A Compact Model
This part originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.
210th of 2029 (036-98): Cisvus
Special Agent Vu had decided it was time to act. He’d left his hotel room, carefully lost two of his three minders and met with a new group of mercenaries. He made sure the last minder saw before losing her, too. He headed for the shuttle to Daramm Up. All he needed to do now was wait.
210th of 2029 (036-98): The Gubashiidi Estates
My anger had subsided. I found Siish sitting glumly in the garden. “I’m sorry I called you an arse, sheevia.”
He looked up, still depressed “I assume by that I’m forgiven? Yes, I’m sorry too. You don’t mean it about the diet do you?”
“Siish, you must have put on ten kilos since we got here; you need to lose some of that.” He sighed heavily; I took pity on him. I took his hand “I’m sure we can sneak in a few treats, on the ship.” He smiled. “In moderation.” Another sigh “So, Siish, the Imperial Agent? What are we going to do?” Changing the subject seemed the best idea.
“I was planning on running through Kirsov’s mission tonight, and if everyone’s agreed, we’ll be leaving tomorrow. I’ve already cleared a dummy flight plan, so he won’t be able to follow us.”
I smiled “Good,” Much as I loved Daramm, I was missing space; it would be good.
I saw Isabella approaching, she looked concerned about something. Her message was to the point. “Vu’s gone missing. He met with a bunch of mercs and has now slipped his tail.”
Siish frowned. “That’s not good.”
I giggled, “You reckon, genius?” Sometimes his ability to state the obvious was outstanding.
He blushed ever so slightly. “How many?”
Isabella’s look had not changed “Seven.”
He decided. “Change of plans, we leave now.”
210th of 2029 (036-98): Daramm Up
Agent Vu listened, satisfied. Not perfect, not by a long way, but acceptable. The L’polan he’d had watching the estate was still on the shuttle up, he’d got delayed. They seemed to be all in one place, he could hear six voices. He’d expected them to separate, engineering, landing clamps, clearing the umbilicals, they would have worked a lot faster that way. Even if it gave him more time, it meant he’d have to try and deal with them all at once. That meant activating the virus before he wanted to. Still, they were on the ship. He chuckled, Vice Admiral Siishubuu Manish. His tactical method had two basic features. He’d won the Second Battle of Daramm26 with it. One, force your opponent onto ground of your choosing, preferably prepared beforehand. Two, seize the initiative and hold it relentlessly. Vu had achieved the first; now it was time for the second. He turned to his two companions and indicated it was time to go.
Nobody was happy; rushing never puts people in a good mood. But here we all were, on Raledenet’s bridge trying to prep the ship. Jane was struggling to get the fusion reactor back on line “You know, this would be much easier if I was actually in engineering, Siish.”
“Probably, but separating is a bad idea. How long to get the reactor stable?”
“From standby, about another ten minutes from here, at least. Half that if I was in engineering. Rushing it from here is not good; I’ve got fluctuations all over the place.”
He ignored the remark and turned to me. “Flight?”
“I'll have the plan ready in three, four tops.”
Ariaryn was working quietly on anther console “Like Jane, this would be much faster outside. But I’ll have us out of the clamps and umbilicals away in ten minutes.”
“It will do.” He took a breath. “And, Isabella?”
She was more than a little annoyed. “Siish, I am not a computer tech, I am a doctor. It’s a transponder, making it say we’re not going where we’re going is meant to be difficult. It’ll be done when it’s done.”
Siish frowned. “A rough estimate at least?”
“Ten minutes, but I’m pretty much picking a number from my head. If you wanted this done quickly, you should have let Sakuya do it.”
He was sitting quietly in a corner, trying to keep out of the way. “I could do it if you’d like, captain.”
Siish looked over at the boy. He spoke kindly “It’s okay, you don’t know our systems. And it’s just Siish, not kaptan.” I, of course, knew the real reason Siish didn’t want him doing it. What’s more, I’m pretty sure Sakuya knew them, too. It took a while for Siish to fully trust people.
Sakuya looked a little down. “Is there anything I can do?”
Siish considered carefully. “There’s some cordial in the flight galley. I’d kill for one, imagine everyone would.”
