"Look! There's one alive over here!"
Groggily, I opened my eyes and looked up. A soldier was standing above me, holding his gun down in his hands. I had to brush my air out of my face to get a good look at him. From the way he slouched, I guessed he wasn't a Guardsman, but rather one of the Planetary Defense Force members.
"Are you alright?" he asked, holding his hand out to me.
"I... I think so," I said, taking his hand. He gently helped me to my feet, while other soldiers entered the room. They were looking around at the dead bodies. Some of them I'd shot. It was horrible, seeing these people I knew I killed. I'd once fired a gun, on my uncle's practice range, but I wasn't a killer. Yet there they were, some of them still staring through unseeing eyes, accusatory looks directed at me.
I shook my head to clear my mind. Again some of my hair fell in my face. I swept it away with my hand.
"Come on, ma'am, this way," the soldier said. I put my left arm around his shoulders as he switched his gun from his right to left hand and then put his right arm around my own shoulders.
He led me out of the building and to a small vehicle outside. It looked like a cross between a buggy and a recreational vehicle, only with a strengthened metal body.
"These folks'll get you back home," the soldier said. "I need your name first, in case we have to call you for questioning."
I stumbled toward the vehicle and leaned against it for a moment, fumbling for the door. "Shannon... Shannon Noritake." I finally managed to get the door open and stepped inside. The seat was hard, covered in something like leather.
The driver turned and looked at me. "Where to?" he asked.
"Trenton Heights Apartments," I answered.
As we began to drive away, through a forest path that had seen a lot of vehicle traffic recently, I leaned my head back. What happened? I was talking to this great guy, Tal, one minute, showing him the entertainment district, and the next I'm being held in some old apartment building. I think I fought my way free, I'm not sure, then I ran into Tal. He was holding a pistol, so was I. I don't remember anything else. I know I saw him before I fainted or fell asleep or whatever I did, so why isn't he here?
After a few minutes, I gave up worrying about Tal. I never should have tried getting close to him. Everyone else was such a disappointment, why would he be different?
"Miss? Wake up, miss. We're at the apartments."
I felt a hand gently shaking my shoulder. I looked over and saw the driver trying to pull me back into consciousness. It took a moment for my eyes to focus, then I saw where we were.
"Thanks," I said. I opened the vehicle's door and stepped out. Wearily I walked up steps of the building and through its doors. The vehicle left behind me. The sounds of the city soon covered its harsh engine noises, but even that was soon smothered when the building's doors slammed shut behind me.
While walking to my apartment I saw one of my neighbors fiddling with his keys, trying to open his door. He looked over at me and smiled, then frowned immediately.
"Shan? What happened? You look like hell," he said.
"Thanks, Roger, I said sarcastically. "You're looking great yourself."
I just kept on walking to my door and then through it once it was unlocked. I collapsed on my bed and looked out my window. A large hill, my favorite in the city, was visible from my window. That was where I showed Tal the city.
Tal... Why can't I get him out of my mind? I thought. I needed something to clear my stress. Kiran always said a lavender bath worked for her, and since she'd got me some for my birthday I figured I might as well try it.
I tossed my clothes in a hamper as I undressed, then stepped into the bath. The warm water felt good, and the scent of lavender was terrific. Kiran was right, this did help ease tension.
I reached over to a shelf beside the bath, where I always kept a spare control for my audiotainment system. I liked listening to it while I was in the bath. I had left the door open behind me when I went into the bathroom, so it was pretty easy to turn on my audsys. I leaned back in the bath, waiting for the sound to come on.
When it did, it wasn't what I expected. "...terrupt this broadcast,. Once again, we are reporting on the governor's break from the Imperium. He has announced that he will no longer support the tyrannical False Emperor, and has declared himself Emperor. He also advises everyone to be on the lookout for a young man and woman who are aiding the terrorist cult Lok'teth against him. Their names are Tal Zhent and Shannon Noritake."
I jumped up out of the bath, shocked at that last part. The governor's rebelling, and I'm a terrorist? Before I could do anything, the door to my apartment slammed open and a half dozen armed soldiers broke in, pointing the rifles at different parts of the apartment. One of them saw the door to the bathroom over and ran toward it, pointing his gun forward. He stopped short when he saw me standing there in my bath, absolutely naked and dripping lavender bath bubbles.
