By Rel Fexive
Disclaimer: I don't own Farscape or the characters. If I did, I'd treat them kindly.
Feedback: If you have something to say, you can e-mail me at
Archiving: If you like it you can have it, but not befory, and this is the final (if greatly delayed) result of that concept. There will be no bleeding over into the crossover here, though.
Spoilers: NONE! This particular fic does not impinge on any episodes at all.
Timeframe: Three and a half cycles before Premiere.
Summary: A Peacekeeper soldier comes to realise many things are not as they seem…
Comments: The central character in this fic was created in a crossover story on an RPG forum based a long time ago and far, far away. Since then I have been toying with the idea of an origins story, and this is the final (if greatly delayed) result of that concept. There will be no bleeding over into the crossover here, though. Other fics may follow to make a series as time and inspiration allow. And on that subject, the story 'Unseen Hands' by Jess Pallas inspired the whole concept for this character. Thanks Jess! ;-)
Ohh, can't anybody see
We've got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong
The dim sun was overhead when we reached the outskirts of the city. The light stained everything red, turning our combat gear the colour of blood. As we slipped through narrow streets made narrower by rubble we saw little evidence of life.
Goran was just ahead on my left and Saryn far on the right as we carefully stepped over debris, scanning our surroundings for hints of danger, any shadows that indicated an ambush. The place remained stubbornly lifeless. Behind me the tracker the lieutenant carried continued to beep quietly; the sound as unchanged as it had been for the last seven arns. The source of the faint signal it was locked onto remained almost a whole solar day ahead of us.
Verrta was an unremarkable world in and of itself, but High Command had determined the system was an important bridgehead from which the Scarrans or their allies could launch an attack on our space. It needed strengthening, reinforcing to ensure the security of the Sebacean people. Our leaders had attempted to use the threat of possible invasion to convince the natives, the Vaerryn, to allow us to place a substantial Peacekeeper garrison on their planet; after all, any move to attack us would mean a Scarran planetary assault would destroy the Vaerryn first.
They resisted our offer to protect them from our savage and mutual enemies. Rumour suggested they were trying to play both sides; had they already made a similar agreement with the Scarrans? Whatever the reason for their defiance, High Command concluded that we could not risk Verrta falling into the hands of the enemy and so plans were drawn up to secure the system.
That was a cycle ago, and now we Peacekeepers controlled the system. Two Command Carriers rested in high orbit, directing the final stages of the Pacification of Verrta, as it would later be known. The governments were in exile, their armies smashed, cities blasted to rubble. Numerous Peacekeeper bases dotted the landscape, slowly gathering the natives together and organising the restoration of their shattered civilisation into a form that would serve us best. This was as it should be; we had proven our superiority once more by defeating the Vaerryn, and now they would serve us as we wished. Their world would become an important staging point for the Peacekeepers in the future.
The remaining ground forces had a lot of work to do. There were still many pockets of resistance present on Verrta, less of them every day, and they all needed to be eliminated. I had been part of that effort until a few solar days before, when my transfer orders had come in. I had been moved sideways and upwards to Alto Company as a sergeant under the command of Lieutenant Lan and the second of the small squad assembled for a special mission.
A Vaerryn child lay half-buried in rubble to my right, between Saryn and me. A small dwelling had collapsed into the street on a crossroads. Saryn kept watch as I carefully approached the wreckage of someone's home, trying to ascertain if it posed a threat. The body, like all Vaerryn, was superficially similar to the pure Sebacean template, with head, arms and legs, but there the resemblance stopped. The skin was a scaly yellow-orange, almost plastic in appearance; the head elongated, with ears flat against the head; large, light sensitive eyes; wide nasal slits. Suited to life on a world with a distant red sun.
I carefully stepped over the small, wrecked form without another glance and scrutinised the interior of the blasted house, eyeballing for traps and the like. Satisfied there was no such threat I picked my way back out again and the wary team continued on.
We were not exactly sure what we were after. Some sort of signal led us on in pursuit of unknown prey. We were sure the Lieutenant knew. The mission profile had mentioned deserters and looters, which seemed incomprehensible. Deserters were always apprehended and punished, everyone knew that. What could they hope to achieve? We held the planet; no one could reach space without one of the Command Carriers tracking it. Who would try to desert on a planet that was so closely watched? And what could the planet offer looters that they could not get from Peacekeeper supply depots?
