The Hrwang Incursion
Also by Bernard Wilkerson
The Worlds of the Dead series
Beaches of Brazil
The Creation series
The Hrwang Incursion
Earth: Book One
Get the (episodes 1 thru 9)
Hrwang: Book Two
Copyright © 2016 by Bernard Wilkerson
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Cover photo courtesy of NASA.
The Lord Admiral’s face displayed the shock of betrayal as the bullet from Eva’s gun destroyed his shoulder. The round exploded on impact, spraying shrapnel and blood on her. She ducked belatedly to cover herself.
The former Lord Admiral of the Fleet of the People, the current Second Candidate for the Lord Protectorship of All Hrwang and All Known People, and the enemy of all mankind fell backward, his head striking the wall. The spray of blood from his chest diminished quickly.
Eva wiped her face gingerly, feeling blood and bone on it. She touched a tiny piece of metal embedded in her cheek just below her artificial eye. She’d aimed for the center of the man’s chest, but her one eye had fooled her and she’d been off target.
The deadly Hrwang weapon had accomplished its purpose nonetheless.
Almost not believing what she’d just done, Eva moved to him, her weapon still aimed. She put her booted foot on his side and pushed. His head lolled to the side, lifeless eyes staring at nothing.
When the Agency Director had given her the assignment to travel to Hrwang, she’d called Eva Rapunzel. She’d also called the Lord Admiral the Wicked Witch.
Well, Eva mused, Ding, Dong, the Wicked Witch is dead!
The Lord Admiral was actually dead.
Remembering the wounded soldiers their enemy had killed, the tops of their heads blown off, Eva wondered if she should do the same to the corpse in front of her. Was Hrwang medicine good enough that they could bring the Lord Admiral back to life? Did she have to blow his brains out to make sure he couldn’t be revived?
She brought her pistol up.
First Captain, Seventeenth Malakshian Cohort, the large soldier who had told her in the makeshift combat hospital that she’d become his friend, arrived with his gun drawn but pointing away from her. Eva didn’t fire the second shot.
She lowered her weapon.
He looked askance, first at her, then at his dead commander’s body. He looked back at Eva, and Eva returned his stare. She kept her poker face on. No emotion.
The Eighth Sergeant, the soldier who had helped her out of the woods, arrived next. The gunfire from the strafing combat craft faded into the distance.
“What happened?” he asked in Est.
First Captain spoke rapidly in Malakshian. At one point he looked at Eva in a mixture of surprise and shock.
Eva didn’t react.
She kept her weapon by her side, pointed down at the ground. Whatever happened, happened, she decided. She didn’t control her fate now. It was in other’s hands.
The sergeant spoke in Est.
“First Captain says we must go into the basement of the fortress. There is a hangar there which may have survived the attack. We must find a combat craft and get off this island. We must go now.”
He put his hand up to Eva’s arm and Eva resisted the urge to shoot him. He was friend, not foe.
She allowed herself to be led away from the scene.
Ten yards away, she glanced back over her shoulder. More soldiers had arrived. The First Captain pointed up in the air and Eva guessed that he was covering for her, claiming the Lord Admiral had been hit by the strafing aircraft.
She just didn’t know why he would cover for her. She hadn’t expected that.
Did his men hate the Lord Admiral as much as she did? Did they recognize the threat he was to others? Did they serve him merely out of duty or a misplaced sense of honor?
Eighth Sergeant pulled her around a corner into one of the zig-zag, walled pathways that led to the fortress and she lost sight of the captain and the growing group of soldiers gathering around their commander’s body. The walled pathway was similar to the one Eva had used the previous night to enter the fortress.
The meteor that had struck the now ruined building hadn’t been nearly as large as the one the Lord Admiral had used to flatten the Lord Protector’s island. This one had wrecked the fortress, but it hadn’t leveled it. Walls of twisted and torn metal and concrete still stood.
“This way,” the sergeant said, pulling her along with him. Part of her feared he might be taking her to a quiet place to execute her.
