DISASTER AT REKISH
1646 AD. On Earth, philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is about to be born. But in Sinduin’s universe, Incudea was on the verge of being reminded that, despite all appearances, theirs was not the best of possible worlds.
Once war against Echoglass was agreed upon, the Council ordered the Incudean Army to conduct a surprise attack against the enemy in the second trinity, in order to weaken the Glassics’ resolve and accelerate the end of the coming struggle.
The commanders picked for the job the Front Army group attached to Purple Millesima, Starmongers Div., 8th G.D., stationed in Pechumirtu (Melgam Glapakins System, Exotics.) Front Army units throughout Incudea consisted of the best soldiers, with rigorous training in both sabotage and rapid assault/shock tactics. These 78 soldiers were no exception to the expected level of excellence, yet even they did not go into the fray alone. 21 members the alien Glapachiko Expeditionary Force went with them.
The Glapachikos were there because the target was a great-depth underground facility in Rekish, the third planet in the system (Echoglass, the ultimate target, was second). Intelligence reports had it that the facility housed the main, possibly the only, long-distance object detection device on the planet. The Glapachikos, a burrowing race, would be instrumental in penetrating the installation. Although the Front Army troops involved in this task were not native Pechumirtuans (as a rule, Front Army units did not serve in their home systems), this particular group had been stationed in its present location for several years, and had operated successfully with the alien natives of Melgam Glapakins in the past.
The 99 saboteurs were led by Junior Colonel Orkian.
The system boasts ten planets. The diagram only shows the innermost five.
1648. Tetraluminous City of the Hanged – Silver Planet – Home System. NEARS.
The cheers from the stadium were inexhaustible. When the contingent from First Trinity Air Power – Danites marched onto the arena, the roar was even louder than before, if that was at all possible. Nobody cared for that godforsaken planet, she knew, or a bunch of first graders from anywhere, really. It was the moment they cheered. Standing as she was right at the gate, due to her special condition, she could see the next contingent already lining up. The haughty soldiers in luxurious furs looked her up and down, a few even saluting respectfully. She ignored them all. She preferred Hiuronites to Danites, true, but in her current mood that didn’t mean a whole lot. She massaged her leg absent-mindedly.
1646. Central Region of “Landmass # 2″ – Rekish Planet – Echoglass System. STORMS.
Team 1’s forward squad jumped out of the jiohamir transport. First the three Glapachikos, muted gray cocoon-shields hiding them from the view of even the most discerning eyes, plummeted like rockets straight toward the impact point in the northwest, safely ensconced in the blind band between the base’s local security system and the outer detection hemisphere whose purpose it was to generate and maintain. Grimbion admired the hardy vassals and reflected that even without the shields they’d be nigh impossible to spot. There was no moon over the night sky, and the target boasted of practically no artificial illumination. Leader Rinfaun’s six Inculae followed as soon as adequate penetration was confirmed. Compared to the Glapachikos, their descent felt almost flagrantly slow.
It was middle squad’s turn. Grimbion reached for her chest instinctively, checking the two glotomon balls were there, then awaited her turn, right after the huge Torfor and Leader Mersion. Gravity was more than lacking for her taste, but her suit took care of that well enough. And she had to admit the enemy had done a good job of taming the atmosphere. The air felt less suffocating than Pechumirtu's. But the Glapachikos’ own preferences were to blame for that, she knew. In any case, just as long as her explosive-riddled squadmates didn’t mess up their landings, everyone would be OK.
On the surface, Torfor’s three brethren had already blazed a lovely little hole, five miles deep as planned. The middle soldiers went in a few meters and held on for news from rear squad. Triple Leader Elselion herself confirmed by shortcomm that rear squad was fine; Team 1 was all in. But there was no time for celebration. Rear squad began plugging the hole while middle squad raced down, as quickly as the explosives allowed, to within physical sight of forward squad. Once there, Mersion signaled her to set the glotomon running, as the leader herself headed to get a situation report firsthand from Rinfaun.
Grimbion took the glotomon in her hands and prepared to blink. She felt for the hundredth time that the blinker’s job was the easiest, though lots of people would have disagreed. Blinking into a sideworld fifty meters deep into solid ground was not for the claustrophobes. Unless she miraculously happened to blink into a hollow area, she’d have less than a second to blink back before the stone and sand and dirt filled her lungs and brains and crushed her utterly. Even so, reaction time was not nearly the main issue here. You could be a great shooter above surface, even a great blinker, but to stave off the panic that an invasive substance presented to your every molecule required something a little special.
She went to Deleon first, placed the glotomon, and blinked back to Eryam. The little ball spun feverishly to create a safe haven for itself. Then it was on to Floy, where she repeated the procedure. It was noticeably hotter here. Back in Eryam, she double-checked the contacts on her index fingertips by shaking them to make the glotomon stop. They did. Then she turned on the left contact on her eyebrows and made visual confirmation of…dirt, Deleonian dirt. The right contact worked as well. Sound contacts had been deemed too risky for this mission, so the spherical spies were trained to relay sound via visual shapes, set to appear quite literally like ripples on a pond, the pond in this case being her field of vision.
If everything went well, Grimbion would only need to blink again at mission’s end to retrieve the two glotomon. There were to be no advances on the sideworlds; the entire operation was to take place in Eryam to minimize detection. Therefore the two glotomon assigned to each of the four teams were all the eyes the 99 soldiers had to the sideworlds. Grimbion instructed the balls to dig themselves up toward the surface, following the trail blazed in Eryam by the three Glapachikos as closely as the random rocks and harder substances allowed.
The glotomon found their paths without too much trouble, and their handler set them to patrol the path back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. That was all. Grimbion gestured an OK to Mersion, who stood just before Rinfaun up ahead. Now it was up to the others.
Forward squad Leader Rinfaun was quizzing her detectives.
“So, how does it look?”
“Hmmm. Well, we have some good news and some bad,” replied veteran Tralkuin.
“Give me the bad news first.”
“These aliens must have some mean suits on. I cannot detect any lifeforms but ours.”
“We’re still 26 miles from target. It’s not at all clear how wide this structure is.”
“True, m’am. But still…”
Kiskaun said, “Maybe they upped and left.”
“Not likely. I have to say, Tralkuin, those are pretty bad news. The good better be good.”
The detective smiled at Mersion. “They are, m’am. The enemy has a pretty good detection system set up here, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”
“How far in can you shut it, and for how long?”
Tralkuin looked at Sunkoin, known by all as the numbers expert, but when the latter was about to respond a commcall came crackling in. It was the Junior Colonel calling all four teams. As was her wont, she addressed herself to every squad leader directly instead of just the triple leaders. The members of forward squad pretended to be doing other things while Mersion picked up. Grimbion kept on eavesdropping, figuring she could always swear she was processing the glotomon data flickering in and out before her pale green eyes.
Communication this deep underground wasn’t very clear, but Grimbion got the gist of it, and it was better than good. All four teams had made it. The four rear squads had plugged the holes, raised their suit defense to maximum, and hunkered down. The coast was all clear. The Glapachikos were feeling hale and soon the convergence into the interior would begin. Rinfaun reported her detectives’ findings and was apparently told they agreed with Team 2’s assessment. 3 and 4 were evidently too far away to find anything yet. Within two days (Incudean) a series of upward gravity bombs would be in place. Detonate them and the whole installation would explode, with the artificial gravity giving the Inculae plenty of time to get the hell out before it all came crumbling down. And given Rekish’s ridiculously slow rotation of 700 plus hours, it’d still be nighttime when they rejoined Purple Millesima.
