"And from the Darkness came a bright shining light - fire in the night. And the archangel Michael revealed himself to me. I was unafraid. I asked his business."

                                                                        -- The Temptation of Caine, Book of Nod


Darkness.  No, not darkness… nothingness. Limbo. Void.  All the senses were dead.  Thought was muddled.  Time seemed… tangled.  Irrelevant.  There was a vague awareness of nonexistence.  That was it.

            Am I dead?

            Are you?

            I don’t think so…

            Why not?

            I don’t know… I’m… I’m still aware?


            The darkness.

            You can’t see.

            Well… the silence.  I’m aware of the silence.

            You can’t hear.

            Uh… the… uh… I’m aware of something…

            No, you’re not.

            Then I’m dead?

            Are you?

            Fuck you!  Who are you? You!  I’m aware of you.

            I’m part of you.

            Then I’m aware of me, damn it!

            Are you?

            Yes!  I can hear my own thoughts!  I’m aware of myself!


            So if I’m aware of myself, then…. hey, I must not be dead! Well, not completely…



            Good, my son, good.  You think.  You exist.  What else?

            What do you mean, what else?

            You exist.  You’re alive.  What else do you know?

            I… I don’t know…


            Huh? What?

            You know you exist.  That is all you know.  That is reality.  Anything else… could be an illusion.

            What are you talking about?

            What is real?

            Who are you?!

As if in answer, the senses burst upon him like fireworks.  He could hear his heartbeat, the hissing of his breath, feel his chest rising and falling, feel the hard surface behind him and the pain that racked his body, and he could see… and the darkness dissolved into white light.


He blinked into the bright fluorescent light above.  Squinting in the painful brightness, he turned his face away from the light.  He found himself looking over an infirmary filled to overflowing with moaning, bleeding humanity, spread out across the beds and floors and bandaged in enough white gauze to fill a pyramid.

“Is this real?”  he asked doubtfully.

“I’m afraid it is,” a weary voice said.  “How are you feeling?

He turned toward the voice and, squinting, he could make out a medic moving toward him. “Like hell,” he answered.  His body throbbed with a dull pain, his head felt like it would burst, and it was a struggle to keep his stomach down.  His thinking was still clouded.

“Well, frankly you’re lucky to be alive, Commander O’Reilly,” the medic answered, scratching a stubble-filled cheek under bloodshot eyes.  “We weren’t sure if you’d pull through.  You took serious plasma burns to your lower back and… posterior, you’ve got second and third degree burns on the left side of your body… and your left arm is… pretty bad.”

“Yeah, I know,” Xinjao said groggily, “my fingers really hurt… you got anything for that?”  Suddenly the medic stood very still and was very quiet, staring at him with a that grave look in his eyes that medics always had when delivering bad news.

“Doc,” O’Reilly asked, “What? What is it?”

“I’m sure it does hurt, but I’m afraid we can’t do anything about it… they think phantom limb syndrome is more psychological than physical…”

“Phantom--“ Xinjao started, confused.  Then it hit him.  He felt his body suddenly go cold.  He yanked his arm up and stared in horror at his hand.  Where his left hand should have been was only a blackened and blistered stump.

“…oh my god…” he whispered, his voice beginning to waver.  Suddenly he lurched forward and vomited.  The medic helped him through it, muttering soothing phrases that were utterly meaningless, then cleared away the soiled sheet and sent someone for another. 

“Not my hand, please, God, not my hand…” Xinjao mumbled, cradling his mangled arm to his chest, blinking furiously to keep the tears inside his burning eyes.  How am I going to type?  How am I going to operate a shuttle?  How am I going to hold the goddamn magazine when I-

“It’s just a temporary handicap,” the medic explained softly.  “When you get away from the front, a real hospital might be able to regenerate it.  There’s always bionic implants.  There are lots of options.”

“Was it worth it?” O’Reilly asked as two tears ran down either cheek despite his best efforts, “Did we kill all the fucking Jesus freaks on the station and shoot the bodies into the fucking sun??  Did the Fleet blow their goddamn ships to dust?  Is there a counter-offensive yet?”

The medic again became very still and quiet.  The soothing, sensitive attitude drained way into cold, serious professionalism.  “Please, M. O’Reilly,” he said dryly, “don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.”
            For the second time in as many minutes, Xinjao froze in shock.  He snapped his head to the side, staring at the medic’s uniform with bulging eyes… and saw the red double cross of the Righteous Army.  He hadn’t noticed it earlier.

“Fuck,” O’Reilly breathed, tears disappearing in light of this new crisis.

“And watch the language, too,” the medic said coldly, tossing the soiled sheet back on to O’Reilly bed and walking away.

For several minutes he sat in bed contemplating his situation.  He was wounded, maimed, and a prisoner of war.  He didn’t know what had happened, or who survived the battle, or even where he was.  This was bad.  He curled back into the bed for a long time, but couldn’t sleep.  Thoughts raced through his mind.  How am I going to get out of this?  How am I going to survive?  What are they going to do to me?

“Commander O’Reilly?”

Xinjao turned to see a soldier of the Lord standing by the bed.  The man looked like a statue, his black hair slicked back across his head, muscled like a Greek god, and with a big sword dangling from his right hip. “Yeah?” Xinjao answered uncertainly.

The man gave a thin smile, as if a wide smile would be a concerted effort. “I’m glad to see you're alive.”

"I wish I was..." the redhead moaned.

"Since you're here, commander," he said, taking a seat next to the bed, “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Oh, shit!  O’Reilly thought, I blew fifty people out an airlock!  We didn’t take any prisoners… we killed all the fundies in the dock… am I a war criminal?  “What to you want to know?” O’Reilly asked.

"Well, let's start with the basics, shall we? Name, rank, serial number?"

"O'Reilly, Xinjao. Commander, Earth Fleet. Serial number 6-1-8-4-3-6-oh-4-2-dash-7. Commanding Officer, Repair Dock 14, Phoenix Docks."

"Really?" The man's eyebrow lifted. "Aren't you a bit young for that position?"

"Just lucky, I guess."

The man shrugged it off. "For the record, commander, I'd like you to go over the events that led from the initial assualt by Company C, 5th Arnheim Regiment upon Dock 14 until your capture."

"The record? I don't see any datapads."

The man lifted his hand and Xinjao quickly noticed the small beeping thing held between his index and middle fingers. "Holographic recorder. My superior demands detailed reports."

"Well," Xinjao started. Gotta be REAL careful how I phrase things, he thought. "The transports crashed through our repair bay doors and deployed the soldiers... C Company, was it?  Anyway, after a fierce battle they secured the repair bay, then swept through the dock and seized the vital areas -- power plant, data center, and finally the command center.  They rounded us up as prisoners and locked us in a lower level storeroom, but we escaped.  For the next few days--"

            "How did you escape?" the man interrrupted.

