Chapter 11
Steadfast

2nd of Fourthmoon, Saintclair 12
E27, Elsanto Mountains, Neveland

Root sat on his rack, staring at the bulkhead. For breaking the gag order, he was confined to quarters for the next 56 hours. Although he didn't much regret telling Cale what happened to his brother, he couldn't do much good being cooped up like this. There was a lot that could happen in 56 hours, but there were two Blackamoor goons outside his door to ensure he didn't try to break confinement.
There was a knock on the door. He glanced at his watch and realized it was time for chow. The door opened and one of the Blackamoors let in Margie bearing a tray with his meal. It was a ham and cheese sandwich and a bowl of porridge. There was a bite taken out of the sandwich and some spit in the porridge, courtesy of his Blackmoor minders.
"Hi, Root," Margie said.
"Hey, Margie."
She offered him the tray, looking apologetic.
"Sorry."
"Not your fault," Root replied.
He took a scoop out of the porridge to get out most of the spit and tore around the bite mark in his sandwich. He might have made a display of eating the whole thing like it was nothing, but he wasn't in the mood to go out of his way to spite the Blackamoors.
He opened up the sandwich to make sure there weren't any unwanted additions and when it appeared to be clear, he took his first bite.
While he was chewing, he asked Margie, "How are things?"
"Well, they--"
"No talking!" one of the Blackamoors barked.
Keeping him in the dark was part of the punishment. Poor Margie wasn't up to the task of defying the Blackamoors and Root couldn't find much energy to fight them either. He quickly ate his food so Margie could take the tray back to the galley, away from the Blackamoors.
"Bye, Root," she said quietly as she took the tray.
Just to be an asshole, one of the Blackamoors tripped her as she stepped out the door. She was clumsy enough as it was and really didn't need any help. Before she could fall and scatter everything on the tray, she was caught by someone.
"You alright there, girl?" a man's voice asked.
Root recognized the voice. It was Captain Saxon, the navigator.
"Ye-yes, sir," Margie stammered. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't thank me," he said. "Thank your recruiter."
As Margie went on her way, Captain Saxon turned his attention to the Blackamoor who tripped her.
"Big man tormenting little girls," he said. "Gives you a swell of pride, does it?"
"I'm following orders," the Blackamoor replied. "The Centurion told us to give that girl a taste of the real Army."
"And what would you know of that, Blackamoor, you and your gang of street thugs?"
"I'll report you to Centurion Tofels," the Blackamoor said.
"You do that," Captain Saxon replied, completely unfazed by the threat. "I've got business with Lieutenant Maartens."
"Lieutenant Maartens isn't allowed visitors, Centurion's orders."
"I don't answer to the Centurion."
"Wait! You can't--"
With one hand, Captain Saxon pushed the one Blackamoor into the other, causing them to fall over on the deck in a big tangle. Before they could get back up, he stepped into Root's quarters, closed the door behind him, and locked it. The Blackamoors were shouting and banging on the door, but the sound was muffled enough that you didn't need to raise your voice to be heard.
Root eyed Captain Saxon and asked him, "You sure about this, sir? It's bound to be a pain in the ass later."
"Those thugs have been a pain in the ass for the past 15 years," the Captain replied. "Clair has lost her mind."
Clair?
"Isn't that supposed to be 'Her Majesty'?" Root asked.
Captain Saxon rolled his eyes.
"There isn't much majesty to her methods," he said bluntly, "especially ever since that snake got her ear."
"Don't say that around them. They're big about the whole lèse majesté thing."
Either because he thought he had a sympathetic ear or simply because he was that bold, the Captain didn't dial down his rhetoric any.
"Giving the Blackamoors royal sanction is lèse majesté. After all, the Crown is more than the head that wears it. But enough of that. I heard about what happened. How are you holding up?"
Root sighed.
"As well as can be expected, sir, under the circumstances. Lost six people. Damn near didn't come back myself."
