We lowered the last of the Terran dead into the ground and replaced the slabs over the bodies scattering the remaining dirt over the top. I regretted the loss of so many young lives. Children I suppose I couldn’t think of them as anything but that, with no training and no need for them to be here. I wondered what the hell was the Terran Empire thinking? I wanted answers but the only one that could have provided them was dead. Questioning the youngsters during the interment had brought many more questions than answers.
“Sir?” one asked, “what happens now?”
“I’ll need your names and that of those that died?” Belatedly I found out that none of the Terran’s carried id chips. Confederacy soldiers had a chip implanted in their wrists. A quick scan and the dead could be identified. I pressed my fingers behind my ear even though I didn’t really need to do that. “Lottie, recording mode please.”
“Of course Sandra. Recording ready.”
I turned back to the Terran’s. “Just your names no need for rank and serial number?”
“Serial number?” a puzzled voice asked.
I sighed. “Stick to your names and those of the dead it will be enough.”
“Sir I could key them in on your datapad if you like?” the girl with my armour remarked although she didn’t know that yet.
“That won’t be necessary. We’ll start with you shall we?”
“Gena Guerro from New York, Earth,” she stated.
“Good now who’s next?”
Slowly I worked through the list thankful that Lottie’s recording would be useful when it came to making my report not that I wanted to write it. The thought of the senseless deaths of the young Terrans sickened my gut. “Ok hand your tools to Abe and Alphonso.”
“Yes?” I halted I’d forgotten the name of the male youngster addressing me.
“Theron Walker,” Lottie supplied.
“Sir I need to go.”
“I need to pee, I’ve been holding on as long as I can.”
“You need to change your liner?”
I sighed and tried to explain what a liner was used for I don’t think they really understood.
“We were never told about those we were just issued battle suits,” he patted his chest his fist clanging against his cuirass.
“Abe, there a place you dispose of your wastes?”
“Yeah we brought a porta-potti with us. They use it they clean it, are we on the same wavelength here?”
“Yes.” I gave the Terrans a look. "You all heard that?”
“Yes sir,” came the reply.
“Follow me!” we headed back to the amphitheatre.
Patches of dried blood indicated the place where the Terrans died. The Terran wounded and most of my squad had disappeared. Shawna and Kriaeusus were waiting for me.
“Where is everyone?” I asked them.
“Inside,” Shawna replied, “you gotta see it it’s like a magical cavern in there.”
“Kriaeusus relieve Vanwasshova I need her out here.”
Kriaeusus returned with Bacare and Sarah. “Bacare’s offered to take charge of the prisoners.”
“Abe, Alphonso go with Bacare and take the Terrans inside.” I turned to the Terrans. “Gena stay here with me,” I said to her in Terran then spoke to Bacare in Galactic. “Take them inside and see that they are given water and what food we can spare.”
“Please sir what going to happen to me?” Gena asked the Terran was trembling.
“We are going to talk,” I indicated a spot away from the entrance.
“Sir I don’t know nothing I wasn’t the one that slept with him.”
“Slept with whom?”
“Captain Phillips!” she spat on the ground, “I couldn’t do that I saving myself for someone special.” She looked at Shawna and Sarah. “What have I done wrong sir?”
“I need your armour.”
“My… My armour?” she put her hand to her chest, “why?”
“Because I don’t have any.”
“Please I can’t!”
“I’m not wearing anything underneath.”
“Then we swap. My skinnies for your armour.”
I plucked the front of my jumpsuit. “These are skinnies.”
“You and I are the same size.”
She stared at me then deflated. “Get it over with.” With that she began to remove her armour.
Quickly I stripped down aware the interest I was getting from Shawna. “Eyes on the surroundings sergeant.”
“I’m looking at the surroundings major.”
I sighed. Standing in my underwear I started to dress in the armour as I did so I noticed a smell a strong odour of urine. I began to see why Gena had been so reluctant to swap and from her horrified expression she guessed I knew.
“Were you even shown how to wear armour correctly?”
“No sir were just given the armour and told to wear it.”
I tipped up the boots and something trickled out the bottom. “Got any liners I asked Shawna." I wasn’t looking forward to donning the armour.
“Sure major,” she rummaged in her pack and produced the item. “Best if you sprinkle a bit of this in it as well.” She produced a small glass bottle with an old-fashioned type stopper. “Perfume. You never know when you should make yourself smell nice for a friend.”
I was definitely going to make time to speak to Shawna.
“Here,” Sarah said handing me her water container, “wash the inside out with this.” She glanced at Gena. “I didn’t think I would but I’m starting to feel sorry for them. Poor bastards.”
