The Cosca - Episode 3: Keeping Promises
Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Consensual, Heterosexual, Science Fiction, Harem,
Desc: Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Heroes die young. Life goes on. The rest of us have to stand up and be counted. Sometimes keeping a promise costs more than you think it will.
The mission was nearly routine. The Nagina-class carrier, Rosa DiCatania, had barely departed the target system, when an opportunity to "lay the egg," (in Asp pilots' parlance), had occurred. The Rosa had released a number of self-deploying observation drones before leaving, so after deploying his first planet-buster, Cristiano Martelli made tracks to the primary rendezvous point, in order to observe the effects and wait for retrieval.
Although the rendezvous points were only a short hop away from the primary body (star), using the Hwee FTL drives, they were nonetheless far enough that light, and thus information moving at light speed, would take many, many months to make the trip. Because of that, every mission required that the drones deploy themselves closer in, so that video information could be relayed using subspace radio. Like all of the cosca's military assets, the drones were programmed to self-destruct if tampered with.
Following mission SOP, Cris had instructed his AI to begin recording the feeds, before settling in to wait for pickup. The recorded observations showed a textbook-classic mission: only minutes after he had evacuated, the "egg" had translocated into the planetary crust near the center of Sa'arm activity. The target didn't completely disintegrate, the way Confederacy records seemed to indicate things should happen, but the upheaval triggered by the explosion made life, on or anywhere near the planet, impossible, at least any time in the foreseeable future.
As expected, some of the planetary mass reached escape velocity and would never again be part of that world, most did not, however, and the effect of mutual gravitational attraction would draw in all of the larger bits within a few weeks. Of course, the surface of the newly reformed planet would be mostly chunky lava, and it would be peppered with smaller, house-sized bits returning home for many decades. In short, this planet would not be usable again, as a base for the Sa'arm (or anybody else!), for a long, long, time.
Not for the first time, Cris found himself questioning this approach to fighting the Sa'arm - it seemed a prodigious waste of a planet. On the other hand, he had seen first-hand some of the worlds that had been taken, used, and then abandoned by the Sa'arm, and there appeared to be little difference in the end. Even, and maybe especially, when those planets had harbored sentient life, they had become total wastelands, with nothing of value left to extract. Those planets' prior tenants had all become Sa'arm chow, and their civilizations were gone, not even leaving behind any ruins to show they had ever existed. The records given to Earth authorities by the Confederacy were the only evidence of that. Such would be the fate of Earth, if the Sa'arm were not stopped.
Once again, he concluded he was doing the right thing.
With nothing more pressing to do, while facing a likely six-week wait for the return of the Rosa, Cris instructed the AI to monitor the feeds, and to notify him if anything odd happened, while he went about sorting through his collection of entertainment media, looking for something to pass the time. This was his hedge against that situation which normally describes both military and law enforcement jobs: i.e., long periods of mind-numbing boredom, punctuated by irregular moments of sheer terror.
Being a closet Enya fan, he was about halfway through her last release when the AI chirped to get his attention. Removing the headset, he commanded "Report!"
"A SMALL VESSEL HAS BEEN DETECTED ENTERING THE SYSTEM. IT HAS BEEN TENTATIVELY IDENTIFIED AS A SA'ARM COURIER. REQUESTING INSTRUCTIONS."
"Lock on and make ready to pursue!" he responded.
"ACKNOWLEDGED. PREPARING TO PURSUE."
Not for the first time, Cris found himself wishing that the AI was as capable as the ones made by the Confederacy. Along with other Hwee technology, the cosca had recovered AI programming from a damaged vessel, and it was far and away ahead of anything that Earth had come up with on its own. It was, however, severely limited in comparison with the AI's that seemed to run the Confederacy - even the ones they considered obsolete! If there were any advantages in using the Hwee technology, they lay in the fact that the technology was accessible, and would run on readily available computer hardware. Even the hardware used by Confederacy AI's was out of reach, at this point.
Following his third mission, Cris had noticed a Sa'arm courier entering the system containing the destroyed target, then immediately departing. This event coincided with the timing of a successful deconstruction of an HSIT, its sensors and command computers. Studying these components resulted in techniques that allowed construction of devices that could detect, track, and match phase with, objects moving in hyperspace.
The convergence of these discoveries allowed him to propose a change in the standard mission SOP. The proposal posited that if the Asp still had HSIT ordnance remaining after the successful conclusion of its assigned mission, and had sufficient energy reserves to engage in pursuit, then, at the pilot's discretion, the Asp might follow the Sa'arm courier to its next destination and attack targets of opportunity. Any such activity had to be completed or terminated quickly enough to allow the Asp to return to one of its original rendezvous points, before scheduled pickup.
The change in SOP was approved, and since that event, Cris had only returned home with unspent ordnance on one occasion.
"PHASE LOCKED AND IN PURSUIT," the AI reported.
"Maintain separation of 0.5 AU approximate," Cris directed.
"ACKNOWLEDGED. MAINTAINING 0.5 AU SEPARATION."
There was no guessing how long the pursuit might take, but since he had nearly six weeks to get back to the rendezvous, Cris instructed the AI to limit pursuit to fourteen Earth-standard days, and to alert him if there was any change in apparent flight plan, then settled in to take a nap.
The next six days were pretty boring. It was pretty much the same thing, over and over: eat, check systems, sleep, check systems, piss, check systems ... but then the AI announced:
"TARGET HAS TRANSITIONED TO REALSPACE. CLOSING ON TARGET. POINT 4 ... POINT 3..."
Cris yelled out, "Transition now!" The Asp entered realspace at a distance of about two-tenths AU from the courier's exit point. And all hell broke loose.
"WE ARE UNDER FIRE. SHIELDS UP. INSTRUCTIONS PLEASE."
"SitRep!" Cris demanded, strapping himself into the command chair.
"EXIT TO REALSPACE HAS PLACED THIS VESSEL WITHIN WEAPONS RANGE OF A FULLY FUNCTIONAL SA'ARM HIVE SHIP. THIS VESSEL CURRENTLY SURROUNDED AND UNDER ATTACK. PRIMARY ENGINES ARE DEFUNCT. ATTITUDE CONTROLS STILL OPERATIONAL. SHIELDS CURRENTLY AT 85 PERCENT AND FAILING. INSTRUCTIONS PLEASE."
"Divert all power not required for life support to shields. How long do we have?"
"ESTIMATED TIME TO SHIELD FALURE 18 MINUTES. PROBABLE LIFESPAN FOLLOWING FAILURE, TOO SMALL TO QUANTIFY."
"Prepare the message torpedo for launch. Camera and sound on me NOW!"
"ACKNOWLEDGED. READY NOW."
The Rosa entered normal space, somewhat beyond the periphery of the Oort Cloud surrounding the target system. The pilot and commander, one Julius "Jules" Lancini, took a long look at the planetary system, verifying that the mission had been accomplished. The evidence was clear: the fourth planet in the system, which six weeks previously had sustained an active Sa'arm colony, had been replaced by a glowing mass of molten rock. There was no sign of life anywhere in the system.
Jules carefully maneuvered the ship to the primary rendezvous point, and began searching for the Asp bomber that had been assigned to this target. The smaller vessel wasn't anywhere to be found, but that wasn't a particular cause for concern. Jules launched a small self-propelled beacon, which after moving a safe distance off, began burst-transmitting a low-power encrypted hail at irregular intervals. Many long minutes passed with no response from the Asp, and Jules began to worry.
Standard procedures at this point called for proceeding on to the alternate rendezvous, and repeating the process. This would be the first time that those procedures were ever invoked, though, and Jules was worried. He moved the Rosa further out into interstellar space, and sent the beacon a self-destruct command. After observing the small flash created by the disintegration of the beacon, he made the short jump to the alternate rendezvous location.
On arrival, he repeated the entire search and retrieval sequence, and this time an answer came back, but not from the Asp. Instead, the response came from a message torpedo. This was bad. Every Asp carried a single message torpedo, to be launched only as a last resort. Its flight plan was updated automatically and continuously, by the ship's AI, to return it to the secondary rendezvous location, in the event of a mission failure that resulted in the loss of the Asp.
The torpedo's payload consists of a message cube - essentially, a large chunk of static RAM - that contains flight and activity data for the Asp. Like the torpedo's flight plan, it is continuously updated, and has sufficient capacity to retain (with data compression) the entirety of the ship's sensor and monitor logs for the normal duration of a mission. In addition, it has space for a pilot's action report and, if he wishes, a short video message.
Jules instructed the Rosa's AI to issue the encrypted command that would cause the torpedo to eject its payload. Rosa's waldoes then recovered and stored the package, and after moving off a safe distance, the torpedo self-destructed. He called a meeting of the current supercargo, to inform them that one of their number would not be returning.
The nine other Asp pilots who had already completed their missions already knew what the SOP called for in this case, but Jules had the AI play back the required actions anyway. Only two of the pilots gave him any grief about it, and in the face of the evidence, even they had to admit to, and accept, the loss.
Four Earth-standard hours after arriving in the formerly Sa'arm-controlled system, the Rosa departed for Home
Joe Fanelli - aka Don Giuseppe DiCatania - sat alone at his desk, having just read the action report filed by the pilot of the Rosa. He hadn't yet opened the message packet that had been delivered along with the report. Instead, he instructed the office AI to retrieve and display the personnel record for the missing pilot. When the AI notified him that the information was ready, Joe turned to his ancient, flat-panel LCD monitor to review the data. He wasn't a big fan of holographic displays, and the flat-panel still worked very well for his purposes, without adding unnecessary layers of confusion. What he saw on the screen was exactly what he expected.
NAME: CRISTIANO MARTELLI
OCCUPATION: ASP BOMBER PILOT/COMMANDER
STATUS: MISSING IN ACTION, PRESUMED DEAD.
AGE: 28 EARTH STANDARD YEARS
NAME: ORQUIDEA AGE: 43
NAME: TEODORA AGE: 30
NAME: GEMMA, AGE: 21
NAME: CLARISSE AGE: 16
MINOR DEPENDENTS: 7 (3 M, 4 F)
There was more, of course, but none of the rest was as important to Joe as were those few lines. They told him, not only what the cosca lost on this last mission, but the number and names of those who would feel the loss much more deeply and sharply. Cristiano was in the first class to graduate Asp pilot school, and like his classmates, he had a record of exemplary and effective service in the cosca's war against the Sa'arm. Now he was to be honored as the cosca's first fallen hero of that war.
There would be public acknowledgement of Cris' valor, and the equivalent of a state funeral, but first there was the matter of breaking the news to his family, and taking care of their needs. Both jobs fell to Joe. Even before that, however, there was a need to review the mission data log.
Time was of the essence. The pilots returning with the Rosa had been debriefed, and would be arriving at their homes by evening. Getting to Cris Martelli's family before the news did was of critical importance. Joe made one call before he left the office.
"Hello? Oh hi darling!" Not knowing the reason, Maria was pleased that Joe had, uncharacteristically, called home before actually arriving there. That is, she was pleased, until she saw the look on his face.
"Maria, I have some bad news, and I'll need your help in dealing with it," he said softly.
Looking concerned, she responded, "What is it Joe? Are you sick or something?"
"Just sick at heart, my love. One of our Asp pilots did not return. There is no doubt that he is dead."
"Afraid so ... and worse, he's got a family ... a big one..."
"Seven," he confirmed. "and one of the wives is very young, as well."
"What do you need for me to do?" she asked, becoming businesslike. "We have to take care of his family."
