Memorial Park was on a mesa, and so stood on solid ground. It was surrounded by public buildings with roofs that were level with the mesa top and thus extended the limits of the park. All the memorials were in the Park proper while all the access routes were via the buildings. Most people reached the top by using the scenic elevators on the Veterans’ Affairs, Public Library, Community Services and Parks and Waterways buildings. Mayin and her niece, Neoma, came up through the Public Library, pausing to look at the new releases and borrow a few on their way.
Today a memorial was being dedicated to one of the few moments of the war when a cease fire had been declared so that both sides could render assistance to those in distress. The Marasoka incident had reflected well on both militaries and formal recognition of that joint effort was a good place to start building, if not bridges, the foundations of a better relationship. Mayin was taking Neoma to witness the ceremony because it would be educational, and not because a certain Oberxiao, who would be there for his work, hadn’t been in sight or in contact for almost three weeks.
It wasn’t that Mayin missed him, precisely. There was not, to contradict the current popular romantic meme, an Oberxiao-shaped hole in her life. There was, however, a part of her brain that felt that a day on which she was confident that she would not see Huhn Jan-li was one on which she had less to look forward to.
They saw each other when he arrived with the official party, resplendent in his formal dress mourning uniform with only his naval colleague rivalling him in understated high military formality. The host nation’s military uniforms hadn’t been designed with the nuance of their long time enemy’s, but there were two of them there in the familiar colours to balance out the military presences. Mayin kept a straight face, as befitted the occasion. Jan-li permitted himself a brief smile which was neither a smirk nor an ‘I told you so’ look, but simply seemed to show that he was glad to see her. Neoma, seeing someone she’d met, waved madly.
To Mayin’s eye it was clear that many of the onlookers were ex-military personnel, most from the generation twenty years older than her that had been in service during the time of the Marasoka’s encounter with a derelict ship from an older age. Some attendees were older, including one heavy set man whose visible prosthetic limbs still bore the old Naval Engineering badge embossed onto their metallic skin. Some were her own age, including several she knew: Edan’s friend, Georas was one of them; Hitch, the comms guy from Brigade HQ with the mellow voice, was doing something with the speaker system; Reaver, given that he was cleaning up a mess on one of the major paths when they arrived, seemed to work here; and Wraith was in a suit being deferential to a besuited woman who was supervising a photographer whose various cameras, including drones, carried the logo of a prestigious public affairs corporation. Mayin had exchanged nods of acknowledgement with each of them, even if Georas had looked embarrassed and slightly ashamed to see her again.
The ceremony began with a suitable abbreviated rehash of the events in question: the Marasoka’s collision with ship debris lurking improbably in the membrane between space and trans-space; the rescue by the nearest ships; then the lurking biological hazard nightmare that the derelict had proved to be; and the united efforts that had suppressed that and rescued the survivors. The senior member of the host government present made a short speech praising those who had carried out the rescue efforts. The Chamcharan representative, from the Marasoka’s star-nation of origin and registration, spoke glowingly of how the actions of the combatants in rescuing his compatriots were remembered by his people, gesturing with lean, brown hands to emphasis his points. Then the ambassador took the dais, acknowledged the crowd and his fellow dignitaries, and then began reciting his people’s prayer to the dead in his native tongue.
A news cutter dashed in suddenly from the discretely circling flotilla and Mayin was just changing thoughts from, “How rude!” to “Insertion angle!” when it started disgorging passengers without landing. She was still thinking that those passengers had no idea how to land when she started hustling Neoma out of their seats and towards cover. The Park’s evacuation sirens, installed in case of an attack on the city during the war, started blaring as Mayin realised that getting to cover with a child wasn’t quite as simple as getting to cover with a kit bag or knapsack of equivalent size and weight. Neoma was a lot more fragile, for a start.
Mayin and Neoma didn’t make it to one of the exits or elevators before those were closed off, but they did get behind the low wall that was the memorial to the Battle of the Kurdekan Drift. As Mayin was cautiously taking a look to see what was going on in the direction they’d come from, Wraith harried his two companions into cover behind the other end of the memorial wall. Part of Mayin’s mind noted that the besuited woman was being vocal about the way she was being treated by Wraith while the rest of her attention was taken up with noting the numbers and dispositions of the group she was now regarding as the enemy.
“What do you think?” Wraith had shuffled down the wall till he was practically beside her.
“Nine in sight. They’re all wearing only the hard half of a set of the old half and half armour,” said Mayin briefly and Wraith raised an eyebrow in silent comment. “Long arms look like a G149 variant – possibly a homemade backroom job. Weapon handling – none of them have ever so much as done basic training.” She sunk back down beside him. “Ideas?”
“More than that came out of the cutter,” answered Wraith. “Where are they?”
“Fifteen came out of the cutter,” put in the photographer who’d crawled after Wraith. “I was just checking my camera feed.” Mayin and Wraith looked up involuntarily and the photographer said quietly but indignantly, “I may not have been in the service but I do know enough not to use my own drones to mark my position! They’re offset at varying ranges, and they should show me anyone trying to sneak up on us.”
“Nice.” Mayin could be appreciative.
“Don’t suppose you have visuals of the other six?” Wraith glanced down the wall towards the besuited woman as he spoke. Mayin followed his gaze to see the other woman pressing frustratedly at the interface of her phone.
She looked up as if she felt their eyes on her. “Why can’t I get a signal?” It was clearly a complaint. “If Sharvon here can control his drones and get pictures from them, I should be able to call out!”
“Good question,” Wraith nodded at her. “It’s because they’re running interference on communications but they’re not using a military grade package so it misses things like drone controls.”
“Found four of them.” Sharvon, the photographer, had unexpected note of glee in his voice. “Looks like someone tied them up with their own underwear.”
“Sounds like Reaver’s work,” commented Mayin.
Wraith asked, “Do you know if he’s here? Didn’t see him in the crowd.”
“We passed him on our way in,” Mayin told him. “He’s a groundsman or a gardener here. We can hope he joins up with us – sounds like he’s got G149s he can share.” She smiled and added, “And if our friends aren’t running a military comms interference package, then they won’t be blocking military comms. Just so happens I know someone here who’ll have one on him, and a weapon.”
This is now followed by The Responsible Adults Need To Get Together....