            "Through the crawlspace under the floor." I was hoping he wouldn't ask. "It's not that tough if you know it's there.  Well, most of us were technicians and construction workers, and we didn't know how to fight. So instead we just hid and tried to sabotage the dock for the next few days, little piddly stuff that was probably more annoying than anything.  When we found out that most of C Company was going to be near the command center at the same time, Captain Terrell decided to lauch a surprise attack... get them all in one fell swoop or something, I don't know, I didn't really get it.  We attacked by surprise and from behind, but it went bad pretty fast.  I got shot several times and passed out.  For some reason I thought we won but..." he shrugged, gesturing around the infirmary. "Obviously we didn't.  Then I woke up here... more or less intact,"

he said, rubbing his injured wrist saddly.  "So what happened, exactly?  Did we lose?" Okay, O'Reilly thought, how much of this is he going to buy?

"Not really, commander." the chiseled man yawned. "You won your fight, but as soon as you did, your... what was her name..."

            "Chief Bertram?"

            "Yes, Chief Bertram surrendered the dock to us, but only after they managed to escape down to the planet below. That's how we found you and brought you back to health."

            O'Reilly relaxed a bit more, thanking whatever god was listening that his crew managed to escape. "I see."

            "I want to get back to the dock fight, commander. You were saying that Captain... Terrell, was it? That the good captain was the one who led the attack against our forces on your dock. Correct?"

            "Yeah. Like I said, we didn't know how to fight. He told us what to do."

            "I see," the man leaned back in his chair, "and Captain Terell, he was... what? TI?"

            "Light Infantry. He was assigned to our dock."

            The man glanced over toward the recorder for a moment then back to O'Reilly. "So what was your role in all this? After all, you were the senior officer."

            "Well, the garrison had jurisdiction over combat engagements, so technically Captain Terrel was the senior officer," O'Reilly explained, his mind racing.  This sounded bad even to him.  "And I didn't mind letting him run the show... he had a better idea what to do than I did, I'm just a yard dog."  He's not buying it. "But of course my team and I ran the technical end -- building weapons and bombs, providing food and water, jamming communication frequencies, keeping our tunnels hidden, locking the enemy out of the computer systems, stuff like that.  Sort of quartermaster and chief engineer all rolled into one."

            "Is that so? You were just a quartermaster?"

            "That's about right, yes."

            The man scratched his head for a moment then looked back at the oriental. "Here's the problem, commander. You see, while we managed to seize the rest of the port, you were still fighting on your dock. We picked this up on a side band." He stabbed at a couple buttons on the recorder and his voice sounded across the infirmary.


            "TALK TO ME! WHAT'S HAPPENING?!"

            "We're retreating - run, RUN!"

            "Are they chasing you?"


            "Where are you going? We cut every route off?"

            "Uh... uh... I don't know! Uh, Command Center? Where the hell do we go?"

            "The rest of the army's in the Command Center!"


            The man turned it off, then cocked his head to the side. "That's your voice, isn't it?"

            O'Reilly said nothing.

            "I find it difficult to believe that a mere quartermaster would be leading the final assault. Don't you?"


            "Does it really matter, sir?" Xinjao said finally, knowing he had been caught in the lie.  "Your enemy is either defeated, the dock is yours, the men of Company C are dead, and nothing can be done to change that.  Why do you even care if Terrell or I was leading it? It's over."

            "Personally I don't care, M. O'Reilly, but my superior demands detailed reports."

            The commander sighed. "Yes, I led it. Yes, we destroyed that company."

            "Thank you, commander." the man clicked off the recorder and stuck it in his pocket. With his other hand, he held it out towards Xinjao.

            "I'm sorry?"

            "I'd like to shake your hand… the good one, that is. I apologize that we can't repair it now but… this is war."

            "I don't understand," O'Reilly said, shaking his head in confusion. "I just killed over a hundred of your men..."

            He withdrew the hand. "My name is Calton Reks," the man then tapped the sword at his belt, "Sword of the Faithful. This isn't just a decoration."


"Call it general, call it anything you want. The truth is that I'm deputy commander of the Righteous Army and I want to make you an offer."

"An offer?"

"Yes. You proved that you were a competent combat officer as well as an engineer. We need people like you."

"Somehow I don't see it…"

"Let me explain. I'm prepared to make you an Elder… of the Gentiles, of course, you're not quite Faithful yet. Our navy is effective, but weak. With the ships under repair here, we could finally have a fleet worth matching the Federation's."

"So where do I come in?"

"With your training and experience, you could help us get them operational in half the time that we could. The Righteous Navy could finally be a force to reckon with in this galaxy."

Xinjao stared straight at him. "What happens if I say no?"

"On the first transport out of here, you will be placed with other prisoners on route to the factories and farms of our 'core systems.' There you will serve our cause providing the necessary goods to continue our war effort." Reks leaned closer. "Make no mistake, commander, we will win this war. Though it take a thousand years, and burn half the universe along with it, we will save this galaxy for Christ." Calton paused, as if trying to size up the man in front of him. "The choice is yours."




            Brigette gave an evil grin and charged her plasma revolver. "Let's open the door."  Unbuckling herself, she moved towards the shuttle's main hatch.

            "I don't think that's such a good idea…" Hex started, unbuckling his own straps, but he was too late to stop her.  She opened the door, her gun raised, and was quickly met with a barrage of hot plasma.  The teenager ran and knocked her down to the deck plates. She's no soldier, he thought to himself, the plasma bolts whizzing over their heads, that's for damn sure. The boy managed to reach up and close the shuttle door.

            "Quick! What's wrong the shuttle?" he asked hurriedly.

            "I think it's just a computer--"

            "Throw your weapons out now or we will destroy your shuttle!" shouted the woman.  "You've got five seconds!" 

Hex was already annoyed by whoever this Mosby bitch was. All right, he thought, we'll throw out our weapons.  He began to stare at his revolver, concentrating on how hot it was starting to feel.

            "One! Two!"

The revolver started to vibrate in his hand.  He pulled Brigette over to the side of the

hatch, hoping they'd be out of the line of fire, and opened the door.

            "Three! Four!"

Hex launched the overloaded plasma revolver out the open hatch.


The overloaded plasma revolver exploded with a mighty BOOM! The shuttle was rocked by the sudden burst of energy. Hex disappeared into non-existence, rising to his feet, drew his katana, and rushed out into the chaos.  

            The nearest one of the Raiders suddenly found his right hand missing, dropping his gun.  In the blur that followed, another man's gut was split open.  A second later, a bearded man's solar plexus was pierced by his blade. Several bolts suddenly blasted towards him, but luckily the bearded man proved to be an excellent shield.

