Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series

BOOK: Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
STORM FORCE
Book Three of The Last Legion
Chris Bunch

a division of F+W Media, Inc.

For
The Langnes:
Stacy, Glenn, Michaela, Annalee

CHAPTER
1
Cumbre/D-Cumbre

The clerk looked over the top of her fashionably antique glasses at the rather odd couple in front of her, odd even for a spaceport’s operations section.

One was human, but about two and a half meters tall, with a weightlifter’s build, prematurely balding, wearing a flight suit with the rank tabs of a Confederation Forces
Cent
and the name tag
DILL.

The other was even bigger than Dill. He was an alien, one of the Musth who’d been defeated in the brutal war half an E-year gone. He was fur-covered, his banded coat light to dark brown in color, with black tips on his feet and tail. His neck was long, head pointed, round ears cocked. Strangely, he wore a weapons harness in the blue/white colors of the Confederation.

The woman’s expression hardened. “You wish?”


Cent
Ben Dill,” the big man said, holding out a requisition slip. “To pick up the navigational material requested by the Force. YAG Nine-three-X is the number on the requisition slip.”

“I’m not sure I know where it is,” the clerk said. “Besides, my superior’s out for the day. Perhaps you’d come back later, after I have time to look. By tomorrow certainly.”

“By tomorrow I’m one long gone goose,” Dill said. “And it’d be the one right over there. In the security case.”

The clerk sniffed, put the case on the table, then slid the form back to Dill, trying to land it on the floor. Both the Musth and Dill reached. Dill’s hand was on the form, the Musth’s double-thumbed paw atop his.

“Still faster’n you, Alikhan,” Dill said cheerfully. He dug a pen from his flight suit, signed, picked up the case.

“Half a nice half-life,” he said, and the two went out.

The clerk watched them walk toward a lifter, took a small box from her purse, lifted her com, touched sensors. There was a click on the other end.

“Mar Eleven,” she said. “Scrambling.” She touched a sensor on the box.

The answering voice was synthed, neutral.

“Scramble acknowledged. Report.”

In the lifter, Alikhan looked back at the office. “That one does not like me.” The son of the late Musth War Leader Wlencing, he had been captured near the beginning of the war, and been instrumental in bringing peace.

Since the Confederation Strike Force, called the Legion by its members, had begun using the superb Musth fighter craft, Alikhan had been offered a pilot’s commission. He, and a scattering of other Musth combat veterans, not sure of what they wanted but knowing they didn’t want the drabness of peace, became Confederation mercenaries.

“Probably not,” Ben Dill said. “Lot of people don’t like uniforms.”

“That was not it.”

“Hokay,” Dill said. “Go ahead and take it personally. She doesn’t like Musth. Maybe you guys ate her lover or something.”

“We would not eat a member of another species, especially one that probably tastes as rank as you.”

“Couldn’t prove your secret tastes by me,” Dill said. “Just ‘cause we hiked half a planet together once upon a time doesn’t mean you weren’t repressing your anthropopopawhatevergagous tendencies. Look at that rotten meat you get loaded on.”

“Will your people always hate us?”

“Probably,” Dill said as he took the lifter off, heading toward the bay and across to the Force’s base on Chance Island. “At least until you fuzzy bastards are as good-looking as I am. Or until they’ve got something newer to hate.”

“Humans are strange.”

“And of course you Musth are paragons of frigging logic and sense, who never get pissed at nobody for no particular reason or other.”

Alikhan showed fangs, and hissed from the back of his throat. That was the Musth sign of amusement.

• • •

Chance Island, home of the Legion’s central base, sat in the middle of Dharma Island’s huge bay. Camp Mahan had been completely destroyed in the Musth War, and gravlifters were still scooping up rubble and taking it out to sea. They regularly found a Force-woman or -man’s entombed body, killed during the fighting, and work stopped for a burial ceremony.

The Force, slowly rebuilding to its ten-thousand-strong authorized strength, was now scattered across D-Cumbre, with only Headquarters and Fourth Regiment at Camp Mahan, living and working in temporary prefabs.

They had been assigned to the Cumbre system some nine years earlier, as a stopgap against any intentions the equally expansionistic Musth might have on the Confederation Empire. Out there on the fringes of the Empire, the Force was also intended to keep the peace among the class-ridden Cumbrians themselves.

As usual, nothing ever happens as predicted, and four years after the Force — then grandiosely called Swift Lance — deployed to Cumbre, the Confederation disintegrated.

