Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series (14 page)

BOOK: Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series
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CHAPTER
13
Kura/Kura Four

The
aksai
came in-atmosphere very fast, over the southern pole. It plummeted toward the middle of one of Kura Four’s oceans as if on a suicide dive, pulled out less than a thousand meters above the water.

At full drive it flew toward the nearest land, looped around a pair of coastal villages and over the jungle beyond. The
aksai
slowed as a brown expanse of mud surrounding a small lake appeared.

In the cockpit, Alikhan looked at a time signal that suddenly flashed up on his canopy. A holo of mountainous terrain hung to one side of his controls, a dot of red light flashing in its center. He waved a paw, and a microphone swung down.

“ET? two-point-three minutes. Stand by.”

A double-click sounded in his headphone.

Alikhan was the only being aboard the
aksai
, which was configured with three other fighting pods.

Below him a nearly sheer buttress with a tiny plateau rose out of the jungle. Alikhan wondered how they’d managed to climb it, then dived directly for the plateau, speed brakes open. The
aksai
shuddered in near stall as he flared it ten meters above the plateau, cut the drive, and went to antigravity. The
aksai
’s wings rocked as Alikhan slid the antigrav control back, and the ship landed, grounding hard on its skids.

Alikhan popped the canopy, slid out, taking a blaster with him.

He found a bush, crouched, waited.

A dozen seconds later, two men stumbled out of the brush. Their clothes were ragged, their bodies filthy, scratched, and Alikhan smelled them three meters away.

But both the older man and the younger, a giant, held their weapons very ready, and their eyes darting back and forth.

“You said you’d come,” Ben Dill managed. “You did.”

“I am sorry I could not arrive earlier,” Alikhan said. “But there were too many ships for us to chance. We returned to Cumbre. When the satellite received signals from one Search and Rescue transmitter, we returned. The
velv
this
aksai
belongs to will return to real space every two E-hours to make pickup.”

“I am very damned glad to see you,” Danfin Froude managed. “It’s been a long, hungry week … I think it was a week.”

“Get on board,” Alikhan said. “I do not think I was picked up by any sensor, but who can know? I would like to leave as quickly as possible.”

He went back to the main pod, touched controls, and two other pod canopies swung open.

“I just hope I can stand my smell ‘til we get to civilization,” Froude said. “Then I’m going to bathe for a week, eat rare steak, never again vegetables or raw fish. Six steaks sound about right. Then I’ll sleep for a month or two.” He clambered into the
aksai
.

Ben Dill was looking at Alikhan. “You did come back,” he said once again.

“I gave my oath,” Alikhan said. “You saved me once, so now it was my turn.”

Ben Dill started to say something, then shook his head.

“Did anybody else break away? Did you get SAR signals from anybody else?”

“No,” Alikhan said. “We still don’t know what happened to them. But the Force will continue to monitor the satellite.”

CHAPTER
14
Cumbre/D-Cumbre

Events Editor Ted Vollmer didn’t like the expression on his boss’s face.

“We are going to make a very loud noise,” Loy Kouro gloated. “And when award time rolls around, we’re up there!”

“Prest’n came up with something?”

“Something with a big brass band,” Kouro said. “The Force is going to get egg not just on its face, we’re going to bury them in the world’s biggest omelet. This is big, big, big, Vollmer, involving the potential safety of Cumbre itself!”

“You want to tell me about it, sir?” Vollmer said. “All I know is Prest’n got some call from some relative of some soldier, went to you, and then has been haring around in all directions.

“It’d be nice if I knew the story, so I could figure on how to play it. I’m only Prest’n’s boss.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kouro said. “When we’ve got all the pins in a row, you’ll be told everything. Right now, I think it’s better to keep things under wraps.

“Besides, I still remember how to be a journoh,” Kouro said, smiling. He started back toward his office, and the smile became a laugh.

