Chapter 6: The Hunt


Avalon, August 22nd


Ivan and Demar had spent two days in the belly of the beast.  The beast was a Horadrim battlecruiser and it was fascinating and terrifying at the same time.  On the bridge, they watched as the ship seemed to slip through a tunnel, then appear at its destination.  An interstellar jump, usually taking one to three days through hyperspace, took the alien ship less than a minute.

After a while, neither of them could keep track of where Vin Dane was going.  He had jumped to several worlds before running into another Horadrim ship.  On their version of a vidscreen, Demar was shocked to see this black spiky creature talking to the colonel.  It was that same yawning/coughing language they had heard before.  The more the sergeant heard it, however, the more it made sense.  They would speak one word at a time, drawn out by their long speech.  Sometimes, however, the other alien would say the same word back, just pronounced differently.  It was still all gibberish to Demar.

Ivan stopped caring what Dane was doing.  He knew what they were all along, the pilot knew, and he did nothing.  Every pilot who had gone through the Academy knew what Horadrim ships could do.  They watched the old Battle of Earth footage from the last civil war and saw how the black vessels could jump around Federation ships like they were standing still.  Vin could have destroyed the Ares if he wanted to... but he didn’t.  At first, Sun thought of Dane as a hero, a man who was willing to listen to him and stop the Caal.  Now he was just another alien, trying to control humanity by moving pieces on the galactic chessboard.

The two humans didn’t have much to do; Vin largely ignored them and there were no other Horadrim on the ship... at least, none that they could see.  If they went into a room, beds or any other furniture they needed would form out of the walls.  The ship shaped to their comfort, but after a while, it no longer distracted them from the question: What was Dane waiting for?

Two days later, the colonel found them.  “We’re jumping into Avalon.  Commander Sun, I’ll need you to pilot us down to the capital city.”

“Why?  Can’t you land this crate yourself?” the fighter jock said, leaning against the wall.

Vin shot him a dirty look.  “You have a problem with my orders?”

“Well, you haven’t needed us for the past few days.  In fact, you’ve kept us in the dark while you’ve run around talking to your... friends.  Why do you need us now?”

“Ivan, we can still stop the Caal, but I need your help.  That’s what I was doing—getting help.  Now I need yours.”

Sun pushed off from the wall.  “No, you need a fucking taxi driver.  Give me my fighter, open the door, and I’ll take my own chances, thanks.

Demar kept silent as a rush of anger washed over Dane.  For a moment, the sergeant was afraid Vin was going to kill him.  However, the colonel took in a deep breath and let it out before continuing.  “Ivan, listen to me.  All of Clarke’s ships and fighters and troopers aren’t going to mean a damn when the Caal hit them.”

“What about the Horadrim?  They just going to sit this one out?”

“No, they’ll be there.  That’s what I’ve been up to these past few days, gathering out forces.  My people are very relunctent to go into battle, even against the hated Caal, but they know they must be stopped.  But all those ships won’t mean a damn unless we get to the Orb.  That’s what the Caal are after.  That’s why they’ve invaded the Federation.  If we can get it, we can use its power to destroy them forever.”

“The Orb?” Demar asked.

Vin sighed.  “It’s hard to explain...”

“The ring.  It’s that stupid ring?” the sergeant asked.  “You told me this before, but I didn’t really understand it...  The Caal are after this Orb—and Pollos has it.  So we have to defeat Pollos and take it from him, right?”


Sun was not in the best of moods.  “Would you tell me what the fuck you’re talking about?!”

“Let me make it simple, commander,” the colonel said, facing Ivan.  “Fed fleet plus Horadrim fleet is still a wild card.  Even with all of us at Avalon, there’s still a chance that the Caal will overpower us.  With the Orb, we can win.  Now I need your help... can I get it?”

Sun shuffled his feet back and forth, then looked back at Dane.  “What are we waiting for?” he groaned, not completely convinced, and made his way to the door.  “Let’s go.”


Patton Base


Miranda Mayfield thought she was dreaming when Vin Dane entered the lab.  “Hello, Miranda...”

The doctor rushed forward and embraced the colonel, grasping onto him with all the strength she had.  “You’re real!  You’re alive...”

Vin wrapped his hands around her and rocked her gently.  “Yes, Miranda, I’m here.  It’s all right.”

Tears ran down her face.  “When I heard that Jennifer’s Star fell, I—”

“I know.  It’s all right...”

Ivan and Demar waited in the hallway, confused as hell, wondering what they were doing in the abandoned Raptor headquarters, and why this woman had a crush on the colonel.