But if that was his plan, his eyes didn’t betray his intentions. He acted just as concerned for Eva as he had when he had helped her out of the woods.
“Before the air attack, soldiers reported an entryway near here that held. We just have to find it,” he added.
The ground shook from another explosion, and they dove for cover against the wall of the zig-zag pathway. When the attacking craft passed by, Eva crouched, keeping her head down, and ran past the sergeant. He followed her until a junction, then grabbed her uniform from behind and pulled her to the right. She followed.
The path they now followed emptied into a wide bay. Large hangar doors to the left still stood, the frame around them bent but unbroken. The sergeant led her toward them.
“Those will never open again,” she commented.
He pointed to the left of the doors.
A personnel entryway gaped open, its door blown out and resting against a metal box. It was dark inside.
“Do you have a light?” Eva asked.
The sergeant nodded.
They moved carefully to the entrance, weapons drawn. Another explosion rocked the ground, and they bolted for the building, running through the doorway without checking it first. They hid inside, in the dark, and rode out a series of explosions that followed the first. The blasts shook the building, raining dust on them.
Eva wiped her face when they stopped.
“They must have reloaded more missiles. We have no chance,” the sergeant said.
“Then let’s find an escape vehicle,” she replied.
He nodded again.
He reached into his pack and pulled out two sticks, cracking one of them and handing it to Eva. Chemicals inside mixed together and it lit.
The Hrwang had glow sticks!
He cracked the other.
“How long will they last?” Eva asked.
She didn’t understand the word he used in reply but felt like it meant hours. The sleep conditioning hadn’t taught her subconscious how to translate everything, which frustrated her despite the miracle of how well it had taught her to understand and speak the foreign tongue.
The glow sticks were brighter in one direction than another, and Eva held her’s so she could see around the cavernous opening they walked through.
A marked path hugged a sagging wall to the left. Through the hangar doors to their right, Hrwang combat craft could enter and descend a steep cavern into the depths of the fortress. Designed to withstand engine back blast and perhaps a conventional artillery bombardment, the hangar had mostly survived the meteor strike. The roof had buckled, vents were blown out, debris covered the concrete floor, but the walls had held.
Eva and the Eighth Sergeant picked their way carefully down.
“Have you been down here before?” she whispered. She wasn’t sure why she whispered, or who might be listening, but it felt like the right thing to do. The sergeant whispered in reply.
“Do you know your way?”
“No,” he responded curtly and kept walking forward in confidence.
Great. At least they were temporarily out of danger from the enemy aircraft bombing the rallied troops outside. She wondered how long it would be before enemy soldiers moved in to finish the job. Would she and the sergeant find an escape vehicle in time?
A large explosion hit just outside, but the distance they’d already traveled and the reinforced walls muted the sound and the shaking.
They descended further.
The downward gradient of the slope increased until it became difficult for Eva to walk. Her broken toe smashed into the front of her boot with every step, shooting a dagger of pain up her leg. She holstered her gun and trailed her now free hand along the wall for balance.
The distance between her and the Eighth Sergeant grew.
She wished for a crutch, for the healing treatment she’d been promised, for anything to ease her discomfort, as she allowed the Eighth Sergeant to get so far ahead, he was only a shadow holding a light.
She stopped to take a breath and to lift her foot up to remove the weight on her toe.
The path became so steep that she questioned why the builders hadn’t carved stairs into it. It must not have been heavily traveled.
The light in front of her stopped bouncing and she heard a hiss. Time to press on.
When she reached the Eighth Sergeant, he pointed wordlessly to a stairwell lit only by his glow stick. Eva moved to the edge and saw stairs curving down to the right.
The stairwell was narrow.
“I’ll go first,” Eighth Sergeant declared softly. Eva decided not to argue.
There was no handrail. The stairwell reminded Eva of a castle tower, and when the sergeant stumbled on the top steps, it definitely reminded her of a medieval castle.
“Stupid ancient architects. The stairs are uneven,” he complained.
