2948-05-05 – Tales from the Service: On Horus’s Heels  

When last we checked in with the Maribelan agents chasing Incarnation agents on that world several weeks ago (Tales from the Service: Ladeonist Roundup) they were breasting a stream of local counterhuman youths sympathetic to the Incarnation’s cause. In a follow-up story which was sent in only two weeks after that story appeared on this feed, we find the agents have closed in on their prey – but the terrorist they are chasing, who is to my knowledge still on the loose, has plenty of obstacles to throw into their path. 

Note that Mr. Vieth’s rather hard-hearted view of the youth Ladeonist elements on Maribel (who also exist on other worlds in the Frontier, to be sure) are his own, not those of this media company. Given what he goes through in his pursuit of this terrorist, we should give him a good deal of latitude with the dim and irredeemable picture he paints of the misguided youths providing comfort to this enemy agent. 

[N.T.B. - Counterhuman bastards, the lot of them. Agent Vieth, shoot to kill, and if any of the pathetic excuses for parents that raised those fools ever make a stink, you let me know, and I’ll make sure you get some proper muscle in your corner. This is war, and anyone who helps terrorists deserves everything they get. 

Before allowing me to insert this note into the feed item, Duncan insisted that I remind you lot that this is my opinion, not the view of Cosmic Background Media Group.] 

“What do you think he was up to in here?” Yejide Blum, toying nervously with the counter-nanotech emitter on her wrist, picked her way through the clutter inside the old warehouse, brushing away trailing streamers of cobweb-moss drooping from the corroded rafters high above. 

“Probably a dead drop, maybe a place to rest for a few hours.” Tal Vieth stopped his own forward progress to scrutinize the dilapidated structural elements around him. The warehouse was not entirely abandoned, but its poor condition and dust-cloaked contents suggested that whoever owned it had long forgotten this small storage outbuilding among the tangle of spaceport storage facilities on Maribel. Such a neglected space presented a perfect site for the local Ladeonist radicals to leave supplies for their ideological ally, without much risk to themselves – according to what they’d learned from interrogating their last batch of such worthless counterhumans, their prey had been in the warehouse only that morning. 

Tal and his team had been pursuing the Incarnation agent known as Horus for weeks, rounding up broader and broader batches of the city’s counterhuman underground in the process. Horus, a technologically defiled specimen beyond anything the local chip-heads could dream of, had damaged Maribelan infrastructure in dozens of petty ways, and was behind the deaths of at least eleven locals and three Navy officers on shore leave. On most worlds in the Reach, such minor impact for such an elite agent would be considered a success, but with the coming of the Confederated Fifth Fleet and many supply depots to support it, any Incarnation activity at Maribel warranted a disproportionate response. 

“It’s a wonder he cleans them out.” Yejide stopped to scrutinize a stack of crates rising out of the general tumbledown mess on the warehouse floor. She ran a quick scan for tagger nanites, then continued on her way. “I don’t know what’s worse, the food they give him, or the literature.” 

“Definitely the literature.” Tal, having only recently broken a trembling young dilettante’s resistance to interrogation by reading back to her the gushing fan letter she’d left in a dead drop and threatening to give it to the local HyperCast news agencies, shook his head. Other sympathizers left fiction of their own writing, of dubious quality and for no conceivable purpose. “He could steal everything he needs without any trouble. The dead drops are for them, not for him.” He knew only too well how quickly stories of the interactions between the counterhuman youths traveled across the Reach, each story-teller embellishing their role in a pathetic search for meaning and fame. It was true that the home-brewed revolutionaries gave the terrorist legitimate assistance, but they generally did so in a sacrificial way, with scores of their numbers already languishing in high-security holding cells in orbit, under Navy guard. 

The orbital confinement under Navy guard was of course a critical detail. Many of the youths had prominent and influential relatives who believed the round-ups to be illegitimate or arbitrary, and who were even at that instant fighting for their release. Even presented with the evidence, some parents refused to believe that their children had voluntarily aided the murderous agents of a foreign power. They believed their hapless spawn to be harmless, as if inability to cause any real harm absolved them of the attempt. 

Yejide hopped over a tarpaulin-covered mound of junk. “For their crimes against the written language alone, we should-” 

Tal looked up from the debris he’d been scrutinizing to see that his deputy had vanished. “Yejide?” He was halfway toward where she had last stood in an instant, vaulting over a pair of trellis struts balanced against a large crate. 

