Frays in the Weave

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"Should we go back?" Elisabeth asked.

Heinrich didn't answer. He had no answer. Erwin had told him to continue his mission and babysit Arthur Wallman.

Now, he didn't have to like it, but that was not an order he was going to disobey. The question was if they could do the babysitting where they could also help Erwin and the TADAT left behind.

Would Arthur agree to return north? Probably. He wasn't as callous as Heinrich had first thought, just too sure of himself.

"Elisabeth, I don't know," Heinrich admitted. "This is way, way over our heads."

She looked at him. Her eyes were red from crying. She'd clung to him like a child during the night.

Their own government guilty of an open act of war. Five hundred years of peace and it was the federation that broke it. And there were some ugly rumours about Gatekeeper as well. We fired on a city ship? But that would be insanity.

Heinrich doubted if the government had ever been directly involved in giving those orders, but he didn't need to be a political genius to understand that they would be blamed anyway. After all, someone must have given the explicit orders to send Goodard here.

"I think it won't matter. We're too far away to get there in time to stop whatever Goodard is up to."

"He murdered them!"

"Elisabeth I know. I think everyone knows. Red News, remember. Three stayed with Erwin, well with that Martian goon anyway."

She nestled under his arm.

For the first time during their journey they'd set up field perimeter defences Not because they were needed but because he had seen their need to do something. Everyone helped, even the news team set up a few sensors.

They'd done a surprisingly good job of it, Heinrich recalled. By now he suspected he knew how they managed to get those covert holos.

From the other side of their camp the steady drone of a conversation reached him. Arthur and Ken. Talking, possibly comparing notes from seven hundred years apart. Anything that would banish what had happened yesterday.

The only one who got no respite was himself, but he was in command. That was to be expected. If the need became bad enough he could cry on Erwin's shoulders when they returned. For now though, he had to be their rock of confidence.

"Liz," he had earned the right to call her that now, "today we rest. I'll tell the others."

She crept closer. The toughest soldier he'd ever served with, but a frontal assault into a pirate base was not the same as watching how your own shot down unarmed and unshielded shuttles over a population centre. Sometimes he wished they'd been forced to destroy their holo receivers, or at least that the last decade hadn't seen them built into body walker helmets.

He was worried, more than he wanted to admit. The TADAT back at Verd were effectively unarmed now. Vastly better armoured than anything Goodard could put his hands on, but unarmed.

Gatling guns and needle grenades shredded whatever unpowered armour a soldier could carry, well, maybe with the exception of Gring and her kind, but Goodard had brought a few armoured vehicles with him. From what Heinrich had seen the unit in Verd had nothing left that could penetrate that kind of armour, and that, as far as he was concerned, was an invitation to disaster.

What would eventually force the brigadier's hand did work in his favour for the time. The launch port had a holo cube so whatever Red News had been casting was available for the officers there to analyse

They might be trigger happy lunatics, but they should be able to realize the change in firing pattern of all body walkers when they ran out of missiles.

Heinrich ground his teeth but held his thoughts to himself. Whatever happened there was nothing he could do, and if the madman in command at the launch port was prepared to start a war then he would certainly not balk at the thought of killing the man Keen valued so highly.

Then his thoughts returned to Liz. She needed him right now, and he hugged her tight to himself. For the first time he admitted that he needed her as well.

Trindai listened to the pleading and denial with only half an ear. He was surprised he hadn't become more furious than he was, but Keen was on war foot and that somehow made an attack more understandable.

Admiral Radovic wanted Keen to allow him to throw explosives on the launch port from the sky and for once the council was united in their refusal.

The liaison from the Republic of Mars, William Anderson advocated caution, but even he had declared that he would support the federation if they took military action against the renegade officer.

The third sky kingdom, New Sweden, had no official liaison in Verd, not anyone alive at least. A woman named Anita Kirchenstein-Yui acted as their temporary official here, and she had been livid from the moment she found herself among the few survivors landing outside Verd.

