“The tree of liberty must regularly be watered by the blood of patriots.”

                                                                        -- Thomas Jefferson, pre-Fed politician


            The buzzing alarm woke Alistar from his deep sleep. Still tired, he rolled over to turn it off, burrowing himself deeper into the covers. He felt a hand gently stroking his cheek and a face close to his own. "Time to get up, lazy bones." Corporal Tess cooed, gently kissing his lips.

            "One more kiss and I'll get up." he replied. He tasted the sweetness of her lips as his free hand ran through her gorgeous strawberry-blonde hair and moved down to cup her perfect breasts. "Ummm, Buddha you're so cold this morning." Dimiye chuckled.

             All at once, the realization hit him as he recoiled from her. "Wait a minute, I thought you were dead!"

            "Well, of course I am, silly!" Tess laughed, pulling back the bed sheets, revealing nothing below her mid torso. Her face suddenly became angry. "And I've noticed that you haven't found any time to feel bad about it!" She effortlessly pushed Alistar out of the bed. He screamed as he fell for what seemed like an eternity. Then everything went black.

He was in a dark pit all alone. The rifle he held in his hands that had seemed so big during training now felt infinitely small in the vast darkness surrounding him. Where has my unit gone? I'm not lost, since we haven't moved since the firefight, so where are they? They couldn't all be dead, could they? Just then, impossibly dark figures, darker than the eternal night that surrounded him appeared. They slowly, gracefully circled him like wolves around a wounded elk. It would have been a beautiful sight if not for the terror that filled him. He could hear them… no, they made no sound… he could feel them shrieking in delight, the delight of captured prey. Then, like wolves, they pounced on him.

            Suddenly he was in a different place; many years older and much more callous. Multitudes of soldiers, thousands it seemed, followed him into a hellish field of battle. He saw himself commit atrocities and slaughter the likes of which filled him with more terror than anything else ever had. Then he saw himself do worse. When the battle had subsided, he was atop a tall hill holding a banner flag in righteous victory. Then he saw what the hill was made of; flesh.

The writhing, mangled forms of friend and foe alike lofted him above the death and dying below like a god. Cries of agony and rage echoed throughout the land, paying homage to him, while he looked out upon the shattered remnants of humanity below. Yet the sight was not entirely human. The horrid visages of a thousand races stood crushed beneath his feet.            

            He tried to turn away, yet he couldn't; the sight was not completely horrible to him. A small part of his soul relished the image at hand. Is this hell? Is this what will become of me?

            In answer to his pleas, a brilliant light shone from the heavens, causing wails of fear to ebb from the lips of the dying host beneath Alistar's feet. In due time, the light spoke.

            "I am the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end of all things. I am the fire that consumes and the light that gives all life."

             "Is this how things end?" Alistar pleaded, praying for a negative reply.

            "This… is only the beginning." The light replied.

            Alistar looked again to the sea of shattered humanity beneath him. "I won't… I can't."

            "I will not argue any longer." The light announced. "Don't pretend to hide your feelings from me, son. I know this pleases you. I know that you yearn for this."

            He was about to argue again, but he found that he couldn't. As much as he despised it, it was true. Part of him did want this, so much that he could taste it. He felt the tortured screams of the damned coursing through his veins like some wonderful drug. Yet he had learned control, and through his own will, silenced the voices that beckoned to him.

            He looked up towards the light and made himself heard. "This is what you want, and it might happen. I won't argue that anymore. But it's not what I want! I don't know what the future holds in store for me… hell, I'm not even sure what I want… but I will decide my own path for now on! Understand?!"

            He braced himself for the onslaught that would come from his offending words… but nothing happened. The light was quiet for a moment and then it spoke again.

            "All children must break away from their parents sometime, but you will always be my son. Mark my words; you will return to the fold."

            Alistar was taken aback by the kindness of his patron's words. They saddened him in a way. "So what happens now?"

            The light replied in a mournful tone. "What always happens. You'll wake up now and remember nothing."

            He awoke to the sensation of a hand stroking his cheek. He jerked opened his eyes and violently grabbed the offending hand at the wrist. It belonged to Stacey Johannes.

            "By the Goddess! What's gotten into you?" the lieutenant gasped.

            "Nothing," he said forcing back the tears, "sorry about that." Though he couldn't remember why.


The day of the final big push had come. Stacey had been looking at him funny all morning and that made him edgy. Of course, everyone was edgy this morning, so he didn't seem out of place. What really grabbed his craw was different from what the others were experiencing. While other men were thinking that they might never see their loved ones again after today, he only wanted commence the damn attack.

Commanding a brigade instead of a battalion had its ups and downs. On the one hand, strategy and tactics with four times as many men allowed you much more leeway. On the other hand, the logistics and paperwork that came with it was a nightmare. He still hadn't picked a battalion for his staff or even someone to lead it. Still, that was just window dressing for what was really going on in his head. Something happened last night that I can't remember. Why can't I stop thinking of Tess? Why the hell did I feel guilty this morning when I woke up with Stacey? I know I'm her superior and shouldn't be taking liberties, but there was something else. Something sadder that I felt. Well, why shouldn't I bed with her? She's had eyes for me ever since I stepped on Khmer. I…loved Tess, sure, but she's gone now. As rationalizing goes, he wasn't doing a very good job.

I'm about to lead nearly three hundred men and women into the lion's den; I don't need this shit! I've got one dead woman I can't stop thinking about and one live one that won't leave me alone. What's worse is that I love both of em! Oh Buddha, let's push off already!


The attack had originally been scheduled for 0900 hours. Eleven thirty was coming up and no one had moved from their bunkers yet. Colonel Wolfe had told him that more preparations were being made in the hopes of reducing casualties. There was also the hope of sweating a surrender out of the surviving Bloc troopers holding Alpha. As much as he hated the wait, Alistar knew it was a good move. Let's get as fortified as possible; besides, the EB's weren't going anywhere.   

He turned to Captain Wilhelm who was patiently playing cards with his platoon commanders. As Wilhelm turned and smiled at him, his face changed. The words he spoke were canceled out as his face turned into a brilliant blue and white swirling light. The light spoke.

"I came to warn you, my son, there's not much time."

Alistar sensed the urgency in his totem's voice. "What's going to happen?"

No sooner had Alistar spoke as the light started to fade. "Fear the light. my son. For its wrath is great indeed!"

As soon as it had left, the light was gone, leaving Captain Wilhelm's smiling face. "Who taught you mutts how to play Cribbage? If I weren't an honest man, we'd play for money." 

            Alistar turned away from the men playing cards to look out of a firing port in the bunker. As he did so, men started exiting a nearby bunker.

            "Hey, Otto! Come here and take a look at this!" Dimiye said, as Wilhelm came to the firing port.

            "Ah, the 512th is moving out." the captain answered, "Won't be long now." The 512th battalion was the 86th Legion's reconnaissance unit.

            "Otto, get all your platoons ready and on the line." Dimiye ordered.

            "Yes, sir." Wilhelm replied.

            Dimiye went over to the comm to give the same order to his other battalion commanders when a brilliant light blinded him. His suit sensors quickly compensated as his vision returned. He turned to where the light had come from. "What the hell…"

            A violent BOOM erupted all around them as a shock wave smashed into the bunker. Dimiye felt himself picked up and thrown back down as his lungs gasped for air. The ordeal only lasted for a few seconds. Stunned, he picked himself up and tried to assess the situation. "All units report!"

            Slowly but surely, all units reported in amidst the loud roar of static over the comm. "You okay, Otto?"

            "Gott in Himmel! What the fuck just happened!?" Wilhelm replied angrily.

            "I'm not sure." Dimiye was about to activate his dentcom to report in when he noticed he was in lockdown mode. TIME TILL LOCKDOWN CEASES: 40.56 HOURS. Lockdown mode? But suits only put you in lockdown to avoid radiation cont… All at once, Dimiye was fully alert and aware of what had just transpired. He looked out of a firing port towards Alpha. Oh Great Buddha be merciful!

            He heard the soft moans of the lieutenants that were in the bunker with him and thought of the safety of his men. "All units, seal bunkers and do NOT leave positions until ordered!" He barked over the comm.

