"Guilty by design… she's nothing more than fiction."

                                                                        -- Orgy, "Fiction: Dreams In Digital"


            "Good. Then return to Avalon, M. Treschi. Your office is waiting for you."

            It is time, Andrea thought, shifting in the uncomfortable seat. Time to send a message to those that think I am a fool and mean to betray me…

            Looking over at the bartender, he got his attention. The dark-haired man behind the bar was pouring out a glass from a pitcher. The second after he received Treschi's mental signal, his eyes flashed up toward him. The glass filled and the bartender stopped pouring out of reflex. The background hum of the bar stopped for him and the raven-haired man.

            The server put down the glass and handed it to his customer. Never did his eyes leave Andrea's dread gaze. It took only a moment, but the smuggler gave the man a short nod. The bartender understood instantly. As he picked up another glass to pour into, for Treschi, the beer moved slower. So much so, that with in moments it seemed that the beer pouring into the glass was floating motionless in mid-air. In fact, everything in the bar seemed come to a halt. 

            The smuggler's arms shot out, his hands shoving the table toward his hooded friend, crushing him behind it. The two-century old vampire didn't even have a chance to grunt before Treschi reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver knife. Within a fraction of a second, his other hand pulled down the man's hood hard, smashing his face onto the surface of the table.

The knife came down on the back of the Jackal's neck, ripping into the paper-thin flesh, right to the hilt.

            A sharp kick slammed the table again into the now-still body. All eyes in the room turned toward the sudden attack, but as the smuggler rose up from the booth, they all turned away. Dragging the still corpse by the neck of his elaborate robe, Andrea knew there was something else he had to do. Even if he hadn't seen his aura, the stink of the centuries-old decaying

flesh had penetrated his clothes. Vampires could be knocked out with equipment that killed mortals, but it took special preparations to make sure they were dead.

            Passing by the bar, Treschi snapped his fingers, and the bartender tossed him a bottle. Andrea caught it and continued to drag his victim out of the bar.

            Once he got back in the rain, the mud threatened to suck him down into the earth. Tucking the bottle underneath his armpit, he had to drag the still-silent body with both hands, finally dragging him into the alley.

            Quickly soaked by the rain, Andrea didn't wait too much longer. After he dropped the body, he pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth, then dumped the contents of the clear liquid all over his victim. He closed his eyes, and brought his right hand to his lips.   Then he threw the arm back toward the rain and liquor soaked corpse. A flame rose up, soon encompassing the victim, burning with an iridescent light. Treschi didn't bother watching the consumption of the vampire into dust; he had done his job.

            No, Leonardo, he thought, I am the Jackal.

Slowly looking over his left shoulder, he noticed a man with long black hair. The dark suit was standing quietly in the shadows next to a nearby trash bin. It was the stranger he met on Wilke's Star just a few weeks ago.

            "Yes, I know what you want me to do," whispered Andrea, calmly as he turned to face him, pulling a small crystal object from a pocket in his overcoat. "And if you want me to do it, all I'll need is six million credits…  to cover my expenses. You will forward that to my accounts on Minos. You will also deliver to me Stewart Weaver and all of your available tactical and military information regarding the New Paris system. You can put it all on this crystal chip. Bring them both to 813 North Retribution Street, Apartment 12…"

            "Of course, M. Tres--"

            "Within one hour or the deal is off," the Jackal interrupted, tossing the crystal high in the air. Treschi started to walk away, but maintained eye contact, even through the falling rain.

            A faint wry smile came across the ancient face of the stranger as he nodded and caught the chip with his black hand.




            "I was afraid you were dead."

As Von Shrakenberg sat up, the muscles in his body throbbed with pain, but he managed to accomplish this simple physical feat. "I wish I was." He looked around at the greenery that seemed hopelessly out of place. "Where are we?"

            "Mars… I think. I found this garden inside this dome when I landed. You landed nearby. I dragged you here."

            "Who are you?"

            "That's not important, sir. What's important is that you're safe."

            With the task force gone, and enemies circling in the skies above, safe was the last thing that the commodore felt.  He looked more closely at his new companion.  The man had the dark skin and odd cheekbones of a Maori, but the round light-brown eyes of a Caucasian.  His hair fell in tangled ringlets around his deeply-lined face.  He looked like he was carved out of mahogany, sitting so still like that, and the only movement was the twinkle as the fire danced in his eyes. 

            I know him from somewhere, Erich asked himself, don't I? I've seen him before. I don't think I've actually met him, but I seem to remember something… from the Academy. Yes, I saw his face at school. He was up at the podium and… mein Gott! It was the same man. That meant he could only be… "Lwan Eddington." 

            The lieutenant's eyes flashed as they focused on his guest's face. "Excuse me?"

            "Lwan Eddington, former platoon leader of Arthur Clarke, Marshal of the Federation armed forces, the hero of H6 and a dozen other worlds?"

            Eddington stood up uneasily, his long limbs unfolding like some animated beach chair.  "I've put that life behind me," he said, turning his back on Von Shrakenberg. 

            "So I heard." replied Erich.  "Rumors kept surfacing that you were dead, but no one really believed it."

            "Sometimes I wish I was," Lwan answered, turning to face Erich again.  "I've heard of you, as well, Commodore Von Shrakenberg.  I know a great many things."

            "Oh," asked Erich tiredly.  "Nothing bad, I hope."

            Eddington tossed another log on the fire.  "Far from it."

            "Then it's probably true," Erich gave a painful attempt at a self-deprecating laugh. 

            Lwan didn't even crack a smile.  "You are a man of courage and personal honor, a strong sense of duty, and a great loyalty to your Federation and to the human race. I admit; few others possess it in this day and age."

            "And that's bad?"

            "It can be, if it's misplaced," replied the legendary trooper.  "It was for me."  With that he strode away.  Erich tried to get up to follow him, but was forced to sit back down when his legs refused to support him.


            It was several hours later when Lwan returned to the campfire.  Erich had tended the fire until he passed out again from exhaustion.  As Eddington returned with an armload of wood, the sound awoke Von Shrakenberg from his fitful slumber. 

            Erich silently watched Lwan replenish the fire, which had almost died down.  As the flames danced higher again, Erich quietly asked the question that had plagued him ever since meeting the man.  "Why are you here?"

            Eddington turned his weary eyes towards his guest.  "The more important question is, why are you here?"

            "That's simple," began Erich, "my ship was destroyed, and the escape pod…"

            Lwan cut him off.  "That's not a simple question, and it never has a simple answer.  I didn't ask how you got here, I asked why you were here."

            "The escape pod brought me here, and…" continued Erich doggedly. 

            "That’s not what I meant," interrupted Eddington again.  "I know how you got here, and why your fleet came to Mars.  I want to know why you are here, in this place, in this war, in this life."

            "Oh," Von Shrakenberg continued lamely.  "I was following my duty, to my family, to my world, to my species."

            "Is that all?"

            "Isn't that enough?" challenged Erich. 

            "Following in your forefather's footsteps is rarely worth dying for," responded Lwan.  "If it was, we never would have gotten off Earth and gone to the stars.  We'd still be living in mud huts on the Serengeti plain.  It is only when we casting off the past that we can move forward."

            Von Shrakenberg got testy. "But if we lose all connection to the past, it's not worth going forward!"

