such a concession nearly intolerable, do you not?” Zhen’var’s face was stiff. “Not to mention the League.”

“You are correct,” Yulassana affirmed. “You are correct.”

“Captain, we’re approaching the Resolution now,” the yacht’s Dorei pilot reported from ahead on the flight deck.

“We are talking, at least. If we can get something from that…” Zhen’var fell silent and tugged her uniform straight. “We must, for Huáscar cannot hold against them alone.”

“I will do my very best, Captain. Thank you. You have been a better exemplar of our virtues than I have been, so far, on this mission.” She rose. “Let us.”

The Aururians met them with a full side party. Captain Kerolit led it. She regarded Zhen’var sharply and crisply, her own broad, purple eyes almost catlike as well, ears sticking through hair, tail swishing. They had swords and dress uniforms in the old style. The Ralsans and the indigenous Aururians stood together as sisters, a single uniform, a single service, speaking English as their language of command. It was gloriously weird, and it was a sisterhood of arms.

Stiffening sharply, Zhen’var clicked her heels together. “Permission to come aboard Her Majesty’s Ship?” Voice pitched to carry, her gloved hand made a motion, as it would have if her Dilgar blade had been drawn up in salute before her.

“Permission granted. Welcome to the Admiral Afyhova’s hospitality, Captain.” She raised a gloved hand of her own in a tipped salute and the whistle blew and the side-party announced her. Then Captain Kerolit fell in alongside the two, walking with them. “The Admiral extends her compliments and thanks you for proposing the meeting aboardResolution, and as her Captain I am honoured to be your hostess, Captain.”

“Thank you. I wish to extend my apologies for not attending at the earlier invitation, if I may. I present Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peace Outreach Yulassana, whom you have certainly heard of, if not met. She is the ranking Alliance diplomat on the scene, and will be the primary negotiator.”

“Deputy Assistant Secretary,” Captain Kerolit gave a hint of a smile, showing her sharpened teeth. “A pleasure.”

“Of course, Captain.” Yulassana made a bow of greeting as they arrived at the meeting room, where Admiral Afyhova was waiting.

“Deputy Assistant Secretary,” Afyhova clicked her heels and bowed in return. “Captain Zhen’var. A pleasure to meet you at last. Be seated, we have some tea and hors d'oeuvres for you.”

“Thank you, Admiral. If the Almighty is kind, we may find success in our meeting this day.” She moved to sit, beside Yulassana, whom she left the central seat across from the Aururian admiral.

“I don’t want to go to war,” Afyhova answered with plain bluntness. “It would be a terrible thing in every respect. But I am not going to leave Garatnam without ensuring that the planet is at peace and is free, either. Isn’t the liberty of a world worth something?”

“Of course, Admiral. The Alliance has no wish for a war either. We share objectives , at the least, do we not all agree?”

“That is so,” Afyhova agreed. The tea was put around, and a plate of chicken satay placed in front of Zhen’var, a Gersallian dish for Yulassana. “Our terms were straightforward, Captain, Undersecretary. Why are they so unacceptable?”

“Because they would lead to the undermining of support for the National Transitional Council,” Yulassana answered. “In an undemocratic fashion.”

“If you held a plebiscite, the NTC would never have legitimate power,” Afyhova answered drolly, drinking her own tea.

“Only if you allowed the Queens to endorse positions,” Yulassana countered. “As figureheads of their hives they must be silent about politics to allow democracy to flourish.”

Afyhova snorted softly. “In many third-world countries abandoned by the northern nations in the 21st century, the traditional monarchies continued to function because the people implicitly respected their rulers even when their legal power was stripped from them. Now you’re telling me the Queens will be integrated into the system by banning their right to endorse political platforms, essentially making them slaves of the few ceremonial roles they will be given. Breeders for a people.” She looked archly at Yulassana. “If they were merely private citizens, then the NTC would last until the first election. No more.”

“The definition of democracy is… cultural.” Zhen’var said, quite hesitant and wary. “It can still be democracy.”

