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Oplan Sanction

by Alexander Marcos Osias

INSERTION

It is 08-08-2108, 0715 according to the Terran Standard Chronometer, and the closing act of Oplan Sanction is about to begin.

There, silhouetted against the crimson moon of New Isabella Three, hovering like an angry wasp, in geosynchronous orbit over its target, is a Malyari-class carrier: the R.P.S. Artemis.

In the silence of space, seven pods eject from an obscured portion of its rough metal belly and plummet towards New Isabella Three’s surface. Each one flares into fiery brilliance as they penetrate the atmosphere before being swallowed by a gargantuan storm hundreds of miles across. Inside each of the thirty meter pods, a highly trained soldier is curled up, hoping that the heat shielding of his pod will hold, that the Omniskin tracker of his pod will retain its lock on the insertion point, that the aging inertial dampers of his dropsuit will handle the terrific impact to come—and that if any of these fail, death will be swift and painless.

Far below them, in the eye of the storm, a lone figure stands at the edge of a limestone cliff. Except for the Omniskin, he is the very picture of a Republic Intelligence Officer: forgettable features on weather-worn skin, short wind-tossed hair raking his forehead, and an arrogant watchfulness in his demeanor. His Omniskin looks like interlaced lengths of impossibly dark silk that twine about his fingers, travelling up his forearm to disappear under the cuffs of his stealth suit. This is Captain Delgado. His gaze scours the skies for a glimpse of the seven compatriots hurtling towards him.

The howling wind picks up, managing to bleed through the unnatural stillzone that drapes their target island. His Omniskin shifts and ripples, thickening around his neck and torso, trapping much-needed warmth at his core. Out of habit, Captain Delgado murmurs thanks to his Omniskin, though such thanks are seldom necessary. He’s worn Konstantin for nearly seven years and it has served him faithfully—it has never failed, never wavered, never frozen in all the time he has been in service. Captain Delgado will—during times of extreme peril—confide in Konstantin as a friend, a lone confessor in unknown territory, a partner in policy-driven crimes against the enemies of the Republic.

He checks Konstantin’s signal for the seventeenth time, the tenth since he sent the TARGO signal to the R.P.S. Artemis via Omniwave channels, and this time is shocked to find that his tracker reads four signals. One is his, bright and strong and dead-center on the screen of his hand-held tracker. The other three flare erratically and appear to originate from Sanction’s target arena—the slaver stronghold twenty kilometers inland, just beyond the range of hills and along the edge of a treacherous ravine. Captain Delgado hesitates for a fraction of an instant. Then he boosts the output of his Omniskin and pours all his will into attempting to overpower the interloping signals that have chosen this astoundingly inconvenient instant to reveal themselves.

One hundred fifty kilometers above Captain Delgado and dropping, Captain Aharad sees the four signals throb in green and yellow mere centimeters in front of his right eye, curses his fortune as he considers an emergency abort, then selects Delgado’s signal when it flares brightly on his screen.

Seven pods lance down from the swirling, lightning-filled skies above Captain Delgado and impact the water just below the cliff, sending up a wall of surf and clouds of steaming vapor.

With a grimace Captain Delgado masks Konstatin’s signal, runs over to the cliff’s edge and gets ready to activate the pull-cable turbines at Captain Arahad’s command.

***

OMNIANS

It is an hour earlier, and Captain Arahad airs his concerns on the Omnian signal tracker. Normally tight-lipped about his distrust of Omnian technology, Captain Arahad now argues openly with Oplan Sanction’s chief architects on the R.P.S. Artemis.

The chief architects—two physically present and a score in Omnian mindspace—concede to many of his observations. Yes, little is known about the Omnian Imperial Shroudskins save that they were powerful, long-lived, and nearly extinct. Yes, the first three Presidents of the Republic, the mandated bearers of the last Imperial-class Omniskin, complained of stiffness in the skin, occasional lapses in the maintenance of the Omnian mindspace, and a steady degradation of power. Yes, we cannot ascertain why a small number Omniskins fail and wither. No, the mission will not be scrubbed or postponed. Our decision is final.

Captain Arahad regards his audience, all Omniskin bearers–some barely expressed, appearing as thin gauzy gloves clinging tightly to delicate fingers; some almost fully expressed, covering every exposed surface of skin with writhing multi-hued fibers–and resigns himself to his course of action.

