Bewildering Stories

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Through A Glass, Darkly

part 1

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Over the years I have come to believe that fate either hates me, or has one hell of a black sense of humor.

Don’t you sit there all smug and comfortable and laugh at me, you intolerant reader with your all-knowing sneer. I think that I’m entitled to be a little bit paranoid about some things, given what’s happened to me of late. You might not agree, but then you don’t have to. And it’s not your story to tell, it’s mine, so just sit back and let me tell it, all right?

Good. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah; the beginning.

* * *

Every aspect of the operation was perfect. The target was perfect, our plan was perfect, our insertion was perfect, even our getaway plan for after the fireworks was all over was perfect. In retrospect, I think maybe that’s where we made our mistake. You see, the whole thing was a trap, and not a single one of us saw it until it was too late.

Word had reached us through our old friend Percy Powell of a prison compound on an uncharted world where one of the major slaving concerns was housing newly acquired stock. The brief had included the plans for the compound and an outline of their ground-based and orbital defenses. Michelle and Eric and I had looked over the brief, discussed it, and decided that it was worth taking on the mission.

We gathered our little flotilla together and headed out. We left Eric in orbit with the Chameleon, an old decommissioned assault carrier that we had liberated and refit for our own purposes, and an escort of some twenty freighters and fast attack skiffs while Michelle and I had gone down the well with the Moonshadow and some thirty other freighters. We took out the defense towers easily enough and grounded outside the main gate.

The guards at the gate had put up a fight, but it didn’t do them a lot of good. It didn’t do us a lot of good either because we lost a few good people in that fight, but our losses were nothing compared to theirs. Once we were through we made for the containment cells buried beneath the central courtyard.

That’s where the slavers decided to spring their little trap.

We stormed the prison complex and discovered that the cells were empty. Michelle and I both got the same sinking feeling at about the same time, and I was about to call a retreat when the slavers struck from all sides. They had the high ground and the low ground, and they outnumbered us about ten to one. Considering the odds we were up against I was tossing around the idea of calling surrender, but Michelle acted before I had a chance to make up my mind. She charged forward and clubbed the first slaver who crossed her path in the face with the but of her rifle. She turned and clipped the next slaver in the face with a back spin kick, dropped her rifle, and came out of the spin with a knife in each hand, charged forward before the slavers could react.

The rest of us took the hint and surged forward en masse.

I ducked down and ran my shoulder into the chest of the first slaver I came across, grabbed hold of him as I rose and threw him over my back. I stepped forward, pivoted to the right, and slammed the stock of my rifle into the chin of the next slaver. He staggered back for a critical second, stunned, which gave me all the time I needed to turn and sweep his legs out from underneath him. As I was turning I took my left hand away from my rifle and used it to draw out my bayonet, drove the blade into his side as he hit the ground.

A strong arm wrapped itself around my neck and pulled me back, causing me to drop the rifle clattering to the deck. I went with the force of the pull and allowed myself to fall onto my back, reached up with my legs and wrapped them around my assailant’s head, and pulled him off of me. I got my feet back under me and managed to pull the two matching sai I had taken to carrying with me out of my boots just as my attacker regained his own footing and turned on me, a bayonet in each hand.

The sai is in interesting weapon in that it can actively be used either defensively or offensively. You can kill with it, or you can keep someone from killing you. The problem with knife fighting, or bayonet fighting, is that while there are certain kinds of parries that you can perform in certain kinds of circumstances the bayonet is essentially an offensive weapon and is useless for defense. About all you can do when you have a bayonet is dodge and hope that you dodge the right way.

I used the split second before he pressed his attack to size up my opponent. He was at least twice my size, all muscle and brute strength. If I were him, then, I would be wanting to bring me in close, where he could use his strength against me. That meant he was going to be a grappler, a wrestler, and the only way I was going to get out of this one alive would be to keep him at arms’ length.

