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A Problem Like Myra

This part appeared on the author’s Wordpress blog in January 2016 and was reprinted with permission in the September/October 2016 issue.

Part 2

5710 CE/1192 Imperial
Orbiting Rushu
(Spin. Mar. 0215 E766784-4 Ag Ni Ri Vw)

Oberleutnant (SubLieutenant) Dolf Feldmann looked around at his little command. Everything seemed in order. The cargo was properly secured. The two squads of marines looked menacing in their combat armor and weapons. The naval ratings looked competent and squared away. Even the smirking cadet seated next to him looked calm and ready for anything. He gave Myra a nod and she keyed her comm. “We’re good to go; punch it, Verner!”

Dolf was used to her flippant ways and merely raised an eyebrow at her. Unable to shrug her shoulders, due to the safety harness she wore, the blond haired brown eyed ‘young lady’ gave him a head tilt in silent reply. Fortunately, her informality never seemed to rub off on the enlisted personnel. The warrant officer piloting the ship’s boat replied. “Aye, aye, miss Brun. Vakandi three to flight, requesting release.”

Dolf didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the undocking procedure. His thoughts drifted off to the upcoming mission. He had a lot to take care of. And he worried.

Myra watched as Feldmann’s eyes got the glassy look that showed he was in deep thought. He was probably worrying about the mission. He was a worrier, that was for sure. But this time he had good reason to worry. His mission had the potential to go sideways fast. On the surface it was simple enough. They were delivering a high priority, high value cargo to the planet Rushu. Sometimes, warships were used to deliver such cargos, in areas of space too dangerous for regular merchant ships. There were a fair number of pirates and corsairs operating in this region of space. But that wasn’t the real reason. There were three things that made the planet Rushu special enough to warrant a frigate playing freighter. First, unlike the rest of the mostly-human-settled subsector, the planet Rushu’s population was overwhelmingly made up of the species know as Vargr. They looked like, and in fact were, the genetically-engineered descendants of earth canines. Like their ancestors, they were pack animals. As a result, they were constantly fighting for dominance amongst themselves. This tended to make politics and commerce very ‘energetic’ among their kind. Which led to the second reason this mission was special. Rushu didn’t have one government, it had almost a dozen. It was always possible that one of these governments would object to the Vakandi delivering its cargo to a rival. It was hoped a show of force would prevent that.

The third reason was a bit more complicated. Rushu was a client state of one of the regions major powers, the Zhodani consulate. The consulate had long been an ally of the Sword World Confederation, for centuries in fact. But they had turned their backs on the Sword Worlders several decades ago. They were too strong for the Sword Worlds to confront openly. So, a more subtle approach was in order. Now they were looking for opportunities to undermine the Zhodani’s standing with these and other clients. This cargo was the first step. It contained one of the most effective and reliable means of transmitting data in known space. Books. The tech level of this world was fairly low. Radio was still considered high tech. Internal combustion engines were small, weak and unreliable. So it wasn’t like they could deliver data chips. The goal with these books was to instantly upgrade the nation of Firtull’s entire university system in one shot. The eventual goal was to raise their level of technology. Gradually, organically over a period of about ten years. Their neighbors would not want to be left behind and they too would look for outside help. Help the Sword Worlders would be more then happy to provide. While the Zhodani protected them from invasion, they never did anything to really improve things on Rushu. Hopefully, now they would look to the confederation for that.

The two officers were jolted from their respective reveries as the ship’s boat hit some turbulence. They were just coming into the planet’s upper atmosphere. Myra was glad she was seated by a window and looked outside. She could have used the heads up display in her space suit to get a visual through the boats sensors. But there was something almost primal about watching the planet coming up on them through a window. She had always found atmospheric entries to be exciting. The only thing better than watching it through a window would have been being at the flight controls herself. She was hoping to go to flight school after she graduated from the academy. This was her idea of fun!