“Miranda,” Vin managed to ask while she clutched onto him, “I need to know where Pollos is.  Did you find him?”

Sun looked over at Palencia.  “Pollos?  The guy with the Orb?”  The sergeant nodded.  The doctor let go of Dane and looked at his two companions.  “Vin, who are these men?”

The colonel smiled as he pointed to the Russian-Chinese man in the pilot suit.  “Lieutenant Commander Ivan Sun and...” his finger shifted towards the rough-looking Hispanic still in the reclamation suit, “Sergeant Demar Palencia.  They’ve been helping me.  Gentlemen, Dr. Miranda Mayfield.”

Both of them gave a nod back to her.

Dane looked back into her eyes again.  “Miranda, where is Pollos?”

She walked over to the table and activated her holoimager.  “Here.”


“He’s on Avalon.”  The search program popped up an image of the planet.  “Xavier Pollos showed up yesterday, just as all hell was breaking loose.  I guess he’d hoped that with everyone trying to leave, no one would notice him coming back in.”

“Doubtful,” Demar muttered.

“Excuse me?”

The sergeant shrugged his shoulders.  “This Pollos doesn’t care if we know where he is.  Why should he?  We can’t hurt him... no one can hurt him, and he knows it.”

“We need the Orb,” Vin reminded him.

“But how are we going to get it?” Demar shot back.  “Another ambush?  That worked great the last time.”

“You did what?” Miranda asked Vin.  “Didn’t you read the reports I sent you?”

“All of them mentioned head-on confrontations.  I figured a surprise attack—”

“You figured wrong,” Palencia scoffed.

Dane whipped his head towards Demar like a snake.  “Look, sergeant!  I can’t keep apologizing for who I am or what I’ve done!”

“Why don’t you get your Horadrim friends to get it for you?” Ivan muttered.

“Horadrim?”  Mayfield looked perplexed.

Sun smiled.  “Didn’t he tell you, doctor?  He’s a fucking alien!”

Miranda stared at Vin.  “What is he talking about, Vin?”


The pilot continued.  “Why don’t you tell her, colonel?  How you’ve been masquerading as a human all this time?”

“But, Vin,...”  the doctor brushed her hand against her braids.  “I’ve known you for twenty years!  You’ve never...”

“Miranda, it’s not easy to—”

“You lied... to me?!”

YES!!!” Dane screamed in anger, every movement bristling with violence.  “I lie to everybody, don’t you understand!  EVERYBODY!”  He panted as his head turned towards Sun.  “You humans think you’re so damned important!  You almost kill my entire race, then force us to sign a damned... peace treaty!  We’re supposed to be your equals, but if we reveal ourselves, we’re ostracized!  We’re experimented on, tortured... that’s why we clothe ourselves in human skin.  Some of us even forgot who we were!  We were lost in humanity.  Thinking we were human, but knowing we were different.  We could look and act and talk and FUCK like you apes, but we knew we could never be you.”  Dane paused to take a shaking breath.  “Then slowly, we discovered our heritage again.  Our language, technology, fellow people... but we are not strong enough to reveal ourselves yet.”

“You never answered my question,” Ivan managed to reply.

Vin was still steaming.  “One of our ships could carve Avalon into floating chunks—but that’s only in space.  On the ground, we’re just as vulnerable as you pathetic creatures.”

“But you can do your tricks—”

So can you!”  Dane was trying to calm himself, but it wasn’t coming easily.  “Magi, changelings, even normal human have tricks!  Ours are just different from yours.”

“But Vin...” Miranda said timidly, confused by the revelation and afraid to make him angry again.  “You’re a mage!”

“Yes... and that’s our solution.”

Demar knew that Dane was dodging the question... but he wanted to know what the colonel’s plan was more.  “What do you mean?”

“The Orb distorts reality to an amazing degree, much more than any awakened person could do.  However, although magi distort reality though their powers, they can also do the reverse.  If we can strengthen reality, the Orb becomes weaker, and we can defeat Pollos.”

“Great,” Sun moaned, “then what do you need us for?”

Dane gave a wicked grin.  “Distraction.”

Palencia stared back at him.  “What?”

“Yes, I can strengthen reality, but since the Orb is so powerful, it’ll take all of my concentration just to weaken it a little.  I need you, Ivan, to keep him off balance long enough to weaken the Orb.  Once it is, Demar can go in and finish off Pollos.”

“I beg your pardon?”  The sergeant’s eyes bulged.

“You faced Pollos at his full strength and survived; that takes more than luck.  If you could do it then, you can kill him now if we take away his advantage.”