To Trindai's supreme shock she refused to take part in any military action against Brigadier Goodard and his soldiers. Diplomatic channels and restitution were words she used frequently though, and Erwin winced visibly every time she used the latter. Still, they had been massacred. Of twenty sky ships only four landed safely and another two crashed with survivors, and still she refused what she called an escalation of armed conflict.

That was something more that cowardliness. It was cowardliness raised to an ideal worth dying for, and Trindai was at a loss how to react. In his world you fought for what you believed in, and you made sure you had the best weapons and the best training, because if at all possible you should never have to fight, just show those big, ugly fists to anyone who needed threatening.

That woman was prepared to die. She wasn't happy about it, quite the opposite, but she just wasn't prepared to use armed force to defend her beliefs. That made no sense at all. The third sky kingdom had no right to exist at all if it was undefended. The presence of outworlder soldiers proved that. If you had soldiers you had fighting, somewhere.

He looked at the woman. Hair as black as those from the Sea of the Mother or Khi and face resembling that of a Khi citizen. That made her stand out. Most of the survivors were light in complexion, more so than the average outworlder.

She was also far shorter, almost short enough to go unnoticed here. Made up for it with energy in abundance though, and a hatred so strong it made her position on armed resistance just so much stranger.

Her stand, though, didn't make Erwin pull his reins the least. He begged. He threatened. He lied and he promised. He was a man possessed, and Trindai had seen his share of soldiers close to hysteria to recognize deeply hidden combat memories emerging from the black corner where they had been safely stuffed away. There had been rumours, and the blossoms of death in the air confirmed them. Something had gone terribly wrong that day fifteen years ago when outworlders first came here, and Erwin had been among them.

Trindai remembered. A younger man that day, but old enough to be colonel. Dragon flowers they had called the spectacle in the sky. Now he knew what those flowers were. His soldiers were just starting to bury their fruit.

Had Erwin lost friends that day? Probably. Family? Maybe. How many had died? And how had they died? It smelled of dragons meddling. Ira, Rhuin or Khanati might have the power to take on a sky ship, but the dragon flowers had been all over the world. Trindai could hardly recall anyone old enough to remember who hadn't seen them. It had the stench of meddling dragons all over it.

He watched Erwin storm out of the council chamber spitting angry words in English on his way. The anger was understandable, but the outworlder general with his men were only a trains ride from Verd and Erwin's allies were high up in the sky, and everyone had seen what happened to sky ships trying to land under outworlder opposition. Keen couldn't afford to take that risk.

William shrugged and apologized on Erwin's behalf, and behind him an outworlder gathered together his collection of flying gadgets. Red News. One of the team from the first surprise landing on the training grounds.

Trindai smiled at the man. He had been ordered to. Mairild probably thought a military man abhorred the presence of a mere citizen during an important meeting. He didn't. If the outworlders could use their own version of the farwriter to tell their own what happened here Keen stood to benefit, and Trindai was far more interested in results than the means to get them.

With the newscaster, he tasted the foreign expression in his mouth, out of the room they sat down to discuss how to meet the new threat without resorting to a military gamble.

William didn't have much help to offer. He promised to sign a statement where they protested against the killing, but there was little more he could do.

"I'll send out scouts," Trindai offered. It had to be dragoons. Horses would be too visible at close range, which meant putting the Imperial Guard in the field.

"And Verd?" Minister de Saiden asked. He echoed Trindai's thoughts.

Trindai tried to look thoughtful, but this was only part of a rehearsed performance for the rest of the council. "The brigade has enough training to take care of the patrols and be used for the training of a second brigade as well," he answered.

Olvar nodded, as did Mairild and Makarin. Tenanrild looked unhappy but she agreed as Trindai knew she would. Even Glarien nodded his approval and that gesture quickly brought the others in line.

"We still have a lot of wounded to care for," William translated Anita's words.