Dolf hated atmospheric entries. They always made him feel queasy. He did a quick check on the boat’s status, through his heads up display. They appeared to be right on course to the planet’s starport, such as it was—little more than an open field and a shack, all surrounded by a chain link fence. The shack served as a combination control tower, passenger terminal and customs office. To say that the port’s services were limited was a huge understatement. If he was lucky, he might be able to get a sandwich, maybe. The starport was located right between the two largest and most powerful nations on the planet. The border at this point was a large, deep river that flowed to the ocean. The port was located on the delta at the mouth of the river. The two neighboring nation, one of which was Firtull, only had to cross one of the two bridges connecting the delta to the mainland. For the other nations on the planet there was a dock for ocean-going ships, most of which still ran on steam engines. Just then the boat shuddered violently and a glow from super heated plasma appeared through the windows. Despite himself Dolf looked at the nearest window. He saw the wide grin on Myra’s face as he did. It made her look like a child. She wasn’t, of course, at twenty years old. But the look of unbridled joy on her face made her seem younger. He wondered for a moment if he had ever been that young. Of course he had been. But, at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, it just seemed so long ago now.

Ahh, the simple pleasures in life! thought the cadet. Having grown up with three maniacs for brothers, Myra had learned early to enjoy a good adrenaline rush. She had been a tomboy and was every bit as wild as her brothers. Their parents had tried to get her to be a proper lady, enjoying the finer things in life and looking forward to marriage, motherhood, all the things a traditional Sword Worlder woman was supposed to aspire to. But Myra had too much fun being one of the boys. There was more to it then that, though. Although she reveled in her wild child image, at heart she was even more of a worrier then Feldmann. She just worried about less immediate things. When she hadn’t been causing havoc with her brothers, she had actually been a very studious child. She had loved to read and learn. What she had learned about history, stellar politics and current affairs had terrified her. The Sword World Confederation was only a shadow of what it had once been. It was on the verge of being destroyed by the neighboring Imperial Regency. And if that happened, everything she knew and loved would fade to nothing more then a footnote in a history text. So, she had decided to do her part to preserve her people and choose to lead her life in the man’s world. The fact that she enjoyed it more was just a bonus.

She would never admit it, but there was one thing she regretted about turning her back on the traditional woman’s life. She loved to dance. She had always enjoyed ballroom dancing. It was the only time she liked wearing dresses. There was something about the way the fabric felt on her skin as she glided around a dance floor. Of course she had only confessed this to one person, her boyfriend Eric. She had made him promise, under pain of death, not to tell anyone. He had laughed and promised. He was the only person that really understood her, the only one that had ever really bothered to listen to her. As she thought of him she remembered the locket with the picture of him around her neck. Her one concession to her feminine side.

The small craft’s ride settled down as it made its way lower in the atmosphere. The boat’s fins and wings gave it good handling characteristics, once the atmosphere was thick enough for them to have an effect. They could have just floated down on the boat’s antigravity, but that would have taken to long. Once they got low enough they circled the port and Myra switched to her HUD to get a more detailed view. The Delta was a good kilometer at its base and roughly one and a half kilometers on each side. The starport was located right in the center of the island. The bridges on either side both appeared to be about two hundred meters away. The ocean facing dock had three steam ships tied up. But there wasn’t any activity there or at the few buildings next to the dock. At the starport however there was plenty going on.

On the eastern edge of the landing field there were nine primitive looking trucks and a smaller vehicle, staff car maybe? Lined up in front of the vehicles were about thirty or forty beings. It seemed they had a reception committee. After a smooth landing lieutenant Feldmann led the way out of the boat and into a scene from a comic opera. The Vargr official that met them was obviously happy to see them. The wagging tail was a dead giveaway. Just as obviously his outfit was designed to overawe and impress. Unfortunately, Vargr tend to have rather odd views on color. The green and orange uniform was glaring. The silver shoulder boards and braiding made a rather stunning…statement? Myra was very proud of herself, she didn’t so much as crack a smile. She did almost lose it when she imagined her mother seeing his outfit , and passing out from sensory overload. She was also very proud of Feldmann; he greeted minister of trade Cohvegg without missing a beat. Even though he later told Myra the minister looked just like a pet Rottweiler he had as a child.

