Chapter 52:


From Nowhere to Sender

"Get the last rocket into the breech now!"

"Do you want the device to overheat?!"

"We don't have a fucking choice! In case you haven't noticed the border of New Kantler is right there!"

Talud pointed emphatically in the direction of the city, frustrations mounting alongside the number of intercepted rockets.

"He's right you know, hang around much longer and we're going to be caught between relievers from Belveer and the border patrols!"

Galway knew their concerns were valid, but found his current mindset no longer aligned with that of the rest of the faction's. Namely the destruction of the Cinnabark at all costs. Frankly he didn't even see a point in firing the last rocket. Assuming they did buy time until the next wind gust, it was obvious the sharpshooters onboard had concocted countermeasures. And with the threat of the raiding party now gone they no loner needed to split their attention.

With all that in mind Galway began searching for potential avenues of surrender, since escape wasn't a realistic option. What with the bikes nearing the end of their charge after so much maneuvering, to the point they'd never make it back to the camp let alone the next closest city state.

Surrender would undoubtably be their best bet, but only if handled correctly. Which meant they could NOT give themselves up to the border patrols no matter what. Do so and all that awaited them was life imprisonment or a swift execution. Some of the more...spirited...faction members would happily hand themselves over regardless of such brutal consequences. Naively convinced they'd become martyrs. Martyrs that would inspire a new wave of revolt. But Galway knew the more likely route of execution would in no way be some inspiring or ceremonious send off. Rather they'd be shot in the back of the head somewhere far from the city, a demise that would go unreported.

In order to avoid such an outcome their best and only real option would be handing themselves over to the LCF before the convoy arrived at Belveer. In doing so they'd be in custody of the LCF making them eligible for sanctuary within the walls of the Crusader Station. Of course some form of bargaining on behalf of the group would be necessary so that they might discourage the very real possibility of having their custody transferred over to New Kantler officials. Something along the lines of joining the LCF for an agreed upon number of years exceeding the normal service requirement.

On paper it made too little sense for both parties not to come to such an agreement. It was no secret the LCF was in sore need of manpower in every region of the Expanse and with the number of cities and nations under the Luridian umbrella only growing, that wouldn't change anytime soon. While the dangers of field service were a given, the irony of that statement did not escape him, the perks of joining were almost more than they deserved. Free room and board at every Crusader Station, job training, and opportunities for relocation to other regions or cities just to name a few. The latter being the most important now that returning home in the near future was no longer possible.

If they were lucky the recent law might even be repealed in the time it took them to complete the agreed upon service requirement. The real trick would be convincing the remaining faction members to follow his lead and cooperate. Galway didn't exactly have enough time to explain everything he'd just gone over in his head to each of them. And as spur of the moment as this decision was, his suggestion could easily be mistaken for cowardice. Not that he cared. If being labeled a coward allowed the remaining faction members to retain some level of personal freedom, so be it.

An idea popped in Galway's head then. As cruel as it sounded, the best way to convince the other members would be eliminating their other options. In this case discarding the RED. No RED no means for carrying out the plan to destroy the Crusader's and their cargo. Without any other options the member would be hard pressed not to follow his lead if it meant escaping the wrath of the church.

So Galway moved the strap of the RED over his head and looked behind him to find a spot he could discard the launcher without harming any members of the escort. Unfortunately a certain carpenter-apprentice misinterpreted the removal of the strap as intent to transfer operation of the RED and snatched it away before he could locate a safe space to toss it.

"Wait, Talud! Don't!"

"I'll handle things from her—"

The RED hadn't been in the hands of Talud for longer than a second when a shot sailed through one side of his neck and out the other. He gurgled in confusion and dropped the weapon in favor of clasping both hands over his neck. A futile attempt at stemming the flow of blood. But just like the launcher, Talud's body fell from the bike and skidded several feet across the terrain before rolling to a stop.

The entire escort watched this unfold with a mix of horrified and darkened expressions, in Galway's case a tremendous wave of guilt also threatened to overwhelm him for his failure to make his intentions known. Although he admittedly struggled to imagine a scenario where Talud would have quietly cooperated with his plan.

"Maybe someone can go back and get it..."

"We're turning ourselves over to the LCF effective immediately! Get word out to discard all weapons, that includes anything that might be mistaken for one! In fact everyone go ahead and shed their outerwear, no need to leave room for uncertainty in regards to our intentions."

The members who weren't still processing the loss of Talud and the launcher looked to Galway in shock at the sudden proposal.

"What are you...shouldn't we at least try to escape?!"

"Once you've discarded weapons and outerwear, form up behind me! We'll pull up alongside C248 to announce our formal surrender. From there we follow their instructions to a tee, got it!

"You can't be serious! They'll kill us on the spot!"


Duare stepped in on Galway's behalf.

"They won't. Galway's right, we do as we're told and we've got a real chance at being recruited into the LCF. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'll take that over being made an example of by the church."

Murmurs of both agreement and disagreement passed between the group as Duare pulled her bike off to the side.

"I'll spread the word. And please be mindful about how you form up, we don't want to be mistaken for an approach."

With that she was gone, leaving layers in her wake to show the deck officers she was unarmed. Galway could feel the waves of guilt subsiding in response to his comrade's vote of confidence. It allowed him room to breathe and he saw about organizing everyone present. Suddenly things were feeling optimistic although their fates still hinged on how C248 would receive them. You know, the people they'd literally just fired a rocket at. He had his reasons for approaching this Crusader in particular but rather than dive into specifics he needed to focus on rounding everybody up.

All they could do now was hope the crew of C248 humored their request. Applauding the sharpshooter onboard might make for a good start.