            "That is the question, isn't it?" answered Lwan easily.  "Which traditions are worth preserving and which must be cast aside? Some must, after all, if we're to grow as individuals and as a species."

            "Who are you to make that decision?  For that matter, who am I to do so, either?"

            "Another good question.  Who are you, after all?"

            "What do you mean? I'm Commodore Erich Von Shrakenberg."

            "That is your job, and that is your name.  I pity you if you cannot separate the two, but that does not answer the question."

            "What," Erich was bewildered.  "Is there an answer to that question that will satisfy you?"

            "Not always.  Who you are has nothing to do with your parents, they just gave you your name.  It has nothing to do with your job, that's how you survive.  It has nothing to do with your government, that is an accident of history.  So I ask you again, who are you?"

            "Then it seems the only possible answer is, I am me.  That's all anyone can ever know."

            "Very good," Lwan smiled.  You have learned the first lesson.  Strip away the names, the titles, the trappings around you, and what you are left with is that… you are you.  Nothing more, nothing less.  A sentient being, with the right to make choices, and the responsibility to live with the outcome of those choices."

            "What are you, some kind of hermit sage?"

            "I do not call myself such, but if it makes you happy to think of me as one, very well."

            "So what is the next lesson, oh great and wise teacher?" Erich was bored of the man's talk. Next thing I know, he'll ask me what the sound is of one hand clapping. 

            Lwan wasn't joking. "Perhaps humility would be in order, but I feel that would take too much time." 

            "Okay, okay! I get the message… no more wisecracks."

            "Good.  As I said, you have the right to make choices, and the responsibility to live with the consequences of those choices.  So what do you want?"

            "What do I want?" asked Erich incredulously.  "What do I want?  I want to get back to Avalon, and return here with a bigger fleet and avenge Uncle Karl."

            "And then what?"

            "Then what?  I want to crush the rebels and end this pointless civil war, of course."

            "And then what?"

            "Then I want to kick out the aliens who have invaded Human Space, and liberate the human worlds they have seized."

            "And then what?"

            "Then…I don't know, I can't see that far ahead.  Then we will probably have to push back another Bug invasion, or face some other alien threat.  It's a big galaxy."

            Lwan nodded. "It is a big galaxy, and a big universe.  I have traveled among the stars for many years and I've seen much.  There are species out there that make the Bugs look weak by comparison.  There are other species even more powerful and dangerous still."

            "Then I'll have my work cut out for me." replied Erich. 

            "Do you want to fight the whole galaxy at once?  Even the Gatecrasher of Rios or the Butcher of New Madrid would be hard-pressed to do so."

            "If I have to, I will."

            "Is that all you desire?  A never-ending stream of battles, a never-ending river of blood?"

            "Of course not, I just want to make the human race safe in the galaxy."

            "There is no safety this side of the grave."

            "And you can never find the Holy Grail, it is the search that is important," interjected Erich.  "I think I have heard this one."

            "I'm sure you have," Lwan answered, "but have you heard this one?  God goes to Abraham and orders Abraham to sacrifice is beloved son Isaac.  Abraham doesn't want to kill his son, but he obeys God, and takes Isaac up to the mountain and lays him out on the altar.  As Abraham is about to kill his eldest son as a human sacrifice, God tells Abraham that he was only kidding, and Abraham sacrifices a goat instead."

            "What's that got to do with anything?"

            "Do you think God didn't know how deep Abraham's faith ran?" asked Lwan.  "God knows everything, including the deepest secrets of your heart.  God doesn't need to test our faith, yet he does so on a daily basis.  Why is that?"

            "Who are you, Bad Andy?"

            Lwan ignored him.  "It's because sometimes we need to be reminded of how deep our faith runs, of how far we're willing to go for what we believe.  Abraham needed to be reminded of how deep his faith ran, and he believed so strongly that he was willing to kill his child, just because a voice inside his head told him to.  That kind of faith can be very powerful, whether that is for good or evil.  It all depends on where our faith is placed.  If there is a god, and he is worthy of our worship, then Abraham was right.  But if there is no god, or if he is not worthy of our worship, then Abraham was just a crazy man who heard voices in his head."

            Erich digested this for a moment.  "So what are you saying, Lwan?"

            "I am saying, that the fervor of our beliefs have no bearing on their truth.  You fiercely believe that you have a duty to the Federation.  You have demonstrated that you are willing to kill and die to protect that belief.  But how deep is your belief?  And is your faith in the right place?"

            "It is in the only place it can be.  I am a human, my faith is in mankind."

            "You speak for mankind?"

            "The Federation does."

            "Do they, now?  Are they the only voice for humanity?"

            "I know they have problems, but what other choice is there?" asked Erich.  "The Eastern Bloc?  If you think the Fed is oppressive, you should see how they run things.  Perhaps Enoch?  No, thanks; I don't much like bloodsuckers.  Auntie Sarah and her rebels?  Military governments are always a bad idea.  Bad Andy and his Army of the Lord?  Religious dictatorships are no better.  The Frontier World Territory is a pretty good bunch of guys, but they are too small and weak to survive if the Federation falls."

            "And the Resistance?" asked Lwan quietly.  "What do you think of them?"

            "Would you believe I actually hoped to win them over to our side?" replied Erich.  "They actually have some legitimate gripes.  I was going to promise them that if they rejoined the Fed, we would end the draft and call new elections once the civil war was over."

            "Do you believe the Grand Council would have honored that promise?"

            "They would have had little choice and besides, it's the right thing to do."

            Lwan smiled.  "You love the Earth Federation, don't you?"

            Erich paused, unsure what to say.  "I did… once.  Now I'm not so sure.  Any government that permits the excesses of InSec is not one I'm sure I can feel good about supporting."  He stirred the fire idly.  "But that doesn't matter."

            "Why not?"

            "I swore an oath to the Federation, I cannot in good conscience go back on that oath."

            "And has the Federation lived up to their end of the bargain?  An oath sworn to an oathbreaker is no oath at all."

            Erich looked sharply at Lwan.  "And if you love a woman, and she doesn't love you back, does that diminish your love at all?"

            "Unrequited love rarely ends well." The former trooper said, thinking back to his own past. 

            "Even the greatest love that is mutual can end badly, too." finished Erich, returning to turning a stick around in the depths of the fire.  "So are those the only two choices?  The Resistance or the Federation?"

            Lwan grimaced.  "They are not two choices, but one."

            "What do you mean?"

            "The Resistance is controlled by InSec.  Didn't you know that?"




As Malachi watched Justine fade into the shadows, his mind was filled with troubles; confusions beyond belief. In one hand he had Bob and Hope, two of the few friends he ever had; their very lives hung in the balance. In the other, there was Justine, whom he had been… involved with.  He didn't have much choice.  Betray one or betray the other; Spyder didn't like either option.  There had to be a third option. 

He couldn't kill Delarosa, as much as he'd like to, because it would draw too much attention to him.  He thought about luring the colonel into a trap and confronting his accusations with the truth.  If only Malachi had the proof; the only thing he had was Justine's story.  Whether they were in court or in life, all he really had was her word against his. Although he wanted to believe her, Spyder hadn't seen her in years. People can change, he thought, and not always for the better.

