Adam Murton – alias Vardos Cadix – has written for us before. Here, he provides us with an exciting new piece of fiction that deals with the potential traumas Isorians may suffer when using their phase-shift technology. Part 2 is available here.
Blood Through Her Hands, III
Previously: A traumatised Isorian Squad Leader, Syn, had volunteered for one last mission on the pirate-prone system of Ayal. Whilst the pirates – raiders, really – were repulsed, it proved a bloody battle with yet more Isorian casualties. But Syn’s suspicions have been raised and after the battle she has time to reflect…
Trembling from the adrenalin still coursing through her body, Syn called a halt and checked the battlefield. The armour battle was over: two of the pirate skimmers were wrecks and the last raiders sped away. Two of her squad were dead as were most from the other panhuman squad. The blood-strewn battlefield was eerily quiet, and Syn choked back images of blood dripping onto her and Aphrian, her blood-soaked gloves, then phasing and drips falling through them both and onto the floor.
She set the Tsan Ra on guard and with the crew from the transports gathered up the dead and wounded, all working in silence, each biting back their grief. Even the relaxants and mild sedatives injected into their systems by their phase armour could do little but take the edge of their emotions. So the grisly work was carried out in silence, each in their own thoughts.
Once all was finished, Syn slumped into the Tograh. Her head drooped on her shoulders and she caught sight of the bloodied gloves again: she didn’t know how they always got so gory. She pulled them off gingerly and replaced them, the familiar action, somehow comforting. There were only five troopers in this transport – the only panhuman survivors of the Senatex.
Syn retracted her helmet and turned to the leader of the second squad – names evaded her. “Sorry,” she whispered.
He heard her and shook his head softly. “It’s not your fault.”
“I knew something bad would happen. It’s my last day on Ayal. I ship out when we get back.”
The squad leader repeated himself. “It’s not your fault.”
The IMTel clearly agreed with him as it piped up in her ear piece. “There is a clear pattern to the raids. They attack whenever the freighter comes. The pattern is well established over a period of four years and 239 days. It precedes your time on Ayal, Syn Y’Dao. Your presence has no effect on the attacks.”
In her head, Syn knew the IMTel was right (it was always right), but in her heart, she still felt responsible. The faces of the lost swam across her vision. Then the image shifted to their final moments as mag rounds burrowed into them. Her head sagged even further as her mood spiralled down. Perhaps the IMTel was right – she wasn’t cut out for war anymore. Not since Qurum anyway. The IMTel knew, just as it knew the times and places of every single loss, every single fight…
Something the IMTel said triggered a thought. “How do the raiders know? How do they always know there’s a freighter?” There was no discernible pattern to the freighter visits: they were scheduled in as random a fashion as the IMTel could manage and had been for over two years now.
“The answer is unclear,” replied the IMTel. “We have swept the system for monitoring stations repeatedly. No signals have been detected which cannot be accounted for.”
That left one possibility: a traitor. The phase troopers changed assignment regularly and there were six different freighters, six different crews. Only three occupants of the Ayal station had been there for over four years: the chef and the two technicians. What were the chances one of them was the traitor?
“IMTel,” she called, “I need you to calculate some odds.”
* * *
Syn was still in full armour when she reported to the freighter as ordered. There were very few passengers on the freighter, so it took mere moments to locate one of them. “Finally, shipping out?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve done five years. It felt like time to move on,” replied Aphrian.
“So, where you heading? Back home?” Syn struggled to make small talk.
“I thought I would try Guatuerra for a bit. A border world.”
“Ahh, I thought you might.” Aphrian looked mildly surprised by Syn’s comment. “It’s one of the few places where you can catch a ship out of Isorian space, isn’t it? After all, what’s the point of betraying us, if you can’t collect your payment?”
The surprise turned to shock and then fear. “What are you talking about? I haven’t betrayed anyone.”
“Unlucky for you, all the evidence points your way. But then you know all about bad luck, don’t you? You haven’t correctly guessed the raid sweepstakes for over four years. Do you know how unlucky that is? The probability of being so consistently wrong?”
The voice of the IMTel came over the ship’s speakers. “The likelihood of being wrong on every raid sweepstake for four years is quantum zero zero zero one four.”
Syn looked grim now. “It’s astronomically low. It’s almost as if you were trying to get it wrong. But then you would need to know when the raids were scheduled. Or be the one scheduling them.”
“This is a wild and baseless accusation.” Aphrian backed away as he protested.
The ship’s speakers replied. “After Syn suggested it, we went through your off-world communications, Technician Aphrian. Messages to your Great Aunt on Guatuerra were most enlightening. They contained a cypher.”
“That’s the thing with continent-spanning artificial intelligences;” said Syn, “they are very good at cracking cyphers.”
Aphrian leapt from the couch and tried to run. Where he was running to was unclear, but Syn didn’t care. She lashed out with an armoured fist and struck Aphrian’s shoulder hard, spinning the technician round. “They died because of you!” A second blow shattered the traitor’s nose and drove him to the floor. Syn was shouting, now. “Do you know how many you killed?” A third and fourth blow followed, then more. “Nothing can pay for Qurum!” In her mind a river of blood dripped through her hands, through her, through Aphrian…
By the time the freighter crew dragged her off the unconscious form of Aphrian, Syn’s gloves were bloodied, covered with gore. Only this time, she decided to leave them on.
+++++ Datafile Qurum +++++
Qurum has a strong planetary tilt which means the seasons are relatively extreme. Most of the animal life on Qurum is hibernatory or subterranean. Even the plants survive the winter in dormant states and rapidly bloom in the spring.
The buildings on Qurum are also largely underground and connected with subterranean walkways (as well as the ubiquitous transmats). The planet has been under Isorian control for a few decades now, but recently faced a Concord annexation attempt. The conflict included siege warfare and savage close-quarter fighting in the tunnels. Ultimately, the Concord Combined Command forces were repelled but at great cost.