A blog about Science, Philosophy, Wargaming, Literature and other things, in three or more languages.
This one I wrote for a story competition on the official Infinity forum, so anyone not familiar with this setting might have some understanding issues.
With a barely audible hiss the storm was shut out. A slight hum followed as the door was sealed. He stood in a long hallway with a window at its´ end. The walls were lined with niches that were protected with plastic glass. He went straight for the closest one that wasn´t occupied. Registering with his comlog signature the glass opened inwards. He stowed his rifle in first, then his pistol, his knife, his other pistol, his last mine and another knife. With his weapons safe the man took off his backpack, retrieved a pipe from it and stowed it away. His coat was next. Then finally the helmet followed revealing his black hair and hard looking face.
Closing the door and installing a password as an additional layer of security he was ready to enter. Slowly he walked over to the window. Next to it on the right was the door which led inside, but before entering the stranger scanned the common room as it was custom. This gave him time to survey the patrons while they in turn had the opportunity to see who had arrived.
Out here this was a gesture of respect. The room was large and could easily accommodate more than 40 people. At the moment there only where about a dozen present, from the breadth and width of the population of the human sphere.
This was not a place for discord or differences they all had one thing in common, they had been stupid enough to take up work on Svalarheima. It meant living and working under one of the most inhospitable planetary environments conceivable. It also meant very generous payment. Up here close to the border of the alleged Yu Jing and PanOceanian territories with the smouldering conflicts it was even worse and the payment even better.
For that reason places like this one existed. Here everyone convened and left their differences outside. They all were humans here, humans united against the cold outside. For some reason he liked that thought despite his years of fighting against it. He pushed it aside as he found a familiar face in the room. A smile crept up his small lip as he entered.
The warmth of a well heated room embraced him like an old lover and he frowned accordingly. He nodded a general greeting into the room which was returned by everyone who still looked his way. It was quite silent in here, only some murmured conversations were audible as everyone in here relished in the stillness that spoke of the absence of the infinite storm outside. A barely recognisable sound of crackling firewood augmented the almost serene atmosphere. Not that anyone would import dry firewood to this planet but the audio file strengthened the mood of the place by addressing somewhat racial memories.
The man took some firm steps towards the bar that was built at the smallest end of the trapezoidal shaped room, giving the bartender a perfect view over all his patrons. The trust that everyone played by the rules only went so far.
Behind the bar stood Ari Øtter a native of earth with broad shoulders, brown eyes and a stern but friendly look.
He greeted him in his mother tongue and Ari responded in turn.
“Long night? What´ll it be?”
Ari had to ask as he had decided not to order via comlog as he entered, mostly for just hearing his own voice.
“Not the longest I´ve had, I´ll have a Jagertee, please.”
It took the integrated systems less than three seconds to identify the product corresponding to his vocal utterance, draw it from storage, put it in a cup in front of him and deduct the price for it from his comlogs´ credit share. He left the cup and toasted to Ari who raised his own drink in return.
“To the storm.”
“May it wither.”
The hot liquid burned down his throat and he shivered a little bit but the warmth already started to spread through his guts. He once more toasted to Ari and left the bar.
Slowly he walked across the room, ignoring the empty tables and the occupied ones until he reached the single one who only had one occupant. Even just sitting there she was an impressive figure. She was tall, well trained and even in her relaxed posture the lethal instincts that lay underneath were discernible. The braids of her naturally blonde hair framed her face with these crystal blue eyes quite lovely, forming a stark contrast to her seeping nature. Her grey and brown armour was a dead giveaway of her occupation with or without the multi-eyed helmet that safely rested in a locker in the entry hall.
She was immersed in reading something that her comlog projected as a small purple holographic sheet in the air above her eyes. Up till now she hadn´t acknowledged his presence yet.
He looked at the table upon it sat a wooden board which was segmented into 169 squares. Scattered around the board were nine small and one large white and nineteen black figurines, obviously locked into some kind of chase with the black ones descending from the edges of the board. A handful of figurines already lay beside the board. He remembered this game.
“Long time no see, Alvarsson.” He addressed her.
She looked up and for a split second a smile showed up on her face.
“True. Are we on a last names basis again?”
“Alright Sofia, how is the game coming along?”
She shot a look at the board.
“The Hnefatafl? Well it´s your turn.”
“Is it? Well then.”