“A journoh?” Vollmer’s assistant. “Since when is a publisher — ”

“Leave it,” Vollmer said wearily. “The son of a bitch is a purple pirate if he says he is, as long as it’s his name on the paychit.”

• • •

“This,”
Caud
Angara said, “could be a very expensive rescue.” He reread the printout.

“At least we’ve got confirmation there are survivors of Jaansma’s raid. I assume notification’s been made to the next of kin?”

“Yessir,” Erik Penwyth, acting head of Force II Section said. “I thought I’d best handle that myself, and tell them their principal is a prisoner of war, rather than allow it to go through normal channels or leave them as Missing in Action, so we can keep some sort of security hold on matters.” He grimaced.

“A problem?” Hedley asked.

“Yessir,” Penwyth said, “but not an expected one. Of the four who’re reported as POWs, only two,
Tweg
Mahim and
Dec
Montagna, have relatives of record. But that’s not the problem. I also notified relatives of the still-missing … There were only two in our records, for
Tweg
Irthing and
Dec
Heckmyer … and told them their people were still considered Missing in Action, but their status had been changed to MIA — Presumed Dead.


Tweg
Irthing’s sister’s response was to ask how quickly the Force’s insurance would pay off, and couldn’t Irthing’s status be moved to Killed in Action to speed up payment, since obviously she’s dead, wherever we sent her?”

“Ouch,” Hedley said softly.

“You always forget that some people, a fair number of them, join up to get away from their families,” Angara said.

“That’s still not it, sir,” Penwyth said. “She said, if we kept playing games, and not taking care of things the way we’re supposed to, she’d go to the holos.”

“Double ouch.”

“Worse still,” Penwyth said. “I think she already has, because one of Kouro’s reporters has been digging around. Trying to reach the CO of I&R, getting told Njangu’s in the field, trying to reach the CO of II Section, getting told Garvin’s unavailable, grinding me as temp honcho about any covert operations the Force has mounted against Larix and Kura. I suspect the son of a bitch is adding one and one and might just get lucky.”

“Let’s consider worst case,” Angara said. “
Matin
comes out with a story saying there’s been a covert operation mounted against Larix and Kura, that there has been at least one casualty. Does that hurt that much?”

“It’s not flipping good,” Hedley said. “We can’t assume that the late Ab Yohns was the only agent Redruth has in-system, although I think he was. What happens if
Matin
decides to run pics? We won’t cooperate, but I assume they have file shots of at least Jaansma and Yoshitaro. A nice holo of Yoshitaro in uniform that gets to Larix isn’t exactly going to improve our agent’s cover.”

“Perhaps we should ask
Matin
’s publisher, that Loy Kouro, to sit on his story until we clear it, even though he’s no particular friend of the Force.”

“I don’t think I’d do that, sir,” Penwyth said. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but Garvin … sorry,
Mil
Jaansma’s, well, romantically involved with Jasith Mellusin, who just happens to be Kouro’s ex-wife.”

“Mohammad’s camel in a bright pink dress! What the hell is this?” Angara snarled. “I’m running a goddamned romance, not an army.”

Neither Hedley nor Penwyth answered.

“Eeesh,” Angara muttered, rubbing a hand through the gray stubble he called a haircut. “And of course, what’ll make it worse, if Kouro spreads this, there’ll be questions asked by the Council.

“We’ve got authorization right now to do anything we want with Larix and Kura, short of open war. But there are waverers. It’s a bit of a pity Redruth’s nuke didn’t hit on solid ground. That would probably keep the politicos’ feet nailed to the floor about this for a while longer.”

“Yessir,” Hedley said. “Which means we’d better talk about Njangu’s message, and about getting everybody out of Redruth’s clutches on roller skates.”

“You’re right, Jon,” Angara said, and for a third time read the message. “Nice that Njangu’s able to com on a regular basis. I notice, Erik, that somebody in II Section noted that the receiving freq he’s finally using is close to one of Larix’s military lengths. Wonder how he managed that? Don’t bother answering; I’m talking while I’m trying to think. Let’s go back to this expensive rescue. First, we’ve got to do an explosive drop, without being blown.”

