2949-08-31 – Tales from the Inbox: Monty Crow’s Homestead

Despite the existence of a small number of Incarnation Immortals taken captive or changing sides since this conflict started, very little public information is available about the capabilities of these cybernetic monsters. Though we’ve cataloged encounters with them whenever Naval Intelligence permits, it is widely (and, I can say with certainty, accurately) suspected that Immortals are far more capable than these stories indicate.

The reason Naval Intelligence wants the capabilities of these enemy soldiers and agents secret is not clear, even to me. Evidently, they have a good reason, but aren’t willing to share even that.

What mystifies me (and most of the analysts I’ve talked to recently) is the Incarnation’s decision to employ as many as hundreds of these very sophisticated bionic weapons in behind-the-lines terror attacks on Confederated planets far from the front lines. The agents at Maribel and other systems near the front can at least conceivably worm their way into infrastructure that might effect the Navy’s logistics train; those spending their time on petty terrorism in Farthing’s Chain and other regions where there isn’t even a major link in Fifth Fleet’s supply chain to break.

As with Intelligence’s decision to keep the capabilities of the Immortals highly secret, there must be a reason for such a baffling decision. If anyone in this audience has any ideas (and would not be breaking Naval Intelligence directives to share them) Nojus and I would be interested in your thoughts, as it is pertinent to a story we’re hoping to publish soon.

This week, I’ve pulled the first part of a multi-part account from the responses to our story related to odd military goings-on at Botched Ravi. That world has been a refuge for those seeking to move beyond a fast-paced life for decades, and it seems some of this sort of Ravi homesteader are happy to tell stories of their own arrival on the world and the usually unsuccessful efforts of their enemies to appear as locals themselves in an attempt to settle old scores.

For what will become obvious reasons, the names of people and places used here are all pseudonyms chosen by the submitter, and I cannot verify the story’s accuracy as a result. It is at least broadly consistent with the sorts of confrontations Ravi settlers do occasionally have with their pasts, though this one seems to have become more violent than most.

David M. could tell the men standing on his broad synthwood-planked porch were bad news before one of them banged on the door. The pair were dressed like locals, with heavy dust-shedding cloaks, smart-glass goggles, and wide-brimmed hats, but they carried themselves like no son of Botched Ravi, adopted or otherwise.

Watching the pair through the eyes of a security camera hidden in the decorative scrollwork of the lintel, David waited on the off-chance they would simply go away. Outsiders on Botched Ravi were trouble, doubly so if they knew that and had bothered to try to blend in. The local posse would ride to David’s help if he called them, but they were minutes away, and the twitchy way the pair’s hands drifted unconsciously toward the smalls of their backs told him that they weren’t going to wait that long for him to open the door. While he waited, he drew and checked his side-arm, a rugged Volkov cartridge-gun which had for years refused to let the razor-edged dust of the world corrupt its simple, sturdy mechanism. No complex machine survived extended exposure to Botched Ravi - it was part of why David had chosen to live there.

The man at the door banged again, this time harder, while his partner scanned the horizon behind them. From the way the second man’s gaze switched between a few directions rather than scanning slowly across the dust-hazed horizon, David knew they had backup out there – three or more additional men who probably had high-powered weapons trained on the door. The cart they’d rode in on, one of Mr. Palumbo’s, might also conceal one more, hiding below the rails of the cargo bed. 

David decided to assume there were at least six, and that their caution indicated they knew who he’d been before he’d come to Botched Ravi. Slowly, to minimize the creaking of the house’s frame, he got up from his sitting chair and opened the desk drawer in the corner to collect an additional pair of magazines for his Volkov, which he checked and stuffed into the breast of his vest. He would have preferred to avail himself of the sealed locker in the basement where he kept the bigger and feistier souvenirs from his fifteen-T-year stint as a space pirate, but there wasn’t time for that now.

Fortunately, David had always known the day would come when either the authorities or a rival gang would pay him a visit. Had it been the authorities, talking might have at least delayed a confrontation, but he’d seen enough to know he wasn’t dealing with lawmen. The men were henchmen of one of his old rivals, one too cowardly to come in person, and it didn’t really matter which. David quietly tapped out a message to Sheriff Deering on a hardened communications terminal built into his study desk, then crept toward the door. The local posse might not be able to help, but they could at least help bury the bodies after the shooting was over.

