This month’s featured story was written by John Reiher. Thanks for sharing this with us, John!
By John Reiher
Counselor Ransom, of the Terran Diplomatic Corps, had been dispatched to the planet Hre’wei to help prevent a potential shooting war with the rulers of the planet Meryu. Both worlds were home to sentient feliniods. Hre’wei was home to the Assiotto, a tiger like species, descended from a nocturnal predator species.
The Firenordo, a species that was very lion like in its physical makeup, populated the planet Meryu. Both worlds were a mere 10 light years apart and developed star travel nearly at the same time. Habitable worlds are far a few between worlds and the Assiotto and the Firenordo were soon at each other throats.
The last war fought between the two of them nearly decimated both worlds. It was only under the auspices of the Terran Diplomatic Corps did the two species stay their hands and sign a peace treaty with each other.
However, the Firenordo were fencing along the borders again, looking as though they were thinking of trying a preemptive strike on the Hre’wei.
Counselor Ransom read all of this on his trip to the world and about the different physiology of the two species. The Assiotto were primarily nocturnal, living in darkened cities, with only the dimmest light sources available. Just enough light for them to see by. They formed a tight knit society, highly social and able to work together as a people.
The Firenordo were proud race of conquerors, the current pride, the Amo’rina, had conquered their planet and sought to conquer other worlds as well. There were several prides, each vying for a top place in the imperial court, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that the current intrigue happening in the Hre’wei capital city of Saso’pas was not sanctioned by the Imperial Pride.
Before disembarking from his shuttle, Ransom slipped on his night vision contact lenses and then stepped out into the cool night air. The city of Saso’pas was a bustle with Assiotto moving to and fro, all going about their nightly business. A robust male Assiotto met him, by the name of Log’isi.
“Greetings counselor!” purred Log’isi, “Welcome to our fair city!”
Ransom turned his head for a sniff, the traditional greeting of the Assiotto, and Log’isi obliged, sniffing the human’s ear. Ransom returned the favor, noting that Log’isi was wearing cologne of some kind.
“Glad to be back,” replied Ransom, “It has been a while since I’ve been here last.”
“You were here for the great peace ceremony between Hre’wei and Meryu?” replied Log’isi.
“Yes, I was one of the signers,” Ransom replied nonchalantly. “Now what is this about a spy in your government?”
They walked as Log’isi explained that transmissions had been intercepted from the capital to various Firenordo “trade vessels” in orbit about their world. The messages were encrypted, so their contents were not know… yet. However the Assiotto were very tenacious, and they hoped to find out soon who it was that was sending the messages.
“So, we are keeping a constant watch for further transmissions,” said Log’isi. “However there could be legitimate reasons for encrypted transmissions… if they were from the Firenordo contingent on our world. But they originate from the government complex. That is the shocking bit. We may have a traitor in our midst.”
Ransom nodded and said “That would be very bad. What Assiotto would betray his own people?”
“Yes,” agreed Log’isi, “what Assiotto would do such a thing?”
They entered the Capital building, only slightly better lit than the outside and just as busy. Log’isi presented Ransom to the Chairperson of the Assembly, Mree’huu. She greeted him with the traditional sniff. She smelled of cinnamon and allspice, not an unpleasant combination, but sadly Ransom was here on business, pleasure could be had later.
“Counselor Ransom,” she said, taking his hand. “We are very worried about this. All Firenordo in our city are accounted for during the transmissions, and their movements were tracked well by our security, none of them could have setup a transmitter for an automated broadcast. So we fear the worst…”
“That they have found a way to turn one of the Assiotto and have them spy for them?” replied Ransom.
Mree’huu nodded, “Yes, that is it exactly. But who? Everyone in our staff has impeccable backgrounds and family ties that can be verified. Only a handful do not have that level of security, but several of those willingly allowed us access to their records and data files. The rest…”
“…Have refused, afraid of what we humans know as a witch hunt.” relied Ransom. “And it is also a great invasion of privacy, one that once allowed, could always be allowed in the future, for less dire circumstances.”
“Which is why we have not do so,” replied Mree’huu. “We do not want such a precedent made…”
“Madam Chairperson! I want to have words with you!”