“Sarah take Gena back and settle her with her friends.” I turned to Gena. “You ok Gena?” I spoke to her in Terran.
“I’m sorry. I was so afraid.”
“Go back to your friends Gena,” I told her gently. They never deserved this Terran or not.
Accompanied by Sarah I watched her walk back to the shelter of the bunker.
“And me?” Shawna asked.
“Give me a hand with this armour.”
Together we swilled out the bottom half of the armour with Sarah’s water and sprinkled Shawna’s perfume over it. I carefully examined the armour it was really basic not even a monitoring panel for the internal systems
Putting the armour on, I felt the dampness on my legs and thighs. At least I was in armour even if it was an enemy’s. Although for the first time in my career I was uncertain about classing Gena and her companions as enemies.
“You seem troubled?” Shawna said to me.
“What do you make of these Terrans?”
“Scared kids. God help me but I can’t see them any other way.”
“Me to,” I straightened, “I’ll get to the bottom of this I swear if find the bastard that sent them here I’d have his head.”
“Damn right major.”
“Come!” I said abruptly, “I hope Vorra’s got something off the comms unit.
Together we entered the bunker.
There was an abrupt change in temperature as we entered the door of the bunker, it was cool to heat of the outside and a breeze blew from the depths cooling the air around me. I could see why the archaeologists chose this place. To my surprise there was a set of worn steps that led down just inside of the entrance. A number of crates were stacked beside the door several peppered with bullet holes. Strung along the roof was series of small self-powered lights. My Terran made boots clattered on the surface of the steps. As we descended I could hear voices echoing in the distance.
“How far down does this go?”
“Not far to the bottom,” Shawna replied, “just think this place has lain here untouched for thousands of years.”
We reached the floor of the stairs and walked across a widening corridor. Stepping through a larger doorway I could see we were in a large room, larger than the space above but I judged we were deep enough underground for it not to matter. The roof looked natural although the floor seemed artificial and made of the same material that covered the steps. It was well lit lighter than I expected with crates between the door and the camp if you could call it that. Behind the camp there was a reflection something that said water to me.
“The water in the lake is pure fresh water. Sarah checked it out, said she never trusted the ‘archaeologists’ findings,” Shawna said when she saw what I was looking at.
“Over there major,” Shawna said pointing to the camp.
“And the Terrans?” I didn’t want to use the word prisoner most of these kids were younger than the students from the academy.
“On the other side. Bacare and Kriaeusus have spelled the first shift.”
“Good I need to speak to Elspeth Broaden.”
Elspeth Broaden glanced up as I advanced on her. Her hand was gripping a medallion around her neck. It was roughly diamond shaped as close to that shape that I could see with caved in sides and a hole in the centre with a slightly bevelled edge. Fine twists of gold encased the edges and attached it to a gold chain. Elspeth Broaden scrutinised me I could see her tear streaked face and reddened eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said in the way of condolence. Something about her features reminded me of my father that question could be asked later. I had realised so before from her holo. “We got here as soon as we could.” I know it sounded lame but I couldn’t think of anything else to say on the subject.
“You did what you could,” She sighed, “Jeanne was like a sister to me. I was so pleased when she asked to come with me. It was nice to have someone near my age to talk to,” she gazed into the distance. “I regret it now.”
“Elspeth, Miss Broaden I’ve come a long way to speak to you?”
“Ah yes your lieutenant did tell me.”
I opened my mouth to say more when a shout from Vorra interrupted my chain of thought.
“I’ve got it working!”
I strode across to Vorra looking very excited her face changed as soon as she saw me. “Oh major.”
“You have something for me?”
“Odd that I’ve spent ages trying to break through the encryption then as soon as you turn up it’s broken.”
“What this got to do with me?” I demanded.
“I apologise major it just that…”
“The same signal that tried to hack the remotes on the shuttle, unlocked the encryption of the comms unit.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“You sure you’ve got a 227?”
“That’s what I paid for,” which was technically the truth.
“Sorry major I’m just over excited I guess.”
“Accepted Vorra. Do you have anything?” I hadn’t noticed but my conversation had drawn an audience both the archaeologists and the captured Terrans.
“Sure I’ll just turn it on.”
There was a sound of footsteps somewhere large because I could hear echoes.
“We’ve been expecting you. I know you failed to find the Broaden Bitch, ” a male voice sounded through the speaker of the comms unit almost dripping with malice. Whoever it was, was speaking Terran.
