I’m on the road today, so you get another tease…
Usual disclaimers apply…
Fargo could smell the heat on the outside of the shuttle as it burned back down into atmosphere. Whoever was driving was damn good. They’d done a max boost to get high and supersonic as soon as they’d loaded. He was still pissed at Nicole for tagging along, but she did have a point. He didn’t speak any of the Hindi languages and she did.
All they knew was that the two GalPat and a magistrate were pinned down near the square in Delhi. There had been an honor killing of a daughter of one of the local powers, which was strictly outlawed on Hunter. Apparently the Patels had brought in two different sects to work their lands, and love had jumped the sects.
The colonel had accompanied them, along with Major Palette and Warrant Hartsfield, with the major now waiting in GalPat battle armor. The shuttle came in hard and fast, the aft ramp pointed away from the direction of incoming fire as a flat female voice called possible shooters in the two story building facing the plaza and the trapped men.
“Ten seconds to grounding,” the loadmaster called as the aft ramp started down.
First platoon deployed quickly from the aft ramp, followed by the colonel and warrant as the major slowly clomped down the ramp. As soon as Palette was down, the colonel called, “Okay Boykin, lift and hold. You’re weapons tight.”
A laconic, “Roger,” came back as the ramp started up and the shuttle lifted. The colonel and warrant hustled toward their troops as Fargo deployed first platoon in an urban combat spread. His intent was to get behind the building with the shooter or shooters and root them out at close range.
Yash and Kamadev, his spotter were looking for height to provide overwatch as the rest of the platoon, Horse in the lead on one side and Adhit in the lead across the street as they bounded down a side street that would bring them behind the two story building where the shooters were. Coming to a cross street, they rotated and moved down it quickly.
Stacking up at the corner, Fargo moved forward and peeked around the corner at knee height, keying his comm he said, “Can’t see the back door, blocked by a building but we know there is an alley between them. I see two windows that face us. Nothing in either window. Two choices; bum rush as a group, or split and half go one more street over to cover from that side.” Fargo thought for a second then said, “Naik, take your half of the platoon, go one more block. We’ll cross and hold until you’re in position.”
Naik replied, “Horse is riding. On me.” He charged across the street at a dead run, sweeping both sides of the street as he went, closely followed by the rest of the troops. Adhit nodded at Fargo and moved swiftly but quietly across the street and into cover by the houses as he edged forward until he was just back of the alley. Fargo eased forward until he was two behind Adhit.
As Horse called in position, he heard Nicole’s soft, “Shit. Look at that asshole.”
Fargo took a second to figure out what she was talking about as Palette came lumbering up the street in battle armor and keyed his PA system, “You, you are surrounded throw out your weapons and surrender. There is no chance of escape. If you do not throw down your weapons, I will fire on you with my weapons in ten, nine…”
Fargo made an instantaneous decision, “Go, go, go! We’ve got to get to the back door before they do.” Adhit took off at a dead run, getting a couple of yard lead on everyone else. Fargo huffing along saw Horse and his troops pounding up the alley from the other side of the building and he said, “’Ware the crossfire.”
Adhit got to the door just as it flew open and a figure emerged, there was a bang and Adhit dropped to the ground. Fargo had his rifle up ready to fire, but as he started to press the trigger, Horse, kukri out, yelled something and cut down hard. The man slumped and Horse hacked at him again, grabbed something and charged into the building. Fargo yelled into the comm, “We have building entry in the rear, do not, repeat do not fire into building. We are clearing from the rear.” Fargo glanced at Adhit as he went by, hoping he was just stunned, “Medic up. Adhit is down at the rear door.”
Fargo and Ganju paired up and cleared the lower floor, room by room, only to find it empty. Fargo heard a couple of shots from the second floor, but he couldn’t be in both places and had to trust Horse and the others to clear it. He heard a weird noise like someone screaming a prolonged “Nooooo”, followed by what sounded like amplified retching and sobbing.
