Forged by Battle (WarVerse Book 1) (9 page)

BOOK: Forged by Battle (WarVerse Book 1)
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Chapter 20

The Exile

 

"Look, ma'am, I don't care if you have orders from the bloody king. I am not going to release anything without the proper forms," the human in charge of supply spat out. Between his massive bulk and offensive odor, the man maintained a putrid aura the Exile found repulsive to even briefly connect to.

To further her frustration, his thoughts were not on the papers in front of him; instead, he was busy contemplating the scores of some game. "We've got half a continent burning down planet side, and I can't just be handing out supplies to every Butterbar who walks into my armory." He used the mention of rank as an excuse to look at her lapel ranks, and then slid his eyes below them.


she projected with emphasis only a mind connection could muster. She looked down at the ranks pinned on the man's lapel and cursed herself for not remembering their meaning. He caught her glance and the rank bubbled to the forefront of his thoughts. <…
Chief,>
she finished.

The man glanced down at the papers in front of him, his mind turning. He knew she was probably right; the papers hadn't moved in over a month, and if she pulled his superior, he was going to have his work cut out for him. He looked up again and after running his eyes down her frame one last time, sighed and said, "I suppose a medium will suffice, Lieutenant." The last word he spit out, as if calling her anything other than an insult brought a sour taste to his mouth.


Exile waited as the man moved from his desk and stepped over to place his thumb on a door lock behind him. It chimed, and the hatch beside it swung open to reveal a room filled with supplies.

Before he could turn back toward her, the Exile reached out and touched the forefinger of her left hand to the base of his neck. Her connection to him flared and she sent a mental blast through the man's synapses. As he slipped to the floor, she grabbed him and awkwardly pushed him into his chair. She took a moment to prop him against the desk, so it appeared as though he had only fallen asleep. A moment’s search through the desk resulted in a bottle of hard liquor, which she pushed into his hand.

Another touch—to his forehead this time—and Exile delved deeper through the AMI into his mind. She found the memory of their encounter and destroyed it, erasing her presence completely. She added some muddled thoughts to fill the space for good measure.

Her trail effectively covered, she stepped past him into the room beyond.

The bile rose in her as she stepped away from him. At her back, the dagger was pulsing with enjoyment. Any suffering, however slight, fueled the monster within.

The Exile found herself in a storage room with the walls separated by dividers; one section was devoted to racks of the holographic uniforms worn by the naval personnel, and the other to various equipment. A generator sat back against the wall where the suits were given their initial charge. Exile quickly stripped out of her simple traveling gear and tossed it onto the ground, then grabbed one of the uncharged uniforms, which was nothing more than a gray silken lump, and placed it inside the generator. The machine thrummed, a green light sparked, and a test hologram shifted across the fabric’s surface before it reverted back to blank.

She had first begun her infiltration of the fleet ten standard years ago, whole of body and ready to serve her people’s agenda. She did not need to hide her face or features, as her people were falsely considered to be members in good standing with the fleet. However, finding the appropriate role had taken practice. Low-ranking enlisted members were easily ignored but often questioned as to their movements, and the higher ranking enlisted were often given piles of work to occupy any free time. High-ranking officers were too few in number to go unnoticed. None made for adequate infiltration roles. The lowest of the office corp, however—the second lieutenants—went unnoticed and ignored. They held enough rank to go unquestioned by any enlisted soldier, and not enough rank to mean anything to other officers. As a spec ops officer, she would be completely invisible, as well as untouchable. A ghost.

It had taken her more than one nearly failed mission to realize this, but with failure came knowledge. She only had to program the uniform to display the appropriate rank and insignia. The humans used AMI units to do this work, of course, but despite her ability to interface with and control them, she had no artificial intelligence of her own. It was no problem, however. Humans were redundant creatures.

Her gaze fell on a small space on the wall that was devoid of any equipment. She stepped over to it and touched the empty space. A slit appeared, and a keyboard slid out before her. The blank space flickered and then a screen appeared with the symbol of an eagle with its wings spread out over a spaceship. The words “Joint Fleet” were inscribed below it.

She used holographic keys to flip through the different items until the desired object appeared: the multipurpose unit, a wrist-mounted device that would accept oral commands, but in the case of an emergency, could be controlled by touch. Exile looked down at where her right arm had once been and shook her head.