"We will do our best, but we're stretched thin I'm afraid," the Minister of Education, Irtina de Gelven, answered.

"More so than we had hoped," Garkain, Minister of Craft, filled in unhelpfully.

Tenanrild glared at him. "Could not blame them. Not asked to be killed in the sky," she said. Minister of Transportation, and with a severe attitude whenever the transportation of anything ended in disaster. Garkain would pay for his choice of words for a long time.

"I think we could help you," Anita persisted with the help of William.

That got everyone's attention. Even William halted his translation and gaped at her.

"And just how do you plan to do that?" Irtina asked. "You aren't all doctors I guess."

Anita smiled, a sad, longing smile. "No, I am the one of two who survived. My husband is the other and he's dying in that pigsty you call hospital," she added.

"That pigsty, as you so kindly refer to, is the finest clinic there is, unless you resort to the dirty practices of Ri Khi."

She had to say that, Trindai observed. He'd almost forgotten just how strongly she held to the views of the Ministry of Magehunting.

"Any practice that saves lives without taking them is a good practice where I come from," Anita answered. William had to be coerced to translate that, but Trindai had seen Mairild's grimace long before William's words filled the room.

"Relent! From such unholy thoughts comes the temptation to commit vileness!"

Trindai shared a silent thought with Mairild. Hepaten ar el de Levius couldn't have stayed his words even if he had wanted to, but the Minster of Magehunting was a fanatic believer in his work and never needed much of a reason to voice his thoughts on that matter.

The heavyset man originally came from Ira, as did so many of those who hated the forbidden arts the most. It wasn't so strange. Small but powerful Ira was a haven for any user of the arts, and those without that power were treated as second rate humans. Trindai knew more than a few fled Keen for a similar reason. Most ended up in Ira, just as fanatical in their opposite belief. There was a certain poetic balance to be found in that truth.

He frowned. The last five years hadn't seen many people moving anywhere a horse or their legs couldn't take them. The raiders had put a stop to that.

William shone with relief as he started to translate Anita's next words, and Trindai saw Mairild smile approvingly before he heard them.

"We would never resort to magic for the simple reason we don't know any. The refined arts of education and technology are allowed here if I understand."

Irtina smiled. Anita had tickled her ego the right way, and Hepaten leaned back in his chair once again.

Trindai let out his breath again. That had been a little too close.

"We could aid you with medical..." William stopped mid sentence and interrupted what Anita was saying. He gasped and Trindai had to look at Mairild for understanding. She sat upright as if someone had tied a spear to her back. Her face had drained of all colour

William shouted at Anita, and to Trindai's surprise Mairild joined in. He could hardly understand a word. There was far too much emotion and the words came too fast for his basic understanding of English to suffice. This wouldn't do.

"Silence!" He stared at Olvar. They had roared the same command with voices meant for the battlefield.

It worked as intended.

"Now, proceed," Olvar said, "so the rest of us can understand."

"She's insane!" Mairild said.

"A madwoman," William agreed. "She thinks just because we've established an embassy here you're bound by the treaties we've signed back home."

Anita growled something. Part of it Trindai understood. De Vhatic had its own fair share of those words, and most never left the confines of barracks. Then she rose, still growling curses and left them with a satisfied grin on her face.

"Mairild, please, and slowly for the rest of us mortals," Makarin said.

William stood, but Mairild waved for him to take his seat again. "We need you to explain the words. I understood them, but not all they really meant."

William sat. "I'll tell you. Please wait with your questions until after I'm done," he said.

Trindai shrugged. This was council business now. He'd be called to clean up the mess, whatever form it took, and from William's expression it was certain to be dirty.

"New Sweden has already decided to take matters in their own hands," William begun. "They've decided that Verd is a war zone with insufficient medical supplies."

Mairild nodded for him to continue as he fell silent.

"Using the treaty of Perth as an excuse they've declared the fields south of Verd as a restricted drop zone." He stammered, coughed but refused to continue.

