Chaos Calls 05: Island Girl
After my last trip to Chaos I doubt there’s much I can do in the way of a rescue within the area controlled by the Brotherhood on the mainland, but there may be something on one of the islands. So I decide not to take any animals or materials destined for Grassy Meadows with me on this trip. I’ll take a number of people who I expect will return with me. Since I’m going into an unknown area I want a solid core of fighting supporters with me. It also means I can take a larger number of people who want to see what it’s like. In line with my last trip I set the number at ten people.
I talk with Sharon, Tora, and Bridget about who to take. The first filter is the people going have to meet minimum skills in using a sword, bow, and a knife as well as being able to ride. All of the guards interested in going are fit enough to suit me, so that’s not a consideration. Also, they all have good hand to hand combat skills. Once I’m assured Rob is good with the weapons I start the list of the nine going with me as: Tora, Kira, Bridget, and Rob. So we need to identify five more guards interested in going to Chaos. After rating everyone on their skills we end up with eight to choose from, and then look at their other skills, knowledge of history, and their knowledge of low technology methods to put them in an order.
Saturday morning of the weekend between trips my ancient armour maker arrives to measure all of those who need bamboo armour and Chaos clothing made for them. I’m sure she wonders why I need it all, but she never asks me. I do know she likes making the clothes as much as she likes the money she gets paid for making them. I also have her make a large back pack plus a set of camping blankets for everyone.
After everyone is measured, and the lady leaves, we have a meeting to discuss people’s expectations and what it’s really like. While we cover what it’s like to live there we don’t talk about where it is or how we get there. However, I make sure everyone is aware to be ready to go next weekend, and to gather in my office on the day so we can go from there.
Amongst the gear we’re taking everyone has their own plate, fork, spoon, cup, and knife made from hardwood plus a ceramic skinning knife. They also have a two blanket set for camping, an unstrung short bow made of ash, and a hanbo as a three foot long walking stick. Add in their pack and two sets of clothes with a large floppy hat, and all are ready for Chaos. Everything fits in, or on, their packs, along with their cotton underwear and socks. The leather boots with a ceramic plate in the sole completes their outfits. The packs are only two thirds full, so I’ve a lot of space for extra items of bags of seed, iron rich sand called satetsu, hemp ropes, hardwood climbing gear, and some horse tack made from leather and ceramic rings.
All we need to complete everyone’s ensemble are the many weapons we placed in my box on the last trip. I made sure to see we put enough weapons in to arm twelve people before we left Chaos on the last trip.
On the morning of our trip I have everyone gather in my office so I can check all of the gear for unapproved materials. It’s all correct and ready in the packs, and the travellers have their clothing with bamboo armour on. I lead everyone through the main vault area into the portal vault, and have them form a continuous chain of contact by holding hands. Sharon locks the vault on her way out, then I approach the portal while those waiting behind me wonder about my sanity.
Arriving in the portal room of my quarters at Crossroads I find Merry holding open the door to the stable. Except there’s only a few tables for our gear in it today. I lead everyone in, and we put the packs on tables before Merry leads us into the main lounge of my Hero’s suite.
After introducing everyone to Merry I leave them watching a film on what life on Chaos is like while Merry and I renew our relationship. Tora, Kira, and Bridget can answer their questions while I’m busy with Merry.
Merry and I return to the main room a little after the film ends, so we join in on answering questions. It takes time, but we cover everything, and everyone is soon happy; very surprised, a little shocked, but happy.
About forty minutes into the general chat about Chaos and how it works Mac asks me to talk with him in the computer room. When Merry and I enter the room we find two of the screens are on. One is showing a large island while the other is showing the ocean with the Brotherhood’s zone of control on the east coast at the west edge of the screen. An island well into the ocean is circled, so I think the image is showing the location of the island on the other screen. Mac says, “Al, we have a situation on the island I’m showing you. The Damsels on the island aren’t under a high enough threat to be near the top of the rescue lists, yet. However, I want you to take on this mission to rescue the three Damsels on the island, despite one of them not being in any real danger at all.”
I ask, “Why do I get the feeling there’s politics involved in this one?”
