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Traveller of Both
Time and Space: Episode 6
Precognition is a double-edged sword.
“GET DOWN!” Librarian Chandramatie Bahl shouted, seconds before dozens of Tau Devilfish rocketed over the Fighting Tigers’ positions. All of her warriors obeyed—all but one. Chandramatie Bahl sprinted for Apothecary Pradeep Ramdhari, still laboring over his charge. Bahl rounded the corner of a burnt shack, only to see a burst cannon fusillade rip him to pieces—as Bahl’s psychic abilities told her it would. Too late, she thought, thankful that the gods had sent her a vision of the attack this night, angry that they had not sent it soon enough so that she could save Pradeep’s life.
Chandramatie Bahl pulled off what was left of Pradeep from the shattered ruin of his patient, Raja Shamshir Talatra. For an instant, her mind probed his: he was still unconscious, but otherwise stable. Pradeep’s devotion and sacrifice was not in vain—not yet, anyway.
She flicked her chin to depress the comm-switch in her helmet. “Sergeant Rajinder, report,” she ordered, then winced as screeching feedback filled her ears. Jammed, she realized, flicking her chin again to kill her communicator. But how? In 5,000 years, no foe had ever isolated and disrupted the Tigers’ communications—yet now, one had.
Shaking her head, she sat cross-legged on the ground beside Raja Shamshir Talatra and began concentrating. Instantly, her psychic abilities, honed by decades of instruction and meditation, revealed to her the position and physical well-being of every Fighting Tiger within several miles. She “saw”—as if using a psychic form of radar—the location of every Tau unit and gleaned a rough idea of their capabilities and battle plan.
Breathing deeply and calmly, she began to levitate even as the Tau began another attack run. She ignored the pocpocpocpocpoc of the burst cannons, the whine of the seeker missiles, the tremendous explosions from the Hammerheads’ railguns. She psychically reached out to the mind of every squad leader, first abjuring them to stand firm and remember their vows to the Sleeping Emperor, then simultaneously giving each of them their orders.
As one, the Fighting Tigers of Veda began their counterattack.
Devastator Squads and Tactical units devoted to long-range fire homed in on the more numerous, lightly-armored Devilfish. As each craft plummeted to the ground, bike and speeder squadrons finished off any Tau that ejected into the night air or staggered weakly from the wreckage. Rhino-mounted Tactical Squads ambushed dismounted Fire Warriors and Pathfinders.
Chandramatie Bahl lowered herself to the ground. “I beg pardon, my sweet lord,” she whispered, as she gingerly lifted Raja Shamshir’s limp hand and removed the Ebon Blade, the ancient symbol of Ghuyarashtra, the southern continent of Veda, the Tigers’ home world. She rose to her feet and spotted two Tigers nearby.
“Guard the Raja,” she commanded. “None of the enemy approach him unless they first step over your bodies—understood?”
“Yes, Memsahib,” one answered.
“You honor us, Memsahib,” the other added, bowing.
Chandramatie Bahl narrowed her eyes, focusing her powers again. Sergeants Rekha, Meenakshi, Suemedha, she called. Sisters of Kali: follow the beacon I am sending to you. Gather around me. We shall sever the head of our foes.
Pressing a stud on her belt buckle, she ignited her jump pack and bounded into the air. As she did, three squads of white-armored Assault Marines rocketed towards her. Chandramatie Bahl and the Tigers of Kali, twenty-seven strong, leapt across the burning remains of the Corsair camp.
Suddenly, there was a flash that obliterated the darkness and a tremendous THOOOOOOM as a submunition round exploded among them, shredding the armor and jump packs of four members of Suemedha’s squad. Shrieking, bleeding, the four plummeted to their deaths as the Hammerhead whooshed by, its railgun tracking the other Assault Marines. Chandramatie Bahl and the survivors hurtled to the ground, landing near a burnt-out Corsair Rhino formerly belonging to the Storm Lords.
There is no adequate cover, the Librarian realized. She handed Sergeant Meenakshi the Ebon Blade. “Take this. Give me your grenades. If I die, you are in command.”
The Hammerhead swept by, but the Sleeping Emperor smiled on the Tigers: the aliens’ shot went wide, destroying what was left of the wrecked Rhino. Firing her jet pack again, Chandramatie Bahl leapt at it as it passed, slapping a melta bomb against the side of a screaming ramjet at the Hammerhead’s rear. She let herself fall, shutting her eyes, then winced as an invisible hand shoved her to the stony soil. The craft exploded in air, showering bits of flaming debris across half the camp.
“Your sword,” Sergeant Meenakshi said, handing her the Ebon Blade as she hauled Chandramatie Bahl to her feet.
“The Raja’s sword,” the Librarian corrected her.
They continued on, hurtling through the air, dodging fire from Tau troopers and aircraft. They finally stopped outside the camp, between two reeking heaps of refuse piled there by the Traitors. “Take cover, sisters,” Chandramatie Bahl told them. “The enemy will show themselves in a moment.”
Three falling stars burst through the clouds and rocketed towards the ground. As they slowed and drew near, Chandramatie Bahl thought, Some form of flying Dreadnought? Blasphemy. Yet with their box-like armor, their numerous weapons, and their near-silent jet packs, the figures did look like Dreadnoughts who had taken to the air.
Dust and gravel skittered across the mounds of trash, blown by the jets of the strange figures as they descended. As the last set down on its three-toed metal feet, Chandramatie Bahl gave the telepathic order to strike. “KALI-MA!” the Marines screamed, as they leapt to the attack, bolt pistol rounds bouncing harmlessly off the figures’ sky-blue armor.
The three stood back-to-back, firing as the Tigers came. A plasma bolt seared straight through Sergeant Meenakshi’s torso and kept going, tearing off Sepoy Preeti’s right arm. Several small rockets ricocheted off Chandramatie Bahl’s breastplate microseconds before a gout of flame from the same enemy warrior washed over her and four other Marines, blinding her for a moment. She kept running and swung the Ebon Blade high, feeling it effortlessly slice through alien metal and circuitry. When her vision returned, two of the strange figures were down—one of them decapitated by the Raja’s sword—and Tigers of Kali were crawling over them, ripping apart the armor with their chainswords, ignoring the sparks from the slashed wires, to get at the screaming pilots of these battlesuits.
Though the last figure was surrounded and his armor rent in several places, his huge metal fists kept swinging, fending off and swatting aside the female Marines who slashed and stabbed at him. “Here is the head of our enemy, sisters,” Chandramatie Bahl told them. “Once we kill him, the rest will fall.”
The photoreceptors atop the figure’s armor swiveled her way. “You must be in command,” a flat voice said, from speakers on the battlesuit’s shoulders. The figure spoke in the language that Chandramatie Bahl had used: High Ghuyarashtran, a dialect used by only 500 Fighting Tigers.
“Stop,” Chandramatie Bahl ordered. The Tigers of Kali backed off, weapons held ready. The figure stood still. “Who are you? How do you know our sacred language?”
“Yes, stop,” a quiet voice said. “There has been an error.”
Posted March 2005.
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