FOR OVER A THOUSAND YEARS the Waywork has been both boon and bane: an alien interstellar highway system, which offers instantaneous travel between a closed network of stars. Within this bubble, the orphaned refugees of Earth—long lost—vie for control of humanity’s destiny. Can the beautiful daughter of a royal family, together with the rugged son of a shipping magnate, join forces with a proud but disgraced flag officer, to seize the initiative? Because the Waywork may at last be ready to give up its secrets, and one woman—a merciless autocrat, from the Waywork’s most brutal regime—is determined to ensure that she controls it all . . .
• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •
. . . Suddenly, a second set of rocket attacks blasted from the ruins, even father away from Garsina’s position than the first. The unguided missiles hit one of the sandbagged security positions, several shots at once. The sandbagged hole went up in a fireball which illuminated the night sky for several seconds.
“That detail headed toward the pyramid is double-timing back to help their comrades,” Wyodreth said, with no small degree of satisfaction. “Remind me to put Captain Fazal in for a commendation. Meanwhile, Mister Axabrast. Shall we?”
“Aye, lad,” the older man said, drawing his sidearm. “Lady? Mister Kalbi? Madam Lethiah?”
Antagean went first, with Lethiah on his heels, Kalbi in the middle, Garsina behind him, and Elvin bringing up the rear. Garsina crouched and ran at the same time, remembering having watched the TGO troops do it earlier in the day. Then realized nobody else was crouching, and simply stood up, putting one foot in front of the other as fast as her legs would carry her. The moonlight shining down on the ruins in front of the portico made it plain that there would be nowhere to hide. They’d be fully exposed for at least the last fifty meters. And they still didn’t know what waited for them inside.
“Go, go, go,” Elvin said to Garsina’s rear as she pumped her legs, the bandolier of ammunition slapping uncomfortably across her chest, and the carbine feeling heavy in her hands. She was careful to keep her fingers away from both the trigger and the safety while she moved. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally shoot herself, or anyone else in the remaining leadership group.
Wyodreth went into the portico first. Almost immediately, there were shouts, screams, and the sound of the lieutenant commander discharging his battle rifle. The shots were like physical impacts on Garsina’s ear drums, and she cringed, resisting the urge to slap her hands over her head. With Elvin close behind her, she crowded into the portico behind Kalbi and Lethiah, who were crowded behind Antagean, who was angling his weapon down the length of the corridor at the backs of several fleeing people.
Three bodies lay on the illuminated floor—their blood staining the hexagonal pattern of glowing lines which spread a diffuse light throughout the hexagonally cross-sectioned space. They’d each been struck at neck level, where their armor didn’t cover.
Elvin aimed his sidearm over Garsina’s shoulder and discharged several shots at the fleeing enemy, which did make Garsina drop her weapon—to dangle by its sling—so that she could slap her hands over her ears.
Elvin then quickly swiveled his head to look to their rear, and reversed himself—aiming back the way they had come. Garsina thought she saw a flicker of movement in the ruins. Several more shots erupted from Axabrast’s sidearm, and two human-shaped shadows toppled out of the darkness. They awkwardly pawed forward half a meter, then collapsed completely. Not to move again. Elvin grunted with satisfaction, and ejected the magazine for his weapon from within the weapon’s single, use-worn handle. Without looking, he removed a fresh magazine from its perch on his gunbelt, slapped the magazine into the sidearm, worked the sidearm’s action, then turned his attention to the men Wyo had killed.
Antagean stared at the people lying on the f loor of the entrance. They didn’t look any different from Constellar troops, save for the fact that their uniforms were a different style and a different color. They were also young, and male, their eyes staring in empty surprise at the alien ceiling. Almost as if the last thing they had expected, at the pyramid’s main entrance, had been an enemy officer using a rifle.
“How many?” Elvin demanded.
“Didn’t . . . didn’t count them,” the lieutenant commander said, still staring down at the bodies. His eyes were large, and he looked sick.
Elvin—for once—took pity on the man.
“It’s a terrible thing, lad,” he said. “And you won’t be able to make it okay with yourself for a while. Just keep moving, see? We’ve come this far. Don’t let the gears seize up in the engine now. Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.”
Antagean literally shook his head, swallowed several times, seemed to hear the ongoing battle at the Nautilan aerospace site not far from the portico, and said, “Right. Sorry. Uhhh, okay. Sorry. Let’s go.”
Elvin slapped the lieutenant commander on the shoulder, and the businessman’s son, who’d turned soldier, stepped over the dead, and trooped off down the corridor. Lethiah—who didn’t seem bothered by the bodies at all—followed, then Kalbi after her. The infotainer seemed even more horrified by the sight of the dead Nautilan troops than Wyodreth had been, and he had to be prodded to continue.
“Follow Antagean!” Elvin roared, pushing the small man in front of Garsina, “or we leave you behind!”
Kalbi moved, but his actions were robotic. Forced.
Garsina moved too. Seeing the blood was something she knew she was never going to forget. It had been fresh, and dark, filling the air with a slight coppery sent. Who those young men had been, and where they had come from, Garsina would never know. As Elvin had patiently explained to her, back aboard the starliner, good people did bad things to each other in war. It was just the way of things. You couldn’t stop and judge it in the moment. Forces were at work, well above the consciences of single men. Though single men—and women—would bear the burden for those deaths well beyond the battlefield.
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