Malachi heard footsteps coming his way.  As they approached, the captain moved again; he didn't want to see who was coming. He needed quiet, room, and time to figure this out. Of course, time was what he didn't have, and what he needed the most.


            Neither Delarosa or D'Amprisi showed up the next day. The day after that, the Vishnu had arrived at the Babylon System. From the observation blisters, Spyder was amazed at the number of ships that were deployed here. Whatever fight was coming to this part of space, it was going to be big.

            The captain had finally gotten his orders; hyperspace has a way of knocking out delayed communications. Spyder dropped down on the first shuttle down to the planet. With any luck, maybe he could put some distance between him and his current problem.

            It didn't take long to hook up with the 251-612 Military Police Battalion. It was an efficient little organization, leaving him very little to do. The legion was set up in Tower City, one of the major urban areas on the populous planet. Their job was to make sure that none of the troopers got into trouble… or if they did, to make sure they didn't do it again. They were tough; of course, if you had to make sure that incredibly powerful trained troopers stayed in line, you'd be tough, too.

            Once he met with the battalion XO, a short grizzled lieutenant by the name of Grantz, he had a lot of time to go over the situation reports, fill out paperwork; the everyday droll of peacetime life. Only it wasn't peacetime; Malachi just needed something to take his mind off what he desperately didn't want to think about.

            At midnight, though, his problems came back to haunt him. His comm unit suddenly beeped and Spyder let the message through. The glaring image of Colonel Delarosa came back to haunt him. "Captain Spyder, I hope I'm not disturbing you."

            "No, sir. I couldn't sleep." At least the last part's true, he thought, forcing himself to smile at the head of TI Internal Affairs. Between switching from New Madrid time, to the Vishnu's schedule, then suddenly shifting to Babylon had left his sleep schedule all out of whack.

            "I was wondering about the issue we discussed before. Has it been resolved?"

            Malachi groaned at his indirect way of asking things. He's a politician, all right, he thought, then replied plainly, "No, sir. I have not been contacted."

            "Really? I'd hate for certain others to be affected by this difficulty."

            "Listen, sir, I haven't seen her. Period. I can't do anything if she doesn't visit me!"

            "Fair enough. I'll expect you to keep me informed. Call every other day. I'll be here."

            "Where exactly is that, sir?"

            "Avalon. I'm at Headquarters. Delarosa out."

            Spyder immediately checked the comm prefix on the last call; being in the MP's had certain advantages. True enough, Tomas was back in Avalon. He must have gotten off the star control ship after he had talked to him. If Malachi had wanted distance, he had just gotten it.

            Then, all of a sudden, he heard that still small voice peeping into his head once again. Thank you.

            The captain turned around but could see nothing. Concentrating, Malachi called back, for what?

            For not turning me in… I was afraid Tomas had gotten to you.

            Spyder took a look out the window. No one was outside. Where are you?

            His door opened and the radiant figure of Justine walked into his office. "Right here."

            "Tina, you're not safe here."

            The sergeant walked over to the captain grabbed his shoulders lightly. "I spent too much time worried about being safe. I just want to be with you." Then she brought his head down, wrapping his lips in a kiss.


            Malachi woke up in his cot the next morning, next to a beautiful woman, roused by the sounds of plasma revolvers charging above his head. His eyes suddenly bolted open, watching five guys with guns pointed as his head. "Good morning, M. Spyder. Hoped you slept well."

            The gunmen backed up as the smiling face of Tomas Delarosa came forward. "Do you know how easy it is to change prefixes? I can do it in my sleep."

            "Why you…" The captain was about to lunge for him when he suddenly remembered the five guns pointed at his head.

            "Please, captain, you should be congratulated. You brought a dangerous traitor to the Federation to justice."

            "Fuck you!"

            "And such a vocabulary. Really, M. Spyder, I think your talents are wasted here. Your verbose tongue would be better served on the Grand Council!"

            Justine stirred next to him. "What? What is…"

            "Good morning, dear lady." Delarosa turned to face her. "I hope you enjoyed yourself last night, since you're surely not to enjoy what I have in store for you."

            "Tomas, listen…"

            "I will talk to you later, sergeant, but only in the interrogation chamber. Guards, take…" The colonel was suddenly cut off the sound of a great explosion, ripping open the sky, coming from somewhere close. The shock wave from it shook the walls of the MP barracks. "What the hell?"




            Miro woke up in a dingy hotel; the place smelled of mildew. As his eyes looked up, the peeling wallpaper and water stains on the ceiling confirmed it… this place was a shit hole. The bodyguard felt the cool touch of a wet rag on his forehead and it soothed his aching body. "Thank you."

            "You're welcome." replied a feminine voice, definitely adult, as she moved the cloth over his face with the precision of a professional.


            "You're on Avalon. Don't worry. You're in good hands."

            Creed went to get up. Agonizing pain filled every crevice of his body as he moved. He quickly moved back down, his breaths coming out in short gasps. It was such a simple movement. "W… wha… what…"

            "Your nanocells are drained. They don't have enough power to heal you."

            "Are… you…?"

            "No, honey, I'm just a woman. I can't extend my hand three meters or tap into the InSec mainframe like you guys can. I've got my hands full enough as is with one little girl."

            "You're that… that girl's mother?"

            "Her name's Shannon. And yes, she's my pride and joy." The woman came closer and kissed him on the forehead, her hair brushing across his face. "Actually, she's my cramps and my migraines, but don't tell her that."

            "Am I going to be all right?"

            "I don't know, honey. When my husband gets back…" A door behind them sounded like it opened, "…oops, speak of the devil."

            "Lucifer himself, dear."

            "Ooooh! Watch where you put that pitchfork!" she laughed.

            The man kissed her and then looked down at Miro. "Hello there. Are you comfortable?"

            "Can't move."

            "Yes, I was afraid of that. Whatever that mage did to you tore a hell of a gash. Drained you at the same time."

            "Can't you… can't you help me?"

            "Not here. The damage is too extensive. You've made quite a name for yourself, Miro, unfortunately, you attracted the wrong kind of press. Now it seems you've got every heavy gun in the Fed aiming for you."

            "Figures." Creed sighed. "So how do you know my name?"

            "Tapped into your mail system. That and I watch the newsvids. Ever since that singer you were protecting got kidnapped, that is."


            "Yes, M. Savant. You see, I do occasionally pay attention to what my daughter listens to."

            "Where is she?"

            "I'm not sure." he sighed. "I don't even know if she's still alive, but of course, she never really existed."


            "Priscilla never existed, M. Creed. You already knew that little fact, but you refused to admit it to yourself. Savant is nothing more than a collection of false memories, cooked up by brilliant spin doctors, and given a guitar and a stage. Who she actually is none can say, but it wouldn't be the first time someone brainwashed a person's mind."

            "Who are you?"

            "The name's Kash. The lovely woman who's been caring for you is my wife."

            "I sort of figured."

            "My daughter's outside. I don't think I want her to see you like this."

            "That bad?"

            "Let's just say it's not that good. We'll need to get you to Earth."

            "Earth? You mean, you're with the…"

            "Shhhh," the woman said, "it's not good to talk in an unsecured room."

            "Honey, you worry too much!"

            "It's only because you don't worry enough!" she shot back. "We don't even know who he is!"

