Eden 10: Raid

Retribution had come swift and hard for the actions of Jacque Barre, “Eden Spy.” Under cover of darkness, a Plymouth convoy had sliced through Eden's defenses, ignored choice strategic targets, and made a lightning raid on the labs researching starship technology. An attempt to remove salvage from the original starship, Conestoga, had been repelled thanks to courageous action by the Volunteer Guard, but three scientists were missing and presumed captured. Among these was Eldon Jensen.

Axen especially regretted Jensen's loss. Failure was always easier to take when it didn't have a face. Of course there was nothing he could do, once Barre caused the talks to collapse. Emma, or at least the people she spoke for, simply didn't trust anything Eden had to say, anything they had to offer. When the communications channel went dead one afternoon after a particularly heated session, it was no surprise.

The raid nine hours later was.

As Axen sat in front of one of Residence Three's gallery windows and stared out at the large hole blasted in the lab's side, still unrepaired, he hoped Plymouth had gotten something useful from the three captives, because the pendulum was swinging Plymouth's way again, and it was bound to hit hard.

Alarmed by the ease with which the raid had penetrated their defenses, Eden had been given a new priority, and its splintered political factions had aligned behind one thing and one thing only: a massive military buildup. They would have their scientists back, and the Gene Bank too.

Axen slumped, chin propped in his hand. If this kept up, neither side would win. Too many resources would be squandered on weapons, too much destroyed in battle. Neither starship would be built, and humanity would die. He had to keep the lid on this war, keep things from falling completely apart before the most vital work for survival had been completed.

“Elder, you look like someone shot your dog.”

He looked up as Zek Autzen stopped in front of him and handed him a ClipCom. “What does that mean, the dog thing?”

“I don't know. Saw it in an old vid once, and you had the same look on your face as the guy in the vid. They never did show what a dog was, though.”

Axen tapped the ClipCom with his finger. “You read it?”

Zek nodded. “Me and the chairman. We agree with you that it's premature to take it to the whole Senate. It's shocking, if true.”

“It's true all right. I'd stake my life on it.”

Zek sighed. “Even if it is, Elder, I don't know what we can do about it. This could tear the Senate apart if we reveal it to them, destroy the uneasy truce we currently operate under. The Masters would deny everything, everyone would choose up sides, and meanwhile, it could force the Masters to play out their hand.”

“You'll have proof.”

“That some units, parts, and supplies may be unaccounted for? That some people associated with the Masters didn't come back from the mining camp? That one man is missing? You can make a lot with that, but not a case. If what you tell me is true, we need a location. So far, the satellite has turned up nothing, and even getting the resources to look is politically very difficult right now.”

“They'd hardly leave it all lying around in plain sight. They don't want either us or Plymouth to find it.”

“I need more, Elder. Give me something to work with and we can at least fight it out in the Senate.” He stood and started to walk away. Then he stopped and half-turned back. “Assuming you're right about what they've got, and what they're going to do with it, do you think they have a chance?”

Axen shrugged. “It's a lot easier to destroy something than to steal it. Even if they fail, they'll stir up Plymouth so bad that we'll have no hope of ever getting the Gene Bank, by any means. Either way, they win.”

Zek sighed. “And humanity loses.”

# # #

Brook impulsively stuck his hand in his pocket and felt the small transmitter card. Axen had assured him that it could be attached anywhere on any vehicle and still be effective, and that it would be extremely difficult to detect, even if someone were looking for it. It transmitted only in microsecond pulses at random intervals on a system of rotating frequencies normally used by suit radios, telemetry systems, vehicles, mining beacons, and other units one would expect to find active around the colony and even out in open country.

None of which made him feel any more comfortable about it. He didn't know when he would have to use it, or under what circumstances, and if one of the Masters caught him with it on his person, well, he didn't know what would happen. On the other hand, he couldn't very well go out without it, especially when he suspected the reason for Echo's requested meeting at the Agridome was to borrow another vehicle.

