Authors: Stephen Renneberg
In Earth’s Service
Copyright © Stephen Renneberg 2015
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This novel is a
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© Tom Edwards
The Antaran Codex
The Siren Project
The Kremlin Phoenix
For Elenor, with love.
15000 BC - 2130 AD
Rise of Planetary
Civilization on Earth.
2130 - 2643
Rise of Inter-planetary
Civilization throughout the Solar System
First human ship reaches
Proxima Centauri and is met by a Tau Cetin Observer.
Dawn of Human Interstellar
Earth Council signs the
Access Treaty with the Galactic Forum.
First Probationary Period
Tau Cetins provide
astrographic data out to 1,200 light years from Earth (
100 kilograms of novarium (Nv, Element 147) to power human starships.
2646 - 3154
Human Civilization expands
rapidly through Mapped Space.
Continual Access Treaty
infringements delays mankind’s acceptance into the Galactic Forum.
Human religious fanatics
attack the Mataron Homeworld.
Tau Cetin Observers
prevent the Mataron Fleet from destroying Earth.
3155 - 3158
Tau Cetin ships convert
human supplies of novarium held in Earth stockpiles and within ship energy
plants to inert material.
3155 - 4155
Galactic Forum suspends
human interstellar access rights and imposes 1,000 year Embargo.
Contact with other civilizations ends.
Many human outposts beyond the Solar System collapse.
Earth Navy (EN)
established by the Democratic Union to police mankind when Embargo is lifted.
Earth Council assumes control of EN.
Earth Intelligence Service
(EIS) established by the Earth Council.
The Embargo ends. Access
Second 500 year Probationary Period begins.
Human interstellar travel resumes.
4155 - 4267
contact with surviving human outposts.
The Antaran Codex
In Earth’s Service
Nisk colony world
Nisk Draconis System, Outer
0.94 Earth Normal Gravity
918 light years from Sol
112 Billion Coleopterans
Krailo-Nis was just as I remembered: bleak gray skies,
distant dark mountains, mud and fungus as far as the eye could see and the kind
of gloom only giant cave-dwelling bugs could love.
It was a depressing sight from the elevated
platform that a pair of semi-intelligent Nisk drones had pushed up to the port
airlock as soon as the
had landed. Now, with a light
breeze blowing drizzling rain onto my face, the two drones watched me from the
ground, oblivious to the water beading on their outer shells or the mud
sloshing around their six long black legs.
Beyond the drones was a drab, rain soaked landing
ground occupied by dozens of alien ships – none of them Nisk. Their ships
didn’t land here, partly because they were too big, mostly because they didn’t
like mixing with bipeds. That’s why they landed outside the security barrier
and never within sight of the spaceport. They didn’t build many ships, but the
ones they did were behemoths. Just one nestship would have taken up the entire
landing ground by itself, or so the Beneficial Society’s briefing notes said. It
had something to do with Nisk mentality: if they went anywhere, it was in
enormous numbers packed inside single ships.
I guess they liked the company.
Not that you would know it from Nisport. It wasn’t
a bug town. It was an enclave set aside exclusively for alien visitors. At the
edge of the landing field was a rundown, one level, rectangular terminal, utilitarian
to the point of ugliness. Beyond the terminal was a collection of dilapidated,
dirty buildings, all non-Nisk design. If you wanted to trade with the Nisk, you
had to bring your own buildings. That’s why most structures were self erecting
prefabs, functional with minimal visible comforts. Only a few were lavish
structures designed to impress, an effort wasted on giant beetles with no
appreciation of architectural aesthetics.
The force barrier surrounding the enclave wasn’t
for our protection, but to ensure we didn’t go poking around where we weren’t
wanted. Not that the Nisk were xenophobes. They didn’t fear or hate aliens,
they simply preferred to keep interactions with other species to a minimum. Considering
the instinctive human revulsion for bugs of any sort – let alone giant creepy
crawlies – I was happy to respect their wishes.
Even if I wanted to explore, there wasn’t much to
see. Nisport was the only settlement on the surface of a seemingly primitive world
shrouded in endless gray cloud. On every continent, forbidding mountains rose
from quagmire plains and murky rivers emptied into dark oceans – all tectonically
engineered by the industrious Nisk. From orbit, Krailo-Nis appeared to be a damp
wasteland rather than home to more than a hundred
beings, none of whom lived on the surface.