"We must know," Mairild told him.

"We'll have to declare war on the Terran Federation. She has to be stopped!"

"What?" Olvar said.

The room had become utterly silent. They didn't fully understand, but it was clear that more than the present danger had been added to the scales.

"All signatories have agreed to declare war on anyone who breaks that treaty," William said as if the words had any meaning for the rest of them. "The idiots have already announced that they'll commit the forced drop of a field hospital into a war zone. They have also declared that it will be unarmed and unshielded." William's voice broke, and Trindai saw that he was close to tears.

"I think I understand where this is going, but be specific. If Verd is going to become a battlefield in a war between outworlder kingdoms we deserve to know," Olvar said.

"A field hospital is a purely humanitarian organization. The treaty forces them to aid both sides in a conflict, and from what I've seen of your doctors you could use what they have to offer."

"And the conflict?" Olvar nudged.

"You don't open fire on a hospital. Never. Not even by accident," William said. "The conflict will not be restricted to Otherworld. You have to help me stop her."

"On the contrary," Verkai de Partaken suddenly said. The Minister of Law had sat silent and brooding for the entire meeting, but now his face radiated a grim determination. "Well make room for their kind offer. I'll personally see to that our own doctors are present to welcome their outworlder colleagues. We will aid them in any way they want, even to the extent of supplying personnel to the hospital."

You bastard! You wonderful, cold hearted genius bastard son of a gherin!

"You'd..." William's voice broke. "You'd declare war on the federation?"

"Of course." Verkai looked around the table where one council member after another slowly nodded their approval. Even Mairild did. "We could never stand aside and watch such a noble cause succumb to murderers and lawbreakers."

"You're mad! You won't stand a chance!"

"We know. We'll face annihilation if need be. Please make sure your government knows, and all other governments in outworld."

William gasped, but eventually he slowly nodded. He still looked aghast, but a knowing frown took over from his previous look of utter shock.

"You play a very dangerous game here, but I'll do as you ask," he said. Then he smiled unexpectedly. "Erwin will like this. Oh yes, he will like this very much," William added and laughed.

"You know he'll act soon."

Trindai nodded. Had he launched an attack against landed raiders he would be moving his own soldiers into position to attack the bridgehead now. That was standard military doctrine for Keen, had been since the raiders made their first attempts to push inland. The outworlder general was bound to do the same now, or he'd risk reinforcements strengthening Verd.

"Minister de Partaken's estimate of our chances were blunt but accurate," Trindai said. About the same as the bastard raiders had when we finally understood what they were up to. Never manage more than pillaging a few villages, and now they're food for the sea beasts. "I'm off to deploy my troops. With a bit of luck we'll be able to ambush a few of the outworlders," he said aloud.

Olvar grunted, but then what was he supposed to do? With Trindai, at least, he knew he was sending an equally knowing soldier into the grinder. The young recruits though.

Trindai chose to respect his superior's reluctance to word an answer. Besides, they hadn't been entirely truthful with their outworlder guests, or at least not totally forthcoming with all truths. The analogy with the western raiders was too apt to be a coincidence, Trindai agreed to himself. Just as trying to attack the ships would have been suicidal any attempt at attacking Verd would be just as dangerous.

He shuddered at what he had just been told. There were rumours of course, but they had only been rumours. Verd defended herself, as the saying went, but he'd always believed the capital still relied on soldiers for defence

Now he knew he was wrong. The soldiers were needed for the defence of Keen. Verd had been built when the city wasn't a safe capital in the middle of an empire. The frontier had been close to the east at that time, and the city was built with that in mind. There were things hidden in the city, and more magecrafted defences had been added during the centuries when Verd was the capital of magecrafters as well as an empire.

Trindai wondered what Minister de Levius thought of the matter. There was simply no way that Magehunting could be happy with the thought of weapons of magic being used against an enemy, but then there wouldn't really be anyone using them. Trindai didn't really understand, but he accepted what he had been told -- that Verd would indeed defend herself.

