Feral multitudes marshaled before the ramparts of KSRU’s Southern Base. Some petitioned aid. Others howled for retribution. All demanded entry. Brawls erupted with regularity and the ground was maculate with teeth and blood. Adult and child, man and woman. Milky mangled limbs, artifacts of impulse. Despite the frenzied cries that permeated the orgiastic miasma, no movement, nor word issued from the fortress impregnable. The feverish, fatigued throng, greeted only by the stern, imposing facade, grew weary of the broil, and at length, succumbed to a tomblike stillness.
On torpid wind, the scent of char. In the eastern distance, febrile ruins. Devik’s palatial dirigible, ringed by gutted storm damp timber and broken armatures of pulverized gazebos, appearing liken to the rent ribcage of some beached, timeworn fiend of fathomless depth and gargantuan proportion.
Vancing regarded the desolate vista with solemnity from the fortress valgang as wind tousled his dark, formerly mannered hair and chilled his weary frame. He adjusted his collar, sat and leaned against the wall, closing bleary eyes, soaking in stillness. Idleness had eluded him since the adventure at the docks and so basked in tranquility’s balm, feeling the cool rigidity of the porous concrete at his back, wondering of its origin. After some moments of contemplation the man’s attention returned to the object held. A heavy beige pack that clattered dully. From the satchel he withdrew the armor of Acelin Syzr. Piece by piece, he set the interlocking plates at his left, hefted the helm and drew a worn rag over the abraded veneer in tight circles, cleansing caked gore. With a gentle motion he shifted the vermeil covering so hollows stared at him. Percolations of emotion played across the mechanic’s face.
“Thought I’d find you up here.”
Ryard, prompted by the intrusive voice, looked up and beheld Tyser Lanning. The lanky man’s aspect had changed markedly since last the CAV-keep had beheld him, for his long hair had been clipped short, parted in the middle, his distinctive orange overcoat exchanged for a standard issue suit of monochrome sychitin, and holstered at his waist, a colony fabricated cutter.
Lanning gestured to the face covering. “Feels strange. Knowing he’s gone. Was talking to him a week ago. He was standing right where you’re sitting. Its as if-”
“One were dreaming.”
Lanning nodded, moved to the chalky merlons and removed a small parcel from his utility belt. From the packet he withdrew a number of thin sliced tomatoes and laid them in rows upon the toothed protrusions of the wall such that no piece touched the other.
“I once told him, somewhat condescendingly, if he recognized how quickly we forget the dead, he’d not be so hasty to join them.”
Ryard stopped burnishing the headpiece and looked to his colleague. “What’d he say?”
“’I would prefer to die rightly and forgotten, than live in fame and error.’” Sorrowfully, Lanning shook his head. “I couldn’t fathom the sentiment. Had a new family. I was contracted. Not yet a formal member of the colony. What good was honor to me? It couldn’t feed my kid. I thought it was naive idealism. But its only by the blood of men like him that I had the luxury of such vulgar pontifications.” He paused, removed his knife and methodically separated the seeds from the meat of the diced fruits. “That was twelve years ago.”
Ryard cocked his head inquisitively. “What are those?”
“Tomatoes. Gets hot on the parapets, so they dry out pretty quick.”
“What are they for?”
“Those dubious noodles?”
“Didn’t like them?”
“Didn’t try them.”
“Well, I brewed two pots. Thought you might be hungry.”
“I appreciate it. I haven’t eaten anything today.”
Thereafter the two men continued their work without conversation until a cry from below diverted their attentions. In the courtyard of the keep near the gate, two men stood, face to face, each gesticulating violently, shouting, their words rendered indecipherable by emotion and distance. Who occupied the ground nearest the barbican was a colonist. The other, a member of Sonderon’s troupe.
Ryard sighed, rose, and wiped his hands on his pants. “Tend to your vittles. I’ll see to it.” Thereafter, Ryard debarked the palisades. Below, the fracas teetered at the edge of violence and heated voices rang throughout the court.
“You don’t get it, do you?”
“When Kryos wakes,” the colonist began, ire ascendant, cut off before he could finish.
“Wakes? Its been a week. We both saw what happened. There’s scarcely anything left of him. I know you lot don’t want to hear it, but he’s not waking up.” Some of the colonists surrounding muttered among themselves with incredulity or concern.
“One set back, you turn tail? Is that how Sonderon operates?”
“We’re surrounded. Rehdon has the whole city in the palm of his hand. What can we do?”
“I didn’t sign up to lay down in a grave.”
“The words of a coward.”
With a snarl, the Sonderite sprung forth and struck the colonist in the jaw. The abused staggered back, as much from the shock at the affront as the pain of the blow. Retaliation was swiftly meted and the two locked arms amid the baying of their peers, who began to howler like monkeys of some carnage stained jungle.
“Enough,” Ryard shouted coldly as he pushed his way through the rallying crowd and split the combatants with a forceful shove. The belligerents turned upon the fresh offender and for a moment it appeared as if the melee would resume. “This dissension is profitless.”
“He calls me coward.”
“And so you are,” the colonist, who Ryard recognized as Amon Alric, barked defiantly, wiping blood from his lip and glaring above a weather beaten brow.
“Because I’ll not throw my life away for your master’s fancy? For some cursed vessel.”
“That ship is worth more than the whole of Aecer.”
“What’s this about?” Ryard demanded impatiently.
“Desertion, sir. He and that lot sought to make a break of it,” Alric responded, gesturing to a small group of Sonderon’s men and two colonists by the gate. “So I intervened. If he should go, that’s his business, but he’s subverted us, sir, and convinced some of the rookies to abscond.”
Ryard looked to the neophytes, neither wore helms, one a vermilion haired man, the other a raven haired woman, both young and terrified. “To your stations,” the CAV-keep commanded. The would be deserters did not move, but looked each to the other with dire apprehension. Ryard took a step forward. “I would prefer not to repeat myself.”
“Who are you to be giving orders?” The red headed defector hissed, surpressed ire overtaking terror. “Some two-bit mechanic the bitch dragged in off the streets.”
“Its ironic,” Ryard replied, ignoring the insult.
“That mob outside want in because they believe men like you will protect them.” The deserter’s face fell. Ryard motioned to the dastards and spoke to the soldiers surrounding. “Detain them all.”