Firemask: Book Two of the Last Legion Series (9 page)

BOOK: Firemask: Book Two of the Last Legion Series
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“ ‘Kay,” he said. “Forget it.” He picked up a message slip from his desk, sailed it across to Garvin. “Better you think about this.”

“What is it?”

“The Leeat Islands,” Njangu said. “Bunch of little islands way to hell and gone. They got problems with pirates.”

“Yeh, right, pirates.”

“Truth, or anyway they swear to it,” Njangu said. “Ex-’Raum that didn’t want to go back to making a semihonest living, so they’re out there poaching on the local fisher folk. Not a very nice bunch of people, it looks like, since nobody’s come back with details.

“The cops can’t seem to do anything, since the baddies have good skinny from the locals. Every time they go out looking, there’s nobody but innocents.”

“So, naturally,” Garvin said, “they want us to handle the rough work.”

“You rather sit around here and worry about the Musth?”

“Good point,” Garvin agreed. “What do we know about these pirates?”

“Not a whole helluva lot. Boats just flat disappear. No bodies, nothing. The best intel is from little bits somebody hollers on the Mayday freq before they vanish.

“I’d guess they kill the fishermen, shake the boats for anything valuable, then either sink them or maybe run them back to wherever they’re based. A quick paint job and back to sea as Fishing Boat
Justlaunched.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve got spies out in some of the fishing villages to tip ‘em to the best cargoes to grab. And that’s the sum total of what I’ve got. Somewhat less than nothing.”

“You got maps and such so we can at least start figuring how we’re going to flounder around?” Garvin asked.

“Would I be the evil genius of the Legion if I didn’t?”

• • •

“Well I shall be dipped,” Njangu said. “I thought you were frigging dead!”

“I was,”
Finf
Ton Milot said wryly. “But then I realized I was hurting too bad. The bastards clipped me in the arm, leg. Damned near lost the leg, and I’ve got about a meter of synthbone in it.”

“You know they gave Hank Faull the Star of Gallantry,” Yoshitaro said. Milot had been wounded, Hank Faull killed in the final battle of the ‘Raum uprising, securing the Eckmuhl.

“Yeh,” Milot said flatly. “Bet that made his widow feel real good and puts lots of rations on his kids’ plates.”

“So what’re you doing still in uniform?”

Milot looked away.

“Goddamned if I know,” he said. “If I’d had a brain, I would’ve taken the wound pension and gone fishing. Instead …” He let his voice trail off.

“Hey,” he went on. “Aren’t I supposed to salute you or something now you’re a highborn
aspirant
?”

“Bite me,” Njangu said. “A proper banging of the head on the floor’s enough.”

“Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up first,” Milot said.

“Nice to see you haven’t changed. Welcome back to I&R. I assume you can still carry the load.”

“Either that or whip up on some ‘cruit to do it for me,” Milot said. “By the way, did you know Lupul and I got married?”

“Congrats,” Njangu said. “Whyn’t you invite me to the wedding?”

“It was sort of a flash idea,” Milot said. “Fact was, well, I was sort of talking to Deira. You remember her?”

Njangu did. He’d taken a pass with Milot to the small fishing village of Issus after they’d graduated from I&R training, and ended up in a threesome with fellow striker Angie Rada and the sixteen-year-old girl.

“Well, Lupul got the wrong idea.” Milot grinned thoughtfully. “Or maybe the right idea. So she said it was time for me to either stay a merry bachelor and she hoped my cock rotted off, or else.

“I thought about it for, oh, a second and a half, realized I couldn’t do any better than Lupul, and so we just up and did it. Colorful fisherman’s custom on a boat and that kind of thing.

“Deira asked about you, by the way.”

“It never rains …” Njangu muttered, thinking of Jo Poynton.

“Maybe you want to come over to Issus with me sometime,” Milot offered. “That is, if it’s not illegal for an officer to do something with one of us enlisted swine.”

“We’ll do it,” Njangu promised absently. An idea was pulling at him. “Ton, do you suppose you could borrow a fishing boat from one of your friends?”

“Not borrow, but rent. Fishermen gotta make a credit somewhere. And if you want it officially, I’d guess there might be some bullet holes to patch up when it comes back. Plus we could hire my brother to help run it. You remember Alei … that was his boat you fell off of, the time we went fishing and you ended up as bait.”

“Let me ask you something,” Njangu said. “First, you can forget about that fishing trip we went on anytime you want to. You know of the Leeat Islands?”

