2949-03-30 – Tales from the Service: Bennington’s Token
When Colonel Rhys Bennington approached the hastily-fortified holding cell in sublevel four of his facility, the four armor-suited Marine troopers and two scowling Naval Intelligence agents guarding the door snapped to various halfhearted degrees of attention. It bothered him that his own F.D.A. Soldiers weren’t being trusted with the containment of Hamlinson Bay’s most important prisoner, but orders were orders, and the Intelligence team which had swept into the garrison brandishing vague orders stamped with the highest levels of Admiralty authorization, tying Rhys’s hands even though he remained the putative superior officer of every one of the spooks who’d invaded his domain.
Even if that were not the case, Rhys wouldn’t have expected them to salute smartly for him. Intelligence and the Marines, along with everyone else in the Confederated military complex, looked down on the Frontier Defense Army as a slapdash, bastard service inferior to their own, an expedient born of a bad war situation and a desire to put millions of exuberant Frontier youths to work doing something to stave off unrest.
On his darker days, when he was punishing the practice of obscure cultic rituals among his garrison, Rhys might have agreed with them, but he was too proud to admit it now. Before the F.D.A., he’d been a militia commander on Adimari Valis, and he was, unlike most of the F.D.A.’s conscripts, armor-suit certified. Many of his junior officers had similar militia experience, and most of the rank and file were, if not experts in infantry tactics, at least handy with a weapon, rugged of constitution, and intimately used to rambling through potentially dangerous alien ecosystems without stepping into, waking up, or pissing off anything liable to eat them. They might be fractious, superstitious, and irregular, but they were determined, savvy, and curious. Rhys knew his men – and the millions under arms with the F.D.A. elsewhere – were capable of doing their part to stop the Incarnation’s march across the Coreward Frontier, if they were given half a chance to do it.
“Mind if I talk to our prisoner, gentlemen?” Rhys pointed at the door. He hadn’t spoken more than two sentences to the woman known as Yianna since the day she’d arrived, thanks to the rapid response of the Intelligence team and its Marine muscle. After she had marched into the Lookout and announced herself to him particularly, he’d escorted her back to base and performed a perfunctory interview. He'd also, at her request and direction, assisted in disabling the main transmitter in her cranial implant in a way she suggested would tell her fellows – fellows who even at that moment remained at large on Håkøya.
The shorter of the two Intelligence men – Rhys had never bothered to learn their names, nor they his – put his hands on his hips and adopted a blocking position. Rhys couldn’t help but notice a thin cut on the man’s left cheekbone that hadn’t been there the previous day. “For what purpose?”
“She hasn’t said a damned word to either of you, has she?”
The taller Intelligence man started at Rhys’s question. Though the superior in stature, he was the inferior member of the team in both intelligence and, apparently, rank. “How in all hells did you know that?”
Rhys wanted to tell them how obvious it was since neither of them was in the room interrogating Yianna at that moment, but he figured they were the intelligence officers, not him – they would figure out on their own. “She surrendered to me, and talked to me. Still can’t imagine why, but we should take advantage of it.”
The two Intelligence men frowned, then drew back and discussed the question in whispered tones. Their dark uniform coats with blue trim annoyed Rhys; that black cloth seemed to gleam in a way that made the drab brown uniform coat of a F.D.I. officer, patterned after the most common pattern of militia uniform used on Frontier worlds, look shabby and dusty even when just as clean. Those were uniforms which had never been smudged by the dust of fallen worlds like Adimari Valis or Mereena, nor the toxic ichors of faltering Margaux, but somehow Naval Intelligence found ways to cover its favorite sons with medals and accolades all the same.
The taller of the two officers shook his head and turned back to Rhys. “You have fifteen minutes, Colonel.”
Rhys dipped his head in acknowledgement, then approached the door as the Marines readied themselves to fill the doorway with railshot in the event of an attempted escape. The shorter intelligence officer keyed in a command on his wrist computer, and the armored door the garrison machine shop had helped assemble for Yianna’s cell – a double-layer of translucent corundum shielding spaced by a two-inch plate of armor-alloy – slid slowly to one side. There was a second door beyond, this one a simple metal sheet covered in a corrosion-resistant ceramic laquer and wired is. with dozens of alarms.
