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Gold Bars and Commissars
Gold Bars and Commissars
They had thirteen gold bars, they couldn t sell one.
in a grimy two bunk hab in a cheap low-rise apartment block in west Blossom town, trooper Carl Linton sat on his bunk and played with the gold. Sometimes he d stack them up into little pyramids, other times he d lay them out in front of him in a long line and just sit with his arms resting on the tabletop, peering at them like they were the most beautiful thing he d ever seen, and on Pandora they probably were. After a while this got trooper Dachas Dublane s nerves. Will you cut that out, kid? I m trying to concentrate! Spat the older trooper. Sitting on the opposite bunk with his back against the wall Dublane was cleaning the inside of his autopistol with a vizzycloth. Really he wasn t paying much attention to cleaning the old pistol; his mind was on other things, like how to get out of the current situation they now found themselves. Sorry, Blane, Linton signed, gathering up the gold and placing each bar into the cushioned container with meticulous care. Afterwards he sat back and began chewing his fingers, watching in amused silence as Dublane failed to un-jam his pistol. Want me to take a look? No, I don t, Dublane snapped, scowling at his partner. Sorry I asked. I m good with tech-kit that s all. Should have been a cog-boy, Linton smirked, holding up his hands in a mock gesture of surrender. It was true Linton had a reputation throughout the regiment for being a knack with tech-gear, a rep he was keen on maintaining as it reduced the chance of him being beaten to a pulp in the mess hall if he could fix a guy s backup piece or resurrect a dead powercell, but Dublane was damned if he couldn t fix his own hand-cannon. Screw it! The older trooper spat, tossing the pistol across the table, beaten. Linton raised his eyebrows but didn t say anything. He knew it was best not to rattle Blane when he was in one of his moods. Beating the back of his head against the wall the older trooper breathed in and out and tried to think. Hooking a finger through the blinds Dublane peered through the window at the city outside. Early morning in Blossom town. The harsh sun beat down across the desert world, rising the temperature to an unbearable heat only Dublane and the rest of the Imperials garrisoned on Pandora seemed to feel. To the inhabitants of Blossom town, a young, ugly city of cheap, prefab slum-blocks, drab flakboard barracks and grim, rockcrete sweat-shops the heat was the same as it always had been, except for the wonders of air-conditioning the Imperials had brought with the Rediscovery. Blossom town was a shit-hole as far as Dublane was concerned, named so by the ironic wit of the Guardsmen garrisoned there. The locals had a different name for it, the name of the ancient city Blossom was built around, but Dublane couldn t remember it. Hastily built by the Imperial occupation to house its Imperial Guard garrison, newly appointed centre of government and native population of cheap labour, Blossom city was a spewing metropolis of crime and poverty. Overpopulated and underfunded, unemployment was at such a level that crime was the only way many people could afford to eat. So much so that Guardsmen like Dublane now found themselves enforcing Imperial law refer then guarding against anti-imperial insurgence, which was ironic as they were often the ones breaking Imperial law. Outside, the slum district rang with the sounds of traffic and trade. Silk and cloth merchants heckling their wares with the first of the morning customers, spice and trinket traders opening up their stalls, filling the air with myriad smells and aromas, some nice some not. Vast crowds of workers in the colourful robes and turbans of their culture descended the streets, kicking up sand deposited by the wind. Hundreds of beggars and pick-pockets harassed the crowds, ignored or trampled by the masses. Thousands of Pandorian workers headed to the Munitorum sweat-shops and cloth-mills that ran Pandora s steadily rising economy of cheap, affordable labour. Outside Dublane could hear the toots and beeps of dozens of personnel scooters, taxi-carts and cargo-haulers as the workforce population of 2
Gold Bars and Commissars
Blossom city crossed the streets in droves. Imperial occupation had taught the people of Pandora many things, faith, education, technology, sub-sector economics and the benefits of an effective administratum-run government. Road safety had not been covered. Linz, get the set out, he said at last. Linton looked up in confusion and opened his mouth in query, but thought better of it and instead pulled out the vox-set from under his bunk. Linton was a vox-officer, being one of the relative few in the regiment who could read, write and count. As such he knew his way around a vox-set, one of the reasons Dublane considered him a useful partner. Put Jafaard on, the older trooper ordered. Linton placed his set on the table and began adjusting the dials. Jafaard, huh? Didn t know you were a fan, he commented jokingly. Shut up, Dublane ordered. Jafaard was the presenter of a local public radio station intended for disenfranchised Pandorians. A pro-Throne, anti-Imperial Jafaard was a part of a growing number of Pandorians loyal to the God-Emperor and the Imperium but against an offworld government and an Imperial Guard garrison. Jafaard used his radio show to spout anti-Guard propaganda, supporting the call for the Pandorian PDF to take over Guard duties. Unintentionally his show had become popular among the Imperial Guard who didn t want to be on Pandora either. Dublane listened because it gave a biased but uncensored coverage of local news. Linton finished tinkering and the