Sacrifice Throw: Part 1
I'm pleased to announce the first installment of Sacrifice Throw, a nano-tech sci-fi ecological-political-military thriller from my friend Davy Krieger. He's a BOFH sysadmin, who is a pretty good writer, and I think his writing fits in nicely with content on igargoyle. This work is released under the Creative Commons.
Please leave comments with your feedback! I know Davy will appreciate it.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
SACRIFICE THROW: Part 1
By Davy Krieger
The clamor of raindrops on broad leaves slowed. Somewhere above them, the rain stopped on the top of the jungle’s canopy. The water never stopped falling from the canopy, but at times it slackened as lingering moisture trickled down to the ground, just in time to be reinforced from above by a fresh round of the incessant rainfall. Through the loam they trudged, wearily making their way below the crest of one of the countlessridges of the rainforest highlands.
The first man in the column raised his hand, and each soldier following halted, poised and alert. The second man knelt, and after a moment, the others followed suit. He waited while a figure from the middle of the column moved up. As they leaned close together, short-range commo gear found and synched to a randomly scrambling local network. The earpieces in their helmets clicked quietly to inform them that the connection was established.
“This is it, Ma’am.” The kneeling figure said.
“Thank you Sergeant. We’ll take it from here. Spread out and wait until we make our rendezvous. When I signal, get back to the patrol base. We’ll see you in three days.”
Captain Janice Garret broke the seal on her helmet and pulled it off. Her short brown hair was matted down with sweat, and steamed slightly in the jungle air. She stripped off her chameleoncloth poncho, slipped off the pack on her back and tucked poncho and helmet into the pack. She handed the pack to a soldier near her. Nearby, two other patrol members did the same, and walked over to the edge of the canopy next to Garret. Under their ponchos, the three of them were dressed in unremarkable civilian clothing. They kept their military issue needle-rifles with them as they stepped cautiously out of the foliage and into the verdant clearing beyond. Behind them, the remaining soldiers in the patrol faded into the underbrush along the treeline.
Blinking in the sudden bright light, they saw a nanocrete road at the base of the slope on which they stood, running through the valley underneath the rainline of the jungle. In the distance, they heard the whine of an engine working its way along the road.
“Can’t wait to get a shower. Feel sorry for those dirty bastards back there, nothing but mud and hang-leeches for them.” Said the larger of the two men. He was hard-eyed and bulky, but smiling as he spoke.
“Shut up, Jernigan.” Said Captain Garret. “They can hear us you know.”
Jernigan's grin widened. “Yeah, that’s the point, Ma’am.” He rolled his shoulders, and stretched his arms behind him, free of the weight of a full pack. He shifted his rifle into his hands as an open-bed truck hove into view around a corner of the road.
“It’s them.” Said the smaller man. “I can see Father Anthony’s sunglasses from here.”
Garret and Jernigan turned to look at him silently. Garret merely raised her eyebrows while Jernigan picked up his rifle and peered through the scope. “He’s right. Damn, how do you do that, Matanari?”
“Put your rifle down, Jernigan. Corso gets jumpy out in the brush like this,” barked Captain Garret.
Jernigan lowered his rifle and looked at the smooth, impassive face of Matanari, who was continuing to watch the advance of the flatbed. Matanari's sleek black hair was inexplicably neat, despite long days under an enviro-sealed helmet. They moved out from the tree-line to the side of the nanocrete road to intercept the truck. As it pulled abreast of them, it whined to a halt. The man in the passenger’s side of the two-seat cab stepped out. He was thin and hae ascetic features, and an aquiline nose. He was wearing sturdy work pants with a black shirt and clerical collar, and dark sunglasses, too large for his face. He
did not smile. “We should talk a little while, just in case we’re under a fly-over.” He said.
“Of course. Nice weather we’re having, eh?” said Captain Garret.
“Right.” Said Father Anthony, uninflected. “There’s a stash compartment under the seat on Corso’s side. I don’t ask him what he uses it for.” As he said this, Corso leaned out of the driver's side window and grinned.
“When we get about ten miles ahead, there'll be a period where we go under some jungle canopy. The road is handmade there, if you can believe it; apparently there was no way to get the nanobuilders through without crossing the jungle floor. Anyway, when we get there, hop out, and take the satchel out of the compartment, and stash your rifles.