At least, as he waited in the darkened structure looking up at the sharp pinpoints of stars in the sky, he hoped so. It had been nearly a month since she'd made such a request of him, and Brook was beginning to wonder if Axen's theories, as logical as they seemed, were totally off base. Part of him still wanted to believe that Echo wasn't the monster she seemed to be, that it was all some vast misunderstanding, or that she was, at least in some way, redeemable.

He heard a crunch in the corn field behind him. It would be impossible to come that way without destroying plants. That seemed irresponsible and out of character, even for Echo. He turned and peered back into the darkness. He could see the cornfield silhouetted against the moonlight coming through the far side of the dome, but no sign of a person. “Echo?”

More rustling, closer. This wasn't right. It wasn't right at all. “Echo, is that you?”

More rustling. “Whoever you are, say something.” He hesitated. No answer. “I have a gun.” Which was a lie, of course. He'd considered trying to black-market a side arm for his personal use. He was even pretty sure that Axen had one or two squirreled away somewhere that he might have been talked into parting with. But the dangers and disadvantages had always seemed to outweigh any benefit. Right now, those arguments seemed to have lost some of their weight.

His eyes strained into the darkness, looking for some movement, some identifiable outline. Then in a flash it was there, charging through the nearest row of stalks, crashing into him, pinning him back against the clearplex. “Where's the gun, Brookie-boy?”

Though he couldn't see the man's face, could barely see at all with the thick forearm pinned against his throat, Brook recognized the voice as Gi, one of Echo's more constant associates. He felt the man patting him down with his free hand, and flinched as he touched the pocket with the transmitter in it. It was difficult to breathe, much less talk. “Just a bluff, Gi. Didn't know who you were.”

Gi seemed satisfied and lessened the pressure, though he kept Brook against the window.

Brook decided to take the initiative. “Where's Echo? Why the rough stuff?”

“Somewhere safe. Things have gotten pretty hot around here for us, and Echo decided it was time for a - security review. Make sure you weren't followed, or any other such frag.”

“I'm clean, Gi, you can see that.”

Gi nodded. “Yeah, seems like it.” He took half a step back, straightened the front of Brook's shirt, then stepped back again. “No hard feelings, Brookie-boy.”

Brook restraightened the shirt, and decided that the garment was never going to hang right again. “Yeah, if you'll just stop calling me 'Brookie-boy.' Name's Brook, and I like it.”

“Suit yourself. I got a message for you from Echo.”

“I got a message for her. Next time, bring her message in person.”

Gi frowned, his face a blue mask barely visible in the moonlight. “Some advice. You be careful who you order around. She may have let you put the make on her, but she's a powerful lady, a dangerous lady, and she'll be more so before she's through.”

“But until then, she still needs favors. Cut the gorf and tell me what it is this time.”

“She needs a ride starting in thirty hours, something with armor would be good, for a one-way haul.”

“What?”

“This one isn't coming back, or at least, not soon enough to make a difference to you. Color it gone.”

“I can't do that. Tell her I can get her a Scout for a day, maybe two, but that's it.”

“Look, I don't negotiate here, I just deliver the message. She says come through, I suggest you come through.” He smiled, and it wasn't pleasant. “Otherwise, it could be bad.”

Gi turned and walked away back through the cornfield, leaving Brook to curse the night.

# # #

Axen sidled into the back row of the dim gallery that overlooked the Ping-Pong table and made some show of watching the tournament going on there. He glanced over at Zek, who was munching from a bag of some orange snack-food.

Zek saw Axen eyeing the bag and tilted it toward him. “Carrot puffs. Want one?”

“Not if a meteor just hit the last Agridome on New Terra.”

Zek shrugged. “You're the one who keeps insisting on these secretive meetings, Elder. You could just come to my office like anyone else.”

“That would be too,” he searched for the right word, “obvious. The less we're seen together, the better, especially considering what I have in mind.”

“You've got a location, then?”

