Fractured Orbits Chapter 6
Fractured Orbits is book one in the Encoded Orbits Trilogy, It’s being released as a serial with chapters coming out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first ten chapters are free, before requiring a paid subscription.
Hwicce stepped out of the mess tent and into the blinding sunrise light. The morning was still cool, but the blazing orange ball peeking over the horizon would soon change that. Yawning, he turned his back on the sun and faced the camp.
Even with last night’s declaration of victory, the sense of unease from the battlefield the previous day still hung over him like a storm cloud. Breakfast hadn’t appealed to him—nor had conversation with his peers. Instead, he opted for a travel mug of coffee and a few moments alone.
He’d woken to a message from Veena detailing another of Molly’s nightmares that shook the ground. Although Veena didn’t come out and say it, she was clearly afraid. He debated calling his sister to see if Veena and Molly could stay on her ship for a while. The two of them needed to get away from the Rock before anyone caught on to Molly’s abilities.
Before he got two steps from the mess hall, Baker sprinted his way. “Hey, sir.” She waved as though she thought he hadn’t seen her.
He turned towards her. “Morning, Baker. You look awfully spry for the morning after the victory party.”
Baker skidded to a stop next to him and buried her hands in her pockets. Even out of combat armour, Baker would make a formidable enemy. She was as tall as him and solid. He wouldn’t dare accept an arm-wrestling challenge from her as he might not win.
“We only shared a few pitchers,” she said. “And I cleaned out Fin and Chang at dice.”
Hwicce took a sip of his coffee; it wasn’t good, but that was to be expected of army coffee. “What I could hear from my bunk sounded wilder than that.”
“I’m not ratting anyone out, sir.”
“Right.” He surveyed the debris of the previous night’s party that littered the ground before looking back to Baker. “So, what’s gotten you up so early? Today is a scheduled down day.”
“I didn’t feel like being a lazy ass.” She took a hand out of her pocket and ran it over her shaved scalp. “Besides, I heard they’re moving the Rokan prisoners this morning.”
“That’s true. The entire group of them are going to be taken off-world later this morning. I’m going to see the purple cloak while I still can.”
“An interrogation?” Her eyes lit up, and she raised an eyebrow. “Is it true the purple cloaks can read minds?”
Hwicce shrugged and started walking. He knew Baker’s real reason for intercepting him was her curiosity about the purple cloak. He could use having an ally in the room—and sometimes, she saw things in a way he never considered.
Baker fell into step beside him as they reached the prison compound circled in razor wire. Instead of soldier pods, old-fashioned canvas tents filled the enclosed space. Guards patrolled both inside and outside the wire, but from what he’d heard, none of the prisoners were making any attempt at escape. Besides, where would they go? The Nader Alliance had abandoned them.
“What if he reads your every thought?”
“I doubt he’ll find me that interesting.” Hwicce showed his credentials to the on-duty guard. The guard waved them through. “I assume you’re coming with me?” he asked Baker once they were past the gate.
“Hell yeah,” she said with a grin. The white of her teeth flashed in contrast to her dark skin. “I’ve never seen a Rokan up close.”
“They’re just people, but I’m always happy to have you as backup.” Hwicce opened the door to the interrogation tent. “And if he does read minds, the blank slate between your ears might prove a distraction.”
Baker grunted but didn’t retort.
Inside, the Rokan sat at a table in the centre of the space. Above, a bright light shone with more lumens than seemed necessary. Four guards kept watch, one in each corner of the tent. The Rokan’s traditional clothing were all gone, replaced with the standard grey jumpsuit given to all prisoners. He kept his head bowed as though he was studying his manacled hands resting on the table, yet his form dominated the room.
Hwicce nodded to the sergeant next to the door and took a seat at the table. Baker remained standing one pace behind him.
“I’m Captain Oswiu,” Hwicce said as he studied the man. He didn’t appear injured, and he was clean. At least his side was still treating enemy combatants with dignity.
The Rokan’s dark hair and skin seemed ordinary—not what Hwicce had expected from their obscure warrior clan. Hwicce shook his head. He’d never even seen a Rokan’s face before, so expecting them to be different was a bit ridiculous. However, the Rokan was muscular enough, Hwicce wondered if Baker should challenge him to an arm-wrestling match.