"Yes, we do. I need to get over there tonight to break the news to them, and let them know we're going to be there for them. The first thing I need for you to do is to contact the family and wangle us an invitation to visit tonight on some other pretext. I don't want them going off the deep end before we can get there to help."
"We?" she queried.
"Yes. That's the second thing I need from you. Try to find someone to watch the kids tonight ... perhaps your Aunt Michela ... I want you and Luisa to come with me."
"Good plan," she agreed, "we can hold their hands while you give them the news, and maybe offer some comfort."
"My thoughts exactly. Oh! When you talk to Michela, ask Father Nicholas if he could show up at the Martelli house, about twenty minutes behind us?"
"Oh yes! I'm sure he'll be needed."
"In the future he might want to delegate the task, especially if we start losing many ... I hate to think about that ... but this is the first, and needs special handling."
"Okay. How long do I have?"
"A half-hour, maybe, no more."
"I'd better get moving then ... that's not much time..."
"Thanks, love. You are my angel."
"Let me go, you flatterer. I don't have time to waste!" she responded with a wan smile. "Now what's their comm code?"
Joe and both his wives stood at the entrance to the Martelli home. Lusia, having only just finished nursing her new baby boy, remained somewhat blissed-out, while Maria fidgeted nervously.
Moments after Joe rang the doorbell, a tall, stately woman answered. Her apparent age, somewhat younger than himself, and a little older than Maria made guessing her identity trivial. She was obviously Orquidea - Cris Martelli's senior wife. In conversation with someone else, she would have been described as handsome rather than pretty. Her face was attractive, but strong rather than beautiful, and hinted at the character of the person who wore it.
"Welcome to our home," she said to the visitors. As she stood aside, her gesture invited them to enter. The Fanelli women entered first, followed by Joe, and Orquidea led them into a small formal parlor, where she invited them to sit.
Seating herself, she observed, "It is a rare occasion when the Don visits the home of one of his many followers. To what do we owe this pleasure? I am sure that Cristiano will be distraught that he couldn't be here. He is away on a mission, but he is due back, today..."
"Yes Madame, I am aware of that ... but I must ask ... where are his other wives?"
Orquidea stiffened visibly as she responded, "They are each occupied with their normal duties as we speak. Do you need to meet with all of them?"
Joe could see in her face, that she had already guessed what was going on, but was holding herself together with an iron will.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," he replied gently. "Please gather them here, and I will speak with all of you at once."
She stifled a sob as she arose to do as he asked. When she turned to leave the room, Maria caught Joe's eye, and raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question. Joe nodded, imperceptibly, and Maria followed Orquidea out of the room.
When Maria and Orquidea returned, followed by the three younger Martelli wives, the mood was somber. Maria had been successful at persuading Orquidea to let Joe handle the news, but the other women had picked up the tension, although they knew not why.
Joe had not needed to coach his wives: when everyone was seated, Luisa was between the two younger wives and Maria between the older women. He stood and paced for a few seconds as he composed himself, preparing to speak.
"I know that you ladies are wondering why I am here, and you are probably feeling that it is not a happy thing. You would be correct. I won't play with your emotions, or try to soften what I have to say ... you need to know and feel the truth in my words." He paused.
"It is my sad duty," he said, resuming his speech, "to inform you that Cristiano Martelli is missing in action..."
As soon as he said the words, Orquidea fell to pieces, sobbing. Maria pulled the older woman to her breast and hugged her, stroking her back and repeating over and over, "I am so sorry..."
Teodora, the 30 year old, seemingly went catatonic, while the younger wives began shouting their denial, and demanding that Joe produce their husband. Luisa put an arm around both of them, and held them to her side as they struggled against the truth.
It took a substantial amount of time to restore a sense of normalcy to the gathering, during which Joe felt utterly helpless, but eventually it did happen. When it did, Orquidea took her rightful place as the senior spouse and asked Joe what Cris' chances were for having survived.