She looked to the shelf the inventory listed. She found several roles of tape. After another three minutes of searching she spotted a bank of drawers labeled “M.P.U.” Exile’s horn ached with frustration. How could the conclave deem humans so important when even simple things were beyond them.

She pulled one of the devices from the drawer and looked it over. It was larger than a wristwatch, about half the size of her forearm. Most of its length was taken up by a projector that would display a holographic screen and controls, and underneath was a slot where a battery would go. More hunting and she found the batteries half a room away from the units, and once she plugged one in, the holographic screen blossomed outward.

"Multipurpose unit operational and ready. What devices will you synchronize?" the unit intoned.

Exile set the unit down on the shelf. She concentrated on her lost arm, and after a moment, a shimmer of blue emerged from the metal cap below her shoulder and coalesced into the shape of a forearm, then wrist, hand, and fingers. She used the spectral fingers to lift the device and place it on her true arm, fastening it in place. It had taken a lot of effort to draw her Shell. Too much effort. She had trained with these abilities all her life, as all Psykin did, and her affinity for Web work was no excuse.

Centering herself again, the Exile used her ethereal hand to tap out controls on the MPU to connect to the uniform she’d pulled out earlier. As she touched the holographic keys, the suit before her came alive, shifting colors as it activated. It imitated her hand and the floor beneath, then the cabinet behind her as she lifted it. Another key tap and it became a basic lieutenant’s uniform. Exile slipped it on and looked herself over. She tapped a few more keys to let out the seams at the stomach so it hung looser around her figure.
Let them stare now
, she thought.

The lights across the room cut out, and Exile was left in total darkness. She collapsed to her knees. If the ship had been wounded enough to lose power, then the vacuum would get to her. She would be lost in the endless void. The walls started to pull closer.

Almost immediately, the lights came back on, and the Shadow pulsed with contempt for her weakness. Or was that her own self-loathing she was feeling? She pushed herself to her feet. It was best not to think about it.

Along another wall were racks of gear, including various types of rucksacks. One was a light weight version made of collapsible mesh that could expand to an enormous size. Exile lifted one off the wall and pulled at the straps to open it. She tossed in her old set of clothes, then walked over to the wall and pulled down three more of the uniforms, and tossed those into the bottom of the bag as well. After the uniforms went a backup communicator, four multipurpose unit batteries, and a holographic balaclava. Then she spotted the lock at the back of the room.

It was set into a thick door, and made of a kind of metal composite. She couldn't sense anyone behind the door, which she knew led to an armory. She looked over it for a moment and bent to examine the keypad. With a glance back to the still unconscious guard, she lifted her hand to the handle and pressed against the mechanism. With the same will she had used to lift the ball of water, she reached out and clicked the mechanism free from within. The door swung freely on well-maintained hinges, exposing a brightly lit armory. Within it were rows upon rows of advanced weaponry. Stacks of standard infantry Gauss rifles with high-powered scopes, miniature grenade launchers, rail-gun sniper rifles, and crew-served laser weapons were all stored neatly before her.

It was a room full of brand new weapons—not ones she had taken from a downed adversary, or that she’d rebuilt herself from parts. For once she would be able to arm herself in the manner she saw fit.

She stepped inside and lifted a weapons rig from the wall. It was made of similar material to the rucksack. She pulled it over her shoulders and fastened the straps around her waist and legs. Next she grabbed two handguns and holsters and placed them on her hips. The guns remained visible on her uniform, so she called forth her spectral hand and keyed another command into her MPU, and the guns vanished beneath the hologram. She grabbed one of the sniper rifles that folded down into a convenient size, then strapped it to her back. Finally, she added a belt of grenades and a Gauss rifle to her mobile armory and rolled her shoulders to test the weight. The familiar weight of heavy weapon’s was more a comfort than anything she had found so far.

Beneath each type of weapon was a crate of ammo. The rail gun's ammo was the lightest—small blocks of metal that, when fired, would shave off a sliver and accelerate to a fraction of the speed of light. The Gauss rifle was the heaviest as it used pre-shaped rounds that were accelerated by rotating magnets. Regardless, she still grabbed several magazines and clipped them to the magnetized bolts on her rig. Then she grabbed a half-dozen handgun battery packs to power the miniature blasters.

