tagSci-Fi & FantasyStarlight Gleaming Ch. 16

Starlight Gleaming Ch. 16

byTJSkywind©

Notes: Based on comments from Chapter 15, I want to make clear that the Kandikan family speak Vedan, a language ancestral to Hindi; they do not speak Hindi itself. Speaking the words or phrases used in the last chapter aloud, however, is not a good idea, as you will likely offend someone, as the words themselves are impolite in the extreme!

I was nearly done with this chapter when I started reading Rory Miller's book, Violence: A Writer's Guide, 2nd Edition. An eye-opener that demanded some revision of this chapter, and it helped me in understanding how Ranji would deal with things. And Benjamin Sobieck's book, The Writer's Guide to Weapons also proved its worth. Sorry for the long wait. Hopefully, it's the better for the re-write.

Thanks to my reader, gyfurune, who normally helps catch my mistakes. I haven't heard from him in a while, so I hope it's just school that has him distracted for the past few weeks. Any errors that slip through are my own.

* * *

FUBAR with rebar

Summary

Ranji has barely survived training as an Imperial Security agent. His projected training time has already taken four weeks longer than the ten he was told about, meaning over one hundred and forty days. The communication blackout during his training has left him feeling isolated, and disillusioned about the political infighting among the more powerful noble houses in the Empire. Saying goodbye to those he trained with was made even more bittersweet by the loss of Deedee Marrin, who saved his life several times, and at the end, at the cost of her own.

He is anxious to return to his family. While his is eager to see them, he is also a bit afraid that what he's endured has changed him for the worse. While he was at Sparantzlo being tortured between training as an Imperial Security agent, the rest of summer and fall have passed, and even winter nears its end.

But before he can go home and lay Deedee's ashes to rest, Ranji has been tasked by Itznacoco with an assassination, using his new sniper skills learned at Sparantzlo.

Ranji's family include Captain Janetta Tlacotli, interceptor pilot with the 233rd, assigned to High Guard War Base. Janetta is the love of his life. At Janetta's behest, the three women of her flight crew have become his lovers and part of Ranji's family: aviation mechanic and Second Sergeant Zinja Ba'lanchicotl, mother of Corporal Ixma and adoptive mother of Ranji's oldest daughter, Sisi; Corporal Ixma, who is the adoptive mother of Ranji's second daughter, Mina; and Janetta's E-Man, Sergeant Cholan Yakalme. The fifth woman in Ranji's life is his Personal Servant, the empath Calia.

Other members of Ranji's family are his father, the research scientist Arjun Kandikan, and his mother, Shanti. Styen Topangiti, the former fight master of Copán War Base and Ranji's instructor for several years, works as a bodyguard for the family. Bilan Monaycote, a man Ranji adopted as his brother, now commands the Ground Service troops protecting his parents, and lives with his wife and two sons within the Kandikan household.

Before he left High Guard War Base, Ranji was working to expand the protections of women, as part of his Unit Protection Order. The order forbade anyone from having to submit to an order to provide sex, and included family and dependents. While not effective outside his direct command, other units have begun adopting the same order. Part of that was establishing bus routes to transport people from place to place within the base, increasing not only their protection, but also their mobility.

Other people also on his mind are his aide, Corporal Sowitwee and his pregnant wife Nariya, and the people of his command, the 945th Auditing & Security Oversight, especially Sublieutenant Doyya Lovyanchiti, his Second, and senior NCO, Second Sergeant Chita Wanwari. When he left High Guard, attacks on Ranji, his family, and on his people were just beginning.

Compounding matters, during his long time away, Ranji was isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world.

* * * * *

The flight north to Defiant War Base was uneventful and quiet. A few rads further west, the setting sun glittered the Western Ocean.

As the twin-engine Albatross taxied to the terminal, I reviewed my orders again, before putting them away. Find and kill Field Commander Herroto Chatolklan of Imperial Security, formerly the base commander of Sparantzlo.

The notion of lifting a rifle and using its scope to draw bead on another human being caused me some trouble. My gun fights at High Guard had not been my first experiences with combat. A unit sniper often performed a valuable assist to the rest of the unit, taking out enemy soldiers threatening the team's survival, the main difference being the kills are at a farther distance. Look into the scope, line them up, and fire. End a life.

