Looking at Monsters in the Eye

ACTION

On _______, 104-993 Imperial

A field tech team, using an apartment with a good view of the target area, synchronize and balances their chameleon-drone cameras for the coming spectacle.

“Don’t start the recordings yet: we still have to get our satellite into position… there it is! OK, we’re just waiting for the signal.”
“It’s nice to get combat pay, and still be a good ways off from the actual fireworks.”
“Just make sure your drones and droids are recording properly, and transmitting properly. Hold on… OK, there’s the code! Hit the switch!”

“Nothing on the visuals yet.”
“Keep your eyes on the skies.”

A few minutes pass.

A speck in the sky. It grows larger, then hovers. One, two more specks start growing. Men jump off the G-Carrier, and start floating down in hard-shell combat armour. Not government troopers: the official authorities can’t afford this off-world gear, not even the combat armour or G-carriers: and no one in parsecs can afford real battledress, proper G-belts and fusion rifles…

“You’re getting all this?”
“Visuals, smells, temperatures, encrypted transmissions. The works.”

The Tri-V screen in the room cuts to a newsflash: A major Vilani temple has been hit with a truck bomb, with dozens of casualties… a good deal more than just dozens. The pictures are ugly.

“There’s going to be payback for that.”
“What do you think is going on before your eyes? Focus on the drones – I want all of the data!”
“The men… they’re heading for the madrassa. They’re stuck in a corridor. Lots of lead flying around.”
“Protect the drones, and keep recording!”

An explosion in the sky.

“Didn’t know the locals had good ground-to-air missiles.”
“Everyone’s got off-world friends here!”
“That’s expensive ordinance – I don’t think they’ve got more than three rockets or so. When they switch to RPGs, watch that they don’t hit a drone, or start flying our way.”
“Lots of shooting – we just lost a drone. Two. OK, the Vilani have broken the choke point. Moving fast now. In cover, probing the gates. IED explosion. Two. Three… Four. Lots of smoke and shrapnel.”
“Pull up more drones from the reserve and second line.”
“Do the Muslims know what’s going to happen, if the Vilani breach the gate?”
“Yeah. They know.”
“Mortar fire. The Vilani have another team floating in… one of those men are in trouble. Flaying…flaying… limp now. Dead in the air.”
“Guess?”
“I think they got something in the heat exhaust, so the soldier cooked in his armour. Can’t see how they did it: I’ll have to go over it in detail later.”
“Could be just a bad malfunction.”
“If they pulled that off, the locals have some serious off-world help. I haven’t even heard of that stunt outside of the Rim War fronts.”
“Another one down – blown apart, the old-fashioned way. OK, the rest of the, – call ’em Team Two – is on the ground.”
“RPG fire is dying down. The G-carriers are going to start making strafing runs soon.”

On the Tri-V: shrieking women. Bodies large and small, uncensored on local TV. Lots of young Vilani men, carrying guns, about 10 minutes too late to protect their people.

But not too late to extract vengeance, in the tradition of the Empty Quarter.

“The Empty Quarter: The Sector that God Hates. I’ll be glad when I’m rid of it.”
“Sir, you said something?”
“Nothing. Any moment at the gates?”
“No… but Team Two is probing, keeping cover. Not much fire. I think they’re looking for a gap in the sensor net and auto-turret arcs.”
“Have they spotted us?”
“No – they’re looking for TL 8-10 commo/noise, not TL-14-15…. I think they found a gap.”
“This is going to get real bad now.”
“The first team is a bit larger now: about two squads worth.”
“Got drones on both teams?”
“How did Team One beef up without us seeing it?”

Heavy auto-cannon and laser fire begins racking the madrassa from the G-carriers. Small arms from the madrassa: the occasional RPG launch from the ground, quickly shot down by G-carrier anti-missile lasers.

“Lot’s going on at the same time…the AI-Aide says that the reinforcements came through by breaking walls of the residences, avoiding overhead surveillance.”
“Did we get recordings?”
“Only bits and pieces of visual – nothing direct, all inference… but nice, clean heat signatures. It looks like we can filter out the sound too.”
“Do it later, focus on what’s going on now.”

BOOM.

Loud enough to be heard directly in the apartment… and across the city.

“TALK!”
“Team One tried to storm the gate… but they missed a bigboy explosive dug in there. Lost a couple of drones too, bringing in three from the second surveillance line.”
“I can’t see a thing visual, but IR shows four men down. The survivors are pulling back, defenders pressing hard. RPG fire – looks like HO-CA 12’s, anti-personal armour.”
“Not enough punch to pierce that stiffened armour.”
“But it’s going to bounce them around – and a broken neck’ll do fine.”
“Team Two is through!”

Silence.

“Don’t flinch away! Get everything they do! Everything on camera!”
“Got it… got more drones onsite – they’re breaking up, spreading through the building. Killing everything and everyone.”

The thin screams of children and teachers can be heard, slipping through the explosions and the gunfire.

