The woman's body was never found. Instead, the evidence of data-tampering was noticed, and the Skaduvarg--the so-called "shadow wolves" that provided so-called security for the Starwolf--concluded Danean was a spy for the Blood Eagle and had gone underground. Fortunately, the Skads weren't able to trace what she'd pulled for me, so they didn't realize their ship deployments and manifests had been deeply compromised. Goodbye Danean.
I was appropriately grief-stricken, of course, and then enraged. After the humans who thought themselves my friends managed to convince poor, brain-injured Bandolas Bax that his girlfriend was a traitor, that is.
"By the Wolf!" I thundered. "I feed her to razor hag when I catch her!" I smashed a few things and enjoyed the rare opportunity to be openly destructive and dangle something of the truth in front of the poor, unwitting humans. Oh, yes, it was quite a joke. I laughed inside at their white faces, their fear and uncertainty in my presence.
"Come on, Bax, calm down!" said Branedin Kar, one of the fellow warriors in my "Knife." Quaint unit terms these Tribes of Man used. A Knife was no more than a large squad.
Kar seized my arm in what he fancied was a firm grip. "None of us would have suspected her, heya? Let the Skads catch her. Our job is to go in and blow the butchers to hell."
I let myself be mollified by that, since I'd supposedly been damaged by Blood Eagle medical experiments and carried a great hatred for the "butchers," as the Starwolf were fond of calling them. Truthfully, I wondered whether the Blood Eagle represented the true strength of the wilderzone. If half the tales of their violence were true, they'd easily be the most challenging of the humans we'd encountered thus far. I was quite curious about them, so much so that I'd volunteered for guard duty at a POW camp not far from Skyrholm. Unfortunately, the prisoners there were a broken lot, dispirited wretches who'd resigned themselves to Starwolf slavery.
I hated them. Their complaisance sickened me.
Unfortunately, I was stuck with them until my Knife received its orders for the invasion. There'd been several delays while the Starwolf leaders haggled with each other in their orbital headquarters. Unlike a truly strong state, the Starwolf lacked centralized leadership, consisting instead of a network of alliances and a common culture. Their highest war-leader, Ursula DiVaragas, had to persuade her generals to agree on nearly every significant decision. For her, leadership was a daily political struggle. To be fair, no one else in living memory had managed to assemble such an army from the Starwolf. This DiVaragas had to be a powerfully charismatic leader. In truth, what I'd seen of her in holovids confirmed this theory. Even I found myself impressed by some of what she said, human or not. I'd made it a priority to send as much intelligence on her as possible. Her plasm would enrich the Hordes, and her loss would cripple the ability of the Starwolf to act in any coordinated matter.
By the Bloodsoul, I hoped the reavers took her alive when they came. That would earn me recognition if her genes proved worthy. I might be able to convince the Inquisitors to grant me resculpting to a Runner's body.
Ah, that would be glorious!
For now, however, I would have to be patient. A Horde saying went that patience was a predator's virtue. I had done much to appraise my people of their enemy, and I'd provided them with a wealth of targets when they emerged from the jumpgate. Now my job was to keep a low profile and look for opportunities to sabotage Starwolf defenses when the reavers arrived.
Still, it would be difficult. I'd been bred to be intensely curious as well as deceptive, both traits of the ideal spy. The POW camp duty was for me almost like sensory deprivation, since I'd learned all there was to learn my first day there.
But back it was to watching those pathetic Blood Eagle for another tenday. I suited up in a peltast armor in the afternoon and traveled out to the camp in the company of Kar, who thought he was doing me a favor. The jetting was a welcome opportunity to get some fresh air away from the stink of humanity. Ymir was a primitive world, but I liked it. Ymirian lifeforms were tenacious. Durable. Strong. I respected them even as I felt only contempt for the fool who struggled to keep up with me while trying to engage me in pointless conversation. My supposed emotional state gave me an excuse to be rude and ignore his weak-gutted sympathy. Kar fell silent the last minute or so of our approach, and I savored his discomfort.
The camp wasn't far away, only a couple of kilometers. It was little more than a collection of prefabricated plas shelters surrounded by laser fences and autoturrets. A main tower stuck into the ice like a spear, and it was here I was bound. Lieutenant Galdis had requested that I see him as soon as I arrived. With a brusque farewell to Kar, I clanked into the tower's base and jetted up the access chute to a small anteroom. Once the computer had confirmed my identity, the hatch opened and admitted me to Galdis's office.
