The old man, his long face weathered by extensive hours at the forge, stared incredulously at the message he had just received. It was an official communication from the Governor’s office. They were gathering him and a few other forge masters to teach for a new ‘arts’ school that the Governor was establishing. With the new manufacturing dome installed and another one currently in production in orbit, the need for forging things in the old way was rapidly fading, and the man had been preparing to hang up his tongs and hammer.
The Governor had other thoughts apparently. He saw the resurgence of this ancient art as a beautiful thing worthy of preserving. A unique aspect of the culture of this planet’s people. Those were his words. The man hadn’t realized how much he had been dreading putting his trade to the side. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he quickly brushed them away. He forwarded the message to his wife with an addendum telling her he was planning on taking the opportunity.
Joseph did not like his current situation. A ten man squad from the ‘Avalon Fleet’ as they called themselves, had stumbled upon him. He’d gotten sloppy and had been heavily relying on his drone to warn him of anyone nearby. Turned out their camouflage was good enough to fool his old drone. He put his hands up, not bothering to reach for his gun. This was likely the end of the line for him as he doubted these strangers would allow him to enact his revenge in person.
“Who are you, and what are you doing out here?” the questions snapped out from one of the faceless helmets. The translation software they were using had a tinge of electronic fuzz to it but was remarkably close to a native speaker. Joseph wondered if they were spending time updating it as they got more speech data.
“My name is Joseph, I’m a trapper by trade for many years now, but I gave that up when you entered orbit. I saw my chance for vengeance against her.”, he said. He did his best to keep his tone even but couldn’t help the disgust slipping into his voice when he thought of the woman who had taken everything from him.
There was a brief silence, long enough for a quick conversation between the soldiers though no sound was forthcoming from them. “We’re designating you as an irregular operator in our tactical network, we request that you share any intel you may have collected. In return we are authorized under current theater protocol to arm and armor you so you can better carry out your mission. Please indicate your willingness to comply.” The soldiers seemed more relaxed than before though they hadn’t quite lowered their weapons yet.
After some brief consideration, Joseph nodded, “That sounds good to me. I have detailed aerial footage from my drone along the path I took here. I’ve also discerned the location of Grand Arbiter Cirillo. In exchange for this information I would like you to render aid to the town I came from. A large amount of refugees were on their way at the time I left and I know for a fact that many people won’t be able to survive there in the medium term without outside assistance.” He hoped that they wouldn’t consider that too much, but he had to do what he could for the people who had helped him so much through the years.
There was another period of silence before the soldier spoke up again, “Please relay the coordinates of the town to me and I’ll send up an aid request upstairs. I can’t guarantee that they’ll get help in a timely manner, but I can at least do that. I’m also going to ask that you give us the coordinates of the Grand Arbiter, after that we will escort you to our base. You are now considered a priority asset and there are people who want to speak with you. Compliance is mandatory.”
Joseph nodded and listed off the coordinates for his town and the Grand Arbiter. It looked like he wouldn’t be able to enact vengeance with his own hands. It was a shame, but perhaps it was for the best. At least he could rest easy knowing that she would be killed for her crimes.
After relaying the coordinates he gave them, the soldiers escorted him to a clearing. Minutes later, a shuttlecraft landed, and they boarded. The soldiers kept eerily silent, the only noise coming from the rumbling of the shuttle’s engines as they traversed the sky. Joseph sat silently, they’d allowed him to keep his weapons, which was good. He wondered what they would do with him once he’d given up all the information he had. He doubted they’d kill him or toss him aside, seeing as they seemed to be interested in arming anyone willing to rebel against the current planetary government.
Joseph didn’t ponder that thought for long as the flight lasted only a short while. The shuttle was landing at what looked like a factory that had been upended and turned into a military base. As he exited the craft, he watched a ground vehicle drive up to what had been marked as the medical area. The mangled remains of a soldier, still mostly in his suit, though plenty was attempting to spill out of it, was gently offloaded and taken inside.
