Pariahs and Peacemakers

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Seventeen

The rain was extremely heavy and with Hansel being on the valley floor the fog had rolled in too. It was the wet season after all. That didn’t bother Tobias, he liked cold weather. In fact he felt more comfortable in the winter months than he did in the summer due to his warm blood and crippling hay fever. He gave out an anxious sigh which bloomed into a damp foggy bubble that drifted away aimlessly. He leaned against the front wheel of the Indatech heavily armoured vehicle, or HAC for short, which was second in the procession of four. He kept watch as the other three were loaded up in turn for the rough trip to the Fort. The police headquarters was aptly named due to its impregnable fortress-like design, carved into mountain Alataku. Travelling there would have been a simple task if the news hadn’t spread so quickly about the traitor Eric Cooper’s arrest. Whatever he knew the resistance really didn’t want the authorities to get it as they were out in force, hence the three HAC decoys. Despite their robust design Tobias was alarmingly aware that the HACs were not indestructible and judging by the lack of intel on rebel firepower his confidence was rock bottom. On top of that Tobias knew that they had sympathisers at every turn, he wasn’t sure how they would make it but then he’d always been a bit of a pessimist. He’d been commandeered to ride shotgun in the HAC carrying the prisoner while Amy was in the vehicle behind. Shane was clearing up the mess in the courtyard and routing through Eric’s personal belongings in the hope of finding something incriminating. Jordan was on the move with the rest of the casualties to a storage area where she would wait until the civil unrest had subsided. Tobias couldn’t bring himself to turn off her tracker just yet. He wanted to make sure his friend reached her destination not that that really mattered in the grand scheme of things but it did to him. He allowed one last look around and climbed the short set of ladders necessary to get into his seat. The guy in the driver’s seat was similar in appearance to Shane minus a couple years and wore thin framed glasses that perched on the end of his nose. “Tobias.” He smiled as he gestured his hand.

“Brindle,” he responded as he grasped Tobias’s one hand with his two.

“Quite a grip you’ve got there, Brindle, can I have that back?” he asked sarcastically as he nodded in the direction of his rapidly whitening knuckle. Tobias needed someone who could keep his head in a volatile situation not an overeager rookie like this guy seemed to be. The engine roared into life and attempted for a brief moment to escape the confines of the engine bay by pulverising the bonnet. “You from Hansel?” Tobias asked trying to dispel the air of awkwardness.

“Yeah, I’m first generation. Parents came from Earth.”

“Been with the force long, Brindle?”

“Not particularly and if it’s all the same to you just call me Jack. It’s short for Jack-in-a-box, sir.”

“Tobias is fine. Why the nickname?”

“Used to steal cars as a kid, I wasn’t exactly the model citizen. Truth is I was quite a reserved lad so when people found out it was quite a surprise. Hence Jack-in-a-box.” He chuckled as Tobias managed a sympathetically awkward laugh, at a loss of what else to say.

It took ten minutes to navigate the tight spaces around the Governor’s building but eventually the convoy reached the motorway which stretched out away from the capital. “Fuck, roadblock,” huffed Jack as a row of police cars blocked all lanes of traffic. Tobias frowned as he keyed up an alternate route on the holographic user interface. They peeled off the highway via a slip road onto the city floor. Jack manoeuvred around the abandoned cars and the odd body which littered every street in sight. Tobias was just thankful the riots had moved elsewhere. That relief didn’t last however as bullets pinged off the reinforced windscreen. “Crap,” slipped out of Jack’s mouth as he spun into a side street barely large enough to contain the brute, sparks flinging off the bodywork. “A rioter fancying a crack at us?” he asked with nervousness making his voice break.

