Authors: Adrian D. Roberts
Crusade for Vengeance
Book Two of Dark Vengeance
By Adrian Roberts
January 2015 Edition
Cover by Matt Hubel - [email protected]
Copyright © 2014 Adrian Roberts
The right of Adrian Roberts to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication maybe reproduced stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Always and forever.
Thanks to Rich and Stuart for being my sounding boards. Many thanks to Graham for his tireless pursuit of perfection, any errors are my own and should not be attributed to him.
The air was crisp and clean. Valerie sucked in deep lungfuls and exhaled them out in a steady rhythm. The sun shone down from high in the sky. Sweat ran down her face. She felt it trickle down her back and between her breasts. She pushed herself harder and faster. Her breath rasped in and out, combat boots pounding the dirt trail. Dark hair flowed out behind her and with her arms pumping, she kept increasing her pace.
The track she followed led through the Mishizen national park with Red Bark trees to either side. Set in the foot hills of the Ginormican Mountains, the park was one of the few areas open to all the citizens of Blaze, no matter if they were Privileged or Manual. The park stretched for over twelve thousand square kilometres of tranquil beauty. Through it, Valerie set herself a marathon distance run.
Twenty-five kilometres and over an hour in, she checked her chrono. With a curse Valerie tried to further increase her pace. She was behind her best time by quite a way and was even off her cruising pace. The last two years of inactivity took their toll on her body and she knew it. Her current speed would still beat the official Galactic record, but for what she needed to do, she must to be better. She needed to be at her peak.
In the pounding monotony of the run, Valerie’s mind cast itself back to the day before and the very difficult conversation with Hanna. The girl had just agreed to go to Olympus with Valerie when she raised a difficult subject.
“What happened on Furioso?” Hanna asked.
Valerie felt the bottom of her stomach drop out of her at those words. She looked up at Hanna from the picture drawn by her daughter. Those bright blue eyes were staring back at her with no give in them. Valerie felt the walls coming up inside her, to close her off from the world. Taking a deep breath Valerie forced them back. She knew she had to tell Hanna the truth.
“Hours after my family were murdered I arrived at Furioso. The base was my only way out of the Olympus system.” Valerie couldn’t bear to see those eyes any longer and looked away to the floor. “I’d been running on instinct and muscle memory. I don’t remember much after I left my home. It wasn’t until I sat on the shuttle heading to Furioso my mind began working again.” She paused as the memories assaulted her. “Something came over me. Anger, hate, rage. I needed to lash out. To hurt someone as I’d been hurt. As my family had.”
Telling this to someone for the first time was harder than anything Valerie did before in her life. She could not look at Hanna and the need for a drink was too powerful to resist. Walking over to her desk, she re-opened the whisky bottle left undrunk only minutes before. The glass sat empty in front of her and she poured a generous serving.
Sitting in her chair she took a large swig before continuing, her gaze staring into the amber liquid.
“I needed to hurt them and I knew exactly how I could do it. I had the means and the opportunity. The people didn’t mean anything to me. Soldiers and sailors I worked with for decades.” Her voice sounded distant, even to her own ears. “They just didn’t matter. I wanted to show them they weren’t invulnerable. There are consequences to their actions.”
“Who are they?” Hanna asked in a calm, quiet voice
“The Families!” The vehemence and venom in her voice surprised Valerie. “Those bastards and bitches who milk everyone dry, so they can keep their power and Privilege. They kill whoever gets in their way and I showed them what can happen. I’ll keep showing them until they’ve paid my price!”
“No,” Hanna stood up from her chair opposite Valerie. She stepped forward, placed her hands on the desk and leaned towards Valerie, who still dare not raise her eyes from her glass.
“No more puppets and tools. If I’m going to be there beside you, we go after the masters and not the slaves.”
“Don’t be naïve,” Valerie laughed harshly. Burning hazel eyes met blue. “Who do you think those bodyguards were yesterday or the Safelife security personnel? If you go after the Privileged, you go through their Manual defenders.”
The fifteen year old’s jaw tightened as she thought it through. She may be young, but she was certainly not stupid. She was probably the smartest person Valerie had met in over a century of life.
“Fine. No mass explosions then. If they get caught in the crossfire, I can live with that.”
An agreement was reached and it was strange to Valerie, as she pounded the route through the park, she now had a partner. Wherever Hanna went, Valerie knew Deni would be right beside her. Deni and Hanna’s partnership may not have been forged in actual combat, but the Ghettos of Blaze were a crucible capable of forging a relationship just as intense.
There was no way those two friends would be parted.
With Hanna and Deni beside her, there was a real chance of succeeding. More importantly, for the first time in two years, she had something to live for. It would no longer be only her training and experience keeping her alive. Now she had a reason. She would kill those behind the deaths of her family. She was going to bring a war to the Families doorstep. It would be a fight they would not know how to counter. Valerie was the best soldier in the Legion and she was going to show them exactly what that meant.