I had to do something, anything, to get out of here. Even before the soldier spoke, I knew he had come for me. "I know why you're here," I said. "But you're wrong. Can I get dressed? I'll come with you and explain everything, just please give me some privacy."
The soldier backed out of the room, blushing. "Sorry, ma'am." He motioned for the other troopers to follow him, and he closed the apartment door behind them.
I jumped out of the bath and dried off quickly. Then I grabbed a shirt, some pants, and some underclothes and quickly dressed. I grabbed my identicard and some other stuff, including my credcard, then dashed to my window and through it open. Even before I was halfway out, I heard the door slam open and one of the soldiers shout, "She's trying to escape!"
I fell out of the room and about ten feet to the ground. Behind me I heard boots running up in the apartmnt. I got to my feet and began running toward the forest. Laser blasts began striking buildings, ground, and trees around me.
Somehow, I managed to get to the forest. I kept running, lost, for almost two hours, until I couldn't run any further. Finally I collapsed an. I managed to lean up against a tree.
A terrorist in my own home town? On my home world? What happened? What did this have to do with Tal,. or the Lok'teth?
I laid my head down in my hands and began to dry. There I stayed, crying, until my exhaustion finally got the better of me, and I simply fell asleep.
I felt something lightly prodding my chest, something hard, cold, and cylindrical. Slowly I opened my eyes, and as I did so I saw a gun leveled at me.
I jumped back, startled, and hit my head against the tree I'd been leaning against.
"You shouldn't do that," said the man standing above me, his voice gruff but a bit young. "Might hurt yourself."
I looked up, rubbing my now sore head. "Are you going to take me in?" I asked.
"Not unless I want to spend a couple weeks in jail waiting to have my head lopped off," he said, lowering his gun. "You're Shannon Noritake, right?"
I slowly nodded my head.
"You don't look like much of a 'terrorist'," the man said. "Come on, I've got someplace you can go that's safe."
I stood up gently, steadying myself against the tree. "Who are you with?"
"Loyal Guard and the remnants of the Lok'teth. We have sort of a base set up about a mile from here."
"Okay," I said. "Nothing to lose, I guess."
I followed him through the forest for about fifteen minutes, then we came upon a set of old abandoned buildings. It took me a moment to recognize them as the ones Tal and I were taken to. Only now they were being cleared of vines, brush, and weeds by men and women dressed in camouflage and dark outfits.
"I like what you've done with the place," I mumbled, walking between a pair of old buildings.
A couple of minutes later I was back in the same apartment building, but all of the bodies were now gone. There was still a bit of blood on the floor, and I had to close my eyes as I walked through the room I'd shot so many people in.
I opened them again when I heard the man escorting me say, "This is Ms. Noritake."
I looked around him to see what appeared to be an officer and a member of the cult that had taken me earlier standing together. I assumed the man was probably the new leader of the Lok'teth.
The Lok'teth man stepped forward and offered me his hand. I shook it while he introduced himself. "Glad to meet you, Ms. Noritake. When you were last here, you did a heck of a job reducing our number."
"Um, yeah," I said, wanting to change the subject quickly. "I'm kind of a wanted person. Guess that gives us something in common, huh?"
The military leader behind him laughed, then the Lok'teth man continued. "Indeed. I am Semtin, the new leader of the Lok'teth. This is Colonel Christopher Graf. He is the leader of the loyal Imperial Guardsmen who have turned against the evil False Emperor."
I took Graf's hand and shook it, then looked around. "You seem to have a pretty good operation going here."
"Better than you might think," Graf said. "Across the planet, in small pockets hiding in abandoned buildings just like this one, there are thousands of loyal Guardsmen waiting to reclaim the planet. Here, we've got ourselves a barracks, a hangar, a vehicle storage depot, a warehouse to store equipment, and even a training ground."
"Wow," I said. "You've done all this already?"
"It's amazing what you can do in twenty four hours with a few hundred men at your disposal."
Semtin interrupted just then, stepping forward so that he was only a couple of steps from me. "I beg your forgiveness, Ms. Noritake-"
"Call me Shannon."
"Shannon, then. Are you aware of the location of Yurl'tesh?"
Semtin looked agitated. "The Prophet. The Chosen. The one you were with when you were last here."
"Tal Zhent? I have no idea. He left me here, and seems to have split. Which doesn't seem like such a bad idea right now."
"I must find him. He can help us," Semtin said. Then he walked off, looking rather distraught.
