Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 24
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:
Maur Rosewell found himself threatened by his own crew in a subversive plot to extract information from the Free Man Nation saboteur that had sent them crashing onto an unexplored planet's surface. Having reconnected with his mother, and having reconciled with the crew of the Jump Cannon crew, he is now on a course for Earth.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
Ulalo’s new cruiser was of considerable size, capable of housing five-hundred men and women with a good degree of comfort. This was not a concern of her captain, nor the ship’s owners, and as such the Cathode Ray was currently housing six-hundred and change, unlucky lower level recruits being forced to sleep on the floor space beneath the sparse bunks.
This was not to say that the Cathode Ray was a ship lacking in comfort and technology. For those deemed worthy of such treatment, individual cabins were assigned with all the comforts they might be expected to enjoy. Generally speaking, the more senior staff were not subject to any regulation regarding contraband and this extended as far as personal assistants, or slaves as they might more appropriately be called.
She was purposed for war though, the Cathode Ray's primary objective not being to house a crew but instead an army. Extravagances that you might see aboard the Jump Cannon, such as the mood sensitive flooring and large entertainment room, were absent in place of further armoury and a wider hangar for the Cathode Ray’s much larger squad of combat ships.
As a whole she was at least five times the size of the Jump Cannon, with the difference between the two used primarily for arms storage.
The combat ships themselves ranged in age and technological advancement. While Ulalo had not been afforded the transformable and bleeding-edge EBAC-150s, her designated pilots would not trail far behind. It was evident that The Thirteen had elected to give her the best of what they had, and RAITT turrets being retrofitted to a squad consisting of four of the incredibly speedy ERO-9s, two of the more brutish and heavily armoured Kubals and a further six EBAC-80s, an ancestor to the ships aboard the Jump Cannon. Despite their more antiquarian technology, the size and diversity of this team would surely make mincemeat of the two fighting craft that Champion had in his possession.
However, Ulalo had no intent on fighting this battle in the air.
Her soldiers, the bulk of her staff, were equipped with standard issue armour and projectile-based rifles along with fragmentation grenades. Ulalo had her own custom-purposed equipment, but the Nation would not afford those same luxuries to the men and women who might end up face down in the soil of Earth. The engineering and support staff, totalling less than fifty, would be given this equipment as well and sent out into the fight if it were required.
Ulalo didn’t expect this to happen however, and was feeling happy, much to the surprise of the men and women on her command deck.
She had set the simulation platform to display a wild forest, bright flowers and shrubbery bursting from the plain grey flooring of the Cathode Ray. She set the projection as wide as possible, and a few vines hung just by her head. Sitting at the side of the platform in a sheer black leather chair, angular in design with a slight backwards leaning that gave the impression it was moving, she was turning a finger through her hair as she listened to the briefing being given to her by the navigation team. They were standing in the projected grass of her garden, making her wonder if she might be afforded leave when they had captured Maurice Rosewell.
“We estimate that we are less than a day behind them, based on the adjusted trajectories that you ordered upon receipt of Langthorn’s transmission,” said one of the insignificant humans that stood in front of her, his greasy black hair grasping the brown material of his cloak. “We are on track to reach Earth within the next three. It is unfortunate that we were not able to intercept them on the planet...”
“Quite, although I don’t recall asking for opinion within my briefing,” Ulalo said, loosely spinning her words with a degree of care in her tongue that only just concealed the veiled threat within.
“Apologies, Gentle Reminder, I will continue without such comments.” A bead of sweat rolled from his forehead, but allegiance to the Nation kept his head cool despite the terrifying thought of finding himself on the wrong side of The Gentle Reminder. “All systems are operating in an optimal fashion, and there have been no deaths aboard within the last twenty-four hours.”
“None at all?” Ulalo asked.
“No, The Gentle Reminder will be pleased to hear that all duties have, in the last day at least, been completed without incident.”
