“Guard, protect, and cherish your country, for there is no afterlife in a place that started out as heaven.”

-- Chuck Russell, Avalon World-Times (2224)


            The bed was warm. Miro didn’t feel like leaving it, especially with Priscilla cuddled under his arm. It was his duty to her that forced him to pull away from her. It was time for work.

“Computer,” Creed whispered, “message to Rico Severns, BlyNet, Avalon, Vega 3.”

“Recording.” The computer answered in a neutral female tone.

“Rico. It’s Miro. Need you to do some checking for me, bud.” Creed dictated softly, trying not to wake Priscilla up. “My mark got jumped by four fucks in Class 6 ghost suits. Not corporate security, military specs. Run a general data scan for missing suits. Also give me a complete work up on Priscilla Savant. Yes, the lead singer of Gun Metal Grey, and make it quick. Discom.”

Miro spared a glance back to the bed as he walked towards the dresser where he hid his firearms. If Priscilla was awake, she didn’t show it. A quick bioelectric scan showed normal REM brain waves; a nightmare. Creed considered trying to see the nightmare, but… he decided he didn’t want to invade her privacy; some dreams were meant to be dreamt alone.

Miro pulled open the top drawer and retrieved his two auto shotguns. He sat down cross-legged on the floor as he pulled their clips and examined the feeding system. He thought that one of them might be beginning to stick a little… and a jam in a firefight could cost you your life.

“The right auto shotgun does show signs of a potential jam on the final two shells.” His little voice broke the silence. Despite years of experience with his other self, his head jerked up, looking for the speaker. “The manual suggests lubing the edges of the slide and firing pin to reduce likelihood of a jam.”

“You were sure quiet last night.” Creed muttered to himself. He didn’t need to speak for it to hear him, but actually talking helped him relax.

“You have stated many times that you prefer to not be ‘coached’ while having sex.”

“Why didn’t you warn me when Pris walked up behind me yesterday?” Miro questioned.

“I did not detect her because I was analyzing the previous encounter in her bedroom. I feel I have discovered something you should see.”

Go ahead, Creed thought to himself as he closed his eyes. Immediately, a picture formed, showing the situation the second before he had pulled the trigger. It was eerie in its perfection. In front of him were the four intruders, outlined by their bioelectric field. The lead one bent toward Priscilla sleeping in her bed. Three and four came through the door and were moving toward Pris’s… no, not toward the bed, toward him. None of the attackers held any weapons.

“Why walk into a room completely unarmed?” Miro whispered to himself. “They knew I was there. Even if they didn’t, one of them should have been armed in case security arrived.”

“They could have other supernatural abilities.” His little voice suggested.

“True,” Miro answered. “but even with magick, I would want a good plasma revolver handy in case the target was supernaturally shielded. These guys show too much skill not to be ready for anything.” Creed studied his target’s bioelectric fields. They were not expecting combat; that much was certain. “Stupid. Sneak into a star’s room and not be ready for trouble?”

“They were not here for her.” His little voice whispered.

“What are you saying?” Miro asked out loud, but his little voice went silent again.

“Hmmm… who are you talking to?” Priscilla mumbled groggily from the bed. Miro turned to her and saw that her eyes were filled with sleep. Creed cursed himself for waking her.

“Nobody.” Miro shot back, and went back to lubing the slides of his shotguns.

Savant slowly climbed out of bed and padded over to him. Squatting down beside him, she put her hand on his shoulder. “You all right? You can tell me.”

“It’s nothing big.” Creed answered, trying to hide his thoughts as if she could see them; maybe she could. “I ought to teach you how to shoot a gun.”

“One of those monsters?” Priscilla was distracted. “Nah, I got a polymer one-shot gun.”

“Those things are junk.” Miro laughed. “If you think that these are big, check this out.” Miro opened the next drawer, pulled out a leather case, and sat it down as Priscilla took a seat next to him on the floor. From the case, he extracted a Remington Colt 550; the biggest revolver ever made. With polished carbon steel spun, a foot long barrel, a five shot cylinder, and chambered for a fifty caliber round, it was the largest slugthrower made for private use.

“Shit.” Savant was obviously impressed. “That thing could take down a trooper.”

“I wish,” Creed replied as he hefted the heavy weapon, “but you can could sure rattle a trooper’ s helmet, and probably knock out half his visual gear with it.”

“Cool.” Priscilla replied. “Well, I need to take a shower. So… have fun with your toys.” Savant stood up and headed for the bathroom. “When you are finished, you are welcomed to join me.” With that, she disappeared into the bathroom. Ten minutes later, Miro followed her in. He had managed to hold out long enough to finish cleaning his shotguns and his plasma revolvers. Considering the way things were looking, he had taken the time to load the 550.


“Status, Rick.” Miro ordered as Priscilla danced across the stage further upping the crowd to totally go crazy. Gun Metal Grey had been on the stage for only fifteen minutes and already the crowd and been whipped into a frenzy. Currently Priscilla was grinding out Full Metal Jacket, a song tearing into the Tech Infantry Special Service, better known as the Raptors.


“No choice, no reason, no love,

What Clarke wants is none of these!

He wants your loyalty,

He wants your devotion,

A twisted god, wanting your soul…”


“That’s gotta piss off the old geezer.” Miro smirked. “Rick. Give me your fucking status!” Creed listened; still nothing.

“Something up?” Alex Grey shouted over the noise.

“Rick isn’t responding.”

“What’s wrong?” Mendota joined the group; he was sweating bullets. Pris and Gun Metal Grey was his meal ticket. He wasn’t about to go on a diet.

“Rick isn’t reporting in.” Grey answered as Creed fished out his binoculars, training them on the third light tower. He saw Rick’s silhouette reclining with two women dancing next to him.

“Mother fucker.” Miro cursed.

“What?” Grey asked.

“He’s up there with two women.” Creed answered as one of the women got down on her knees in front of Rick. “Looks like she is going to polish his knob.”

“I’m gonna fuckin fire his ass.” Mendota ranted as Grey touched the comm at his ear. Miro noticed there was no shock in his aura.

“Miro!” Grey shouted. “Something is up. Get up there!”

“On my way.” Creed turned and dashed for the stairs.

“What?” Mendota shouted.

He heard a voice on his comm. “Team B in position. We are ready to take the shot.”

“Shit.” Miro cursed as his other self decoded the encrypted signaling he was hearing over his comm unit. He was nearly there; only one more flight of stairs. He thundered up the last set of stairs and dashed toward the observation post. That’s when everything went to hell.

They weren’t lined up for a shot at Priscilla. There were two of them; a blonde and a brunette. Both of them were armed with Rick’s pistols and they fired. The slugs thumped against Creed’s body armor as he fell. The left his lungs as they walked up his chest toward his head.

