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Monday, 16 April 2012

Opening: Old Medicine part 1

            The sun glinted on the silver maple leaf as the NWMP helicopter came into view.  It shimmered in the heat off the arid plain.  The sun hung, hot and blinding, in the summer sky.  The black on the copter seemed to absorb the heat instead of reflecting it.  Its skin was made using the finest stealth technology available in the Empire.
            The air in the valley remained still and stagnant until the whirling blades of the helicopter came closer to the ground, as it approached to land.  An officer of the Militia came out to greet the descending chopper as its wheels hit the tarmac of the landing pad.
            The hills seemed to silently watch the copter’s door open and a lone female get out.  She wore the standard uniform of a captain in the NWMP; it was high collared, with the twin arrows of rank on it.  Upon her right breast an etched silver scroll denoting her forces branch, intelligence.  The uniform was the standard non-operational black, with silver.  The uniform resembled the flag.  She was armed; she had a non-standard laser rifle slung over one shoulder and a standard 10 millimetre machine pistol in her hip holster.  On her left hip was a long, wicked looking dagger of intricate design, complete with silver handle..
            Even as she grabbed her pack off the floor of the chopper, the engines revved up.  The sliding door closed from the inside.  Slinging the heavy pack over one shoulder, she turned to face the officer coming hurriedly across the tarmac.
            He had clearly shouted something to her, but she couldn’t hear it over the noise of the lift-off.  She started towards him.
            Getting no response, he continued towards her and waited for the noise to abate some before trying again.  “Captain, welcome to Fort Walsh.  Major Alvarez has been expecting you.  I am Lieutenant Miller.”  He held out his hand for her to shake, pronouncing it ‘leftenant’.  She accepted it.
            He was surprised three fold by the handshake.  The first thing was the obvious strength in her hand.  He counted himself a strong man, yet it was all he could do not to wince.  The second was the feel of her hand.  It was calloused by rough use.  The last was when he looked into her eyes and noticed that one was white, damaged by something that left a scar three centimetres long, crossing the eye midway.  The scar was an ugly mark on what otherwise was a beautiful face, if a bit weathered.  The remaining eye was ice cold. He looked her up and down, and wondered at her unit designation symbol, it was a dog, in, what was uncharacteristic of the NWMP, gold.  It looked like a Labrador.  Despite his knowledge of the Militia, he couldn’t place the unit. 
            She smiled at his double take, saying only,” We mustn’t keep the Commander waiting.”
            The lieutenant regained his composure swiftly.  She pretended not to notice it.  She was used to the reaction on the first meeting.  That scar was memoir from her first mission, only a few years ago.  She put that thought from her mind.  That was then, this was now.
            He led her inside the building, out of sight of the hills that rose on either side of the fort, higher than the guarding stone walls.
            He led her down a short flight of stairs and then down a long corridor.  At what she surmised was the heart of the keep, he turned and stepped through an open door.   She followed him inside.   Apart from the guards on the walls, she had seen no one else.  It gave the stone construction the feel of a mausoleum.
            She stepped into a small anteroom, complete with computer terminal and efficiently organized work area.  He opened a second door.  “Major, she’s arrived.”
            “Show her in, Miller.”
            “Captain,” he said, using the universal one-handed gesture to proceed.
            “Lieutenant.” She said walking through the portal. 
            She stepped through the door and saluted, “Major Alvarez, Captain Marie Riel reporting for duty.”
            Alvarez returned the salute.  “Are you..?”
            “Great-great-great granddaughter of Louis Riel?  Yes, Major.”
            “I see why they sent you.  Miller, please bring us a drink, coffee, Captain?”
            “Water, please, as cold as you can get it.”  Her voice, not high pitched, carried a trace of a French accent.
            “Coffee for me, Lieutenant, and please close the door.”
            Miller saluted and left, closing the door behind him.
            “Please sit, Captain.”  She sat on a small leather couch.
            “Lord General Kowalski in Regina said you have a situation.”
            He explained the unusual events that caught the attention of her unit commander, Major Van Keldt.  “Two weeks ago, an amateur archaeological expedition, looking for First Nations camps moved into the area, basically seeking arrowheads and the like.  As this is a high bandit area, we kept a fairly close eye on their activities and location, making sure one of our patrols would swing by every couple of hours or so.  Team 4-1 visited their camp at 1015 hours on Tuesday, and all was well.  They expedition was digging and sifting at an old First Nations campsite.  Team 6-3 patrolled the area at 1236 hours to find the expedition wiped out.  They were all dead.  Our forensic team identified a few of the bullets and ammunition used as being that of ancient Springfield carbines, and other antique weapons.  Many had axe wounds.  Their equipment was hacked to pieces.  There have been no sightings of any First Nations style banditry in the area, nor were there any tracks, footprints or other bodies found at the scene.  The expedition, was, after all, armed.  That is what we know for sure.”
            Just then, the Lieutenant returned with the drinks.  He set Riel’s ice water down on a small side table.  Miller placed Major Alvarez’s coffee upon his desk.
            When the door closed, he continued.  “There is a legend told by Metis and First Nations people that has been told for one hundred and sixty years.  A legend of something powerful left here.
             “Sitting Bull’s victory at The Little Bighorn was a direct result of using this Talisman.  Legend says that this Talisman is a very ancient relic, with its origins lost in the depths of time.  The Sioux knew the exact date and time of Custer’s attack weeks before it happened.  Before the Battle of Rosebud, Sitting Bull used this Talisman to have a vision.  He even worked out the vision he had was not Rosebud, but another battle yet to occur.  One week later, Custer’s 7th Cavalry goes down in defeat.  Consider, they knew the disposition of Custer’s command, and were prepared for him.  In fact, Sitting Bull’s Sioux took few casualties, especially considering the weapons they used.  That’s the legend of the Talisman in battle.”
