The Price of Freedom
By Jason Weiser
Ruins of RidderkirkFalls
RobinsonPrefecture, Galedon Military District
7th March, 2890
Sarah Kadosh's hands tightened around the stock of her laser rifle for what seemed like the thousandth time. She was nervous, and the chirping of the crickets was serving to make her even jumpier than usual. The last Kuritan 'Mech sweep hadn't helped either. Her spotter was impossibly young, all of 14, neither he nor Sarah had been alive when the snakes had come to their world, smashing the defenders in a two week campaign, then slaughtering thousands in an seeming unending thirst for blood. Sarah shuddered with anger as she remembered what they did to her own family, to her temple, her town!
She stopped, and set her rifle down in its rest. Sarah then began her breathing exercises to stop the shaking. It would throw her shot off, and she needed this shot. All were depending upon her and her fellow snipers to clear the way for the assault. No, tonight, she would get her revengeBaruchHashemThe snakes would pay tonight, and there would be much rejoicing back in the cell over homebrewed beer and sawdust bread. And with that thought, the edges of a cruel smile peeked out from her lips. Her face belied her twenty-three years, as she had aged five in the three years she had been an active part of the guerillas. Her body was grimy with sweat and dust, and her Davion battledress stuck to her, rubbing her inner thighs and elbows painfully raw.
Tonight's target was a Kuritan 'Mech depot that was in the ruins of a farming village some eighty klicks from Bueller, the planetary capital. This was a retaliation strike for the action that had destroyed the village in the first place. Ten days before, the Kuritans had bombed the village with a mix of VX gas and cluster bombs in retaliation for a partisan raid on a Kuritan "officer's club" in Bueller that had killed a Kuritan General, or Sho-Sho as the Snakes called him in that damned language of theirs. Tonight, the Kuritans that had taken up residence here, they would pay the price of freedom, Robinson's freedom.
As Sarah brushed away her dirty auburn curls from her tired grey eyes, she heard two clicks of an open mike from her headset. It was time. Time to begin the killing. She steadied her rifle on a rest made of the rubble bricks of a house that had burned, then exploded after a Snake 'Mech had turned it's PPC on it. She swept her rifle towards her intended target, a Kuritan soldier, fat, dumb and happy drinking a flask full of sake and perched on a wall of sandbags, his LMG at his feet, the ammo belt draped around his shoulders. His almond face was wan, and a bit slack due to the alcohol His almond eyes were vacant.
Sarah's finger slowly tightened on the trigger. Her smile became wider. The Kuritan's face filled the sight reticule, his temple framed perfectly in the crosshairs. The X ring dot was at the base of his nose. She began to control her breathing, it wasn't necessary with laser weapons, but good habits were to be encouraged anyhow. Her heart pounded in her ears in anticipation of the shot, Sarah willed it to slow down. Hasty shots are missed shots. Sarah remembered the words of her father, Isaac. Forgive me daddy, but make my shot true, God! Sarah had been a good religious girl, but after that day, all that mattered was making Snakes die, and Sarah found, she was very good at that.
Her squeeze on the trigger became tighter, and more memories flashed through her mind. Her mother, her brother and sister. They all died in the flash of a moment. So would this Snake. The slack on the trigger broke, and at that moment one thought flashed in Sarah's mind. Sayonara, you Snake bastard!
A beam of crimson light linked killer and victim for a split second, as a half megajoule beam flashed, turning the Kuritan's head into a bloody ruin, the Kuritan toppled from his perch, dead without even knowing why, or how.
It was that moment that Ridderkirk Falls lit up like the seventh circle of hell itself. Tracers of every color erupted from a dozen hides like angry multi-colored fingers of death pointing at their chosen victims to tear them to pieces. A line of smoke bombs went off from a distant mortar providing cover so the assault team could charge into the kill zone and kill every last Snake. Sarah flipped her sight to thermal as the smoke began to billow from the mortar shells. She caught a pair of figures, amorphous blobs really in the green/black world of the thermal sight. They were running towards a parked Battlemaster Sorry Mr, Snake, you don't get to take your pretty tin toy out for a spin today, today, and we gnats get to fight back. Sarah set up the shot quickly, and crumpled both figures at the base of the mech with a pair of center mass shots.