He would still lose a lot of good men before that. Any attack against the capital had to be real to trigger those defences

He left the city through Vimarin Gates. Krante Gates weren't sealed off in any way, but the training grounds were. The council had decided to play the charade out in full and the Imperial Guard made certain no one with weapons left the highways.

Riding along the tracks he watched his men file up and make ready for the march east. This was going to be the expensive part in lives, and the soldiers had all been lied into believing they stood a chance against the outworlders. To enhance the illusion all eight of Erwin's men walked with them in their moving armour It was at least a little more than an illusion. As soon as they left the city far enough behind them those men would spread out and act as a screen for the vulnerable phalanxes. The cavalry he had available were mostly to act as messengers.

For the moment though, they marched in column, using the highway to make as good speed as possible. If Olvar's estimate was correct they would encounter armed resistance within half a day, and Trindai desperately needed to have broken all rules long before that. Phalanxes were supposed to take the field packed even more tightly than an outsider would have thought possible, and it had taken more than a little convincing to make him agree to spread his infantry so thin they for all real purposes ceased to be an effective fighting force. Most of that convincing had been done just east of Vimarin Gates. Outworlder weapons shredded a few hundred straw dolls in even less time than it took to line up the walking armour The message wasn't lost on anyone.

Noon saw the cavalry ride ahead of the column and spread out like a fan with the outworlders taking point positions. As far as Trindai was concerned they were skirmishers, and skirmishers with vastly superior weapons. When they were forced to fall back the forces they were screening would have very little to add, but that was as it should. Their mission was to die after all.

Where the Vimarin Highway and the tracks to the sky port separated Trindai split his column of infantry in two. From here each one would be commanded by a colonel each, and he knew there was nothing he could add in the ways of orders to change the outcome of what was coming.

To some degree he planned to make use of the farwriters in the region, but he suspected they wouldn't be standing for long after the enemy realized they were used for communicating orders. Coded as those orders were supposed to be Erwin had disclosed that what Keen considered unbreakable codes were pitifully insufficient for outworlder knowledge machines. If the enemy was able to read his coded orders as fast as he could send them he could as well dispense with the codes, and so Trindai had decided. At least they would be able to read information while it was sent as fast as the enemy.

He grinned at the last thought. They really would. His outworlders, and he was thinking of them in those terms, had machines reading enemy codes just as easily. The main difference lay in that the enemy didn't know their codes were worthless. He planned to make the most of that small deception.

Early afternoon he had his first reason to feel pride in his home. Long before a messenger returned in full gallop, even before he heard the low rumbling that heralded outworlder weapons hammering at his troops, a farwriter told him where the enemy was, what numbers they held and how they were deployed. The crew, insanely brave or just stupid even managed to send him another three messages telling him in what direction the enemy spread as they reacted to being on the receiving end of their own kind of weapons. After that Trindai received the message he'd been waiting for: farwriter lost.

He grimaced. Fire or storm was the usual reason for such a message, and in this case, in a way, it was a matter of both.

Now came the part he hated the most. He took shelter with his staff, several messengers and a small unit handling the messenger birds. Verd needed to know how effective their sacrifice was, and that meant he wasn't allowed to get in harms way. His soldiers would do the dying. He had to stay behind and tell their tale. For a moment he glimpsed what it meant to be a taleweaver, and he quickly forced that thought away. Seven hundred years rumours had Ken Leiter to be. Seven hundred years of watching but never take part. Again Trindai pushed the thought aside. Defeatism lay in that direction.

A staff colonel shot him a worried glance as the outworlder hammering came closer, but Trindai only waved him away and climbed up the slope to see for himself.

North-east were the small forest where almost half his men were hidden. The trees offered more than just cover. A narrow river hid in a shallow valley and the survivors should be able to flee along it. Not retreat, flee. He held no illusions about an ordered withdrawal.

