2950-11-01 – Tales from the Service: A Pack’s Alarm

With few exceptions, the war on the Coreward Frontier is being fought mostly by the humans of the Confederated Worlds. There are a small number of Atro’me in the Navy and other services, but of the most common species of non-human sapient in the Reach, there are almost none involved in the fighting.

The reasons that Rattanai are excluded from the Confederated Marines and the Frontier Defense Army are numerous, but mainly they focus on the difficulty of procuring special uniforms, environmental gear, and other equipment for a small number of volunteers. The Navy theoretically permits their enlistment as spacers, but not as officers, and as a result Rattanai participation in the Navy remains quite low.

Mercenary outfits, on the other hand, are usually happy to recruit skilled Rattanai in various roles; most have at least a few in their pay. Even among mercenaries, however, it’s rare for a Rattanai to be the head of the outfit.

Captain Ojathl Khedru, the head of a small, all-Rattanai mercenary outfit chartered out of Sinteria, sent in a highly detailed account of his company’s efforts in the inner Nye Norge. These events took place while his company was on Navy contract patrolling a small system not far from Håkøya. Though his opinions of the locals are far from flattering, we should keep in mind how different Rattanai psychology is from our own, and how little culture our societies share with of the old clans of their kind.

“Pack Captain, we have detected an issue. It may cause moderate vexation.”

Ojathl Khedru paused the hologram in the center of his wardroom table. The three miniature dancers capering around each other paused mid-stride, and the pounding music fell silent. Despite the euphemistic, circling language characteristic of a Rattanai subordinate’s proper deference to his superior, Watch Captain Lrinah would never have interrupted the commander’s mealtime solitude with something of only moderate importance.

“Send it to this station.” Khedru swished one wide, paw-like hand through the hologram, and it changed to a basic ship-status display grid. He’d barely touched his meal in several minutes, and it would have been stone cold except for the electric prep-plate keeping the artificially grown meat perfectly warm. The holographic dancers, comely females of his kind, had occupied his entire attention.

A moment later, the status grid winked out and a tactical map appeared. At the center was Howling Gale, the large mercenary frigate of which he was both skipper and part-owner. Gale was an ungainly, boxy vessel whose lines betrayed the hands of her human makers, but her eyes were keen, her claws sharp, and her soul thoroughly Rattanai.

Gale, both in the display and in the tangible world beyond Khedru’s wardroom, drifted above a planet of little value save for the few thousands of humans who clung to its lichenous rocks. In the display, while the ship’s image remained a constant size, the planet appeared only to shrink rapidly as the scale expanded. Soon, the red-dwarf stellar primary appeared, and also began to shrink, until the whole system was represented in a display less than one Terran meter across.

At the far edge of the display area, a yellow pip appeared, then another, and a third. Khedru’s eyes narrowed. He knew all too well the might of the enemy he’d been contracted to repel. Why the Incarnation would bother with such a pathetic star system was beyond him, but so was much of human thinking, and it was right to let such things remain inscrutable.

“Pack Captain, these drive signatures are much too small to be Incarnation warships of the usual kind.” Lrinah, trying to sound nonchalant, nonetheless let a bit of alarm creep into his voice. “They also do not match any records in our databanks.”

“Transmit the arranged challenge.” Khedru’s eyes flicked from one end of the display to the other, estimating the range and rate of approach. In such a small star system, the unknown ships would arrive before one full Urazd day had elapsed. Even if the incoming ships were no more than frigates themselves, Howling Gale could hardly contest them for control of the system. “Then alert the planetary governor.”

Khedru disconnected the comms channel, then switched his display back to the holographic dancers. It had been nearly an Urazd year since he’d last seen a female of his kind in the flesh, comely or no, and he paid close attention to the way their supple muscles slid beneath firm grey-brown skin. The easy agility of youth combined in them with the precision and grace of long practice, and colorful ribbons streaming from the ends of their polished arm-quills produced an alluring mist of fluttering cloth around each figure. They wore no other clothes, but this was in no way titillating – Rattanai had never grasped the human concept of modesty. The purpose of the dance was to prove each young female’s eligibility as a mate in any case; too much clothing would impede a suitor’s careful inspection.

Khedru, unfortunately, already knew that he would be suitor to none of these three. Neither would any of his officers, who would customarily be allowed to choose among those their leader felt unsatisfactory. The clan had transmitted the recording as well as information about the pedigree of each prospective mate, but Howling Gale would not be returning to Urazd before the end of the pairing season to consummate any such arrangements.

Grudgingly, Khedru flicked off the holographic display and tore into his meal. He’d long since gotten used to the flabby, greasy character of the artificially grown meat his ship produced, even though on Urzad such food would not even be fed to the lowest of the low. It was much better than the livestock slop churned out by human food-fab machinery, even if it was far from the real thing he could expect on his table back home. Howling Gale was his clan’s greatest triumph, and unsatisfying food was a small price to pay for the glory of a warship command.

It had been many minutes since Lrinah had made his report; plenty of time to transmit the challenge and alert Governor Trumbull. Lack of a follow-up message told Khedru that something had not gone well in one of these two tasks, and only one of them could possibly have caused complications.

Sighing, Khedru flicked back on his comms headband. “Watch Captain, you may connect the Governor with this station.”

“It will be done, Pack Captain.”

The holographic display soon reactivated, and this time it showed the globular head and sloping shoulders of a human. Chubby, red-faced, and nervously defensive, Governor Jarvis Trumbull was an unlikely leader even among his vexatious species, but all the same Khedru found him endearing. In another era, he might have had a comfortable life entertaining a Rattanai clan-lord with his antics under the illusion that he was a diplomatic envoy.

“...Captain Khedru!” Trumbull drew back and straightened. “Your subordinates said you were busy.”

“I was able to spare time for a person of your eminence.” Khedru twisted his mouth into the uncomfortable contortion best resembling a human smile for just a moment.

Though the expression unnerved most humans, Trumbull, as usual, seemed reassured. “Thank you, Captain. What do you know?”

“We know sadly little about these visitors, but alas, I fear we should plan for the worst.” Khedru spread his broad hands, making sure to keep his claws sheathed. “They do not seem large enough to carry a serious invasion force, but your people should seek shelter.”

“I’ll sound the alarm and call up the militia.” Trumbull puffed up his chest. “Even if they’re too much for you, do you think you can slow them down?”

Khedru had no intention of sacrificing his ship, the pride and joy of his clan, in the service of this worthless little planet, even if the Navy would compensate their next of kin richly if he did. Still, he pressed his hands onto the table and leaned forward. “If they should prove hostile, Governor, we will do what we can to slow them down. We’ll stream everything to the Hypercast relay as long as we can.”

Trumbull nodded solemnly, doubtless taking this to be the self-sacrificial promise which Khedru had deliberately not made explicit. “Let us hope it does not come to that, Captain.”

“Indeed. I will let you return to preparing your militia.” Khedru nodded, struggling to keep the amusement out of his eyes and body language. Trumbull probably couldn’t pick up such things, but it paid to be tactful.

“Of course. Do send along any updates.” Trumbull slapped the edge of one hand to his forehead in what was probably supposed to be a salute.

Khedru held up one big hand in a similar gesture, then cut the feed, stood up, and headed for the bridge.