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In Fury Born: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Friday, February 10, 2006 18:42 EST



Book Two: The Emperor's Sword

    The darkness swirled slowly about her. She drifted once more towards awareness, her thought reaching out, questing beyond her dreams in search of function. Of purpose.

    Memories danced through those dreams. Memories of fire and slaughter. Of vengeance visited, punishment wreaked. Of unyielding pursuit and merciless destruction. Those were what she was, those memories. Or what she had been.

    Wait. It was there once more, that whisper of purpose, that echo of herself. And it was stronger now, no longer tentative. It was beginning to know itself, her drowsing mind thought, and marveled at the potential of its power, at the focus of its purpose.

    There were shadows about it. Dark shadows, which had been only hints before. Its future was narrowing, as mortal futures must, as decisions were made, paths were chosen, and potentialities fell unused and unspent into the realm of might-have-been. The echo did not know that, yet she felt the future singing to her as it had not in millennia.

    It could, this one, she thought drowsily. It could actually reach out to her, even here, if the need were stark enough, if the pain and the hate blazed bright enough, and how long had it been since she'd felt that possibility? And yet, even in her dreams, a part of her wondered if she truly wanted to resume her purpose once more. It was who she was, what she'd been created to be -- her highest function. But at length, even one such as she tired of death and destruction. Would it be better to return to that, to become once more Fate's executioner? Or would it be better never to wake again? To stay wrapped in her dreams, cocooned in the darkness, until she -- like her countless victims -- faded at last into restful nothingness?



    "Yo, Alley!"

    Staff Sergeant Alicia DeVries opened her eyes and "looked up" from the field manual she'd been reading through her synth-link as Sergeant Haroldson came noisily into their quarters' shared sitting room/office.

    "I know you're not from Old Earth, Greta," Alicia said mildly, "but are you familiar with the Old Earth critter called an elephant?"

    "Vaguely, yeah. Why?" Haroldson said suspiciously.

    "Because your idea of how to walk into a room reminds me of an entire herd of them."

    "Very funny. Ha-ha." Haroldson made a face, andAlicia grinned and stripped off her synth-link headset, then leaned back in her desk chair and stretched luxuriously.

    "And what brings you back to our humble domicile so far ahead of schedule, O thundering herd?" she asked. "As a matter of fact, the Captain sent me to get you. He wants you in his office soonest."

    "Me?" Alicia's eyebrows rose, and Haroldson shrugged.

    "He didn't say why, but I think some HQ weanie type wants to see you. That's what the guy smelled like to me, anyway, even if he wasn't in uniform. I think he's from Old Earth, too. He's got an accent sort of like yours."

    "Curiouser and curiouser," Alicia murmured. She pushed up out of her chair and turned to the sitting room's view screen. She punched the button which configured it for mirror mode, then examined her image thoughtfully.

    Haroldson watched with a hidden smile as her roommate inspected her own appearance even more critically than she would have inspected a member of her squad. Haroldson had known the younger sergeant for a little under four months, and she'd been impressed -- almost against her will, initially at least. DeVries was not quite nineteen standard years old, which made her four years younger than Haroldson, and there weren't very many eighteen-year-old staff sergeants in the Imperial Marines. In fact, she was the only one Haroldson had ever met.

    Of course, there weren't very many eighteen-year-olds with the Recon patch, the Master Sniper qualification badge, the Grav-Drop qualification badge, and the Silver Star, either. Not only that, Haroldson happened to know that DeVries was Raider-qualified, although she hadn't yet tested to collect the official badge for that one. And she also knew that DeVries had been getting none-too-subtle "suggestions" for the last couple of months that she should be considering officer candidate school.

