" Peace and safety… then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape."

                                                                        -- 1 Thessalonians 5:3


            Hex held the crosshairs over the target. It would move fast… so he had to be faster. Suddenly it was in position, he moved the tracking system, aimed, and pushed the button.

            BAM! The missile threatening the two-dimensional cities below was destroyed! The teenage boy had become fixated upon this device that one of the Resistance guys had dug up from the ruins of Earth. The faded sign above it said "Missile Command" and the boy dived right into learning its secrets. Hex hadn't moved from his mission, that is, blasting the infinite missiles coming at his cities, in over four hours.

            His inate learning ability was causing him to rack up so many points that he was unstoppable. Yes, he thought, die you ugly… whatever the hell you are! Hex is the protector of this planet! I am invincible! I am more powerful than…

            Suddenly the screen went blank. "What?!" Hex bashed the side of the box. "What's going on?!"

            "I pulled the plug, Hex." Brigette appeared from behind the game.

            "Come on, Brig!" the boy pleaded, "I was almost finished!"

            "We need to meet up with Aurelius."

            "One more game…"

            "We’re already late!" she screamed. "Come on…"

            As she was dragging him from the console as Hex tried to grab on for dear life. "No, we've still got time… one more game! ONE MORE GAME!"

            Finally Brigette managed to get him away from the device and hauled him out the door. All the time, she grumbled under her breath. "Boys…."


            Csilla Aurelius was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, well built, and very photogenic. When he walked into a room, he almost demanded that you look at him. The second that Hex and Brigette walked into the room where their new cell was waiting, he was right there, ready to greet them. "Hi! Welcome to our group! It's about time we got a chance to strike a blow for freedom!"

            "Whatever…" an older man said, cleaning out his plasma rifle. Hex quickly noticed the sniper's scope mounted on it.

            Csilla returned a frown. "I'm afraid not everyone is enthusiastic as I am. However, Miller Loosier has his uses."

            The grey-haired man looked up, pointing his finger at them. "Yeah, I can hit any target a couple kilometers away."

            "See what I mean?" Aurelius smiled even wider; Hex wondered if that was possible. "Even the lowest prole has the chance to destroy the fundamentalist oppressors."

            "Will you give it a rest, Sill!" another woman, about as young as Csilla, stepped forward. "These kids are going to get enough verbage without you spewing more."

            Aurelius laughed. "Oh, that I may use all my parts in the cause of liberation."

            "I'll show you where to shove those parts, Sill."

            Csilla turned toward the two of them. "You must forgive my sister. She's not as motivated as I am."

            "Jenny." she introduced herself, shaking both of their hands.

            "Wait a minute," Hex observed, "How come you're named Csilla and you've got a normal name like Jenny."

            "It's short for a weirder one, don't worry. Our parents were… a bit strange."

            "It's Iphengenia."

            "Screw you, Sill!" she yelled, punching him in the shoulder.

            "All right," their cell leader laughed, "now that we're all here, it's time to decide how we take down the Righteous Army."




            He was in that room again.  The eerie room that recurred in his dreams, a humid, dark cavern he now stood in.  In the distance he could just make out the walls in the dim amber light, covered in pipes and tubes, cogs and pistons, wires and circuit boards.  No matter how far he walked, the walls never grew closer, and though he could see pipes and wires above him, he couldn’t see the ceiling. He could hear the quiet hum, hiss, and clank of machinery in the distance.

            A loud snap echoed throughout the room and a soft cone of light appeared behind him. He turned, startled, and saw a short wooden table illuminated in the light.  A monstrous mechanical hand rested on the table, oozing grease and blood, a primitive, crude machine from an ancient robot of centuries past.  Wires and rods stuck out of the wrist socket… and veins… and bone…

            He slowly became aware of the dull, throbbing pain in his left wrist.  Feeling strangely detached, he raised his arm and stared at the charred, bleeding stump.  His mind flooded with a seething, burning hatred of the fanatics who had taken his hand.  Then he looked closer, puzzled.  Among bone and tendons dangling from the stump, metal glimmered… shafts, wires, circuits…

Take it.

