The Thorn Inside Excerpt 3

9 09 2013

Director Agler stood behind his dais looking at the map of Quagnom, the largest continent on Tau Ceti. Dantu territory covered a full three eighths of the continent including the former capital of the planet and the anchor complex for the space elevator. As a student of history, Agler had known full well the implications of their demonstration. It would surely get the Dantu’s attention. They had been quill-locked with the Dantu for the past half of eight squared years and it felt good to be able to spring the momentum in a positive direction.

He had just graduated University when the hostilities between the Tau Cetians and their Dantu rulers kicked off. At the time it had surprised him almost as much as it did the Dantu. It was a peculiar defect in the Dantu psychology that allowed them to be caught flat-quilled when presented with a surprise attack. The Dantu tended to think in terms of macro-time, they weren’t prepared for the short spikes. They had arrived via generation ships, by Ichidas’ sake.

Their initiative soon bogged down when Dantu reinforcements arrived from the Sadira system and began orbit bombing the Tau Ceti lines. A lot of Tau Cetians were lost in the counterpush. With the Tau Cetian forces reeling, it seemed quite probable that the full weight of the Dantu forces were ready to grind them all the way back to nubs. What happened next was even more surprising to Agler than the Tau Cetian initial attack had been. The Dantu offered to sign a treaty with the Tau Cetians that would cease hostilities, granting Tau Ceti limited autonomic control of the planet save for the western province of Quagnom including the Anchor Complex for the space elevator.

The provisional Tau Ceti government was confused by the concessions the Dantu were offering. Most of the populace was eager to accept any kind of cease fire and began clamoring for acceptance of the treaty, but there was a vocal minority that advocated rejection believing that the Dantu offer reflected a weakened position. Agler had made a name for himself by lobbying for acceptance of the treaty. He knew full well that the short term disposition of Tau Ceti had no bearing in the long range goals of the Dantu. What was important to the Dantu was the logistical value of the space elevator. If the Tau Cetians destroyed it in their fervor to stop the Dantu, their advantage would have been severely compromised. This way the Dantu kept the tactical advantage while subduing the nationalistic imperatives of the local population. The Dantu believed the Tau Cetians could be lulled into a false sense of security. By Ichidas, the Dantu weren’t far off in their estimation if the fall of the former Ascendancy empire five eight-squared years ago was any proof in the matter.

That was all ancient history though. Director Agler had engineered his own false sense of security for the Dantu to fall into. The Dantu had been led to believe that Tau Ceti was pacified. Meanwhile, Agler had had his top talent working out a way to negate the Dantu reinforcement advantage. With the now proven technology of stealthy interceptors able to predict when and where an interstellar ship would drop into relativistic space they now had the advantage. The next step was to press that advantage before the Dantu realized the gravity of the leveled melee field. The anti-ship mines that he had ordered launched into orbit shortly after the demonstration had already destroyed several of the Dantu orbit bombers that could have stopped the new push before it started.

A high pitched chirp on his belt brought him out of his reverie. He glanced down at his comm device and felt his quills involuntarily stand up. A meeting request from Bradley was expected after the capabilities they had displayed. It was a necessary aspect of the job, he supposed, to deal with Bradley’s type.

Agler buzzed his adjunct to inform him that he was stepping out for a hike at the reserve and then headed to the roof. His private skip was waiting for him there. He hated the tacky decal job on the skip. It said Global Com Conglomerates in large gaudy lettering. One of the things he hoped their new advantage in war might afford him was an ability to shred this charade. Secrecy and hood-covery was the Dantu way, it was no way for a proper Tau Cetian. But he did understand the need for it. The Dantu had no compunction with orbit bombing an entire city if it knew the Director of Tau Ceti Military was based there.

He entered the coordinates for the nature reserve into the skip’s navigational computer and attempted to relax for the short flight. It took a concerted effort to keep his quills from rising on his head. It was expected that Bradley would have some information for him, but the thought kept nagging him that it was too soon. The demonstration had only happened earlier that morning. He found himself raking his backhand quills across the control panel. It was a nasty habit.

