A “Family Law” Novel
It wasn’t like Fargone to be bureaucratic. They prided themselves on independence so it seemed unlikely the United States of North America or any other Earth power was pressuring them to not sell military supplies to Derf. The Derf had won the recent war, so it wasn’t a matter of not wanting to re-arm the defeated underdog and stir up new hostilities.
The missiles Gordon wanted to buy were no secret from him. He’d been the one to sell them the copies they used to reverse engineer them. Indeed he still had magazines over half full of the X head ship to ship missiles. They’d been very frugal with them during the war. He’d like to replace them, and alter the load out that was standard on the captured USNA ships. He really had no use for ground attack nukes. He hoped never to use one, much less the majority load out the North Americans favored.
On the other hand they were going deep on a voyage of exploration. Deep as in years away from Human or Derf society. So deep they had no idea what they would find, and more to the point who. Man had found two aboriginal races, and two technological societies already, close to home, the Derf and the Hinth both far enough along to take up space flight easily. It seemed likely sooner or later they’d find one who had progressed to space on their own. How friendly or territorial they might be was impossible to guess. But he wanted to be prepared if they tried to blow his dainty little butt off on sight.
In honesty he was irritated. Near a ton and a half of irritated carnivore with four inch gut rippers on his middle arms should have been radiating intimidation. Instead his personality was such that he got quieter and less visibly agitated the more upset he got. When he got to statue-like immobility it would be a very good time to try to defuse the situation. He wasn’t near that, yet.
His daughter Lee was also pissed. She was a loose cannon liable to say anything to the Fargone military commander they were going to meet. She was precocious, utterly fearless, which is easy to do at her age, but a cunning, calculating fearless instead of the usual teen inability to imagine her own death. At fourteen she was scarily able to imagine six different paths to your death, smiling pleasantly at you, while you were busy making nice-nice and patting the sweet little Earth girl on the head.
Indeed, she had once tracked a young Derf intruder through the woods back on his clan territory in falling dusk and been prepared to defend him from the interloper. Over a metric ton of six armed aggressive carnivore, equipped with a 20mm assault rifle. The pushy young cub had given him a hard time, challenging his territory, until matters had almost come to a head. Lee had changed the balance of that confrontation by the simple expedient of clicking the safety off her pistol from slightly behind the fellow in the quiet woods. The ‘Oh shit’ look on the kid’s face was a precious memory.
He was Derf too after all, in fact he had fifty years and about four hundred kilo on the kid. It never seemed to have occurred to her he might not need her help. In fact he’d point out – the entire Red Tree/Human war was over this one human child, and almost all of it was fought without her direct help.
The United States of North America had very stupidly broken their treaty over disapproving of his adoption of Lee. One cranky old prejudiced judge had taken her into protective custody when they were visiting Earth. The Nation of Red Tree did not take kindly to having their children kidnapped. The three Mothers declared war without hesitation, though it had been over a thousand years since they’d made war. They’d have declared war on every nation and world of all three races for one of their own. It was a matter of principle.
Gordon looked down at his daughter with a smile. The snarling grin he got back was no more comforting for being on a fifty kilo girl of fourteen years, instead of his own fourteen hundred kilos and four meter height.
“We really don’t want to plunge right in with an adversarial conversation,” Gordon pleaded. “Let’s stay calm and ask some questions, and find out what the real problem is.”
“Does this mean I shouldn’t remind him that removal of obstructing officials by assassination is a perfectly normal procedure in Derf politics?”
“It might be well not to mention it first. And if you didn’t jam your thumb under your holster flap like you just did now, it would add an air of genteel sincerity.”
“Why are we seeing someone from Ministry of War?” Lee demanded. “This is just a commercial transaction. We’re not asking credit. You have a ridiculous huge cargo of silver in the hold. That’s the basis of their currency, and an absolute necessity for them to import since it is scarce in the Fargone system. So it’s not that our money is no good.”
Gordon broke into song…”And we don’t care if your money’s no good. Just take what you want, and leave the rest. But they should never, have taken, the very best…”
“A song about an old war in North America. Money offered in war time is often worthless.”
“How can money be worthless?” Lee asked, scrunching her nose up.
“When it’s paper certificates and they won’t redeem it in metal,” Gordon explained.
“You’d be a fool to take them then.”
“Yes, but he told them to take what they wanted, probably his food, because otherwise they’d probably just shoot him dead and steal it anyway.”
“Do you think they know we are rich, so they’ll try to run up the price?”
“No, we’d still be meeting with the munitions manufacturer, or him and a Finance Minister. No, I’m afraid whatever the problem is, it will be political in nature.”