Rinfaun turned back to her soldiers. “So, Sunkoin?”
“We should blind them in 5-6 mile chunks, recalibrate every ten hours, nine and and half. Larger chunks might be doable, but it’s best not to push it. I have to add, though, that I don’t think their system is as competent as Tralkuin makes it out to be, as it seems to expand and contract very randomly. We’re still quite clear of it, but the instability is very obvious.”
“It’s pulsating like it’s alive, huh.” Grimbion couldn’t tell if Kiskaun was joking or plain scared when she said this.
“Right,” said Rinfaun, “alright, pull the switch. Let’s shoot for six and nine then. I’ll put in a request for extra pay if we’re the first team in place for detonation.” As she turned to talk with Mersion, Grimbion decided the listening session was over. She wasn’t about to piss her own squad leader off.
Torfor had joined his three companions in front for a prayer. The one assigned to rear must be feeling lonely just about now, Grimbion thought. It surprised her to note that every so often the four would pray in the direction of the hole, as if blessing or at least acknowledging their missing friend.
A few minutes later the Glapachikos began burrowing toward the target, more gingerly this time. Only a stupid Salbakionite like Kiskaun could honestly think the base was empty of enemy.
Middle squad double-checked and triple-checked their bombs every time they had to take a break. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world traveling with so much explosive power, especially since they weren’t walking toward the target so much as sliding toward it. The dirt was nice and soft, and the Glapachikos made fantastic tunnels, but even they couldn’t smooth out all the wrinkles without incurring in unacceptable delays. Neither of Grimbion’s spheres was showing anything peculiar, and that’s exactly the way she liked it.
Mersion slid alone rather than with a partner, and stood like a statue the rest of the time. About four hours in, at one of the rest points, Grimbion suddenly saw her race forward to meet with Leader Rinfaun. What’s that all about? Grimbion wondered along with the rest of middle squad. Upon seeing Mersion’s face as she walked back, Torfor muttered a prayer. The leader walked boldly now but her face looked something worse than dead. It looked fearful of death.
She repeated verbatim the content of the commcall Rinfaun had just received: “4-0-B sings.”
4-0-B was code for the Florian glotomon in Team 4, in the East, its impact point roughly opposite from Grimbion’s team, across from the target. Singing meant compromised, burned. The blinker had to admit for an instant she felt relief it was the team farthest from them that seemed to be in trouble. But the reality of the situation quickly sunk in: they were all in danger, regardless of their position. Her mind raced across the possibilities. Had Team 4’s detectives failed to even detect the set-up in place? That was possible, but unlikely. Where there enemy prowling around this deep under the ground, and beyond their own detection range? And why Floy? Intel was that the Glassics were as averse to the sideworlds as most other sapients. Were there so many of them that they could spare a few in Floy? What about Deleon? Perish the thought.
The more warlike Inculae in middle squad, particularly Venzian and Tolmashein, started fingering their Sabaths. Everyone eyed the leader expectantly.
“You know the plan. Only if a second team gets burned…”
Grimbion had been to the briefing too, but she remained mystified by this so-called plan. If two teams were compromised, all were supposed to charge in and tear up as much as possible. But if only one was compromised, they were to hold still for two hours. Sure, maybe the enemy would think it was only one team all along, but what if they didn’t? What if they quadrupled their security in those two hours? There was a major city not that far to the southwest. Surely they wouldn’t be able to reach the base in two hours, but in twenty-four or thirty-six? It was thinkable with the proper vehicles, and thirty-six hours was well within acceptable for the whole mission. She shared Tolmashein’s frustration but thought of better of emulating the Enteran as the latter hit her own head, and not exactly lightly either, with her Sabath thingun.
Grimbion listened on as Mersion asked forward squad via commcall: “M.G. aren’t picking up anything?”
Glapachikos could smell blood shed by their own compatriots from miles and miles away. If the vassals in their own team couldn’t smell anything, then that was good news, though naturally the chance that they had had their skulls smashed, or that they had been suffocated, also existed. Incudea had far too little knowledge of the offensive proclivities of the Glassics.
Mersion asked Grimbion, “How’s your end?”
“Nothing so far, Leader.”
Mersion received another call. “Alright. That was rear. Triple Leader says two of her gals thought they saw something east, but whatever it was it’s gone. Let’s hope Henladion’s blinker messed up her report and that’s all there is to it.”
“Let’s hope so,” Grimbion replied and turned on her Florian contact again. The glotomon was on the way down; nothing seemed out of place. Rather than wait, she switched to the Deleonian contact and saw that the sphere had just reached bottom. She traced it as it went up back toward the surface in seven dizzying minutes. Before the spherical spy reached the open air, she knew something was wrong. She just knew it, and the glotomon proved she was right. Far in the distance but distinctly enough, plumes of smoke could be seen. Something was burning. It was white at first, then as it darkened it faded away from view. But there was no doubt that something was literally burning, no longer just metaphorically, where Team 4’s rear was supposed to be. She immediately shut off her contact and stared at Mersion’s eyes, full of apprehension.
“Impact point 4 is burning, m’am. We should alert Junior Colonel Orkian.”
Mersion’s voice streamed out in a furious whisper: “Don’t you think Team 3 knows by now?” That said, the leader thought the news troubling enough to take the liberty of bypassing Elselion altogether and commcalling the head commander. Orkian’s reply was simply:
Of course they knew. They were closest to whatever the hell was going on. But they couldn’t act. The three rear teams unplugged the holes and went in, then replugged them. Even the glotomon were recalled. They sat and waited.
Grimbion didn’t feel much like talking…
Grimbion didn’t feel much like talking, all things considered, but her fellow soldiers were more than up to the task. Bombers have always been a chatty lot.
Beautiful Balmain started things off: “Anyone know a good story?”
“I do, I do.”
“None of your stories, Venzian. Too bloody. Anyone else?”
Pelchein replied next: “I heard something interesting just before we shipped.”
“You know the Highborn detective over on 2, Charluin of something or other? From your neck of the woods.”
“House Prilvein,” said Balmain, from the planet Glowgem.
“Right, Lady Charluin of Prilvein. She knows people who know people who were in, or maybe heard from others, whatever, of some of the goings on in the Council about this Glassic thing.”
Grimbion’s ears perked up. This did sound interesting.
Pelchein went on: “One of them, anyway, one of the Councilors I mean, apparently submitted a motion for a bloodless invasion. She reckoned all we had to do was amass a huge fleet around Rekish orbit, then another around Echoglass orbit, the both of them so large they would blot out the sun, and they’d see…you know…the error of their ways and surrender. She even suggested dusting off the ten Hi-Shen from ancient times and all, for maximum psychological impact.”
Venzian asked: “Sounds like a lot of work.”
“And a lot of money, said the Council. They voted this member down. It was too much of a waste, and it set a bad precedent I guess. Though there’s something to be said for that motion. The Storms are…”
“Unpredictable,” Balmain finished the sentence for her.
Venzian muttered, “And here we are.”
Grimbion nodded. Everyone fell silent. Eventually, Mersion walked over to the group and signaled it was time to continue the penetration. Forward team had knocked out the next security chunk, and the Glapachikos were beginning to burrow. They had to assume Team 4 was annihilated, and they had to hope that the Glassics weren’t privy to the fact that three other teams were swarming all around them.
