Chapter Twelve – Diplomacy and Treachery
The delegation sat in the luxurious anteroom of the palace. Ambassador Miclas looked at each member of the delegation in turn. The Alliance had chosen well from among over thirty thousand leading diplomats from the twenty-five systems within its borders. They had been waiting here for eight days now and still Dranaa Nagesh refused to see them. The situation was intolerable to him. Truly, the Alliance’s decision five hundred years ago not to admit the Drana into its fold was justified by the contemptuous way in which they were now being treated! The empire was a pariah in the Alliance’s eyes. This latest example of its complete disregard for the rules governing deliberate annexation of territory was highly unacceptable. And as for the despicable use Jalnuur had been put to…
The ornate doors of the anteroom opened. “Ambassador Miclas, the Dranaa regrets he cannot see you today. He has matters of state which must take priority over your cultural…”
Miclas protested, trying hard stay in control. “Imperial consul Omar, must I remind you yet again this is not a cultural visit! We are here representing the Suraa over your deliberate annexation of their planet Jalnuur.”
“I’m sorry ambassador the Dranaa still cannot see you today – perhaps tomorrow,” the consul smiled, as he left the room.
Wearily, Miclas sunk back into the chair behind him. “Perhaps tomorrow—hah!” he muttered to himself. Within the hour, the delegation was escorted back to their apartments in a leafy diplomatic suburb of Dranaa’s capital city.
The passage had been rising towards the surface for days now. Apis and Nemaar looked across the fissure that had cut off their progress to where it continued on the opposite side. “Well we’re not going back,” Akhen said, after being informed of the roadblock. “It’s too far and our rations are nearly gone. If we don’t get out of here soon we’ll be too weak to go on.”
“Tosar give me a hand,” Nemaar asked.
Above the opening, across the fissure, a small outcrop stuck out from its sheer sides. “Think we could get to it?” Tosar asked, checking their side of the fissure for hand holds.
“Let’s try,” Nemaar said, as he began tying one end of the rope around his waist. “If I can climb up maybe I can throw the rope over it.” After several anxious minutes, Nemaar climbed opposite the outcrop and drove a spike into the fissure wall. Belaying to the small spike, he fixed another to the free end of the rope and gathering it into a coil; he threw it across the fissure. On the sixth attempt the rope finally caught. Carefully pulling it, he watched the spike as it drew nearer towards the outcrop. The rope stiffened in his hands as the spike jammed into a crack in the rock. Nemaar climbed back down to where Tosar and the others stood watching in the passage below.
“All right—now what?” said Khan.
“Now someone has to swing across taking a rope with him – someone light, that is,” Nemaar said, untying himself and fastening the rope to a spike driven into the passage wall. Jamal volunteered for the task and after some last minute advice from Nemaar and Tosar, prepared himself. He stood at the edge of the fissure trying not to look down. Taking a deep breath, he carefully took three long paces back, and then ran forward, jumping at the last possible moment into the air. The rope swung back and forth across the fissure increasing momentum each time by the addition of Jamal’s weight at the end of it. On the third swing, Jamal released his grip and landed on the floor of the passage opposite. The construction of a rope bridge immediately began. Several hours later everyone had crossed in safety.
“Alright master sergeant, you’ve been down here before, lead the way,” Levene ordered, as the transport returned to the fleet. Manesh was glad to be out of the sickbay, but to be back on this lousy rock, and with Alliance mercenaries… When he saw a chance to get rid of them he decided he would take it. In the meantime, he would make use of them in the search. With luck, some of his brother Drana were left alive somewhere on the planet. With Manesh taking point, Levene’s team worked their way through the tangled ruins of the mining complex until they came to the entrance to the turbo-car tunnel, which was now blocked by a solid plug of lava. Back tracking, they found the turbo-lift shaft.
Kapinski dropped a flare down it and watched its progress until it disappeared from sight. “Nothing down below, colonel,” he said, spitting into the void.
“Let’s take another look at the plan,” Mdjat suggested.
“With all the recent seismic activity this map is virtually worthless,” Levene said, screwing it up and throwing it away in disgust.
“Sir, there is another facility south of the mine. It’s where the rebels based themselves before the quakes. Perhaps the survivors are there,” Manesh offered, from the shadows.
“Temo, make the call and get us some transport,” Levene ordered. “Let’s get back to the surface.”
“Good morning, ambassador,” Nagesh said. “Why does your Alliance send you so far from your homes?” he asked, as he surveyed the delegation standing before him.
“Dranaa Nagesh, I bring you greetings from the Ruling Council of the Alliance of Planets,” Miclas began. “We are here at the request of the Suraa whose territory you have invaded.”
“Invaded—you’re mistaken, ambassador. The Drana Empire has not expanded for centuries but you know this already,” Nagesh sneered.
“Dranaa, the planet in question, Jalnuur, lies well within the Suron system. You have been illegally mining there for decades using slave labour, both from your empire and from beyond!” Miclas insisted.
Nagesh sat for a long time saying nothing. “And now your Alliance has surrounded the planet in question with an invasion fleet, ambassador. To what end I wonder!” he said, his eyes blazing with anger. Calming himself, Nagesh flashed a brief smile before rising from his throne. “Forgive me ambassador. I have much to do. You shall have my answer to your preposterous allegations by sunrise tomorrow. I bid you farewell for now.”
“Where did the Alliance find this pile of junk?” Mdjat asked, as their transporter was unloaded from the ship.
“So long as it gets us where we want to go, who gives a damn!” Orz replied, climbing inside the ancient Drana troop transport.
“Kapinski, man the turret. Temo, fire-up the comms quickly. Mdjat, check our ordinance and quit bellyaching! Orz, you drive. Master sergeant, you navigate. Keep your eyes and ears open ladies!” Levene warned, as he slammed the hatch shut and took off his Drana helmet. ‘This is going to be a real fun assignment,’ he thought to himself.
“You’re Arnasian, not Drana,” Levene said to Manesh later, as they checked their route on the map.
“My mother was, colonel, but my father was Drana,” Manesh replied.
“So why have you never tried to get back home?” Levene wondered, lighting one of the cigars from his shoulder pocket.
“My home is Janus Omega. It’s where I was born. It’s where my mother is buried. It’s where I will be too,” Manesh said, quietly.
Admiral Memnet sat at his desk going over the communications between the fleet and the Alliance. The light on the panel in front of him flashed.
“Sir, senior surgeon’s compliments. Will you go to the hanger, we have a problem!” The note of alarm in the officer of the watch’s voice made Memnet tense. Teams of medical staff loaded the bodies of the delegation onto stretchers and took them to the morgue for autopsy. There would be hell to pay when the Alliance ruling council was informed! Memnet observed. The shuttle now sat empty in the vast hanger space. The time for diplomacy was over…
Next time – Chapter Thirteen