Graf stepped forward and pointed to a side hall. "There's dozens of unclaimed rooms down that hall," he said. "I know you need a place to stay, so pick any one of them Just put up a sign or something to let people know it's occupied."
"Sure, thanks," I replied.
I walked down the hall and found a room at the end of it, a nice corner room with two very large windows that now had no glass in them - just like every other window in this building.
I found a pad of yellowing paper in a chest-of-drawers and a pen laying beside it. I scribbled the word "OCCUPIED" on a sheet of paper and tore a hold out of the top of the sheet. Then I used the hole to hang the sign on the room's door handle.
I closed the door behind me, then took off my shoes, shirt, and pants and tossed them on the chest-of-drawers beside the bed. A cool breeze blew in through the windows, and it felt good to feel the fresh air on my body.
The bed had fresh blankets, sheets, and even pillows, so I laid down and slid under the blanket. Within minutes, I was asleep.
A loud scratching sound brought me to consciousness. I jumped up in my bed, looking around. A tree branch was scraping against the outer wall, its sound unfiltered by the glassless window.
The night air was cold, and I pulled my blanket up over m, holding it tight around me. My eyes cleared and I realized that the room was filled with a light mist. The abandoned buildings were built at a slightly raised attitude, so it was likely that there'd be a lot of fog. And with nothing to keep it out, the fog would quickly fill the rooms in the various buildings.
I tried to lay down in my bed, turning on my side to get more comfortable. It was strange, sleeping in an old building with a bunch of strangers I'd never met before, organizing a fight against the governor of the planet.
Was I crazy to be joining up with these people? No, probably not. It's an even crazier world outside. The governor turned his back on the Imperium, and probably sentenced the whole world to death if these people can't get him out of power.
Like it or not, my world has changed. And I have to change with it.
I closed my eyes, pushing those thoughts from my mind. Sleep came back to me quickly.
A knock on the door woke me. I blinked me eyes. Sunlight was streaming in through the window. "Who's there?" I asked.
"Kara Pheln," came the reply. "I've got you some clothes."
"Just a minute," I said. I slide out of bed and pulled on my pants and shirt, then opened the door. A young woman with short blonde hair and wearing a grey jogging outfit stood at the door, holding a bag of clothes.
"Semtin thought you could use something to wear," Kara said. "I went down to Fashion Globe and picked up some things. I hope these fit."
I took the bag and looked through it. "Yeah, these'll work. Thanks." I stepped to the side, then motioned for Kara to enter. "Come on in."
She walked into the room, closing the door behind her. "You're Shannon, right? Shannon Noritake?"
"Yeah," I said, throwing the bag on my bed. "That's me, number one terrorist," I said sarcastically.
Kara walked over to the window and looked out, then back at me. "You're not really a terrorist. So how did you get caught up in all this?"
I sat down on the bed and ran a hand through my hair. It was damp from the fog. "I was showing this guy, Tal Zhent, around the town. Next thing I know, I'm taken captive with him, and find myself a prisoner of the Lok'teth. I got free by grabbing a gun and shooting a bunch of them, but I collapsed. I woke up and found Tal gone and a bunch of PeeDeeEff troops in the building, looking around. I guess they figured I was with the Lok'teth."
"Wow," Kara said, sitting down on the bed next to me. "I just heard about something bad going on with the governor, and about a group that was going to stop it. I Figured I'd see if I could help. And here I am."
"What do you do around here?"
Kara leaned back, using her hands to brace herself. "I make trips to town, to get the latest news and buy anything these guys need. I'm not listed on any wanted lists or anything, so I can pretty much come and go as I please.
"I don't think I could do that," I said. "My name's been plastered all over the news, and my face probably has been too."
Kara sat up and looked over at me. "You know, I bet we could do something about that."
"Sure," she said. She took a few stands of my hair and held them up in front of me. "First, we change your hair colour. Maybe make it red. Then we change its style, give you curls or something." She let go of the hair. "You could change your name to something..."
"Yeah, that works," she said. "Why that name?"
I felt my cheeks burn for a moment. "Kim's the name of my sister-in-law, and Dunne is an old name I saw in a history book. The Dunne family was instrumental in regaining Trenton's freedom once when Hurn was attacked by raiding aliens."
"Good choice," Kara said, smiling. "So that's everything but your eyes. We can do something about them, too. Change the colour and the retinal pattern."
"Green. I want green eyes."
"It's a beautiful colour. And it sort of represents our forests, what we'll be saving."
