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Baptism of Fire
by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2017 by Cora Buhlert
All rights reserved.
First published in The Guardian, edited by Alasdair Shaw
Cover image © Grandfailure, Dreamstime
Pegasus Pulp Publications
In Love and War
For eighty-eight years, the galaxy has been torn apart by the endless war between the Republic of United Planets and the Empire of Worlds.
Anjali Patel and Mikhail Grikov are soldiers on opposing sides of that war. They meet, fall in love and decide to go on the run together.
Pursued by both the Empire and the Republic, they struggle to stay alive and free and prove that their love is stronger than the war…
Baptism of Fire
Effortlessly, Cadet Anjali Patel crawled up a mountain ridge on the Republican border world of Mura. The heavy equipment cases she was lugging barely slowed her down at all.
After all, she was a daughter of Rajipuri, born and raised in the highlands of Gurung. She’d scaled higher mountains and steeper paths by the age of ten.
Anjali was seventeen now, still not particularly tall, with brown skin and glossy black hair that she wore tied back into a braid. Anjali had joined the Imperial military almost two years ago to the day. Two years of hardship and gruelling training that had brought her to where she was today, a cadet in the Imperial Shakyri Expeditionary Corps, the Empire’s cadre of elite warriors, best of the best, sworn personally to the service of the Emperor himself.
The day, when Anjali had dropped to her knees in front of his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Francis II, to take her oath together with the rest of the new Shakyri recruits, dedicating her life to serve and protect the Empire and its people, had been the proudest moment of her life. Especially since she could have sworn that as she looked up, the Emperor personally smiled down on her and her alone.
And now, not quite two months later, she was on her first real mission as a Shaykri warrior, her first real mission in enemy territory. She was as far from her homeworld of Rajipuri as she’d ever been, further even than the two jump flight to Gloriosa, capital world of the Empire, where she’d taken her oath. And all that was required of her was climbing up a mountain ridge, something she could have done at home at the age of ten..
Anjali scowled as she reached the top of the ridge. This world didn’t even have the natural beauty of Rajipuri. Instead, it was barren and ugly, just greenish moss and grey rock as far as the eye could see.
Anjali selected a good vantage point, sheltered behind some rocks. Between the rocks, there was a gap that gave her a good view of the mountain pass that snaked its way through the land below.
“I’m in place, Captain,” she reported through her commlink, “Setting up now.”
“All right, Patel,” Captain Vikram’s gruff voice sounded in her ear, “Report at once, if anything comes up that pass. Anything at all, no matter how insignificant it might seem to you.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Anjali replied with a snappy salute to the open air.
The mission was taking out a Republican spy station that was located just beyond this ridge some seven kilometres up the pass. That is, taking out the spy station was the mission of the rest of the squad of Shakyri warriors to which Anjali had been assigned. Anjali’s mission was guarding this bloody pass which led to the spy station and warn her squad of any unwelcome surprises. And since intelligence suggested that there wouldn’t be any, in practice that meant that Anjali’s mission was sitting around on a mountain ridge, bored to death.
So much for becoming a heroine of the Empire, defending the realm and its people against their sworn enemies, the Republic of United Planets.
“Is it because I’m new or because I’m a woman?” she’d asked Captain Vikram, after he’d given her the assignment. Privately, she was pretty sure it was because she was a woman, since the other new cadet, Anil Golkhari, got to go with the rest of the squad. But then, Anil was a man.
In response, Captain Vikram had given her what Anjali was rapidly learning was his annoyed look.
“I’m giving you this assignment, Patel, because you’re from the Gurung highlands and can handle rough mountainous terrain, so I don’t have to worry that you’ll have problems scaling the mountain or that you’ll pass out from the thin air…”
Captain Vikram’s voice turned even sterner.