Dangerous Ideas, p.1Vincent Cleaver / Science Fiction
By Vincent L. Cleaver
The plants of Othrig II were purple and green, like the uniforms of some of the Markov, the elite, the Autocrats' Own Immortals. That was irony for you, hard at work making the universe an interesting place to be. Her dad called them Jokers, for some reason that Karen could not fathom, and he promised to explain it, after the mission was over. But the mission was going to be over before it began, if Karen could not stop the lone Markov she had just come upon from sounding the alert. This Markov wore brown and orange, for garrison duty; a guard from the camp the Markov Imperium had placed in this northern jungle- for the comfort of the Markov and the discomfort of their Bluehorn detainees, probably. He was out here by himself, which was very un-Markov, for they were a gregarious species, always doing things together.
It was a good thing that he reached for his weapon; that gave her time to close with him. He looked at her, not afraid of a sixty-kilo human female. He was a half tonne of alien soldier, but the smallest adult Markov she had ever seen. In his curiosity, the Markov took too long, and she swept past the barrel of the blaster, knocking it aside. He turned it in his hands and used it to block her, but she was already climbing, using the barrel as if it was the rung of a ladder. Her broken left arm had almost healed, but she favored it and swung with her right, jabbing a knuckle at the nerve cluster under his ear.
The Markov staggered, and sat on his haunches. Karen winced as she fell to his left, and rolled; she had felt the weakness of her left arm and had let go rather than risk breaking it again. She looked up from the plants and mud she had landed in, and rolled as the soldier swung the butt of his rifle. She got her feet under her, and he reversed the blaster rifle, a hand-canon, really.
There was no time for thought. Karen rolled forward, tumbling into his forelegs. There was another nerve cluster, at the top of his right foreleg, and she jabbed at it and missed. He staggered but remained upright as he pulled herself around to his right side. She was right under five hundred kilos, and trying to bring it down; that irony was not lost on her and she smiled all the while she was climbing around and over his equipment packs. The grenades were just in reach when he got a hand on her and ripped her off. Grenades were not a good idea, anyway. The noise would attract attention. Karen landed and reached for a blade. The knife was a smart material, and it lay against her spine for extra protection when she was not using it, adhering to her skin. Now she put her hand to it and it shifted, becoming a handle and a blade with an edge that would not part her own skin.
The Markov soldier chuckled. “That’s your idea of a weapon?” He raised the blaster, and then grunted as the knife landed in his left eye. The blaster rifle fell from his hands and he collapsed. Very faintly, Karen could hear him speak, and then he was still.
Karen waited a few breaths, and approached cautiously, reaching to pull her knife free. The Markov was not dead, though. His right hand grabbed her left, jerking her around. The old break snapped wetly, and she stifled a scream. He pulled her to him, breathing raggedly, and held her, while he took her knife from his eye. His scream in her ear was her entire world for an instant, and then he pressed the knife futilely to her throat. It still hurt where he dragged it, but she was alive, and he was terribly disappointed.
He turned her around, slowly, thickly, raggedly, and faced her, a massive hand squeezing at her throat. She watched the life go out of his remaining eye as hers ebbed, heart thudding and the blood in her ears roaring. There were spots in her vision, and then she was free and coughing. She was half suffocated and weighed down by his upper body, but she dragged herself free.
Her father came along then and helped her up, saying nothing. He handed her his water, which she drank greedily, and checked her over; again, wordlessly. He reset the re-broken arm and he just looked at her when he was finished, still not saying anything. She hugged him with her good arm, and wiped at her eyes.
“The bad news is,” he whispered finally, “it gets easier. I’m not sorry you chose this life, but I wish I could have spared you that,” and he nodded at the Markov.
“It’s okay, Dad; it’s okay. There’s just something I’ve got to do,” she added, and turned to the body. His comm told her what she wanted to know, and she squatted by Trooper Gadd, of Clan Krell. She wrote with a stick, naming him, his sire, and his dam, and calling on his Gods and Ancestors to mark that he had died for the Imperium and for the Autocrat; that he had died well.
“Do you really believe that, Karen?”
“He did, and that’s enough for me.” But she was asking herself what she was doing here, and what she really believed.