***

INTELLIGENCE

It is 08-08-2108, 0820 and eight soldiers are silently cutting their way through the heavy jungle that covers the hills. Matte black Moroblades slice easily through bark and vine; stealth suit boots clamp down heavily on leaves and twigs underfoot, muffling the team’s steady progress.

At last they reach a clearing halfway through the hills. Railpistols are raised and fusion blades are primed as Captain Delgado and Lt. Marako perform a perimeter sweep.

CLEAR, signs Lt. Marako.

CLEAR, signs Captain Delgado.

And the soldiers enter the clearing.

They swiftly bury most of their kit and packs–their rations, supplies, dropsuits, climbing gear, pullropes, bivouac tubes and mess tins–taking only weapons, ammunition, and signalgear.

Finally, Captain Delgado briefs them.

The slavers are keeping all their human cargo, all 1207 of them, in ventilated cargo containers that surrounded the base of the slaver’s three-story structure. The slavers have lined the outer ring of these containers with Detonite blocks, perhaps as a defense against ground assault—or perhaps to destroy all witnesses to their crimes if a Republic presence is detected.

As expected, the storm has deterred active sweeps of the building perimeter, and the slavers have recalled most of their forces to the first ring of buildings. Only perimeter sensors and a skeleton crew of patrols are maintaining the security of the slave pens.

“We stick to the plan,” Captain Arahad says after a moment. “Secure the captives, then we proceed with Sanction.”

Lt. Marako, a tall, lanky veteran of the Anti-Spinward Insurrections, asks in his reedy tenor, “What about the three signals we saw on insertion?”

Captain Arahad looks at Captain Delgado and says, “We can take one.”

Captain Delgado says, “I can take another.”

“And the third?”

“Let’s hope he waits his turn.”

***

ORDINANCE

It is one month before the final phase of Oplan Sanction, and Captain Arahad sits in the communications room of the R.P.S. Artemis, facing a luminite screen. The flickering, drain-drenched image of Captian Delgado on the screen limns Captain Arahad’s features in shades of blue and indigo. Behind Captain Arahad, Omniskin-clad communicants methodically adjust a shifting tapestry of glowing filaments, patiently extracting the voice of Captain Delgado from a sea of Omniwave static.

“Nulid, this is Rayom. Link established, ” says the image of Captain Delgado.

“Rayom, Nulid. Link secured,” responds the communicant, who promptly nods to Captain Arahad.

“Captain Delgado, I’m Arahad, Captain of Task Force Sanction. Your report?”

“Storm is unusually stable and hasn’t moved. Must assume Remergent involvement, but I’m not sure how.”

“Yes, yes,” says Captain Arahad as he leans closer to the screen, ”but can the Artemis proceed with General Order 18?”

“Negative, Captain. Too much particulate matter is being kicked up by the storm for precision laser bombardment.”

Captain Arahad swears softly, then asks: “No chance you can lase the targets for orbit-to-surface missiles?”

“I can, but they’ve rigged the slave pens with detonite blocks. I count at least three slavers here with remote detonators. I’m sorry, Captain Arahad, but you’re going to have to come down.”

Captain Delgado waits for a response from Captain Arahad. Hearing none, he continues: “Captain, I can’t do this alone.”

***

ASSAULT

It is 08-08-2108, 0845 according to the Terran Standard Chronometer, and Captain Delgado is picking his way quietly through the underbrush just meters ahead of Captain Arahad. They round the edge of the ravine, shrouded by the foliage of the jungle, and signal the team behind them to stop.

Captain Arahad regards Captain Delgado for a long minute before sheathing his standard issue Moroblade and pulling out his own hand-held signal tracker. He looks up, catches Captain Delgado’s eyes, and raises his other hand to sign: THREE.

Captain Delgado nods, and signs: SPLIT. PINCER. I TAKE RIGHT.

Captain Arahad shakes his head and signs: NO. YOU STAY. WE PINCER.

Without waiting for Delgado’s response, he signs quickly to his team and they fan smoothly into position.

Captain Delgado watches as Captain Arahad veers to the left with Sgt. Oppus, a dark, squat Fusionlancer, and Handcannon Specialists Tanada and Anghel. He turns to watch Lt. Marako charge to the right along the exposed edge of the ravine along with Republic Ground Scouts Torres and Orro. Then he activates his stealth suit and melts into the surrounding greenery.

