First Contact: Part 1
Nina Quile signalled the local mesh to turn the aircraft's hull the illusion of transparency for her, and looked through it at the bay coming up below. Six Hills Island hadn't changed much from the air. Still the six hills and the same jungle interior. Still the glittering lights of Port Mosbeck on the side of the bay. The suborbital began to dive, its nose lifting, then its floats touched the water and it was down, coasting across the bay to the shallow water near the port and extending mooring cables. Nina got up, cancelled the external view and picked up her bag, then headed down to the exit, smiling and nodding thanks to Kattie, one of the plane's flight engineers she'd met on the flight "Bye guys!" she called cheerily to the pilot and co-pilot as she proceeded through the door next to the cockpit, then paused "Hey Lorna, you'll send me an email to tell me how the birth goes right?" Lorna's wife was having a baby, and having it naturally, rather than using a uterine replicator, and the load master was worried sick.
"Sure thing Nina" the flight engineer smiled and waved as Nina set off down the stairs on the side of the ship and hopped nimbly into the RIB bobbing slightly on the water next to it. It would have surprised some people that Nina had only met the crew for the first time a mere six hours ago. In the RIB were two SDF troops, who Nina greeted with a smile. A second RIB was herding the cargo float containers out of the sub-orbital's back compartment with the help of Gina, the load master.
The two RIBs pulled swung away from the cargo plane as the last cargo container came free and zoomed off towards the shore. Radio beacons on the two boats summoned the containers and they formed a line, foam at their backs as they swum towards the shore on their own power. When they got there they'd climb up onto the beech.
"Thanks." Nina nodded, amplifying her vision through the local mesh. There was some encryption here, but she had the codes to go through it, and see the SDF encampment. She winced inwardly at how corporate it looked, with anti-aircraft vehicles mounting fast firing cannons around the parameter, and several old corporate helicopters undergoing maintenance. The SDF simply didn't have the budget not to use such corporate castoffs anymore, but still, it was going to make Nina's job all the harder.
The RIBs grounded on the beach and Nina helped the crews drag them up the beach. "This way Ms." the Sergent smiled "My gals'll handle the cargo." Nina nodded and the sergeant led her through the camp towards a small building at the far end. Nina remember it had once been a block of flats, one of several. It was the last one now standing, the rest either burned out shells or demolished entirely. Two SDF infantry in armour snapped to attention as Nina passed between them and was led up to the second floor, and into what must once have been an apartment but now looked like an office
The Sergeant knocked, then entered and saluted crisply "I bought the negotiator Sir."
"Thanks Lan." The colonel was shorter than her subordinate, a green like Nina "You sure your crunches can handle cargo on their own though? They're not going to replace those supplies if they get wet."
Lan laughed "They're wet behind the ears sir, but not that wet behind the ears."
"Dismissed, go make sure they're not in trouble" The colonel waved and Lan left, Nina came forward and shook hands "It's good to meet you Ms. Quile" the colonel's gaze had turned a little cold "I'm Colonel Etha. I'm glad we can finally get negotiations underway here."
"Was there some delay in a negotiator being sent for? I took the first flight out after I was told about this." Nina asked. Etha waved her to a seat, which Nina took gratefully.
"No, I'm just eager to begin operations. I have recon patrols out and the like but what we can do is limited until your negotiations have concluded. We don't have the resources to wait around for every militia group who won't obey the vote."
She wants to fight here. Good grief. Nina realised with a chill. Perhaps Etha's attitude was understandable enough, the SDF was being squeezed by the Preservationists as much as militia groups were, there was talk of just disbanding it. If it couldn't find a mission it was pretty doomed. It annoyed Nina how easily Harawayans turned on one another. "Well Colonel, I'd prefer if you avoided having to operate at all. I'd like to head up into the hills into the morning and make contact. Hopefully we can get a speedy and peaceful resolution to this dispute."
Etha nodded "I hope so... I'll get you a room." she looked out of the window then asked "Do you come from here? I've heard a lot of negotiators are recruited from people from the area."
"Yes." Nina nodded "This is my home town."
The next morning, Nina walked up into the hills down one of the old paths. It was just about as she'd remembered it from when she'd grown up here. She'd taken many a girlfriend this route to get away from parents and elders and head up onto the hills that overlooked the sea. She had a backpack on, and a hunting rifle slung over her shoulder ( the war had stirred up populations of many of Haraway's more dangerous animals so Nina kept a sharp lookout) and walked at a brisk pace, looking around as she went. After about an hour she stopped at a narrow section of the path, sat down on a stump and looked into the bushes "I know you're there, come on out."
There was a muffled oath and then two ghillie suited figures got up from the grass "How the hell did you spot us?" one asked.
"I didn't, this was just a logical point for an OP and I figured I you might come out if I said I'd saw you."
More oaths, then the hoods came down and Nina saw two somewhat familiar figures revealed, "Sarah and Keiko! Damn! You haven't changed a bit." Nina stepped forward and hugged the two camosuited women "Still best friends after all this time?" She asked.
"Married now." Sarah laughed, then looked Nina over a bit more serious "You were seen at the SDF base. I take it this isn't entirely to see how your old town is doing?"