Sixteen hours into the operation they were slightly over nine miles in. That wasn’t too bad, even considering the delays, and Triple Leader Elselion ordered the squads to take a 90-minute nap. Grimbion had her glotomon dig hollow spaces big enough for her to fit in the sideworlds, then retrieved both spheres. The situation was…too shaky to leave them floating around unsupervised in Deleon and Floy. Pelchein and Tolmashein stood guard.
Grimbion dreamt she was a glotomon. She was hovering across the fields of a sun-kissed Rekish, heading away from the large city whose name she didn’t know and toward the area over where the underground base was supposed to be. Her “eye” detected a darkening in the skies. She looked up and saw three ships. Incudean. Too large and slow, though. What was the Army thinking?? And then her tiny mechanical brain hit upon the answer: they wanted to be seen. The clunkers were dropping bombs.
Grimbion braced herself for impact but there was none. Not bombs, then. She raced and soon found one. Empty fuel tanks. Then she heard laughter. The blinker was momentarily confused. She was supposed to have turned off the sound on the ball. Oh right, she wasn’t she, she was the glotomon, and of course the little girl was picking up the sound just as it was. She swirled around and couldn’t see anyone, but she knew it was the enemy laughing. They were laughing in Rekish, and in Echoglass, and as far away as Vostal and Huja, well behind the line… Grimbion woke.
Dumb dream, she thought. She had been briefed about the stratagem already. Starmongers had been dropping fuel tanks and other junk over Rekish and even Echoglass for weeks now. In the dream, she felt sure she had stumbled upon some priceless secret, and now she realized her brain had just been rehashing old information. Unless the secret was that the Glassics knew Front Army was coming for them. But that was no revelation, that wasn’t even the likely truth, she argued to herself, it was just a hint of paranoia perching on the axons of her tense mind. She’d control it.
Grimbion dusted herself off, acknowledged Mersion, and proceded to place the glotomon. Soon the sliding march resumed. After six miles they had another break. The mood was more relaxed. The Glapachikos decided to have another one of their prayer meetings over in front, while middle and forward squad had their own talk behind them. Triple Leader Elselion spoke to everyone over commcall, first reporting that up there they were all doing fine, then asking for Rinfaun and Mersion to tell her what was going on down there.
The issue at hand now was that Tralkuin, supported by a couple of others, was advising a change of tactics. “We’re meant to go 26 miles in and then dig straight up, but here we are at 15 and there are still zero life readings. Evidently the base isn’t as deep as we anticipated. I think we should start moving diagonally up. That’ll save us 3-4 miles of needless digging.”
Mersion moved her head in the direction of the vassals, then looked at Rinfaun. “Do you think they are up to it?”
Rinfaun said: “Of course. And witches take me if we couldn’t use the extra time.”
That is, if things get really bad and the whole operation officially turns into one mad assault, then the more time we have the less chance we’ll end up buried under an accursed planet amid a godless ocean of storms, Grimbion reasoned. That was implied, and the forward squad leader didn’t have to spell it out for anyone.
“And maybe we’ll get to the set-up point first,” added Elselion, her ghostly comm-reproduced voice echoing eerily through the tunnel.
Mersion grinned. “You mean we’re not ahead right now?”
“Junior Colonel tells me her team is almost 17 miles in right now. No matter. That’s not what this is about. I’ll inform the other team of Tralkuin’s idea. Keep up the good work. Incudea will be feeding off of Rekish’s bowels before too long.”
Forward squad moved back into place. Torfor walked very slowly back to middle. Earlier, he had widened middle squad’s current section of the tunnel into something surprisingly cozy, and he was starting to look somewhat tired. Grimbion felt an imperious need to talk to him, so she did, as discreetly as possible. “Are your friends OK with going diagonally like that?”
“Diagonal and up…” Torfor said, then thought some more before answering. When he did, it was even slower than usual. “It’s certainly harder on the body than vertically up or diagonally down, or sideways. But they will do it, squadmate Glondion.”
“Apologies, squadmate Grimbion. We always do our part. Long live Incudea. And may the gods forgive us.”
Grimbion knew it was time to shut up, yet found herself asking, “Who’s Glondion?”
The Glapachiko struck his chest with force. “Glondion was the love of my life. She perished in battle.”
That’s enough of that! the blinker’s brain screamed at her mouth, which clearly had other plans. “Which battle?”
Grimbion wanted to say sorry or something along those lines but all her mouth would utter was: “That was quite a while ago.”
“A hundred and fifty years, squadmate. She calls me.”
Torfor tapped his ear. “She calls me.” He turned around and began walking toward Leader Mersion.
Grimbion realized her mistake, then knew she had made an even bigger one. Half the squad was staring at her. Venzian and Tolmashein were downright giggling. Shit. The blinker switched on her right contact and blessed her little companions for the distraction they would afford her.
The soldiers were equipped with sturdy boosters, so moving against gravitational pull didn’t mean extra time, but it did stretch the line, as each pair of soldiers had to keep their distance from the heat wave up ahead. The multiplication of comm needs this spread out formation entailed was risky, but then again, it was a risky operation through and through. The vassals used no boosters of course. They propelled themselves manually rock by rock.
Grimbion preferred the early ascent. Nobody who’s alive likes being in a coffin. When she returned home, she might receive a hero’s welcome. Why not? A victory monument in her ward of Throats overlooking the ocean, hopefully on the western seaboard, where she hailed from, but chances were she wouldn’t be asked for her opinion on just that point and those bastards over in Keshabel always favored the east so… She chuckled, then made a straight face. It wasn’t fantasy, she told herself. There was that other Throater over in Team 4. Two heroes from the same ward, it wouldn’t be too much to ask. Not as great as Ransain, but certainly on a par with the Dachamir crew of old. Death with honor… She remembered Team 4’s apparent fate and shuddered. She’d have to do an eulogy for that Throater. Less painful not having known her, but harder to say things about her that way. Oh well.
“Stop,” Mersion ordered over comm. Grimbion grabbed on to one of the little ridges Torfor and company conveniently left for them, and awaited further instructions. None came. Venzian, her companion on the stretch, was just a clueless. The blinker looked at the time: 30 hours since the drop.
They heard sounds approaching, behind them and up front. Venzian took out her Sabath and motioned Grimbion to cover the back while she took on the front.
“Put that weapon away!” someone whispered to Grimbion. It was Balmain. Pelchein was there as well. Venzian sighed as Mersion and others came into view. Rinfaun, Tralkuin and Kiskaun were with them. It was hard to tell whether Venzian was relieved or upset that it wasn’t the enemy.
Leader Rinfaun nodded to Kiskaun, who looked genuinely scared. The Salbakionite looked down, as if trying to gather enough courage to speak: “On the way up, right around here, life.”
So that’s why everyone had come this way. Grimbion and Venzian looked at each other, then scrambled out of the way. Kiskaun crawled to the middle soldiers’ position, with her leader following. The detector in her hands shook as she turned it on. It wasn’t supposed to do that, Grimbion knew. She felt pity for the Salbakionite.
Rinfaun looked at the screen, then gestured to Tralkuin. The latter grinned:
“Good catch, Kiskaun. Yes, good catch.”
“What do you make of that?”