Demar was dumbfounded into silence.  He remember the panic he felt at fighting Xavier, the pure fear, but... the colonel’s plan actually made sense.  Maybe I’ve been around him too long, he thought, but it might just work!

Mayfield’s shock was beginning to wear off.  “If this is going to work, you’ll need another mage.”

“Miranda, no.”

“Vin!”  She stepped up to him.  “I know more about this Orb than any other person except you.  I’ve read the reports; I know how powerful it is.  And if your plan is going to succeed, you’ll need some help.”

Dane opened his mouth to object, but he saw the determination in the doctor’s eyes.  He knew better than to refuse.  “All right, you can come.  Now where is Pollos?”

Miranda shifted the planet’s hologram to focus on a particular point.  “I’ve configured the planetary security grid to keep close tabs on Pollos.  According to this, he passed a vidphone two minutes ago in New Chicago.”  She smiled widely.  “I can give you directions if you want.”

“Fine.  Sun, think you can hotwire an assault shuttle?”

Ivan coughed out a laugh.  “Stupid question.  I think I saw one out on the tarmac.  See you there.”

Palencia followed.  Dane was about to join them when Mayfield pulled him aside.  “Vin, I want you to tell me something.”


“If you have all this power... why did you join the Tech Infantry?”

Vin looked down at his boots before looking back at her.  “At the time, I... wanted to keep an eye on humanity.  With the destruction of the Resistance, I lost most of my contacts, and it looked like Clarke’s Federation was going to win.  I figured that if I could rise in the ranks, I would be able to warn my people of any future threats.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

“You spent most of your life being a watchman?”

“Twenty years isn’t that long.”

Miranda looked puzzled.  “It is to most of us.”

“As Ivan has pointed out several times, I am not one of you.”

“How old are you, Vin?”

Dane sighed.  “When humans first came to our dying world, they stole our last children for experimentation.  Many of them died, but I survived.”

“But that’s impossible.”  The doctor couldn’t believe it.  “That was before the Federation was founded!”

“Yes.  Any wonder why the Bugs attacked Earth?  We sent them.”

“But... that would mean you’ve lived for a couple centuries...”

“Yes,” Vin interrupted, “but that was a long time ago.”

“No shit.”

Dane managed a smiled.  “Miranda, please... shall we go?  They’re waiting for us.”

“How am I supposed to go with a man I hardly know?”

“You know me, Miranda.  You know me more than I’ve ever let anyone know me.”  He took her hand.  “And I wouldn’t want anyone else beside me.”

Mayfield fought back the tears in her eyes.  “All right... what are waiting for?”


With the end of the world coming, few people were still on Patton Base, and none of them were guarding it.  Thus, no one really cared when Sun broke into a hanger and stole an assault shuttle.  It wasn’t a Wraith, like he would have preferred, but a fighter wouldn’t carry three other people.

It didn’t take long for them to pile in.  None of them bothered to carry weapons; they were useless against Pollos anyway.  Palencia didn’t even bother modifying a suit of power armor for himself.  The military mind raging in the back of Demar’s head told him they needed better preparation, better equipment, and about a division of TI troops behind them.  But these were desperate times... and even that time was running out.

New Chicago was a ten-minute jump away in a suborbital path.  None of them said a word; the possibility of their death weighed heavily on their minds.  Ivan ignored it by concentrating on flying.  Demar thought about his family on New Madrid.  Miranda simply looked at Vin and thought about what he had lived through, how he had seen the Federation from beginning to... well, maybe the end.  Even if we stop the Caal, the Fed will never be the same.  Too much has fallen apart for Clarke to put it back together again.

Of course, she mused, they probably said that to him when he became Chairman in the middle of the 3rd Civil War.  Look what he's done since then.

Dane was the only one seemingly unaffected by the feeling of impending doom.  His eyes were closed; he looked asleep, even when they rode the heat shield into New Chicago.  Once the shuttle landed, Vin’s eyes opened and he disconnected the safety harness.  As the other two followed suit, the colonel rushed forward to the cockpit.  “Sun!”


“Stay here until we find Pollos.  Once we give you his coordinates, come in blazing with everything you got.”

“Colonel...”  Ivan looked at Dane.  “If what Demar says is true, it won’t do anything to him.”

“True... but it will grab his attention.  You only need to distract him for a few seconds.  That’s all we need.”

Sun held out his hand.  “It was nice knowing you.”

Dane took it and shook.  “And you.”  Then he disappeared out the hatch after Mayfield and Palencia.