“Probably worse than that,” Tobias said leaning forward in his seat and sweeping the rooftops for movement. Their HAC burst out onto a parallel running street and was immediately boxed in by three ramshackle looking 4x4s, cheaply retrofitted with some heavy gear. Two got on either side, pinning the HAC in place while the other sped forward and got in front. The boot opened and a rebel leapt in a brave attempt to bridge the gap. Jack sped up as soon as the tailgate opened up which caused the guy to slam against the windscreen and then up and over bouncing off the concrete sickeningly like a rag doll. Tobias flipped the safety catch on his rifle and leaned out the window of the passenger side. It was difficult to keep his eyes open with the heavy rain and wind resistance but he’d always been the best shot in the department so he at least had a better chance of hitting something than anyone. The lead car’s passenger tried to climb out to but was hit by Tobias as soon as he poked out his head. The body swung wildly outside the vehicle and hung there when the driver clipped a bus and flipped over as he attempted to correct his lapse of concentration. Jack slammed on allowing the two remaining cars to speed ahead. The two streets merged into one and Amy’s HAC slammed into the outside vehicle causing it to flip up and barrel roll over her. “I hope they were bad guys,” she stated nervously over the radio obviously not expecting them to cross her path. The convoy proceeded for another couple of miles, dogged by the remaining more manoeuvrable 4x4. At the crossroads it did something Tobias hadn’t expected and peeled off. Disappearing into the maze of streets beyond the metropolitan area. “That can’t be good,” Jack said just as Tobias saw the puff of smoke from the suspended pedestrian walkway up ahead. Thankfully Jack had seen it also. He swung the steering wheel so hard to the right that the HAC danced for a moment on its two offside wheels. The rocket propelled explosive grazed by and came to a rest in the cockpit of Amy Mason’s HAC. The resulting explosion was a mix of cruel red and blacks as the innards became outers in the convex side mirror. Tobias felt like he was going to throw up. Tears pooled in his eyes but he refused to shed them. He was allowed no chance to grieve as the 4x4 swung back into the fray. “Fuck this, swing alongside him now!” ordered Tobias as Jack complied, silently afraid of the anger in his voice. Tobias fired wildly not allowing the three occupants to fire back. Once they were alongside Tobias hit the rear passenger in the throat with a well-placed shot. The victim clawed at the guy in the passenger seat for some sort of aid or reassurance as he gargled on his own blood allowing Tobias to throw a frag grenade into the back seat. The driver dived back and tried to fumble it to safety but with no one at the wheel a nudge from Jack sent it careering over the guardrails and through a shop front. Tobias watched with dark satisfaction as charred metal and molten plastic rained out after a dull thud. Black smoke plumed from the gap and no one stumbled out.

An attack helicopter flew overhead as their escort moments later. Tobias breathed a sigh of relief but cursed them under his breath for their delay. They could have saved Amy. Oh god, Amy, he thought as a stray tear broke through the fortifications. They funnelled through the front gate which was manned by more officers than Tobias had ever seen in one place. The convoy followed the tarmac and stopped at the entrance to the Fort. Tobias climbed out and had to steady himself against the vehicle. His body had begun to withdraw the adrenalin that had fuelled him. His vision narrowed and he noticed he’d taken a glancing wound to the cheek. He regulated his breathing as he took in the usually immaculate garden area that had been trampled and converted into a makeshift forward operating base for the police and minimal Senate Security officers on site. Two officers came forward to collect the prisoner who was now lucid enough to not have to be carried, only supported. Jack whipped past so fast he was there one moment and gone the next. The shots rang out not a second after and hit an unintended victim. Tobias swivelled and pulled the trigger not knowing its target, it was training that took over. The Senate Security officer staggered back and crumpled onto the floor. The two sides faced off no one knowing who shot first. Tobias checked Jack-in-a-box, he’d already started to go cold. Tobias clenched a fist and got between the two sides, not his best move by any stretch of the imagination. “Calm the fuck down! Check the Senate, man, he shot first and tried to kill Cooper,” he barked at anyone that’d listen and when no one did he went over himself. He was well aware he had to have at least twenty muzzles pointed in his direction but he was far too pissed to care. He removed the balaclava and held up the limp body. The lulling face wasn‘t that of a soldiers, that much he knew but it had a familiarity about it. “Does anyone know this asshole?”

“He’s not one of ours,” spoke the CO of the Senate Security contingent on Atlas who had rushed over from the FOB. An officer moved forward in the crowd and whistled.

“I know who he is.” He paused unnerved by all the faces aimed his way. “It’s Daniel Field, Leader of the Atlas Resistance.” Tobias took a moment to look at the face again and took a hard gulp that had formed rapidly in his mouth. “Big fish,” he muttered.

The shimmering silhouette was easily passed over by a patrol of pirates that crossed his path. Keeto couldn’t believe the relaxed manner in which they swanned about. That had been his escort’s undoing, they hadn’t given him the due caution he deserved and now he was free to roam. He moved to a service hatch and ripped off a panel with his bare hands not too concerned with the noise he was making. He doubted if anyone would be concerned enough to investigate. He had a duty to the Senate even if Shayara had forgotten that and he would not be treated as a crook by a degenerate such as Dead-eye Jack. He would take him down one way or another. He placed the tracking device into the ship’s main feed and masked it with a nearby short to ground which would be categorised as a low priority repair by the ship bound AI. With the panel back to how it had been, Keeto moved further down the hall. He needed to find a way off the dreadnought and fast.

Shayara clasped her initially reluctant brother warmly in front of his two bodyguards at the foot of her ship. Having Keeto jump ship had really riled him as he knew now the Senate would know his identity and that implicated Shayara. “Don’t sweat it, I’ll sort it,” she promised not all too convincingly.

“It was at least good to see you. Even if you only brought me bad news.” He smiled back at her before letting go. He then shook Jarner’s hand firmly, so tight his fingers cracked slightly at the pressure. “Make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble.” Jack didn’t exactly ask but more ordered.


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