Springingtiger's Blog


Chapter 25: Redemption
November 26, 2016, 00:17
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel | Tags: ,

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As we headed out into deep space Anya laid in the course to Alabama Colony that the General had given her.
She explained that it would take us through the Alabama space patrolled by the DST Destroyer ‘Black Op’.

“Oh come on! You can’t expect me to believe DST named a ship ‘Black Op’, it’s a bit bloody obvious?” I objected.

Anya shrugged, “It’s one of very few overt vessels we use when we need to be seen taking an interest…what are you laughing at?”

“The idea that for you covert operations are so normal that when you act openly it’s worthy of remark,”

Anya smiled, “It’s a funny life…Anyway.” She continued, “Black Op’s been briefed about us theyl pursie us to the atmosphere and rough the Bug up a bit…”

“Better not touch my tail!” I interrupted.

“No, that’s my job. As I was saying the damage will look a lot worse than it is, Captain Veevee is a bit of a specialist at creating the illusion of serious battle.”

The few days to Alabama passed quickly and enjoyably. We spent a day riding beside the Valkyrie meteor shower, enjoying its rainbow colours . When we first saw it Anya asked where the cats were, because they might enjoy the sight. When I came back to the cockpit she asked,

“Did you find the cats, where are they?”

“You could say they’re ‘building their cover’” I replied.

Anya looked puzzled for a moment then her eyes widened and her hand flew to her mouth,

“Oh! Really?”

I nodded, “Still we’ll have hours of the Valkyries, they won’t miss it. Time for some Wagner I think!”

A couple of days later we encountered the ‘Black Op’. Anya had a list of compartments to seal off because they were the ones Veevee would hit.

“Is he that good?” I asked.

“Much better, don’t worry.” Anya replied.

The Black Op and her two armed launches attacked us and the fire fight was spectacular. Anya discharged most of our weapons and deliberately hit nothing. However the DST craft were targeting each others missiles which caused explosions which may well have been seen from the planet without a telescope. We took several hits as arranged and I took the Bug spinning into the atmosphere while flipping it tail over nose several times before righting it. I went into the Selma Spaceport far too fast and almost sideways on used the vertical thrusters to lift us clear of the runway over the Spaceport buildings and put the Bug down her nose in the car-park and her tail in the field.

“Bloody hell!” Exclaimed Anya, “I didn’t know you could fly like that!”

“Would it help if I said, ‘Neither did I’?”

“Bastard!” Laughed Anya.

“I like this Bug. Okay she’s not a Spitfire, but she handles as well…better in fact.”

Sirens were approaching bringing with them a fire truck, ambulance, and security cars. I sprang the airlock and we tumbled out. The cats ran into the bushes – funny how all public facilities have bushes – and disappeared.

While the medics checked us out for injuries, the fire and rescue team checked out the bug for damage. We had a few bruises and the Bug some nasty holes. However they confirmed they were fixable.

Then it was the turn of the Spaceport Security to question us. The moment Anya removed her combat helmet the Security Chief recognised her.

“You’re Anya Jog!” He exclaimed his cigarette fell from his lips, but he appeared not to notice. I removed my helmet,

“And I am Cain.”

The Chief went white. “My grandpappy was with you in the Rock Run uprising, he died thirty some years ago. They called called him Beauregard Hadfield.”

I thought for a moment then replied, “Left handed, chain gun, steel plate on his skull?”

“That’s him. I’m George Armstrong Hadfield.” As he held out his hand he added. “I loved that old man!”

I smiled, “I’d have thought him pretty unlovable, but good to have on your side in a fight. He was a mean, bad tempered old bear, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him!”

The Chief rubbed his ear, “You don’t need to tell me that my left ear’s twice the side of the other ‘cause of his backhanders! So what are you doing here?”

“Got Swamp Fever medicine to trade and Jog’s looking to hide up for a while.”

“You won’t get the price you would have done last year.” Hadfield said.

“Why not, don’t you still have Swamp Fever?”

“Oh yeah, but we got our own blockade runners now.”

As the Chief spoke a long black launch suddenly appeared overhead and settled on the runway. It was followed by two more.

“You’ve got cloaking tech!” I exclaimed. “Even the Empire hasn’t got that”.

“They do,” said the Chief, we got hold of one of their ships and fetched a couple of White Coats from Muenchen to reverse engineer it. Now we’ve got three.”

“Well done!” I said, the admiration in my voice wasn’t feigned. “Pity with the blockade you can’t get into space to assemble Cruisers and such.”

“No we can’t,” agreed the Chief, “but while the Empire’s blockading us they’re not watching others who can. Soon we’ll clear this blockade and they won’t see us coming!”

“I was going to ask you what the plan was, but you can’t tell me and if you can, you shouldn’t.” I said.

