Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 19
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
With the beasts defeated, the away team returns to the Jump Cannon while Maur found himself engaged in an argument with the saboteur that further highlighted his importance to the Free man Nation cause. They ship is still stranded, and work continues to try and escape its gargantuan jungles. Meanwhile, the Free Man Nation reconvene for emergency discussions about the saboteur's failure.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
Langthorn’s failure to trap the Jump Cannon in the vacuum of space was having consequences elsewhere. Ulalo Nuragi had called an emergency meeting of The Thirteen in order to discuss the strategy moving forward, but before then she would have to reprimand the man responsible for the failing operative. She liked Luthais, the hotelier stationed on Seeon, having recruited him herself. It has seemed very odd that a man might want to surround himself with aliens who considered his presence quite unwelcome. Perhaps there was merit in that though, upsetting them. After all, they would have to upset far more than just the population of Seeon if they were to succeed in their ultimate goal.
It was a shame then, given her appreciation of the man, that she would have to see him punished so harshly. Truthfully, he was acting as a barrier to the rest of The Thirteen, having voiced his willingness to accept the reprimand almost immediately after reports of the Jump Cannon’s continued trajectory had reached her on Pura. It had only been a few days since the events, but already Luthais was being called up to answer for himself and his failing operative. Ulalo was happy for him to take the blame. Were he not so humbled by The Thirteen, so willing to put himself forward as the guilty party, then Ulalo might have had to step up in his place. It was a relief that she appreciated, but she could give no quarter to the man in return.
She was in her office, once again trying to lock herself away from the rest of the base. More and more the pressures of Pura were weighing her down, as was the requirement to regulate her violent tendencies. This was the longest time that she had been stationary on one planet in her living memory, and the petty acts of violence she was able to enact upon recruits did little to temper her bloody mind. She had crept out one night, and under the cover of darkness seen to the death of an innocent korakian female. It had been worthy quarry, and the elimination of this random target was the only thing keeping her sane within these brown walls.
Tapping at the desk in front of her, Ulalo counted away the minutes before Luthais would appear. Sadistically, unnecessarily, she had undergone further augmentations within the last few days, bringing the operations forward from their usual schedule. It had crossed her mind that she might be becoming addicted to the changes, but she could not work out why such a thing was a concern for others anyway. She had wanted a more African appearance, and got what she wanted. It was the same as anything else, although even she had been surprised when the first cuts into her skin had aroused her. It had made the whole experience quite enjoyable, and she had not taken any painkillers for the duration.
Several beeps on the panel on her desk prompted Ulalo to make the journey to the sim suite, through the crowded base. The Free Man Nation’s ranks on Pura were swelling, recruitment being stepped up in expectation of upcoming battle. There had been some coercion required to pull in these numbers, and plenty of the new members were in the base under duress. Families had been threatened, livelihoods seized and others simply beaten into submission. There was a fine balance among them all though, as the true believers kept the rest in check. Despite the corridors becoming more crowded then, she was still able to make the trip to the platform without incident as men and women of all ages bowed to their knees as she passed.
Luthais was running perfectly on time, and when she entered into the darkened room that housed the sim platform his projection was already waiting for her. Head slung low, he had the look of a broken man. The expectation that one might lose his life often does that to a man, Ulalo had seen it before. She licked her lips in response, the taste of his fear filling her mind in spite of the incredible distance between them. “This does not suit you Luthais, you look truly pathetic,” she said to him, making the step up onto the platform.
“I apologise, but please, The Gentle Reminder must understand why I might look so?” Luthais responded, his head still dripping off his shoulders. “I must do nothing of the sort,” she growled. “What I must do is ensure that you are ready to meet the consequences of your actions. It is truly disgusting that your operative failed in his mission. It was hardly complex was it? I am even more alarmed that you have not been able to order his suicide – I expect better.”
“But, and please know I mean no disrespect, the Jump Cannon has evaded all scans up until now. I am unable to send the signal, to give the order is impossible.”
“Impossible,” Ulalo said quietly, “is not something that the Free Man Nation can believe in if we are to overcome the years of alien filth that has condemned our species.”