"Oh. And the red?"
I smiled. "Fiery passion, a drive to succeed."
"I like it."
"But I'd like to do more than just go to town. I want to help in some other way. Maybe do some kind of undercover stuff."
"Do you have any training with that kind of stuff?" Kara asked, looking concerned. "It's very dangerous."
"I'll get training," I said. "I just want my home back."
"Well," Kara said, getting up. "Let's go get you some training."
She grabbed my arm and started to pull me toward the door. "Wait!" I said, stumbling to y feet."
"You're not getting cold feet already?" she asked, smiling.
"No," I said. I picked up the bag of clothes. "But I would like to get a shower and change. That is, if this place has water and lights."
"Yeah," Kara said. "It's got electricity and water back. Should I go?"
"No, you can stay," I said, heading toward the bathroom. I closed the door behind me.
After a quick shower and getting dressed, I talked to Semtin, outlining my plan with Kara's help. He agreed, and sent me to begin my training immediately.
And train I did, in all sorts of fighting and infiltration work and information gathering, for the next three weeks, until I was ready for my first assignment.
"Kara told me you'd be up here."
I turned around to look toward the source of the voice. Semtin was standing at the building's roof entrance. He began walking across the roof toward me.
I looked out toward the forest. The view from up on the roof was amazing. "I've always liked being on a roof," I said, not bothering to turn back toward Semtin. "It's easier to see all the beautiful things from up here."
I heard his footsteps get closer, then stop. I looked to my side and he was standing there, gazing at the trees. "You're right," he said. "Beauty is such a rare occurrence in my life, I'd forgotten about the simplest treasures that were all around me."
There was silence for a moment, then I spoke up. "You didn't come up here just to chat or look at the trees, did you?"
Semtin smiled and shook his head, still looking away from me and at the forest. "No. Actually, I had an assignment needing done, and you seemed to be a good candidate for it. You've had as much training as we can give you, and it's not that hard."
"What do you need done?" I asked.
Semtin looked over at me. "Last night, a trio of loyal ImpyGee commandos scaled the south wall of the mayoral building. They carefully cut a block out of the concrete wall and replaced it with a fake block carrying a bomb. The block can be opened from the inside. The point is to allow someone to get in past the security measures at the entrance, which will be easy since they really won't be carrying anything, and get to the bomb, retrieve it, and then place it in a centralized location in the building."
"Sounds simple enough. Why me?"
Semtin looked down for a moment. "Because you're our best female operative... and because someone decided to place the bomb in the wall of the women's rest room."
I laughed for a second. "How did that happen?"
"The building's had some remodeling since the time for which we had a map. It used to be a storage room."
"Oh. That makes sense. How do I get in?"
"Since you changed your appearance pretty drastically, as well as your name, We've created an identicard that will work. It gives your occupation as reporter. You'll use that as cover to get in."
"That's it?" I asked.
"It's not as easy as it sounds."
"I know," I said. "But I think I can do it."
"Good." Semtin pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to me. I looked down and saw it was an identicard, then gave him a mock glare. "Hey, it was a safe bet you wouldn't answer no."
I smiled and took the card. "So, when do I get to work?"
"Right away, preferably."
"No problem." I brought the card up to my head and then drew it away in a mock salute, then turned and walked back to the roof entrance. I looked back toward the roof's ledge. Instead of following me back in, Semtin was standing on the edge of the roof, staring out at the forest, his expression one of pain, or guilt, or maybe both.
He noticed me standing at the entrance, not going in. He turned around and motioned for me to go on, then turned back toward the woods, knelt down, and placed his hand in his heads.
As I opened the door and stepped onto the stairs, I could hear Semtin's muffled sobs behind me.
"Ms. Dunne, is it?"
I smiled at the security gentleman and nodded. "Yes. Kim Dunne, with the HIN. I'm here to interview the mayor, if I can."
"Well, you'll have to talk to his secretary about that," the man said. "If your things clear, you'll be allowed to go up to the fifth floor, where he is."
My stuff cleared the inspection, which wasn't hard since I wasn't carrying anything even remotely resembling a weapon or a bomb. I walked over to the elevators and stepped on the first one to open. It was mercifully empty.
At the eighth floor, I got out of the elevator. This was the middle floor of the building, three levels above the mayor's actual office.
There was very little traffic on this floor. People bustled about, doing their jobs, but there were very few offices on this floor. No one was likely to notice me, since my expensive business suit would fit right in.
