Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 31
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:
The Gentle Reminder is dead, and Beta Crew have fled from her ship as it self destructed in space. Maur Rosewell now returns to his family farm, carrying the almighty power of the Legacy within his body. He is about to discover that his new power may change his relationships, including with Kerra. This will not be the only consequence of the battle with Ulalo Nuragi.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
They settled the ships down not far from Annie, whose crew had been desperately watching scanner readings to try and determine the success of Beta Crew’s mission. Yazram, unable to go along on the mission due to seating restrictions of the EBACs, was most pessimistic, and had seen the disappearance of the Cathode Ray as a bad omen. He sat outside now, resting himself on an upturned armament case with his head in his hands, expecting one or both returning ships to contain a corpse.
Annie’s crew assembled around the ships, looking up to the smeared blood and damage that pocked the perfect surfaces of these advanced assault craft. There was a heavy tension in the air that might have been cut by a knife, were it not so thick. Clasping hands together, partners and friends holding each other, they waited for the hiss of the hatches opening.
When the hatch did pop and four living, breathing bodies presented themselves to the crew, there was an earthshaking roar of happiness from the relatively small crowd. Ladders were slammed up against their ships and Beta Crew soon found themselves being carried out to receive pats on the back and rapturous embraces. It was overwhelming, particularly to Thom and Maur whose successes as soldiers had never before warranted such a warm welcome home. Thom grimaced for a short while, but eventually broke into a sheepish smile.
Maur attempted to match his enthusiasm but struggled. He was tired.
The Legacy had quietened once they re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, perhaps detecting that they were no longer in mortal danger. The cracks of glowing red across his skin sealed up and the feelings of immortality exhausted themselves in a rapid manner. Atop the shoulders of his friends, being carried towards Annie, he felt weak despite the glowing victory in his heart.
Champion, Marc 14 and Margaret Rosewell met them at the hangar bay door, still wide open on the ground and littered with spent weaponry. The Captain motioned for the team to be put down on the ground, and wore a far graver look than befit the successful mission.
Yazram moved up to rejoin the team, and prepared to receive good news – despite the Captain’s grim expression the complete return of Beta Crew had moved him to a positive outlook.
“It’s nice to see you smile Yazram,” Margaret said. “I thought we’d never get you to turn that frown upside down.”
“There hasn’t been much to smile about has there? Other than the pleasant weather,” he replied. “But I will indulge you on this one occasion as it seems that all is well. Though, my smile might have been even greater if you had left a few men for me to kill, that launcher of yours did some damage did it not?”
“Oh you know,” Margaret said waving her hands, “there really isn’t much to celebrate in the spilling of blood.”
“Mrs Rosewell is right,” Champion interjected, “and we have crew members to bury. I would appreciate it if the crew could go about their duties and prepare the Jump Cannon for terrestrial flight to Borealia. Please ensure that the dead are properly cared for.”
Annie’s men and women hung their heads, the reminder of their losses unexpected amongst the joy of victory. Sidling back into the ship they took turns to slap Beta Crew on the back, offer hands to be shaken and hand out more tightly held hugs. When the majority had entered, a few stragglers grabbing materials strewn about the ground, Champion spoke once more.
“You killed her then?” he asked the group.
“Yes. I did it,” Kerra replied.
“Good, at least that is one less concern for the crew of this ship. There are still plenty to be dealt with however, I have reports that the Unified North American Police Troopers are on their way. Regardless of what explanation I give them, I suspect that UNAPT will not just let all of this slide. I’m sure Mrs. Rosewell will not testify against me, but my arrest is imminent. As the captain of the ship I will be held responsible for all the actions that my crew have undertaken today.”
“But we were just defending ourselves....” Thom pleaded.
“Against a threat which has not only disappeared, but which either nobody has heard of nor admits that they are a member,” Champion said.
“There are still scraps of evidence. Surely the authorities will find something in it?” Thom asked.
“Do you see any insignia or markers? There is nothing here to tie any particular group to the wreckage the Free Man Nation has left, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, they don't exist. It will be written off as some mercenary disagreement, and the few remnants of their tele-charges ignored,” said Champion.
“We deserve better than that!” Thom shouted, in futile resistance.
“You're right,” said Kerra, “but the truth is that we'll be lucky if the UNAPT even launch an investigation. We entered Earth's atmosphere illegally. Convicting the captain for that will be enough for them. For all we know they have been infiltrated by the Nation – we should keep to ourselves as much as possible.”
“We’ve done as much as we can, you are not to worry,” said Champion. “The orchard fire seemed to extinguish itself after you left the atmosphere. I assume it is something to do with proximity to Maur. Did you find any further explanation of this...weapon?”