They inhabited an enormous subterranean world-city
that honeycombed the planet’s crust while the surface had been engineered to provide
an ideal habitat for the fungus and blue green algae that covered Krailo-Nis. The
genetically engineered surface life clung to every rock, choked every waterway
and saturated every ocean, producing the vast quantities of food and oxygen
required by its inhabitants. It was why Krailo-Nis’s atmosphere contained more
oxygen than Earth’s, produced by a fraction of the biomass and why I wore a respirator
over my nose and mouth to avoid oxygen toxicity.
A few human ambassadors had been permitted down
into the subterranean galleries to present their credentials, but generally visitors
weren’t allowed below ground. We were free to land at Nisport, providing we
completed our business and were gone in three days. The restrictions were
partly due to the demand for landing rights by so many races and partly because
the Nisk weren’t that interested in trade. They were, after all, one of the
most self sufficient species in the galaxy.
Fortunately for us, they had a sweet tooth.
They loved sugar and honey, the only products the
human race had which held any interest for the giant beetles. It was why the
cargo hold and the three vacuum-radiation-sealed containers we towed
were packed full of brown sugar. In return, we’d get ten kilograms of niskgel,
a gelatinous solution secreted by royals, their highest caste. It was gram for
gram one of the most expensive luxury products in Mapped Space. Human
pharmaceutical companies turned it into anti-aging creams with seemingly
miraculous powers, yet try as we might, we couldn’t synthesize the stuff
ourselves. We suspected it had something to do with the super fungus they ate,
but they wouldn’t sell us a sample at any price, so we couldn’t be sure. They
said it was for our own protection because their mega-fungi could double as an invincible
bioweapon able to turn habitable worlds into fungal swamps in the blink of an
eye. Likewise for the blue-green super algae, which could raise any world’s
oxygen content to toxic levels. Maybe it was true or maybe they just wanted to protect
their monopoly. Either way, guys like me lugged tons of sugar to what the Nisk
considered a remote outpost for a few kilos of gooey gold – only I wasn’t really
here for niskgel.
Jase Logan, my copilot, would handle the cargo
drop. Nisk drones would check its quality and weight, then load a precisely
measured quantity of niskgel in return. Normally we’d boost and bubble in
twelve hours, only I’d punctured the vacuum seals on some of the sugar containers,
deliberately contaminating their contents to slow down the dimwitted drones.
Anything out of the ordinary and they’d call for an attendant to assess the
situation. I hoped the ensuing argument would keep us on the ground for our
allotted three days, just in case my contact was late.
At least that was the plan.
A mechanical whine sounded as the
belly door opened down to form a ramp to the ground and the three
VRS containers astern were lowered by their supporting gantries. Five drones immediately
scuttled forward, mindlessly tramping mud through our internal hold as they
began unloading the cargo.
The Nisk were, by all accounts, a respected and
peaceful member of the Galactic Forum, the only sentient coleopterans in Mapped
Space, yet the sight of them made my skin crawl. It was all those legs scuttling
beneath dead black eyes. Perhaps that’s why they kept their mostly bipedal
visitors in a walled enclosure, because they knew how we felt. Or maybe they felt
the same way about us?
They didn’t use bots of any kind. They’d rather breed
drones than waste resources on machines. It wasn’t a technological limitation,
but a cultural preference. Ninety percent of the planet’s population were drones.
The rest were mostly attendants whose primary purpose was to supervise the
workforce and see to the safety and comfort of a few million royals. No human
ambassador had ever laid eyes on a royal and probably never would. We dealt
with attendants who were the organizers of their society, the arbiters of law, the
engineers and scientists and when required, the commanders of the mighty Nisk
military. Attendants and royals were both highly intelligent, well above human
norms, while the drones were about a third below. The aesthetic royals did the
breeding and created endless geometric artworks that made no sense to humans,
but were highly regarded by the diligent attendants. There was no system of
government as we understood it, just biologically determined roles and duties
according to physical caste.
Krailo-Nis alone contained more than three times
as many Nisk as there were humans in all of Mapped Space and as best as we
could determine, its industrial capacity dwarfed Human Civilization’s total
output. Yet to the Nisk, Krailo-Nis was a remote, relatively unimportant backwater,
the only one of its kind in the Orion Arm. We didn’t know where their homeworld
was or how many colonies they had scattered across the galaxy, only that they
were somewhat detached from galactic life. One could only wonder what the
galaxy’s fate might have been if they’d been an aggressive species, or what
would happen to anyone who unwisely provoked them, Access Treaty or not. If
ever there was a sleeping giant in our midst, it was the industrious, unassuming
Leaving the russet colored drones to their work, I
rode the elevated platform’s gravity slide down to the mud then hurried across
to the terminal for processing. Before landing, I’d been required to transmit
profiles of everyone aboard: me, Jase and Izin. I didn’t know if the Nisk had
been attacked during the Intruder War and carried a grudge against Izin’s race,
but if they did, they showed no sign of it.
