Meeting the Modrani
|Artist: Christopher Califf|
198-1107, Modra, the only natural satellite of Benue
The Golden Dawn settled onto her landing gear, still trailing rivulets of water from the gaping holes in her lower forward hull. Atopia sighed heavily as she powered down the jury-rigged maneuver drive of the wounded starship. With the help of Hawk and Lisa – both still recovering from radiant burns from the plasma fire the day before – she’d managed to cannibalize power conduits from the jump drive and adapted them to power the maneuver drive.
Their efforts for the next day would be to use what spares were available along with scrap metal from several of the destroyed cargo containers and hull patches to cobble together a spaceworthy airframe for a slow trip back to Benue, along with patching up the launch Daybreak – another casualty of the modestly successful crash landing.
The cargo’s a write-off, though, thought Atopia as she operated the ship’s cargo ramp. There’s no market for broken and bruised fruit or waterlogged textiles. But Olivia and the rest of my crew are alive and will be well once again, so I’ll thank The Maker it isn’t worse than this. Still, the ship needed time in a proper spacedock for the full range of repairs it required – a couple of weeks at least.
That assumes, thought Atopia, nothing else goes wrong.
199-1107, Modra, Kesslering’s Landing
Atopia cocked an eyebrow at the makeshift sign that had been planted on the beach, and then smiled. Good to know the crew still has a sense of humor about all this, she thought. The sun was just starting to dawn over the trackless sea. The air was warm and humid but the sky was clear. A quarter Benue was visible overhead in the brightening sky, so frustratingly close and yet so very far away.
Modra was blessed by a molten iron core for a magnetosphere but cursed (from a spacer’s standpoint) with an exceptionally thick and electromagnetically reflective ionosphere. None of the transmitters they had operational could send a signal that would escape the planet, meaning the only option left was to get above it.
Ordinarily, that would mean sending the launch, but Valo’s heroic attempts to prevent Dawn’s hard landing from becoming a genuine crash had damaged her lifters and thrusters to the point where it didn’t have enough oomph to fly much higher than a hundred meters – and only with a genuinely skilled pilot at the controls, at that.
“Your ladyship,” said Kim’s voice in her tactical headset, “We’ve got a boat coming in from the south.”
Atopia turned to look skyward in that direction, but saw nothing. She was about to question Kim’s vision when she saw a shape on the horizon. A small dark shape with a larger triangular shape above it the shade of a summer cloud. A sailboat, thought Atopia, aquatic transportation. She could see other shapes, smaller and indistinct moving around upon the boat and rigging.
“I see it,” she said. “I need you and John down here with me on the cargo ramp. Tell everybody else to be ready but to stay put for now.”
They had plenty of time to wait. It took the sailboat nearly a half-hour to reach the beach. It held humanoid creatures with unnaturally long arms and somewhat shorter but powerfully-muscled legs. They gestured to one another but Atopia heard no words uttered as they beached their vessel a hundred meters away.
About half of the score of crew of the boat remained aboard. They all wore some sort of bodysuit that covered their torsos and chests along with their upper arms and upper legs and glistened in the light of the rising sun. What Atopia could see of their skin was a mottled mix of grays, tans and greens. Their eyes seemed slightly larger than one might expect. “They have bifurcated irises,” said Kim as the natives approached, “so they can see as well above water as below, I’d bet.”
Eight of the shore party were armed with bladed spears sporting squared-off angular blades. The other two wore simple shoulder bags and a sort of emblem pin or brooch on the chest of their dark bodysuits. “I’d hazard a guess the bodysuits help their skin retain moisture when they’re above water,” said John.
The spearmen of the group made a semi-circle around the front of the ship with the other two standing behind them. “Keep your weapons slung,” said Atopia to her bodyguards, “they don’t look like they want a fight.”
“That’s probably what the last expedition thought,” said John, “just before they were slaughtered.”
“That was eight hundred years ago,” replied Atopia not taking her eyes off the natives, “Societies can change a lot in that amount of time.”
“Or they can entrench their dogmas of the past,” said John, “until they become universal truths.”
Atopia ignored the last. One of the unarmed Modrani was stepping past the spearmen and approaching her. Atopia held hands open, palms forward as she stepped forward. The native hesitated slightly before repeating the gesture. Atopia caught the one behind the line touching the shoulders of the spearmen nearest him. As one, the line grounded their spear-butts in the sand and relaxed.
Atopia blew out a breath she’d been holding. The native in front of her cocked his head to the side at that for a moment then held out his hand. It was four-fingered and webbed. Atopia gently touched it with her own hand, then slowly grasped it, and had hers grasped softly in return.
221-1107, Benue, Harvest City Starport
-- from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
Well, the idle time is coming to an end. Dawn and Daybreak are due out of the spacedock in just a couple of days. The repair crew says they can’t precisely match the original colors of their paintjobs, but I'm not overly picky – just as long as both are ready to fly again.
Compared to the reports from eight hundred years ago, the Modrani are a very different people these days. After some initial hesitation, they helped us finish the repairs to the ship and launch. I guess they understood what it means to be shipwrecked. With the large predators of the deep ocean out there, it is both too far and too dangerous to swim, even for an amphibious race.