They’re good and sanitized, it’s true – but too many of the insurgents are using needlers now. We can’t carry them in the city. There’s a change of clothes in the bag. Change into them and stash your dirty civvies before we get back out from under the canopy. Sattellite fly-overs have been more frequent after your raids last month, we have to be extra cautious. The security grid is still down outside the city, though.”
Garret frowned at the news. “The new guy is on site, right? He made planetfall?”
Father Anthony shrugged. “Don’t know, I couldn’t check discretely.”
Garret turned to Jernigan and Matanari. “Gentlemen, it’s into the bed of the truck with us. Apparently our luxury transport is unavailable.”
The three of them climbed into the back of the truck, and shoved around some of the tools and sacks to make comfortable sitting spots. Jernigan and Matanari affected an air of indolence, but sat opposite each other, and scanned the tree lines to either side carefully as the truck began making it’s way along the valley floor again. The ride was smooth, and the whine of the fuel-cell motor rapidly faded into background noise. The three in the back of the truck fought against the lethargic effect of the rocking truck-bed and high-pitched motor noise. They remained silent for most of an hour, until the truck
turned sharply uphill. Jernigan and Garret fidgeted in anticipation of jumping out and moving quickly once they were under the approaching canopy. Matanari was reactionless, except to peer pointedly up at the sky, trying to detect overhead satellites.
When the warmth of the sunlight was suddenly replaced with the cool moist air of the jungle that they had lived under almost without cessation for weeks, the truck halted and all three smoothly leapt out of the bed. Corso was already clambering down from the elevated cab, and opening a hidden compartment. He was wearing a dandy white suit made of a loosely-woven organic material, in a style typical of the city-dwelling merchants, managers and engineers for the Spiral Arms Trading Company. He handed
back a vacuum-sealed satchel to Matanari, and took the three needle rifles from Jernigan.
Matanari popped the seal on the satchel, and it expanded dramatically. Shirts and pants spilled out, along with several sealed packets. Without shame, all three stripped out of their sweat-stained clothing, broke open the packets and rapidly wiped themselves down with the self-dissapating swabs within. They put on the drab but clean and dry clothing they were provided. At the bottom of the sack were three slim pistols, which each took and stuck into their waistband. Corso quickly crammed the dirty clothing into the satchel, closed the lid, and pressed the evacuator. The satchel collapsed as the air was drawn out
of it, and when it was small enough, he tucked it into the smuggling compartment atop the needle rifles. He lowered the seat back over the compartment and ran his finger along the seal that would seal it, making it appear to scanners as a normal seatbench.
The three returned to the back of the truck, and Corso hopped into the driver’s seat, and proceeded as fast as the truck and terrain would allow through the canopy to make up for the lost time. The truck bounced and juddered over the uneven road surface, which was hand laid when nanobuilders were unable to find enough building materials in the molecular component of the loose topsoil to construct nanocrete. All over the planet, long stretches of road had been slowly grown by industrious nanobuilders, and laboriously built where the work was too complex, or too resource-poor for the simple molecular robots.
After several hours of travel, the truck pulled into the outskirts of San Percival. Shanty towns for the indigenous people who had come in from their villages out in the countryside were larger than the last time Garret had been into the city. More and more people were squeezed out of the scarce fertile areas by the encroaching Spiral Arms TC, and forced to seek whatever work or charity they could find in the city. A brown haze hung over the city. There was a metallic tang in the air that was noticeably different to
the three who had spent so long under the canopy with their guerilla fighters and native volunteers. The truck rolled past buildings which had been constructed of cast-off mining and shipping materials and poorly harvested softwood from the jungles. Meant as a temporary shelter, they had been inhabited for many years longer than their owners had originally intended. Children noisily chased an irregularly shaped ball through a dirt track running parallel to the road; clusters of men lolled under corrugated plastic sunshades.
Most were of the European ethnic stock of the original settlers, and few were darkly tanned as most offworlders were; who had melanin-producing nanofactories implanted before arriving on the harshly tropical world of New Carnavon.