Once the hatch closed behind him, Ivan snorted out a laugh.  “You alien bastard.  I hope you get your Orb and choke on it.”  Then Sun activated the assault shuttle’s weapons systems.


The streets were empty.  As the three of them walked down Dearborn Street, they passed vacant businesses, empty schools, and abandoned apartments.  The only sign of life was the brush of their shoes against the plasticrete.

“Where is he?” Demar growled.

The doctor pulled out her cybermodem and activated her search program.  The tiny hologram projector ran through the results.  “Well,” she strained, “Pollos passed that phone,” Miranda pointed to a vidphone stand, “about ten minutes ago.  He couldn’t have gone...”  A new result popped up.  “Traffic sensor caught him on Kedzie.”  A quick map program connected the dots.  “He’s headed for downtown.”

“Then that’s where we’re going,” Vin replied, looking around.  “How far is it?”

“Two kilometers,” Mayfield answered.

“Too far to run and get there in time.  Demar, do you see a parking lot around here?”

The werewolf leaned his head.  “There’s a hovertruck in that alley.”

“Close enough.”

They made their way over to the truck with a pizza restaurant’s logo covering the entire outside.  Vin placed his hand against the lock, closed his eyes, and it unlocked before them.  “Get in.”

The three of them wasted no time, driving towards downtown at full speed.  The old hovertruck shook from badly calibrated anti-grav emitters, which vibrated more as they increased speed.  It only took a minute before they saw the bonfire.

They came to stop at the edge of downtown.  Michigan Avenue was filled with people; praying, weeping, huddled together as they threw things into the fire.  A voice called out from a podium, telling them to repent that the Caal might pass over them.  Every so often, a shout would go out, a terrified wail of sadness.  The sight of the huddled masses sent a shiver through them all.

“Where is Pollos?” Vin asked.

Miranda consulted her cybermodem.  “Right over there.”

Their eyes followed where she pointed... and they saw him.  At the other side of the mob, the dusty traveler walked forward, staring at the crowd.

“Demar,” Colonel Dane whispered, “get ready.”

The sergeant looked at him for a moment, then nodded.  The doctor stared at her friend.  “You can’t open fire here.”

“If we wait, we may lose our chance.”  Vin pulled out his com unit.

“They’ll die!”

“They’ll get out of the way.  Get ready.”  He lifted the unit to his lips and activated it.  “Ivan, you ready?”

The pilot’s voice was cheerful.  “What took you so long?”

“Pollos is a hundred meters north of our position.  Have your ship comp lock on.”

“Confirmed.  Calculating flight path.”

“Don’t take too long.  Discom.”  Vin put the unit away and held out his hand to Miranda.  “It must be done.”


“It must be done,” he repeated.

Reluctantly, she took his hand and concentrated.  Between them, they could feel the universe constrict around them, growing tighter.  The bonds of reality were growing stronger and stronger.  With the two of them working in tandem, Miranda was pushing far beyond what her ability could have accomplished before.  Everywhere in her perception, the planet grew quiet.

Demar was quickly rounding the mob, hoping to get around in time.  Already, he could hear the whirrs of the shuttle coming in.

Ivan flew just above the rooftops of New Chicago, maneuvering into position.  I’m only going to have one shot, he knew, so it’s got to be good.  As the range finder slowly dropped to zero, Sun banked the shuttle into the street below, activating the targeting systems.

Pollos turned towards him as the roar of the craft came through the street.  The weapons locked on and Ivan didn’t hesitate to fire.

A barrage of plasma and lasers scarred the street in front of Sun.  As expected, Pollos’ ring expanded into a shield... but suddenly, the strain was showing on his face.  Xavier held for a few seconds, then bolted toward the bonfire, out of the path of destruction.

The shuttle vaulted into the sky and the mob panicked.  Screams of terror rose up as they ran in any direction they could from the blasts.  Some ran into the fire and ran out as burning torches.

Pollos had also panicked; suddenly, the power of his weaponry was weakened.  For the first time in his life, they had failed him.  “NO!” he bellowed, as his ring formed into a sword.

At the sound of his enemy, Palencia rushed forward, the beast within raging to get out.  Hair blossomed and muscles bulged, expanding the sergeant into a killing machine.

Xavier saw Demar coming towards him and leapt into the attack.  The sergeant dodged the first few attacks and then pressed in closer.  As the blades whirled, Demar could see the look of panic on Xavier’s face.  “No!” he cried.  “You can’t be...”

Palencia roared with the thrill of the hunt.  With every step he took, he was getting inside the swords’ attack range.  Finally, when his right sword arm swung past, Demar grabbed it, quickly seizing the other arm.

