INT – DAY – Large meeting room
Lt Kat and a dozen very serious-looking people are examining a large display showing the AARAS data that Lag and Helton saw earlier. On the walls are large screens with images of the destroyed base, the bodies of Cooper and the compliance monitor, Quinn’s injured leg and other injured soldiers, pictures showing hit patterns, including the vast number of blast splashes atop Tajemnica, and the text of intercepted messages. To one side there are screens with the Raptus Regaliter Base Col and Lag on them. It looks like a hastily-called meeting that’s been going on for a little while, to judge by the informal dress, scattered personal computers, water carafes and glasses, and various body postures of the participants. Kat is standing, presenting crisply.
Kat: In summary – orbital drop munitions, terminal guidance munitions, multi-trajectory single-gun time-on-target firing solutions, statistically impossible hit rates, high-level electronic and human espionage in successful attempts to remotely re-enable electronics to make us look like WE were in violation, intercepted communications that show the timing and target selection was BECAUSE of a civilian ship’s presence. All prohibited actions, and it nearly destroyed the battalion. If not countered, and if it’s used successfully against the other three units in range in a follow-up strike, it would totally obliterated four battalions using disallowed tech.
Gupta: (an elderly Sikh) You make it look obvious. But that data display look almost too perfect to be real. How could your ship capture it?
Kat: The Tajemnica is a decommissioned and VERY old warship. Sort of a modified Orion class. Only personal weapons aboard. Its history is sketchy, but it appears to have been used at one time as a deep survey vessel, and still has some high-grade sensor and display software aboard.
Abbasi: (middle-aged Persian woman) But it IS civilian? Why was it there?
Kat: Yes. Civilian owned, crewed, and managed. We contract with it for transport because it is armored, and the captain is willing to take risks others are not. It hauled food, water, fuel, basic ammo, sundries. The only 23rd troops aboard were truck drivers.
Base Col: When the XO threatened to take command, or have Lag take over, the ship AI flatly refused. Damnedest thing. Excellent security and compliance protocols.
Reese: (Old white guy) Hmmm. I wonder. Isn’t one of the crew related to one of your mercenaries?
Lag: (from the screen, nodding) Bipasha is the niece of First Sergeant Reel, but she works for Helton, the owner. Never been in uniform. Business manager. Lines up contracts and cargo, helps managed daily ops aboard. I was the only Plataean soldier aboard, with only personal side-arm. Sergeant Reel is still on medical.
Lerner: (middle aged white woman) The Captain. Passport?
Kat: (looks a little surprised, like she’s not sure of the relevance of the questions) Stateless. Bureaucratic Malum Prohibitum snafu on his home world cost him his citizenship. We gave him a provisional Plataean diplomatic status C2 to act as a courier a few months ago. He’s also been granted a Letter of Marque to use his starship as a provisional warship under certain circumstances, against certain targets. No citizenship, but legally he is technically a diplomat for civilian planetary law when couriering sensitive material, supported military contractor when in an authorized combat action, resident alien civilian for normal legal matters, civilian non-combatant for military law most of the time, and Universal Code of Material Justice – Stateless, in deep space. Unusual, but legally done.
Lerner makes a face, does not look very convinced that his position is OK. The others alternately frown, shrug it off, or nod in general understanding.
Chin: (elderly Chinese man) What about the counter-fire? I’m still vague on that.
Lag: (from the screen) Tajemnica has had anti-debris micro-lasers and other protective systems in the past. We have been using the on-board systems as training simulators for a lot of things. The pilot has a ground-attack background, which is part of why she was hired, and apparently she made sure that gunnery software and combat simulators were installed in case we ever did get re-armed. It gave warning only when it realized there were inbound prohibited guided munitions, and tried to re-target them. After seeing that it couldn’t safely re-target all incoming prohibited munitions, that programming was accessed by the AI in self-defense. It went into the gun platforms via the access left wide open by the Kiv hacking. They left it open and obvious, apparently in order to be able to claim WE were in violation first if the question arose.
VanDoren: (youngish white guy) Why? Why would they take the risk?
Lag: Intel is ambiguous, but best guess is that they had boxed themselves in. They had taken a couple of risky moves recently, and lost each one. They saw this as a quick way back into a winning position. If the strike was successful, a follow-on with the other three in-range units would have made a big hole, and they would be free to maneuver again. The recent loss of an air-defense battalion might have been the piece that made them this desperate.
The compliance monitor panel look at the diagram displayed before them, looking thoughtful.
Kat: I know you’d like weeks to consider all the data here, because this isn’t a simple “idiot brought a gun to a knife duel, saw it, got the video, snipe his ass” case, but time is of the essence. The units in violation are moving, or will be moving very soon, and will likely seek to get mixed up with others that were not provably involved in the near future.
Korte: (middle-aged East Indian man) Remedy?
Lag: We are now loading ammo and gravity systems onto Tajemnica. We’d like to pick up some grav tanks and support in the next ninety minutes, then hit the violators over the next twelve hours, and another day for mop-up.
Grewal: A civilian ship? With a diplomat as captain?
Lag: Long story, but yes. He’s also a sort of contract privateer, as Kat pointed out, with conditional legal status. Other units are tied up and not easily up-teched to be effective, and normal grav-tank command and transport hardware are compromised. Might be a problem. I believe you have met Major Kraut?
The assembled group makes knowing, sour faces, with a few nods.
Kat: Captain Strom will be acting in his private Letter of Marque capacity on a violation-enforcement contract, not as a courier-diplomat. After all, the base WAS targeted in part because he was there, so he has a personal interest.
Lag: With the grav tanks and support aboard, I’m confident that it will work out. They may be civilians, but they DO get deliveries done rather well. Compliance bond and the Plataean performance bonus will pay for them to fly the mission.
The committee look around at each other, and one at a time they nod, except Lerner, who shrugs her shoulders in abstention.
Gupta: Granted. Thirty-six hours, starting now, to hit the offending units and the orbital platforms. Then you are back to the contract levels.
Lag and the Raptus Regaliter commander nod approval. The screens go blank, and Lt Kat turns to go. Suddenly one of the screens lights up again, and a very angry and flustered-looking Councilor Darch appears.
Councilor Darch: I MUST protest! The Plataeans caused a violation, and then attacked a Kiv battalion unprovoked from their ship! This outrage CANNOT be allowed to STAND!
Gupta: Oh, REALLY? You are lucky we happened to be together. Do tell us ALL about it.
While he talks, he motions subtly with his hand to Kat, who is out of camera view to Darch, for her to leave.
Fade to black