“Not flipping impossible, sir,” Hedley said. “We’ll use two
aksai
, with a
velv
to mother them. Put pods under the
aksai
, so all they have to do is hover over the site, dump the load, and flipping begone.”

“ ‘Kay. Stage One’s possible,” Angara said. “I already assumed that was feasible. What concerns me is Stage Two. Yoshitaro wants a heavy hit squad on Prime’s capital, Agura, at a specific time, to be named after the ships are in-system.

“Then we have
another
team a few kilometers away. Two
more velv
… he’d be better off with our new destroyers … plus two fast transports. All to rescue four people, sorry, five.”

“Six, sir,” Penwyth said. “One Larissan’s been added to Njangu’s list. I dunno who he is. And the extra transport’s for redundancy, in case we lose one.”

“Six people,” Angara said. “And I could lose seven ships, not to mention the what, three hundred crew members, on this part alone? For which, in return, I no longer have my very valuable agent in place, our only source inside Redruth’s government. I gain … under best circumstances … two junior officers known for their independent ways, to put it as politely as possible, three other ranks, and one Larissan traitor.

“Is it worth it?”

“Do you want the book answer, sir?” Hedley asked.

“Of course I don’t,” Angara said. “I already know what we have to do. And we’re in agreement we have to do it quickly, before that frigging Kouro becomes the spanner in the works.

“I wish,” he said, “that we could actually be the goons he keeps calling us — when he doesn’t want something, and then we’re his goddamned Defenders of Freedom — and arrange a convenient accident.”

“A bomb in Kouro’s flipping shorts would be heaven,” Hedley said dreamily. “And we’ve more than enough thugs on the payroll to handle that. If only it weren’t for that goddamned oath we all took.”

“And our own honor,” Angara said.

“Pardon, sir?” Hedley asked.

“Never mind,” Angara said.

“Sir,” Penwyth said, “remember, I’m part of his social circle.”

“You think
you
should approach him?”

“Hell no,” Penwyth said. “Sir. I’m not much more a friend of his than Garvin. But I know Jasith Mellusin fairly well. Maybe she knows some way to gag him.”

“Be very careful,” Hedley said. “We don’t want to make matters worse.”

“Have confidence, sir,” Penwyth said airily. “Have I failed you yet?”

• • •

Jasith met Erik at the gates to Hillcrest, the family mansion in the Heights above Leggett. She was pale.

“You said it couldn’t be talked about over the com. Is he — ”

“No change in Garvin’s status,” Penwyth said hastily. “He’s still a prisoner of Redruth’s, still alive as far as we know. Sorry. I should’ve said that when I commed you.”

“Come inside. Please. A drink or something?”

“As much as I’d love one, duty calls and all that. Jasith, the Force needs a favor.”

“Anything. You know that.”

Erik explained the problem with Loy Kouro and
Matin
.

Jasith went to the bar, automatically poured two snifters of brandy, handed one to Penwyth.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t — ”

“Never mind,” Erik said, sipping. “You’ve twisted my arm.”

“I said anything I could do to help, I would,” Jasith said. “But there are some things I can’t deliver. Loy Kouro’s one of them. I might’ve been married to the pig, but that doesn’t mean I know, understand, anything about him.

“If I did,” she said, bitterly, “or about myself, I never would have done what I did in the first place and married the bastard. Instead, I went and — ”

She broke off, drank her brandy. “If I called Loy,” she went on, “that’d make the situation worse, not better. He hates me more now, I think, than he does Garvin. And if he could take it out on both of us, he wouldn’t hesitate for a second.”

“Mmh,” Erik said. “I knew that, actually. What I was looking for from you was, to put it delicately, some way of putting pressure on Loy.”

“You mean like blackmail?”