set blurred into life, the voice of quick-talking Jafaard coming over the speaker in accented Gothic. can we perceive Imperial aggression and domination as anything other then the main cause for the current insurgent conflict! How can filling our city with violent Guardsmen do anything other then provoke further bloodshed! If they want the bombings to stop, the ambushes to stop and the terror attacks to stop, then they should learn to control their own forces! How can we maintain peace and security if the very soldiers meant to enforce peace and security are the very ones threatening it! How can we unite under ourliberators if they are the same people prolonging the conflict! Its not the terrorists raping our daughters, killing our sons and robbing our families, it s the Guardsmen! Hear my people, let me give you an example of Imperial law keeping, the things you won t hear from the commissars Jafaard stopped talking and over the speaker came the sound of rustling paper as the presenter rifled through his notes. -Last night a local courier was making a run in the Anziba merchant district when he was stopped by two men. These two men shot him dead, murdering the father of two in cold blood and dumping his body in the street while making off with an undisclosed amount. According to district arbiters the robbery was witnessed by a local hab-wife who reported the use of las-weaponry and identified the assailants as offworlders. The matter has been taken up with the Imperial commissariat who have placed the witness under protection- Jafaard stopped reading and his voice dropped back to his usually tone of bitter cynicism. Ok, my people, if that doesn t stink of a cover-up I don t know what does! I- Dublane switched off the set and stood rubbing his cheeks in thought. Shit, Blane, the girlie went to the commissars gunna do? Linton gulped, fear replacing his high-spirits. What we
Dublane didn t answer straight away, staring through the blinds. Then he grabbed his brown leather jacket and kitbag and pulled it on over his vest. We, are gunna do nothing. You re staying here, the trooper told him forcefully. I m going out. Huh? Are you sure that s was wise? I mean, with the girlie playing footsie with the hangmen they could looking for you, looking for us, The younger, fresh-faced trooper said anxiously. 3
Gold Bars and Commissars
There are four regiments stationed in Blossom city, its gunna take em a while to track us down, don t you think? Still Linton persisted.
Look, Dublane smiled, trying to reassure the kid. He shouldn t have, because after a life time in the Guard and a hard life before that Dublane s face wasn t used to smiling. All it did was shifted the once handsome, tanned hide of his face, creasing his wore, grim demeanour. I don t feel like waiting in this flea-pit for the commissars to find us. Way I see it, we ve been real lucky. That gold s more then enough to get us off this rock, so I say we make sure we get the chance to spend it, alright? It s a risk is all I m saying Yeah, I wish that was all you were saying. Hey come on, if the hangmen catch you they ll catch me pretty sharpish, I wouldn t mind betting, the kid muttered ruefully. And Mister Lushas ain t gunna help us this time. It ll be firing squad, quick and queasy. Throne, you should have cut him in, Blane. Give me your las. What you gunna do? I m gunna deal with the girlie, Dublane spat, holding out a hand for the pistol. Linton hesitated, then pulled out the las from his fatigue pants and handed it over. Stay here with the gold, Dublane told him, tucking the laspistol into the holster under his jacket and making for the door. If the hangmen come calling, you know what to do. What am I gunna fight them off with? Linton scowled. My impeccable wit? If you re such a hot-shot with a tech-kit, fix my frigging pistol, his partner shot back impatiently, aware the kid was stalling. How come you get the good las and I get the shitty slug-thrower? Linton complained. Cos I can t afford for anything to go wrong, ok kid? Dublane snarled, pissed with the kids moaning. Before he could say anything else, Dublane was out the door. In the hallway the old crook paused. He didn t think the kid would do anything stupid, but still. Taking a lho stick from a bartered old packet he popped it into his mouth and another in the crevice at the top of the door. Walking down the hall, Dublane skipped down several flights of stairs and left the apartment block. Entering the busy street he cast a furtive look over his shoulder and marched through the crowds, lighting his lho stick as he went. As usually the crowds parted almost subconsciously to let him through, a few giving the disheveled Imperial bitter looks but mainly just giving a wide-berth. The myriad aromas of the morning markets assaulted his senses and he took a few long drags of lho to fight back the musk. Dublane sighed. All in all he d planned a successful little job. After acquiring a silenced auto-pistol, Linton and he jumped a local courier, one they d been tipped usually carried a couple of thousands crowns worth of Imperial currency. When they jumped him Dublane had supposed to kill him quickly and silently with the autopistol, but the damn thing had jammed. Before he had time to correct the misfortune with his knife the courier legged it, and before he could stop him, Linton popped two lasrounds into his back. Emperor knew how the kid had got the las through the commissariat sweeps but the kill had been loud and noisy. A local hab-wife had witnessed the whole thing from her hab-window, watching the courier fall down dead and staring at the two troopers with cold accusing eyes. Dublane had wanted to kill her straight off but the kid got spooked and they ran back to their hideout instead.