“I expect to shortly, but then, I don't think we can afford to wait on that. I want all the pieces in place when the time comes.”

“Time comes for what? I told you, Axen, even if you can prove the existence of this 'resistance base,' even if you can pinpoint it for me, there isn't much we can do. Even with the Masters' spy blown, we can't just unilaterally move against them.”

Axen nodded. “No, you can't, and if you reveal the existence of this thing in an open Senate meeting, it will change from a treasonous act into a subject of debate. But right now, it doesn't exist, and that can work to our advantage.” He waved a hand at the players at the table below, the ball flying back and forth with blinding speed. “That's why we're here rather than your office. I'm convinced that the Masters are going to use their base to stage a preemptive strike against the Plymouth Gene Bank. You can't stop it, but maybe I can. I'm going to offer you an out.”

“I don't understand.”

“We can't destroy the base if it doesn't exist. How could the Masters raise an official protest if the base doesn't exist? They can't.”

“Destroy their base?” He laughed. “With what, Elder? Are you going to go club them to death? I certainly can't allocate forces to go after them. If I could, I wouldn't need you.”

“But you're on the weapons development committee, Zek. You've been working around the clock to develop the new turret for the Tiger chassis.”

“That's classified, and I know better than to ask how you found out. But what's your point?”

“Back on Earth, Zek, they had a very useful term. It was called 'plausible deniability.' Point being, a vehicle under manual control normally will leave no record of its movements, and new weapons, well, new weapons need testing.”

# # #

Brook had arranged to have the Scout left outside the Structure Factory's far airlock. He'd left the arranged door unlocked for Echo, and hoped this time she actually showed, not one of her goons. He leaned on a railing trying to look casual, and watched the unoccupied assembly machinery below running through a self-repair and maintenance cycle. Frag if he was going to let Gi rattle him.

He heard the sound of boots on metal grating and glanced up. Echo was walking purposefully toward him up the catwalk. She stepped up next to him and adopted an identical pose leaning on the rail. “Floor show's kind of dull tonight. You've got the item?”

“It wasn't easy.”

“I didn't ask for it if it was easy, Brook, I just asked for it. I need it. There are some very important things going on, and I need to be able to depend on you.”

He hung his head. “Yeah.”

“Then you got the vehicle, no return?”

“I have a Scout waiting outside the emergency lock at the bottom of the stairs.” He hesitated before making the lie. “No return.”

She was silent for a time, just watching the preening of machinery on the factory floor below. “I can tell when you're not being truthful with me, Brook. If that Scout isn't back in two days, you're going to be in a lot of trouble.”

He hoped she wasn't as perceptive as she pretended. “Okay, true.”

“I'm not without my own resources, Brook, and I'm not above checking on you. Now, want to tell me why?”

He squirmed. “You said you needed it badly. I figured I could come up with a cover story by the time they noticed it was missing.”

“Brook, I'm going to assume that was a noble gesture on your part, but it's also a stupid one. Drawing attention to yourself, or to us, doesn't serve our mutual needs. I need this vehicle, but not at the cost of ruining our plans.” She turned and studied him carefully. “I think I have a solution, Brook. We've put you through a lot lately, and you've proven yourself reliable - to a fault. I'll take the vehicle, but you're coming with me.”

He stared at her blankly.

“There's something I need to show you, something I owe you a look at, since you helped to make it possible. And that way, you can drive the vehicle back in plenty of time.”

“What about you?”

She just smiled. “I'll have my own ride. You'll see.”

This wasn't what he'd planned, not at all. “I'll need to go back to my quarters, arrange some off-time.”

She waved her hand. “Done. All taken care of.” She took his hand and led him toward the steps down to the lock. “This is an exciting day, Brook. You're going to see the Masters' secret army.”

# # #

Axen looked unhappily at the irregularly dotted line on his ClipCom. The signal from the transmitter was coming in loud and clear. The problem was, he couldn't get in touch with Brook to find out exactly who or what he was tracking.

