Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 27
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
On the Rosewell family farm, secrets have been learned. A hidden facility deep beneath Maur's childhood home may hold the answers, but it may too give the Free Man Nation all of the power they need to see out their plans for human purity. The battlefield is set, and Beta Crew descend into the hidden facility.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
The cacophonous explosion was also picked up by the Cathode Ray, which had entered orbit ahead of the expectations of Captain Champion. Ulalo sat in her chair, head resting on her hand, impatiently waiting for her crew to assemble themselves for the descent down to the ground. The plant-life she had generated a few days earlier had now been replaced with strategic maps of the area surrounding and including the farm.
Her mood was more grim now, the initial excitement of a looming battle was now replaced with an almost childlike impatience.
The thought of spilling blood, the pleasure of it, filled her mind and throbbed in her chest. As if it were being denied her by the necessary preparations for her to gain what she desired, Ulalo wore a sulk. She wanted to bring death, and she wanted to bring it now.
“Prepare my armour,” she barked to a nearby Nation recruit. In turn the female ducked her head in agreement and scuttled off to empty Ulalo’s private armoury.
“Give me an update, I demanded that we be ready within a half our of entering orbit. You are currently on track to miss that deadline. Do you deem this acceptable?”
Ultra shook his head, before slinging it low and making poor attempts at mumbles. He was trying to explain how far on the crew were, that the personnel carriers were now, in fact, almost entirely ready to disembark. It was a weak attempt, he stood frozen in fear and rightly so. She had become so much more threatening in the last few days, to the point where his arousal was paralysing. Swiftly, and without warning, Ulalo stood up sharply and drew a knife into his chest. Gripping his neck. Twisting the blade. She snarled into his face.
“You are right to fear me,” she said, spitting into his eye, “but that rank display of cowardice has earned you the death that would have inevitably been brought to you on the battlefield. I have little use for fodder. You may thank me...”
“Th-th-ank,” replied Ultra, blood bubbling into his throat as organs began to fail. He was unable to finish the sentence, his body abandoning the attempt and sinking to the ground. Ulalo’s long, slick blade slid from between his ribcage as he fell.
“The Gentle Reminder, please.” the female recruit said, returning from the armoury. “You... your armour is ready.”
The look she gave, of abject terror compounded by mindless obedience, pleased Ulalo and brought a smirk to her face as she strode past her. It took her only a few more of these strides to enter the private armoury that had been assembled in her honour. As the door slid open, the present smirk turned into a straight look of absolute fixation. The sheer volume of weaponry spread across the walls deserved only reverence in her opinion.
A broad curved wall stood in front of her, compartmentalised into five distinct sections. Working from the edges inward there was a range of projectile, laser and explosive firearms, as well as a wall brimming with highly polished swords, maces, and more exotic alien weaponry. In the centre, taking pride of place, was her armour.
Consisting of matte silver pieces and a dark grey under-skin, the armour was more traditional in nature than that worn by the rest of her crew. Larger pieces, each curving towards a point, would cover her body from joint to joint. On her chest, two leaf-shaped parts would sit side by side, and the Afrikaans translation of “For the Nation” ran along the edges in ornate carving. Vir die Nasie. Vir die Nasie.
She dressed herself piece by piece, from the soles of her feet upwards, placing her hair in a tight bun. Each piece of this virgin armour was treated with care. Ulalo clasped each piece together as if she were embracing a lover, the under-skin drawn over her skin first. She loved the tight grip it had on her body. Equipping the Nation’s traditional pistol, its heavy semicircle bayonet beneath, Ulalo complemented this with a highly portable heavy machine gun, or HP-HMG, along with a sword that matched the design of her armour. Silver and perfect, she slung it to her side.
“I am ready,” she said softly, after the chest piece had been brought down over her head. “Have preparations been completed?”
“Yes,” replied the assistant. “The final members of the crew have now made their way to the carriers. They are fully armoured and await your command to descend.”
“Good, I shall join them and we will begin this glorious battle,” Ulalo said, pride curdling her voice. “For the Nation!”
The view down through the newly blasted hole was poorly lit.
