Aysha woke to fingertips running through her short white hair, shuffling the blood red ends as they moved down toward her neck. The effect was perfect, light with just a little scratch of fingernails, complete with a delicate thumb tracing the edge of one of her pointed ears.
“No, Ellyne,” she said.
The fingers hesitated.
“So sure? Not even time for a little tumble?”
“You had your tumble.”
“I did. And I want more. It’s not often I get Prime’s first bitch in my bed. It was just as thrilling as I remembered.” The fingers resumed their stroking.
Aysha caught the hand and pushed it away, then pushed herself up with her other arm and met Ellyne’s gaze. Black-irised eyes framed by hair as white as her own, but without the red tips, traced her muscled body, lingering on the curve of her chest, then met Aysha’s eyes and twinkled.
“Shower with me. Five minutes.”
“You’d make it twenty. No.”
“Such discipline.” Ellyne withdrew her hand.
“You should learn some.” Aysha sat up and looked for her battlesuit. Ellyne had found her on her way back to her room, still full of adrenaline from the battle, and Aysha hadn’t made it to a change of clothes. “I have a packsister to check on, three damaged anchors in repair, and a planning session with Prime, all before noon. Catch me on another day and you might get a repeat performance.”
Aysha spotted a leg of the gray suit sticking out from under the bed and pulled it out. It would smell a little, but if she hurried she could probably pick up a set of clean fatigues from her room. She shook the suit out, stepped through the zippered hole in the back, and began pulling it on a leg at a time.
“You and duty, never parted. Some wonder if you’re just trying to make it into the First Mother’s bed.”
Aysha froze, right booty halfway on.
“Careful, Ellyne, or the next time you stick that tongue in my mouth I might keep it.”
“Hmph. I don’t seriously think that. But I have trouble seeing any other reason why someone would try as hard as you do on this nowhere landbridge surrounded by lazy stick-brains in one direction and radioactive wasteland in the other.”
Aysha chuckled, finished pulling the suit up over her arms and chest, and drew the zipper up her back by the long pullcord. Covered up, she shot the other warsister a smile.
“Of course you do. That’s why I’m first bitch and you’re just a good thash.”
Aysha finally made it out of the warriors’ barracks wearing a clean set of forest-green fatigues and a padded brown jacket. Cold salty air bit her face as she crossed the concrete walkway heading East to the administrative circle of the base. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the chill of a winter in Irtralla, but it was still enough to be uncomfortable. She gathered the jacket closer around herself and walked faster.
The sound of autocannon fire attracted her attention. She glanced to the North, where the gray concrete walls of the Arena rose from the low grass covering most of the base. A projected video covering one section of the wall showed two anchors fighting within.
Probably males competing for the right to mate. Once again she wondered if she should give one of them a try. Several of her packsisters had recommended the experience. But… the First Mother would just take it as an excuse to ask her why she hadn’t contributed a child yet.
She pushed ahead even faster, giving a nod to a blue-and-white-haired mechsister she passed going the other way. When she reached the administrative circle she turned North into the ten-story gray-walled medical complex. Past the automated sliding doors a woman with gold-tipped hair serving as a receptionist pointed her to the number four recovery room on the second-floor when she asked after her packsister.
“Dr Teln called in the outsider for the surgery,” the receptionist said. “He should still be here. I’ll page him so he can meet you in the recovery room and discuss your packsister.”
Aysha pursed her lips at that bit of information. Oh well. If Doctor Teln had thought the outsider better equipped to do the surgery, it was not a warsister’s place to argue. She headed for the recovery room. On the way there she passed many women with the emerald-tipped white hair of nurses, but only one with the dark forest green of a doctor. That woman was not Doctor Teln, and didn’t know where she might be. There were also men with emerald-tipped hair, but none of them dared look up to meet her eyes as she passed them.
Aysha opened the door to recovery room 2-4 and stepped inside. The long room had freestanding curtained alcoves running along both sides, enough to handle the wounded from a sizeable battle all on its own, but most of those alcoves had the curtains drawn back and were empty. An olive-skinned Okendan man stood next to one that wasn’t, with a hospital e-tablet in hand. He tilted an ear her way as she entered, but continued scanning through information on the tablet.
“Commander Theron,” Doctor Sundrin KarKannek said as she approached him. A moment later he glanced up. Blue eyes met hers, unusual in a face that had all the aristocratic arch of a proper high-tree Imperial. Aysha felt her teeth grind for a moment at his boldness, but let it pass. This was Sundrin, the outsider, and he was always polite. He dropped his eyes a moment later and stepped aside so she could take his place at the foot of the bed.
“How is Jirin?” She looked at the unconscious woman, white hair tipped with red like her own, tubes running to her arms and mouth, and her visible body swathed in bandages.
