Snippet – Favour The Bold

26 Aug

Let’s see how well this works …

Prologue

 

From: The Dying Days: The Death of the Old Order and the Birth of the New.  Professor Leo Caesius.  Avalon.  206PE.

 

It is difficult to say, with any real certainty, when the collapse of the Galactic Empire became inevitable.  The stresses and strains that would eventually tear the empire apart, sparking off a series of vicious civil wars that would kill uncounted trillions of people, were clearly visible – to those who cared to see – hundreds of years before Earthfall.  Indeed, by the time I was born – a mere fifty years before Earthfall – it was unlikely that anything could avert collapse.  The best anyone could do was stave off disaster for a handful of years.  Eventually – inevitably – Earth collapsed into madness, then death.  It took the Core Worlds with it.

 

The chain of events that led to Earthfall – and the plans made by some, particularly the Terran Marine Corps, to salvage something from the disaster – have been amply documented elsewhere.  Our historical records are open to debate – and generations of historians have debated extensively – but the basic facts are not in dispute.  Reconstructing the events following Earthfall, however, will always pose a challenge.  It is very difficult to track the course of events, as the news radiated out from Earth.  There were naval officers, for example, who declared themselves warlords … only to be swept away, days later, by the press of events; there were space stations, asteroid settlements and entire colonies that were wiped out, in passing, by one side or another.  Governments declared quite draconian measures to control unrest – or secure their power, or remove minorities they found troublesome – and discovered, too late, that they quite unable to enforce them.  There are great gaps in the historical record that will probably never be filled.

 

It is simply impossible, too, to grasp the true scale of the disaster.  Earth’s official population, before Earthfall, was eighty billion.  Eighty billion!  The human mind cannot imagine so many people.  It certainly cannot truly comprehend their deaths in a few short days of nightmarish horror.  Nor can it grasp the deaths – millions, billions, trillions – that followed in the days, weeks and months after Earthfall.  They died because society collapsed around them, they died because of military action, they died because they were the wrong sort of people and the military was no longer around to oppress everyone into behaving themselves … in the end, it doesn’t matter why they died.  All that matters is that they died.

 

There were some, even before my birth, who understood that the end could not be delayed indefinitely.  First amongst them was the Terran Marine Corps, led – in its final years – by Major-General Jeremy Damiani.  Enjoying an independence from the Grand Senate that even the Imperial Navy could not dream of, possessing an infrastructure that was largely free of political interference, corruption and cronyism, the marines were free to make their preparations for the coming disaster.  Long before they recruited me – and shipped me to Avalon – they had a plan.  It was not a good plan, as Damiani happily admitted, but it was the best they could put together on short notice.  It says something about the scale of the problem that ‘short notice’ was nearly a century.

 

The first part of the plan called for securing colony worlds, like Avalon.

 

The second part of the plan involved the Core …

Chapter One

 

It is difficult to say when the Fall of the Galactic Empire became obvious to the vast majority of its citizens.  The Core Worlders, living as they did in a political, media and social bubble, had no idea of the gathering storm until the empire collapsed and all hell broke loose.  The Fringers, on the other hand, had very little contact with the Core and didn’t realise – at first – that Earth was gone.

– Professor Leo Caesius.  Earthfall and its Aftermath.

 

The city was falling into darkness.

 

Specialist Rachel Green felt her heart start to pound as the aircar flew towards the distant spaceport, her enhanced eyesight picking out the armed helicopters and skimmers orbiting the installation and watching for signs of trouble.  Hundreds of aircars, trucks and buses were heading to the spaceport too, the rats leaving the sinking ship.  The news – Earthfall – had arrived only two weeks ago and the planet was already falling into chaos.  The policemen, guardsmen and soldiers on the streets below weren’t enough to keep long-held discontents from bursting into violence.

 

It will be worse when they realise that food is going to run out, sooner rather than later, she thought.  Gamma Prime had never been a particularly habitable world, more dependent on most on advanced technology and food imports to keep the population alive.  There was no way they could feed everyone, now that interstellar trade had gone to the dogs.  And when they realise their leaders have abandoned them, they’ll go mad with rage.

 

She looked down at the darkened CityBlocks – the power had been cut, only a few short hours ago – and shivered in sympathy.  The towering skyscrapers weren’t anything as horrific as the endless warrens of Old Earth – dead Earth, now – but they were still nightmarish, as far as she was concerned.  Generations of people could be born, get married, have children, grow old and die … without ever stepping into the wider world.   She wondered, as the aircar adjusted course and flew towards the security zone, if Lieutenant Opal Moonchild would be grateful that Rachel had taken her place.  She’d be transported off-world, whatever happened.  She’d survive the brewing chaos that would throw the planet into the deepest darkest pits of hell.