He looked up at the ugly, crude prosthetic on the table, and suddenly it was beautiful, a work of art.  More efficient than flesh, more durable that bone, it held a simple elegance in its pure functionality.

Take it!

He didn’t hesitate for a second.  He grabbed the hand and rammed it onto his stump… and his arm burst into pain.  He stared in fascinated horror as bone fused to metal, wires and veins wrapping themselves together and spreading like a web.  Unbelievable pain lanced through his mind and he felt the metal rods driving their way up his arm.  He tried not to scream as the wires raced through his flesh, tearing skin and muscle.  The burning agony overwhelmed him.  He sank to his knees, gripping his arm.

Fear seized him as the wires and rods climbed past his elbow.  He suddenly realized they weren’t going to stop.  His moan turned into a screech of fear as he felt the wires beginning to tear into his neck. 

“STOP!! MAKE IT STOP!!” he screamed in terror.

Take it, make it part of you.

“I… CAN’T…” he gurgled, the wires spreading across his face.

            If you resist it, you will die.  Take it.

            “NUUHGH...” Metal rods punched through his skull.

            Perfect symmetry. Man and machine.

“AUGHHHAAHHHH!” The wires tightened.  He felt his right eye burst, the fluid run down his face.

This is what you are.  What you have always been. 

He screamed as wires and circuits filled in the socket and he could suddenly see again

Now take it!  Accept it… thrive… or die!

He stopped screaming as a terrifying calm took over his mind -- cold, obedient thoughts following orders, calculating at a speed the human mind was never meant to conceive.


            He awoke sweating, his arm burning.  It was just a dream...  He tried to sit up, but a firm hand pushed him back down. 

            “Whoa, settle down, fella!  You’ve had a shock to your system… give your body time to recover,” the Christian Fed medic said with an exhausted smile.  Xinjao lay back on the operating table, shivering from the white-hot pain in his arm, so intense that it was hard to even think.

            “Damn, Doc… this is killing me!” he gasped.  “Morphine?”

            “Sorry, pal, no can do,” the medic said, wiping blood off his hands on a towel.  My blood,  O’Reilly realized.  “You gotta form new neural paths for the cybernetics grafted to your nerve endings,” he continued.  “Ya use a chemical pain inhibitor when they’re first forming, ya might screw ‘em up for good.  Trust me, you don’t want that.”

            “But my hand hurts, Doc!!” Xinjao whined.

            The doctor cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Your hand, you say?” he asked with a mysterious grin.

            Xinjao thought about that and suddenly realized the medic was right.  His hand throbbed with searing pain, but he could feel it!  For a few seconds, he was able to push the pain to the back of his mind out of sheer joy.  He looked over at the heavy steel fist grafted to his arm in wonder.  The magic of technology never ceased to amaze him.  The doc sat back and watched, beaming.

            O’Reilly sat up and carefully examined the artificial limb with equal parts fascination and disgust.  These days, they produced bionic prosthetics with living flesh coverings.  They could build android limbs with supple artificial skin.  You couldn’t tell the patients had lost a limb.  This was none of those.  The Christian Federation couldn’t afford any expense for cosmetics.  The best they could provide was a totally functional cybernetic hand… and an older model, at that.   O’Reilly held up his arms (damn, it’s heavy!) and looked at them.  The cybernetic hand was noticeably bigger, the proportions all wrong.  The metal casing extended almost to his elbow, the nerves, tendons, and bones fused into the circuitry inside. Coated in gray industrial plastic with segmented joints, it made no attempt to look natural.  Well, it’s not as if I was a model or anything before, Xinjao thought.