“A little bit,” Milot said. “A bunch of islands way to hell and gone other side of Cumbre, isn’t it? Never fished there, but I know some people who did. Contract work. Fly over, work a season, come back. They did ‘kay. Didn’t get rich, but had some good stories to tell. Big fish in those parts.”

“I’ll want to talk to them,” Yoshitaro said. “Because we’re thinking about going for the biggest fish on the planet.”

Milot flickered his eyebrows.

“Good, boss. Very good story. Glad there’s no other reason you want to visit my village.”

“Goddammit, I’m telling the truth.”

“No question about that, boss. Good truth, too, huh?”

• • •

“I think,” Njangu said comfortably, “this is the sneakiest plan I’ve ever come up with.”

“Possibly,” Garvin agreed. “And don’t get a swole head, but it might even accidentally work.”

“So reward your fearless, peerless executive officer and open me a beer. I’m the poor sod who had to go spend the last two days in that backwater of Issus talking to fishermen to make sure my idea’d work.”

“I don’t guess,” Garvin said, “busy as you were, you found time to talk a walk in the moonlight with anybody?”

“Goddammit,” Njangu snarled, “does everybody know everything about my love life? And whether or not I did is none of your bidness. Now, boss, can I have my frigging beer?”

Garvin obliged, got another for himself, and examined the holo-projection table again.

“Lift the sucker in here,” he muttered. “A day’s sail from most of the activity … fish our way to here … and the py-rates hopefully jump out at us somewhere along the way and get shortened by a neck. Yer right, Yoshitaro. I don’t see anything that can go wrong.”

There was a tap at the door.

“Whozat?”

“Lir,” the first
tweg
said. “With a guest.”

“What kind of security clearance he or she got?”

“Higher one than you flipping do,” Hedley said, pushing his way into the company commander’s office. “Are you two through plotting your villainy?”

“Pretty close, Jon,” Hedley said. “You want a quick brief?”

“After I give you a small addition. Nothing that’ll worry you.”

“Uh-oh,” Njangu said.

“We’re listening,” Jaansma said suspiciously.

“Some observers want to come along.”

“Boss,” Garvin said, “come on! This is a for-real covert operation, dammit! We aren’t gonna have any place for a straphanger who maybe wants to see what a loud bang looks like up close.”

“Three straphangers to be precise,” Hedley said.

“Goddamned wonderful,” Njangu said. “Can’t you tell ‘em to pack their asses with salt and piss up a rope?”

“Nope,” Hedley said, holding back a grin.

“Ho-kay,” Garvin said. “So which one of the PlanGov twits has enough clout to shove themselves down our throats, and why?”

“Why is easiest,” Hedley said. “Our observers want to see the way we operate for real, not some kind of training exercise, and I&R’s currently the only game in town. As for the who … it ain’t flipping PlanGov.”

“Uh-oh twice,” Njangu said again.

“Make it thrice,” Hedley said. “Your observers, who as you correctly guessed, didn’t ask but told, are a being named Wlencing and two of his aides.”

“Aw fiddle,” Njangu said, collapsing back into his chair. “Howinhell are we gonna pack three frigging Musth on a fishing boat and look inconspicuous?”

“Damfino,” Garvin said. “But you’re the specialist in being sneaky.”

“Maybe one of them could be a figurehead on your boat?” Hedley suggested, and Njangu gave him a look of pure hatred.

• • •

The dockyard heavy lifter had been beefed up with extra fuel cells, its antigrav units carefully inspected. Predawn, with a two-person crew from the Legion, it slid out of Leggett’s commercial dockyards into the bay, then headed east, toward the end of the peninsula. Around midday, it rounded the point, and just before dusk landed at a beach beyond Issus.

Waiting was a careened twenty-meter fishing craft, the
Urumchi Darling,
less lifter than a boat, intended for long sea trips, where constant use of the antigravs would be cost-prohibitive. It pretty much matched the lines of the Leeat Islanders’ boats. It’d been rented from one of the Issus fishermen. With it went Ton Milot’s brother, Alei, as promised. He was only slightly more expensive to rent than the boat.

Alei had been warned it could get dangerous, but he shrugged and said no more so than a good typhoon, and wouldn’t last as long, either.

Ton had asked if perhaps Yoshitaro would like to ask Deira along, for more authenticity — a lot of fishing types took out families with them. Njangu declined, considering the wide range of dirty jobs he’d find for Milot when all this was over.