Trooper Edan, who stalked a short distance ahead of the rest of us, suddenly crouched and made the gesture for stop, mere microts before his point partner, Polen, did the same. The whole squad came to a halt, crouching and scanning our surroundings through the sights of our rifles. Nothing moved. Rhedd and Rokko, at the rear, kept watch that way.
A long time passed, or seemed to, before Polen glanced at Edan from within her dark visor and eased herself upright. Carefully shifting forwards, each step slowly put down to avoid making noise, she crept towards the source of whatever it was that had caught their attention. She drifted through the rubble with barely a sound made, only the puffs of dust from the lifting of her feet revealing she was real instead of some holo projection.
When she was almost out of sight behind a broken section of wall Polen froze but almost immediately stood up straight and turned, her suddenly deafening, unhurried footsteps the only sound other than the wind. A quick gesture to Edan sent him forwards on point again, covering the right side of the street while Polen took the left.
"Squad," Lan called out quietly over the comms, "advance."
I adjusted my grip on my pulse rifle as I stood, flexing the fingers of my right hand to work out the cramp. On we went, with me keeping my attention mostly focused on the left side of the street. When I passed the rubble Polen had paused at, I saw what had caught her attention; the head of a Vaerryn, his authority brands seared onto the sides of his head, impaled on a makeshift jinka pole that creaked a little in the wind. Around the pole lay the bodies of a dozen others, bodies resting in attitudes suggesting they had been killed from concentrated pulse weapon fire at close range. Just another object lesson for the remaining rebels.
We reached the outskirts of the city about an arn before sunset and set up camp for the night in one corner of a massive, ruined building, draping bivouac sheets over the rubble. With Tenzac and Saryn on guard the rest of us removed our helmets and sipped gratefully from our water canisters. Even at rest we all seemed to be at attention, our combat armour making us look like black statues at rest around a heat plate. Goran, the corporal Lan had chosen from his company for this assignment, was on "cooking" duty. He usually managed to make the most of our rations by judiciously applying a little seasoning to the hard, nutritious but tasteless matter. Even Leviathan food cubes were more appealing, though, of course, no one complained. We were soldiers, not Hynerian gourmets.
The lieutenant finished his meal quickly and took the tracker with him, to get a better fix on the mysterious source of the transmission we were following. He had done it every day for the three days we had been on this assignment. With him supposedly out of earshot, the talk continued as it always did.
"I still reckon it must be the last surviving member of their local council," Ishanden reiterated, insistently sticking to his theory against all attacks. Stubborn and hardheaded, he was the sort of soldier you wanted to have in a squad when the fighting started. Battle-hardened and scarred, born right into the ranks of the Peacekeepers, this was his sixth campaign.
"And they're broadcastin' their position while their at it, are they?" Edan responded scornfully. Less battered than Ishanden he shared the same look nonetheless. Rumour said he had resisted recruitment into SpecOps. He looked the part, though; dark, feral, dangerous. A sense of superiority that made itself known in his Pronouncements.
"Nah, we got special ops on their tails tracking 'em for us, but it's not the council, it's their wives," Polen suggested. "You know how important their wives are to them. Good hostages." Polen was an exemplary soldier, like the others, with a knack for danger, spotting it as well as being in the middle of it. Both aspects made her perfectly suited for point duty, and she and Edan made a good team.
"What d'you think, Sarge?" Edan asked me, in a challenging tone. They were still testing me, sounding me out, seeing if I was a good replacement for my predecessor, who had been captured by Vaerryn rebels two weekens ago. I thought for a moment before answering.
"I think we'll not know for certain if we let either of the other two squads get to them ahead of us," I replied quietly, reminding them that if the soldiers in one of those squads captured our elusive prey they would get all the glory. Ishanden laughed.
"Yeah, we can't let those dren-eaters get the medals!" The trooper shook his head, chuckling.
"Do you think it's some Scalies we're after, Sarge, or are we really tracking traitors?" Edan enquired, pushing for an answer. For a moment everything seemed to stop as, by coincidence, everyone's eyes turned to me as I took a breath to make my reply. It was momentary but unsettling. They obviously did not care that I knew they resented me, with me replacing their old sergeant. Soldiers always distrust new, unproven leaders, or at least those unproven in their presence.