            "I do." Kash replied, looking closer at Miro, before turning back to his wife. "Besides, if there were any bugs in the room, I would have sensed them. Don't worry; we're safe."

            "I'll believe that once we get off planet. They've got our pictures scanned to every vidphone and security camera on Avalon and you know it."

            "Hush, dear. We still have Plan B."

            "Hmmm… B for Bullshit?"

            "B for Boom. Distraction's the name of the game. Of course, hauling you around makes that harder, but we'll have to improvise."

            "In other words," Creed managed a smile, "we'll bullshit our way through."

            "I think that's what I said." the woman agreed.

            "All right," Kash nodded, "let's go. The boss wants to see you."




            If the vampire wants my sword, he thought, then let her have it… point first! Pollos willed Kuar to his hand, then ran her through.

            Only she wasn't there anymore. Next thing he knew, the assassin was flying across the alleyway, slamming his back against the brick wall. She may look like a thin wisp of a woman, but as Xavier realized, she kicked like a mule!

            Although the pain in his back was excruciating, Pollos willed himself to ignore it, getting back into a defensive stance. He had only a second before the vampire came in again. She moved fast; it took all of his might to keep him with her. Still, as he sped up faster and faster, Xavier was still too slow! When he vanished, she vanished, and still managed to fight. When he tried to cloud her mind, she blocked it, shooting it right back at him. She was too good! Even without a sword to defend herself, the vampire's glancing blows against the assassin hurt like hell! Had he not had his subdermal armor implanted, he would most likely be dead.

            How am I going to get out of this? Xavier thought, twirling Kuar in front of him like a shield. She had disappeared again, even from his sight. Pollos fell back into the shadows, trying to defend himself. All of a sudden, the darkness reached out and grabbed him. Incorporeal talons reached out and held him. He tried to slice them but he couldn't move Kuar far enough back to reach. They slithered from his grasp.

            The vampire reappeared from around the corner; her eyes chilling him with her cold stare. "Now, whoever you are, I will reclaim that which is ours by right." She came closer. Pollos tried to resist but the shadowed claws were much too strong for him. Finally she stood in front of him and reached for the blade in his hand.

            Kuar began to glow with a light he had never seen before. The closer her cold dead fingers got to it, the more it pulsated with light. Then, as soon as she touched the hilt, a bolt of electricity flew from the sword, whipping her down the alley as effortlessly as she had done to him. The shadows let go of him the instant she fell.

            Xavier wasn't stupid. He wasn't about to go see if she was alive or dead. Of course, he thought, she was dead. The question is… how long until she moved again? Pollos wasn't about to wait and find out. Apparently the ante had just gone up.




            "Hacckk!"  Hex sat up with a start, blood spattering all over his clothes.  Then he managed to cough up blood twice more.  The same nightmare came back to him again. The dazed feeling he had from waking up was quickly dispelled when he remembered what had just happened out by the shuttle.  The boy quickly checked out his surroundings. 

He was lying on a very uncomfortable bed in a small square room. It looked like an interrogation room except that his bed replaced the usual table.  Hex brought his hands to his throat as he gave another cough of blood. The only light in the room was filtered through a small window in a door at the opposite side of the room.  It was just a dream, Hex told himself as he watched as the blood on his shirt fade away slowly.  Of course, it would disappear; it wasn't there to begin with. 

Before the teenager react, the door opened, and light streamed in around Brigette's silhouette.  She stood there briefly and a bright light suddenly came on directed right at Hex's bed, blinding him.

"What the hell are you doing?  Put up your hands.  I won't let you kill you before I can."

Hex made a fake yawn and took his hands off his neck, then spat out a little more blood to get the taste out of his mouth.  "No, it's not like that, I was just… uh… it was a wet dream."  His eyes motioned toward the disappearing blood on his jacket.  The boy decided it was best not to mention he just dreamt about killing her friends again.

"Is that your idea of a joke?" she growled, "Look, if Dennis hadn't stopped me, you would already be dead. I wouldn't push your luck any further."

"Who the hell is Dennis?"

"Dennis is the one checking up on your little story," she said coldly, moving over to the chair as the door closed behind her.  "As soon as he tells me that you lied, you're gonna fry.  Even if it is true… that you joined the Resistance, my friends will still have their revenge. After all, why shouldn't I kill you?"

Because the devil made me do it, he thought.  Hex managed to get off the bed and started to walk toward her.  "Brigette…"  Suddenly, the teenager was jolted back by a force field. He could feel the girl grinning at his error.  He shook the dizziness off, then started again.  "…I didn't know what I was doing.  Atkins ripped out my soul, and he programmed me to kill your friends.  It's not my faul--"

The whir of her plasma revolver silenced him. "Don't… you… dare tell me that! I was there, remember? I saw what you did!"

"LOOK! I can't change what happened. I'm sorry, but if you let me, I'll make sure to get the man who did this to me. Maybe that will revenge your friends."  His eyes were still adjusting to the light, but he thought he could see her putting the revolver back away.  In the stillness of the room, there was an awkward silence.  The teenager's thoughts moved to the next thing he was now concerned with. 

"So who's Dennis?" he asked abruptly, breaking the silence.  The only response was a plasma bolt a foot above his head, then Brigette went out the doorway, pausing to look back at him for a second.  Was that a smile he saw on her face?  He couldn't tell because of the light.


            Brigette woke him up a few hours later for a meal, and she appeared to be in a much better mood. She said nothing to him except that he had slept for almost twenty hours.  He was feeling a lot better now.  Brigette had brought him a generous helping of something that tasted quite good for prison rations, and he had caught up on his sleep. After another hour of rest, Hex decided to try to get another look at whatever was in his right arm. 

As he sat down again, a loud BOOM! suddenly sounded outside the room.  Hex jumped back up to his feet and the door suddenly opened.  There was a young man running in, dressing in some kind of light body armor, carrying something underneath his arm. As he came closer, the boy noticed he had red hair, and a small scar running down his cheek. "Who are you?"

The man deactivated the force field and threw the object under his arm onto the bed. Hex easily recognized his katana now. "Name's Dennis. We gotta get out of here."

"What's going on?"

"Raid." The redhead shot back and rushed back to the door. Hex wasted no time shifting the katana on his back and rushing after him.

"How many and where?"

"Eight; that way."  He pointed toward an impressive-looking reinforced door at the end of the hall.

"Well, how many do we have?"  Eight InSec goons wouldn't have been enough to take on Kash's cell, but Hex vaguely remembered that there were very few Resistance people left on New Paris.

"Three including you."

Brigette came running up from the other end of the hall.  "I think we can make it to the shuttle.  It looks clear."

"What about my shuttle?" Hex inquired.

"Whoever's at our door is after you, not us." she shot back. "We saw their agents around your shuttle before they scram…" Another BOOM! shook the floor.

"You two go ahead," Dennis yelled.  "I'll hold them off."  Brigette started off right away, not questioning the order she was given. 

Hex lingered there, staring at the strange man protecting them. "I need a gun."

Dennis slapped a plasma revolver into his hand with a practiced snap. "There. Now go."

Yet the boy stayed there. The better part of Hex longed for combat.  As the door began to tear itself apart, he heard Dennis whisper to him, "Go and protect Brigette.  She needs your help more than I do. I don't think she's not cut out for this kind of thing."