He and Ganju finished the first floor and Fargo jumped up the stairs, not knowing what he would find. As he cleared the landing, he could see Horse standing near the front windows, head down. Fearing he was also injured, he bolted down the hallway, not bothering to clear any rooms. As he approached Horse he said, “Angel six.” Horse merely nodded and Fargo saw that Horse had his kukri in his right hand, blood dripping from it. “Are you hit Naik,” he asked.
Horse turned slowly, “They tried. The armor worked. That should be me at the back door, not Adhit. He was always proud he could outrun me.” Fargo glanced around the room and saw three headless bodies, trails of blood going toward the broken out window.
Fargo said, “We don’t know that Adhit…”
Horse said dully, “Adhit is dead. I saw the bastard shoot him at an upward angle and blood blossom in the helmet.” Waving his arm, “These do not pay for Adhit. There is one more head that I will take.”
Fargo said gently, “Let’s clear for now.” Over the comm he said, “Building is secure. We are exiting the rear and will come around the north side.” He led Horse back down the stairs and out of the back door, noting Adhit was no longer lying on the dirt and he saw nothing but anger from the other troops. Looking at Nicole, he saw tears in her eyes as she shook her head sadly and it hit him that he’d lost another troop.
He saw red and charged around the side of the building, looking for someone to kill. As he cleared the front, he saw four heads laying in the street, one of them a woman. Ignoring them, he continued toward Colonel Keads who was standing with a short fat dark skinned man who was berating him for the vicious attack on his property.
Fargo slid behind the man, locked an arm around his neck and started drawing his kukri, only to feel someone pinning his arm. He looked over to see Horse, smiling, “No, this one is mine. Release him please.”
Fargo stepped back and Horse walked around in front of the man, “Patel, your life is forfeit.”
Patel gibbered at Horse then turn to the colonel, “You cannot let this scum talk to me this way, I am a property owner and rich man! He has killed four of my employees and he should be owing me money for their lives!”
Colonel Keads looked at him curiously, “Patel, you brought this on yourself. I just got a dump of your file and the cooperative’s files. You were banned from emigrating to New Mumbai due to your actions on Earth Four. Somehow you got a contract for Hunter, which specifically prohibited from bringing more than one sect to Hunter. You lied, somehow kept the two sects apart on the trip out, probably with stasis. Warrant tells me you’ve set the one sect up as basically slave labor, again contrary to the cooperative paperwork. Then you apparently approved the honor killing…”
“It’s my right! I own…”
Horse stepped closer and his smile got bigger, “No, I own you. One of mine died, now you are forfeit to me. Colonel, may I?”
Keads rubbed his chin, turned to Warrant Hartsfield who nodded slightly, then turned back, “Yes, but first we must gather the heads of the two sects here. Captain, can you make that happen?”
“With pleasure,” Fargo growled. Keying his comm he said, “First Platoon, in pairs. Locate and bring leaders of both sects here, now.”
Ten pairs of grim Ghorka fanned out, and twenty minutes later eight men and women stood nervously in front of the colonel, along with Patel’s wife and two children. Patel’s wife was in shock, obviously not understanding what had brought her and her children down to the level of the common people.
The colonel had been busy on his data comp in addition to talking with the warrant, Major Palette having gone back to the shuttle, now sitting in the plaza with weapons ports open.
With one last entry on his data comp, Keads looked around at not only the eight standing in front of him, but the fifty or so curious individuals who were standing nearby. He said, “Boykin, gimme PA.” With a pop, the shuttle’s PA system came on and Keads said, “In accordance with GalPat standards, Patel’s cooperative is now found in violation of contract and said contract is null and void. As the de facto approver of the honor killing of one Fathi Khanna, he is guilty as an accessory to murder. With the death of militia member Adhit Rai, he is guilty of accessory to murder of a peacekeeper. I hearby sentence him to death, to be carried out now in the presence of both sects.”
Turning to Horse he said, “If you would be so kind?”
