2948-07-28 – Tales from the Service: Behind Enemy Lines
We haven’t seen much of Adimari Valis since it fell to Incarnation forces earlier this year, and for good reason – the world is not connected to the Confederated Hypercomm network and no Navy vessel has been able to approach within hailing distance of the surface.
Mercenaries operating high-risk operations have however made limited contact with persons on the surface. From reports they managed to bring back, a large group of scientists, mercenaries, and civilian stragglers have holed up in the labyrinthine Xenarch digs for which the planet is well known, and the Incarnation seems to have little interest in rooting them out quickly. Other pockets of isolated resistance still exist as well, but the enemy is in complete control of all infrastructure and industry on the planet, and has pacified the (largely evacuated) spaceport city with its own.
Berardo Loncar visited the world relatively recently – indeed, he is the last person of Confederated allegiance that Naval Intelligence will confirm has been to the occupied world. He got more than he bargained for in his brief stay there – still, he counts himself lucky, as he did make it out alive. In this first part of his account (of which more will follow as available) we see how all the preparation money can buy did not protect him from running into trouble.
Berardo Loncar held his breath as the patrol passed less than ten meters from the stand of caddybush which he had been forced to use as cover. He didn’t dare peek out at them as their boots crunched into the pebbly soil between him and the ship he had grounded in a nearby gully, in case an Immortal happened to be among them. The rank and file masses of Incarnation ground forces were zealous and well organized, but the Incarnation’s elite super-soldiers had far sharper senses than any other human, and the reflexes to decapitate him with a laser carbine before he could get his own pistol out of its holster.
Holding his breath, Berardo waited until the sounds of boots had faded into the distance before picking up the satchel at his feet and creeping out into the open. Adimari Valis was not a place he would have picked to land, but the number of zeroes his employers had tacked onto the credit value of the contract had changed his mind, at least temporarily. They had used a go-between to hire him, but Berardo knew his way around the Frontier well enough to guess who he was really working for.
Darting across the open space and into the underbrush around the gully, Berardo gingerly set the bag down on the roof of his ship and began to peel back the adaptive camouflage nets. Smitten Ginny handled well and carried enough ECM systems to foil even notoriously good Incarnation sensors, but he still wished for the increased size, speed, and weaponry on his Whitefeather Keet, which was docked in a storage bay at Margaux.
“Freeze.” A soft voice behind Berardo commanded, and he felt the cold smart-lens muzzle of a laser carbine press against his back.
Doing exactly as commanded, Berardo counted his blessings that he had not been shot immediately. Apparently he had not waited long enough for the patrol to pass by. He carried an expensively forged Incarnation identity chip which should fool foot-soldiers and perhaps even Immortals, but he doubted it would stand up to detailed scrutiny if he were hauled back to the spaceport for processing. “Can I help you?” He tried to act bored and annoyed rather than terrified, as if being held up by brain-tweaked counterhuman radicals was just another part of his daily routine.
“Stand up and turn aroun. Slowly.” The voice – he decided it was a woman’s, though hoarse as if from shouting and at the edge of breaking altogether – stayed quiet, as if his captor too was trying to avoid notice.
Doing as he was told, Berardo found himself face to face with a lone Incarnation conscript, her temple implant flashing a frenzied pattern of reds, yellow, and oranges. Her pale gray uniform was threadbare and creased as if she had spent the night in the field, but her alert eyes showed no sign of fatigue.
“Let me know when you want my ident chip.” He shrugged, as if he had all the time in the world. In reality, if he didn’t get Smitten Jinny off the ground in twenty minutes, the next gap in the orbital coverage network would not appear for two more days, but he couldn’t escape if he was shot or hauled back to base.
“Ident... chip.” The woman briefly appeared crestfallen, then nodded to herself as if making a decision. Before Berardo could gesture to where he’d had the device temporarily implanted in his skin, the wind was knocked out of him by a savage blow to the chest; he found himself on the ground gasping before he had even processed the fact that she had moved at all. While most of his being focused on writhing in the dirt in agony, one distracted corner labeled his assailant an Immortal, and lowered his chances of surviving the encounter by at least half.
“The errands they have local toadies like you running are of no concern.” The woman was kneeling beside Berardo’s shoulder now, and once more he hadn’t been conscious of her moving. “There is a matter of greater urgency.”
Berardo, still gasping, did his best to nod. It was all he could do – the laser rifle pointed at his forehead indicated what would happen if he disagreed, even though that was perhaps the most pleasant mode of killing available to one of the Incarnation’s bionic soldiers.
“Good.” The Immortal stood and looked around, then peered into the ravine, and Berardo noticed that his pistol’s handle stuck out of her utility belt. “Get up.”
This order Berardo struggled to comply with, as he was still gasping for breath which would take some time to return fully. Still, he got to his knees and crawled forward. “Was about to... dust off.” His voice now seemed as ragged as his captor’s.
“Not yet.” As she spoke, the woman began replacing the camouflage Berardo had started removing. “We go together, but we have to collect something first.”
Berardo knew he couldn’t tell her about the launch window – waiting for a hole in the surveillance net would reveal that he was not acting with Incarnation permission. Swallowing hard, he nodded his agreement. He might still make it out of the situation alive, but he needed time to think of a way out of it first.
As he staggered to his feet with the aid of a conebark sapling, Berardo saw the Immortal stalk off into the lush valley undergrowth, simultaneously managing to stride purposefully and creep silently, and to do it without any obvious effort.
Catching himself before he muttered anything aloud within a stone’s throw of the sharp-eared cyborg, Berardo silently wished he had turned down the job despite the vast sum of credits on offer. Dealing with Immortals was not worth any level of wealth or fame.
Just after she had vanished from sight ahead, the Immortal reappeared, scowling. “Can’t you go any faster?” She waved him forward.
Berardo held up his hands and did his best to pick up the pace, despite the amount of noise he was making in the undergrowth. After all, if he was being led through enemy country by an Immortal, it probably didn’t matter much who heard him.