South-east was the direction from which he knew the assault would come. He could see the ridge just west of the sky port from here. Half an afternoons march for his men, less time than it took to gulp down field rations for outworlder vehicles.

A gutted farm, flames climbing high into the sky and smoke obscuring his sight further south, told him where the enemy was. He couldn't believe his luck. The reports had told him enemy vehicles were deployed just west of the ridge, and that more than a few had gone north when attacked by moving armour The rest hadn't moved at all. The enemy commander was spawned by the mother of all incompetents and allowed Trindai's sacrificial goats to spread out and take cover unmolested.

Instead of taking the field and run the pike men down they stayed and used their weapons from a distance, and there was nothing of the horrible efficiency he'd seen just outside Verd in display here. Streaks of white shot over their targets most of the time, and even though it must be a frightening experience for his men most of them lived to stay afraid.

The small outworlder guns were different from their ship mounted raider brethren. Instead of the white smoke followed by a dull boom they were smokeless, and whenever they overshot their target high enough a sharp crack reached him from an impossible direction. He had asked about that the first time. Something about the projectiles moving faster than sound itself. He didn't understand fully. The speed of sound was a well enough known factor, but why that cracking sound should occur whenever something moved faster was beyond his learning. It mattered little. It was the sound of a projectile gone wide, the sound of a soldier unable to keep his weapon trained on target and therefore a good sound as far as he was concerned.

Trindai watched in fascination as enemy soldiers spewed out their deadly missiles all over the fields. Horrible marksmen or not, they certainly had an abundance of missiles available. A goodly amount of them of the explosive kind as well, he noted as another farm house went up in flames. He hoped it was empty. His men were under strict orders to stay outside of them. They offered no protection against anything but crossbows.

Far east a hovercraft started moving in his direction. It passed the irrigation ditches where his forward units lay hidden and advanced on the last farm set on fire. A little too far south. The deadly surprise would have to wait a bit longer.

Now, one after another, the floating wagons took to the fields and one of them passed right over a spot marked on the map Trindai held in his hand.

"Sixteen!" he shouted.

An eightday earlier two of his outworlders had joined a patrol disguised as cavalry soldiers in the imperial army. The two who had something resembling a riding training. Now the real reason for their presence became apparent as the enemy vehicle was suddenly engulfed in flames and fell over.

It had only been a precaution. When the slaughter on outworlder sky ships started he had no men close enough to the mines to use them, and he hadn't expected the enemy to stay at their base long enough for him to arrive in time to use the traps.

The ditch closest to the burning wreck erupted with soldiers and they went to work with pikes and daggers among the dazed survivors.

If only the wagons north of the victims would oblige him by coming to the rescue. One stopped, but it didn't move. Trindai could only stare in horror as its weapons shredded his men on the field. Then, slowly, it moved south. To pick up survivors? Are they daft? They must have seen what we did? But it continued south.

Trindai nodded left and grinned. "Seems we get another one." He counted moments as the vehicle closed in on its dead comrade. "Wait, wait, fifteen!"

Again the field came alive with a distant thunderclap. This time there were no men close enough to kill survivors, but at least the enemy had lost two of their wagons with soldiers on top.

They moved more carefully now. Just as Erwin had said they would. Soldiers climbed down the sides of the wagons and spread out in front of them. This was the reason Trindai had deployed troops well ahead of the visible units marching onto the fields here. All over the fields ditches hid soldiers who had arrived here early in the morning. Whenever the enemy came close enough crossbows took their toll, but it was clear that it wouldn't be enough.

Trindai ordered the retreat. This was the risky part of his plan. Up went three banners. Normally they would have stayed until they saw that the order had been obeyed, but visible was dead against outworlder weapons, and he left the slope with his entire staff as fast as his legs would carry him. Three birds took to the air behind him and they were well out of harms way when the first grenades ruptured in the positions they'd held just moments earlier.

