Adam Murton (aka Vardos Cadix) has his own Antares fiction blog where he has a number of continuing stories. We’re delighted he was inspired by the new panhuman heads for the Concord and wrote us a serial on the Vyess and the Gyohn. Part I can be found here.
Fall from grace, Part II by Adam Murton
The transmat glow receded from around Mija, Togor and the Strike troopers, their surroundings were much darker and tall, fractured buildings loomed all around them. It occurred to Mija that this was her first time in an active battlefield in nine years. As an Intelligence Officer, she was much more likely to be several kiloyan behind the front-line. She looked up. Togor and the ten troopers were already sprinting for cover. She cursed under her breath. They hadn’t stopped to think about it, to worry. Mija ran after them. Her basic training had been a long time ago, but it soon came back to her as they swooped from terrain piece to terrain piece. Within minutes, she was overlapping fire corridors with the best of them.
At one point, she found herself sheltering behind the same burnt-out drone transport as Togor. He flicked a glance towards her as if trying to choose his words. Of course, she knew what he was trying to say. She broke the silence first. “You want to tell me about Commander Volaugn. You are worried I’ll have a distorted impression from his files.”
“I’ve served with him for four tours. He is… he was a good sort.”
“I suspect he still is. His fall is almost certainly down to his personal ethics. Most defections are. Fear just leads to desertion: they run as far as they can. And power-hungry would look different. With Volaugn’s defection, it’s all about his ethics; as misguided as they are.” She looked up. It was time to move again; to step out from behind the transport. Togor peeled left and Mija right.
They crossed what had probably once been a beautiful plaza. The tiled pavement was all broken and torn up. The target tower loomed up from the other side of the plaza. Three of the troopers were already against the tower’s base. The others reached it, as Mija edged her way round the plaza. Togor got their first and he was clearly arguing with the Squad-leaders. Mija knew he was suggesting a different course of action, just as she also knew it was pointless. The Squad-Leaders were well versed in the tactical benefits of their actions. Tour after tour, they had served them well. Unfortunately, they had never had to consider their actions under the shadow of a defecting Commander, who was also well versed in those same tactics. She jogged up. No, there was no point arguing. So she took a softer tact. “Go careful. The Old Man will be anticipating it. Expect him to use special munitions, OK.”
The two Squad leaders saluted her and then gave the signals to move out.
Togor watched them go and shook his head. “We should have talked them out of it.”
Mija shrugged, “I suspect that wasn’t going to happen.”
“They could have helped us.”, he argued.
“Perhaps, but we don’t have the time to waste.” She changed the subject. “So where do you think the Old Man will be?”
“Definitely, not in that pink zone. He knows we will want to take this tower and he will want to stop us.” They both turned and looked up at the neighbouring tower. It largely mirrored the target tower, both loomed up from the tiled plaza and were matched in height, floor for floor. According to the map it did not have the same views out over the approach as the target tower, but it did afford views over the target tower.
Togor led the way round the plaza to the new tower and warily approached the doors. They opened into a large spacious foyer that was now cluttered with debris and rubble. Mija covered Togor as he picked his way into the foyer. He reached a large desk and set up position there, before motioning to Mija. She stooped over and jogged forward, her eyes darting around the foyer.
There was a space at the back where the transmat should be and this was guarded by thick bronze doors. Either side of this were a pair of smaller doors. Mija took up position to the left of these and Togor jogged up to the right. As he approached, she checked over the door, expecting some form of booby trap. Down low amongst the litter on the floor, was a piece of wire. It looked as if it was trapped under the door and held in place by it. She directed the sensors in her helmet to scan the wire for current or any active device and then moved a small rock to weigh it down. She then nodded at Togor to open the door; he slipped it open and waited for maybe five beats before looking through. They traced the wire upwards to a crude grenade suspended above the door.
Togor stepped through first, while Mija covered him. Gloomy flights of stairs led the way up the tower. They took it in turns to climb past, get into a defensive position and then cover the other’s movement.
As they hustled up the steps, Mija’s spoke over the comms. “We have to be careful. Killing Volaugn in open battle is one thing, but we can’t risk making him a martyr.”
Togor reacted as predicted. “To be clear, you want me to kill him without making him a martyr. Excellent! How am I supposed to do that?”
Inside her helmet, Mija smiled. “I never said that. I just said ‘don’t make him a martyr’. Oh and if you could shoot mine in the kneecaps, that would be great.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We need to remove Volaugn’s knowledge of our tactics, without inspiring them to fight longer and harder.” She stated simply.
Togor shook his head as he replied, “No, I meant the bit about the kneecaps.”
“That doesn’t matter As long as you remember it.” Mija slowed her voice down and spoke clearly “And don’t make Volaugn a martyr.”
By this time, they were three flights up and her helmet started feeding information from the two strike squads. One squad had been pinned in place by grip ammo and were receiving fire from the adjacent building. Two blue icons turned red to indicate losses. Both squads fired back and kill markings were fed round the shard. Three hostiles down… four, five. Then another icon from the pinned squad turned red. The second squad reported achieving a better position. Then, more kills and hostile-downs stated filtering across Mija’s helmet. Togor passed Mija, picking up the speed. Several paces ahead, he set and Mija started to move.
Suddenly, a large roar swept over her. She stopped, startled, looking for the threat. Before the noise had passed, the shard updated from the squads in the nearest tower. All troopers in the pinned squad and two of the other squad had turned red. Damage markings scrolled across her visor. A desperate voice came over the comms. “High-ex hit. Probable howitzer. On the move.” More fire was exchanged, four more hostiles were confirmed as down; and then the roar came again. Only one blue icon now showed.
“Stars! You can’t stay there.” Mija shouted over the comm. “The howitzer will just keep pounding away. Can you jump across to here… the next tower? South window.” More fire was exchanged and two more hostile-downs appeared and then data showed the blue icon was on the move. Mija jogged past Togor and up another flight.
“Stop!” shouted Togor, and she froze. “Tripwire!”
Mija looked down and there it was: a dusty brown wire strung out across a step. She had almost got herself killed –maybe both of them – because she allowed herself to get distracted. It was the curse of the Vyess: overthinking a problem.
Part III continues the story.
More about the panhumans in the Concord can be found in an article on the Nexus.