Gold Bars and Commissars
Back there they d found to their surprise the courier had been carrying more then a few grand. He d been carrying thirteen gold bars. A street urchin bumped into him interrupting his trail of thought, with nothing more then a muted apology the kid made off. Dublane grabbed him by the arm and took back his wallet, giving the child a clip round the ear for good measure. After dodging a few arbiter patrols and Guard checkpoints Dublane came to his destination in a backalley near the Dhuraka merchant quarter. The Welcome Inn was a grimy, misnamed bar built under a cloth warehouse favoured by off duty Guardsmen and Munitorum workers alike. Dublane flicked away his lho stick and jogged down a flight of steps into the small bar. As he entered he saw the owner to the left, a grim ex-guardsman named Morb, who was busy cleaning the bar surface with a dirty cloth. To the right by the door two off-duty troopers in the plain grey combat fatigues of Dublane s regiment were playing jackpot at a snook table. Dublane gave them a nod and they returned it, turning back to their game. Down the right hand side of the club were padded booths, empty but for the far one, in which a small, prematurely bald munitorum cleric sat smoking. Dublane made to go over to him, until he saw the trooper sitting at the bar. Major Elem Lushas was not a pretty man. In fact it was often stated that he looked like a corpse, just starting to decompose. His skin was so pale and taut it was greyer then his fatigues and his flesh had less life about it then the recently deceased. Sickeningly lean and long limbed Lushas was little more then a skeleton dressed in the fatigues of a Guardsmen. The skin of his hairless head was so tightly wrapped around his skull he seemed not to have a face at all and indeed there was such a lack of flesh he could barely close his mouth, forever locked in a hideous grin of spade-like yellow teeth. Dublane was sure his eyes would have been sunken and horrid if Lushas had any. Instead his eyes were replaced with bulky, augmentic optics. It had once been said by an under cautious trooper that Mister Lushas was actually a mutant. That same trooper had been found in his bunk the next day, having choked on his own tongue. As well being arguable the most repulsive man in the regiment, Lushas was also the most ruthless and criminal. Guilty of almost every crime imaginable, the Major ran every black market activity the regiment was a part of. He had risen through the ranks thanks to his gangland ruthlessness more then combat effectiveness. He ran the black market with a raised dagger if not an iron fist, and was callous and inventive at punishing those that didn t pay him his cut. Dublane had a horrible feeling he should have paid Lushas his cut. Dublane, Dublane, the Major rasped in his coarse, reedy voice. Come, sit! Let s have a chat Dublane hesitated; Lushas was one complication he didn t need. I don t bite Lushas chuckled dryly, showing his big, toothy grin. Dublane forced a smile and sat down on the stool next to him. What can I get ya too drink? He wheezed. Err just a shot of amasec, Dublane decided, seeing that was what the Major was drinking. Morb came forward and placed shot of amasec in front of him, which he sipped casually. It s a bit early to be drinking though, don t you think? He commented to the Major, who sipped his own glass. It s never too early for amasec, my friend I hear it dehydrates you, makes you thirstier, Dublane said offhandedly, nursing his shot. Is that so? Is that so Morb? Lushas called to the beefy bartender who just shrugged and grunted, cleaning glasses. Well you learn something everyday
Gold Bars and Commissars
s what I heard, Dublane nodded. Well, you know what I hear? Lushas grinned, tilting his head in his fellow trooper s direction. What? I hear that you got hold of a couple of pistols after the commissars tightened up gun control, He rasped almost flippantly. I also hear that a courier got jumped for all he was worth the other night. There anything you re not telling me, Blane, my old pal? Dublane tensed. Out the corner of his eye he saw the two troopers playing jackpot, troopers he now recognised from Lushas s platoon, come forward menacingly. One came right up beside Dublane, resting his knuckles on the bartop while the other stood behind him ready to choke him with his snook-cube at the Major s signal. Dublane signed, nursing his shot. He then picked up the glass and rammed it into the head of the trooper beside him. Leaping