The Raider class shuttle looked like a tiny speck in space when it finally left the Iscariot’s fighter bays. A sleek cylinder-shaped vessel, the Raider was fast and efficient, originally designed to ferry small strike forces for surgical assaults. It barely had any armaments, but its phase shielding could withstand the most advanced weapon systems currently fielded by local Fed-All forces.
The descent from the Iscariot to Ilm’s upper atmosphere only took about an hour, but it gave Chen enough time to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the planet’s capital city, also called Ilm; for as far as the Federated Alliance was concerned, the planet Ilm existed exclusively to support the city called Ilm, and nothing more. Any deviation from that purpose was intolerable.
From within the Raider, Chen peered below at the closest urban districts and commercial hubs, marvelling at their massive size. The city stretched from horizon to horizon. Beautiful, tree-shaped skyscrapers—two to three kilometers tall—dotted the great metropolis, giving Chen the impression of a gargantuan silver forest with air cars and grav shuttles as its birds and insects. Chen had seen it all before, several times, but he still couldn’t help but feel amazed by the size and glory of the City.
As someone who grew up on the war-ravaged, poverty-stricken Exile World, Nashoba, Ilm—with its glittering towers and efficient urban design—looked like a jewel filled with light and prosperity.
“Chen!” Toshir’s voice interrupted his ruminations. “Get ready. We’re almost there.”
Chen turned to look at his superiors, Toshir and Park, who were seated opposite him. Both were warrior gene breeds; hard-faced, brawny men, whose cord-like muscles suggested muscle-enhancing mods and forbidden breeding techniques.
Park had the distinctive Doric phenotypic features: a hard jaw, curly hair, bluish-orange skin and bright orange eyes. Powerful muscles were visible on both of his arms, and Chen saw the almost imperceptible bulge of an aggression enhancer on his neck.
Toshir, on the other hand, was a Taira, and Chen tried not to think about the stories surrounding his particular gene-breed; about their semi-illegal practices, and how they experimented with all manner of chemical weapons forbidden by the Terran Exarchate before their exile to Nashoba. The man’s eyes almost seemed like thin lines on his face, while his pale white skin appeared like luminescent silk covering cords of steel. He turned to face Chen, and the slit-like eyes opened wide to reveal monstrous black within black orbs.
Despite himself, a faint shiver ran through Chen’s spine, and he looked down to inspect his armor for the tenth time since they left the Iscariot.
“Chen!” Toshir’s voice rang out a second time, almost taunting this time. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Ye doan looks ready,” Park, the Doric breed finally spoke up. “An ‘Atavist’ likes yous’ probably wo’an likes wot’ll happens down there.”
Chen swallowed hard at Park’s taunting chuckles, and at the implications of “Atavist,” a term broadly used to describe “genotypic relics” from a time when humans had not yet tinkered with their genetic code.
Both men looked at Chen, their eyes harsh and critical, though without malice. They wanted to see if a few words were enough to make him crack.
Though every cell in his body seemed to freeze up in fear, Chen met their gaze and held it. Inferior though he may be, obsolete though his gene traits may be, he would not back out of a fight. Not now.
He had sacrificed too much to back out now. He will not return to Nashoba in disgrace.
“Knock it off, Park,” Toshir ordered, and the Doric breed leaned back on his chair, though his face remained a challenging smirk.
“Last chance to back out, Chen.” Toshir’s voice was kindly, but his eyes remained hard and pitiless. “You can still go back with the Raider.”
Chen answered with a cold, hard voice that seemed foreign to his own ears. “Not without seeing some action, sir!”
Toshir sighed and leaned back on his own seat. He could feel the Raider slowing down, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before it would land.
“Do you know why we’re going down there?”
“Yes, sir! A hostage situation. Keramlik secessionists have kidnapped several local leaders and their families. We are to—“
“Don’t give me that!” Toshir snapped angrily, and his tone became inquisitorial. “Opposition factions on the Keramlik homeworld have been gaining power, and they are pushing the Keramlik Ascendancy to secede from the Federated Alliance. This attack is the latest example of the ongoing low-intensity civil war in Keramlik space. Do you know what that means?”