Sakuya smiled, took two steps and started rummaging. Siish returned to filing the ‘official’ flight plan. He did try to be nonchalant as he quietly added “Oh, and there’s some ceejka27 in the freezer.”
It didn’t work. “Siish, you’re on a diet.” I looked up at Sakuya. “No ceejka.”
He had a different opinion. “Firstly, I don’t need a diet. And, secondly, you said I was allowed occasional treats.” He stressed the word treats.
I, on the other hand, stressed the word occasionally. “Yes, a few, occasionally. Not the second you get back to the ship. And most certainly not smothered in cream and ice cream. And that cordial, it’s like twenty percent sugar.”
Siish huffed and half barked, “Fine! Sakuya, make mine a black coffee. With no sugar, if that’s acceptable.” He glared at me. I just smiled and nodded.
Agent Vu was chuckling ever so slightly. There seemed to be something of a disagreement going on on the Raledenet’s bridge. The kaptan’s lover was banning him from dessert. He smiled to himself, his mind briefly wandering again. He focused and took out the ear piece. There’d be a very minor power surge when he activated the virus, just a tiny one. He ensured it would be in a tertiary system, something that wouldn’t be noticed, but they’d wired the bug to that system too. It was an amateur’s mistake, not one his people would have made. But it meant the bug would be fried when the virus started. He spoke quietly and quickly, “Make it quick and clean, weapons only if there’s absolutely no other choice. And even then, shoot to wound, not kill.” He’d stressed this very carefully to all the L’polans, harming a child of Lady Manish didn’t bear thinking about. He flicked a switch. Inside Raledenet there was a momentary surge of power and its security systems switched over to silent test mode. The three of them stood and dashed into the landing bay.
I heard Sakuya yelp with pain and the smash as the coffee pot shattered. I turned to look, he was clutching his hand.
“Sorry, I dropped it.” His voice still small, he didn’t mention the spark that had hit him.
Isabella stood and went over. “Ouch, that’s going to need some spray.”
She went to leave for sick bay; Siish, however, had other ideas. “Transponder, Isabella.”
She shot him a look. “Hand scalded; doctor, remember. If you want the transponder, get Sakuya to do it, like you should’ve in the first place.” She turned to Sakuya. “I assume you can do it without using that hand?” He nodded.
Siish sighed, “Okay, Sakuya, have the transponder show us going to Shirshagi.” I saw a huge smile spread over his face as he sat at the console.
Agent Vu looked at his two companions as they reached the hatch. Susan was a former special forces sergeant. She was strictly by the book, followed orders and good at her job; he had no worries with her. Gami, on the other hand, was a heartless killer; he knew that. Once a member of the L’polan Vermox28, he’d drifted from one morally dubious job to the next after the fall. He’d even worked for the Protectorate, at the start of the war. Obviously he’d gone too far; they’d had him in prison for four years. Not somebody to leave on his own, not when you wanted a zero body count. But he couldn’t afford to be too fussy, here. He quickly checked the lock, green. He hesitated a moment; the techs had assured him it was flawless, but they’d assured him his ID was flawless, too. No time to be worrying about that; he pushed the button. The iris value slid open, he smiled and breathed again. Susan boarded first, cautiously; she indicated it was safe. Vu and Gami followed her in. Vu glanced around, clear. Time was critical now, they headed for the bridge.
Isabella reached the sick bay and retrieved her medical bag. All the basics were in there, bandages, sprays, anaesthetics, a full range of usual drugs, more than enough. She paused a second; it was Sakuya. She grabbed a handful of sedatives as well.
I’d just finished the flight plan and moved on to pre-flight checks; I could hear Jane mumbling away over on engineering; Siish was just finishing up filling the official flight plan when Sakuya spoke: “Uhmmm, is this buggy?” He sounded quiet and very uncertain.
Siish looked up. “Is what buggy?”
Still unsure. “Anti-hijack, it’s not displaying a test message.”
Siish checked on his console, he sounded a little frustrated. “Of course not, it’s not in test mode. Just finish the transponder.”
Sakuya sounded really uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, I… I already have,” I thought, that was quick, damn quick. “but I noticed anti-hijack. It says it’s live, but it’s looping video feed; it only does that in test mode.”