“Quite,” replied Ulalo once more, obviously not entirely happy that there wasn’t a fresh corpse to play with in her downtime. “That is positive. Well, I am safely assuming that the Jump Cannon will not be headed to port as they originally planned for their return journey, but will instead react to the threat of familial harm as Langthorn broadcasted. When they do, I have no doubt that our ground forces will quickly overwhelm the small opposition that Champion is capable of launching. Regardless, I would prefer if our orbit was timed as to not immediately alert those international forces that we are unable to control. Am I understood?”
“Absolutely, for the Nation!”
“Good, you are dismissed,” Ulalo waved a hand towards her navigation team and sent them away from her view of the garden.
Her confidence was absolute, and she was readying a speech for the rest of The Thirteen to ensure that she joined her forces on the ground. In large part, she blamed the ongoing freedom of her target on the fact that she had not been permitted to secure him in person. She would not have attempted to hold him in Cirramorr, where the rest of the Jump Cannon crew was still present, nor would she have chosen sabotage. Instead, she would have pursued the man herself, separated him from his comrades and tortured him to the point of fatality before even asking the all important question. It would have been fun, and she had been denied that.
Now though, there was no more time for clever plans and devious traps. He must be seized immediately, before Earthbound forces could become involved. Her knowledge of the Nation’s influence was far more complete than Champion’s, and as such Ulalo would have been able to correct his assumptions regarding their strength within police and military forces on Earth. While they might be able to delay any reaction to illegal activity, the Nation were not yet above reproach, and they were certainly not in direct control of any government funded forces.
She knew herself to be effective enough for this not to matter. It was not a cause for concern, as far as she saw it, that the Jump Cannon and her crew had been able to escape them up until now. Once she was directly involved, once she was the one giving chase, she believed only in the idea of her succeeding. Finally and forever sealing her place within the high command of the Free Man Nation.
It felt good being away from Pura, and surrounded only by human men and women, despite their lowly stature. Ulalo felt more comfortable here, able to imagine herself living a life like that which the Free Man Nation dreamed of. Her position of power would only be magnified once they secured the power and moved to control her homeland. The cold walls of the Cathode Ray weren’t homely however, and she longed to feel the clean air of Earth. It was for this yearning that she had the forest projected in front of her, although it was also the scene of a particularly grizzly execution that she enjoyed remembering, and the reason for her current good mood.
A meeting had been arranged between The Thirteen. These had been too frequent in the last three days in Ulalo’s opinion. She absolutely understood their need to be aware of the progress being made toward the target, but they had access to the same reports as she. While it was pleasant to see The Constant Admonition, the only person who regularly supported her statements, Ulalo was beginning to feel as though they did not trust her to succeed in this endeavour. Still, she had to ensure she was part of the inevitable ground assault.
After placing her second in command in charge of the command deck, she began the walk that she had repeated too many times since first stepping onto her cruiser. The journey between the command deck and the private meeting room was much shorter than on the puran base, but it still meant she had to suffer the sight of the same wretched idiots over and over. There had been less time to administer punishment too, compared to what she was used to, and it meant she was having to work harder to repress the desire to rip those over-familiar faces from the skulls to which they belonged.
The room was not dissimilar to the one she used back on Pura. It was dimly lit, just as the other one had been, and although the platform itself was smaller, she felt the same sensation of entering into a lair. That sensation wasn’t entirely inaccurate, Ulalo stood every chance of being eaten alive, at least metaphorically, every time she came here. She was acutely aware that tensions were high and emotions frayed within The Thirteen. It was easy to understand this, she felt exactly the same, but her confidence gelled with this fear to create a heady adrenaline rush that didn’t seem to stop.
“Every time we meet,” said The Constant Admonition, appearing first on the platform just as Ulalo made her the step up onto it, “you are wearing a smile. It’s good to see, but I wonder what makes you so happy. Things may well unravel, arguably they have done so already...”
Ulalo thought about her answer before giving it. In this instance her smile was stretched by Admonition’s presence, but that wasn’t for sharing. She walked close to her, standing face to face with the projection of this distant attraction. There was nothing to give away where she was, no matter how hard Ulalo looked, but she would have executed genocide to be there with her.
“I understand your concern, but I do not share it. I am absolute in my belief that I will capture Maurice Rosewell, that I will interrogate him effectively and that I will secure the power. I’m sure you can understand why that notion would make me feel so good. It’s a pity I can’t share it with you.”
