Sword waving self-righteous foolhardy incompetent geg-headed…
Three in this room. Get that one in the armor first.
Thwippp. Thwippp. Thwippp.
Zem made sure the last raider was down and waved Onda and Keslin into the power station’s break room. The near-invisible blackhairs flowed through the door, short-barrel railrifles sweeping the corners. They stopped at the closed door to the control room and Onda extended a fiber-cam from her powered gauntlet and slipped it under the crack.
“Five,” Onda commed. “One in powered armor. Looks like a very bored guard.”
Zem accessed the image through the tactical network. The computers running the dual pulse fusion reactors for the base lined either side of the room, with four grubby technicians in work clothes split between them. Someone in old Imperial powered armor, bulky but rugged, lounged on a crate in the back corner, blank faced helmet tilted up toward the ceiling exposing a gap under his chin. Probably relaxing and watching videos on his internal display.
Like she would be doing on a freighter somewhere if Rixken had just made the gegging deal with Ardis.
She pushed the anger away and focused.
“I’ll take the armor, you two split the others,” she commed. “Go on three.”
The blackhairs confirmed.
Zem switched her railrifle from subsonic burst to hypersonic semi-auto and settled the stock more firmly against the pauldron of her Irtrallan stealth armor. Knelt and took aim where the gap under the chin of the PA trooper would be.
“One. Two. Three…”
Keslin turned the knob on the door and opened it with a gentle push. The moment the door cleared her sight, Zem corrected to dead center on the gap and fired.
The trooper rocked back and fell over to the side.
Onda swung around the threshold and killed the technicians on the right side of the control room a moment later.
Keslin did those on the left side a heartbeat after that.
Onda moved into the control room and cleared the corners.
“Control room clear,” she commed.
Zem whistled a chord and Bristi flew down from a perch on a shelf in the breakroom. She walked in after the others and sat down at one of the stations which the technicians had kindly left up and running while Keslin took one of the others and Onda moved about placing incendiary charges. In moments Zem had control of the power distribution network. From there she piggybacked to the turret subsystems and put their backup batteries into full power dump. They’d probably catch on fire. That done, she accessed other systems on the base, and disabled as many power safeties as she could.
“Charging the power leveler,” Keslin commed. “Ready in 300 seconds.”
“Setting the incendiaries,” Onda commed.
Zem located the backup generator for the whole base and turned it on remotely, then turned on a number of other systems such as water pumps and air conditioning, running the power load for the whole network up to full. There. It was as vulnerable as she could get it.
“Ready for surge,” she commed.
Several minutes passed in which she pondered the future and her likely death. She had been sent to keep Rixken alive, and she had done that, but now he had them both running right into danger rather than away from it. Nat! How was she supposed to protect him when he was charging into the middle of a firefight he had picked for himself?
She thought of him sitting at the holotable, no longer a man crying in a jail cell but now… fierce. She had been sure he would make a deal. She had been able to smell the fear on him moments before he spoke. Then he’d spoken and his eyes had come alive, as if filled with light.
What was that?
The Sword gleamed in her memory with the same light and she knew.
He believed. Sweet suffering martyrs, he really believed.
He really was one of those Preparers.
The ones who fought for what the Teachings taught, simply because it was right.
The ones who usually died in some hopeless fight somewhere. What was she supposed to do about that?
“Surge ready,” Keslin commed.
The lights went out and a moment later the computer terminals went into automated shutdown. Everything became quiet.
That did it. The base was defenseless. They wouldn’t even be able to open the garage doors for their anchors.
Zem heard yelling outside the building.
“Let’s go. It’s time for stage two.”
They left the camp through the hole they had come in by, the power station on fire behind them, three ghosts in the moonless night drifting between crumbling buildings to the ghostly vehicles that had brought them. Keslin and Onda climbed into a specialized hoptank, while Zem climbed into the Kulal Mk4 lunger that Rixken had traded her Thundercloud Mk2 for. She had been used to the Imperial Thundercloud from her training, but the Warsister Kulal wasn’t too different, and it had a large railrifle as its central cannon. She could forgive a lot for a bigger gun.
Bristi curled on top of Zem’s duffel in an alcove behind her head while she strapped in and went through a quick system’s check. She had used up her firecells coming in, so now she would have no option but to run with the hotter pulse reactor as her powersource. She switched it on and waited ten seconds for power up.
“Move to the southern nav point,” she commed to the blackhairs and watched their eight-wheeled hoptank move out, visible only as a ripple in the air, a faint heat signature, and a green outline that her computer drew for her. She followed and they headed around to the south of the base where they had found a vantage point atop a low rise. In the few minutes it took, Zem thought of the others waiting for them to open fire and start the attack.
The mercenaries. Lead by Daneth and working practically for free. Who had ever heard of mercenaries who worked for free? But these ones were. She had heard some of them complaining, but many were eager, and the rest were fine as long as Daneth still paid them. Regardless, they were brave and effective in battle, and disciplined and polite in camp. She wondered how such an obviously elite unit could have fallen on such hard times as they appeared to. Perhaps it was because they did things like serve penniless political refugees for free.