“You’re right, I’ve probably said more than I should’ve.” Agreed the Chief.

“Still what’s done is in the past and can’t hurt anyone. Where did you steal the ship?”

“Right here on Alabama. One put down a few miles out of town. None of us saw it coming, but my cousin Henry saw it appear and rushed back to tell me. Anyway they came into town in disguise, asking questions and we ambushed them on their way back to the ship. Waited until they told the folks on board to open the doors before we hit them then we had one group rush the ship and the other open up on the landing party.”

“Stupid!” I exclaimed.

“What do you mean stupid?” Demanded Hadfield.

“Not you, the Empire. You know out there they call you rednecks and think you’re stupid? They definitely underestimated you, serves them right.”

Hadfield grinned, “Grandpappy said there was no love lost between you and the Empire!”

“I have my reasons, don’t talk about them, Beauregard knew them. What did he die of anyway?”

“Old age, mostly. I don’t think the drink helped. You’ve heard of chewin’ tobacca? We called the stuff he made in his still ‘Chewin’ Whiskey” it was as thick as Turpentine, but Turps tasted better!”

“I suppose Agnes has gone too?”

“No, Grandma’s in a home now. I’d tell you to visit, but she don’t recognise anyone even family. Ma and Daddy would be pleased to see you, why don’t you and Miss Jog come to dinner?”

“We’d love to, aren’t there formalities to go through first?”

The Chief turned to one of his men, “Bobby, do the paperwork on Cain and Jog, what you can’t fill in I’ll do tomorrow.” He turned back to me, “Tomorrow we’ll sort out your repairs as well.”

“You could’t install a cloaking device while you’re at it?” I asked with a smile.

“You wish!” He chuckled.

While we were talking the Bug had been lifted onto trolleys and was being dragged to a hangar. I stopped them for a moment and Anya and I grabbed some of our stuff before joining the Chief at his car.

During dinner as he relaxed the Chief became quite informative. His mother and his wife had laid on a good spread and the drink flowed freely – unlike Turpentine. While Agnetha – his mother – and Sue discussed Twenty First Century war poetry the George and I talked about the Empire, and wars, and revolutions,

“So,” I said, “when you took the stealth ship, you killed all the Imps in the ambush?”

“Hell No! We got most of them in jail. Killed a few, couple died later, but most we patched up and locked up.”

“Did they tell you why they were here?”

“Nah, they’re DST so it’s just name, rank, and number.”

“You could have tortured them.” I said.

“No point, they wouldn’t have talked and if they did they’d have lied. Better to keep them whole in case we need them to trade.” The Chief replied.

We stayed at the Hadfield house and went into town with George in the morning. It was he who suggested I might want to see the prisoners and took us to the Jail. The warder presented the Chief with a clipboard with the names of the prisoners and their cell numbers. He showed it to me as I looked at it I said to him,

“I think I might have found you a trade.”

“How do you mean?” George asked.

I pointed to a name on the list, Jakob Friedland. “If that’s who I think it is, his father’s Professor Johannes Friedland. I think he’d pay to get his son back.”

After we’d spoken to the prisoners the Chief was beaming.

“That’s a piece of luck you spotting Friedland on the list.”

“Not really, his father’s heading up an expedition to Sigma Seven so the name was in my mind. A couple of months ago I’d have missed the connection. Now you need him to contact his commander so you can start a negotiation.”

“I’ll just have to clear it with the council first.” Said the Chief.

Anya and I went for lunch and she finally spoke after being silent most of the morning.

“I can’t believe you did that!” She said, angrily.

“Did what?” I was unsure what her problem was.

“Betrayed Jakob.”

“Look at it like this, we might get Jakob released without bloodshed and he can report back whatever he’s learned to the General. It’s too late to prevent the spread of the cloaking technology. The best we can do is cut our losses and make sure Sikorsky knows as soon as possible before the Militias employ it against the blockade. A blockade that, by the way, seems pretty futile now. Perhaps it’s time for a different strategy. Who knows opening a negotiation over the prisoners may perhaps improve relations between Alabam and the Empire.”

That afternoon we found ourselves in the colony’s main broadcasting studio while Friedland opened a channel first to the Black Op who relayed the signal eventually to the General. Once the General came on Friedland told him he was handing the microphone to the Foreign Secretary.

“Hello General Sikorsky,” said the tall, silver haired gentleman. Joseph Oldman here.” Again the distance punctuated the conversation with irritating delays, but Oldman didn’t seem the sort of person to be irritated by anything, he came across as a kind old grandfather.”

“Hello Colonel,” Sikorsky’s voice came over the speakers, “How are you?”

“Well, thank you, Vladimir…” I could see the surprise on everyone’s face, “but it’s not Colonel any more, it’s Senator, but I suspect you knew that. We seem to have caught some of your people and it has been suggested that you may be prepared to deal for their return.”

