There was nothing exotic about getting down to Etat Concord’s main dome; you’d find the same technology in the independent belt – lots of universally-compatible docking ports and landing decks to ensure that traders from all over could come to the rock for business.
Of course, we weren’t traders.
Now I must apologize for jumping past this point earlier: in the files Bort had sent, it became clear to us that Concord had no customs apparatus. This was not a place where visitors were carefully screened, it was a free port where all could come and trade, whether they were pirates or military or just plain civilians. That’s one of the reasons it was so laden with trash. The Martians suspected that other colonies in the SAU were more careful about controlling admissions, but not here. In order to attract all sorts of commerce, the Concord SAUs maintained an open door policy.
As we disembarked from our Special Branch assault shuttle (I flew down with Rufus instead of taking my plane, because I didn’t want to fly), we therefore expected to simply take the lift down from the main docking tower and walk out into the dome.
Instead we were greeted by a military party.
This was the first time any of us had ever encountered members of the Union of Solar Asteroids Defense Force, or USADF. I call them SAUDF… pronounced like the female pig (sow) and ‘deaf’. They don’t like being referred to that way, but if it makes them feel better they can call us Defcoms.
The party was not large; four shooters headed up by an officer, all men and all rugged – the sorts who had been in plenty of fights over the years, and had learned how to win them. Their uniforms looked worn too; faded brown with sky-blue trims and facings… an interesting group.
As we came to a stop in front of this welcoming committee, the posturing began immediately. The locals wanted us to know they were tough and professional, while Rufus’ team wanted the locals to know that if they tried anything, death would come to their rock like an apocalyptic plague from whichever scriptures you prefer.
“Welcome to Etat Concord,” the SAUDF officer at the front said before too much of that posturing could be completed, and then he stepped forward with a glare that was supposed to intimidate me. “First visit, isn’t it?”
I raised an eyebrow, “Came to see the sights. Heard good things.”
“Lots of hardware for sightseeing,” the officer countered quickly, obviously meaning that six Branchers in tac gear with MAG-90s weren’t the typical tourists one expected to see.
As he was speaking, Andrea Kiley and her team came down a nearby chute from her own landing shuttle, and seeing that we were having a little summit, she led her ten SF in our direction. They were all wearing tac vests and carrying MAG-90s as well – not to be trifled with, even if they weren’t Branchers by training.
The SAU officer noted this arrival and two of his guards turned slightly to face the newly-approaching threat.
“We don’t take kindly to trouble here,” the officer continued. “Rest assured that I’m just an emissary, and there are a lot more guards where my men come from.”
My eyebrow remained up, and I tilted my head, “You worried we’re here to invade?”
The man’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t care what you say you’re here for. You make trouble and you’ll be asked to leave.”
“And if we’re asked to leave, we will,” I answered with a gentle shrug. “If we were here to cause trouble, we wouldn’t be chatting.”
I was speaking in the same gentle tone, but it must have seemed condescending, because the officer took a step towards me.
“I know your kind. I recognize you from news feeds from back when I was in the independent belt. You don’t belong in this Union, and if you try to throw your weight around here it’s not going to be tolerated. The people in this state are tired of being treated like toys of your Empire. And even if you kill us all, we’d rather that than having to play by your rules.”
A good summary of the generally illogical attitude towards the Empire possessed by the people of the SAU.
Considering the statement for a few seconds, I began to nod as I formulated a response, “Sounds fair to me. We’re here for a very specific purpose. Trouble in our Empire came here to hide… we want to send a message that the trouble of our Black Sun should not impose itself on other states. So we’ll get these two troublemakers, we’ll tear them out of here, and the message will be clear to anyone else who considers hiding behind your Union. How’s that sound?”
It probably wasn’t the reply this officer was expecting – it might have even sounded in some sense logical, and reasonable.
“Either way,” I added, “we’ll be off your asteroid by the end of today, and we have no intention of coming back. Or hurting any bystanders in the process.”
Definitely reasonable. That’s not to say it was fair – here was a perfect example of the Empire showing up somewhere it had no authority, and expecting to get its way. But perhaps the reason we so often got away with such tactics was because, on those occasions when we did show up and brusquely demand that the locals allow us autonomy, we tended not to abuse it.
Doesn’t make it right, but nevertheless, it had a history of working. And it worked now.
The officer’s initial anger was dulled, though certainly not erased. He remained silent, so I smiled and nodded, “If you’re here, we’ll see you on the way out. If not, a pleasure to have met you.”
And that was that. I stepped around the SAUDF man, nodded to his guards, and then proceeded out of the departure lounge followed by Andrea, Rufus, and our two teams. I’m sure that officer called into his dome HQ with warning that we’d arrived – if he didn’t he’d have been a fool – but the question asked by the SAU senior officers was simple: dare they intervene when we had committed no crimes, knowing that seven of our warships were in orbit?
This was gunboat diplomacy… come to think of it, it smacks of the arrogance with which the Empires had ultimately treated the Chinese cantons that I keep comparing to Etat Concord.
However you slice it, we were in without so much as having to make a threat. Now we just got to enjoy the sights.