"If we're following a signal, something must be producing it. Could be a Black Ghost, following them close, could be they are doing it themselves without knowing about it." I shrugged. "Or maybe they do know and it's a trap. There's only one way to know for sure: catch them." I stood, lifting my rifle up from the ground without thought as I did so.
With a nod to Saryn I left our small perimeter within the confines of the ruined edifice. Across the other side of the complex was a sluice room I had passed through earlier when we had been securing the area. Slinging the pulse rifle over my shoulder I dipped my biosensor into the water gathered in the huge washing basin in the centre of the room. A few microts passed before both lights glowed green, declaring the water was both safe against the skin and also safe to drink. Poisoning water supplies was an everyday guerrilla trick, and one also employed by the Peacekeepers.
I took a double handful of water and lowered my face into it, rubbing the sweat and grime away. I gulped a mouthful of water from another handful but only swished it around before spitting it backs out again. The sloshing of water was suddenly loud in the empty chamber and I glanced around, feeling somehow guilty for disturbing a silence like that of a tomb. In fact, it almost certainly was a tomb; it was highly likely that several bodies lay under the rubble around us.
By this time the water in the basin had settled down, bringing me face to face with a lean-faced Sebacean dressed in the armour of the Peacekeeper infantry. The hair was raggedly cut short, dark blonde; the dark eyes had rings under them; some stubble was coming through. I had seen better days. I remembered how I had looked on the day I survived Youth Training and moved on to the real thing, and on the day I graduated and received my first combat assignment. Cleaner, taller perhaps, my back straighter, less stooped by fatigue. Dress uniform pressed and clean: Peacekeeper Arrin Hekka, reporting for duty, filled with pride. Fatigue and battle weariness had begun to weight heavily, but the discipline and the honour were still there, the strengths that held the Peacekeepers together.
I left my reflection behind as I had discarded my first life and picked my way back through the ruins. On the way past a broken doorway out onto a rubble-strewn lawn, a shadow flickered in the corner of my eye and I tensed to alertness in a microt, rifle ready in my hands. A brief moment of stillness passed as I waited for something to happen; when nothing did I eased myself forwards stealthily towards the source of the motion.
What I found was Lieutenant Lan, leaning against a wall, half-hidden in shadow, with the tracker in one hand and a small comm unit in the other.
"Affirmative. Lan out," he said, speaking into the comm before shutting it down. He slipped the device into a pouch on his belt and pushed himself up away from the wall. Lan, broad-shouldered with his head shaved down to the shortest of stubble, passed the tracking device to and fro in front of him a few times before catching the signal again. The bleeping sounded stronger than it had before; were we finally closing in on our enigmatic quarry?
I found his behaviour more than a little peculiar, at least initially. We had been ordered to maintain radio silence until the completion of the mission, even with the other squads, unless an emergency required we make contact. But perhaps Lan had his own orders, secret orders? That seemed likely, if the mission was as sensitive and important as it looked to be. So I did not question his use of the comm any further, nor did I bring it up later, which was my privilege as second in the squad.
I got back to the camp before him and we all ate before settling down for the night. I had the early morning watch; things remained quiet and the time passed so slowly each microt felt like a cycle. Eventually the light began to grow and the sky began to regain it's usual daytime hue, a red-tinged blue, more like purple.
There was time for a hurried breakfast before we continued on our way.
Despite our apparent closeness to the source of the signal, we did not draw closer for another five solar days. Both the quarry and us appeared to pushing ourselves in an effort to get away and keep up respectively. The signal led us out of the city into the foothills of the mountain range that lay between the city and the spaceport.
I wondered how the other tracker squads were faring. Lena Tamat, my oldest friend from back in Youth Training, was in one of them. We were friends, allies; we had fought together, played together, recreated together, but nothing outside the strictures set down by High Command. There had been pain between us when we were younger because of this, but we soon matured and set childishness aside. Or rather, I did. It was different for her; she had been born into the Peacekeepers in the bowels of a Command Carrier. Such attitudes were normal to her, or rather more normal. I had to struggle to learn what she had been born knowing in a place where you learned your lessons or died.
The terrain was rough, whether it be flat rock, craggy cliff or gravelly slope. Trying to cross such a landscape while maintaining squad discipline and keeping on the signal was not easy, especially when the way through was not always direct. The only resistance we encountered was a small herd of native rock leapers, furry beasts about half our size adept at climbing and jumping from rock to rock. They took exception to us moving through their territory, it seemed, but they soon ran when the opposition proved to be more than they could possibly handle. There was a lesson for the Vaerryn there.