***

TROUBLE

It is 08-08-2108, 0915 and something is wrong: Lt. Marako finds that the Detonite blocks that line each stack of pens are deactivated and activates his signalgear. Captain Arahad confirms that they have found the same thing on their side of the structure.

Were the slavers were afraid that a nearby electrical strike might trigger an explosion?

Concerned that such a strike might still induce current in the detonation wires, Captain Arahad has the blocks collected and junked in the nearby ravine before continuing with the mission. All the while, he and his men do not comment on their most disturbing finding: all the containers are empty, except for a few captives who had clearly been punished for some infraction—and one slaver: his weapon missing one round, his remote detonator crushed in his mangled fingers, and his head cleanly severed from his neck.

When Captain Arahad and Lt. Marako rendezvous with Captain Delgado, they share their findings in hushed tones and quietly consider aborting the mission. None of them consider this a question of courage—all have impeccable records and all have proven themselves time and again—no, it is a matter of prudence. Too many variables, too many unforeseen circumstances. But weighted against the hope that the captives are alive somewhere, they decide to risk breaking signal silence and contacting the R.P.S. Artemis.

In the middle of their report, Captain Delgado stiffens, gags, and convulses. His eyes cloud over and become milky white, his Omniskin ripples and shifts, becoming darker, sleeker, and finally almost metallic. Then he screams “Hide! Hide!”

Suddenly, the first blood-drenched Remergent is in their midst, a howling man corrupted by a writhing mass of scaly flesh, venom-tinged fangs and spurs, and a blur of leathery wings and fins. It wraps itself around Captain Delgado and hurtles back into the sky, over the trees and out of sight.

Captain Arahad triggers his Omniskin tracker and cranks it up to full gain. “Incoming xeno at Ten on me. Sterilize, sterilize, sterilize!”

Lt. Marako, bleeding and one-limbed, engages another Remergent as it barrels into the clearing, an emerald skinned humanoid sheathed in undulating multicolored scales, and attempts to evade its strikes with his stealthsuit’s zoombelt. He almost succeeds, but is cut along the face by bony fins that blossom from his opponent’s forearm and tumbles to the ground.

Then Orro and Anghel are there and empty their railpistols at the Remergent. Hyperaccelerated steel sabots burrow through stone-hard scales, rip through corrupted tissue and bone, and erupt out the Remergent’s back, staggering it long enough for Sgt. Oppus to behead it with his fusionlance. The scales explode into a mass of tentacles and limbs that writhe and grasp for anything living that it can attach itself to, leaving behind a bleeding humanoid convulsing in its viscera-strewn wake. Orro and Anghel make short work of the Remergent, their whirling Moroblades scything through its withering extremities before finally spearing its central nerve clusters.

Captain Arahad grimly watches one signal fade from his tracker, then barks: “Two more! Approaching from Four and Ten on me!”

***

SANCTION

It is two months before the New Isabella Three assault, and here we see scores of inter-system ships and in-system orbiters, inhabiting what has now been secretly identified as a Remergent–infested zone, suddenly besieged by raids: the Mongo Express, the FredJoanna 3 orbiter, the Amianan Cruise Liner, the Tres Hermanas, the JohnAndMarsha, the Famas Gohan, and many many more. The victims: mostly migrantes—the highly mobile blue- and white-collar workers who power the expansion of multi-system companies in search of higher pay and better positions. Celebrities, politicians, and royalty are released or ransomed, while the rest are enslaved to crews and cabals infested by, or indebted to, the Remergents.

So we see security increased, and patrols strengthened, and many more such attempts deterred by the Republic’s diligence and ferocity. Unfortunately, neither the thwarted attempts nor the captured pirates yield any useful information concerning the slaver ringleaders.

And so the Atilano Administration decrees, over Hypercast audio and video network channels, that slavery is punishable by death and that the slavers will be caught and punished. And then the Administration quietly unleashes half of the Omnian Corpsmen, around thirty in number, into the Republic citizenry.

Dubbed Special Intelligence Officers, each Corpsman is tasked with blending into the spacelanes that slavers prey upon, in order to follow the slavers back to their bases and gather intelligence on their operations.

Among them is Captain Delgado.

***

DEATH

It is 08-08-2108, 0952 according to the Terran Standard Chronometer, and Captain Delgado is twisting furiously away from a torrent of spur-covered tentacles. A glancing blow catches his right rib, and he topples heavily to the ground.

Selekyulos. It is a word that echoes dully in his head—a name, a declaration, a challenge to him and to his Omniskin. Konstantin bristles, and as Captain Delgado struggles to his feet, he feels a frantic rustling throughout the folds and fibers of his Omniskin. A wave of heat ripples across the back of his spine and outward to his extremities. Cuffs tighten, seams sharpen, and the once-silky lining of his suit is suddenly teeming with threads and tendrils that writhe and pulse to a strangely syncopated rhythm.

As three talons enter his vision from the right, the world slows around him; he rolls smoothly away from the deadly attack and onto his feet. A tentacle, thick as a tree, swings toward him. He leaps out of the way and finds himself thirty feet above the jungle canopy, arcing gently away from the ravine. Far below him, he can see the surviving members of Captain Arahad’s team fighting valiantly.

Then Selekyulos, a bunched mass of undulating roots, vines, and thorns, bursts from the jungle below. Captain Delgado kicks at the air, frantically trying to change the inexorable path of his descent. A tendril catches hold of his foot, wrenches him about and hurtles him down into the ravine below.

Captain Delgado’s arms flail as he smashes through green-leafed branches, thorny vines, and rotting tree limbs. His shoulder slams into the trunk of a twisted tree and he is spun about, tumbling wildly through the foliage. His stealth suit is shredded, his eye is gouged out, his ribs fracture one after the other before an outstretched branch impales him.

In shock, Captain Delgado struggles to grab onto something, but his twisted, broken fingers cannot form a grip. He hears a sharp crack and once again he is tumbling down, down, down through two miles of trees, stumps, and spiny vegetation.

Captain Delgado is dead when he hits the bottom of the ravine. Bones broken, organs hemorrhaging blood, lungs pierced.

It is 08-08-2108, 0954 when Konstantin unwraps and unfolds around Captain Delgado, furiously cocoons his mangled bearer and burrows deep into flesh, blood, brain matter, nerve tissue, ligaments, cartilage, and bone marrow and in the span of a hummingbird’s heartbeat restores him to life.

It is 08-08-2108, 0955 when Captain Delgado takes his first breath of the foul jungle air at the bottom of the ravine.

***

COVENANT

It is 08-08-2108, 0956, and Captain Delgado is remembering the first time he bore his Omniskin. He remembers the smooth bundles of gray fiber that looked like an elegant sculpture of silk and papyrus and skin, placed on his upturned palms. He remembers the voice in his head, a murmuring voice that sounded like violins and flutes and opera filtered through a lake of crystal blue water. He remembers the questions he was asked, he remembers the promises he made, and he realizes he is being asked again: to submit, to sacrifice, to succeed.

And once again he accepts, and this time something is unlocked deep inside his mind.

Around him, Konstantin twists its delicate fibers, weaving the strands of matter into energy, transmuting the poison around him into oxygen, rebuilding the fragile network of nerves and brain matter inside his bearer. In response, Captain Delgado raises his hands out of the muddy clay and twists his fingers in the warm air.

The pull of gravity lessens, ceases, then reverses and Captain Delgado rises out of the darkness of the ravine.

***

HOMINIDS

It is five months earlier, and Konstantin is talking to the last Imperial-class Omniskin—that is, to its bearer, Republic President Horace Atilano.

“At this time, oh my Master,” says the air that vibrates and hums before his constantly shifting mass of tendrils and tubes, “the hairless hominids who call themselves a ‘Republic’ fear us and yet covet the power we bestow. They continue to unearth us from the caverns and safeholes and freeholds that we had ensconced ourselves in throughout the Arm, and continue to unlock the most basic capabilities that we can grant them—star-spanning mindspeech, improved metabolic functions, and crude amplification and manipulation of their natural mental abilities.”

Images of humans flicker swiftly in the air. “We come not as conquerors of this race. All our bearers know that we of our crèche—from you, the lone Imperial (if you will forgive the old term, my Master), to the lowest Plebian in our Millenium—are sentient and dormant. Their race cannot bear us without entering into even the simplest of covenants and an exchange of vows and information. From the terminology used to rank our powers and abilities and the naming of our ancient foes, it is undeniable that elements of our knowledge and thoughts bled through our dreaming state into their consciousness.”

Konstantin’s whirling mass of tendrils relax, twist, then tighten in upon themselves to reveal an outraged Captain Delgado.