“FUCK!” Miro screamed as the nano cells in his body coordinated to do one action, move. He rolled back around the corner as he felt a round tear through his right hand. He rolled back behind the corner ramming his hand under his left arm.

Unfortunately, the blonde quickly rounded the corner. He froze. “Move it, Creed.”

His voice, now strangely alien, ordered him. He lobbed the fake grenade toward the first woman as he shoved off the wall. She dived forward away from the grenade as Miro drew his plasma revolver. She looked up, surprised at the lack of an explosion, right as he pressed the plasma revolver to her forehead.

“No… wait!!!” the blonde shouted. Creed pulled the trigger and the charged plasma bolt burned through her forehead, charred most of her brain pan, and exited along with half her brain mass onto her back. Some of the plasma discharged from the blast reflected off her forehead and burned Miro’s hand. He grunted as he yanked his hand away. The brunette was coming around the corner and Creed snapped the plasma revolver toward her. She must have used up her pistol’s clip since she no longer carried it. She walked toward him, seemly oblivious to her dead partner,  or Miro’s plasma revolver.

“Hold it.” Creed lifted himself to his feet, keeping the revolver trained on the approaching woman. “Your friend didn’t think I would shoot a woman!” She still kept coming and Creed fired the revolver at her left knee. A glowing blue burst of light reached out, tore threw her vinyl pants, and exploded. If it had any effect, Miro didn’t see it. She kept coming as he leveled the revolver at her chest and blasted twice. Again, no effect; he backpedaled quickly, putting a plasma bolt between her eyes, before she closed and slapped the revolver from his hand.

“Are you finished, meat boy?” She sneered at him with scorched metal teeth. Beneath the remains of her face, Creed saw she was clearly a cyborg. Why he hadn’t been able to sense it?

He stopped wondering as she threw a fist at his nose. He ducked to the left, then she snapped a kick toward him. Miro planned on blocking the kick… then he realized his mistake.

CRACK! Creed grunted in pain as the kick broke his left arm cleanly in two. He tried to roll away but the cyborg got him by his collar and yanked him to his feet. She pulled her arm back and tell her fist fly into his left side.

“Lower three ribs on your left side have been shattered.” His voice informed Miro.

“Tell me about it.” Creed coughed, blood running from his chin.

“Still got some in ya?” The cyborg woman asked as she lifted him from the floor. As she placed him against the wall, he shattered two more ribs into his already damaged side. Miro responded by vomiting blood all over the cyborg. She dropped him in disgust and looked at the blood on her.

“Shoot her, Miro.” His voice ordered as she wiped the gore from her. “Your left lung is punctured and is about to collapse. If you don’t do something quick you are going to die.”

“Uhhh!” Creed moaned. He managed to roll up against the wall and sit up, his left arm rolled behind him. A wave of cold wrapped over him and he struggled to avoid blacking out.

“Get up!.” His voice shouted. The cyborg noticed his struggle and walked over, squatting down in front of him.

“Ready to call it quits, freak?” She smirked at him. It was hard to tell but some facial expressions are universal, even on a cyborg.

“Yea.” Miro muttered, blood oozing from his chin. “I don’t want to have to hurt you anymore.” He managed to look up at her, spit a glob of blood on her face, trying to keep her distracted her. Creed had already detected the computer system that ran the lights, power, and security measures for this stadium. Although it was protected by software based security, it didn’t take much for Miro to convince it to see things his ways. No one, short of a mage, could hack a computer like Horadrim.

“Hope that last effort was worth it.” The cyborg stated flatly as she wiped away the flood and spit. Meanwhile Miro reached behind and grabbed the grip of his 550, hidden in the back of his coat. His little nano cells had managed to repair enough of his damaged hand to allow him to grip his revolver. Suddenly the lights flashed once and went out… then back on, then off again. There was enough light for the cyborg; she likely had several optic systems installed, but it forced her to turn and see what was going on. Miro immediately drew the revolver and lifted up. She felt his movement and whipped back towards him, only to see the business end of the barrel, and Miro pulling the trigger.

CLANG! The round ricocheted off her head and into the ceiling leaving a thumb size dent in her forehead. She dropped Creed and staggered back. Miro knocked her back seven more feet with three more rounds. He spent the last one and knocked her into one of the doorways that led to the stadium seats.

“You are so fucking dead!” she cursed. Creed responded with a thin smile. Then he activated the security gate.

When part of your population has the ability to shift into gigantic animal forms with hyper strength, you can get some rowdy crowds. With the existence of combat football teams and soccer teams with historically violent post-match brawls, those security gates need to be better than your average sliding gate. In this case, a seven-inch carbon steel door slammed down with ten tons of force… on her back.

His voice reemerged. “Now move it or Pris is dead.” Miro nodded as he stumbled toward Rick’s body, garroted with a steel cord that nearly cut his neck to the bone. Staggering over towards the guard, he knew he was going into shock.

“Grey.” he whispered into his comm. No response; Miro checked his comm and saw that it had broken open at some point. He could still hear Priscilla singing but it was distant. He staggered out and looked out over the massive crowd. Pris really had them going. A quarter of a million people singing along are an impressive site. The bioelectric emissions were dazzling. The crowd was a universal red (rage and excitement), with some yellows (most likely drug tripping), and some pinks (sexual desire or interest). However, there was one man up front who was dark blue. He had the appearance of any crazed fan, singing along just as loudly as everyone else, but his bioelectric field was all wrong. Disciplined, planned… he was there for a reason.

His little voice gave him a damage report. “You have internal bleeding, left lung has been reduced to 23% capacity, and extensive liver damage. Lung damaged has been contained and estimated time of total recovery is thirty four minutes.” Miro tried to run but the pain in his side caused him to stumble. “Liver damage is increasing as you run. Total failure of liver will occur in six minutes if you do not stop to rest. Internal bleeding is beyond control unless you stop. At current rate, you will die in approximately twelve minutes if you do not stop and rest.”

“Got it.” Miro muttered as he finally got down the stairs and headed for the backstage door. One of Pris’s security team saw him and held the door open and helped him through.

“What’s going on?” he asked Miro over the noise, then he noticed the blood. “Jesus, are you all right?!”

Miro ignored him as he took the security guards plasma revolver and ran for the backstage area. Grey saw him and followed him up onto the stage. “Pris!” Creed shouted as he got out in front of the crowd and headed for Priscilla. She didn’t hear or see him… but the assassin did. He suddenly stopped moshing and pulled it out a four shot fiberglass pistol. The weapon was short-ranged, hard to detect, and an unarmored target would be cut to shreds. As he aimed at Priscilla, Miro rushed onto stage, grabbed her around the waist, and whipped around, using his back as a shield.

“MIRO!” Priscilla screamed as Miro’s body shook with the impact of four ceramic slugs. Unlike Savant, however, he was wearing armor. The ceramic rounds shattered against his coat but didn’t penetrate.