            "Keep firing!" the woman screamed, "Fire!  Fi…"

            A red gash suddenly came across her throat, silencing her forever. Mosby dropped to the ground and Hex continued his whirlwind of bloody killing. With their leader fallen, whoever was left ran as fast they could out of the clearing. The boy didn't bother chasing them; the area was secured.

            As Hex slowly willed himself back into existence, the heat of the transfer burned through his body, dropping him to his knees. The boy screamed through the intense heat that boiled through his flesh. He couldn't see; the pain was too great. He felt someone's hands on him and immediately, the heat began to fade away.

            When he could manage to open his eyes again, Brigette was there in front of him. "Better?"

            Hex could only manage to nod.

            "All right. We're going to have to make it to your shuttle. This one's locked up and I'm no computer expert."

            "I thought you…"

            "We knew about it, but no one else did. It should still be safe."


            It took them another hour to reach the shuttle; it was on the opposite side of Maine City. Not a word passed between them all the while. Finally they got into the shuttle, activated the thrusters, and soon left New Paris behind.

            It wasn't till they reached orbit that Brigette spoke. "So, where are we going?"

            "Avalon." Hex replied.

            "I see…" she let her words drop, then took in a deep breath, and let it out again. "Look, um, Kiddo…"

            "Hex. Please, call me Hex."

            Brigette was caught between raising her eyebrow and chewing on her lip. "You told me your name was…"

            "Yeah, I know. Sorry, I was never really given a name, so I made one up. I prefer Hex."

            She sighed. "Hex. Look, um… I'm sorry, all right. I'm sorry I didn't believe you. So much has been happening too fast."

            Hex felt strange inside. All the hate and bitterness inside of Brigette had suddenly melted away; it was a side of her he had never seen before. Suddenly her beauty struck him so fast that he wasn't sure what to think. "So… what are your dreams?"

            Then came the glare. "My dreams? My dreams?! What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

            "It was just a question."

            "Kiddo… Hex… whoever the hell you are, listen. I'm along for this ride, but don't get any ideas!"

            "I didn't…"

            "Quit looking at me like that!" She wrapped her arms around her chest. "Makes my skin crawl."

            Hex went back to running the console, tracking their slow voyage through the void. As they got ready to make the jump, he turned back to see her. "I'm sorry?"

            She glared back. "Fuck you, Hex."

            Just then, the shuttle disappeared from the New Paris system, off through the digital gate.




The enemy artillery barrage had stopped after they'd blown the spaceport.

"Sir, I've got massive sensor readings coming from the north… northeast… and northwest. It looks like two divisions, maybe three." The captain next to Dimiye informed him.

They're attacking? Alistar wondered. They should be holding their ground using the defensive advantage. Now they can't use their artillery. The only reason they'd attack is...

"They think we were destroyed in the explosion." The major finished his thought out loud. "We lost one platoon and they think it we're hurting." His mind quickly went to work on a plan. He turned back to the captain. "What's their ETA?"

"A little over two minutes, sir."

That's plenty of time. "Wilhelm, set up a defensive posture on the tarmac. They're going to have to jump over the spaceport wreckage to get to us. Pop 'em while they power glide over it. Our weapons have more than twice the range of theirs. Use it!"

"Yes, sir! We'll hold them all the damn live long day." Wilhelm decreed.

            Don't get too excited, Fredrick, you’re the cheese in this mousetrap. "First and third brigades?"

            "Yes, sir?" The two former LI majors chimed in unison.

            "Move your flanks to the tree lines and cloak. Don't move or attack till I give the word. Understood?"

            "Yes, sir!" Major Taylor said, moving out her brigade.

            "Acknowledged." Major Ganges said, moving out his brigade.

            Major Forbes commed in. "Sir, where do you want us?"

            "Cloaked and waiting in the rear tree line in reserve." Dimiye told him. "Move it out gentlemen, this is the plan…"


            "Al, what the hell's going on down there?" General Fabin demanded.

            "The LZ is still compromised sir. The Feds blew the spaceport before we could take it. It was a trap, sir." Dimiye reported.

            "Shit! Any casualties?" The General asked.

            "The recon platoon we sent in." Dimiye said.

            "That's not so bad." Fabin said.

            "The city's defenders are on route now to attack us." He said.

            "Shit, we counted a full Legion there. Wait…why are they attacking?" Fabin asked.

            "They think the division was caught in the blast, sir." Dimiye answered as a smile played on Fabin's face. "How are things upstairs?"

            "Ah, it's a fucking mess up here!" the general cursed. "The 'space swabies' on both side are still pussy footing around each other. The Ariadne's gonna break orbit soon. That means you only got 40 minutes to clear our my LZ for the rest of the 86th."  

            "Roger, Dimiye out!" He saluted as he quickly cut the transmission. The Feds were here. 


            The Federation troops glided over the gigantic burning wreck that, until recently, was a thriving spaceport. Before they'd cleared the smoke the wreckage was producing, they were cut down in droves. Gauss rounds cut through armor and tender human flesh, plumed plasma blasts incinerated them like frack cannons; All the wounded were quickly consumed by the fire into which they fell. Within minutes, having taking demonstrative casualties, the central force split up to help the wings of their advance hit the flanks.

            The two wings of attacking troopers power-hopped through the forest and past the tree line to engage the 4th brigade. All that time, they were oblivious to the brigades of cloaked troops they were passing over. You expected a reduced force, that's what I'm giving you. Dimiye smirked. "Wilhelm, they're about to engage you."

            "I noticed." Wilhelm replied.

            "Fall back at full tilt. Make it look like a rout. Everybody try and act scared." Dimiye ordered, as the Dead Boy Brigade turned and ran.

            "Oh no, I'm so scared! The big bad Feds will kill us all! Whatever shall we do?!" Corporal Sam Yeager yelled sarcastically over the comm.

            Alistar such shook his head. Shit like that is why you're still a corporal, Yeager. "1st and 3rd Brigades, thank you for patience. You may now put the hurt on!" In retrospect, Dimiye was proud of the HAP soldiers guarding the flanks. It's not an easy thing to let an enemy force pass over your heads like that. This being their first real combat assignment, they performed above his expectations. I was crazy to give 'em that assignment, but they did it well.

            As the two Fed pincer forces consolidated and closed in on the 4th brigade, the 1st and 3rd decloaked and opened up on them from the flanks. Weapons fire erupted, stunning the Fed troopers. They quickly moved to redirect their fire. That was their mistake; now two brigades, not one, charged them from the rear tree line. Getting cut to pieces on three sides, the rapidly shrinking Fed force retreated in the only direction available, north. Right into the flaming wreckage of the spaceport… this is what a trap is supposed to look like, you fuckers! 

