Chapter 26

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HAND OF FATE

It had been a full day since General Godfrey had practically handed the Paladin’s mercenary pilot to the MEF on a silver platter. She paced the grounds of the Terran Guard compound, waiting. She waited for word from Captain Holt to report that Dekker had made contact with the Paladin. She waited for word from General Lane that his people had found the Paladin and were bringing him to her. She waited for the sun to track across the sky as it baked the ground beneath her boots. She waited while her brigade commander readied the troops to move out in case the MEF couldn’t take care of their own business. All that came back to her, from every direction, was dead silence. She smacked her fist into the palm of her hand and quickened her pace, ignoring the growing thirst scratching at the back of her throat.

Her headset beeped and then she heard the voice of the man leading the patrol she had sent to monitor Dekker’s battalion. “Guard Six, Tumbleweed, over.”

“Go Tumbleweed.”

“Looks like they’re done with the pilot, General.”

“What did you see?”

“They just dragged his body out and dug a burn trench.”

Her brow arched in disbelief. “They killed him?”

“Looks like it. Hope so for his sake – they just lit him up.”

“Any movement?”

“No ma’am. They’re just sitting there. No coms, either.”

“Alright. Maintain contact, advise if they actually do anything.”

“Wilco.”

“Guard Six out.”

She ripped the headset off and threw it on the ground, then yanked its cord from the transmitter fastened to her belt. She stomped on the earpiece with her boot and ground it into the dirt. She whipped around and marched back to the line of troop carriers stretched out across the compound. She raised her arm and circled her fist in the air. The heavy click of switches snapped in the air, followed by the droning hum of electromagnetic motors spooling up as the carriers came to life. Like an orchestra tuning before a performance, the sounds drifted through each other, aching to come together and reach out to the world with their own voice. Men scurried to unplug heavy black cables that connected the carriers to the compound’s central power station and its towering photovoltaic panels.

She approached a man of short stature standing quietly in front of the procession. The recessed bridge of his nose, sagging eyelids that half covered his eyes and small mouth made him look ordinarily oriental, betraying the brilliant mind of the youngest brigade commander in the history of the Terran Guard. “General Kim,” she said.

He saluted. “Yes, ma’am,” he said in a voice she could barely hear above the rumbling whine of the carriers.

Snapping a return salute, she said, “I’m tired of waiting for the MEF to figure out which hand to use and try to grab their own ass. Get your brigade into march formation. We’re leaving.”

He bowed slightly and said, “Very well, General.” Just as he turned to walk away, she grabbed his shoulder.

“Wait a minute.” He stopped mid step and turned back to face her while she surveyed the troop carriers and tanks of the Second Brigade. “They’re all here. You have a full inventory of vehicles.”

“Yes, ma’am. We repaired some and Colonel Therus agreed to let us borrow the bulk of his armor.”

“So the First Brigade is holding the Highlands without their tanks.”

“They still have a few, but he and I agreed that the General would want a full brigade when she decided to attack the Paladin.”

“And what if the General doesn’t agree?” she asked He was right of course, but she always enjoyed seeing just how many moves ahead General Kim could really think.

“I have the elements in question on warning orders. If the General would prefer they return to the First Brigade, they can be there before the end of the day.” He spoke calmly, as if discussing a chess move and looked at her with eyes that never moved, but told her it was a very good thing that he was on her side.

“That won’t be necessary, General. You are correct. I’d take the whole division with me if I could. Carry on.”

He bowed again and said, “Yes ma’am.” He clasped his hands behind his back and walked the entire line, occasionally stopping to point and give an instruction she couldn’t hear as his troops moved with rapid precision through their preparations. Every movement, from unplugging and neatly coiling the power cables on spindles attached to the carriers, to loading troops into the carrier bays, was conducted with an almost ceremonial grace that came from hours of drilling on even the most mundane procedures. There wasn’t a single act that hadn’t been discussed, planned, practiced and perfected.

It was the precision of the honed military mind she had been taught to embrace since the day she was born. There was one reason which justified their existence, and one reason alone, which now played out before her eyes as it had for her mother and her mother before her. That the one thing mankind seemed suited for was to conduct war was not merely accepted; it was embraced, nurtured and molded into a blade that stood between the Shoahn’ and those who had invaded their world. She eyed the lone carrier in the rear where Shoahn’Fal had been quartered, along with the Old Scrolls. Once again, there was a real reason for all of this, even if it was just one flicker left – a flicker that was unlike any other in the universe.

Once again they would fight so that they shall survive. The thought that there might be something more flickered through her mind, snuffed out by a spark of pain just behind her eyes that snapped into her existence, barely noticed, and then was gone.

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence