2951-07-05 – Tales from the Service: The Meraud Snooper 

Operation Landsman was two years ago, but evidently this remarkable success of Confederated arms did not end the use of Meraud as a prison world by our foes. 

Most of this account from a special intelligence agent who has returned from that world in recent weeks cannot be published for security reasons, but I wanted to bring you the parts of it that I could, because I do not think the horrors of the Hellship transports or the penal facilities on Meraud should be forgotten. The prisoners freed by Landsman have long since returned to their lives such as they can, but the Incarnation has many millions of our compatriots under its control. 

I am seeing rumors that the poor conditions of the Meraud labor camps are not the worst fate a Confederated citizen can find under Incarnation control, but I do not have any direct accounts or official reports to bring you about this, only rumors. Evidently the Navy is taking them seriously enough to send special intelligence agents to investigate, but for everyone’s sake I hope that what I’ve heard is nothing more than fanciful exaggeration.  

[N.T.B. - I've been around The Sprawl a bit more than Duncan, and I’ve talked to quite a few people, human and otherwise, who’ve had personal interactions with Nate authority. I don’t think the rumors we’ve been seeing are fanciful. You’ll hear far worse from the Cutters who reside in Sagittarius Gate; evidently their home-world has been under Nate control on and off for decades, so they have plenty of experience with how brutal our enemy can be.] 

As the wind began to shriek past Hadley McGuiness’s bubble shelter, she sealed the entrance flap and shivered reflexively, though the inside of the shelter was above twenty Celsius. With night approaching fast and a storm blowing down from the Olmo Plateau, she wasn’t going to get anything else done out there until dawn. 

After setting the shelter’s sensor perimeter alarm and altering the camouflage scheme used by its smart-canvas outer shroud to match fresh-fallen snow, Hadley removed her helmet and peeled off her sealed environment suit. Meraud had a breathable atmosphere, so the suit wasn’t really sealed; there was no atmo cartridge in the socket at the small of her back, only a small filter block. The suit’s excellent insulation and electric heating elements, on the other hand, were indispensable; even without a storm, night temperatures outside her little shelter could plummet to minus forty-five, and only the sunniest days climbed above minus ten. 

Hadley didn’t mind the cold much, but she did wonder how the world had attracted a population of almost one million colonists before the war. Its elliptical orbit did permit brief, balmy summers, but ninety percent of any local year was some flavor of winter. 

That the world had seen more than its share of action during the last few years was less surprising. Meraud had been occupied by the Incarnation several years ago, and that implacable foe had constructed large, well-defended prisoner pens on its forbidding surface. No doubt the cold climate had been calculated to reduce the risk of escapes and degrade effective resistance from anyone who did escape. 

Confederated scout detachments had discovered the camps after tracking prisoner transports to the world, and a surprise raid in force had liberated the bulk of the prisoners on Meraud and whisked them away, back to friendly lines and warmer climes. That remarkable operation had been two T-years ago. With the intervening occupations of Håkøya and several other worlds, no doubt the Incarnation had re-built its prison facilities and filled those pens with a fresh draft of civilian and military prisoners.  

Given the defenses Hadley had seen in orbit, Nate certainly still had something on Meraud to protect, but none of those orbital installations had detected her tiny ship as it had crept past. They were expecting another Operation Landsman, not an unarmed single-seater with radar-absorbing paint and a tiny ion-thrust engine. After all, what could one woman do to disrupt a penal system spanning a whole world? 

Hadley hadn’t come to Meraud to cut shackles and start prisoner riots, however. She had come to investigate concerning reports made by the liberated prisoners of two years prior – reports that Meraud was more than a brutal storage point for Confederated prisoners kept busy with meaningless work. 

With a storm blowing outside, though, Hadley’s investigatory work was thoroughly on hold. Visibility in Meraud’s chill atmosphere during the day could be several kilometers, but the cameras built into the security perimeter showed her a visibility radius quickly dwindling into the tens of meters. Even if the prison facility in a nearby valley was still doing something worth observing during the storm, she’d just about have to climb over its perimeter wall to see it. 

Hadley had brought a few diversions for just such an occasion, but she was in no mood for a holo-drama or an adventure novel on her slate. Something about being so close to several hundred prisoners housed in terrible conditions and forced to labor in the cold for no purpose made escapist fiction seem hollow. Instead, she stretched out on the sleep-pad that occupied half of the shelter’s floor space and listened to the wind howl outside. Would the Navy arrange another mass rescue of all those people she’d been surveiling these last few days? Could they even if they wanted to, now that Meraud was reinforced? 

The wind, of course, had no answers.