I kept quiet about Lan's surreptitious comm call, of course. It was not my place to comment on it, even if I had the right; if I had not been told, it was because I did not need to be. Special orders for our commander, probably relating to the truth behind the mission. I am sure he made at least one more stealthy call during those five days.
On the sixth day, everything changed.
We had just made a difficult climb up a ravine when it happened. The ravine was narrow and sloped upwards very steeply. It had taken several arns to get us all up there while those not climbing covered their ascent. I had been amongst the first up and had kept watch on the broken, rocky terrain ahead, an area roughly like a bowl split in two with a opening at opposite sides, one for the ravine and one for the path onwards. Polen agreed with my assessment: prime ambush territory.
Once everyone was up, Polen and Edan set off on the path Lan indicated, tense and alert for danger; they knew if there was an ambush, they were the bait. They were halfway towards a ragged tear in the ground like a natural trench when they stopped suddenly, frozen in place. Something had caught their attention, some movement, sound or presence. The moment lengthened, the microts drawn out till we were all on edge. None of us resting or crouching in the cover of a handful of jagged boulders could see what had caused them to stop. Slowly crouching, the two scanned their surroundings with their rifles ready.
Then, just when they seemed sure that all was clear, Edan started to turn back towards us. A gesture was begun but was not completed as a hail of fire rained down on them, the gleaming bolts of pulse weapons mixed with the barking of more primitive firearms. Both threw themselves down, Polen marginally more successful than Edan was, who caught a few glancing hits before getting himself down onto the ground behind what little cover there was. Unfortunately, most of the fire seemed to be coming from elevated positions around the kill zone, so that cover was of little help by itself.
It was highly likely that the ambush had not gone as planned. Perhaps Polen or Edan had noticed some sign of the presence of the hidden attackers, or maybe one of the ambushers had acted too early and drawn the others along with him. It did not matter either way; our comrades were under attack and such thoughts were for later.
Lan barked some orders and most of us dashed forwards, leaving Tenzac, Rhedd and Rokko to cover the rear. Lan took Goran and Ishanden to the left while Saryn and me made for the cover of a shelf-like outcrop on the right of the ambush area. We began to take some of the heat off Polen and Edan by accepting some of the fire that had been directed at them and sending some of our own right back. All we had to shoot at was the sources of the pulse fire, since our foes had yet to properly show themselves; they were grouped behind boulders on the slopes around the kill zone.
From where the two of us were below the shelf it seemed we could not be seen from the ambushers situated above us, so we elected to take advantage of that. Saryn hefted a grenade around the edge in the general direction of our concealed opponents; the short, sharp explosion was quickly followed up by rapid rifle fire from me while he scrambled to a better position up-slope from around the other side of the shelf. It seemed mostly successful, as he got about halfway up the slope towards cover roughly level with the boulders the attackers were using before they began to open up on him. He dodged the reddish-yellow bolts of energy, a sure sign that their chakan oil was either old or contaminated, and slid to a stop behind a handy boulder.
A quick throw and a gesture prompted my own mad scrabble up the slope. The detonation of another grenade was enough of a distraction for me to get my speed up, but it was not as easy as Saryn had made it look. A few shots came frelling close to ending my career permanently; I even heard the loud rattle of solid shot scattering off my helmet as one of the more primitive firearms caught me. It rocked me as I ran, bright lights spinning before my eyes. I actually slipped down to one knee and backwards a few steps before I got a grip and continued on. When I finally threw myself down into cover beside Saryn he slapped me on the top of my now scarred helmet.
"You're a lucky one, Sarge," he shouted over the din. "You'd be dead but for that scattergun. Pulse fire would've fried ya were ya stood."
"Fight now," I told him, "talk later."
We turned and opened fire at the attackers from different sides of the boulder. From where we were we could see the attackers at last. Unsurprisingly, they were Vaerryn, dressed in camouflage gear that helped them to blend in with the rocks. Our position finally meant we could really hit back at them; a few dropped before the rest realised the real danger they were in and kept low, firing blindly at us to keep us from advancing on their positions.