             As he jumped out of his bunker, he realized the ionization in the atmosphere had left that order unheard. Men by the dozen came out of their bunkers to witness the sight of Alpha Epsilon. What had once been a great metropolis was now a tower of ash over five kilometers high. The mushroom shaped cloud loomed over the TI grunts like the grim specter of death.

Over 50 million people were in that city. Alistar thought. Everywhere, soldiers gazed dumbfounded at the sight. The shock of which had just transpired was still sinking in.

Off in the distance, the familiar crack of rifle fire brought many men back to reality. Dimiye rushed over to see what was going on. What he found was Sergeant Major Benjamin aiming a rifle at a flock of terrified prisoners; one of which was crumpled on the ground in a heap.

"You think this is FUNNY?! You think this is a GODDAMN JOKE?! You dirty yellow BASTARDS!!!" He yelled mostly to the perforated prisoner lying on the ground. The surviving prisoners begged and pleaded in their native tongue, arms flailing in submission. Then one of them dropped to his knees.

Dimiye rushed in as quickly as his legs would carry him. NO Peter, don't do it! Don't you fucking do this! By now, he was too late. Benjamin opened up on the prisoners with full auto. Chest cavities exploded; limbs and heads popped off like dandelion heads. The dozens of other soldiers rushing towards the slaughter joined in without missing a beat. They all fired till their weapons ran dry. When the smoke cleared, all that remained of the Eastern Bloc prisoners, besides the small chunks of flesh, was blood. Dimiye looked down at the bubbling red soup that used to be men. He felt neither anger nor sympathy; he just felt cold.

Off in the distance, more firing ensued. The men rushed over to where it was happening. Dimiye was about to stop them but didn't. He felt the searing heat coming off the barrel of his own rifle and noticed that it had also been fired dry.




            Another two hours and the explosions were getting incredibly close… but Malachi didn't care. Spyder was too preoccupied to notice.  That fourth voice that had been with him in the room with the other two officers; who… what was it? He'd been trying to hear the voice again.  He still had no idea who it was that told him not to leave, but she had vanished now, disappearing as quickly as she came.  Now, only three hours after he refused to join them, Captain Alexander was back.  He stared again at the insignia on her armor.  The lieutenant still had trouble believing that this battalion, the one he wounded so badly, bore the insignia he had once worn.  It was the insignia of the man who had put him through hell: Max Thames. Captain Alexander wasn't there but two seconds before another man arrived, bearing a face all too familiar.

Max hadn't changed much.  He was as stern as ever, but when he discovered that the man who had killed over half of one of his battalions was the same man who had taken over his business, needless to say, he was rather pissed off.

"How long has it been, Max?"  Malachi had gotten in the first words while the major was still to stunned to speak.  "Almost two years now?"

"You little fuck!  How in the hell did this happen?  Two of my formers in one battle!"  His tone shifted slightly but he didn't stop yelling.  Of course, that wasn't much of a change. Thames always yelled; he would have made a great drill sergeant, too bad he was a brigade commander.  "So you're the little bastard?!  I have to admit, I thought I'd finally gotten away from you!"  Just as suddenly, he stopped yelling and spoke softly, something Malachi had never seen him do in the two years he served under him.  "Well… at least I know how to get rid of you now.  Captain, please excuse us."

The captain was in a state of shock. The fact that across a hundred light years, on different sides of a battle, that these two men knew each other was incredible odds. One could hardly chalk it up to coincidence. When the major's eye turned on her, she shook herself out of it, managing a sloppy salute before she left.

"Two of your formers?"  Malachi managed to get out.

"I'm not concerned about her.  No, right now, all that matters is that I get to kill you."  Max smiled with a sickening glee.

"Well, go ahead… shoot me.  That's what you want, isn't it?  Or do you?"

"Shut up, Spyder!  Your little mind games don't work anymore."

"Fine, but you do realize that it's all gone, don't you? You've lost your business for good and you're never getting it back. Killing me won't matter one bit. You know that by now."

"Yeah, but killing you will still make me feel a whole lot better." Max cracked his knuckles and walked closer to his intended target.

Malachi was impatient. "So, are you gonna shoot me or not?"

"That wouldn't be any fun, now would it.  No, I'm gonna kill you fair and square, hand to hand, close combat.  I'm gonna kill you or…" a grin came over his face and he laughed before finishing "or you're gonna kill me."

That phrase alone brought a smile to Spyder's face.  It was a chance at freedom; a small chance, but a chance nonetheless. Max didn't seem concerned with what happened after the fight. There was a distinct possibility that he hadn't set any more guards outside the cell block.  If he won, he could escape.  Malachi scoped the room, his eyes finding their way to the corner.  As he had hoped, the captain, in her rush to leave, left the pulse rifle there.

"Let's do it!"  Max got into his stance as Malachi got up. Thames wasted no time and threw the first punch.

Spyder and Max kept dodging and punching, trying to harm their target. They were both too good at oppungate to fall for simple maneuvers. All the while, Malachi slowly moved toward the rifle, keeping Thames too occupied to know what he was doing. He was almost there when the major suddenly changed into Crinos form. The large nine foot tall creature that stood before him shoved him away from the rifle. As they circled each other, Max came to stare Malachi directly in the eyes. In the werewolf's dark and beastly growl, he could make out his enemy's sarcasm. "You didn't really think I'd let you get to that rifle… did you?"

Just then, the far wall of the cell exploded. Both of them were knocked down by the blast and left dazed. All Spyder could see was the powered armor suits coming through the wall. Malachi managed to get to his feet when the platoon that rushed in turned to face him. The lieutenant thought of dropping to avoid their shots when a feminine voice called loudly over one of their speakers. "Spyder?"

"Yes?" Malachi coughed the dust out of his lungs.

The suit lifted up her faceplate and the visage of Jada Kraai showed through. "About time you showed up, lieutenant. Come on, we've almost taken the city!"

Spyder stumbled over to the rifle and grabbed it, pointing it at the still-unconscious body of Max Thames. He was about to fire when the captain stopped him. "Spyder! Leave him! We need your help, now get over here!"

Malachi stood there for a moment, gun-sights trained on his target, but he could feel the cold hard eyes of the captain upon him. He reluctantly obeyed and then walked away. As the platoon rushed out of the prison, freeing other prisoners-of-war, they reached the outside as the sun shown down on the wrecked city of Talavera. Kraai finally looked over at the dusty lieutenant and smiled. "The town is ours! We've taken the planet!"

Despite the happiness they felt inside, there was a darkness in Malachi's soul. He still wished that he had shot Max. Now, as the medics came closer to check him out, he resigned himself to the inevitable. They would be seeing each other again.




“Okay, crew, change of plan.  I just received a message from the station brass.”

            “What did it say?”

            “That we just got ass-raped and somebody might kick us while we're down.” Commander Xinjao O’Reilly replied to the small assembly of construction foremen gathered in the briefing room. The murmur that greeted his comment told him that no one was surprised.

            “Aw, hell, I w-wuz expectin’ th-that, “ Paulson commented dryly.  “On the f-fringe of Fleet t-territory, j-just been weakened and d-damaged in b-battle, now’s the b-best t-time for someone else to s-strike.”

            Somebody adjust his transmission, he’s breaking up! O’Reilly thought to himself.  He’d never heard a drawl and a stutter at the same time before; it was as if someone was playing with the playback speed in Paulson’s voice.

            “That’s what the Admirals think, too.  They’re not too worried about the TI Rebels… they could hit us, yeah, but they couldn’t hold.  They’d have to overextend their reach at a time when their flanks are already collapsing. Same for Enoch - they’re still licking their wounds.  No, the admiral is more worried about Bad Andy and the Righteous Army.”

            Another unsurprised murmur; but this one held an undertone of dread in it.

            “Sir, Bad Andy’s never hit a target this big before,” one of his foremen pointed out. “Why would he take on a Fleet stronghold now?”

            “According to the memo, two reasons.” O’Reilly answered. “One, we're exposed and weakened.  And two, we’ve got what the Bible-thumpers need; ships and our shipyard. We're the big prize, of course.”