up, Dublane punched him for good measure and the man went down bleeding profusely. His comrade cursed and came at Blane thrusting the end of his cube towards Dublane s face. Dublane caught it in his grip and repeated the move with his free hand thrusting the other end of the cube into the owner s face. As he reeled Dublane kneed him between the legs, the man collapsed with a cry and his assailant grabbed him by the head and pulled his face into his rising knee. There was an ugly crack as the man s nose shattered and he fell back unconscious. Dublane stepped back over to the bar and kicked the first man savagely in the chest. Clicking his neck and adjusting his jacket he sat back down beside Lushas, who hadn t reacted in the slightest during the exchange. That stick-up had nothing to do with me, Lushas, Dublane lied. You not hear the details? Lasfire. I heard about that courier, witness saw them use lasfire. Them? Who said anything about them? Lushas asked giving Dublane an unreadable look. The radio did, Dublane said, recovering fast. They said nothing got past the Major. You were thinking me and Linz stuck up that courier, right? Come on Mister, since when did I leave witnesses? Lushas shrugged. Thought you might be losing your touch so you didn t get any guns? Yeah I did. Dublane admitted carefully. A couple of autopistols I bought from Boris over there, He said pointing to the munitorum clerk seated at the shaded booth a little way away. Horis-Boris? Lushas chuckled. You bought autopistols from Horis-Boris? Shit, did they work? That s what I wanted to find out, Dublane quick-talked, fully aware he was lying through his teeth to the most dangerous man in the regiment. I got a few samples Linton could check out; you know his got an eye for tech-kit. I had an idea you see, for a little scam. Go on, the Major nodded. Boris has contacts with the armoury clerks in the PDF. They have lock-ups heaving with old autoweaponry they want to keep out the hands of the insurgents. Battered old junk most of it. But the PDF are always looking for shiny new guns to add to their armoury. I thought we could buy a load of knockoffs from Boris s contacts, clean em up a bit and sell them to the PDF. Lushas looked at Dublane and a big beaming grin split his features. Buy the PDF s knockoffs and sell them back their own guns, that s not a bad idea thoughtfully. So when were you gunna cut me in on this? Lushas nodded
Gold Bars and Commissars
What am I doing now? Saying what you need to say to stay alive, Lushas grinned. Off cause I was gunna cut you in. Scamming the PDF was never gunna work with just me and Linz, Dublane sneered, praying to the Throne the Major bought his frankly awe-inspiring piece of improvisation. Shit, if he d thought of that scam early he wouldn t have even been in this mess now. Lushas peered at him with his bug-like optics, then sniggered. Alright Dublane I buy it. You talk to Boris, I ll set a crew together, we ll work something out Dublane nodded, trying to keep the relief off his face. Getting up, he breathed out deeply and made his way over to Horis-Boris. Boris was a corrupt little weasel who worked as clerk in the Departmento Munitorum, the organizational division behind the day-to-day runnings of the Imperial Guard. Bald, like all munitorum drones Boris was a thin, sweaty young man with a pale, thin face and watery blue eyes. He watched with obvious discomfort as Dublane approached. As he came nearer, Dublane discovered Boris wasn t alone in the shaded booth. Sitting with him was a brutish, mustached Pandorian that Dublane took to be hired muscle, filling the booth with the stench of his body odour. Uninvited Dublane sat opposite the squirming clerk. Hello Boris, you don t seem pleased to see me, He growled with thinly veiled threat. No, not at all Boris mumbled. Just didn t expect to see you out in the open. Thought you might be lying low, you know. Dublane glared at him for what seemed like an eternity. The pistol jammed, you little weasel, he snarled. Boris paused before replying. You get what you pay for, he scowled. Dublane s hand dashed out and grabbed Boris by the scruff of his uniform, yanking him across the table. The hairy paw of his hired muscle closed around his arm and Dublane s other hand darted out, grabbing a handful of the man s hair and smashing his head against the table. The man s grip relinquished and he fell back snorting blood. Dublane didn t relinquish his grip. Boris gulped. Do you want a new gun? I ll-I ll get you a new gun if that s what you want, I ll- Boris stuttered, before Dublane shut him up. You have contacts in the laundry department, right? He snarled. What? Boris gulped. The laundry department! I need a commissar uniform, can you get me one? Dublane hissed letting go of the clerk. Err, yeah I could. Wait, what? Why? He spluttered, adjusting his uniform. None of your business. Can you get me one today? Yeah, I ll make a call. Ten minutes later Dublane left the Welcome Inn and walked for fifteen minutes to a launderette requisitioned by the Munitorum. There he met Boris s contact, the launderette owner, who gave him
