The Guns of the CHOTA: Part 3-The Ashes of the Fires
Kit awoke and slid out from under Hyun’s arm. She crept silently through her tent, dressed quickly and tiptoed out of the tent. Once outside, she stopped and took a deep breath of the fresh air blowing through the camp. The celebration had gone on throughout the night and into the early morning hours. Warriors lay around the camp asleep or passed out drunk. The fires had been allowed to burn out by the camp guards, those older warriors with no interest in partying or the young looking to earn trust and make a name for themselves. Kit took another few moments surveying the scene and then walked quickly to where Maderp and Crispy staked their tent. She walked up to the entrance and coughed gently at the flap, in the manner of the CHOTA. Within seconds, Maddie poked her head out, a cheerful grin on her face. “Kitty!!!!” chirped the diminutive warrior. “Ssssh….you’ll wake Crispy. This isn’t just a social call. Something’s bothering me…come with me, okay?” Maddie frowned for a second then poked her head back into the tent. Within seconds, she burst out again, wearing just enough to be considered respectable-for a CHOTA. As usual, she was never unarmed and had a large kukri strapped upside-down on her back and a GA-8 Mk II EC pistol in a thigh holster on her right leg. Kit looked at her friend for a second and commented, “Sheesh, Mads…we’re just gonna go spying, not invading Picus Ridge…” Maderp shrugged and followed Kit. The two warrior women made their way to the far side of camp, where a large tent had been cast to shield the take from the last ambush. Here, Kit ducked behind a sprig of bushes and pulled Maddie down beside her. “Kitty…no…you KNOW we’re not supposed to go in there…” Maddie looked at Kit with a combination of scolding and concern. Kit ignored her, eyes fixed on the tent. “Something’s not right, Mads…I can feel it. I KNOW…” Kit began creeping cautiously towards the side of the tent, watching the pattern of the guard’s movements. When the guard made a turnabout that Kit had predicted she scrambled to the side of the tent, rolled and dropped to her belly. “Kitty!!” Maddie hissed and huffed after the impatient former Vista. Kit crawled on her belly under the tent side then rose to her knees as she crept inside. She heard mumbling, indistinct and muffled. Kit stalked away from the sound then looked under the nearest tarpaulin. The crate was as long as Kit was tall and had GLOBALTECH stamped on all sides. Kit quietly pulled back the tarpaulin and flicked open the crate. With a hiss, the crate opened, revealing weapons long thought lost. Kit reached into the crate and raised the pristine sheen and craftsmanship of a scientific wonder: The GlobalTech Jackal. Kit recalled that the Jackal was the pinnacle of GlobalTech arms research and was technically the first operational energy weapon. Although it fired bullets, the rounds were coated with rothium. When sped down the magnetic acceleration chamber, the rothium was heated through friction and energized, the bullet converted to plasma upon expulsion from the barrel. The weapon was first used on the battlefields of the Great War, near its end, with horrific results. Kit had heard about the prowess of the Jackal, but now held one in her hands. She sighted along the barrel, looking into the scope. The weapon fit her arms as if born there. She set it aside and dug through the crate further. There were other versions of Jackals, including the heavy rail gun version, the Big Jackal. As Kit reached the bottom of the crate, the sense of wonder felt at the discovery subsided and feeling of unease returned. Kit searched around the bottom of the crate until her eyes picked up something she missed in the first sweep of the crate. A device-a small, dark and non-descript box. It beeped quietly, almost inaudibly. A red light on its side blinked in time with the beeps. Kit gasped and turned to leave the tent as a pair of hands descended onto her shoulders.