Yulassana leaned back and looked at her. “The Alliance has accepted the very unique Dilgar democracy Warmaster Shai’jhur implemented, yes. Go on, Captain.”

“Is it… possible for the Malaysian system, or… some form of…” She paused. “The Aururians want the Queens to have a voice. We do not wish them to dominate the system. They must have power and debate amongst themselves , a… legislative chamber, or ability to elect a… tribune?”

“The traditional function of the Queens is to preserve the integrity of the hive and the land on which it depends for its survival,” Afyhova answered. “We are not, and have not, ever tried to make the system a collegial autocracy.”

Zhen’var’s omnitool chirped ominously, then. “Captain, it’s Colonel Fei’nur.”

Afyhova nodded significantly to Captain Kerolit.

“An Imperial Marshal has approached one of our forward posts with a group of Numeraians under arms and several more under guard. She says as she has an important message.”

“... Go ahead and patch it through, if that will be acceptable. I am with the Deputy Undersecretary and the Aururian Admiral.”

“That will be appropriate,” Fei’nur answered after a pause. An Imperial Marshal was no-one to be trifled with.

“Captain Zhen’var,” a very calm voice speaking Received Pronunciation came onto the line. “I am Marshal Kerowalas. I wish to turn over to you some prisoners involved in the attack on your forces. They have not been interrogated by my person or my forces, however, I do know the content of what your own interrogations will reveal. The League was behind the attack on your forces.”

The Dilgar Captain’s face visibly twisted in a real concern, as she turned her gaze to the Gersallian woman beside her. “It is a serious charge, one that you understand we must confirm with our own people, Marshal.”

“That’s why I am handing the prisoners over to you, Captain,” the Marshal answered, unperturbed. Very faintly the woman might seem Ralsan from her accent, but of course a Ralsan could be an Imperial Marshal too.

“Thank you, Marshal. You have… been most helpful. Admiral, I believe the Deputy Undersecretary and I must withdraw for consultations, if we may…?” The reason why they would have risked so much… still eluded Zhen’var, but she had a rapidly growing suspicion.

“I am sorry our visit was short. I hope you enjoyed the chai and the satay, at least.” Afyhova nodded to Captain Kerolit, who rose.

“It was quite excellent, thank you.” She rose, and nodded politely, before heading back where they had came. As soon as the hatch cycled closed, Zhen’var growled in frustration. “I have a concern that the survey team will find something very worrisome , ma’am.”

“Like what?” Yulassana was clearly very tense. “Do you really believe this allegation in the slightest?”

“If it is, and I must plan on it being so, as such would be the worst-case… the original plan of whom-ever is attempting to arrange this, would have, I think, likely have been for our deployment of the agent to be the catalyst for conflict.”

Yulassana’s face turned grim and cool. “How long will it take Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur to have a result, then?”

“She had begun work before I left the ship; my science officer is currently running tests while she is attempting to save the lives of the other survey team members, Deputy Underscretary.” The stress was getting to her, by how her voice held an edge to it.

“My apologies.” She stiffened. “But we may soon have many further casualties here.”

Nah’dur came out of the first operation looking tired, but the expression vanished the moment that she saw Fera’xero standing there. She started pulling off her scrubs. “You have data so soon, Commander?”

“Yes, Surgeon-Commander, I do. It’s very simple, actually. The enzyme the League wants us to destroy will, if the retrovirus is allowed to spread through the planet, destroy the structural integrity of the bio-concrete in the hives. It’s still, in a sense, alive, through the bacterial growth, and the enzyme is still reactive. This proposed retrovirus would cause uncontrolled corrosion of the hives’ walls, columns, and other structural members. It would literally rot every hive-city on Garatnam out if we deployed it.”

Nah’dur sniffed sharply through her button-nose. “That is about what I thought.”

“The Captain returned in great haste, and got back about five minutes ago. Shall we go report?”

“Of course,” Nah’dur answered, taking the flimsy from him and abandoning taking off the rest of her scrubs. “Nurse Terixamu, delay the next surgery thirty minutes, it can wait! Get the other two into stasis. I have a genocide to prevent.”

