Forged by Battle (WarVerse Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: Forged by Battle (WarVerse Book 1)
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Chapter 18

Johnston

 

Johnston stepped into the ready room and looked at the men assembled: the various captains of the other ships in his fleet, all of whom fell under his command. Most of them were not actually present; their likenesses were displayed as holograms in a rough circle around him. The only other physical presence in the room besides his own was Commander McKinley. The captains were all standing when he entered the room, and promptly saluted. Johnston returned the salute, then waved his hand so they could relax.

"Alright, gentlemen, for those of you who haven't heard the news, the Aberdeen research station has recently fallen under attack from the Verdantun."

The other captains’ reactions ran the gamut from surprise to anger, and enough of them were slow enough to react that Johnston was sure the information had already made the rounds. Nothing could stop the chiefs’ network.

"How did this happen?" Captain Fredricks of the
Excelsior
asked.

"The facility was built around a portal, with buildings on both the near and far sides. It seems the Verdantun massed a sizeable force against the latter," Johnston answered.

"Didn't we have forces stationed there?"

"Was this facility unguarded?"

"How could the elves get the drop on them?" Several captains tried to speak up at once. Here was the inherent problem with having everyone in their own ships, without the physical presence of the others in the room.

"The
Inferno
's own Special Forces Unit was on station to oversee the project, as our ship has a significant stake in their research. They sent a pigeon to alert us of the danger. A nearby element of the second fleet was detached for ground support, but their ground forces are only fitted with human tech. They managed to gain a foothold, but recent intel is that the scientists working there were not killed—they were captured by the Verdantun. This has been confirmed by ground forces."

The captains started arguing again, each offering their own idea of how to reinforce and rescue the survivors. The conversation moved away from the immediate logistics that Johnston had gathered them to discuss. He cleared his throat, forcing them all to look back at him.

"We do not have the time to argue over the whys and the hows," he said. "We need to discuss our actions going forward. I have outlined a plan; however, there is more on the table than the rescue of Aberdeen."

"What information is that?" Fredricks asked, but Johnston had a feeling they all already knew.

"During the fighting, one of our fighter wings intercepted an unknown energy weapon. One that destroyed several enemy bombers and severely damaged a civilian shuttle. Our sensor techs have analyzed the data and found that the source was far-side technology."

"Magic?"

"Out here?"

"How did intel miss this?"

"At ease," Johnston called. He was swiftly regretting the meeting. He did not technically need their input. He was an admiral and they were all captains, so the entire meeting was a formality at best. In the end, the decision and the responsibility would fall to him. It was courteous, however, something he had learned in the British navy, before he had joined the Joint Fleet and been exposed to all the other military cultures, alien included.

"We do not know the origin of the weapon, but we have our analysts working on it. You all know how unpredictable the portals can be. For all we know, one opened on the planet, unleashed a fire elemental, and then closed again. I think the more likely possibility is that the Separatists have been trying to research or engineer far-side tech for themselves, and that the fire and this weapon are a result of that."

"If the weapon could damage so many, how do we know we aren't also in danger?" asked Captain Torres of the
Pride of Brazil.

"None of the Merlins have ever displayed that sort of long-range space weaponry," Gregor of the
Roosevelt
added.

"We have already moved the fleet to a high orbit. The shuttle was thousands of meters closer to both the planet and moon, and we have no reason to suspect the fleet is in danger."

"It sounds like you don't know anything," Fredricks said.

Johnston gave him a level stare. His patience was at an end, and already he could feel the pressure mounting between his eyes. He was close to cutting off the meeting without any of their input. Fredricks was quick to back down, however.

"That is to say, sir, should we not take a more defensive stance, at least until we know more."

"Yes, that is what I have called you all here to discuss. We now have two missions, both of sizable importance. The colonists planetside still require assistance. We cannot abandon the forces we have already deployed to assist the relief efforts. We also can't ignore the attacks on Aberdeen. I have outlined the following plan: The
Inferno
will leave a contingent of fighters behind, and will use the hangar space to transport ground personnel and equipment from the ships that will remain here. We will jump to Aberdeen, secure the research facility, and rescue the colonists."

Johnston expected them to protest, but the other captains nodded with him.

"Will you be taking any escorts?" Gregor asked.

