Chapter 54

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BROKEN PROMISES

General Godfrey tried to shake away the pain still needling the back of her eyes. Had she given that order?  The veil of duty had become intertwined with a shroud of compulsion that seemed to be something apart from her. Duty had always been something a good soldier puts between themselves and the world around them – something they funneled the very best of their abilities into at the behest of mission while holding back the rest so it wouldn’t get in the way. But this something else, this essence that she felt like she was swimming through, this goddamn forgetting her own orders – this was getting on her nerves.

“Griffin Six, say again, over.”

“Guard Six, I say again, we captured and serviced the remaining Marines who surrendered. Per your orders.”

‘Service’ was a word of duty, a word of convenience, a word that hid behind another word that told the actual facts, if not the truth. The Third Battalion had taken prisoners and killed them. She forced herself to see it in her mind’s eye. Some Marine, his helmet gone, with his hands clasped behind his head and probably on his knees looked back at her. He had smoke and grime on his face and he stared at her not with submission, but with defiance. That face, with a brow set and lips drawn tight that said, “I do what you tell me, but I, too, have my shield of duty and you will never get through that. You will never get at the guts of this Marine. I fashion in my mind a dagger which you can never snatch away.” She saw that, knew that man had been there. And then that face went blank as somebody put a pistol round through his forehead.

Godfrey felt her knees buckle as she thought of this. On Dirt Hill, the last of the descendants of the Exodus colonists were now in chains, their Marine protectors vanquished. Hadn’t that been what she was supposed to do?  Was there more after that?  The Enforcer Battalion, who had held her back just long enough for the Paladin to ruin what would have been the same kind of victory right then and there, was now gone. Was there something left?

There was the Paladin, still guarding the Pyramid, but who needed it to rule the world when she already did?  Light began to coalesce into shafts piercing the ether her mind was still swimming through. Each one of them was a question, guiding her to the surface as she kicked her way upward towards some vague notion of awareness. Clarity was a lost dream, forgotten in some distant past that was once herself. But awareness, at least, beckoned.

But, the Paladin. By himself, they could deal with him at any time. Maybe they could even talk to him now. He was over there, still resisting her. He was over there, standing. He was over there, waiting for her. Why?

“General Godfrey.” His voice cracked in her mind like thunder, pouring something over her consciousness. It howled through like wind. The shafts of light receded and the ether disappeared. There were no more questions. The world snapped into place around her and she heard the rustle of breeze skirting through the brush at her feet and felt the Shoahn’ Sun pressing into her eyes as she squinted against its light. Her head throbbed with a dull ache that she barely noticed anymore and the only thing on her mind was the shield of duty that stood between her and the world around her. Everything was clear now as the mission returned to its throne, topmost in her mind, the only purpose for her being.

The static from her headset hissed in her ear. Right. Now she remembered.

Shoahn’Fal stood in front of her, his eyes burrowing into her soul and the tendrils of his antennae rippling for just a moment along the top of his head. They stopped and lay back down. The pain subsided.

“General Godfrey,” he said again. “Did they find the Old Scrolls?”

Right. Of course. The mission. “Griffin Six, say status on your search.”

“Nothing so far. We’ve checked every building and the trenches. We’ll conduct a second sweep.”

“And the STI?”

“We blew the communications block sky high. There’s no way they could establish a link without it. I think we were baited, General. They set up a good defense; maybe they thought they could beat us here.”

“Roger. Keep me advised. Guard Six out.”

 A part of her peeked out from the shadows and whispered. The STI – there’s more. She pushed the whisper away, telling it to wait, to run, to hide. Keep quiet now.

“They are not there,” he said.

“What?”

“The Old Scrolls. They are not where your people are looking.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because she is not there.”

“Where are they then?”

“I do not know. Still, we must dispense with the walking machines if we are reach the Pyramid. That task remains at hand.” His eyes finally moved away from her as he walked back to her command carrier.

She stood there for a few more moments, forming a plan in her mind. He stopped and waited. Almost without thinking about it, Godfrey stepped out and walked in trail behind him.

He started out again, leading her back to her own command carrier.

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence