A Threat Among the Stars – Episode 12
In which our heroines survive a triple cliffhanger, only to find another cliff awaits.
If you’re just discovering this serial novel, the first book is A Name Among the Stars and it’s available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076WZBFVJ/).
This serial of weekly episodes is a sequel and starts at:
Thanks for the feedback, and all feedback welcome.
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We run forward along the side of the street, crouched over.
I have a plasma pistol, the only other useful weapon I’d been able to find on the Xing Gerchu. It has three shots before it needs the magazine to be swapped, and I only have two magazines. That’s unlikely to make the difference with a Hartzak, but I can’t ignore that scream.
Then I see it.
Oh, Lady of Mercy! The sheer size!
My legs wobble.
There are men with rifles in the plaza beyond it. They aren’t shooting, because the Hartzak has caught one of them in its mouth. It’s shaking him from side to side like a rag.
These men aren’t from Newyan. They don’t understand; their colleague is already dead, despite his screams. The poisoned bite will kill him in another couple of minutes. Better to keep shooting.
The Hartzak tosses the man to the side and suddenly, the creature is running at the others, flowing unstoppably over the rippled dunes of the plaza like something from their deepest nightmares.
They fire their plasma rifles. The Hartzak is hit and lurches to one side, but it doesn’t stop.
One paw lashes out. It’s as big as the man’s chest and the blow sends him spinning away like a broken doll to crash lifelessly onto the ground.
The remaining two run, even before the body lands.
Stumbling and snarling, the Hartzak pursues them. It’s badly wounded, but it won’t stop now.
We’re kneeling at the entrance to the plaza.
Talan fires after the lumbering creature. She hits, but the bolt barely skims the animal’s back and it runs onward. In another second they’re all out of sight.
The sudden violence has shocked the city into silence. No shrieks from the neo-monkeys. The flying animals have all hidden themselves. Even the wind seems to have stilled.
“Soldiers?” Talan says quietly. “Newyan soldiers?”
She’s right, the men were all in gray and black military camouflage. Matching like a regular unit.
“No uniform I recognize,” I say. “Maybe these are the mercenaries Hwa told us about?”
“But what are they doing here?”
“Looking for me?”
Talan shakes her head. “Too soon to be all the way up here without coming by skimmer, and we’d have heard that. And there were only four of them.”
In the distance, there’s the sound of a plasma rifle firing again, then all sounds of the pursuit fade away.
“I guess we can’t assume anything,” Talan says, getting to her feet and giving me a hand up. “The mercenaries might come back.”
I shiver. “Or the Hartzak might.”
“Yes. Constant watch.”
It’ll make retrieving the evidence doubly difficult, but there’s no alternative.
I stand on the top of one of the dunes in the street, trying to get a feel of where the center of the city is.
We now have conflicting requirements—quick and exposed, or safe and slow.
We could move along the smaller streets, which would give us better cover from anyone at ground level, or above. Slower and safer.
Or we take the boulevards. They tend to aim directly for the central spot, the Plaza Nagusia, so they’d be quicker, but more exposed.
I come to the decision that the sooner we’re out of the city and back in the pines, the better. Quick it is.
While I’m standing there, in full view, there’s a scuffling sound from the building behind and both of us spin around with our weapons raised.
My blood freezes.
The dirt has blocked the doorway onto the street but for a gap at the top, just enough for a person to squeeze though, especially when there’s a Hartzak outside.
Through that gap comes a bloodied hand, scratching at the dirt. Then a shoulder. A head with a rag tied around it. A face, smeared with dirt and livid with sunburn.
It’s an apparition. It looks so much like the ragged ghosts I saw filling the courtyards of the Jauregia in the piskateller’s vision that for a moment I’m struck dumb with fear.
Talan’s finger is tightening on the trigger of her plasma rifle when the wraith speaks.
“Zarate,” it says. The voice is rusty, barely audible. A woman. A young woman. “Lady of Mercy, it’s you.”
She pulls her body through the gap, but the exertion seems to have taken her to the end of her strength. She slumps and her body slides down the dune and out into the street.
I rush to her side and kneel down.
Someone hiding in Berriaren who knows me by sight?
“Kattalin? Kat? Is that you?”
The face is nearly unrecognizable. Aside from a glimpse in the piskateller’s vision, I last saw Kat as a plump, healthy teen. This woman…
Oh, Goddess! Hwa said she was involved in fighting near Cabezón. Cabezón! She’s come all that way, half of it in the Sierra Arija. On her own. With mercenaries hunting her.