    She looked older than her years, too, Haroldson reflected, more like a twenty-something then someone who was still officially a teenager. It wasn't so much a physical thing, either, although she was tall and broad-shouldered (for a woman). And if she carried an extra gram of body fat anywhere, Haroldson hadn't seen it. She had a hard-trained, sinewy muscularity which was rare even among Marines, although she didn't seem to be a fanatic about maintaining it. Then again, she didn't seem to be fanatical about anything . . . yet she routinely demonstrated that she could do anything she asked a member of her squad to do, only better. It was that unspoken, total confidence in her own competence which made her so much older than her years. Especially since it was obvious to those about her that her confidence was completely justified.

    Haroldson had concluded after the first month that DeVries was simply one of those people who made mere mortals aware of their mortality. It would be interesting to see just what final rank she obtained, and Haroldson was already looking forward to "Why, I knew General DeVries back when she was just a staff sergeant! And let me tell you . . . "

    "You are planning on dropping by the Old Man's office sometime this afternoon, aren't you, Alley?" she said after moment, and the younger woman chuckled.

    "Now, now. You're just upset with me over that elephant remark."

    Alicia gave her appearance one last glance, switched off the view screen, and headed towards the door.

    "Assuming they aren't sending me off someplace horrible, like shipping me all the way back to Sol just so they can assign me to Titan Base, I'll be back shortly," she said.

    "Hey! If they do send you to Titan, can I have that box of chocolates in your locker?" Haroldson called after her.



    "Enter!" a voice called, in response to Alicia's quick double-knock on the office door. She opened it, stepped through, and braced to attention rather more sharply than usual as she spotted the man in civilian dress Haroldson had warned her about. He did have that certain indefinable aura of a senior staff officer as he sat there, but there was something else about him, too. Something . . . different.

    "Sir!" she said to Captain Ahearn.

    "Stand easy, Sergeant," Ahearn replied, and Alicia's internal antennae twitched. The "let's-humor-the-staff-puke" gleam her parade ground manner should have put into the captain's eye was singularly missing.

    She obeyed the command, dropping into a stand-easy position which could have served as a training manual illustration, and Ahearn indicated the stranger in his office with a wave of his right hand.

    "Staff Sergeant DeVries," he said, "this is Colonel Gresham."

    "Colonel," Alicia acknowledged when the captain paused.

    "Sergeant." Gresham nodded to her, and her curiosity sharpened still further as she noticed his eyes. They were a curious silvery color, one she'd never seen before, and there was something else just a bit peculiar about them. She couldn't put a finger on exactly what that something else was, though. It was almost as if they were focusing on something behind her -- or perhaps on something through her.

    "The Colonel's come a long way, Sergeant. He's got something he wants to discuss with you," Ahearn said. He hesitated for just a moment, as if he were about to say something more, then shrugged, gave his head a little shake, and stood.

    "Good day, Colonel," he said, with an almost curt nod. He looked at Alicia for a second, then gave her a nod (this one much less curt), as well. And then, to her astonishment, he walked out of his own office and closed the door quietly but firmly behind himself.

    She watched him leave, then turned back to face Gresham, and her mind raced while she tried to think of any explanation for Ahearn's bizarre behavior. None came to mind, and so she simply stood there, hands clasped behind her, expression politely attentive, and waited.

    Gresham studied her with those odd eyes of his for what seemed like a very long time, although she knew it wasn't. She had the distinct impression that he was waiting for her to show some indication of curiosity or uncertainty. Which, of course, she wasn't about to do. Finally, the civilian-garbed colonel smiled, like a man conceding some contest, and climbed out of the chair in which he'd been sitting. He crossed to stand behind Ahearn's desk, but he didn't seat himself in the captain's chair. Instead, he simply stood there, half-turned away from Alicia to gaze out the window at the parade ground baking under the afternoon heat of the Jepperson System's G-0 primary.

    "Tell me, Staff Sergeant," he said after a moment, "how do you like being a Marine?"

    "Excuse me, Sir?"

    Gresham smiled again at Alicia's courteously blank tone.

    "Actually, that wasn't a trick question," he told her. "I'm serious. How do you like being a Marine, now that you've had a couple of years experience?"

    "I like it," she said after moment. "I like it a lot."