“Five, six entities. Motionless.”
Rinfaun’s eyes gleamed with intensity: “But not dead.”
Tralkuin nodded. “Not dead, probably sleeping. But these things… are small.”
“There’s no interference, either,” said Kiskaun.
“Right, they’re not wearing any suits. These things are too small to be enemy.”
Mersion asked: “You can’t tell if they’re sapient?”
“Brain pattern is dull, it’s impossible to tell. All this dirt isn’t helping.” Tralkuin sounded frustrated.
Mersion looked at Rinfaun: “Your call.”
Glajor Tenemanchar aka Glo.to.mon. = Parametric Eye.
There was no imperative to attempt to gain Triple Leader’s input so deep into the mission. And although Mersion had higher seniority than Rinfaun, detection was her responsibility. Under the circumstances, it was sensible for Mersion to defer. The decision was being taken in full accordance with conciliar regulations, but Grimbion still felt uncomfortable witnessing it. One look at the others confirmed she wasn’t the only one. Tunnels made for shitty war rooms.
“If we’re not going to be the fastest team in, maybe can be the one with the most prisoners.”
“Agreed,” Mersion said, too easily not to suspect this choice matched her own.
Rinfaun called Grimbion over: “Soldier.”
Grimbion dreaded what was coming, but it came anyway.
“Can you send one up about 20 meters, as quietly as possible, and take a look at the place first? It must be a chamber of some sort.”
“As quietly as possible? Do you mean that literally, m’am?”
It was Mersion who responded, “She does.”
It took several minutes to get it done, but Grimbion didn’t feel the passage of time, or the many eyes on her. She methodically retrieved the glotomon in Deleon, programmed it to very delicately dig its way to the very periphery of the hollow area which Kiskaun had pegged, and then return with the recorded data.
While she waited for the sphere to come back, or not, she followed the one in Floy with her contacts, figuring once it arrived near to where they were it’d be best to retrieve it. If all hell broke lose here, it could come in handy. But when she realized it would take over 20 minutes for the little guy to come near, she had to suppress a sigh.
The soldiers’ eyes shifted to the little hole above them, waiting for the glotomon. Grimbion saw the little light first, and rather than waiting for the sphere to emerge into the tunnel, she grabbed the earth and scooped it out as it came. A couple of buttons pressed and a swing later, a red screen popped into view.
“Here it goes,” said Grimbion.
Rinfaun and Mersion had pride of place, but it was Venzian who spoke first: “By Eryam, what are those things?”
“They don’t look like Glassics… Then again…”
“We don’t know much of what they look like,” Mersion said, finishing Rinfaun’s thought.
“The yellow…shell things, what do they score on thermal?”
Grimbion tapped on the virtual screen. “1.4, m’am.”
Rinfaun looked at Mersion: “I know what the crazy theory would be.”
Mersion nodded. “Younglings.”
“Right, which is impossible, unless they’ve been dabbling with abominatechs, Meidin-style? They could be some sort of clones.” Rinfaun was pointing out the evident: the entities couldn’t have been born in the second trinity if they were sapient, but they were also far too young to have been born in the first and then ascended. Not even Dolens in their days of power could ascend at such an early stage of physiological development. But it didn’t make sense for them to be senseless beastlings either. The chamber seemed locked and well cared for. Each of the entities was in its own separate “crib” and there was what appeared to be an auto-medic on a table near them.
“The color scheme does match Glassic.” Mersion frowned with disgust. “If they are clones, they might belong to important people, Rekish leaders and the such. It would be a coup if we could get our hands on at least one of them. Either that or splotch them altogether.”
“But if they are plain beasts, we’ll be the laughingstock of Incudea. And if we kill them and they turn out to be riddled with biocontaminants, it could be the death of us. We’re almost there, Mersion. Maybe we should leave those things alone.”
Grimbion’s leader had a stern look on her face when she told her: “I hope your eyeball got us some good intel, then.”
Grimbion could only nod, not really sure what to say.
Team 1 moved on. Two hours had passed and Grimbion was wondering when they would have their second major rest, when once more progress was halted. The news came by courier, as it were. Team 2’s Triple Leader, bold enough to be leading her forward squad, was reporting that they had caught two enemy soldiers. Rinfaun, who had been commcalled with the news, had one of her Glapachikos dart his way to middle squad. Mersion then had Pelchein call Elselion to let her know. The whole process was more than an exercise in inter-team masochism: Team 2’s success also brought some danger. Every single soldier better know that the enemy had been engaged. The schedule might have to move much faster now.
Rekish at night.
There was no response from Elselion. Pelchein tried again, then ended up calling Ilkuin, who served as unofficial second-in-command of rear squad. The call seemed to go through, but nobody responded. Mersion took the news calmly, but she immediately got on the comm and made sure to speak so quietly that not even the great ears of the Incudean soldiers nearest her could catch what she was saying. Next, she shut the comm off and signaled that she was heading over to forward squad to meet with Rinfaun personally.
“We’ve lost contact with rear squad,” she announced before going, “so I need two soldiers to head about 40 meters back and stand guard for a while.”
Tolmashein and Venzian immediately volunteered.
Mersion left, and Grimbion focused on her glotomon. The one in Deleon had just risen to the surface: all seemed clear. The one in Floy was halfway on its way to her when she turned it around and had it move to the surface as well. If anything was happening to Elselion’s squad in the sideworlds, it was her duty to find out.
Balmain had her Sabath out, and in order to figure out if Grimbion could see her she waved it up and down across her face.
“Careful with that,” the blinker said, finally, though it was tough trying to act annoyed at the pretty glowgerm.
“Sorry. I can’t tell if you’re getting readouts or dozing off or simply pretending not to see me. I was just wondering-“
“The surface in Deleon looks fine. I’ll be in Floy very soon.”
“Thank you. I mean, Floy was where you saw…burning before, right?”
The probing ended up annoying Grimbion a bit. That was technically none of the bomber’s business, though she understood that her life depended on such details, and how could one’s life not be one’s business? Only in the Army…
“Look,” Grimbion said. “As long as the Glapachikos can’t smell any blood, no one’s getting hurt, right?”
Balmain smiled, but her smile melted away almost instantaneously. She was staring beyond Grimbion, who turned around to see Mersion coming back, with one of Rinfaun’s Glapachikos in tow.
“Shit,” the blinker muttered.
The vassal bowed to Mersion. “Yes, Leader.”
“Your comrade Opo here says he smells blood north. Sinoth and Lotar can’t. I need you to concentrate and tell me: is there something in the air or not?”
North meant Team 2. Could the single Glapachiko be wrong? Grimbion regretted not studying these things better when she had the chance.
Torfor grimaced. “North. North. Aitron was chosen for his mettle, even though he’s a desert man and not from the river like the rest of us.”
Mersion’s eyes narrowed. “I know as much. But that still doesn’t explain things.”
Torfor stared at Opo, who put his hands to his face, just like an Incula would, wiped a couple of tears and then replied: “It is rumored, Leader Mersion, that I was adopted. I never knew whether I hailed from sea, or cloud or mountain. I realize now it was desert.”
Torfor muttered a prayer and bowed to Mersion, as if apologizing for his comrade.
“Leader-” he began to say, but never got to finish the sentence. Instead he growled and punched the ceiling with force.
Mersion almost shouted at him: “What now?”
“Blood spilled, northwest. It’s our own rear squad, Leader.”