“It could be because you have good instincts. I know you’ve been told how the system works, but I don’t think you’ve been given the details. I won’t bother you with it all now, but the key points to keep in mind is a person who wants to be a Damsel registers, takes a medical check which includes a fertility check, goes through a review panel process, then she’s entered into the system with her details to become subject to the Lottery which is controlled by a special computer. Two aspects of the system which are very closely held are the process up to the entry into the main computer is in the hands of the Cassandran staff, and the computer assigns a value to the candidate based on the information provided by the staff. Ninety-five percent of the applicants end up with the same value entered, but a few have a value slightly up or down from that based on some parameters even I don’t have access to.”
I interrupt with, “So people on Cassandra can exclude someone from being in the Lottery beyond them not meeting the requirements, and the computer can also affect the likelihood of them being selected to a small extent based on parameters you don’t know. Is that it?”
“Yes, Al. There is a system where an applicant can have their case sent to an independent panel for review if they feel the panel wasn’t fair. We’ve always assumed the system ensured only those who wanted into the Lottery would be entered.”
“Yipe. That sounds like someone gamed the system to get someone in who didn’t want to be in. Is that where you’re heading, Mac?”
“Yes, Al. After reviewing the data of this case I now understand the usage some people on Earth mean when the say the word ‘politics’ as a swear word. A woman who didn’t want to enter the Lottery was placed in the system against her will, and then basically kidnapped to go when her name came up. It seems the people involved have worked out how to use the file details to affect the computer evaluation. One of those involved in the plot has to have had access to her medical records, and another has to have been on the selection panel to get the file entered. However, we don’t know who did it. We hope the woman can tell us.”
“To ask her you need her back here, right?”
“Yes. But she doesn’t want to come back. Also, she’s made changes in her area to make it hard for her to qualify for rescue, and for anyone to bring her back. Of the Heroes who stand a chance of bringing her back you’re the only one whose career has started since she went to Chaos. So she not only doesn’t know what you look like, she has no, or almost no, information about you at all. That gives you an edge on her. I also think you having such a large team with you will stop her from thinking of you as being a Hero there to bring her back.”
“Before I say yes or no I want a good briefing about her. I need to know the high points plus her skills, not her full history. OK?”
“Hilda is the best military strategist Cassandra has seen in generations who is also a great tactician. The troops she commands are loyal. She was in line to be the next Planetary Commander, until her number came up in the Lottery, and she got shipped to Chaos. Hilda was never one to play politics, but her main rival has always been heavily involved in politics. As best as we can work out Hilda’s sister applied to the Lottery, and there isn’t a file on her in the system. We believe someone swapped Hilda’s file for her sister’s file. Because the only people who could’ve got access to Hilda’s full medical file is a small group which includes her main rival. The appointment of the new Planetary Commander has been deferred until after the Selection Committee can find out how Hilda ended up on Chaos after going to sleep in her quarters on a military base. One thing few people know is the top people have tracking devices that also give us their basic health information. So when that was accessed we know she was moved off base and shipped to Chaos while in a drugged sleep. That was enough for the Selection Committee Chair to put a hold on the process. The full Senate wants a decision made, but they can’t act until after the matter comes back out of the committee. So it’s a stalemate. One of the Senators has asked we do what we can to get Hilda home.”
“That explains how she got there. Now we have two problems. First is to make contact, then to bring her back. Second is to get her removed from the Damsel Register.”
“Why remove her from the Damsel Register, Al?”
“I gather she doesn’t want to have a baby, which is why she didn’t apply in the first place. Thus it’s likely she’s setting up to not come back so she doesn’t have to have a baby. If we can get that part taken out of the equation she may agree to return, instead of fighting it.”
“Al, no one has thought of that aspect, and I think you’re right. I had the full file checked, and the signature on the application is an obvious forgery, so we can apply to have the application voided due to forgery. If the courts agree it means she’s no longer a Damsel, so the rest of the rules no longer apply to her. Good thinking, Al.”
“Once she’s out of the Damsel list she becomes a Lost Companion, because she isn’t a native of Chaos, as that’s the only category left for her. As a Lost Companion I can bring her back to Crossroads. Now, what’s the local situation where she is?”
