As Oanerath spun around in the endless night, various Chon’ith quietly and carefully send word to one another that a plan was in place to shatter the Council’s grip, once and for all. To ensure the plan had every chance of success, the Resistance asked its followers to be ready to seize control, by any means necessary, of communication relays, news network transmitters, and if possible, hyperspace comm systems. When Acklaran finished sending out the coded instructions, let out a slow breath. There would be no turning back now. He studied the maps, both paper and electronic, of various continents and cities, and shuffled in the small chair beside the bedside cabinet, marking out which team would assault which location, and how. His desire was for a frontal attack on the locations, but his newfound restraint urged him to consider hacking, sabotage and subterfuge.
But when will you get here? Acklaran wondered. He knew Seluban’s human allies would attack, and roughly when, but timing was going to be vital. Relying on the state to announce a large hostile fleet was invading the home system was like depending on the sun not rising. Unless…
“He wants us to do what?” Asked an incredulous Risharath. “That is insanity!”
Zarthara shot him a warning look, and Risharath composed himself. From their corner of the café, they shuffled food and drink across the table, trying to look normal, though Risharath’s outburst drew unwanted stares.
“Apologies, but to infiltrate a Council broadcast station, reprogram it somehow, and leave no obvious trace of our presence is… Stretching our abilities. I assume other groups have received similar ludicrous instructions?” He kept his voice low, but couldn’t keep his horror out of it.
“I agree it is an unusual request…” Zarthara began cautiously. “But control of the flow of news has always been in the grip of the Council. It is how they manipulate us. Breaking that grip, even for a day, will be of huge impact upon our cause.” She chose to omit the true reason for the mission.
“I… I do not see how this can be done, but I will see what engineering records are available, and whether anyone sympathetic to our cause might be willing to assist us.”
“Very well. This needs to happen quickly, so when the time is right, we can take control, on a global scale.”
With a final look at Risharath, one filled with a mixture of sympathy and concern, Zarthara stood, patted him on the shoulder, said her goodbyes, and left.
She masked her guilt well, as she headed into the city’s streets. Deep down, she desperately wanted to trust Risharath, but his fragile emotions and persistent worry troubled her. Walking down the road, Zarthara weighed up the broadcast station in her mind, trying to concentrate on the immediate matter. Breaking in to the facility would be relatively easy. The four small domed buildings, that encircled the larger central dome all had their own entrances, and three roads ran up to the structure. It was a little exposed to simply approach on foot, but acquiring a vehicle would be straightforward. There wasn’t even any manner of fencing or wall to prevent strangers from wandering up to the station – it was simply a place where the news and information came from, and for most Chon’ith, that was the only thing they needed to know.
Zarthara wondered if there would be sympathisers there. The Council controlled the broadcast facilities and as such, hired and managed the workers for such locations. Those Chon’ith were at the very heart of an indoctrination campaign stretching back centuries. Was it merely wishful thinking on Risharath’s part, or even at the core of Council mechanisms, would rebellious Chon’ith exist? Was it wise to permit Risharath to explore that possibility? Maybe not, though she and Risharath were the only two active Resistance members operating in the town of Z’Tretch, so additional help would be appreciated. Taking a left turn at a junction, Zarthara caught side of the targeted facility, and silently prayed to the Makers that this would work.
De’rata ran her eyes over the note and took another glance at the transmitter in the distance. Dawn light glinted off the spindly metal structure as it stretched towards the sky, sending out news and entertainment across several towns and cities in the southern hemisphere. It sat on a hill, amidst a bank of several such hills, yellow grass growing long around it. From the home De’rata had… gained, via some illicit financial activities, in the town of Wearineth (which caught a pleasant coastal breeze), she observed the tower, noting the handful of dirt tracks that led up to it, allowing maintenance vehicles access. Few ventured near it, for few needed to – it was largely automated, with only the occasional tweaks needed to angle antenna and adjust frequencies. De’rata tapped a few buttons on the personal data pad that lay on the bed in front of her, and easily pulled up schematics. She got to work coding a means to transmit her own message.
Eight days after Coulsen had departed, she returned in a small burst of light and energy to CNSS Manticore. Though three hours out from docking, Captain Kindle had immediately broadcast her report, not wanting to waste any time.
The conference room held only silence as Hawk, Egwu and Seluban finished watching the footage of the Chon’ith and Cadj battle. Hawk leaned back in his seat and placed his hands over his mouth, lost in thought. Egwu matched Hawk’s move, and then both sets of human eyes turned to Seluban.
