Sunday. Sunday! SUNDAY!!
(that might resonate a little for those of you over the age of fifty; if not, just press on)
By forcing these out, I am essentially chasing myself. To keep a steady flow of installments going, I need to stay 1k-2k words ahead. Weekend updates for me to be reasonably sober and do my damn job.
Below, we meet someone from “Obligations of Rank.” Someone who is not at all happy about his current assignment. If you walk away from the imperial family to try to lead your own life, getting jerked around by the Empress’ lacky is insulting.
And a tired and hungry Jimmy sure as hell runs his mouth more than he should. And yes, that is a “Pulp Fiction” homage by Robert.
A crow’s caw had his eyes open. It was mostly dark, two hours past sundown. Burns stood quietly and made his way south, trying to not step on dry twigs or get caught by brambles and branches. Not quite an hour later, he stood on an east-west road. In darkness but out of Canada.
West takes me too close to the highway and the checkpoint. That map showed east was open farm. Jimmy looked up at the half-moon. Brilliantly bright in a clear sky with no electric lights for miles. Someone would see me and wonder. So that leaves more forest to the south. I think it goes on for at least a kilometer. Some village was to the southeast, I forget the name. I’ll stick to the edge of the woods and head that direction.
There was a howl from the southwest.
And hope I don’t get eaten. He turned a bit to his left and started walking.
Trying to check his position every half hour or so against the moon, he succeeded in only walking into two trees and tripping face-down into the dirt three times. Don’t think I’m bleeding but my shoulder still hurts from the drop onto the tarmac. His stomach made a growl like the one he had heard earlier. And I’m starving.
There was a break in the trees for a field about seventy meters across. Jimmy heard nothing so, stepping high, jogged across to the southern treeline. Looking east, he could see what was either candlelight or solar power lights behind windows in houses, about a klick away. Not at all out of breath, he moved in that direction.
“Maybe I can find a tavern there, like Val’s,” he said quietly with a smile.
“Or maybe you could be arrested,” was an equally soft man’s voice from just to his right. Burns froze. “There are pictures of you already posted. Reward of five thousand Loonies.”
“For an amateur, your field craft isn’t that poor,” the other man said. Jimmy heard him moving a little closer but could see nothing. Sounds close to my age. “But on a still night like this, sound travels for miles. Especially for those listening.”
An outline of someone just a few centimeters shorter than him.
“I am a speculatores, a scout, of the legions of Her Majesty,” the other said, more mouthing than whispering. “This land is contested. So, too, are the people in it. Our imperium is our people and we protect them. Tell me, flesh I have seen of James Burns, what is your mission?”
He knows who I am; so much for lies.
“I am trying to find your commander. I want Aurelia Hartmann,” he said, a trifle too loud.
“Want to see her?” the spec…something said, now close enough to have an outline and a moonlight-reflected face. His features…
“No. Have her.” What in the hell am I saying?
“Hmm. Come with me. Or die. Your choice.”
The legionary turned about and moved away, deeper into the wood. He’s part of her army, so I’ve made part two of my escape.
“Are we going far?” Jimmy whispered. “I thought her army was dozens of kilometers south of here.”
“You don’t know what you don’t know. Be silent.”
Twenty minutes later had them in a slight depression in the forest. Five other men in their mottled imperial field gray uniforms were there, tending a tiny aluminum stove. While they looked up at their arrival, no one moved.
“Coffee and jerky for the guest,” the man who found him said to the night and his men. “Once he’s revived a bit, I’ll take him on my watch.”
“A foreign civilian, Centurion?” one of the men asked while pouring something into a tin cup and handing it up.
“He is our Regent’s man,” the man standing said. Jimmy’s knees nearly gave out at that. Who are these people! He took the tin and tried to drink, shaking badly. Another man passed up some dried meat.
“He doesn’t look like much,” a third about the stove said.
“Ever stood next to the Empress? I have,” the centurion said. “Cute gal. Until she looks at you. Shit myself on the spot.”
The five did everything they could to not laugh out loud.
“Who is out?” he continued.
“Sparks,” was the reply.
“I’ll find him. Deus vult.”
“Deus vult,” was the mutter back.
“Stay at my right, Burns,” the centurion said, stepping slowly into the trees, his rifle in his hands. “Don’t want you getting lost and raped in the CSIS prison.”
“They speak English on What?” the centurion asked with a smile in his voice. “Quiet, now.”
They stopped and the legionary spoke to the blackness.
“Terra.” A muted voice came back. A man brushed past them without a word.
“There,” the centurion said, turning and taking Jimmy’s hand into his in a grasp of greetings. “I’m Bob Hardt.”
“HARDT!” Jimmy shouted, ruining their cover.