“No,” Maur replied. “I know it is called the Legacy, and I know that without it I’d probably be dead but there was no time to snoop around. We met heavy resistance, and she had the ship set to jump to near-quantum. We had to get out of there. I’m sorry, we should have gathered some evidence... something.”
“I understand, here’s hoping that further answers lie ahead for you. We sent a scout team into the orchard, by all reports they found it much easier to navigate compared to your experience as described by Yazram. The clearing was nowhere to be found though, it seems to have closed up around itself. I don’t expect that UNAPT or any other force will be able to uncover the base below us. Do you have any concerns Margaret?”
“None at all,” she replied, looking sheepish and unconvincing. “I’ve lived in this place all my adult life. I’m sure that no harm will come to me now that you brave men and women have taken care of the Free Man Nation.”
“Mmm, you are too modest Margaret, and unfortunately I expect that this won’t be the end of our troubles with the Nation. Come on now, we must make prepare for the future.”
They walked into the bowels of the ship, heading towards the command deck. Journeying up past the medical bay and then beyond the recreation room, they saw both sides of their victory. The pain and suffering, the death, contrasted starkly against the high-fives offered between friends while others took a few moments to count who had not been lost.
The sight of the medical bay hit Maur hard, there was an element of blame that he felt was attached to him. Still, Kerra’s warm hand gripping his reminded him that he too had put his life on the line to save every one of these men and women. He had leapt into the Legacy without thought for his own safety. These actions had resulted in the death of The Gentle Reminder and the survival of Annie as a whole. Now properly christened in battle, far beyond any street fight or gun brawl, he was aware that sacrifice was sometimes necessary. This had been true of The Gentle Reminder’s life, and it was true of him. He would have to bear the burden of the Legacy for the rest of his life, of that he was sure.
Reaching the command deck they all filed in, it was empty save for them. There was a coldness in the air, an expectation of further bad news. Champion’s promise that he would soon be jailed was enough.
“I did not want to announce this to the general population, and I expect that this will not go any further than these walls. It will be all of you that will have to deal with its consequences, as my incarceration will not be short. Margaret, given how deeply this will involve your son I felt it best for you to know too.” She nodded in response to Champion’s words with an appreciative smile.
“I have examined the weaponry left behind by the retreating Nation soldiers. Those items, along with the debris of their downed personnel carriers, have provided me with sufficient evidence to know this as fact. Josia 24 supplied the Free Man Nation with the equipment for this attack.”
“What? Are you sure?” Kerra said, shock in her voice mirroring the expressions on the faces of her colleagues.
“As a friend of Josia 24’s, I had access to aspects of his business activity that few were aware of. I recognised some of the equipment, their rifles in particular. They were the sort that Josia made a lot of money manufacturing on back-water planets, the sort that nobody else produces. I have even profited from this enterprise in the past. Unfortunately, it seems that his sideline in arms dealing is now no longer to the benefit, and is instead being used against me.”
“If he has gone so far as to involve himself with these people, who must detest him, then we can assume that the Los Piratas attack was not retribution enough. We have two very powerful enemies now then, Annie is far less popular than she once was and it will only have consequences for the future.”
“Which means I need to place somebody in charge who I know has the strength, ability and personal conviction to see this crew renewed and lead it onwards to meet whatever threat will come to her next.”
The faces in the room all turned to Maur, except Champion’s, and stared at him with disbelief at their own assumption. Despite his incredible ascent to being such a deadly soldier, they did not expect somebody who was still officially just a maintenance boy to be given charge of the Jump Cannon.
“Hah. No, not Maur. I have consulted with 14 and we both believe that the best person to take care of the Jump Cannon and her crew is Charles. I can imagine no man more fit for the purpose.”
“Captain, I...” Charles stuttered, unusual for the man who had been stalwart throughout these difficult few months.
“You are not to speak unless the next words out of your mouth are in acceptance of this charge. That is an order, soldier,” Champion replied.
“Ahem,” Charles cleared his throat. “I would be honoured to captain the Jump Cannon in your absence, but only in your absence. We will do everything we can to overturn any conviction that the UNAPT achieve.”
“I would recommend instead that you do everything you can to get Annie back on her feet, and back out there earning. I’m leaving you with a ship that is all but bankrupt, or one that certainly will be after you pay for the repairs.”
“After I pay?” Charles questioned.
“Of course, you’re in charge now,” Champion replied, smiling and letting out a haughty laugh. He moved into Charles, wrapping his heavy arms around an old friend. Patting his back hard, reassuring in the face of a daunting task, he prepared for what was coming.
