Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reunion (1/7)

So many types of trails. Ion trails; a thin scattering of atoms and molecules, drifting slowly through a vast and impassive void. One - no, more, now - extend outward from the bombardment fleet orbiting Procyon II. Follow the ion trail - carefully, so carefully, squinting to keep sight of the almost-invisible stream - where does it lead? A barren planet in the outskirts of the system, entirely devoid of life. The trail vanishes into the atmosphere, but there is another - leading from a patrol-ship, landed on the surface, visible only as disturbances in the ages-settled dust covering the bleak and grey world. And if we follow this trail - across crevasses, through rocks, so careful to avoid losing our way! - we find yet another - a trail of footprints, carelessly defacing the earth on their way from the glider that took them this far. So many types of trails - each so thin, so fragile, that a breath would dispel them. But in doing so you would create another - for though you try, you cannot break the bonds that bind you to the past...

Philosophy, eh? Abtruse. Abstract. And, in this case, largely irrelevant. Why spend all our time talking about trails, after all, when there are battle-fleets to watch! Space marines to admire! And a panicked, fleeing fugitive, stumbling his way through the dust and the rocks, trying to make his way into the cave system his ship's sensors spotted as it came down from orbit!

Let's watch him, for the moment. Eh? The space marines will be there when we get back to them.

Alan stopped at the edge of a pit, panting for breath. (He knew it was foolish; his oxygen supply was limited. But still his breath came ragged.) He looked down. His eyes widened.

An airlock? So, not caves after all, those cavities in the ground... not caves, but a base...

I have to work my way in!

Alan jumped into the pit, wincing at the impact. He wrenched at the metal wheel atop the airlock, struggling to open it. Was this supposed to be opened by men, or machines? It's stiff beyond belief!

For a moment, Alan allowed himself to relax. He straightened, turning his gaze upwards. Scanning the sky, he saw nothing amiss, just a sea of stars, two brighter than the rest...

Then a patch of darkness passed over the stars; and another; and another. Three ships! That's a third of the fleet. Worse than I dared dream. Even if I hide in, in whatever's down here - will I be able to hide until they give up the chase - ?

No. Have to act. Have to hide. Will plan when it's safe...

Alan turned back to the wheel, gripping it firmly. He took a deep breath, irreplacable oxygen flooding into his lungs - then he heaved, finally sending the wheel into motion, sliding the airlock hatch with it. When it was half-way open, Alan stopped; a motion to wipe sweat off his brow was intercepted by the helmet that covered it. Alan sighed, and then turned, jumping into the gap he'd opened. And above him...

In the bombardment ship Memory of Earth, Captain Klaas reported.

"The fugitive's ion trail leads into atmosphere, with 99% certainty," he said. "Your orders?"

The Admiral nodded, not turning in the chair where she sat watching the stars. "I want the navigators to begin work on a search grid," she said, her voice betraying no emotion. "Cover the globe, starting at the most likely position for the fugitive to have landed his stolen ship. When they have it ready, have it transmitted to the Retribution and the Repercussion for immediate action."

"Yes, sir," Captain Klaas said, saluting. He turned to leave.

"And tell Colonel Sigin to prepare the marines for action," the Admiral added, her voice still completely calm. "They will be responsible for the capture of the fugitive."

"Sir, yes, sir!" Colonel Klaas agreed. He waited a moment more, and then departed, the door irising shut behind him.

"And when they find him," the Admiral whispered to herself, her hand forming into a fist in her lap, "and when they've extracted every last scrap of information from his useless corpse - "

"For killing my son, I will personally reunite the traitor with the hell from which he was spawned!"

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