This was something he was far more used to than Erwin would have believed. Raider cannons fired explosive shells as well.

It was time for Colonel Berdaler to show that he deserved his new command.

The woods released a line of cavalry charging across the fields. Suicide, or at least that was the impression it was meant to give.

On the fields the enemy was slow to appreciate the new threat, but when the cavalry was joined by moving armour the attack became apparent for everyone. Two hundred horsemen and eight outworlders. Trindai grimaced. The two hundred were there for show only. To give the impression of a threat easily dealt with, but primarily to be seen. They would not add to the battle apart from dying.

It was something he had to accept. Sending men into battle was ordering them to die. It was rational in all its insanity, but sending men into battle knowing that they would never even get to use their weapons grated against his conscience. It was simply immoral.

The dying started.

Colonel Berdaler ordered the retreat. The massed line of horses dispersed as quickly as possible and a desperate flight to safety begun. The outworlders continued on their path forward. This was where their screening would count.

Trindai saw how they unleashed a hailstorm of missiles into groups of enemy soldiers. Any group daring to use their weapons became a target, but they had weapons. Most of them didn't even manage to stop his outworlders in their tracks, but they'd been warned of real cannons, and suddenly it became apparent that not even moving armour was invincible.

The eight showed that they were as prepared to face death as any soldier in the imperial army. One moment they were charging ahead and the next a blinding white light left only seven of them. They charged on.

Trindai ordered the rest of his men to show themselves and the forest released rank after rank of pike men. They marched on in good order, but so thinly spread he shuddered even though he had given the order himself. Bait, they were nothing but bait.

It was time to return to Verd. He faced a long afternoon of death and panic, but for the first time Trindai believed most of his men would survive the day. It would take days, eightdays even, before all survivors returned. Those who did at all. A lot would desert, and he didn't blame them. They had been lied to. He had made certain they were never told the truth about what would happen this day.

A second set of banners went up over a rooftop they had scouted earlier and were abandoned.

Behind him the slaughter continued as the enemy slowly started to make effective use of their superior weaponry.

As a grenade took the barn Trindai ordered the rest of the mines armed. He would have to live with this order, but it was a must if the rest of them would stand any chance to make it back to Verd.

They were marching back in small groups when the mines started exploding. He never even knew if it was the enemy or his own soldiers who triggered them, but he knew for certain that any imperial soldier left on the fields was dead. Mines or no mines, it didn't matter.

Heinrich shook his head for the third time. Granita could plead as much as she liked, but he wasn't going to release his helmet to her.

She could have bullied someone else in his unit to lend her their helmet, but the holo casting came over the command channel only, and only he had a feed of what happened just west of the launch port.

It was not pretty. He could understand the rationale behind what General de Laiden was doing, even why the TADAT left behind followed him, but it didn't make watching the madness any easier.

At least Brigadier Idiot Goodard lacked even basic knowledge of what he could expect from Otherworld soldiers, and the federation troops handled their enemy as if they were some kind of local guerilla back on Earth. That gave them time to act and react in ways soldiers equipped with spears and crossbows should never have been given the chance to in the first place.

When the third body walker went down the TADAT finally decided they had had enough and retreated. On their way back they poured out the last of their anti personnel munitions and made it into the forest from which they had arrived.

Heinrich sighed with relief as he saw them temporarily safe. They had given as good as they took though. Now it was time for the insufficient help he was able to provide. Twice his two launchers roared and the four guided missiles he had brought screamed into the air. Within minutes four armoured vehicles would be gone, and that would force Goodard to assemble his anti missile defences More time gained, but Heinrich wished he'd been back with his unit. They had enough short range missiles to turn another fifteen vehicles into burning wrecks, and that should have been enough to give Goodard a reason to halt.

Heinrich growled at himself, but he had his orders. Sometimes staying out of harms way was more frightening than risking his life, and this was such a time.

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