"Damn it, get out of here!"

With that, Hex wrapped himself up in non-existence, recalling his awakening as an eight-year old and his short-lived exploits in invisibility.  It had been painful to embrace even partial concealment then; it was time to see just how effective Atkins had made him.  It felt bitter cold, like a winter storm had rushed over his body. Hex pushed the cold out of his head; pain was something he'd been trained to block.  He quickly shook off the adjustment and turned to follow Brigette… and get out of there.

He rushed down the hallway as the door finally came loose. A sort of primal scream echoed after him, but Hex didn't dare turn back. Finally he caught up to Brigette, still running out of the building, to the shuttle he could see secreted in the woods.

Something wasn't right. However, as they ran, nothing seemed to stop them. They quickly rushed into the shuttle and closed the door. Brigette ran to the controls as Hex strapped himself into the passenger's seat. Her hands flew across the controls, then they rushed across them again. Her fist slammed into the console in rage. "Damn it, the shuttle's locked up!"

The boy was about to ask, but then his answer came over a speaker towards them. "All right, Resistance scum, this is the end of the line!" The voice was feminine but the tone was anything but soft. "My name is Carmen Mosby and these here are my Raiders! We're here to throw your kind off our planet once and for all! Now you can either come quietly and we'll turn you over to the authorities, or we'll fry ya." There was a pause, presumably for dramatic effect. "You've got till the count of ten to open the door or we'll start shooting."

Hex looked over at Brigette. "Well?"

She gave an evil grin and charged her plasma revolver. "Let's open the door."




                Dimiye looked at the computer screen in front of him in disbelief.  He kept reading the same eight words over and over hoping that they might change.


Human Augmentation Project… when will you rage?



            She knows everything. He thought to himself. This mysterious woman… his grandmother… never ceased to amaze him. How the hell was she able to send me a coded message onboard a military vessel? How does she know about HAP? I only just found out about it… how long has she known? If she knew, then why not warn me? Then a darker thought occurred to him. How well do I know my dear old Nana is she someone I can trust? And is she someone I want to piss off?

The intergalactic game of politics he'd become a part of was getting out of hand. The only family he had was a revolutionary, and the rebellion he'd joined was about to rebel against its founder. His heroic reputation made him a hot commodity to both sides.

"With your help, we can do it." Fargus said. 

"Marko Vitek has heard about you, we want you to join the resistance." Nana told him.

Fuck all of you, he thought.

It was getting harder to know who to trust; a nemesis seemed to lurk at every turn. He used to take comfort with his troops… before one had tried to kill him. The last few weeks had been spent drilling the discipline back into the formerly human LI troops. They were a good lot, but ferocious as hell. He could count on them, he decided, but he couldn't trust them. I can trust Benjamin, Wilhelm, and myself. Well, at least the first two.


"Al!" General Fabin bellowed down the hallway. "Come here! There's someone I want ya to meet." Dimiye and Peter Benjamin walked over to greet them.

"Sergeant, can ya give us a minute here?" the general ordered.

"Sir!" he saluted and continued on his way. Once he was out of earshot, the General continued.

"Major Dimiye, this is Vice Admiral Zvolanek. He's a friend of ours." He said with a wink.

"Sir, it's an honor to meet you." He said shaking his hand. Getting your game pieces together for the coup, Joel? Dimiye thought.

"So, Major, tell me; what do you think of our upcoming battle at Babylon?" Are you on our side, boy?

"Well sir, you punch a hole in those planetary defenses and we'll get the job done." I'll do what I have to when the time comes, period, the end!

"Well, it was nice meeting you, Major, but we have business elsewhere." Just make sure you make the right decision, or else.

"The pleasure was all mine, sir." Don't fuck with me, or else.

As they left, General Fabin gave Alistar a confused look. What the fuck was that, Al?

Dimiye looked back. Don't push me, Fabin.


The men and women of the 9th division were strapped into their drop pods waiting for the green light to start ground pounding. All reports given to Dimiye said that the fleet battle was still undecided. The two fleets kept dancing around each other in an effort to gain a clear advantage. Everyone was being overly cautious. Neither side could afford to lose this fight, so no one was eager to do anything that might jeopardize their forces. The ships acted like peacocks securing their territory by ruffling their feathers. It was having a bad effect on the ground troops inside.

"Any word, boss?" Command Sergeant-Major Benjamin asked over the comm.

"Why, you and your new girlfriend getting anxious?" Dimiye replied. Peter had opted to go down in a heavy suit this drop. The reason was simple, he'd fallen in love. As the new division's XO, he'd found out rather quickly that requisitioning gear for a division was much easier than at lower levels. He was browsing through the ship's inventories when he found her: the MP-342. It was an oversized machinegun version of the rail guns they were all carrying and required a heavy suit to use effectively. It looked like an oversized Vulcan Cannon mounted on a sensor harness, attached to two huge ammo drums mounted on the back of the suit. The thing was deadly as hell.

Dimiye allowed the order to go through because, hell, it was Peter; the best damn armor jockey he'd ever seen. But that didn't stop him from ribbing him. He did keep the jibes to a minimum, mostly due to the Lance Cannon he was currently holding.

Then he got the go code. He voice quickly went over the comm. "All units, this is it. Launches will commence on my signal. Everybody cowboy up, were doing this one the old-fashioned way!"

            "Ariadne now within pod range of Babylon 3." said the light voice of the star control ship's sensor officer into the command channel. "Good hunting, boys."

            "Confirmed, Ariadne," Dimiye replied, "Transferring launch controls to my mark." The suit computers cycled through the ship's sensors, watching the battle outside for the first time. It's a nightmare out there! he thought, watching the swirls of colors. The weaving crossfire of the battlestations was mixed in with the closing interception of the Fed squadrons. The TI fleet was taking an awful risk in order to drop its troops; best to not waste their time. Clicking over to the divisional channel, he called out to his troops, "Make your names shine! Launch in five… four…"

            Alistar audibly gave the countdown, more to calm himself than giving instructions to his troops. He tried not to think that he was getting shot out into open space in a big plastic ball. Then the insertion pod holder clicked. Dimiye forced himself to look out his faceplate. Suddenly, click… BOOM! His little pod was thrown forward into the blackness of space. The big blue ball got closer and closer as plasma fire seemed to come from every direction. There was very little control over the pod, as they flew closer to the atmosphere.

            It wasn't the major's first insertion drop. He had done so many he had lost count, but they still scared the shit out of him. Biting down on the dentcom, he watched his suit computer as the division rolled out in proper style. "Remember, once we've landed, your units must achieve control of the main spaceport in Tower City. That will be our HQ. From there, the rest of the legion can come down and kick some ass!"

            "Yes, sir!"

            The pod hit the atmosphere, shredding off pieces of his heat shielding as it passed through; the chaff would serve to fool the sensors below. The target was blurred visually, but he knew exactly where it was supposed to be.

As the clouds enfolded them into their comfortable blanket, the pod coasted lower in the atmosphere, shredding a second layer of transparent fabric to slow him down. Then, as trees became recognizable, it opened, and Dimiye jumped out, using his suit’s thrusters to make a landing… a hundred feet above the surface. Finally his feet touched the ground; a sense of relief washed over him. He was safe.