No one on Cumbre quite knew what had happened, since they’d had more than enough troubles of their own, first with the uprising by the ‘Raum, the “underclass” of Cumbre, and then with the Musth.

That war was over, but there would be new troubles, most likely “Protector” Alena Redruth, the tyrant who controlled the systems of Larix and Kura, blocking the normal navigational tracks between Cumbre and the Empire. He’d already offered his “protection” to Cumbre, with only the Musth attack keeping him from taking over that system as well.

War with Larix/Kura was inevitable. The Force’s new commander,
Caud
Grig Angara, had cleverly conned Planetary Government into passing a special tax, while everyone was still feeling warm and loving about the military. Part of the special tax was for shipbuilding, to give the Force an interplanetary/interstellar capability.

The problem was, no Cumbrian shipyard had much experience designing or building warships, especially on an assembly-line basis, and construction was proceeding slowly. The Legion had therefore been forced to contract with their former enemy for starships.

Parked in the ruins of the Force’s huge landing field was one of the Musth destroyer-class
velv
, all weapons station bulges and strange finning. It had been delivered by a Musth shipyard that month, after being modified to human standards. Other Musth ships were coming in-system as fast as the alien yards could work.

The
velv
’s hybrid modification was made even more strange by the two
aksai
, the Musth open-crescent-shaped fighting ships, mag-coupled to the top of the
velv
’s hull.

Workers scurried around the
velv
, in a final loading frenzy. Dill landed the lifter and took the case with the nav-data for the presumed-enemy systems of Larix and Kura to the ship, Alikhan bouncing beside him like a curious puppy.

• • •

Ab Yohns decided he’d never get used to reporting to a machine.

“Our agent also reports the Confederation officer said he would be departing this system within the next two days. Have no data on mission intent or other details. Clear.”

The transmission was compressed to a blurt, spat into space to a transceiver on K-Cumbre, the system’s last planet in a regular orbit, then sent into hyperspace, bouncing three more times before reaching its destination on Larix.

The transmitter beeped that the signal had been received, and Yohns shut it down. He went up the cellar stairs, came out in the rear of a tiny closet, closed the trapdoor behind him, and pushed past hanging coats into one bedroom of his villa.

He added an unknown amount to his credits waiting on Larix, wondered how many millions awaited the day when the hounds got too close or his nerve cracked and he called for extraction. He decided to reward himself with one drink, mixed it strong, and strolled out onto the veranda overlooking the tiny mountain village of Tungi.

Yohns was heavily tanned, looked younger than his forty-plus years, and played the role of an independently wealthy, mildly reclusive offworlder, living on his investments. He certainly didn’t match anyone’s idea of what a contract spy looked like.

Far distant across the bay was Chance Island. Yohns decided he’d put a motion detector and a camera in place to record the Legion ship’s liftoff, and if the time differed significantly from his original report, he’d file a backup, even though it’d most likely arrive in the Larix system at the same time as the ship.

He, like his master Alena Redruth, had been expecting a move by the Force.

• • •

“I don’t want any flipping heroics,”
Haut
Jon Hedley, the gangling Force executive officer, said quietly.

“I rather resent that,” Ann Heiser said. She and Danfin Froude, one a physicist, the other a mathematician, were two of the three civilians in the floodlit bustle around the
velv
. They were the recently added Scientific Analysis Section that Froude had convinced the Force CO he needed.

“I’ve never thought of myself as Horatia at the Bridge,” Heiser added.

“I wasn’t talking to you as much as to your esteemed colleague, who’s been known to be a little flipping suicidal in his investigations,” Hedley said. “But you can listen, too. I never trust civilians not to do something dumb like getting killed.”

“I have a quite sensible regard for my own skin,” Danfin Froude said.

Hedley snorted in disbelief.

Caud
Angara, CO of the Legion, a smallish, intense man in his early fifties, smiled. “Don’t mind him. He’s just angry I won’t let him go.”

Hedley, about to say something, broke off as
Mil
Garvin Jaansma, Legion Intelligence Section commander and
Cent
Njangu Yoshitaro, head of the Force’s Intelligence and Reconnaissance Company, approached, saluted.

Garvin was blond, muscled, stalwart, in his mid-twenties, and looked like a recruiting poster.

