NaNoWriMo 2019 — Firsts: Part 3 (The Jentusi)

This is a piece set in Jack’s universe of the Jentusi invasion of the human-colonized worlds. Since I haven’t read all of his stuff, and since I like to explore the outskirts of an IP, it is set far from human space and relates an encounter with a non-canonical alien race.

The Phlankton ship crept slowly closer to the alien craft. Their sensors were incredibly sophisticated, and they scanned the ship over and over again.
“No life signs,” the ScanTec said firmly, turning to face her commander. “Sir.”
“What do you detect?” the captain asked, leaning on one arm of her command chair. The alien ship was not a derelict, for it hummed with power, and it was cruising through local space, engines blasting.
“Normal electro-mechanical signs,” the tech replied, looking back at her instruments. “It looks like a full complement of robotic crewmembers, to access parts of the ship for maintenance and repair. There is, however, no atmosphere inside the ship, and it is, in fact, not air tight. It was not designed to be crewed by a living crew.”
The captain mulled these facts over, then gave the order to bring her ship alongside the other. There was a reasonable access port along the port side, and she could safely send a suited crew over to reconnoiter. The big question on her mind remained that of “Who?”. If this was a drone, who had sent it, and who was scouting their system? How was another question, for the Phlankton did not have the technology to pass quickly between stars. As far as the captain knew, the big alien craft had to have come through space, some 80 light years, from the nearest star, plotting the craft’s course backward. That was a lot of fuel, since the ship seemed to not be drifting.

The commander of the other vessel evaluated sense data on the Phlankton craft. He dispatched a team of warbots to the port corridors, seeing that the other ship was maneuvering to board there. He calculated trajectories several times and was satisfied that the team would arrive in place at the most efficient moment to deal with the aliens.
They were fleshly — that much he knew. Their infrared signature was typical of most of the fleshly enemies he had encountered. A few, like the Andromedans, were endothermic, and he accessed records of that encounter — how the Jentusi craft had been surprised to find fleshly beings aboard the ship. The outcome had not been particularly different. Even now, the Jentusi fleet were engaged in locating and subjugating or eliminating all of the Andromedan colony worlds. Fleshly lack of coordination and slow reaction speed was always defeated by the superior speed and coordination of the Jentusi.
The commander reviewed several interlocking scans and filtered each using established criteria. There was no sign of Skaar technology, but he was always cautious at first contact. Jentusi ships had been lost, from time to time. He was determined that it wouldn’t happen to this one. As the Phlankton craft pulled alongside and extended grapples, the commander activated powerful electromagnets mounted beneath the skin of the ship.

“Captain, there are some round service robots clustered about the access port,” 1st Team Commander radioed back to the command deck. “They are about waist-high, and look like they are designed to not mar the inner surfaces of the passageways if there is an accidental collision.”
“They remind me of the robot vacuums back home,” 1st Team Support Specialist commented. 1st Team Commander rubbed her speaking bud petals together in frustration at this use of the official channel, but the captain replied.
“Thanks for that observation, Specialist,” she said. “Remember that there is interference on the video feed, and we are depending upon your verbal observations to decide quickly what we are dealing with here.”
It was typical. The captain tended to take the Specialist’s side in things, just because they were from the same rootstock. One day, 1st Team Commander was determined she would lead her own —

As the command was given, the warbots extended their bladed weapons and advanced on the boarding party, slowly at first, to gauge their reaction time and to identify the leader. Leaders tended to be the most valuable hostages when negotiating the surrender of a species.

The captain fumed as static filled the communications channel with the away team. Ever since the Chancellor’s pod mate had been given the supply contract for the communications devices, it seemed that quality had decreased. It sounded as though the team were continuing to report on the situation aboard the alien craft, but the Captain could hear nothing above the hum and bursts of static that filled the channel. She switched over to the secondary and tertiary channels a time or two, in case the team tried them for a clearer signal, but there were subordinate ComTechs who were responsible for monitoring those channels, and they had not indicated any problem. She sighed as the static suddenly cleared, and the Team Commander’s voice broke through.
“— total loss. I am the sole survivor. I don’t know why they haven’t killed me, but they are keeping me from leaving the ship. They moved so quickly! We didn’t stand a chance.”
“What?” The captain practically shouted the word into the receiver, heedless of the distortion this would cause before it was down-sampled to protect the tender auditory buds in the Team Commander’s suit.
“I repeat, the Team is a total loss. I am the sole survivor. 1st Team MedTech was the only one who was able to shoot before the rest of them were reduced to shreds on the decking. I have been disarmed…” There was a bitterness in the Team Commander’s voice that made the captain think this was a literal description of what had happened.
The static began on the channel again, and the Captain slammed her grasping vine on the console in frustration. Then, she stared in amazement as the static began to change, forming more and more discrete sounds until —
“You have been conquered by the Jentusi,” the static said in her headset. “We are holding your leader 1st Team Commander — these words were said in the commander’s own voice — as a hostage until our demands have been met. If you do not have the authority to negotiate with the Jentusi, you will relay our demands to those who do. If you can not relay our demands and you have no authority, you will be eliminated.”
The voice in the static was emotionless, and the pronunciation of some of the words was not completely correct, but the threat expressed was crystal clear.