I took the opportunity to get a clear idea of the rest of the skirmish. Lan's threesome was in much the same position as us over on the other side of the bowl, while Polen and Edan had dragged themselves towards more robust cover. They both seemed to have acquired a number of hits; I was unable to judge their number or severity from that distance. At the ravine, Rokko was concentrating on watching the approach up the incline, while the other two were laying down long-range suppressive fire on the centre fire zone.
"Lieutenant!" I called out over the squad comm channel. "Hekka. We are well situated for attack."
"Sergeant, attack in blue," was Lan's reply, indicating a delay of twenty microts. "Secure your flank of the area and stand by for orders to attack the forward fire zone."
A quick discussion followed before the two of us each grabbed a rock about fist sized and hurled them towards the enemy. As I had hoped, enough of them ducked down to escape the counterfeit grenades that we were able to get a lot closer to them, actually overrunning the nearest position and killing the two rebels that hid there. Then, as I gathered myself for another sprint towards what looked like a wide crack in the rock that was being used as an improvised trench, I noticed the level of noise had decreased. Good, I thought, we're winning.
Saryn covered me as I quickly crossed the distance between here and there, ducking low and weaving to avoid being hit as best I could. Pausing for a microt to catch my breath, I slipped swiftly around the boulder to find myself face to face with two 'freedom fighters'. The nearest was half out of the trench and seemed more surprised to see me than his comrade, who had seen me coming and no doubt had fired at me too.
I kicked the nearer one hard in the chest, throwing him back down into the trench and into the second. A quick burst of fire settled the matter quite promptly, catching the first as he struggled to regain his feet and nicking the second as he tried to free his weapon. Even injured he continued to try to wrestle it out from under the body of his partner, at least until I shot him a few more times. That stopped him.
Things went much the same way for a while longer. I covered Saryn, then he covered me again as we alternated attacking. The judicious use of a few grenades made up for our lack of numbers when the distance was too great or the cover too sparse to risk a direct run. We had cleared out the half-dozen positions on our side a little slower than Lan's lot had, but then it would be easier with three people. Tenzac and Rhedd had managed to keep the aliens in the centre zone occupied, though a few shots occasionally made their way in our direction as we got nearer.
Then, just as I saw the lieutenant make the 'prepare' gesture from across the other side of the bowl, I heard voices calling out over the sound of weapons fire.
"Cease fire! Cease fire!"
It seemed like the Vaerryn were surrendering or something; the accent filtering through the translator microbes sounded right. As usual, the rebels were happy to attack when they had the upper hand, but as soon as things got really difficult they ran away or gave themselves up. Which, naturally, had only one outcome for those guilty of acts of violent rebellion.
A look around told me I had guessed right, mostly. With both flanks of the ambushing group taken out the centre was weakening. From where I was I could even see some of them arguing amongst themselves. A quick word to Saryn and we were up, taking advantage of the rebel's indecision to get to a nearer and better position and be ready to assault the last few positions. Our movement and the covering fire we gave each other seemed to fan the flames of the Vaerryn's faltering resistance; the volume of weapon fire suddenly rose sharply.
I could just see the lieutenant gesturing wildly out of the corner of my eye, but the scarring at the edge of my helmet visor distorted it so I could not make them out. Besides, I was more concerned with not getting shot. For just a microt I had the strangest feeling: it was like I was facing the last rebels all by myself on an open plain, flat and featureless, with no cover and no backup, instead of being part of a squad acting as much in concert as was possible in combat. Then the pulse blast hit.
It span me round and threw me down to the ground, the pain knifing itself into my side an folding me up like I was just a piece of datasheet. As I fell the pulse fire seemed to fly over me in slow motion before the bowl fell silent but for the sound of my ragged breathing, loud in my helmet. I rolled onto my back awkwardly, trying to get my bearings, when two things hit me like a pair of pantac jabs.
The bolt had hit me in the back.
Saryn was standing over me with his rifle pointed right at my head.
Everything seemed to move so slowly again as I struggled to get a grip on my rifle. It was just out of reach, but it might as well have been locked away in a box on the Scarran homeworld. The lieutenant came running up, though it was as if he was moving through water. I thought I was beyond surprise, lost in shock as I was, but the sight of the Vaerryn beside him rocked me like I'd been shot again. Lan saw my fingers scrabbling more desperately for my rifle and stepped forwards.
"Can't have that," he stated calmly, before his boot impacted hard on my helmet and bright pinwheels faded into darkness.
END OF CHAPTER ALTO