Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 30

Gentle Reminders Serialisation - Chapter 30

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:

Imbued with the power of the Legacy, Maur and Beta Crew have pushed the Free Man Nation into retreat. Now, he and his closest allies are preparing to pursue The Gentle Reminder into space, scattering to the Jump Cannon's EBAC-150 fighter craft.

You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.


Chapter 30

Maur was not comfortable sitting inside the EBAC. He might have spent his entire life reading about ships, his first choice of career might have been maintaining them, but that did not mean that he had to enjoy being a passenger inside an assault craft. He thought much of the problem likely came from the name, assault craft, suggesting that your flight would lead directly toward danger. He was feeling invincible, the Legacy’s power offering an almighty boost to his confidence as well as physical ability, but it did not seem to offer assistance with the type of sick feeling that sunk in when his harness was clamped into place.

“Running pre-flight test one, pass, pre-flight test two, pass...”

Charles was in front, rhyming off the procedure.

“I’m glad I’m in here with Charles,” Maur shouted over to Thom, who was sitting opposite him behind Kerra, herself also running through the pre-flight procedure. “Kerra is a notoriously bad driver.”

“Fuck off Maur... RAITT online, all weapons systems functional. Close us up.” she replied.

The hangar crew obliged, both EBACs clamping down their hoods and locking the passengers inside. Neither Kerra nor Charles wasted time in getting the ships in the air, quickly firing the propulsion engines to boost them into a hover before shifting the crafts out into the early evening air and winding up the main engines.

Maur peered to the right, Charles turning the craft at the same time to give him a view of the farm below. Thick black smoke still billowed into the air, the orchard remaining ablaze as well as fresh fire from the still tangible chaos of battle. His home, his family's heritage for better or worse, lay below him in a barely fit state. Watching the tiny people mill around below, knowing that there would be more of them were it not for the Nation, rekindled his desire to rip The Gentle Reminder out of the sky.

“Charles,” Maur started, “I need you to make me a promise.”

“Well I had better make it quick. We are ready to exit the atmosphere.”

“Do not kill that woman, do not beat me to it. Let me show her she should never have fucked with the Jump Cannon.”

“Ha. Maur, your current situation makes that situation impossible. I can not outrun you. I want a promise in return. Ensure I am still alive to see you do it.”

“Deal. Lets boost.”

The pearlescent white assault craft fired themselves free of the atmosphere. The most advanced engines in known space rapidly drove them forward, the transition from stationary to several times the speed of sound almost instant. Maur watched as the craft subtly changed shape, the finned wings curving backwards as the thinning air scooped under them.

As they broke through cloud cover, Kerra and Charles shared garbled information about the EBACs, impressed with their function.

The feed of information inside Maur’s head was far less conversational, irritating details swamping his mind and making it difficult to focus on his desire to permanently end The Gentle Reminder’s pursuit of him and those he held dear.

He turned his concentration inward, closing his eyes and trying to block out the roar of the engines. Thinking deep, seeking out the voice that had spoken to him clearly only that once, he pleaded for strength, he pleaded for the Legacy to help him defeat the Nation.

“Maur. Maurice. Rosewell. Maurice Rosewell. Must. Can. Should. Use. Command. Operate. Us. This. End. Kill. Terminate. Tyranny. Evil.”

The black of space was upon them, the constellations spinning out across the infinite darkness. Maur let out a gasp of air, the words of the Legacy startling him out of his meditation. The disorientation caused by the rapid change in scenery ended quickly, thanks to the supportive words of his second conscious. It believed in him, it trusted him, and it held his purpose in high regard.

“We’ll be coming in range of their ship shortly,” Kerra said over the audio channel. “Thom and Maur, start firing the long-range lasers as soon as you spot the first assault craft heading toward us. You’ll miss, those cannons aren't designed for close quarters, but they’ll send them scattering before we move in with the RAITTs and cluster missiles. Understood?”

Both replied affirmatively. Maur noticed how calm and collected Thom sounded. He had not expected the chef to be quite so comfortable with the assault craft and yet, Maur realised, he had not offered any objection to taking his place in one.

Maur sat less comfortably, clasping the joystick in front of him, black with deep cut grips, pulsing red fire button sitting on top. He clipped the tactical scanner in, reaching over his shoulder to find it on the back of the curved bucket seats.

There was little time for such deliberation though, the Cathode Ray coming into view over the curve of the Earth. It hovered in orbit, a black wedge, a skewed and upturned pyramid with its apex extending furthest back. It was a testament to the Nation’s pursuit of power, all sleek surfaces with few extrusions from the glossy armoured exterior. A half finished coat of arms decorated the port side, while at the front most part of the ship, on its flat top, sat the command deck of Ulalo Nuragi. It was the brightest illumination on the craft, duller lights running in neat lines across both its sides, two stories tall, and bookended at the rear of the ship by hexagonal launch ports.