“Stay behind me!” Miro shouted as the crowd reacted to the gunfire. Creed turned to take out the assassin, but soon discovered that he didn’t need to bother. In the mosh pits, three werewolves suddenly shifted into Crinos form, furious at the attempted assassination of their favorite musician. Whoever he was would now have a closed casket funeral.

Miro turned to Priscilla. She sat there crying, staring at the carnage being created by the werewolves, while a riot was in progress. “You okay?”

“Yea.” she whispered softly. Miro could barely hear her over the noise. A wave of cold washed over him and he shuddered, drawing Priscilla’s attention.

“Good,” Miro whispered, “’cause I’m not.” Suddenly, he passed out and fell back on the stage.

“Oh, Jesus!” Priscilla shouted. “Miro! Oh God, somebody help me! Call a medic! Miro! You can’t die on me!”

Still raining. Same quad, same situation, but it’s different this time; I can feel it. The carbine feels more real. I feel the water soaking into my gloves. I can feel the straps pulling on my pack. I can hear the wet muck soaking at my feet. There she is there again… and again I turn to look. Again the lightening flash, but I told you… it’s different. I see her face. Clearly… and I know it. Then I wake up out of the dream land, opening my eyes to the very same face. “Oh Jesus! I thought I lost you.” Priscilla whispered.




Mark was caught at a crossroads. In this dimly lit, whitewashed room, Smith felt the oppressing feel of history. The assassin found it amazing how the most important decisions are always in the least likely of places.

            Smith took a moment to think about it.  Let's see…  King?  I hate the bastard!  That shithead has ruined my life, took my brother and my life away, and now he thinks that I’ll side with him?!  He’s in for a surprise.  Mark wiped the blood off his hands as he walked casually over towards King.  "Tell me, why do you want to help me so bad?"

            "You are my key to gaining control, Mark.” King replied.

“Control of what?”

“Of everything.  Power beyond your wildest dreams, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice; all of this can be ours.  You are the key… the one person that can help me reach it.”

            "Really?  I guess you’ll have to persuade me.  You have screwed over my life… let’s face it, you’ll never be on my 'good mood' list again."

            King tensed up and began to stare right at Mark. "Your life? What was your life until now? Killing small-time players in the galactic game… why be a pawn when you can be the king!” Rashid quietly chuckled at his own pun. “You can help me and help yourself.  The chance to be something, M. Smith. You must admit, it’s the best thing to come your way. You’ve lost your old life… well, too bad. To get what you want, Mark, you have to be willing to sacrifice something to get it. That’s the price you pay."

            Smith stopped and glared back at his opponent. "You didn’t give me that choice. You ripped away my life, tore at my soul, and then expect me to love you for it? I’ve sacrificed too much already; I’m not going to let go of the rest of it now."

            "I’m sorry. I thought you were made of sterner stuff.” King shook his head. “Obviously I was wrong. However, there is nothing I can do to give you your life back. I can only offer a chance at a better future."

            "You’re right,” Mark concurred, “there’s nothing you can do. But there is something I can do.  You’re going to die, asshole, even if it takes everything that’s left in me. You…” Smith tensed, readying his soul and body for action,  “are going to die!"  Without another word, Mark leapt at King, lunging with Kuar for the colonel’s heart. 

            The commandant stepped back, quickly pulling out his sword, just in time to counter Mark’s attack. Smith tried moving into his extension distance to throw him off guard but Rashid wasn’t falling for it. King leaped up, swinging his sword at the assassin’s head, but Smith rolled beneath his cut, twirling back into a stand down the row.

            When Mark looked up again, King was standing on the shelves above him. Smith leapt up and continued the attack. The assassin and the butcher continued their fury of assaults and counters, brushing into a fury of steel. Mark felt Kuar charge beneath him and his attacks became faster. Rashid countered by speeding up his own attacks and soon the blur of the swords became almost unimaginable.

            As time and space seemed to become less and less important, the spirit of Mark’s sword spoke to him. Not in words; nothing he could truly comprehend. Kuar was soothing his mind, clearing his eye, helping him to understand the fight around him. Finally he was able to see the battle for what it was. With his sword’s help, his attacks began to vary, forcing King to react in ways he had not expected. Suddenly, Rashid was being pushed back.

            The look on the colonel’s eyes was that of fear. Mark reveled in the feeling and pushed his attack harder; he didn’t think that the head of InSec would know fear. However, just as the terror crossed his face, it quickly subsided, changing from fright to an eerie smile. What is that man think…

            Mark quickly found out as the shelves beneath him collapsed. Smith felt himself tumbling down; his mind still locked in combat with King. He was completely unprepared for his back to hit the floor. Rashid jumped down on top of him, flicking Kuar away from his grasp. “You have so much potential, young man.” The colonel fired a kick into the assassin’s side. The pain was excruciating. “Too bad you’re too stupid to see it.” Another kick seemed to fill Mark’s side with fire. “I hate doing this, but you leave me no choice. Sleep.”

            Smith felt the waves of drowsiness flow over him; however, his mind rebelled against it, and he managed to fight the impulse. King’s eyebrows went up. “Impressive. Maybe there’s a small amount of promise for you anyway.” Rashid concentrated and stared directly into Mark’s eyes. “Sleep.”

            This time, no matter how hard he tried, Mark couldn’t fight the impulse. He soon succumbed to sleep.


            He woke up in a closet. Not the most dignified of places, Mark thought, but it was better than being in an underground box. The smell of cleaning fluid and antiseptic solution assailed his nostrils. Smith wanted to puke, but he managed to contain himself. There was a dim light shining from underneath the door and the pounding of chromium metal music shook the walls so much that he thought they were going to collapse. Finally getting to his feet, he tried the door.

            The light seemed to burst in on him and he had to let his eyes adjust. Once they did, he could hardly believe his eyes. Everywhere men and were-creatures were fighting it out to the overpowering tunes of Volkskrieg Overdrive. Mark’s eyes drifted over the crowd; blood and guts seemed to be scattered everywhere, yet the fighting never ceased. Most of it seemed crowded in the pit in the center, but some of the combat drifted off to the side tables, and even a few seemed knocked out on the bar.

            However, as he observed this unearthly scene, his eyes focused on a figure on the other side of the room. Mark growled inside as he saw Steve Jupedus facing him, with a coy smile on his face, and King’s blade in his hand. Smith reached down and felt the cold steel of Kuar by his side. The sword came into the human’s hands with a casual thought. The brothers stood facing each other, not moving, not even speaking (not that it mattered, they couldn’t have heard each other anyway); simply watching for someone to make a false move.

            Suddenly, Steve moved to jump, and Mark moved with him. Both of them jumped into the pit, swords drawn, rushing to meet their fate in the struggling mass of humanity below.