Captain Delgado swallows twice, then speaks in a hoarse voice. “We must prepare for war with the Remergents, Mr. President. We have already allied ourselves with their enemies; now they test this Republic’s military capabilities.”

In front of him, on a dais cut from Harombon marble and filigreed with aurargentite, Republic President Horace Atilano reclines languidly on his gargantuan hardwood throne, his face slack, expressionless. Then a frenzied rustling like parchment and Captain Delgado finds himself kneeling.

A voice speaks, old and distant: “Konstantin y Delgado. Initiate Sanction.”

***

REMERGENT

It is 08-08-2108, 1010, and Captain Arahad is running. His men are somewhere behind him, wounded, dead, or dying. If he can evade this last Remergent for just five more minutes, reinforcements will arrive from the Artemis. He can save his team if can hold out. Five more minutes.

His signal tracker vibrates at his hip and he lurches right. The Remergent brushes past him, a blur of spines and claws and teeth.

Captain Arahad blindly fires the last two shots from the handcannon he’d picked up from one of his men, then sets it to overheat. He pivots and sprints twenty meters down a stony trail, dropping the handcannon behind him. He feels the heat and lets the explosion throw him forward onto his face. Then he rolls onto his back, broken Moroblade in hand.

He sees the last Remergent coming at him. Time slows and for some reason he can see every detail of the monster he is fighting. Twelve spiny limbs covered in grey-and-red scales, clambering spider-like towards him with twin, venom-filled maws bracketing a cage of bone at its center. Inside the cage a child sits, rigid and motionless, with blood-shot eyes that stare blankly ahead.

Captain Arahad tenses for the final strike, but it does not land. Then he notices the tendrils and vines that have wrapped themselves around the limbs of the Remergent, how they ensnare the outstretched spines and elongating torso and twisting maws. More vines shoot out and entwine the Remergent, wrapping faster and faster until it resembles a nest of bonespiders trapped in a tangle of green webbing. Branches grow from the mass of vines and force open the bone cage, dropping the child softly onto the ground below.

The Remergent lurches violently against its restraints, and a hollow keening sound fills the air.

Then Captain Delgado steps into view, still covered in his fully expressed obsidian Omniskin, and brandishes a net of Detonite blocks.

“Captain Arahad, please take the child and see to your men,” he says. “I will handle Selekyulos.”

***

KONSTANTIN

It is a long, long time ago. The firmament is filled with stars, and against them a fleet of planets and asteroids, resembling a sculpture of beckoning wings, spinning wheels, and glowing gems, glitters in the darkness.

At the center of the fleet is a black mass of meshed metal, its shape angry and vigilant and filled with lines and triangles and circles and writing that shimmer blue and blinding white. The mass shoots out from the center of the fleet with sudden speed, toward a hungry maelstrom of darkness.

In the silence of space, there are words. Words of authority, words of naming, words of binding, words of punishment.

Konstantin is there. He, with his brethren, usher the Banished to their prison of matter. As they slide down towards the center of the blackness, he reaffirms his vows in concert with the rest, over the constant threats and entreaties and blunted curses that stream steadily from the Banished, lying chained at the center.

Konstantin knows, as do the rest of his brethren, that one day the Banished will escape—and he looks forward to that day with grim joy.

***

MERCY

It is 08-08-2108, 1015, and the Remergent named Selekyulos is threatening Captain Delgado and Konstantin. The blocks of Detonite are arranged in a circle around the bound monster, and the network of cables cross and interlace in geometric patterns, meeting at a point immediately below him.

“Mercy for the repentant,” says Captain Delgado. “But none for you.”

“In this place and at this time, the Laws may be bent, but not broken.” says Konstantin.

“And so we pass sentence on you, Selekyulos—fallen prince, fallen power.”

Hands and fingers and thread and fiber twist and swirl.

Detonite evaporates into the air and Selekyulos is consumed in an instant by the heat and power of a split-second sun. The smoke is thick and foul and curves rebelliously into the sky before finally dissipating in a final blossom of thin grey smoke nearly a mile above land.

Copyright © 2012 by Alexander M. Osiasis

Alexander M. Osias frequently visits the many realms of science fiction and fantasy as both reader and writer. His work has been published in the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and several Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes. He’s lived all over the world, including places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and the U.S.A. Now based in the Philippines, he resides in a secret headquarters ensconced in the bustling Ortigas Center area where he enjoys spending time with his lovely wife and rambunctious son.

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