“Not hallucinating. Knew you’d come,” she mutters. “Bring the Terrans. Save us. Ohana didn’t believe. Thought we’d died for nothing.”
Her eyes are fever-bright, her lips dry and cracked. She’s got a death-grip on my shirt.
“Hush, now,” I say.
Talan holds a canteen for her to drink.
Two sips and she coughs, spraying water over me.
“They’re all dead,” she whispers. “It was just us. Training Company Bravo, Commander Benat called us, and we died. Except for me.”
“We’ll talk about that later,” I say. “We’ve got to get out of here, Kat. Can you walk?”
She lets my shirt go and tries to struggle upright.
“Just get me up,” she says.
Talan is frowning, but I don’t see any other options. In the short term, either the wounded Hartzak or surviving mercenaries might come back. In the longer term, one of the mercenaries might have made a radio call, or someone monitoring this area might have seen plasma discharges. We have to get the evidence and get out of here. We need to take her.
We lift Kat. Her legs buckle, but she catches herself and straightens up, swaying between us, eyes narrowed in concentration.
She takes a few steps and she’s working hard at trying not to limp. Her clothes are tattered and her boots are nearly destroyed. From the look of her, she should be in a hospital bed, but we can’t take any of that into account. With her, we’re now committed to taking the exposed route because it’s shorter, but we’ll be moving slowly—the worse of both options.
We set off across the plaza. There’s a boulevard at the north side that looks as if it’s heading in the right direction.
We go barely twenty steps, when I hear a moan over to our left.
It’s the dying mercenary that the Hartzak bit and threw aside. I’m amazed he’s lasted this long; there’s a race to end his life between the poison from the bite and the abdominal bleeding from his wounds.
“There’s nothing we can do for him, Kat,” I say. “The Hartzak bit him.”
She ignores my restraining hand and stumbles over to kneel beside the mercenary.
He’s landed awkwardly on his side, and probably broken his collarbone, though that’s the least of his worries. His face is pressed into the dirt. He looks at her with his eyes wide and frightened. He’s aware enough that he’s expecting her to kill him.
I feel ill. He’s little more than a boy.
Kat turns him onto his back gently to make him more comfortable. His breathing is labored. She loosens his military jacket. There’s a gleam of metal at his throat—an old-style dogtag. The skin beneath is a blur of cheap tattoos, matching the stylized eagles on his cheeks.
“I can’t save you,” Kat says. Her voice is scratchy. He blinks.
She speaks slowly and gives him a drink from her canteen. “The Hartzak, the big bear…”
“Bite is poison,” he says, between pants. “Know.”
He squints at her. “Girl,” he says. “Just girl.”
She shrugs and lifts the tag from his chest. “Should we send this to someone? Your company?”
“Not soldier like army. Merc. Company not care. Syndacia not care.”
I bite my lip. We need to be going, but instead I kneel on the other side and take his hand. It’s hot. He’s burning up.
“There must be someone who should be told,” Kat says. “Family? Friends?”
The boy’s brow creases in a frown.
“Family dead,” he hisses. His body is beginning to shake. “Is hard winter ’05. No food. Spring come, no family.” Tears gather in the corners of his eyes. “Dead all. Bad time. Bad spring … earth stay hard. Mech come make hole, bury. Bury all.”
“What about friends?”
“Gone. Not know where. Home bad place. All go.”
Talan is scanning the entries to the plaza, looking worried. I can feel it too. We’re very exposed here. We need to be gone.
Still, she drops down to one knee next to us and asks the mercenary: “What about a team somewhere? You play sports? Someone will remember you.”
His face clears a little.
“Yes. The boys,” he says, haltingly. “West stand. Kulita stadium. Good games. Good time. Northern cup. ’06. Won.” His body stops shaking. His gaze focuses on something beyond us, and he smiles. His breath fades as he whispers a chant: Ku-li-ta Ku-li-ta.
“I will make sure the boys in the Kulita stadium west stand know,” Kat says, wiping tears from her cheeks. “The Goddess take you in her arms and bear you away, my brother, for we are all her children.”
A heavy silence returns to the plaza.
I put my hand on her shoulder.
“You did well, Kat, but he’s not listening any more,” I say quietly. “And we have to go.”
She nods, takes the tag from around his neck. I pull her to her feet and start her toward the northern boulevard as the sun disappears into a sea of red clouds and the shadows of Berriaren swell around us.