Most people have a skewed idea of combat, that both sides are aware of each other, charging into battle. Massed battles are rare, and the casualties of those encounters are high. In seizing territory, units move about in small groups, and when they encounter the enemy, it's from ambush. That's a cold, hard fact, and it ensures most or all of your team survives to return home. The down side is the enemy practices the same tactics, and in a matter of seconds, an entire unit can be wiped out. A score of men and women, all dead.

Stalking someone, though. It helped, I suppose, that the target, the human being was so distant. In this case, though, it helped that I hated the man I was assigned to kill.

Chatolklan had let Sparantzlo become the Seventh Hell, a dark and foul dungeon high in the frozen mountains where torture and brutality were the norm. Where screams for mercy went unanswered or worse, mocked and laughed at. Many recruits died, their bodies tossed into unmarked graves. Surviving torture is a harrowing experience. It cuts away at who you think you are, and reveals just how easily you would say or do things to end the pain. Lie, say anything to make it stop. Those who survived are invariably changed, and not very often for the better. And I worried that I was one of them; a man with a new darkness on my soul.

I had no problem with killing Chatolklan. No. Rather, the question was - would it be tougher the next time I was given an assignment? What if the next target was political? Or worse? A family or...

I took a deep breath. Not now. Deal with those issues later.

I had survived Sparantzlo mostly by gall and luck, I think. As base commander, Chatolklan was ultimately responsible for everything that had happened there. Stryker and his cohorts had killed seven recruits by torture even before our training started. There was a very real possibility they'd died simply because Stryker or one of the others just wanted to murder them. Who would challenge them about it if they did? Or that they'd gotten carried away, pushed too hard and inadvertently killed them. A few, I believed, died just because they were women. Along with the raw cruelty was the waste of it all. Lieutenants Daronu and Marrin had been in my command, and Marrin had been my Second, my lover, and my friend. Adding to hatred of him, during his last days there, Chatolklan had personally tortured me. Within a few hours, my screams had faded only because my voice had given out.

I'm sure that the only reason I survived was the sudden, immanent arrival of Itznacoco and his men. Chatolklan could of taken a few seconds and killed me. But he hadn't. Instead, he'd fled north to his family estate, leaving behind most of the others to face the surprise inspection without support. A coward's act.

Many of the Sparantzlo staff were subsequently replaced by people loyal to Itznacoco, and the practice of torture was ended. Whatever Itznacoco meted out to the guilty, I didn't know, nor did I care. Whoever is in command is responsible for what happens under their command. Killing Chatolklan would be payback for myself, for Deedee, and all the others, alive and dead.

Besides Chatolklan, there was Captain Stryker, Sergeant Charunt, and Corporal Belton. Stryker and Belton were dead, and good riddance! But, like a rat, Charunt had somehow escaped into a dark hole. I'd checked before leaving, and there were no records of his departure or his presence on the base. He'd just vanished.

After Chatolklan was dead, I planned on setting aside some time to find Charunt. Anyone capable of torturing another human being was more than capable of hurting little girls. And he had threatened to hurt and kill my Sisi and Mina. I wasn't going to hurt Charunt - that would make me as bad as the rest of them. But when I found him, I was going to stomp on him like the bug he was.

I shook my head. One thing at a time.

With my duffle bag over my shoulder, I stepped down the ramp and took a deep breath. It was spring and the sun was still out, but there was a bit of chill in the late afternoon air.

Adjacent to Defiant War Base was the city of Raydam, the capital city of Chuman State. Nestled along a large, sheltered harbor on the shores of the Western Ocean, it rivaled Tohingo in size. More than a quarter-million Imperial citizens lived here, keeping its seaport and manufacturing centers busy, day and night, selling and buying trade goods from far off lands like the Shingye Dynasty and the Tongwe States.

The air was salty, yet different from both Tohingo and High Guard War Base. Part of it was the locale, no doubt. But I'd noticed that the Ocean of Atlan by High Guard smelled and even felt different than the Inland Sea near Tohingo. Styen once compared the Ocean of Atlan as being like an old man, often cranky, and then said that the Western Ocean was like a middle-aged woman in her prime - sometimes giving and sometimes wild beyond reckoning. Even during the summer storms, the Inland Sea was considered docile in comparison.