That would probably be a good thing, then, because the master who had been teaching me the saihad been telling me that I needed to practice my defensive parries. Nothing gives you the kind of incentive to get it right the first time than running the risk of getting killed if you screw up.

My opponent surged forward, and the sheer speed with which he moved took me by surprise for a critical second, for I had not expected someone of his bulk to move so fast. He stepped toward me and thrust with his bayonet. I crossed my sai and caught the blade between them, pivoted on my right foot to knock the thrust aside and snap-kicked him in the face. He staggered back, stunned, giving me the opportunity I needed to drop to my knees as I completed the turn and stroke one of my sai across the tender flesh of his belly. His hand went to the open wound I had made and he folded, clutching himself. I reversed my sai in my right hand and brought the blunt end down on the back of his head, knocking him out. He collapsed in a pool of his own blood.

I didn’t have much in the way of time to celebrate my victory. One of the slavers sprinted toward me, leaping over his fallen comrade to get at me. I reversed my sai in my left hand as I jumped up to meet him halfway. I twisted in mid air and drove my shoulder into his chest. The force of my impact knocked him back, sent him sprawling on the deck with me on top of him. He shouldered me off of him and climbed to his feet. I rolled onto my back, took to my feet, and assumed a ready posture before him. I stamp-feinted toward him and skidded back when he swung the butt of his rifle at my head. He reversed his motion, swinging at me from the opposite direction, but this time I was ready for him. I stepped into the swing, taking the impact on the sai I had laid against my right forearm, and drove the blunt end of the sai in my left hand into the slaver’s gut. He folded and I drove my knee into his face, dropping him.

Another slaver was sprinting towards me. I met him halfway and drove the sharp end of the sai in my right hand into his throat. I sheathed the other sai and drew my pistol, took cover behind a nearby stack of crates.

The battle was not going well. We were horribly outnumbered and the slavers had the drop on us. This was one encounter that we were clearly going to lose, and that didn’t sit well with me at all. However, I didn’t have time to think about that. There was a fighting retreat to organize.

The first step in organizing that little venture was locating Michelle. It didn’t take me long to find her; she was engaged in a close-quarters knife fight against two slavers, and a third was looking for an opportunity to step in. I sighted carefully down the barrel of my pistol and fired. The shot took the third slaver between the eyes, flinging him back like a rag doll.

I heard something small bounce against the duracrete near me. I looked over and felt my eyes widen when I saw the grenade. I made a long arm, picked up the grenade, and heaved it up over the wall. A moment later there was an earsplitting boom and the entire world seemed to shake and shiver around me. I managed to keep my feet under me and retreated behind my stack of crates, looked around wildly for Michelle.

One of the two slavers Michelle had been fighting had managed to keep his footing and was facing off against her. The other had dropped to the ground, clutching at the deep gash that had been sliced into his throat. After a moment he fainted from the blood loss and collapsed.

I took careful aim and drove a particle bolt into the chest of the last slaver that Michelle was fighting, watched in satisfaction as he dropped to the ground. A smoking hole was carved into his chest where his heart used to be. Michelle looked over and flashed me a quick smile.

My victory was short lived.

I’m not sure I remember exactly what happened, not because my memory is failing me but because everything seemed to happen at once. I’ve thought back a few times, tried to piece together exactly what happened when, and this is what I’ve come up with.

Right at the moment that Michelle’s last opponent dropped to the ground another slaver came up behind her and pinned her arms behind her back. Michelle moved to break the hold, but a second slaver reached around and placed a stunner against her neck. There was a flash of light and a sharp snap sound and Michelle folded in the arms of her captor. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder, sprinted out of the combat zone.

Something thudded against the ground behind me. I turned and ran straight into a roundhouse right that drove me into the stack of crates, toppling it. I lost my grip on my pistol, saw it skid across the duracrete.

