by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Prologue, part 2
Chapter 1, part 1; part 2
appear in this issue.
part 1 of 2
The Federation of New Earth is waging a foreign war with Algol 1 and is beset by corruption and strife within. Consul Finn, maneuvering against Consul Cato in a bid to make himself emperor, sends Aurelia to win over Republican Guard hero Ludwig, more familiarly known as “Luddy.”
Luddy and Aurelia come to realize that they are pawns in a power struggle. Luddy discovers Aurelia’s true nature and the secret of his own origins. Armed with the mysterious Aureus coin and the Spear of Fate, Luddy and Aurelia envision a new galactic Imperium that has a place for humans, androids and Algolians alike.
Algol 1, April 1, 5112 N.E.C. (“New Earth Calendar”) 0500 hours
Brevet Captain Ludwig and Staff Sergeant Rebecca “Bec” Rogers scanned the Algolian camp through infrared night vision field-glasses. From their position on the ridge line, everything looked quiet in the valley below. Insects chirped in the tall grass; cool damp wind rustled leaves in the trees; an owl hooted.
Putting down his binoculars, and turning to his cyborg pal, Ludwig asked, “What do you think, Becky?”
“Looks good, Luddy; our rangers took out their pickets an hour ago, so there’s no one to raise the alarm. No moon in the sky; it’s dark as the Algolian mud flats. We should open fire at sunrise, with Algol at our backs; those suckers won’t know what hit ‘em.”
“Okay, Bec; pass it down the line. At 0530 we nail them with everything we’ve got: plasma mortars, rapid-fire blasters... the works.” Rogers left to give orders to the company, while Ludwig continued his reconnaissance.
Four weeks earlier, Sergeant Major Ludwig was with Delta Company, under the command of Captain Slim. Positioned on the battalion’s extreme left, they moved forward through a rainforest alongside a narrow, shallow, muddy and unnavigable branch of the great Algol River.
Behind them, to the north and northwest, were verdant foothills and mountains with roiling rapids and precipitous falls. Farther north, beyond the mountains, was the planet’s grassy, game-filled plateau, and a broad, deep glacial lake: the source of the lowland rivers and streams.
Ludwig’s platoon took point, hacking their way through dense foliage in the sticky, semi-tropical heat. A veteran combat ’droid with enhanced perception walked between Ludwig and the Lieutenant in the center of their squad formation, on the alert for any sign of the enemy.
Suddenly, the ’droid gave a signal, and the platoon dropped into defensive positions, deploying for combat just as they saw a cluster of yellow muzzle flashes and heard the loud pop-popping of small arms fire. Monkeys screeched, and clambered up vines into the treetops; birds and bats soared into the sky to escape the carnage.
The platoon raked the surrounding forest with blasters, chopping and burning through the thick undergrowth and sending large splinters flying in all directions. The Guardsmen suppressed and then silenced the enemy fire; the skirmish was over in a matter of minutes. Ludwig took a quick casualty count; their green Lieutenant was the only KIA, leaving Ludwig in command. For a moment, Ludwig glared at his young commander’s corpse lying face down in a pool of blood, and then muttered, “Too damn slow.”
Ludwig called Captain Slim on his transmitter; he received orders pulling his platoon back two clicks to the northwest, along the riverbank, where they could re-align and set up a defensive perimeter on the edge of a small clearing.
The company spent the remainder of the day digging in. That evening, just after sunset, Captain Slim and Ludwig crouched behind sandbags in a small redoubt next to a heavy rapid-fire blaster and its two-man crew. Moonbeams glittered on the gunmetal gray surface of the multi-barreled field-piece, making it shine like burnished silver. Slim and Luddy scanned the perimeter through their infrared binoculars.
Dark clouds drifted in a deep purple sky; the air was heavy and humid as a steam bath. A few giant bats circled overhead casting sinister shadows on the grassy plain. The airborne rodents squeaked like frightened rats, churned the sticky air with their leathery wings, and then returned to the tenebrous tree line.
Slim put down his binoculars, wiped his sweaty forehead on his sleeve and turned to Ludwig. “It looks quiet, Luddy,” Slim muttered, “but they’re out there. I can smell the bastards.”
Ludwig kept focusing on a strip of level open ground about two-hundred meters beyond their forward defenses. “Sir,” he exclaimed, “I see some movement on the fringe of the forest to the southeast. Can we call in air and artillery support?”
Slim lifted his binoculars and searched the area Ludwig indicated. “You’re right, Luddy. They’re getting ready to hit us, but the buggers are too damn close for air or artillery; we might catch hell from friendly fire. We’ll have to hold them with what we’ve got.”
As Slim and Ludwig continued their observations, the movement along the forest’s fringe became more obvious. Suddenly, the plain echoed with Algolian war cries; warriors scurried out of the dense green foliage like roaches from a baseboard. Hundreds of Algolians swarmed onto the plain; the din of the attack startled the bats, sending a black host shooting skyward from the treetops, their dark bodies and flapping wings blotting out the moonlight.
“Sight your weapons at one hundred meters, and then fire at will!” Slim shouted, his order echoing down the line. Soon, the rattle, roar and whine of Republican Guard heavy and small arms fire drowned out the battle cries of the charging Algolians. The dark plain blazed with flashing white, yellow, orange and electric blue flames as blasters and plasma mortars slashed and burned the swarming Algolian fighters.