“F-fanatics ain’t p-predictable.  Ain’t ‘zactly l-logical, n-neither.” Paulson commented.  “They’ll d-do a lota c-crazy-ass things, th-thinkin’ G-god’s on their s-side an’ f-foretold victory.  Only th-thing we know f-for sure is that they’ll f-fight to the l-last damn man,” he finally spat out.

“The Righteous Army could launch a two-pronged attack through the San Angeles and Hrothgar gates, which would spread out our defensive fleet pretty thin,” O’Reilly’s explained.  “So the Admiral has decided that even if the fleet goes down, the Phoenix Yards must be able to hold out until reinforcements arrive.  We’ve got orders to give the station’s repairs top priority over the ships in dry dock.  We’ll also be grafting more weapon mounts and point-defense grids, stockpiling fuel and provisions, and upping the Light Infantry garrison.”

“Are you saying we need to prepare for a siege?” Bertram asked bluntly.

There was an uncomfortable silence. Xinjao finally broke it. “Yes… I guess that’s what it means -- if it happens.  Probably nothing will; remember, these are all just precautionary measures, that’s all.  Okay, guys, you know the drill,” O'Reilly continued on, giving no one else a chance to volunteer demoralizing comments.  “Battle priority code is Lewis - Life support, Energy, Weapons, Armor, Systems, in that order.  Westfield, you’re on life support.”

“Huh? What?” Gregg Westfield had been daydreaming about calculus again.

“Life support.”

“What about it?”

“You’re on it.  Full repairs.  Not much left to do, let me know when you’re done.”

“Oh… okay.”

“Bertram, I need you on energy.  I want the weapon mounts to get all the juice they need.”

“All right,” she agreed.

“Smitty, you and your crew get weapons.  Repairs, then the new installations, got it?”

“Gotcha, Chin.”

“Rymir, your zero-G crew is on armor.  New plates, the works.”

“Aye, aye, Sir!  You can count on me, Sir.  I won’t let you down!”

“Of course not.  And Smashie, you’re on systems.  Try not to break anything.”

Jack “Smashie” DuCroix nodded. 

“Any questions?”  There were none, although O’Reilly knew there would be soon. “Okay, get rolling.  Divide your teams into three shifts, see if anyone wants overtime.  We need round-the-clock work until the Phoenix Yards are a fortress.  Dismissed.”

As his foremen stood up and filed out, Xinjao caught Chief Bertram’s eye and beckoned her over.  She staggered up to him, leaning against the wall for support.  After ten years in zero-G on the Benedict, she had almost forgotten how to walk.  The Fleet medics had repaired the muscle atrophy with electrochemical treatment, but coordination and balance would take longer to come back.

“What do you need, commander?” she believed in being direct.

“Just something I need you to keep an eye on … we’ve been having a couple of strange power signatures popping up in the net relays recently.  Could you have your team scan for them throughout the station during the power upgrades?”

“Yes, I can do that.” she was a lot more willing to be helpful now that O’Reilly was the only person on the station she knew.

“Good.  Send the results to this file,” he handed her a datapad.  “I’ll have the computer map them out and analyze it during low-volume hours, maybe check the results later from my quarters.”

“This sounds pretty simple, O’Reilly.  I’m sure I can handle it.” The edge was returning to her voice.  Damn, Xinjao thought, she takes offense at anything!

O’Reilly shook his head. “Nah, don’t worry about it.  I’m sure you could handle it, but there are much more important things needing your attention.  It could be important, but it’s probably nothing.  I don’t want to waste your time chasing ghosts in the net.”

“Whatever.” Bertram shrugged… and immediately winced.

“Back still giving you trouble?” O’Reilly asked, risking a little personal conversation.

“Yeah,” she sighed, “probably always will from now on.  Zero-G is bad for the spine.”

“What does gravity feel like after being out of it for so long?” he inquired, curious.

“Like someone’s got a-hold of you spine and is trying to yank your skull out through your asshole,” she replied bluntly.

O’Reilly spent the rest of the day trying to push that image out of his mind.


Late that night, O’Reilly finally returned to his quarters.  After his shift, he had visited the storeroom and arsenals, discretely gathering spare parts and power cells.  Then he had locked himself in one of the workshops until the early hours of the morning building… insurance.

He wasn’t exactly sure what he had done to anger InSec.  Perhaps they had learned of the role he played in Stewart hacking into their system.  Perhaps it was because he was an ally of Von Shrakenburg or had witnessed the Jurvain ambush.  It really didn’t matter - they were out to get him and they wouldn’t stop until they had him.  Living with the knowledge that InSec watched his every move was like living with your head in a guillotine.

We’ll he wasn’t going to roll over and play dead when they finally came for him.  When they finally did, he planned to fight or escape.  He had stayed up all night building hidden tools to help him reach that goal.  He now wore a ring with a magnesium flash charge inside it - he hoped it could temporarily blind his enemies and allow him to escape.  If that failed, his datapad could now be turned into a one-shot tazer after a few quick adjustments.  He had hollowed out one of his microprobes and concealed a weak laser inside it.  Finally, from then on, detonators and small amounts of various explosives would be regulars in the tool kit he always had with him.  When they came for him, he would be ready.

O’Reilly sat down wearily on his bunk.  He still had a few things left to do.  He still needed to install a better lock on his door… or better yet, several.  He needed to set up an electronic log to show who opened that lock and when.  He still had the broken bug from the Schaumburg that had self-destructed when found… if he could repair it… and get it to transmit to a locked file… he could have a surveillance system of his own.  If nothing else, there was always the shower room…

But now it was time to play his ace.  He had placed his suitcase on a shelf in his closet, allowing the bug to have a partial view of the room.  Although there were still areas it couldn’t see, O’Reilly hoped it was enough for InSec, so they wouldn’t try to re-bug his place. He stepped into one of those blind areas and pulled out the secret weapon of his career - three wooden bars covered with numbers, rigged to slide back and forth; a “slide rule”.  He had to research back three centuries before he found out what the hell it was.

            Before calculators, but after the abacus, someone had figured out how to make quick calculations using these things. Xinjao had finally figured out how it worked, but even then, it was difficult to understand the figures. However, after he had won this thing in a poker game from some TI trooper, he realized that it was more than it seemed. O'Reilly concentrated and trying to find something… anything in the room. He slid the sticks back and forth until… well, he couldn't really describe it. He simply knew when it was right. When he looked down again, the red-headed oriental just snorted his disgust. The slide rule read right on zero. There was nothing here.

            Xinjao went out into the hallway and tried again… nothing. It seemed impossible that they hadn't tried to get any further. For all that it seemed, somebody in InSec had managed to put a bug on his luggage before he boarded the ship headed for Phoenix… and that's it. It seemed rather odd; surely such a high-priority base would have several agents running around. Why hadn't THEY added some more bugs to his room? Something wasn't right.

            However, he wanted to see who they were if those agents DID ever get around to him. Ever so carefully, he placed the bug he had gotten from the Schaumberg (after he had fixed it last night), and faced it towards his door. Set to a different net relay, not even the agents would suspect he was having his own door under surveillance.

            There was one more very important thing to do - a matter of security, to guarantee at least some of his privacy.  That day, Xinjao O’Reily cancelled his subscriptions to Asscheeks & Athletes, Were Babes, Barely Legal, and Anal Aliens.  A certain Juan Smithy, however, also began a subscription to all of those, with the delivery address being a net account that had long since been closed down, leaving only a forwarding address to another net account on a public site. All mail delivered to that account was encrypted, compressed, and forwarded to a third account where it was cross referenced with a government postal database and routed through a military communication channel.  A young Light Infantry private might be rather shocked if she ever found and descrambled the temporary imprint of some deleted mail in the cache memory of her postal account that she hadn’t logged into since 2241.  A few transmissions and much red tape later they arrived in the account of CMDR Xinjao O’Reilly in a file labeled “Monthly Reference Manual” that contained errata and updates on a great deal of extremely dull technical fields.

            Just to avoid suspicion, he continued his direct subscription to Playboy.  Hell, even politicians and admirals held no shame in reading that… for the articles.