I rolled off the crates and dove for my pistol, made a long arm for it. I was intercepted halfway, taken down in a classic mid air tackle. My opponent and I rolled across the deck, came to a stop with me on my back and him on top of me, his hands around my throat. I drove my knee up between his legs, making his eyes go wide. He squeaked out a meek little “Jesus Christ!” and rolled off of me, clutching himself.

I climbed to my feet and started to sprint after the two slavers who were taking Michelle from me, my lost pistol forgotten. A hand grabbed my arm and dragged me kicking and screaming behind cover. I looked up into the eyes of Acheson, one of the freighter captains who had come down the well with us. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I demanded. “Don’t you have any idea what’s just happened here?”

“Of course I know what’s happened here,” Acheson returned. “We got caught with our pants down, that’s what’s happened here.”

“They’ve got Michelle,” I snapped. “We have to go after her.”

Acheson slugged me one, a left hook that took me in the temple and left me dazed. I shook my head to clear it as he grabbed my shoulders and stared into my eyes. “Listen to me, you selfish bastard!” he snapped. “We don’t have time for some damn fool personal crusade, and right here right now that’s exactly what going after Michelle is. We’re outnumbered and outgunned and if we don’t get our asses out of here while we still can then we’re going to die here, and we can’t go after her if we’re dead!”

Whatever response I was intending to make went unsaid as a grenade landed a couple of meters behind us and went off. The only thing that saved us was the stack of backing crates between us and the explosion, but it still flung us a couple of meters and rung our bells a good one. At that point I decided that we needed to get the hell out of Dodge, and we needed to get the hell out of Dodge now. So I rolled to my feet, clocked the nearest slaver a good one, and then screamed at the top of my lungs, “Run away!”

Now, look, let’s get something straight here. This wasn’t a military force. Hell, this wasn’t even a paramilitary force. This was a group of tough, independent-minded smugglers and pirates who just happened to agree that there were some groups out there who gave the rest of us fringe types a bad name and needed to be eliminated. All of us were pretty good in a fire fight, else we would not have survived all the ones we had been in. Most of us had self-defense training of one kind or another. Some of us were trained in martial arts. But only a handful of us actually had any military experience of any kind.

Now, a retreat, by definition, is an orderly withdrawal of a military force from an untenable situation. This wasn’t a military force and it wasn’t going to be an orderly withdrawal, therefore it wasn’t a retreat. It was a running away, and I have absolutely no problem with admitting that.

Those of our group nearest me took up the chorus, started to scream “Run away!” at the top of their lungs. It wasn’t long before all of the surviving members of our group got the message and joined in. Pretty soon all of us were screaming “Run away!” at the top of our lungs. Problem was, though, that the slavers we were fighting didn’t want us to run away, they wanted us to stay and play some more. They really should have known better.

If there’s one thing that our group is good at doing, it’s running away. Those of our opposition who decided to get in our way learned this the hard way. Throats were slit, necks were broken, whatever it took to get yourself clear so you could run like hell for the transports was done. Within seconds all of us were tearing out of the compound, our opposition close on our heels and gaining fast.

One of our newer members tore past me at the kind of speed that only desperation made possible, screaming, “sweet merciful CCCRRRRAAAAAAAPPPPP!”

We made it out of the compound and onto the landing ground and found a wall of slavers between us and our objective. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I moaned, as if the universe itself had put them there just to inconvenience me. I reached for my pistol and that’s when I discovered that my holster was empty. Oh, yeah, I thought. I left it in the compound, didn’t I? I wonder if I should go back and get it.

My unspoken question was answered for me when our opponents took up a battle cry and charged us en masse. “Great!” I snapped. “Here we go again.” I gathered my feet beneath me and tore forward, screaming a maniacal scream that I think I may have picked up at the academy eons and eons ago. The rest of my party surged forward after me. The two groups met in the middle of the field, halfway between the landing zone and the outer walls of the compound, and that’s where we gave the slavers our one and only surprise of the day.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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