A muscular Firenordo bellowed the latter out. His mane was puffed out, and he was surrounded by several female Firenordo, probably his wives and assistants.
“Ambassador Churmee, now is not the time…” started Mree’huu.
“It is, when my fellow country-persons are being stalked every night and day by your jackals!” replied Churmee. He then caught sight of Ransom and was taken aback. “Counselor Ransom! What minor trifle has drawn you back into our little squabble?”
“Nothing you should worry your mane about ambassador,” said Ransom, who then shook hands with Churmee, the Firenordo way, grasping the forearm and digging one’s nails in. He had left his untrimmed for this purpose. He didn’t wince when Churmee’s claws drew blood.
“I shall take my leave, while the two of you talk,” said Ransom. “Madam Chairperson, Ambassador.” He gave both a little bow. He found his assistant, Jorgenson, busily arranging things with the Government House major domo.
“Julian!” he called out. “We need to have a conference with the rest of the staff.”
The major domo bowed and took his leave, assuring Jorgenson that everything will be in order. “H’glis is a fine chap,” said Jorgenson, “but I do believe that any conference room we use in this building will be buggier than an Antarean Termite Collective.”
Ransom smiled, “Then we meet where they don’t expect us to…”
The Terran Counselor team was lying contentedly in one of the many hotsprings the capital city was famous for. This one was privately owned by an old Assiotto couple and they served quiso meat-chips and fi’so tea to the humans. Once they were alone, Ransom pulled out his dataslate and said, “so, based on the information we have gotten from the Assiotto government, there have been a dozen encrypted transmissions to several supposed Firenordo cargo vessels. All of which originated from within Government house. So far, they have cleared the majority of their people of any wrongdoing, but those that remain are important people who refuse to be so scrutinized. Thoughts?”
Chavez sipped at her tea and said, “Well, for one I don’t think any of the people who have refused are guilty. They are too important and too obvious. I think it’s one of the people that passed the investigation.”
Uchida nibbled at a meat-chip, “But that begs the question, ‘What Assiotto would turn traitor on his own people?’ I for one would find that nearly impossible.” He looked at the data and then raised an eyebrow. “They did say they checked everyone? Did they?” He highlighted a column of entries and sent it around. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
Ransom looked at the entries and noted a name. “Et tu, Brute? Perhaps we’re not looking at a traitor, but a spy…”
Next evening, he was attending a function at the Government house. A dinner was to be held for the Firenordo ambassador and his embassy. Another message had slipped out during the chaos before the diner, and its transmission location impossible to isolate. It had caused a bit of a fuss, but Ransom insisted that they carry on with the diner, as there was nothing anyone could do about it.
He sat to the right of Mree’huu at the diner, with Churmee on her left. He knew enough about each culture, that he knew the seating arrangement put him in the favorable seat for the Assiotto and Churmee in the Firenordo preferred seat next to the Chairperson. The conversation was light, mostly non-political topics, though a consistent thread about trade relations was maintained by Churmee.
Still, Ransom knew that Churmee was from the Imperial pride and more than likely was upset at what was going on here in the name of his people and empire. So Ransom decided to poke that concept with a stick.
It was the final course, a sweetmeat pie paired with a fine Highlands druse berry wine. Sipping his wine as he pulled chunks off the sweetmeat pie, the Terran asked, “So Ambassador, what’s the official stance on spying on Assiotto?”
Mree’huu choked on her wine, but Churmee smiled a predator’s smile and said, “Officially, we do not engage in spying on our neighbors.” He pulled off a meaty chunk from his sweetmeat pie, and continued, “Unofficially, we use what channels we can find to check up on our neighbors. Just like they do with us. Isn’t that right Chairpeson?”
Wiping her muzzle, Mree’huu replied demurely, “I, of course, cannot comment on that aspect of our relationship with the Firenordo. But we do like to know what’s going on in the imperial court.”
Churmee leaned back and sighed, “So would I my dear, so would I. My uncle, the emperor, is getting old, and my father is not one I would want on the throne. And I do not want that position either. But uncle sired naught but daughters and despite our advancement, we have never had an empress on the throne.”