He spotted his downed associate almost immediately. There was no sign of blood or a wound, but she lay spralwed on the filthy floor where she’d fallen, eyes open and unseeing. Reaching for his wrist computer, he turned on his short-range comm to alert the other half dozen officers standing outside. “Officer down. Get a medevac in here now.” 

The only response was the soft tone of the comm’s inability to connect. Tal’s sidearm was in his hand the moment he heard it. Horus had never jammed law enforcement bands before, but jammer-harassment of constabulatory personnel was a common tactic used by Ladeonists and the criminal underground. It might be several minutes before those outside noticed. 

“Hello, Agent Vieth.” The smooth voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. “Your persistence is quite remarkable.” 

“Hello, Agent Horus.” Tal turned a slow circle, staying close to his downed companion. “Didn’t think you’d still be here.” 

“And you usually spend many more hours terrorizing the children you round up. Was there something wrong with the last batch?” 

Tal suppressed the urge to retort that the youthful counterhumans he’d picked up in Horus’s trail were fully legal adults. The barb stung because he felt the same way – the would-be revolutionaries, whatever their age, were intellectual children, play-acting as freedom fighters. “They gave you up quicker than the last set. You’re running out of true believers.” 

The Incarnation agent laughed, and Tal, suppressing a shudder, thought he heard servos whirring within the sound. “Do you really think that?” 

Before Tal could reply, he spied movement on a raised catwalk at the far side of the warehouse. Three scrawny figures walked boldly into view, each pointing a bulbous pistol-like object in Tal’s direction. They were grinning, but their postures told him they were terrified and unfamiliar with their weapons. 

“It was nice talking to you, Agent Vieth.” Horus’s voice seemed to whirl around Tal in a mockery of his best attempt to place the Incarnation agent’s location. “Let’s see how willing you are to kill children for your cause.” 

All three of the youths on the catwalk leveled their weapons, and Tal thought he saw tiny lights flash along the sides of the leader’s head before three beams of yellow-white light cut through the dusty air and began sweeping toward him. He leapt back, ducking behind the stack of crates a few meters behind his sprawled deputy, as the beams bit into his cover and set the opposite side alight. 

Tal switched his pistol – a compact railgun – to a high-frequency, low-accuracy firing mode, then waited for the sizzling beams to cut out. Handheld beams, he knew, could not maintain continuous power without massive power drain. 

Sure enough, after a few seconds the beams cut out. Tal popped up from behind cover and loosed a whole magazine in the direction of the catwalk – the rattling, bucking weapon discharged a hundred twenty slugs in less than three seconds.  

With ferroceramic shattering into glowing shrapnel-dust all around them, the trio dove for cover, one of them, disoriented, dove off the catwalk completely, landing headfirst with a sickening crunch on the floor below. The other two, flattening themselves behind empty packing material that offered dubious resistance to rail-slugs, peeked out to set fire to other elements of Tal’s surroundings the moment his magazine clicked on empty. 

Tal reloaded, knowing he needed to keep their attention so Yejide, if she was still alive after whatever Horus had done to her, would not become a target of opportunity. Switching to a more accurate fire mode, he peeked out to launch individual shots at his assailants, hoping the rattle of railgun fire and the flash of beams would alert his compatriots. 

He needn’t have worried. The loading-dock door burst inward and the other half-dozen members of his team rushed in. The hapless revolutionaries fired on the newcomers, but they didn’t have a chance against rail-carbines in well-trained hands – both were fatally riddled and dripping blood through the catwalk’s grating in seconds. 

Tal stood slowly, gun pointed to the floor, and signalled them to help him with the downed Yejide. “Horus was here and Blum is down. Call in a medevac.” As soon as he was certain he was not about to be shot by accident, he rushed to her side, quickly verifying that his deputy was breathing, if only shallowly, and that she was not marked by bloodstains or burns. 

Two of the other agents hurried to help Tal move Yejide, while the other two hurried to check the bodies of the three Ladeonist sympathizers. He didn’t relish the duty of calling each one’s family, but there was a perverse, acrid satisfaction in the fact that nobody would be screeching for their release back onto the streets.