Siish’s response was instant. “Weapons, now!” But all the weapons were safely stored in the arms locker.
Ariaryn was first to react, he turned and started to sprint to the door. It opened just as he got there. The man’s rifle butt came up, Ariaryn blocked with one arm. His other arm swung up and round and Ariaryn elbow solidly struck him in the side of the face. The man stumbled sideways, dazed; a fourth degree adept of eeniag29 is quite impressive to watch. Ariaryn’s arm continued through , striking again on the down stroke. Another, a woman. Ariaryn kicked. I’d seen Oloku teach that move; apparently you needed precise placement, but it had the advantage that a lot women didn’t realise how vulnerable they were. He connected; ouch, that had to hurt. I felt for her a little as she doubled over in pain. Ariaryn moved to finish her off when the third, another man, placed his pistol in Ariaryn’s ribs. “I’d stop if I were you.” I recognised the accent; Sesheryn, Agent Vu, the sub-machine gun in his right hand carefully covering the rest of us.
Ariaryn froze a moment. I could see him considering. One breath, then he relaxed and slowly lowered his arm. The dazed man was recovering. He stood and looked at Ariaryn, then hit him with his rifle butt. Ariaryn stumbled back, nose bloody. Vu turned angrily to the man, “Gami, stand down or I’ll put you down!” He indicated the rest of us. “Cover them.” Vu turned back to Ariaryn. “I apologise.”
Ariaryn glared back “I don’t.” I could see the anger seething in him.
Vu surveyed Ariaryn a moment “I understand, but I’m still sorry.” He looked around the room, counting. His face changed “Everyone into the corner, slowly and sit, hands on heads.”
We all moved slowly to the corner. Sakuya was terrified, I hugged him before we sat. “Don’t worry balul, just sit next to me, right up to me.” Vu saw and heard but remained silent. I sat next to Sakuya, my body touching him, reassuring him. Part of me chuckled; if he’d been Luriani, if I wasn’t broken30.
Vu turned to to the woman, she was struggling to her feet. “Susan, check them for weapons. Quickly, one’s missing.”
Susan came over, she was still wincing, it must have hurt. She frisked us all, one by one, carefully. There was no need, none of us were armed. Vu’s face was concerned. “One’s missing; go and secure the arms locker, then find her and bring her here.” He turned to Gami. “If you shoot her, I will kill you; do you understand?” Even I could tell he was deadly serious. Gami did not look happy.
The pair departed while we sat, hands on head. I could see Ariaryn wasn’t the only one seething, Siish almost hissed at Vu, “You won’t get away with this.”
Vu smiled at Siish “It would seem, kaptan, I already have.”
Isabella had almost reached the bridge; she could see the backs of two men. She didn’t know who they were, but she could guess. She heard one telling somebody to find her. Isabella looked around; a fresher; she hid and listened. She heard footsteps, two sets, passing. She waited and left, looking around for a weapon; a fire extinguisher, that would do. She moved carefully through the ship, heading for the arms locker. She knew that was where they’d go, but she wanted something a little more deadly.
She paused at the corner and peered carefully around it. They were there, working on cracking the lock code. She moved slowly, silently behind them. A man and woman. She swung the extinguisher with all her might and connected with the back of the woman’s head. The crunch was sickening. The woman fell forward heavily. The man turned. Isabella gasped; she knew this man. A malicious grin spread over his face, his gun trained straight at her. “Still not co-operating, I see.” Terror gripped Isabella for an instant, then anger. An anger she’d not felt for a long time. Without thinking she swung the extinguisher upwards. There was a lot of anger behind that swing. It caught Gami by surprise. Isabella was no longer the broken pliant subject he remembered from Sesh Liryn; she was a person again and that person was angry. The extinguisher struck the side of his head. He groaned and stumbled forwards. Isabella brought the extinguisher down on the back of his skull with all the force she could muster. He fell to floor and lay motionless, a pool of blood spreading around his head.
