Unfaithful Covenant: Opus X Book 10
Nothing like a natural wonder to remind you what's important. Is it even possible to relax in Erik and Jia's line of work?
Spreading out into the galaxy and the terraforming that came next were impressive accomplishments.
In just over two centuries, humans had conquered the air and the stars. If it weren’t for the Local Neighborhood races, there would be nothing to stop the species from sweeping across the entire galaxy, defying all those who doubted they would prosper.
That was before one considered the advances in medicine and genetics. Although terrifying yaoguai reflected the dark side of biological science, de-aging treatments and medicine had pushed back the specter of death.
No one lived forever, but humans were finally living to their true potential.
These feats were the products of humanity’s primary advantage over other animals on Earth. Humans were neither the strongest nor the fastest animal.
They didn’t have the sharpest teeth, nor could they hold their breath the longest. Their minds set them apart from anything that might prey on them and led them to the inventions and tools that assured humanity need never again fear extinction because of a threat to a single planet.
FTL travel via either the HTPs with their Navigator head start or the jump drive displayed humanity’s technology prowess and assured the species’ continuity. However, as Erik stood on the rocky outcropping, staring at hundreds of meters of water cascading over the lip of the massive gorge, he didn’t care about technological achievements. Nature was power in its most primal form, and that was on display.
A man had to respect that.
Victoria Falls was over a kilometer wide, but Erik was unsure of whether to think of it as one waterfall or a set of close waterfalls. In either event, it ignited more than a smidgen of humility before nature in him. His awe at the impressive display kept him quiet and contemplative. How long had water flowed from the falls into the river below? How long would it continue?
Jia stood beside him, smiling at the waterfall at the edge of an outcropping. The Zambezi River churned below like a hungry god waiting for sacrifices.
“It’s beautiful. I’m glad you talked me into coming to see it in person. It wouldn’t be the same in a simulation.”
Her dark hair fluttered in the breeze. It was a perfect sight: a beautiful woman in front of gorgeous scenery. Erik could get used to this.
Was this a small preview of his future?
“It’s pretty nice,” Erik replied, “and I figured we should take the chance before Alina makes us jump into Zitark territory to steal a blessed piece of meat from them or something.”
Jia laughed. “I don’t think they have blessed meat, but I’ll admit I’m not an expert on alien religions.”
“Wait, are you admitting Jia Lin doesn’t know something?”
“There are a lot of things I don’t know.”
“I’ll alert the news reporters.”
Erik’s left arm itched. He might be fully healed and his replacement installed, but his brain hadn’t gotten used to it yet. The doctors had promised him it was temporary. They could tweak the hardware, but there was only so much they could do to his brain.
He shook out the arm and chuckled, gesturing along the length of Victoria Falls. “I wonder if we could fly a flitter through that? Might be fun.”
“I don’t think the locals would appreciate it.” Jia glanced his way, appreciating the joke.
It’d been a while since they’d taken anything approaching a vacation. Playing in nano-AR and VR could be relaxing, but it wasn’t the same thing as putting thousands of kilometers between them and the Argo.
They’d brought along the MX 60 with the standard gear in its storage compartments, but that wasn’t because they anticipated trouble. It would have been too much work to empty it.
Besides, it never hurt to have extra gear on hand in case they bumped into a killer cyborg in a spider-bot body, an insane Leem-human hybrid, or a monstrous yaoguai.
At Erik’s request, Emma was leaving them alone so they could appreciate the grandeur of nature without her running commentary. He almost found that more relaxing than not having to worry about a firefight with the Core’s minions.
“I wonder…” Jia crouched, her eyes narrowing. “I’m pondering its defensive capabilities.”
“Huh?” Erik’s brows lifted as he tried to figure out where she was looking. “Defensive capabilities of what?”
Jia gestured at the waterfall. “Using that as a defensive position. The sheer volume of water heading down has to help. If you could pop us between the water cascades and fire…” She tapped a finger on her lips. “Maybe stay behind the denser portions.”
“I honestly don’t know.” Erik thought for a moment. “I’ve never fought someone from behind a waterfall, let alone one that big. Somehow I doubt it’ll be a problem.”
Jia stood and dusted off her pant legs. “You’re probably right. Just curious, like you and the flitter.”
“It wasn’t like…” Erik looked away. “Now that I think about it, I imagine if we were being chased, we could try to use the falls against other flitters. You could crash them if you did it right, or get them down to the river for easy shooting.”
Jia gestured around at the nearby trees and slowly turned. “This isn’t the greatest tactical environment. They’ve got a lot of trees, but they’re not very dense.” She pointed at a thick copse that would require an impressive jump or a flitter to get to. “That’s decent—good coverage of most of the area. Sniping, maybe?”
“Thermals would make the trees useless. You’d get picked off easily.” Erik scratched his eyelid, trying to visualize what a good close-air support craft like a Dragon might do to the area. “But a big-ass Elite wouldn’t do well there.”
Jia groaned and rubbed her temples. “What are we doing?”
“Looking at a waterfall, I thought.”
“No.” Jia folded her arms. “Don’t you see?”
Erik inclined his head toward the water. “Kind of hard to miss. It’s huge.”