Nina sighed, then nodded "No. I'm here to negotiate on behalf of the government. I need you to take me to everyone so I can explain."
Keiko nodded while Sarah began to run a sensor over her "She's clean, no tracker" the militia woman said after a moment "Let's take her back to the place. We should hear her out at least." Nina winced inside at the hostility of Sarah's tone, then followed the pair into the forest.
The 'place' turned out to be a natural amphitheatre carved into the hillside by hundreds of years of heavy rain. The Militia band, apart, no doubt from various patrols and OPs linked in via their mesh were sitting up the sides. They looked slightly ragged but their weapons were clean and they looked happy enough.
Nina knew their leader, a tall Red named Joanna Josa. They went back a way. She shook hands with Nina then stepped up on the speaker stone "Alright. Some of you know Ms. Quile, so of you don't. I'll let her introduce herself. The point is she's here from the government to get us to put down our guns. We'll debate this properly and vote. Tanya, get the vote system rigged up." Joanna's aid, a yellow, nodded. "Alright Nina, two points and two counters?"
"Right" Nina stepped up on the speakers rock and looked around "Some of you know me. Some of you don't. My name's Nina Quile, I was born in Port Mosbeck just like most of you. The government has sent me here to ask you all to disarm, turn in your heavy weapons to the SDF and go about your lives" the listeners stirred and muttered, annoyed but she overrode it. "You fought bravely, all of you, during the war, but the war is over. We drove the corporations and all their thugs off world, and peace returned. In many ways that victory was yours, yours and people like you."
More approval there "but if you fought for the system, for Haraway not just for yourselves, well then I ask you to respect the wishes of the public and give up your heavy weapons. Disband. Join the SDF if you still have the stomach for it, but go home, rejoin your families and have a normal life again, isn't that better than staying in the woods and being hunted by your own sisters?" She looked around then nodded to Joanna, who nodded in return. Nina stepped down and Joanna took the speakers rock.
"I know Nina of old" some laughter at that "and let none of you bear here any ill will for saying what she's said, but I don't think she knows what it's like here. Before the war, all of us, caste not withstanding were sneered at by the Landers, and sneered at by the snooty land owner bitches who bought our land out from under, who thanked us very kindly for winning the war for them and then went back to just the same damn looking down at reds and yellows and violets that they started the war with!" shouts of approval "How many of you reds have been able to get a job outside breaking rocks since the war? So no! I say we keep our guns! Our heavy weapons too, because having the gun is the only way, the only way to make them listen, and to make sure they never sneer at us for our colour or our bank balance ever again!" Cheers this time. Joanna was a great speaker as always, and not just for a red.
Nina nodded to Joanna as she stepped down then got up again herself "I agree with Joanna after a fashion. What's been offered to you, all of you, country folk, Reds, poor people after the war has been shocking. The restorationists don't give a damn about you, about any of you. All they want is to create their pastoral little vision of heaven that never really existed."
"So why are you here speaking for them?" Someone in the crowd shouted.
"Because down in Port Mo, there's an SDF Battalion, and I won't lie to you, the Colonel is looking to kill some folk." Nina looked around the crowd "are you really wanting to fight the SDF? To fight your own sisters and maybe have a civil war?"
"We could hide, strike like we did in the war, they'd never find us!" Sarah yelled from the crowd.
"Sarah Kets you can't even hide from me, you think you can hide from the SDF?" There were hoots of laughter at that, and Nina raised her hands "but in all seriousness, you could hide, but for how long? How long while your families go hungry and the sath fruit rots on the vine? How many years more will we have to fight if we fight, rather than vote?" She looked around, meeting eyes all around the stage "And what if someone else finds us? If the corporations or the Europeans come back? Who's going to keep them from raping this world if we've spent all our energy killing each other?" Silence "The Progressives are coming back. We're forming alliances with people like you all over, Red Right's movements formed out of all the sacrifices of wartime and soon we'll have enough votes to overturn this Prime Minister and this legislative program... but this isn't the way. If the SDF kill you or you hide in the hills, you're not going to be voting for anything."
Silence, then Joanna sighed "I got no counterpoint to you Nina, never did. Let's vote."
Nina won the vote, as she'd been confident she would. It was agreed that that tomorrow a deputation of militia would go down into the SDF camp and arrange for the weapons to be transferred. In return Nina guaranteed everyone's safety and freedom from arrest.
Nina and Joanna went up on the hill to look out onto the sea. "It's not fair you know." Joanna said after a while "That this is the first time you've been back in years."
"I know Jo, and I'm sorry." Nina put an arm around her "I always meant to come back, but after the war and then I just got so busy..." she sighed "It's no excuse I know."
"You'll be shipping out again tomorrow though, won't you?" Joanna asked.
"Yes." Nina looked up at the stars, tracking the moving glow of Tereshkova, Haraway's single orbital station, "but I'll come back. Sooner this time. You'll see."
Joanna nodded "Bring something better next time... I'll give in my gun, but I still didn't like the lander words you carried with you Ni." Nina nodded, and Joanna got up, her tall form unfolding to stand staring at the moon for a moment before she walked back down the ridge.