    "Sir, that's a pretty sweeping question," she said slowly.

    "I know." He turned back from the window to face her fully and folded his arms across his chest as he leaned back against the office wall. "It's meant to be a tough one, too," he added.

    Well, it's certainly succeeded, then, she thought tartly. Just who is this yahoo, and why is he trying to screw with my head?

    "Sir," she said finally, "a Marine is what I've always wanted to be. Partly, I suppose, because of my grandfather's example. Partly because of the challenge. But mostly? Mostly because standing up to defend the things you believe in is what adults do."

    "'The things you believe in,'" Gresham repeated softly. In the wrong tone of voice, he might have sounded as if he were mocking her, but instead, it came out musingly. Then he cocked his head.

    "And just what do you believe in?" he asked.

    Another of those deliberately "tough" questions of his, I suppose, she snorted mentally. "If you want the simple form," she told him, allowing just a hint of testiness into her own voice, "I believe in what the Empire stands for. I believe in the individual rights imperial citizens are guaranteed, in the prosperity and standard of living the Empire offers its citizens -- the educational opportunities, the medical support, all of it. And I believe in my responsibility to defend the society that gives me and all of my fellow citizens those things." She shrugged. "I guess that sounds pretty simplistic, but that's the bottom line for me."

    "And killing other people to do that doesn't bother you?" Gresham's voice was completely neutral, as was his expression, but Alicia bridled inside anyway.

    "I don't love combat for the adrenaline rush of blowing somebody else away, if that's what you mean, Sir," she said just a bit more coldly than she'd actually intend to.

    "That wasn't what I asked," he replied. "I asked if killing other people to do your duty bothered you." He waved his right hand gently in the air in front of him. "I think it's a fair question, given the number of confirmed kills you racked up on Gyangtse alone."

    Alicia's curiosity sharpened at the evidence of just how much this Gresham knew about her. She supposed it shouldn't really have been a surprise. The numbers were part of her official record, and it was only logical for him to have done his homework before he descended from Mount Olympus to interrogate her. Whyever he was doing that. "All right, Sir," she said, deciding to answer his "fair question" as honestly as possible, "yes. It bothers me. I don't like it very much, in fact. But it comes with doing the job I chose, doesn't it? And I knew going in that it would. I guess I'm enough my father's daughter --" she allowed a hint of challenge into her green eyes, pushing to see just how much of her family background he'd studied up on as well " -- to wish that no one ever had to do that. But I'm enough my grandfather's granddaughter to recognize that since it does have to be done, it's better for the doers to be people who volunteer for it. Who are . . . good at it, I suppose."

    "But who don't enjoy doing it?"

    "Sir, with all due respect, I've never much cared to trust the judgment of someone who likes to kill other people." She shook her head. "I know they exist. I've even met some, here in the Corps. But there's a difference between recognizing that you're good at something and deciding that doing it when you don't have to is a good idea. It isn't. I saw both sides of that on Gyangtse, in my first tour. So, yes, I know there are people who subscribe to the 'kill them all; let God sort them out' philosophy. But I'm not one of them, and they aren't the ones I want making the decisions, or acting in the Empire's name."

    "I can't argue with that." The colonel's brief smile showed what looked like a flash of amusement mixed with what sounded like genuine agreement. Then he looked back out the window again, facing away from her.

    "So killing people does bother you, but you're still willing to do the job. I believe you said that part of it was the challenge. From your record, you look like someone who enjoys doing hard things simply because they're hard." He swung back around towards her, silvery eyes narrowed. "Would you agree with that assessment?"

    "Simply because they're hard?" Alicia shook her head. "Colonel, I'm not a masochist. I enjoy challenges, enjoy . . . stretching myself, I suppose. In fact," she looked him in the eye, "I guess if I'm going to be completely honest, the reason I put in for Recon straight out of McKenzie was because I wanted to prove I could tackle the hardest job out there. And, no, it wasn't to impress anyone else. It was because I wanted to prove it to me."

    "I see."

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