            "Keep it hot, boys," Dimiye cried out, "we're gonna follow them all the way to Tower City!" His brigades corralled the Fed troopers into the smoking husk of the spaceport on the flanks and from behind. It was a complete rout. Scores of men perished that day because they chose allegiance to the Federation. They were traveling as fast as they could, but the HAP soldiers were faster, much faster… and brutal. Once they cleared the wreckage, HAP soldiers were right there waiting for them on the flanks. The 4th Brigade was having trouble keeping up.

            "Wilhelm, have your heavy weapons battalion fall back to guard the LZ. They can meet up with us later. " Dimiye ordered. "Peter, you go, too."

            Command Sergeant-Major Benjamin tried to reply. "But, boss…" 

            "No buts. You're too heavy to keep up and I need your magic at the LZ." Alistar said, trading his Lance Cannon for a H-90 with a nearby Dead Boy.

            "Roger that, boss." Peter said grudgingly.

            Dimiye got on the comm. "LZ secured, sir. Proceeding to Tower City."

            "It took ya 17 minutes," Fabin said, "looks like Colonel Wolfe lost the bet. We’re coming down."


Once the spaceport exploded, Spyder didn't waste any time. The distraction gave him just enough time to leap forward and kick Delarosa in the chest. The colonel went down like a sack of potatoes. The guards shifted their aim, but Justine joined the fray. Bashing one of them with a kick to the head, she pivoted and slammed both fists into another's solar plexus.

The entire room was in a state of chaos. Malachi grabbed Tomas' revolver and immediately turned and nailed another guard with a pair of plasma bolts. D'Amprisi didn't even think to stop, sending a series of attacks into the last guard, dropping him down. Picking up his plasma revolver, she rushed over to her boyfriend.

Spyder was filled with rage. He kept kicking Delarosa again and again. "Bastard! Fucking bastard! Let's see you get up now!"

"Mal! We need to go!"

"Not until…"

"NOW!" Justine screamed. The shock of it tore the captain away from his revenge. Both of them buck-naked, they rushed out of the barracks, hoping to put as much space between them and their pursuers as they could.


The 9th Division was chasing the hell out of their former attackers. The outskirts of Tower City were burning from the constant fire pouring down upon them by the HAP soldiers. Even Dimiye was a little disturbed at these converted humans skill at war. Have I chosen the path of blood without even realizing it? Alistar asked himself, watching the fleeing Fed forces get carved up by his unit. Is there any thing I can do to stop it? Do I want to stop it?

Suddenly his suit's sensors picked up aircraft approaching. Shit, the major thought, biting down on his dentcom, "Take cover!"

As the power-armored troops scattered, Dimiye was suddenly knocked to the ground by the aerocopters rushing past. By the time he managed to get back on his feet, they were long gone. "What the hell…"

"A squadron of Ravens, sir," his trusty captain explained, appearing from behind a statue. "Looks like they were heading for the spaceport."

"Oh shit!" The werewolf changed frequencies and immediately dialed up Benjamin. "Sergeant-Major, come in please!"

"Boss!" Peter called back, "They brought up some damn tank unit. They're coming in fast!"

"We're on the way. Discom." Dimiye pointed to the captain. "All right, let's haul ass back to the 'port! You're coming with me."

"Yes, sir," the captain answered, grabbing his battalion and rushed down the street.

As they ran down the street, all of a sudden, Alistar caught some movement down the side of the street. "Targets, eleven o'clock!" His H-90 cycled and the area was suddenly pelted with seventy gauss rifles tearing that block to shreds.


While Spyder and D'Amprisi ran away from the barracks, the streets of Tower City were deserted. "What is going on around here?" he asked between panted breaths.

"I don't know. Maybe the Rebels landed?"

"That's impossible! I mean…" Suddenly Malachi stopped as he saw the power-armored troops rushing down the street. "Fuck. RUN!"

The naked couple rushed down the alleyway quick. In the next second, the building they hid behind was ripped apart.


"CEASE FIRE!" Dimiye called out over the proximity channel. As the smoke slowly cleared, the building… and the rest of the block, was turned into rubble.

"You think we got 'em?" the captain asked.

Alistar rolled his eyes, answering him with static. Cycling through his sensor readouts, he noticed two heat sources hiding under the rubble. "2nd Platoon, EPW search. Go!"

A quarter of the unit peeled off the firing line and rushed off to the devastation they had created. When they finally reached the sources, after pulling off some of the rubble, the lieutenant in command called back. "Sir, we've got a man and woman here. They're pretty beaten up; they took quite a pummeling from the bricks."

"Coming over." The major bounced over toward them as the rest of the platoon pulled the two naked people from the wreckage of the building. Through his suit speakers, his voice boomed out to the two wounded. "Who are you?"

The naked man managed a salute, "Captain Spyder, sir."

Alistar returned the salute. "Major Dimiye. Is she all right?"

"The girl's knocked out, sir," one of the troopers reported, "but she'll live."

"All right," Dimiye nodded, "get them to the medic, stat."

Just then, the call came through from Benjamin. "Hey, boss. Don't worry about those tanks. We took care of them."

"Really? What happened?"

"A couple lance cannons does a world of good. Those Mark III's didn't stand a chance." Peter paused for a second, watching something through his eyes, "Hey, boss, Fabin's decided to show up."

"About time." Dimiye smirked.

"Sir!" an urgent com broke through to the command circuit.

"Major Taylor?"

"Sir, the city's bringing out reinforcements. It's a mad house out here! We need the rest of the division!"

It never ends, does it? he asked himself. "All right. Nin-er division, all units forward!"




It seemed like I had been sleeping for days once my eyes opened. I leaned up and took a look around. It was a small room. The only light came from a tall wax candle on a table in the corner of the room. A man sat beside my bed, sitting with his legs crossed, and wearing a gray uniform. He was staring into my eyes. Despite the shades (which was rather ridiculous, since you couldn't see anything in that light), I could see his piercing eyes behind them. Still, it didn't look like he was staring at me. Instead, he was looking through me. At that moment, I remembered; the events of last night came back in a vivid flash…


It must have been half past two in the morning when Charlie and I made our way along 22nd Street. It was cold, rainy, and miserable… another beautiful night on Wilke's Star. We were expecting to meet Leonardo, the leader of our cell in the Fearless Jackals.

"Do you think he'll show up, Stuart?" Charlie asked, keeping cautious in a low voice, even though the street was deserted.

I put my hand into my coat pocket and felt a small crystal chip. At first, I couldn't remember why it was there, but… for some reason, I saw myself hacking into the InSec mainframe on Avalon about a week ago. Why the hell would I think that? "Monk told us that he'll be there, dude."

I took a closer look at Charlie. He had long red hair and hawkish nose. Underneath his black trenchcoat was a crutch under his left arm. Of course, I knew that it was more than a crutch. That thing could be reassembled into a makeshift plasma sniper rifle. This man was the sharpshooter in our group, and he had proved his skill many times. Bringing death at a great distance was a good way to eliminate the competition.

