The Power of Three(8)

By: Kate Pearce



He stood back to allow the soldiers to file past him, sharing a smile with those he knew and a nod with the new team members. Jong waited until they’d all left before approaching him.

“If you wish to take command, sir, I’m—”

He held up his hand. “You’ll do fine, Captain. I have every confidence in you.” He looked out of the door. “I only see nine Etruscans. I thought there were ten.”

“There’s one more, sir, but she’s not usually invited to the meetings.” Jong grimaced. “I have to brief her separately. She’s not considered equal to the others.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“They won’t sit with her, sir.” Jong shrugged. “I’ve tried but they just won’t.”

“Is she infectious or something?”

“No, she’s a telepath.”

“Ah.” Esca nodded. “Captain Trenx said something about that to me earlier.”

“She’s the most useful member of the team. She only has basic skills, but I can at least communicate directly with her.” Jong hesitated. “However, it’s hard for her to get her team leader to listen.”

“Which one is he?”

“Captain Wassain.”

Esca studied the soldier who was busy suiting up for the mission. He looked like a pompous ass. “There’s no point talking to him about the stupidity of this right before an operation. Let me know whether you encounter any issues. I’ll keep an eye on the situation when I go out with you later.”

“Thank you sir.” She saluted him. “I’m really glad you’re back, Major. We were all beginning to wonder—”

He cut her off with the professional smile he’d learned from Ash. “Whether I’d make it? Having your kneecap and thighbone shattered into a hundred pieces takes time to fix. I’m recovered now.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” She lowered her voice. “It’s tough at the top.”

“From all reports, you not only survived but thrived in command, Captain.”

She flushed. “Thank you, sir. I’d better go and get ready.”

“Good luck, Captain.”

He nodded and watched her stride confidently away. If Ash’s gloomy prediction did come true and he didn’t survive the mission at least he’d be leaving his team in excellent hands.

Pushing such negativity aside, he took the elevator back up to the command center and settled in to watch the progress of the raid.

* * *

“No, dammit—don’t!” Esca realized he was shouting at the screen and that Trenx was giving him dubious looks. He pointed at the display. “Those Etruscan idiots are far too close. Even a blind geriatric could spot them.”

Trenx pointed to his mouth. “Tell Jong, don’t scream at me.”

“Sorry.” Esca clicked on his mike. “Jong, are you receiving me?”

A burst of gunfire made him wince. Behind it he could just make out the sound of Jong’s voice issuing crisp, succinct commands.

“I’ve got it, Major.”

“Good.”

“We’re coming back in.”

“Even better.”

Esca took off his headset and dropped it on the console. Pushing back his chair, he nodded at Trenx and his second-in-command, and headed back down to the launch deck to await the return of his team and their debriefing.

He didn’t have long to wait until the men and women started to filter in from the landing craft. Captain Jong and the Etruscan leader were the last to appear and were arguing intensely. Esca stopped them from entering the debriefing room and pulled them to one side.

“What’s going on?”

Captain Wassain saluted. “Nothing, Major.”

Esca turned to Jong and raised an eyebrow. “Captain?”

“Sir, he left one of the team down on the surface.”

“What?”

Wassain shrugged. “As I said, it’s not important. She knew the risk. She also knows we won’t recover her.”

Jong stepped forward. “We don’t leave anyone behind, Captain.”

“Private Lang knows the deal. She’s considered natural wastage and totally expendable.”

“But—”

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