            The tour was over; that was certain. With an attempted assassination and three corpses in the morgue, the Federation ruled to protect the social order, and cancelled the rest of the tour.

            “Probably a good thing.” Miro muttered. He sat in the living room of Priscilla’s new hotel after being released from the hospital. Of course, by the time he got there, his nano cells had healed most of his injuries. Like his little voice told him, once he rested, they could do wonders at repairing his injuries. Rest, though, was far from near. Too many things whirled around his head.

            First was the dream. The face of the woman in his dreams was Priscilla’s, but there were differences. The woman’s hair was cut short, like a military crew cut, and there was a slight scar under the right side of her lip. Creed had first rationalized that his strong emotional attachment to Priscilla had affected his dreams. Still, it wasn’t just that; it felt right. He had asked his other self to analyze the dream, but he remained quiet. Miro wasn’t sure he trusted it anymore. It had shown too much emotion, not as the still quiet voice, but almost as another person. He was going to ask Priscilla if she understood it, but trust was getting scarce. The reason for that sat in his hand.


Miro, dude, its Rico! Ran that track for you. Still sifting for the stealth suits, nothing reported in the big papers, but I have run the line on your friend, M. Savant. It's not a complete data workup, but I ran my search and bam, I’m hit with three tons of data on her. Newspaper clips and crap like that I sorted out since she is a celebrity. I kept anything listed for before she got big. The stuff for when she became a big star is pretty basic and is all legit. Before that, though, it gets a little gray. As you go back, the volume doesn’t decrease but the validity sure does. I found a school newspaper article about her piano recital. Solid spin; not a legit fact in it. That made me curious. So I ran down the other names listed in the article. Plenty of material, but again, all spin doctored. So I tracked the names listed in those articles. Guess what? Spin doctored as well. It goes over twenty deep before it hits a blank wall. Some is dedicated to this. New stuff has been added along the way. All of it complete with doctored images. In my pro opinion, the first real article is for her graduation at a boarding school. That picture feels real. Before that, I got nothing I buy that said she ever existed. I was going to congratulate you on nabbing a fine piece of tail but now I’m not so sure, dude. If I’m right, there is some serious clout. Watch your ass, man.


            “Now who do you trust?” Miro muttered. This warning only fueled his worries. Then there was his examination of the cyborg’s corpse. She had been equipped with a device to emulate standard human bio-electric output. That cost more than the stealth suits put together. He had been set up. Creed was awash with people he thought he trusted and no longer did. From the now missing sound of running water, one of them was about to make her appearance.

            Priscilla padded into the room with towels wrapped around her hair and chest. Her eyes were tinged with red; she had been crying. Grey had told Creed quietly that he felt Priscilla was falling for him hard; harder than he thought a woman like she could. Grey said that her and Miro acted so natural together that the tabloids were saying they had been secret lovers for months instead of five days. Now, Creed was going to ruin it all.

            “It will be nice to go home after all this shit.” Priscilla walked over to sit next to Miro on the couch. When he made no motion to give her room, she stood there for a second, the confusion visible on her face. She managed to recover well; at least, she looked like she did. She quickly moved to sit in an adjacent chair. Miro, though, could read her aura and knew this small act of insensitivity upset her. The tour had been a tough one. Regular tours among planetary systems were trying enough. Adjusting to local day and night, different gravities, tidal patterns, climates… hell, even different atmospheres.

            “I bet you could use some R and R.” Creed said in the friendliest tone he could muster.

            “They fucking beat me.” Savant muttered. “They wanted to shut me up and they did.”

            “Better to run and live to fight another day.” Miro offered in consolation. “Use the vacation to recover your strength.”

            “I planned on fucking your brains out.” she smiled. Still, Miro saw it for what it was; she was testing him. Priscilla threw out a flippant remark to find out if he planned on joining her.

            “Gonna have to take a rain check on that, Pris.” Creed replied. “My contract is up since the tour is over and already have another job lined up.” The first part was true. He had been hired for the tour duration, but the new job was bogus. He barely had enough money to get off planet. He didn’t have a clue where he was going, but he had to get away from her. All of this reeked of a setup.

While in the recovery room, he had sat and went over it all in his head. First had been the call from Grey, completely out of the blue. Miro had advertised his services. He had done a good job as a bodyguard; none of his marks ever got knocked off, but only three were ever attacked. For a big name tour to hire him on was a bit of a shock… but the money was too good to say no.

            Second was the four perps on that night. They had been coming for him, not Priscilla, and they were military. If they were retired or not, either way they had been seriously financed. Then there was the cyborg; to build something of that quality must have cost a fortune. Throw in the bio-electric screen… and the ambush… it was an obvious conclusion.

            Now the note in his hand; it made all the good of these last days worth shit. He liked Priscilla… a lot… a whole hell of a lot. That was impressive for only a few days together. It was impressive, sure, and damned scary in light of all he was seeing. She could be a mage affecting his mind; his other self told him it could protect him from that, but its silence made him doubt even that. To top it all off, the damn dream kept haunting him. Creed had been scared before; it kept you alive, but he always knew what he had to do. Now he didn’t have a clue, so he was running.

            “I got a ship leaving tonight.” Miro answered, intently studying the sheet in his hand.

            “Why?” Priscilla whispered, tears riding it down.

            “Cause I don’t trust you.” Miro snapped at her, his temper flamed from her tears. “I  fucking hire on with your damn tour and open season on my ass begins!”

            Priscilla snapped to her feet. “What did you think this fucking job was, Miro?! I got all sorts of sick fucks wanting to do shit to me. Stalkers, rabid fans, TI, fuck… the old man Clarke would surely love to strangle me! I’m sorry if you had to do your damn job.”

            “My damn job!?” Now Creed was on his feet. He knew this was the way to handle this but he couldn't stop it now. “Those fuckers were after me! The four stalkers in the hotel room, the cyborg and the woman… they were waiting for me!”

            “What?! Sure, there's all sorts of people waiting to fuck my bodyguards. Whatever, Miro.”

            “I don’t give a shit if you believe me or not,” Miro answered, “but I know it.”

            “What about the gunman in the crowd?”

            “I don’t know. But I know about the cyborg, Pris… she was gunning for me.”

            “And what about us?” Her voice went soft; she knew where this was going.

            “I meet you… and all of a sudden, I’m all screwed up.” Miro answered. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I do know it wasn’t fucking chance that brought me here.”

            “So you're going to run?” Savant snapped. “Gonna fucking pull up camp and haul ass.”

            “Sounds good to me.” Creed replied colder than he felt.

            “Fine.” she replied, shocking Miro… more than he thought it should.

            “Fine.” Creed answered, throwing away the message, and walking out the door.


            “You want some more?” The robo-bartender asked Miro as he sat at the station. Next to him, his three suitcases, mostly filled with old sweatshirts, jeans, and sealed registered firearms.

            “What the hell are you doing, Miro?” he muttered. He hoped that leaving angry would help, but it didn’t. His heart felt like it was crushed by a vice and down in his ass.

            “You want some more?” The robot repeated.

“Oh, shut the fuck up!” Miro spat and instantly found its core mini-AI, scrambling it beyond recognition. It proceeded to try and screw a whiskey bottle into its power socket.

            “Nice, Miro.” his other voice taunted him. “What the hell are you doing here?” Miro could only sit there in stunned silence; his voice had never swore before. “You know that Priscilla isn’t to blame and still you left her. You can be a prick if you want, but if not if its gonna get Pris killed.”

            “How would you know that?” Miro muttered to himself.

            “Sources, my boy.” his voice answered. “Sources that tell me to watch out for the two InSec boys walking up behind you.”

            “What?” Miro whispered sharply. His voice kept quiet, but someone else’s was not.

            “Miro Creed?” A male voice asked from behind. “We would like to speak to you.” Creed looked over his shoulder at two men in business suits with long raincoats.

            “Sorry. Wrong guy.” Miro answered as he unscrambled the bartender. “Another of the same.” He gestured to the robot and it came over, shooting a blast of 200 proof alcohol into his glass. The two men each sat down on each side of him.