It was from these ports that the enemy fighters arced outward into the vacuum of space. The four ERO-9s came first, gunning out from the port bow. They were small, the pilots suspended in orbs placed centrally between long, blade-like wings that pointed forward, themselves held at the end of tubular stalks. Then the two Kubals, far less spindly with the angular wings blending into the similarly sharp, rutting cuboid body. Finally, the six EBAC-80s, which mirrored the appearance of the Jump Cannon’s own more modern models. Unsurprisingly, their design was more dated and dull silver replaced the pearlescence of the 150s.

“Open fire!”

Maur’s possessed body responded to Charles’ roar well before his own mind, his hands closing around the joystick with immense pressure. Red outlines once again glimmered on his knuckles. His finger hovered over the trigger. Thom already let out bursts of searing laser fire through space, yet he couldn't push himself to do it.

It was his vision, he couldn’t see properly and it was seizing his entire body still. The tactical information being thrown up into his heads-up display crackled and blurred like a local video broadcast experiencing solar disturbance. On top of these incomprehensible images, arcs of colour drew themselves across his vision, alien glyphs equally confusing in this kaleidoscope of bright light.

He squirmed, growing pain mounting in his brain. Thrashing out behind his head, desperately searching for the scanner’s lead, he could hear Charles’ muffled bellows questioning his inactivity and brash screaming. Resolute fingers grasped at a wire and tugged hard. Too hard.

Maur’s mind became focused once more, and his hearing returned to normal, normal enough to hear the crackling of electrical circuits behind him, a complete scanning unit swinging in his hands.

“What have you done?” Charles shouted. “What the fuck is this Maur? You’ve taken out the HUDs, I can’t target the missiles!”

Kerra was vociferously proclaiming panic as she swooped through the sky in front of them, well ahead and already aiming cluster missiles. She fired a shot, a helix of smoke swirling away from the front of her ship, curving in a slow arc. It chased one of the quick ERO-9s, gunning after it in an undulating cat and dog pursuit. The enemy pilot tried to bank right, an evasive manoeuvre that failed in spectacular fashion. Kerra had hit the release on the projectile, separating the two spheres of the cluster missile, her own ship crawling behind. One whirred off into the distance harmlessly, but the other, catapulted by the release, matched the enemy’s banking and landed square on the central sphere.

Literally millions of tiny explosives detonated, sending a bloody mist of mechanical and human debris into space. Kerra’s pursuit led her through this cloud, red spattering the perfect white of her ship.

This drama did not make the attention of Maur. Free of the disruptive influence of human technology, the Legacy’s tactical data became clear. The arcs remained, a HUD without the usual cognitive manipulation of the scanner but instead the direct implantation of ideas. These arcs marked perfect trajectories for the long-range lasers, and Maur had already landed a shot on one of the Kubals. Resilient as these ships were, the pilot had barely escaped a second, more deadly round. They were being pursued now though, the remaining ERO-9 having tracked them into a chase during the chaos of Maur’s mental disintegration.

Charles was doing his best to attempt to shake the pursuer, but despite their craft’s superior long-distance capability, the enemy had the upper hand in terms of basic speed. Searching through the information in front of him, the many curving multi-coloured arcs each presenting an option which he could not fully comprehend. Deep frustration set in, alongside fearfulness that this may well be the end. Concentrating inwardly, focusing his emotion as Charles taught him, he searched the Legacy for an answer.

Still swooping from side to side, his pilot was unaware of the clear green arc that had appeared in front of Maur. It made no sense, a shot in the dark, but its singularity convinced Maur to fire. Pushing his trigger finger down hard the red beam of energy cracked into the sky.

To the surprise of both passengers, the shot hit the wounded Kubal – its circling manoeuvres predicted by the Legacy. The shot reflected off the resilient hull of the ship, but it was the last punishment it could endure, splintering the metal and creating an inescapable vacuum that sucked the contents out, crippling the man inside with sheer force before shooting him out into fatal emptiness. Rebounding, the laser round barely missed Charles and Maur’s ship, but the combatant behind them was far less lucky. It went straight through the chasing craft’s centre, causing immediate fuel cell explosions.

Within these minutes Kerra had successfully executed the plan to the extent that the RAITT turrets had eliminated a further two EBAC-80s. Her kill count rose further, a cluster missile vaporising the remaining Kubal. The nation pilot’s were becoming wise though, assessing Maur’s craft to be weapons functional in only the most limited way. However, they also assumed that the rebounding shot had been no more than luck; The Gentle Reminder failing to communicate that even without the majority of its weaponry, an assault vehicle carrying Maurice Rosewell was an equal threat to any pilot in the galaxy.