            When we finally reached the bar, the place was dead. A quick look around told us that our fearless leader was nowhere to be found. "All right, Charlie, let's get…"

"Wait," the redhead nudged me, shifting his feet to a better defensive stance, "ten o'clock." I looked and finally saw the bartender coming over. It was obvious he wanted to talk, although why the Jackals would employ a short (but athletic) man with green hair was beyond me.

            The bartender came over to us and said quietly, "Hell of a night, eh?"

I tipped my hat, letting the rainwater drip on his shoe. "Yeah."

"Kinda reminds of that poem. 'Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night…'"

The code phrase, I remembered, and shot out the next line. "'What immortal hand and eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?'" Jesus Christ, who comes up with this stuff?!

The bartender nodded. "The animal has found a home among his pack. The name's Ricardo, 5th circle under Malthus. The man you want is upstairs."

            This was all wrong. "Our contact said to meet us in the bar." I glanced at the staircase

leading upwards behind the bar. I didn't trust it and I certainly didn't trust Ricky here.

            "Hey, I don't care. You don't want to go, fine, it's not my ass." Ricardo muttered, walking back to the bar.

            I didn't like this one bit. Leonardo was a stickler for details. Code words, precise times… you would think that a 500 year-old vampire would be a little less anal. Turning to Charlie, I asked, "You think we should check this out?"

            "Shit," the 'cripple' replied, "this smells of a setup, Stuart, and you know it."

            "If it's not, we'll be in deep shit. Let's do it."

            At the top of the stairs was an open doorway. Just beyond was a darkened room, lit only by the streetlights outside. One of the windows was open, the wind and rain were chilling the room. Only when the lightning flashed did I see him. As if on cue, he turned and saw us. "M. Weaver, I presume?"

Once we got closer, we could finally see him. Dressed in black, his coat was made of thick wool, only to be topped by his long stringy black hair. In the light, he would have scared me half to death. In the darkness, thought… I can't explain it, his eyes made me feel… at peace? Like I said, I can't explain it. "Yes?"
            "The man you're looking for is not here. My associates have told me that you can find him at 813 North Retribution Street, Apartment 12."

"Retribution Street?"

The man shrugged. "Go out the window. We'll make sure you're not followed."

Normally I would have been careful and blasted the man into tiny pieces with my plasma revolver. Something, though, made me want to trust him. Like lambs to the slaughter, we went out the window, taking the fire escape to the alley below. Luckily, we were spared the knife.


The rain was coming down in sheets as thick as lead. After 45 minutes of this shit, we reached the corner of Retribution and Summit. Whatever the boss wanted, it better be damn good. We were careful; one didn't live long in this business without being smart. We split up, Charlie heading for the Church to be my sniper, and I walking into the gate of hell itself. That's the apartment for those who need a little prompting.

Once I reached the apartment, my eyes naturally shifted towards the window. The shades were drawn and there were no lights on. As with most of our operation's safe houses, if you head for the front door, you'll be in for a surprise. Sometimes, the safe way in was through the back door, but sometimes even that was booby-trapped. I walked around to the side of the building, while making sure that I was not being followed. As expected, there was fire escape leading to the apartment.

I climbed up and made my way towards the door. Naturally, it was locked, the viral security system in place. I lowered my head and leaned towards the detection device. The minicomputer registered my retinal scan, then I heard a click, and the door slowly opened. Cautiously, I walked into the dark room.

"Lights, dim." a dry voice to my left called out. As the lights came on and my eyes adjusted, I took in my surroundings. The room was very well furnished. The carpet I was standing on must have cost several thousand credits alone! There were several overstuffed chairs and a teak wood coffee table at the center of the room. The walls were decorated with several ancient biblical paintings, all pertaining to the end of the world, probably from Revelation. The small holoproj unit in the corner betrayed the luxuriousness of the room. This was more than a typical Jackal's safe haven. It was Leonardo's home.

I finally looked to my left and I saw him. He was wearing a Tech Infantry uniform… a major, I think. Bald, clean-shaven, thick black eyebrows, and deeper green eyes; all of this I could have accepted apart from the silver dagger in his left hand.

Then he spoke. "Hello, Stuart. Close the door behind you." The voice was pleasant… and rather familiar.

"Who the fuck are you?" I shot back, closing the door..

"You don't recognize me, old friend? I'm so sad. How is the rhino doing? Has

he recovered from his pounding at the Rage?"

I narrowed my eyes and looked closer. The resemblance was remarkable; one of the best disguises yet. His own mother wouldn't have recognized him. "Treschi?"

"Of course, who else were you expecting?" Andrea replied, pouring himself a drink. "Don't worry, I already sent word to Charlie and told him that the area is secure."

"Where's Leonardo?" I asked.

"Leonardo and I had a disagreement at the pub. He was about to say something, but he had an accident."

"An accident?"

            "Yes, quite a tragedy," Treschi nodded, taking a sip of his whiskey, "he cut his head off while combing his hair."

Suddenly, I was afraid. Obviously I had underestimated M. Treschi. If he could kill Leonardo, he wouldn't hesitate killing me as well. "You killed him?!"

"Leonardo and I had a disagreement. He was holding us back. I believe that it is time for the Fearless Jackals to step forward and exploit the opportunities that this war presents. Please

give me the chip."

"What chip?" Unconsciously, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled it out. Once I handed it over to Treschi, he walked over to the holoproj unit and inserted the chip. Images of a star system burst to life, along with technical data in annotations. Then it spoke. "New Paris System and its defensive network, current as of July 7th, 2243. Current fleet positions rotate along pre-arranged patterns indicated by the red lines." Suddenly the holoproj wound several red lines around the system.

"What is this?" I said, leaning closer to the glowing schematics.

"My name is Fox. Who are you?" the computer replied in a flat voice.

"I'm Stuart Weaver," I replied unconsciously, then blinked away from the wonder I was carrying just before in my pocket. Turning towards Treschi, I had to ask, "AI?"

"Yes. He's a rather useful program, not as useful as the real Richard Fox would have been, but since he's dead, I had to come up with something."

"You programmed that?" Programming an AI was a difficult and delicate task. I had heard that they could be created with mind mages, but I never believed that… "Treschi, do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?" I asked.

"I'm arranging a major score with the Aunt… low 8 figures. First, though, I wanted to thank you for getting this information for me."

"It was nothing." I replied. Suddenly I wasn't feeling well.

"Stuart, I have a meeting with the marshal at 9:30. You're looking tired. Why don't you take a nap? I'll wake you when I return…"




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

            Erich Von Shrakenberg's mouth dropped open.  "What?!?!"