            “No, M. Creed. Right guy.” The first one answered as Miro grabbed a book of matches. “We would like you to come with us. We have some questions for you.”

            “You got a smoke stick or something?” Creed asked. The InSec thug looked annoyed as he fished out one and handed it to Miro, giving Creed a view of his plasma revolver. "Thanks.”

            “Please don’t cause a scene, M. Creed.” The other one said, as Miro lit the smoke stick and took a long drag, mentally keying up his hyper-reflexes. “Please come with us.”

            “Sure.” Miro stood up. The two men relaxed as they stood up next to him.

            “You have a tab of 6000 credits, sir.” The robo-bartender stated to the talkative one. “Please insert cred card or I will alert the proper authorities of the infraction.”

            “What?” Talky stated in surprised annoyance as he turned to the robo bartender. Creed flicked his smoke stick in Talky’s face as the robot's nozzle bathed him in alcohol. Talky was very talkative as he screamed, bathed in burning alcohol. The silent one was stunned until Miro helped him understand the situation. Creed whirled around, grabbed the man's head in both hands, then slammed him into the metal bar. He snapped back, blood gushing from his shattered nose and collapsed to the floor in a daze. The computer-coded security door opened five feet from Miro and Miro made his escape.


            Priscilla hadn’t calmed down. The room was trashed with pieces of furniture, glass, and the video system scattered all oiver on the floor. Once Miro left, she had quickly gotten dressed, ready to catch up to him, convincing him to stay. Before she chased him, Savant realized that she couldn’t make him and didn’t want to force him to stay. The frustration of it all led to room's destruction over the last fifteen minutes of wrecking the room.

            “Fuck him.” Priscilla seethed, but didn’t really mean it. She had fallen for him and she didn’t know why. It wasn’t that she had never had sex before. She had had a dozen partners; even some guys who had stayed up to a year. Still, they were more like friends than lovers. Sex had been something fun to do when it got dark and you didn’t want to hit the clubs. Not with Miro; he was different. She usually hated to be held; she liked when he held her. She hated not being on top; she didn’t mind when Miro took charge on their first night together. He had even made her breakfast. Lots of guys had done that for her, but she was downright fawning over Miro when he did it for her… even if his omelet was a little soupy. “Shit.” she sighed as she surveyed the damage. “Chalk one up for the drugged-out rock star.”

            “Incoming call.” The comm chimed; still working despite the video system being wrecked.

            “Go ahead.” Priscilla moaned, annoyed at the intrusion.

            “Hello?” A male voice echoed through. Priscilla heard a bit of panic in the man’s voice. “I’m trying to reach Miro Creed. It’s urgent.”

            “He’s not here right now.” Priscilla answered.

            “Shit.” The voice cursed. He muttered something away from the comm unit and it came across garbed. “Tell Miro to watch his ass. Tell him the last message was definitely legit and it's a lot worse.” Priscilla heard a noise in the background like someone pounding on a door. Then it was followed by the sound of that door breaking. “Fuck!” The voice cursed. “Whoever you are, tell Creed to go underground. And do it quick! You too!”  Savant sat on the edge of her seat. She heard voices in the background, mostly shouts. The voice continued on, hurrying through his words. “I just ran a legal data history scan and they just busted my door down for it.”

            “Back away from the terminal.” A new voice ordered. “And put your hands on your head.”

            “Okay, Kojak.” The original voice said, growing fainter as the speaker moved from his terminal. Suddenly there was a high pitched whine and then it faded.

            “Jesus, Vannis!” A new voice cursed. “You didn’t have to fu…” Then the connection cut off. Priscilla sat in shock… and then remembered the sheet Miro had been holding before he left.

            “Where is it?” Priscilla whispered as she frantically searched for it. A minute later, she was reading through the short message. She wasn’t sure what it meant at first, and then Savant knew. Miro thought she was the reason behind this! She had to get him back.

            Priscilla crossed the room and went over into Mendota and Grey’s suite.             “Mendota?” she called out. “Alex?” Savant could hear the shower running. She thought she heard a voice from one of the bedrooms and crossed over; when she got close, she heard Alex Grey talking.

            “No, sir. Both Creed and Priscilla are both here.”

            “Good, M. Grey. I think it is obvious we need to move them off Babylon. Take them back to Avalon. We’ll decide what to do with them there. Consider it your prime responsibility.”

            “Is that wise, general? Priscilla is unaware but something is keying off Creed. I’d swear he’s got someone feeding him real-time intelligence.”

            “Not a whole lot of choice. This experiment is far too important to risk some jackass power struggle screwing it up. I’m fairly certain that King has his hands into this already. I wouldn’t put it past the Resistance to nab Priscilla. We don’t know shit about the Horadrim and they weren't completely straight with us. This may be our only chance to learn the truth.”

            “If you say so, sir. I just feel weird to be continuing the work of Pyramus Grey.”

            “We have to before King does. He has access to the same files I’ve acquired. He’s either going to make a play or already has. Dismissed, Major Grey. I have other issues to attend to.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “What are you doing, Priscilla?” Mendota stood in his bathroom, his black hair combed in straight lines across his head.

            “Shhh!” Priscilla signaled him to shut up as he walked over. “Grey’s fucking military!”

            “What?!” Mendota stated in shock.

            “I just heard him finish talking to a general,” Savant answered, “maybe Clarke himself.”

            “Oh shit.” the manager whispered, total shock combined with terror as he stared at the ground. As soon as he composed himself, he looked up. “Let’s grab Miro and get the out of here.”

            “Miro took off.” Priscilla whispered. “I was going to tell you guys, but….”

            “Fuck,” Mendota cursed. “Go outside and wait. I’ll get dressed and we’ll go find him.”

            “Okay.” Savant nodded, stepping out into the hallway and waited. A minute later, she heard her manager's voice talking to Grey. “Shit,” she cursed, as an older man walked down the hall, looking at her. She went back to the room to find Mendota and Grey talking.

            “Priscilla!” Grey smiled at her. “Good thing I caught you. We need to get you and Miro a flight to Avalon tonight. I don’t trust this place another night. You and Mendota should go ahead and cancel the autograph session you two are headed for.”

            “I am not gonna back down to threats, Alex.” Priscilla tried to help Mendota out. “We need to do this to avoid a total PR cluster fuck that this is turning into.”

            “You’ve been hanging around with Mendota too much.” Grey smiled, then that grin dropped as she heard the door open behind her. Suddenly the elderly man who had passed her before was there, with short gray hair, gray goatee, and wearing a pair of old reading glasses.

            “Who are you?” Priscilla asked.

            Grey answered for him. "Turks?!" he shouted, reaching for the plasma revolver in his coat. He never reached it. The plasma charge caught right above the right temple and sprayed several pieces of fried brain matter on the door to his bedroom. She started to scream when an iron strong grip wrapped around her neck and a hand clamped over her mouth.

            “Shhh!” Turks whispered. Priscilla looked at Mendota, watching as he held a plasma revolver in his left hand, a blank expression on his face. “Oh, bad boy, M. Mendota. You killed your head of security. You’re sure to go to jail for it.” Through it all, Mendota continued to have the blank look on his face. Savant tried to free herself but the man's grip was like iron. “Better to kill yourself than face the charges.” With that, Mendota raised the plasma revolver to his temple. Priscilla tried to call out, but the shrill wine of the revolver firing silenced her incoherent shouts, muffled by Turks hand. Mendota’s corpse joined Grey’s on the floor. She tried to fight the tears but they came anyway.

“Say good night, M. Savant.” Suddenly Priscilla felt a thousand whispers in her ears. The room suddenly blurred and began to spin. A second later, she went limp in Turks’ grasp. “Much better.” He let Priscilla drop to the floor with a soft thud and grabbed his comm. “I need an extraction from the roof. Also comm Anderson and De Soto; they should have acquired Creed.”

            He put the comm back in his pocket and gathered up Priscilla in his arms. With one last glance, he left the room and the two rapidly cooling bodies.




