Rowen brushed by the conscript private guarding the bunker entrance. The junior man gasped. “Corporal! I thought you were dead.”
The corporal spun on his heel and put his finger to his lips.
The wide-eyed private just nodded quickly and backed towards his guard station.
Rowen descended the stairs four at a time. He reached the bottom and looked through the heavy glass of the double doors leading to the Operations Center. It would do no good to be seen by any of his officers and how long would that private hold his tongue? The lights were subdued. Faces were lit by holograms and floating monitor panels. His eyes darted from person to person looking for his target.
Sir Reginald Redfield was not there. In a way, he was glad. His only plan, with so many standing around, was to stab him through the heart with Harris’ spiral knife. He was not optimistic about his chances for success under those circumstances.
The Watch Officer’s bunk room was just inside the door to the right. He hoped no one would look to see who entered as the double doors hissed open. He put his head down and swiftly entered the bunk room.
He closed the door and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. A soft snore came from the cot. Only a small part of his face was visible from the mummy sleeping bag. He saw the wispy mustache that positively identified his target. He pulled the dagger and silently approached his victim.
He stopped within striking range. He grunted softly and sheathed his knife. He needed to feel pain before his life ended.
“Psst. Hey.” Rowen said.
Redfield groaned. “Come back later.”
The blue blood pushed his face from the tiny opening of the sleeping bag. His bleary eyes went wide when he saw his dead squad leader hovering over him with murder in his eyes.
“you’re… you’re dead.” He stammered.
“Not as dead as you’re about to be.” Then Rowen punched the much smaller man in the face, knocking him out. He pulled the drawstring closed and dragged the sleeping bag out of the room by the feet.
Rowen rushed through the outside ring of the Command Center. He again hoped no one would pay attention to a large, bloody man in a raggedy uniform dragging a sleeping bag with a limp body in it.
One face looked up from the holographic battle map in center of the dimly lit room. He looked back down, then sharply up again as he noticed a body in a sleeping bag being dragged up the stairs as the armored glass doors whooshed shut. “What’s this about?” He pointed towards the doors, other turned to see what the officer was pointing at. A half a dozen of them made for the door.
Rowen bolted up the stairs, dragging his platoon leader. The blue’s head bounced on each stair. His captive thrashed around in his fart sack. His muffled shouts made Rowen grin. He knew time was running out.
The bunker guard stood gaping, not sure how to react. At the mad man coming up the steps.
“Be a good lad and open that door.”
The youngster dimly nodded again and followed the NCO’s command.
“Unhand me, you brute!” Redfield cried.
Rowen saw a terrified eye peering out of the puckered opening in the sleeping bag. Rowen grabbed the fart sack and pulled that eye closer to his. “You killed my team, you bloody bastard. And now I will kill you.” He growled.
More muffled yelling came as Rowen grabbed his legs and swung his lieutenant into a corner of plasti-crete T-Wall. His head cracked open from the first impact. The yelling abruptly stopped. He kept swinging as red bloomed from the head of the sleeping bag.
Armored marines stood watching, not believing, or understanding what was going on in front of them.
Six men burst from the command bunker. Rowen pulled his dagger and lunged towards his victim. One of them grabbed his hand with augmented strength. Rowen growled and put all his remaining energy into sinking his spiral blade into Redfield. More augmented hands grabbed and pulled. The blade fell from his hand and stuck point first into the frozen ground.
They wrestled the large conscript to the ground as he howled and cursed.
The officer that first spotted Rowen, Sir William Pellegrino, stood up and straightened his tunic. He tapped his ear and spoke. “I need a surgeon at the Ops bunker, ASAP.” He motioned to the marines standing nearby. “You two! Restrain this man!”
The marines hurried to comply. They hauled Rowen to his feet, clamping his arms tight on each side. Sergeant Major Handley grabbed Rowen by the collar. “What the hell were you thinking?” his gruff voice said near a low whisper.
“He is responsible for the deaths of six men. There’s no way he would have been brought to justice.”
The Sergeant Major dropped his head and sighed heavily. “Lord Bryce has already relieved him of command.”
“He’ll be moved to another unit. Nothing more will happen. What Justice—”
“And what kind of justice do you think you will get?” Handley said, cutting him off. The old NCO glowered at Rowen. He turned away not saying another word.
There was something shared in that last look. He may have sympathized with the corporal, but he could never put voice to that.
Rowen slumped. His anger turned to shame. He could not avenge his squaddies. The last of his energy dissolved with his rage.
Sir William Pellegrino stood behind the senior NCO. He looked at Rowen with contempt and disgust. He would not deign to speak to this ogre of a serf. He tapped his ear again. “Where’s that surgeon?”
Two of the other staff officers opened the sleeping bag. The youngest son of Duke Angus Redfield was motionless. His face and skull reduced to a mashed pulp. The sclera of his left eye ran down his bloody cheek.
