Friday, November 16, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: There but for the grace of the Prophet

Everything had gone wrong.

Sand was still swirling in small vortexes around the barren land south of the abandoned homestead but she had a clear view of the approaching antelope jeep bearing Quinn and Vulpei.

It was supposed to be easy. Well, maybe not easy but certainly not this damned hard! Gerti had tasked her with retrieving the southern assassin in Port Arthur. Her superior officer had had a lead that the southern assassin was looking for a security detail. Given her past contact with Katchelli’s femme fatals, orchestrating their employ was easy enough, until Vera decided to go on her own mission of vengeance.

Just a couple nights before she had been in the same position, well not quite the same. She watched as Vera lead the assault team in an ambush of these mercs in order to satisfy some old vendetta. From behind her scope she watched Quinn, Kes and Grim take Vera’s team apart and she let them. It was a spur of the moment decision, she hadn’t planned to do it but she could do much to help and at least this way she knew Vulpei would be more exposed and dependant on her for protection and she could use that to her advantage to complete Gerti’s mission to capture him.

She had been in Port Arthur for a season. It was hard to return, the memories of her loss were still very fresh. Especially when she smelled citrus. But her new mentor’s mission was a vital one. Finding an ally in the SRID had not exactly been according to plan either and Gabrielle wondered if that was when everything had really turned? ‘Nein’ she thought to herself, it went wrong when Vulpei assassinated Petit and it hadn’t stopped since.

When Quinn hired her to protect Vulpei she had to think fast again. She deployed the Northern Guard platoon to ambush them at the homestead, from there they could get Vulpei away for interrogation and maybe finally find out what Hypolite, Arthur and Kable were up to?

Except that hadn’t worked out either. Against all odds Kes, Quinn and Grim had captured captain Katz and flanked the heavily entrenched guardsmen. Quinn was up to something again, that unecht, why hadn’t Vulpei left the antelope? Gabrielle started to scan the area aft of the jeep, she hadn’t noticed him drop anyone but maybe...

Maybe that was the moment where it really fell apart? When they had penetrated the homestead with Katz as a prisoner and only a handful of guardsmen still opposing them. She had no chance of overpowering Vulpei then and getting away and the soldiers were going to do the honourable thing, they always did. Spies don’t surrender, they have no protection other than the unspoken professional respect of other spies, but soldiers did not die that way. The young troops upstairs would surrender or trade for Katz. During her watch with him the captain told her as much. They conspired quietly, considering if they could overpower the five opponents they were facing. Katz told her it was hopeless, even if he ordered his men to withdraw they wouldn’t leave him. Soldiers’ honour had become their liability but a soldier’s duty would also be their salvation. Katz asked her to send him to the Prophet.

Katz had been right, they never could have overpowered them down there. Up close Vulpei was extremely deadly and so was Kes. At least at range, as she now was, Gabrielle had the advantage. It took her a few minutes but she found a very well hidden Kes some 400 metres off. Quinn was going to double-cross her. He and Vulpei were still talking in the antelope. She really didn’t want to kill Grim or anyone else for that matter. She felt bile in her throat and swallowed hard and fast not to be sick. She reminded herself that it was Katz decision, he demanded she do what was necessary to protect her mission and his men. She realised she might fail both and may have killed a good man for nothing. For some reason she thought of her father and screamed into her own mind ‘Halt!’ This was no time to feel sorry for herself, she had to stop herself from thinking too much and concentrate on the situation which was, she suspected, about to get very much worse.

When Vulpei and Grim ran for the bus she knew this was just one more in a line of tests the Gentle Prophet set on her path, not to watch her stumble, but see her rise to the occasion. She steadied her shot and immobilized the jeep, now she enjoyed the safety of distance and Quinn should admit defeat. But he never did. She watched Grim, Kes and Quinn turn the tables on Vera. She watched them take over Vulpei’s security detail for some still unknown reason, she watched them outmaneuver the SecBuro guys in Port Arthur and she watched them overpower her guardsmen at the homestead. Now she watched Quinn break into a run bearing right down on her. They didn’t give up, they never gave up, they just kept coming.

When she took away Quinn’s leverage she had been planning on using the inescapable final assault of the guardsmen as her moment to strike from behind and finally neutralise the mercs. That had almost not happened thanks to Quinn’s uncanny theatrics but she still managed to send her fellow northerners a radio signal that Katz was dead. The soldiers came but these mercs were still holding their own. It had all come to naught, her only option was escape before the mercs won and realised she had betrayed them. She dropped her flash grenade and ran. Outside, as she powered up the wagoneer, Grim sprang on her. She leveled her SMG but couldn’t bring herself to kill him. Dirk Grim was just doing his duty, like some hero out of some novel he was constantly quoting. There had been enough death already, too much and blood does not wash away blood. She closed the door and drove off. And yet he kept coming. First on the roof, then in the smoke and finally with the flash grenade. She barely had the better of him inspite of the fact he was wounded.

Dirk was safe, Kes was far off, they had Vulpei and still Quinn ran at her. ‘Warum’ she wondered? What drove him? He was advancing and somehow she kept missing. He was less than fifty metres away when she finally caught his leg. She breathed a sigh of relief but he got up again and now the bus was rolling her way. They did not lay down, what drove people to such fanaticism she wondered? They were mercs for the love of the Prophet! They had no faith to guide them, no love of country. Were they hypno-programmed, were they NEC agents? Her stomach lurched as she she began to fear she had misread this entire situation. Suddenly she considered her original mission: Petit, Hypolite and Kable and Gerti’s instructions and Gabrielle was overwhelmed by the possibility that she had catastrophically misread the entire series of events of the last few days.

She put another bullet in him and in spite of her fears she still refused to kill him. There had been too much killing. She stood and ordered him to surrender. The bus slowed, was Grim seeing reason, did he know this could only end badly? Everything had gone wrong for her, ever since Petit had been killed.

She didn’t know if there was any way to salvage the situation and so she prayed, but not to the Prophet, but to her ultimate guardian. ‘Vater, was soll ich tun?’ She felt the bullet before she heard it. She had forgotten Kes but the wound was a vivid reminder. Gabrielle stumbled but held her ground. Could anything else go wrong she thought to herself?

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