Commodore Erich Von Shrakenberg awoke in a cold sweat.  He had been dreaming again, dreaming the same dream.  He knew InSec wanted revenge on him for destroying that corvette, but he seriously doubted they'd go for something as direct as an assassination attempt.  That wasn't their style.  Besides, this was a Fleet facility, and not a big sexy one like a battlestation or a warship, so he doubted InSec wasted any of their staff in maintaining a mole in a mere hospital. 

            Still, his subconscious didn't always listen to the logical parts of his mind.  He had dreamed the same dream almost every night since he arrived in the hospital.  The other nights, he broke down and accepted the dream-blocking medication from the sympathetic night nurse.  Those nights were almost worse: he dreamed nothing at all, and that itself was too close to death for comfort. 

            Erich calmed his breathing and looked at the chronometer on the bedstand. 0235 hours; he could get another few hours of sleep before he prepared for his first rehab session at 0830.  Great… just long enough to get back into REM sleep, just long enough for another dream of being shoved out a window.   Reluctantly, he hit the call button and requested Metazine to block the visions he knew awaited him once he was alone in dreamland, dueling with the demons of his subconscious. 

            A little over three hours later, he awoke again and went about his daily routine of exercises and therapy, training his new limbs to take the place of the old.  He spent the rest periods in between dictating notes into a voiceprinter, to be taken and turned into a quickie autobiography by a ghostwriter hired by the Admiralty.  They wanted to use him for all the propaganda mileage they could.  Erich thought the whole idea was a bit silly, especially since the title would be "It Doesn't Take a Hero".  Erich was a student of military history, and it pained him to have his memoirs share a title with what was generally regarded as the single worst-written military memoir in the history of mankind. 

            The routine never varied.  Days turned into weeks, and soon Erich was able to walk with a cane.  He'd have to continue daily exercises for another several weeks before his new limbs were as strong as the originals, but he no longer needed to stay in the hospital.  The day before he was due to be released, however, he had a visitor. 

            "Onkel Karl," exclaimed Erich, as the tall, gray-haired man in the Admiral's uniform walked in.  Admiral Karl Von Shrakenberg was the younger brother of Erich's father.  He was tall, thin, with the piercing blue Von Shrakenberg eyes and the long, thin Von Shrakenberg nose.  Like everyone in Erich's family for the past six generations who wasn't the first-born son, he had gone into Earth Fleet.  Like all the family members before him, he had done very well there. 

            "Little Erich," replied Admiral Karl Von Shrakenberg.  "It es good to see you again, especially since you'll be up on yer feet again soon."

            "Yes, Uncle."

            "Dat's good to hear. Your mother was vorried for a bit."

            Erich squirmed uncomfortably in his bed.  "She could have commed."

            "Vell, you know the family," replied the admiral.  "Ve're not known for conspicuous displays of affection."

            "She still should have commed me."

            "I know, I know.  But she figured you had enough on your mind."

            Erich sat up straighter in bed.  "Why, is something wrong?"

            "Not really, but she's not getting any younger, and, well…"

            "What, did she fall," asked Erich anxiously.  "Is her back acting up again?"

            Karl chuckled good-naturedly.  "Nothing like that.  She's engaged to be re-married."

            "Oh," said Erich, then was silent for a full minute.  "Anyone I know?"

            "Jerry Vellington," said the admiral, the smile disappearing from his face. 

            Erich exploded.  "Jerry Wellington!  Vice President of Finance, Jerry Wellington?" 

            "Ja."  M. Wellington was the highest-ranking non-family-member in Paderborn Chemicals, the family business of the Von Shrakenberg clan. 

            "Dad's old golfing partner, Jerry Wellington?"


            "The asshole who used to hit on Johanna and Ingrid all the time?"

            Admiral Von Shrakenberg's face darkened.  "Erich, dis es not your place to judge your mother's love life."

            Erich's voice became shrill.  "Love life?  My mother is sleeping with Jerry `Give or Take a Million' Wellington?!??"

            "I told you she didn't want to bother you vith this vile you were in rehabilitation."

            "Well, I can see why!"

            Uncle Karl became firm.  "Erich, I can see this is upsetting you…"

            "You're damned right this is upsetting me!"

            "…So I am going to have to insist that this conversation is over."

            "This is not over!"

            "Erich!"  Uncle Karl was suddenly and unmistakably Admiral Von Shrakenberg now.  "We have more important things than our private family problems to discuss!  The var will not vait for us to fix our private lives!"

            "Yes, sir," intoned Erich, with only a touch of sarcasm. 

            "Good.  Now you will soon be fit to return to duty, ja?"  Karl's demeanor changed again.  Now he was Uncle Karl, the friendly superior officer. 


            "Good." Karl took a seat and looked him straight in the eyes. "Fleet Kommand has offered you a new billet. You're to be my operations officer aboard the EFS Hachiman as we take a task force back to Earth."

            "Earth?" Erich's ears perked up.

            "Ja, the old vaderland, sure. Dis is a simple raid. The Grand Kouncil can't afford to send a fleet in, so ve're going to do a raid. No more, no less. Vith any luck, ve can draw the Resistance fleet in combat, and destroy it." His uncle got closer to him. "Dis es not just a raid, however. There is a rumor dat Chairman Johnson is stepping down as Marshal and one of the CNC's will take his place."

            "Who will it be?"

            "Little Krissy is the obvious choice, but der are others who vant the job."

            Erich's eyes narrowed. "Rashid King."

            Karl put a finger to his lips. "Not so loud. The point es dat Fleet needs victories if Admiral Vorheis es to become Marshal. If we fail at dis, my little nephew, he may get the job instead.

            "Then what are we waiting for?"

            "Dat's a good lad. Now, I have to get back to my ship. Papers don't shuffle themselves, ja?"

            Admiral Von Shrakenberg turned to go.  Erich called almost plaintively.  "Onkel Karl?"

            "Yes, my nephew?"

            "Are we on the right side?  Are we?"

            Karl Von Shrakenberg's shoulders slumped for a moment.  "Ve are on the only side ve can be.  Ours is not to reason vhy, ours is but to do…"

            "..and die." Finished Erich. 


            As Admiral Karl Von Shrakenberg strode down the hallway of the Fleet Hospital, a man in a black uniform watched from a quiet alcove.  Yes, he thought. Things were going nicely.




            The pounding of his head resounded with the beat of the pounding music. Mark Smith held Kuar in front of him as he faced his… former brother with King's own sword. He couldn't have mistaken that for any other blade; his hand still throbbed with the tiny cuts it gave. The hate inside him grew like black liquid flowing inside him. Jupedus had betrayed him all this time; his love for him had evaporated when he had turned him over to King. Staring out at his opponent through his cold blue eyes, the assassin felt his hate turn to a murderous rage. As Steve jumped into the pit of fighting flesh, Mark followed him in. Either way, he knew, one of them had to die

From the moment they hit the bottom of the pit, the brothers were at each other's throats. Their swords danced their deadly steps, clashing in the sweaty place, while the other fighters around them gave them plenty of room. At first, they exchanged blows, but then Mark's skill with the sword started to show through. Smith pressed the attack and Kuar seemed to take a life of its own. His speed increased, forcing Jupedus to fall back with every strike, then Steve used his own power. While they fought, Steve grew larger and more hairy as the fight continued. Suddenly he was nine feet tall, claws grasped around the sword, and the battle was joined.


            Hex didn’t like being needed, but Pint’s pulling reminded him that he was.  He knocked her hands off his coat, jumping down into the pit, landing between two mangy looking werewolves fighting in Crinos form. Obviously annoyed by the interruption, one of them jumped at him.  Hex saw it coming and ducked. With a few inches of clearance between his head and the werewolf’s kick, he pushed off his right foot to dodge a low left punch.  The hairy opponent, irritated by his inability to hit his target, quickly lost interest in the irrelevant match when Hex jumped off to the side. Turning away from the werewolves, the boy left them to continue their fight.

            Making a quick scan of the room, amidst several different fight, he easily saw the swords clashing between the man they called Mark Smith and the werewolf, only ten meters away.  Everywhere else, the pit was the epitome of chaos.  He assessed the situation as quick as he could.  Smith was falling into a trap, doesn’t know it, and he’s in a sword fight.  What the trap was Hex didn’t know, but he figured it could be avoided by… extracting… Mark from the Rage. However, the boy had to get the sword fight out of the way.

