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Author: Timothy O. Goyette
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No good deed goes unpunished, or so the philosophers suggest. Samuel Rochez did a very good deed and therefore is considered a traitor by the whole human race. Throughout the galaxy he is remembered as the Benedict Arnold of his time. Only in Samuel's case the humans lost the war, and he is reviled as the one ultimately responsible. For a time he manages to live in anonymity. Upon his discovery he is forced to join a mercenary band on what is supposed to be a simple in and out mission. Soon he finds himself at odds with the band, running for his life, and striving to save the planet and its unusual life forms from destruction.Rating: 5.00 Reviews: 1
Chapter 1 Kargan
The cold hard wind blew up the stone steps where dark and dirty figures shivered in line. They pressed against the wall of the old brick building for the meager shelter it provided. The wind cut through their ragged coverings, biting at their chins, cheeks, and noses. To their ears, it carried a sound.
"Help me, please?" a crinkled old voice driven to them on the relentless gale.
They looked at each other, their feet, and the door, but none looked towards the source of the voice. Samuel had looked once, had seen the bruised body and blood, the form of the old woman who had tumbled down the steps.
He gazed down the line of misery. Sniffling and coughing it wound its way down the edge of the building and into the garden. The garden in winter became a mass of ice-encased trees and statues. In less than an hour the woman would be one of them.
Summer came twice a year to Kargan City, ninety-two days of tepid relief. That day would arrive too late to save the old woman. Winter, even at the equator, consumed the land.
Except in New Kargan City. In the distance, the dome of the modern city shed a yellow hue, the city of eternal summer. The exorbitant entry fee kept their neighborhoods safe and beautiful. They would not even take in an old woman freezing in the streets.
"Would someone help me, please?"
Why doesn't someone from the end of the line help? He wondered. They'll never get in. The shelter couldn't take in many more.
Samuel looked up the line. Six more to go then he would be inside and this would be just another wretched memory he would strive to repress.
"It's just as well," someone said. "Weed out the weak old fools."
Samuel snapped around, scanning the line for the moron. He saw only sniffling and stamping feet. When the POW camp closed, he and the other prisoners descended on Kargan City in a wave. Those with money, family, or connections fled within days. The refuse left behind overloaded the city's emergency services.
He stood two away from the door when the sound reached him, a weak moan. He looked. She laid still, her complexion white as the snow marred only by brown splotches of frozen blood. Why should she die only a few meters from safety?
He couldn't help. Standing in line, he remained nameless, faceless, part of the herd. Stepping out would attract attention. Pulling his hood tighter about his face he joined the rest of the mass staring at their own feet. He kicked the wall, hoping a sudden shot of pain would distract his thoughts. Her body must have been numb, frostbite creeping into her extremities.
He rested against the doorjamb. Life giving warmth trickled through the partially open inner door. Little wisps of warm air caressed his face on their way out. Behind him, the arctic air snuffed them out of existence instantly. He placed one foot over the threshold, as a gust of wind beat against his back. It pushed as if driving him into the shelter. The blast carried only icy reminders of the outside. The voice crying for help was gone.
Scanning around, no one seemed to be paying any attention to him. To them, he didn’t matter. Just the way he needed it to be.
Only a few people stood between him and the admittance desk. He waited a few meters from a safe warm bed and food. All he had to do was let an old woman die cold and alone on the street.
“Just great,” he muttered under his breath. He turned out of the line. Avoiding eye contact, he let his shoulder length graying hair cover the sides of his face. He charged down the steps to the body. Kneeling beside the figure, he checked her pulse. Her skin, like ice, drew the warmth from him. The pulse beat weakly against his fingertips. That and the faint mist rising from her gaping mouth confirmed that she still lived.
He hoisted the slight body and marched up the stairs. All eyes looked away from his approach. He muscled his way between two grumbling men at the door and strode toward the admission desk.
A middle-aged man grabbed his shoulder. "Hey buddy, back of the line."
Samuel faced the cretin, staring him in the eyes. The man didn't look at Samuel's burden, just signaled to the back of the line with his thumb.
A man next to him, face wrinkled as much by age as weather, squinted at Samuel.
Raising his voice so all could hear, he said, "What if she were your mother?" He pulled away with a jerk.
As he turned, the wrinkled man stepped out of line. His deep blue eyes locked on Samuel’s face. The man’s jaw went slack and his brow wrinkled up even more.
Samuel felt those eyes drill into his back as he continued up the line.
The attendant stepped out from behind the desk. "Please be calm. We're processing as fast as we can."
Her demeanor changed when she saw Samuel’s burden. She let out a tired sigh and called for an attendant. A man, overly large and underly kept, came with a wheelchair. Samuel helped them place the limp body in it. Water from melting snow and ice dripped from her hair, shoulders, and arms.
As Samuel set her in the chair her eyes opened. They locked on his for a second. Her arm rose slightly, trembling, and her mouth moved as if speaking, but no sound came out.