Yazram attempted to shine a light down into the shaft, but the rays evaporated before they could illuminate the full depth. Each of the members of Beta Crew were fully prepared with their own light sources, which might have brought them reassurance were the descent not quite so unfathomably dark.
“We’ll equip the impact dampeners and just dive straight in,” Kerra said, her focus now solely on the mission. “We can’t afford to take much longer, Champion has just confirmed that the Nation are in orbit.”
“Agreed, there is no time for caution,” said Charles.
Each of them complied. Hastily pulling the impact dampeners from their belts, round in shape and with a large blue field generation luminance in the centre, they clamped the equipment to the front of their chest armour. The device's purpose was similar to a parachute, in that it made rapid descent from the sky possible. There was a key difference though, it did not attempt to slow your fall, but instead merely ensured that you would survive it, speeding the whole matter up by a considerably terrifying degree.
They stood side-by-side on the edge of the void. Blood rushed to their heads in anticipation, there would be very little way to judge when they should generate the life-saving shield. Too early and its local energy source would empty, sending them to a gory death. Too late and it might not have time to generate in full. Adrenaline filled them with a pulsing anticipation.
“On my count,” Charles said, staring once more into the abyss, “three... two... one... go!”
They leaped. Feet left the ground and entered them into the short limbo before the lurch of gravity pulled them downward. Charles had jumped a little before them and was quickly engulfed by the darkness. The whoosh of air thundering past Maur’s ears made it almost impossible to maintain a sense of place. He stretched his arms out wide, fingers searching the air for any companion on this rapid fall.
Further and further Maur hurtled. Disorientation pounded a headache into his forehead as he began to panic. His hand came around. It hovered over the generator, twitchy fingers threatening to release its energy. There were no bursts of light from around him, nobody else had fired their dampener and yet his pounding heart commanded he do it.
“Now! Fire it now!”
The voice floated around Maur’s mind, his disorientation swept notions of its possible source away into the ether. He looked around into the emptiness. There was nothing to find.
“Now! Do it now!”
The first burst of light cracked through the cavern and brought Maur to his senses. Bolt blue it reached the grey walls and reminded him of his place. He thumped his hand into his chest. A sudden release of energy shook his body momentarily before his own blue aura engulfed him. In the brief relief he attributed the voice to Charles, the source his armour’s audio channel.
Beta Crew each hit the ground with almighty crashes, smashing through debris. Fists collided with the ground, shattering the cold, ancient concrete as if they were made of iron. The shield flickered, affected structures crumbled, and each of them triggered the ambient lights attached to their suits. Tiny beams cast by lines of lights hidden between the layers of their armour began to creep through the rubble as the team freed themselves of their own personal crater.
It was Kerra who was first to stir properly, more experienced in this type of manoeuvre than even Charles. She moved forward from the hole she had left and began her search for further illumination. The light from her armour carried her towards a nearby opening in the wall, the entrance to a further tunnel. She hunted along its edge, following a black length of cable pinned to the wall. It led her to a large steel flip switch labelled as the emergency auxiliary power override. Putting her entire weight on it, heaving it down with both hands, Kerra cracked the rust surrounding it and the place flickered into half-life.
What few lights were still functional glitched and glimmered before reaching a steady equilibrium that at least gave them a reasonable view of their surroundings. The reeds and foliage of the world above them crawled along the edges of the shaft base, originating from the tunnel ahead of Kerra. Thom, the last to stand up after the shock descent, came up beside her. He swiped his hand across the wall, wiping away the years of dust and crumbling plant residue.
“A...” Kerra said, struggling to read the faded text painted onto the wall in front of them, “five... one...”
“A-Fifty-One,” corresponded Thom.
Ulalo was now aboard her craft, men and women of the Free Man Nation flanking her as she stood strong at the front window. The flames of re-entry burned across the metal and made it hot to touch. She let a hand rest on it, feeling the heat through her under-skin. Her heart thumped, her thirst threatening to spill over.
“The Gentle Reminder, if I might be so bold...” It was her assistant, left behind on the Cathode Ray along with a skeleton crew. “Josia 24 has just sent us new information about an energy spike that matches the signature of the power. It is emanating from a site just to the west of the main farm buildings.”