After beaching, the
Urumchi
was modified to look even more like one of the Leeat Island fishers, with a small steadying sail on its stern, twin trawl booms on its mainmast, and the harpooner’s pulpit removed. Then it had been given a characteristic paint job — a red stripe along the waterline matching the double exhaust pipes, and blue railings — and refloated on the rising tide. The work had been done by the two I&R teams chosen for the operation, with
Dec
Deb Irthing as senior noncom. Garvin hadn’t mentioned that before they got to play they’d have to do a little scut work with hammer and brush, but nobody objected, since that was a lot better than normal garrison duties around their barracks.

They’d arrived from Camp Mahan in three Griersons, Ben Dill commanding. The Aerial Combat Vehicles were hidden back under the trees, and the troops pitched hasty-domes around them. All wore plain civilian coveralls, like most fishermen did.

At dawn the next morning, while the team was waiting for high tide to refloat the
Urumchi
, a Grierson electronic warfare specialist gave the alarm as the troops were eating their rations after calisthenics. Her radar had picked up a large spacecraft, in-atmosphere from space, due east. She lost the ship behind the dumbbell-shaped island off Issus, then picked it up again as it lifted over the uninhabited island and sped toward them, just above the water.

Five minutes later, they had it on visual, and IDd the ship as one of the Musth armed transports they called mother ships.

The ship slowed, approached the beach, and hovered at the shoreline, spray created by the ship’s drive clouding the air.

A lock opened, and a gangway pushed out. Down came Wlencing and two other Musth, wearing combat harness and carrying, clipped to their harness, tubular duffles. One also carried a small contoured box high on his back that looked like a com.

Garvin and Njangu met the three, Garvin saluting. The two teams were behind him, at attention. Wlencing raised a forearm, bowed his head, stood motionless in return.

“You are welcome.”

“I doubt that,” Wlencing said.

“Oh?” Garvin said neutrally.

“I would not like it if I were about to fight, and othersss who look ssso very different insssisssted on joining me,” he said.

“You’re right. I don’t, particularly,” Garvin said. “But I have my orders, and I’ll obey them.”

“We ssshall attempt to remain out of the way, although if killing developsss, we would be delighted to help.”

Njangu heard somebody mutter “no shit,” from behind him, recognized the voice, promised retribution.

“That’s as may be,” Jaansma said. “If … or rather when we fight, any soldier is welcome. But one thing that’s got to be clear — there’s only one commander.”

“Sssuch is only logical, and our policccy asss well. We ssshall follow your inssstructionsss when fighting.”

Garvin led them up the beach.

“I think I remember you,” Wlencing said. “Have not we met?”

“We did,” Garvin said.

“You were … a gunner, then. Learning how to be a warrior.”

“Yes. You’ve got a good memory.”

“And now you are a leader, commanding thossse who go forward of the linesss?”

“Yes.”

“You mussst have ssstudied well.”

Garvin shrugged.

“I ssshall be interesssted in ssseeing your patternsss, your ssskills,” Wlencing said.

“Then let’s get about it,” Garvin said. “We’ll lift in the Griersons, transfer to the boat when we arrive off the Leeats,” Garvin said. “
Dec
Irthing, load ‘em up!”

The yard lighter’s drive whined to life, and it lifted, hovering above the beached
Urumchi.
Gyro-stabilized, the lighter’s hull split lengthwise, each part separately controlled. S slings were lowered from each half, forced under the
Urumchi
’s hull, and the boat lifted. As soon as it cleared the sand, other slings were installed equidistant from the
Urumchi
’s center of gravity.

The lighter’s skipper signaled to her mate in the other half, and the lighter closed up into a single ship, and the
Urumchi
was secured in the slings.

Escorted by the Griersons, the lighter flew out to sea, first due east to clear land, then slightly east by northeast, toward the Leeats.

• • •

Striker Mar Henschley was fresh from her I&R training as a Shrike gunner. But she was learning that everyone in I&R was basically infantry when anyone shouted. She sat cramped on a Grierson bench, wishing she had her missile launcher instead of just a paltry blaster. Just opposite her, next to the ECM ball turret, a Musth sat. She
thought
it was sitting anyway, although not sure how to describe someone braced on its tripod tail and two legs. The Musth was cramped, half-bent over, head brushing the armored roof of the Aerial Combat Vehicle.

BOOK: Firemask: Book Two of the Last Legion Series
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Antiques to Die For by Jane K. Cleland
Outside Looking In by Garry Wills
DarkPrairieFire by Arthur Mitchell
Mystic Park by Regina Hart
El sueño robado by Alexandra Marínina
The Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenstrom
Brass Bed by Flora, Fletcher