The two stood silently after this, Luthais having nothing more to say for himself and having no more excuses to make. If logic could not be applied to the situation, if The Gentle Reminder could not be reasoned with, then he was better served by silently praying than he was by continuing to talk. He doubted, unfortunately, that The Gentle Reminder was within the influence of prayers. Certainly her reputation suggested that she was well out-with the view of any deity, otherwise her actions would have surely reaped karmic retaliation before now.
“Take off your jacket, and unbutton the shirt too,” Ulalo ordered, seizing the moments that she had and the man’s weakened mental state.
“For The Nation,” Luthais replied meekly, his jacket falling to his feet on Seeon, and to the platform as he was projected over to Pura.
With his skinny bare chest exposed, Ulalo paused for a few seconds whilst she pondered the act she was soon to order. What was to follow was not sanctioned by the rest of The Thirteen, but then it didn’t need to be, she had more than enough power to humiliate him.
“I recall,” she said, “from the last time that I visited the Fututio that you keep a knife on your desk. A narrow blade, but razor-sharp nonetheless. It is out of view, you have your projection set to too small an area, but I’m sure that you would still have such a thing. Am I correct?”
“Yes Gentle Reminder, you are is correct,” Luthais said.
“Good. Get it for me.”
He blinked out of view for a moment, stepping back into the area of the sim equipment in his office with the blade in his right hand. It sat limply at his side. His head mimicked this, as Luthais stared at the floor.
“Ah, that’s the one. A fine piece of equipment, don’t you think? A suitable weapon for our needs.”
“Will this be my only punishment?” Luthais asked, bringing his head up in brief hope.
“I can not speak for the rest of The Thirteen. Now, place the tip at the centre of your collar bone, we are going to test your commitment to the Nation, as I can not help but question it when your perform so poorly.” “Did I not complete my own role? The saboteur reached the ship...” “But he did not disable it.”
“No, I apologise for interrupting.”
“You are to draw the knife along your skin,” Ulalo continued, “applying adequate pressure to create a cut deep enough to scar. You have the length of your chest to work with, quite adequate, and only if you reach the naval will I be able to reassure myself.”
Throughout this explanation Luthais had winced, already tempering the tip of the knife into his flesh to measure the pain that would soon ensue. It did not bode well for his ability to meet expectations.
“Am I understood Luthais?” Ulalo questioned, knowing her vile instructions to be entirely clear in the first instance.
“Yes, The Gentle Reminder will have her wish.”
He began to draw the knife down his chest, the initial puncture at the top allowing him to pull the keen blade easily through the skin and meat. His eyes filled with tears, and Ulalo watched with happiness in her heart as the salty specks plopped into the blood that was pooling on the floor. Luthais dragged the knife all the way to his belly, the thin blade ensuring an accurate and smooth cut that would not require major surgery, but would be an everlasting reminder of this moment. It was just as Ulalo had intended.
“Put your shirt back on,” she said, “and reduce the scope of your projection. There is no need for the rest of The Thirteen to see that shameful pond at your feet. Had I thought longer on it, you would not have been permitted to weep like that. At least it confirmed to me that you understand your disgrace.”
At this point Ulalo was still in a rather dire circumstance, regardless of the punishment she had just handed out. Her continued inability to secure the Jump Cannon and the man aboard it would be a source of contention among the members of The Thirteen. For a brief moment though, the joy of watching Luthais inflict such wounds against himself settled her concerns. If only she had been able to inflict the injuries herself, she thought.
It took a few more minutes for the rest of The Thirteen to begin to appear. There was some sadness for Ulalo when The Constant Admonition appeared alongside The Lesson Learnt. They must have been talking before about some other matter, but it meant that Ulalo was unable to spend any time separate with Admonition. It soured her mood once again, although the adrenaline of Luthais’ torture still lingered in her veins.
Fully assembled, the parties within the room directed their attention towards the hotelier. The damage done by Ulalo’s request was not immediately visible, although a keen eye might have spotted the seeping blood coming through his silver shirt. However, each was far too concerned with his or her own frustrations regarding the Jump Cannon to occupy much time with concern for his safety.
“I assume that you have reasonable excuse for our current situation?” asked one. “Or are we to believe that your operative acted alone when he allowed the mission to go awry? Is the failure only his own?”