The Jentusi commander did not settle into his command chair as he received the message of capitulation from the Phlankton ship captain. He did not sit, nor did he have muscles to grow tired or tense. Still, there was a sense in which there was a release. Thought patterns that had been devoted to the encounter were now free to perform other tasks, such as analyzing the spectrum of the nearest star to calculate what materials would likely be available in this system. Additional analysis of the technology expressed in the captured ship was performed, as warbots moved through the access and onto the vessel, scanning and evaluating every surface they encountered. It was not altogether surprising when a large heat buildup was detected in the Phlankton ship’s reactor, as power was increased and exhaust was closed. This was a tactic that had been seen many times, and had even been used by Jentusi commanders from time to time. When it became apparent that the warbots would not succeed in disabling the reactor before a damaging explosion resulted, an electro-magnetic pulse was generated that destroyed all of the warbots serving on the port side, but also propelled the Phlankton ship far enough away that the Jentusi cruiser’s main guns could engage it. As coherent energy sliced through the Phlankton hull and disrupted the reactor’s shielding, a much weaker explosion, largely pointed away from the Jentusi ship, resulted.
The commander edited a number of status reports and submitted a recommendation of genocide for the Phlankton population. Fleshlings who resorted to suicide so quickly tended to consume inefficient numbers of resources for containment, and the technology level was low enough that he was confident they would not lose in terms of technological advancement. It was no surprise when the response from Pride of the Jentusi returned by ansible: Extermination of alien species is approved. Do not pursue at expense of resource collection.
Sleek in-system fighter craft broke free of the cruiser and spread out across the system, seeking other ships, and clear in their orders to destroy and mark for salvage. The cruiser occupied itself with scanning for habitable planets — meaning, of course, planets habitable by the bioforms of the alien creatures. The sampling of their atmosphere from their ship simplified the search, as their home world would certainly have an atmospheric makeup that matched it closely.
Within the period of time of one planetary rotation on the homeworld of the Jentusi, the fighter craft had returned to the cruiser, and salvage craft were dispatched to collect the broken remnants of the space craft that had been found. In addition to a few warships, like the first one encountered, the fighters had found large orbital vessels that were undoubtedly space habitats, orbiting several of the planets near the Phlankton homeworld. These had also been destroyed, so that the salvage craft would not be endangered by suicidal aliens. The local reactors were sufficiently inefficient that it was not worthwhile to try to capture any of them intact, and there would doubtless be opportunity to do so on the homeworld, since a detonation there would not particularly endanger the Jentusi, nor would it benefit the non-combatant population.
The cruiser inched its way in to the system, still scanning for danger, for the warbots were limited in their processing power, especially when separated from command by such a distance, and they might have missed static defenses or mine fields, or such. There also were signs in the scanner logs that a LAMP ship might have been present in the system when the Jentusi arrived. As it slowly moved towards the Phlankton worlds the cruiser broadcast a message of consolation to the creatures who would soon be dead. This is, after all, the way of things. Some creatures live, and others die, and it does no good to fret about who the winners and losers are. The broadcast became clearer and clearer, and the Jentusi sent it on more and more frequencies, as analysis revealed which radio frequencies were considered quantized by the local inhabitants, and as analysis of the Phlankton radio chatter improved the Jentusi translation algorithms. While knowledge of Phlankton language would be of no use once that people were extinct, the improvements to the translation algorithms would bear fruit in a thousand other systems as the Jentusi spread through the galaxy, and perhaps beyond.
Several national leaders were broadcasting, powerfully projecting their voices directly at the Jentusi cruiser, pleading for negotiations or threatening retaliation. The commander muted these channels as a waste of bandwidth, and focused his attention on evaluating the planet for mineral exploitation. The planet was reasonably rich, even with the use of resources that had built the space habitats, and he regretted, for a moment, the emotional instability that made these creatures unsuited to being slaves. It would take time and energy to build an exploitation network, and to ferry the mining bots to the surface for their work, and to launch the materials back into orbit for retrieval. Slave populations could generally do most of that work themselves, with only a military garrison being needed to keep them focused on Jentusi needs, rather than their own. Some of the slave populations had even benefited from the Jentusi occupation, since Jentusi technology was so superior to their own. The exploitation of resources was greatly enhanced in these circumstances, and the bulk of Jentusi material and energy could be reserved for the fleet, for exploration and conquest.

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