Eva wasn’t so sure it was poor design. Uneven steps made it harder for attackers to negotiate. The stairwell, and this entire portion of the fortress, might have been designed centuries earlier, when the Hrwang still fought with swords and shields.
Something about the direction of the stairs bothered her and she puzzled it out as they descended.
If she were carrying a sword in her right hand, she wouldn’t have a lot of room to swing it. But someone defending from below would.
The stairwell was meant to be defended from below and an attack would be expected to be coming from above.
Eighth Sergeant stumbled again and cursed, distracting Eva from her musing. It happened just in time for her to hear the tell-tale tinkling of metal bouncing on stone.
“Grenade!” she cried and flung herself back on the stair.
Eighth Sergeant kept his head. He brought his left foot up and connected with the bouncing grenade, volleying it back down the way it had come. He dove on top of Eva.
They heard swearing in Est, then an explosion rattled the walls around them and the stairs under them. Eva’s ears rang.
Eighth Sergeant tried to say something, but she shook her head. She couldn’t hear a word. He pointed to his ears and she pointed to hers also, nodding. He couldn’t hear either.
They drew their weapons and Eva saw that the curve of the stairs hindered not only knights with swords and shields, but modern day soldiers with pistols and glow sticks. A rifle would have been completely impossible to use in such close quarters.
She grabbed the back of Eighth Sergeant’s shirt and kept him from continuing on. She pantomimed throwing a grenade and then made a questioning face. Her ears still rang. She worried her eardrums had been blown.
He opened a flap over his belt and revealed three grenades. Eva held up two fingers and mimed throwing them down ahead of them.
She moved back up a few steps, and Eighth Sergeant handed her his weapon. He pulled out two grenades, turned a cap on each, then simultaneously depressed a button on each grenade. He tossed them down with his left hand and jumped back up to where Eva lay in cover. Even if their assailants below had as good a soccer volley as he did, they’d never get the grenades back upstairs high enough.
Two satisfying blasts shook the stairwell.
They waited a couple of minutes, then began moving cautiously down again, leapfrogging each other as they did. Eva moved next to the outer wall to where she could see as far as possible down the stairs, then covered the Eighth Sergeant while he did the same to a point lower than her. Then it was her turn.
They descended the stairs in this manner for fifteen or twenty feet until they saw the evidence of the grenade blasts. Broken stairs, shattered masonry, and a hand.
The grenade must have exploded near his elbow, which meant it probably killed him. Others must have dragged his body back down with them.
What if they’d left a surprise for whomever was coming down the stairs?
“Booby traps,” Eva warned in English, but the Eighth Sergeant shook his head. He either didn’t understand or couldn’t hear. Eva hoped that by saying the words in English, the Est equivalent would come to her, but it didn’t. She needed to hear someone else say words first before she could use them. If the Hrwang with her couldn’t understand, she’d just have to go first and watch for booby traps herself.
She moved ahead, slowly.
Eighth Sergeant picked up quickly on her examination of every step and inch of wall they passed, and he began doing the same, still insisting they leapfrog their way down. One of them checked carefully for traps while the other covered.
On his way down, Eighth Sergeant put his arm out. He pointed to a discolored step, outlined in faint red.
Eva nodded, a little surprised. This was a permanent mine, she surmised, marked so that those who knew what to look for would know where it was, but attackers stumbling down in the dark wouldn’t. Still, the stairwell they were in must not have been used much. She pictured the hangar and tried to fathom its design. Hrwang craft could simply appear and reappear at will. Why the steep drop off leading to the depths below? Why this stairwell?
The AIs wouldn’t appear inside a building, she remembered. They’d have to enter the hangar and go to the depths below to park. But they wouldn’t leave that way. The AIs would take them wherever they wanted to go.
The stairs they were on must be used for maintenance or perhaps only emergency egress.
“How much farther?” Eva whispered to the Eighth Sergeant.
They stepped gingerly over the marked stair.
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Don't miss the thrilling conclusion to Book Two of The Hrwang Incursion.