I made my way to the rest room and, after making sure no one else was inside, locked the door behind me. Then I walked over to the south wall, where two large fogged windows were. I began running my hands over the wall to the left of the windows. After a few seconds, I came upon the fake block. I pulled out a lipstick contained, which had been modified to carry a large magnet. I placed the magnetic end against the block and gently pulled it free.
I placed it on the floor and then opened it up. Inside was a small bomb, with a simple timer. I placed it in the bag I was carrying my recording equipment in, then placed the block back where it belonged.
I left the rest room and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that no one had noticed the door being locked or the noise coming from inside. Then I walked down a side hall, looking for a maintenance room.
I came upon one soon enough. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. The hall was deserted, so no one would hear or notice me. I pulled out the bomb, set its timer for ten minutes, then buried it under a number of chemical containers. Then I carefully opened the door and, seeing no one outside, vacated the maintenance room and walked back to the elevators.
Shortly I was back on the first floor and exiting the building. The security person walked over while I was having my stuff checked once more.
"No luck on the interview?" he asked.
"No," I said, showing a bit of irritation. "He didn't want to talk to any reporters."
"Too bad," the man said. "Well, if you ever want to do a story on the mayor's security detail, you know where to find me, I mean, us."
"Thanks," I said, smiling sweetly while inwardly feeling disgusted. What a sad come-on line. I grabbed my stuff and walked out of the building, frowning as soon as I was out of the security man's sight.
I walked to the end of the street, then sat down at a cafe. I grabbed a cup of cappuccino, then sat down at a patio table with a view of the mayoral building. I took a sip and looked at my watch.
Perfect timing. Three...two...one...
A loud boom, following a whoosh and then a roar, sounded out almost at once. The ground shook. Flames shot out of the building's windows, engulfing the entire building and reaching out to touch other buildings, and trees around it, which burst into flames. Screams mingled with the roar of the flames, and though I wanted to, I couldn't turn from the sight of people jumping from the upper levels of the building, or running out the front, their bodies on fire.
The street was chaos. Emergency vehicles, responding quicker than I'd thought was possible, rolled up to the building. People ran down the street, trying to get away from the building. Water was being sprayed on the building and the trees around it. A firefighter ran down the street screaming, "Clear the area! Clear the area!"
I started to stand up to follow his instructions, then got knocked to my feet, hot cappuccino splashing on my hand and shirt sleeve. A couple of quick, loud booms echoed in the air. I looked back toward the mayoral building and found myself at once awed and terrified by what I saw. The entire building, seventeen stories high, collapsed in on itself. The lower levels, with no way to fall inward due to the amount of debris already collapsing on the inside of the building, fell outward, burying those closest to the building and damaging other buildings that had been too close. An eight story building, mere meters from the mayoral building, was struck in its side by a large portion of the east wall. Its own west wall was shattered, support beams buckling from the weight thrown against them. That building swayed for a moment, then toppled, falling down on the ruins of the mayoral building.
An inferno lit the hellish scene between the two now collapsed buildings. I stood up, a bit shaky, and downed my cappuccino in one quick drink, though its warmth was still a little too hot for my throat. As dust began to float down toward where I was sitting, collecting on my outfit and in my hair, so too did the scent, an awful stench of a dozen things burning at once, concrete powder, chemicals, and dead people.
As swiftly as I could, I staggered away from the scene, and somehow managed to find my way back to the forest base. Without bothering to check in with Semtin or Graf, I went to my room, slammed the door shut behind me, and laid down on my bed.
Outside the window, I could still see smoke coming from the remains of the buildings I'd brought down.
I buried my head in my pillows, which within seconds became drenched with my tears.
A knock on the door woke me up. I sat up, wiping the tears from my eyes with the sleeve of my shirt. "Come on."
The door opened, and Semtin came in.
"I guess you want to know what happened, huh?" I asked him.
Semtin sat down beside me. "No," he said, his voice softer than normal. He was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm actually here to make sure you're okay."
I sniffed and dabbed at a bit of wetness in my eye. "Oh, yeah, I'm just fine. Just watched hundreds of people get killed, knowing I helped. That's all."
Semtin looked at me, his expression full of both sorrow and regret. "I'm sorry. It was necessary to kill those people."
"Why?" I asked, staring at him. "Why? What do they have to do with anything?"
