Avilon half-woke into a new flood of memory – disjointed images painted in something of the quality of dream or nightmare, which slowly coalesced into a narrative of distinct scenes, vivid and real.
He had been on a strike – no – the strike. The strike that was intended to destroy the CSF communications and data collection capacity across an entire sector of the Middle and Peripheral worlds and would, at the very least, cripple all Coalition activities in that sector for years to come and at best allow some planets there the chance to throw off the Coalition yoke for good. He had the best of the Legacy’s young freedom-fighters and the help of Jazatar Baldrik, a good friend and a mercenary with solid military experience. It should have been straightforward, with only a little real fighting involved, against a small unit of regular troops, which was why Jaz had been there.
But it had gone horribly wrong.
They had walked right into an ambush.
Avilon had been manning the command centre on the ship and had seen the full horror unfold. Coalition marines had appeared as if from nowhere – and not regulars but the Special Legion: violent criminals, fighting under an impossible promise of freedom if they survived five years service in the toughest battles of the Coalition. Brutalised soldiers who excelled in vicious close quarters fighting and were renowned for giving no mercy to their foes, making them more feared than any regular troops. Avilon’s guerrilla units had collapsed under the sudden assault.
There had been no chance to evacuate more than a handful and then the ship itself came under attack and he had tried to flee into free space. Only space had not been free – a cruiser and its escort of frigates had come out from hiding behind the planet’s moon to swoop in for the kill. They had made it into FTL, but only after taking the damage that would eventually prove fatal for the ship.
Somehow, by someone, they had been betrayed.
It was the pain of that realisation that woke Avilon fully, a hollow sense of loss, of failure and self-blame, like a vacuum in his stomach.
The ground was rocking and creaking beneath him. He could hear sounds of men shouting, the dull clatter of hooves on stone and the grating groans of heavy wheels rumbling overland. Still half-wrapped in the haze of dream, he could make no sense of that. All he could think about was that he had been betrayed and did not even know by whom – and he had lost an entire strike team. Young lives wasted – and their loss severe to the Legacy.
And he had left Jaz behind.
He had left the man who called him ‘brother’ to die. Jaz, who had never been of the Legacy, who had still moved with a slight limp from being tortured by the bounty hunter Elias Bazath, because he had refused to betray where Avilon could be found.
The mercenary’s last report had been that he was slowed by the need to ‘baby sit’ and was heading back to the ship as fast as he could. But it had made no difference. Avilon could not have waited even one more moment for anyone, or the ship would have been destroyed. And now Jaz’s woman and two sons would be waiting in vain for him to come home. The knowledge bit deep into his psyche, bitter and dark. With an extreme effort of will, he banished it, aware of the rising nausea that cost.
From The Fated Sky part one of Fortune’s Fools Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook
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