The Constant Admonition moved away from Ulalo just as she finished talking, the final sentence had sent a visible chill down her spine. Ulalo had noticed it, seen her shudder, and her current state led her to believe that this reaction was a positive one. In truth, The Constant Admonition was both excited and terrified about the idea of sharing space with Ulalo. She had recommended she become The Gentle Reminder for a reason, for her lust for blood and the effectiveness with which she acquired it. Being close to her would mean running the risk of upsetting her, and ending up like so many men and women before her.
Still, The Gentle Reminder was an intoxicating person, and this danger was an ever-present part of her sexual appeal.
As was typical, the rest of The Thirteen began to fall into place, appearing around the ring of the sim platform alone or together in much the same order, and simultaneity as they ever did. Ulalo had noticed recently how frequently some of the members would add and subtract themselves from the otherwise stable groupings. It was clear that they spent plenty of time in each other’s presence, something she was excluded from. The sharp barb of disappointment that this wedged into her heart would soon be removed, she thought, as soon as she was able to attain Rosewell and the power with him.
“I call this meeting to order,” He said, the most commanding voice in the room. “Our agenda is short, there being only one true concern of the Nation at this time. To properly discuss this matter though I must introduce a guest before we begin proceedings. Josia 24, if you could step forward.”
The lunark’s appearance caught Ulalo off-guard, his bright beaming face seeming like a light within the dimly lit meeting room. His hands were behind his back, traditional armour pristine and gleaming. A spot was made for him between two of the members, and he stood without fear.
Ulalo had heard of this man before, his reported involvement in the Los Piratas attack on the Jump Cannon had become common knowledge thanks to news broadcasts. In many ways she had been jealous, envy seeping into her body as she thought of what a glorious escapade it must have been, how satisfied he must have felt as all those bodies started to litter space.
There was an opposite emotion now. His appearance here within her inner circle was completely unexpected. None of the members had murmured his name, not even in passing regarding the Los Piratas attack. Beyond all that, he was a lunark, not a human, and so he had no business being here. Ulalo’s smile quickly faded as the desire to kill this foul alien rose up into her throat. She could taste the iron of blood on her tongue, biting into it to avoid an emotional outbreak that might compromise her position. Ulalo desperately wished to taste his blood, to execute him for daring to appear in front of The Thirteen.
“If you might,” He said, “please introduce yourself to those members who have not already met you in person.”
“Absolutely,” said Josia 24, stepping forward to take the floor, “it would be a pleasure.”
“My name is Josia 24, and as you can see I am a lunark. My life has been occupied in the most part by my job as an agent to mercenary ships. I have acted as the middle-man, as any agent does, to a wide range of ships and their crew, which might afford me some notoriety within that distinct group itself. However, if any of you distinguished individuals recognises my name, it is probably for a very different reason. I arranged and assisted in the execution of an attack against the Jump Cannon and her captain. I did this as an act of revenge for a betrayal which I could not comprehend.”
“I will not lie, this betrayal has born in me a hatred for humanity. I do not believe a lunark would ever have treated me as badly as Champion. Quite frankly, I despise your species and would rather never be forced to smell your rancid scent, look at your smug faces nor involve myself in further business dealings with any of you for the rest of my existence. It might seem odd then that this same hatred was the very thing that led me to seeking out the Free Man Nation.”
There was a definite silence in the room as the members of The Thirteen listened attentively and with apparent respect. This only further agitated Ulalo, and it felt as though her mouth was filled with blood as she continued to bite down. Swallowing it back the grimace spread across her face was the best she could do to toe the line.
“I had heard of you before, whispers heard much like any other who may be able to recall your organisation’s name. I felt sympathetic to your cause you see, I could see the truth and correctness in your aim to return mankind to Earth. Had humans never spread themselves out into space then I would never have met Champion. I would never have felt the love for him that forced my hand, I would never have been driven to the terrible action that I had to initiate in order to earn my revenge. It seems prudent to attempt to avoid such situations in the future.”