 

She’ll be grateful once she realises she’s no longer in any danger, Rachel told herself, firmly.  Lieutenant Moonchild had been on long-leave, before Earthfall and the emergency recall of everyone who had ever worn a uniform.  It’s I who should be concerned.

 

The aircar started to descend, heading towards the landing pad.  Rachel took a long breath, calming herself.  She always got the shakes before a mission began, particularly one that left her isolated from the rest of the team.  She’d known she’d be on her own going in, of course, right from the moment she’d been briefed … but no training and planning could ever encompass the feeling of being completely alone.  If everything went to hell, she’d have to punch her way out and hope for the best.  And she knew, all too well, that if her cover was blown once she was inside the security perimeter, she didn’t have a hope of getting out alive.

 

As long as it isn’t quite impossible, she thought, I can do it.

 

The aircar landed with a bump.  The hatch opened.  Rachel stood and clambered out, looking around with interest.  The entrance was guarded by five heavily-armed men, looking so much like hulking gorillas that she knew they were enhanced.  Their enhancements probably weren’t comparable to hers, but that didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous.  She was mildly surprised their employers hadn’t tried to hide the enhancements.  They probably had all their licences in order – and no one really cared any longer, in any case – but humans still reacted badly to openly-enhanced soldiers.  It saved a great deal of angst if the enhancements were carefully hidden.

 

One of the guards peered down at her with cold, discerning eyes.  “Papers, please.”

 

Rachel removed the biochip from her blouse and held it out to him, trying to show just the right amount of unease under his porcine gaze.  He took the chip and scanned it, his companions keeping a close eye on her.  Rachel braced herself, silently calculating how best to escape if the mission failed at the first hurdle.  She’d worn a tight blouse, deliberately, but they weren’t eying her like a piece of meat.  That was worrying.  It suggested they were depressingly professional.  They’d be harder to fool.

 

The biochip is perfect, she told herself firmly.  And all the details were inserted into the central databases.

 

The guard returned the chip and opened the door.  “Pass, friend.”

 

Rachel felt a chill running down her spine as she walked through the door and into a large foyer.  Hundreds of men and women – some clearly military, some more likely civvies – were sitting on chairs, or the hard metal floor; others, more impatient, were pacing the room while they waited to be called.  Rachel found a seat and forced herself to wait, watching as names were called and people left to pass through security screening.  It was nearly an hour before they called for Opal Moonchild.  Rachel couldn’t help feeling uneasy – again – as she walked through the door and into the security section.  If she was going to be caught, she was going to be caught here.

 

Another guard, a stern-faced woman, caught her eye.  “Strip,” she ordered, shoving a large plastic box at Rachel.  “Put everything, and I mean everything, in this box, then seal it up and walk into the next room.”

 

“I understand,” Rachel said.  Opal would be nervous, so Rachel acted nervous.  “What will they …?”

 

“Get on with it,” the woman ordered.  “My shuttles at 2250 and I don’t intend to miss it.”

 

Rachel nodded and undressed hastily, then walked into the next room.  Her implants bleeped up an alert as soon as the door closed behind her, warning her that her body was being scanned right down to the submolecular level.  Rachel was torn between being morbidly impressed by their thoroughness and rolling her eyes in disdain.  She didn’t have to be naked for a deep scan.  It was probably just a reminder that her life was in their hands, that it had been in their hands from the moment she received the recall notice.  She schooled her impression into impassibility as the next door opened, allowing her to walk into the third chamber.  Three beefy security guards were waiting for her.

 

“The scan says you have a neural implant,” the guard said.  He kept his eyes firmly on her face.  “What’s it for?”

 

“Porn,” Rachel said, trying to sound ashamed.  It wasn’t easy.  She’d feared they’d detect the rest of her implants.  “I use it for VR sims …”

 

“A pretty girl like you needs VR sims?”  The guard held up a scanner.  “I have to test it.”

 

“Go ahead.”  Rachel bent her head as he pressed the scanner against the back of her neck, trying not to tense too visibly.  If the scanner picked up more than it should, she’d have bare seconds to take them all out before the alert sounded and the entire complex went into lockdown.  “I … will it hurt?”

 

“Stay still,” the guard ordered.  “It’s just a simple ping …”

 

Rachel smiled as her implants went to work, feeding false information into the scanner while – at the same time – accessing the security systems and subverting them.  The scanner wouldn’t see anything more than a simple VR cortical stimulator: shameful, as if she’d been caught with a datachip loaded with porn, but hardly illegal.  Or dangerous.  She could put up with hundreds of ribald jokes if it meant they missed the rest of her implants.  She wondered, idly, what they’d make of it if they did.  They’d certainly have reason to suspect that something was badly wrong.

 

“What a waste,” the guard said.  “You wouldn’t need such a toy if you were with me.”

 

“If you say so,” Rachel said.  She crossed her arms over her breasts.  “Can I go now?”