It lasted only a few seconds and she went limp, unconscious again.
“Do you know her?” The attendant asked.
He shook his head.
"Take her to the back and call Doctor Hood," she instructed the overly large man.
Samuel turned, heading for the door. He had made too much of a scene. Pulling his jacket tighter he prepared for the frozen blast that awaited him. If he hurried, he might be able to get into Domicile Seven across town. The roughness of the area kept all except the desperate away. The problem being, on a really cold night desperation ran in everyone. If he couldn’t find a place, he would be relegated to the doorways and alleys that might offer some limited shelter.
Ahead of him, the wrinkled man stood out of line and pointed at him. Samuel thought he would have remembered those blue eyes. Quickly searching his memory, he couldn’t place them. A woman’s voice snapped him from his thoughts.
"Don't go away, mister. You've earned your stay, come back and we'll get you set up."
Samuel scanned the line as he turned. Steely eyes, harsh eyes, stared back at him. Retribution for line jumping usually came after the lights went out. Besides, they had all seen his face, looked into his eyes. He had to go.
"That's all right miss, I'll manage."
"We try not to turn anyone away on a night like tonight, but we only have so much space. One good turn deserves another." She flashed a smile. It had been years since he'd seen teeth that white. The smile brought her soft smooth face to life.
Murmuring grew from the line. He waited, lost in the smile. Her plain looks didn’t distinguish her, but a kindness flowed through her smile. He didn't know what he felt, but it hurt.
"It's him!" an old voice shouted. "I was on Darnath. That's him I tell you!"
Broken from his trance, Samuel spun around. The wrinkled man spoke. Samuel marched quickly towards the door. He wanted to be invisible, to have the world melt away and be alone. But the voice grew louder, and the murmuring.
"Wait, come back." The woman had run to his side. She held his arm as he reached the door, and stared into his eyes. Hers were soft, brown, and glistened with concern. They were not made up, no goop or colors; simple, plain and honest.
He heard his name pronounced by the weathered man. It spread quickly until it reached the attendant. "Samuel Rochez," she rolled the words around in her mouth as if she'd bitten into an apple and found it rotten.
She looked up at him again. He looked away. As she let go of his arm, he pushed out the door. On the steps he took a second to look back. She stood just outside the door looking through him with a blank stare. The wind must have cut mercilessly through her light clothing.
Several men burst from the building behind her. Samuel leaped down the last three stairs and hit the pavement running. The sounds of men yelling and the crunching of ice beneath pounding feet grew behind him.
Using the little lead he had, he dashed around a corner and into a used clothing store. Ducking his head he wound between the piles of rags and remnants. As fast as he could, without drawing any new attention, he worked his way to the back rooms and the loading dock.
Pallets, greasy and black, rested in ill-organized piles. He dove behind one and started counting. He needed to leave enough time for them to run past and for some to return to check out the store and alley. If he timed it right, he could slip between their searches.
The seconds marched on. One hundred thirty seven, a commotion rose in the store. He slipped out and moved to the alley door. A simple metal bolt held the door shut. All he had to do was slip out and disappear into the night. He reached for the bolt while watching the doorway to the store.
The door banged against his hand. He jumped back. Someone on the other side was trying to get in, either to escape from the cold, or to find Samuel. He couldn’t take the chance of opening it to one of his pursuers.
He scanned the room. The pallets were only good for avoiding a casual passer-by. Cement and brick made up the walls on all sides, solid except for the bolted door to the alley and the one back into the store.
"Hey Dodge, check out the back!" A voice rang from inside the store.
Whoever banged on the door could have moved along or could still be deciding what to do next. They would quickly give up on the door, but not the alley. He needed more time, but someone was coming through the store.
His fingers wrapped around the bolt's head. The chill and sharp flecks of rust pressed into his flesh. He held his breath and slid it gently back as the seconds burned by.
He put his arm over it to stifle the grating of rusted metal. With the bolt fully back he opened the door a crack. Two men surveyed a dumpster further down the alley. Luckily, their backs were turned.
A shadow appeared from the store as he slipped out.
He climbed over the railing and crouched behind the cement landing, squeezing himself into the corner. He became as small as he could, and as quiet. The sound of the dumpster banging echoed off the walls.
The door burst open. Samuel held his breath. "Seen him?" a voice close to him called.
"Not out here. Must have gone further up, or crossed the street."
Samuel pulled the hood over his face, holding the mist of his breath and body tightly to him.
"If you find him, holler," the close voice said. "He's mine."
"Get in line buddy. You can have a piece of the traitor if there's anything left when we're done. We lost our parents and sister."
The growling response sounded like a rabid dog ready to strike. The talk subsided into footsteps fading from the alley. Samuel peeked over the landing. Nothing but the snow, garbage and he remained. The street beyond seemed quiet, no shouting or sounds of running. Everyone, except for those searching, had the good sense to stay indoors. Most of those searching should give up quickly and head for shelter. He huddled back into the corner, hiding from the wind, and started counting.