A rank of ships assembled on a collision course with Maur, two EBAC-80s flanking the last pair of ERO-9s. They gunned towards them, quickly moving in range of their close-quarters weaponry, considering themselves safe from the slow long-range lasers. They were wrong, the Legacy marking out a pattern of two shots that Maur obeyed without question. The first was a diversion, red hot laser fire driving the left flanking EBAC towards the others, forcing them to group together more closely, ruining attempts to box in a retreat. One of the faster ships let off random fire, sending lightning quick bolts of energy through space which Charles was only able to narrowly avoid. This action came in the moment where Maur released the second shot, tilting his weapon in such a way as to send a diagonal beam of energy through the three rightmost ships.

It had been intended to eliminate the complete set, but Charles’ forced evasion had set them free of the perfect location for the shot.

They were now running head to head with the remaining EBAC-80, the pilot of which had his fingers pressed hard down on his firing trigger, sending a wild cacophony of ammunition toward them. Even with Maur’s incredible new insights, the Legacy could not offer him a trajectory which would eliminate this craft using the unwieldy laser cannon he had access to.

Kerra was charged with rescue, and having already noticed the heavy squad of ships heading towards her fellow shipmates she had broke off from a rambling dog fight with two of the three still active EBAC-80s. They chased her relentlessly as she pushed her ship forward ever faster, intercepting the head-to-head battle that Maur and Charles were embroiled in. She fired a cluster missile, it nimbly twisted itself into the enemy ship, sending forward another shower of blood and metal.

Their vision was completely obscured, blood spread thick across their transparent enclosure, but Maur and Charles were acutely aware of the danger that Kerra was in. A pursuer had landed two laser rounds on her hull; resultant fires were quashed by the lack of oxygen but damage was still being done. She struggled to navigate safely, gunning well past the other friendly ship. Soon she was in an empty expanse, wounded and outnumbered.

Maur concentrated again, looking inwardly rather than through the windows of the assault craft. Fresh arcs emerged in front of him, flickering for a second as his assuredness wavered. The bright lines, one blue and the other a golden yellow, contrasted against the swathe of deep red blood obscuring his vision. Kerra and Thom shouted over the audio channel, desperate for saviour. In turn Maur obliged, hands shifting impulsively to match the cannon against the arcs with far more accuracy than a normal man could achieve. He released two rounds while blinded, but Kerra’s noisy elation signalled that he had landed direct hits.

Charles, free of crippling worry and knowing that the battlefield was now clear of immediate threats, engaged the directed air canisters. Their blast pushed over the surface of the ship, forcing ripples through the blood before blowing it free of the glass and metal. He certainly did not have a clear view, but could at least capably navigate to the next destination; safe thanks to Maur's new-found ability.

“We’re going to board the main ship,” he said, “through the same ports as they used. I estimate that losses suffered on Earth will have reduced their ability to stop us getting aboard. However, be ready to fight as soon as we have exited the ships. We’re go in via the top ports. They are closest to the command deck.”

Regrouping, the pair of ships moved with speed and determination toward the ports, meeting no further resistance but seeing the last of the Cathode Ray personnel carriers disappear in ahead of them. Ulalo, who had observed the battle with growing fury, cursed the ship that she had been given, and even more so cursed the inadequate training of the pilots who had just been sent to their grave. Her approach to leadership, absolute fear and unusual punishment, was failing her. She expected that some of the pilots might have failed willingly, but regardless of this they left her without an assault fleet. She would have to prepare her defences, begin her self preservation.

Kerra lined herself up behind Charles, both set on a perfect course toward the entryway. Breaching the opening, the lead ship sent off a pair of cluster missiles that detonated on contact with the closed airlock that might have otherwise prevented their entry. The rusty brown tunnel ran past them, and they were quickly at its end, landing in a surprisingly empty hangar. As both ships settled down, the emergency systems of the ship closed in the gaping hole before equalising the pressure once more.

It was with caution that they all stepped out of the bruised EBAC-150s; each member embraced their rifle with a tight grip, scanning its barrel across the hangar. It was an open room, unlike the Jump Cannon it did not have a large walkway above the main area. Instead, simple grated metal staircases ran up both walls toward a large door which reminded Maur of the vault seen within A-51. Ignoring the strewn weaponry, tools and other abandoned materials, they moved up together, keeping close in a tight squad formation that placed Charles at the front of a small phalanx.

While Thom and Kerra moved to the right side of the door, Beta Crew’s assault leader and his apprentice took the other side. Charles motioned a silent count with his hands before slamming a fist against the panel to part the opening.