Smiling, Horse raised his kukri and sliced three times, caught Patel’s head as it flopped free, and held it up with a cry of triumph. Keads turned back to Patel’s wife, “You will be sent back to Earth Four, along with your children. Your lands will be split equally between the two sects you imported in violation of the cooperative agreement. You will be allowed one hundred pounds of lift apiece. You have four hours to collect what you would take.”
Fargo stood on the bank of the freshet that tumbled down from the Green below the Enclave, staring morosely at the funeral pyre built on the edge of the water, First fucking mission and I get one of my best troops killed, lucky shot or not. I never should have taken this damn position. I don’t ever want to write another letter to a wife or mother. I still cannot believe Ujjwala hugged me and said Adhit had died with honor, and I wasn’t at fault. He felt himself shaking in anger and was surprised to feel a hand on his elbow. He glance over to see Nicole standing next to him, a single tear rolling down her cheek.
“It’s not your fault Ethan, there was no way to know that would happen, or that it was even possible for someone to die that way. Freak accident is what it was. The one perfect angle that round had to take to glance off the plate and slide up the seam to his head.”
Fargo tasted her emotions and knew she believed exactly what she was saying, but that didn’t ease the pain, “No, he died because I put him on point. That should have been me. I can’t do this, I just…”
The priest and Aadi, Adhits’ son marched down the bank to the pyre, and Aadi, all of thirteen standard years old, touched the first torch to his father’s funeral pyre. He turned to Fargo and offered the torch, as Horse and Lal took up two other torches. He hesitated until he felt a gentle push from Nicole, then took the torch and went to the unoccupied corner of the pyre. The three of them simultaneously touched their torches to the pyre then he followed Horse and Lal in extinguishing the torch.
He went back to stand by Nicole, thankful that the winds were blowing away from them as the fire leapt higher and higher until Adhit’s body was consumed. The priest continued his prayers as the fire burned lower, as Nicole translated that the family would now go into eleven days of mourning.
Nicole turned to Fargo at the door of the Copper Pot, “Can you, would you stay with me please?”
He looked down at her, “What?”
“I don’t want to be alone. Not tonight. Please, just to sleep.”
“Please. I don’t want nightmares tonight, please.”
Fargo sighed, “Only sleep.”
An hour later, Fargo lay on his back, Nicole’s head on his shoulder as she murmured softly in her sleep. He was doing every blocking exercise he could think of to not read her thoughts, cussing himself for getting into this bag of worms and thinking, No, just stop it. This can’t end well. Stop frikkin thinking. Just go to sleep. Imagine its Canis or Cattus next to you. Just stop it!
The next morning he woke to find his arm around Nicole and her looking at him with a smile, “Thank you for being a gentleman. Now can you let go of me? I need the fresher.”
Fargo jerked his arm away, blushing, “Sorry. I didn’t…”
Nicole laughed sadly, “Well, at least we’re sleep compatible and I didn’t have a single nightmare. That’s better than the fleet average.” She got off the bed and disappeared into the fresher. Fargo jumped up and quickly got dressed, then walked into the restaurant part of the building searching for a bulb of coffee.
Colonel Keads said, “So in summary, Patel clan is gone, we’ve turned their house into a barracks for the unmarried males of both sects and peace bonded them, under penalty of death. Did the same for both sects for any honor killings.”
Fargo saw nods from the split screen of Nicole and Jiri and others at the Enclave, “That’s good, but what about keeping the peace? Are we going to be on the hook for that?”
Keads leaned back smiling, “No, but you’re the threat I’m holding over them. The four that Horse…?” He looked down at his notes, “Yes, Horse beheaded turned out to be the father, mother and two brothers of the Fathi Khanna. We’ve pretty much let it slip, if you will, that the Ghorkas will be happy to repeat that education if it happens again. Any questions?”
Fargo smiled, “Good. Just one question here Colonel.”
“There were some weird noises as we were clearing the building, I was wondering what the source was.”
The colonel looked around furtively, “Ah, that was the major. He forgot to turn off the PA on his armor. Apparently he was, shall we say, mildly upset when heads started coming out the window. It seems he has a rather weak stomach. Of course he said he must have had a touch of food poisoning.”