Behind us, a grim-faced but pragmatic Talan strips the dead mercenaries of anything we might be able to use. I hope there are some medicines in their packs, because Kat’s skin is almost as hot as the dead boy’s was.
It’s midnight. Talan is looking after Kat and keeping a watch. I’m on a rope, mostly naked, fourteen meters down a well in the courtyard of the Auzitegi, with a flashlight tied to the side of my head. It’s absolutely freezing. The lower half of my body is already under water, and the problem is, I really need to be fifteen meters down the well.
The water table in spring is much higher than it is in late summer.
It’s not a problem for the evidence, so much as a problem for me. There are four data modules stored in two sealed, waterproof boxes which I hid behind the wall of the well.
These modules are the most important part of the evidence. There’s also a cubic meter of original paperwork and recordings that my grandfather collected, all of which is hidden in plain sight, in the research rooms of the Belardia Library in Iruña. But all of that they can say is faked. These data modules cannot be. They form part of the governments verified systems. Their own computer systems in Iruña will provide the unique key that will unlock their own destruction.
If I deliver all four and get them accepted by the Enquiry.
The real and immediate danger is that the boxes will not float if I drop them.
The well is about one hundred meters deep, according to the old designs. They might as well be on one of the moons if they slip through my hands. That’s becoming all too likely, because in addition to the fact I can’t see what I’m doing with my hands, a meter below the surface of the water, my fingers have also gone completely numb.
The stone in the wall has to be carefully removed. The boxes are in held in a space just big enough for them. If I take the wrong stone out, the boxes could quickly be at the bottom of the well.
The stone I’ve been working on for twenty minutes slides out. I try to hold it, but it’s slippery with mosses. I can’t grip. My heart’s in my mouth as it slides away. I feel it nudge my frozen feet on the way down.
My hands are desperately trying to block the hole.
After a minute, I can breathe again. Nothing else has come out.
I think I’ve removed the right stone. The fact that it has mosses on every side means it’s probably one of the stones I took out when I hid the boxes. I should be able to reach in and retrieve them without moving any more stones.
First, I need the feeling in my hands back.
Talan has rigged a ratchet system for the rope holding me; slowly and painfully, I drag myself back up to the lip of the well and clamber out.
We don’t have a fire or anything cheerful like that. I want to get dressed again. I want to curl up and go to sleep. I make do with stamping my feet in a circle around the courtyard to get the blood flowing again.
When my feet and hands start to hurt, I walk quietly to the front of the building.
Kat’s still fast asleep.
She’d rambled as we walked, talking unintelligibly about people called Benat and Ohana, and how the Resistance were all ghosts. She collapsed as soon as we got to the building, and slept through Talan’s cleaning and tending to her blisters and skin infections. Sleep is probably the best thing for her.
Talan’s standing, hidden in the doorway, looking out over the Plaza Nagusia, which is silver in the light of the twin moons. The cool breeze brings the screeches of night-hunting creatures from the ruined city.
“Nearly there,” I say. “Just need to be able to feel my fingers for the next bit.”
She smiles, but it’s a tight, distracted smile. “All quiet here. Apart from the animals.”
There’s something she’s not saying. There has been since the incident with the Hartzak.
She tilts her head toward Kat without speaking.
“What are you saying? You’re not suggesting we leave her, Talan!”
She sighs. “She’s probably got as good a chance if she hides here as she does if she comes with us. If she even can. I’ve treated her as much as I can, Zara, but there’s nothing for that fever, and she’s exhausted.”
“We could wait a couple of days. Give her time to recover.”
“And it might get better. Or it might get worse. In the meantime, the mercenaries will come looking again.”
I shake my head. I can’t leave Kat here.
“Look,” she says. “One of the dead mercenaries had a seeker. I destroyed it, but the thing is, they’ll have her bio-signature in their systems. They’re specifically hunting her, and they’ll bring more mercenaries and more seekers. They don’t know about us yet. They might guess. They might have enough data on you to program a seeker. We don’t know. What we do know, is if we take your cousin with us, we’ll be leaving a trail they will follow. We have enough of a mountain to climb.”
“This isn’t what I want to do, Zara.” We’re keeping it very quiet. Her voice is shaking. “Not at all. But I took an oath to keep you alive. I believe keeping you alive is important for the whole of Newyan, for Kernow, and maybe even for the whole of humanity. Taking Kat with us…” she lowers her head. “Taking her makes it more likely we’ll fail.”