Semtin sighed heavily, then looked down. "There are a symbol. The mayor extends the governor's influence to this town. The mayor, and his staff, and that entire building, are all symbols of Selz's control over this city. By destroying that symbol, we show that this city will not accept the False Emperor. It's unfortunate that people have to die, but unless some people die in a war, it's never going to be won. You have to hope that if you kill enough of the other side, they'll decide that their cause isn't all that great and join you, or surrender, or whatever."
"That's... horrible," I said.
Semtin's head snapped up and he glared at me. "Damn it, Ms. Noritake, Shannon - ..."
"Kim. Kim Dunne," I blurted out.
"Kim, then. This isn't some rosy little debate. It's not just a difference of opinion. Some man has declared himself Emperor and is stripping us of our freedoms. There is only one thing we can do, and that is fight him and make sure he can't strip the people's freedoms. People are going to die, that's a given. Good people, bad people, old and young. War doesn't pick favorites, and that's what we're in right now, Kim. A war. It's time for you to drop your romantic ideas of a peaceful, idealistic future in which people can live together happily with no one trying to take advantage of anyone else, and wake up to the real world."
I sat there, stunned.
Semtin threw up his arms, then let them fall into his lap. He hung his head and closed his eyes. I couldn't tell whether his face was showing anger or a great sadness - or maybe both.
I leaned my head on his should and place my hands on his. "Hey, you want to talk about what's bothering you?"
He shook his head at first, then began to nod. "A few years ago, I was a young person too, fighting against a horrible governor who declared himself emperor just like this one. Only at that time, I didn't want to kill anyone. I thought, like so many of my fellow youth, that our ideals along would save our world. We didn't have to kill. Our good intentions would win the war."
Semtin's hands squeezed his knees tightly. "We were wrong. Too few of us understood at that time what we had to do. And so we did nothing but voice our opinions. Soon after the governor took full control of the world, he turned his attention to the dissenters. One by one or a dozen by a dozen, he began picking them off. Killing them in the most horrifying, and usually public, way imaginable to him. Many of my friends were included in the purges."
I felt a drop of moisture land on my hand, and looked up. Semtin's eyes were closed tightly, but that didn't stop his tears. When he spoke again, his voice was lower than before. "Kheln had to leave the planet. He alone could see what would happen next. I decided to go with him, the escape the purges before I too was killed. About two hundred of us in total escaped my world."
I interrupted him for a moment. "What was your world, Semtin? Its name, that is?"
"Sudin," he said. "We left Sudin behind and wandered around. Soon after we left, we heard the fate of our world. Sudin had completely fallen to the governor. So a force was sent to 'neutralize' his threat. Who knows what really happened? But in the end, my world was left shattered, its forests burned, its mountains broken, and its cities smashed. Only a few thousand people at most survived. Sudin was no more. And that's what we're trying to prevent with Hurn."
"Wasn't there anyone to help on Sudin?" I asked.
"Only a few dozen Guardsmen remained loyal to the True Emperor. Somehow a spell had captivated most of the others. We tried to send out a message, and in return had an Inquisitor sent to purge us instead - ironic, but we were the scapegoats. "Kheln saw the Inquisitor's face and believed him to be the Prophet, 'Yurl'tesh', who would lead us to victory over the governor who'd declared himself a False Emperor. He was dismayed to find out it wasn't the real Yurl'tesh, and tried to force him to be such. But the Inquisitor resisted and escaped, and our world was lost.
"But Kheln believed there really was a Yurl'tesh out there who wore this man's face. He had seen in his dreams that a man would come, with good friends cloaked in darkness, and that he would help us free a world from the False Emperor. His heart, and mine, were broken on Sudin. We hoped this time it would be different, that there really would be a Yurl'tesh, but even though he wears the right face, he doesn't seem to be our saviour either."
Something in my mind clicked just then. Tal was called Yurl'tesh by these men, so he wore the face of the first. The first was an Inquisitor, one of the people charged with saving the Imperium in the Emperor's name. Tal didn't seem willing to open up about anything.
"Tal was an Inquisitor, wasn't he?" I asked.
"Yes," Semtin said. "The governor had heard of us, the Lok'teth, and knew we would fight his tyranny. So he reported us. And an Inquisitor was sent to purge us, once again."
I sat up, looking out the window. This couldn't be right. Tal, an Inquisitor? It made sense, but he wasn't exactly what I expected.
