2948-08-04 – Tales from the Service: An Immortal’s Whims
This week’s entry continues the story of Berardo Loncar which started last week with Tales from the Service: Behind Enemy Lines. Mr. Loncar’s adventure on an enemy-held world is the only window into the life on an occupied world that we have – with most of the civilian population evacuated, it seems strange that Adimari Valis is, in his telling, so heavily patrolled and garrisoned. Perhaps garrison duty is how the Incarnation uses its greenest troops, or perhaps there are more surviving gureillas than most Confederated estimates suggest.
The Immortal jogged through the forest that covered the valley floor at a maddeningly fast rate, her precise footfalls mocking Berardo’s own stumbling, tripping, and crashing. Wherever she intended to take him, he knew he wasn’t going to make his intended launch window – and he didn’t want to until he could be certain to lift off without her aboard.
After a few kilometers of travelling in beeline fashion through the wilderness, in flagrant disregard for the network of footpaths and roads Berardo knew crisscrossed the valley, the Immortal stopped suddenly, holding up a hand to suggest her charge do the same. Breathing heavily, he halted a few paces back and leaned against a tree. He wanted to know where he was being taken and what for, but he also knew that irritating an Immortal could be a fatal mistake, even for someone believed to be an ally.
A rumble of engines overhead marked the passage of a squadron of Incarnation “Repine” ground-attack aircraft, their tailless delta-wing shapes seeming to skim just above tree level. They were flying northwest – almost on a line, Berardo estimated, between the numerous landing-fields of the spaceport and the hills around the Xenarch digs, where Confederated partisans were rumored to hide. He hoped the partisans – which in practice were probably little more than a gaggle of terrified civilians from the outlying settlements – were well hidden.
Returning his attention to his surroundings, Berardo was surprised to find the Immortal pressing herself against the bole of a gnarled tree, eyes turned upward to follow the Repines as they vanished over the distant hills. It looked almost like she was more afraid of these air-breathing gunships than he was. Berardo shook his head. Immortals, though ostensibly human beings, were paragons of their masters’ counterhuman goals – while connected to the Incarnation’s datasphere, their implants kept their heads full of orthodox Incarnation dogma, and they were not permitted to remain outside datasphere range for long. Any appearance that this one might be a fugitive from her comrades, he decided, was just that – an appearance.
“Not far now.” The Immortal waved Berardo onward and began moving forward once more at the same impossible pace.
Staggering to catch up, Berardo decided to hazard a single question. “Where are we going?”
“The town in this valley. It is called Halloway City.” She didn’t stop to answer, and her voice was just loud enough for him to hear.
Berardo knew that, of course – he had met his opposite number at the outskirts of the humble “city” to collect the package his employer had paid so highly for him to retrieve. That time, he had paralleled the main road into town, and had thus approached from another direction.
Thinking about the package, Berardo winced, remembering that the prize which made all the risk worthwhile now lay on the dorsal surface of Smitten Jenny, protected only by the camouflage netting over the little ship. He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if he lost it.
When the outlying buildings loomed into view through the tops of the keyring-trees, Berardo’s guide halted once more. The buildings were of course all Confederated Worlds prefabricated affairs, and Berardo thought they looked like humble warehouses, but the Immortal seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time scanning their silhouettes.
“You will proceed to that structure." She pointed to one of the outbuildings ahead. There is a sentry. Tell him that you have information from Katia.”
“Katia, that is your name?”
Berardo expected to regret the question, but the Immortal just nodded. “Correct.”
“Do I get the information they’ll want?” He didn’t dare ask why she wasn’t doing it herself.
“Just answer their questions.” This time, a touch of annoyance entered her voice, and Berardo knew he had exhausted her patience. He gave his best version of the Incarnation chest-thumping salute and sauntered off through the undergrowth, looking immediately for some way out of the errand without Katia noticing his disappearance.
Unfortunately, he rounded a stand of thornferns to find himself in direct view of a sentry leaning idly against the rear door of the building he’d been sent to. The man took notice, but didn’t leap into a more alert stance, suggesting back-door visitors through the woods were not altogether unusual.
As purposefully as he could, Berardo marched up to the sentry, offering another Incarnation salute.
“This is a restricted area, Comrade.” The man observed. That was true, but laughably so; Berardo knew the entire valley, and indeed most of the surrounding arid uplands, were marked as a restricted area by Incarnation occupation forces. “Let me see your ident chip.”
Berardo held out his arm, and the man scanned the chip, quickly glancing at the forged identity documents it provided. When the scrutiny began to drag on long enough for discomfort, he cleared his throat. “I have information from Katia. She-”
“Katia?” The sentry glared daggers at Berardo, no longer looking at the scanner-screen. “How does a collaborator agent just in from Maribel know that name?”
“She interrupted my small effort to help postpone extinction.” Berardo hated the Incarnaton platitudes, but he was able to echo them smoothly all the same. “I was of course happy to further aid-”
“This should not be discussed here. Go inside.” The sentry unlocked the door and gestured for Berardo to enter the dim interior.
With some misgivings, he stepped over the threshold. It was too late to run – he needed to see the mysterious errand through and then get away as best he was able.
Berardo's misgivings, as it turned out, were entirely too warranted. By the time he heard the rattle of the sling-swivel on the sentry's laser carbine, it was too late. The weapon’s stock came down on the back of his head, and with a crashing wave of pain, Berardo lost consciousness.