The Gentle Reminder pondered this for a moment, assessing in which part of the battle she would see most glory. They broke cloud cover, and as pride swelled at the sight of her true home, she willed her heart to think about the choice it was asking her to make. She had to hunt Maurice Rosewell, had to be his interrogator, no matter how strong her desire to wade into the wider battle.
“Navigator,” she said to the man sitting in a pilot’s seat just to her left in the cramped and clammy personnel carrier, “reposition us to land at the site of the signature.”
“I do not mean to be insubordinate,” he said, tilting his head up and peering out cautiously through the visor of his clunky heads-up display, “but that location is dense with foliage, there is no clear landing.”
“Then make one!” Ulalo shouted in reply, bringing her armoured fist across his face, cracking the screen that protected him. “Go in behind the rest. Fire lasers on entry and burn the whole fucking thing down!”
It had taken her. The madness that she had defended against for so long, had held back in the face of the other members of The Thirteen, burst free from its cage inside her mind. Her chest heaved, deep breaths escaping her lungs with spit and vitriol slavering out of her mouth. She pounded her fist against the window, screaming wildly. Every other passenger cowered.
Word of the Nation’s entry had reached Beta Crew, their audio channels bringing updates from the front as their friends and family prepared to fight. It expedited their strategy, Charles hastily assembling his squad and giving orders to head into the tunnel.
“We have no maps of this place,” he said, pulling the safety trigger off on his rifle, “and the tactical scanners Thom is carrying haven’t been able to fully plot it out. Waiting any longer is not an option, we must go in mostly blind and hope that we are blessed with good luck.”
Maur felt his pulse racing, reminding him of all the time that he and Charles had spent in the training simulations, reminding him of the nearly-botched fire-fight in Cirramorr. Without looking in her direction he was aware of Kerra, aware of his deep love for her. It was for this moment that he had prepared, that he had killed hundreds of simulated enemies and overcome simulated odds. He too pulled the safety trigger to off, and crouched his knees into a more predatory position.
“Lets move!” He shouted.
His commitment stalled though when the thuds of heavy laser fire could be heard above. They turned in unison, red light glinting down the shaft and reflecting against Yazram’s cold, hard exterior.
Flames began to crackle and branches screeched away from their tree, the forest seemed to be screaming, and Beta Crew were all too aware why.
“How could they have come straight here?” Thom asked.
“Shit,” Kerra spat. “Shit, shit, shit!”
“I was afraid of this,” Yazram replied, Charles staring at him knowingly. “They have located the very same signal that was being blocked by the covering. They have been able to locate us directly.”
“We need to go,” Maur said softly before raising his voice. “Now!”
They spun on their feet, pirouetting in the direction of the tunnel before darting forward in its direction. Each of them broke into a sprint almost immediately, gunning forward down into the barely lit unknown.
Further evidence of the base’s history blurred past them, more symbols and labels that denoted its truly secretive nature. Warnings of court marshal, accidental death and charges of treason were ignored as Beta Crew thumped heavy boots down onto the surface, one foot after another.
Charles reached to the back of his head, his rifle carrying arm still pumping the air, flicking the tactical scanner’s remote display on. Information blipped into existence in front of him, hovering in the stagnant atmosphere. While the equipment, and the support provided by Annie’s own systems, was insufficient to track the signal that Maur himself must still be emanating, there were enough signs to go on. He charged into the lead just as they came into a fork in the path.
The bursts of blue light still reached them, the heavy crashes of the Nation troops’ own dampeners audible too. Beta Crew were unaware that the last crash, the heaviest as dictated by the purposeful late firing of her equipment, brought The Gentle Reminder - Ulalo Nuragi – smashing into their close proximity. Bounding up from her crater she screamed out into the air, standing proudly atop a mound of debris. Her own tactical equipment feeding her a constant trace on Maur, delivered remotely by Josia 24. A golden path drew out in front of her, down the hallways which Beta Crew had just entered.
“There!” Ulalo shouted. “Down into the tunnels, lose them and you will not leave this place with your life!”
