This continues a story begun in Project Iowa, Ep. 1 and Moab Daily News: Rex-Avis to Sector Six. The episode immediately previous was Ep. 6: Snow Drop.
. . . . .
Colorado found that she was sweating uncomfortably with the change in altitude. The weather was much warmer in the foothills than it had been in the mountains just a few short miles to the south. It wasn't as bad as Moab, to be sure, but it required a bit of adjustment. On the positive side, they had supplies, communication, air support, and a local base of operations to which they could decamp at will. The Imperials had none of these luxuries. And they would doubtless need them. Exo-suits were notoriously power hungry things. And they didn't run on grass and moss.
The tiny hamlet of Ellendale had just come into view over the ridge. It was a quite unremarkable farming community, but for the rail line that passed through between the mines in the nearby mountains and the starport to the north at Bates.
"Any sign of our quarry, Sophie?" Colorado enquired.
"Do you think it would be advisable to call in an air strike and simply end this now?" Colorado asked, a bit weary of the whole endeavor.
At this Professor Applebeck chimed in: "I don't think that would be wise. We shouldn't risk damage to the imploder."
"Oh?" said Sophie, a bit surprised?
"In the middle of the twentieth century, shortly after ancient earthlings discovered atomics, they were concerned about something they called the 'China Syndrome.' I gather they were uncertain what would happen if one of their power units were somehow damaged. They were worried that it would melt through the planet and China was colloquially seen as the opposite side from the author's particular perspective. This is a little like that. I'm . . . not sure what might happen if you destabilize the imploder. Probably nothing, but I'd rather not have so much warp energy released in an uncontrolled fashion on the surface of an inhabited planet. There are reports of strange things in warp space."
"Ah," Colorado mumbled. "I think I see your point. We will have to be cautious. If I depart immediately for Moab do you think that you can see to it that they find a shuttle that will get them there, but no farther? I think I may have an idea, but it will require me to speak directly to one of my contacts. It will be . . . a delicate matter."
"I think we can manage it," Sir Stanley offered. "Take the Enhance. She's quickest. We can follow behind in Alecto. Arthur can shuttle us to the starport before he drops you on Enhance. We should still have plenty of time to see that just the right ship is available for the Imperials. The right one and no others. You really want them going to Moab?"
"Yes. If you can steer them there that would be ideal," Colorado replied. "It shouldn't be difficult. They've already contacted the 32nd Marines and they'll probably think to do the same with the 103rd Crimson Dragons. They're the only legion based in the sector. Should be just the bait to lure them there. That fast scout will report them at Blanding, but once they're off the planet . . . it's a big wide sector. No one in the whole of the Empire apart from us will know precisely where they are. Would that we could have stopped that scout so that no one was looking."
"In that case they'd simply start their search in Colores when our guest didn't make it back from dinner," Sophie quipped. "Slightly more convenient for you, no doubt, but it wouldn't last. We're not ready to take them on single handedly quite yet, if they should mount an expedition in force. Even with Mary Shelly."
"True," Colorado admitted. "Quite thoughtless of me. I'm very sorry about that. But as it stands I think we should be able to apprehend him intact and . . . adjust him suitably."
. . . . .
"Inqusitor Guimar to unidentified Imperial scout ship, do you read? Imperial scout, do you read?"
Persistent static was the only reply to the the inquisitor's mounting frustration.
One of the two knight's errant approached Guimar cautiously. "Sir, there is a railhead in a small valley past the next ridge. I believe we could commandeer a train there and take it to the next substantial settlement, where we should be able to find a shuttle."
"And our opponents would know precisely where we're going. Had you considered that?" Guimar snapped.
"If we don't find transportation soon our opponents will know precisely where we are when our suits run out of power. Unless you want to carry them, that is . . . "
The knight left the last bit hanging. He didn't recall supplying being such an important issue in the adventure novels of his long ago youth that had encouraged him to take orders and join the Inquisition. Fighting demons and heretics was one thing. Slogging through the hind end of nowhere with four hundred pounds of nearly drained batteries and heavy siege armor was quite another. He was a big man, but carrying this far was simply out of the question.
At that moment a squad of Marines in battered blue armor crested the ridge and walked toward Guimar.
"Where have you been all this time, and why didn't you reply to my calls?" Guimar barked.
"We heard your call from orbit," the rather grizzled looking captain replied. "Perhaps you should check your coms unit. We have been unable to raise you since you made planetfall. And you're a difficult man to track." (The last was something of a lie, but it seemed expedient to stroke the prancing rooster's ego a bit. Captain Krysztoffori hadn't earned his wings without some political skills.)
"Well, you're here just in time. Perhaps it will be no matter if the Rimmers follow our advance now that we have your support. Excellent!"
With that Guimar marched up the last ridge and gazed into the valley just as a train came into view. "It's a sign, brother Geoffrey. His Grace the Emperor of Mankind, may he reign ten thousand years, approves of our actions and will protect us. We ride!"
As Guimar and his soldiers marched down the slope to encircle the small group of locals by the station a shuttle streaked into orbit behind them. Krysztoffori made note of it, but if Guimar did he gave no sign.
. . . . .
As always, thank you for reading along.
Continued in Episode 8: The Dragon's Lair.