The militia. Eight-hundred barely-trained Okendan men and women who had each been brave enough to face a Warsister in a sim-fire exercise with the pain feedback turned up to just below lethal. Some of them had crawled through agony to claim the first refurbished Imperial anchors and powered armor to come ready. All of them seemed scared, but many also glowed with eagerness, saluting and bowing every time they saw Rixken walk by. Zem still couldn’t believe that the old overkeva had begged Rixken to honor his people and accept an escort from them. Begged. On his knees. Rixken had only agreed when the militia commanders told him they needed their troops to face some actual combat before Orlin’s invasion.
The Warsisters. A full mixed-unit battalion of Mesra’s finest. They kept themselves apart from the Okendans as much as they could, but when it came to battle, they linked right up and charged in. The first day in Akati their scouts had spotted a large raider ambush and led the other forces in turning it around on them. Two hundred more anchors in salvage had headed back into Emprin for the militia project, plus giant piles of other equipment, and the surviving raiders had fled broken, quite likely to be finished off by another band of murderers now that their strength was gutted. Zem couldn’t forget the strange soaring hymns the Warsisters had sung in their camp that night.
And then the odd ones, the singles and small groups that were following along.
Like the handsome high-tree missionary doctor, who was, of course, accompanied by his wife, that bluehair mechanic. How had that happened? She had gathered they said the vows in secret and kept it from everyone but their keva, but that still didn’t explain how they had gotten to the decision in the first place. And where had that doctor wrangled a mobile field hospital from, and how had he managed to stock it with a handful of Okendan and greenhair nurses, and a greenhair doctor-in-training?
Or the apprentice keva, whitehaired and dark eyed from Warsister stock, raised in an orphanage and trained as a fair secretary as well. He had attached himself to Rixken after his Highness had put in the proposal for a militia and now was handling the bits and pieces of paperwork and accounting that were showing up even though they were technically on the run. And doing quite well at it. His mother had to have been a goldhair. And if he had failed their tests, how competent were the ones they kept?
Or the five Daughters of Charity who had shown up with a mountain of provisions donated by the people of Emprin. They had pulled the cooking staffs of the Warsisters, mercenaries, and militia into a single unified kitchen in what could only be called another miracle, and were turning out delicious East Okendan coastal cuisine every day. It was one of the few bright spots Zem could see. Death might lie in every direction, but at least she was eating well in camp.
And of course, Aysha, champion of everything barbarian. Six-feet of muscle and suppressed hostility, as anti-feminine as it was possible to be, more likely to tear a man’s head off than look at him, and totally ignorant of the beliefs and history and culture of ninety-five percent of the continent she lived on. At least she was doing her reading. And she did take her job of keeping Rixken in one piece seriously. Zem needed all the help she could get with that.
Altogether, a strange bunch to find working together against raiders in the radioactive remains of a blasted megacity. Especially to find working well. Or well enough.
What would be next to join Rixken’s army? A Jedremi horde? No, he had a Jedremi already. That would be boring. How about some Lokandan rebels. They would make a fine guerilla element…
Great Terai Darr.
It was an army.
She had told Rixken to go to Kolt and get one. But he had just raised that sword… like it really meant something… and now…
What was happening? What was she doing in this madness? What was she supposed to do?
Could he actually do it? Could he actually take the ship?
And what would it mean if he did?
What would it mean for people like Orlin? Or like Imrien?
Or like her?
What if everything…
She pushed her thoughts away. They were at the navpoint. From the low rise it was possible to see over a large rolling gate, into the center of what had once been an auxiliary training base, without being completely exposed. A few low buildings gave cover, while a collapsed house left an opening for shooting.
Zooming in on the base she could see people rushing about trying to put the fire out in the power station. Two firetrucks were in place spraying water, while a squad worth of anchors, Danag Mk2s in…functional…repair, stood around the blaze tossing water with whatever large containers they had been able to find. None of the anchors had their weapons out. A pair of Mark 3s guarding the large southern gate did have their weapons ready, but they were looking at the blaze. Probably wondering if they should leave their posts and help.
From the look of things, the raiders had bought the idea that their power station caught on fire accidentally. Given time they would probably ask questions and figure it out, but Zem wasn’t going to give them that time. She took cover behind a two-story house and targeted one of the anchors guarding the southern gate. The blackhairs in their hoptank targeted the other.
It was unfair shooting at unaware men in old anchors on a dark night from behind cover with a helical railcannon in a stealthed lunger when they had no power on their base and were already fighting a fire. True, bullet radar would tell them where she was after the first shot, but she could just switch vantages as soon they replied, and then start picking them off again, and anything they had that might actually touch her was locked up in a shed that wouldn’t open.
But that was exactly the way Zem liked it.
Stupid Rixken, picking fights with Pirate Kings and taking on the whole world like he might actually win. Stick to clueless bandits like these.
“Fire on three,” Zem commed.
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.