Rhys waited for the outer door to close behind him, then pushed open the inner portal. Yianna’s cell had been an unused store-room before she’d arrived, and a few fabricator-plywood furnishings sat on a rectangle of beige carpeting identical to that in Rhys’s office eight levels above didn’t do much to disguise this.
Yianna sat on the lower bunk of the bunk-bed installed for her use, and she barely looked up from the page to examine her visitor. In the hand not occupied carrying the book, she twirled a gleaming knife Rhys knew she wasn’t supposed to have, and his blood ran cold at the sight of it. No doubt, he and the other officers at Hamlinson Bay would have been destined to bleed their lifeblood out around such blades in the event of an invasion of Håkøya.
“Your new friends out there are damnably unpleasant.” Yianna still didn’t look up, but she shifted to give Rhys a place to sit next to her. “Where’ve you been, Colonel?”
Rhys stood in front of the woman, briefly at a loss for words. Eventually, he decided how he could explain the situation. “Security down here’s tight since you arrived.”
“Can’t imagine why. If the others realize what I’ve done, that big door and four Marines won’t stop them.” This possibility didn’t seem to faze her; the observation held no more emotional attachment than a conversation about the weather.
Rhys eventually decided to sit down, keeping his eyes on the effortlessly-twirled knife. “You can tell I’m not one of them in disguise, already here to clean up your mess?”
Yianna closed the book and set it aside. “Maybe you should be the intelligence officer, not those two outside. Yes, I can tell.”
“How? Maybe we can-”
Yianna twirled the knife one more time, then held it out in front of Rhys, its grip extended toward him and blade balanced delicately between her fingers. “Take this.”
Rhys hesitated. He’d read the intelligence reports about what an Immortal could do with ferromagnetic substances. With almost as many nanomachines inhabiting her body as living cells, Yianna could sculpt metal with a touch. Naval Intelligence guessed that the so-called Immortals could live perhaps twenty years after their technological transformation – eventually, the extensive modifications to body and mind would catch up with them. A primitive part of his brain wanted not to touch the products of this sacrifice, lest his own humanity might become tainted as well.
“It’s a pocketknife, Colonel.” Yianna shrugged. “My calling-card. We both know that if I wanted to hurt you, I had plenty of time.”
Rhys nodded and reached up to take the knife by its handle, finding the grip perfectly contoured to fit into his palm. Faint etching traced vaguely floral patterns up the centerline of the slightly curved blade. “Why are you giving it to me?”
Yianna smiled, not entirely unkindly. “You’re a decent man and a good officer in a shit posting, Bennington.” Rhys noticed a glint of metal on her wrist under the tight-fitting dark uniform she’d been wearing since her defection, and watched as a rivulet of metal flowed up into her hand and formed into another knife not quite exactly like the one he now held. “Maybe they’ll pin a medal on you before this is over and maybe they won’t, but the least you deserve for your damned thankless job is a souvenir.”
After hearing that his name was mentioned in our feed for the second time since the onset of this war, Colonel Rhys Bennington reached out with some of his own perspective on the strange person of Source Yianna. Even he refused to say whether she remains on Håkøya (but I get the sense from Naval Intelligence reports that she has been taken safely out of the theater of war). All the other Immortal agents on Håkøya she could identify, eight in total, have been rounded up, but the system remains in high alert in case there are more.
Yianna's presentation of a nanofabricated blade to Col. Bennington seems to have some significance, as I have seen evidence from other Incarnation sources (such as Source Gabriel) that passing on a blade to a compatriot is a sign of deep respect and even affection among them. This is probably similar to the Ladeonist symbolism of a token known as a Callahar (Tales from the Service: The Cursed Callahar), a blunted blade commonly given to friends and foes for various purposes.
[N.T.B. Col. Bennington’s description of rivalries between the service branches is something I’ve been seeing in our inbox a lot lately. Duncan prefers to paper over these issues, but they worry me more than damned Nate ever could. If the Fleet, Marines, F.D.A., Naval Intelligence, Fleet Recon Auxiliary, and other services can’t figure out how to work together as one family, we haven’t got a prayer of stopping these bastards, but if they can figure it out, Nate doesn’t stand a chance.]