Mree’huu was a bit taken aback by such forthrightness from the older Firenordo. “Well, maybe it’s time to put a female on the throne. Which of your cousins would you want there?”
“Two,” he said after a thought, “both are amazing Firenendes. They would make much better rulers than my father. But you’d have to overturn at least two of the major clans for that to happen. I’d love to be able to do that.” He drank deeply from his wine cup and said, “But that will never happen. The Gurmek and the Xemeer clans have a solid hold on their positions. It would take a miracle.”
After dinner, Ransom walked with the two back to the main lobby of the Government house. It was 0300 standard time, and even though he was sleeping during the day, his circadian clock was trying to make him fall asleep. ‘That dinner didn’t help either. More sombulent to get to sleep today!’
Log’isi approached the three of them, “Madame, may I have a moment?”
She agreed and they stepped aside for a private conversation.
Churmee leaned close to Ransom and said, “I know of the transmissions. We do have ears about this place. But you have my word; it’s not of the emperor’s doing. I am as mystified as to who would be doing this as you are.”
Ransom punched the larger sapient in the shoulder, “Of course I know this. Emperor Yertheen isn’t the warrior his father was. Thank God. Its time your two peoples to work together, instead of fighting each other. Ah, they are coming back.”
Mree’huu had a sour look on her face, while Log’isi had a satisfied look.
“Ambassador, we need to talk,” she said, looking at Ransom, “privately. Please excuse us. Log’isi, go make the preparations.” He nodded and headed off.
Ransom bowed and said, “As you wish Madame. Please do not make any rash decisions.”
“We shall not, Counselor Ransom,” she replied. She and the Firenordo turned to leave.
He took a few steps away, pulling an object from his pocket.
“Oh Ambassador,” he called out, poised waiting for the Firenordo to turn around. He then turned on his pocket flashlight, shining it in the eyes of Churmee and Mree’huu.
“What? Arrgh, my eyes!” cried out Churmee. Mree’huu cried out as well.
Mree’huu’s eyes glowed a bright orange in the light, while the Firenordo’s eyes were dull green from his night vision contact lenses.
“What is the meaning of this Ransom!” bellowed Churmee. “I’ll have your liver for supper tonight for this affront!”
“Yes Counselor Ransom,” demanded Mree’huu, “why did your try to blind us?”
With a faint smile, Ransom said, “This is why…” He turned and flashed the light at the several Assiotto assistants, senators and pages who had gathered to watch the fight. All their eyes glowed orange, except for one pair that glowed a dull green.
“There is your traitor, Madam Chairperson,” said Ransom triumphantly pointing at the lone pair of green glowing eyes, “or should I say, your spy, Log’isi!”
Log’isi was quickly grabbed by security and found to be wearing a pair of night vision contact lenses.
“Well, ambassador,” said Ransom as Log’isi was being handcuffed, “I think you may have your miracle. You’ll find that Log’isi is a Firenordo who has been surgically altered to look like an Assiotto in all ways but one. He was most likely placed here during the last war. There’s been plenty of time for him to build the perfect background, above reproach and suspicion. He’s also in charge of finding the transmissions. Who better to hide their location than the one looking for them. He’s probably clan Xemeer, they are lower than Gurmek and therefore, the most eager to usurp the throne.”
Churmee growled at the imposter Assiotto. “Madame, may I have my people attend the interrogation of this… person?”
“Yes,” she said, rolling the information that Log’isi had given here in a new light. “But until we’re done with him, all they can do is watch… and suggest lines of questioning.”
“I’m good with that. When you’re done with him, I’ll take him back to Meryu for further… questioning.”
Ransom walked over to the captive Log’isi. “How did you know?” spit Log’isi from between the two guards.
“You can alter your bone structure to mimic the Assiotto, dye your fur to match their color, but due to the nature of their eyes, that you could not duplicate. And that proved to be your downfall.”
“How?” asked Log’isi.
“You can disguise everything, but…
“You can’t hide your lion eyes.”
Story by John Reiher.
Artwork by devil2k3.