Deedee's father was currently stationed here, at Defiant War Base.

In many ways, he was as bad as Stryker and the others had been. How could a father treat his own child like that? Rape her whenever the mood struck, and then offer her up to his superiors as if he were loaning out his vehicle? After years of such treatment, she could have been broken. Instead, she'd escaped and made her own way. My feelings for him were mostly anger. Deedee was gone. Nothing I did to him would change that. His rejection of her burned in my heart alongside the foul things he'd done to her. I had a job to do, and needed to stick to it. And, as much as I wanted to hurt him, it was something Calia once told me that settled things. That if I let anger fill my life... how did she put it? Ah, yes. Anger, like fire, is a good servant, but a terrible master; once it's free, it is eager to consume everything around you.

If opportunity presented itself, I'd take it. Seven hells, who am I kidding? If I could, I'd stomp the crap out of him. But unless and until that opportunity manifested, I needed to let it go.

Once I was through security, I thought more about my assignment. I only had vague ideas of what was supposed to happen after I killed him. If he was protected, his men would surely seek vengeance, while I intended to complete this mission and survive the experience. Preferably, without my identity being discovered.

The tersely written reports from past snipers had talked little of such matters, if they mentioned it at all. Was it as simple as doing the shot, then running like the dogs of hell were after me? Surely others had done this before? Why no backup? Why weren't the anecdotal reports more inclusive about preparation and denouement?

Itznacoco had sent me on this mission personally, believing it within my abilities. Still, I wondered. Book learning is important, and I did get some virtual training in the matter, and I'd learned a lot. But one of the many things Styen had taught me included the fact that being in the field, in the forefront of combat is different than planning it, different in ways both subtle and obvious. I expected my actual experience would make my current preparations seem juvenile, even idiotic.

Thinking about my training, though, also gave me a smile. One of real embarrassment. I couldn't count the number of times I'd asked used the word "clip" incorrectly. The sniper training had driven home hard the concept that ammunition loaded for firing was stored in a magazine. Full stop. Whether the magazine was internal to the weapon, detachable on a rifle, or stored within a pistol grip, ammo was loaded into a magazine. No exceptions. A clip might even be inserted into a weapon's internal magazine, but all ammunition was loaded into a magazine.

Sorry, Sergeant Tenayo, militia instructor, you were wrong. Pistol magazines were not called clips, and clips were not loaders. I wondered if anyone had ever corrected him?

Doyya and Sowitwee probably didn't know any better, but no doubt Yalcamara, my security chief knew the difference, yet she'd said nothing. Was it because I was a nobleman and her officer? If I wanted to be ignorant in front of everyone, she wasn't going to embarrass me. Though, she'd never corrected me in private, either. Not that we'd had a lot of normal, regular duty time together - so maybe if she'd thought of it, it had just been put aside until later, and later was pushed aside by yet another emergency demanding attention.

I took the military shuttle to the civilian airport. After locating a wall map, I found the storage locker indicated within my orders. Inside were keys for a ChoCac rented in the name of Ket Beelo. A long-term parking sticker attached to the keys. The accompanying travel papers, driver's license, and charge card had my face and Ket Beelo's name. There was also an envelope with two hundred credits in tens - the serial numbers appeared to be random - and keys to a hotel room, which according to the paper map included with the false idenfication, was just outside the airport. Along with it was a briefcase and a day-pack. Inside the pack were clothes, along with a pistol - a Caiman 35 - and single, fully-loaded magazine of twelve rounds on top.

At the customer service counter, I bought enough tokens to rent a locker for a week. I rented one several spaces away from the locker where I'd collected my false papers and information from. Keeping only my ID and personal charge card tucked into my boot, I put my own duffle bag into the newly-rented locker and pocketed the key.

On exiting the terminal, I paused, looking around me.

I was reminded again of how long I'd been away from home. I'd spent fully a third of a year in the underground mountain complex of Sparantzlo and its dangerous, mountain barriers while the rest of the world continued on without me. While I pondered all this, the late winter sun came out and shone down, giving a bit of warmth.