He glanced around the Garage and watched the last worker go on break precisely as scheduled. Three test model Tigers were lined up in the first three bays. He sealed the visor of his spacesuit, slipped his keycard out of a front pocket, and walked toward the first Tiger.

The hatch opened immediately when he ran his key over it, and he lowered his feet into the opening and then slipped inside. The short, narrow space pushed his knees up and in, and barely gave him room to pull his elbows in.

He slid down a little farther into a semi-reclining position, giving just enough room to pull the hatch shut over his head. The emergency operations console swung down in front of him, and the screens and pads lit, giving him enough light to look around and examine the bare-metal coffin he'd just climbed into. The compartment was designed for functionality, not comfort, and it certainly had never been intended for cross-country trips. Unlike most vehicles, it lacked even an emergency life-support system, and so he'd have to spend the entire trip sealed in his suit.

He activated the manual controls, and directed the Tiger out of the Garage. Fortunately, the on-board Noesis computer could handle the precise steering. All he had to do was use the console to tell the vehicle where he wanted it to go.

It rumbled to life around him and began immediately to move. It rolled out of the bay, turned on its axis, moved a few meters, then turned again toward the vehicle lock. He glanced down at the ClipCom balanced on his leg and set a route to follow at a discrete distance. He wondered again where Brook was, but it was too late to worry about that now. He'd soon be leaving Brook far behind.

# # #

Through the Scout's windows he could watch the southerly surface wind kicking up a layer of dust that almost concealed the ground. He flexed his fingers apprehensively and wondered where Axen was.

“Look,” said Echo, pointing off to their left, “we have an escort.”

The dust was gusting down the slope in that direction, and at first he didn't see it. Then he started to pick up a few edges and managed to build up a picture in his mind. He blinked to be sure his eyes weren't fooling him. It was an armored combat vehicle, a Laser Lynx if he wasn't mistaken. In place of the normal Eden colors and bare metal, it had been painted in a mottled gray and orange camouflage pattern, making it very difficult to see.

He looked Echo's way. “Yours, I assume?”

She nodded. “Cobbled together from bits of the wreck you loaned us and a second unit we recovered from the battlefield near the old mining outpost. It's not our only combat-capable vehicle, but it's our best.”

“I'm impressed, that you have it anyway, but I don't know what you expect to do with it. It's certainly no match for Eden's forces, or Plymouth's either, if that's what you have in mind.”

“Agreed, if we were planning a full-scale attack to cause extensive damage. But a well-planned, well-targeted mission to destroy a single item might have a chance.” She pointed out the front. “Look, there.”

Again, he didn't see anything at first. Then he made out irregular, shifting shapes, like rippling hills. It took him a while to realize that he was looking at a huge roof made out of camouflage netting. He could just make out a row of parked vehicles and a single structure, a Command Center, carefully painted in camouflage like the Lynx.

“We're very proud of the netting,” she said. “It reflects radar just like open ground, and has active thermal compensation to fool infrared. Believe it or not, the netting was tougher to come by than the Command Center.”

She leaned down to look up at the CC as they rolled around it. “It's stripped inside, but all we really needed was a building with independent power generation and life support. It's much better than our first base, which was a played-out Rare Ore Mine. That gave us a place to hide our people and collect materials. Then, during the last relocation, we used the confusion to cover our own construction project. By the time Eden was back up and running, so were we.”

As they passed the row of vehicles, Brook could see they had all been modified, crudely, and probably at a huge cost in labor. Weapons and armor plate had been welded on all over them. Rifles, along with their power supplies, salvaged from Plymouth Scorpions, seemed to be a favorite improvised weapons upgrade, though a ConVec had what appeared to be part of a Guard Post turret grafted onto its upper deck.

“We're ready to go, Brook. Today, or tonight, rather. We'll move out under cover of darkness, hit them from the less defended side, the one away from Eden, use the less capable vehicles as decoys, and ram the Lynx right down their throat for a surgical strike on their Gene Bank.”