Joseph turned away from the sickening sight and allowed himself to be escorted inside a more temporary looking structure. He was asked to leave his pack at the door, but they let him keep his sidearm. The group that had found him left him with a wave after making sure he arrived and jogged off. A woman in a crisp uniform approached him and indicated that he should follow her.
Joseph followed her deeper inside the small structure through a small maze of cubicles until he ended up at a shoddy desk with a much older, tired-looking woman behind it. The left side of her face was mottled and scarred like she had been severely burned.
She stood and extended her hand, he grasped it, she initially attempted a Neo-Grecian greeting, but Joseph shook her hand and said in rough, but fluent Standard, “Don’t strain yourself, I learned Standard when I was young. It’s been some time since I’ve spoken it, but hopefully it’s good enough.”
The woman smiled and said, “Thank you, Joseph, was it? I’m Major Lionel, I’m in command of this base and the operations in its immediate surroundings. The intelligence you have already provided us has been immensely helpful, and I thank you for sharing it. Oh, and where are my manners? You’ve been in the field for some time, do you want some water or coffee? We have stim juice too, but I can’t stand the stuff personally.” Her words seemed to spill forth in a breathless tumble assailing Joseph with every syllable.
“Thank you, I’ll take a water,” Joseph said. He sat down and took the bottle that was quickly proffered to him and took a long swallow before continuing. “I take it there is more you want to know? The only thing I haven’t given you is my aerial footage, but since you control the skies, I hardly think you need that.”
She nodded and leaned back into her seat. “We don’t have much use for your drone footage. We’ve taken over control of the entire satellite network at this point. Quite extensive, and apparently, a lot of the observation satellites are fairly recent, which is both interesting and useful. What I’d really like to know is how did a self-proclaimed trapper so handily manage to cross nearly a quarter of the continent, avoiding two major engagements and who knows how many patrols along the way.
Joseph shrugged, “Well I had my drone which should be on it’s way to this base by the by. If you can somehow detect it when it gets nearby I’d appreciate it if you didn’t shoot it down. I’m rather fond of it. But anyhow the drone let me scout ahead of my position and avoid most things. That with the skills I’ve developed over time living alone on the mountain let me get by just fine.”
The Major shook her head, seeming to be mildly amazed by Joseph’s casual answer. “Well, that’s certainly one way of putting it, and I’ll tell the guards to keep an eye out for your drone and to not shoot it immediately. Now, if I might ask, what was your motivation for making such a trek? From what you said there were an awful lot of refugees heading to your town. Why not stay and help out there?”
Joseph nodded, taking another pull off the water bottle. “Yeah, I suppose it would make sense to stick around and try to help, but with all the chaos happening I thought that for a moment I had a chance. A chance to finally take my revenge on her.”
Major Lionel nodded slowly, “Grand Arbiter Cirillo, I take it you have a personal vendetta for some reason. Would you care to enlighten me?” she asked, the cadence of her speech slowing.
“She took everything from me ma’am. My whole life went up in flames on the day she took over. My wife, my children, my livelihood. All of it was taken from me that day for the simple fact that I was a prominent businessman who decided to remain neutral while conflict broiled over. I didn’t want any part of the fighting, I just wanted left alone and to take care of my family, my workers and by extension their families. But I was forbidden the simple desire to be left alone. I ran away after that, exiled myself to the frontier to try and hold onto what little I could of that shattered dream.” Joseph took a breath to steady himself and drank more water.
He preferred not to speak of the subject, so voicing it all out loud hurt deeply. He could feel the emotions roiling beneath the surface, causing a tightness in his chest. That being said, she’d asked for an explanation and he saw no reason to keep the truth from her. “So yes, I do have a bit of a vendetta against her. The rising chaos of first the riots and then your forces entering the system gave me the push I needed to do what I should have done long ago. It looks like direct vengeance is beyond my reach however. You have her location now, and I assume you will take care of the situation.”