The Firtull army troops standing at attention behind the minister were, thankfully, less shocking to the eyes. But still, the orange and green uniforms took a bit of getting used to. The dark blue space suits and dull khaki combat armor of the Sword Worlders was quite the contrast. What followed was almost as amusing as the visual spectacle. Lieutenant Feldmann trying to speak the primary Vargr language of Gvegh and minister Cohvegg trying to speak the Sword Worlders’ language of Sagamaal. To be fair, both languages are tongue twisters if you didn’t grow up speaking them. After a few butchered sentences both agreed to speak the Imperial language of Anglic. Both beings could at least speak it at the same heavily accented, but understandable level. Once the language issue was dealt with, a few mercifully short prepared statements were made. Then orders were given. The crates of books were offloaded from the ships boat, then loaded onto six of the trucks. The native troops climbed into two of the remaining trucks. The minister and lieutenant Feldmann went into the staff car and one squad of five marines went in the final vehicle. The convoy then headed to the eastern bridge and a nearby Firtull city. Myra was left in charge of the remaining squad of marines, her five spacers, the ships boat and its two crewmen.

All they had to do now was wait and hope nothing went wrong. Which, of course, meant something was bound to go wrong. Being a strong believer in Murphy’s law, Myra decided not to wait for the inevitable. She looked at the men around her first, noticing the smirks most of these had. To be honest, she was smirking to. It had been a funny scene after all. But after a few deep breaths to calm herself, Myra looked around again, this time examining the starport and its surroundings. Sure enough, something was wrong, out of place. But what? There was a guard at the door to the shack. And another at the gate. The road leading from the gate went down to a crossroad. Three roads split from there. One went south to the docks, another west and the last went east to Firtull. No one was on any of the roads at the moment. It was a quiet, pleasant, sunny day. And that was it, of course; it was too quiet. There was a small stand of woods to the west, a marsh to the north and rivers on both sides. But there was no noise. No insects, no birds, no animal noises at all. It was as if all the wildlife in the area was too afraid to make any sounds. Then there were the three steam ships at the dock. In the middle of the work day and not a soul was in sight on any of the ships, the docks, or the buildings by them. Oh crap! We’re going to be attacked, she thought to herself.

The smirk fled from Myra’s face and was replaced by a hard, dangerous look. Although she was unaware of it, at the same moment, her eyes started to shine. As the adrenaline started to flow through her blood, something awoke in the girl. Something ancient and terrible bared its teeth and snarled inside her.

She pressed a button on her comm and spoke in a firm calm voice. “All personnel, prepare for action. Sergeant Myerson, bootsmann Salidatter, on me.”

As she switched to another channel on her comm the men around her started to move. They were well trained and the cadet sounded serious. The marines closed the visors on their armor and began checking their weapons. The naval ratings were not carrying their weapons; they were in the ship’s boat’s weapon rack. So they donned the helmets of their vacc suits and started to board the boat.

“Postal two to postal one, come in postal one.” Her call was met with silence as the two NCOs stood next to her. “Postal two to one. Come in postal one.”

She waited for a moment, listening to the silence. Then looked up to the waiting men. “I’m being jammed. There isn’t even static on the comm. And we haven’t seen any startport personnel aside from the two guards the whole time we’ve been here.”

There couldn’t be many people working here. But someone should have at least stuck their head out of the shack with all the activity.

“Sergeant, if you were going to attack the port, how would you do it?” As Myra had spoken, any trace of levity had been replaced by the more usual, stoic expressions of the two NCOs.

The marine sergeant nodded his head almost imperceptibly, he paused for a second, then used his comm to display a local map. He pointed to things on the map as he spoke. “An attack would have to come from the south. The marshes north of us don’t offer enough cover and the soft ground would slow an assault force. The woods to the west are too small to hide more than a squad or two. But, it would be a good place to put a heavy weapons team or some snipers. Coming from the bridges offers way too many problems. If I were doing this, I’d come in on one of the ships, then stage from some of those warehouses. Open up with fire from the woods and mortars, if I had them, then send my force in fast and hard. Try to overwhelm us.”