“Gods have mercy.” One of them said turning to retch.
The surgeon and two medics rushed from the bunker. The staff officers gladly stepped back to let them work.
A commotion preceded Duke Alfred Bryce erupted from the underground bunker. He and two of his aides, or household knights to be more precise, stopped an arm’s length away from Rowen.
“What is the meaning of all this?” The Duke demanded.
The Lord Bryce was a formidable man. A warrior’s warrior. His thinning, graying hair revealed a stunning lack of vanity for someone in his exalted position.
Sergeant Major Handley turned and pulled the creases from his tunic with a crisp snap and bowed his head. “Milord, this man just lost his entire squad—”
Bryce put his hand up, silencing the old Noncommissioned Officer. “Yes, Top, I saw the battle holos.” He stepped over to the surgeon. “report.”
The ground reverberated with an explosion that was only a hundred meters away. Red lasers and bright white auto-pulser fire stitched across the black sky. The marines that lollygagged watching the show moved off with purpose.
The surgeon nodded his respect but did not stand from his patient. “Milord, his skull has multiple fractures. His face is pulp. His left eye is gone. I need to get him evacuated to a capitol ship before the swelling in his brain kills him.”
Bryce turned to the aide on his left, Sir Basil Singh “Can we risk a dropship landing?”
Sir Basil frowned at his busy holo-screen and shrugged. “It’ll be dicey but I think we can get a bird on the ground within ten minutes.”
Bryce turned back to the surgeon. “Get Sir Reginald to the landing pad.” He paused. “Doctor, I need not explain the ramifications if the young Redfield dies, do I?”
“I understand fully, Milord. I’ve already contacted the Titan. They’ve assured me the medical suite will be prepped and ready once we land.” Said the doctor as his medics loaded their patient on the hover gurney.
“Very good. Keep me informed.”
The doctor bowed, and they dashed out. Bryce turned to his knights. “This is a call I’m not looking forward to making.”
Pellegrino furrowed his brow. “If that little bastard dies—”
Lord Bryce cut him off. He motioned to Rowen a few paces away. “We do not have provisions for a stockade here. Options?”
Sir Basil cleared his throat. “We can use Redfield’s quarters. He’s not likely to be back soon. And we can secure the door.”
Sir Ren Woodford approached carrying a set of shackles. “I’ve just had these printed.” He approached Rowen. “Corporal, would you be so kind?” He held the steel bracelets in front of him.
Rowen dutifully put his hands in front of him. The knight clamped the restraints on the corporal. The prisoner’s eyes were downcast. He cleared his throat.
“Sir. I just want to—”
Sir Ren put his hand up. Rowen stopped speaking.
“Corporal John Rowen. You have the right to remain silent. I suggest you do just that. It is one of the few rights you have.”
The two armored marines stood holding their prisoner. One finally worked up enough courage to speak. “Forgive me, Sir. But what are our orders?”
Sir Ren cast a glance to his Duke.
Bryce stepped forward. “Take him to medical. Wait there until they are done treating his wounds. Then take him to Sir Reginald’s quarters and lock him in.” He started to turn away. “Thank you for your service in this matter. After you’ve completed this duty. I grant you a full day of liberty and extra grog rations.”
They stood straighter. “Many thanks milord.” The talkative one said. They turned and marched off with their prisoner.
The Duke sighed. “Dammit. I don’t want to execute that man.”
“It’s the law, sire. We must set an example, or the other conscripts might…” he paused to select his words. “Become unmanageable.” Pellegrino said.
“It would do us well to consider Duke Redfield in this matter. Our actions to his son’s attacker may have future consequences.”
Bryce folded his arms. “I’d like to promote him.”
Pellegrino gasped. “Milord. Please don’t say such things, even in jest.”
“You watched the drone cams of his mission?” Bryce asked.
“That little shite, Redfield practically sabotaged his own mission. Those men died for nothing. Those men had jobs and family just outside our castle walls. That corporal finished his mission. A mission I never sanctioned.” Bryce clasped his hands behind him and paced. “The seeker could’ve been released far sooner.”
“My lord, if I may.” Sir Basil interjected.
Bryce nodded his consent.
“I believe we should hold a tribunal. The corporal earned that much.”
Pellegrino stepped forward. “I object in the strongest possible terms. If we are not going to summarily execute him, then we should hand him over to the Redfield and let him deal with him.”
Lord Bryce arched an eyebrow. “You object?”
“Milord, I…” Pellegrino stammered.
Bryce smiled and waved off his apology. “Looks like I found my prosecutor.”
Sir Basil chuckled.
“and you’re his council.” The Duke said.
Basil beamed and bowed at the waist. “It is my honor to serve.”
Sir Ren Woodford smiled blandly and awaited his task.
“Sir Ren, please see that the intel from Rowen’s seeker is uploaded to the battle map. With that info, we should be able to end this skirmish and be back home on Capella Minor within a fortnight.”