“Now you see what awaits the Confederation. We have many more ships than you, but we use them poorly, and the Cadj greatly outnumber us. They will wash over everything in their path, absorbing losses without pause or regret.”
“Why?” Asked Egwu, still trying to process the footage. “What motivates the Cadj?”
“My people never saught a dialogue, for as of our first contact, we were fighting them. The Cadj assaulted two of our worlds, and for us, there could only be one response.”
“Did they not try to communicate with you?” Egwu continued.
“No, at least, not that I am aware of. They simply attack in large numbers, though nearly always without success.”
“What are the Cadj, exactly?” Hawk enquired.
Seluban looked at the table. “In your terms, you would describe them as reptilian. They breed incredibly quickly, and mature quickly as well. This gives them a huge labour force, and it appears they control many worlds, hence their rapid shipbuilding.”
“So they have high population growth, which in turn means they consume a lot of resources, and want more space for their numbers.” Summarised Hawk.
“And they did not hesitate to attack us the moment they could.” Added Seluban. My people are intransigent and propelled by their faith to maintain a strict course of action, even when it is clearly failing, and the Cadj have a biological compulsion to conquer. There can be no peace, but there will be the destruction of my people if your attacks continue to destroy our industry.” Seluban sighed. “So, as you know, peace between us must be in the form of an overwhelming, very public defeat of our tactics and strategy.”
Hawk and Egwu exchanged the look that told Seluban they were going to privately debate what he’d said, which irritated him, for he couldn’t fathom what else needed debating.
“Before you suggest further discussions and deliberations are necessary, consider the evidence of your own ship. The time to act is now. Delays only help our mutual enemies.”
Hawk flicked his eyes to Seluban’s. “I’ll say personally, here and now, that the evidence is pretty conclusive, but I have to consult Command. The lives of thousands of my people are at stake.”
“The lives of billions, human and Chon’ith alike, are at stake Admiral. My people will continue to send fleets to Confederation territory, forcing your hand. That will buy the Cadj time, and they don’t need much time to build themselves into an even greater threat.”
Hawk sighed. “You have a chain of command, do you not?”
“And if you sent a significant percentage of your fleet into battle, without consulting your commanders properly, would there not be consequences?”
“Fleet commanders are expected to assess risks and rewards, it is part of being a fleet commander.” Replied Seluban curtly. “I took that responsibility myself, knowing sometimes contact with my commanders would be limited.”
“Okay, you have a point, and we do operate with a certain degree of flexibility where warranted, but let me make a point – you came to us, because the Chon’ith way has been failing you. If we’re going to help you overthrow your government, and proceed on the assumption we’ll be allies, of sorts, and if to achieve that I’ll be sending my people into the toughest stronghold of your Empire, then I have to be sure this isn’t a mistake on my part.”
Seluban spread his arms. “I do not understand. Does every decision get passed back and forth with humans?”
“No.” Interjected Egwu, seeking to defuse an increasingly tense conversation. “But large operations like this, with many complex elements, benefit from additional input. It will only take a few days to both send our new information and get a response. It might even result in additional ships being sent our way.”
It was Seluban’s turn to sigh. “This is not how my people would do things, but I appreciate I am here because of how my people do things. I suppose a few more days for the Resistance to prepare will be useful.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page.” Said Hawk. Seluban looked baffled. “Oh, it’s a figure of speech, it means we see this from the same perspective.”
“I see. If we have nothing more to discuss, I’d like to return to my quarters. I have much to consider.”
“Certainly.” Replied Hawk. “You’ll be the first to know when we get approval for the mission.”
“Thank you.” With that, Seluban rose stiffly, and left.
“To be fair…” Egwu began. “I’m not sure what more evidence we need to offer Command sir.”
“It’s less about evidence and more about protecting our asses.” Hawk said. “If I launch this mission and it turns out to be a trap, or it fails horribly, it’s both our careers. If someone up top approves it and it goes wrong, we might just survive.”
Egwu nodded. “That’s… Practical reasoning sir. Cynical, but practical.”
“Well, just call me Mr Practical. I’m sure Command will give us the final green light, and the brains in Intel can start working the Cadj problem too.”
“I wonder if we could reach a peace with them.” Egwu pondered out loud.
“We’ll find out, sooner or later.”