“It took most of the night, but she is stable. The round struck her tenth rib on the right side, shattering it, breaking the two ribs above, and sending splinters into her right lung. If the shot had been five centimeters further in, the cavitation probably would have killed her, but as it is, she should be healed up in three months.”
Aysha glanced at him. Like most of her sisters, she didn’t know what to make of the strange Imperial who had come to the region as a “missionary doctor”. However, the First Mother had been satisfied with his explanation of coming to serve the civilians and had only demanded that he be on call for the warsisters at any time. According to the doctors among the medsisters, his training was superior to theirs, having come not only from a full medical school, but from the finest one in the capital of the Imperium. Despite that, the fact that he was an Imperial doctor, and a male, still made all the warsisters nervous about getting treated by him.
Although, their opinions had a tendency to change when it actually happened.
“Will she be able to fight again?”
He glanced at Jirin, then at his tablet.
“We had to pull the remains of the tenth rib, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If we had a bone printer… Well. No matter. The mechsisters are printing up a titanium prosthetic. I’ll put it in once she’s a little further along. After that, she should be moving well in three months and battleworthy in four or so.
Aysha nodded, satisfied. Jirin was her third. She would have difficulty finding another sister with her level of skill for a long-term replacement, but if it was only for four months she could manage.
“Can you wake her?”
Aysha saw a twitch in one of his ears as he went very still. When he looked up at her his disapproval was only just barely covered with respect.
“For her sake, Commander, I would greatly prefer not to. I have her electronically sedated right now and could probably wake her for a few minutes if necessary, but it would be best if she could remain under for the next three days, until her body has begun to heal.”
Aysha held his gaze, but saw only the concern any doctor had when someone risked harm to one of their patients.
She nodded again.
Aysha wanted to tell Jerin about the victory, that the Imperials had abandoned their dead command tank and retreated. Her anchor had switched to full autopilot less than thirty seconds after leaving the battle and she had been unconscious when they made it back, so she likely wasn’t aware of how it ended. Not knowing wouldn’t sit well with her. But healing was more important.
“Make a note that she’s to receive priority messages when she wakes. I’ll have a battle report waiting for her.”
“Of course.” Dr Sundren made another entry on his tablet before pocketing it in his labcoat.
“And see that she doesn’t fall for you. I’ve heard of quite a few sisters who’ve passed through your hands only to become distracted by man-lust.”
He let out a tired sigh. “I do have a fan club, it seems. I assure you, Commander, I keep my relationships with patients professional. You will get your packsister back as best I can deliver her.”
Aysha couldn’t help cracking a faint smile at that. The attention of some of those “fans” had been described along with words like “ambush”. Also, “disappointment”. It seemed Sundrin was a bit harder to drag off to bed than the typical stick-brain male.
Aysha left the room and found the doctor following her. She ignored him until she got to the door out of the medical complex and found him still behind. She stopped and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m not following you,” he said with a polite smile. “Unless you’re going to the anchor bay right now.”
“Ah. Then I’ll walk with you? If that’s acceptable.”
She stared at him, but he just absorbed it, waiting. For a moment she felt the urge to grab him by the neck and shake him, scream at him to get off her base and away from her sisters. No. This was Sundrin. Imperial or no, male or no, he hadn’t done anything to deserve that.
“Of course,” she said, and walked through the sliding doors.
Around the medical center and 300 meters to the Northeast, close to the walls of the arena, were the anchor bays, all one-hundred of them, five rows deep and fifty long. Bay One belonged to Dingo pack. Like all the bays it was essentially a three-story post and beam barn covered in aluminum. The farmers of the isthmus had helped the Warsisters design and build them five years after the Night of Storms. It was amazing what an army of anchors could make with the equivalent of giant hand tools.
The wide double doors for anchors were open so Aysha walked through them, Sundrin a step behind her.
Tria Irtrinin, Dingo Pack’s chief mechanic, was located at her desk to the right side of the doors, booted feet up on the dark wood surface, cup of hax steaming in a holder on her chair, reader obscuring her face. Although none of Tria’s underlings would ever be caught occupying their boss’s desk this early in the morning, Aysha recognized her by the blue-tipped white ponytail she saw running down over one shoulder of the mechsister’s gray overalls. She had started on the unusual hairstyle two years back and now it was really starting to stand out.
The moment the woman set down her reader and looked Aysha’s way her plain face turned up and glowed. The change was so total that Aysha almost stopped walking. She had seen Tria smile before, once or twice, but this… Who was this?
Tria’s eyes flicked to Aysha and the expression vanished like a light had been turned off.
Sundrin. She had been looking at Sundrin.
Was Tria one of the women chasing after him?
She glanced at the Doctor and caught him smoothing away a similar smile.