“If the Keramlik secede, then dozens of minor alien races will follow them, and that will spell the end of the Fed-All,” Chen answered without hesitation
“Correct,” Toshir said. “Except the Keramlik Ascendancy will never secede because the secessionists are a small vocal minority, isn’t that right?”
“Now, here’s the big question!” Toshir said sharply, and his eyes peered at Chen, like those of a predatory owl’s. ”Why hire human mercs for a critical situation like this? Why not send in a force exclusively made up of their best and most trusted soldiers?”
Chen thought about his answer for a moment. He considered a sly answer, but thought better of it. Better to play it straight. “Politics,” he said with an honesty that was alien to him. “And also because the Fed-Alls want us to watch over their best soldiers.”
Park roared with laughter, even as their shuttle’s engines began to die down. “Is you sayin’ the ram-ranchin’ Fed-Alls doan trust their own sodjers?” Park asked with a grin.
“No, sir! Absolutely not,” Chen said brightly, and this time, his voice was full of sly subtlety. “They just want expendable human mercs to draw fire for their team.”
Park and Toshir laughed at the answer. “That’ll do, kid,” Toshir said without malice. “That’ll do. For now.”
It was already noon when the Raider landed near a heavily barricaded area guarded by a small security detail composed of various species. The human mercenaries disembarked from their transport without fanfare, then quickly went on the central command post, a hastily constructed pre-fab structure with the company’s hammer and dragon logo stamped on its walls and doors. Other humans were already there, ready to fight and waiting for the signal to join battle.
The command post gave a good view of the forward area, a small industrial zone, not too far from one of Ilm’s gargantuan spaceports. The structure where the Keramlik hostages were being held was a tall administrative building shaped like a thin, spiralling stalagmite; however, the information on the imprinted briefing reminded Chen that the structure was stronger than it looked, though it had several weak spots that could easily be exploited by determined attackers.
The secessionists had originally planned to evacuate them off planet via the nearby spaceport, but when that plan failed, they retreated to this place and fortified it against the inevitable attack.
This happened 16 standard Terran hours ago.
Now, the area surrounding the building was a no man’s land. Here and there, Chen could see signs of battle, but nothing too extensive, and naturally, the structure was also surrounded with various weapons emplacements, mostly low-intensity mass accelerators.
The defenders, though, were a different matter. The briefing said that the terrorists were battle-heartened veterans armed with the best weapons the Keramlik Ascendancy had to offer. They supposedly had particle beams and various directed energy weapons, the kind of weapons that can actually threaten a combat-modded, war-breed human mercenary. And worst of all, there were supposedly over a hundred of them over there, armed and ready to die for their cause.
Chen, however, saw that almost none of that was true. The structure was poorly fortified, and he could identify five to ten different weak points that even the most incompetent attacker could exploit. The secessionists did not reveal themselves, but phasic scans revealed that they were just milling around in the upper floors, like untrained rabble. Chen was no expert in alien psychology, but something in his gut told him that the “hardened terrorists” were a scared, ill-disciplined, and demoralized lot.
The only thing that matched the briefing was the size of the force. There were over a hundred of them over there. How so many Keramlik secessionists reached Ilm without being detected or flagged Chen could only wonder.
What was even more surprising was the Fed-All presence in the area. Sure, the armed emplacements were there, but the security forces sent to man the barricades were a skeleton force that could easily fall apart should the secessionists decide to break out in force.
And despite the official blackout, there were also plenty of civilians nearby. Comely Hithariki journalist-scriveners prowled the command area, as though the whole hostage crisis was some sort of excursion where they could get a nice, juicy scoop. There were also Mit-Mit researchers poking through equipment and speaking with the task force. One attempted to speak with Chen, but the creature’s substandard translator failed to convey his thoughts, and Chen drove him away with an irritated growl.
To pass the time, Chen checked his own equipment. Due to his inferior gene breed and lack of mods, he was forced to carry more gear than the standard merc in the company, but he took pride in the fact that he took good care of them. He already had his synth skin armor on, a series of semi-organic magnetorheological fluid plates that clung to his flesh using a series of Randot phasic nodes. They weren’t exactly top of the line, but they were the best that he can afford, and they had a few extra upgrades to increase their durability.
His weapons were likewise simple. Just a standard plasma thrower with a few upgraded heatsinks and a recently repaired molecular disruptor, its smooth shape and decorative filigrees concealing its low quality. Poor range, but durable and dependable.
All good. All green.
As Chen was about to join his fellow mercs, Toshir clasped him on the shoulders and dragged him away from the command post and towards an area filled with supply crates. Park was already there busily drinking, his rough face fixed in a frown.
“Change of plans, Chen,” Toshir whispered to him, his pale white skin almost glowing under Ilm’s noon sun. “We’re not joining the main assault.”
“We’re not?” Chen asked surprised and a little anxious at the sudden change, but he quickly recovered. “Of course, we’re not.”
“The Ilm governor is sending over a VIP, a Fed-All Justicar named Kiritata. Know him?”
“Only what I’ve learned from the local propaganda,” Chen said.
Toshir leaned closer then began speaking in a calm but cautious tone. “The Federated Alliance doesn’t produce propaganda. The Federated Alliance only provides pure and unbiased information to its citizens, and the galaxy. That’s the truth, and telling the truth keeps you healthy and employed, got it?”
“Good, because if Kiritata is involved, then this mission just got a lot more complicated, which is why it’s important to say the truth all the time, right?”
Chen opened his mouth to speak, but he shut it just as quickly, suddenly remembering the rules of the game. “Yes, sir. I only speak the truth. Of course.”
“Good,” Toshir said. “Kiritata is tasked with saving the hostages. He has his own team, but the three of us, we’re providing support. The rest of the company, as well as some Fed-All troops, will engage the Keramlik and draw fire away, while we move in.”
“And our plan of attack?”
“We’re going in through a tunnel,” Toshir answered. “Scans and initial recon indicate that the basement is not heavily defended; mostly automated defences: drones and turrets. That’s also we’re we’ll most likely find the hostages. Our job is to keep Kiritata alive. Just follow our lead and you’ll be fine. We’ll make our move once the diversionary attack begins.”
“And the hostages?” Chen asked, hesitantly.
“Are Kiritata’s problem. Keepin’ Kiritata livin’ and pissin’ s’ours,” Park said with a strange joviality that was so patently false that it almost seemed true. “Now, ’member! Jus’ follow our or’ers. No matter wot happens, follow our pissin’ orders.”
Park and Toshir turned to leave, but Chen stopped them.
“I’m not sure I’m right for this sort of job, sir!” Chen couldn’t believe that those words came out of his mouth, not after everything he said back in the shuttle, and yet they did. And now, he was frozen in fear.
Toshir’s face flared up with anger, but it was Park who stepped in to deescalate the situation, grabbing his partner’s arm with a brawny hand, before glaring down at Chen. “Ye knows how ta shoots and kills, right? Y’ killed things; ‘umies and xenies?”
“And ye understandin’ wots goin’ around ‘ere?”
“I…” Chen hesitated. “I think so, yes.”
“Ye thinks so’s or na’? Make’ep yer head.”
“I do, sir!”
“Good! Then all’s ye be needing to do’s to shaddup and follows yer orders. Tha’s all. Shaddup and follows orders. Long Pants sen’ you here fer training, and that’s wot yer gettin’,” Park said with a smirk that seemed foreign to his bluish-orange face, “assumin’ ye survives, acourse. Come on. We’s gotta meets tha birdie, Tosh and I. Ye may as’ ell come ‘long.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of several heavily armed Keramlik soldiers, their armor and weapons lighter and less ominous than those used by the human mercenaries, though no less potent. At the center of this group was a tall Keramlik warrior, its featherless avian face brightly painted and its beak-like protrusion decorated by exotic jewelry.
“Speak a’ the dev’l,” Toshir muttered, as much to himself as to Chen.
“Human friends,” the lead Keramlik greeted through his translator. Chen had met other Keramlik before, but this one was taller than the others, and he bore a virile dignity that the rest of his species seemed to lack. Unlike the spindly limbs and thin torsos of his kind, Kiritata’s body appeared powerful and resilient. His most prominent features, however, were his four alien eyes, which were five times the size of a standard human’s and which now peered at them ominously.
“Justicar,” Toshir replied in greeting. “We are honored to join you in the assault.”
“The honor is mine, human friends,” Kiritata answered. “But I was not informed that human friends would be here…” He paused, as though considering the situation carefully. “I did not even learn of you until I arrive. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Most likely a mistake,” Toshir said quickly. “Your own leaders believed that you and your men needed further support. Recon indicates that the terrorists are well-armed.”
“Indeed. Secessionists will be punished,” Kiritata answered, his eyes becoming larger than before. “These terrorists are a threat to the Federated Alliance. Rebels. I understand that the founders of Nashoba and your great mercenary company are also rebels.”
Chen was caught off-guard by the remark. Was this alien intentionally baiting them or was it really an honest mistake?
“To the Exarchate, Justicar,” Toshir corrected, without pausing or showing any sign of anger. “Nashoba, our company included, are rebels against the tyrannical Terran Exarchate, which is a corrupt and oppressive regime, and an enemy of all sapient life.”
“Hmmmmm. Yes. In any case, human friends, I am pleased with the support of your arms. We shall surely triumph over the perfidious rebels.”
“Thank you, Justicar. The honor is ours,” Toshir replied, then turned to Park and Chen. “These are the men of my squad. This is Rodrigo Chen and you’ve already met Park before. Chen, the Justicar Kiritata is doing us a great honor by speaking with us before the mission. The Keramlik are among the most honest and straight forward people in the entire Federated Alliance. Isn’t that right, Justicar Commander?”
The alien’s eyes relaxed and let out a sound that Chen believed was praise. He and Toshir exchanged more pleasantries, then the Justicar and his entourage left, walking towards a small prefab shelter filled with several Keramlik females as well as a few Fed-All bureaucrats.
“That’s it? I thought he was going to brief us,” Chen complained.
“Everything you need to know was included in your imprinting,” Toshir said brusquely, his porcelain face frowning.
Chen paused, then slowly, deliberately, he said, “Everything I can talk about was included in the imprinting.” Toshir and Park looked at Chen curiously, and he held their gaze without flinching, his normally plain features now surprisingly hard.
“Ye wanna handle dis or should’s I?” Park asked.
Toshir sighed and led Chen to a secluded area with Park keeping watch.
Keeping his voice low, Toshir said, “I’ll make this brief, so try not to interrupt me. About three standard Terran months ago, a group of Fed-All investigators uncovered a Keramlik secessionist cell operating in one of their outer colonies. They found a lot of high-end weapons and equipment in their armory, the kind only high-ranking officers and military personnel have access to.”
“Like Justicars?” Chen asked.
“Yes, like them. Exactly like them,” Toshir said, but quickly added, “Of course, the weapons could have come from anyone, but the Fed-Alls have a list of suspects.”
Chen looked at the Keramlik commando, Kiritata, and his team. They were inspecting their gear, but he knew that they were watching the humans as much as the humans were watching them. Suddenly, Chen realized something. He liked the intrigue. It fit him like a glove.
“And Kiritata knows a lot about these suspects, doesn’t he?”
“That he does,” Toshir said with a sardonic smirk that appeared more like a feral grin.
“And this list of suspects? How many of these ‘suspects’ were traced back to this planet?”
Toshir didn’t respond. He simply smiled.
The attack on the compound began an hour later, when Kiritata radioed in that his team was in position. Special tunnelling servitor drones had managed to quietly drill a tunnel into the lower basement of the building, giving them a path to follow and flank the attackers once the battle began. Their point of entry placed them within an old corridor that led to the upper floors, but as expected, the entire area was infested with automated defences, mostly mines and turrets.
