Kryos: Chapter 49

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Ryard sighed neath the geodesic shower dome, full of bustling bodies in various states of undress. Vaporous space communal and unfiltered to better ration the tower’s water. Some of the bathers cleaned their armor beneath multifaceted jets, others relaxed in the curving alcoves and massaged their aching muscles. Some conversed, most remained silent. Ryard stood still and let the water overtake his senses, relishing in the soothing steam. A women entered the room. Sirin. The men paid no mind, save for Ryard. She halted at the sight of him, an expression of surprise and sorrow passing across her pallid scarred face. She washed hurriedly, wrapped a towel about bare midsection and left the dome. Ryard followed after her, snatching two towels as he went, securing one about his waist and plying the other to his sopping mane, then casting it about his shoulder. The space narrowed to a wide white corridor filled with benches of darker coloration and black lockers in low alcoves, beside each of which was a door that led to a changing room. “Sirin, wait.” But before he could catch her she passed into one of the changing rooms and latched the door. Ryard muttered a curse under his breath. He put his hands on his waist and swept his hair back, embarrassed and annoyed. Then a voice.

“You’re dripping on the floor.”

Ryard turned to see Colonel Vorstahl sitting on an adjacent bench, newly dressed, strapping a pair of smoky running shoes. The veteran’s uncombed ashen locks shaded thick, sharp brows and narrow boleite eyes that slowly swiveled to meet the CAV-keep’s own.

“Sorry.”

“Nevermind that, or the girl.” Vorstahl withdrew a comb, and passed it in mechanical swipes through his hair and dried it on a towel about his neck. “Get dressed. We’ve a meeting to attend.” Vorstahl threw a bundled change of clothing to the half naked man and raised a small foiled morsel to this mouth.

“What’s that?”

Vorstahl paused and turned the incongruous orb in the light. His nostrils flared and his thin lips twitched simultaneously with amusement and disdain. “A truffle. That funny man from the board gave it to me.”

“Gild?”

Vorstahl nodded. “I dislike candy, but waste wearies me more.” He popped the confection into his mouth, tilted his head up and swallowed as if downing a shot of whiskey. “Errant want, the guiding hand of vice. Take her for example,” he gestured to Sirin’s changing room. “She refused to discipline defectors for fear of sullying a pleasing camaraderie. Despite my orders. She shirked her duty and disgraced her station.”

“Is she to be reprimanded?” Ryard asked with trepidation as he finished changing into the fresh clothes.

“I’ve suspended her from duty until further notice.”

“What?”

“Though it wasn’t my domain, I kept abreast of KSRU reports. She’s proven unreliable. She’d have been killed in that alley if it weren’t for your intervention. Then she nearly got her team killed at the docks. Lastly, this recent disobedience.” Vorstahl crushed the empty tin candy wrapping in his right hand and rose from the bench. “Pleasure is a prison. Shackling one chained by it is a liberation.”

Ryard frowned. “We need everyone we have.”

“Should I arm the clerks? Perhaps the children?”

Ryard crossed his arms and brandished a reproachful look.

“I appreciate your acumen, Mr. Vancing, and all you’ve done for us, but this is my operation. Its your choice to gainsay my orders, as it is mine whether you keep your post thereafter.” His voice was casual, but his eyes betrayed steely assurance. Ryard tapped a foot, ran his tongue across his lower lip and relented. Bathers filed in from the shower dome and the air was cloistered in conversation.

“We convene in fifteen minutes at cartography hall, one level down,” the colonel declared before heading to the lift at the end of the corridor.

Ryard cocked his ear, filtering the surrounding hodgepodge of noise. Spray of water, patter of unshod feet, creak and slam of lockers. Through the near changing room door, stifled sobs. He knew it was not merely the reprimand which had prompted her grief, but the cumulative weight of recent events. The destruction of her home district, the dissolution of the government, the death of Syzr. Such travesties could not be allayed by words. What, he wondered, could be said? What comfort could he provide?

He wavered for a beat, hand at the handle, then retracted, as if scalded and left the locker room. It wasn’t his place, he concluded. She wasn’t a friend. He wondered if he would have had the same compunction to comfort one of the male officers if they were similarly distressed. Probably not.

The mundane character of it all put Ryard in a good mood. It was assuring to have something close and commonplace as interpersonal drama to fret about, something he, alone, could intercede on or abstain from without wider repercussion. Normality is not what it used to be, he thought. Nor would it be again. But what was it ever, other than dissent from adaptation?

He descended to the next floor and paced neath a wide chamber with a fluted ceiling, fording a press of technicians and medical officers. At concavity’s center, a pale table, on it, a map of the city and several cups of coffee and cubes of kelp and two ashtrays, one smoldering. Colonel Vorstahl leaned over the shimmering, detailed cartograph, Sonderon at his elbow. Arrayed around the table were captains and corporals and several faces he didn’t recognize. He wondered at Straker’s absence.

“Alright, lets keep it brief. Our task, secure the KASC via deliverance of the engine to the Mracan Arkhos. And, if possible, capture or kill Illander Rehdon. We’re going to need a way to clear our gates of the mobs,” he moved his hand around the map, to a representation of the fort in which they convened, flush beyond the barbican with minuscule dots that represented bodies. “And after that, the KASC observation towers just beyond the walls.” He dragged a finger across the illustration to the aerospace complex and circled it.

Sonderon bent to the map and drew a line with his finger at the front gate. “Just send over a volley of canisters, smoke them out.”

“In this wind?” Raimer shook his head.