“Few of you will know that the information regarding Maurice Rosewell’s link to the powerful weapon you seek originated from me. I have been looking for this power for a long time now, and have gone as far as to equip ships with incredibly expensive custom scanning equipment to locate signs of its energy... am I stepping out of bounds here?”
“Not at all,” He, always the most forceful voice in the room although silent until now. “Anything that you might say to them now is only information I would have to explain myself at a later date.”
“Excellent. I will continue then. As you all might expect, if I was aware of the power well before the Nation, if I had gone as far as to set up such equipment in search of any trace of its energy, that I must have wanted the weapon for myself. Those of you who have made that assumption are correct. Why didn’t I pursue him myself? Simply put, I did not have the resources. When the Jump Cannon rammed the Los Piratas, specially purposed scanning equipment, outfitted to any ship in my fleet, detected Maur and his connection to the weapon. I had nothing to pursue him with however, the ship I had in the area had already been bested by Champion’s stupidity.”
“So then, why not find a group with whom I might create a mutually beneficial relationship with. People who would value my knowledge and who might assist me in finally ridding the world of that deceitful man. Better yet, a group that sought the complete removal of humanity from known space. We would both win, me doubly so. That group is, of course, yourselves within the Free Man Nation, and in return for the information that will empower you I have been guaranteed the eventual but complete destruction of the Jump Cannon and a part in removing humanity from known space.”
“Up until now I have kept my distance, preferring to allow you to go about your business without my opinion nor involvement. Unfortunately, the revelation that the Jump Cannon is heading back to Earth is too considerable a risk for me to hold my silence any further. Your leader understands this, and as such has invited me here today to speak explicitly to one of your number. I am here to address Ulalo Nuragi, or as you all know her, The Gentle Reminder.”
His gaze fixed on Ulalo, and she felt trapped by her inability to retaliate against this alien. Josia 24 approached her, moving across the circle of The Thirteen without a murmur of dissent from any of them. In their eyes it seemed that this was all acceptable, an alien daring to challenge a member of The Thirteen, a fact that Ulalo was unable to process in the midst of her swelling rage.
“Ms. Nuragi,” he said, no more than a foot away from her now, “it brings me no pleasure to say this, however it is a necessary threat. If you fail to attain Maurice Rosewell, as commanded by your superiors within this group, and in turn fail to destroy the resistance posed by the Jump Cannon then I, and The Thirteen, will ensure that you do not leave Earth’s orbit alive. I have rescinded my claim on the power in order to assist your cause, a heavy price, and should I not receive the payment that I am due, then I will hold you personally responsible. I am aware of your deadly nature, but you will not be able to outrun your Nation, you will not be able to outrun me, and I will always have more men to send after you. I understand you called this meeting to discuss your being allowed to fight. You do not need to worry, I expect you on the ground scrapping with every ounce of energy in your black heart. Failure is not an option, only absolute glory and success should be on your mind.”
Ulalo stood in a state of complete shock, the sheer audacity of Josia 24’s words turning her to stone. Her eyes darted around to try and locate from support, but even the eyes of The Constant Admonition betrayed her with stoic coldness. Not one of them stood forward to support her, not one disagreed with this alien’s words.
“I will now take my leave,” Josia 24 said as he moved back across the platform, “and wish every one of you the best in your future endeavours. After this fiasco is over, I am not entirely adverse to working with you further, as despite recent failings your leader has been a gracious business partner. For the Nation, and the disappearance of humanity from any system which I might ever inhabit.”
With that his projection disappeared, and the faces of The Thirteen turned back to the leadership within the room.
“That is the only item I believe needs to be discussed,” He said in a matter of fact tone. “The Gentle Reminder, I wish you luck on the hasty completion of your journey to Earth. Do not fail us, nor yourself. This meeting is adjourned.”
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“I can't stand this place any more. It smells of weakness and failure.”
A quote from a non-fiction work titled “Achieving a Pure Earth.” It offered detailed plans on how Earth based governments might achieve the successful expulsion of all non-human intelligent lifeforms. Its anonymous author was never revealed, and the book sold less than one-hundred copies.
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Come back next week for Chapter Twenty Five of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)