Of course, he was leaving nothing to chance. Immediately scanning the area, he made sure he was certain of his surroundings. He was standing in someone's suburban backyard, three kilometers from the spaceport. Scared the hell out of the civilians, he thought, clicking on the dentcom. "Brigade commanders, report."

"1st Brigade down and safe at 235."

"2nd down and safe. Relative at 175."

"3rd down and safe. Hold you at bearing 106."

"Dead Boys down and ready to kick ass, sir." Wilhelm announced over the command line.

"Major Wilhelm, where are you?"

Alistar felt a tap on his shoulder. He swiveled instantly to face the new menace, only to see Wilhelm's suit standing behind him, followed rapidly by the men of the Dead Boy Brigade. "Right here, sir."

Dimiye shrugged off his surprise and managed a nod in the suit. Don't blame Wilhelm, he thought, you're the one who trained him. Benjamin appeared soon after, coming off from the side. "Landing zone secured, sir."

"All right, all units proceed to the spaceport. One and Three Brigades cover the flanks. Four takes center with Two in reserve. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."


With that, the division lunged forward, rushing into the ring of trees that encompassed the outside of the normally busy shuttle transfer station. The forest didn't take long to clear through, and soon they were outside the tarmac, just enough so that they could see the target.

Major Dimiye took a moment and enhanced the image of the main terminal. He could see nothing. "Sergeant-Major, do you notice any movement over there?"

The walking skeleton took a look and stood still. "No, boss." he finally announced over the proximity comm. "It looks dead."

"That's what worries me." Alistar mumbled before clicking on the dentcom. "Major Forbes?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I want you to send a recon platoon across and scout the target. Chameleon circuits hot and get your best gunners ready for cover fire."

"Yes, sir."

It didn't take longer than a minute for the platoon to begin running across the empty tarmac. Dimiye whispered a prayer as he watched their progress across the open field. As they reached the empty spaceport, they quickly spread out, searching the place with their low-powered detection suit sensors. With any luck, even if the enemy was there, they wouldn't spot them. It only took two minutes before the call went across the comm, "All clear!"

"You heard the man," Alistar called out, "division, forward!"

The invisible force rushed forward, running across the wide-open space, bolting like blurred images in the noonday heat. In the rush to cross the distance, it was only after the first shells hit that they noticed the artillery.

"What the hell?" The major said as he turned around, watching the forest, just emptied of his reserve, getting flattened by the improved conventional munitions.

The command sergeant major was next to him, watching the same incredible feat of artillery. "It looks like the shells are getting closer."

"Creeping barrage." Dimiye muttered, remembering his cadet training.


"Never mind, Benjamin. Looks like they're trying to drive us into the spaceport."

"But why?"

To send us into a trap, the major thought, then cursed himself for thinking it. "Forbes! Don't…"

His words faded through the comm line as the spaceport exploded.




“Any luck, brother Jacob?” Deacon of the Faithful Grant asked, edgy and impatient.

            “I’m getting somewhere, brother Grant,” the Righteous Army engineer answered, “But it’s gonna take a while.”

            “Got an ETA I can give the elder?” Grant asked,

            “Couple hours at least,” Jacob sighed, shaking his head. “I’m having to alter the code at the basic programming level just to get past the system locks.”  The soldiers of the Lord in the 4th Troop exchanged worried, apprehensive glances as this news caused them to grip their plasma rifles tighter.  Sgt. Grant shifted uncomfortably and looked around at his men, nervously guarding their posts in the Data Center. 

            “A couple hours?” Grant asked. “I don’t like that.  Leaves us exposed for too long.”

            “With all due respect, brother Grant, we’ve got an entire troop down here.”

            “Yes, brother Jacob, and entire troops have disappeared before… I’m calling for backup.”  As he contacted the company elder in the Command, his troops visibly relaxed.  There was safety in numbers.

            As if on cue, the Data Center door slid shut.  With a sudden loud hiss, white jets of gas began pouring into the room.  Jacob caught a full blast; within seconds, he slumped over his keyboard dead.  Grant looked around in alarm at his troops coughing and gasping in the toxic cloud filling the room.

            “What th-coolant leak!  Everyone get your helmets on NOW!”  Everywhere plasma rifles clattered to the floor in the sudden rush to seal their environmental suits, fumbling with the latches in the sudden panic.  Already soldiers were dropping, choking and hacking, the poisonous vapor burning their eyes and skin, closing their throats.  Deacon Grant looked around the dark room as soon as his suit was sealed - almost a third of his men were down.

            “Find the leaks! Seal them! Look for a valve or something!” he ordered his shocked troops.  As the soldiers of the Lord ran about in the sudden chaos, no one noticed the floor plates begin to move…

            The first plasma bolts caught them by surprise, but they recovered quickly as the first wave of men fell screaming, snatching up forgotten rifles and ducking for cover.  A second salvo hit before they could even locate where the fire was coming from in the shadowy room.  Finally, they showered return fire the gas-masked faces of the Fleet engineers in their improvised foxholes.  Some fell with a strangled cry, and the rest dropped back into their holes like gophers, only to pop up seconds later in different places.  The soldiers of the Lord jumped about trying to find cover, firing madly, but they were being hit from multiple angles, not seeing their attackers in the dim light until it was too late.  In a few minutes it was over, smoke from the charred bodies mixing into the coolant fog in the air.

            Silently, the engineers climbed up into the room. The huge form of the systems foremen jumped out and ran over to the access terminal.  Pushing the body of Brother Jacob out of the chair, Smashie sat down at the access terminal and his fingers flew over the keyboard, lines of code racing across the screen.  The engineers dashed around in the shadows, collecting plasma rifles, dragging bodies of friend and foe down into the depths under the floor.  When the reinforcements arrived, they would find a new computer lock, poisonous gas, signs of a firefight, and not a trace of Troop 4.


            “And the troop?”

            “No sign of them, sir.”

            Alan Evans, Elder of the Faithful, closed his eyes and lowered his head at the bad news.  He mentally recited a quick prayer for the dead.  It was the least he could do to grieve for his slain soldiers.  Is this your will, O Lord? 

            “What happened?”

            “Shootout, sir,” the deacon answered over the comm link, used to his leader’s silences by now.  There had been a lot of them recently.  “There’s also a poisonous fog in the room.  Looks like a leak from the processor’s cooling system.”

            “That wasn’t an accident.” Evans said firmly.  “And the computer system?”

            “It’s… broken, Sir.”

            “What do you mean, broken?”

            “Well… if we enter some code, it asks us how many Christians it takes to change a light bulb.”

            “Okay, Brother Lars, I’m sending two more troops down to hold the Data Center.  It’s top priority - if we don’t get access to the dock’s systems, we’re as good as dead, do you understand me?”

            “Perfectly, sir.”

            “Good,” Evans said, then after a pause, “How many?”

            “How many what, sir?”

            “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?”

            There was a long pause.  “One. He holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.”

            Evans felt the spark of anger and quickly pushed it down.  “Don’t hate them, brother.  They know not what they do.  Just sticks and stones, that’s all.”  He cut the comm link.

            Alan Evans was worried.  His luck had completely reversed after his crushing victory that seized the dock three days ago.  Half of his remaining troops were now dead or missing… no, they were dead.  His troops never found captured or wounded… they only found bodies.

