The Longest Shard: 1

Shard

Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers. 

For those who wish to read the novella all at once, the 99¢ ebook is available for purchase.

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Epigraph

For I am every dead thing.
John Donne

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
Lao Tzu

Fort Echo
Northern Adidas Territories
December 3, 1441 AL (After Landing)


“This is a terrible idea.”

Gideon blinked sleet from his eyes and turned to the woman to his right. He had to squint because Sergeant Nbo Mulowa was upwind, and looking in her direction meant facing the sideways-falling mix of ice and rain.

“Why didn’t you say so before we struck camp?” he asked, pitching his voice to pierce the rain and wind currently pounding the plains they were slogging across.

“I did say so,” Nbo protested from under the hood of her stolen Adidan cloak. All he could see of his sergeant was the puff of her breath as she added a bitter, “Repeatedly.” 

“As did I,” the man to Gideon’s left pointed out, bringing Gideon’s gaze over to where Lieutenant Eitan Fehr skimmed the handheld torch over the slick ground. 

Normally, Gideon would have nixed the light, but for tonight’s prize he’d chosen a different or, as Nbo put it, suicidal, approach.

“It’s not that crazy a plan,” he said to both his doubting subordinates. “Anyway, if it turns out we can’t steal the ‘ship, we’ll still be able to blow it up.”

“You mean, like we were ordered to do?” Nbo asked, shaking the sides of her cloak so an extra flurry of drops joined those falling from the sky.

“I believe there was some leeway in the operational specs,” Gideon offered, turning back in the direction of Fort Echo, which he and his company had been watching for the past two days from the height of a nearby plateau. 

During those two days, Gideon and his company had observed a number of supply caravans enter the fort from the south and east roads. Once inside the camp, the fort’s troops steadily moved the cargo from their mech lorries and crawlers into the hold of the ARAS Bounty.

An apt designation for a supply ‘ship, one Gideon believed was being readied for a journey to the Allianz front, where a host of Adidan legions were wintering. 

On reporting these suspicions to Epsilon Base, Gideon was pleased to hear his superiors agreed with his assessment that the Bounty must not, under any circumstances, deliver those supplies to the Coalition forces. 

But while the brass back in Epsilon believed the best way to prevent such an occurrence was for Gideon and his company to destroy the airship, Gideon looked on the Bounty as honey in the comb for the Colonial Corps.

Gideon hated to waste a good comb of honey.

So he’d come up with his own plan, one that would deprive the Coalition of their winter stores, not by destroying them, but by appropriating them for Colonial use.

“The brass might even agree with that assessment,” Nbo offered now, “if you had ever flown an airship.” 

“Fehr has.” Gideon waved in the lieutenant’s direction. 

“A few short training flights, in good weather,” Fehr qualified. “But I’ve never landed an airship.” 

“I’ve seen enough landings to get us to anchor,” Gideon assured him. “Plus Hamish was a flight engineer before he joined the infantry, so he’ll have engine pods covered, right, Ham?” he called over his shoulder, to where Specialist Hamish Costanza led the small column of infantry. 

“Right as rain, Colonel,” Hamish replied, his waving hand flapping out of his stolen cloak. “Learned all there was to learn about these Adidan rattletraps from my auntie.” 

“Your auntie’s a Coal-fart?” Corpsman Walsingham asked.

“No such thing.” Hamish sniffed at Walsie’s suggestion. “But she was a right scavenger, was Auntie Megs, and you’d be amazed what all finds its way into the rehab yards.” 

“See?” Gideon said, turning back to Nbo. “Ham’s got us covered.” 

“I admire your optimism, sir,” Nbo said, in the tone Gideon knew meant You’re a few bees shy of a hive. 

“It’ll be fine,” he said. “And if my plan goes swarm, we’ve got the crystal det on hand to do the needful.” 

“As long as we don’t do the needful at eighteen thousand meters,” she muttered. 

Gideon opted to ignore that, and turned to continue their trek to the camp’s southern gate, the closest to the fort’s airfield. “Almost there,” he said, then glanced at Nbo. “Join the company, Sergeant. And Hamish?” 

“Sir?”

“Stop singing.” 

“Was I singing?” 

“Yes, Hamish,” Gideon said, sharing an eye roll with Nbo before she fell back to join the specialist who had returned to a froggy rendition of his favorite Earth ditty about taking a break from all your worries. 

As Hamish’s concert subsided, Gideon and Eitan stepped up to Fort Echo’s southern gate, where a humanlike shadow separated itself from the gatehouse. 

“Who goes there?” the shadow demanded over the drumming precipitation.


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