As Chen and the team made their attack, the main bulk of Fed-All soldiers and human mercenaries began their own assault on the compound above ground. Chen could hear the harsh distinct sounds of particle weapons and molecular disruptors, along with several explosions.
Below, things were tamer, but no less dangerous. Kiritata and his Keramlik commandos were the first to move in, and they stupidly exposed themselves to danger when their leader led them into the firing arc of one of the basement’s turrets. Luckily, the antiquated guns were old, and the first volley of mass reactive rounds were absorbed by the Keramlik Justicar’s own kinetic defense shields.
Seeing Kiritata in danger, Toshir and Park leaped forward to protect him with their own superior human-made shields, reducing thousands of energy-accelerated rounds into harmless metal pellets. Chen took the initiative by shooting the turrets one by one with his plasma thrower, which allowed Toshir and Park to engage the rebel troops, who were already making their way down the corridors.
Again, Kiritata and his men took the lead in dispatching the enemy; their plasma throwers turning several corridors into radioactive infernos. Above, the sound of the conflict began to grow louder and louder, even as the defenders diverted more of their forces to engage the combined Fed-All and Human mercenary force in the basement.
Slowly but surely, Kiritata’s team fought their way to the room where the hostages were being held, methodically killing any defender they encountered along the way. Even the makeshift barricades and traps failed to slow their progress.
The corpses of Keramlik secessionists slowly filled up the basement’s corridors, their flesh scorched by plasma fire or reduced to ash by disruptors. A couple of Kiritata’s men fell to turret fire, but they were able to maintain their momentum, and Chen knew that it was only a matter of time before they will reach their target.
Then, in the midst of this smoke, blood, and shattered walls, the Justicar Kiritata whirled around to face Toshir and Park, his eyes bulging and menacing. He stared at them for only a minute, but it was enough to unnerve both veterans.
“Justicar?” Toshir asked. “Is something wrong?”
Kiritata made a harsh sound then quickly turned around to continue the march. He led them to the last defended corridor, which was heavily barricaded by half a dozen Keramlik secessionists. Again, the humans allowed the Keramlik to take the lead, but also keeping close enough to intervene should anything threaten Kiritata.
The corridor was soon ablaze with weapons fire, as desperate secessionists threw themselves at the Kiritata’s combined squad. Many died screaming as plasma and kinetic fire tore off limbs and cooked living flesh inside substandard armor. At length, the battle was over and the only thing left were the smoking piles of xeno meat and bone.
“Hold!” Kiritata ordered as soon as the last enemy combatant was dead, then he turned to his men and spoke to them rapidly. Then with swift, deadly movements, the Keramlik commandoes turned their plasma weapons on the humans.
“You three. Stand there. Don’t move. If you move, head go kraaak. Understand?” Kiritata ordered sharply.
Toshir and Park obeyed, raising their arms in surrender, but Chen hesitated, gripping his weapons even more fiercely.
“Do as he says,” Toshir quickly hissed, and Chen obeyed.
“Doan move, kiddo,” Park muttered, “E’rything’s goin’ a’ be okay. Trust us.”
Kiritata made them stand in an exposed area, near the large, sealed door at the end of the corridor, and assigned two guards to watch them. Chen, Park and Toshir obeyed, not moving a muscle. They stood a few paces away from Kiritata’s men, arms raised and completely still. Kiritata then ordered one of his men to remove the barricades and start working on the door. The Keramlik soldier obeyed, and he began running a bypass on the sealed door.
As the soldier worked, Kiritata and his chief lieutenant began arguing, their translators off. They pointed at the humans, then at the upper floors, where the sound of fighting was also starting to die down. The rest of the Keramlik’s soldiers also looked troubled, their large alien eyes glaring at the humans, as though they were ready to pounce on them any minute.
“Get ready,” Toshir muttered to Park and Chen.
Kiritata quickly whirled around, his four alien eyes glaring at Toshir. “What you tell him? What you say?” The translator’s flat vocals failed to convey the emotion in the Justicar’s shrill, alien voice.
“Nothing,” Toshir said, his face remaining passive.
“You are liar. You are killer. You kill me, human?” Again, Kiritata’s translator failed to convey the panic in his voice.
