Author: Nate Davis Volsungassonnr PM
Larken and Slim just wanted to keep their heads down and run a few jobs.But with the galaxy poised on the brink of more interplanetary war, and an unprecedented and profoundly inhuman threat from Outside promising genocide, not even they can stay neutral.Rated: Fiction T - English - Western/Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 6,726 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 03-04-11 - Published: 01-17-11 - id: 2883134
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
You feel lost in this labyrinth of sickening dismay.
There's a voice inside that's calling, another wasted day.
Can't you see the history, the suffocating madness?
In the land of fallen souls there's nowhere left, no place to go.
I have travelled far and wide across this wasteland
Still searching for the answers and the right to understand
It was bitter cold and overcast the day the ChiComs took Skathi.
It was said that Skathi had two seasons: Winter and deep winter. And the sky was always overcast, if it wasn't hidden behind a haze of rain or snow. That's why a tiny moon with no exploitable resources floating around well past the ass-end of nowhere had been able to remain free for so long; it was impossible to fly a troop transporter through the heavy weather even on a good day, and the moon's particular geography—completely covered by ocean except for a few volcanic atolls—meant that there wouldn't have been any place to land one anyway. Once the Free World Confederacy had been squeezed onto Skathi their dreams of liberating the system were finished, but at least there would be one free world that the Empires could never take.
Or so they thought.
Slim was sitting in a lava tube molded from the solid rock of one of Skathi's many small islands—really just mountain peaks that managed to poke up out of the water—cleaning his RPK. It didn't really need it—the gun's "primitive" mechanics meant that it could fire effectively even if he filled it with sand or allowed it to rust over completely—but the simple task helped to keep his mind off of the cold. Also, raids by special commando units of the People's Union of Maoist Syndicalist Planets—the ChiComs—were becoming more and more frequent, and who knew when the only thing standing between a Free Soldier and certain death might be a working machine gun?
Not that either the ChiComs or the Americans would ever launch a serious invasion. Skathi was nothing but the Nassau Harbor for the Confederacy's one or two ambitions young Blackbeards; doing anything more than containing it would be a waste of resources.
So it would be an understatement to say that Slim was surprised when the frightened young cadet who was running down the tunnel shouting "Commandos! Commandos!", then proceeded to qualify it with "and there's thousands of them!"
Slim calmly wiped the oil off of his gun and snapped a full drum into it. "Thousands?"
"That's right, sir. I was up at the watch. They're parachuting down out of the clouds."
"Could be a low-orbit air drop. Are they Americans or ChiComs?"
"Well they all bleed the same when you put steel in them. Squad!"
Only three of the fourteen soldiers sitting around Slim were veterans of the Free World Confederate Army. The rest were outlaws, runaways, deserters, and they looked it: World-weary, unkempt, malnourished, dressed in fur parkas and sealskin boots instead of cold-weather uniforms, and equipped with whatever firearms and explosives they could get their hands on. But they were all battle-tested killers, and they would all follow Slim's orders to the letter.
Slim grabbed two more drums of 7.62mm ammunition and tucked them into his parka before leading the squad out of the cave to the killing and dying. He started to reach for a third, then decided against it; the ChiCom marines' guns would be firing the same 7.62 as his RPK, and carrying that much extra would slow him down.
The mountain was covered over with a forest of old-growth conifers, and gunmen hiding in the trees had already taken care of a good number of attackers. But there were so many commandos dropping out of the clouds and paragliding toward the island that it seemed to be raining green canvas. They appeared to be aiming for the beach, and once on the ground they immediately abandoned their chutes and dug in. This was more than just another suicide raid.
They wanted to take the mountain and establish a foothold on Skathi.
Holding his RPK out in front of him, Slim bent low, started moving down the mountain, and motioned for the rest of the squad to follow. The sound of gunfire was all around them, getting louder as they approached the beachhead. Light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades whistled back and forth overhead. He pulled a small radio out of his parka and scanned the channels, taking in the chatter.
"Fucking gooks all over the place, where do they—"
"—put one right in his belly! That fucker's guts flew out of his back like confetti."
"Jesus fucking Christ, what IS that thing?"
"—my leg! They're all over us! Raven Squad is standing by to be overrun! Support requested, repeat, support requested!"
Slim barked into the radio, "This is squad leader Wolf advancing into the shit. What am I looking at? Over."
A voice answered back, "It's bad, Wolf, real bad. They're dug in on the beach and advancing, we can't push 'em back. Command says there might be ChiCom air support inbound. Over."
"ChiCom air support? Did I hear you right, soldier? Over."
"That's right, Wolf leader. Radar says there's gook fighters waiting just above the clouds. Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, is that—"
There was a tremendous explosion, and the radio shut off. Angrily, Slim cast it aside and whispered to his squad, "EMP shock. You may as well ditch your radios, they're just dead weight now."
A burst of machine gun fire strafed the trees to their left, and was answered by small-arms fire from just up the hill. Slim turned to his squad and barked, "Machine gun nest. Get down, shut up, stay down, keep moving. Mark your target when it comes. Libertad!"
There was a sustained burst of heavy machine gun fire. Slim ducked behind a tree, shouldered his RPK, and scanned the brush in front of him. The commandos were hidden behind the thick foliage, so he opened up on the muzzle flashes and was rewarded with a very satisfying scream. One of the soldiers behind him tossed a nail bomb into the nest.