I still have the emblem from their leader. It looks like a cross-section of a conch. It shows they have learned metallurgy to some extent as it is an alloy of silver and gold – electrum, they used to call that. I gave him a far inferior piece in exchange – just the bronze pin that signifies I’m a Navy veteran. It is hard to tell their emotions, though. Modrani faces aren’t very expressive.
The crew and I managed to limp Dawn the light-second and a half back to the starport and then had several days of debriefing from both the Imperial Science Bureau and Imperial Navy. Fortunately, most of the crew has been through that before, so it wasn’t particularly nerve-wracking this time around.
I put the idle time to good use by getting the crew some further training with vacc suits – including Olivia. If she wants to be part of the crew, then she’s going have to keep up with the training, too. Olivia’s been on a xeno-cultural kick since we got back from Modra. Tabitha says she’s doing so well with her core curriculum that occasional bouts of self-directed study help keep her focused on the more tedious elements of her education.
My time has been spent pouring over star charts and planetary economic reports while mapping out the course I’ll take into Belaya Subsector. This three-week delay for repairs means I won’t be able to finish my goal of visiting every world in the Narmada Subsector, and the pickings are getting slim in this part of the Imperium – lots of low population worlds with even lower profit potential. So we’re probably not going to linger here much longer…
242-1107, Tara, Integrity City Starport
A relentless summer sun beat down on Atopia’s head as she made her way from the marketplace back toward the expanse of formacrete that was Tara’s only starport. She had spent the day wrangling up some more profitable cargo than the consignment freight that had filled Dawn’s hold on the trip from Trave, the planet they were originally headed for before the crash on Modra. But now the stifling heat of mid-afternoon was wearing her down.
She managed to make it back to the Dawn and basked in climate controlled comfort while sipping a glass of Lisa’s sun-brewed iced tea. Atopia didn’t ask how the glass brewing jar had survived the crash intact.
She was just dozing off on a couch in the crew commons when Sir Winston entered with another man in tow. The ship’s doctor wore a serious expression as he spoke. “We need to locate everybody – now.”
Atopia didn’t question him. She adjusted her headset commlink, waiting for it to synchronize with the ship’s comm system. “This is the captain,” she said into the microphone, “sound off with your location.”
“This is Valo – I’m leaving the marketplace with Hawk and Lisa. We should be back there in about ten minutes.”
“This is Tabitha – I’m next to the ship catching some sun.”
“This is Kim – I’m in my cabin.”
“This is John – I’m on the starport grounds, catching up with an old friend who happens to be in port today.”
After a pause, Atopia got on the link. “I’m aboard with Winston,” she said. “Samantha, Olivia, please respond.”
Silence. “I saw them in the marketplace about a half-hour ago,” replied Hawk after a long moment, “I think they were grocery shopping.”
“I’m going to keep my mic open,” she said, then turned to Winston. “What’s wrong?”
“Plenty,” he replied as he gestured to the man beside him. “This is Baronet Lawrence Puxton, the Imperial Liaison.”
The man bowed and Atopia returned a curtsey. “I regret not contacting you when you arrived, Your Ladyship,” he said.
“We touched down well after local midnight,” she replied. “Olivia is my daughter, so please tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s early to jump to conclusions,” said Lawrence, “but there have been a number of kidnappings here over the past few years – by the government.”
“Great Maker,” said Atopia. “Why?”
“The class structure on Tara is based on a measure of so-called ‘genetic purity’ set by the government,” explained Lawrence. “Originally it was used to ensure that those in power stayed in power. However, that standard was established nearly four hundred years ago and there has been substantial mixing of upper and lower classes since then.”
“Interesting,” replied Atopia, “but what does this have to do with my crew?”
“There is a group within the government structure,” continued Lawrence, “called the Defenders of Genetic Purity. They are tasked with keeping the upper classes’ genetic legacies ‘pure’ by preventing any further interbreeding of the elite members with those of the lower classes. In order to do that, they have occasionally stooped to obtaining genetic material to ‘refresh’ the bloodlines by coercion or force from people with favorable traits – including off-worlders.”
“Okay,” said Atopia, “I want everybody back aboard this ship ten seconds ago. Captain, out.”
“The Defenders are like a secret police force,” said Lawrence, “ruthless and possessing absolute authority to do their ‘duty’ for their government. I’ve been sending reports to the Travellers’ Aid Society, hoping that they would consider my request to have this world declared an Amber Zone to no avail. I am so very sorry I didn’t contact you sooner.”
“Too late to cry over spilt milk, Your Lordship,” replied Atopia. “If my people have been picked up by these so-called Defenders, where would they be now?”
“The Bureau of Genetics,” replied Lawrence, “It’s a black granite cube of an office building near the center of Integrity City – looks more like a prison than an office building, quite frankly.”
Sir Winston spoke up. “Have the off-worlders who’ve been kidnapped been returned?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Lawrence with a nod, “but they remember very little of their experience. They all bear puncture wounds near the base of the spine, in the abdomen and at the base of the skull. Women have had eggs removed from their ovaries by a surgical procedure while men show evidence of electrostimulation of the testicles.”
“If they’ve harmed my daughter or my ship’s steward, they’ve just made a very grave mistake,” said Atopia as she headed for her cabin. “Lady Olivia Verne is of noble blood and her adopted mother happens to be a Defender of the Imperium.”