Malachi jumped up as he awoke.  His eyes darted back and forth in the dimly lit room; he quickly figured out where he was. He was captured, behind enemy lines. Looking around, unfortunately, it seemed that he was the only one captured… at least, as far as he could see.  The only other thing in the room was a dirty lieutenant, anger bottled up inside him like a pressure cooker, betraying his hatred with every flick of his finger. Once Spyder moved, the man perked up and stared hard at his prisoner. “So… he wakes at last!"  Malachi tried to probe his mind, but the backlash from the captor’s mind was harsh. The man smiled.  "I'm afraid I’m not that stupid."

"Who are you? Where..." Suddenly, he felt a presence growing from outside; something incredibly angry.  Finally, he managed to finish his sentence "…am I?"

"You feel it coming?"

"Who is it?"

"You'll see soon enough, but to answer your first question, I'm the guy who stopped your streak and this is... exactly what it seems, a cell block."

Malachi felt a sudden hate going through his veins, not because he'd been captured, but because this was the guy who gave him this headache.  Before Malachi could speak, the other presence entered. This woman, a captain, looked incredibly pissed off.

The lieutenant gave a quick salute. "This is the one, sir."

The captain threw back his salute and stepped towards Malachi.  "You killed forty-two of my fucking men!" she screamed at him, releasing a fury that only titans could only hope to match.  "Over half of my damn battalion!"  Even after she yelled, the captain intensified her stare, looking even angrier than she did before.  Suddenly, her gaze lightened and she continued, speaking in a calmer tone of voice.  "Now I want to know how… that means you’re gonna tell me."

Malachi stared at her blankly.  The other two stared back, then grew confused as Spyder smiled and spoke cheerfully. "Well, it started out with..."

The captain regained her composure and screamed,  "Damn it, stop smiling!  Those people were mine and you killed them. This is not a fucking joke, Lieutenant Malachi Spyder!

He was startled at first by the mention of his own name, but then he remembered trying to probe the man and being thrown out of his mind.  He was in the presence of another mind mage.  "Fuck you."  He said it blankly and went back to lay down.

He almost made it when a fourth voice sounded, barely above a whisper, and completely out of nowhere.  "Don't die, Malachi, you have to come back."

"No, fuck you, lieutenant.  You better talk or I'll use your bones for toothpicks."  Although the captain said it rather calmly, the intensity of her words seemed to chill him.

Or was it? No, he decided, it was the voice that did it. That whispered breath that clustered in the back of his mind.  The other two hadn't heard it, but it scared him shitless.  "After some aspirin maybe." he managed to reply, his voice sounding confused.

"Fine.  Lieutenant, go get some aspirin."     

"Oh," Malachi asked, regaining his senses.  "And could I get some food? Maybe something with taste?"

"This isn't a fucking hotel!  You're lucky to get the damned aspirin!  Do you understand!?"  Her anger was at full force.

There wasn’t much he could say, so he just laid down, closed his eyes, and waited for the aspirin.  Ha, he thought to himself, forty-two!  I kill forty-two men and they still give me the aspirin!


After the aspirin came, Malachi gratefully took it, and told them what they wanted to know.  He told them about the landing, and how he used the lance cannon, and the chase back and forth.  The funny thing was that the captain seemed almost delighted to hear of his exploits, and the lieutenant was even more amused. Finally, Spyder could take their smiling faces no more. "Why the hell are you so happy?!  I killed over half of your men… with one of your own guns!"

"Well," the captain replied, "Lieutenant Edwards here commanded the platoon that took the heaviest losses from your assault."


"He... WE think you’re a very talented man."


"You killed the lieutenant of an otherwise unhindered platoon."

"What the fuck is your point?!"

"Do you have any reason to fight for the Fed or are you just here to kill?"

Malachi stared wide-eyed once he realized what she was asking. They were giving him an opportunity to simply walk out of this cell and into another platoon. Spyder had to think about it. The TI had become a family, sure, but he would have never chosen to be here. He had been drafted… just like every other grunt.  He didn't care who won the fucking war; the only thing the lieutenant wanted was to serve his time and get his citizenship.  He was about ready to jump at the offer…  when that still small voice came again, weeping softly.  "No.  Come back to me, Malachi!"

"Who are you?!"  he shot back, although Malachi hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

The captain and lieutenant stared blankly.  "I'm Captain Alexander," she answered, pointing to herself, then pointed over towards her companion, "and this is Lieutenant Edwards."

Malachi didn't respond; he didn't even hear them. He was waiting for the voice to come back.  However, after waiting for a minute, he gave up trying to get the voice’s attention.

“Well?  What do you think?!"  The captain had gotten rather impatient.

"Would I get my gun back?"

"The handgun that was in your armor?"


"We could top that even, if you'd like."

"How so?"

The captain walked to a corner where a box sat.  Opening it, she pulled out a heavily upgraded pulse rifle.  It was obvious from even a cursory examination that they'd increased the range, the clip size… and the thing looked as though it could fire faster than a bio-augmented jackrabbit on steroids.

"What in God's name is that!?"

"There are only a hundred of these out there.  It’s called a MX-36 and I have five of them."  Alexander spoke with pride.  "So, what do you think?"

"When would I leave?” escaped Spyder’s lips before he could rein in his fascination. Catching himself, he added, “If I were to join you, I mean."

The captain knew she had him.  "As soon as you get your platoon equipped."

"Are you serious about this?"

"Absolutely,” Edwards replied, “but if you decide to run on back to the Fed, you won't make it."

"MALACHI!"  A shrill scream rang out in his head; the fourth voice was back.  "You can't leave me!"

Malachi came to a sudden realization… and he knew he couldn't do this. "No."

Captain Alexander went from kind to killing spree in two seconds flat. "Then you die tomorrow!  You understand me?!  DIE!"

Both of the officers stormed out of the cell, leaving him alone with the silence. Not even the voice that mysteriously appeared and disappeared could seem to comfort him. However, the whir of fighters above and explosions did soothe him to rest, especially now that they were getting closer.




            “We’ve gotta help Mark! He’s in trouble!!!”

            “Mark who?” Hex asked.

            “Mark Smith.” Kash answered, running over to the flag, pulling it up to reveal an cupboard underneath, filled with guns. As he started handing them out to several of them to the people around, the man tried to explain. “He’s an assassin that’s we’ve been trying to recruit. Unfortunately, Rashid King wants him, too.”

            “Who’s King?”

            “Commandant of Internal Security.” Kash replied, handing him a plasma revolver. “Do you know how to use one of these?”

            Hex nodded, negating to mention that he could fire any type of weapon that he shoved at him. It was obvious they were going in after this guy; although assassins didn’t usually engender this much concern. “What’s so special about Smith?”

            The man whirred the plasma revolver to life. “He’s the key… the problem is that he just doesn’t realize it.

            “Key to what?” the boy followed the strange man’s actions.