The swords disappeared and Pollos’ hands latched onto the werewolf’s biceps and dug in.  They were locked in battle, pressing against each other, muscle against muscle alone.  Xavier’s strength far exceeded that of a normal man—but so did Demar’s.  They grunted and strained to make the other fall.

Ivan had managed to circle back to the bonfire, grateful that he was alive.  As he circled for another pass, the sensor saw them locked together, with Dane and Mayfield off to the side.  I gotta help them, Sun thought, but these weapons would kill Demar as well as Pollos.

The shuttle came closer, easily finding a landing space in the abandoned street.  “I gotta get down there,” Ivan said aloud, landing the craft.

Once down, his hands scrambled over the cockpit, looking for something—anything—to use as a weapon.  Sun found the survival pack underneath the seat.  Ripping it open, he saw the shiny gleam of an unused plasma revolver.  Ivan smiled as he reached for it and a shiny charged cartridge.

Gun in hand, the fighter pilot raced out the hatch and toward the grunting, grinding combatants.  They hardly noticed as he reached them.

Sun raised the plasma revolver at Pollos’ head... and froze.  He couldn’t pull the trigger.  Here was a man who would kill all of them without a single thought... and yet Ivan couldn’t fire.

Sun had killed in battle before, many times, but that had always been at range.  He had never had to look into his enemy’s eye and do it.

His breathing grew faster, his arm grew tired, and his heart sounded like a drum.  Finally, his lips managed to work.  “Xavier Pollos.”

The assassin’s face turned towards Sun; disbelief crossed his face.  Ivan knew he had to fire... but looking right into Pollos’ eyes seemed mpossible.  Ivan’s hand shook from the strain.

Suddenly, Demar managed to push forward.  The sudden movement jolted the pilot, his trigger finger pulled, and a plasma bolt went square into Pollos’ forehead.  The werewolf shoved the assassin to the ground, rolling with his own fall, leaving Sun to stare at the dying man.

Xavier’s mouth opened as if to say something, then he gave his last breath.  As the pilot watched, Pollos’ body seemed to drain of color, go translucent, then simply fade away.  In the body’s place, a sword appeared, glistening with symbols along its blade... and the Orb.

Miranda broke her concentration when she felt Vin walk away.  Instinctively, she followed him.

Demar, with his enemy gone, allowed his rage to slip away.  His body shrank back to normal and he walked towards what remained of his foe.

All four of them stood around the artifacts in silence.  Finally, Vin Dane knelt down to pick up the Orb.  He cradled it his hand carefully and stood up, holding it at eye level.  “It’s beautiful,” the colonel said as it caught the light.  Dane’s eyes flickered to Palencia.  “Take the sword.”

The sergeant reached down and took Pollos’ sword, moving it back and forth, testing the weight.  “Kuar,” he said.  “Its name is Kuar.”

Vin shifted the Orb into one palm and it melted like it was made of wax.  It oozed around Dane’s hand until it formed like a black glove.  The hand tightened into a fist and the colonel shuddered as the power flowed into him.

“Now we’re ready,” Vin said, power glistening in his eyes.  “Our revenge will soon be at hand.”


Grand Council Chambers, August 23rd


Amanda decided not to tell Clarke about her plan.  The Chairman had grown more erratic since Jennifer’s Star fell.  The Grand Council met daily now, although its power grew less and less.  Many of the outer systems refused to follow their orders.  Contrary to the chairman’s orders, no more ships came to Avalon to strengthen the defense.  The remaining operational fleet—the one that wasn’t controlled by the Caal—had mutinied, and was now forming in the New Madrid system.  Cults had taken over governments in several systems, instructing their followers to pray for their salvation—or be put to death.

Kait looked closely at her leader.  If Clarke had been old before, he had aged a century in the past few days.

Then, as Patel once again gave the condition of the Home Fleet, a messenger came over to the admiral.

“What?!” Clarke barked with fury.  “What is it?!?!”

Nirav took a deep breath and said, “The Ares Battle Group has entered Wilke’s Star.”

“NO!!!” the chairman roared, slamming his fist onto the table.  He kept screaming and pounding, at first cracking, then splitting the great table in two.  The ministers fled as his rage unleashed itself on the table.

As Amanda raced out herself, the Caal fleet two days away at most, she decided it was good she hadn’t said anything.  Blowing up jumpgates was not the best career move.


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Text Copyright © 2002, 2011 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.
Do not try ANY of this at home, especially the part about firing indiscriminately into a crowd of civilians.