2949-08-10 – Tales from the Inbox: Nikruma's Visitors

While it's unlikely to be related to last week’s successful raid of the forward Incarnation base at Mereena, there has been very little enemy activity here on the Frontier since the failed enemy raid on Berkant several weeks ago. The heavy losses to Incarnation troops at Margaux, combined with the lesser losses at Berkant and Mereena, will probably take time to replace, as any replacement troops have to be ferried across the Gap. 

In the meantime, my sources in Naval Intelligence have suggested that things will be rather quiet for a little while. The Fifth Fleet is, at least in terms of its main battle line, back to full strength, but with the feud between the Navy and the ground-combat services increasingly being fought on the open datasphere, our forces probably won’t be taking advantage of that lull with any large-scale counter-push. 

Raids like the recent sortie to Mereena will probably continue, but it should be noted that the Navy had little involvement in that effort. Most likely, the FDA and Marines will continue to plan their own operations moved by the Marines’ own starships and the ships of mercenaries like Sovereign Security, and the Navy will plan its own operations with minimal participation from the Marines or FDA, except for the native Marine contingents aboard Navy warships.  

[N.T.B. - There’s no telling how long this lull will last, but I hate to think of what’s happening to the Confederated citizens held by the Incarnation in penal labor colonies such as the one on Meraud. These degenerates have no regard for human life that doesn’t have a chip in its head monitoring its thoughts, and even if those captives play by Nate’s rules, they’re going to find ways to make all that manpower build something to help their war effort.] 

While it’s not exactly close to the front lines, I’m seeing several interesting reports out of the Tkachenko system of increased military presence. The system’s only habitable (barely) planet is the infamous Botched Ravi, a place which attracts a lot of datasphere attention but very few tourists. 

One of our regular readers, a gentleman named Nikruma, sent in this account of strangers appearing at his settlement deep in the Ravi outback. While he suspects that these are Confederated military personnel, he was unable to determine who they were or what they were up to. 

Nikruma peered through his peep-hole at the pair of off-worlders standing on his porch. Though they’d taken care to buy rough local-cloth attire, their straight-backed stances and the Core Worlds-style wrist computers half-hidden by their loose sleeves told him they were no locals. Slowly, he raised his high-powered chemical-cartridge scattergun to the soft wood panel in the middle of the otherwise sturdy and relatively Ravi-proof door. Off-worlders always meant trouble on Botched Ravi. 

Unaware they were being watched, one of the men stepped forward to knock on the door again. “Anyone home?” He had mastered the lazy Ravi drawl, but even asking if anyone was home was a dead giveaway all its own. A Ravi native would know the futility of such queries; few Ravi homesteaders would ever open their doors for an unexpected visitor. 

Still, sitting behind the heavy door and thick masonry walls of his little house, Nikruma was curious. These men were Core Worlders with at least a little bit of discretion, and that made them all but certainly not any of his old enemies. Beyond revenge for the intrigues of decades past, however, he couldn’t think of any reason for the visit. 

Of all the settlers on the Svendsen Plateau, his home lay the farthest from of the tantalum and tungsten mines which drew most off-worlders in the region. His plot of land, extensively surveyed several times, had no mineral deposits worth speaking of, and the road dead-ended at his plot. Only rocky slopes of the plateau’s margin lay beyond his property markers. 

Ravi generally punished curiosity among its homesteaders, of course. Anything glittering on the horizon was either a mirage or the lure of one of the planet’s carnivorous flora. Pained cries on the wind either meant that something had been caught out in a nearby razor-dust storm, or that one of the local predators had learned to mimic the pained cries of a recent human victim. Little about the planet rewarded exploration. For someone like Nikruma, that was part of its charm. 

“Look, there’s nobody home.” The second man outside put his hand on his fellow’s shoulder. “Let’s just leave a note and get going.” 

“Just... point the crawler in the right direction and go?” The first man shook his head. “That’s a damned good way to get stranded out here, and you know what they’ll say upstairs if they need to send someone after us.” 

Though the pair went through the pretense of continuing to speak in feigned Ravi accents, Nikruma recognized the snappy cadence of spacers – military spacers at that – underneath. Only someone steeped in the culture of the Confederated military services referred to their superiors with a euphemism like “upstairs.” This didn’t mean they weren’t trouble, of course. Botched Ravi had no military value whatsoever, even with war raging in the Meriwether region less than three hundred light years away. 

The two glared at each other for a few minutes, then the first man produced a stylus and a pad of pressure-paper, scrawled on it for a moment, then tore off the top sheet, stuck it in the doorjamb, and turned to leave. The pair were already discussing how they’d navigate their vehicle across the notoriously gulley-creased plateau as they descended the stairs. 

Sighing, Nikruma replaced the safety on his scatter-gun, lowered the barrel, and unbolted all three of the mechanical locks on the door. Curiosity got one killed on Botched Ravi, but he’d be damned if he didn’t take at least one of the strangers with him if that proved to be the case.  

As he opened the door, the pair turned around. Both took involuntary half-steps back at the sight of the scatter-gun, though it wasn’t even pointed at them. That reaction alone told Nikruma they weren’t Confederated Marines, though the first man certainly had the stature for it. 

“Don’t tell me you damned fools brought a crawler to Ravi.” Nikruma scowled at them. “Damned fools. It’ll be dead in a week. Take it back to your ship and buy something practical before you get caught in a storm.” Anyone familiar with Botched Ravi knew that the only practical vehicle was one with simple wheels, pulled by an animal or the simplest of mechanical engines. The sensitive electronics and finely machined parts of any sophisticated vehicle would never survive the planet’s razor-edged dust. 

“Well, uh...” The second man, the smaller one, glanced at his partner, then shrugged. “We weren’t planning to be here too long.” He dispensed with his feigned Ravi drawl. “We’re trying to get to a place called Dead Dario Canyon. It’s very important.” 

Nikruma’s scowl deepened. “Why in all creative hells would you want to go there?” 

“Science experiment.” The bigger man muttered the response so quietly that it was barely audible over the whistling breeze in the eaves of the house. 

“Ravi’s no place for damned academics.” Nikruma waved his gun. “Get off my property.” The only way to get a ground vehicle to Dead Dario Canyon was to drive it through Nikruma’s land, and he wasn’t about to let them do that. Perhaps they could get there going the long way around to Route 51A at the base of the plateau, but their vehicle would break down before they got halfway. 

“Our... superiors said you might say that.” The nig man pointed down to Nikruma’s feet, where their note fluttered against the polymer-amalgam panels of the porch floor. “Hopefully that will change your mind.” 

“Eh?“ Nikruma, leveling the gun on the two men, knelt to pick up the piece of paper. Below a brief scrawled sentence about some bureaucratic matter that meant nothing to him, the man had written a credit sum – a sum with five zeroes. “This some kind of scam?” 

“No scam. Help us get to Dead Dario for our... experiment, our people pay you that much, and we leave. We might be back, but we’ll stay clear of your house and livestock. You don’t ask questions, we don’t say anything to the neighbors.” 

Nikruma narrowed his eyes. “And if I refuse and call the sheriff?” 

“Then we have to show him a bunch of documents, and he’ll make you let us through without the credits. The money is... let's say we prefer not to show anyone anything official.” 

Nikruma scowled, then nodded. “All right. Get your damned machine and meet me over there.” He pointed to the top of a knoll a hundred meters from the house. Military men skulking around his land was bad news, but with a few hundred extra credits padding his bank account, he could afford to beef up the house security.