Hex longed for his weapons from the shuttle.  He wished for his katana with which to join the fight… but the plasma revolver would work.  He pulled it out and opened fire on the werewolf brandishing the sword—he looked like he wasn’t going to win anyway.


            Plasma bolts raced across the small enclosed space and Steve roared with pain. As one hit, Jupedus suddenly rushed away from the fight, trying to run through the fighting crowd to escape the lightning death that was aimed at him. Mark turned to see who it was who interrupted his fight. His hate still burned like kerosene as he found the culprit. Great Spirit, it was a kid!


            Whoever the werewolf was, he was fast.  Hex had used up half the clip and had only hit him once!  His aim couldn’t possibly be that bad.  He had to hurry up and finish this before anyone could react… he wasn’t ready for an all-out brawl.  The boy glanced at the crowd before opening fire again.  They were all watching him and everything was going slower. He adjusted his aim and pulled the trigger twice.  Nothing happened at first, then he glanced back at the brawlers again, and it happened all at once.  The revolver fired twice, hitting the werewolf in the right arm both times, and Hex fired thrice more for good measure.  Two hit the target: one in the chest and one in the abdomen.

            Mark glared at him.  Hex felt a hatred in the look that was kin to his own; he prepared himself for the worst.  Smith didn’t look too happy, but suddenly the assassin shifted his glare; seemed like he was looking for something.  Then he found it. Hex followed his stare back to Shannon… then to Kash.  Something wasn’t right. 

Then, at the other end of the room, a load roar was heard by all over the thudding tones of Volkskrieg Overdrive.  All eyes turned in that direction and the brawlers parted; those few that didn't were thrown aside.  Then they all saw the were-creature’s face.

            One of the doctors (he wasn’t sure which) had told Hex about Arthur Clarke and the Raptors.  They hunted “rogue” mages and other awakened draft-dodgers.  “If you weren’t here with us, you would be in the Tech Infantry—either by choice or by force.  Clarke would see to it.”  Clarke was a legend.


            The Siberian tiger in Crinos form walked forward with a rage that seemed to be pouring off his skin. With one point of his claw, Hex dropped his revolver; it seemed like he had never been so scared in his life. His other hand drew a knife from his belt and Clarke pointed it at Smith. "You…" he growled, that kind of sound that makes your hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

            Mark just stared at the creature that had just come up to face him. His brother was lying as a bloody heap on the ground, the Resistance had come to save him, and the history books had come to life in front of him. Now he understood; he was brought here to kill Clarke, what King had wanted him to do all along. Both Smith and Clarke had been trapped here like pawns in the commandant's bloody game. As much as Mark wanted to escape, something told him that the general wouldn't let him.

            Suddenly, Arthur's silver knife grew into a sword, while the were-tiger stepped in front of him into an offensive stand. Kuar seemed to hum once… whatever sword that Clarke held was facing him. The sword wanted to fight and Mark, for once, was glad it did. The moment that Smith had been avoiding had finally come to pass. For some reason, it reminded him of the four words that his tactics instructor drilled into him at OCS: There are no coincidences.


            Hex watched in amazement as the two swordsmen suddenly went at it. There seemed to be an inherent rightness to the whole situation. The two glistening swords and their wielders went at it. Both were excellent at the fighting with a blade and the battle seemed to rage on into a sharpened fury.

            Then the boy's thoughts returned to him. He had to stop this! If Clarke or Smith died, the only one who would truly win was Rashid King! Hex knew he had to stop this fight, one way or another. The question was how?


            Damn, he was good! Kuar seemed to sing with every blow that Mark and Arthur made. As Smith's sword sped him up, Clarke seemed to do the same. No matter what attack he made, the were-tiger always seemed to come up with a block. Their deadly dance continued as they rushed around each other; parry, thrust, counter, jab. There seemed to be no end to this dance of madness.

            Smith had to do something to change the situation. Mark was fit, well trained, and used to hard work… but he knew he didn't have the endurance that Clarke did. A few minutes, no problem; fifteen, his body might start to slow down. Under this constant attack, Smith knew he would die.

            Making a quick attack toward Arthur's knees, the were-tiger's sword went down to block. With his mind, he willed the sword to cut. Kuar hummed even louder and obeyed. Mark swung with tremendous strength. When Clarke's sword came up for the block, Kuar cut right through it, narrowly missing the creature wielding it by a few centimeters.

            The top half of his sword whipped up in the air, then suddenly came right back. The silver sword seemed to melt back together before Mark's eyes. Smith took a quick step back as he saw the menacing glee in Clarke's eyes. How the hell am I going to stop him?!


            Hex made his move while Clarke was thrown off.  As the boy moved in, were-tiger was suddenly pissed about someone interrupting his fight.  Arthur went for a crushing punch into the Hex's stomach.  He tried to block it and succeeded...  almost. The hair on the Crinos-form Siberian tiger stood up on end as the energy from the mother of all jolts of static electricity… but he didn't move like he was supposed to. All of sudden, Hex saw the reason why. His silver sword was glowing; it was absorbing the power thrown into him. The boy jumped back as he clutched his arm. Clarke’s punch broke it and it hurt like hell!


            Mark saw his opportunity when the boy had managed to shock the were-tiger. Running forward, he made a quick faint, then drove Kuar right into his chest. Clarke was still shaking from the electricity and offered no resistance. Smith's sword dug into his heart and the assassin knew he had him. However, the shock from Hex's jolt threw him across the room, finally landing with a thump against the side of the pit.

            Clarke stood there for a moment, seemingly unaffected by the fact that he had a sword buried through his chest. Then, the were-creature's silver sword went suddenly dim and the general dropped to the ground.

            Smith managed to get to his feet and rushed over to his fallen opponent. Clarke shifted out of Crinos form and the smaller form of a gray-haired man in beige fatigues appeared instead. Then the silver sword suddenly changed into a dark red. It took a force of will for Mark to pull Kuar out of his body, but he did it, holding his blood-stained sword as the crowd around him stood in shock. The music had stopped and all eyes were caught on him.

            No one stopped him as the assassin walked out of the pit and the club. They parted for Smith and all were hushed. To everyone, it felt like it was the day that the magic died.




            The remains of the Bug attack on New Sparta were already being swept away by the gale-force winds that wracked the small moon. As the last of the mobile fortresses closed in on the last of the broken hive ship, the powered armor forces were already climbing out. The all-clear had been sounded; signifying that no bugs had managed to burrow underground. Then, once the troops were clear, the Giza-class land ships blasted the remains into atoms. Nothing was to remain of their failed attack.

            Back at Training Base 7, Andrea Treschi stood in the operations room, pain flowing away from his body, while he watched the reports come in over the computer terminals. The man was left in awe of the whole scene; the Bugs… the BUGS were swatted away like so many weak flies. These insects were strong, even stronger than those the Fed fought in the last war, but the New Spartans defeated them, and only took a handful of major casualties. It was too good to be believed.

            Treschi turned toward the officers, standing there like statues behind their staff, satisfied with their victory. No, Andrea thought, it was more than that. They were smug. To them, this battle was nothing more than acknowledgement of the work they had put into this project. Well, they’ve earned it. Let them have their moment of glory; all things pass.

            He walked over and coughed quietly to get their attention. The TI colonel turned towards him. “Yes, M. Treschi?”

            “Now that the crisis is over, I have several pressing matters…”

            “Yes, of course. Danika will meet you at the shuttle.”

            “With all due respect, sir, I don’t really need Danika to come with me.”

            The colonel gave a wry grin. “M. Treschi, you don’t have a choice. Not only do you need a pilot back to your ship, but Danika is also our liaison between Clarke and us. She will return with you.”

            “Whether I like it or not.”

            “As you say.”