"None," he responded flatly. "He managed to fire off a message torpedo, with his flight and operations data, before his shields were overwhelmed. They clearly show that the Asp was already in self-destruct mode."
"How can you send out ships that kill their own pilots!" she demanded hotly.
Joe fixed her with a hard stare, and replied, "That only happens if there is no hope for the pilot's survival. The self-destruct mechanism only engages if the hull is breached - in which case it is a foregone conclusion that the pilot is already dead - or if the pilot initiates the sequence himself.
"I will not burden you with further details, but you must realize that we, for the sake of humans everywhere, cannot allow our technology to fall into the hands of the enemy.
"The action report Cris sent back made it clear that he was under attack by a Sa'arm hive ship and its support vehicles, at close range. The Asp was damaged beyond repair, and its defenses were withering under continuous fire. On the plus side, the attacking vessels were close enough that the destruction of the Asp - and its remaining HSIT device - was almost certainly sufficient to at least cripple, and possibly destroy them all.
"It would not just be a miracle, if Cris survived ... it would be a physical manifestation of the Second Coming."
As if on cue, the doorbell rang. "That is probably Father Nicholas," Joe observed. Looking at Orquidea, he said, "With your permission..."
She nodded, and he went to answer the door. When he returned, Father Nicholas followed him into the parlor. After getting everyone's attention again, Joe resumed speaking.
"I am not here only as the bearer of the bad news," he said. "I am also here to advise you of two very important things. First, you should know that the cosca will provide for Cris's family, as he would have, had he lived. What this means exactly, we still have to work out, but in any event, you need not worry about the essentials.
"The second thing I have to tell you is that Cris sent a message to you, and the content of that message bears strongly upon your individual futures. I think it necessary at this point for you to see that message."
Joe approached the comm unit to make contact with the colony's central AI. Seeing that it was a standard flat-screen model, he breathed a sigh of relief. Upon making the connection, he was required to authenticate using the keyboard after which he put the connection into multimedia mode and began issuing verbal commands.
"RETRIEVING VIDEO MESSAGE FROM C MARTELLI, ASP PILOT." the AI droned in response.
After a brief delay, the video playback began, displaying a fit, handsome young man who was obviously under a great deal of stress. He began to speak.
"My darling wives. This is both my farewell message and my last will and testament. I am under attack, and there is no hope of survival. In only minutes, my defensive shields will fail and my ship will self-destruct.
"I want each of you to know that I have missed you, your voice, your touch, your embrace, for these weeks that we've been apart. I love you, and if, as we believe, my soul lives on after my body is destroyed, I will continue to love you for all eternity.
"The Don has promised that the cosca see to your needs after my passing. As you were advised when we were wed, there is a price for that - the cosca demands that any children you bear be mine, whether or not you re-marry. To that end they have saved and stored my seed.
"It is not my wish that any of you should remain widowed. Rather I would have each of you seek and find, if you can, the love of a good man with whom you can build a new life.
"Any man worth having will want children of his own body, and I fear that the geis of bearing only my children would drastically reduce your opportunities. That is unacceptable to me. For that reason, I release you from that obligation.
"I would be pleased if any of you wish to bear more of my children, but this is a decision that you must make, without my influence, and without pressure from the cosca.
"Please love one another, whatever each of you decides. Love and take care of the children we have already have. Find your happiness. I love you, and goodbye."
The video ended abruptly, and everyone in the room fell silent. Before, the war against the Sa'arm had been an abstraction for them. The cosca had conducted its attacks with seeming impunity, suffering losses of neither equipment nor men. Now it was personal.
Orquidea and Teodora resumed their quiet weeping, as the younger wives approached hysterics. The Fanelli women were hard pressed to offer what comfort and solace they could, and Joe was once again helpless. Looking to Father Nicholas, he plead silently for help. The priest nodded, almost invisibly, and rose to his feet.
