The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

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Fleeing Victory #13

by | Dec 5, 2021 | FV, Pinned, Short Stories

Bad Luck

“Johann Fawkes,” Doctor Gil read the name on Sable’s dog tags. “That’s strange.” It was the one thing he’d been wearing above the waist that he hadn’t taken off for the doctor’s medical exam.

That and a worrying amount of shrapnel received during the mission. He was covered in fresh bruises and old scars, which made his upper arms and torso resemble a tapestry of pain only partially finished. Despite his apparent age, Sable seemed about as unkillable as the other ghosts.

“You’re tougher than I would have given you credit for, Fawkes. About these dog tags …”

“That’s just what some people call me, Doctor. It’s Sable for you. Now what about my dog tags?”

“Fine. Sable, then. As for the dog tags, why are you wearing them? I thought Calig Special Forces wouldn’t want to risk their people being identified in the field. Certainly not while they’re operating inside a country they have no business being in.”

There was more to the modern set of dog tags than simple identification, but how much ‘tech’ a given nation wanted to cram into theirs was entirely up to them. On one end of the spectrum were the orthosian races, who by and large only needed them for regulatory purposes. They had their own ways of identifying the fallen. On the other end of the spectrum was Sula, whose standard issue dog tags functioned as everything from security keys to data drives for mission files. Doctor Gil didn’t know where Calig fell on the spectrum and Sable could tell just by his reaction.

Vesper stepped into the light illuminating the doctor and the examination table Sable was lying on. He was still fully geared and ready to respond to any situation at a moment’s notice. “We would be in more trouble if they caught us without them.”

“I see. So even the Blue Ghosts of Calig are subject to the Accords,” Doctor Gil concluded with a concerned expression.

“It’s not so bad,” Sable smirked, “At least we can use our own gear. None of that nonsense Cordaea gets up to.”

“Which makes you all the easier to identify,” Gil said pointedly.

Sable chuckled, then looked up into Vesper’s expressionless mask. “I think he likes us.”

“I’m just trying to understand.”

“All you need to know is that this was a low risk operation for us,” Vesper said. “Dog tags were the least of our concerns going in there.”

“Low risk,” Gil sighed, looking over Sable’s chest one more time. It was difficult to see past the blood in some places. “I won’t ask what makes for a high risk operation, Vesper. I honestly don’t want to know.”


“While we’re on the topic of low risk,” Sable frowned, and not because the doctor was finally starting to clean his wounds, “there’s still that Sandoval girl. She found me after that shell came down. Red had to pull me out of that one. Are we going to have to deal with her?”

“Hmm,” Vesper glanced into the darkness, “Let’s think about this. What’s the worst case scenario for us?”

Sable flinched as gil dislodged one of the larger fragments from his body, “Worst case? Worst case. She doesn’t shut up about seeing me. They have an inquiry. A sifter uses her memories to get a picture of my face and gear. They pass that information onto the politicians. The politicians make wild accusations about Calig blowing up Baldi Fortress to try to get concessions on other issues. I get burned because it all comes back to me in the end.”

Doctor Gil winced, clearly not liking how things could potentially play out.

“That’s the worst case scenario I can think of,” Sable finished.

“I suppose it would make sense for them to just blame you for that explosion. It’s easier than finding out who was truly behind it,” the doctor said, “Blaming Cordaea would also make sense, but wouldn’t accomplish much. Why bother with that when you can go after Calig, the Six Invincible Houses?”

“Ja, who wouldn’t want to take the Houses down a peg?”

“For now, we focus on reaching our destination,” Vesper said, “We can ask Command how they want us to handle it. Any sifters stationed at Fort Baldi are probably dead. If Command wants Sandoval dealt with, we still have time.”

“Lucky me,” Sable grinned widely.

About an hour later, Sable put a t-shirt over his bandages and left the makeshift operating room. He was amused by how impressed Doctor Gil was with their disguised mobile HQ when they first arrived. At the front was a mostly ordinary looking semi-truck, painted in white and black. It was hauling not one but two white trailers. The first was their mobile HQ itself, while the trailer in the back was a carefully disguised hangar for a small aerial transport, the same one that swooped in and whisked them away from the shadow of Fort Baldi. They had been on the road for hours and Sable was getting curious, curious enough to pester the driver, even.

“Guten Abend~” Sable poked his head through the flexible corridor leading into the back of the truck. He expected to see their driver, Jason, at the wheel. He didn’t expect to see Shark in the passenger seat rifling through Doctor Gil’s notes. Unlike Vesper, he was only wearing his combat fatigues and harness. His mask, helmet, and most of his armor were all absent. If not for a few shallow scars here and there, he resembled an ordinary, above average Calman of about age 30.

“You should rest while you can,” Shark spared him a brief glance before going back to Gil’s notes.

“Awfully cheerful for someone who just got slapped by Cordaean artillery,” Jason said, keeping his eyes on the road.

“If he wasn’t, I’d be worried.”

“So, how far to the port?” Sable asked.

“You guys sure took your time, but I can still get us there by sunup. As long as the authorities don’t come snoopin’ around, again.”

“Right.” Sable was just as curious about Gil’s notes as Shark was, but he hadn’t had the time to go through them himself. “Anything interesting in there?”

“I’m trying to figure out how the Municans process their crimson material,” Shark said absently. From the way he was shuffling pages around, he wasn’t finding much on it. “The doctor said they were thorough, but I don’t trust Municans not to cut corners when half of their people are making weapons and the other half are making excuses. He knows people were trying to sabotage him, but he just assumed any material he got his hands on was ready for use in the stimulant trials. Now he and his test subjects are dialed into that hive mind.”