“Hank Temple.” Hank’s voice was deep with an accent Hwicce hadn’t heard before. He kept his head bowed.
“How many Rokan were with you?”
Hank snorted. “Only those of us who survived your previous assaults.”
“Look at me when I’m speaking to you,” Hwicce said in an even tone. It was disconcerting to be talking to the top of the man’s head.
“What do you know about my people?” Hank didn’t look up. On the bare skin of his forearms, swirls were etched into his skin—a backward initiation rite, no doubt.
“I know your home world is independent, so it doesn’t make sense for you to be fighting for the Nader Alliance.” Hwicce pushed his spine into the back of the chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You need to start answering questions,” Hwicce said.
The sergeant in charge of the guards leaned down to whisper in Hwicce’s ear. “You want us to rough him up a bit, sir?”
Hwicce let out a long exhale. Even though he knew it regularly happened, violence against prisoners wasn’t something he wanted any part of. He waved the sergeant away.
“I know what you really want to know about,” Hank said, still looking down.
Hwicce frowned. “And what’s that?”
“Turn down the lights.”
The sergeant whispered in his ear again. “Sir, Rokan eyes are modified for low light. If we keep it bright in here, that dickwad is basically blind.”
“Lower the lights, Sergeant.” Hwicce made sure his words sounded like the order they were. The overhead light blinked out, leaving only a dim glow coming through the tent walls.
Hank raised his head and stared Hwicce in the eye. The Rokan’s eyes glinted golden in the low light.
“What do I really want to know about?” Hwicce hid how unnerving the reflective eyes made him. A piece of trivia surfaced in his head about how the Rokan home world was on a moon circling a rogue planet—a world that would always be dim. The early settlers engineered their children’s eyes to see in the low light.
“The woman.” Hank spoke slowly, as though he had all day to explain. “The one who can teleport.”
Hwicce couldn’t stop himself from leaning forward. “Is she one of the super-soldiers?”
“A group of eight of them arrived about a week ago. She was the only one who lasted.”
“What happened to the others?”
“It’s the net on their head that controls them. It’s still in the experimental stages. On the others, it failed.” Hank paused and rubbed his face in his hands. “They went berserk, killing everyone in range. We had no choice but to put them down.” His voice trailed away as though laced with regret.
“The one I saw was the only one who lived?”
“What happened to her after she vanished?”
Hank shrugged. “Your soldiers had me by then. I assume the brass got her out of here. Unlike ordinary soldiers like us, they wouldn’t leave an asset like her behind.”
“I assume they is the Nader Alliance.” Hwicce cocked his head, and Hank nodded. “So the Nader Alliance created these super soldiers?”
“That’s what I understand.”
“Who within your alliance is doing this kind of work?” Hwicce leaned forward again.
Hank leaned back. “Genetically engineering monsters, you mean?”
“Yes.” Hwicce felt an additional worry well up in him. The woman he’d faced had alternated between being confused and being a stone-cold killer. What made her suitable to be formed into super-soldier? Did she consent? Or was she just born with a genetic mutation that someone found out about? He shivered. He and Veena needed to double down and keep Molly safe.
Hank looked Hwicce in the eye. A shiver ran through Hwicce along with Baker’s earlier comment about purple cloaks having the ability to read minds. After a moment, Hank frowned. “I don’t know. The fact that the Nader Alliance might be experimenting on people doesn’t sit well with me.”
Hwicce nodded in agreement. “Is there anything at all you can tell me?”
“One of the handlers mentioned Vortex View.”
Vortex View was a private space station deep in Nader territory. Rumour had it that it an entertainment centre just like Candy Cane Lane—and twice as gaudy. News that Vortex View engaged in genetic research was new, though.
“They also mentioned that the Protectorate is running a similar program.”
“That’s impossible. Our GenEn laws prevent anything like that.” Hwicce clenched his jaw. His side would never do anything like that. Or would they?
Hank shrugged. “That’s just what I overheard.”
“Right.” A new urgency around getting a message to Veena was all he could think about.
Hank leaned in until his head was centimetres from Hwicce. “Keep your girl safe,” he said in a whisper.
Hwicce’s breath caught in his throat as he met Hank’s gaze. Without another word, Hwicce stood and strode out of the interrogation tent.
to be continued…
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