            “To ending the war.” Shannon replied, activating her own weapon.

            “How can one guy end the war?”

            Kash interrupted, “Where is Mark now?”

            “InSec headquarters.”

            Everyone in the room froze. Shannon’s father walked over to her and asked, “Are you sure?”

            “Yes. I told him to go, just like you said.”

            “Then we should be able to find him again.” The strange man turned to look at Hex. “Now we could use you, but you don’t have to come. The choice is yours.”

            The boy returned a wry smile, looking first at the picture of his sister with a plasma revolver, then back at their leader. “What else am I going to do?”

            “Good boy.” Kash nodded, then looked around to the people in the room. “Are you ready?” They all nodded. “Let’s roll.”


            Fifteen minutes later, they reached InSec headquarters. From where they could see this massive, multi-faceted tower, the place had just had an emergency. Uniformed and non-uniformed people alike were milling around the enormous building. Everyone could guess the cause.

            Kash turned around to look at his team in the van. “All right, we need a correspondence scry now. Give me some idea where we can go in blasting.”

            One of them stepped forward and closed his eyes. After a few seconds, he shook his head. “I don’t have a clear picture of him.”

            “Let me help.” Shannon said, touching his hand.

            For a moment, the man shook, then relaxed, closing his eyes. Another few seconds and he replied, “I see him. He’s being carried out… far side of the building… into a speeder.”

            “Is he alive?” Kash asked.

            “Yes, but he’s asleep. He’s been put under a trance.”

            “All right,” their leader spoke, turning to the driver, “let’s follow them.”

            The speeder whipped through the streets of the capital city, and the van carefully followed them, mile after mile of commercial districts. They finally reached the suburb of New Chicago (Hex had been paying attention to the towns they passed through, just for something to do) and the speeder stopped. The van passed by, driving around the corner, and stopping. The same man concentrated again and gave a running total. “They’re taking him inside… down to the basement.”

            Kash nudged the driver, “What is this place?”

            “It’s the Rage, sir. Garou hangout; beat the crap out of each other.”

            Their leader turned back to the mage. “Anything else?”

            He opened his eyes. “No, sir. It’s shielded wherever they’re taking him.”

            “Why would anyone want to do that?” a voice cried from the back.

            “To stop snoopers.” Cerise answered, checking his plasma revolver for the umpteenth time.

            “All right, it’s probably a trap.” Kash said, “So I want all of you out and scouting the area. We’ll leave the van in fifteen-minute intervals. Once we’ve determined that it’s safe, we go in… not before. Understood?”

            They nodded their agreement and immediately went to work.


            A couple hours later, the bar looked just as dead as before. Tons of people walked into it, but very few had managed to come out. Even the people they had stationed inside said that the bar was empty. All of the new customers were going downstairs. Hex and Cerise were sitting on the roof of a building opposite the place. A message went over the intercom. “Anything new?”

            “Not now, brown cow.” came a reply.

            “All right, knock it off.” Kash’s voice came down the line. “It’s clean on the outside. Let’s go in.”

            Cerise nodded to her brother. Hex followed her lead as they went down the steps to the ground floor of the apartment building. Soon, the entire cell was closing in on the bar. They walked in; true enough, it was deserted. Kash led the way, looking over at the cell member they had sent in earlier; he nodded toward a wall.

            It didn’t take them long to find the door to the basement. The few people who were upstairs made no effort to stop them. As they descended into darkness, the sounds of deep bass beats started to reach their ears. After another hundred feet, the sound was overwhelming everything else. However, as Hex reached the bottom, the sight was surreal. It was a brightly-lit area, a bar to one side, tables bolted to the floor in the other. In the middle was a giant pit, where over a hundred humans and were-creatures were bashing and tearing each other to bits. In that mass of people, however, there was no sign of…

            “There he is!” Shannon managed to scream over the melodious pounding sounds of Volkskrieg Overdrive. She pointed to a rather average looking man, with short black hair, impressive muscles, and a large curved blade. This, Hex wondered, was the key to ending the war? Huh, not much to look at.

Another man, obviously a werewolf, appeared opposite him on the other side of the pit. His longer brown hair seemed to flow in his face as he gripped an equally nasty-looking sword.

Suddenly, Kash’s eyes drifted into the pit. He suddenly stepped back and called out. “Allah’s left nut! It’s not a trap for us, it’s a trap for him!”

Cerise pulled on Hex’s coat. “We’ve gotta stop him!”

However, as the group moved forward, Mark and the werewolf leapt down into the pit of flesh.




            "Grid mark 5.07 by 11.043, Firefly. Shall we dance?" Captain Dimiye requested over the comm.

            "This is Firefly, Fox 3. Enjoy the fireworks down there, boys." The pilot replied smoothly.

             Alistar had wanted to personally order this last air strike. His new command, which was only a week and a half old, had made that privilege possible. He looked up, as did his entire brigade as the air units zoomed overhead. Over two hundred men donned in the white and black of the Dead Boy Brigade looked to the heavens as the little black dots in the sky dropped there payloads. Seconds later, the enemy bunker atop the hill erupted in fiery plasma. The brigade roared with pleasure as they rushed in to take the hill. It was the last hill any of them would have to take on Epsilon. The ring of Eastern Bloc defenses were now gone; all that remained to take was Alpha Epsilon.

            The final big push, Dimiye thought. After the destruction of the majority of the EB's artillery in Alpha, the road had been paved for the taking of the four remaining smaller cities. Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Kappa Epsilon had been captured without much fuss as the entire weight of the TI Legions could be brought to bear. All that remained was the city of Alpha itself and the rings of defensive bunkers that lined the areas between. Now the last of those bunkers had fallen.

            "Peter, tell platoons 2A & B set perimeter and wait for their relief. The rest of the brigade's returning to base camp." Dimiye ordered.

            "Yes sir". Benjamin was still technically the 613th's XO; but Dimiye made sure he was never more than five meters away from him. The boy had become so hard in the last few months that everyone in the brigade jumped at the sound of his voice. Some of the grunts had started referring to him as The Old Man. None dared do it to his face. So when he gave the rank and file and order, they all knew where it came from and obeyed without question. Half because of his proximity to Dimiye, half because they'd seen what he could make his suit do in battle. I'm so proud of that boy, Dimiye thought.


            "So, what do you think our chances are with Alpha, Captain?" Captain Wilhelm asked politely. Unlike Captain's Yurgi and Darling, Wilhelm conversed with Dimiye on a regular basis. It seemed that he was the only one who was not offended at being passed over for the promotion Dimiye received.  Alistar liked him, and since the feeling was mutual, so Wilhelm was often around his camp. When Alistar had asked if there were any hard feelings, he said, “Hey, you earned it. Besides, I don't like the idea of having to spend that much time with Lord Fabin.”