            Lwan went on.  "Think about it.  When was the last time you heard about an InSec raid on a Resistance cell?  It's the TI and the Raptors who fight them.  But what is more of an Internal Security problem than a resistance movement?"


            "Oh, sure, InSec does occasionally break up a terrorist cell.  It's a wonderful way to enforce their control.  Any of the Resistance factions gets out of line, then WHAM… a team of agents shows up and crushes them."

            Erich practically exploded.  "But why?"

            "Simple.  What is InSec?  Auntie Sarah's propaganda gets at least one thing right.  InSec is the continuation of the Technocracy," explained Lwan.  "A group of powerful Mages that want to control humanity.  You can't have total control unless you hold the ruled and the rebels."


            "There are few Resistance leaders at the top who are actively working for InSec. They're never caught in raids, of course.  Anyone who opposes them, gets caught.  Pretty soon, the only top leaders left are firmly in InSec's pocket.  It's a neat little system."

            Erich mulled this over for several moments.  "How did you find this out?"

            Lwan smiled slightly.  "It's obvious, isn't it?"

The commodore just glared at him. "No, it isn't."

"Look, I wasn't just Arthur Clarke's commanding officer, but Richard Fox's as well.  As soon as he took over InSec, I noticed a pattern in counter-resistance operations.  It may have started even before that, but that was when the Resistance got more and more centralized.  Soon they controlled whole planetary systems, and Federation efforts to stomp them out were failing utterly." 

            "You're right!" Erich interrupted.  "The Fed has the entire might of the Tech Infantry, the Light Infantry, Earth Fleet, and InSec at its disposal.  Millions of troops, hundreds of huge warships… and they can't defeat a handful of eco-freaks in the wilderness and back alleys?  If the Fed seriously wanted to wipe out the Resistance, they would have done it a century ago.  Someone at the top had to be supporting them."

            Eddington closed his eyes and sighed. "I'm afraid you overestimate the power of brute force, and underestimate the power of ideas, but… essentially, you're correct."

            "And that someone had to be InSec."

            "Oh, for a while, I was worried that it was some faction within the TI or the Grand Council.  But as the TI kept getting weaker and weaker, and membership on the Grand Council changing too regularly… no, it had to be InSec.  It's the kind of thing Richard Fox would do."  Lwan paused a moment.  "Of course, Fox would have been centralizing the Resistance to get his enemies all in one place, hoping to wipe them out once and for all.  But the new leadership has other plans."

            Erich nodded.  "King."

            "Exactly," confirmed Eddington.  "Rashid King is even more power-hungry than Fox was.  Anyone who opposes or stands up to him, he sees as a threat.  To him, threats must be either controlled or crushed."

            "Such a man is dangerous," nodded Erich. 

            Lwan looked curiously at the fleet officer.  "Such a man is sitting before me."

            Erich sat there, his jaw working up and down, practically choking on his indignation.  Eddington continued before Erich could get in a word edgewise.  "Do you show mercy to the Jurvain?  To the Bugs?  To the rebels or the resistance?  No, you slaughter them left and right, burning through ships and men as markers on a game board.  Your own ship, your own crew, is pounded to scrap metal twice, and what do you do?  You get another ship and head straight off to the next slaughter."

            Von Shrakenberg could contain himself no longer.  "I fight honorably on the field of battle!  I fight for my species and my nation!  I have never screwed over a fellow officer just to get a promotion… and I don't kill out of spite!"

            "Yet you flew out under a false flag of surrender to destroy a Jurvain battlecruiser with over a thousand sentient beings on board," pointed out Lwan harshly.  "You destroyed one of your own ships full of trapped and helpless fellow human beings to use their lifeboat as a giant nuclear minefield.  You destroyed a jumpgate to blow up a fleet of helpless troopships containing over a quarter of a million sentient beings.  You destroyed a frigate of your own nation's security forces when they were trying to destroy a ship full of smugglers and criminals.  You destroyed an Enoch heavy cruiser full of fellow humans who only fought for the Vampires because they were forced to!"  Lwan looked the crushed officer straight in his eyes.  "You kill and slaughter and hurt and maim… and for what?!  To perpetuate the Federation, a dinosaur of a regime that keeps  butchers like King and Johnson in power? Or is it to build the myth of the Von Shrakenberg clan, the bloodiest-handed family in the entire Federation?  Do you need to live up to the legacy of two centuries; a family of murderous thugs in the service of murderous thugs?  Or is it for yourself; to add to your butcher's bill of dead bodies and broken lives? Why, Erich, why do you do these things?!"

            Von Shrakenberg was on the verge of tears.  "I…did…my…duty," he croaked out. 

            "That's what Richard Fox thought.  That's what Auntie Sarah thinks.  That's what Bad Andy and even Rashid King thinks." finished Lwan.  "Are you no better than them?"

            Erich didn't know what to say.  He lay there, slumped on the ground, tears streaming from both eyes.  Finally, Lwan reached out and laid his hand on the younger man's shoulder.  "That is enough for today, my friend. You are beginning to understand who you are and why you are here.  When you understand what you want, you will understand what you must do to get where you are going."  Eddington stood back up and stomped out the dying embers of the fire.  "Come," he said, "I want you to meet someone."

            Erich found that his injuries were all healed, and he was able to stand, albeit unsteadily.  He looked around.  "Where are we going?  Who are we going to meet?"

            Lwan closed his eyes for a moment.  An area a few feet in front of the two men began to glow and take on the appearance of a glowing, spinning disc of tiny points of light.  The center of the whirlpool slowly expanded to reveal a bright-edged opening in the air as the old lieutenant's eyes opened again.  "We are going," he smiled, "to visit an old friend."  With that, he stepped through the gateway, forcing Erich jump after him before it closed. 


            The two men stood on a high, grassy hill beside a grove of trees.  Rolling hills ran to the horizon in all directions, with trees filling in the valleys between them.  There was a slight snap of frost in the air, but the trees were alive with the chitterings of squirrels and small birds. 

            "Earth," stated Erich in wonder, straining slightly under the unfamiliar 1-g gravity field. 

            "Yes, once this was the homeworld of humanity," replied Lwan sadly.  "Now it's an alien world with humans only colonists and strangers here."

            "I was born on Earth, you know," added Von Shrakenberg hopefully.  "My mother gave birth while waiting for the evacuation shuttle when the bug meteor hit."

            "Yes, you are the last citizen of the Federation to be born on Earth," confirmed Eddington.  "I read that atrocious book the fleet made you write."  He looked around with a sense of profound sadness.  "The circumstances of your birth are a dubious honor at best, a reminder of how high the costs can be of one man's personal ambition."

            "What do you mean?" 