"I do not want to leave this battlegroup in a position where it cannot defend itself. Aberdeen has an orbital weapons station, so the
Inferno
will be supported in orbit. I intend to only take the military transport ship and possibly two destroyers. These are the logistics I wish to discuss."

Before the other captains could comment, the power to the hologram shorted out. Immediately, the emergency power kicked in, but the connection was lost.

The captain keyed his AMI to broadcast.


Johnston held up a hand to his ear to show McKinley he was speaking across the bionet.


And before he finished speaking, the lights were back on.

Johnston keyed back an acknowledgment, and then opened a line to medical.



she asked.



she said. <
Our guest, the girl from the planet. She's gone, sir.>


Johnston had been under the impression she was suffering from minor burns at worst.




When it rains
... Johnston thought.


"Get the other captains back," he told McKinley. "The sooner we are underway the better. When did combat become the easiest part of the job? Those colonists on Aberdeen don't have time for this."

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19

Rodrom

 

The world beyond his operating table seemed as distant as Earth to Derek Rodrom as he worked on the alien before him. Like the guard who stood watching, the Verdantun on the table was of the feral tribe. To the untrained eye, it could almost pass as human, but its eyes were too catlike, and its face held one too many angles. Its body was of humanoid shape: two arms, two legs, a torso, and a waist, though the muscles beneath the skin revealed the truth. These minor differences were easily missed, hidden beneath a thick coat of brown- and black-streaked fur.

Rodrom stooped over the right side of a tree root that served as his table, the Verdantun draped haphazardly atop it. Above them, more roots formed a ceiling, with hard-packed dirt serving as walls, in a space just barely large enough for Rodrom to stand upright in. The “room” had nothing in the way of décor or equipment, and the space where Rodrom kept his tools, as well as the table his wounded lay upon, grew straight out of the ground.

His gaze was locked onto the shrapnel wounds that peppered the feral's right arm and chest. With unsteady fingers, Rodrom maneuvered a pair of forceps made entirely of wood. He pushed them into the ravaged hole and twisted, attempting to create enough leverage to push past the shattered bone fragments and grasp the metal beneath. Finding purchase, he carefully pulled back, only to reveal a partial fragment that he unceremoniously dropped to the floor.

Rodrom threw down the bloodied forceps onto the makeshift tray beside him and snarled. Across from him, the guard raised an alien eyebrow in an obviously practiced human gesture, unknowingly igniting Rodrom's fury.

"How do you expect me to save these soldiers without exposing the injury?" he called, knowing the guard wouldn't comprehend the words. The alien tittered out a string of words in his nonthreatening musical language; Rodrom’s ire was understood, and the guard was threatening him back to work. Not for the first time, Rodrom cursed his inability to connect to the bionet. It would take only moments to download the translator patch he needed to understand and speak the Verdantun tongue—assuming the patch existed. On this side of the portal, he would have no such luck.

"Lorelei," Rodrom spat back. Although he butchered the name with an English approximation, the guard would understand. In response, the guard revealed pointed teeth in an animalistic growl, and moved through the gap in roots to find the healer who was responsible for Rodrom's conditional work. The other scientists of the captured research facility were imprisoned in a grove at the back of the compound. Rodrom was the only human permitted any freedom, if being made to work could be considered that. Despite their alien nature, the Verdantun had still been able to recognize him as a doctor, and the healers who traveled with the war party had put him to work.

The research facility where Rodrom had been working for the last six months had been overtaken by hostile forces. An army of Verdantun had appeared without warning, seizing him, his months of research, and the other scientists as well. Joint Fleet had mounted a counter offensive, and fierce battles raged across the planet's surface as ground troops vied for control, but Rodrom remained within the forest camp. He and his colleagues had been captured for nearly two standard months, with no end in sight.

Crimson blood spilled from the wound where Rodrom had been working. He scrambled to press a handful of leaves onto the wound. Though they looked no different from the kind he saw back on Earth, no terrestrial leaf would bind to a wound the way a Verdatun’s did. The wound was sealed, and whatever shrapnel he couldn't get was still trapped inside.