            "Well, the EB's have been taking a lot of casualties lately. No small thanks to our little friends in the sky."

            "Amen to that!" Wilhelm said, acknowledging the renewed usefulness of air power in the last week.

            "We now out number them at least ten to one. With a full perimeter push aided by air power and artillery, our casualties should be minimal." Said Dimiye.

            "Especially since there point defenses are all but gone." Wilhelm added, as a familiar face approached them.

            "Sir," Captain Tamara Kromminga said, "There's a man in a truck wants a word with you." After Dimiye's promotion, the spot for command of the 613th had opened up. He'd wanted it to go to Stacey Johannes. But with Tamara due for a promotion and Stacey only a second lieutenant, he had to give Tamara her due. He'd half expected all hell to break loose, but the girls were still thick as thieves.

            Dimiye made his way to the truck in question. When he'd found it, he was surprised to see the man who jumped out of the passenger side. "Good evening, general."

            "A very good evening at that." General Fargus said. "Do you mind if I stay with your camp for the evening?"

            "No, sir. We'd be very glad to have you along." Dimiye answered truthfully. Already his men had started to gather at the sight of the general and the trucks he had brought.

            "Thank you, captain. And as all thankful visitors, I come bearing gifts."

            Gifts? Dimiye thought. What the hell was he talking about?

            "If you've brought us beautiful women, general, you're welcome to stay all week!" Captain Wilhelm said to the laughs and cheers of all the men in the area. Many of them stopped quickly as the women gathered, some of whom were undoubtedly secret lovers, glared their disapproval.

            "In a way I have." The general said as troops started unloading the creates in the trucks. "Say hello to the last woman you'll ever need." He opened one of the creates and pulled out a large rifle. At first glance, it looked like an EB Gauss rifle with a plasma rifle underneath. To the trained eye, it looked much different.

            "Here you are Al, courtesy of Auntie Sarah." The general said.

            Alistar held the new weapon in his hands. It was heavy, obviously designed with power armor in mind. But it was also well weighted. He looked thought the clean, obviously well designed tactical optic sight and smiled. His hands ran up and down its sleek contours and sharp edges.

            "Well Al, what do you think?" The general asked.

            I have an erection, that's what I think.

            "She's a beauty sir, but what is it?" Dimiye asked as others around him felt the weight of the weapon in their hands.

            "Troops, say hello to the Dragonfire H-90." The general said to the crowd like the showman he was. "Over and under gauss/plasma rifle. These are the first production models and you're the first to get them."

            "So we've cracked how the EB's built rapid fire rail guns on a rifle scale?" Lt. Johannes said.

            "Yes, it seems our little friends," The general paused for the laughter he knew would come, "discovered how to build a third generation PAGD Reactor, and didn't bother telling us!" More laughter ensued. "In fact, the engineers and techs we've captured have let us in on a number of advances the Eastern Bloc have made over the past few years."

            Alistar knew just how they'd gotten their secrets out of those engineers. He didn't feel one little bit bad for them.  "Sir, this rifle has five revolving barrels instead of the EB's three?"

            "Good eye Al. As you all know, Eastern Bloc technology, while roughly equal to our own, tends to be made en mass and cheap. This is an improved variant with nearly twice the muzzle velocity, and twice the cyclic rate. "

            "Yes, and what about the plasma cannon? Is it like the M-32?" Captain Wilhelm asked.

            "Not hardly! It uses the same e-clips the M-32 does, but is powered in addition by the PAGD Reactor cell." The general said. Everyone gathered stopped playing with their new rifle and listened.

            "A micro second before the cannon discharges, a coherent magnetic beam engages, much like a spiker gun. Which incidentally, will not require a large clunky power generator in the near future. Anyway, the techs tell me the plasma discharge rides the mag beam like a pipe in compressed form. When it reaches the target, the plasma decompresses like a grenade. It's a hell of a sight, believe me."

            The general turned to a trooper in power armor holding one of the new rifles. "You, Dead Boy! See those boulders way down there?" He said pointing.

            "Yes sir." Private Lucas Howard said.

            The general smiled. "Give em hell."

The crowd gathered in a large semi-circle behind him to see what the new weapon could do. The young soldier opened up on the offending boulders with the gauss rifle first. All anyone could see of the target was a large cloud of vaporized sediment and the sparks rounds caused as they sprawled. When the smoke cleared, all eyes could see how the multi ton rocks had been utterly shattered.

            "How many rounds did you pop off, Howard?" Dimiye asked.

            The young soldier looked at the rifle's counter. "5000 round capacity…308 sir."

            Sergeant-Major Benjamin nudged him. "What are ya waiting for, Howard?  Finish him off!"

            Howard switched to the plasma cannon and pulled the trigger quickly three times. As he did, three plasma bolts, traveling much faster than usual, impacted on the remaining rocks and erupted into fiery balls of super heated gas. The gathered crowd was stunned. And I thought I had an erection before, Dimiye thought.


            "Captain, take a walk with me." General Fargus ordered.

            "Yes, sir." Dimiye said obediently.

            Once they were out of earshot of the troops with their new toys, the general spoke. "We're running full production on the H-90's. Hoping to get as many in the field as possible within the next three days."

"Is that when the push is gonna happen?"

"Yep, three days. Then we can get off this world and on Port Arthur; then on to bigger and better things."

"Like fighting Fleet?"

"Yep, like fighting fleet." The general disposition seemed to melt away to reveal something far more glum. "It's not looking good, Al. The war I mean, I'm worried."

            Alistar was taken aback. "Sir, with all due respect, it hasn't looked better."

            "I know it hasn't, but I'm worried none the less. Oh sure, we've got em dead to rights here and we got better weapon to fight with. And the EB's we captured showed us how to cut the price of nanotech production in half."

            Alistar broke in, "That's wonderful news, sir!"

            "Oh yeah. And they tell us we might be seeing a new suit with protective energy shields down the line. But all this new technology doesn't change the losses we've taken or the situation we're in. My God…"

            "Sir, it isn't that bad."

            "Maybe not, but my faith in the cause were fighting for is shaken. Have you ever met Auntie Sarah, Al? No… of course you haven't. I'm starting to believe this rebellion was started just to sate her ego. Especially after the new program she just initiated."

             "Which program is that sir?"

            Fargus stopped and looked at Alistar. "Let's just say, you'll find out soon enough."

            They continued walking as the general continued his confession. "I'm worried for our boys and girls trapped out there in New Madrid."

            "They're holding good there, sir. What reports I've seen say the prisoners they take mostly opt to take up the gun for our side. Buddha, they can hold there indefinitely."

            "Sure, in theory. Till the food runs out. The Feds are having more trouble than we were pushing through; so they've started destroying civilian crops and live stock when they can. Our boys can hold, sure; but only as long as they can eat."