My god, it gets bigger every year. Though Garret, as they rolled for nearly an hour through the shanty towns. If only they would do something for themselves. If only SATC didn’t have so many paid informants. The truck halted in front of a heavy barrier. Three guards in the grey jumpsuits of Spiral Arms, with darker grey body armor and helmets strolled up to the truck. All three guards had the pasty complexions of natives, indigenous men hired by the Company. One stood off at a distance, his lasrifle pointed vaguely in the direction of the cab. One had the single sunburst insignia of a sergeant on his collar, and spoke to Corso. “What’s your business?”
“Carrying factory downloads from the field. Datalink over in Mateo is down.”
“Who’re the indies?” The Sergeant said, aiming a sneer at the back of the truck.
“Dunno. Picked ‘em up walking along the valley road. Said their car broke down, but they were headed this way. One of em’s cute, so … “ Corso gave the sergeant a knowing grin.
The sergeant cocked his head at the back of the truck, and the other guard walked past Father Anthony and around to the back of the truck. He peered at Jernigan, Matanari and Garret, scanning them carefully. He leered at Garret, whose plain features and close-cropped hair were compensated for by her trim build. He took note of the pasty complexion of Garret and Jernigan, but gave Matanari’s ochre skin a more careful look.
“You an offworlder?” he asked of Matanari, brusquely.
“No. Father was. Mother local. He was ethnic Nipponese, so I inherited this skin, didn’t buy it.” While Matanari was talking, the guard looked over the three of them.
“I don’t know Sergeant, they look kind of well fed.”
The Sergeant peered at Corso even closer. The attentiveness of the guard standing at the barrier went up a notch, and he raised his lasrifle slightly, tightening his grip, and clicking the safety off.
Corso noted this and said with unfeigned nervousness, “Hey, I don’t know nothing about them. I’m just trying to get the bossman his data dumps, and the Father here to his church. “
The sergeant looked over at Father Anthony. “Wait here, I’m going to run your pictures.”
“Uh, look sergeant… is that really necessary? Maybe I could just you know, post a bond for my good behavior?” Corso gambled on the scrupulous corruptibility of the underpaid security workers.
“Yeah, maybe so. A hundred each for you and the priest, two hundred a piece for the indies.” His eyes shone with avaricious greed.
Corso gave a low whistle. “Eight hundred. That’s pretty steep, that’s my whole travel budget. What, am I supposed to sack out in one of the shanties back there? How about you let me and the Father slide, and I squeeze a hundred a piece from the indies, and pass it along to you?”
“Those guys could be dangerous criminals. Could be those treefucker guerillas, for all I know. I’ll need a pretty serious bond for anything they might do, you know, to process any warrants and such, if they do turn up wanted or something. Let’s call it fifty for you and the priest, and a hundred each for them.”
“I’m legit, so’s the Father. Look, here’s our IDiscs," he fluttered his hand at Father Anthony, who fumbled his disc out his pocket. "Tell you what, I’ll just dump the indies here, and they’re your problem, and you can process me and the priest all normal-like. Fair?” Corso said, sounding cowed.
The sergeant sensed his supplemental income slipping away. “Alright, a hundred each for them. Gimme another fifty, and I’ll expedite your travel papers, and you can be on your way. “
Corso fiddled with a pad for a few seconds, and handed a credchip to the guard.
“There, three-fifty. Certified, not personal.”
The guard took the chip, and waved to the guard at the barrier. He stepped back into the shack, and worked some controls. The barrier lowered into the ground. Garret noted that the cameras on the shack powered down, too. Corrupt guards were notorious for sudden lapses in camera coverage.
All the occupants of the truck shifted nervously as they passed over the barriers and into the city proper. The guards drifted back to the shack to split their gains, and didn’t spare the truck another thought. Once inside the city the buildings changed dramatically; ramshackle lean-tos were replaced with gleaming plas-steel and nanocrete towers, girded round with mirrored sun-shields that created a thousand glittering points in the late afternoon sun. Vehicle traffic was sparse, but well-dressed people on foot traversed the sidewalks and skyways in a leisurely fashion, the day’s business complete. They trundled by an outdoor café where nattily attired men and women sat, chatting over drinks and light fare, carelessly watching passers-by on the streets. A security drone whistled by overhead, hurrying on an errand somewhere in the city. Faintly, they could hear the whir of rotorcraft taking off and landing at the heliport on the outskirts of the city. No spacecraft were moving at the starport, or the whole city would have been shaken by the reverbations.