Finally, the door unlocked with a hiss, and Kiritata turned away from the humans to look at the room beyond the door. What greeted him made him sick. It was the hostages and their young, butchered and slaughtered, their entrails hanging on the walls and tables.
Kiritata was shocked, but that shock quickly turned into anger, and he whirled to face Toshir.
“You knew!” Kiritata accused through his translator, but the humans remained quiet.
“You knew!” He repeated the accusation, pointing his plasma thrower at Toshir, its muzzle red hot. “Who tell you? What you know? Who betray me? Speak, human!”
“We were ordered to protect you, nothing more,” Toshir said calmly, hands raised and face empty of expression.
Kiritata would have struck Toshir with his weapon had his lieutenant not dragged him off to resume their argument. The lieutenant pointed a claw-like finger at each of the corpses hanging on the wall, as though he knew each of them, but Kiritata responded by screaming and pointing at the fallen secessionists out in the corridors, then at the humans, then back at the dead hostages.
“Wait for the signal,” Toshir muttered softly to Chen, taking advantage of the momentary distraction.
Chen nodded his head once in acknowledgement. A soft smile appeared on Park’s rough face.
Weary of waiting and arguing, Kiritata whirled around, his plasma thrower charging and his four bulging eyes bloodshot with rage. He screamed a torrent of untranslated accusations at the humans, and would have pointed his pistol at Toshir were it not for the energy pulse that exploded from somewhere within the room.
For a brief moment, the entire Keramlik squad was helpless.
The humans, though, had expected the diversion and quickly sprang to action. Toshir opened the pores on his skin and flooded the corridor with noxious gas chemicals, eliciting screams and blind weapons fire from the Keramlik soldiers, whose flesh and armor were now peeling away.
Meanwhile, Park’s already bulky body grew in mass and his orange-blue skin began emitting a low-intensity phase barrier. He then quickly tackled the nearest Keramlik commando, snapping his neck with one fluid motion before slamming his comrade into the wall, breaking his spine.
Chen acted as well and shot Kiritata’s chief lieutenant and another commando. He killed the first and wounded the latter, who fell to Park’s rampaging blows in the tempo of the battle. Kiritata and his last remaining commando managed to retreat into the corpse-strewn room, then proceeded to take cover behind the bodies within, firing their weapons at the attacking humans.
One shot hit Park in the shoulder, and the human fell down with a grunt. But Chen and Toshir quickly retaliated, and Toshir’s chemical gas attacks incapacitated the last of Kiritata’s companions. Seeing hope lost, the Justicar emerged from his position and charged the attacking humans, firing blindly in one final, vain attempt to win back victory.
Then something exploded into Kiritata’s chest, and he fell down, wracked with pain. His shield absorbed most of the blast, though not enough to save his life. The Keramlik Justicar glared at the two alien silhouettes who stood over him. A third appeared a few seconds later, wounded on the shoulder but otherwise still battle ready.
Toshir kneeled down beside Kiritata, a soft, almost innocent smile on his face. “My clients paid me to convey a short message: secessionists will be punished,” he said softly. Then he showed him the detonator for the energy pulse that incapacitated his team earlier. He then got up and clasped Chen on the shoulder.
Kiritata made a long, piercing wheeze that may have been anger, sorrow, surprise, or a curse. Chen looked down at the bulging alien eyes staring at him and felt nothing. The battle; the fear of death. There was a purity in this murder, a cold logic that spoke to his own human soul.
He rather liked it. With calm resolve, he pointed his plasma thrower at Kiritata’s torso and fired.
A ball of white-hot energy turned the Justicar’s chest and body armor into ash, and thus Kiritata, hero of the Federated Alliance, fell silent, his four large, avian eyes seeming to sink into his flesh until they were four little dots.
With their targets dead, Toshir and Park wasted no time in carrying out their remaining tasks. They quickly gathered the corpses together, then piled them up into nice, orderly rows.
They also ordered Chen around. Clean that up. Wipe that memory core. Put that weapon there. Not there! Over there! Pack up these devices. They’re evidence. Don’t worry about that. They’re someone else’s problem. Come on! Drag the bodies inside. Quickly, now!