The skip set down on the landing pad near the top of a prominent ridge in the nature reserve. Agler set out down the narrow trail that ended in the thick brush near the river. There was a thick breeze waving through the tops of the trees. At the bottom, he looked around the edges of the trail. He visualized the layout of each log, stone and twig.

Nothing appeared disturbed. His quills rattled in a curse. Bradley was usually very good about placing the drop containing meeting information in a way that looked natural to the untrained eye, but easy for Agler to pick out.

He heard movement in the bushes somewhere ahead of him and froze. His heart began thundering in his chest while his rational mind ran through the possibilities. It could have been the wind, he supposed, but the sound had been too localized and near the ground. It could be a hiker, he had run into other hikers in the past, but never any on this particular trail. It was steep and didn’t really lead anywhere except this small meadow.

There is was again, only closer. He was certain it was a person now. He rustled his quills together in a common Tau Cetian greeting, but the approaching stranger didn’t slow or respond in any way. It could have been the wind masking the subtle language of the quill, but Agler was convinced that an off-worlder was coming toward him . His rational mind told him that if the Dantu found him, he’d be dead before he realized it. But the image of a Dantu assassin barrelling through the brush with foreblade exposed was too strong for him to ignore. Agler hunched forward, the quills on his head and back standing up completely, his hands held out with back-hand quills exposed.

Bradley plunged out of the bushes, stopping cold at the sight of Agler. His already pale completion grew even paler. “Director?”

Agler relaxed and stood upright. “By Ichidas! What do you think you’re doing, meeting me here like this?” He stared at the human in disbelief. The audacity of the creature to set aside operational security was baffling.

The human hunched down with his hands on his knees breathing heavily. “There was no time, I had to come directly.”

Agler felt his quills rising again. This human was a coward as all humans were, yet here he was putting both of their lives in danger. “You buzzed me,” he said. “By Ichidas! YOU buzzed me!”

“Yes,” he panted.

Agler looked up into the partially obscured sky, confident that any moment he would see Dantu battle-skips strafing the park. He rustled his quills and began using his backhand quills to rake the quills on the side of his head into place. “There’s a reason we agreed to have you leave the tell, so that my people can see it and buzz me.”

Bradley looked up at him, the color rushing back into his face in a deep scarlet.

“When you buzz me directly it creates a trail. The Dantu are very meticulous. Do I need to put the pieces together for you? Why is it so tearing difficult to get this through your soft, padded skull?”

“Sorry, sir. But you have to listen to me. The Dantu are spooked, and I don’t usually see them ruffled this way.”

“I’m listening.”

“That’s not all. There’s a lot of activity going on near the Anchor Complex. It’s hard to be certain, but I think they’re doing something with the elevator.”

Agler’s quills fell limp and he took a step backward. There was always worry that pressing the Dantu too hard may cause them to cut their losses and crash the elevator. Not only would that be economically disastrous, depending on their method, it could cause unheard of destruction.

It was something that would have to be taken care of later, however. His present concern was the repercussions of Bradley breaking protocol. “How did you get here?”

“I…I took a skip, parked it over by the bluffs.”

Agler considered this. Bradley had at least some sense. They had never met in the same place twice and this meeting was no different. In fact, here in the heavy over-cover of trees, it would be almost impossible for the Dantu’s pervasive intelligence mechanism to discover them. There was still a way to salvage the situation.

Agler regained his composure. “Good. Give me the data shaft. We’re going to need to proceed through secondary protocols from this point into the foreseeable future. No more drops in this location, do you understand that? And under no circumstances are you to attempt to meet me in person. We’ve provoked them, they’ll be more alert.”

Brandley handed the data shaft to Director Agler. “I understand.”

Part of Agler doubted how much this human could understand about anything. “I hope you have a satisfactory cover for being in Kinhaban today.”

His face split into a grin. “Oh, yes. You see my Dantu master really enjoys this certain dish that they only sell in Kinhaban. He was quite distressed over an incident that happened in orbit and so he quite naturally…”

“That’s quite sufficient,” Agler said, cutting him off. “Dismissed.”

Bradley nodded and disappeared back into the foliage. Agler rustled his quills in a sigh and turned back toward the path.  There were a lot of things to consider, but first he needed process the data.  The Dantu seldom reacted rashly, but there was always a first time for everything.

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