Maybe more than chasing…
Aysha pushed it away. If Tria was bedding the outsider, it wouldn’t cause much of a stir. He wasn’t a mechanic, but there was no denying his intelligence and general aptitude. He wouldn’t destroy Zdar Army’s mechsister bloodline.
Aysha kept from clenching her fists. She needed her chief mechanic, especially with the Imperials moving in, and couldn’t afford to lose her brain to man-lust or her body to babymaking. She thought again about throwing the outsider out, or perhaps shooting and burying him, but antagonizing Tria would be worse than losing her for a few months while she finished up a birth. Mechsisters had a wide latitude in who they worked for. If she did anything to genuinely anger Tria, the mechanic could just leave Aysha’s pack for another.
This would take a tactful conversation to find out just what the relationship was and how problematic it might be. Later.
“Are you here to see Chief Mechanic Irtrinin?” Aysha asked Sundrin.
He jumped just a little, then shook his head. “I have to go over some life support stats with her, but that business can wait, Commander. You first, of course.”
Definitely cause for a conversation. Later.
She walked up to Tria’s desk, where Tria was now sitting up with her boots on the floor. Tria slid a reader across the desktop without saying anything. That was typical Tria. Not that twinkle eyed, grinning…
Aysha picked up the reader and looked at it. Her own anchor was already repaired. Iski’s would be by the noon lunchbreak. Jirin’s was waiting on some new circuit boards for the main computer, some skeletal replacements for the right interior, and a whole new upper glacis plate. Completion on all that, four days with installation. The other three anchors in the pack has just needed a few minor plates replaced and their anti-laser and camouflage layers touched up.
At least Tria didn’t appear to be slipping. Aysha stopped herself from glancing at the male standing next to her.
“Jirin won’t need her anchor for a few months, so you can move the parts to low priority and save the hassle. I’ll pull a temp in if we have to go out again.”
Aysha set the reader back on the desk and studied Tria’s face. She was attractive, somewhat, in the thin, short way of mechsisters. Some liked that. But Aysha couldn’t think of a quieter person that she had contact with. When would she have even run into Sundrin?
She had a debriefing with Prime. This was not an important thing to be thinking about.
She thanked Tria, turned, and left her and the outsider alone.
Ten steps outside the door she swiveled one ear back.
“I didn’t expect you to actually make it here this soon,” Tria gushed. “Tuning the life support isn’t a big priority. You could have waited. You probably have more important things to do in town.”
“Of course I came. And I got called in for Jirin, so my civilian schedule was already on hold.”
“How is she?”
From there the conversation became about Jirin and her treatment, but the first part… Tria’s voice had been the voice of a woman in love. And as far as Aysha could tell, Sundrin’s matched it.
She shook her head, swiveled her ear forward, and pushed on to the administration tower.
Aysha stepped out of the elevator into the windowed rotunda holding the First Mother’s office and personal briefing room. The room had come with the fifty story administration building, which had belonged to the Rakash Darr the sisters had taken Emprin from two hundred years before. He had been absent at the time, him and most of his military deployed elsewhere by the Emperor, so he had probably minded a great deal, but at least he hadn’t ended up dead. Considering the view the office gave of the base and the surrounding city, he had either been very egotistical, or very proud of his province.
Mesra Vrayl, First Mother of Zdar Army and affectionately known as Zdar Prime, was enjoying that view, standing right up at the northern windows in parade rest. She freed one hand to wave Aysha up beside her, then clasped it at her back again.
Aysha approached, stopping three steps back and assuming parade rest herself. She wondered what the First Mother was looking at. She followed the crimson-haired woman’s gaze out across the shining aluminum humps of the anchor and vehicle bays, past the high interdiction towers scattered about protecting against missiles and artillery, beyond the high fence making the borders of the base, over the skyscrapers and harex-tree towers of the city, and up the forested and terraced hillsides to the sharp mountains of the isthmus where most of the factories were hidden.
“Two hundred years ago Mother sent us here to take this province three weeks before the Night of Storms,” the First Mother said. “We still don’t know why, and now it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that after the Night of Storms, my many-times blessed predecessor chose to work with the people of this land so that all would survive. Without the muscle of our anchors, the power from our generators, and the replacement parts that only we had the equipment to make, the people of this land would have starved by the millions that winter. And without them, we would have done the same.”
She looked away from the window and met Aysha’s eyes. Those eyes had seen over fifty years, and were starting to show it around the edges, but her obsidian black irises were still hard as tank armor. The First Mother looked back out over the city a moment later.
