2948-03-17 – Tales from the Service: Ladeonist Roundup

Three days ago, the Navy finally abandoned the final effort to relieve Adimari Valis. While records are still being compiled, the estimate is that the battles in the Matusalemme system cost the lives of almost ten thousand Navy spacers and mercenary auxiliaries – and that’s just a count of the spacers engaged. Of the twenty percent of Adimari Valis’s population which could not or would not evacuate and the unclear number of local groundside defenders (including Jacob Borisov), no casualty figures are known, and it is possible none ever will be. 

Matusalemme’s relatively advanced orbital infrastructure (for its colonial population) fell into enemy hands almost intact and were not demolished in the last Navy surveillance recordings of the system. Perhaps the world will be relatively unscathed when it is retaken. 

This week’s entry was submitted in response to last week’s entry about local efforts on Maribel to catch Incarnation agents behind the lines. Evidently, there are counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence task forces assigned to this task on almost every major world in the Reach – including, if some of the messages I’ve received are correct, the Hegemony core worlds, which are about as far from the action as one can get. 

Because of their counterhuman augmentations and the support of many radical domestic Ladeonists, rooting out these saboteurs and spies has proven at least as challenging as forcing the enemy’s slippery Tyrant cruisers into an engagement on the Navy’s terms. Other than the Yaxkin City explosion some months ago (which still has not been confirmed as related to any Ladeonist activity or Incarnation agents), these agents, when operating far from the front lines, seem to mainly focus on soft targets with low security, which has maximized the lifespan of each agent or cell, but also limited the casualties and damage caused by their efforts. 

[N.T.B - For all that Duncan’s optimism has thicker armor than a dreadnought, there’s no path to retaking that world right now. As much of a nightmare as losing a colonial outpost like Adimari Valis is, that place is going to stay in Nate’s hands for a while. Any holdout pockets of mercenary or local militia forces on the ground are on their own – the Navy’s big guns aren’t riding to the rescue before they’re overwhelmed or starved out.] 

Commander Tal Vieth glowered at the line of grav-shackled prisoners in the security annex’s single basement cell. Of the eleven men and women his outfit had rounded up in connection with a local Ladeonist cell, he would have bet his entire retirement savings that one knew something that would lead his force to the capture of Agent Horus. 

Yejide Blum, Tal’s second-in-command, strode up and down the line of prisoners, twirling her joltwand and snarling so ferociously that he was beginning to think she might bite one of them. The other members of the counterinsurgency force stood their guard silently around the cell’s gravitic-shear door, helmet faceplates blanked, though Tal knew them well enough to suspect there was a betting pool being organized on a private comms channel. They knew to leave interrogations to the experts. 

“Let’s not play games.” Yejide hissed, turning around to pace the line once more. “Your lives were over the day you sheltered an agent of an enemy power. You’ll spend the rest of your lives in the worst damned military prison the Confederated Navy can find.” 

Tal discovered which of the prisoners was the leader, and which two were most likely to flip on Horus, before his subordinate had finished her dire pronouncement. As with most Ladeonist cells, these eleven were mostly the idiot children of local middle-managers, petty potentates, and bureaucrats, whose upwardly-mobile parents had failed their children. 

In three cases, their descent into the underworld of counterhuman revolutionaries might have been checked in adolescence, except for the intervention of protective parents calling in favors to shield them from the consequences for minor vandalism and such petty crimes. Now, he wondered if those same parents were proud of the monsters they had created – chip-headed freaks who tweaked their bodies and minds in the name of overthrowing the comfortable order that had created them. 

The previously-identified leader snorted derisively as Yejide passed him, and she whirled and raised the joltwand to his face before he could say anything. After a brief pause, surprised at the reflexes of his captor, he smiled. “You think you scare us? If we are useful to the cause, Horus will free us. If we are not, then you can only hold us until our final victory.” 

Tal thought back to the records he’d gone over. This leader, Sirius Twickley, was a gangly scarecrow with the bright eyes of a true believer, even though his body lacked most of the traditional counterhuman modifications. He believed in his cause, but apparently, he didn’t believe it enough to risk his parents noticing the changes and kicking him out of their opulent four-bedroom condominium near the city center. Other than spend two nights in a small-town drunk tank after an act of minor political vandalism, he’d never sacrificed anything for his cause – but he seemed only too happy to throw away the lives of his friends. 

“Horus is a coward.” Yejide’s snarl vanished, to be replaced by a sickly-sweet, condescending smile. When she smiled genuinely, Tal found the woman somewhat attractive, but when her mind was on business, she became like the rest of his unit – blankly stone-faced, expressing emotional responses only when they were useful. As effective as this was, it didn’t look good on anyone. “He won’t go after a high-security prison to rescue a few failed academics and worthless chip-heads. He used you and expended you when he needed to throw us off.” 

“We’ll be out of prison within a week of the war being over.” Twickley countered, and his voice carried no hint of doubt. “And the Navy won’t send us anywhere we actually risk dying before then.” 

He was more right than Tal liked, of course. As non-violent dissidents, even ones with nominal treason charges against them, the Navy brass wouldn’t risk the trouble their relatively affluent families would make if they were dealt with as harshly as they deserved. 

Yejide knew it, too. Tal saw the calculation working its way through her mind in the minute changes of her stern expression shortly before she flipped the joltwand over her hand and drove it into Sirius Twickley’s solar plexus. She must have used a low setting, because he screamed as he fell to the rough nanocrete floor – a high joltwand setting would lock up the muscles required to scream. Twickley was a lost cause. With a wave, Tal gestured for two of the masked men behind him to enter the cell and take the ringleader away. 

As Twickley, still screaming and struggling feebly, was dragged out, the eyes of the other ten flicked between Tal and Yejide. Several were nervous – they knew how much more agonizing a joltwand’s touch could be to a person with unorthodox electronics hooked to their nervous systems, even on low settings. They couldn’t know their leader was only being taken away to be held somewhere he couldn’t influence them – for his part, the gangly ideologue seemed to believe he was going to be executed. Tal hoped the fear of death might scare some sense into him, but he doubted that would happen. 

Before the grav-shear barrier reasserted itself, Tal stepped into the cell and laid a hand on Yejide’s shoulder. It was time to present them another path. “Your damned fool of a leader might be right.” He announced quietly, before Twickley’s screams had quite faded out into the distance. “If we send you to the tribunal, you might be out after the war is over. For your sake, I hope you aren’t. You’d be safer behind bars.” 

One of the younger Ladeonists, a girl of perhaps twenty years’ age, frowned. “Safer?” 

Tal turned to her and nodded. “Tonight there are six grieving families thanks to Horus. By tomorrow, it might be thirty. Treason proceedings are datasphere-searchable records by law.” 

Several of the imprisoned Ladeonists gulped or glanced at their fellows. They weren’t afraid of vengeful families of Horus’s victims, he knew – they were afraid of something far closer to home, and far more immediate. Their parents could not be lied to or spun into believing that they had been unjustly treated. 

“Now then.” Yejide shook Tal’s hand off her shoulder. “Let’s play a little game. The one of you chip-heads who leads us to Horus goes free, no questions asked. The rest go to the tribunal.” 

Tal nodded his assent and folded his arms behind his back. As he looked up and down the line of prisoners one more time, he wondered who would break first.