They broke out into a wide clearing where a goodly number of commandos had entrenched themselves. Slim laid down a heavy burst of suppression fire as they retreated back into the cover of the trees.
"RPG! Fucking RPG!"
That was the last thing Slim heard before the blast knocked him out cold.
*clang clang clang*
Slim shot awake. He wasn't on Skathi, he was lying on a cot in some kind of steel room, and someone was banging on his door. It all came back to him slowly. Of course he wasn't on Skathi. It had been twenty years since Skathi fell. Right now he was lying in bed, in his room somewhere in the belly of the Regenleif.
He'd been having another nightmare.
There was another loud knock on the door, and a man on the other side said, "Come on, you washed-up old space monkey! Drop your cock and grab your socks, it's breakfast time. It ain't gettin' any more burnt."
"Yeah, yeah," Slim croaked, "I'm on my way. Quit yer caterwaulin'."
The old man sat up in bed and groaned, the pain bringing his nightmares back. There'd been shrapnel in his hip ever since Skathi, and there would be until he died. He reached under the cot and retrieved his RPK, recently refurnitured, kept in immaculate condition and always locked and loaded.
He stuck the muzzle of the machine gun into his mouth and savored the taste of oiled steel. He pressed down gently on the trigger with his big toe . . .
No. He couldn't do it, not like that. With a sigh he returned the RPK to its resting place, dressed himself, and went down to the bridge for his breakfast.
The Regenleif was a Valkyrie-class starship built for maximum speed and minimum radar signature, shaped like half of a Frisbee and not too much bigger than a house trailer. It had been designed for recon and extraction missions during the Emperor Isaac's crusade against the FWC, though they'd mostly disseminated into the hands of smugglers and pirates after the war was over. Captain Larken had rigged most of the ship's rooms for concealed storage, so the crewmen were forced to eat their meals on the bridge.
Captain James T. Larken had been a Marine during the first few years of the Crusade, and his time in retirement as a pilot hadn't done anything to change his looks. He stood almost nine feet tall—a product of genetic modification—, had a pudgy, baby-like face—an unavoidable side-effect of genetic modification, and exercised regularly to preserve his massive muscles. He was seated in the captain's chair, eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes out of a hermetically sealed foil pouch. A tall, slim Asian woman with long legs and heaving breasts sat on his knee.
She tugged on Larken's sleeve and whimpered softly.
"What's wrong, sugar?", he asked.
She pointed at the door.
"You wanna eat breakfast in your room?"
"Go ahead, sugar. I'll be there in a minute."
The Asian girl walked off. As soon as she was gone, Frank the engine technician said, "Don't she ever talk, boss?"
"Talks to me sometimes when we're alone. That poor girl's seen shit you wouldn't believe."
"I dunno about all that," said Slim as he wrestled with his MRE. "I don't think any level of human depravity could surprise me."
"She says her earliest memory is being about four or five years old and having the Emperor Isaac's Most Holy and Incorruptible cock shoved down her throat. Ain't that some shit?"
"That is some shit," Slim agreed.
"She sure is good-lookin'," Frank said.
Larken nodded. "They're genetically engineered to look that good. Same way I'm genetically engineered to be a stone-cold badass." Space Marines never were known for their modesty.
"You ever hit that?"
"About once a month she'll be hot to trot. Poor girl. You can't have a marriage without sacrifice, I guess."
"Boss, I don't see why you don't just toss that gook out of the airlock."
Larken glared at Frank, put his breakfast down and started to get out of his chair, and Slim and Frank both saw that there was murder in his eyes. Quickly, Slim slid between them and said to Frank, "So how's Sparky been acting?"
The captain growled and slid back into his chair. Frank wiped the sweat from his brow and said, "Sparky's been good. I've got her all fixed up, and we shouldn't have any more engine trouble for a good long while. Going to have to pick up some more coolant for the reactor, though."
Larken gave Frank a look that said, "We're going to talk later." With his mouth he said, "Where the hell is Gearhead?"
"I dunno," Frank answered. "I woke her ass up."
"Crew eats meals together. That's the one rule. The one goddamn rule. Go get her."
Frank walked off down the hall yelling, "Gearhead! Quit strokin' yer clam and get up! Breakfast time!"
Slim pulled a knife from his belt and sliced open the meal package. As he devoured his pork and beans he said, "So boss, I notice my paycheck is a little late."
Larken laughed. "Don't worry about that. I got us another job. Simple smuggling job. Good money, shouldn't be too exciting."
"That's good," Slim said. "I've just about had my fill of excitement."
A short-haired and muscular young woman stepped into the room and said, "Then you're shit out of luck, old man."
"Boss, turn on the radio."
Larken turned up the Regenleif's shortwave radio. A voice came online.
"—known enemies of the Empire wanted for crimes of high treason against our Most Holy and Beneficent Emperor Isaac. Surrender now and you will be spared. Resist and you will all be terminated. I repeat, we know that the crew of this Valkyrie-class starship is harboring known enemies of the empire wanted for—"
The captain switched off the radio.
"Fucking Americans," Gearhead spat.
"There's nothing on the radar. Nothing but empty space. Where the shit are they?"
"I don't know, boss, but you'd better get that figured out."
Larken was about to say something when the ship rocked violently and made a sharp pitch to port.
Whatever was sending that radio transmission had started firing on them.