“Since then, we have defended this land against the pirate kings and rogue rakash darrs, as well as rescuing in storms and floods, hunting down wild animals, and even raising barns and plowing fields. WE have buried our hands in the dirt of this land alongside its people and helped it prosper, and in return this land and those people have fed us and clothed us and given us daughters that are the envy of the homeland. This is our land, Aysha, and these are our people, and now that child-murdering daughter-thashing stick-brain Orlin thinks he can come here and take it from us and plant himself over the work of our hands.”
The First Mother turned to face Aysha all the way. Aysha could have sworn that there were flames snapping in her eyes.
Aysha bowed her head and saluted with her right fist on her chest.
“At ease, Commander Theron. I’ve read your after action report. Is there anything you’d like to add to it now that you’ve had some rest?”
“No, First Mother. Only that I still can’t figure out why they came. Except for the one attempt to retake Emprin fifty years after the Storms, the Imperium itself has mostly left us alone. We haven’t had attacks on the mainland side from anyone but the bordering rakash darrs for over a century.”
The First Mother nodded.
“The Imperium has had too many internal concerns to risk wading through our entire army for a few factories and a radioactive wasteland. From what our analysts tell me, that should still be the case.”
She turned away from Aysha and led the way to a holographic map table, painstakingly restored after the Storms and maintained over the centuries. With a wave of her hand it woke and displayed the isthmus, tinting Warsister land purple and pirate and rakash darr land orange. Uncomfortably close to the mainland border, clusters of red with Imperial insignias and attached force estimates showed temporary Imperial bases that had gone up in the past week. The location of Aysha’s engagement was marked in blue, twenty kilometers inside the border of what the Warsisters considered their land. Another mark, ten kilometers south of the first, showed a second engagement that had taken place over night. From the brief figures attached, Jackal pack had come back short two units.
“Commander Nemellian ran into a force similar to the one you did, but with a wiser commander. They had seismic sensors deployed and were waiting in full cover when she made her first pass. We think a railtank took out her anchor and one other.”
Aysha felt sick and cold at the same time. Mila Nemellian had been one of the older and smarter commanders as well as a friend.
“Death is certain, victory isn’t,” Aysha said, the traditional response to deaths in battle. The phrase felt empty.
The First Mother gave a brief nod, but didn’t give the traditional response that victory with death was worth the cost.
“Yesterday, Imperial forces under Rakash Darr HarMakeg began an invasion of Ambrin.” The First Mother scrolled the map to the north, revealing the peninsula controlled by the kingdom of Ambrin, once an Imperial province. The kingdom was tinted in yellow, but there were huge red Imperial forces just inside its borders, as well as a few deep within. “From what we can see with our satellite, they’ve been taking King ArPeleg’s super-artillery intact by nerve gassing bases.”
Aysha hissed. News about Ambrin had spread through the base a few hours before her mission, but there had been no mention of nerve gas then. Ancient treaties between the Empire and Irtralla had forbidden the practice along with biological weapons of all kinds. This was how the new emperor practiced war? By murdering whole cities? And the artillery…
“Most of that artillery can reach us,” Aysha said.
The First Mother nodded.
“All of that artillery can reach us. And when King ArPeleg gives up, HarMakeg will have all the coastal artillery as well.” She swept her hand along a number of military sites marked on the peninsula’s southern coast.
“Our interdiction towers can deal with that.”
“For now. But HarMakeg, or Orlin, more likely, must have some idea of a way around our defenses. If he can bring that artillery down on us, we won’t be able to stop an invasion.”
Aysha felt a shiver run along her spine and tightened the muscles in her belly to steady herself. The First Mother had called her here for a reason. She had a plan.
“Right now, the best we can do is disrupt the Imperials’ efforts and prevent them from deploying a stable force.” The First Mother moved the view back down to Warsister territory and centered it over Aysha’s last engagement site. “I’m giving you full authority over fifty anchor packs, four squads of tanks, and four companies of powered armor.”
Aysha tightened her hands behind her back as she heard the numbers.
“I’ve already informed the tank and troop commanders, but I’m leaving the selection of the anchor packs to you. I’m sure you can assemble a force that will work well together.”
“What will we be doing, First Mother?”
The First Mother placed a finger on the Imperial camps just outside the borders and bared her teeth, showing off pronounced canines.
“You will head out into the Eastern lowlands, and destroy everything there that doesn’t belong to us.”
This chapter is part of the in-progress serial web novel The Unbroken Blade, intended to be book one in The Shattered Empire trilogy, and features a mix of sci-fi and thematic elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki or Isaac Hooke’s Atlas series and sci-fi combat classics such as Mechwarrior/Battletech and Gundam. The story is rich with battle and conflicts of honor and conscience arising around a civil war on the forested world of Dankar, far from our own, but is primarily focused on how the main characters deal with the challenges they face, not their machines or their world. Follow this blog to receive each chapter as soon as it is released. Like and share to give me a shot of encouragement. Full chapter updates on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.