“I came as you asked majesty. We were too slow she got off world,” the second voice replied.
“That’s Captain Phillips!” Gena cried out in alarm, “I don’t who the other is one he’s calling majesty. It can’t be the emperor it just can’t be.”
“Shush,” someone whispered.
Vorra restarted the comms unit.
“That was not your fault I had the miscreants punished.”
“Yes your majesty. You wanted to speak to me?”
“You weren’t followed?” first voice asked, “the Broaden Bitch has agents everywhere my associate is tracking them down even now.”
“I took the precautions you asked.”
First voice laughed. “Even if you were followed my associate will deal with them. I have a special mission for you. Speak not a word of it to anyone.”
“I’m yours to command Majesty.”
“You are to kill the bitch’s whelp.”
“Just tell me where and when.”
“Good, good. You are to travel to Anwa Padak and kill the whelp,” there was a moment’s silence then first voice continued, “do not shoot her in the head, I need it intact to display on the wall of the palace. That will bring the bitch out of hiding if we haven’t got her in the meantime.”
“Anwa Padak that’s a long way into Confederacy space.”
“I have given you a ship and a crew.”
“They’re not going to let me walk in and take her head I must expect some resistance?” there was a pause, “the Confederacy Navy will stop us.”
“They’ll be too busy to notice one ship.”
“That will deal with the Confederacy and what about anyone else on Anwa Padak?”
“Take some troops with you. Not the best take them from the latest intake. They are disposable use them as you will then kill them. Shove them out the airlock, I want to see images their terrified faces as they die.” The voice chuckled.
“Shit!” one of the Terrans cried out, "the bastard, I slept with him.”
“You weren’t the only one Sheila,” Gena said.
“Yeah you’re the lucky one at least you said no.”
“Shut up! I’m listening,” another of the Terrans shouted which started an argument amongst the survivors.
“Enough!” I yelled, “remain silent!” The noise petered out. “Continue please Vorra.”
Vorra started the unit up again.
“The ship and the crew?” Phillips remarked, “they’ll know what I did?”
“The ‘Melbourne’ will be waiting for you in Empire space. Once you transfer activate the code on this datapad.”
There was a sound of something passing from hand to hand. “We’ve hidden explosives on the ‘Tunis’ detonate them when you are safely away. We’ll blame it on the Confederacy those traitors don’t deserve anything less.”
“You will be well rewarded. A dukedom will be yours for the taking once the Broaden line is extinguished. My associate says you are reliable.”
“My life and my dukedom is yours to command!”
There was a sound of footsteps before the comms unit clicked off.
“I take it wasn’t good news judging from the faces of these Terrans?” Tutor asked.
I told him what was said.
“I can’t believe this was all to kill her,” Shawna spoke quietly her eyes on the pale faced woman her arms wrapped around Joyce the older woman seemed to be whispering in her ear.
“Right you lot!” I spoke loudly in Terran, “get yourselves back to your area.”
Slowly they moved back to where Bacare and Kriaeusus watched over them. I looked across seeing Gena a patch of grey in a sea of pale green. There seemed to be some discussion going on. I called Tutor over.
“Keep an eye on them LT they’re planning something. I’m going to speak to Miss Broaden.”
“Bacare, Kriaeusus eyes peeled,” Tutor ordered.
“Aye, Aye sir,” they replied.
Elspeth sat in a circle of her fellow archaeologists with both Reed and Joyce sitting either side of her their arms around her shoulders. Her red eyes stared at me as I approached she had been crying again.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that. I would have spared you that had I known.”
“You must think me a ninny to cry like that.”
I shrugged I couldn’t answer that. “We need to talk. You know my mission?”
“Your Lieutenant told me about it. I’m sorry major I can’t help you.”
I felt my anger rise. All this wasted time when I could have been with the 43rd.
Elspeth Broaden held up her hand. “Hear me out,” her voice sounded more commanding as if she had taken hold of her emotions. “I cannot help you until you help me. I want you to rescue my mother.”
“Impossible!” I blurted out, “we can’t even get off this world.”
She suddenly smiled although sad it was a total contrast to her expression only moments ago. “I have faith in you. You will find a way it is all relative.”
“Lady Broaden?” Gena enquired.
I hadn’t heard her approach one of my squad must have let her through.
I saw Gena look at me then looked at Elspeth her eyes widening. “My lady,” she dropped to her knees and held her arms out, “please listen to my oath I wish to swear fealty to you.”
“I am listening,” Elspeth said with a glance to me.
“I Gena Guerro formally of Earth pledge my soul and allegiance to you Lady Broaden. From this day forward and will be willing to give my life to save yours.”