“If you look at the map of the island you’ll see there are only three places where you can reach the sea. Two are the ports on each end of the island, and the third is the beach in the middle of the island. The ports are deep and are well defended harbours, while the beach is protected by a large patch of coral creating a wide barricade between the headlands. The beach is great for swimming plus some people fish in those waters. The coral comes so close to the surface no ships can sail over it, not even at high tide, and there are a number of dangerous animals like sharks who inhabit the waters on the ocean side of the coral, along with some unpleasant inhabitants of the coral that make the Puffer Fish look nice in what they do to you. Thus the only way to get on the island is by the ports or the banks in each port. Hilda has taken control of one port and the Brotherhood’s associates have the other port. Both have armed guards in the banks watching for people arriving by the portals. Both give all arrivals a thorough check, and they enslave many they don’t trust. Both also have a Damsel as a prisoner. We’d like you to bring all three back, if you can. To add to the problem the Brotherhood is building a large army in the area around their port so they can attack and capture the other port to control the entire island. Take your time examining the situation, and give me an answer as soon as you can, please, Al.”
“I’ll look at it Mac. However, I want a full detailed map of the island that’s bigger than the one on the screen, and I want a map of the entire coast as well as one of all the other islands to see if I can arrive elsewhere then make a safe trip to the island after getting ready.”
Two large 3D maps appear in the room so I can study them. Mac’s name vanishes from the box, so I know he’s leaving me to think on this. I’ve already worked out how to get onto the island, I just need to find a suitable place to prepare my force and to launch the invasion from.
An examination of the island shows it to be made of three plateaux with high ridges between them, while the bulk of the shore is high cliffs which are too vertical for anyone to climb, except experienced climbers. The lagoon like beach area has an almost triangular shaped flat area of grass with low scrub behind it rising at an angle to the height of the middle plateau taking up almost half of the island. Each of the ports is on the edge of a plateau of about a quarter of the island. The areas around the ports are all farmland while the middle plateau is a mix of farmland, and forest. Near the centre of the middle plateau is forested low ridge. The areas on each side of it have many roads leading to the nearest port, while there are only a few small trails into or through the forest on the ridge. A very close look of the low ridge shows it’s rough ground and not suitable for clearing to farm, which also explains why no roads are there.
Both ports are the same basic layout of a circle with a section cut out where the bay entrance is. Most of the sides of the bay are very steep cliffs with a lot of housing built onto and into them. Directly opposite the entrance is a sloped area leading up to the plateau behind the port. On the edge of the plateau is a citadel wall marking a clear break between the port and the farmlands of the plateau. Inside the wall are buildings and roads with docks along the edges of the bay. Strong forts are on each side of the entrances of each port with a couple of small island forts in the entrance as well. There are chains and nets strung from one fort to the next. The contours show the ports have deep channels between the forts, so any can be used to allow ships through. But a close examination shows the blocking chains and nets are set so only the ones near the main forts can be removed to allow shipping through. Good security.
It’s obvious both of the ports were built with high security in mind, and from the same basic plan. They can defend well from attack from both the sea and the land, so I wonder how the Brotherhood’s forces were able to take one port, but the same tactics didn’t work on the other port.
Turning to Merry I ask, “Does the map have the data to show mineral deposits like where high iron sand is, bog iron areas, and good pottery clay? Also, can you find the history of the target island, please?”
Merry types on the keyboard while she says, “The short history of the ‘Brothers Island’ is both ports were built by two brothers who controlled their ends of the island, and they used the same master mason to design the ports with their defences. Thus the main points are the same in both. Since then the control of both ends of the islands have changed hands many times. Recently one end went to a system where the top merchants controlled the islands through a committee, and the Brotherhood’s allies bought the manager, so they were able to infiltrate and capture the port. The other was controlled by an old man who recently died. Hilda entered the power gap and took control. She keeps the port secure, but that’s all, because many of the farmers don’t trust her.” Some locations start appearing on the map, and she says, “Recently Mac started supplying the information he has from the satellites on metals, and also various other mineral like some sands and clays. Also, I was always told Chaos has no iron ore, yet he now shows a few mines. Including one in your area of control I’m sure wasn’t there before.” I smile while I wonder how and why Mac gave me an iron mine.