Gold Bars and Commissars
the shirt, breeches, sash, cap and storm coat of an Imperial commissar and let him use the backroom to dress. Taking out his shaving kit from his canvas kitbag Dublane washed, shaved, put on the stolen uniform and stuffed his own clothes into the kitbag. All but the laspistol, which he holstered to his side. Leaving the launderette Dublane hailed a taxi-cart and used a wad of his last few credit notes to pay for a ride to a hab-district just outside the Anziba merchant district. Arriving a few minutes later Dublane recognised the street despite the light of day, and the hab, at which two commissariat troops stood outside. Paying the tax-driver and telling him to wait Dublane marched straight backed towards the guards and accepted their salutes. Commissar Dual, He improvised, naming himself after his regimental commissar. Here to see the witness, she in? Yes, commissar sir, said one of the troopers. Dublane nodded. There had always been the risk they would move the witness to the local arbiter station, then he would have been screwed. Evidently they had not. Is it alright if I go up? Of course, commissar. She was just sleeping, the other trooper said opening the hab door for him. Dublane thanked him and stepped inside. Running up a flight of stairs he came to the apartment door and knocked twice. He saw light shift through the eyehole and looked away deliberately. The door opened on the latch and a young, tanned skinned woman peered out. Commissar Dual, Dublane lied politely. Here to ask you a few questions if that s alright? Yes of course, commissar, She said in accented Gothic, closing the door and reopening it free of the latch. Dublane wandered in behind her and closed the door. When inside he glanced around the hab. Little more then a single room with a bed, kitchen area, plus a side room to the right leading to the toilet and shower. There was no one else in the apartment. The woman was saying something about the arbiters already asking her a load of questions as she went to the window and undid the hab curtains. She turned around and froze, seeing the laspistol pointed at her person. Close the curtains, Dublane demanded, voice cold and hard. The women glared at him, eyes widening as she recognised him as the murderer from the night before. She did as she was told. Lie down on the bed. She did so, acting coy, misunderstanding his intentions. Hold that pillow tightly, Dublane ordered, gesturing with the pistol as he came closer. She did so. Pushing his las against the pillow Dublane fired twice. The women gasped, smoke escaping her mouth as her eyes widened in fear and pain, then she flopped backwards. The pillow masked the snap-crack of the pistol blasts but not the flash. Dublane hoped the curtains had stopped the light from alerting the soldiers outside. Holstering his pistol, he left the apartment and stepped outside. The soldiers looked at him in surprise, none the wiser. Poor things exhausted, He explained. I ll come back when she s well rested. Very good, sir. The troopers smiled. Dublane hopped back into the waiting taxi-cart and paid the driver the last of his notes to take him back to his apartment. While in the back of the cab, he couldn t help congratulating himself on a job well done.
Gold Bars and Commissars
Unable to repress his smile he left the taxi and wondered into his apartment block, ignoring the dirty looks from the locals. Taking the stairs two at a time, Dublane reached his hab. Checking the door he found the lho he d placed there was still there, meaning his partner hadn t left. Smirking to himself, he popped it into his mouth and opened the door. Linton s first shot hit him in the shoulder. The autopistol popped like nobody s business and Linton s second and third shot hit him in the stomach and lower gut. Dublane didn t have time too make Linton see the mistake he was making before his fourth shot hit him just above the heart.