 

“Yeah, sure.”  The guard pointed at yet another door.  “See you on the flip side.”

 

Rachel shrugged, then walked through the door and into a small changing room.  A large matron was waiting for her, holding a simple uniform tunic in one hand.  Her face was friendly, but her eyes were flint-hard … an anger, Rachel thought, directed at the security goons rather than Rachel herself.  She felt an odd flicker of respect for the older woman.  She clearly took care of the girls in her charge.

 

“You alright?”  The matron’s voice was calm, but there was an edge to it that reminded Rachel of some of her sergeants.  “They can be a little … intrusive.”

 

“Just a little.”  Rachel took the tunic and donned it with practiced ease.  “Do they have to make us strip naked?”

 

“They’re assholes,” the matron agreed.  “Buy a girl a drink first, why don’t you?”

 

Rachel had to laugh.  “What now?”

 

“Now you wait for your shuttle,” the matron said.  She held out one meaty hand.  “I’m Grace, by the way.  I don’t recall seeing you before.”

 

“I’ve been on leave,” Rachel said.  Opal had been on leave for over a year, long enough – Rachel hoped – for everyone to forget her.  She’d had few acquaintances and even fewer friends before she’d gone on leave.  As far as the data-miners had been able to determine, there shouldn’t be anyone who’d known her assigned to the spaceport.  “I only got the recall yesterday.”

 

Grace shrugged.  “Wait in the lounge,” she ordered.  “Have a drink, if you like.  We’ll be boarding in an hour.”

 

Rachel nodded, keeping her face under tight control as she made her way into the lounge.  It was crammed with people, all military or ex-military.  They barely spoke … or drank, for that matter.  The tension was so thick one could cut it with a knife.  She wondered, absently, where the civvies were going, then decided it didn’t matter.  She’d made it through the security perimeter.  The rest of the mission should be a doddle.

 

Don’t get overconfident, she told herself, as she found a seat and settled down to wait.  You’re not there yet.

 

Rachel was used, very used, to waiting, but it still felt as if time was moving slower than usual before they were finally called to the shuttle.  The relief in the air was almost palatable.  The civilians might be too ignorant to know the planet was doomed, but the military personal had no such luxury.  Blasting into space might be their only hope of survival … no, scratch that, it was their only hope of survival.  Grace checked her girls were all buckled in before taking her own seat and waiting for takeoff.  Rachel felt a pang of guilt, mingled with the grim awareness she was probably doing Grace a favour.  It was never easy when she liked one of the people she was going to betray.

 

“I hate flying,” the girl next to her muttered.  “I really hate flying …”

 

“It could be worse,” Rachel said.  She’d made a HALO jump through a thunderstorm once, back when she’d been young – well, younger – and stupid.  The shuttle might be a military design, built more for practicality than comfort, but it was hardly an assault shuttle making a landing on a defended world.  “Just close your eyes.  It’ll all be over soon.”

 

She allowed herself a tight smile as the shaking slowly tapered off into nothingness.  The shuttle flight was astonishingly smooth, compared to some of her flights … but then, someone who’d spent most of her career behind a desk probably wouldn’t realise it.  Rachel reminded herself, sharply, that Opel had spent most of her career behind a desk.  She’d probably be scared to death, if she was on the shuttle.  Rachel sighed at the thought.  She’d left it too late to pretend.

 

A voice came over the intercom.  “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  We will be docking at the shipyard in two hours, thirty-seven minutes.  Please sit back and enjoy the flight.  Anyone who wants to join the Light Year Club can apply at the front hatch …”

 

Rachel concealed her amusement as a senior officer towards the front of the shuttle began to shout in outrage.  Idiot.  He might outrank the pilot, normally, but as long as they were in transit the pilot outranked him.   He’d be better off waiting until they docked before he gave the pilot the ass-chewing to outdo all all-chewings.  Besides, who cared about stupid jokes when the galaxy was falling into chaos?

 

Him, obviously, Rachel thought.

 

She closed her eyes, trying to sleep.  There was no point in doing anything until they docked, where … she told herself, firmly, to stop worrying about it.  She’d have to improvise … and have faith that the rest of the team were in position.  They were marines.  If anyone could do it, they could.  But … she shook her head.  There were too many moving parts in the plan for her peace of mind, too many things that could go wrong, but … they’d planned for as many contingencies as possible.  And, if all else failed, they could improvise.  She grinned as she fell into sleep.  She was quite looking forward to it.

 

The shuttle shuddered, snapping Rachel out of sleep.  She opened her eyes to see the senior officers already gathering at the hatch, even though it was against safety regulations.  But then, the rules didn’t apply to senior officers.  She snorted at the thought, then waited for Grace’s command before unbuckling and joining the rest of the girls.  One of them was asking, rather plaintively, about the man she’d left behind.  Grace didn’t seem to have the heart to tell her that she’d probably never see her boyfriend again.