Seventy two hundred seconds later he stretched his numb body out and stood up. He forced the frigid air into his lungs. The full dark of night enfolded him with its deathly chill. He paced, pumping blood from one cold area of his body to another.
To sleep was to die, he reminded himself.
Wandering about the confines of the alley, he examined garbage, cracks in the walls, and the patterns in the ice, struggling to stay alert. His eyes closed every few seconds.
He decided to move on, to find something to focus his mind on. From the alley he entered Kargan City where two moons and streetlights illuminated the wind swept streets.
He passed shops; their displays filled with hardware, flowers, clothes, even restaurant displays with replica food. He mulled each over in his mind, trying to latch onto anything, a random thought or idea, to keep his mind active.
A blue-gray holo-ad interrupted his thoughts.
He found it again. Wandering aimlessly through the streets, he ended up there many times. The creature of light that was the ad shone even brighter against the dark buildings and shadows of night.
It encouraged passersby to enter the military surplus store behind it. A handsome young man in camouflage posed smiling and laughing, a gun in one hand. "Independent forces! The life to lead. Free from worries, free from cares. Part of a team, bonded and solid." The recording repeated.
Independent forces was the euphemism for Mercenaries. Samuel shook his head. They burned out villages, bombed homesteaders, and pillaged defenseless colonies. They were more animals than men.
No, Samuel reminded himself, not all of them. He had met some with an acceptable moral code.
He reached into his left pants pocket through a hole and pressed three fingers in unison on bioelectric sensors melded into his body. Only his touch would open the compartment. A flap of skin hinged open.
The cache was only installed in secret couriers and some high level officers. If scanned it looked like a common bone implant.
Samuel had kept himself from opening it through the long years of prison camp. He removed a circular object, the only contents. In the streetlights, a clear crystal of Carlinium glinted at its center, the most precious material in the galaxy. The sliver, though tiny, represented a lot of credit. He could purchase a ticket off Kargan, but then he'd be in the same situation most anywhere he could go.
Besides, to get on a commercial transport he’d have to submit to a DNA scan. On the human planet of Kargan, that would result in arrest, trial, and execution, or a simple lynching.
Selling it would provide for a cheap apartment in the low rent area for a year or two. Once it became known, however, that a medal of honor had been sold in the city, it would lead to questions and searches and possibly to his unmasking.
As he thought about selling it his grip tightened unconsciously. Breathing out a long sigh, he relaxed his fingers a bit. His father had been at the ceremony. Three thousand men stood in formation as the Human forces supreme commander himself pinned the medal on his chest. It had been a good day, the sky bright, the weather warm. He smiled in spite of himself. He relished that memory as the last really good one he had.
"Hey, buddy," the hologram called. "Looking for a fresh start?"
He looked up. Its creators obviously programmed it to attract the released prisoners.
He looked back to the medal in his hand. The inscription read: Duty, Loyalty, Honor. The human forces Medal of Honor. He squeezed it until the crystal cut into his hand, and then bowed his head.
No, he would not prostitute himself to them, even if it meant living, or dying, on the streets of Kargan.
He put the medal away, turned and headed up the street. The spring returned to his step and lightness to his walk. Not because of the promise of the future, rather because he had faced a temptation and persevered.
“Until next time,” he called over his shoulder.
He allowed himself a half smile. The medal brought him recognition and that brought him the Darnath assignment. Beautiful Darnath, it had been a respite, an island of peace. It felt more like home than any other world.
Thud, he collided with a tall man coming around a corner.
"Sorry," Samuel said and quickly backed away, noticing the two other men behind.
"It's him!" the man shouted.
“Great,” Samuel said has he turned and ran. Before he got more than half a block, they tackled him. Hands grabbed at him, fists punched, feet kicked. Pain erupted in his body with each strike. Very quickly all went black.
The first thing that came with consciousness was pain; head, body, legs, hands. One hand looked and felt crushed; bits of pavement ground into the flesh.
The second thing was the stench of rotting. It surrounded him, filling his lungs, burning his eyes.
He struggled to get up through one searing pain after another. It took a few seconds for him to realize he’d been left for dead in a dumpster. The shelter probably saved his life. He lifted his head from the garbage and the pre-dawn light struck him.
Breathing hurt. Moving hurt. Living hurt. He fell from the dumpster screaming in pain. The cold ground leached his warmth and strength. Samuel decided to lie there, to go to sleep, and have winter take him.
He lay, drinking in the pleasures of stillness, he heard a voice. He dragged himself toward the street with his one good arm. Why? He asked himself with each jolt of torment. Better to die. His mind had decided, but something inside wouldn’t let him just die.
Finally, he pulled his head from the alley. He filled his lungs, preparing to shout to the passer-by when he heard the words clearly: "Independent forces! The life to lead."
He let his head sink to the pavement.
"Hey, buddy, looking for a fresh start?"
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