Champion turned to face out of his beloved ship, looking to the desolate battlefield. Shadows loomed over it, growing larger and larger as the UNAPT ships began to arrive. Round, sleek black pebbles emblazoned with perfect white lettering and insignia came down from above. A full circle of light around their body glared red and blue light outward and through the windows of the command deck. The inevitable blinded them all, but somewhat deprived of their senses they were able to sense the nervous esthesis of change. It touched each of them, pushing lumps into throats and dragging out childish thoughts of rebellion against this approaching judiciary employee. Clasping the hand of his long-term partner, Captain Earnest Champion lead the way through his ship with 14 at his side. The glaring lights having filtered into the entirety of the ship the corridors lined themselves with faithful crew, loving family. Reaching out hands, muttering pledges of allegiance, some even joining the line of followers behind him, the appreciation of the ship’s captain was universal. They lost friends while under his command, but they never lost faith that this was the man that should lead them. Despite being a mercenary ship staffed by men and women bound their by contract rather than patriotic duty, these crew were a devoted force – independent, conjugated by their trust in Champion. His imminent arrest struck them all as an almighty miscarriage of justice.
As they drew close to the hangar bay, Charles began to feel the incredible burden of expectation that all of these dedicated individuals placed upon his shoulders. He had never asked for captaincy, he had never seen himself as the lead of a ship. Yet, and with no sense of entitlement, he understood and agreed with Champion’s decision. They would soon be drafting a new crew, heading out into new danger, and all with the youthful naivety that would possess a staff lopsided with rookies.
He, Marc 14 and possibly Yazram, were it not for his mental fragility, represented the most experienced mercenary minds aboard. 14 wasn’t a soldier though, and the evidence of the preceding months suggested that this would be a mandatory requirement for any incoming captain of the Jump Cannon. Moving though the cavernous hangar bay, there was already a squad of armed UNAPT cops pointing their weapons in Champion’s direction. This overt show of force was unnecessary, a brutish attempt at intimidation, but a resigned Captain took slow and steady steps in response. Unmoved, unashamed, he met their aggression both calm and collected.
“Captain Earnest Henry Champion, you are to hereby be arrested under international law, for offences relating to the breach of the Berlin Private Military Governance act,” said one of the supervisory officers, standing in a long navy coat padded with bullet-proof material. “Please place your hands on your head and move free of your ship.”
“Who is making this arrest? What are the charges?” Champion replied. "I have a right to know that much..."
The man had a grey tousle of hair, framing thick protective glasses that matched the colour of his coat. Unarmed, he stood behind the squad with a cigarette in his hand. When he drew from the fuming tobacco in his hand, the straw-like strands of his moustache covered a few of his scarred, yellowing fingers. Line after line of permanent scores ran across his hands; some more pronounced marks just above the chunky fabric circling around his neck. He did not have the air of a vindictive man, but instead a wise one, a man who believed in justice entirely. The stark colours of his outfit reflected his black and white view of the world and its troubles.
“My name is Edward Baltazar, my rank is Chief Inspector. You are being arrested on charges of the following: conducting combat exercises within a domestic setting, conducting combat exercises leading to unlawful death, conducting combat exercises outside of sanctioned private military activity and unlawful entry of Earth’s atmosphere. As the owner of this ship, and the related corporation, you bear sole responsibility for these charges. They have been corroborated by terrestrial and orbiting detection equipment.”
“You’ve arrived rather late for charges as serious as those, don’t you think Chief Inspector?” Champion quizzed rhetorically, making the suggestion of foul-play absolutely clear by his tone.
“Please come quietly Earnest,” replied Baltazar with a knowing grit in his voice. “This location has seen far too much gunfire already today.”
“Quite, but I question the legitimacy of this arrest. You have not assessed this crime scene properly and yet you have arrived with fingers pointing in my direction. Should the basics of investigation not be carried out before an arrest is made?”
“You will not antagonise me Champion,” said Baltazar. “You are more than aware that all arrests of private military contractors, particularly those at your level, are checked and double checked. Your contradicting questions regarding our arrival time and the depth of our investigations are ample evidence that you are stalling, of that I am sure, just as I am sure that you will be coming with us.”
Baltazar’s southern drawl did not mock Champion, but it certainly pointed out the obvious truth to all that were present. He respected the well-known ex-military man enough not to drag him out of his ship, but the heckling would not continue. Ample time had been given for him to save face through defiance, and Baltazar was well aware that Champion understood the charges being laid at his feet.
“Where are we going?” he asked, showing his acceptance.
“You’ll be taken to Karson first, processed, and then a decision will be made about your next port of call.”
“You mean my ship’s crew will be left unaware of my location...”
“No,” Baltazar replied. “We’ll keep them informed. I assume you have a second in command who can take over?”
“I have somebody assigned, yes. Fine, I’ll come quietly, but if you break that assurance you will regret it. I know these men and women will not leave me to rot, wherever I am kept.”