Both Slim and Ludwig were first-class sharpshooters, and they used their scoped blasters to pick off Algolian leaders. Soon, the surging wave of Algolians began to crash and break on the rock-hard defenses of the stubborn Guardsmen. A few small groups of attacking warriors came within twenty meters of the Guard’s defensive perimeter where mangled Algolian bodies piled in heaps on the blood-soaked plain. Those not killed or severely wounded by the Guard’s devastating barrage retreated to the cover of their lines.
Lowering his blaster, Slim smiled, turned to Ludwig and exclaimed, “They’re breaking, Luddy. The bastards can’t take it.” Turning back toward the retreating Algolians, Slim yelled, “Run, you yellow-stained sons-of bitches. Run!”
Ludwig grinned at his captain’s salty taunts, and lowered his blaster. At that moment, a flash of hot white light blinded Ludwig temporarily. His body quivering from the after-effect of an explosive shock wave, he dropped his blaster and covered his ringing ears. Ludwig coughed in a cloud of gray smoke, his running nostrils and watering-eyes stung by the acrid stench of high explosive. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes to regain his senses.
An Algolian mortar-round had made a direct hit on the rapid-fire blaster, knocking it out of commission and killing its crew. Slim lay unconscious on the ground next to Ludwig. However, Luddy had no time to tend to his captain. A minute after the mortar shell hit its target, a group of seven fanatical Algolians rushed Ludwig’s forward position.
Ludwig picked up his blaster and zapped four Algolians as they climbed over the defensive sandbags. The remaining three entered a breach. The Algolians had no firearms, yet they would not retreat; they had already given themselves up for dead. They came at Ludwig with their short swords, intending to take some of Luddy’s body-parts with them to display as honor-trophies in the next world.
Ludwig’s blaster jammed. Smiling at the Algolians, he shouted, “So, you boys want some hand-to-hand before you kiss your bitch-goddess in hell?” Ludwig dropped his useless blaster, and drew a twelve-inch titanium steel hunting knife from his belt.
The first Algolian, a battle-scarred, hairy two hundred and fifty pound hulk, charged Ludwig and slashed at his throat, intending to take the Guardsman’s head. Ludwig dodged the Algolian’s attack and grabbed him by his thick, muscular left arm while ramming twelve-inches of sharp cold steel up to the hilt in the warrior’s gut.
The disemboweled Algolian screeched like a stuck pig, flailed his great arms and spewed bloody vomit. Luddy grasped the struggling fighter, and pulled him close; his nostrils filled with the enemy’s goat sweat and manure stench and his ears burned with shrieks and curses as he twisted his knife deep in the dying man’s entrails.
Ludwig drew his red and black gore-flecked weapon from the Algolian’s rent lower abdomen, and then charged the remaining two warriors, using the gutted body as a shield. One Algolian tried to attack Luddy from the left. Ludwig’s free hand thrust out like a streaking rocket, grabbed the attacker’s sword-arm and broke it at the wrist. The Algolian screamed in pain, and dropped his sword. Instantly, Ludwig shoved the two hundred and fifty pound bulk of the dying warrior at the man on his right, while simultaneously using a quick powerful knife-stroke to half-decapitate the disarmed Algolian on his left.
Then, before the last Algolian could extricate himself from the death-grip of his eviscerated comrade, Ludwig was on top of him, grabbing his throat and glaring into his terrified eyes. “See my face in hell” Ludwig snarled, as he snapped the Algolian’s neck with one quick twist of his right hand.
Ludwig knelt on the gore soaked earth, surrounded by the dead and dying bodies of comrades and enemies. Luddy panted and shook with adrenalin as he wiped his blood-spattered knife on his trousers leg, and then sheathed it in his belt. Enjoying a moment of calm, he rested to regain his strength.
He’d barely caught his breath when, startled by the thumping of running boots, Ludwig crouched in a defensive position, whipped out his knife and readied himself for another attack.
Sergeant Bec Rogers entered the redoubt at the head of a group of four Guardsmen. “Are you okay, sergeant-major?” the hard-core cyborg shouted, adding as she surveyed the carnage, “Jupiter’s balls, what a bloody mess.”
Sheathing his knife with relief, Ludwig replied, “I’m fine, Becky, but I think the rest of our guys bought it.” Suddenly remembering his captain, Ludwig knelt by Slim’s side. The captain was still breathing, but barely alive. The mortar blast had fried and shredded Slim’s entire right side. One arm hung by a flap of skin, a leg was shattered and half of the captain’s face looked like a burned-to-a-crisp slab of oozing black meat.
“Becky,” Ludwig ordered, “I’m taking the captain to the hospital. Repair the breach, get this firing station cleaned-up and see if you can find another rapid-fire blaster. I don’t think they’ll come again tonight, but we’d better be ready in case they do.”
“Yes, sergeant-major.” Turning to her small detail, the cyborg barked, “You heard what the man said. Let’s get this mess squared away.”
Slim groaned as Luddy lifted what was left of his captain onto his shoulder and ran to the company hospital. When they arrived at the aid station, the situation was worse than Ludwig anticipated. Several wounded Guardsmen lay on bloody tarps spread over the damp earth; triaging medics tended the casualties. The orderlies gathered those deemed most likely to survive in a group nearest the operating tents; the Docs separated those considered hopeless from their comrades, gave them a shot of “happy-juice” and then left them to die. The whole area reeked of death, and swarmed with mosquitoes, gnats and blood-sucking flies.
Ludwig carried Slim to an orderly, and said, “This is Captain Slim; I need to get him treated at once.”
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder