Monday, November 13, 2017

Frankenstein's Vengeance                             



170-1105, Narmada, Red Sun City, Whiskey Amber Oh Seven Arcology
>READY---ENTER COMMAND:
] Connect
>WORKING. . . . DONE.
>TERMINAL CONNECTED TO LOCAL NETWORK---ENTER COMMAND:
] Library
>LIBRARY DATA ACCESS---ENTER COMMAND:
] Search “Doc” & “Frankenstein”
>WORKING. . . DONE---1 ENTRY FOUND
>>Doc Frankenstein – nickname used on Nan (2015 Narmada/Wayhaven) for FRANKLIN, MYRON, DR.
>> END OF ENTRY
>CROSS-REFERENCING. . . DONE---1 ADDITIONAL ENTRY FOUND
>>Franklin, Myron, Dr. – [b. 107-1064, Nan (2015 Narmada/Wayhaven), Age 41]
>>Fugitive war criminal accused of conducting biological and chemical weapons testing on POWs and civilians during The Great Conflict on Nan (1087-1096), and deliberately using biological weapons to attack Imperial forces sent to arrest him in 1097.  Dr. Franklin is believed to be under the protection of member countries of the Hegemony bloc of nations on Nan.
>>Prior to The Great Conflict, Dr. Franklin was noted in the scientific community for his studies and treatments of antibiotic-resistant necrotic diseases.  This is when he earned the colorful nickname “Doc Frankenstein.”  It is suspected by Imperial authorities that his knowledge was used to produce a weaponized flesh-destroying virus responsible for killing over 350 thousand people during the war and permanently maiming more than 50 thousand survivors.
>>END OF ENTRY
>ENTER COMMAND:
] Disconnect
>WORKING. . . DONE---TERMINAL OFFLINE
>ENTER COMMAND:
] Off

Atopia sat back in the workstation chair and rubbed her eyes.  There was a lot to learn about being a member of the Imperial Peerage, and not all of it was pleasant.

“I ran and hid,” she sighed.  “I knew the war was coming and I joined the Imperial Navy to escape it.”  The war had taken her parents, her brother and her grandparents.  For all she knew, all of her friends were dead as well.  Her hometown had been bombed and then subjected to a chemical weapons attack in 1095.  Every living thing within three miles of the city’s central plaza died in that attack.

Atopia wiped away the tears.  “At least it was quick,” she said aloud, knowing it was a lie she told herself on those long, lonely nights when the memories of them haunted her.  She knew now that their deaths would have to mean something for all she had accomplished to not ring hollow through the rest of her life.  The trick was finding something to devote her efforts to that was worthy enough to overcome her survivor’s guilt.

That’s what she’d been doing the past ten days since her return from Ussan and subsequent recovery from the wounds she’d suffered there.  After the first couple of days, she decided she didn’t know enough about current events to make an informed decision.  So now, she was getting informed.

A page from her apartment door broke her revere.  She activated the security monitor and saw a very average and plain-looking man in a worn and faded IISS uniform.  He wore a short, thick beard and moustache while his dark, curly hair spilled out from under his service cap as he removed it and bowed to the camera.

“Please forgive the interruption, your grace,” he said, “but I have a message to deliver to you which I believe is urgent.”  She rose and admitted him, her right hand never straying far from the pocket where her body pistol was waiting.  He handed over the note immediately without being asked.  It was carefully folded, written on a page of graph paper ripped from a journal.

“Where did you get this?” she asked as she looked up from the note.

“The planet Nan, your grace,” he replied.  “I was asked to deliver it to you by a teen-aged boy eighteen days ago.  News of your ascendance recently reached that world, so I knew where to find you.”

“What were you doing on Nan in the first place?” asked Atopia.

“I am on detached duty from the Scout Service, your grace,” he said.  “Occasionally, I am called upon to deliver official correspondence to worlds off of the X-boat routes, for which I am compensated to some small degree.  I was assisting Dr. Marquis Toyama Weston with a situation on Yantra just before that.”

“Which explains how you got access to a private residence level of the arcology,” she said.

“Yes, your grace,” he said.

She opened the note and was greeted with groups of characters composed of squared and angled lines and dots.  Her brow knit as she studied it.  “I should know this,” she said aloud.

“Your grace?” asked the scout.

The response startled her.  “I thought you had left,” she said.

“I was not given your leave, your grace,” he said.

She stopped and smirked at that.  “No,” she replied, “I guess you weren’t.  What’s your name?”

“Leif Grenfeld, your grace,” he said with another slight bow.

She showed him the note.  “What do you make of this odd writing?” she asked.

“A simple substitution cipher,” he replied after a moment.  “The message has been divided into blocks of five characters each to hinder any deciphering efforts.”  He handed it back to her.  “If it was about three times this length or there were other messages using the same cipher to work with, it would be easier to crack using letter usage frequency.”

“So you’re an expert with sort of thing?” she asked.

“Hardly, your grace,” Leif said with a shrug.  “I have a layman’s knowledge of the field, but no practical experience.”

“So you don’t know what this says?” asked Atopia.

He shook his head.  “I’m not in the habit of reading other people’s mail, your grace.  The Scout Service was very plain about that being a serious crime, especially in the case of correspondence to and from the Peerage.”

“Fortunately, I do know how to read this,” she said slowly, “though it’s been decades since the last time I used it.  Some childhood friends and I employed it to confuse the brownies.”

“Brownies?” asked Leif.

She chuckled as she drew a pair of crosshatches and “X”s at the top of the paper, adding dots to the spaces between the lines on the second one of each.  “The law enforcers in the Hegemony on Nan wear brown uniforms,” she said as she worked.  “So, we called them brownies.”  After adding the Anglic alphabet, she had the cipher’s key.  “Now, let’s see what we’ve got here.”

A few moments of concentration and typing on the terminal keypad produced this:

ATOPI AXINE EDYOU RHELP DOCFR ANKEN STEIN WANTS REVEN
GEONU SALLX COMET OTHEO LDPLA CEAND FLYTH EBLAC KFLAG
WEARN EWSHO ESAND SHADE SBECA USETH EBROW NIESH AVETH
EIREY ESOUT THERA VENLE ADSTH EWAYX WATCH YOURB ACKXS
HARPS

“Atopia,” she read. “I need your help.  Doc Frankenstein wants revenge on us all.  Come to the old place and fly the black flag.  Wear new shoes and shades because the brownies have their eyes out.  The raven leads the way.  Watch your back.  Signed, Sharps.”

She stared at the note until its words blurred.  Leif handed her a handkerchief from one of his uniform’s many utility pockets.  “I take it you didn’t think ‘Sharps’ was still alive,” he said.

“No,” she said as she wiped her eyes.  “How did you know?”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve delivered a personal message from Nan, your grace,” he said.  “My ship, the Urutu, is at your disposal, should you decide to respond.  Here is my comm-code, should you need it.”

“Thank you, Leif,” she said.  “I believe I will be in contact with you soon. You have my leave to go.”

171-1105, Narmada, Red Sun City Starport
“Ugh, it is so damnably hot for winter!” cursed Leif under Narmada’s relentless midday sun.  The last advertising display Atopia had seen said the temperature was a balmy 42 C.

Atopia sweated as she crossed the starport tarmac, carrying both her own luggage and a backpack filled with fresh groceries from her home arcology.  Leif struggled along beside her with a backpack of his own and a pair of large suitcases, one in each hand.

“This is winter?” she asked.  “How can you tell?”

“Because Orgus is visible in the daytime,” he replied over the din of a starship departing the port as he pointed at the barest crescent of the gas giant in the pale blue sky.  “In summer, it’s in the night sky, meaning there’s not really any darkness for about a week.”

“Just a week?” Atopia asked.  “How long is the planetary year?”

“Just under forty-six days,” said Leif as his features brightened.  “There’s my ship!”



Atopia stared at it for a moment as she walked.  “It’s a spaceplane configuration!” she exclaimed.  “It has… wheels on its landing gear!  Just how old is she?”

“No telling,” he said.  “It came with my detached duty status.  The lesson here is that when the Scout Service says something is ‘surplus,’ they mean it!”

174-1105, Aboard the Urutu, bound for Benue
“Time for dinner, your gra-“ said Leif before stopping himself.  “Sorry, it’s time for dinner, Ms. Paxton.”

Atopia fought down her irritation.  Dr. Marquis Toyama’s head of security – Sir Yael Smethwyk – had forged a new identity card for her and had worked up a personal history she’d been studying during the hyperspace transit.  To help enforce her new identity of Fiona Paxton, she’d been riding Leif about using her new name for the better part of a day and night.  “You’re getting better, Leif,” she said.  “Keep working at it.  What’s for dinner?”

“Cheese omelets with fresh fruit salad,” he said.  “At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.”

She gave both a taste and smiled.  “They’re edible,” she said, which was an improvement over his previous attempt last night.  She gave him credit for purchasing fresh food for the transit, but it might have been less of a culinary misadventure if he’d taken on SCOP bars and bags of kibble instead.