"What was out there?"
Root looked at Captain Saxon for a moment, then looked away.
"Talking about it's what got me into this mess."
The Captain rested his hand on Root's shoulder and said, "I'm a man of some influence, Lieutenant. I'm prepared to do what I can for you, but first I need information."
Root was no social climber, but he knew that having friends in high places counted for a lot just to survive, to say nothing of flourishing. A knighted officer, even a mid-level one, having his back was better than having no one at all. Would that be enough if he ran further afoul of the Blackamoors? Probably not, but it was preferable to buckling under for fear of those thugs.
"Alright," Root said. "I guess I'm better off hedging my bets on you than the good faith of that bastard."
Captain Saxon smiled and gave Root's shoulder a squeeze, saying, "I'm glad you think so."
Root drew in a breath, bringing himself back to that moment.
"The weather was shit," he said, "so it was slow going. Most of my team was taken out by a sniper. I've never seen anyone this good. We had shit visibility 'cause a' the snow and high wind, but that didn't stop him from hitting what he was aiming for. Except for me, that is. He damn near gutshot me, but the bullet just barely missed."
"The White Wolf," Captain Saxon said.
Root hadn't said anything about the wolf yet.
"What? Where'd you hear about that?"
"You know him?"
"Wait. Are we talking about the same thing?"
"The White Wolf is what they called this Palatinian sniper from the Second League War," Captain Saxon explained, "a living legend. He had over 200 confirmed kills, and that's just the ones both sides admitted to. Hard to believe he'd still be active after all these years, but I could believe someone like him was the one responsible for wiping out your team."
The story seemed familiar, but that wasn't what he was thinking about.
"I guess we're not talking about the same thing," Root said. "I took some shots at his position and when me and Crus went to confirm the kill, we were attack by this big-ass white wolf. Too big to be natural. Maybe an early strain of Abomination or a crossbreed."
Captain Saxon let go of Root's shoulder and took a step back to think about what he said.
"You may not be that far off, Lieutenant," he mused. "The reason they called him the White Wolf is because whenever he'd strike, there'd be sightings of this white wolf like the one you described. Some people even say the two are one and the same."
Root hadn't even considered that possibility. It was remote but not impossible.
"A skinchanger," he said.
"You have some experience with that, yes?"
"One of the contractors, a Gandohese girl, Azuki Anju, she's a skinchanger. Someone--LeGrange, I guess--sent her after my team. I was pinned down by a squad of Alpini when she showed up and saved me."
"That little thing?" Captain Saxon asked incredulously.
"She's tougher than she looks," Root said. "I'd be dead if it wasn't for her."
"Then I suppose we have a trump card."
"Maybe, but it won't count for much depending on how many more of them there are. They don't even need that many. All they have to do is blow another rotor or get our location to call in a missile and we're dead."
"I'll speak to the Captain and get some more eyes out."
That wouldn't be enough.
"If that sniper is still out there, any sentry isn't gonna last long," Root said.
"It's a risk we'll have to take," Captain Saxon said gravely. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
Even though it was dangerous for both of them to be having this conversation, Root felt better for it. It was nice having an ally.
"You're welcome, sir," Root said. "I hope you don't regret owing me one."
"You gave me some good information. I'll make it worth your while. Take care, Lieutenant."
Captain Saxon gave Root a hearty pat on the back, then unlocked the door. The dumb Blackamoors at the door had been fighting with the handle the whole time, so the moment the door was unlocked, the Captain had to step back to avoid the door as it swung open and one of the Blackamoor guards fell into the room. Captain Saxon caught the Blackamoor before they could collide and straightened him up.
"You need to watch where you're going, boy," the Captain said. "Now if you'll excuse me."
The Blackamoor was too dumbfounded to protest and Captain Saxon went on his way. Yes, he was certainly the sort of man you wanted in your corner. The only question was whether or not he'd make good on his promise to help. Root was sure he'd be needing that help in the very near future.