 

Unless he’s bagged himself a shuttle ticket too, Rachel thought, as they started to make their way through the hatch and into the shipyard.  He might just have a way to get off-world before the shit hits the fan.

 

She looked around with interest as they were pushed down to the barracks.  Dozens of armed guards were clearly visible, although they carried shockrods and neural whips rather than automatic weapons.  They shoved anyone who didn’t move fast enough to suit them, silencing any complaints with brandished weapons.  It looked as if things were worsening, Rachel noted, as she did her best to avoid attracting attention.  The planet’s collapse might have accelerated.  Who knew what had happened while they were in transit.

 

“We’ll be waiting here until we get reassigned,” Grace said, once they were in the barracks and the hatch was firmly closed.  “Get some sleep.  You’ll need it.”

 

A young girl held up a hand.  “But what about …?”

 

“Stay in here and get some sleep,” Grace snapped.  “Do not go out of the barracks.”

 

Rachel took a bunk near the door and closed her eyes, pretending to sleep as her implants reached out and queried the local node.  It was locked, but her hacking implants rapidly cut through the node’s defences and gained access.  She scanned the security files quickly, noting just how many soldiers, spacers and commandoes had been assigned to the shipyard.  Someone – the planetary governor, perhaps – was determined to keep the shipyard under tight control.  It was just a shame, Rachel thought, that she was going to steal it from under his nose.

 

She waited until everyone was asleep, then rose and looked around.  Grace was sleeping right by the door, snoring so loudly that Rachel was surprised that everyone else could sleep.  The hatch was locked, probably impossible to open without making a noise.  Rachel briefly considered doing it anyway, then shrugged and walked towards the washroom.  She’d downloaded a copy of the shipyard’s internal plans from the central database, when she’d been briefed on the mission.  There should be a link to the maintenance tubes just inside the washroom.  She smiled as she closed the door behind her, then opened the hatch.  It hadn’t been locked.

 

Careless, she thought, but who would have expected a new recruit to go exploring?

 

Her lips twitched at the thought – marines were taught to familiarise themselves with their surroundings before the shit hit the fan – as she pulled herself into the tube and started climbing up towards the command centre.  It was a tight squeeze, even for her, but she forced herself to cope.  She’d been in worse places.  It was more of a challenge to open the internal hatches without setting off the alarms.  Thankfully, someone had taken down half of the security network.  She smiled, rather coldly.  No doubt they’d gotten tired of a constant stream of false alarms from people blundering around like idiots.

 

You only need one real alarm to ruin your day, she thought, as she reached the top of the shaft.  The tubes didn’t open in the command centre, unfortunately.  And this time, the alarm will be real.

 

She pressed herself against the hatch, listening intently.  There would be at least one guard, perhaps two, outside the command centre itself.  That was procedure.  She found it hard to believe they’d change that much, even if they were pressed for manpower.  Someone would have to tell anyone who got lost that they couldn’t go into the command centre …

 

Bracing herself, she opened the hatch and jumped through.  A guard was standing by the command centre hatch, his eyes widening with surprise as he saw her.  She didn’t give him time to recover.  She drove her hand into his throat with enhanced strength, knocking him to his knees.  He was enhanced himself, part of her mind noted.  The blow would have killed him if his throat hadn’t been reinforced.  Rachel didn’t give him time to recover.  She hit him again, harder this time.  His body hit the floor with a sickening crunch.

 

I’m committed now, Rachel told herself.  It had always been true, but … she could have played at being Opal Moonchild until she had a chance to escape, if she hadn’t shown her hand so blatantly.  It’s time to move.

 

She searched the guard quickly, removing both his access cards and weapons, then stood and readied herself.  Again.  If something went wrong, the entire mission would fail spectacularly …

 

Smiling, she pushed her hand against the hatch and hacked the access codes.

 

5 Responses to “Snippet – Favour The Bold”

  1. ROBERT IMUS August 26, 2019 at 4:42 pm #

    Wow! I want more NOW (please). Very nice.

  2. Lumion August 27, 2019 at 1:49 am #

    Unrelated, but as I have been listening to your latest ark royal book, I had the urge to inquire upon your opinion on brexit the EU, germany france and their respective futures. Would you entertain me?

  3. Xavier Stout September 1, 2019 at 4:01 am #

    I want more now ahhh. I cant wait!!! Its honestly one of my favorite series

  4. Guy Marc GAGNE September 15, 2019 at 3:10 pm #

    Well, we seem to be off to a fun filled tome.
    Of course, the mission parameters having been conveniently omitted does add to the open ended nature of what is to follow. I have always enjoyed your particular take on all matters military. For a lad who has never worn a uniform, your grasp is uncanny as well as insightful regarding the mindset in several depicted occurrences. Kudos!

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