The Ravensmark trooper coughed, spat out blood, gurgled then exhaled for the last time, his head slumping to the side. Shiu wiped a butterfly knife on the shoulders of the dead Ravensmark trooper and put the knife away with a flourish of her hands. Nysek couldn’t track where the knife actually went…it happened so fast and with at least three points of concealment in the movements. Shiu began removing the other tools of the interrogation from the elite trooper’s body, including knives, throwing stars, bobby pins and a soup can key. Nysek watched all of this with shocked amazement. He was a hardened man, but the interrogation had been both thorough and ruthless. The Asian woman had obviously not enjoyed using such methods but was bent on answers and committed to getting them however she had to. Nysek was both impressed and put off by the determination. Shiu removed her mask, revealing an attractive but grim-set mouth. Her eyes, now their normal amber, were focused on Nysek. “Well…he didn’t really know that much more than I had learned” Shiu stated as she moved to pull her throwing knife from the skull of the Ravensmark leader. The other Heretics, the agents of Project Unity, walked among the dead Enforcers in mufti, taking weapons and ammo from the bodies. Lydia moved slower than normal and was being helped by a fussy Mashed. The two knelt down and began to strip body armor off the corpse of one of the smaller enforcers. Allen limped a bit, but his swashbuckler’s smile had returned, and he was grabbing up choice weapons and ammo with gusto. Nemo walked up to Nysek, wiping down a bloody GA-90 SMG taken off one of his kills. “You ok?” Nemo questioned as he drew next to Nysek, passing him the weapon and several clips. Nysek slung the weapon under the flap of his long black leather coat. “Yeah…thanks to her. How’s Allen and Lydia?” “They’re good to go…we move in five, ok?” Nysek nodded grimly as Nemo moved off to round up the rest of the team. “Look…” Nysek began, “I’ve heard of you…Shiu, the Trav assassin. Why are you here? Are we targets?” Shiu almost chuckled at the question, but it was a fair one. “If you were targets, we wouldn’t be talking…” Shiu looked at Nysek hard for a second then softened. “My being here, amazingly enough, was pure accident. I was after a bounty. That bounty turned out to be a Lightbearer lap dog. The dog was bringing his masters a bone.” Shiu stood over the third dead Ravensmark trooper, looking thoughtful as Nysek watched his team stuff weapons, ammo and body armor into canvas carry sacks. “Apparently, his masters are having a very difficult time dealing with a CHOTA clan out in Deadfall. They have suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of these CHOTA…and now look to change that. At first, they brought in one of their most successful commanders, yet he has failed as well. Next, they thought to bring in very powerful weapons, but the CHOTA out-smarted them and now have most of those weapons in their possession.” Shiu looked again at Nysek, this time with a concerned look. “So now they turn to other means to oust the CHOTA…ancient means…” Shiu once more looked at the ground, then hard at the body of the Ravensmark trooper. “If they get these means, a lot of people will be in danger, not just the CHOTA. That’s why I have to do something I never like doing…I have to ask you for your help…”
Kit and Maderp stood before Fly and the assembled warriors, heads downcast. Fly sat on an ornately carved bench, Crispy on his right side. He glared at his two warriors a few moments more then addressed Maderp. “Maddie…you say you never actually entered the tent?” Fly quizzed the down-cast warrior-woman. Maddie kept silent until Crispy intoned “Maddie?” With a sigh, Maddie droned out a very crestfallen “yes…” Fly sat back and crossed his arms. ‘Then the only wrong you committed was not telling me or Crispy when Kit entered the tent. You will not be punished…harshly. Three days guard duty and you will wear the mark of silence all three days. You may only speak if granted leave by a chief or to warn the camp of danger.” An older woman stepped forward and with blue dye, marked Maddie’s forehead with four dots in a diamond pattern. Maddie, bottom lip trembling and close to tears, looked grievously at Kit, then at Crispy, then strode hurriedly from the tent without a look backward. Kit, unable to contain herself, started weeping at the pain she had caused her friend. “As for you, Kit…” Fly leaned forward, hands on knees. “You KNEW that tent was forbidden to all but the war chiefs and their guardsman. Yet you entered it, in direct disobedience, not just to me, but to Kyotan as well…” Fly glared at the redhead, who could not meet his gaze. “And your only argument for doing thus was you felt something was wrong? You are still learning our ways, Kit, I grant you that…but one of our most sacred tenants is trust. How can we trust you now?” Tears fell from Kit’s face. She had never meant to breech their trust…but she knew…KNEW! Every instinct she had learned as a Vista Ranger had told her this. “You’re right, my chieftain…I am still learning the ways of the CHOTA and that’s no excuse. But I was a Vista Ranger. Stealth and instinct were my ways. And my instincts tell me that something’s wrong. How did we get those weapons so easily?” Fly almost flew off the bench “Easily? EASILY???” Fly thundered. “Five dead warriors…five irreplaceable warriors...and you say it was easy?” Fly glared daggers at Kit but Crispy reached out and put a hand on his friend and chieftain’s shoulder. Fly glanced at Crispy and nodded. “This matter is too weighty to be decided during a celebration. Still, you should share Maddie’s burden while you await your fate. You shall also wear the mark of silence and you are confined to your quarters until such time as the warriors meet in council to decide your fate. This is my will. Is there any challenge?” Even Hyun hung his head at these words; it was only fair. Kit had breached trust by disobeying an order; that much was unquestioned. Fly had also, fairly, not decided her fate while he was angry. No one could dispute the justice or wisdom in the decision. Kit stood still, tears in her eyes as the mark was applied to her forehead as well, then she was escorted out of the tent by two swarthy warriors. As she passed Hyun, she broke into a fresh batch of weeping and hurried past him as fast as she could walk. Hyun followed her with his gaze, sorrow etched into his face, then up at his war chief pleadingly. Fly, looking back at Hyun with sorrow on his own face, slowly shook his head. Hyun’s eyes dropped to the floor, then he turned and exited the tent as hurriedly as Kit.