Mersion’s response to him was simply: “Get used to calling me Double Leader.” Then she addressed everyone by comm, “Defensive positions, everyone. Instructions in two.”
Opo and Torfor formed a larger hollow for her, seat included. And Mersion did sit, the weight on her shoulders almost visible by now.
Grimbion couldn’t tell exactly what was being discussed, though it was reasonable to suppose that Mersion and Rinfaun were in a call with the Junior Colonel, shuttling back and forth the ultimate decision: whether to push up and do as much damage to the installation as possible, or retreat immediately and attempt to break out, either back where they came from (a risky proposition, as impact point could be swarming with enemy) or through a new hole (another risk, as the Glapachikos would be tired and the work would be pushing them to their limits).
Rather than waste time trying to figure out what she would surely know in a minute or two, Grimbion turned on her right contact and concentrated on her glotomon. The Floirian sphere was almost there. As it approached its destination, she began to see white and cyan lines undulating at the top of her vision. Sound, noise. It could be rear squad, but she slowed down the sphere just in case.
Real sound, footsteps, made her switch her contact off. Tolmashein and Balmain were walking past her, holding hands, not out of new found love in difficult circumstances, but in order to shield a tiny splitbomb. They were about to seal the way back.
Tolmashein, Balmain, and a splitbomb.
Balmain told Tolmashein, “Stop.” Next, she asked Grimbion, “Did you get up top in Floy yet?”
Grimbion switched her contact on before answering. She could see faint lights. The glotomon was about to surface.
“One second,” she said to Balmain without seeing her.
It was still dark night over Rekish, which was all well and good. She had the sphere east. Silence. She ordered the sphere to turn north, and a thick green line dashed across her vision. She looked up and saw a Glassic, dressed in black, but with eyes and…nose? clearly visible. Its firearm was massive, the barrel of which could probably fit the glotomon, though Grimbion wasn’t about to test its dimensions. She jerked her hands to get it to come down but then the screen went blank. She shut off the contact.
“They got me,” she said helplessly.
Mersion yelled from behind her. Not spoke, actually yelled. “Lay the bomb now!”
Balmain and Tolmashein did as ordered and before despair could settle upon anyone the tunnel became a one-way street. Up and into the target.
The blinker could hardly form any words, so she simply showed the readout to her leader. Mersion told her to show everyone what these aliens looked like. Grimbion went from soldier to soldier, including the Glapachikos. Torfor said “Thank you, squadmate Grimbion” and something stirred her heart. But then she shut it down and simply stopped thinking.
After all, there was hardly any need for mental activity. From here on out, it was all automatic. Pull the remaining glotomon back to her, at 120% acceptable speed, draw her thingun and protect the bombers and their cargo. The Glapachikos were terribly precious as well, but taking care of them was Leader Rinfaun’s job. Even Torfor moved up front. Four burrowers were better than three. Oh, and shoot to kill. They were well past the point of taking enemies.
Torfor, Opo and the others started burrowing straight up. When Mersion called upon middle squad to close the fresh gap with their mates forward, an explosion rocked it. The earth shook, but it did not give way. Grimbion could still see up all the way. It was as if nothing had happened.
Venzian yelled at her, “Stick to the wall!” and fired her thingun. There were shapes moving. Grimbion now saw two holes just above. The Glassics had crossed Front Army’s vertical tunnel with their own horizontal one.
Venzian looked at Grimbion, then both jerked back as a figure jumped down at them. Two shots were fired. Before the blinker’s own eyes could blink, she saw her mate fall below, wrestling with the enemy. She heard a thud, and knew instinctively that they were dead. Tolmashein called her from below: “Come here, quick!”
Balmain and Pelchein had dug into the wall and made their own little hollow. Grimbion waited for a lull in the noise up above them, which sounded like a crazed festival, then dropped below. Pelchein caught her.
Balmain adjusted her explosives and said: “Double and Tolmashein are up there. Have you seen Nyorlion?”
Pelchein shook her head and Grimbion said, “I thought she was bringing up the rear?”
Nyorlion was a loner. She was a competent soldier to be sure, but something about her aura repelled others. Maybe Venzian and the Glassic had knocked her on the way down.
The three soldiers in the hollow upped their suits to maximum defense and prepared to boost themselves up to join the fray. Pelchein said, “I’m starving.”
Balmain managed a giggle. “We’ll have some sandwiches in five. Let’s do this first.”
The Deleonian glotomon raced up to more or less the area in Eryam that Grimbion was. She knew that it made more sense to switch it over to Floy, since twice now it seemed the Glassics were more comfortable roaming the right sideworld than the left, but there was no time. She desperately wanted to have the sphere work its way to the body or bodies below and ascertain whether Venzian was still alive here in Eryam, but again, there was simply no time.
Balmain and Grimbion boosted themselves up just below the holes and started shooting into the darkness. As soon as they broke fire, Tolmashein zoomed up and past them in search of Mersion. Grimbion’s hole, which was roughly on the side where Team 1 had come from, seemed devoid of targets. Balmain stared at Grimbion and rolled her eyes up. The blinker did the same and saw an arm. It was an enemy arm, inert, and still attached to a body. Her instinct was to grab, twist and send the stunned or dead foe down the tunnel, but Venzian’s explosives were a concern. If the bastard fell right on them…
The glotomon showed absolutely nothing over in Deleon. “It’s not fair for you to be idle,” Grimbion muttered, half to herself and half to the sphere, which, being absent from Eryam and not even animate to begin with, was in this case but a reflection of herself. She set the ball on auto, carving a hollow just above her where the enemy was in Deleon. A place of refuge.
She turned off the contact and immediately noted that the air was different. “Gas bombs?” she mouthed to Balmain, who shook her head. Grimbion switched to Balmain’s side, found a ridge to put her boots on and turned off the boosters. Suddenly Tolmashein came tumbling down. Balmain and Grimbion caught her and pulled her into the hollow. The Enteran had been hit on her right shoulder, though she seemed to still be able to control her arm. Sweat streamed down her face, and she looked terrified. Her two squadmates looked at each other in disbelief. Tolmashein was clearly in pain, but she wasn’t turning it off as any seasoned Eryamite would. It didn’t make sense. Maybe she was in shock.
Balmain held the back of Tolmashein’s head and nodded as if to say, “Hang in there. You’re not alone!” But then Tolmashein started crying and Balmain snapped. “Pull yourself together!” she yelled, or would have yelled if she could. She grabbed her throat.
“What’s wrong?” Grimbion asked, and immediately had the answer, because her own question wouldn’t quite come. She was…voiceless. And a wave of nausea hit her as she realized why Tolmashein couldn’t call the pain off: she couldn’t speak. None of them could.
Something was coming from the opposite hole. Tolmashein grabbed the Sabath with her left arm, something like courage coming back to her. Balmain did the same. Grimbion put her hand on Balmain’s shoulder and mouthed as carefully as possible: “Stick to the walls. Hold your fire for one minute. Then lay it on them.”
Balmain nodded, and Grimbion prayed to Holy Fire for three wishes: that the beautiful bomber could read lips passably well, that she could convey the same to Tolmashein, and that the latter would do as instructed. The Enteran was not the sort to hold her fire when being shot at, but maybe that painful wound would temper her temper.
