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The Other War (Cover)

Chapter 50 - The Other War
Pentagon Worlds

Gravel crunched under the tires as Cara looked out over the River Avon flowing majestically toward Delios’ Inland Sea while fiddling with a small forester’s knife. The knife, tent, and tools in the jeep along were part of the disguise. As were their clothes, utilitarian outerwear available at any exchange allowed a pair of fit young women to carry on without drawing attention to themselves. A narrow concrete bridge lay ahead but it like many others had been damaged by a multitude of compounding disasters this year.

Rebekah got out, yelled at nothing in particular on this abandoned stretch of road. No other vehicles had been seen over the past few hours. Even the small Civi microvans or motorcycles that were now responsible for moving goods and people were absent. Medium weight Ute and heavy Tallasi transporters were deployed to the Scablands to supply Coyote Warriors hunting for bandits in that area.

Her young companion combed out her hair and whispered “keep your cool Becky” to the radio unheard by her companion who’s growing frustration became more evident as delays and detours piled up. She stopped before the cones blocking the path and kicked stones into the water below.
“We couldn’t take the ferry! Now we can’t take the road! How are we going to get to Deep Harbor?”

She looked at the map again, while she was a sub-par Warrior, she paid attention during orienteering which was good since the GPS in their comm-pads were acting glitchy. The radio said it was something about satellite timing issues. Apparently, Technicians were on it but until it was resolved satellite links would grow increasingly unstable requiring the reactivation of terrestrial backups by the civilians.

“We could always just leave the jeep behind and find another way. The river port of Avon is less than a dozen klicks North of here. Its bridge is out but they should be able to find us another way to the city.”

Rebekah rubbed her head, breathed deep, and agreed. “Fine we will find another path…and leave the jeep behind.”

Less than twenty minutes later the jeep rolled past small microvans and Kei cars sharing the road with motorbikes and regular cycles loaded down with parcels. Large OD, Coyote Tan, and Gray Ute flatbeds blocked the main throughway. Their contents were in the process of being broken down and ported by hand for transfer across the River Avon and beyond.

Parking was non-existent as the town seemed to suffocate under the strain in its vital arteries. Road closures required the women to reverse into heavy pedestrian traffic heading toward the quay. More than once Rebekah required her partner’s forceful intervention to avoid hitting someone with the back of her jeep which was much larger than the microvans double parked in the street.

They found space along the riverbank which would bog down most other vehicles. Across the river the scene was the same, Avon’s bridge had partially collapsed under the weight of an overloaded Coyote Epsilon Galaxy Tallasi. The heavy transport still hung from the broken span, its tires tentatively dipping into the river, metal backbone bent at an unnatural angle.

A short hike brough them back to the town square which was packed to the gills. Cara was drawn to a selection of small off-white freshwater pearls displayed on rich black velvet cloth laid out on the ground just outside the main stretch of vendor stalls. After smelling food being prepared nearby, she was drawn back to more practical concerns. “I am hungry Rebekah.”

“What would you like?”

Each woman’s head was on a swivel, some people here were likely Bandit sympathizers and their jeep was noticeable enough to warrant further investigation. It was cleared of any Watch related material but that did not mean something could not be planted while they were absent. Regardless it needed to be left behind if she was to ever get on with the mission.

Both shouldered their packs squeezing through the dense crowd gathered under the watchful eyes of the Patrol officers in this impromptu market. Cara before locked eyes with the elderly man furiously sautéing food in the wok before him just outside the market proper. Another woman presumably his partner cheerfully chopped vegetables and steeped leaves into a large kettle atop its own brazier.

“Let’s get something from them. They seem trustworthy.”

Her partner nudged her and whispered quietly amid the cacophony, “Do not deviate from our story.” “I remember. Don’t you forget that I am closer to a civilian then you are now. Drop the formality or you might give yourself away.”

Rebekah vacillated between her immediate and future concerns, she was a Ristar Coyote Warrior, Star Commander in charge of the smallest and youngest Star in her Trinary with a long future ahead of her. It was difficult for her to change her language, personality, and attitude when out of uniform despite practice.
“How about you take the lead in conversation? I will keep an eye out for a chance to get across the river today.” The younger woman nodded in agreement and took point ducking and weaving through the mass before them until they reached the alleyway. Their haggard appearance and worn clothes drew a sympathetic eye from the woman, who poured the mysterious brew into a pair of earthenware cups drawn from a rack behind them. “You girls look like you have a rough couple of days.”

Cara smiled at the woman, then drank some of the slightly bitter herbal tea that was just a shade darker than her hair, “We have. My sister and I couldn’t catch the Belle’s Wharf ferry. Now all the bridges are out, and we’re stuck on this side of the river. We haven’t eaten a real meal in two days, had to hurry out of the Scablands before the Coyotes went hunting.”

“Oh, you poor dear,” she pulled a pair of plates off the rack with accompanying cutlery, “Sorry we only have what we were able to scrounge up from our house after our village flooded in the latest storm. Do you have POGS? Network is acting up.”

Her stomach growled as Rebekah and handed over a handful of the work credits (POGS, Purchase of Goods & Services). Each gray disk had a Coyote crest hologram on one side and a number value in a different pearlescent color on the other (1 blue, 10 green, 100 red). When an Enclave changed hands the Clan crest on its new POGS changed but all physical money still spent the same.

The man muttered as he stirred the rich fish stew now simmering in the wok, “If it wasn’t for those Coyotes the bridge would still be in service and we would be in the city already.”

His wife spooned a portion on the plate with additional veggies on the side. Both Watch officers dug in with gusto, “We are making so much money though. Wouldn’t it be nice to go to William with a gift?”

Rebekah finished her meal first exchanging another coin for more tea, “Who’s William?”
Vance chipped in, “Our son, he’s a Shipwright Artisan in the city. Worked on the Overseer’s personal vessel, he did. Heck of a lad we couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Two shirtless men joined the group; sitting on the blanket laid out for guests, each covered in sweat even though it was autumn, “This is good, Vance. Thanks for the tea, Donna. Really hits the spot after lifting so much.”

“Caught the fish this morning. Donna and I are happy to have some repeat customers.”

One of them chuckled, “You have only been here a day, hardly enough time for regulars, but if you open up an eatery down by the docks you have my recommendation. Word is the Overseer is sending a repair crew this evening to recover the Tallasi and put a temporary span in. He was furious with the Star Colonel Nyriev for breaking his bridge but had to keep it low key until Epsilon Galaxy redeploys.”

“Where are they going? When?”
“No idea, they don’t hang out at the same bars we do.
Did hear the Galaxy Commander hasn’t shown up in a few days. No one seems to miss him though so he could just be taking in the local color.”
“Deep Harbor is hardly colorful now, unless you like grayscale.”
“It just needs a good deep cleaning once things go back to normal.”
“Whenever that is, we got plenty of water and pressure to spare.”

They packed up their mess kits and stretched sore muscles, “Better than hauling boxes across the river. Transporters normally have trucks.”
“Handling and Porter are in the job description Cory.”
“We need some more Elementals. They could just wade this little water with their hands full.”
“They’re plenty busy at the docks.”

Both Coyotes had been out of the loop on communications during their travels their disguise not giving them access to an encrypted radio they were due to pick up from the city safehouse. A missing Galaxy Commander was cause for immediate concern. If only they were able to get to the city that first day maybe something would have changed. “Wait! What’s the fastest way to get to the city?”

Cory looked them over and wondered why a pair of teenage girls were out here. “What’s your hurry little ladies? Just stay put, cash your credits and camp in the woods.”

“We were brought over to operate forklifts at the docks and get out of the way of the Warriors.”
“They got Elementals and Exos they’ll be fine. If a shop runs out of goods for a few days, it won’t kill anyone…but if you are in a hurry for a booty call with your boyfriends in the city the fastest way to get there is to pick something up,” he pointed toward the post-lunch crowd gathering around one of the large trucks, “and take it across to a Ute on the other side. That is the price of passage nowadays. There is a bus running back to the city’s central depot. You can get anyway using the tram from there.”

Each laughed as they walked away, “The Toll is Toil. I should use that later.”

Rebekah looked toward Cara who was finishing her cup of tea. “Time to move...” She paused awkwardly, thinking about her lost trothkin, “Sis.” Waving goodbye to keep up appearances they got to work.

The six wheeled Ute was loaded own with small crates which were passed on and taken across the river using a small river barge. Its Captain looked weary, half dozen Laborers crossing even more so. One of them nodded to the teens,

“Get it while the getting's good girls. Habormaster Benedict is paying premium rates in coin till this is over. Almost worth the hassle of moving all these boxes by hand. Plenty of light stuff to carry, pays the same.”
“Its not like we are going to be stacking SLATs, Dave.”
“No way, its all going to Jerry. Couple of bad calls at the Dome last week. You think a couple hard days of moving boxes is gonna hurt you haven't been an Elemental's punching bag.”

Cara noted the name Jerry in her mind, he sounded like a potentially useful underworld source for someone capable of offering SLATs. The two highest denominations in Clan currency, silver and gold bars respectively worth 1000 and 10000 credits a piece. These were only used for trade with other Deep Periphery states when barter wouldn't satisfy their needs and it was deemed a poor idea to fight.

The barge crossed passing the scavenged supply crates still strewn in the river serving as navigational hazards rather than a source of replenishment for Coyote Warriors. Upon arriving at the Western Quay the tired women boarded the bus and set off for the final four hours of their journey catching a brief catnap. They woke just as the sun was settling on the sprawling intertwined enclave of concrete, metal, and wood that was Deep Harbor.

Along the dock Mary walked along as street lights activated, they bathed the boardwalk in the yellowed hue of sodium vapor which mixed with the sickly neon glow of dockside public houses and those of ill repute. She looked down at the high tide where motion stirred from the deep, figures clad in dark wet-suits racing to the safety of the shadows below. As she breathed in the salt air, “Wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now.” She too disappeared into an alleyway, “Things are just getting interesting.”

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