2949-07-19 – Tales from the Service: The Incarnation Masquerade 

Anise Kerr shook her head as the prisoners staggered out of the lift, their guards none-too-gently hauling the Incarnation conscripts forward two at a time. Berkant had once been the most laid-back, easygoing planet in the Reach, and it had only taken one small Incarnation raid to change lackadaisical local militiamen into grimly uncompromising jailors. 

The local constabulary had been hauling in Incarnation stragglers for weeks, but the bedraggled, underfed soldiers who the enemy had been forced to leave behind on Berkant’s surface were hard for Anise to hate. They were no more hardened killers than most of the Frontier Defense Army, and they knew nothing of any use to anyone, least of all themselves. 

If they had come to the world with the good sense to know when they were beaten and throw themselves on the mercies of the locals, most of them would have found Berkant settlers openly hospitable even to enemy combatants, but Nates only had good sense when they were programmed to do so. Their indoctrination told them that Confederated civilians were backwards, dull-witted people, armed to the teeth and only too happy to shoot at any outsider, and that indoctrination had created its own reality when those same Nate soldiers had attempted to subsist on fertile Berkant by plundering and robbing the outlying settlements near their arrival point, the Kardos Bluffs military outpost. 

“Twelve this time, Captain Kerr.” Gallagher, Anise’s liaison with the local militia, set his helmet down on her desk, his big marksman’s rifle still slung over his back. Gallagher had led the most recent series of sweeps personally, and Anise had to admit he got results. “No officers again.” 

The lack of officers among the Incarnation personnel abandoned on Berkant hadn’t been the only strange pattern. Despite the apparent disorder in Incarnation ranks following the unexpected Frontier Defense Army counter-attack, the troops left behind at Kardos Bluffs overwhelmingly enlisted ranks. Only five officers, all junior, were counted among the bodies, with none taken alive. Of the Immortals initially reported to have participated in the Spaceport sabotage and the initial assault on Kardos Bluffs there was no sign; these elite soldiers had either made it to the landing craft, or melted into the Berkant population without attempting to stick with their leaderless troops. 

The heartlessness of Incarnation tactical doctrine would have shocked Anise, if she hadn’t spent nearly a year reading reports from Margaux. The average Nate soldier was eager, skilled, capable, and entirely expendable at a moment’s notice. Officers, whose implants carried more comms equipment and who were permitted to see more than the tactical situation in front of them, were a bit less expendable, but only a bit less. The only lives that seemed to matter to the enemy were those of the Immortals and the senior officers, presumably because of the resources sunk into the high-tech implants both of these personnel classes carried. 

Shuddering, Anise thanked Gallagher and cleared one of her slate computers. As with every batch of prisoners, she’d question them all, and if she learned anything, she would write it up for the planet’s head of Naval Intelligence. 

The last pair of prisoners exited the lift, pushed forward by their militiaman minder, and Anise saw something. She wasn’t quite sure what it was that seemed so wrong about the mop-haired youth barely old enough to be out of tutelage, but something told her this was not like the others. Waving Gallagher to follow, she intercepted the pair and their guard. “I’ll take this one.” 

The guard’s eyes darted between Anise’s Naval Intelligence uniform and Gallagher’s face, as if looking for permission. Eventually, he nodded and casually rapped his baton on the back of the young man’s legs, sending him toppling to the floor. “All yours.”  

As the guard and his final prisoner marched after the others, Anise knelt and helped the prisoner up. “Sorry about that.” With his hands bound behind his back, the young man was no threat; Gallagher’s militiamen knew how to disarm and nano-purge every prisoner as if they were an Immortal. “I want to talk to you, soldier.” 

“I’m not talking.” The young man shrugged off Anise’s hands as soon as he was back on his feet. 

As he turned away, Anise spied what it was that had caught her eye across the room. Motioning to her burly shadow, she grabbed the young Nate infantryman’s head and turned his face toward herself. “Is that so?” 

Though the prisoner tried to struggle out of Anise’s grip, Gallagher grabbed him from the other side and held him firmly in place. 

Anise smiled, reaching up toward the implant curling above the young man’s right brow ridge. All the enemy soldiers had the same model of implant, in the same place, installed in exactly the same way. She’d seen thousands of those little counterhuman augmentations since the start of the war – and this was the first time she’d seen one crooked. With a deft motion, she snagged her thumbnail underneath the metal and tugged. 

Since Incarnation implants were fused to the skull and had components both inside the bone and outside it, a normal unit would have had no purchase where it met the skin for her nail to catch onto. This one, though, came free easily, trailing long streamers of some sort of adhesive goo. It wasn’t fused to the young man’s skull – it didn’t even break the skin. 

“Hey, what are you-” The young man started to protest, but fell silent when his false implant peeled off. 

Anise gestured toward a corridor away from where the other prisoners were being kept. “Put him in solitary. I’ll be along shortly.” 

As Gallagher hauled the prisoner away, Anise looked down at the fake implant in her hand. Other than the convincingly blinking LEDs on its outer surface, the object seemed to be a solid chunk of dumb metal. She’d heard of youths in the Ladeonist underground on worlds like Maribel going over to the enemy when confronted by charismatic Incarnation agents, but this was different. The young man’s fake implant might have fooled the Nates for a few minutes, but he would have lacked the ability to participate in the ad-hoc person-to-person, implant-mediated communications which created such perfect cohesion among groups of Nates. Was the implant intended to fool the F.D.A or the Berkant militia instead? If so, to what purpose? 

With a heavy sigh, Anise tossed the clever disguise onto her desk and headed for the solitary confinement cells. 

Though the Raid on Berkant ended in disaster for the Incarnation several weeks ago, stragglers from their raid force are still being picked up in the Berkant hinterlands to this day. Anise Kerr, a Naval Intelligence officer working with the Berkant constabulary to process these bedraggled survivors when they are captured, reports an interesting phenomenon – a Berkant local youth pciked up in one of these raids wearing a fake Incarnation cranial implant disguise and a convincing Incarnation military uniform. 

Though not capable of fooling actual Incarnation troops, this disguise was sufficient for the young man to be taken as an enemy combatant by the militia who encountered him, and none of the other Incarnation soldiers pointed out the imposter to their captors. 

Nojus and I did a little bit of research, and found that fabricator blueprints for both the false implant and the uniform have been circulating on the datasphere here at Maribel for a while. Rumor on the dark nets is that when (if) the Incarnation comes to Maribel, they will not harm anyone wearing their uniform, and instead will draft them into the occupation force. Presumably, a similar set of propaganda has been circulating on Berkant as well; the poor deluded teenager who Captain Kerr discovered simply mistook the raid and presence of Incarnation soldiers in the wilderness around his family’s compound as a sign that it was time to play the part of a collaborator. 

I wonder how many on the planet quietly produced these disguises during the opening hours of the raid, only to quietly feed them back into their trash digesters once the Incarnation effort on Berkant failed. 

[N.T.B. - Too many. Far too many.]