While moving to look at the map with the islands near it I say, “Next time I have a mission near that area I’ll need to have a map of it, and the other useful minerals in the area.” I look at all the islands. Most of them have a bank on them somewhere, and a couple have a more than one bank, but none of them have much in the way of other minerals. I move my attention to the east coast of the mainland while asking, “Merry, can you please show me the usual ocean currents and winds, please?” They soon appear on the map as blue and white arrows. I see no point in trying to do something at a mainland port if it’s hard to get to the island from the port selected. I notice one port well to the south that has good currents and winds to near the islands, plus it has some minerals near it.
Touching the image of the port city with my finger expands the port and its surrounding area. When I touch the image and move my fingers in the way Merry tells me to move them the details of the map area appear in a text screen beside them. I like how they’re developing this project for ease of use by people. The port is on the shore with an area of farmland behind it, but the port is under siege by a large bandit group wanting to expand. The good news is the only way into the farmland is via a narrow pass in the mountains which are an extension of the mountains with the dragons. So once the bandits are defeated the area can be safely secured. This will make a great base in the south, and could easily expand north up along the mountain range to merge with the Grassy Meadows area later.
I spend a couple of hours examining the port and the lands around it before saying, “I’ll take the mission, and enter through this port. I hope the situation on the island isn’t desperate, because I’ll need to spend some weeks at the port to prepare for the invasion of the island while I also subdue the bandit force, secure control of the lands to the pass, create a military force and group to construct a citadel wall to secure the pass.”
Mac is talking to Al seconds after Merry enters the rescue acceptance into the system. They discuss the delays Al will have, and what he plans to do while at the port. The discussion ends with Mac saying, “In a way the delay while you prepare on the planet will be good. It’ll give me more time to deal with the political issues here and on Cassandra. You’ll be happy to know this won’t happen again, because Mistress Eva has put in a requirement for a new AI to contact the applicant, verify the person is who they say they are, verify the content of the application, and to conduct a formal interview before an applicant is included in our system. Due to it being a verification at this end the people on Cassandra can’t interfere with it, and they can’t stop it happening, despite how hard they object to it happening. We now wonder why they’re so against us doing that, which makes us wonder how many others are in the system due to such behaviour. While we’re reviewing how and where we place the Damsels on Chaos we’re also contacting all the applicants still in the system to verify who they are and their applications. I suspect we’ll find a few people who’ll be surprised to find they’re in the Lottery.”
“Due to the way the politicians are objecting, I’m sure you will, Mac.”
We talk some more about how ready my people are, and we agree to delay the transfer to Chaos for a week while we work on the fighting skills of some of my people.
Before we finish Mac says, “By the way, Al. It was a good thing you removed the strings from those little bows you have. Switch wondered why you had so many small sticks, and he bumped it to me. Since they didn’t look like bows he didn’t know what they were. I recognised what they are, but the way they are right now makes them sticks, shaped and grooved sticks, but sticks. So I passed them with your fancy walking sticks which also make good fighting sticks. He did mention the small ceramic knives, but Switch approved them because he recognised them as being knives for eating, and not for fighting. The rounded point was what decided him. You made a good choice to go with that design.”
I smile at recognising I got caught, but I was allowed to get away with my importations while I say, “Switch?”
“Yes, Switch. That’s the name the AI in charge of the portal transport system chose as a name soon after we brought him in to look after it. I was spending too much time dealing with enquiries from the computers in charge of the portals so we brought in a new AI to control them all. When he found out we all had names he did some research and chose Switch, because he’s switching people from place to place. He says he’s happier to be working here with us than where he was working before. I now wonder how the use of names for AIs will spread through the rest of our societies. I like the idea, but I’m sure some won’t.” I laugh at the idea of an AI revolution caused by selecting names.
Ten days later we’re all back in the portal room with our packs on, and ready to go to Chaos. I’ve some more telescopes Mac made for me when I asked for them. I also have several cloth maps of the island, and the area I’m planning to take away from the bandit gang. We join hands, and I enter the portal.