"Ladies, please pay attention," he began. All four of the Martelli women took umbrage with his approach, and it appeared momentarily as he might be in danger of a physical attack. That moment passed, however, and they were focused on him - which was what he wanted, after all.
"It is tragic, any time a loved one passes away," he resumed, "but doubly so when it is one so young, and who has so much to admire as our beloved Cristiano." He began to pace as he spoke.
"Nevertheless it happens, and life goes on. It is in times like these that we who are left behind must look outside ourselves for additional strength ... to our families, friends, community ... and within ourselves, to our faith.
"While life goes on, we cannot allow the memory of the deceased to fade ... we must remember him in order to remember the blessings we received because of him, and we must remember him for the children that are too young to remember on their own."
Turning back to face the women, he pointed to them and said, "You have a duty and sacred trust ... in that you are the vessels of that memory, and you must ensure that it is preserved and transmitted to the children. You can and must also reinforce those memories, by sharing them among yourselves, and by sharing both the joy and the sadness that they bring. In doing so you will draw closer together, providing each other the comfort and solace you need.
"In time, the sting of your loss will fade, but even so, the sadness and sorrow will sometimes manifest as heartache. When it does, you should reach for each other - you should not try to bear it alone. When that is not enough, you should reach out to your extended family, your community, and your Church. Your faith will sustain you when all else fails, but faith works better with a warm embrace to hold you, and a willing shoulder upon which you can cry.
"By all means, mourn your loss ... but do not let sorrow supplant the joy that life has to offer. With his last words, your husband has given you a gift. Use it wisely. Consider how you may best carry out his wishes, and live the life he wants you to have. Don't make any decisions yet ... it is too soon ... but think about your future. The Church and doubtless, the cosca, will support you, whatever you decide."
Turning back to Joe, he said, "I suspect that we'll need to talk about this very soon." Joe nodded, and Father Nicholas sedately withdrew, seeing himself out of the house. As he did, Luisa and Maria separated themselves from the Martelli women, who now appeared to be in control of their emotions.
Looking over the people in the room Joe observed, 'I can only echo the sentiment behind the words that Father Nicholas has so eloquently delivered. The cosca will take care of your needs. More than that we are family, and you need only call on us, if some unforeseen need arises, or even if you only need comforting.
"In the meantime, I suggest that you take seriously this opportunity that your late husband has provided. When you feel that your period of mourning is finished, please carefully consider your future. You are all much too young, and too beautiful, to accept widowhood as a permanent condition. I am sure that the cosca will honor his wishes in this matter. You will not be held hostage to our need to perpetuate his line. If need be, we will find other ways.
"We will take our leave of you now," he continued, taking Maria and Luisa by the hand and walking to toward the entrance. On reaching it he turned back briefly, and said, "Call on us, anytime, if you need anything."
With a sad smile, he turned and led his wives out of the door.
Turning to her sister-wives, Orquidea said, "I think we need to have a family meeting."
"Everyone? Or just the wives?" Gemma asked.
"Not the children! At least not yet..." Teodora objected.
"Just the wives, then," Orquidea agreed, "but we have things to discuss and some planning to do ... including how to break the news to the kids. Speaking of the kids, it'll be bedtime for most of them soon, so we won't have to wait long..."
She stopped speaking for a moment, staring into space, before continuing, "I think, however that Jason is old enough to sit with us. He'll be fourteen in a few months, and legally an adult."
"He's still a child though ... are you sure you want to do that?" Teodora queried.
Orquidea fixed her with a fierce look, and said, "I'm absolutely sure. My son is barely two years younger than Clarisse, and in the eyes of every authority we now know, will be a man soon.' Pausing again in thought, she looked away and added, "He loved Cris as much as if he were his natural father, and it will be hard on him, but not as hard as it will be for the others."
Her eyes snapped back into focus, and she said, "Enough of this for now. We'll meet back here after the children are asleep," and with that, she turned and left the room to her shell-shocked sisters.