Thursday, 6 October 2016

Book Two, 1 - A Cold Warrior's Coffin

The Young Blood.

By Matt Murdoc & Rachael Hill.

Book 2.   - The Lessons of the Ages.

Chapter 1

A Cold Warrior’s Coffin.

My first assignment in the field was as the handler for an informer on the colonised gas mining planet of Jentekka.
Feudal house dissidents were good assets in those days.
Such good days too. All filled with blood, cloak, dagger - and sophisticated subterfuge. - The spice of life, for spies and assassins like us - I’m sure you will agree?
The man was a fire warden in the capital city of Ashenborn. The planet is a dry and bush ridden place with a constant risk of fire brought about by the ever present natural gas which seeps through the surface layer and which can be ignited by even the most modest spark.
He told me that the most valuable thing in his house was a box of letters and pictures from his family and friends which he kept under the table by his bed. If a fire struck his home and he was forced to flee at short notice – that box was the one thing that he would grab and take with him to safety. He would forsake everything else, to save a collection of valuable keepsakes and memories, which could never be duplicated, bought or otherwise replaced.
I learned a good lesson from him.  - A person is the sum of their most cherished and indeed, their most regrettable experiences.
I say this to you, remember it well. - We must do away with the box.
Make your own mind - the Ark of your being.
We are too quick to remember the things that make us great - and to forget the things which made us fail. To be hard, is to be scarred.
Only the knowledge, acceptance and preservation of our failures will allow us to move forward with any degree of strength or success. A harsh, simple truth – but essential.
Will you stand with the flock, or run with the pack?
Life is one long knife fight - and as we all know,
- Winners bleed and losers - gush.

An'ewat Jentha Korbandin – Notes from the field.

It had to be fast and it had to be invisible.
Aethian was three hours into his slip send journey from Gia, through deep space-fold, to planet Sobek. There, he was to meet with his estranged father at Castle Du'at.
His clandestine but unyieldingly uncomfortable mode of transportation allowed him eleven hours of still, silent contemplation.
Lemin Tarapel, had given him an antique, slip-send equipped, battlefield evidence cartridge to travel in undetected. This capsule would fold through the space of the ancient shipping lanes in the Leuranthian system and be lost amongst the gulf of aeons worth of intergalactic ice, dust and debris.
It would be auto piloted, and was quite genius.
The old evidence cartridge was effectively a smooth, five meter by one meter, pressurised plasteel coffin, with a space folding unit attached to it's rear. Aethian’s journey through space-fold would be undetectable to any enemy observer.
Inside, he was wearing a grey, tight fitting, five layer bio sustenance pressure suit and modular helmet - which provided independent life support within the crate.
The Cadmium layer inside the tube, where Aethian was laying down on a gurney in the frozen fold-space vacuum, would mask any signs of the life within.
So there he lay, like a corpse, travelling the gargantuan distance from Gia to Sobek – in an ancient container that was originally designed to return the remains of dead soldiers home from the battlefields of old.
Only Tarapel and Aethian were wise to this method of transport and their plan to utilise it. Many a defector or footlocker full of espionage had been sent from point to point through the labyrinthine expanses of space lanes via this method before, but not for many thousands of years - It was “Old Teck”, long forgotten. – Elegantly elusive.

The mission itself was simple, -
“Bring me my An'ewat!” Those had been Enik's orders.
As Aethian was clearly the new section chief for the situation surrounding Brindi's defection, the introduction of his father, An'ewat, to the table was a threefold problem for him.
It was not about pride. Pride during a cold war, could get you killed - and it was generally a character flaw found in young agents who had died at the very moment they had realised their mistakes.
No, the three problems Aethian had with this mission, had been determined with the application of sheer logic, and his years of experience in the field.

Firstly, Aethian's father was the supreme power at the top of Stellaris Militia Intelligencia. His father's career was the stuff of legend but these days, there was a good reason why he was serving out his directorship from planet Sobek. - An’ewat, was old.
He was experienced beyond any other Knight - no doubt about that - but his body simply couldn't take the field work anymore.
The glory days and spoils of the Taurid campaign were long gone. Only the medals on the old man’s chest remained. For An’ewat to attempt field work again now and after so long - seemed foolhardy at best.
“Why is Enik bringing my father in over my head?” Aethian muttered to himself as he shifted subtly in his pressure suit, causing the thin, hard layer of ice covering him to shatter and float around the gurney in a whisping cloud of sparkling dust.