            The intense pain returned in full force the second he tried to move it.  Clenching his teeth, gripping the operating tabletop, he willed the fist to unclench… and watch as it slowly, slowly whirred open.  He tried wiggling his fingers, but found he could only move one of them at a time… slowly.

            “What the hell?!” he asked in disbelief.

            “As I said,” the doc explained, “your brain’s gonna have to form new neural synaptic paths to operate the electronics.  Cybernetics are a poor excuse for the real thing, y’know.  It’ll take your mind a while to learn to operate it at the speed of thought.  Basically, you’re a baby learning to use his hands all over again.  Just try not to suck your thumb, okay?” the medic joked.

            “But it’s so slow…” O’Reilly said, aghast.

            “You’ll pick up speed the more you use it.  Someday it’ll be faster than your real hand.”  The doctor picked up a datapad and downloaded some files.  “I’m gonna proscribe some physical therapy exercises that’ll help develop speed and dexterity. Run through them at least once a day, got that?”

            “Isn’t there anything you can do for the pain?” O’Reilly asked, taking the datapad.

            The medic looked annoyed by the question. “Well, I can’t stop you from taking them once you’re released… but if you ever want a normal hand again, DON’T.  It’s just a matter of willpower.  Stick it out.”

            “You wouldn’t be holding out on me, would you, Doc?” Xinjao asked suspiciously.

            “Uh, no, of course not,” the medic said, surprised and puzzled.  “I’m a doctor - why would I?”

            “Oh, you know,” O’Reilly said, narrowing his eyes at the doctor, “Demon of the Death Dock and all that bullshit… you didn’t have a pal down in 14 you’re avenging, are you?” 

            The medic looked shocked and a bit angry, but quickly recovered.  He sighed and walked over to the tool counter.  “I’m a doctor, Xinjao.  I heal.” he said finally.  “I wouldn’t keep you in pain unless it was in your best interests.  And no, I didn’t have a friend in Dock 14. Even if I did, I wouldn’t torture you!” he said, disgusted with the very concept.  “Would Jesus do that?  Of course he wouldn't… he’d bring his enemy back to health.”

            The doctor loaded a pneumatic syringe and dropped it in his pocket.  He crossed over to the operating table, threw Xinjao’s good arm over his shoulders, he helped the groggy engineer over to a recovery bed.  “I’m a Christian… but I’m also a field medic.  This is war, O’Reilly.  Dock 14 was disturbing… but I’ve seen worse.  I know people can do hideous things.  They’re terrified, or they’re desperate, and they do some pretty screwed up stuff.  Most of the time, they don’t even realize what they’re doing.”  He took the syringe out of his pocket and injected O’Reilly.  “But if those people honestly regret what they did… as I think you do… then God has already forgiven them.  And if God can forgiven them, so can I.”

O’Reilly said nothing.  He tried to absorb this bizarre kindness, but it didn’t make sense. He couldn’t decide if the medic had achieved a high degree of ethical reasoning, or was just a fool.

“Now, I’ve given you something to knock you out… just this once.  At least if you’re asleep, you won’t feel the pain. But prepare to deal with it for months, pal.  It’ll be a rough road.  No pain, no gain.”

Perhaps he couldn’t think straight because of the pain… maybe his judgment was clouded by gratitude for his new hand… but O’Reilly couldn’t help but like this wisecracking medic.  That’s the trouble with these damn Christians, Xinjao thought, losing consciousness.  Some of them are great people.


Some… not all.

“I’m not sure the Left Sword would approve this priority list,” Jesus Setana said skeptically, looking over the agenda for the morning meeting.  “Probably wouldn’t see it as the most efficient use of time.”

“Look, Setana,” O’Reilly began impatiently as the pair walked toward the boardroom. “I’m in a lot of pain here.  I’ve got a short fuse and I’m really not in the mood for an argument.  Just trust me on this one… the Napoleon has been having trouble with its grav drive since the First Battle of Phoenix.  Every time we fix it, something else blows out. It’s obviously a system-wide problem, so we have to check everything.” he said, exasperated.