She leaped down from her pedestal immediately and led the march in pursuit of Maurice Rosewell. Ulalo had no control of her breathing, spit still bubbling out of her mouth as the joy of the hunt crept through her body. A tingle was noticeable in the most sensitive parts of her body, building as she saw the undulating light of Beta Crew’s torches further ahead. A cackle began to escape her lips, interrupted by the uncontrollably heavy breathing, and yet still the soldiers around her marched onwards with this mad woman. For the Nation, they thought, in the name of returning Earth to its rightful order. In the name of human purity.
Nearby, the Jump Cannon fired artillery rounds into the air, disorientating the first push of Nation troops. Still, they pushed on, and the black clad bigots ran forward in groups of four, the two men or women in the rear firing rounds past the other pair in an aggressive drive forward. Champion roared at the ground troops to open fire, the high-pitched whistling sound of the artillery rounds leaking over his voice and threatening to drown him out. Every man and woman that he employed, every man and woman that he had swore to himself protect, began emptying round after round into the air.
An artillery round landed square with one of the final personnel carriers to approach the landing, turning its human content into a mist of blood and armour scraps, thundering large chunks of shrapnel smashing into the ground. Without thought for the lost lives of their comrades, the Nation forces assembled behind this morbid cover and began blind firing into the crowd of Jump Cannon crew. The fight was progressing in the Jump Cannon’ favour. Even as the grounding carriers began blasting hot bolts of laser energy over their heads, Annie’s opponent yielded losses while they faced not a single one.
Margaret Rosewell stood at the one window that had not been covered, an inconsequential firearm in her hand as she viewed the chaos outside. A bolt of laser fire hit her house, rebounding off with nary a scratch. Still, it was enough to send her stomping down to the basement, slinging open the heavy gun cabinet doors within a few strides of hitting the bottom of the stairs.
She left the house with a wide-barrelled energy launching weapon. Two thick barrels sat side-by-side with a delicately carved wooden handle nestled underneath and between them. Swirling flower stems ran toward a trigger that would deliver far less beautiful twin orbs of electrical energy focused around lethal balls of laser power. Margaret drew the weapon into the sky, twisted her finger over the trigger and pulled back.
With the crackling of electricity, and the boom of a shot fired into the ranks of the Free Man Nation, Maur’s mother had entered the fight.
In the catacombs of the base below the enraged Gentle Reminder had made ground on Maur and the rest of Beta Crew. Her path was more clear, the signal she was following much stronger, and her commitment to the cause unclouded. She had no thoughts of a lover at her side, she had no thoughts of what danger might lay ahead, all she had were thoughts of victory.
“We can’t keep this up!” Kerra shouted between pants. “We have to turn and stand our ground.”
“Are you sure?” Thom questioned, flicking a look in her direction to signal his uncertainty about facing the angry horde behind them.
“If not now,” Yazram said, his breathing less heavy, “then in the moments ahead. We will have to kill regardless.”
Charles looked ahead and made out a reasonably substantial room whose breadth and height was considerably more than the tunnel they were in. His tactical scanner was directing him to cut off down to the right, along yet another tunnel, but instead he picked out vantage points in this room directly ahead. It contained very little, all sat in front of a towering vault door bearing hazard signs.
“There,” he said, pointing to a circular administration desk in the room’s centre. “Kerra and Maur, take cover behind the desk. Yazram and Thom, you’re with me, the raised area just behind the desk, position yourself behind those banks of equipment.”
Kerra and Maur dived over the desk, falling onto their backs and taking but a brief moment to clasp each other’s hand. Kerra noticed a look in Maur’s eyes that she had never seen on mission before, there was focus, a definite objective in his mind, and a coldness to his stare that she recognised from some of the true soldiers she had fought with in her time. It worried her, but in turn the hard grip of his hand offered security that she had never felt. Kerra believed in him, she believed in both of them.
All of them were positioned mere seconds before Ulalo and her squad of Nation believers entered behind them. Rank and file they assembled behind what cover the room offered them. Ulalo stood for a moment, scanning her eyes over the rubble and abandoned furniture.
Her heart skipped a beat, a flickering light glinted against her shining armour, and she located a target. At a sprint she charged toward the desk with a roar.
* * * * *
Father. Husband. Protector.
The engraving on Jack Rosewell’s grave.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Twenty Eight of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)