The second problem was obvious. If An'ewat had to leave Castle Du'at, who would guard the guards? Who would monitor Central? Who would head the command structure?
Enik had given no clue as to who would undertake the directorship in the absence of his father. Some bloody specialised Gobot no doubt. Machines. Damned machines! - So easily tampered with.
Aethian began to feel a dull cold ache in is shoulders and buttocks. He only had around one fist's distance, Ten Centimeters at the most, space around his entire body to move within the whole length of the slip send cartridge. His core was warm but his extremities were getting extremely cold.
He longed to be able to sit up or turn over but this old coffin was far too unforgiving to afford him any such luxury.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The last problem. Issue number three, was the death of Aethian's mother. This was a personal matter - but no less loaded with potential to negatively influence the mission ahead.
He still didn't have all of the facts surrounding her death. She had decided to stop taking Shem bread as an act of protest that was never fully explained to her son - and she was dead within a month of her withdrawal.
- WHY?
What had driven her to effectively, commit suicide?
Why hadn't she contacted Aethian?
Most unforgivably of all, WHY, had she been interred in her tomb in the family vault for nearly a year, before An'ewat deemed it “time” to tell Aethian, about his dear mother's passing?
Too many questions, each holding answers that may very well lead to bloodshed between father and son.
If it had been up to him, Aethian would never have spoken to his father again – but now, the conscience of the blade demanded it - just as much as his orders from Lord Enik.
The loop was closing and in a matter of hours, Aethian would be serving an order to An’ewat  that might very well lead to a conflict of interest. And what then?
This was counter-productive thinking, but still true nonetheless. - Unavoidable.
Sleep. “Get it while it's going!” That was the old soldiers maxim that seemed to fit the remainder of the flight. Aethian began a descending concentric breathing mantra and allowed himself to slip into a state of alpha sleep for the rest of the journey.

The interior of Aethian's coffin had lit up with the familiar green light which confirmed the completion of the space-folding process. He opened his eyes and reached down to the rip rail at his hip. He twisted it and pulled hard. The pressurised lid of the transportation cartridge was blown off into a black night's sky, before landing with a crash some fifteen meters away.
The torrential rainstorm outside, was clearly to be the only welcoming party that Aethian would receive. Nobody knew he was coming anyway, but it would have been better to have arrived in warm daylight than on this dark stormy night.
He sat upright in his now wide open, frozen, and steaming container and relished the flood of blood that finally rushed into his movement starved muscles. It was almost painful as his extremities began to warm up again but the liberation was a welcome feeling.
He reached behind his helmet and pulled up the ring locking mechanism in the pressure suit at the nape of his neck. A whoosh of escaping compressed air allowed the helmet to pop smoothly out of it's housing, and Aethian immediately smelled the familiar fresh grassy scent of the Du’at forest.
He threw the helmet into the cartridge beneath his feet and carried out the same clasp releasing procedures on his gloves, boots, and waist rings. The thin layer of ice that covered the entirety of his suit was now cracked and melting as the cold compressed steam from the tube began to warm up. As the container's temperature adjusted to it’s new environment, Aethian found he could see more clearly.
He began to feel the leftover cold thawing liquid seeping through his single suit to his skin as he jumped out onto the leaf and bark covered forest floor of planet Sobek.
There didn’t seem to be any space fold atrophy in his limbs. - Aethian had arrived safely.

The tall evergreen forest surrounding him was just the same as he remembered it from his first days assigned to Stellaris Militia Intelligencia - but the cold stormy night in which he now found himself, was not what he was expecting.
The wind and rain was cutting against him now that he had shed the warm survival suit, and he was forced to adapt quickly to the shock of the harsh elements of this landing site.
As if to punctuate his doom ridden thought processes about the impending meeting with his father, a deafening crack of thunder roared down from the clouds, followed by an intricate and blinding bolt of lightning which lit up the previously dark sky and forest, affording a clear view of the dominating black edifice of Castle Du'at on the nearby hilltop.

After spending three minutes on stretching and breathing exercises to regain full control of his body, Aethian stripped himself naked in the rain and grabbed his kit holder from the footwell of his transport cartridge. He reached into a pouch and retrieved, chewed and swallowed a wafer of shem bread. He immediately felt fully revived and alert.
Then he quickly pulled out a fresh set of clothing - single suit, boots and tunic, which he hurriedly dressed himself in. Finally, he armed himself with his two poniards at his belt and wrapped his hooded robes around himself. With another bolt of lightning and its booming crack of thunder, Aethian steeled his gaze through the night and the pouring rain, along the dark path ahead leading to the gatehouse. Beyond that, he could see the shimmering, dimly lit glasslike portcullis at the other side of the Castle moat.
A huge dark form momentarily broke the water's surface in the distance and then disappeared beneath the murky depths once more.

“Gods below!” He whispered. It had been so long since he had been there, he had almost forgotten about the aggressive, genetically engineered beast  - a giant freshwater Megalodon, which lived to keep a deadly guard beneath the waters of the Castle's moat.
Not many things had ever stirred thoughts of fear in the old spymaster’s mind - but the thought of that vicious abomination and it’s many enormous teeth, still made his stomach squirm.  
Aethian took a deep breath, grimaced, shook his wrist and opened a coded call com with a bleep.

“Castle Du'at? - This is Commander Aethian Jentha Korbandin!” He shouted through the roaring wind and rain into his wrist pad.
Another booming crack of thunder rang out around him followed immediately by more brilliant white lightning. The cold rain began to pour down upon him even harder.
Then the reply came back -  “Yes…,  - YES... SIR! - Du’at central here - receiving. - Your code is confirmed - SIR! - We were not expecting you?”
“You weren’t meant to be expecting me boy! - I’m a fucking spymaster!” Aethian shouted.
“I have just arrived at the south forest path by slip send! - I am here at the behest of Lord Enik himself! - Tell the Paladin Commander to meet me at the drawbridge gatehouse! - Now! - And someone needs to secure that damned fish before the bridge is lowered!”

Aethian shook his wrist once more to close the com channel, wrapped his robe tightly around himself, pulled the brim of his hood down level with the tip of his nose, clenched his fists  - and began his march towards the Castle.

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