I spent most of today’s writing time working on something that’s not quite ready yet – hopefully it will be up later this week. In the meantime, please have something inspired by Paul’s recent burst of AW hack activity!
Or you can just view the supporting feature again. It’s much funnier than me.
It had been too easy.
The Galacians had not surrendered yet, of course, but throughout the past month he had never seen a cyborg commander so willing to talk. Alexander still felt a nagging feeling that the parley was a ruse.
His joints ached. The morning air was cold, far too cold for anyone to be up and about. Civilised people had no business being out in the wilderness when it was this cold. It felt strange that this truth should strike him harder than any ofÂ the other senseless things he’d done since crossing the border, but it had a solidity, a substance, that none of the orders and threats and borderline insubordination could quite gather. He could dissemble, he could evade, he could lie to his soldiers and his colleagues and his superiors and himself about how and why he was here – but he was an old man, and his bones complained when it was cold.
“Only one minute to the hour. Still nobody in sight, sir”. The lieutenant from HQ shifted from foot to foot, though Alexander couldn’t tell whether it was from nerves or cold. Slightly behind them both, Graffen stood still as a rock.
“They’ll come. The Galacians keep their promises.” He found himself speaking with more confidence than he thought he had. The younger man – Wyland? Weston? – didn’t reply, though his guarded expression made it obvious enough that he didn’t share Alexander’s opinion. The rest of the Littorand party hung back with the vehicles at the northern edge of the clearing, checking their weapons and scanning the edges of the forest. Nervous, far too nervous. Alexander quietly shook his head. He’d seen grunts get rattled by setbacks in the past, but this time it felt like his men had learned to fear this enemy far too quickly and too thoroughly. Defeat still dogged them, long after they’d turned the tables on the Galacians.
Klaus cleared his throat and Alexander turned his attention back to the south. A lone figure had cleared the trees – a slender young woman dressed in nondescript fatigues, walking slowly but confidently towards him. Dusky skin, short brown hair, shorter than him but not much. No obvious machine parts to give her away as a cyborg. As usual with the Galacians, she had no visible markings of rank on her uniform. Alexander checked his watch – it read 0800 hours precisely.
“That’s close enough.” The lieutenant – Welland, that was the boy’s name – stepped forward and quietly positioned himself between Alexander and the Galacian. “Identify yourself and state your business.” The woman made no reply, though she halted her advance. She ignored Welland and looked Alexander in the eye.
“You are Colonel Alexander of the Littorand National Army. You have led the pursuit of our forces for the last four weeks.” It was not a question. Alexander gently pushed his way past Welland and nodded.
“I am Colonel Alexander. We were told that your commander wished to negotiate. Please inform him that I have come as requested, and that I have no intention of betraying his trust. I am prepared to order my men back to their camp if he requires it.” He could feel Welland staring daggers into him for that last, but he knew it was the right thing to say. Sometimes you had to set your strength aside if you wanted your enemy to listen to you.
The woman paused for a few seconds before replying. “It will not be necessary for your soldiers to retreat, Colonel Alexander. I am willing to trust your word that this is not a trap.” She turned slightly and looked past him. “Lieutenant Simon Wellard, I am Captain Alesini, and I am the leader of this company of the Galacian Autonomous Defence forces. I have also taken provisional command of the Volunteer Army soldiers in our detachment. I am here to negotiate a ceasefire with Colonel Alexander. Please do not interrupt further.”
The lieutenant blanched – Graffen didn’t bat an eyelid. Alexander cursed himself for making foolish assumptions. Of course their commander would be a woman. They were half metal anyway, what difference did it make how they were born?
He nodded to her. “I am sure the lieutenant will restrain himself, Commander. Please allow me to apologise for my presumption.”
She shook her head. “An apology is not necessary. I have one request for you, Colonel. Please abandon your pursuit and allow my soldiers to retreat to the coast.” Alexander extended a hand in front of Welland as the younger man nearly exploded behind him. The woman – Alesini – continued as if she had never been interrupted.
“If you are unwilling or unable to do so, I am willing to offer a provisional surrender, contingent upon the safe treatment of all of my soldiers under the articles of Littorand military law.”
Alexander stood speechless. After months of feints, ambushes, feigned retreats and counterattacks, she was just going to surrender?
She took his silence as a cue to continue. “Our best predictions inform us that the most likely outcome of an extended pursuit is the annihilation of our army, followed by a Boscan ambush of your column. Our preferred outcome is a safe retreat and extraction, but your hierarchical command structure leads us to believe that you are unlikely to pursue this course of action. We would therefore be willing to be taken as prisoners of war and transported out of Boscan territory as rapidly as possible.”
He still couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He felt numb. She wanted to surrender. Just like that.
“If you are unable to guarantee the safety of my soldiers, then I will have no option remaining but to continue fighting in the hope that you make a mistake and give us the opportunity to escape.” She fished an army-issue radio out of a belt pouch and tossed it to him. Shock and cold kept him from grabbing it in time, but Graffen snatched it just before it hit the ground. She stared at him as if expecting an answer.
“I will wait for one day before I resume hostilities. I hope you will be willing to make the mutually beneficial choice.” And without any acknowledgement of his total loss of composure, she turned on her heel and marched back the way she came.
Alexander’s heart sank as the woman – the Galacian commander – slipped back through the trees. He knew already that headquarters would not allow him to honour her terms, not even the twenty-four hour ceasefire. Her proposal – calm, clear, logical, humanitarian – proved every accusation that the generals had levelled against her people.
The Galacians weren’t human. And he would have no choice but to kill them all.