“So what’s the plan when we reach Benue?” she asked around another mouthful of the omelet.

“We’ll park Urutu in a hanger and use your high passage tickets on an independent ship to get to Nan,” he said.  “That way there’s less chance that your true identity can be traced on Nan.  Have you settled on a look for Fiona, yet?”

Atopia’s blonde hair was now a chestnut color, as were her eyebrows.  She’d been experimenting with different elements from the disguise kit without much success.  “I’ll tint my skin a couple of shades darker before we land on Benue,” she said.  “I already have the clothes I’m going to wear, since it’ll be winter – real winter – in Dokkoa.”

“Capital of the Hegemony,” said Leif with a nod as he took another bite.  “So what do you do for a living, Fiona?”

“Entrepreneurial consultant,” she said.  “I check out potential properties and businesses for investors on the QT.  I’m traveling to Nan to check out some leads for my clients and visit some of my surviving relatives while I’m there.”

“Why is your identity card so new?” he asked, testing her again.

She hesitated and Leif blew a raspberry before she could speak.  “The planetary security force just pegged you, Fiona – if that’s your real name.  The investigation begins before you even leave the starport extrality.  You will be tailed and monitored until they can get a sample of your fingerprints or DNA.  As soon as that happens, your true identity will be discovered and you will be arrested.  Then, the real fun begins.”

Atopia sighed.  “That’s why we’re practicing this,” she said.  “I should have dropped something to buy myself some time to think.”

Leif nodded.  “There’s no such thing as ‘better late than never’ when it comes to this.  You have several rabidly paranoid blocs of nations on Nan, and the Hegemony is one of the worst.”

“I know,” she said as she finished her omelet.  “I grew up in one of Dokkoa’s suburbs.  Have you ever been there before?”

“No,” he said as he picked up her plate and fed it to the recycler.  “I’ve only been to the extrality.  A planet poisoned by biological and chemical warfare isn’t on my bucket list of worlds to visit, quite frankly.”

“Even before the war, Dokkoa was a tightly-run machine,” she said.  “I used to get my kicks by occasionally sneaking out of the house and violating curfew with people like Sharps because it was forbidden and exciting.  The society was regimented and even kids like me had responsibilities to the state that came before family.”

She looked away from him.  “There’s no telling how bad it is now, but Sharps – Damon Sharpton is his real name – gave me a hint when he had to pass a note to get word to me, rather than trust public communications.  Suffice to say, we’ll have to be on our guard everywhere and figure everything we say and do can be monitored and probably will be.”

188-1105, Nan, Hegemony, Dokkoa
The video screen came to life in the predawn darkness of their hotel room and blared out the anthem of Dokkoa’s nation.  Atopia rolled out of bed by reflex and faced the screen.  Leif muttered something vulgar and placed a pillow over his head.  An athletic man in a military uniform greeted the captive audience and led a twenty minute workout of stretching and light calisthenics where he never broke a sweat.  Atopia was sweating and made her way to the shower for her five minutes of hot water.

At breakfast, Atopia was fully into her role as Fiona while Leif was still struggling to wake up.  “Transitioning from a 28-hour day to a 20-hour day is going to be a challenge,” he said.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to do it for very long,” she said.  “Today, we’ll take a stroll in the park.”

As they were finishing up breakfast, Atopia caught one of the law enforcers asking the maître di questions – the uncomfortable kind.  Within a minute, the brownie was marching up to their table.  “Leif Grenfeld?” he demanded.

Leif nodded and the enforcer thrust a citation into his hands.  “This is a warning from the Public Health Commission.  You refused to participate in mandatory fitness exercises this morning.  You will participate tomorrow.”  The enforcer spun on his heel and marched out of the hotel restaurant.

Leif waited until the brownie had left before saying anything.  “Mandatory,” he said as he studied the citation with an arched eyebrow.  “’Failure to obey this department’s directives is punishable by a fine of up to one thousand credits and up to thirty days of remedial reeducation.’  They’re serious about this?”

She shrugged.  “Welcome to Dokkoa,” she said.  “Let’s pay up and go for a walk.”

A half-hour later, they arrived at the old place Sharps talked about – a concrete park bench next to a tall flagpole.  “So now what?” asked Leif.

Just as she was about to answer a teenaged boy raced past them on a bicycle with overly wide tires, nearly hitting them.  Atopia felt something hit her lap as he passed.  “That must be fun, considering how low the gravity is here,” said Leif, speaking of the bicyclist.