“No.” Jia walked over to him, took his hands, and looked up his eyes. “You and me.”
“What about you and me?” Erik asked, confused by the quick change in the direction of the conversation.
“We’re here at a beautiful natural wonder, and we’re both thinking about how to fight the Core in this location.” Jia let go of his hands and stepped away, waving a hand at the water. “We’ve got no reason to think they’ll ambush here. We even traveled using fake identities.”
Erik didn’t smirk. It wasn’t all that long ago that Jia balked at breaking laws or regulations, but now she had no problem asking Emma for help should they desire to travel without leaving a trail. It made sense during missions, but this was vacation.
“I’m not seeing the problem,” Erik replied with a shrug. “It doesn’t hurt to think about it.”
“Doesn’t it?” Jia tromped over to a tree and leaned her back against it. “I see my friends less and less these days. We didn’t go to many sphere ball games last season. We spend most of our time training.”
“Yeah, I suppose. The new season’s starting soon. We can hit more games this season if that’s what this is about.”
“No.” Jia sighed. “Yes, I’d like to go to more games, but that’s not what this is about. It goes deeper than that. It’s about you and me.”
“What about you and me?” Erik frowned. If there was an alarm for relationships, it’d be screaming right about now. His mind raced, trying to spot the hole so he wouldn’t step in it. “Is this about making me go to that freaky restaurant?”
Jia offered him a quizzical look. “No, nothing like that. I’m just saying, patterns become habits, and habits are hard to break. I’m thinking once this is all over, we’re going to need to deprogram ourselves. Learn how to be something other than…what was it he called us? That’s right, the Last Soldier and the Warrior Princess.”
Erik grinned. “I kind of like those names, though it was cool being the Obsidian Detective and Lady Justice.”
“This isn’t about nicknames.” Jia pinched the bridge of her nose, eyes shut. “Erik, we’re too alike. We both throw ourselves into our work. Before, it didn’t consume me because my lazy captain wouldn’t let it, but now…” She opened her eyes and gave Erik a concerned look. “We’re people, too.”
“Jia, you’re letting this work you up.” Erik walked over to the tree and patted the trunk before leaning against it. “We’re at war with the Core. Of course we’re going to spend most of our time on duty or thinking about combat or training. That’s what war means.”
“Is that how it’s always been for you?” she asked. “From what you’ve told me, you were on when it was time to fight and relaxed when you weren’t.”
“Sure.” Erik stuck his hands behind his head and rested his skull against them. “But during wars, there was a lot less relaxation. That didn’t mean I didn’t take time off now and again, but I never forgot what it meant to be a soldier and that mindset sticks. You’re right, though. It’s different now.”
“Different?” Jia asked, a touch of fear in her voice.
“Yeah. It was easier to shut off, but I think that’s because we’re not part of an Army. We’re not even part of the Intelligence Directorate. We know they’re doing things, and they have people helping us—sometimes a lot of people—but it comes off like we’re trying to handle all this ourselves. I think that’s what’s programming us, if you want to call it that.”
“Are you worried about what happens after it’s all over?”
Erik shook his head as he stared at the mesmerizing tons of water flowing in front of him. He was grateful for the audio filter Emma had suggested before their arrival. Sometimes a man wanted to appreciate nature without it roaring at him the entire time.
“Once we take out the Core, I’ll have my revenge and the UTC will be safer,” he replied. “Will it be safe from everyone and everything? Nah. Of course not, but I don’t think it’s my responsibility to worry about the rest. If those bastards hadn’t been involved in killing my unit, I might have retired and been content to live in some frontier colony watching months-delayed sphere ball recordings from Earth.”
“It’s weird for me to even think about now.” Jia stepped away from the tree and back toward the edge of the cliff. “I want to see a lot more of the UTC, and not just when we need to show up to blow up people.”
“Then I’ll have to make sure we have a good ship. We’re going to miss the jump drive when it’s gone, but it won’t be so bad if we’re not rushing to some system looking for trouble.”
Jia didn’t speak for a good half-minute.
As she continued looking down at the water, a small smile grew on her lips, and the tension on her face and her neck slowly eased. When she broke her silence, her voice was low.
“I’m worrying too much.”
“You always do,” Erik replied.
Jia glanced at him. “Well, if we’re both able to think that far ahead, we won’t have a lot of trouble adapting to the future. I like the idea of flying through the galaxy with you.”
“Until we run into a Leem with a death wish.” Erik grinned.
She shook her head. “Even your Lady isn’t that much of a bitch.”
“Do you honestly believe that after everything we’ve been through?” Erik offered her a healthy grin.
Jia barked a loud laugh, before she doubled over, mirth was spilling out of her like it’d been desperate to escape. Tears welled in her eyes, and she straightened and wiped them, her huge smile aimed at her favorite part of him.
The clouds were gone from her face. “Good thing we did that anti-Leem training then.”
Classic Erik and Jia. Feels like hanging with old friends in this Snippet. To be fair you never know when you might need to have a tactical plan for fighting in a waterfall. I know that you are already on your way to pre-order Unfaithful Covenant: Opus X Book 10. Don't worry you won't have to wait long to see what happens next because November 13th it's all yours!