It made sense, the terrain dictated the means of attack. She nodded her head and said “Any thoughts on defending this position?”

The marine shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t have many options. If we can’t just fly and pick up the leutnant? The best we can do is form a line and try and hold it. We don’t even have entrenching tools.”

The smirk returned to Myra’s face. “Well, if it was easy, they wouldn’t pay us our lordly salaries, sergeant. Besides, if they have jammers strong enough to block our comm they probably have anti-air missiles. So flying might not be the best idea until we know for sure.” She looked around again.

The other four marines were standing in a semi circle, facing outward. The naval crewmen were standing lined up by the door to the ship’s boat. All the ratings were armed with what were euphemistically called ‘Advanced combat rifles.’ Sword Worlders tended to be traditionalist. Especially when weapons were concerned, they didn’t trust change. And this was a perfect example. They had been using the same two versions of that rifle for centuries. Even after they had newer technology to replace it. The 7mm slug thrower had been the standard for the army, navy and the marines. It had only been in the last twenty years that they had finally started to replace it with the more advanced gauss rifles. The older ACRs used a small electrical charge to set off the chemical propellant, firing the copper and lead bullets. Myra’s side arm used the same technology. They were pretty much the upper limit of what could be done with a chemically powered gun. The Gauss rifles used an electromagnet to accelerate a steel needle. They had a much higher velocity, almost no recoil and they hit harder. But they were new and so, not trusted. Never mind the fact that almost everybody else that had the tech to make them preferred them. New was bad.

Well, it used to be anyway. After the last humiliation at the hands of the Imperium, the Confederation had re-evaluated all the technology it used. From top to bottom, everything had been looked at. From starships to small arms and everything in between. Training, tactics and strategy had all been examined as well. Nothing was sacred. And over the last sixty or so years, things had slowly changed as new technology had been made available. The marines had been the first service to completely switch over, then the army. ‘Her’ marines were equipped with the latest combat armor, lighter and tougher then the old style, no complaints there. Four of them had the new rifles. They had gotten used to them, but that wasn’t the same as trusting them. The fifth marine, the support gunner, was also equipped with a new weapon. But no one had any reservations with this. It was a PGMP, plasma gun man portable. Basically it was a small energy cannon. It made a loud BANG and flash when it fired. And an even bigger BOOM when it hit. The Sword Worlders all loved it! Even though it was shorter ranged then the rocket launcher it replaced and it tended to set fire to … well, everything. Including the gunners hair and clothes, if he wasn’t wearing heavy, fully enclosed armor. It could also take out even the toughest enemy. The navy, on the other hand, was still dragging its feet. At least where personal weapons were concerned. Ships, space suits, basically everything else had slowly been replaced. And yet, despite the changes in technology and tactics, the basic character of their society and people had remained the same. Much to the disappointment of their neighbors, they were still the same stubborn, arrogant, hyper aggressive myrmidons they had always been.

Of course, none of that occurred to the any of the Sword Worlders now. What did occur to Myra was how best to use what she had available. But first, she needed more information. She switched channels on her comm. “Verner, please turn the boat’s sensors on the shack and the woods behind it. We need to know how many people are there.”

The boat’s sensors included thermal sensors which would enable them to see through the thin sheet metal walls of the shack. Not to mention letting them see who or what was in the woods.

“Aye, aye, Miss Brun.” It didn’t take him long to get back to her. “Miss Brun, there’s only one person in the shack. They appear to be watching the door. There are two groups of two people lying down in the woods. I’ll patch the images down to you three.”

Myra looked at Myerson and smiled. “Spot on, sergeant. Speaking of, Verner, can you give us a view of the buildings by the docks next? I think we have some more company that way.”

As the image shifted to the south, the small group talked briefly. Then, the green-as-grass cadet began to issue orders. The veteran marines and spacers never questioned her, never doubted her confident manner. They simply followed the orders of a natural leader: the pretty girl with the gleam in her eyes and the voice of a Valkyrie preparing for battle.