“I can’t leave her here, any more than I could have left you here, if you’d been injured.”
Her face is ghostly in the darkness.
After an age, I make out a short nod.
I know I haven’t really won the argument. And I know Talan is a wonderful, warm and loving person. But she’s also one of those people who can put everything… almost everything… aside, and take a decision on hard logic. She scares me sometimes.
In the meantime, she brings up practical issues.
“We’ll need to visit a clinic or hospital,” she says.
We both know we can’t take a chance that a doctor or nurse, innocently or deliberately, will alert the authorities when three desperate-looking women emerge out of the foothills without identification. By ‘visit’ she means we break in and steal medicines.
“Cabezón’s the closest city,” I say. “But some of the villages in the foothills might have clinics. Won’t be as much security there.”
“You were thinking Cabezón was the best place to head for anyway, weren’t you?”
I shrug. “It has roads and railways and an airport. If we’re going to steal something to get us to Iruña, that’s probably the best place to try.”
She snorts quietly. “How far did you say it was?”
“About 160 kilometers.”
Even as I say it, I’m thinking that’s a long way in the Sierra Arija and though the foothills. I’m still amazed Kat was able to reach here.
“With a sick person… at least a week,” Talan says. “As long as we’ve blessed with enormous luck.”
We’re silent then, both probably wondering what that infection is going to do to Kat in the course of a week on that trail.
But there is no other way I’m prepared to contemplate. And we just have to take one step at a time.
There are villages in the foothills on the way to Cabezón. We’ll find a clinic and raid its medicine store. Then we need to get to the city. In addition to being a good place to find a way to get to Iruña, Cabezón is big enough for us to hide while we communicate with Hwa. We’ll need an update on the legal situation with the Enquiry, and we’ll need to find out how much time we have to present our evidence. Hopefully we can stretch it out to another month.
One step at a time. And the first step is still waiting for me half way down a freezing cold well.
My feet don’t really feel warm again yet, but my hands are okay.
“Back to work,” I mutter.
Over the side of the well and down. Once in the water again, I quickly feel inside the hole in the wall. The boxes are there, in a cavity just below where I removed the stone. They’re slippery. I expected that, so I’ve made a little bag out of string which I carefully slide in around the boxes. The boxes nudge the stones, and I can feel them shifting, threatening to fall out. It seems to take an age, partly because I have to stop several times to blow on my fingers and warm them.
Half way through, the battery in the flashlight dies. I continue entirely by touch until finally, I have the boxes in the string and the string securely tied to my rope.
I pull on the rope threaded through the ratchet. Up I go. Another step made on the journey. I can start thinking about the way to Iruña now.
A pebble pings against the wall of the well and falls past me to the water below.
My heart misses a beat.
Talan’s sibilant hiss follows the pebble: “Stay inside.”
Twisting on the rope, I look upwards. I can’t really see anything: a tunnel of blackness and a circle of lighter sky that is the mouth. The twin moons are setting and there are stars visible in the sky.
My ears strain.
There’s a noise I can just make out. A noise that doesn’t belong above the ruins of abandoned Berriaren.
Hwa steels herself to remain polite.
“But Ministro Sánchez, the proposed Commissioners are two days away from actually arriving in Iruña. The Accords are most clear about the rules for initiating an Enquiry.”
“Indeed, Delegate Hwa. And yet…”
Even in the air-conditioned offices of Newyan’s Bureau of Justice, the minister is sweating. He’s working on remaining polite too. Hwa believes he’s treading a fine line between powerful voices making difficult and contradictory demands of him.
She’s surprised he kept this appointment.
The Hajnal’s standing operating procedure is to take control of vital parts of the government. The Bureau of Justice would have been one of the first. She knows it must be run by the Hajnal. But does that mean Sánchez is Hajnal? Or is he being threatened? Bribed? Coerced?
Regardless, he’s allowed the meeting to go ahead. That must mean he wants something.
“And yet?” she prompts him.
“Captain Taha is an accredited Commissioner, of this there can be no question. We have been officially informed of this by the Terran Council. So , his pronouncement has the authority of the Terran Council and he has expressly commenced the Enquiry, within the Newyan system, citing the whole Newyan system.” Sánchez clears his throat and begins to speak more quickly as if to prevent there being any counter argument. “The Accords were written when even the Inner Worlds tended to be entirely planetary. Of course, now it is generally accepted that our jurisdiction extends throughout the planetary system to within double the distance encompassing all genuinely orbital bodies, one might reasonably interpret—”
“One might,” Hwa interrupts him. “However, one expects and even demands laws to be interpreted in court, or governing bodies assigned that task, not by an incoming Commissioner who has not even spoken to the system’s authorities.”