The other scientists called the Verdantun by the more common Fleet nickname
elves
. With their pointed ears and musical language, it wasn't too far of a stretch, but their abilities were what truly set them apart from humanity. The adhesive leaves were the least of their medicine; and some of the advanced things they did seemed impossible to Rodrom.

If one of the elves placed their hands upon a wounded person and sang, the wounds would knit themselves back together. Of course it was a result of the Verdantun coming from beyond the portals and not truly being a part of humanity's universe, but after seeing a decapitated soldier be brought back to life, it was hard for Rodrom to call it anything but magic. He constantly had to remind himself that what seemed like magic was only technology he couldn't yet comprehend.

The Verdantun beneath Rodrom shuddered as the doctor probed the other wound with gloveless fingers. The alien felt no pain due to the same magic, and Rodrom had become accustomed to his patient’s irregular twitch, not that it helped the barbaric surgery. In a proper lab he would have access to his equipment, and the AMI unit within his brain would also be able to access the bionet, where he would have all the medical knowledge of generations with a simple thought. He didn't necessarily need the information, as he had enhanced his own mental faculties. But regardless of his own prowess, with such an alien species he had no point of reference, and currently felt more like a med student than a practiced surgeon.

His painfully naked fingers felt more fragments within the Verdantun's arm, but no amount of careful extraction could remove them through the tiny paths from which they had entered. Rodrom grunted in frustration, once again formulating the argument against the oppressive and detrimental rule of the Verdantuns not to use blades to open their patients’ flesh. When Rodrom had suggested that he might need a scalpel blade, he had been tossed back into the prison pits with the others. At first, he assumed they feared he would use it as a weapon, but to his amazement—and horror—they never used such tools at all. They took the concept of “do no harm” to incredible lengths.

Rodrom looked up sharply from his patient at the sound of footsteps, his breath catching in his throat like it did every time. Ducking into the dim sourceless light of the chamber was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. She was alien, without a doubt, but with graceful curves, and with her uncharacteristically soft features, she nearly looked human. Her pointed ears and catlike pupils gave her away as Verdantun, and her skin had the unbroken amber color of a non-feral elf.

The only clothing she wore seemed to be vines and foliage that grew straight out of her skin. Flora wrapped around her arms and legs, and along her torso. All the amber-skinned Verdantun wore such attire, which appeared tied to their powers.

When she spoke, it sounded as though at any moment she would burst into song, and even the harsh inadequacy of English could not blunt the beauty of her alien voice. "DerekRodrom, we have a great many warriors to attend to, why have you called me here?" she demanded.

"Lorelei, this soldier will never regain the muscles in this arm, and will probably die from the shrapnel in his chest if you do not allow me to operate," Rodrom said simply, attempting to keep emotion out of his voice. Alien or not, Rodrom refused to lose a patient over asinine rules.

"Leave us," she ordered, pointing the guard who had followed her out again. Rodrom thought for a moment that he would protest, but the Verdantun discipline held fast and the guard complied. Lorelei remained silent for several breaths, staring at Rodrom as he continued his futile efforts. "What would you have me do DerekRodrom?" she finally asked. It was the bluntest Rodrom had seen her be since coming to the camp.

As usual, his mouth moved faster than his considerable mind. "A cheeseburger would be nice, or setting me free," he muttered. He pushed another leaf onto the wound to forestall any bleeding.

Lorelei ignored his comment. "Should I step outside this tree and tell these soldiers I am allowing a human to break our code? When so many already argue against you being allowed to treat?" Lorelei held up her hand to prevent him from speaking, a gesture she had learned from Rodrom. "My personal thoughts on the matter aside, my people have done things this way since long before our war, and the words of their enemy will not sway them."

Anger overwhelmed his forced calm. "So you will let him die? Just to maintain outdated and dangerous ideals?"

"Your own people consider us to be creatures of myth who wield forces beyond their comprehension. Yet despite what you have seen, you insist the only answer is to use your own methods to cure these men." Lorelei glanced outside the tree, then lowered her voice further. "You have a sharp mind, you could..."

Her voice was lost in the din of a massive explosion that rocked the camp. A moment later, a wolf's howl rose above the roar, and the noise within the camp shifted dramatically.

"They've broken through," Lorelei whispered. Then louder, "We must prepare to receive the wounded."

BOOK: Forged by Battle (WarVerse Book 1)
4.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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