Trial By Fire – Snippet 31

Darzhee Kut bobbed his appreciation for the answer–and turned when First Voice called his name. “Speaker Kut, has your interrogation of the human prisoners furnished any new perspectives that bear upon our current invasion plans?”

Darzhee was considering how best to emphasize–again–that the humans were not prisoners, when Hu’urs Khraam intervened. “First Voice, I have screened the recordings made of Speaker Kut’s conversations with the humans. Neither of them are familiar with our projected area of groundside operations and have not been on Earth for over half a year. They seem to have little information relevant to that aspect of our invasion. And while they were not stunned at our attack, nor that the Hkh’Rkh were our allies in it, they were surprised that we were able to mount it so quickly after the conclusion of the Convocation.”

“And their knowledge of broader military deployment?”

“Neither human is privy to recent information of this kind. However, their inability to confirm or contradict our assessments is not worrisome. We consider our present sources most reliable.”

“Who are these sources?” First Voice asked.

The First Delegate himself answered. “They are several.” Darzhee Kut noted the curious evasiveness of Hu’urs Khraam’s response; if First Voice had also, he did not press the point. “Indeed, their own broadcasts are not the least among these.”

“That intelligence must be at least ten years old.”

“Slightly more, actually, but we believe it to be serviceable. The most pertinent facts have not changed significantly since then. Indonesia is still a nation plagued by overpopulation, poverty, pollution, poor resource management, and inadequate public utilities. Several political separatist factions still operate within its borders, as well as the Pan-Islamic religious insurgency that has been globally active for more than a century now. The population harbors resentments against both its own government and the Earth’s dominant nations for its condition.”

“And this is where the humans elected to build their orbital-launch mass driver?” Graagkhruud scoffed. “Were they mad?”

Urzueth picked up the tale. “Our sources indicate that the mass driver was an attempt to economically strengthen the nation, to foster foreign trade and investment, and to thereby assuage the general dissatisfaction that fueled the various insurgencies. Besides, the island of Java was a logical location. It sits astride or near several major shipping routes, including the singularly important Strait of Malacca. It is close to the equator and its mountainous spine was a natural support for the mass driver’s long, high-angle, electromagnetic launch tube. Labor costs were cheap and local environmental restrictions–what few there were–were easily waived.”

First Voice waggled his body where his neck spread out into extremely sloped shoulders. “All reasons for us to seize the island. I understand. But I am concerned that the population is too large to control without resorting to–extreme measures.”

“We predict otherwise. Firstly, as I have mentioned, some of our sources are based within the general region and others represent globally-pervasive megacorporations that have expressed sympathy for our plans.”

“They would take allegiance against their own world?” Graagkhruud’s voice was a choking roll of phlegm.

“They would, in order to be its leaders when we depart.”

Yaargraukh shifted in his seat. “Allies bought with money and promises are only allies until they find a higher bidder.” For the first time that he could remember, Darzhee Kut saw First Fist Graagkhruud pony-nod in agreement with something that Advocate Yaargraukh had said.

“We are very cognizant of this,” replied Hu’urs Khraam. “However, our human allies stand much to gain immediately upon our arrival, and yet, have little influence over the outcome of our campaign, which enjoys the advantage of being conducted on an isolated land mass. As an island nation, Indonesia affords us a geographically finite periphery, the borders of which are easily scanned and interdicted, given our absolute air superiority and orbital fire support. This allows us to annihilate counterattacks mounted by air or sea, and to bring decisive and accurate fire to bear upon any indigenous insurgents. We have elected to restrict operations to the islands of Java, as per your suggestions. There is no reason to overstretch our already limited forces.”

“All quite prudent, but what of their submarines?” First Voice almost sounded fretful. “I am familiar with the problems of detecting these craft from the few wars in which we used them. Even our sensors cannot detect them at depths greater than five hundred meters, if they are following stealth protocols.”

Darzhee Kut hid the amused quivering of his taste-polyps. You also don’t want to admit that you’re upset because the human nautical technology is vastly superior to your own.