“You think they may regret selling you the three radiation enhanced weapons back in the war?”
“I doubt it, they haven’t made any noises about buying back the two we haven’t used.”
“I’m stumped then. I’m just going to sit back and listen for awhile, and try to hear how he sounds as much as what he says. You can try to pry it out of him better than me. You’re a hell of a lot more intimidating,” she assured him.
He wasn’t so sure of that. The official meeting them would know Lee was here because she owned two thirds of the Deep Space Explorer High Hopes, which was the lead vessel in their exploration fleet. She also owned the other DSE, Champion William, their escort the Heavy Cruiser Retribution, and a mixed bag of shuttles and fuel scoopers – outright. The Mothers of Red Tree had decided to send the destroyer Sharp Claws along in exchange for a share in potential discoveries.
The High Hopes was the only ship not a war capture. It was the originally North American flagged ship, in which Gordon and Lee had gone exploring with Lee’s parents. That had ended in both triumph and tragedy. They’d discovered a class A world, which left them filthy rich, but her parents had died doing a survey of the new world, Providence.
The finder’s fees and shares on a class A world where men could stand bare faced meant they never had to worry about money for even extravagant living, but April, born to ship life, tired of planets quickly. In her opinion a slow global expansion risked running up against another star faring race who had been more aggressively exploring deep, and leaving them with a foreshortened frontier, and the loss of a lot of prime real estate. Her recruits agreed, and hoped to come back filthy rich on ship shares.
If they did run into somebody out there, it seemed likely they’d be more polite to a small fleet than a single ship. Besides wanting his magazines full of the higher performance ship to ship weapons, Gordon wanted the DSEs fitted with an entire extra reactor and a greaser – a gamma ray laser that had much higher performance than mundane petawatt optical lasers. They both already had an externally mounted, extremely high velocity ‘peashooters’ a weapon that very accurately threw a rice grain sized projectile at a substantial fraction of the speed of light. One such pellet had left an Earth orbital fort an expanding cloud of plasma during the war.
The cab they were riding in left the fast left lanes and drifted down a exit ramp into the heart of the Fargone government campus. Nobody stopped them to check identities or inspect the vehicle. It was their own Fargone agency limo, and it would have never been allowed down the ramp if they didn’t have business here.
The open cart that they transferred to however had a driver. He gave them a gracious bow and indicated it was his pleasure to take them to Admiral Hawking, the head of Fargone Space Forces. The driver’s name tag indicated he was Propensity Jones, the Fargoers being given to a different custom in names.
At least they’d be dealing with somebody who understood what they were doing, and nobody suggested Lee hand over her pistol. As for Gordon, he was much harder to disarm. Even without the ritual ax in his belt, a Derf could make his way through most human building by creating expedient doorways.
The cart took them right to the Admiral’s door, and they were not trifled with by any Earth games such as making them wait to show status. The Admiral stood to greet them, letting them see he wore canvas cargo shorts under what Gordon would have called a golf shirt. Fargoers were not much given to symbols of authority. He wore a medallion of rank around his neck on a stout chain, and would have expected quick obedience and respect if he were otherwise buck naked.
“Miss Anderson, Mr. Gordon,” he bowed as deeply as their driver had. He addressed and looked at Lee first, so he knew what the deal was there, and that was one less thing they could bullshit him. His name plate on his desk said Admiral Serendipity Duvochek Hawking. That was a very favored name for both sexes on Fargone.
Laying on his desk was a hammer, the square head of which was about three kilo of unpolished steel. The thick handle was carved of a dark native wood to be grippy, and there was a rawhide lanyard looped in the end and braided for a half meter. It was Fargone’s second highest military award. You had to be not only a marvelous bad ass and scary vortex of unlimited violence to get the first award, but you had to die winning it too, so they tended to be found hang on the mantles of clan houses.
“It is my custom to have a break for coffee and a few snacks about this hour of the morning,” Serendipity explained. “Would you join me in a cup and help me keep my blood sugar up and retain my good humor this morning?”
Gordon allowed he’d take a cup with a little honey or brandy. Lee suggested a mug with a shot of bourbon would be welcome. If serving alcohol to a fourteen year old at ten in the morning bothered him at all, he never let a twitch or hesitation cross his face. Maybe that was normal here for all she knew. It would give an Earthie all sorts of problems, their society going increasingly Puritanical. The age to buy alcohol in North America had been twenty-four for some time now.
“I can see written on your faces that you are unhappy Fargone put a roadblock in your supply plans. We are not intransient on it, or we wouldn’t be meeting here to discuss it.”