“What are you looking for, Joseph?” Asked the General.

“I think, at the very least, the removal of the blockade and a cessation of the Empire’s interference in our affairs. We would like to be allowed to go about our business without interruption.”

“How did you know we might negotiate?”

“It was suggested to us that you would be prepared to pay for Friedland.”

“By whom, may I ask?”

Oldman smiled, “Of course you may ask, Vladimir.” He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I grimaced, but nodded. Oldman continued, “we have a smuggler, name of Cain, who identified him.”
“If Cain is with you, I’d like to know what happened to my fragmentation grenades.” Said the General sounding angry.

“I sold them General, to people who would make better use of them. Besides a weapon like that should be shared,” I laughed.

“Damn rebels!” Snarled Sikorsky. “Joseph?”

“Yes Vladimir.?”

“I’ll negotiate, but not in front of Cain.”

At a signal from Oldman I left the room, but I left the door slightly ajar and continued to listen. The General suggested a partial relaxation of the blockade in exchange for his men and their ship. I told Hadfield I was going to see how my own ship was doing and left. The Bug was coming on nicely as I stowed my bags. The repair crew confirmed that all they really had to do now was to paint over the repairs, so I told them not to bother and if they gave me a minute I’d come and sort out payment. The moment I was alone I transmitted a data package and then took out a couple of the platinum ingots and put them in my pockets. In the office I checked to see whether they were prepared to accept a credit transfer. As I expected they weren’t when I told them the only other thing I had was a platinum ingot they said it would do nicely.

“What about change?” I asked.

“Sorry the price is one ingot.”

“Isn’t that a bit steep?”

“Supply and demand, I’m afraid. I don’t see, you’ve got a lot of choice. Besides we don’t give change, company policy”

I handed over the ingot and got a receipt. The foreman grinned and asked,

“What, no tip?”

I was still chuckling when I got back to the studio. Anya was waiting for me.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Two stubborn old men negotiating, utterly tedious. It looks as if the senator is gradually beating the general, but its a slow process,”

I stuck my head round the door and asked Hadfield too. He told me things were going well, the general had become more cooperative once I was out of the way and in the end had more or less accepted the Foreign Secretary’s demands. I heard Oldman summing up,

“So Vladimir. You will lift the blockade and send an Embassy to negotiate trade between the Empire and Alabama as well as a non-aggression agreement. When those talks are finished the negotiators will leave taking with them your remaining men. In the meantime as an earnest of good faith we will release young Friedland, yes?”

“Yes, at least I’ll be able to get the Sigma expedition under way…Are you sure I can’t have my ship back too?”

“I’ll tell you what, Vladimir. We’ll put your ship on the table in the negotiations. I think that’s fair. You should come too, we can talk about old times.”

“Do you know Joseph, I might, but I might just shoot you.”

“You tried that before.”

“Third time lucky.” Laughed the General. “Sikorsky out.”

When the Senator saw the expression on my face he explained that he and the General had been at staff college together.

“We were friends until we ended up on opposite sides at Rock Run. Come on Cain I’ll buy you a drink.”

Selma had one decent hotel, The Winchester and that’s where we went, Anya came too.

As we entered the hotel the doorman made to stop Anya, but Oldman intervened and said,

“The young lady is my guest!”

The doorman looked embarrassed, “I’m sorry Senator, I didn’t realise!”

“It’s okay.” Oldman turned to us and explained, “I’m afraid they’re not used to people of colour round here. Me, I don’t mind. Had a whole regiment of Sikhs at the Battle of the Andromeda Line, bloody good fighters, glad of them. However the Confederate flag they fly everywhere round here isn’t an affectation it’s more a symbol of their faith.”

As we sat down the Senator asked me what exactly I was up to.

“I’m sure I don’t understand.” I replied.

He smiled, “Vladimir insists I send Friedland with you. You identified the boy and suggested the negotiation, after you left the room, the negotiations suddenly went more smoothly. You play a long game Cain, I know your reputation. However whatever you did it seems to be working out well for everyone.”

“I suppose I prefer to find a peaceful path to resolving problems” I said.

“Just as well you didn’t think that way at Rock Run.”

“I did, it just wasn’t practical.” I smiled.

Before we left Jakob Friedland was delivered to the Bug. I closed the door behind him. As he came into the cockpit Anya threw her arms round him and kissed him…she continued to kiss him and he was obviously kissing her back. I coughed. Anya pulled away and said,

“Oh I’m sorry Cain, I should have mentioned, Jakob is my fiance.” I must have looked surprised because she laughed and gave me a hug. “I still love you, too.”

I thought for a moment and then said to her, “Lay in the quickest course back to the General.”

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