Is anyone else tired of being told what to be ‘angered’ about yet? Holy cow. It has gone beyond political to just plain sad. Anyway, you and I both know you have better things to do than listen to people whine about nothing. It’s that time again. We’re getting close to the end of book one. Close, but not yet. All hell is about to break loose.
Spies and Plots
A faint wind trickled through the base, lonely and chill. The duty day was winding down, both suns steadily drifting across the horizon, and that meant liberty for the majority of the garrison. Snake Eyes stumbled from the mess tent lighting a fresh smoke and patting his overstuffed belly. The food left a lot to be desired — then again, it was army food — but they made sure to serve more than enough. What the cooks lacked in flavor they sure made up in quantity. It wasn’t the worst he’d eaten, not by far, but there was much room for improvement. Even the dried field rations tasted better.
The steady stream of smoke pushing through his nostrils burned and relaxed him all at once. Casually picking a piece of meat from his teeth, the sergeant ambled his way back to the barracks. The trip back, which was no more than about a hundred meters, took much longer than he anticipated. At least a dozen different troopers came up to him gossiping about the coming campaign, affectionately dubbed the Extinction Campaign by those participating. He smiled and shook a few hands, making small talk with those he cared for and politely brushed off the ones he didn’t.
Snake knew there’d be plenty of time in the coming days for the chit chat and rumors to circle around. It seemed the two things a soldier was good at were dreaming about the future and bitching about the present. Either way, Snake Eyes had little control. He flicked away the last pull of his smoke as he entered the barracks. The usual sights greeted him. Soldiers walking around in towels with the smells of fresh soap and cologne. This was a rare occasion for most of the line troops, and they had every intention of living it up.
“Hey, Sarge,” Seli T’lain cooed, “plan on getting drunk with us enlisted tonight?”
Snake smiled. “I wish I could, but I still have some work left to take care of before it’s my turn to drink.”
Half-smiling and half-frowning, she finished pulling the civilian shirt down over her chest and walked off in search of someone else to mess with. He forced his male urges down, quickly looking the opposite direction. Seli was an attractive woman with long shapely legs and an athletic body that made him drool. Even in a shirt and pants, she was simply mouthwatering. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a couple they would have made if she didn’t work for him. He almost laughed at the thought of having a blue child.
“Looks like Sarge isn’t the only one w’o can’t ‘ang,” Ardn Kelg growled in a teasing tone. His fur rippled from the force of his laughter. “Don’t worry about it, Xill. I’ll ‘ave a good s’are for you.”
Seli’s laugh was better than music. Snake scolded himself for acting like a schoolboy on his first date and began focusing on the task he had planned for tonight.
“Come on, let’s leave the old people alone,” Seli teased. “I, for one, don’t want to remember tonight come the morning.”
A rousing cheer erupted from the troopers, and she led them out the back door and down towards the gate. Snake unbuttoned his shirt and sighed. Instinct told him it would be much safer going with the rest of the platoon, but there were a great many things troubling him of a sudden. Nathan Bourne, the enigmatic Earth man who shouldn’t be here. Snake couldn’t say why, but he felt that Nathan had a much larger role to play than any of them expected. The Slayer, Kane, was equally troublesome. Men like that didn’t play well with others, prompting Snake to question why now. Logistics issues, replacements, new orders, and the natural turmoil that came with every large scale invasion plan all combined to fill his mind with far too much stress for a mere squad leader to handle effectively.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Xill asked.
“Is there a choice?”
The Crendaphidian shook his head. “I just hope they’re wrong about this.”
“Aside from making the last few years of our lives nothing more than sacrifice, I can’t imagine why,” Snake Eyes replied. “It’s hard to believe that we’re being sold out by our own command.”
“But to what purpose?”
He offered a thin smile. “If we find the answer to that one, I really don’t think we’ll be coming home tonight. Come on.”
Snake fell silent, wondering what he would do if he found out the Imperium was selling them all out for some greater purpose. He didn’t like the idea of snooping on his own people, especially the ones that outranked him, but his troops deserved the truth. A terrible war was coming, and chances were good that most of his friends were going to get killed. Snake Eyes wanted to make sure they were going to die for the right reasons.
A kyal yipped out in the deep night, answered quickly by the sharp howls of another, and then another. Doglike in form and extremely vicious, they were among the top of the Wastelands nightly predators. They seldom were known to approach settled areas, especially one of this size, but the casual traveler often met his match.