“Not a roadblock,” Gordon assured him. “A speed bump at most. We have plenty of copies of the ship to ship weapons, and we’ll simply go to New Japan to have them copied. If anything New Japan is ahead of Fargone on rapid prototyping and fabrication. We had major battle damage repaired there in four days during the war. Fargone may have the edge at present in actually improving on the design, but we can forego that to get what we need. In the future we won’t be sharing captured designs with Fargone since you don’t show reciprocity, so I expect the edge on improvements will go over to New Japan as they are the opener more accommodating society. Which is ironic given their reputation for being the more closed xenophobic society.”
“Yet such a supply switch would be an unnecessary delay. You’d have to keep your crews on hold drawing salary for another six weeks or so plus transit time.”
“Better that, than to let your supposed allies start managing you,” Lee assured him. “As to expense, we have the entire fifteen percent take on the leases and development rights and outright sales of the best class A planet to hit the economy in a decade, equal to something over five percent of your GDP right now and accelerating. In addition we have unusually large private land holdings for a prize crew, and could sell mineral leases or tracts of land to raise considerable capital. So we can carry our crews indefinitely without it being any particular burden.”
“You know Fargone has always followed a course of slow and cautious development,” the Admiral reminded them. “We don’t mean to get into a pissing contest with outside powers, especially fast growing ones, but we have only seen public releases about what your intention is in mounting this expedition. We have legitimate concerns that you will be representing three races and many cultures, including Fargone, to anyone you meet.”
“We hadn’t intended to storm through the Beyond like Cortez through the Americas,” Gordon assured him. “We are in it for the loot, but only what is laying about unclaimed. If we run into any intelligences you may assume we’ll treat them with respect. Pillage and burn, or bombard and subjugate, wasn’t on our play card. It is Lee’s opinion our global expansion by its nature gets slower as it has greater surface area. If there is another aggressive expander out there they will meet us far closer than half way, and rightfully claim all the territory they bypassed in detail, and hold it reserved for their exploitation.”
“But how shall you present yourselves if you must negotiate with a new civilization, particularly a technological one?”
“As what we are, a family business,” Lee asserted. “If they desire political entities with which to seek treaties and relationships, then they will have to seek them out or request they send an emissary. We on the other hand can offer trade.”
“These theoretical aliens may not believe an armed fleet represents a family enterprise.”
“I think you are the one having trouble believing we are a small commercial venture. These aliens may not have much more use for governments than I do,” Lee said bluntly.
“If you mean you will only supply us if we put an official government commander in charge of our expedition, so it is not a private enterprise, then let me make it clear. Over my dead body,” Gordon said.
“No, no. I can see where you’d think that was the direction I was headed. Actually what we had in mind was far more moderate. We’d like to send a ship along with you.”
Gordon and Lee looked at each other. That wasn’t anything they’d anticipated at all.
“Not in a command oversight position?” Gordon asked.
“As an observer, subject to your overall command, except as any commander is responsible for his vessel both as to its survival and to refuse any orders he finds illegal or morally reprehensible.”
“Can your active duty military legally draw crew shares on discoveries?” Lee asked.
“That is something I have the power to regulate in ten minutes with my signature. Do you want them to have shares, or depend completely on Fargone to compensate them?”
“I think it is unreasonable to ask them, even if they are genuine volunteers, to serve elbow by elbow with others who may end up Billionaires, or Trillionaires, risking their lives and being gone from civilization for some indefinite time, but years certainly. If we even find one class A world, it hardly matters if the bonus is split two-hundred fifty ways or three-hundred.”
“I agree,” Gordon jumped in. “If there is not resentment going in there may be as they think on the matter and feel the burden of the voyage. I don’t want partners with conflicted feeling, who may decide they are being used badly.”
“So this is something you’d consider?” Serendipity asked.
“What kind of ship?” Lee asked, suspiciously.
“What would you have us send?”
“The baddest big assed heavy cruiser you have in service, and give the commander authority to pick his volunteers from your whole navy, and set anybody he doesn’t want on the beach without explanation. A fast courier grappled externally would be welcome too. I rode one of those and was impressed.”
“And send one high ranking civilian official of your government, so it isn’t just military minded,” Gordon added.
“All that is what we wanted and more,” Serendipity assured them. “I’ll see to it you have access to anything you wish to buy.”
“Next time, you’d get less suspicion, and easier cooperation, if you go straight to asking that we talk, before laying out what we saw as threats and obstruction,” Lee told him.
“All this originated above me, but I’ll pass that thought on to the architects of our government,” Serendipity promised.