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A Note of Suspicion
“It is the Way of the Fool and his Sayings that blights the world with the Old One’s ‘wayward principal.’ Contrary to research among other races, such as orcra and similar better-natured hominids, it is not always an iron law. After the experience of solification, we are considering another status of the controversy altogether. The solution, of course, is to repent.” Ecclesiastical Machinations: Unraveling the Imperial Politics of Faith and Morals, by Charlemagne Portlandinski, Professor of Interdisciplinary Cutting-Edge Complexities and Research, iCECR, at University of Olympus, New London, Mars. “It’s stupid not to use the best words,” Jaxon said. Blue light from the ship's headlamps pierced the pitch pressing down on the platoon of space marines like the hand of God. Commander Mercer wanted them in and out, back to Motherbird without any surprises. “Clean and sweep,” Mercer said, his husky voice like five o’clock shadow over the coms. Communications with Station Bravo and this asterraforming corp went offline seven years ago. But the machines rarely came this close. Not for generations now. “I get the heebie jeebies in spook-haunts like this,” Luago said. The team advanced in all but radio silence. The machines didn’t hunt by sound anyway. They hunted by adrenaline. “We don't know what we're dealing with here,” Mercer barked. “That’s what I’m saying,” Jaxon said. “Heebie jeebies? That’s Delhian Voodoo talk, and this place? This place is dank evil, that’s what this place is. "Commander, I’m not liking what I’m picking up on the MF warp line," Rinalian said from the cockpit where he kept an eye on the skies. "Could be scrappers. But there’s also something else.” He hesitated only an instant. "You have a lifeform.” Mercer replied in a hushed tone, "Quiet time, people. Watch what’s before you.” “Where?” Jaxon asked. “Two clicks due north by five.” “Split formation," Mercer ordered. "Jaxon take your team around. On your signal, we’ll meet in the middle.” “Sir.” Double-time later, Jaxon held point as his crew made for the rendezvous. Rinalian's words rang in his ears. “You’re almost right on top of it.״ “Rinalian." It was Mercer. "Are you keeeping an eye on those bug MF’s?” “No machines, coach." But then a moment later, "Wait.” “What was that?” Lieutenant Parker shouted as he opened fire but Jaxon saw it leap across the broken corridor first. He cut the power to his team's weapons with the super safety. “Hold!” he said into the coms, mustering all the calm he could manage. Now was the time. “Commander?" Rinalian's voice told the horror before he clarified. "Three MF Beehawk patterns entering the star system.” “Jesus!” Who was that? No time to ask. Jaxon sprinted after her with all his might. She was small, fleet, barely clad in a linen rag, and he was carrying fifty pounds of regulation slow-down. But she went to tree in a bed of rubble, then turned from within the hovel and peered out at him. Just a child. She was just a child. “Jaxon! Report! What the hell is going on?” “They said they wouldn’t come back,” she said. Her eyes were cold wells, tear-filled stains in a raw soul. “Survivor,” Jaxon spoke into the mic. He knelt down and smiled at her. “Heya. My name is Jaxon. What’s yours?” “Stranger.” Jaxon smiled again, “That’s a silly name for a little girl.” She nodded, then looked around as if seeing for a way past him. Jaxon thought on it a moment, a glint in his eye. “Well, wha'd'aya say, stranger?" He stood up straight. "Wanna pony up and ride on out'a this joint?” “Commander, check that. Seven! There are seven Beehawks in the system. We have seventeen minutes and counting till we are fox toast, cooked and fried!” “Everyone back to Motherbird, NOW!” Mercer's orders were clear. To the drop ship, or get left behind. No rest for the wicked and no time like the present. Jaxon did not train for this. This was not the way things were supposed to be. He breathed deep and smiled anyway, extending a gloved hand, lit like a cloud in the shadows by the lights from his coms. A moment later, Stranger bound out to him and clung to his leg. “I’ll protect you from them,” she said, looking up at him, her eyes bright with vigilance, her lips almost remembering how to smile. “That’s good to know.” Jaxon saluted. Then he took her up in his arms, and fled. Motherbird came into view, the skies not yet filled with any sign of the blue and fiery destruction that would rain down on them all if they were not gone, and soon. Running over broken ground holding this fragile package, Jaxon remembered something his father once said to him: “You have what it takes.” Her small face nuzzled down against him, vigilant hunger staring ahead in confidence. Reaching for the tear that streamed down his right cheek would not have been possible. But at a moment like this, he wanted to feel as much life as he could anyway.
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