Sable nodded soberly. Calig was a nation in perpetual war with the countless crimson species infesting the globe. Over the years, they had developed unique methods for dealing with them, as well as ironclad procedures for keeping their people safe from various kinds of contamination. Things were only getting worse in other nations, though. More sentient species were making moves against complacent nations, like Cordaea and Munica, and the industrial world had reached the tail end of their mad attempt to incorporate crimson materials into all kinds of products. Food, cosmetics, medicines. If there was a market for something, some fool somewhere was trying to make a cheaper, more easily acquired crimson alternative. Disease often swept the countries unfortunate enough to legalize these industries inside their own borders, but supplying all of that material to begin with required special shipping and processing methods that were beyond what their systems could handle. Most of them cut corners somewhere along the line. Munica’s crimson supply scheme was no different.

“Let’s just hope the good doctor can lead us to our targets,” Sable said. The Blue Ghosts served House Tenebrae and House Krieger; the latter was committed to wiping out any near sapient crimson species as a top priority. The drones of the hive species they were currently hunting were regularly killed by Munican scouts, but supposedly, researchers and the like could always put in a request for the bodies. Once that material was processed–at least to the point of being safe to handle–it was turned over, for science. Calmans in general didn’t trust other nation’s capability to handle crimson material properly, and neither did the Blue Ghosts.

“I take it your next mission is to use the doctor to track down those crimsons and kill’em all?” Jason guessed.

“Just the breeders. We might have to deal with the Sandoval girl first,” Sable said apologetically.

“Sandoval?” Jason glanced at Sable through his rearview mirror, “Which one? Actually never mind. They’re always together, so they’re more than you can handle, Sable.”

“That’s why I’m bringing Shark with me,” Sable patted Shark on the shoulder.

“Not my first choice of wingmen,” Jason teased.

‘Remind me again,” Shark sighed, “Are we trying to get rid of a witness or pick up foreign women?”

“You can’t do both?”

“Now that you mention it,” Sable rubbed his chin. He’d be lying if he said Fran Sandoval wasn’t attractive. “Maybe.”

“So why are you after Sandoval? Did she shoot you?”

Almost, Sable mused. “No. My mask took some damage so I was practically blind. Naturally she saw me after I took it off. Got a good look at my face, too.”

“I doubt she was impressed,” Jason grinned from ear to ear.

“And yet,” Sable countered, “neither of us could bear to shoot the other~”

“So that’s why you want me along,” Shark said, feigning clarity, “You need someone to pull the trigger after she turns you down.”

Sable wasn’t so keen on the idea the way Shark had framed it. “… ja, pretty much.”

“Well that’s a bit too morbid for my taste,” Jason frowned, “Here’s hoping you boys get to take the hive mission instead.”

With only a few hours between the ghosts and sunrise, Sable took Shark’s advice and rested on a cot inside the HQ trailer. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing, but he was used to sleeping on rocks during longer forays into foreign lands. The hard little cot was almost a luxury by comparison. Almost.

“Worst case scenario, huh?” Sable gave his prediction another pass, trying to see if he’d missed anything that could make the situation with the Sandovals even worse. He doubted either of the sisters had been killed, since they left area well before the explosion, but that was all he knew. Even the high ranking officers at the base were unaccounted for.

“Even the Cordoba’s missing,” Sable mused aloud. Whatever bomb had gone off, it wouldn’t have destroyed the colossus unless it had been down in the underground hangar alongside it. If that were the case, the outcome would have been different. They could safely write off the generals and the Cordoba, but the crimson vein Sable and his team were in might have been compromised as well. They might not have made it out at all. “I guess my luck isn’t all bad. Not unless we wind up taking the blame for this and they pick Sandoval’s brain for my face.”


He looked up to see Red approaching him in the dark. It was never a surprise to see him completely suited up. Sable could barely remember Red’s true face. “Hey,” Sable made a gesture, “You have any new theories on that bomb?”

“No. Not enough intel. We don’t even know if that blast was from a bomb or a complex spell. It might have even been some infrastructure sabotage.”

“We really don’t know anything,” Sable sighed. “Not even if a device was brought in or if it was here the whole time. Nothing.”

“Right,” Red nodded.

“And yet,” Sable smiled bitterly, “we’re going to take the heat for it at this rate. Or rather I am.”

“Not many people know what happened yet. If we have to, we can drop the doctor off at the port and head back in to feel things out.”

Sable sat up on the cot to face Red directly, but his wounds didn’t agree with him. Without the constant influx of mana into his system, and no adrenaline or pain medication, even he had to mind his shrapnel wounds now.

“Easy, Sable. There’s no point sending you back in. If Command wants us to look into it, it’ll only take two of us. You and someone else can deal with the doctor.”

“Aren’t you forgetting the Sandoval girl?”

“Captain Fran Sandoval,” Red said mechanically, “Still planning to take her out?”

“If it all possible,” Sable said, thinking back on Jason’s teasing. If he still knew how to blush … “Honestly, Red, if I could solve this without a bullet, I would. She did see my face, though, and she obviously knows what we are. Munica has just enough circumstantial evidence to get Calig on the hook for that explosion. It’s my responsibility to fix this.”

Sable didn’t like throwing Red’s own words back at him, but for as long as he’d known the man, talk of duty and personal responsibility had come up regularly and at pivotal moments like these. He was in no shape for anything more than recon at this point, and even that was debatable, but Sable still hoped Red could see his side of the issue. As long as he was physically capable of fixing the problem, it should fall to him.

Red was silent for a long moment.

“You know I won’t slow you down, even like this.”

A sigh escaped Red’s mask. “… see to your mask, Sable. If a recon op is approved, I’ll take you with me, but-” Red held up a finger, “only if Vesper approves, and only if your mask is fixed by then.”

Sable smiled. “Danke.”




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