“Echo, this is crazy. You've convinced most people that the destruction of Eden's Gene Bank was an accident, but you can't get away with this. You'll lose all your support.”

She grinned and shook her head. “We'll ride back to a hero's welcome. The people don't like the fighting, or hadn't you noticed that? We'll have saved them from a disastrous and pointless war to steal the Gene Bank. Our vision of the future will be assured, and we can resume moving forward rather than sideways.”

They were approaching the lock when the radio crackled. “Watch to command, we have an incoming, one kilometer out moving along the base of the east valley wall.”

Echo looked suspiciously at Brook, but said nothing to him. She switched the Scout's transmitter to its lowest power setting and set a scramble. “How many, watch?”

“Just one, but it looks like a heavy combat unit.”

“Frag. Command to nest, the alarm is sounded. Deal with the incoming, then the operation begins, now.

Echo swung the Scout completely around the CC and stopped just under the netting. She watched as a small swarm of suited figures emerged from the CC and climbed into the various vehicles.

He had to talk Echo out of this before they both got killed. “This won't work, Echo.” Oh, that was convincing.

“It's a Tiger, but it's only one Tiger. We outnumber it, and we know the terrain. Whoever is running it will have no idea what the capabilities of most of our units are either. No, I think we'll win easily.”

He watched as the various units, led by the Lynx, rolled out. The Scout took up a distant rear position, having no armor and no combat capability. Brook didn't think that would prevent Axen from blasting them though, unless of course, Echo's assessment of the situation was accurate, and he didn't want to think about that.

# # #

Axen watched the approaching blips on his targeting scanner. Too many. There was only supposed to be the one Lynx. Were they planning to attack him with unarmed vehicles? Ramming? It was unthinkable.

He swung the Tiger out onto the valley floor to give himself more room to maneuver and less chance of being boxed in. Armed or not, some of these vehicles were probably twice as fast as he was. A Laser cut through the blowing dust and an explosive bang told him he'd been hit. The dust would reduce the effectiveness of Lasers, but he had no idea what it would do to his unproven weapon system.

Time to find out. He powered up the turret and activated the path projectors. Behind him, through the metal of the hull, he could hear the massive volt-sinks powering up.

# # #

Brook, trying not to be obvious about it, scanned the little cab for a weapon. He eyed the emergency hand-pump for the door opener. The handle looked removable. Slowly he reached over to pull the pin that held it in place.

The radio chattered with traffic now.

“Squad Three, do you recognize that turret?”

“Negative. It's putting out some kind of beam though; it just gave me a little bump as it tracked past me.”

Echo smiled as she heard this. “It must be one of the new prototype weapons. That's how they got it out of Eden without drawing attention. This is being passed off as a test. Well, it looks like their super-weapon has a few bugs to work out.” Her hand tightened on the tiller. “Too bad there isn't time.”

Gently Brook pulled the handle free of the pump.

# # #

Suddenly, Lasers were coming from everywhere. These weren't combat vehicles. Well, never underestimate the human ability to improvise. The Masters had been rewriting the rules from the beginning. He felt stupid not to have anticipated it here as well.

Individually, the hits were nothing, but collectively, they were taking him apart, and he couldn't get away. He looked for cover, but the flat valley floor offered nothing.

The ConVec rolled in front of the turret. Moment of truth. The path projector's invisible beams swept along its flank and locked on. They'd barely feel those, but they were only to provide a path of least resistance for the electrical discharge that followed. Time to let loose Thor's Hammer. Fire!

Lightning arced away from the turret, danced around the vehicle for a moment, then faded. The turret's second weapon fired. Again, it narrowly missed the target, then flicked into contact, and sliced the side of the ConVec open like a ripe melon. Yes!

# # #

“Squad Two, I just got hit by lightning! Did you see that?”

“Negative, negative, sky is still clear.”

“Squad One, pulling back.”