“I do not wish to argue with the wisdom of The Thirteen,” responded Luthais, keeping his fear in check and being sensible enough to continue without crying foul regarding his treatment at the hands of Ulalo, “but I have no answers for your chosen questions. I have been unable to contact the operative in question and as such I can not explain what has gone wrong.”
“That is not what I asked,” the member pressed. “I asked if you have reasonable excuse. I will assume that your ignorance is symptomatic of a poorly laid plan. The Free Man Nation does not do poorly laid plans, the Free Man Nation only sets out effective strategy that furthers the cause of humanity and the return to the time of the atom bomb.”
Luthais merely stood silently in shame. The pain in his chest and the humiliation being endured sapped any remaining confidence. He waited for the final verdict without hope – with any luck he would not be ordered to throw himself from the balcony of his penthouse.
“The immediate consideration would be whether or not to grant you your life,” the member said. “I have consulted with my colleagues, and we believe your position on Seeon is of too high a value to simply remove you. As such, we believe we have come to an acceptable resolution. As of midnight tonight, Pacific Standard Time, the deeds of the Fututio will be in the hands of the Free Man Nation, under one of our dummy umbrella corporations...”
“But...” Luthais protested.
“We understand that the Fututio is your living, and your heritage, and it will remain open and functional in much the same guise as it operates now. However, we will be securing the below-ground levels for narcotics manufacture, and the profits of the hotel will come directly to us. We will grant you a living wage, one which will allow you to continue existing in the manner you are accustomed too. We want as little fuss as possible of course, it does us no good for it to seem as though anything has changed at all. I think this is a generous resolution, given the circumstances. Wouldn’t you agree Mr. Luthais?”
“Yes,” he said, having to concentrate every fibre of his being to remain upright and not in a cowering pile of woe. “For The Nation.”
“Correct, you may leave now,” said the member, dismissing him. His projection disappeared seconds later.
The members of The Thirteen all talked amongst themselves for a while, but with Ulalo excluded. She had been treated likewise when it had come to the arrangements with Luthais, not being consulted by any other member of the The Thirteen regarding the seizing of his assets. Ulalo did not know whether or not this was as punishment, or merely another reminder of her relatively junior status within the group. Regardless, it only agitated the terrible mood that she was in.
“Did you all not deem me worthy of consultation regarding Luthais?” she asked.
“We did,” replied The Constant Admonition. “In fact you were called several times as we attempted to arrange an emergency meeting. However, you did not respond to these calls and we were required to go on ahead without you. We even went as far as to contact recruits within the base for which you are responsible, and they were unable to locate you. The hope is that you were doing something beneficial and worthwhile for the Nation.”
Ulalo was stumped, she had only left the base that one evening to relieve her lust for death. In the fever of the hunt she had lost all recollection of time, but it was evidently long enough for The Thirteen to notice. In her mind she cursed herself for the stupidity of her desires, and fought back a mix of rage and disappointment that it was Admonition who spoke out against her. There was a sensation in her stomach that she could not explain.
“I received no notification of the meeting, and can only assume that a recruit has failed to search properly for me. I am not inclined to notify them of my position at all times, and we have so many new bodies to train. It seems reasonable that were one of the lesser believers to be sent, that they might not search me out to the extent that you wish. They are afraid of me, as you know, and that dominion can’t always reap positive affect. Nonetheless, I apologise to every member of The Thirteen for any offence that I might have caused, and shall seek to identify the weak link in the chain.”
“Unfortunately it appears that there are many weak links in your chain, Reminder,” The Constant Admonition said, cutting into Ulalo’s cold heart. “I am unsure how many more will be allowed to snap before intervention is required from another member. We would not wish this to happen.”
“Understood. I shall return to my work. We are in the process of calculating the Jump Cannon’s trajectory. I will report back when we are successful,” said Ulalo, keeping back these odd new emotions.
“Good. Work has been completed on your new cruiser class ship, it will be with you within twenty-four hours. We have equipped it with an expanded fleet of battle craft assembled from our existing stocks. Will your new recruits be capable of piloting?”
“Yes,” came Ulalo’s sharp reply.
“Excellent, there is a skeleton crew of true believers aboard to assist,” Admonition said. “For The Nation!”