Soon, a different group of human mercenaries emerged from the upper floor, carrying the bodies of several Keramlik commandos. They placed the bodies next to Kiritata and his men before arming a molecular disruption charge at the center of the room.
Both groups of human mercenaries remained quiet while they worked. They didn’t even glance at one another. They worked mechanically, efficiently, Chen thought, almost as though they had done this before.
After they had carried down the last of the bodies, the second group left the way they came without making a sound. Neither Toshir nor Park acknowledged their leaving, and Chen knew better than to speak.
At length, Chen, Park, and Toshir also finished their work and left through the same corridors that would lead them back to the hole that they had entered through earlier. Above, they can hear human mercenaries packing up their gear and issuing a general retreat.
“Move!” Toshir hissed as Chen began to lag behind them. He redoubled his efforts, but he couldn’t shake away the nausea that engulfed him. They betrayed Kiritata and his men, murdered them. Is there another group waiting out there to do the same to them?
Chen expected an ambush any moment now, a sudden explosion or a bio-chem device to turn them into goo. But none came, and they soon reached a tunnelling vehicle with a human pilot waiting inside. Toshir motioned Chen to enter and shut his mouth, and the youth obeyed.
As they cleared the area, Chen could feel the tremors of an explosion, and he knew that the facility was gone. Who ordered it destroyed? It didn’t matter. All he cared about was the fact that he was alive.
When they returned to the surface, Chen could see a pillar of smoke rising from where the compound once stood. It was such a tiny little thing compared to the soaring skyscrapers that decorated the city’s skyline, but Chen knew that the smoke spread terror to all who saw it.
“Congratulations, kid.” Toshir’s voice interrupted Chen’s ruminations. “You’re in. You’re now a full member of the Company.”
The mission had been a disastrous failure.
All the hostages were dead, along with the noble Justicar Kiritata and his men. The only bright spot in this entire debacle was the fact that Kiritata took all of the Keramlik secessionists with him, thus ridding the galaxy of their evil, and secessionists, as the Federated Alliance was so keen on reminding its people, will be punished!
Furthermore, it was reported that the human mercenaries had conducted themselves poorly during the operation. Fed-All information officers declared that although the humans fought well enough in the beginning, they immediately retreated when they learned of an improvised bomb within the forward area, leaving the brave and selfless Federated Alliance soldiers to bear the brunt of most of the fighting.
Sadly, the blast killed all the soldiers and hostages, along with whatever evidence may have been in the compound. Fed-All rescue drones would later find Kiritata’s corpse along with those of the hostages, but the explosion had so damaged the bodies that it was impossible to conduct a full autopsy. Even so, the Federated Alliance government on Ilm worked fast to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible.
When news of the debacle finally died down, all that was left were the ruins of a compound and several dozen articles and docu-vids praising the death and sacrifice of the Justicar Kiritata, and the evils of the Keramlik secessionists. More importantly, however, the tragedy gave the Federated Alliance the pretext it needed to pass new legislation to clamp down on secessionist groups all over Fed-All space. Intellectuals and politicians also spoke of the need for “a more robust Federated Alliance,” one that can deal with all sorts of secessionist tendencies among its member states.
As for the mercenaries, they were another matter. The local Fed-All government on Ilm didn’t like to talk about them, so no one talked about them, and over time, the diverse alien masses of the Federated Alliance forgot that human mercenaries had been involved in the entire debacle at all.
For Rodrigo Chen, however, the whole event had been a great tragedy. He had failed his first mission and had performed quite poorly. Despite this cowardice and incompetence, though, the company still saw fit to make him a full member of their outfit and had even awarded him a special bonus for “special services rendered.”
Author Notes: This story was originally posted on Terror House Mag on July 2020: terrorhousemag.com/tag/martyrs-blood/
Jed J. Del Rosario is a Philippines-based journalist and freelance writer. His articles have appeared at Panay New Inc., Rappler.com, and the U.S.-based Manila Mail.