Once all her ammo was in place and the weapons were slung tightly across her body, she coded a command into the MPU. All of the weapons shifted in color to blend in with the surroundings. They wouldn't be completely invisible, but they would certainly draw less attention than walking around with more weapons than a frigate.

She took a last look around the weapons room and with a slight sense of longing stepped out of the door, slung the rucksack over her shoulders, and walked back out into the room where the guard lay slumped. She shook her head. Things were so much easier on her own.

With the MPU linked to the ship’s communication net, Exile was able to quickly download a map of the station. A few more commands allowed her to begin searching for the
Inferno
’s destination.
Human security never ceases to impress
, she thought. Within hours, she would infiltrate their ranks once again.

Chapter 21

Vincent

 

Vincent ran a hand across the rag on his belt, leaving a trail of grease. A similar streak darkened his brow. He straddled the portside wing of his fighter, the engine laid bare before him, as he tried to repair the damage the junior tech had left for him.

"I'm going to need more copper wire, Rover," Vincent muttered. A cheerful bark acknowledged him. Vincent glanced down to where the bot was sitting with its nose pushed into the toolbox. After a moment it sat back with the wire seemingly attached to the end of its nose. Vincent rolled his eyes.

Vincent had put the mechanics in a tough spot, though he would never admit it to them. By reattaching the armor with a plasma torch and then reheating it at reentry, the repair crews had been forced to spend hours stripping away the outer layer of metal and laying the pieces again. On a Falcon it would have been a simple fix, but the Chimera and its shifting parts made for difficult work. The mechanic’s inexperience with the ship, coupled with the complicated procedure, left for an agonizingly long strip job.             

Vincent was able to hold back his comments and ire during the initial strip job, as it was a tough thing for even the most inexperienced mechanic to botch. The moment the rebuilding began, however, Vincent was pulled from the flight deck by his pilots with threats of bodily harm and several choice curses echoing in his wake.

He was unable to change the senior chief’s decision, so Vincent adopted a routine. The junior would fix this or that, often causing several extra hours of work with each new “repair,” and then Vincent would come down during third watch to correct the damage. Between him and Rover, they were well on their way to bringing the fighter back to her usual self, and if Vincent was able to add a few personal modifications while he had her stripped down, so much the better.

Rover skittered up the side of the ship and dropped the bundle of wire in front of Vincent. He cut off a piece one-third of a meter long before reaching back into the engine, and started splicing his new length in. Once the copper was entwined with the severed end, he pulled another tool from his pocket and spread a fast-hardening insulator gel over the entire job. He moved the wires back to their mounting, and spread the gel liberally along that as well, to insulate against the EMP bursts and radiation his ship so often endured.

"As I live and breathe. Is that our kapitan working with a robot?" a deep voice exclaimed from behind Vincent.

"I fancy it is," came a second.

"Is that the sound of someone volunteering for scoring detail? I'm sure Tanker would love the company," Vincent replied over their laughter.

Pilots Tesla and Forge passed beneath him into view. Despite having served with Tesla on a multispecies ship for nearly six months, Vincent bristled when he saw the diminutive Grelkin.

Like any Grelkin—or gnome, as the fleet liked to call them—Tesla looked more or less like a man, only significantly shorter. He came in at just under a meter tall, and the only other big differences were his oversized head and the extra fingers and thumb on each hand.  In general, he had a frail appearance that all his people shared, and as always, he had on his goggles. The massive black lenses hid nocturnal eyes that couldn't even stand the hangar’s artificial light. The goggles also helped distract from his lack of a nose. Gnomes smelled from their ears, though Vincent wondered if Tesla was lying about that.

Tesla's real name was a series of gestures the gnomes used when interacting with their own. Upon his arrival on Earth, however, he had adopted the name Franklin Faraday. One of the more history-savvy members of the squadron had deemed the call sign “Tesla” most appropriate.

"You might want wipe your face, sir. Lord knows how expensive space grease is," said Forge.

He was the gnome’s polar opposite: seven feet tall, and his skin was a dark brown from years of exposure to roaring fires, which contrasted with Tesla's pale white complexion. Yuriy “Forge” Kovalchuk had earned his moniker because his family had owned and operated a colonial-style working museum, where Forge had been a blacksmith before the war pulled him in.