The statement was regurgitated habitually by all thirteen of them, before projections blinked out of existence and Ulalo was left standing in the dark room. The words of The Constant Admonition were ringing in her ears, so important was her opinion to her. Ulalo understood why she had received a tongue-lashing, and in the light of the facts it had all been very forgiving, but it still caused a lapse in self-confidence which she was not used to.
There was only one resolution to these problems. The Jump Cannon must be seized, as well as the man who should lead them to the power they sought. If Ulalo could achieve this, and locate the power too, she would not only be released from the jail of disappointment that The Thirteen were building around her, but she would also achieve what no other member of the Nation had. Casting this resolution into her mind, willing herself to prove her value to the Free Man Nation, she set out from the meeting room with renewed vigour and determination.
There was a blonde female recruit standing in the hall outside waiting to meet her, Ultra no doubt snivelling elsewhere. She flinched as she noticed Ulalo’s scowl, which only depreciated her value in The Gentle Reminder’s eyes. Stutters escaped her mouth rather than the news that she had been sent to deliver. An open palmed slap across her cheek was the reward, a bright red outline of Ulalo’s hand remaining behind. It served the purpose, and brought the recruit to her senses.
“Speak,” Ulalo ordered following the blow.
“Yes, if The Gentle Reminder would please accept my apologies,” the recruit stammered, “we believe that we have successfully plotted the course of the Jump Cannon to a habitable planet some distance from Seeon. The navigation specialists are resolute. The initial damage reports sent back from the operative, before he went out of comms range of course, state that the Jump Cannon continued with some near-quantum capability. This planet would have represented the best option after their engines finally stopped.”
“And we can be sure that we know exactly when that event occurred? Near-quantum travel allows no margin for error in these calculations,” said Ulalo, grabbing the recruit’s panel away from her, but with a positive tone in her voice. She had expected these results to come much slower, and their coincidental arrival with the completion of the meeting lifted her spirits. “The navigation specialists are one-hundred-percent sure. They hope that their word is enough to convince The Gentle Reminder. While the operative lost contact, we can estimate the damage he did. Not enough to kill them – that's the rough answer. This is the only planet they could have landed on that would have maintained this fact after life-support systems inevitably failed.”
Ulalo began to walk towards the general assembly hall, and tapped an alert for the recruits within the base to make their way there too. They appeared from all doorways and made haste to reach the room before her, still careful not to crash into their leader. The blonde recruit kept pace with her and continued to feed Ulalo facts and figures.
Within the hall every recruit, regardless of seniority, was lined up in neat rows ready to meet her. Ulalo took the stand, walking the few blue carpeted stairs up to an open pedestal that stood at the front of the room. She looked down upon her men and women with fire in her eyes. In the face of her own defeat these lowly creatures may well have discovered her salvation.
“Men and women of the Nation,” she started, her hands clasped behind her back, “we have suffered humiliating losses at the hands of the Jump Cannon. Without nary a bead of sweat they have evaded us, cut us down in the street and even beaten our attempts at sabotage. This is not acceptable, this is not the best we expect of ourselves, and any similar failures will result in the deaths of every single contributing member of the Nation. I will not tolerate this disaster any more.”
“Fortunately, your fellow Nation citizens have, I believe, been successful in tracing the Jump Cannon to an unexplored planet far outside the view of Seeon. We will track them there, where I believe they will be stranded, and secure the man who will lead us to the power we seek. My new ship will arrive shortly, and you will be leaving the base as her crew. You are to show no mercy to those you find on this planet, with the exception of our desired captive, and you are to show resolute ability in the successful completion of this mission.”
“You all know why we fight; we fight to return to a world that is truly human. A world where you will be free to think and live without the hampering influence of alien filth. The man we seek will make this dream achievable. Believe, on pain of death, that we will succeed. For the Nation!”
“For the Nation!” responded the room in unison.
* * * * *
“It is my personal opinion, that should you find yourself stranded in an unknown location, that you immediately make that location more like home. Give it a name, build yourself a garden shed, anoint yourself King. I find that all of these things help to make somewhere feel a little more homely.”
A quote from eccentric seetan explorer Ithmal Smit, deceased.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Nineteen of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)