Hu’urs Khraam spread his claws. “Controlling the submarines is a concern, but we have complete confidence in our maritime sensors, undersea drones, and especially the purpose-built airphibian vehicles we have with us. But we must also remember that the human submarines are dated craft. Most are over forty years old and are scheduled to be decommissioned. Besides, how large a counterinvasion force can they mount from such vessels?”

“I am more concerned with their nuclear capabilities.”

“Which is why our occupation–all our cantonments and bases–will be located within the human cities of Java. The humans’ strategic defense forces will be unable to target us, for we will have their fellow-creatures as our living shields. This of course presumes that their submarines would survive the rise to launch depth, for once we detect such vessels, our orbital fire support will eliminate them within twenty seconds. With this one minor threat controlled, we can consolidate our position untroubled by other strategic incursions. The region is not self-sufficient in rice production, but a brief cessation of all maritime contact will not induce immediate famine and civil unrest. This minimizes the likelihood of a popular insurgency arising.

“Most importantly, however, Indonesia is far away from Earth’s true political centers. This provides us with a buffer from the immense military formations possessed by the largest powers, and allows us to control the degree of friction and hostility present in our discussions with their political leaders. Were we to land in, let us say, the Eurasian landmass, or North America, or coastal China, diplomacy and negotiation would immediately break down. Which, in turn, would make it impossible for us discuss our terms with the humans and explain the wisdom of acceding to them.”

Darzhee surprised himself by asking without a warning preamble. “What are these terms?”

Hu’urs Khraam settled his claws slowly to the table. “Complete withdrawal from the 70 Ophiuchi star system and a co-dominium of Barnard’s Star with the Arat Kur Wholenest.”

“And the surrender of a habitable world in what they call their Big Green Main, for settlement by the Hkh’Rkh.” First Voice had risen, crest erect, as he said it.

Darzhee Kut looked back and forth. “Surely, this last requirement is a ploy.”

First Voice looked down his very long snout. “This is not a ploy, but a plan to expand.”

Darzhee Kut could hardly believe what he was hearing. “And what of the human colony that is already on whichever world is so ceded?”

Hu’urs Khraam offered a soothing hum. “They will continue to be self-determining, and will not be relocated.”

“But if the rest of the humans should become aggressive–”

“The population would, of course, be at great risk from reprisals.”

Darzhee Kut glanced sidelong at Graagkhruud, whose tongue flicked slightly. A colony of hostages with their neck encircled by a predator’s talons. “First Delegate, surely there is room for negotiation on all these points.”

First Voice’s neck stretched high and straight. “Your terms are your affair. Ours are not negotiable. And your support of them is the price of our cooperation and alliance. The humans have gathered all the green worlds unto themselves. We must seize one if there is to be any semblance of parity.”

Darzhee Kut bobbed once. “With respect, First Voice, the worlds they occupied, though they did not know it at the time, are all within the sphere allowed them under the Accords.”

Phlegm fluttered in First Voice’s nose. “We are allies with you because we not only have common cause against the humans, but against the Accords. Its legalities are claws without bones; they are abominations to be brushed aside. Now, time grows short. Did the humans reveal anything useful?”

“Not really,” Darzhee admitted. “But this is not surprising. They are both proficient, and probably trained, in being able to converse without revealing strategically sensitive information. However, I found one moment puzzling in my conversation with Caine Riordan. With your permission, I would like to replay it for you.”

Silence granted consent. Darzhee Kut pushed a stud on his control wand.

The flat holographic screen centered on the long wall of the meeting module revealed Darzhee Kut facing Riordan, who was nodding, seemed oddly calm as he commented. “And so you plan to attack Indonesia. May I ask why?”

Darzhee Kut watched his own claws rise. “Is it not obvious? It is at a great enough remove from your major powers that they will not feel so directly threatened and thus might listen long enough to hear our terms for withdrawal. For I assure you, Caine Riordan, that we do not wish to remain on your planet.”

“There are many places more remote from the great powers of my world than Indonesia. Why there?”

“Can you not guess?”

“The mass driver.”

“It was a surety that you would see this. Many nations have labored long and spent dearly to build this extraordinary device. And they will not wish us to harm it. Similarly, they will avoid harming it themselves.”