“Just that. Any of his nasty little secrets you’d like to share, or hint at that we could do some scummy digging on …”

Jasith thought, then shook her head. “I can’t think of anything. He’s a bachelor now, so whoever he beds is his own business. Not that any Rentier’s ever dropped anyone for adultery, unless it’s his wife that’s getting screwed, and generally not even then. As far as drink, everybody drinks. Drugs … I don’t think so.”

“We
are
sort of decadent bastards, aren’t we?” Penwyth said, draining the brandy. “Well, I must be off, so blithe farewells and like that. If you think of something, com me. Oh. One other thing. What are you doing socially these days?”

Jasith smiled ruefully. “Damned little. Working as many hours as I can to keep from thinking. Sitting and worrying about Garvin, mostly. Trying to go to bed early. Probably not eating right.”

“Whyn’t I have Karo ring you? Maybe you two could go out drinking or dancing. Don’t think I’m being an altruist. With you as a chaperone, that’d be one way to keep Karo from going home with the first well-hung sort who asks her to dance, when I’m stuck out on the island playing soldier boy.”

Jasith managed a smile. Redheaded Karo Lonrod had been one of the staples of the Rentiers’ hard-partying set until she found herself with Penwyth, first as a casual bed partner, then as a sometime cover for him, during the Musth occupation, since then, something else that neither of them wanted to talk about. To everyone’s surprise, she appeared to have completely lost her wandering eye.

“That might be fun,” Jasith said. “And I promise I’ll com you if anything comes up.”

She watched his lifter take off, went back inside, poured herself another brandy, and sat down in a couch, staring down at Leggett City.

An hour later, the drink was still untouched. Jasith’s eyes suddenly widened. She went to the com, started to touch sensors. Then she stopped, thought for a few moments, and dialed another number.

“Scrambling,” she said when she heard a voice at the other end, then read the code from her display. “R-Three-six-seven.”

The voice blurred, then came back clearly as the scramble code was entered on the other com.

“Scrambled on code R-three-six-seven. What’s the problem, Jasith?”

The man at the other end was Hon Felps, personnel executive for Mellusin Mining and her late father’s former personal assistant.

Jasith said, “I want to access the GT-Nine-Seven-Three team.”

There was a long silence. The code, which Jasith was given after her father’s death, had been set up by her father years earlier. Every senior executive at Mellusin Mining was told that if GT973 was invoked by any member of the Mellusin family or their representative, they were to provide any, repeat any, service, without questions, comment, or records. In addition, Felps had told Jasith there were certain people on the Mellusin payroll, in innocuous functions, who had unusual training and background, and would carry out any, repeat any, service she needed.

Jasith had passed the code along to Garvin during the Musth War, but he hadn’t occasion to use it. But now …

“Are you sure … sorry, Jasith. Stand by. You’ll be contacted at your number shortly.” The connection went dead.

Jasith waited, thinking about her idea. A smile touched her lips. It wasn’t terribly pleasant. Then the situation became funny, and she laughed aloud, just as the com buzzed.

“Jasith Mellusin,” she said.

“T-One-Two-One,” an absolutely neutral voice came, most likely synthed. Jasith entered the code, then explained her plan.

• • •

The alarm chimed pleasantly, once, again.

Loy Kouro rolled over, reached for the cutoff switch, felt paper instead of plas. He opened an eye, and saw an envelope leaning against the clock.

Kouro sat up, and the blond head pillowed on his arm snorted in sleepy surprise.

How the hell did that get in here? I didn’t have anything to drink before bed — is Bet trying to surprise me or something?

He tore the envelope open. Inside was a card that looked handwritten, but was a script face:

• • •

Here’ wishing you the best of days, now, and hope-fully forever
.

There wasn’t any signature.

Quite suddenly, the card burst into flames. Kouro yelped in surprise, dropped the card on the carpet as it burned into ashes.

BOOK: Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series
8.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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