Lieutenant Galdis was an unassuming man. He was losing his hair, a nauseating example of tolerating a genetic flaw. His face was hard, though, and I respected his basic administrative competence, even though he refused to treat the prisoners like the worthless specimens they were. Why bother to feed them more than the bare minimum to keep them alive? Who cared if they were warm enough at night? What reason justified not torturing these enemies and breaking their dignity utterly? For that matter, why not simply kill them and make use of the organics their bodies held? These tribals suffered from a basic human flaw: compassion. Galdis was no different.
He nodded at me as I entered and removed my helmet. "Warrior Bax. Have a seat."
"Yessir." I hesitated for a fraction of a second before settling in one of the two metaplas chairs designed for the bulk of a SCARAB. Behind Galdis, a holopic displayed a watercolor of herons taking flight from a river in a lush green valley. On the wall to my left hung a scarred Blood Eagle breastplate, which was more to my liking. The wall to my right was a window overlooking the camp. His desk was just a block of black metaplas.
Galdis fixed me with a level gaze. "I heard about the disappearance of your girlfriend, Bax. Nobody blames you, you know."
I dilated the capillaries in my cheeks, letting them flush. "I kill her if I find her! Butcher-lover, she is!"
He nodded. "I understand. That's why I've called you here."
"You find her for me?" I sounded puzzled, the usual Bax condition.
"No, Bax. I called you here because I know this incident will fuel your hatred of the butchers."
"I don't understand. 'Fool' my hatred...?"
With a sigh, he tried again. "I mean it will make you even more angry at the Blood Eagle."
"I already angry at them! Hate them!"
"I know. But your job is to guard them here, not to kill them." He leaned forward and folded his hands together. "Do you understand that, warrior?" For a moment I hoped he was offering me a chance to reassign me. "You let me go somewhere else?"
"No." He grimaced. "I'd like to, believe me, but we're short-staffed here, and there's enough confusion with all the troop movements already. Orders are to avoid throwing more scat into the hopper. You're staying. However, I need to know you're going to keep yourself under control."
"I do my job, Lieutenant." I resigned myself to it. My orders were to keep a low profile, after all. I'd babysit these cowardly filth until the Hordes arrived.
"Very well, Warrior. I hold you to your word." And just like that, he dismissed me. No threat, no display of his strength to remind me not to challenge his authority.
I went to the guards' mess hall and warmed myself up with a hot cup of jah. The camp was empty at the moment, since the prisoners were all out on work detail. Kar let me know where he was, but otherwise left me alone. He must have spread the word, because the other camp staff steered clear of me. I napped and dreamed of razor hags tearing them all into pieces.
The alert chime woke me, signaling the return of the prisoners. I stood up feeling refreshed, despite sleeping in my armor. After limbering my chaingun off my warharness, I loped outside and jetted up to one of the raised platforms that overlooked the camp's parade ground. It was night, but arclights flamed over the camp, covering it with a glare brighter than daylight.
"Good to see you, Bax," said Kar over the commlink. "You ready to ride herd on these Blood Sheep?"
I grunted my answer, not ready yet to let my antisocial veneer crack.
His voice became conspiratorial. "Yeah. Well, keep your eyes open. I think we've arranged something that'll make you feel a little better."
My curiosity was piqued, but I couldn't drop my act so quickly. Call it Vatsatz paranoia, but I remained acutely aware of the emotional arc I was portraying. I'd have to let it evolve naturally. I gave another disinterested grunt and waited.
Three heavy trucks rumbled in through the gate and stopped with their rear axles toward the barracks. The hatches popped and the prisoners stumbled out in a tangle of shadow. A few stretched, but most shuffled listlessly toward their mess hall. Another needless extravagance. I would have simply shoved them into their quarters and then dumped food in with them. Let them fight to feed themselves, but don't waste time serving them! I pushed my irritation down and tried to appear vigilant.
That's when things got interesting. A trio of Blood Eagles I recognized as parasites who extorted food from their fellows stepped out of line and waited. Surprisingly, no one ordered them back in line.
"Just keep watching," Kal warned.
I did, and I had to admit it was well-staged. A couple of other Blood Eagle stepped out of line, one of them not terribly formidable-looking. I took a closer look with my zoom. They were both younger than the parasites. The taller one had a defiant look to his features that surprised me.
The parasites began to advance on the young ones. It was clear from all the body language that a fight was imminent.