Later that evening, Fly’s guardsman, his inner circle of bodyguards and mightiest of his warriors, met in council. The assembled warriors sat in a circle, passing a pipe of rich tobacco between them. As they each took a draw of the pipe, they exhaled and fanned the smoke over their faces and bodies. The pipe went around the circle twice before anyone spoke, ending in Fly’s hands. “Brothers and sisters” Fly began somberly, “I have asked for you tonight to decide a weighty matter. Kit’s disobedience may have been a breach of trust, but her instincts did uncover something. We still don’t know exactly what, but she was right about this; something is off. My question is: What shall we do?” Crispy spoke up immediately as his chieftain finished, “Kit claims the little box is some kind of tracking device; a piece of technology that tells the Enforcers where we are.” Vengeance, sitting cross-legged, arms bulging with muscle, tattoos and scars, spat at this. “So….all that means is that they’ll come to us. Good. I tire of all this children’s game of tag. Let’s wipe them out and be done with them” He tossed a bone he’d been gnawing over his shoulder to punctuate his declaration. “How does she even know what the device is? Kit knows about as much as we do about such Tech gadgets.” Kilo, long Mohawk flowing in the slight breeze, spoke in his rich contralto voice. He was renowned for his story-telling as well as his fighting skills. “Perhaps her instincts were wrong.” Akimmu started at this, glaring at Kilo. “I doubt that” the tall female warrior declared, her hair interwoven with several braided plaits, each with shell casings woven into it. “Her instincts have served us well in the past, and now we question her?” There was a well-known friendship developing between the warrior-women and it was no surprise that Akimmu leapt to Kit’s defense. “Akimmu” the deep voice of Rubie rumbled through his war mask as the seasoned older warrior sat back, his muscular build bearing the most scars and tattoos of any warrior in the gathered tribes, with the exceptions of Kyotan and Ardenn. “We are not here to discuss Kit’s judgment. The matter at hand is whether or not she found something that should be of concern to the tribes. I, for one, agree with Vengeance. If this device will indeed tell the Enforcers where we are, I say let them come. We have broken division after division of their troops. Soon there will be none left to break.” Rubie sat back, folding his arms. “You speak well, older brother…” Kilo intoned, his long blond hair unbound and falling down his back. “However, if we just sit and let the Enforcers come, we let them come on their terms. Should we not fight this battle as we always have? Own our own terms.” Kilo looked around the room at the faces of his brothers and sisters in arms. All seemed to consider his words, even Fly. “So…we are agreed?” Fly finally spoke again, “we will turn the camp into a defensive stronghold and break the Enforcers upon it. We may as well put the new weapons to use. Crispy will draw up plans for the defense while Kilo and Rubie see to the distribution of the weapons. Agreed?” As one, the circle of warriors nodded, then rose to leave the meeting. There was some banter among them, as they considered each other family, then all left the tent to do the bidding of their war chief.
Lt. Colonel Kuzmina arrived in front of Colonel Ebaloff’s command tent just before sundown, snapping a crisp salute. The Colonel took a long drag of the pristine cigar he was enjoying, and then returned the salute smartly. “Lt. Colonel Kuzmina…I will be brief. Prepare your Akula Battalion. You will be supported by three companies from the Terror Raider Division. I will also send a company of Katyusha with you, as well as Major Cobraz and his command snipers. At 0400 you will move out and head for these coordinates.” Ebaloff passed a PDA to his subordinate. “When you arrive, Array your men in a circle around the camp, and then bombard it with the Katyusha teams. Have your men attack in echelon, starting from here…” Ebaloff used a stylus to indicate a point on the map of the PDA. “The CHOTA should run around trying to plug each breach in their line. That’s when you send in the Terror Raiders here…” Ebaloff indicated another point on the map. Major Cobraz and the Katyusha teams will clear a path for them to the center of the camp. Once they kill the war chiefs and their bodyguards, the battle will be over.” Kuzmina nodded, stepped back and saluted before turning around and leaving to do his commander’s bidding. Ebaloff puffed his cigar and grinned. The plan was not perfect…no, far from it. But all the pieces were lining up nicely…yes….and if he had his way, soon, he could declare checkmate on these CHOTA and their stubborn war chiefs. Ebaloff clasped his hands behind his back and further contemplated his plans within plans…within plans…
Kit has been punished and silenced, unable to tell all she found and what she suspects; The Agents of Project Unity, the declared Heretics, have joined forces with the traveler assassin, Shiu; The inner circle of the CHOTA has decided to meet the Enforcers in a head-to-head battle, as the Enforcers press for the same thing. But is a final battle what either side suspects it will be?…keep following to find out what happens next in The Guns of the CHOTA…