Three minutes later, Nah’dur breezed onto the bridge with Fera’xero and chimed the door to the ready room where Zhen’var and Yulassana had returned. “Captain, we have our results!”

“Come ahead, Commanders.” Zhen’var’s voice betrayed her stress, though she masked her frustration with the diplomatic corps reasonably well in the calm expression she wore.

The two stepped in together. “I will be brief with you, Captain,” Nah’dur said urgently. “Destroying the enzyme will literally make the bio-concrete of all the Garatnam cities rot. It’s a living system, if you remove the enzyme the bacteria in it will tear it apart, break it down. The structural strength of the cities will literally rot.” She flung the flimsy down on the table, almost vibrating.

“By the Almighty, Nah’dur, this… this…” Horrified eyes swung to the Gersallian woman. “If the League refuses to withdraw after we refuse to use this , I am tempted to open fire, ma’am!”

Yulassana sank back in her chair slowly. Even to a Gersallian, she was completely shocked, and rather deflated. “That corroboration, that’s more important than actual interrogations, isn’t it? To know what they really intended?”

“It is. Shall I contact Portland, or act immediately, ma’am? I know our orders come from very high in the government.”

“Act immediately,” Yulassana swallowed. “I will defend you, Captain.”

“Of course, Deputy Underscretary. Captain to Bridge! Set Condition One , get me the Aururian fleet! I shall be on the bridge shortly! Colonel Fei’nur should prepare her forces for possible operation against hostile forces. Order the courier to break orbit and move to the outer system with dispatch!”

“Back to medbay for me!” Nah’dur answered, looking chuffed. “First genocide prevented!” She shook her fist in the air before she ran off, as Fera’xero moved to take his post with the Captain.

Still in her dress whites, Zhen’var burst onto the bridge at a jog, as the alarm klaxons began to sound. “Possible threat is the League squadron and ground forces , comrades! Stand to it!”

That left her looking far more military and professional than the rest of her crew as she settled into her command chair and the Huáscar rapidly came to quarters. Elia looked down at her from Ops. “Captain, the possible target is the League squadron?” She bit it off, though; “Admiral Afyhova coming through for you on main comms.”

“Thank you. Admiral , I am inviting your squadron to join me in orbit. This also serves as notice that the terms presented by you during our discussion are acceptable.” From the last time they had met, Zhen’var looked far more confident and put-together. Her doubts were gone.

“You found out something about Garatnam, I take it, Captain? I will not turn you down.” She turned to the side and started crisply addressing Captain Kerolit for a moment before looking back.

“You may say so. I do not intend to encrypt my communications with Admiral Bonnet. I do ask for your restraint, Admiral.” Her black demi-claws were out, and pressed tightly into the stone of her armrests.

“Of course,” Afyhova said, and there was a twinkle in her eye and almost a wink. “We will conform to your movements, Captain.”

“Thank you, Admiral.” She cut the connection. “The League’s anti-drug agent would have resulted in the rot and collapse of the structure of every hive city on the planet.” Zhen’var announced, glancing around at her crew on the bridge. “We have as yet unproven claims they were also responsible for the attack upon our survey team to prevent the discovery of this effect. They will be withdrawing from this system, one way or another. It is possible, perhaps even likely, Admiral Bonnet is not aware of this.”

Elia sucked in her breath sharply. “It would have guaranteed total war between the Aururian Empire and the Alliance,” she said, gaining her composure first, perhaps because telepaths were so used to bad things happening.

“And painted the Dilgar with an old and bloody brush; the willing agents of xenocide.” There was an audible scrape as her fingers clenched. “Someone wished that to happen. Whom, we are not aware as yet. You may draw your own conclusions, but we have our orders. This world shall be free .”

“When the Aururian fleet enters orbit, the League is sure to go to stations,” Elia warned, noting the thermal spikes commencing on the League ships.

“I know. Our timing just be precise. Get me a channel to their squadron, no encryption, as soon as we are cleared for action.”

Elia looked at her indicator as the counter went down.

“We’re prepping the side launch tubes for a mass fighter strike,” Stasia reported over the horn.