“Agreed…” Setana said, stroking his goatee.  “But we’ve already checked the connections between the field generators… verified the grav field balance is aligned… fixed the--“

“Yes, but the system the balance operates on hasn’t been checked,” Xinjao interrupted.  “Look, how many grav drives have you worked on?”

Jesus stared at him in silence; they both knew the answer.  “This one.” he admitted.

“Gravity’s a powerful force.  There’s no room for error.  Every little thing matters,” Xinjao explained.  “You ever seen a ship with the grav fields out of balance, Jesus?”  The other man shook his head, his eyes watching O’Reilly coldly.  “You end up with 10 G’s on port side, 1 G to starboard,” Xinjao explained.  “Side of the ship pops off like a bottle cap.  You want that to happen to the Napoleon?”

Jesus turned back to the agenda.  “I still don’t think all these diagnostics and scans are necessary. I’m sure M. Simeon would trade small, acceptable risks for repair speed.  He wants his new flagship ready by the end of the month.  And remember, it’s the RNS St. Andrew now.”

O’Reilly threw up his hands in disgust as they reached the boardroom.  It was obvious Jesus was going to have his way, no matter how much logic he had to ignore.  Besides, Xinjao was in too much pain to argue.  “All right!  Whatever!  But if the St. Andrew splits open on the maiden voyage, it’s your head on the block, not mine!”

“Well… we’ll see." Setana always had to get the last word.  As he walked through the door, his elbow bumped hard into O’Reilly’s robotic hand.  Xinjao gasped at the sudden burst of pain and clutched his arm, shooting a look at Jesus that could have turned him to stone.  “Oh,” Jesus said, looking back, “Sorry.”

O’Reilly shuffled over to his chair at the conference table, muttering a stream of highly illegal words.  As he sat down, he felt a tap on his shoulder.  Turning, he saw one of his ex-Fleet foremen holding out a datapad to him.  She had to be ex-Fleet; there were no women in the Righteous Army.

“Here’s that report you wanted, sir.”

O’Reilly looked at the datapad, confused.  “I didn’t ask you for a report… did I?”

“It’s the Kursk report, sir,” she answered, staring at him intently,  “on the transmission history of communications array?”  Xinjao’s heart skipped a beat.  The Kursk was the ship he had sent the message to Gergenstein from.  If she had found that…

“Oh, that report!” O’Reilly exclaimed, taking the datapad.  “I’ll review it right after the meeting.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said, turning toward her chair.  “Oh, and give some feedback on it, if you could,” she added.  “I’ll probably need further instruction on the issue.”

Xinjao quickly glanced around.  People were still getting seated and pouring coffee.  He quickly checked to see if his watchdog was paying attention, but Jesus was busy sucking up to Gus Simeon, Left Sword of the Righteous Navy.  Assured no one was watching him, the lowered the pad to his lap beneath the table and pulled up the file.


CMDR O’Reilly,

Per your request, transmission history of EFS Kursk com array has been surveyed.  All systems functioning normally with one irregularity.  Although minor, I believe it to be significant and transmission content interesting.  Agree with your earlier comment: something must be done about the situation.  Awaiting further orders.

PO1 Leisa Horton, EF


Xinjao deleted the file and looked over at Leisa.  She met his gaze and nodded. 

“Alright, gentlemen, let’s get down to business,” the sword said, calling the meeting to order.


            After the meeting, Xinjao handed the pad back to Leisa.  “Very interesting,” he said, nodding.  “You think you can compensate for the irregularity?”

            “No problem, sir.  No one’ll realize it was ever there,” she answered, speaking more with her eyes than with her voice.  “But what do you want to do about the excess signal on that frequency?”

            Xinjao thought about that for a second.  “Well… we could look into redirecting it to an array on the planet…  why don’t you look into that, tell me what you find.”