            "You'll find that out soon enough," replied Lwan mysteriously as he began to walk across the hillside.  Erich followed him in silence until the two stopped beneath the spreading branches of a towering oak tree.  There was a simple mound at the base of the tree.  "Here he is," intoned Lwan quietly. 

            "Who?" asked Erich, not understanding.  As if in answer, Lwan extended both his arms, hands hanging down limply, and closed his eyes.  The dirt at the base of the tree began to crawl as if it were alive, then fountained upward in fist-sized chunks.  Erich almost fell over as the whole hill quaked and shuddered, as if vomiting out something it didn't want to swallow any more.  Soon, a hole had opened up in the ground, and a large plain sack, streaked with mud, surged up from the depths of the earth and came to rest on the surface.  As if on cue, the sack ripped open amid a cloud of dust and a fetid stink of decay. 

            Inside was a decayed and dessicated corpse, bones sticking out through the tattered remnants of flesh and clothing.  Lwan strode forward and laid his hands gently on the body.  He smiled slightly, and began to sing almost under his breath.  "Dem bones, dem bones, dem, dry bones.  Dem bones, dem bones, gonna, walk around.  Now hear the word of the Lord…"

            Under the touch of the powerful life mage, the flesh began to grow again.  It almost appeared to inflate, swelling to enclose the exposed bits of skeleton, as dark brown bits of meat took on a reddish hue once more and then was enclosed in new and living skin.  The flesh and skin grew over the naked skull, forming slowly into a face, and hair began to grow from the regenerated scalp.  Erich could only stare, open-mouthed, as the features slowly reformed into that of a man in early middle age. 

            "My god," whispered Von Shrakenberg, "Marko Vitek!"

            "Yes," confirmed Eddington.  "Marko Vitek, former sergeant in the Tech Infantry, product of the Federation's abominable cloning labs, and leader of the Resistance.  He's been dead for over eight years now. I saw him die, and I buried him here with my own hands.  Who that is running around and directing the Resistance now, I don't know.  But I intend to find out."

            "But that would mean…" stammered Erich.  

            "Yes," finished Lwan.  "It seems that InSec has cloned another copy of him.  You'd think they would learn from their past mistakes; one of him was too many.  But that never stopped InSec before."

            The tall Maori turned around and strode away.  The body rapidly disintegrated to its former state of decay, and then the ground closed itself up again and sank down into the dirt.  In a few moments, there was no sign that the surface had ever been disturbed. 

            Erich stood and watched this, then ran to catch up to the mage.  "What do we do now?"

            Lwan didn't even look back over his shoulder.  "We go to visit someone else."

            "Who," asked Erich in a frightened voice.  "Bruce Von Eisenstein? The ghost of Pyramus Grey?"

            "No, not another corpse," answered the mage with a slight smile,  "someone quite alive."




            Miro Creed awoke from the world of strange dreams to a land so much greener than it should have been. He was still in bed, but this time, he was in some sort of greenhouse. The sun was beautiful outside, there were trees beckoning from the windows, and flowers seemed to choke the room around him. He tried to move; the pain was there but it was much less than before. Creed managed to get to his feet. Every step seemed like a symphony of pain, but at least he could walk.

            There were voices in the next room. Miro hobbled over to the door to listen.

            "You're not listening to me!" The voice was obviously the same as the man who found him.

            "Kash." his other self reminded.

            Oh, Creed thought, there you are. I was wondering where you went to this time.

            "I didn't have enough energy to communicate."

            So how am I doing now?

            "Power replenishment still proceeding; approximately 45% completed. Your injuries are stabilized but still being repaired. You should probably go lie back down."

            "No," he whispered under his breath, "I want to hear this."

            Kash's voice was obvious in the conversation. "…what is wrong with you?"

            "What's wrong with you?!" a deeper voice shouted back. "Are you completely insane?! Whoever he is, he's not one of us. You could have jeopardized our entire headquarters!"

            "He's Hodraida, Marko."

            There was a noticeable pause. His inner voice decided to mention. "Voice patterns indicate that second speaker is Marko Vitek, leader of the Resistance."

            "Thanks," Creed whispered back, "I think I figured that one out myself."

            "Hodraida?" Vitek answered.

            "Yes. He may not be one of us, but he is certainly one of mine."

            "I thought you said…"

            "Yes, I know what I said," Kash replied, "and I was wrong."

            "So what does this mean?"

            "Remember what Isis did? They stole our children to experiment on. Now when we signed the Coral Sea Treaty, we got them back, but not all of them. Maybe Miro's the child of one of those lost Horadrim."

            "You're holding something back, Kash. What is it?"

            "Miro might be from a completely different group altogether."

            "Different group?"

            There were some footsteps, then Kash continued. "Do you remember what Chuck said to you? About the InSec ships?"

            "Yeah. He said that they were using Horadrim ships."

            "Yes, Horadrim ships, not hybrids. They were using the actual ships themselves."


            "Our ships worked in response to our thoughts. That meant that their… well, for lack of a better word, programming was set to respond to Horadrim thoughts, not human. Even with a translator, you can't plug a human into a Hodraida console and expect the ship to fly!"

            "So what are you saying?"

            "That there's another group of Horadrim out there… helping InSec."

            Another pause. "Well, that's an interesting… theory."

            "It's something we have to consider, Marko. I can account for all of my people. Beyond that…"

            "So there's another group out there. Do you think Creed knows about them?"

            "I don't know. I doubt it. I don't think he knows anything about his own kind."

            "Find out."

            Then there were footsteps and a door closed. Vitek has left the building, he chucked to himself, hobbling back to his bed. I finally meet my people, he thought, the question is how many of them?

            "And which side they belong to." his little voice chimed in.

            After finally reaching the bed, Miro was exhausted. He slowly crawled back into the bed and got under the warm covers. "Shut up." he whispered, then fell asleep.




Xavier Pollos turned to leave the alley.  Looking down at his hands, covered in his blood, he couldn't believe what had just happened.  As he ran down the street, the assassin quickly realized what he had to do. He had to meet with King. Find out what the hell that thing was and find some way of stopping it.  

As much as he hated to admit it, Pollos had to acknowledge that his newfound skill hadn't saved him from the rampaging anorexic vampire.  That sword has saved me so many times, he thought, how could I have gotten this far without it? 

No, Xavier stopped, standing next to the streetlight, everything is going wrongWhere am I… what am I, really? I'm just the errand boy for King. I never wanted that! I want King to DIE!

The wind picked up through the streets, chilling the sweat coming over his body, forcing him to move again. Is that too much for me to ask, Pollos asked himself. As he walked back towards InSec headquarters, the dream came back to him. There he was, standing over King's body, but… something's different this time. Xavier looks in his mind's eye towards the corner of the room. Someone… something watching.  Was it the vampire? The assassin couldn't tell. However, something else was missing.  This time, as he watched the dream in his head, Kuar wasn't there. Not in his hand, not in King, nowhere. If King is dead, what did I kill him with?