            “Very well.” Treschi nodded, holding out his hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

            The colonel took his hand, shook it, then turned back toward the monitors. It was obvious to Andrea that the officer had better things to do. The smuggler took his leave of them and walked down back down the paths that had been showed him before. It didn’t take long to find what he had been looking for; the communications room. The technician on duty took one look at him and cheerfully ignored him. She had been here before when he sent his previous message. The corporal obviously filed him under outsider, friend, harmless. Treschi preferred it that way; he went over to the terminal farthest away from the soldier and put his net ID card in the slot. He ran through the encryption protocols from memory as the identification automatically configured security codes for the Galactic Net. With a few adjustments for being in the Frontier Worlds, he was soon ready.

            Andrea dialed the same exchange number as before, then typed in the same terminal number, with one number difference. Of course, any nosy enough in New Sparta wouldn’t be able to tap into his messages, but they would know where he called. The previous number was simply a terminal in General Clarke’s office; one of his staff that he knew. With the one number change, he reached a pizza place instead. “Capitol Park Pizza, how may I help you?”

            “Yes, this is Andrea Treschi. I had a delivery for 1200 Anderson Avenue.”

            The teenage boy blinked, then checked his minicomp. “M. Treschi? Could you spell that?”

            “T-R-E-S-C-H-I. I was expecting a delivery?”

            He typed in the name and something beeped. “Let me transfer you to the manager, sir.” The screen shifted again and another young man appeared on the screen. “M. Treschi?”


            “I’m sorry, sir, our driver got lost. We apologize for the delay. We’re sending your order right away.”

            “When can I expect it to arrive?”

            “Within the hour.”

            “Thanks. I’ll look for it.” Then Andrea terminated the connection. Everything was place, his thoughts comforted him; now he had to get off planet.


            Danika was waiting for him at the shuttle as promised. The werewolf was gruff, cold… but that was nothing new. After spending a couple weeks together, she knew that that meant annoyed. It had taken them forever to get across the galaxy to New Sparta. Now she was leaving home again to be stuck in a small ship for weeks of torture; even Treschi was fearful of being stuck with her. “Are we all set?” he asked, once he shut the shuttle door.

            “Kraw’s already on route from the main orbital station around Hadrian. We’ll meet up with him once we break orbit.”

            “Let’s do it then.”

            As soon as Treschi got strapped in, Danika hit the thrusters, and the shuttle lifted off. The wind started buffeting the craft immediately. Andrea’s teeth were chattering as they worked their way out of the storm, until all became quiet again. The smuggler took a chance to settle down in his seat as they slowly broke free of the violent atmosphere. Suddenly, a comm signal came through to the shuttle. “Shuttle Alpha Seven-Zero, this is Eagle Base. Come in, please.” The signal was filled with static.

            “Alpha Seven-Zero here. Come in, Eagle.”

            “Alpha Seven-Zero. We have lost contact with Hadrian.” Another burst of static interrupted. “…only have proximity band. Can… locate source?”

            “Stand by, Eagle.” Danika’s hands flew over the scanners. The holoproj awoke in front of them, but all they could see was the Lonely Heart moving to intercept them, and the normal progression of satellites orbiting the planet. “Eagle, this is Alpha Seven-Zero. Negative. We can’t spot anything that…” Her words were stopped when she noticed the sensor data. All of a sudden, half the screen bent out of proportion. “What the hell?”


            “Sir!” one of the many technicians manning New Sparta’s monitors perked up.

            The TI colonel walked over to him. “Report.”

            “I’m picking up massive disruptions in Quadrant Four.”

            “Gravity drives?”

            “Negative, sir, more like black holes… it’s gone!”

            “Explain yourself, corporal.”

            “I can’t, sir. One minute it was there, the next…” the technician checked his sensors again and gasped. “Sir, several unidentified ships now in close orbit!”

            “What?!” the colonel gaped, frozen at first by the impossibility of it. No, his mind corrected, not impossible. Improbable, yes, but now it’s here in front of us!

            “Sir, they’re firing at us!”

            “Bring up the defenses!”

            “It’s too late!”


            The dark ships hovering in low orbit around New Sparta suddenly opened up their batteries. Powerful beams of light cut down toward the planet, ripping into the ground bases, tearing them into glassed rubble within a few seconds. Each of the mobile siege fortresses, still out in the open from the bug attack, were also hit by beams. However, although the MSF’s were designed to take energy hits, the beams continually poured more and more power through its thermoelectric converters. Finally, the system couldn’t handle that much power and the giant pyramids exploded, bursting in a fury of thermonuclear fire. Ground troops on the ground, although shielded from radiation, were not shielded against the blast wave. Most of New Sparta’s army was vaporized in less than ten seconds. One ship broke off to destroy the orbital defenses, while the rest continued to slice through the moon’s surface, destroying the work of years in under a minute.


            The Lonely Heart burst in front of the shuttle; its fusion bottle breaking under the attack of the nebulous craft darting closer to them. “Oh, my God,” Danika said, tears streaming down her face, as her home was vaporized in front of her. “It’s the end…”

            “…for you.” Treschi answered.

As the werewolf turned, she heard the whir of a plasma revolver charger. “What are…”

            Danika never finished her sentence. Once her face saw the smuggler’s weapon, Andrea pulled the trigger, piercing the werewolf’s heart with a plasma bolt. Death was instantaneous.

            Treschi disconnected himself from the safety belts, floated over towards her smoldering corpse, and shoved her away from the controls. Andrea smiled as he looked over her body. Beautiful woman, he pondered, too bad she was such a bitch. He kissed her lips and then moved his fingers across the console. He activated the comm system, aiming it at the nearest dark ship, and modulated it for proximity transmission. “This is Jackal. I have the data you requested and await pick-up. Over.”

            “Confirmed, Jackal.” a mechanical voice replied. “Prepare for pick-up.”




Experience --


Andy (Hex): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 good orders = 25 pts.

Chris (Treschi): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 good orders = 25 pts.

Ed (O'Reilly): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 story + 5 personality + 5 good orders = 35 pts.

Frank (Dimiye): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 story + 5 personality + 5 good orders + 5 early turn-in = 40 pts.

Josh (Spyder): 5 pts per act orders x 3 = 15 pts + 5 story + 5 early turn-in = 25 pts.

Martin (Von Shrakenberg): 5 pts per act orders x 3 = 15 pts + 5 story + 5 personality + 5 good orders = 30 pts.

Matt (Smith): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 story + 5 personality + 5 good orders + 5 early turn-in = 40 pts.

Nathan (Creed): 5 pts per act orders x 3 = 15 pts + 5 story + 5 personality + 5 good orders = 30 pts.


A Word To The Players


Now let me get this straight: The story comes out Thursday night, you read it Friday, and you still can't get your orders in by Wednesday morning? That's five days you have to write orders. I'm not buying it. Now I slave over a hot computer 8 to 10 hours a week trying to get this story out. It's a lot easier to do that if I have all the orders in front of me when I start to work on it.


In my opinion, here's what happens. You talk Tech all during the weekend, (don't even think of denying it, I get the calls at my house) you get busy once Monday rolls around, and then when you wake up Wednesday morning, you think "Holy shit! I forgot to send in orders!"


All right, I've already said that this game shouldn't take a lot of time out of your life, and that's true. You don't have to send stories every week! If creative writing is hard for you, just send me detailed orders for your character! Either way, simply find a way to let me know. Regardless of what happens, the story MUST COME OUT Thursday night. This isn't Spectrum Wars where we had variable results times; in order for players not to lose interest, the game must come out steadily every week. I think the amount of fanaticism on the part of the players attests to that.


This is not to say I don't appreciate your efforts. I think that the players have been doing a terrific job with their characters; more than I ever could have hoped for. However, these constantly late orders are driving me crazy. As the Storyteller, I don't have to take it. So, starting next week, if a player consistently turns in late orders, they not only lose their early turn-in bonus, but I also delete 5 experience points from their total.


This episode you get off free. However, if I have to be accountable to deadlines, then so must you. Now, if you turn in a story on Thursday, I'll still use it (usually editing it to involve wounding the character), since a late story is better than no story at all. However, the "no orders" rule still stands: you turn no orders, your character gets wounded. You do that twice, he ends up dead. Have a nice day.


                                                            Marcus Johnston, Frustrated Storyteller


P.S. Please write only three pages per story, run one character, and USE contractions!

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