“Quite,” came the drawn out reply, the authoritarian flicked his nose quickly before motioning for Champion to come down the ramp. “Come on, I don’t have all day.”
Obliging, Earnest took his steps slowly towards the assembled police squad. Calmed by the steady, non-aggressive dialogue between the prisoner and their commanding officer, they wrapped the cuffs with relative gentleness. Dignity intact, Champion was led away through the field.
“Good luck,” Kerra shouted after him, Beta crew following but Margaret left to console Marc 14. “We’ll keep contact as best we can.”
“Just keep my ship going, and make me some money. Do things like you always have!”
They watched him move towards the smooth UNAPT ships, the excessive volume of police enforcement marching in steady rhythm.
Huddling together, Beta Crew saw the man they followed disappear into one of the ships, led by Baltazar, who scanned the horizon before ducking in himself. Yazram struggled not to launch into immediate retaliation, he had needed to do so since UNAPT had arrived. Seeing this happen to the man who had led the drive for his freedom from Seeon, from the life of crime and desperate survival, was hard to take, but his loss was felt by all. Maur wrapped his arm around Kerra.
“Come on, there’s no point in just standing here.” Kerra said after they had all stood well after the dark black blobs banked over the horizon.
“I can’t believe it. The Free Man Nation ran like total pussies, after gunning for us for months, all just so those guys come in and take away the Captain? It’s bullshit,” Thom said, still standing absolutely static, folding his arms as he spoke.
“It doesn’t matter. This is only temporary.” Charles said, the first to turn away from the empty sky.
“Are you sure? The UNAPT have a pretty strong record when it comes to private military convictions. I can see him having the ship taken away from him, we’ll be out of jobs.” Thom continued to question.
“He has no ship to take.”
“What do you mean?” Yazram asked, piping up with an unfamiliar inflection.
“Annie is now technically my property.” Charles swung a panel, which he had been holding since they left the command deck, up to his line of sight, and tapped a few times before handing it over to Thom so he could corroborate his statement. “The ownership of the Jump Cannon has been transferred to me. It was done even before I was put in charge. Champion knew what the consequences of defending ourselves against the Nation would be.”
“So, it’s more than just temporary?” Maur asked, shocked by what he was hearing. Not because he did not trust Charles, but because he couldn’t fathom the Jump Cannon not being Champion’s ship.
“I hope it is as temporary as possible. I will hand the Jump Cannon back over as soon as the legal system is done with Champion, or as soon as he is free of it. Whichever comes first.”
Margaret and Marc 14 left the bowels of the ship, a motherly arm still around the lunark’s shoulders. Maur separated his own from Kerra, pushing his feet off the ground and jogging towards the only blood relative he had.
“I’m sorry we brought this all here mom,” he said, holding her tight. “You didn’t deserve any of this coming to your doorstep.”
“Don’t be silly, it was nice to see you. And all of your friends. I’m sorry it didn’t turn out better,” Margaret replied.
“What? Are you serious? You did more than you ever should have.”
“Well, it was an excuse to play with the new toys. Hopefully your boss will be OK. I think Marc 14 might need a bit of emotional support. It’s hard losing a partner.”
“A partner?” Maur questioned. “What do you mean?”
“His boyfriend,” she said as if it should be obvious to Maur. “You didn’t ever pick it up?”
“No... there was so much going on.”
“You never were very good at these things, although I see you and Kerra are quite the couple regardless,” Margaret said knowingly.
“Yeah,” he replied laughing. “You noticed that too huh?”
“Of course. One more thing Maur...”
“Can you let go? You’re starting to crush me.”
Apologetic, he pushed himself away and brushed her arms to try and sooth any pain he caused. He wasn’t used to the Legacy’s power yet. He imagined it would take a long time.
“You have your father’s strength now...”
“Sorry?” Maur asked, missing exactly what his mother had said.
“Nothing dear, let’s get you all inside. Get everybody fed properly before you have to leave.”
He followed her instructions obediently as a good son should, blindly ignoring the comment. Suddenly aware of what lay ahead – returning the dead to their rightful place, repairing Annie yet again, recruiting the new crew – he resolved to seize normality while it was offered. He was very glad that Champion had laid the burden of leadership on Charles and not him, between the Free Man Nation and the strange babbling of the Legacy his head was well occupied. Maur knew that neither was likely to release their combined vice-grip of worry, excitement and uncertainty without more days like this. At least The Gentle Reminder was dead.
* * * * *
“No matter how hard life is, it is still worth living for as long as you face its challenges with friends.”
A quote from Jacob Gilrey-Michaels, best-selling author.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Thirty Two, the finale of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)