He should never have let the prisoners out of his sight, he thought as he looked over maps of Dock 14 and shifted unit symbols.  The minute they escaped, his company had changed from victor to victim.  His Angels of Justice were preparing to cut through the sealed doors into the central hub of the dockyards when the power went out.  Then their water supply had been shut off.  Then life support began to be cut off in one section after another.  They had never been able to access the computer systems from the start.

            He hadn’t realized the full scope of his predicament at first… that was his mistake.  The soldiers Evans had sent into the access tunnels after the yard dogs were never seen again.  The same happened to the small groups he sent to hold specific areas.  Sometimes they knew what happened to them.  Sometimes they simply disappeared.  Then entire platoons began being knocked out.

The cursed yard dogs had a million tricks to play.  All soldiers of the Lord kept their helmets with them after the first time a room had been sealed and the oxygen pumped out.  The troops learned to avoid large machinery and power conduits after a few gruesome episodes.  And the horrendous losses in the repair bay had taught Evans to avoid any area with an airlock.  It was as if the station were alive and feeding on his soldiers.  They hardly ever actually saw the Fleet engineers.  Hiding in the walls and floors, controlling all the machines in the dock somehow, they would strike hard and fast and disappear. 

Guerilla warfare, Evans thought.  Now that he understood what he was up against, he fought defensively.  Large numbers of troops in designated sites.  Withdraw from non-essential areas.  Concentrate on holding a few key places.  Looking at the map, it was clear what the enemy was doing.  They were depressurizing and shutting down life support in the outer areas first, then slowly shutting down the interior.  His troops were being herded toward the Command Center like cattle. Evans could see it happening, but couldn’t do anything about it.  He was trapped, slowly being strangled and bled to death.  Without knowing the layout of the dock inside the walls, he couldn’t find or raid the enemy’s base.  All he could do was sit and wait for help and try not to die. 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  He pushed the thought out of his head.  Self-pity wouldn’t help.  Trust in the Lord.  Somehow, even if he couldn’t fathom why, Evans knew the slaughter of his troops was part of His plan.  I know you move in mysterious ways, O Lord, Evans prayed, but would you mind letting me in on the plan just this once?


            Not too far away in a dark, cramped bulkhead, Commander Xinjao O’Reilly looked up at the sound of excited chatter and cheers.  Sounds like they won. That’s good.  He watched the troops returning from the Data Center raid enter the bulkhead.  Many of the victors carried their less fortunate comrades.  That’s not so good.  Smashie walked up, a limp form slung over his shoulders. 

            “My God, is that Smitty??” Xinjao exclaimed as Smashie gently lowered the form of the construction foreman to O’Reilly’s feet.  Smitty’s one dead eye looked up blankly at O’Reilly, the rest of his face was a charred mess. “Damn it, Smitty, I told you to be careful…” the commander muttered saddly.  Smitty was an arrogant braggart, a drunk, and a womanizer, but he was a damn good engineer and his fighting spirit was invaluable for morale.  O’Reilly looked away and took a deep breath.

            “You won?” he asked.  Smashie nodded.  “Took out the whole platoon?  Hid the bodies?”  Smashie nodded.  “Good.  At least he didn’t die for nothing.” O’Reilly said, dreaded the next question.  “How many did we lose?”

            “Five dead, two wounded.”  Smashie said gravely.

            “Five--! Damn it, we can’t take losses like that!” O’Reilly moaned, frustrated. He paused a moment before continuing.  “How are the system locks?”

            “Holding.” Smashie answered.  “But they’re attacking the base code.  I put in the loop script,” he shrugged, “Should slow them down.  Maybe a day ‘till they override the lockout.”

            “Then we lose almost every advantage we have.”  Smashie nodded. 

“Fuck.” O’Reilly said, scratching his frizzy red hair, as he always did when nervous.  The news wasn’t a surprise, but he still had to think carefully about his next move.  It was a tough call.  The last three days had been full of tough calls.  Xinjao hated having to make them.  Fortunately, they seem to have worked out well so far.  He wasn’t sure he could deal with failure with so many lives on the line.

            After the death of Captain Terrel, the highest-ranking officer of the decimated Light Infantry was a terrified corporal.  Leadership had naturally defaulted to O’Reilly, who suddenly found himself general of a terrorist guerilla war.  He was flying by the seat of his pants, hiding in the bulkheads, avoiding heavy engagements, sabotaging the enemy any way he could.  They’d done a good job of whittling down the enemy with minimal losses so far, but O’Reilly knew a heavy, decisive engagement was inevitable in order to win the battle of Dock 14.  Now they were out gunned, out armored, and out of time.

            Xinjao pulled aside Paulson and his foremen, intensely studying the map of Dock 14 duct taped to the wall while lighting up a cigarette.  The past few days had transformed him into a chain smoker.  He longed for a shower and a shave, and had long since stopped counting the hours since he had slept.

            “Okay,” he said to them as he took a drag. “We’re out gunned and out classed.  Our only advantage is out control of the station, right?”  They all nodded or murmured their agreement.  “If we want to win a decisive battle, our only chance will be to fight them on our terms.  According to Smashie, they’ll break into the computer systems in less than a day, and we’ll lose our advantage.  Therefore, if we want to win the battle, we have to attack NOW.  Am I correct?”  Reluctantly, they again nodded agreement.  “Okay, guys, we knew this was coming.  You know the plan.  We’ve been over it a dozen times.  Paulson, shut off life support to all areas except around the Command Center. Cut them off and trap them if you can.”

“B-but what ‘b-bout us, Ch-Chin?  We n-need air ‘n heat.” Paulson stammered.

“Don’t worry, Paulson, we’ll be in same area, in the walls and floor. Issue what’s left of the Light Infantry with rifles and whatever armor we have and move them down to the Data Center.  Anyone with 500 hours zero-g experience moves into the walls and floors. Rymir?”


“You and your zero-G crew are our first wave.  You have the most experience.  Are they up to it?  Are you up to it?”

“Yes, sir,” he said very seriously as the color drained from his face. “You can count on us.”

“I know I can, Rymir.  Okay, guys, we’re counting on surprise and unfamiliar combat to carry us through, so we gotta hit them hard and fast.  If we fail, God help us.  Okay, go tell your men.”  As his foremen disbursed to their assigned tasks, O’Reilly caught Bertram’s eye.

“Are you going to be in the first wave, Melissa?” he asked.

“I’m no warrior,” she said, shaking her head, eyes wide.  “I’m just the mechanic.”

“A mechanic with ten years of zero-G experience, Chief.” he said slowly, “It’s going to be hell in that room, but you… you’ll be a god.  You’re the most valuable soldier we have.”

“Sir,” she said, calm but scared, “this was not in my job description.”

            O’Reilly was silent as he lit up another cigarette and offered one to Bertram.  She took it this time.  He took a long drag and let it out slowly.  “I’m going to be in that first wave.”

            “You??” she scoffed.  “You can’t even stay upright in zero-G!”

            “Yes,” he said as the smoke drifted around his face.  “But I’ve got some 2500 hours in it.  That’s a lot more than some.”

            “But you can’t, you’re-“ she stopped suddenly.

            “I’m what?” he asked, eyeing her.