With that, Grimbion ran out of the hole, jumped and blinked at the same time as laser fire began to pelt their side. Deleon was quiet. The glotomon had done its job and was hovering close to a wall. There was no construction whatsoever here, but Grimbion had a strong suspicion that things would be different in Floy. She blinked there.
She was in a chamber, primitive but clean. There was a solid wall where that hole to the Glapachiko tunnel was over in Eryam, but on the opposite side an open door led elsewhere, likely to the underground base they had all been struggling to reach. Grimbion looked around, knowing that the clock was ticking. She spotted some tanks on the floor. Call it mystical sympathy, call it genetic predisposition, but as a descendant of countless generations of fire-worshippers, she immediately knew the things were flammable. She aimed and fired.
Grimbion pocketed the glotomon, fearful it would fry, and blinked back to Deleon. She propped herself against the wall of the hollow her other ball had created there, facing where Tolmashein and Balmain would be lying in Eryam, hopefully about to strike. She’d barely stood there five seconds when two Glassics blinked in with their backs to her. She shot the one farthest from her in the head, while with her left hand she stuck an Asuk dagger on the other. The blade sensed the blood and shot straight for the enemy heart. Another Glassic blinked then, and she let go of the dagger, held on to the Sabath with both hands and shot him twice on the chest. The enemy went down. This third one’s robes were slightly singed. Good, Grimbion thought. Let’s take Floy out of the equation. Next, she yanked the Asuk dagger and was about to shake the blood off when she decided against it: the situation wasn’t calm enough to sit down and get some samples for Medical Group, but maybe the blood, especially rich, heart blood, would yield some secrets. She put the red dagger in the scabbard and noticed the sphere had dropped to the floor. Overexerted, the little machine had given up the ghost. Grimbion set off its self-destruct mode, made a running start toward Balmain’s position, and blinked into Eryam.
Balmain shot straight at her, hitting her on the waist. Grimbion grimaced as the pain rushed to her head. The glowgerm lowered her thingun and silently apologized. The blinker noticed with surprise that there wasn’t any blood. She reached for her waist and extracted what remained of the Floirian glotomon. Goodness, she thought.
Grimbion checked on Tolmashein. Balmain had applied a hemostatic agent, and the Enteran smiled as if to say she was doing fine. A wound like that would take at least a couple of hours to heal, though, and Tolmashein was by far the best mêlée fighter of the three. The sounds up above had ceased. All things considered, it seemed best to Grimbion to go into the other hole and penetrate the facility directly. Leader Mersion -Double Leader Mersion- could take care of herself, and if they found a juicy target along the way they could simply detonate right there and try to get the hell out. Balmain was near the hole, thingun pointed at the other side. Grimbion tapped her shoulder and a burst of blue light fell on them. She fired two shots at what appeared to be another Glassic. It looked like the alien had been hit, as it stopped firing. Grimbion noticed that Balmain had her face turned to her still. Her tabard was in tatters and there was a large hole in her chest.
Grimbion gnashed her teeth, took Balmain’s Sabath and kissed her on the chin. Tolmashein was looking at her. Grimbion took the pouch of explosives from Balmain and passed it on to her companion. She motioned to the other side and Tolmashein nodded. Grimbion jumped across and turned anxiously, not sure whether the Enteran would make it across. Tolmashein hadn’t even jumped yet. She held Balmain’s face with her left hand and was kissing her on the lips. If anyone saw us, Grimbion thought, they’d think we were death-hungry deviants from Uperjenath. Tolmashein finally stood up and followed.
The hole led very quickly to a chamber of similar dimensions to its counterpart in Floy, but much better developed. There were several monitors on tables, all of them turned off, and several lights on the ceilings, some working, some seemingly on the point of death. Grimbion led the way, and a beep behind her almost made her jump. Tolmashein had received a commcall, with a message keyed in instead of the usual voice. The message repeated itself in a loop, so Tolmashein had Grimbion listen to it as well. Numeric: 31-45-78-44-05-06-44-22-22. 31 was none other than the leader of Team 3, Junior Colonel Orkian herself. She was less than a mile away, up and to the north. Tolmashein’s lifereader had three lifeforms on screen, all alien. And they were on their path. Grimbion pushed on with Tolmashein nonetheless, thinking of moving as closely as possible via the passageways, then tearing a hole if necessary and boosting themselves up when the time came. Just in case, she turned on her comm screen and typed the words: If you must blink, do so into Floy. The Enteran nodded.
Grimbion walked with a Sabath in each hand. Tolmashein held her own thingun with one and kept the other firmly on her shoulder. Front Army training included handling the pain, and Grimbion could tell that Tolmashein was finally remembering all of that training and regaining her confidence. The instructors in Gotteshor always explained the need for these ability-banned exercises on the basis of the possibility of shock during combat, but the rumor among the trainees was that the real fear here was the Upas. The sixth graders’ ability was supposed to be the denial of all others, including the malleability of pain as a matter of course. If the Upas were actually on the side of the Glassics, Grimbion mused, 99 people were not nearly enough. Shit. The entire Eighth Grand Division might not be enough.
The Incudean soldiers passed a chamber with evidence of recent combat. There were tables turned around, and holes everywhere. Tolmashein poked her Sabath into one of the latter, then tapped her chest with her gun. Ours. But neither her nor Grimbion attempted to explain the grimy substance on the walls or the faint smoke-like gas that permeated the place. They left the room and kept walking, eventually reaching an exit, and beyond, a shaft. If it was some sort of lifting setup, the lift itself seemed to be missing. An explosive device went off somewhere. The shaft reverberated with the sound. The soldiers stood alert and waited, but only silence followed.
Grimbion shrugged and gestured up. They boosted for about 2500 meters, when they saw a light, an opening. It was Tolmashein who gestured “up” this time. Grimbion agreed. They traveled up the shaft as much as they could, a mile or more, and then entered the uppermost opening. Grimbion looked at the time: 33 hours. She looked up and was struck by a projectile of considerable force. Whatever it was must have grazed her, since her leg did not explode to bits, but she fell to the ground immobilized and in deep pain. Footsteps approached. She cursed and blinked into Floy. There were more of them there. She blinked into Deleon and, face down as she was, instantly saw an abyss open beneath her. She blinked back into Eryam, the worlds spinning around her. In one of the worlds she saw Tolmashein free falling. If the fellow Incula was unconscious, she would not survive the impact. The explosives would render her body unretrievable at least.
Darkness, timelessness, was followed by sound. A question, though the words ran as muddy as the waters of the Throats river in the rainy season. The sounds gathered into shape along with the light, as if through it, and Grimbion opened her eyes at the very moment she could first understand what was being said to her, over and over: “Why are you here? Why are you doing this to us?”
She wasn’t blindfolded. The ceiling above her was plain, made of some lustrous metal. She tried to move her arms but couldn’t. They’ve pinned me down with some sort of force field, she thought. She turn her head sideways to see if she still had her timepiece. It was there, crushed, but there. But here eyes didn’t register the fact, concentrated solely on the metallic stake that pierced her right hand. She knew her left hand was in the same plight, but she still looked in that direction. The pain overcame her, and she screamed as well as she could under the circumstances.
“Why are you here?”