Pulling out his pipe the black haired man sat down and studied the position of his figurines which mirrored the colour of his hair. While doing that he started to stuff the pipe. They were closing in on the white ones on three fronts with the fourth still appearing to be a good opportunity to escape. She hadn´t fallen for it up till now therefore he decided to abandon this trap that had been obvious anyway. He moved one of his figurines next to one of hers´ threatening to trap and thus remove it from the board. He leaned back and pointed at her empty glass.
“Your turn. Want a new drink? This one is on me.”
“Sure. Give me a warm mulberry Julmust.”
This time he used his comlog to order the drinks and about a minute later a small driving tablet came by their table to serve them. By then she had leaned over to the table and was studying the board.
“Anything of interest happened while I was gone?”
She didn´t look up to answer him.
“Nothing particular. The last weeks have been rather dull.”
His eyes slit at this commentary if only for a second.
“What about you?”
She was toying with one of her figurines but decided against the move as she raised the question.
“You have been away for quite a while. Care to share the tale?”
“Gladly my dear Sofia.”
He leaned back and put his legs upon one of the empty chairs. He laid his left hand to his unshaved chin.
“Where to start?”
“Do you remember the broken valley incident about four months ago?”
She smirked slightly.
“You mean the thing with these mercenaries that Bakunin sent in?”
Her lips curled as she uttered the last word like a curse.
“Exactly. It surely was an exhilarating week.”
“These guys were in so much over their head it wasn´t funny.”
She leaned back, ignoring the board for now.
“One time I snuck up into their mess hall and took their heating system offline. No warm food that day. And about a third of their meals came with little insults too that day.”
The man turned his head in appreciation.
“Nice. I myself delivered a mine into their command post. No casualties were the orders of the day, therefore it only exploded into a lot of slime and confetti. I guess it was about that time they realised that they better leave while they still could.”
A pause of shared memories occurred. The man lit his pipe and a small cloud emerged from it.
“Anyway. One day after they left I noticed a breach in my perimeter line. A border sensor lay at its´ position and there even were remnants of footprints in the snow. The storms were light that day and the general direction quite clear. The hunt was on.”
As if on cue she reached for the board and moved a figure next to her endangered one, securing it from being trapped.
“Sorry, don´t let me interrupt.”
He took his feet from the chair and wheeled towards the board analyzing the new situation.
“So, you took up the trail.”
His grey eyes looked up.
“Yes. Yes that I did. First I thought the intruder was moving towards the nearest orbital surveillance node. Yet after only two miles the trail went off course and then dead.”
A small cloud emerged from his pipe at this point.
“The prints weren´t deep enough for more than one intruder and the node is heavily guarded. Another target was more likely. I went straight to the east making my way for the frozen grove between the hills.”
He leaned back and crossed his arms.
“And there he was moving at the far end of the grove rushing behind a tree. He must have seen me coming for a hail of bullets flew my way. So I jump behind a frozen trunk myself.
I set down a mine right there, cutting of his line of retreat. Wherever he went, he wouldn´t get out the way he came in.”
He took a sip from his cup and moved a black figurine from the far end of the board more than halfway the boards´ length, setting it down nowhere near a white one. It obviously was a move to build up a trap later on.
She drank a bit as well and leaned forward over the board again.
“Did you shoot him?”
“No. I hushed to another tree and fired in his direction but he was already gone, sliding down the mountain slope behind the grove, straight into the valley beneath. I hurry around the trees to intercept him, yet the cloud of snow his slide produced obscured enough of him to lead my bullets astray.”
“Maybe you need your visor checked.”
“Maybe. Anyway knowing my ground I use a shortcut down a crevice close to the grove and reach the valley about the same time as he does. Making my way into the valley looking for any sign of him, I am still trying to figure out where was headed. The storm also was gaining in intensity I had to act fast.”
Another cloud emerged from his pipe.
“So what happened then?”
“It is a small valley which is split in half by a river. He just was crossing the ice as I emerge from the crevice. Before he could react I fire a full salve at him. It hits true.”
“That´s how it ended?” Sofia asked in disappointed voice.
The broad smiling man leaned in closer.
“No. It just starts there.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“So. I hit him square in the chest but the bastard is pretty well armoured for someone moving so deftly. He falls backwards and – crash – he falls through the ice and into the river. As it is with these streams it has a strong current and carries him straight the way he wanted. Really it seemed to me this guy was a curse. Not enough the storms kept growing so I ran ahead towards the ridge ahead. But…”
He made a dramatic pause to drink at this point. She raised her head to look at him.