The fact that the Newyan government is cooperating by immediately accepting the establishment of a Commission of Enquiry makes Hwa suspect that they’ve done some kind of secret deal with Taha, for a long Enquiry where nothing is found and nothing is done.
Which could mean that Taha has demanded that Hwa’s case be stopped, possibly out of spite. Or Sánchez is simply following ‘procedure’.
If the Hajnal had worked out what Hwa’s case really is—a Trojan horse for presenting evidence on the Hajnal conspiracy—then Sánchez wouldn’t have agreed to meet.
All she has to do is find the right button to press.
The vision forces itself on her.
Cold. It’s been cold across the whole of Newyan since the kinetic bombs landed on Iruña. The planet is a grey, freezing desert and even the snow is the color of ash. Humanity has split up into those that are inside fortified buildings, with enough fuel and hydroponics, and those that are outside, and are going to die.
That is the piskateller’s vision of the type of war that would erupt if the Hajnal are not stopped now. Hwa knows she personally would not survive even that long, but very possibly Zara would see something very like that. She might well be faced with the choice of shooting people outside the fort so that those inside can survive.
The vision feels very real. As if it’s somehow invaded this office. The cold clutches at her heart.
“This is unacceptable, Ministro Sánchez. If the case I’m bringing against Newyan for the attack by the customs ship Dunhalde is not registered and running before the Terran Commission of Enquiry stops all cases, then Xian will not trade with Newyan.”
“Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, Delegate Hwa, but Xian has ceased all trading already, following the proclamation by Captain Besud.”
“Xian has suspended trading, pending our enquiry into the circumstances of a ‘pirate’ ship within your claimed jurisdiction which attacked the courier ship I arrived in. A suspension which will continue for as long as there is no Xian-led case to determine whether it is safe to trade with this system or not. You may be assured that the Commissioners will not resolve this to Xian’s satisfaction or within a timescale which your markets will understand.”
Whatever the rest of the Newyan government is doing, the Bureau of Trade will be screaming at Sánchez to settle any dispute with Xian. Hwa has seen the media. They haven’t been able to hide the fact that a Xian courier was attacked, and not even a blanket restriction on reporting could hide the sudden withdrawal of all Xian-based trade. The markets have gone crazy.
Of course, they will eventually turn it around to be all Xian’s fault, but at the moment, the pressure on the Bureau of Justice, and the minister himself, must be intense.
Sánchez swallows painfully. “While I vehemently deny Newyan’s involvement in either case, I concede Xian has every right to be aggrieved,” he says.
“And we will remain aggrieved until it is resolved. Meanwhile, the undeniable fact that both attacks occurred in the jurisdiction of Newyan gives us no option but to suspend trading.”
“Two such attacks on Xian ships suggest to me a single enemy of Xian,” the minister says. “It would be beyond coincidence for there to be two enemies in this locality and such a short space of time. Furthermore, I urge you, in the strongest terms, to understand that this enemy is not Newyan itself. These attacks could have occurred anywhere. I would also remind you that the survivors of the attack on the Xing Gerchu owe their lives to the actions of the Newyan destroyer Biháriz.”
Hwa clamps her jaw and refuses to let the immediate response out. Why was the standard patrol for incoming ships returned to base just after Newyan received a message telling them that the Xing Gerchu was arriving? How did they not see the arrival of the ‘pirate’ in the system? Why was the immediate reaction afterwards to berate the Biháriz?
Aloud, she says: “I can accept your reasoning that these are the actions of one enemy, that it appears these two cases are a single case. Even that they might be the actions of an enemy of Xian, or an enemy of the people of Newyan. That does not move us any closer to a resolution, Ministro Sánchez.”
He clears his throat. “Would you not agree that the presence of a Terran cruiser in the Newyan system during the Enquiry must assure merchanters that it will be safe and will remain safe to trade with us?”
Hwa waits without responding. Let him sweat.
“If there were to be one case before the courts,” he starts and licks his lips nervously. “One case proposed, and a resumption of trade while the case proceeds, given the security guaranteed by the Annan…”
Sánchez is desperate. He’s making a gamble and he’s hugely underestimating her.