Vorstahl cut in. “All they would do is move back until it cleared. Which it would do swiftly, for the reason Raimer raised. Besides, such a course leaves a chance of fatalities among young and elderly.”

“Lot of those young and elderly want us dead,” Sonderon snapped.

“That changes my opinion no more than if they wanted us to live long as our telomeres allow.”

“We can just shoot the bastards.”

“That’s your proposal, massacre civilians?”

“I’m sick of your haughty attitude.”

“We’re not doing that.”

“I’ll do what needs doing.”

“No. You won’t.”

“I don’t take orders from you.” Sonderon gestured broadly to his men. “We don’t take orders from you.”

Without warning Vorstahl seized the politician by the back of his collar and slammed him to the tabletop. Sonderon groaned and held his hands out in entreaty, eyes bugging in fright. The hands of the surrounding colonial guard flew to waistbound cutters as Sonderon’s men tensed and squared up to their makeshift compatriots. Ryard shifted to one of the Sonderites he recalled as Closton and sternly, pleadingly gestured. A half shake of the head. Closton relented and held back his compatriots.

“Syzr went off alone, you want to join him?”

“Get him off me!”

Vorstahl pressed the squirming man harder to the calcimine work surface. Smearing red. “From now on, you will not speak until spoken to. You will not act without my assent. Is it understood?”

When Sonderon did not respond the colonel asked again, his voice rising with terrible potency. “Is it understood?”

“Yes.” The single word tumbled feebly from trembling lips.

Vorstahl glanced over his shoulder to the assembled Sonderites whose faces displayed a mixture of fear and outrage. “The same goes for all of you.”

For a moment only Sonderon’s labored breath resounded. In one swift movement, Vorstahl pulled the man off the table and flung him to his comrades. Closton caught his leader and looked to Ryard apologetically. Sonderon wiped faint trickles of blood from lip and brow and cast his eyes to the ground like a wounded dog.

“Now, as to our plan of action,” Vorstahl continued without perturbation, straightening, hands on his belt. “We’ll deploy cloud planters over the base and spaceport. Charge the atmosphere. Make it hail.”

“Why send them over the spaceport?” Corporal Grieg queried, rubbing his chin contemplatively.

Vorstahl returned to his precise gesticulations. “Unless he’s a fool, Rehdon will have men stationed on the observation towers. SecCom remnants, probably. But those towers weren’t designed for sniping, so they’ll be open to the elements. So we wait for the storm to build and take an armored convoy up the main gate, clear the towers, and head to the spire. From there, we’ll descend to the control room in the underworks and install the engine.”

“We’re not clearing the entire base first?” Whalen inquired, spreading his hands.

“No. Underworks are sealed and only open to properly tuned Telesoma. There is a single module stored in the tower, static passcode 5682134, but it is improbable that Rehdon is aware of it.”

“And if he is?” Whalen pressed.

“Then he’s probably catatonic. Its dangerous to engage Telesoma, for every module is linked to every other. The strain of it is too much for most to bear. But even if he finds and is sufficiently constituted to interface with the system, that changes nothing concerning our strategy.”

“How are we getting in the spire? With or without Telesoma, Rehdon’ll have the place sealed.” Lanning prompted.

Ryard smiled slyly and stepped to the map, opposite the colonel. “I have an idea.” All present shifted to the speaker, who until this moment had been entirely silent. “The windows on the spire, they factory standard?”

“Yes. Why?” Vorstahl replied, arching a brow.

“The cloud racer I borrowed from Lind is designed for repair and replacement of paneling on highrises and aerostats.” Ryard modulated the map so it displayed the aerospace control spire as a cutaway. “If I take the racer to the communication room here,” he slide a dactyl to the top of the penultimate portion of the massive blade-like column. “Then I could use the racer to remove one of the windows, fly inside, get to the instrument panel and open the ground floor doors.”

Sarker bobbed his head. “Sounds like a plan.”

“A risky one,” Kopf added.

“Why go all the way to the top? Why not enter through the second story and run down to the lobby?” Whalen asked with a dumbfounded expression. “Surely that would be quicker.”

“The spire is similar to this base,” Ryard magnified the diagram and pointed. “Every floor is bifurcated with a passcode waypoint, the regular change of which is automated, randomized, and relayed to pertinent personnel as necessary. Probably the only people who know the codes now are Rehdon and his men. However-”

“The codes can be manually input from the spire control room.” Vorstahl finished mechanically.

“Right.”

The colonel looked into Ryard’s eyes. “None of my men are competent with HOCL machinery. You are certain you can operate the cloud racer with that degree of precision?”

“Its not much different from manually steering a CAV-way transport. Besides, what are our other options? Blast through the doors, level by level?”

“Feasible.”

“But too slow,” Tyser Lanning added. “There’s no cover at the front entrance of the spire. We could use amtracs for cover but we’d still be open from above. Our aerial surveys haven’t show any Consortium drone movement, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any. I think we should let the Major try it.”

“You should have seen him at the docks, Colonel. He can do it,” Kopf declared as he stepped beside the CAV-keep and slapped him on the back. “Ain’t that right?” Grieg, Sarker and Whalen nodded and their faces were full of genial lines. Ryard smiled, moved by the sudden flurry of support.

Vorstahl, unmoved by the display, leaned forward, hands across the map and gazed searchingly from face to face. “Very well.” The next instant he pointed with stern focus. “But I don’t want any heroics. You get in, you make a straight line to the controls, you get out. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

His smile faltered when he noticed Sonderon’s visage, turned upon Vorstahl, spiced with malice, black and smoldering.

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