2951-02-01 – Tales from the Service: The MacNeil Troglodyte

Nojus here. Duncan has been busy this week seeing to the packing of our effects for transfer to the destroyer Aurel Martikainen, which will take us to our next posting. We still do not know what ship we are being taken to, though we will likely know by next you are reading this text feed, since we should be aboard by then. As I write this introduction, we are in the closing days of January, and Maribel has still not been seriously invaded by the Incarnation.

This may seem to be a very obvious thing to observe, but many military observers here in Maribel have reported that the period of greatest danger for this invasion lasted until the end of January. This month, many of the ships occupying drydock berths here have been launched, permitting other damaged vessels to enter those same docks. Additionally, Fifth Fleet has been extensively reinforced in the last five weeks.

Though military secrecy prevents me from listing the classes or names of any ships recently returned to service or added to Fifth Fleet’s roster, I have seen some signs of tensions relaxing. Patrols in the outer system are no longer being run with token forces, and though there have been a few Tyrant raids, they have gotten nowhere near the inner system, and have been of no more than four cruisers each. True, these groups can do some economic damage if not countered quickly, but they are no threat to Fifth Fleet or the civilian population.

The past month has seen the Incarnation engage in some smaller-scale invasions, such as those on the small-population worlds of the Mazkiel system and the Mere Abram system. Though these invasions are human tragedies in their own right, none of these attacks have impacted a world with a population over fifteen thousand, and none have resulted in a major battle. About half the impacted populations of these worlds took offered evacuations; the other half decided to remain with their holdings and brave occupation.

I take this slow-down as good news; the longer “Nate” waits to attack Maribel or try to break into Farthing’s Chain, the stronger Confederated Navy forces will be to oppose them. From everything we know, there’s no way they can build warships fast enough and ship them across the Gap fast enough to compete with both the shipyards of the Core World and the flood of ships the Navy has pulled out of reserve.

That doesn’t mean this conflict is over, only that I think it’s time for the people of Maribel to breathe a sigh of relief.

Leonard Silver dove to the ground when two laser pulses painted smoking scorch-marks on the crumbling wall behind him. There was, in reality, no benefit to hitting the deck when one came under fire from soldiers armed with laser rifles, but it did at least give him a moment to verify that he had in fact not been hit. A Frontier Defense Army veteran he’d once met in a bar had told him that when you were hit by a laser, you didn’t always feel it right away, especially if it was a mortal wound; men could be drilled through the heart or the head and still dive for cover, often dying before their faces hit the dirt.

Fortunately for Leonard, he was still breathing when he buried his face in the rough dirt, and a quick check verified that he hadn’t had any parts of himself shot away. Rolling over, he stared up at the two scorch-marks and estimated how far the closer one had been from taking a chunk out of his upper arm before scuttling toward his spider-hole. If he could get back into the building’s still-intact basement before the Incarnation soldiers reached his position, they’d probably leave him alone.

Early in the occupation of MacNeil’s End, the Nate occupiers hadn’t been so willing to leave a trail; they’d followed tracks down into basements and caves with no apparent sense of danger. That hadn’t lasted more than a few weeks; the planet’s population had only partially evacuated, and even after a mass weapons-roundup operation, there were probably two to three times more weapons on the planet than there were disgruntled civilians to use them. Patrols had started vanishing, which both increased the number of unaccounted-for weapons and also taught the unwelcome invaders the value of caution.

Leonard, though, didn’t have a weapon of any kind. He wasn’t cut out to be a plucky resistance fighter skulking in the hills or leading patrols into basement ambushes. He had been a groundcar salesman in the planet’s only spaceport city, the closest thing to a metropolis one could find on a world like MacNeil’s End. He’d been out delivering two utility tracks to a farming town when the invasion had started, and watched the troopships ride blue fire down to Dobrilo Downs from barely a dozen kilometers away. Now, he was a troglodyte who emerged from the ruins of that shattered village only to scavenge for food and the necessities of life, and to avoid the patrols.

As Leonard, still shaking from his brush with laser-administered death, slid into the half-buried window which let into his basement warren, he blinked rapidly to speed his eyes’ adjustment to the dark. He had a small generator and plenty of electric lights, but left it all off most of the time, especially when he wasn’t around. The less he could do to draw attention to himself, the better. The Nates didn’t really care about most of the population one way or the other; they’d only taken those with farming experience to their military-camp plantations, and those, despite working long hours, were at least rumored to enjoy clean water, two plentiful meals every day, and a few technological amenities that most of the population hadn’t had since the satellite net had gone down.