“...Green across the board,” Elia confirmed a moment later.

“Hail Justicia, Comms.” Zhen’var forced herself to sit still in her command chair, gaze looking across at the main screen rather than her usual personal comms pickup.

“Admiral Bonnet, your line, Captain!” The main screen flashed into view of the bridge of the Justicia.

He looked tense, certainly not ready for this. “Captain Zhen’var, what has taken place? You have brought your shields up and we see the energy signatures aboard both your vessel and the Aururian fleet, we are going to alert ourselves.”

“The Alliance has lost confidence in the League as a decolonization partner worthy of trust, Admiral Bonnet.” Her voice was flat and cold. “You will withdraw your ships from orbit. We will oversee the departure of the remaining League citizens.”

“That is contrary to the agreement between the League and the Alliance, Captain, I…”

The Aururian fleet jumped in. The carrier positioned in the rear immediately began to launch her area CAP as the lead battlecruiser’s gun turrets swung out to starboard to clear on Bonnet’s flagship.

Captain, the Aururian fleet! Now is not the time for this!” Alarms were blaring on the bridge of the Justicia behind him.

I called them in, Admiral. This is not a negotiation, it is an ultimatum!” A snarl and hiss accompanied her words, eyes flaring with fury. “You will withdraw, or we will force you to do so . The League’s solution to the drug trade would have resulted in the total structural failure and collapse of the hives! Claim ignorance if you wish, but agreements are made between partners . The League has forfeited that consideration.”

“What kind of mad talk is this, Captain? How could the elimination of a drug cause structural problems for the bugs’ damned cities? ” he looked incredulous--and more than a little scared. Indeed, the fear that this might be the beginning of a war was real, and without the Alliance on their side, the prospects were not good. It was not the fear of a coward, but a sane man facing a grim fate.

“The retrovirus your scientists provided, to eliminate the enzyme responsible for the creation of drugs from Tiral ? It does not effect the plant , That enzyme is also responsible for controlling bacteria in the hive structure that would otherwise rapidly rot and decay what the Numeraians create.. I am giving you the opportunity to withdraw. I suggest you take it.”

“Third party comms request coming in from the Resolution, ” Elia said, temporarily muting the line.

“Feed it to my omnitool earpiece, Commander.”

“We are prepared to issue an ultimatum to the League, if you like, Captain,” Afyhova’s voice sounded through the earpiece.

“Captain, you have no proof. You have only supposition. We had no intention to harm the Numeraians--the Amazons are using you, Captain!” Bonnet was almost shouting--at the end he was shouting.

“My survey team, which was attacked on the surface, confirmed via their sampling and laboratory results that this is the case, Admiral.” Zhen’var’s voice had lost allemotional tone but that of frigid formality.

“My God Captain, we are on the same side! Have you gone mad ?” He looked beyond her, to the bridge crew of the Huáscar within the feed.

Side , Admiral? I am an officer of the Alliance , not the League! Withdraw your ships .”

He stiffened, and glared at her. “We will defend the National Transitional Council, Captain, we have honour. They will be against the wall if you let the Aururians impose their precious reactionary regime! That is what this is really about, you know. That is what it is always about.”

“I find it unlikely they will have much interest in standing with you after what has been done, Admiral.”

Elia muted the channel. “I think we need an ultimatum at this point, Captain,” she said softly, almost biting her lip.

“Admiral Afyhova, the time has come, I believe.”

The channel synched into a three way. Afyhova looked to Bonnet for a moment. Their lines descended from the same world. But they had been irrevocably separated by a symbiot which existed only in this Earth, this timeline. The uniforms nonetheless shared a European influence, they both spoke western European languages, at least in command. Afyhova switched to French for this.

“Will you get to Antananarivo in time for Vespers, Admiral?” Afyhova asked, her voice filled with scorn. It was a deep historical allusion of two orders, the kind the Aururians, so conservative by the nature of the Australian peoples, had bestowed on their entire Empire.

“Perhaps you may believe that the Alliance and League are on the same ‘side’, as you have said, Admiral. Perhaps that is even true. It does not change that if you do not depart orbit within one hour, I am willing to use force to compel your compliance.”

“France does not abandon her obligations, Captain,” Bonnet answered. “The League is her daughter, we will not surrender the National Transitional Council to you.”

“One hour,” Afyhova repeated simply, refusing to be baited, and nodded through the line to Zhen’var before the image blinked off.

“Commander, you have the bridge. Undock the Heermann. The Deputy Undersecretary and I need to urgently relay the situation to our superiors… and summon our reinforcements.”

As the two women--Yulassana in the jumpseat--rose and the Heermann deployed, they couldn’t help but feel the terrible inevitability of war.

As it turned out, it was only twenty-two minutes until Elia commed the two of them, having made their reports up their respective chains of command and called for reinforcements.

“Captain, there is a transmission from the surface.” Elia shot a significant look and put the proclamation on the ready room screen instead of her own face, with the autotranslation. “I am Queen Tisararam of Xiteram’mer,” the youthful Numeraian queen, still an immense and ominous figure, began. “I have supported the National Transitional Council; however, the com-interception broadcast which was displayed around the planet shortly before has changed this matter, my children. Though it is certain that the comms eavesdropping capability was the result of the technology of the Aururian Empire, many of my sisters trust the Aururians. Furthermore, it is clear that they are sincere words of the League. Nobody would have trusted them, or the Council, if they had known of any kind of risk to the saliva which builds our cities. Nobody would have seriously believed that the silly inebriation of the humans from our hives would justify any Action of this kind. The humans have lied to us, children. Accordingly, the government they proposed ends now. I have seized the National Transitional Council. I will negotiate with my sisters to establish the government of independent Garatnam. Remain calm, and follow the instructions of the sub-Viziers. The hour of our independence remains at hand. The rootless aliens in orbit do not know how to untangle themselves from the risk of war to have free reign to threaten us again. The centuries of our oppression are at an end, and the subterfuge of our oppressor undone!”

Zhen’var was quietly shaking her head. “... Colonel Fei’nur has her orders. Almighty willing, she will be able to carry them out. This is… what I had feared would happen when Admiral Bonnet was stubborn.” The two women looked at each other, and returned to the bridge.

“Captain, we are receiving a communication from the Justicia, ” CPO Bor’erj reported. The bridge remained as tense as a knife, nobody having gone off-post in those twenty-two minutes, every station crewed.

The Dilgar captain paused, before returning to her command chair. “I will take it, Comms.”

Bonnet looked relieved. The truth was out now, and one could see the next steps written on his face. He was a man of honour, who had been left looking for a way out. A way to save face as a military man. And the Aururians had given it to them. The supposed warmongering Empire had known that unless they flipped the Queens supporting the NTC, it would be a war. They had avoided it by working that angle in the background.

“Captain, in light of the failure of the National Transitional Council to retain control over the planet, and in the interests of interstellar peace, we are prepared to withdraw from Garatnam within the one hour you have given us.”

“In the interest of continued peace, you have my thanks, Admiral Bonnet. I will stand my ship down from combat stations, and my ground forces will continue to protect your cantonments until all your citizens are withdrawn.”

“The military did not know, Captain. You have my word of honour as an officer, the military did not know,” he answered stiffly, repeating himself emphatically, shaken.

Zhen’var believed him. Growing up, serving as an officer in the Earth Alliance, she believed him. But somebody did, she thought stiffly as the message blinked off. “Get me Admiral Afyhova, please.”

The screen flashed promptly back to the bridge of the Resolution. “Captain,” Afyhova acknowledged. “I am given to understand the League Admiral has agreed to withdraw.”

“Correct, Admiral, within the hour he was given. You have my thanks for your cooperation in helping keep the peace.” Left unsaid was how the Aururians had outmanouvered them.

“It was not really me. The Lady Marshal acted according to the dictates and judgement of her position,” Afyhova answered frankly. “I am just glad it did not have a recourse to arms.”

“Your forebearance made it possible. Again, you have my thanks. My ground forces will shield the League civilians until they are evacuated, as per my orders. Garantam is free.”

“I will make your job a little easier for you, then, Captain. I will withdraw as well,” she answered, significantly, a flicker of expression of surprise from Captain Kerolit behind her.

There was a flash of relief across Zhen’var’s face. With the Aururians withdrawn, their allies on the surface would be much less likely to act against the Massif. “ Namaste , Admiral.” She pressed her palms together and inclined her head.

Afyhova reciprocated the gesture. “ Namaste,” she replied, “Alinga be your sure friend, you travel the solar vastness fast and sure, Captain. You have done honour today.”

Zhen’var nodded, and broke the connection, mentally mumbling to herself I doubt Portland will see it that way.

See it one way, or see it another, when the sun set on the Massif that night, Garatnam was a free nation, the Numeraians a free people, and there was peace.


“Have you ever actually testified before a Military Oversight Committee meeting before, Captain?” Abebech asked, sitting at a table with Zhen’var and Fei’nur, collectively (and embarrassingly for Will as the XO) the highest ranking officers on the ship, as they settled into the vast dockyard around Portland in geosynchronous orbit which up until that point the Huáscar had never actually visited before. It was their first trip to the capital of the Alliance.

“No, but I was with General Leftcourt as his aide when he did in Geneva, Commander.” Her hands desperately wanted to do something, but she held them rigidly in her lap. “It will be unpleasant, I know.”

“Project confidence and focus on the soundbytes, most of them will follow along with what you say if they think the media will like it,” Abebech answered, sipping her coffee. She was as enormously composed as ever, having returned from her trip to Doreia looking a bit healthier and with the Heermann having avoided action on the late mission. The scuttlebutt aboard the Huáscar was that she had gone back to the Solarian League for some kind of medical treatment, but Nah’dur flat-out insisted she wouldn’t need it.

“It remains to be seen. I am sure the Foreign Office wants my head.” Her nerves were so shaken, Zhen’var didn’t even have her usual chai before her, just water with a lemon slice.

“They haven’t cancelled our next mission to negotiate with the Quarian Admiralty, Captain,” Abebech reminded her gently. “It will be fine.”

“I will remember your words after the hearing, Commander Imra. Until then, my fears have reign of my mind.”

“I have always admired your honesty most of all,” Abebech said, abruptly. She rarely delved into such things. “Not simply telling the truth. But the honesty of self. You may let your fears reign over your mind, but someone like you doesn’t have anything to be afraid of, really.”

“What the Deputy Undersecretary told me on my yacht indicates otherwise, Commander.” Zhen’var murmured, gaze flickering about. “But I shall try and remember your counsel.”.

“You have as many powerful friends as enemies, Captain. Bear that in mind when you go.”

“Thank you, Commander.” It was a conversation Zhen’var kept in mind the next several days, including during the long several hours before the Military Oversight Committee’s inquisition into her actions. She never flinched from taking full responsibility for the outcome and process of the action; on behalf of her crew, and even the Deputy Undersecretary. It had been her actions which had led to the outcome; a Garantam that was in the orbit of the Aururian Empire, and a massive setback in relations with the League.

On Omega Station, under Aria t’Loak’s thumb, interuniversal connections meant the scale and scope of crime had only unfathomably multiplied.

The group of Salarians, hyperactive and nervous, almost screamed ill-intent as they leaned in together with their contractor. Contractor was a good word for it, neutral, divorced.

“It is not enough to kill the Dilgar scion, no, no,” the lead Salarian insisted. “We need the destruction of the plans confirmed as well. There are other Dilgar of that house, it is famous for its outlier intellectual potential. We need the plans.”

“That increases the complexity of the operation massively.”

“Cost is not a concern; cost supports the increase in complexity. The plans must be destroyed, the family is extremely capable at cross-functional intellectual performance. One of the others may finish the work even if the scion is eliminated.”

“That ship is a very tough nut to crack, gentlemen…”

“Two hundred bars of gold pressed latinum,” the first Salarian said simply.

“I’ll see what I can do to put a team together.”

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