Redliners David Drake
Redliners David Drake
When I entered Category 4 of the Unity civil service thirty-seven years ago, I gave up my former name and life to become a servant dedicated to all mankind. There are those who say I ceased to be human when as part of the process a computer was embedded in my central nervous system.
I am called John Smith, though my name might as easily have been Xiang Quo or Krishna Singh or Ali Nasr. I am now Chief of Administration, the highest permanent official of the Unity. There are those who say I have the powers of a god and the ruthlessness of an avalanche.
Since I entered Category 4, my only desire has been the long-term good of mankind. Since I became Chief of Administration, my will has been the only will of mankind.
There are those who say I have no more mercy than a surgeon treating cancer.
There are those who say my planning has been mankind’s only salvation during these seven years of war with the Kalendru, who understand the concepts of “master” and “slave” but not of “equals.”
There are those who say that even such as I must retire, as a blade is retired when grinding use wears it to a sliver—be that sliver ever so sharp.
They say, they say . . .
And they are all of them correct.
Operation Active Cloak
Major Arthur Farrell’s bones vibrated to the howls of the generators braking the captured Kalendru starship to a soft landing in the main military port of the world Unity planners had labeled Maxus 377. The engineers hadn’t bothered to jury-rig displays after they gutted the ship’s hold for the assault force. If the strikers of Company C41 wanted, they could tap visuals from the flight deck onto their helmet visors and look at the warped-looking Spook structures they would attack in the next few seconds.
Farrell didn’t bother to watch. Instead he rechecked his stinger. He wore crossed bandoliers of ammo packs and dangling blast rockets; a medical kit; two supplementary communication units; two knives—one of them powered, the other with a shorter fixed blade that could double as a climbing spike; and a packet of emergency rations. The integral canteen of Farrell’s back-and-breast armor held two quarts of water, but he carried an additional three gallons in a backpack. The weight slowed him and made his armor sag brutally against his shoulders, but the cost was worth it to him.
When you’re pinned down in the hot sun, thirst is the worst torture. Worse than the ripping pain of your wound, worse even than the stench of your friend’s half-burned corpse on the ground beside you. Art Farrell knew.
The starship quivered, still twenty feet above the ground though she was nearly in equilibrium with the field her generators had induced in the magnetic mass on which she was landing. “Wait for it!” ordered Captain Broz, C41’s executive officer, over the command channel.
Nadia Broz was following standard operating procedure, but on this mission there wasn’t any risk that a striker would unass early. Normally C41 inserted aboard a purpose-built landing vessel. The hatches opened minutes before contact. For Active Cloak camouflage rather than speed was the requirement. At touchdown the flight crew would blow explosive bolts to separate the outer bulkheads from the skeleton of support members, but until then the freighter’s hold was sealed like a prison cell.
“Hey, I think I changed my mind,” a striker called over the ship noises. There was brittle laughter.
Kurt Leinsdorf stood stolidly at Farrell’s shoulder as he always did during an insertion. On C41’s table of organization, Leinsdorf was a communications specialist. In reality he was Farrell’s bodyguard, a huge, strong man who carried a single-shot plasma cannon in addition to his other weapons and equipment.
“I wanna be a Strike Force ranger . . .” sang Horgen, a Third Platoon striker. “I wanna live a life of danger . . .”
The starship sank the last few feet like a leaking bladder. Wait for it, Farrell mouthed, but no sound passed his dry lips.
A locator chart overlaid the upper left quadrant of Farrell’s visor: seventy-eight green dots, each one a striker. They were crammed too closely together at the moment for him to count them individually. Every one was a veteran: not only of combat, but veterans of C41 itself.
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