Climbing atop the last rise, Snake Eyes and Xill carefully watched for motion sensors or booby traps. If the Imperium was going through this much secrecy, they were sure to have rigged the site for intruders. The camp was a half a night’s ride on horseback from Fort Evans, just far enough to keep the Old Man in the dark. Whoever was in command sure didn’t want any intrusions.
Both troopers were dressed in thin fabric jackets made especially for desert warfare. They had processing chips built into the linings to disable modern infrared vision by changing the heat signatures. If anyone was watching, they would appear as nothing more than some form of desert animal, which was either good or bad depending on how trigger happy the guards were.
Snake Eyes crested the ridge first, motioning Xill up slowly. Even with infrared goggles on, he saw more than he was expecting. Dozens of specially rigged shuttles filled the small valley. Maintenance crews were working on more throughout the fleet, transforming them into containment vehicles. Armed guards patrolled the ground, and every fifty meters there was a lookout tower with twin ion cannons mounted.
Feeling Xill grab his arm, Snake looked off in the direction his friend was pointing. He had to focus his goggles but was hardly surprised when the smallish form of Smythe Menzel came into view. The intelligence officer was making his rounds, checking the security of the perimeter and the progress of the mechanics. No one saluted him, for specific instructions had been issued against it. A salute would only point him out if anyone managed to penetrate the area.
Two small lights blinked on, guiding in a newly arriving shuttle. The pilots weren’t bothering with lights, leaving nothing to chance. Menzel watched as the bird came in, immediately setting off to brief the pilots.
“I don’t like the looks of this,” Snake Eyes whispered. “Something bad is about to happen. We have to get back and tell somebody before it’s too late.”
“I agree, but who can we trust?”
“We have got to get back and tell somebody before it’s too late.”
Smythe Menzel fought back a growl. Motioning for Fint to turn off the recording, he began drumming his fingers on the table. There was little doubt that the spies were already gone, leaving him to accelerate his plans.
“How soon before General Pierce arrives?”
“He should be here within a few hours, sir.”
Leggis Fint sat off to the side, doing his best to avoid this confrontation and smiling at the same time.
Menzel cursed. “We don’t have time for that. We can expect a patrol here shortly after dawn. Issue the order to begin moving the shuttles to our northern base. Ensure the pilots follow the course up the river to avoid detection. Maintenance crews go with the shuttles; all other ground forces begin tearing down the base immediately. When Colonel Russell sends out his men, I don’t want any trace of us having been here.”
“Yes, sir.” People scattered to make things happen.
“Master Fint, I need your inside man to find out who spied on us tonight.”
“Why?” Fint snorted. “Won’t do you or him any good. By the time he manages to find out, they’ll already have searched the area and found nothing. Wasting his time like that will only blow his cover, and I need him in there for a while longer if my job is going to get accomplished.”
“Need I remind you that you work for me, mercenary?” Menzel snapped.
Leggis Fint drew his blaster on the man before they could react. “No, I don’t. You know who hired me and why. It would be a shame if your generals found out you were the reason I terminated my contract. I never asked to be a part of this little war. Your superiors decided to involve me, and now that I am I don’t plan on letting some little low ranking flunky position himself over me. Another outburst like this, and I may forget we’re on the same side. I’ll be in touch.”
Calmly holstering his sidearm, Leggis Fint strode from the tent with much on his mind. He’d disliked Menzel from the moment they’d met. Something about the man riled Fint’s nerves. He should have known that whoever Gulluette had working for him on the inside would be a snake. Leggis Fint walked away, deciding if it was time to break their agreement or not.
Menzel was furious. Instincts urged him to gun down the man, but that would have to wait. He had much to do before it all collapsed around him. Certain people needed to be warned. General Gulluette’s mercenaries were getting out of control. All could be lost at the whim of a rogue man who, by rights, should never have been hired. Smythe despised Fint for what he was and what he stood to gain. The man’s reconnaissance mission was becoming a liability, forcing Menzel to prepare alternate endings for them should General Gulluette not take action for himself. Gods knew that, if anyone found out about their private plot to take control of the Berserkers, and possibly the Imperium, there would be no safe place left in the entire universe.
He grabbed his orderly by the wrist and whispered, “One other thing. Prepare my shuttle. I have something to take care of tonight. When I come back, I don’t expect to see anything but the wind blowing loose sand across this valley.”
“It will be done sir.”
“Good. For your sake, I hope so.”