The cool barrel of some sort of weapon pressed into the side of Leonard’s head the moment he came to a stop at the bottom of the scree-ramp below his entrance. He let out a little yelp, but had the good sense not to move, and to keep his hands very still.

A beam of light flashed in front of his eyes, then vanished in an instant. “Local. No implant.” A gruff voice announced, and several other voiced muttered their relief. “Check him.”

Rough hands hauled Leonard to his knees and patted him down. He struggled against the restraints as they found his canteen and the handful of military-issue food bars he’d found in the old FDA base over the hill.

“Hey, relax.” This voice was calm and comforting, and the woman it belonged to stooped down in front of Leonard. She was carrying a long-barreled cartridge rifle, but the eyes in her dirt-smudged face were kind. She looked young, but so had the FDA boys to Leonard’s eyes when they’d marched into the fight. “We’ll leave your food alone. They’re just making sure you’re not armed.”

“I’m not.” Leonard shook his head. “I don’t want trouble. Not from Nate, not from partisans.”

One of the men tossed the food-bars down in front of Leonard’s knees. “This is FDA-issue. How did you get it?”

“Give him a break, Meyers.” The woman’s eyes flashed. “The military left their stuff all over.”

The other man holding Leonard down released his hold. “Not so much as a knife on him.”

“You’ve gotta get out of here.” Leonard scooped up his food-bars and stood up. “There was a patrol right behind me. If they find you here-”

“We’ll take care of them.” The man behind Leonard, Meyers, chuckled. “Relax.”

Leonard opened his mouth to protest further, but closed it again when he saw two more armed men sifting through the crates into which he’d placed the treasure which made this underground life somewhat livable. One of the homes in the now-smashed village had contained a library of hundreds of paper books, and he’d collected as many as he could find before the rain destroyed them, and carefully dried them out. Reading adventure novels by the light of a pen-light and eating scavenged rations was hardly a dignified way to ride out the planet’s occupation, but Leonard didn’t intend to go anywhere, at least until he ran out of reading material.

The woman took Leonard by the arm and led him over to an unoccupied corner. “What’s your name?”

“Silver.” Leonard swallowed and looked about for where the men had dropped his canteen. “Leonard Silver.”

“Well, Leonard. I’m Christina. I’d like to make you a deal.” The woman glanced around. “This place is perfect for us. Did you know from the roof you can see right down to the road from Nate’s main landing field to the plantation at Zientek’s Run?”

Leonard had indeed noticed the excellent view down to the old highway, and had noted the regular traffic on that route. “I didn’t know that’s where all those groundcars were going.”

“We want to watch them. And possibly be a little more active than just watching.” Christina winked. “But if you’re still here, that would be dangerous for you.”

Leonard sighed and looked down. “You’re going to turn me out. Make me find somewhere else.” He’d never manage to move all his crates of books all by himself, of course, and he could hardly do anything to oppose at least five armed partisans.

“Well, yes, if you agree.” Christina shrugged. “But here’s my part of the deal. If you agree to help us get set up here and show us how you’ve been moving around this area un-noticed, I can get you off MacNeil’s.”

“Off MacNeil’s?” Leonard frowned. “How? There are ships-”

Christina loosened her tattered overcoat, and Leonard saw that the jumpsuit she wore beneath it was almost clean and entirely new, as if it had been fabbed last week. “We just got here. The runner who’s coming to bring the rest of our kit the day after tomorrow has a spare berth or two in the back of his little ship. You show us around, and you can be on that ship when it leaves.”

Leonard considered this for a long moment. Of course he would have left MacNeil’s in the evacuation if he hadn’t been caught so close to Nate’s landing site and trapped behind their lines. Was it really so easy? Could he really be off the world so soon after so many months of eking out this troglodyte life under occupation?

Shaking himself, he knew there could be only one answer. “Fair deal on one condition.” Some of his old salesman’s bravado reasserted itself.

Christina arched one eyebrow, inviting him to name his terms.

Leonard pointed to the back of his little warren. “I’ll need one crate of books for the journey.”

“Done.” Christina smiled and stuck out a hand to shake on the deal, which Leonard gladly grasped. “I’ll introduce you to everybody.”