            Alistar fought to come up with something to say. At last he did. "Sir, is something wrong? Do you need me for something? Why are you telling me all this?" You're scaring the shit out of me!

            Fargus stopped again and turned to Dimiye. His form was silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun. "Captain, what I need from you is to know that when the time comes; where will your loyalties lie?" The general said looking as if he might cry.

            Alistar straightened his body up as if at full attention. "Where they have always lied, sir. With the people who I fight and die with everyday."

            The general didn’t say anything else; he simply smiled and patted Dimiye on the shoulder. Then they walked toward camp, silence surrounding them all the way back.




His body was bone tired, but his mind was still buzzing. Even after a long, hard, stressful first day of exhausting work in the yards, O’Reilly was still pumped with the excitement of the new job.  Even after unwinding over a few pints in the officer’s mess, drinking with friends he hadn’t seen in over a year, he still found himself with excess energy he needed to work off. 

So he busied himself with unpacking and settling into his new quarters, letting his thoughts drift over his new crew.  Lieutenant Commander Paulson was the ideal executive officer for O’Reilly.  He had a meticulous and precise approach to his work, and genuinely seemed to prefer paperwork to construction on the dock.  That’s fine with me, Xinjao thought as he connected the portable mainframe for his porn database to the console in his quarters.  I’m not sure Paulson should be doing any manual labor at all, O’Reilly thought, given how badly he’s got the shakes.  Gotta be an interesting story behind that one.  Can you imagine Paulson with a blowtorch? He chuckled to himself; the dock workers would take bets on how long it would take for a fire to break out.

Then there was Bertram… what was he going to do with her?  She would be invaluable for work on older ships, and had demonstrated brilliance with power converters, but she had all the subtly and tact of a hand grenade.  He could already see her clashing with other crew members… over anything.  Probably the best way to deal with her was to make her undisputed master over one tiny, trivial area.  Grand High Dictator of the Coffee Machine or something like…

O’Reilly froze.  A chill ran down his spine.  Did he just hear a soft click in the background?  Slowly he looked around, listening hard… but he didn’t hear anything more.  Had he just imagined it?  No, they were watching him.  They HAD to be.  Why would InSec stop watching him now? When did they ever stop?

 A grim smile spread across his face.  Okay, he thought, you wanna play hide and seek?  Just try to keep up with me!  Just knowing he was being watched gave him an advantage; he could make sure they would only see what he wanted them to see.  First, though, he had to figure out what their eyes saw, and where they were blind.  They wouldn’t really be stupid enough to use the same spy cameras he had found aboard the Schaumberg… would they? 

Xinjao finished connecting his database.  Then, pretending something was wrong with the console’s auditory receptors for voice commands, he casually pulled out his tools and scanned the console.  He hoped no one could see that he was really scanning the entire room on all known frequencies for transmissions of any kind.

At first, the engineer couldn’t pick up anything. Nothing beyond the normal vibration of the ship… and even O’Reilly thought that suspicious. After spending a minute just analyzing those lower frequencies, he couldn’t find anything. Once the database hooked up, he stood up and went back over to the bed. Hmmm, he thought, just because I can’t detect what frequency they’re on, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Maybe they’ve got it hard-wired into the local net. If that were the case, though, they’d have an unusual power signature. I can scan for that.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it with his tools without being seen… or could he? Before he could respond, however, the comm beeped. In disgust, he walked over to the table. “Yes?”

A holoproj shimmered and the face of Lieutenant Commander Paulson appeared, “S… sir, I regret to tell you that the com… com… commanding officer of the EFS Temujin demands that repairs be sped up in time for Task F… F… Force 28’s departure for the Valkriye System. They’re leaving at the end of this week. W… w… what should I tell him?”

            O’Reilly didn’t have time for this shit. “Tell that captain that the ship will be repaired when I’ve approved the specs and not one second before!”

            “Are you s… s… sure?”

            “Yes. I will speak to him personally later. Discom.” Then O’Reilly cut off the comm circuit. Suddenly, one of his tools recognized something. Picking it up, he walked with it casually around the room, until the tool finally found it again. Xinjao was standing in front of his own suitcase… with a bug inside it.

            So they were spying on me, he thought, well, let’s see what we can do about that.




            Treschi got dressed as quickly as he could while Danika stood there, furious as hell, and itching for battle. Andrea thought the last place he wanted to be was out there in that wasteland. However, as she kept staring at him, it didn’t seem like he would get a choice.

            Once he got his cold weather gear on, they rushed out to one of the hangars that he had seen before. As Danika rushed to get inside a long grey object, Treschi froze in his tracks. “What the hell is this?!”

            “It’s a Mark III Hovertank, what do you think it is?!”

            “I’m not getting in one of those things!” Andrea stepped back from it.

            “What’s wrong?!” Danika screamed back at him.

            “This ain’t my fight. I don’t want to fight no fucking bugs! That’s not my job!”

            The werewolf was calm as she walked back over to him. “Treschi, let me explain something to you. If we don’t get out there and lend a hand, they might overrun this base, or the whole planet. Tell me, how are you going to get off this planet if you can’t fly a fucking shuttle?

            She had a point, Andrea thought. Finally, he nodded, walking toward the tin can. “You know, I haven’t trained on one of these things since Deimos. That’s seven years ago.”

            “You’ll learn.” she smiled evilly, and shut the door behind them.

            The inside of the hovertank was a little moldy and incredibly small. There was obviously room for three people… just. With two, there was a little stretching room, but not much. Danika sat in the driver’s seat as she started the craft up. A humming sound soon vibrated through the ship as it lifted up off the floor of the hangar bay. “Take the gun.”

            Andrea sat down in the gunner’s seat, which immediately lifted up into the main gun turret. He soon saw the hanger bay through the target sights and quickly remembered how the controls worked.

            Soon the tank moved forward toward the door, already opening wide for the mass of equipment getting ready to fight the dark menace. “Tank 1-8-6 to Ops.” Danika announced proudly, “We’re heading out.”

            “Confirmed, 1-8-6. Remember not to get in the way of the main attack. Skirt around the edge, try to cause as much damage as you can to their flanks.”

            “Acknowledged, Ops. On our way.”

            Then the tank zoomed out the doorway, rushing out into the fierce winds that inhabited this planetoid.


            A few minutes later, the winds were buffeting the craft even worse as the reached the valley. “Can’t we take the easy route?!” Andrea screamed as he tried to look through the turret. All he saw was a bunch of white murk.

            “This is the easy route!” The werewolf yelled back. “Ops says that the hives are in the Charon Range. This is the fastest way there.”

            “Wait a minute… hives? You mean, more than one?”

            “The Armada ain’t here, Treschi, their ships are off in Boyne System and Charbydis. Hadrian System hasn’t had any attacks, so they don’t bother defending it. We’re stretched to the limit as is. They sent three hives and three hives landed.”

