Read Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour Online

Authors: Mark E. Cooper

Tags: #Space Opera, #Science Fiction, #war, #Military, #space marines, #alien invasion, #cyborg, #merkiaari wars

Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour (8 page)

BOOK: Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour
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The ten ruling families of Bethany had ultimate power back home. That meant they owned her and all she held dear. Not that there was much. Her brother, Paul, was all the family she had, and she wasn’t even sure he was alive. Paul was the reason she was here. Her own sources had come up empty, and she had been forced to go to her handler for help. He had promised to look into her brother’s disappearance in return for a couple of favours. Kate had agreed knowing he was padding his retirement fund at her expense, but Paul meant more to her than her own safety. She had promised to look after him; it was her fault he was missing. If she had done better by him, taught him better or been there more, he would still be safe. So here she was, AWOL technically, though no one would ever know. She had completed her official mission on Thurston in record time simply to give herself this opportunity. There would be no evidence of her little detour, she had seen to that.

Kate continued her scan of the vicinity noting a huge range of bio-forms. So many in fact, her software was having difficulty identifying them all. That wasn’t surprising. Tigris’ main industry, hell its only industry, was medicines. It was a strange fact that no matter how clever the Alliance became at synthesizing new drugs and treatments, nature was better. Find a cure for a particular disease, and another cropped up to take its place. Medicines were always highly sought after. Unlike Earth, planets like Tigris had abundant sources of green things, which might hold the secret to cure the latest plague.

Still, she wasn’t here for medicine.

Satisfied with her sweep, she closed down her sensor suite and re-boarded the shuttle to fetch her kit. She glanced at her wristcomp, it was midnight and time she was gone. Taking a last look around, she locked the hatch before heading west into the jungle with her rifle in hand ready for trouble. Her destination was a little over three klicks away. Ostensibly a small harvesting operation, it was in fact the headquarters of a man styling himself General Millard.

Kate stopped at irregular intervals to check her back trail. She knelt amidst the undergrowth and carefully scanned the jungle all around her position. She ignored the fetid smell that arose, and the damp that seeped through her leggings where her knee crushed rotting vegetation. All was quiet. Her back trail was invisible even to her, which was good. Her sensors informed her of multiple targets all round her with flashing red icons detailing range and vectors, but she ignored most of them as the animals she was sure they were. She could be wrong of course, but that just made the whole thing more interesting. Although her sensor package was a small handheld unit, it was state of the art tech. Small and light weight, it had the power and sensitivity of rigs three times its size.

She moved out again keeping an eye on a large target that her sensors said lay ahead of her. She didn’t like the look of it. It was too big to be a man, but who knew what nasty critters were hiding out here? She detoured wide and kept a wary eye on her sensors, but the thing was uninterested in moving. She breathed easier once she had left it behind.

A trickle of sweat ran down her spine. Her sneaksuit was stuck to her in uncomfortable places. She ignored the discomfort and kept to the same methodical crouching walk. She always wore the same thing on a job like this. A black one-piece coverall with non-metallic zippers, combat boots laced halfway up her shins, and cutaway gloves to provide some protection for her hands without fouling her fingers for intricate tasks. The sneaksuit’s hood covered her face, its nanocoat protected her against airborne agents—nerve gasses and the like. The legs of the sneaksuit were bound tightly over her boots with tape to prevent insects and other critters getting in and having their way with her. There were a lot of venomous nasties living on Alliance worlds—none of which had any business munching on humans, but they didn’t care about that and would happily have a go if you let them. Making the acquaintance of one of them while moving through the jungle wasn’t her idea of a good time.

Kate crouched and took another reading. According to her electronics, she was within a klick of the target. She memorised the layout her sensors reported to her, and shut her stuff down for the final time. She had no reason to believe Millard could detect her approach, her sneaksuit’s infrared masking capabilities should preclude that, but why risk it?

Kate crept slowly closer to her objective. She ducked under low hanging foliage, and climbed gingerly over fallen and rotten tree trunks, always careful to prevent noise. At what she guessed to be fifty metres from the target, she went to ground and crawled into a dense patch of undergrowth to watch the goings on in the brightly lit compound. There were three buildings laid out in a rough horseshoe with the central space used for a vehicle park. She recognised the harvesters for what they were, but it was to the half dozen tracked APCs that her eyes were drawn. They weren’t bodged together junk that some amateur mechanic had built from spare parts. They were straight out of an Alliance weapons factory. Those heavily armed vehicles had no place in the hands of civs. They were more suited to a Marine armoured detachment and looked brand new.

“What the hell is this?” she hissed under her breath.

Her brief hadn’t mentioned anything on the scale of APCs. What else was she likely to find? She lay still and tried to sense the trap. With her electronics shut down it was all she could do, but she had a knack for this kind of thing bred from constant use and a lot of training before that. She was good and knew it. She settled down for the long haul, determined not to move until she had learned the puzzle this place represented.

She was pleased to note the absence of sentry guns, automatic or otherwise. Spy eyes and other surveillance gear could be secreted all over the compound of course, but somehow she thought not. The setup was too amateur—too sloppy for that to be likely. As far as she could see, the operation was unprotected by alarms or guards. She was itching to go active on her sensors to make certain, but she restrained herself. She was all too likely to give herself away. She would watch and make a decision based on a visual inspection.

An hour into her vigil, she made a judgment call. Millard
was
just an amateur as she had guessed, but he was an amateur with powerful toys. He was obviously being financed from off world, but he didn’t appear to have more than a token force stationed here.

Her mission would go ahead as planned.

Kate watched the night progress hoping Millard’s people wouldn’t work through ‘till dawn. As zero three hundred approached, things settled down. Lights were extinguished and the camp cleared of people—except, she noted, two guards standing at the door to the central building. She raised her rifle and sighted on the leftmost guard. He was one hundred metres away. A hundred metres was nothing to a rifle like hers. Heavy tactical rifles (HTR) like her Steyr 7.62mm TacSix, had enough juice to accelerate a steel-jacketed tungsten dart to kill at ranges well over a klick away, but there was a problem. If she fired, the other guard might have time to sound the alarm. She moved to view the second guard and found a woman this time. It was obvious how inexperienced she was by the way she held her weapon pointed upward. That was no way to treat a pulser’s sensitive barrel. In this humidity, moisture would collect inside and could well screw up the induction coils.

Kate decided to drop the man first. With luck, the woman’s inexperience would slow her reactions. She should hesitate long enough for the second shot to take her out with none the wiser. Kate slowed her breathing and settled the target reticule onto the man. She pressed a thumb against the safety and flicked it to off. The whine of the rifle’s capacitors charging was almost silent. She smiled as her target said something to his girlfriend. She couldn’t miss.

Zzzzzing!

The hyper-velocity round hit the guard squarely between the eyes. His head mushroomed outward with the force, splashing his brains over the wall behind him. The other guard opened her mouth to scream as blood and brains ran down her face.

Zzzzzing!

Kate smiled grimly as another head exploded, and the body slumped bonelessly to the ground. She waited for a minute, but there was no sudden outcry. Another minute and she was certain her shots had gone unheard. Leaving the rifle hidden where it was, she scrambled across the open ground expecting to hear shouts of discovery at any moment. She threw herself onto her stomach beside the harvesters, and listened intently. Nothing but the sound of the jungle came to her. Panting with adrenaline rush, she moved alongside huge tracks taller than she was. They were good cover, but she was passed them and in the open all too soon.

The guard’s bodies remained undiscovered in twin lakes of blood.

The night was silent except for the distant sound of the jungle like background music to some holodrama. Kate’s attention skipped from building to building, from window to window, but all was quiet. No one stirred, and the camp remained dark. No shouts of horror and disgust came to her. Hoping to remain undiscovered for a while longer, she dragged the bodies away from the door, and hid them in the deep shadows between the harvesters.