            “You’re our leader.” she said quietly after some hesitation.

            “And I’d rather lead from behind, Bertram, believe me,” O’Reilly said evenly.  “But if we’re gonna pull this off, we’re gonna need every advantage we have.  If we fail…” his voice trailed off.  Watching his cigarette, he suddenly realized his hands were shaking. “If we fail, we’re dead anyway.  Might as well die fighting.”



            The last six members of the Light Infantry garrison sprinted out of the Data Center and down the hallway, a volley of plasma bolts crashing into the walls behind them, cutting one down.  Now they were five. The push on the Data Center had turned into a panic.  Outgunned, outnumbered, and outwitted by three platoons, the infantrymen had been pinned, flanked, and routed.  Far from pushing the Jesus Freaks back toward the Command Center, they now found themselves sprinting in the same direction.

            "TALK TO ME! WHAT'S HAPPENING?!"  O'Reilly's voice bellowed over their comm lines.

            "We're retreating - run, RUN!"

            "Are they chasing you?" O'Reilly's voice demanded.


            "Where are you going?!" Xinjao cried. "We cut every route off!"

            The soldiers looked around in a panic, confused, hearing the crusaders closing.  "Uh… uh… I don't know! Uh… Command Center? Where to hell do we go?!"

            "The rest of the army's in the Command Center!" O'Reilly's voice shouted, distressed. 

"But… but it's the only way…" the infantrymen protested. "SHIT! HERE THEY COME!"

The Fed troops skidded to a halt as the crusaders in the Data Center poured out of the door and started firing at them.  The soldiers dropped to the floor and tried to bury themselves in the corners, fired on from both sides, no way out…

"CEASE FIRE!" The crusader in white power armor roared.  The gunfire died down and the soldiers of the Lord looked at their leader, confused.  "Drop your weapons!" Alan Evans ordered the three living infantrymen.  "If you surrender and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, you will not-"

"BUT SIR!" One of his deacons protested.  "We already…"

"What would Jesus do?" Evans snapped. "In the name of almighty God," he continued to the terrified infantrymen, "will you drop your weapons, accept Jesus and be born again?"

"But sir," the deacon cried, outraged, "these are the bastards who-" Evans swung and clubbed the soldier over the ear, silencing him. 

"Language, soldier!!" he roared, angry.  "Now take these men and secure them!"


"Fuck! Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!" O'Reilly hissed to himself, dragging himself along the crawl space under the Command Center floor, trying to get closer to the hallway.  The plan had completely fallen apart.  The crusaders were NOT grouped together, and NOT in the Command Center where the yard dogs were waiting for them were.  Still, it was now, or never. "Everyone! Crawl toward the hall! Find a panel!" He hissed out in a harsh whisper as he heard the enemy

roaring out terms of surrender "Smashie!"

"Now?" his voice asked over the comm.


A minute later, he felt the force lift off of his body.  Confused and shocked cries began to emanate from the hall.  The yard dogs popped the panels off and silently floated by behind the crusaders like ghosts.  Then the slaughter began. The soldiers of the Lord, close together when the gravity went out, were stuck together in a tangled mess.  They didn't even see the engineers until the plasma began to flash and burn.  Confusion, then panic broke out, as soldiers struggled with each other to break free, to get their rifles turned to face the enemy, pushing the dead bodies of their comrades out of their way.  Helpless against the tide of burning energy bolts, they were cut down by the dozen in fiery death.  Terrified screams filled the air.  Droplets of blood and bits of charred flesh floated around the passageway in a kaleidoscope of carnage.

The engineers blasted away, too scared to stop for surrender or mercy.  Finally the crusaders freed themselves enough to fire back, pushing away from the tangle of corpses, using their slain brethren as shields.  Plasma lit the air in a hurricane of fire as the yard dogs were blasted away.  The engineers, trained in zero-G maneuvering, pushed off of one surface toward another bouncing around the corridors as they fell back firing.  Bertram was a blur, shooting around like a rubber ball cutting like a knife through the crusaders.  No one could touch her.

O'Reilly pushed off a surface and fired blindly at the mass of bleeding, burning humanity. Click.  Shit, my revolver's dry!  Struggling to reload it, he missed the timing for the rebound off the ceiling and floated toward the center of the hallway were the plasma flew thick and heavy.  His mind racing, he looked around for something, anything, then curled his left arm around a floated floor plate and used it as a shield.

The plasma bolts crashed into him as he floated across the killing zone, pushing him down the hallway, turning the floor plate red hot, scalding O'Reilly's

flesh.  Almost across, he thought, I can rebound off the next wall.

The searing pain tore through his hand, up his wrist and arm, overwhelming his brain in burning agony.  He dropped the plate.  Quick!  Xinjao's head screamed. Grab it!  I can't grab it!  I can't feel  it! I can't feel my fingers. Where's my hand? WHERE'S MY HAND!?!  The blast had sent him spinning through the air.  He bumped into the wall and ricocheted out, head over heals, totally out of control as the fighting and dying continued around him.  The fire tore through his back and his legs, his whole body was on fire in pain. (Is that me screaming?) The blast pushed him down to the floor through a hailstorm of his own blood droplets and ash.

Dropping his revolver, he gripped the floor, and floated there, clinging for dear life.  The gunfire was dying down… or am I blacking out?  Someone grabbed him roughly, dragging him back towards the light, spinning him toward the hall. Thank God, his mind praised, it's over, it's-

He felt the revolver pressed to his head.  The grip was crushing him.  He couldn't breathe.  "DROP YOUR WEAPONS OR I'LL KILL YOUR COMMANDER!" Evans roared out, hiding behind Xinjao's body as plasma bolts flew past him.

"SOMEBODY SHOOT HIM!! SHOOT HIM!!" Xinjao screamed.

"Tell them to stand down!" Evans hissed. "For God's sake, please!  I don't want to kill you!"

"SHOOT THE FUCKER!! SHOOT HIM!!" he screamed.

The weight of one G hit his mangled body like a tidal wave and he crumpled down in a heap on top of Evans.  Somehow he found the strength to roll away, and feel the searing heat of the plasma bolts as the landed on the man behind him with lethal accuracy.  Xinjao weakly looked up and around.  The bolts had stopped flying.  Is it over? He could only see a blur.  He felt cold all over. Black stars swam before his eyes. His arms trembled and failed to support his weight. He slumped to the floor, and found himself staring at Evan's torn body, mumbling the Lord's Prayer as he died.

Hands were touching him.  Voices were calling to him.  But he couldn't move… he couldn't see… all he could hear was the sound of a voice. "Central Command, this is Master Chief Petty Officer Bertram.  Dock 14 is secured."

The response came back a second later. "That's good to hear, chief. This is Calton Reks, Sword of the Faithful. You will surrender your dock immediately or I will leave your souls to the heart of space."




Experience --


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

Chris (Treschi): 5 pts per act orders x 3 = 15 pts + 5 good orders + 5 personality = 25 pts.

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

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

Josh (Spyder): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 story + 5 good orders = 30 pts.

Martin (Von Shrakenberg): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 story + 5 good orders + 5 personality = 35 pts.

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

Nathan (Creed): 5 pts per act orders x 3 = 15 pts + 5 story + 5 good orders = 25 pts.

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