After the cold mountains, it felt good. Real good. So I sat down on a bench, closed my eyes and lightly dozed, soaking up the heat of the afternoon sun for more than an hour. When I woke, I felt the better for it, like I was at last coming back into the real world after a tumultuous and fevered nightmare.

I stretched, then got up and headed to the long term parking lot. It took a while, but at last I found the vehicle assigned to me. And right away I missed the modern vehicles. Not only did it require a key, the simple onboard computers did not interact with the driver.

Once inside the sedan-style ChoCac, I laid the briefcase flat on the seat beside me. The fingerprint lock accepted my print and opened. Disassembled in foam cutouts was a Tlokan LRS-12 rifle. The preferred sniper weapon by the Empire, it was very accurate to about sixteen hundred yards. Beside the rifle was a short magazine, filled with ten rounds of high velocity 8.5 mm cartridges. Included was a Suur 9xm scope and a noise suppressor. While a noise suppressor doesn't make you silent, especially from the side, it can confuse those receiving fire as to direction and distance, as that's where the noise suppression is strongest.

Of interest was the small sat-phone in the lower corner of the case. The mission orders gave instructions on who to call to confirm the kill or if I ran into trouble.

I closed the case back up and opened the day-pack and loaded the Caiman. A lighter weapon than I was used to, it was still a decent pistol. Once the magazine was locked in place, I pulled back the charging handle to load the first round, then put the safety on. Pack onto the floor, quickly accessible. Briefcase with the rifle to the floor beside it.

Hmm. No spare magazines or shells for either weapon.

I'd normally take several shots to get a feel for the weapon. But 8.5mm rounds for the LRS-12 were military issue. To get more ammunition, I'd have to go back and get some at the base armory.

Battery charge on the ChoCac was at ninety percent. The nano-charged paint on the newer models allowed the ChoCac to passively charge the batteries directly from sunlight, and even charge when it rained; the impact of the droplets converted the minute kinetic energy into electricity that the vehicle then stored. This one required a cable and time at a charging station.

I pulled out the paper map again. The nearby hotel was marked with a red star. And a line, leading north, to where my target was supposed to be located. I looked closer at the map.

Great. Field Commander Herroto Chatolklan was smack in the middle of a eight-hundred-and-twenty-seven square rad estate in the foothills of the Mamo Mountains. An estate that large meant security. A lot of security. Men patrolling. Possibly guard dogs, too. The three satellite photos showed me the terrain, and where his main dwelling was located.

I slid the orders into the day-pack, pushing it down the side, then started driving.

It didn't take long to locate the hotel. An older building, it seemed to cater mostly to travelers from the nearby airport. After I checked in, I went back downstairs and walked across the street to a diner, ate a hot meal and paid cash, after which I returned back to my room for a long, hot shower. The gun case went under my bed and the Caiman, safety on, went under the second pillow. After setting my alarm, I went to bed for a long rest.

Early the next morning, I checked out the rest of the day-pack. The clothes were my size, but I wasn't interested in wearing them unwashed. At the bottom, I found a night-vision-infrared headset in a carrying case and a hand compass. Useful.

I exercised, ate a leisurely breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and by oh-eight hundred hours, was on the highway heading north.

After an hour of driving, I stopped in the town of Leenaway and bought some gear at a hunting outfitters. Large backpack, canteen, fire kit, flashlight, field knife, hammock, travel blanket, first aid kit, hunting knife, extra clothes, travel rations - short term, freeze-dried food, not as durable as the MREs, but a lot tastier. I also purchased a heavier jacket and trousers, a hunter's rain poncho, and civilian hiking boots.

At a nearby bank, I withdrew two thousand credits from Ket Beelo's account, the maximum the automated teller would let me take out. After a bit of searching, I found a laundromat and washed all the clothes. Twice. The new ones and the ones provided for me. Some clothing manufacturers weren't too careful on the chemicals they used, so it was a good practice to wash them before wearing them to avoid getting sick or even dying.

I ate lunch, then resumed driving north.

Back on the road, another four hours of travel got me within fifty rads of the estate. I stopped at the town of Bisbee's Crossing, population two thousand three hundred nineteen. Maybe three dozen or so buildings, and more than half were residential.

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