"I have to go, Kim," Semtin said. "I have work to do. I know you're not really up for hearing this, but good job. I know what happened, you don't have to recall it." He stood up. "Congratulations on completing your first mission, and having far more courage than I did."
I couldn't think of anything to say, so I let him leave the room. Here I was, feeling sorry for myself because I killed some people and maybe sent a message of defiance to the governor, and he was having to carry around the weight of his own guilt over knowing his inaction helped to destroy his whole world.
I laid down on my bed, looking up at the ceiling. Semtin was right about one very important thing.
It was time for me to wake up to the real world.
Thunder crashed. A bright blue flash of light lit my room.
I looked out my window and watched the rain falling outside. The storm was pretty heavy for this area, with gusty winds, heavy rain, and frequent scattered lightning.
The thick clouds blocked all light from reaching the surface, so it was very dark outside, even though it was just past midday. The trees swayed with the wind, dozens of leaves separating from the branches with every minute the storm went on.
The crack of thunder, the howling wind, and the driving rain all made the storm seem violent, in its own way. But I knew better. It was just the rain coming to refresh the forest. It was actually peaceful.
And that's what made it so perfect for taking a refreshing walk.
With a poncho wrapped around me, I walked through the compound, between buildings and trees, ducking to avoid low branches, enjoying the cools, wet rain falling down around me.
I wandered around for twenty minutes or so, then came upon a pretty flat area where dark shapes were moving around. Flashes of light darted from the shapes, and the distinct whistle of laser weapons firing. I walked toward the shapes to get a better view of them through the rain, and found out they were rebel fighters practicing with their lasguns.
A man dressed in fatigues and carrying a lasgun slung over his back approached me. "Hi, I'm Sergeant Gantz," he said. "You don't seem to be a member of the Guard, so you can call me Bill." He chuckled lightly.
I took the hand he offered and shook it. "Kim Dunne," I said. "I'm definitely not with the Guard."
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Dunne," Bill said.
"Please, it's Kim."
"Alright, Kim it is." Bill opened his arms. "What are you doing out here in the rain?"
"Just taking a walk. I've found it's pretty good to talk an occasional walk in the rain," I said. "What are you doing?"
He looked toward the other soldiers, jumping about and firing their weapons. "Training. Best to do it in the worst of conditions, just to be prepared."
He nodded, then said, "It's also good to be able to make an attack in the middle of heavy rain, when visibility is low. I've been working with my squad to prep for a number of situations. We've been selected as one of the guerrilla units that'll really take the fight to Selz."
I looked around. His troops were pretty good. They moved quickly and shot with a lot more precision than I could have attained given years of training.
"What do you do around here?" Bill asked. "I know you aren't a member of the Guard or the PlanDef."
"I do whatever I'm needed for. Infiltration, information, gathering supplies, delivering something."
"Multi-purpose freedom fighter, then?" he asked, smiling.
"Yeah, something like that."
"Well, that makes your job at least as important as mine. Without someone to find out what's going on or procure supplies, we'd never get anywhere."
I nodded, then turned and looked around, standing silent for a moment to give myself a chance to think. Beside me, I could hear Bill shifting his gun. I glanced over at him for a second and found him watching the sky, staring at the rain. He seemed lost in a memory or something.
So there we stood, both watching the rain fall.
And with it came small pinpricks of light, each brilliant for a second and then flashing out.
"Odd time for a meteor shower," I mumbled to myself. Then I noticed Bill talking frantically and quietly with someone on his comm. I was about to ask him what was wrong when he suddenly straightened up, his face looking very serious.
He turned to his men then, and yelled, "Heads up!" The troops stopped their activities and jogged toward him. "I just got word. Chaos Marines have landed in the capital."
Everyone was silent. The only sound came from the rain splashing off trees and hitting the ground. A loud boom! sounded in the distance. The sky began to burn brightly, then grew dark.
It seemed as if hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of small vessels were descending through the atmosphere somewhere miles away.
Bill made a motion, and he and his men began running toward the old apartment building now know as the 'barracks'.
Semtin was standing at the entrance, his light robes soaked with the rain. He nodded grimly; obviously he'd heard the news.
Bill walked up to him, pushing his lasgun back further so it wouldn't fall forward. "Semtin, we've just got a report. Traitor Space Marines have landed in Tenem."
"The forces of the False Emperor," Semtin said, turning his gaze toward where the ships had descended.
"Now the battle for Hurn truly begins."
Continued in 'Prophet'.