“Mr. Montero, you in there?” The man at the door banged hard enough to rattle the sturdy synthwood panel in its frame, then gave the door a savage kick for emphasis. “Palumbo down the road sent us.”

David snarled at the mention of his closest neighbor. He’d taken a liking to the crotchety old man the moment he’d started building his homestead on Botched Ravi and would happily torture the ruffians to death if any harm had come to him. Palumbo liked to be left alone most of the time, but he’d been happy to lend David a wagon and Ravimule to help move supplies and finish his house. They spoke rarely, and only about the three Ws - weather (which was always bad), work (by which unending and unpleasant toil human life persisted on Botched Ravi) and women (in largely theoretical terms, since no eligible female lived within a hundred klicks of them). Like him, David got the sense that Palumbo had come to the world to escape an unpleasant past, though it was one perhaps less unpleasant than David’s own.

“Come on, Mr. Montero. Let us in. Storm’s coming, and we’ll be cut to ribbons out here.”

This, at least, was probably true. There was always a storm coming on Botched Ravi, with wind kicking up the razor dust into swirling cyclones capable of stripping human flesh from bone. Most of the local wildlife had thick, hardened skin, but even those creatures adapted to surviving the storms rarely chose to go out in them.

“Go away.” David called, then quickly darted into the next room, keeping low to avoid showing the movement through the windows. “This isn’t some bed and breakfast.”

The two men on the porch responded by kicking the door again, this time harder. David reached one of the alcoves in the main hall and knelt there, lining up sights on his Volkov with the center of the door. The alcoves, with sturdy metal plates built into the walls, had been intended as firing positions from the moment he’d built the house. The bearings that gave motion to automated weapons turrets quickly failed on Botched Ravi, and electronic booby-traps set outside quickly corroded, so he’d always known the only way to defend his homestead would be with a gun in his hand.

When the door finally gave way, David unloaded the big handgun’s magazine into the first man who stepped through. At least one of the bullets struck home – the man staggered back two steps.

David felt the floor below his feet tremble as the man collapsed, but he didn’t see it – he had already ducked back behind the metal plate protecting his alcove to avoid return fire from the other man. A burst of railgun fire cracked down the hallway, shredding the wallpaper and plaster of the walls but failing to penetrate the sturdy metal behind them. The second man was already shouting something, probably demands for backup, but David couldn’t make out the words over the sounds of ferroceramic slugs chewing his home to pieces.

The spray of projectiles ceased, and David could hear the second man moving. After swapping to a fresh magazine, he peeked out to find the second man ducking behind a big chair in his front parlor. The other saw him as well, and rewarded his appearance with a fresh spray of railshot, but David had once again ducked into cover. 

Unlike the alcoves in the hall, David knew his furniture couldn’t stop gunfire. Rolling out of cover, he fired a pair of snap shots into the chair, then dove for the opposite alcove. Though he was rewarded with a cry of alarm, another spray of shot chased him into cover. If he’d scored a hit, it had probably been a flesh wound.

“Give it up, Monty Crow!”

David hated hearing his old pseudonym. He had left that life behind a long time ago. If his neighbor heard them shouting it like that, he’d be run off Botched Ravi even if he did survive. “Monty Crow is dead, you damned idiot. Hesperus blew her reactor. Lost with all hands.” It was with just such theatrics that he and his former crew had purchased their retirement five T-years before – they'd picked a fight with a rival outfit, then blown up their ship after engaging in a close-range exchange of railshot and laser fire, letting that hapless band of brigands think they’d won an upset victory. Perhaps one of the others had slipped the secret – David would have to find out who and figure out how to go see to them without the trip looking suspicious to his new neighbors.

“You really think anyone buys that?”

The man continued, but David heard the crash of reinforced armor-glass being smashed behind him, and knew he didn’t have much time before he was surrounded. Diving prone into the middle of the hallway, he emptied the rest of his second magazine into the legs of the man crouching behind the chair. This time, he scored more rewarding hits – the self-expanding bullets blew huge holes in the meat of the man’s legs, and he went down screaming and gushing blood.

David didn’t bother to reload and finish the rival pirate off. He got up and sprinted toward the steep set of stairs leading down into the cellar, where he kept all his bigger toys. If the kill-team was stupid enough to follow him that far, his biggest problem would be explaining to Sherriff Deering how the resulting massacre could be considered self-defense.