Atopia quickly gathered up the small item into her hands and glanced at it.  It was a paint marker filled with fluorescent red paint.  She quickly slipped the marker into a pocket.  “We’ve been marked,” she said.  “Somebody knows we’re here and has seen through my disguise.”

“People like the ones you’re looking for, or the law enforcers?” he asked.

“Both,” she said.  “Keep an eye out for the brownies.  I’m going to fly a black flag.”  She uncapped the paint pen and carefully drew a series of the cipher characters on the back of the bench before pocketing it again.  Leif kept watch but saw no one as she worked.

As they headed back to the hotel, Atopia nodded toward a restaurant as they passed it.  “Tomorrow, we’ll have lunch in there, so don’t eat much breakfast,” she said.  “We may have a while to wait.”

209-1105, Narmada, Red Sun City
IISS Base Commander Thessala Oleria
Red Sun City Starport, Narmada

In regards to the events of 189-1105 on Nan, I take full responsibility.  The only reasons I acted as I did was that I was dealing with both a mass murderer and one aspiring to do the same, and to protect the life of a member of the Imperial Peerage.  The raven led the way, to use a Nan expression regarding death.  Still, I acknowledge that these actions may compromise the safety of other Scout Service personnel in the future, since the existence of the device we carry will become public knowledge.

My contact on Nan had gone to ground after already having a brush with local law enforcement.  Baronet Atopia and I met with him on the day in question after his resistance cell sent a guide to bring us to his hideout from a restaurant her grace had selected for the meet.  He’d been worked over thoroughly, suffering a number of facial contusions, a possible concussion, two broken ribs and an arm broken in two places.  Despite his injuries, he had not revealed to his tormentors that he’d sent a message off-world or my involvement in the affair.

Still, he’d managed to locate a possible facility for the target on the northern edge of Dokkoa, on the edge of her grace’s former hometown – now a contaminated zone.  Her grace found a public theater within 500 meters of the suspected facility and I purchased tickets to that evening’s show.  I also pocketed a pill that would induce vomiting, so I could reasonably and realistically excuse myself from the performance.  Her grace’s exit would be out of concern for my health.

What I saw of the performance confirmed that Dokkoa’s nation is still fighting the war, flying in the face of the terms of the armistice by promoting agitation propaganda in both its state controlled media and in its performance art.  While I am not an expert in these matters, it seems to me that a peacekeeping mission by Imperial forces will be required within the next decade to prevent a renewal of the old hostilities.

After leaving the show during the confusion and bustle of its first intermission, we cased the facility.  To our amazement, we found it unguarded – perhaps the local government got wind of our efforts and decided to sacrifice the target rather than maintain the charade of protecting him?  Regardless, her grace decided to enter the facility through an unlocked side door.  (I would discover later that its lock had been sabotaged by agents unknown.)

As we moved through the facility, her grace took numerous holographs of the equipment there.  The laboratory setups confirmed that Dr. Franklin was continuing his work to weaponize biological agents.  We found Dr. Franklin languid from over-consumption of alcohol in the main control room of the facility and I moved to shut off the central computer system and power to the building.

As I engaged in that activity, we were discovered by a lab technician, whom her grace wounded with her unsilenced body pistol, alerting others to our presence.  I was forced to engage the drunken doctor hand-to-hand while her grace fought a gun battle with François Verne – the financier of the effort, though how he’d managed to leave Kiewa remains something of a mystery.

Although she managed to wound Verne badly, he had returned the favor and Atopia succumbed to her injuries.  I accidentally snapped Dr. Franklin’s neck with a blow to the chin and was left to face down Verne.  Given his history and recent actions, I opted to use the neurotoxin dart launcher to end Verne’s life, even as he was attempting to end mine.

I managed to stabilize her grace as members of Sharps’ cell entered the facility.  Using their resources, we managed to transport her grace to the starport extrality, clandestinely employing medical personnel from Sharps’ cell to maintain her grace’s life along the way.  Once at the medical facility in the extrality, her grace was subjected to treatment with medical slow drug to make a full recovery.

Many thanks are owed to both Damon Sharpton and the Imperial Liaison on Nan, Marquis Renard Solono-Deleon, for their timely and generous assistance to preserve Baronet Atopia’s life and permit a timely exit from Nan to minimize the political repercussions of Imperial involvement in their local affairs.

Damon Sharpton accompanied us to Narmada.  It is my understanding that he continues to be debriefed about the local conditions on Nan by Imperial Naval Intelligence officials here.

Leif Grenfeld, IISS field agent (detached duty)

***END OF REPORT***

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