            Captain Riel’s interest was piqued.
            “The legend of the Talisman, however, continues.  The Sioux brought it to Canada when they fled, and to keep it out of American hands, left it in these hills.  Buried.”
            Alvarez paused and sipped his coffee.
            “I believe the expedition may have found that Talisman.” Alvarez concluded simply, taking another sip.
            She smiled.  It was a sinister smile, made more so by the missing pupil and jagged scar. “If its there, I’ll find it.  How far away is the site?”
            “Its about an hour’s drive over rugged terrain.  Miller will take you there.”  She finished her water and stood up.
            “Yes, sir, Major.”  She saluted him.  He returned the salute and pressed a button on his desk.
            The door opened, “Sir?”
            “Take Captain Riel to the archaeological site.”
            “Yes sir.  Captain, if you would follow me, please.”
            Riel shouldered her pack and followed him.  He led her out of the keep by a different route.  This time there were a few more people about, all in the NWMP black and silver.  They approached the motor pool through an underground passage.  They emerged into a large building that had about twenty large and heavily armed and armoured off road trucks.  There were also a few tanks.  A full third of the parking stalls were empty.  Riel presumed they were the regular patrols.
            Miller presented a paper to the officer in charge of the facility, and that officer gave Miller a set of keys and pointed at a truck.  As they walked towards it, Miller pressed a button and the tailgate opened.  Riel threw her gear inside.
            The truck itself was standard NWMP issue.  It had side mounted rocket launchers, mounted on the hood were twin .50 calibre air-cooled machine guns.  In the turret, the truck had twin heavy lasers.  It also had a rear facing smokescreen and mine dropper.  When he turned the key, Riel knew that the vehicle was a newer model, for it was powered by a fuel cell.  Inside the truck, the equipment was excellent. Radar, jamming, and electronic controls for the turret were laid out in typical fashion.  IR capability and a high-resolution targeting computer for the weapons made these vehicles formidable for gangs and street punks.  The truck was even equipped with an emergency recharge kit, a portable solar system.  Riel strapped herself in.  These days, those that rode or drove without the safety harness were as good as dead.
            As Miller pulled out of the parking area, he keyed a code into the dashboard nav unit and the hangar style doors opened wide enough for the truck to leave.  Once into the compound, the Lieutenant stopped only to display a pass at the gate.  Once through, the truck sped down the gravel road and then turned onto a dirt track. 
            Before long, the truck was bouncing over a dirt trail well away from any evidence of civilization.  These were the Cypress Hills.  They rose above the surrounding plains, and even now were a haven for water, forest and wildlife.  On either side of the track, twenty-five meter lodge pole pines rose off the forest floor.  The forest was beginning to reclaim the area.  Miller forded a narrow stream.
            Riel checked her watch, as it was nearing 5 pm.  She made a decision.
            The ride took another hour, she knew they were in the heart of the Hills.
            Miller checked the equipment, using the IR systems (radar wouldn’t be terribly useful, given the forest) to determine that there was no threat in the immediate area.  He popped the back of the truck as Riel unlocked the restraints and opened her door.  By the time he had done the same, and moved around back. She had already shouldered her laser rifle and her pack.
            “You’ll find the site about 200 meters that way,” said Miller, pointing southwest.  
            Riel nodded,” Would you have a patrol swing round here an hour after sunrise tomorrow to pick me up?  I don’t think you’ll be needed further.”
            Her lone eye had a far away look about it.  Miller blinked and didn’t question it.  “Yes sir,” he said, and saluted.
            She returned the salute.  He closed the back end the truck and got back behind the wheel.  She took two steps back and the truck drove off.  When it disappeared from view, she moved off in the direction indicated.
            She walked the distance and entered a clearing.  She could see the site well enough. The grass was still stained in blood.  Wrecked equipment was everywhere.  She looked around, and then up into the sky, overhead, a raven circled.  She cleared the ground around the main fire pit, and cleared out the fire pit itself.  She then went into the surrounding forest, looking for deadfall from the lodge pole pines.  It wasn’t hard to find.  She brought what she found back to the camp in two loads.  She then prepped some kindling and went into the forest to hunt.
            It took an hour to get the rabbit in a snare. She caught the rabbit by flushing it out and luck guided its flight to the snare she had made.  She couldn’t shoot it, she needed the blood for the first part of a ceremony.
            She cut the rabbit’s throat over the fire pit with her dagger.  The blood seemed to temporarily fill the shallow pit .  Once done, she said the words in an old native language, words that had little equivalent in the known tongues.
            The blood sank into the soil, disappearing.  She made a fire, and sprinkled tobacco into the flames, repeating the appropriate phrases.  With the fire so consecrated, she cooked her meal over the fire, thanking the Great Spirit for providing it.
            Then she waited until nightfall, busying herself with camp chores.  If all went well, she’d have the Talisman by morning.  She reached into her pack and removed prayer beads.  The prayer beads were worn, old and had the look of heavy use.  They once belonged to that most infamous ancestor.
            As the last rays of the day’s sun caressed the hill, she began to build up the fire.  She sprinkled Kanikanik and tobacco over the flames and again delved deep into ritual.  She began the phrase running her hands over the prayer beads with each counting, inhaling deep the smoke that floated up above the orange and blue flames.  The sun sank below the invisible horizon, and the flames changed in colour, from orange to blood red.  Still she chanted.

Part 2 will be posted as the letter R- for Riel.  

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