Njangu was slender, dark, two years younger than Jaansma. His name, in Earth’s ancient ki-Swahili, meant “bad,” “dangerous.” No one argued that Njangu was well named.

“Everything’s aboard except the people,” Jaansma said.

“No problems?” Hedley asked.

“Just one,” Jaansma said.

Njangu looked a bit surprised.

“We’re taking another civilian along besides these two,” Jaansma said.

“Like who?” Yoshitaro puzzled.

“Like you.”

“Oh for … stop trying to be funny.”

“Not being funny,” Jaansma said. “According to records, your enlistment’s expired. Four years you’ve been a-soldiering, and now it’s time to pay you off and let you go out and try to find a job worthy of your talents. Shoveling shit, I should rather imagine.”

Yoshitaro gaped, recovered.

“Boss,” he said to Hedley, “tell him we don’t have time for this crap.”

“Not at all,” Angara said, hiding a grin. “It’s the attention to details that makes a good soldier better. Guess we’ll have to devolunteer you, eh?”

Njangu stood in silence. Hedley looked closely.

“What’s the matter?”

Yoshitaro didn’t answer for an instant. He was realizing that he was now legally a civilian, that he could tell them to shove this job and all the rest, like he’d been threatening for about 3.99 E-years, since being forced into uniform by a vengeful criminal court. So he could be a civilian. And then?

“Ah hell,” he said. “Do you want me to stick up a paw and swear again?”

“Not if you really don’t want to,” Garvin said. “I guess we’d miss you and all.”

Hedley checked a watch finger. “We’re still short of the tick,” he announced. “So we’ve got a few more minutes to screw around, being cute and building flipping morale.”

“Consider me sworn,” Njangu said to Garvin, his nominal superior. “Sir. Now go say good-bye to your honey.”

“With your permission, sir?”

“Go, already,” Hedley said.

Garvin went to the side of the bustle, where the only other civilian waited. She was Jasith Mellusin, head of Mellusin Mining, a billionaire, and someone who’d let the Force use her resources whenever necessary.

Jasith was a few years younger than Garvin, modelslender, and still wore her dark hair long. She and Garvin had been lovers for a time, then, after her father’s death, she ended her relationship with him, for a reason neither of them quite understood, and married another member of the rich set, the Rentiers. That brief marriage had exploded during the Musth War, and she’d returned to Garvin, neither of them quite sure where their relationship was going.

“Well,” Garvin said awkwardly.

“I suppose,” Jasith said, “I should be grateful you just keep going out doing dangerous things, instead of having a drug habit or screwing around on me.”

“This isn’t dangerous,” Garvin said. “We’re just going out, all quiet, and have a look at things.”

“You’re a crappy liar. Now kiss me, so I can get out of here and not have anybody see me acting like a twiddle in a romance.”

Garvin obeyed, and they held each other tightly.

“You be sure and come back now?”

Garvin nodded, didn’t say anything.

Jasith kissed him again, broke away from the embrace, and hurried to her exotic speedster. She got in, and seconds later lifted off. Garvin watched her nav lights flit across the water toward her mansion on Leggett Island.

Yoshitaro, some meters away, watched. Beside him was First
Tweg
Monique Lir, senior noncommissioned officer of I&R.

“See what happens,” he said, “when you go and get entangled? Gets harder to say good-bye every time.”

Two months earlier, Yoshitaro and his politician lover, Jo Poynton, had split for the second and seemingly final time, as she’d resigned her position with PlanGov to go to another island and try sculpting. Lir didn’t respond to that.

“I’m still pissed, boss,” Lir said. “Hedley’s let both of you go. What’ll happen to I&R if you don’t come back?”

“I guess you’d have to take that commission everybody keeps shoving at you and become an officer, wouldn’t you?”

Monique Lir growled like the somewhat humorless carnivore she was.

“Come on, Njangu,” Garvin said. “We’re the only ones still a-dragging.” He saluted Angara, and they, and the two scientists, went up the ramp, into the
velv
.

There were four pilots aboard the
velv:
Ben Dill, recently certified as trained on the Musth ship; Alikhan; another Musth, Tvem, to fly one
aksai;
Jacqueline Boursier for the other. Another ten Legionnaires, including another Musth, almost all technicians, crewed the
velv
.

BOOK: Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Duke's Legacy by Wendy Soliman
The Bride of Windermere by Margo Maguire
Notice Me by Turley, Rebecca
Wild Wolf by Jennifer Ashley