“The defenders are trying to break off – Team One is pouring in fire, giving chase! The Muslim guards can’t break off – driven to the rubble – facing Team One again!”
“If the Vilani stick to form, it’s only going to take another five minutes before all the kids and teachers are dead.”
“You’re still recording?”
“Every demonic minute of it.”
“Get everything. Miss nothing.”
“The defenders are trying to break away again…”

On the Tri-V: “We are getting reports of heavy fighting at Ismali Madrassa. There was a huge explosion, that you can see on the screen now…”

“ANVIL!! Team Two has got behind the defenders! They’re being torn apart!”
“Any civilians got away?”
“YES!”

The first sound of joy since the assault started.

“I can confirm eight – no, nine – kids got out. AI-Aide says we got recordings of another three that escaped. Even two more, if the infrared & sound works out.”
“So Team Two couldn’t be in two places at the same time, after all.”
“Less than 100% success? Some really pissed Vilani are going to lie in bed tonight, gritting their teeth.”
“Eyes on the scopes – we ain’t done yet.”
…but just two minutes later…
“Its all over now. No defenders left. G-carriers coming down to pick up the soldiers.”
“When they leave, hit the lights. We have what we came for.”

POSTSCRIPT

“Who’s getting the data?”
“Kiguma is the agent we’re working with, and Bank Sooraj Ujjval’s handling the escrow and verification for us.”
“I’ve dealt with both before. Who’s Kiguma working for this time?”
“Which narrative, you mean? After the editing, the clean-up, the artful deletions? Kiguma ain’t talking, so I don’t know, and I really don’t care, so long as the money’s good.”
“And who won the battle?”
“Probably the Muslims. The loss of a madrassa, a few dozen teachers, and a few hundred children in return for maybe seven, or eight dead Vilani battledress? More than one Islamic field commander would love to make that kind of trade.”
“Thanks for reminding me how much I hate this sector.”
“You’re welcome.”
“It’s like some moral hellspawn zone, created solely to poison your spirit and kill your soul.”
…a pause in the talk…
“You don’t think the Vilani can make back the losses?”
“Not easily. They got assets, but the big-picture focus is on protecting the Vilani on the Rim War fronts. This backwater sector is way down the list of priorities.”
“So things are only going to get uglier over here.”
“On world? Yes: it’s going to be money vs numbers. Tens of thousands dead instead of tens of billions, but the hate’s as pure and as hard as ever – just mini-sized.”
“I don’t think it’s going to jump off-world, though. In this neck of the woods, most worlds are focused on the pirates that threaten all, not on horrid local scuffles. This business won’t get the interstellar chain reaction it used to.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Everybody hates the pirates, and the media can only harp on one enemy at a time. Blood makes headlines, and the pirates shed more of it – and aren’t picky on whose blood it is. A more profitable narrative, that makes for more viewers and more sales.”
“And war needs money as fuel, as well as men and hate. The Solomani Rim has all three in spades, but the cash factor is lacking over here. So the big fighting and bloodshed should burn out soon enough, leaving only the seething but powerless malice behind.”
“Hooray… I guess.”

Later, off world, after the payout.

“Kiguma never lets you down!”
“Never doubted it. Still looking for more work?”
“I’ve been speaking to some Ikonaz friends. They like our style, and are willing to pay full passage for all of us to go to Ikon.”

Long whistle.

“Now, THAT’S a system I’ve head of before. What kind of work?”
“New gear for us: lots of TL-14 stuff, but equally split for Vargr and human hands. We’ll also have to handle optics meant for colourblind Vargr eyes. It’s going to take some time getting used to, but I told him we’ll manage.”
“Thinking of bringing on a Vargr techie?”
“After we cross the border? Definitely!”
“We should get one over here: knows Anglic, knows Imperial tech and methods.”
“Not many can handle our tech specs. And having a Vargr teammate in the Six Sectors is just begging for trouble. Nah: it’s easier to get talent in the Republic, and buy some translation gizmo.”
“Working anywhere near a killing ground?”
“Now, that’s a stupid question.”
“Give the man a break! You know the offer’s more training and cadre than blood’n’guts!”
“The Republican Emissaries is interested in our work, and wants the details no one writes about. And they’re willing to pay us real money to get them.”
“Enough to shut the shop?”
“Yeah. If things work out, it’ll be our last job together. Everyone cashes out.”
“And get as far away from the Empty Quarter as we can!”
“Well, Ikon is still in the Quarter… but only astronomically. In every way that matters, it’s like a whole different universe. Like an Vilani-culture Imperial Core World, but with extra Vargr flavouring.”
“You think you’ll stay there after the Emissary work?”
“They have the cash, I have the time.”
“You’re never going home, are you?”
“I’m a Traveller. What do you think?”

“That was a nasty business, back on _____. Do you think things are that bad at the Rim battlegrounds?”
“The galaxy’s largest race war? With all the money and technology the Imperium and the Confederation has? Probably a good deal worse.”
“Well, I haven’t heard of many worlds being glassed: it might be fuelled by racial hostility, but both sides want those rich worlds intact. That’s gotta stand for something!”
“Where love and justice fails, greed and self-interest stand in the gap.”
“Sometimes. But that’s an ugly cludge, where decency and humanity and honour should be!”
“I’ll take what I can get, if it keeps people alive.”

About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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