She needed to be at her physical peak. With her legs burning and heart pounding, she saw the aircar two hundred metres ahead in the clearing. Hanna and Deni were already back, from their much shorter route, and relaxing on the red grass. They turned when they saw her approach. She pushed herself even harder. Her whole body felt like it was on fire and every part of her was flaring with pain. Valerie knew her body, there more to give. She sprinted for the aircar.
Knowing, without looking at her wristcomp’s chrono, she was behind her average time, she still eked out everything her body had left. The looks the girls gave her was not a surprise to Valerie. Hanna only saw her at full speed during the firefight in Safelife’s global headquarters, when she would have had other things on her mind and Deni had never witnessed it. Along with her strength, it was not something Valerie showed to people, but they needed to know.
Crossing the imaginary line Valerie set for herself, she slowed to a walk. The girls were staring at her as she went round in circles, giving her breathing and heart time to slow down to a more normal pace.
“That was the marathon route,” Deni said, her voice filled with wonder. “We didn’t expect you back for at least another hour.”
Sitting up, Hanna checked her own wristcomp. “That’s not possible, no one can run that fast. Did you take a short cut?”
Shaking her head, Valerie started stretching her legs to cool her muscles down.
“No. There’s something I need to tell you both,” she said, still breathless from the run. “Do either of you know anything about genetic engineering?”
Both of the girls shook their heads and it did not surprise Valerie in the slightest. While Deni wasn’t as smart as Hanna, no one would ever accuse her of being stupid. The problem was, neither had been through even the basic education system available to the Manuals. They grew up on the streets of Inferno and what they knew was very much specialised in that area.
“OK,” Valerie continued as she stretched. “There are many things the Privileged medical system can do by manipulating human DNA, the building blocks of our bodies, as long as you can afford it. They can remove almost any disease or physical affliction. What they haven’t been able to do is change the basic parameters of the human body. No matter how much the Privileged spend, they really are no different from the rest of humanity. There are two exceptions to this. The Life X drug, which I’m sure you are aware of. With it I’ll live to be around five hundred years old.”
“Who would want to live that long?” questioned Deni with a bitter undertone and Hanna nodded in agreement.
Valerie could only shrug in response. There was nothing she could say.
“The second exception is something you wouldn’t have heard about. As far as I know, only nineteen people have this information and will now include the two of you.” The girls sat up a bit straighter, their attention obvious. “I didn’t come from a normal family and didn’t have a mother or a father. I was bred in a laboratory as part of a super soldier program called Prometheus. It was a complete failure. Out of the thousands upon thousands of children they created, only I survived. They don’t even know why.”
Finished with her stretches, Valerie crouched down on the grass by the girls. “I’m stronger and faster than any other person on the planet. It’s why I can do what I do. When you couple that with the best training the Legion could give me, for over a hundred years, and more real combat experience than anyone twice my age. It gives me a real edge.”
“It explains a lot,” Hanna said. “Everyone has noticed little things that don’t add up.”
“Yeah,” agreed Deni. “They were just too scared to say anything. Even Troll.”
“Did you know any of the other kids?” Hanna asked. As usual she got to the heart of the matter.
Nodding, Valerie took a deep breath and composed herself. It wasn’t an easy subject to go into. That seemed to be the way a lot of her conversations went with Hanna.
“Yes. They kept us together. I was in a crèche with forty other kids. I only know that because I was able to read some of the reports on my upbringing later on. What I actually remember is there being lots of other children about,” Valerie paused for a moment. This was not something she had spoken about for decades and then, only to the psychiatrist that the commanding officer of the Prometheus program insisted she attend, prior to joining the Legion officially.
“The other kids would get sick and disappear one by one. I remember on our fifth birthday there were only six of us left. The next year, it was just me. I knew then my time was up and I would follow my sisters and brothers.” Valerie’s mind took her back to those days, over a hundred years before, and the memories were vividly distinct.
“As each day passed, I was sure I would die, but days became weeks, weeks became months and finally years. They poked, prodded and tested me. I lost count of how many scans I went through and how much blood they took from me. They did everything they could to find out why I lived and no one else did. They never found the reason.”
Hanna and Deni sat there, not saying anything. Valerie could see them considering what they had been through and her life. They always presumed Valerie grew up in the wealth and luxury, born to the life of the Privileged. Now they saw her in a somewhat different light.
“What about your children? Surely you would have passed on your enhancements to them,” pointed out Hanna a bit hesitantly.
Valerie smiled slightly. “Biologically they weren’t mine. We used my husband Tom’s sperm and an anonymous donor’s eggs. They were then carried to term in an artificial womb. I can’t have children. My body doesn’t produce eggs. It was felt safer to not expose them to my unique physiology.
“Tom didn’t know why and he respected my request to not ask questions.” The smile came back to her. “He was a good man.”
Deni handed a bottle of water to Valerie. “So that’s your story.”
“A small part of it, yes. It’s important you don’t tell anyone this and that includes the Crew. As you said, they have their suspicions, but they can’t know the truth.”
Hanna nodded. “Alright, I can see why.”
“It won’t make much difference,” Deni said with a shrug. “We’re going to Olympus soon.”
“True, but you never know what the future may hold and you could come back later.” She didn’t need to say what was on all of their minds. It was very unlikely Valerie would survive her crusade.