Pollos was rudely awakened as a flitter zooms past his body in the street in front of him. Damn it, Xavier cursed himself, I need to pay attention. I need to see… kill King.


It didn't take long to reach the headquarters of Internal Security.  However, Pollos feels that something isn't right. No one moved the same. It seemed silly to think that, but Xavier couldn't help it. Something's wrong.  

The assassin rushed up the lift to the commandant's office. Instead of the buxom dark-skinned secretary he had seen before, there was a pale thin blonde woman sitting there. "Can I help you?"

Pollos doesn't even acknowledge her, walking right past, opening the door to King's office. His eyes flew open in shock as the scrawny white man with the mousy hair sitting in the commandant's chair. "Who the fuck are you?!"

The man looked up from the holoproj he was studying. "Who are you?"

Suddenly Xavier felt the hard business end of a plasma revolver in his back. The light voice of the secretary sounded behind him. "You want me to get rid of him, sir?"

The man in King's seat brushed the brown hair out of his face. "Captain Pollos, I presume?"

"That's right."

"Lisa, you can go. I was… expecting him."  The assassin felt the gun come off his back and the door closed behind him. Inwardly, Xavier sighed, but he couldn't show weakness to the stranger.  The seated man leaned back and took a better look at him. "Yes, they did a good job with you.  Now, shall we begin again?"

"Sure," Pollos nodded, "Who the fuck are you?!"

"Colonel Herbert Gergenstein, Commandant, Federation Internal Security."

"Bullshit. You couldn't have taken out King that easily."

Gergenstein took out a newspaper from a drawer and slid it across the desk. "Read for yourself. Chairman Johnson gave Rashid King the rank of Marshal yesterday. I can't help it if you don't keep up with the faxes."

"All right, so who the hell are you?"

"I told you. My name is…"

"I know your name, asshole, how the fuck did you get here?"

The newly commissioned colonel sighed. "You killed poor Colonel Pax, the former deputy commandant, and King didn't have time to name a replacement.  When I… helped the colonel with a problem he was having, he saw my value, and picked me as his replacement. Clear?"

"Not really."

"Oh well, it's not important. The point is that I'm in charge of InSec. I'm running the show. Now, what do you need?"


Gergenstein leaned forward and stared at him. "Make an appointment. But he's a little busy right now, what with the war going on and all."

"I don't want to see him."

Herbert leaned back in his chair, looking annoyed at his guest, but never breaking eye contact with him.  "I can't help you there.  Maybe you have something else on your mind? Something I can help you with?"

Xavier finally took the seat in front of him.  "What the hell… yes, I do need your help.  I'm in some serious trouble."

            "Go on."

            "I ran into a vampire tonight.  She wanted my sword.  She almost got it, too, but… whoever she was, she was powerful."

            "Oh, that's right. Elizabeth."

            "What? You're saying you know who this is?"

            "Of course I do." The commandant gave a thin smile.  "Elizabeth is one of the leaders of the Sabbat, a child of Modred himself.  You crossed the wrong woman; you're right to be scared."

            "I'm not scared.  I just need help."

            "Internal Security is not in the habit of coddling its agents.  You have access to our resources, but you have to deal with your own… personal problems."

            Pollos jumped out of his seat and grabbed Gergenstein's collar, yanking him up, bringing him face to face. "Listen, you little shit! You may have some big title, but…"

            Next thing he knew, the assassin was held against the wall by unseen hands. His body pulsed with the power that held him like a vise. Herbert stood up, brushed himself off, and calmly walked over to the convulsing body of Xavier Pollos.

            "Now you listen, M. Pollos, my name is Herbert Gergenstein." The mage expertly punched the assassin in the chest; the pain was excruciating. "I spent five years in the Tech Infantry," he placed a hard kick to his side, "and ten more in Earth Fleet," the commandant kicked the other side just as hard, "and all that time, I had to put up with shits like you." Herbert punched him in the head, whipping Xavier's head against the wall. "NEVER underestimate me! Do you understand?"


            "I said, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!"


            "Yes, sir!"

            "Yes, sir."

            With that response, Herb released the assassin and he fell to the ground. The pain Pollos was feeling seemed like his body was ripping in two. The new commandant brushed himself off and went back to sit behind the desk. "Now, captain, do we have anything else to discuss?" The most Xavier could reply with was a moan. "Very well, good day to you then."


            The assassin didn't try to press his luck. It was obvious that this Gergenstein was a pretty powerful mage and he wasn't going to get very far with this commandant. His body healed quickly from the bruises he had suffered. Those nano-surgeons are doing their jobs, he thought, quietly thanking himself that he had remembered to get those little… accessories.

            He went back to his favorite diner, but unfortunately, he was too late to catch the tasty waitress who waited on him last time. Sitting down at one of the booths, Xavier took a moment to collect his thoughts over a basket of fries. Before he could come to any conclusion, someone sat down opposite him.

            As Pollos opened his eyes, they flew open. There sat the vampire he knew as Elizabeth, still wearing that same thin floral dress, but now blood colored her cheeks brightly, and her presence seemed to brighten the room around them. She was far from the frightening form he met before. "We haven't been properly introduced, M. Pollos. My name is…"

            "Elizabeth," Xavier blurted out, itching for the chance to cut her down to size, "yes… I know who you are."

            "Which makes us equal, I should think. I know that you have the sword and you know that I have powerful friends. It's obvious that only you can possess that blade. That disrupts my plans."

            "I'm so sorry." Pollos replied flatly.

            "We have need of the blade, M. Pollos. A greater darkness than the one upon us is about to break. Your weapon is the key to stopping it."

            "What, is someone going to drop a fusion bomb of Mod…"

            Elizabeth quickly stopped his mouth with her hand. "It's best not to speak such names aloud, M. Pollos."


            "Yes… Xavier, of course."

            "What are you afraid of, Beth? Speak the devil's name and he appears?"

            "He's done greater feats with less effort. If not one demon, then perhaps another."

            "You mean the col…. I mean, the marshal?"

            "I mean there are others interested in my plans. You, for instance, should be."

            Pollos leaned back in his seat. "Oh?"

            "Our enemies have decided to advance their attack upon my master. They have employed someone inside the Federation in order to accomplish this. We need you to find and stop that man."

            "I don't like being used and I especially don't like you. Why the hell would I help you?"

            "You're an assassin for hire, aren't you? A man like you isn't made for government work. You have needs, things to fulfill… what will it take, Xavier? One million credits? Two million? How much will it take for you to consider my offer?"

            "Why don't you tell me who you want to kill? Give me that much and I'll think about it."

            "Fair enough. I believe you met him once. His name is Andrea Treschi."



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