“…before that I checked his last position and I found a trace of red in the snow. My prey was wounded.”
The left end of Sofias´ lip curled up in smile. Then she moved her king into an endangered position.
“The most dangerous kind of prey.”
He shot her a look for this move and already went for one of his figurines but hesitated as he saw the build-up of her potential game winning move. He devised at least two counters on the spot, he leaned back. No need to rush the game.
“Anyway. The storm is rising and I rush towards the safety of the ridge. As I reach the first cave sight already is down to two metres. Unwilling I suspend the hunt for the time being and walk into the rearmost part of the cavern.
I know the caves around there quite well, this particular one had two exits, just to be on the safe side. I sit down where the winds don´t reach and listen to the storm outside, hungry.”
His timing was perfect as at this moment his food was delivered which he had ordered by comlog a minute ago. Sniffing at the steaming stew he relished in the expectation of a warm and nutritious meal, a meal that he needn´t to eat under the umbrella of a snowstorm with the always present danger of frostburn.
He made his move on the board. This time she leaned back to think.
“Velbekomme.” She said tilting to his meal.
“Thanks.” He took his spoon and started eating.
After a minute he resumed talking.
“By then I almost was sure that I had misread my intruder. He wasn´t going anywhere, he was bait to lure me from the perimeter. Clever guy he knew I wouldn´t let such a chance slip away.
So I went out into the storm to reach the next amplifier. Wasn´t easy but I transmitted my warning to command, just in time as I learned later on.”
He took one more puff from his pipe.
“Then congratulations are in order I guess?”
“If you are so inclined”
“I guess I am.” Then she moved to protect her king.
The man looked at the board and made a quick move to cut off an escape path of the king.
“Bold move. So what happened then?”
“Recalling the path of the river I estimated the most likely place for him to leave the stream would be the small waterfall in the giants´ shadow. The storm was subsiding by then and I hurried. As I arrived…”
He raised his head once more.
“You have been to the giants´ dale, haven´t you, Sofia?”
“It´s been a while, but yes.” She reached for the board but thought better of it returning her attention to his story.
“Well you should go again soon. The sight never fails to impress me. As I reached the dale the clouds broke for a moment and the sunlight reflected of the giants´ form turning the ice translucent. For a moment you could think the Jotum would start moving again and I stood right in front of its´ open fist seemingly ready to grab and squeeze me to death.”
A Pause emerged as both remembered the image of the T.A.G. which stood frozen in this valley, abandoned after a maybe forgotten battle. It almost seemed as if it was left there by the cruel hand of fate to serve as a reminder for the inclemency of Svalarheima.
“Anyway. Maybe it was my imagination of the giants´ menace that made me react to late to the moving shadow beneath it. I fired but it was too late he already had taken cover behind its´ legs. I went to my knees and laid down a mine, using my coat as a decoy not far from my original position.”
“That´s quite old a trick.”
“Indeed but the old ones are the best ones sometimes. I slide down the precipice next to the waterfall and land not far from the giants´ feet. The storm was still strong enough to shield the noise of my descent. Cutting to the right I kneel down behind a rock, mountain in my back. And I wait.”
He finished his meal without further commentary. She used the time to make a move to trap one of his threatening figurines.
“Well on to the end. As I am sitting there it doesn´t take long and I see the barrel of a rifle emerging slowly from behind the right leg of the Jotum. I rip my last mine from my belt and slide it right in front of the intruders´ feet. There was no way he could dodge that blast. I got him.”
His voice suddenly trailed away at the climax of his story. Sofia looked up.
He folded and his head fell to his chest.
“And nothing. He wasn´t there. The next thing I knew was a sound behind me and the noise of a pistol.”
“He must have double-backed through one of the tunnels in the walls of the dale.”
“He must have double-backed through one of the tunnels in the walls of the dale.”
He repeated her sentence.
She smiled and rose. Taking her coat from the chair with her left hand she emptied her drink with the other one.
“More luck to you next time, Kui Hun Shu. I have to go”
“Yeah, next time.”
He moved one of his figurines almost trapping her king.
“You lose in three turns.”
Sofia took a long hard look at the board then she nodded.
“Yup, you win. See you around.”
She made her way along the room towards the door to the hallway waving a gesture of farewell to Ari behind the bar.
As she almost had reached the stairs the man called Hun Shu turned around and called out to her.
She stopped and looked his way.
“Forgot something” She asked obviously honest.
He shook his head.
“Just wanted to congratulate you on your shot. I was dead instantly.”