2949-10-12 – Tales from the Service: The Lady's Plunder
This week, we return to continue with another excerpt from the account (Tales from the Service: Arrowhawk’s Raiders) of Sergeant Cornell Santiago, a Lost Squadrons veteran who passed through Maribel some time ago. Though the figure of “Lady D” figures prominently into this and other stories he tells of his time with the Lost Squadrons, the official reports make no reference to any such person. Generally, Bosch and the other skippers refer to intelligence in the general sense in their reports. Sergeant Santiago had his theory as to who this was, but I suspect instead based on comparing Santiago’s stories to the official after-action reports that it’s an aggregate code-name for intelligence collected from cooperative and semi-cooperative prisoners.
I am aware of the rumors swirling around the Datasphere concerning an impending major enemy movement, but none of my contacts in Naval Intelligence or Admiral Zahariev’s staff seem concerned. By most estimates, there won’t be another Incarnation offensive until early next year. Most likely, if there is any truth to this, it points to another Berkant-style fast raid intended to disrupt the Navy’s movements and defensive deployments, but I tend to doubt even that.
[N.T.B. - I think Duncan’s wishful thinking is getting the better of him. With the Navy getting reinforcements steadily, the Incarnation either needs to pull more ships to this side of the Gap to match, or it needs to hit hard before those new forces are brought fully online to replace losses in the battles for Adimari Valis and Margaux. Ladeonist cells here at Maribel are probably giving them a good idea of what the Fifth Fleet’s capabilities are, so if they do wait, it’s because they’re bringing in forces at a faster rate than the Confederated Navy and the delay advantages their future victory.]
Sergeant Santiago swept his suit-linked railgun across the horizon as three of his men herded a half-dozen captives back to their dropship. The Incarnation outpost had been some sort of long-term research installation, totally unprepared for the sudden arrival of a trio of assault teams. Though the head of security had led his small team of guards in a desperate counterattack, they’d been obliterated in a flesh-pulping crossfire which even his cybernetically-inhuman speed could not deliver him from.
With them dead and no casualties among the Marines the scientists and technicians had been easy to capture. Even now, the rest of his men were stripping the facility bare of anything that might be broken down into raw materials or pounded into shape to replace failing components aboard Arrowhawk or another ship in the flotilla. There was supposedly no other threat on the planet, but Santiago knew he wouldn’t breathe easy until everyone was back aboard the cruiser and the facility was a smoldering stain on the planet’s pocked regolith.
“Sergeant, you’ve got to see this.”
Santiago rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. Buckland’s voice was confused and unhurried, so there was no excuse for not simply saying what he’d found. “On my way, private.”
With a deft motion, Santiago shouldered his railgun and spun on the heel of one massive boot to head for Buckland’s position on the other side of the plundered installation. He elected not to use his jump-rockets to bound there in an instant knowing that the nozzles were almost doubling up their manufacturer-recommended service lives.
Buckland and a Marine from Gamma Squad stood on either side of a heavy containment unit they’d presumably been carrying. The cylindrical module, built to keep potentially hazardous contents from contaminating their surroundings, seemed hardly worth carrying back to Arrowhawk. “What’s the problem, Buckland?”
“We were about to load this piece of junk. Apparently it got flagged by Lady D.”
“And?” Lady D., perhaps the most mysterious person aboard Arrowhawk, was never seen, only heard from, and she seemed to have Captain Bosch’s confidence. Some thought the pseudonym stood for a computer analysis program, but more likely it was a Naval Intelligence spook working as Bosch’s adviser without wanting to reveal their identity directly. It was no surprise that she might interfere with salvage and plunder operations.
“Well.” Buckland pointed one of his suit’s arms at the containment unit. “According to my HUD, these markings say the contents are contaminated by unstable nanotech. But that’s not the problem.”
The Gamma Squad marine shifted his feet uneasily. His several hundred kilos of armor-suit amplified the motion into a titanic half-step backward. “Bloody infinite hells, that’s bad enough. Sergeant.”
“The problem is, Sarge.” Buckland pointed to a set of dotted digital placards on the cylinder. “These are Naval Intelligence markings. Hell, this container says it was made back in the Core Worlds.”
Santiago moved close enough to let his own heads-up display interpret the digital markings. He saw exactly what Buckland had – enough Naval Intelligence “most secret” placards to scare away all but the most curious of prying eyes, and an animated icon emblazoned with “PRODUCT OF MADURAI - SIXTEEN CYGNI.” Though he was hardly a crack astrographer, he knew that anything from Madurai that showed up deep in the Sagittarius Frontier had come an anomalously long way.
“So yeah, that’s... weird. What do you want done with it, sir?” Buckland filled the silence as Santiago tried to guess how many light-years the strange container had traveled to wind up at a remote Nate research facility.
Santiago shrugged, then pointed to the Gamma Squad dropship. “Load it anyway. Slap a few fresh warning placards on it so nobody opens it until it’s away from our hardware.” Something about the container made Santiago as uneasy as the other two, but countermanding Lady D generally didn’t end well for anyone. “And hurry it up, unless you want to be the welcoming committee when Nate comes calling.”