2946-09-04: Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Raiders

We prefer to see the problem of outlaw raids, especially by Rattanai operations, as a thing of the past, but in some areas of explored space, they are still a very real threat.

The Frontier is, despite its reputation as a wild, freewheeling frontier, relatively safe in this respect; settlements are rarely raided by any belligerent force. Confederated space, thanks to the efforts of the Navy, is even safer; with the exception of the dubious events which took place at New Rheims, there has not been a serious colony security incident in main Confederated space since the Campfire War.

Where raids are still a real concern to the lives of settlers is the treaty-demilitarized zone, comprising the Silver Strand region and the coreward part of the Baiphus stellar group. Since neither the Confederated Worlds nor the Rahl Hegemony can patrol the region, small bands of Rattanai holdouts, who are by now second- and third-generation fanatics, still operate against the region's Terran-dominated settlements, both within the demilitarized area and in Hegemony systems within a few jumps of the boundary.

This submission comes to us from Jaska N., who reminds us why vigilance is the watchword of the Hegemony's outlying settlements. Statistically speaking, Hegemony settlements are still very safe - but attacks are common enough that it pays to be prepared. We'll be seeing more from Jaska in the future; his message contained enough material for at least two Tales from the Inbox episodes.

The support gun clicked loudly and spat out its empty magazine. Jaska watched it drop into the mud, wondering how many of the three hundred ferroceramic slugs it had contained a few minutes previously had found new homes in the tough flesh of Rattanai raiders. The fanatic xenosapients had made the mistake of leaving half the population of Vlastos Outpost alive the first time they’d come to kill, steal, and destroy – now, they were paying the price. A half-dozen of their number lay unmoving on the crushed pseudo-grass of the landing field, and several others, taking cover in the drainage ditch between the field and the settlement’s close-huddled structures, were surely wounded.

“Get me a new magazine at number two.” Jaska whispered into his comm. Someone had decided that, rather than leave ammunition with the tripod-mounted guns, that the bulk of it would be stored in the central armory and run out to the muddy earthworks by hand as needed. Supposedly, Mayor Stefano had worried that the raiders might seize the rapid-fire weapons and turn them on the defenders. Grumbling at the inefficiency of the process, Jaska picked up his carbine from the mud at his feet, shook the worst of the dirt off the weapon, then aimed it over the top of the larger, emplaced gun, watching for movement.

“Karley is coming out to you, two.” A cool voice from within the compound announced. Fortunately, the gunner at number three was still firing away, and the raiders were keeping their heads down. Jaska turned around to see a door open and a slim youth tumble out, carrying an oversized satchel. Karley was barely twenty, and Jaska was glad that the most critical task she’d wheedled her way into was the role of ammunition runner. She was Mayor Stefano’s daughter, unfortunately; nobody had the heart to tell the boss that his only child was a spoiled brat who couldn’t be trusted with even the simplest tasks.

Karley got to her feet and began sprinting – toward the number three earthwork bunker. “Wrong way!” Jaska called, shouting and using his comm simultaneously. The youth skidded to a halt on the muddy ground and turned around, sachel bouncing wildly against her side. Fortunately, boxes of ferroceramic slugs were far from fragile; even Karley would be hard-pressed to damage the ammunition.

Unfortunately, when the young runner was almost to Jaska’s position, the number three gun stopped firing, likely as out of ammunition as Jaska’s. Cursing, he hurled himself flat as a pair of bright green beams cut through the air above him. Scrambling up to the rough parapet of his muddy emplacement, Jaska fired back with his carbine, trying to keep their attention on himself, so the Rattanai wouldn’t focus their attention on Karley.

It wasn’t enough. One of the Rattanai started shooting at the mayor’s daughter. The first shot boiled the mud near her feet into a scalding blast, and Jaska watched her lose her footing, skid to one side, and fall flat on her face. Cursing, he fired a few shots at the attacker who’d downed her, though it was impossible to know whether or not he’d scored any hits. “Come on, Karley.” Jaska urged quietly into his comm. “Just make it here and they can’t hit you.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jaska saw the young woman rise to her knees, then fall flat again as another beam passed nearby. Scrabbling against the mud, she clawed her way toward the bunker, and Jaska did his best to force the raiders to keep their flat, wide heads down. A second ammunition runner leaped out of the compound and headed for the number three gun; Jaska saw him hit almost immediately by one of the Rattanai gunmen. He winced, wondering who it had been, but it wasn't the time to ask.

Finally, Karley rolled into the bunker, gasping. Jaska fired the last few rounds from his carbine and then turned back to lift her to her knees. “You’re not dead.” He observed, with mixed feelings. “Hand me a mag, and I’ll cover you for the run back.”

“The… sachel.” Karley whispered, terrified. Jaska realized too late that she didn’t have it anymore; she must have dropped it when she fell.

“You forgot the bag?” He hissed, then tossed her aside to peer over the parapet to where she’d fallen. Sure enough, a brown-grey lump sat in the mud, hopelessly exposed. “You’ve doomed us, you stupid girl.”

The Rattanai, sensing the slackening resistance, began to climb out of the drainage ditch, advancing cautiously through the persistent drizzle. Jaska wanted to shoot the mayor’s daughter right then and there, but of course he was out of ammunition.