I stepped inside a doorless arch high and wide enough
for two Nisk, then a drone scanned me, confirming my identity. It was a meter
taller than me with six multi-jointed legs and two slender antenna-manipulator
arms. Its thick mandible turned in my direction and spoke through a vocalizer. “Sirius
Kade Human of Silver Lining ship, why bring you weapon projectile into Nisk zone
open?” it asked in an oddly composed version of Unionspeak.
I glanced at the MAK P-50 holstered at my hip. I’d
strapped it on out of habit, not because I expected trouble, although doing pick-ups
for Lena Voss – my Earth Intelligence Service controller – always carried risk.
“It’s for self defense only.”
“Sirius Kade Human of Silver Lining ship, weapons firing
in Nisk zone open prohibited.”
I looked up at the drone, waiting for more, but it
just stood staring at me. I shifted uncomfortably, feeling as if the massive coleopteran
was considering eating me whole. “I understand.”
The drone turned back to its console, making no
attempt to confiscate my weapon. After a moment, it handed me a small gray disk
inlaid with symmetrical intersecting lines. “Sirius Kade Human to retain
identifier locator at times all.” It fixed its impenetrable eyes upon me, waiting.
“Will do,” I said, realizing the drone not only
lacked conversation, but was operating at the limit of its ability.
“Sirius Kade Human, entry temporary to Nisk zone open
approved,” it said, then promptly ceased to recognize my existence.
Free to proceed, I started across a floor tramped
with the muddy footprints of a thousand alien species, suspecting the concept
of cleaning had been omitted from the simpleton drone’s training. The terminal
was a picture of Nisk minimalism with none of the amenities found in human
spaceports, just bare walls and a roof over our heads.
Dozens of nonhumans milled around in small groups
inside the terminal, casting furtive glances at each other and at the drizzle
and mud outside. None wanted to be here a second longer than necessary and by
the way some glanced at the big drones, they were as uncomfortable trading with
giant beetles as I was. My implanted DNA sniffer area-scanned them all, confirming
they were mostly Orion Arm species mixed with a few unknowns from further
afield. A couple wore full environment suits preventing line of sight DNA scanning,
although none paid me any attention.
Outside the terminal, two armed sentry drones and
a handful of aliens sheltered from the drizzle under a wide awning, more
interested in the town than a solitary human passing through. Their lack of
curiosity reassured me that this was going to be another routine data pick-up.
I’d received Lena’s request nine days ago. She’d
said it was a simple retrieve and run, nothing more than a minor detour. I only
needed brief physical contact with her agent – a handshake would be enough –
then I’d be gone. Nothing I hadn’t done a dozen times before, barely worth my
fee as a freelancer, especially considering the extra credits the niskgel would
bring in. For all the Nisk knew or cared, I was just another biped seeking to
profit off the vanity of my species. Even Jase and Izin had no inkling of my true
motives for visiting bug central. It had been tricky at times, but I’d managed
to keep my EIS sideline hidden from them for a year now. I didn’t like lying to
them, but it wasn’t called deep cover for nothing.
This far from Sol, the only human law was an Earth
Navy frigate, and they were rare. There were plenty of alien ships of course
and alien worlds, even some big ones, but most were off limits to humans for at
least another forty nine years. Once we earned Forum Membership, becoming
formally recognized Galactic Citizens, a lot of closed doors would open for humanity
providing we didn’t screw up. It was all on our shoulders, our responsibility, to
prove we could respect galactic law as enshrined in the Access Treaty. That was
no small task considering the horde of bottom feeders looking for fast credits
far from Earth. And while there was no one to help us, there were plenty watching,
waiting for us to fail – again. While most alien governments would report any
breach, none would lift a finger to help or take any part in policing mankind.
Nor should they. That was Lena’s job – and mine.
Summoning an image of Nisport’s grid-like layout
into my mind’s eye from my threaded memory, I crossed the mud splattered metal
grating that passed for a road and headed south toward a small cluster of human
prefabs a kilometer away. They contained the Earth Council embassy, a tiny
Beneficial Society of Traders office that managed our barter deals with the
Nisk and sleeping quarters and stores for both. There were no support
facilities typical of human trade bases – no repair docks, bars, merchants,
stim dealers or brothels. The Nisk refused to allow anyone to establish
permanent bases in the Nisk Draconis System because with such a large
population concentrated in one place, a single planet busting attack could have
devastated their civilization in this part of the galaxy.