A rapid, heavy torrent of fire came down upon them as soon as the door was opened. Crouching down, hands coming up to protect heads, the best that Beta Crew could manage in retaliation was blind fire that had little affect. Maur, the violent sonic assault clouding his mind, was unable to listen to the Legacy until a growing pain in his forehead snapped him away from the random cacophony.

"Keep your heads down!" shouted Kerra.

It commanded him to enter the fray, still without armour after the fight on Earth’s surface. He knew better now though than to ignore the Legacy’s words, and so obeyed, bringing cries of warning from the rest of his team. Maur stepped out into the opening, felt his skin change once again and began to push forward with his rifle butt firmly held against his shoulder.

The barrage of rounds, both projectile and laser, deflected off of him in a wild show of light and sound. Targets were chosen efficiently, bullets from his own weapon fired in sequence from one man to another, incapacitating the immediate threats before the loop of death circled back around and finished them off. The Nation were holed up in concave holes running along this long, narrow, dark corridor, and yet Maur was still able to pick fatal shots without any real thought.

With the rest of Beta Crew pushing up behind him he began to revel in the carnage. Letting his gun drop from its place against his shoulder he sprinted forward, vaulted himself against a wall and brought a rock hard fist down against the visor of a Nation shoulder. It shattered, as did the man’s face, under the pressure of this incredible blow. Fire hurtled past his head, his friends pushing back the horde even further before it fled in the face of Maur’s continuing melée rampage.

The Cathode Ray’s forces were disintegrating into the walls, the Nation recruits’ mind-washing breaking thanks to their ongoing defeat. Men and women were unable to maintain powerful belief as these alien friendly soldiers cut through them without concern, showing the promises of the Free Man Nation’s supremacy to be a lie.

Beta Crew were soon within sight of the command deck’s closed door, Charles’ own separate tactical scanner being used once again to guide them forward. With Maur at their head, they entered into a room void of humanity except for the bubbling embodiment of hatred who stood directly in front of them.

“You have no right to enter this place,” Ulalo said, standing ready with her sword in hand, tears of anger rolling down her face. “You are not of the Nation! You are disgusting sympathisers! You will damn us all!”

“I've heard enough of your shit,” Maur replied, cracking his glowing knuckles. “Its over.”

She ran at him, holding the sword high before bringing it down against Maur’s raised forearm. It met the blade confidently, a chink forming across the razor sharp edge. Returning the aggression, Maur brought his fist against her stomach, a mighty boom compacting The Gentle Reminder’s armour beneath it, and sending her across the room.

With a sickening crunch her head met the side of a panel desk, cracking it. A pool of blood formed on the floor as Beta Crew drew down upon her.

“You are not free of us Maurice Rosewell. We have drawn you here, trapped you,” Ulalo said, grunting through pain and a foggy mind. “The Cathode Ray is ready to jump to near-quantum. You will not be able to stop its flight, and you will end up in a random location. The ship will broadcast it to the Nation and you will be captured. We will draw the Legacy from your body, we will bleed it from...”

She reached for the panel to lock down the ship, but a crack of Kerra’s rifle ended the tirade and The Gentle Reminder slumped out of consciousness.

“Let’s go, she’s done,” Kerra said coldly.

They sprinted back to the hangar meeting no further resistance. The Nation had sunk bank into its holes, they wanted no further quarrel with the almighty alien power they had pursued so vehemently.

Maur felt free of the Nation, free of their pursuit and the threat that they posed now that Ulalo Nuragi was dead. However, they still had to escape the impending near-quantum flight. He leapt free over the high railing as he entered the hangar, nimbly rolling across the ground before tapping a nearby panel, the airlock of the hangar preparing itself to open with a blaring siren sound.

Weapons abandoned, arms pumping the air, each member of Beta Crew took their place in the EBACs. Engines fired, landing feet raised, they boosted through the ports, smashing through. In Maur’s mind he could hear a countdown of the Cathode Ray’s near-quantum cores ready to spring into action. It was with fractions of a second left that they jumped into the emptiness of space, the hulking Nation ship disappearing with a flash.

“Let’s take it down,” Kerra said to the occupants of both crafts. “We beat them. We fucking beat them.”

* * * * *

“There is not a single man nor woman alive whose beliefs I would deny them. We must always be understanding, we must always allow others to hold dear politics, religion and morality which are their own. But if every man holds this right, then how are we to ever live in peace?”

Excerpt from writings of unknown origin. Discovered by Trans-Orbital Relief Corps aid workers on Murania following a bloody uprising by its people. There are some who believe it may be the suicide note of the outgoing despot.

* * * * *

Come back next week for Chapter Thirty One of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)