The city of San Percival was located at the point of an isthmus on the northern continent of New Carnavon. Most of New Carnavon was covered by thick jungle canopy, but the effluvial plains which girded the vast jungles were rich in sedimentary mineral deposits, which the Company was steadily strip-mining to harvest. The scarce availability of terrain situated over solid rock was reserved for the few urban enclaves on New Carnavon. Fifty million people were crammed into a few hundred square miles.
Recent rains left puddles on the streets with petrochemicals swimming in an oily rainbow on the surface. As the truck pulled through the clusters of warehouses that bordered the restaurants and cafes next to the landward-facing checkpoint, the street took on a more commercial nature, with glasscrete-faced shops huddled around the sidewalks, hawking wares with bright holo displays. The most tasteful and expensive of the shops had plain storefronts with a real human guard out front, instead of an automated system or security-bot. Entrance was denied to those who didn’t pass the muster of the practiced
eye of the hired security staff.
Garret looked at the storefronts, shoppers, merchants, pickpockets and guards feeling as though she were looking at a different world. She remembered a distant time when she might have been one of the people lazily browsing window displays as she ambled to nowhere in particular. But that time and place was so remote, and so far removed from her present circumstance, that she simply could not connect to it, couldn’t reconcile the experience of her past with who she currently was and what she was doing.
A husband, a son, a regular job. So long ago. She mused. I remember sitting at a café just like that one with Vaughn and Daniel. Vaughn always asked me to take off my sunglasses so he could see my eyes. A powerful wistfulness began to overwhelm her, a desire to hop off the truck, buy a ticket offplanet and back to the core, to start over again. Before that thought went too far down the hole of regret, her raining and discipline kicked in, and she asserted control. Feelings follow thoughts. I decide what I will feel.
She stopped short of actually shaking her head to clear her revery. When she looked back into the truck, she found Matanari looking at her with an inscrutable expression on his face. Not for the first time, she wondered if perhaps he was more than just a latent telepath, like herself. Also not for the first time, she realized that if he were, she would know it. She was a latent and could detect any intrusion into her arefully trained mental fortress. She might be powerless to stop the intrusion, but she would instantly be aware of it. Of course, if her discipline ever slipped, she would project her most immediate thoughts and feelings, particularly if they were strong, to any telepath in the area. A telepath like Father Anthony, just a few meters away.
The truck creaked to a stop at a crossroads between the commercial district they had just passed through, and the border of an impoverished residential neighborhood. Just the sort of neighborhood that poor, native workers like their current cover would likely reside in or have cause to visit. The three piled out of the back. Jernigan and Matanari scanned the streets and rooftops by habit as Garret walked forward to speak to Corso and Father Anthony. The priest slid down his window, and a puff of cool air rolled out. “Meet us at Javiero’s, after dark.” The expression his face was studiously neutral, just in case they were being observed.
“Got it. Will you have the new guy with you?” She asked.
“No. We’ll go together from there. Corso needs me for some work in town, first.”
Garret shuddered. If Corso, consummate infiltrator that he was, needed the services of a Church-trained telepath, it was likely not to be pretty, and even less likely to be something Garret wanted to know about.
“Before you go, Father, there’s one thing I would like to ask you.” Said Garret, in a tone of voice that was less certain than her usual crisp and professional manner.
“Go ahead.” He said.
“I got lost in thought back there. Did you pick anything up?”
He smiled. “No. Jernigan’s horny, it drowned anything else out. Certainly anything as subtle and you and Matanari, which I’d be hard-pressed to catch in even the best of circumstances.” He smiled reassuringly. Garret remembered that despite being a telepath, and a spy, he was also a priest.
“Thank you Father. If my control ever slips, let me know. It could be a risk, and I’ve been tabbed out lately.” Her professional tone was back.
“Will do. But don’t worry, everyone waxes and wanes.” He spun up his window, and Corso moved the truck back out into traffic. Garret turned on her heel and began walking down the block. Jernigan crossed the street and kept pace with her on the opposite side, while Matanari trailed by a dozen meters or so. Garret couldn’t help but feel as if she were under a crosshair, especially when a security drone whined by overhead.
TO BE CONTINUED....
Davey, What a perfectly drawn world !
When is the next installment?