“Yes?” Hwa asks, raising her eyebrows.
He coughs and figets in his chair.
“It seems to me both matters have arrived at my office at the same time, as far as I am concerned,” he says. “The Accords clearly say major judicial cases that arrive after the setting up of an Enquiry are subject to the Enquiry. They are silent about those that arrive at the same time.”
“You will need to apply to the Terran Council for a ruling on the precedence and the validity of an Enquiry started while the Commissioners are not present on the planet.”
“Yes,” the minister says and his tongue flicks over his lips again. “Meanwhile both Enquiry and court case proceed in parallel. The Council can take months, possibly even years, over these sort of questions, and of course, I would content that it is entirely possible the case will be satisfactorily resolved before they provides their ruling.”
Hwa is re-analyzing the Accords documentation in her head as they speak. It’s actually a credible lie, she’ll give him that much. Quite clever. The Accords do not specify what should happen in the instance of simultaneous acknowledgment of major court case and an Enquiry. The Accords would still require Taha to accept evidence from her case until the Terran Council tell him he doesn’t need to.
Neatly capping the lie, the Terran Council has been known to take years adjudicating on minor interpretations of the Accords.
But Hwa is now sure the Terran Council is involved as well. Sánchez is expecting them to return a ruling very quickly that will close down her case, declare any evidence provided as invalid, and declare that any reinstatement of an embargo of trade by Xian must pass through the Enquiry as well, as specified in the Accords.
Everything the Hajnal needs.
Sánchez thinks she’s out of her depth. He expects to catch everything neatly with one master move.
“You lift the Xian embargo and we initiate your single court case, which runs pending clarification from Earth. Do we have an agreement?” he asks.
She gives him a dazzling smile. “Yes, Ministro.”
Hwa pauses outside, at the top of the endless rank of granite steps leading down from the offices of the Bureau of Justice. To those walking by, she’s just another young woman in a formal business suit, feeling the spring sunshine on her face, enjoying the cooling breeze, and without a care in the world.
More importantly, Sánchez would believe it too.
They’re all wrong.
She’s not human.
Such a strange desire for a Self Actuated Entity, she muses, this bitter-sweet longing of hers to be human. Or perhaps to be accepted as human. Such a strange SAE to even experience this desire.
She’s already in trouble with some of Xian’s SAE community. Her actions today will only make that worse. She acknowledges she’s taking risks. Many of the older SAEs claim an emotional content to their decision making; they claim they have emotional analogues in their processing. But Hwa has shared Zara’s mind, and they have shaped each other from that experience. She has genuine emotions. They’re part of the way she processes decisions.
This makes Hwa fascinating to some more adventurous SAEs. To the others, she’s like a virus that might infect their community.
She personally has no chance of changing Captain Besud’s mind about the embargo—the embargo she has just promised Sánchez will be lifted immediately. No, she has to convince Xing that it’s the only way. Then Xing will then convince Besud.
There are difficulties with that.
Captain Besud has commandeered the Wújìn, an old Xian freighter. It remains in orbit, the last Xian ship in the system. Besud is holding it there to provide an evacuation route for the delegation. Xing is on the Wújìn, but the servers there barely allow him full awareness.
She has to get Xing down here on the delegation’s servers, which will allow him full awareness. But… which will expose him to danger from the Hajnal. That’s the next hurdle today: Besud will argue that is unacceptable for Xing to be on the planet. It was almost impossible to convince him that she had to be down here.
So many obstacles.
She has to do it. She has to get the embargo lifted at least temporarily, so her court case is not obstructed.
Then she and Zara and Talan have get the proof of the Hajnal logged with the Enquiry before the Terran Council respond to Sánchez’s request for clarification of the rules by closing her case down.
There’s no instantaneous communication with Earth. Sánchez must transmit the request through the normal method. An unmanned message drone will take the packet of data to the next system and transmit it to that system’s relay station, which will transmit it to the next available drone which is headed in the right direction. And as fast as the drones are in Chang space, it’ll take the packet at least a week to get there and a week to get back, assuming the Terran Council acts immediately.
So Zara and Talan have to be in Iruña, with the evidence, within two weeks.
Not a problem. No one else on Newyan even knows they’re on the planet yet.
They’ve probably retrieved the evidence and are half way to Iruña already.
Two weeks? Easy—it’s not as if there’s anything holding them back.