Kate stepped up to the door of the central building and listened with an ear pressed to the wood. Silence greeted her. She eased her pistol out of its holster and worked the latch on the door with her other hand. Inside, she found more darkness. Her eyes adjusted quickly and she began to make out a room sparsely furnished in the style of someone’s residence. Instead of a harvester’s shack, which this building most certainly had been before Millard’s arrival, it was a palatial residence—by Tigris standards. One wall held electronic equipment for Millard’s embryonic army, comm and vid mostly, but there was also an entertainment centre with a good selection of films. She took a moment to peruse the titles.

Zelda and the Spaceways, Zelda Force Recon, Zelda and the Chaos Engine… Hmmm, a Zelda fan was he?

That didn’t really surprise her after seeing Millard’s security arrangements. She crept through a door and found a long hallway with numerous doors leading further into the building. She was beginning to wonder if anyone was home. The first door on the left opened silently to her touch, but the room beyond was unoccupied. The next opened—

Someone crashed onto her shoulders.

Kate rammed herself backward and slammed her attacker against the wall, fighting to keep her pistol out of his grasp. Rather than allow him to have it, she dropped it and kicked it away. With that done, she counter-attacked in earnest. Her left elbow pistoned back. The explosive grunt behind her said she was on target. Once and then twice, she slammed it back to break his grip on her. She spun in a crouch to face him just in time to take a kick to her thigh. She went to one knee as her leg went numb, and a fist to the jaw rocked her head back against the wall.

“That hurt,” she growled licking blood from her split lip. She pulled her knife from the sheath at her waist, and held it low before her. She was hoping he would move within reach. Her throbbing jaw made her want to gut him.

“I meant it to,” the shadowy figure said and came forward.

Kate swiped the knife at him, making him leap back, and that gave her time to regain her feet. Miracle of miracles, her leg supported her. She punched the knife forward and followed it with a high kick aimed at his head. He dodged both the knife and the kick, but he didn’t see her other fist coming.


Ughh,
” he grunted as his nose was smeared across his cheek.

“You Millard?” She feinted with the knife. “Well are you?”

His eyes widened in sudden fear at the name. “No,” he gurgled, snorting and spitting blood.

She didn’t believe him. Although he wasn’t a perfect match for his picture, he was the right age and build. If he wasn’t Millard himself, he must be a relative—the likeness was that good. Flicking the knife at his eyes to distract him, she went into a whirling dervish of kicks and punches designed more to confuse than kill. He blocked some with skill, but many more went home. He grunted repeatedly at the power she brought to bear. He lashed out and her head rang, but her blood was up and she butted him right on his broken nose.

He went down.

Kate dropped to her knees with both hands on the knife, and slammed it down to the hilt in his guts before he could move. His eyes popped wide in pain and shock as she worked the knife in his belly. He clutched at her arm like a drowning man clinging to a rope, but his grip was already weakening.

She leaned close and stared into his eyes. “Why am I here to kill you, Millard? Why?”

The man gave her a bloody grin. “I ain’t Millard…” he sighed and went still.

Damn!

Now Kate believed him. She retrieved her pistol from where she had kicked it, and paused to listen for any disturbance. Nothing. She checked the other rooms, not expecting to find her target, but she didn’t have another plan. The noise of her fight would surely have woken the dead let alone Millard. If he had been here, he would be long gone by now… but maybe not!

She stepped into a bedroom and found a podgy man sleeping soundly with a mask over his eyes. This idiot couldn’t be Millard could he? He couldn’t be Millard the revolutionary leader… could he?

He was.

Kate carefully sat on the edge of Millard’s bed and aimed her pistol at his face. He looked very peaceful sleeping there. It seemed a shame to wake him, but she wanted answers. Information was always desirable, especially when she might learn something to pay off her handler that much faster. Knowing the identity of his paymaster seemed a good starting point. She nudged Millard awake with the silencer.

BOOK: Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour
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