Tesla punched Forge behind the knee—it was the highest he could reach. "Why would you go and ruin the fun?"

Vincent sighed. "Forge? What is on your back?"

"It is uniform. I do not understand joke."

"Rover, help him out."

The bot skittered back down the ship to behind Forge. It lifted one of its front claws and telescoped up to snatch something from his back. It held up a paper sign with the words “Kick me” written on it.

"By the void. Really, Tesla?"

"It's a classic!"

"How many times do I have to tell you two to stop the pranks?"

"We didn't mean no harm, sir. Just foolin’ is all." Tesla gave a big smile to reinforce his desire to avoid the scoring detail he’d already been threatened with. Somehow, after living with human’s for twenty years, the gnomes still spoke a mish-mash of English from across every generation since the invention of the radio.

The lights across the bay dimmed and then switched off, and several yells of surprise and grunts of pain rang out in the second before the emergency lights came on. The gentle hum that sailors learned to ignore hadn’t stopped, so Vincent knew the Inferno’s engines were still active.

"What happened?" Tesla wondered aloud.

"We have lost power," Forge offered.

"No shit, Sherlock."

"Who?"

"Read a book."

Before the two finished arguing, the lights came back on.

"Someone must not have paid the antimatter bill," Tesla quipped.

Forged slapped him lightly on the back of his head. "Anyway, sir, we thought you might need help getting her back operational," he said to Vincent, patting the fuselage. "They are saying word that we are to be redeployed."

Vincent leaned back and cocked an eyebrow. "Heard that through the chiefs’ network?"

Forge grinned, then made a forced stoic expression. "Nyet, sir. No such breach of OPSEC exists. Although if it did..."

Vincent sighed, knowing he shouldn't indulge. "Go on."

"A major elf offensive. We're being re-tasked for support."

Vincent rubbed his chin, unknowingly smearing more grease on his face. "That would be preferable to this LRRP mission," he mused, referencing the ground forces term for deep reconnaissance.
Not that Belford would deploy the Reapers anywhere intuitive
.

"So we thought you might… What is expression? Let loose the reins and let us help you get ship fixed," Forge pressed.

Vincent paused, weighing the options. On the one hand, they were working with a rumor, and he already had to deal with one set of unwanted hands on his work. Forge and Tesla were no strangers to Chimera ship repair, however—almost all of his eleven test pilots had come from a background in mechanics, just as Vincent himself did. The Chimeras had a tendency to break, and it made sense to cross-train the pilots.

Vincent admonished himself for allowing personal desires to get in the way of his mission. He might have only been a squadron commander for a few months, but he was determined not to make such rookie mistakes—not after the example his father had set.

He pulled his multitool from the pouch on his belt and ran his fingers over the engraving along the side as he nodded and gestured for the two pilots to join him. Forge unceremoniously grabbed Tesla by the back of his uniform and hoisted him onto the wing opposite Vincent, and while Tesla examined the patch job, Forge dug into the toolbox. Each item he cast aside was a toy in his massive hands. Not for the first time, Vincent seriously wondered if Forge had been a part of the Beserker Project.

"Boy Howdy, boss, you've got a swell number of modifications in here," Tesla called out from inside a panel.

"Nyet. Be less loud," Forge snapped, throwing a wrench at him. Tesla snatched it before it struck his oversized head. "The kapitan is knowing more about these ships run than anyone. If he swallows distaste long enough to fix something, that something needs fixing."

Vincent choose to remain silent. Anything he said would make its rounds through the squadron. It was well-known that Vincent was no admirer of complicated technology, as he was just old enough to remember a pre-contact earth. Fortunately repairing a spacecraft, no matter how complicated, still involved wrenches and grease. The grease might have been exponentially more chemically complicated and expensive, and the wrenches might have had computers that ensured the proper torque, but it came down to wrenches and grease all the same.

"Sorry about that, boss. I didn't mean to... blow... Uh, who is that?" the gnome asked.

Vincent and Forge turned.

"That is example of prime striking," Forge rumbled.

"What?"

"You know, strike when iron is hot. Because she is... never mind."

Vincent craned his neck as Ele walked into his view.

BOOK: Forged by Battle (WarVerse Book 1)
9.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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