            “How the hell are we supposed to take on three hives?”

            Danika didn’t even bother answering, concentrating on keeping the craft steady. Andrea turned back to his scopes. The white murk seemed to encompass everything. It was hard enough to live here… but how the hell were you supposed to fight a battle?

            For lack of other things to do, he went through the gun’s diagnostics. All right, he thought, coolant’s good. Railgun’s functioning and targets… if I could find any… can be pinpointed. Hell, this thing has a computer in it just like a suit, necessary to operate the multiple weapons in case of crew failure. That meant death, he knew, so he tried to put his mind off it.

            Searching through the murk for one good clear batch of ground, he was hoping to test the weapons before they needed to use them. A minute of looking around did nothing for his nerves, and he was just about to give up, when the murk seemed to dissipate. Finally, now I can see something. As the whiteness gave away, he started looking for rocks for targets. There seemed like a lot of them… lots of shiny black rocks. He focused in on a far one and it moved.

            “HOLY SHIT, BUGS!” Andrea screamed as his railgun went to full auto. The tank vibrated as the hypervelocity rounds punched through the exoskeletons of the bugs heading their way.

            The murk disappeared completely and a whole army of dark black creatures rushed towards them. Andrea fired and fired and fired, hoping the nightmare would end. The unearthly screams of the dying and charging bugs filled every corner of his fear. The claws started to scrape against the side even Danika increased the speed. He kept firing and still they came. No matter how he turned the turret, all he could see was their blackness reaching towards them. All of a sudden, one of them leaped onto the craft with a jolt, filling his screen with nothing but his large claws.

            “Shit, SHIT, SHIT!!!” Treschi shouted, firing and firing, moving the turret back and forth, trying to throw the bug off the tank. He screamed again and again as the round count was depleting on the scanner next to the bugs pounding claw. The repeated sounds of pounding by the bugs was an awful metallic sound that burrowed into his skin. Any moment now, he thought, they’re going to break through that durachrome and we’re going to be fucking sardines to them. Holy shit!

            That damn bug kept holding on, wrecking his aim, and they began to slow down through the torrent of bugs that were attacking them. Danika yelled over to him. “Are you all right back there?!”
            “No, God damn it! Get these bugs off me!”

            “Hold on!”

            The craft jolted upward and the turret bug finally let go. From this increased height, he could see the whole thing. One of those giant pyramids was cutting a swath down the center of the valley, supported by a whole host of power armor, but it didn’t seem to be doing all that much good. The bugs still came in hordes, apart from the few that seemed to go after them. So this is how the world ends, he thought, not by fire, or by sword, but by tooth and claw.

            “Fire the nuke, Treschi!” she screamed. “This is the best shot we’re ever going to get and I can’t maintain this altitude! Take it!”

            Andrea quickly switched the ammo to the precious nukes they had on board. They were only one megaton, but they would have to do. Treschi didn’t even think about what he was doing as he loaded the first shell. “Ready!”

            “Aim for the middle! GO!”

            Treschi fired. One second, there was an infinity of bugs; the next, the hovertank was picked up into the air, cast aside like some god’s old chew toy. When the tin can landed, somewhere away from the blast zone, Andrea hit his head, and everything went black.


            When he woke up, a cute blonde in a surgery gown was staring in his face. “M. Treschi, can you hear me?”

            His eyes had difficulty adjusting to the light. However, he slowly adjusted to it, feeling the first remnants of a dull pain all over his body. “Where am I?”

            “Base 7. I’m Doctor Hadith. You’re going to be fine. You suffered a mild concussion when your hovertank landed after the nuclear blast. That was a brave thing you did.”

“I was scared shitless.” Andrea muttered.

She smiled. “I’ve given you a drug that should eventually kill all the pain. Your body will heal itself quite easily now. Apart from some bruises, you’re free to go.”

Treschi stretched his neck. “Do you mind if I just rest here for a while?”

“Normally, no, but we need this bed for more severely injured troopers. Besides, you’ve been requested in the Operations Room once you awoke. Let’s go, M. Treschi.”

Andrea managed to get to his feet and stand. As he looked around the filled infirmary, the smuggler found his footing and moved on. Before the doctor went away, though, he caught her sleeve. “Did we kill them? Did we kill the bugs?”

Hadith smiled. “Most of them. Now get going, I have a lot of patients to see.”

He smiled back and began walking toward the hallway. The pain was lifting already.





            Only the moonlight betrayed the darkness of Erich’s hospital room inside the New Bethesda Naval Medical Center. For some reason, he couldn’t sleep; maybe it was all the excitement that was happening around him. Flag rank, medals, interviews… all of it seemed a bit surreal. This shouldn’t be happening to him. He knew that Vorheis was using him for her own PR. According to the netvids, the Rebels had their own hero, Dimwit… or something, who was tearing ass against the Eastern Bloc. Well, if the Grand Council needed a hero themselves, he was glad they picked him. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t earned…

            The door suddenly squeaked open. Oh, hell, he thought, it’s that damn nurse again. Probably come to check if I’m still breathing. Wonder if I should hold my breath to get a rise out of that bitch. Von Shrakenberg decided to pretend to sleep, keeping his eyes open a sliver, and wait to see what happens. Light sneaked out from the doorway. Through the slant in his eyes, he could the gruesome shadow of the head nurse appearing from the corridor. She stopped her movement when another voice whispered out of the hallway. “I’m telling you, don’t do this!”

            The nurse looked back at the voice and shot back just as quietly, “He’s a threat and I’m taking him out! You should have known that!”

            “I’m not throwing away years of work just so can get a kill! He’s important to the boss.”

            “This is my domain and I outrank you. So fuck off!”

            “Fine, but when the dogs come for you, don’t expect me to save your ass.”

            “Noted.” she said, then shut the door.

            Erich thought now would be a good time to make a run for it. He would… except that his new leg and arm were only recently grafted, and he could still only barely move them.

            The nurse came closer, the moonlight catching a glimpse of her as she came closer. Her hair was tightly up in a bun, a look of concentration on her face, and a full syringe in her hands. Von Shrakenberg didn’t like this at all. He either had to do something fast or he’d be dead.

            As soon as the nurse got close, he leaped out of the bed, knocking her hand away. The syringe went flying and Erich felt a measure of relief. That is, until the nurse punched him in the chest.

            “God damn it, you cock-sucker… come here!”

            Von Shrakenberg tried to limp away but the nurse was faster. One swift kick in the back and he was down. The pain spread like fire through his body. Then she picked up with relative ease.

            He felt his body being dragged over toward the light. When his eyes opened again, he saw the capital city from his twenty-fourth story window, spread out in lights as far as his eye could see. It was beautiful; but it barely distracted Erich from realizing what she was going to do.

            “I guess they all can’t look like accidents.” she muttered and got ready to shove him out the window.



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Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.