Not long after, the shots began to taper off, and wither, the ambush was ending and the Kuritans were being mopped up. It was safe for Sarah to come out and help clean up the Snake mess. They had to be gone within the hour, as the Kuritans were pretty good about checking up on their outlying garrisons. To dawdle was to invite a Kuritan 'Mech company with attached infantry to hunt you down. Sarah shouldered her rifle, and pulled out her Mauser and Grey needler. She liked the weapon for the effect it made on Kuritans, it killed them most satisfyingly, with that thought, she chambered a block of polymer and threw off her thermal tarp, levering herself to her feet and began to walk towards the kill zone.
As she passed through, she saw heaps of dead Kuritans, techs in their overalls, with their hands gripped around rifles they barely knew. Infantrymen who were killed first, dead from well placed shots to the head by snipers like Sarah. But she saved special contempt for the Kuritan 'Mechjocks. She loved to kill them; they were the most arrogant, strutting creatures, just like the one who had killed her parents.
She made her way to "her Battlemaster" and found the Kuritans she had killed, a warrior, and his tech, they looked peaceful, but for the burns on their chests. Sarah whipped out a butterfly knife with practiced ease and sawed off the Kuritan's rank insignia, then put it into a satchel she carried for such purposes. She then took the 'Tech's baseball cap and donned, it, cutting off the Kuritan dragon first, and then tucking her curls up under as she did so, making her severe image even more so. She smiled an empty, predatory smile at the broken bodies, and then looked up at the Battlemaster It was large, and foreboding, but the machine had been well cared for, with an autumn camouflage pattern of whites, greys and browns lovingly applied. Most of the Kuritan machines were that blood red those Snakes favored, but this machine was different. It was as if it spoke to Sarah. Sarah had had some 'Mech training, many in her cell did, but it was in simulators smuggled in by mercs working for House Davion. Resistance 'Mechs were few and far between. Secretly, she had wanted to be able to capture a 'Mech, so she could kill Kuritans at her whim. She didn't know if today was to be her day. But, she hoped it was.
"Kadosh!" "Nice Shot!" exclaimed her cell leader as he made his way to her from across the square; Harry Hollman was a farmer and a rabid Davion patriot, like his father, and his father before him. For one hundred plus years, the Hollmans had been local leaders in the resistance, making money for their activities by gouging the Kuritans silly on prices for the food they wholesaled from local farmers. Sarah chuckled at that thought; the Kuritans were paying to be killed. Hollman wore tattered Davion issue BDUs, which had been delivered in the last supply run; the resistance was getting better armed, and organized. And there were a lot more MIIO types around then Sarah had ever seen, in fact, she saw two set up a SATCOM relay right in the square.
"Hey Hollman, what the hell gives?" Sarah querried.
"It's a surprise Sarah, a nice surprise."
"Ok, can you tell me more than that?" Sarah blurted, as she looked quizzically at her cell leader.
"Not right now, look, we have some trustie POWs, one says he knows you, wants to join up. I don't know him, but you might. I am going to shoot for the lot anyhow. But if you think…" Harry spat "Anyhow, if you want to save his arse, lemme know."
Sarah shook, she didn't care who this person was, whoever it was, he made his choice. He was going to die for that. "I don't care what the snake sympie says. I don't care, kill him Harry. He's no better than this rubbish." as she gave the body of the Kuritan mechwarrior a vicious kick for emphasis.
Harry shrugged; She's paid a price for her freedom, we all have these long years, and I wish I could tell her, Davion's coming, tonight!
With that, Harry turned away from Sarah, and drew a line across his throat, signifying to his men to kill the prisoners. A volley of shots and screams rang out soon after.
What price have I paid too?Harry's mind demanded Am I any better?
Harry turned back to Sarah, and looked at his crono. The Second Avalon ought to be visible now. Time to give all these folks some hope, and perhaps, make all this blood worth it.
Harry poked Sarah on the shoulder, and motioned for her to look up. Others were doing so too, at the behest of the MIIO advisors who were becoming quite animated now.
Sarah saw them, thin fiery streaks in the night sky. The streaks became brighter, and then more streaks came off them. Soon even more streaks appeared, they looked like avenging angels come from the heavens to cleanse the Kuritans from Sarah's world.
"It's the Second Avalon, Sarah. They've come to kick the Kuritans off our world. But they'll need our help. Think you can drive that Battlemaster?"
Sarah began to soar. Her feelings zoomed out of control, and she was quickly wracked with sobs. Her remorseless façade buckling under the first glimmer of hope she had had in a long time. Her grey eyes glimmered with tears of pain and joy, she had paid innumerable prices of freedom, a freedom she could grasp, and yet, somewhere, she found the ability to be willing to pay even more. Somewhere, she found the courage to say yes.