The voice forced her to focus. Her left leg hurt like crazy, she noticed, though she couldn’t really crane her neck well enough to see it. She didn’t remember injuring it. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of what she knew to be a figure in robes. Not perpendicular to her, but parallel. She wasn’t lying on the floor at all. She was standing, or more precisely, hanging. There was a force field in place after all, though the meaning of the stakes, other than torture, escaped her altogether. She tried to touch the floor with the tip of her right foot. She felt as if she could barely touch it, but then the pain became unbearable. Blinking didn’t even cross her mind; her captor was sure to have the escape routes covered.
Ascending was the only way out. There were no Glassics in the third grade, and after spending years penetrating the weird echomagnetic storms around Huja orbit, Incudea had taken over the entire third trinity system in less than a month. If Grimbion rose to the third grade now, she’d find herself on Incudean Rekish, with friends all around her. Well, not all around her perhaps. She reckoned there were at least six regiments stationed on the planet in Halaron at this point. But one couldn’t ascend just by wanting to. The sages said the opposite: if you concentrated on ascending, it’d never happen. She tried to concentrate instead on the matter before her.
The enemy was silent. Grimbion looked straight on and spat. What was the point of interrogating someone if you had disabled their vocal chords? The voice that spoke to her was lifeless, clearly mediated by way of a computer, proof that even the Glassic was affected by the silencing weapon. She wished they would just kill her and get it over with. We keep what we have and we seize what we don’t. And you are in the “seize category”, for a little while longer. There’s nothing else to it. If she could have done an Incudean salute, she would have. But that required one’s hands and arms to be free. Pity that. Incudea had beaten the Merciless Myriad; mopping up this Storm scum would be a cinch compared to that. But these barbarians had probably never even heard of Dolentis.
The enemy asked a new question, slowly, deliberately: “If I give you the means, will you answer my questions in writing? I mean to exchange some information for your freedom.”
Grimbion found that defying the alien, even if only within the confines of her skull, helped dull the pain significantly. She mouthed a response: “You’ve never even heard of Dolentis. But you’ve heard of us. Us. You’ve heard of us.” Then she closed her eyes and a succession of personified refuges and legendary sources of succor paraded one by one before her mind: Holy Fire, Tarte, Mother Taus, Love’s Broadport, Ransain, Incudea… She had been reduced to the status of a Glapachiko, thrust into a place not of her own choosing and trusting mere words to carry her through.
The intracerebral goddesses were scared off by the dreadful humming of a large firearm being activated. Grimbion grinned, realizing the ultimate irony that the enemy’s last offer presented her with: to write, with hands impaled, as a way of making up for the fact that she wouldn’t speak, her voice silenced. And face execution otherwise. What made it all the funnier was that the Glassic seem to be taking all of this very seriously.
The gun fired. Or rather, a gun, a Sabath, fired. The black shape at the edge of Grimbion’s vision crumpled, then four soldiers entered the room. She knew Juldaun personally, and could recognize the other three faces, all of them bombers from Team 3. They stared at her hands and her leg, managing apologetic smiles. Juldaun moved toward her and Grimbion shook her head. Force field, she mouthed. The soldiers went back to the fallen Glassic and retrieved a controller.
Juldaun signaled her squadmates to count to six and deactivate the field. Grimbion was delighted to see that Juldaun was as nimble as ever: she rushed and propped up the blinker’s torso before her whole body slumped. There was still the matter of the stakes. As Juldaun held her, two others removed the offenders. The agony the pain caused her impaired her senses for several minutes. She was carried away half-conscious.
Team 3 still had 17 of 25 soldiers standing, aliens included. Forward had lost three, middle four, while rear remained amazingly intact. The Glapachiko on rear, named Talbor, had been reinforced on the surface by one of the surviving Glapachikos in the forward squad. There was to be no more burrowing. The Junior Colonel had identified a large power generator of some sort, and with the situation as bad as it was, she had settled on destroying that. The detectives on her team were avidly trying to unlock the security system to get inside. A single Glapachiko remained underground for the simple yet grim purpose of alerting the team if brethren blood was shed on the outside. His name was Zelik.
In addition to Orkian’s 17, three Inculae from Team 2 had somehow found their way there. They seemed in a state of shock. Their Triple Leader hadn’t made it, and neither had the Highborn from Glowgem. As for Team 1, nobody knew if Grimbion was the only one left alive, and they didn’t have the time to console her or even question her about what had happened. Junior Colonel Orkian was reassuringly busy, giving orders left and right, and going in and out of her makeshift HQ. Her detectives were close to cracking the system and her bombers were doing their damned best to reassemble the remaining explosives into some sort of super bomb. That still left several soldiers, and Grimbion hoped against hope that Orkian was setting them to work on the problem of getting everyone out of there as soon as possible.
The Junior Colonel only stopped to check on Grimbion once. She grimaced when she saw the leg. There was nothing that could be done about it. Incudea had an array of methods for setting broken limbs well enough to allow her soldiers to fight on for several hours longer, but they all depended on the individual being able to shut off the pain that said contraptions caused. Orkian half-closed her left hand as if doing an Incudean salute. Grimbion was puzzled, then realized that the commander wasn’t being pointlessly patriotic, but was in fact asking about the glotomon. Grimbion shook her head. Orkian opened her eyes wide, raised two fingers and Grimbion nodded.
The Junior Colonel took a glotomon out of one of her pouches. Her blinker hadn’t survived. Grimbion received it with due reverence, though for the life of her she couldn’t remember who Team 3’s blinker was, and was surprised when Orkian pointed to the ball and frowned. She understood as soon as she started reading the console she received from her. It had a list of preliminary information to include in a report for Incudean Army, with only three items so far:
1. Enemy demonstrates capacity of tracking glotomon. Suggest use Nango instead. Sabaino, Cisportico.
2. Detection mechanisms possibly organic. Evidence that blocking one side increases chances of detection elsewhere on perimeter.
3. Possible denial of abilities at work. Enemy seems to be afflicted in the same way. Suggest long-range attacks.
There was a personal message below the list: Grimbion, try speaking every two minutes. Guard sack. So that was her mission for now, testing whether this devoicing weapon would wear off anytime soon, and keeping an eye on the sack next to her, full of Glassic booty. Grimbion bowed as well as she could from a sitting position with her left leg stretched out. But as soon as Orkian left, she decided to take the liberty of adding to the list. With only one index finger, and trying to ignore the stabs of pain each key press meant to her palm, she wrote:
4. Enemy demonstrates marked preference for Floy over Deleon. Test if situation is paralleled in first trinity.
She looked over the list again. It had been years since she’d operated with the Nango drakes. They were handy in their own way, but very unreliable compared to their mechanical rivals. Glotomon didn’t leave droppings behind for enemies to find, for one… But even if one saw the necessity of using Nango, she wasn’t convinced by the breeds listed. Sabaino and Cisportico were hot planets, Rekish was cold. Maybe they thought Glassics would have a harder time picking up the life readings of sub-species of more alien climates. Well, then one would have to look at the what kind of climate Echoglass itself had. If it was hot enough then maybe it wouldn’t make a difference, at which point employing Nangos less likely to freeze themselves to death would make much more sense. In any case, she was crazy enough to add to the Junior Colonel’s list, but not crazy enough to go ahead and alter the items already on it. She’d try to remember the point through the pain and make it after extraction.
Grimbion tried to speak, and failed. She had never felt so helpless. Maybe it would have been better if she had died back there. Her eyes darted about the chamber, seeking some entertainment to rid her of these thoughts. They finally landed on the large sack. The Glassic weapon would be in there. The pain emboldened her and she opened the thing, hoping it was indeed a weapon and not body parts that were concealed within. Something pinkish-red was glowing therein. Hearing steps, she closed up the sack and turned around.
More survivors. She recognized one from Triple Leader Helandion’s team. She was practically dead, with a long vertical gash down her chest. Grimbion could not or would not remember her name. A Glapachiko had gently carried her in. It was Torfor! And Nyorlion of all people was with him as well. Grimbion waved her hand, with genuine delight that at least three from her own squad were still around.
Nyorlion was walking toward her when an explosion, the loudest yet, rumbled in the distance. The walls shook. Then the sound of gunfire, much nearer, took center stage. Junior Colonel stomped into the room and headed straight for Grimbion. She asked for the console, and started typing with great fury. Zelik, the Team 3 Glapachiko who was still with them, had entered right behind Orkian, and she now turned to him. They spoke in gestures, and from Grimbion’s angle she couldn’t really tell what was being discussed.
Then Orkian turned to Nyorlion, pointed to the Glapachiko, then pointed up. Nyorlion looked ill, though Grimbion couldn’t see any wounds on her whatsoever. Her squadmate shook her head, took out her thingun and ran out of the room, in the direction of the gunfire. Maybe she thought her carelessness in approaching the other Inculae had led to the Glassics finding their current position. That maybe she shouldn’t have tried to find the others in the first place. Maybe she was right, maybe she wasn’t, but she apparently intended to atone for it in battle.
Junior Colonel Orkian seemed ready to burst. She looked at Grimbion and gestured up once more. Grimbion instinctively looked at Torfor, then at her leader. But Torfor had just arrived. Whatever tunnels had been laid for the escape (Grimbion hoped it was more than the one they had used to go in initially) would not be known to him. So when Orkian shook her head and looked at her own soldier, there was nothing Grimbion could do. The Junior Colonel helped her to stand up, then handed her the console. That was all the instructions she received. Zelik knelt, Grimbion climbed on as best as she could, and off they went. The last thing she saw in the chamber was Torfor settling down to do his best for the wounded Incula. Orkian had already left the room through another opening to lead the fray.
There was nothing for her to do but keep her eyes open and do her best not to get dizzy as the Glapachiko worked his way through several tunnels, mostly vertically, but in every single other direction besides when necessary.
Several minutes passed. Grimbion kept expecting a huge explosion courtesy of Team 3’s bombers, but it never came. Zelik halted abruptly, making the blinker sick. Then the Glapachiko continued. Suddenly, two Glassics blinked into Eryam a few meters underneath them, hovering with what was doubtless their equivalent of booster technology. Grimbion cursed her luck. The glotomon Orkian had given her was still in her pocket. There had been no time to place it in Floy, an action that would have proved very useful right around now. She slapped Zelik on the back and shot her index finger up. The Glapachiko heeded the order and rushed on as fast as he could.
Grimbion took out the glotomon and tossed it right at the enemy. She aimed her Sabath at it and fired. The spherical ball burst into flames. She had seen this trick at the hussar theater once and laughed. But she wasn’t laughing now. She imagined the Glassics would likely survive the ploy, but at least it had slowed them down. With Zelik zooming up at full speed, it’d be hard for them to catch up.
They eventually burst into the night sky over Rekish at great speed, climbing 10 meters or so before Zelik turned right around to descend. Grimbion could see why the Glapachiko had paused earlier. His comrades lay dead, as did the rest of the rear squad. Instead of landing normally, Zelik slammed the ground. Grimbion’s leg screamed louder than her mouth would if she could, though her brain made sense of things when she saw a Glassic squashed on the floor. Grimbion disengaged from her “mount” and took out her console. Pages and pages of text popped up on the screen and disappeared just as quickly. The circumstances hadn’t impaired Grimbion so badly as to prevent her from identifying the key command that repeated itself over and over:
A beam of light, its yellowish hue indicating a combination of high visibility with low destructive power, streaked across Grimbion’s field of sight. She thought she could hear the ever so silent engines of Purple Starmongers’ two jiohamir ships. She limped over to Zelik, who was on his back breathing heavily. They smiled at each other. Grimbion turned to the dead enemy, to see what she could recover, but she stopped in her tracks when she felt her console vibrating.
Incudean Army Spinner
She looked at the screen and once again oceans of text came into view. Except that this wasn’t text. At least, it wasn’t any script that she had ever seen, and she had been trained to recognize over 600 varieties, most of them used in coding artificial languages. Yet a couple of the symbols looked familiar. She thought she had seen them weeks ago on some of the structures commgraphed by Incudean intelligence on the surface of Echoglass.
She dropped the console in horror, just as a Spinner landed in front of her. Her rescuers helped her into the ship first, then went out to retrieve Zelik, who was still on the ground. The pilot asked her: “What’s wrong?” She tried to speak and failed. She asked for a console and typed: “My console compromised. Meidin worms.”
The pilot immediately commcalled the jiohamir this particular Spinner was assigned to and repeated what Grimbion had said. The hatch closed and the Spinner rose from the ground. Less than a minute after, a call came through to the Spinner. The pilot nodded and signaled to Grimbion that everything was fine. As an afterthought, the pilot commcalled the other jiohamir to warn them of the same. But by now whatever was in the air over Rekish that night had taken effect inside the Spinner, and the pilot found she had no voice. She began to type the message, as Grimbion sighed. Surely, the transport ship would have warned her sister, right? The pilot punched in the send code and smiled at Grimbion. And just then, beyond the pilot’s turned head, the blinker saw the other jiohamir for the first time, a flash of blue followed by a hell of green flames, with multiple explosions turning the would-be debris into smithereens and releasing from their fleshly bodies the three hundred plus souls within.
Grimbion fell from her seat and cherished how merciful her consciousness was in deciding to leave her just then. The last things her eyes saw as she passed out was Zelik. The Glapachiko had his eyes open and full of blood, staring into Heaven perhaps, sprawled on the cold floor of the IA Spinner.
1648. Tetraluminous City of the Hanged – Silver Planet – Home System. NEARS.
It was Purple Starmongers’ turn, “the Pride of Pechumirtu” as the Silver sister on the amplifier proclaimed. Grimbion joined the new faces of her Front Army group and saluted her superiors, freshly transferred from various planets in the Nears. She had been told that morning that the Glapachiko Expeditionary Force wouldn’t be participating in the parade. Just as well, she thought. None of the fellows invited to come had been at Rekish either.
As she entered the arena, the crowd went into its umpteenth frenzy. Quietly, in her own world as it were, Grimbion recalled her ability and let the pain stake its rightful claim. It was the most she could do to honor the dead. She took her glotomon out and let it fly, just before the dull ache in her leg became sharp enough to impair her movements and embarrass her in front of the riotous crowd. Two years and the wound hadn’t healed. The Storms and its denizens were full of surprises indeed. But she was there, apparently, to show the universe that the will of Incudea was unbroken.
The little ball flew upwards and hovered in the exact center of the stadium. Grimbion pretended to control it (in reality a crew of Silver sisters was handling this part of the show) as the glotomon popped open along a great circle and generated a great black ring, outlined in red. The blinker from Throats saluted the crowd and the black was replaced by the brightest red. Kanri jia kainijim. The ring is filled. Incudea has officially declared war on Echoglass. Grimbion massaged her leg and walked out of the stadium, far past caring.