I sat powerless, longing wanting to something, anything. An idea; I could see the comms panel, maybe, open a line, somebody might hear. I guess I was kind of reaching, but I just couldn’t sit there. I very carefully undid my watch buckle. I kept my eyes on Vu, he said nothing, did nothing. Slowly I let the strap fall lose. Vu still did nothing. I let the watch fall into my right hand. I smiled, right handed, he'd be watching the left. I judged the distance. Vu spoke, “Corig Wa, if you’d be so kind as to gently toss your watch to me. I’m sure your kaptan would be rather upset if his eshal were to be hurt.”
“I’m not his eshal, I’m his nuntarri.” I hissed it at him.
Vu looked at Siish, he just glared. “Nuntarri? As in the holodramas?”
This really was too much, him too? “Yes, nuntarri,” I felt like screaming. “Nuntarri, nuntarri, nuntarri!”
He actually sounded interested rather than amused. “You know, some of the Sesheryn worlds still have nuntarri. Not like in the First Protectorate though. More a discreet arrangement. No hair or dresses and about as many men as women. Though some do dabble in politics.” He was talking rather enthusiastically.
“Really?” I drew out the word, filling it with as much disdain as I could.
“Oh yes. So you’re reviving the tradition?”
“Well, Corig Nuntarri, your watch please.”
Isabella stood panting. She looked at the man. The woman was groaning, she knelt and reached in her bag. Anaesthetic; she jabbed the needle into the woman’s neck as she started to move. She squeezed the syringe. The woman looked at her, then fell into unconsciousness. She moved to the man, felt his neck. No pulse. She sat back heavily. She’d seen a lot of death. She was a doctor, she'd been at Rurur, she’d been on the ground during First Daramm31, she even tried to bring about her own once. But she’d never killed anyone before. She’d hoped she’d feel guilt or remorse; she didn’t. She’d feared she’d feel elation or even satisfaction; she didn’t feel that either. She just felt a little sad. It concerned her.
Isabella stood and opened the arms locker. She took her case and opened it. Ariaryn always insisted on stowing weapons safely. He was almost obsessed by it. Every lesson with him started with a safety lecture. Her guns were unloaded. She took her p5 and loaded it. A problem, her outfit wasn’t exactly designed to carry firearms. She shoved the pistol the only place she could think of. The c5, she took a magazine from the locker. It was loaded. She pushed it home then turned to the gun. The selector, fully down. Four settings marked S, 1, B and F. Ariaryn had not got to teaching her on it yet, he had concerns. She chuckled. She considered a moment, should be simple. She pushed the selector fully up and set off for the bridge.
Isabella could see the door to the bridge, she could hear Agent Vu’s voice. She noticed her heart beating just a little faster. She paused a moment to flick back her hair and straighten her dress. She told herself she was just regaining her composure. She took a breath and moved towards the door, smiling.
Notes 1-25 appeared with earlier parts of this story.
- 252nd of 2027: A large raiding force of Imperial battlecruisers from the Ley sector fleet attempted to strike directly at the Protectorate’s capital (recreating on the success of an earlier much smaller raid). Vice Admiral Manish forced the attackers deep into Daramm’s gravity well, trapping them between his liners and the ground based defences.
- The intelligence service of the L’polan Empire, noted for its ruthlessness and sometimes brutal methods. Many former members had to flee from the Imperium’s wrath after the fall of the Empire and found employment as mercenaries.
- A frozen desert high in sugars and fats.
- A traditional Luriani form of unarmed combat.
- The Luriani are noted as an extremely tactile culture with a very small personal body space. Such an action by a trusted person would be seen as reassuring. However it is also extremely intimate, even for the tactile Luriani.
- 100th of 2027: Commodore Rebecca Bat Elam’s raid on Daramm is considered one of the most daring Imperial actions of the Luriani War and one of the few successes of the Ley Fleet. She managed to take her destroyer flotilla deep into Protectorate territory undetected and strike at the capital itself. The raid caught the defenders unprepared and she was able to bombard the surface for almost fifteen minutes challenged only by surface based fire. Bet Elam’s flag, the light cruiser Al-Hassan, was crippled covering the escape and she would spend the rest of the war in captivity. The raid caused little damage to the Protectorate’s industrial or military capacity, but resulted in over 20,000 civilian casualties. The First Battle of Daramm was a much needed boost to the morale of the Ley Fleet and a blow to the Protectorate's prestige.