Major Lionel took her time and seemed to be pondering an idea. “Well Joseph, I think in fact it is possible for our goals to align in this instance. You see, we both want the Grand Arbiter dead, for different reasons mind you, but that is irrelevant. And it has occurred to those above that it would be politically advantageous if a rebel group took her out instead of us. Seeing as you provided us the information we’d be more than happy to give you first crack at it. There’s actually a highly cooperative militia near the Grand Arbiter’s position. I’d be more than happy to deliver you to them with a shuttle full of equipment with the condition that they help you help us. How does that sound to you?”
Joseph stiffened in surprise, he hadn’t expected this. He’d expected to at best be drafted into their forces as an irregular, and at worst tossed back into the wilds and told to stay out of the fight. To be offered the chance to take her life with their backing and support. As well as the offer of cooperation from local rebels. It almost seemed to be too good to be true.
Joseph thought about it more, particularly about the point of it being to the Avalon Fleet’s benefit to have a local take her out. It made sense since it helped to paint the Avalon Fleet as liberators rather than conquerors. They would still have plenty of political leverage over the planet given the assistance they provided, but it would ultimately be the people of the planet who freed themselves. Or at least that’s what the headlines would read. It had probably been something of a miracle for them that he, a local denizen, had uncovered her position rather than them since that advanced the narrative they wanted.
“Well as long as that rebel group agrees to help out I don’t see any problems. I had wondered how I was going to storm the place on my lonesome, but with some backup and supplies from yours truly I think that it’ll be challenging, but not impossible to take the bunker and kill her.” Joseph said with a thoughtful look on his face.
Major Lionel nodded, stood up, and put out her hand. Joseph took the cue and also stood, taking her hand and shaking it. “Sounds like a deal,” she said. “I’ll have someone get in contact with that group and inform them of the situation and what we’d like them to do. Now that we know the location of the bunker, we should be able to get some detailed scans so while you may not know the exact layout you won’t be going in totally blind. In the meantime I’ll set you up with an escort who’ll get you a bunk and a meal. I recommend you get some rest, before your life starts getting interesting again.” She smiled at Joseph and showed him out.
Joseph took a seat in the waiting room next to where he had left his bag. He checked the location of his drone and was happy to see it was nearly at the base. He told it to search for a nearby roof and wait. He’d see if his escort could rummage up an IFF code for it so he could land it in the base without any issues.
Just as he was putting his tablet away, a soldier showed up. He greeted the man and made light conversation while they made their way across the base. It turned out that the man was a relatively fresh recruit from the world that had been visited by this Fleet previously. It sounded like an actual hell, unable to live on the surface, most of the planet scarred by volcanic activity, food rationing, and rampant corruption. Apparently, the Avalon had replaced the government and was working on getting the colony back on its feet, but Joseph was shocked all the same. To think that places that terrible existed in the universe.
Joseph found himself assigned to a small room that was little more than a bed and a desk. He was shown where the building’s facilities were and the mess hall. He offloaded his equipment in his room and took to the mess hall. The food wasn’t exquisite, but it was a better variety than what he was used to. For the first time in a long time, he filled himself to bursting. He’d lived off of the land for too long and had forgotten what it was like to not have to hunt, grow and forage for your own food.
He might never know either way of life again soon. The opportunity he’d been given was equal parts blessing and curse. Finally, a chance for vengeance, but he knew that this chance was almost certainly a one-way suicide mission. He had already accepted that he might die, but confronting the fact again did set him on edge. It was just as well, that extra layer of anxiety might help keep him more alert and focused when the time came. He would hold onto that, because for the first time in a long time, he had a small glimmer of hope. If the Avalon was helping a planet as terrible as the one they’d just come from, then just imagining the good they could do for a planet that wasn’t nearly as hellish lifted his spirits greatly.