Brook touched the bloody lump behind Echo's ear. She was still breathing. He pushed her aside so he could take the tiller. Things were looking better for Axen, and worse for him. He had to find some way of letting Axen know he was in the Scout, and get clear without the others giving chase.

“Squad One, it's a new weapon. Looks like he's having targeting problems though. Stay close and move fast, we'll wear him down.”

“Roger.”

In a few seconds, Axen would be surrounded again. If he was going to get his attention, it would have to be now. He slid the speed control forward and the Scout surged. He turned and headed right down Axen's throat.

# # #

Axen looked at the Scout that was coming toward him in a full charge, lights blinking. It didn't look armed or, for that matter, modified in any way. Suicide attack? But it could well be the Scout that Van Dozier left Eden in hours before. This could be an excellent opportunity to take her out of the picture with no political repercussions, maybe the only one he'd ever have. He locked the trackers and the turret began to spin.

Where is Brook?

The question popped into his head out of nowhere, but it made his finger pause over the fire control. He could have gone with Van Dozier, maybe even been kidnapped. The lights on the Scout flashed, and he wished that he and Brook had come up with some sort of code.

Oh well, too late now, and he had only one choice really. He made a final, manual adjustment of the targeting and fired.

# # #

The flash nearly blinded Brook, and he flew back in his seat, throwing his arm over his eyes. Even with them closed, the blue streak of electricity was burned into his retina, and he blinked to clear his vision. The Scout was still moving, and seemed unharmed. Targeting problem, he thought. I can use this.

He keyed the radio. “This is - uh - command passenger. We were hit. The commander is hurt bad. I'm going to make a run and try to get her to a hospital.”

“This is Squad Two. Negative, we have medical facilities at the base.”

“She's hurt bad. She needs a hospital. Out.”

He flipped off the transmitter, gunned the speed control, and blew through their lines and past the Tiger, which now had plenty of other problems to deal with.

Then a voice from the radio said, “Squad Three, something is wrong here. All units, your new priority is the commander's Scout. All units pursue and capture.

Oh, wonderful. They're all after me, and even if Axen has figured things out, the Tiger will be too slow to catch up.

# # #

The turret was in constant motion, firing as often as the volt-sinks could cycle. The targeting systems were self-correcting, learning as they practiced, and it was only a matter of time before he was hitting more than not. The tiny compartment began to heat up, and even through his gloves the back wall was hot to the touch. His suit air-conditioner labored under the strain.

Then he watched as the Scout roared past, and hoped that he was right. When he saw the other vehicles withdraw and give pursuit, he knew he was. Time to close the trap.

He had the ClipCom configured as a secondary control console. He tapped the icon that would start Tiger Two and Tiger Three out of their hiding places up on the valley rim and down to meet the Masters' convoy. That should slow them enough for his Tiger to close in on their flank, and then they'd be easily sliced to ribbons. There'd be time to blow up the base later.

# # #

Brook steered the Scout on a zigzag course down the valley, dodging Lasers all the way. He didn't see the Tigers until they were almost on him. He felt like a fly about to be clapped between a pair of giant hands. Then the Tigers turned and disappeared behind him.

He glanced at the rear-view screen. The convoy was in chaos, boxed in, lightning flashing across the valley floor like a carpet of blue fire. Once he reached a safe distance, he slowed, turned, and stopped to watch the show.

Somebody else was watching it too. “I'm going to kill you.”

Echo sat motionless, inert, in the other seat, but she looked at him through narrow, bloodshot eyes, projecting a malevolence he had never imagined. “I will kill you, and I will pull every gene sample ever taken from you and I will personally burn them, so there will never, never, be another you.”

Brook licked his dry lips and turned back to the battle. Axen was mopping up, but this was far from over. He thought of the data-slip Axen had given him so long ago, with personal information he said could be used against Echo.

It was time to read it. If it wasn't already too late.

Written by J. Steven York.


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  • Last modified: 2017/07/30 01:51
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