Elspeth straightened up, stood and stepped over to Gena. She held her arms out placing them between Gena’s. I could see her hands shaking. “I answer your pledge with my own. I Lady Elspeth Broaden promise to protect you and any of you dependants.” She lowered her hands.
“My lady I am yours to command.”
“My command is go back to your unit and wait until I call you.”
“Yes my lady I am willing to serve.”
Gena wasn’t the first and finally every single Terran had pledged themselves to Elspeth. She placed her hands back on knees still trembling. I had to admire her resolve. She turned her head and gazed at me. “And you? Would you swear to me?” She spoke softly.
I shook my head. “I gave my oath to the Confederacy and I’ll not break that.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “I’m exhausted. We’ll speak again in the morning and I need to rest. ” She stood and headed out of the archaeologist’s section toward where they had set up the porta-potti.
I knew I wasn’t going to get anything else out of her tonight.
I wandered back to my squad. Sarah pulled out a ration pack and handed it to me.
“Everyone but you have eaten. We saved this for you,” she passed me a steaming cup of coffee, “compliments of the civs, major. You looked like you needed a drink and a bite to eat.”
Reminding me I hadn’t eaten since we had left the base camp that was hours ago. “You can’t carry on running on empty.” Sarah was right.
The coffee was surprisingly good washing down the dryness of the ration pack. The days events washed over my frame I felt drained.
“Get some rest major,” Tutor told me.
“I need a wash more than sleep LT.”
“There’s a pool in the far corner that the archaeologist’s use. The water’s surprisingly warm. Vanwasshova go with the major.”
Tutor was right the water was warm too warm to be heated from the sun another lost prize of the city, no surprise the archaeologists wanted to stay here. It had everything they needed. Bathed and dried off I was reluctant to don my urine stained armour no matter how hard I washed it out. Still smelling of Shawna’s perfume I returned to the squad.
“Here major I set up a place to sleep for you,” Shawna said indicating a place next to her, “we’re both on the late shift.”
Using my harness as a pillow I lay down placing my coil gun beside me. I was used to sleeping in armour but Anoxi had been the last place I had done that and I wondered what nightmares would be haunting my sleep.
I blinked and the next thing I knew was someone shaking me awake immediately I reached for my weapon.
“Steady major steady,” Sarah and Shawna were both kneeling next to me.
“What’s wrong? We under attack?”
“It sounded like you were under attack?” Sarah said sounding worried.
“What?” I was still drowsy from sleep.
“You were having a nightmare,” Shawna said, “it sounded pretty bad.”
Slowly my mind recalled the dream. “Damn I’d thought I’d put Anoxi behind me?”
“I heard it was bad there?” Tutor remarked joining the women, “are you going to be ok major?”
“Yeah I suppose,” I glanced over to where the Terrans rested. “I think seeing those dead kids triggered it.”
“Hell major you weren’t to know. At least you gave them a chance to surrender, I wouldn’t have,” Tutor assured me. He held out his hand to me. I grasped it he pulled me up. “What are you orders major?”
“Vorra get you butt over here,” Tutor yelled.
“Major, LT?” Vorra hurried over rubbing sleep from her eyes.
“Vorra can we link to the base camp comms relay?” I asked.
“Easily enough. Why?”
“We can’t leave until we get rid of the Terran cruiser.”
“As soon as we try to get a message out the Terrans will lock onto the signal and blast the hell out of us?” Tutor said.
“Not if the message is for them.”
“I don’t understand?”
“We play the recording.”
“I get it!” Vorra remarked excitedly, “if I guess what you are thinking.”
“What?” Tutor sounded annoyed.
“We play the recording to the Terrans I know it’s a gamble. They might decide to attack or they might decide to leave stranding what they think is the Terran captain.”
“Chancy but we’ve got nothing to lose,” Tutor stated, “the Havok can’t take us off while the Terrans hover over us.”
“Vorra do your magic. LT rouse the children. Shawna get the archaeologists moving,” I pressed my fingers behind my ear knowing it wasn’t really necessary, but I had to keep up the pretence while Vorra was around. “Did you get all that Lottie?”
“Do you think it will work?”
“Are you asking my opinion?”
“That’s what I asked.”
“I’ll piggy back on the Ezaran’s signal and add a few things of my own. I’ll make sure they leave.”
“Be careful Vorra’s already suspicious of you.”
“I know she’s already tried to hack my system twice. I’ll let her in when I want to but not before.”
I picked up my harness and readied to leave.