Call to Arms
Tags Science Fiction,Adventure,Farm,Clandestine Mission,Space Combat
Release November 1, 2013
Editor Christine I. Speakman
Line Editor Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
Sogan, still writhing under the shame of his role in what he considers the Amazoonan atrocity and hungering for vengeance against the mastermind of the arms robbery, welcomes Connor’s announcement that the man has been discovered – until he learns their quarry is located not only on her and Karmikel’s homeworld, but on a farm adjacent to her family’s home. They accept the challenging mission, but their investigation proves time consuming, frustrating, and increasingly perilous as several assassination attempts are made against them. Of greater peril still are the planet’s fearsome storms, which threaten the entire unit with annihilation. Above all is the nagging fear that even if they get the needed evidence, they may well be unable to profit by it. Their on-world opponents are a large company heavily armed and well able to use their weapons. Their enemies in space control a large, deadly fleet. Failure against either party guarantees untold suffering and death for the people of the peaceful agrarian world, yet how can four Commandos and their surplanetary allies hope to thwart such powerful foes?
Varn Tarl Sogan cautiously mounted the stairs, bracing himself for the task of clearing out the upper level. It would be a perilous one.
Only when he had reached the top and positioned himself to defend the entrance did he signal the squad under his command to come ahead. That narrow flight of steps could turn into a massacre site if it were not well guarded.
When the first of the on-worlders, Will Connor, joined him, Sogan turned that task over to him and gave his attention to the work that had brought him here. His mouth felt dry, and his pulse ran fast. Danger lurked in every shadow of this accursed place. He could all but taste it. He had lost a lot of good men on Thorne of Brandine under conditions not too very different from those reigning here.
The Arcturian wished heartily for his consort’s talent, although he knew full well that she could not really use it during battle. Any help at all would be welcome at this stage.
He steeled himself to go on. He would have to trust in his own experience, in the skills honed in the long years of bitter on-world war, and in the strong nerves and keen shooting of his Noreenan companions.
The militiamen were worthy of trust. Even now, he could be certain of that. He had seen enough of how they handled themselves outside and below to confirm his initial impression of them. Their approach had been disciplined, their conduct professional. Had he not known this was their first action, at least as a guerrilla unit, he would not have realized it from observing them. Islaen’s people were not blaster shy, nor were they cursed with the overconfidence too often found in green troops, and when they discharged a pellet, it nearly invariable found its target. With a fleet, or even a single battlecraft, manned with such soldiers, he could...
The War Prince cut off that thought. Let his mind wander again, and he would probably be carried down from here with a hole burned through his heart.
* * * *
The fighting on the second level proved hard. It was dirty, nerve-wrenching work. Those up here had been given time in which to conceal themselves, and most of them had no interest at all in being taken. These were for the most part the leaders in Thatcher’s plot and formerly officers in the Albionan Auxiliaries. If everything had been uncovered, as the Commandos’ attack testified to be the case, it was the executioner, not imprisonment, that they faced. If they could not elude capture and the fate that would follow it, the primary desire of all of them, then they might as well go quickly, and they were determined to a man to take at least one of their opponents out with them.
There were more hiding places up here to aid their cause than on the ground floor, and every one had to be checked out thoroughly.
The danger was greatest on the approach to a site. Anyone hidden there would realize the only hope of avoiding detection was to kill the searcher before he could shoot or sound the alarm, drag the body into his hole, then carefully move back to an already examined area himself. With luck, he might just be able to slip out before the hunter was missed and what remained of him was discovered. Three times, he fired a scant moment before one of the renegades cut him down, and he began to wonder how much longer he would be able to elude the Grim Commandant’s summons like this. On Thorne, a building would conceal one or perhaps two partisans. Here, there were many more, far too many...
A shadow, black among the grays to his right!
Once again, almost without conscious thought, his blaster discharged. This time, he had an extra second’s warning, and so his peril had not been so extreme, but still, his heart hammered hard. He wished passionately that this business was over. If it did not end soon, he knew he would lose some of his companions even if he survived it himself. Two had been felled already. Their wounds had proven light thanks to the speed of their reflexes, but time and their exposed position were against his party. It would not be much longer now before their luck turned.
There was not a great deal more of the barn to search, he saw with relief. A few minutes longer, and they would all be able to go down.
Sogan glanced to his left, to the great multitiered rack of bins where angora hair would be sorted by grade and color had this been a working barn. Will Connor had the unenviable task of searching them. It was a job the War Prince was glad enough to forego, for the complex offered a honeycomb of bolt holes to desperate men and women.
His breath caught. One of their quarry, at least, had recognized its potential. He was there, lying full length along the support beam of the uppermost bin. The Albionan knew Will would spot him momentarily and had taken aim. Even as Sogan saw him, he was tensing to fire.