            “Of course, sir,” she answered, making a note of it in her datapad.  “Oh, I’ve also got two co-workers willing to volunteer for this workgroup.  They’ve got some skill in this area… should I put them on it?”

            “Yes… yeah, go ahead.  Give me their names, I’ll swing by and drop off their work assignments.”

            “Very well, sir.” Leisa said, giving him a knowing nod before she left.

            Hmm… Xinjao thought, looking after her.  Maybe a 6 face, but definitely an 8 for the body…not bad for her age…  well, well, I seem to be drawing recruits.

            “What was all that about?  Anything important?” Jesus asked, coming up behind O’Reilly.

            Xinjao shook his head.  “Nah.  Just some kinks in a comm system needing to be worked out,” he answered, smiling to himself.  It was nothing but the truth.




“This man’s crazy!” Edward jumped out his chair.

“No, I am just a man that has nothing lose.” Treschi reached into the cabinet, and he pulled out a bottle and small glass. “Cognac, Governor Byrne?”

The governor shook his head as their conversation was interrupted by an explosion of static. “The explosives are in place, sir.”

            The mage picked up the secure transmitter. “Corporal, prepare the shuttle. We will be ready for departure within a quarter-hour,”

            “Yes, sir. Discom.”

            Treschi returned to the subject at hand and stared into the former Grand Council member's eyes. “Are you with us… Ed?”

            The governor looked at General Maxwell for support. “George...”

His sentence was cut short by the General’s cold impassive gaze. It was if the general was looking at a dead man.

            Rage slowly started to flow through Treschi’s veins. As he put down the bottle, he walked towards the Governor. “Very well… but remember this. After I slice your hands from wrists, rip your tongue out of your mouth, and sever your head from your body with this knife…” He drew out a long silver dagger that had been strapped to his leg, “…that your fiancée will breathe her last breath after seeing your skinned body before her.”


Erich Von Shrakenberg stood on the command deck of what had once been the InSec battlecruiser Canaris.  In the last two days, all the damage from the small-arms battles in the corridors had been repaired, and the bodies of the InSec personnel had been cleared away.  The tiny handful of prisoners who had been taken were locked in the ship's spacious brig.  The last of the damage from the Battle of Mars had been repaired, and all the red warning lights now shone forth in a steady green.  They were ready to depart for Avalon, but one thing was still left to do.  He turned to Chuck Coppinger. 

            "Admiral, the ship is ready, but it needs a crew."

            "We've got more than enough crewmen, commodore, since half of our fleet is now drifting debris, and the other half is in repair." 

            "But if this ship pops into Avalon space under a Resistance crew, it will be fired upon almost immediately," Erich reminded. 

            Coppinger stepped in closer, using his hand as a model. "We could pop in, drop you off, and jump out of there too fast for them to react." 

            "No, they'd blow up my shuttle before I could land.  Besides, the capitol building is shielded against correspondence portals."

            "All right, all right…" Chuck paused for a moment, thinking of a plan. "How's this? We could use a transit beacon to drop you outside of town, then you could make your own way to the capitol."

            "No good. They'd never let me in."

"Then we're back where we were… dead in space."

The silence between the two commanders was noticeable. Erich head's dropped down to his own dusty and ripped uniform. His eyes suddenly focused on his clothes and then his head snapped back up. "But if they think this is a ship full of escaped Earth Fleet personnel…" Von Shrakenberg offered, the glint of hope sparking in his eye. 

            "They'd never believe you." Coppinger exploded. 

            "They don't have to believe it, well, not for long anyway… just long enough for me to get down to meet the Council.  If they move against you, you can jump back out," Erich answered. 

            "So we get new uniforms for the bridge crew."

            "No, they'll have enough of your faces on file to see through that.  What we need is a bridge crew… a Fleet bridge crew. Like some of the Fleet officers you captured after the battle."

            Chuck shook his head. "There's not that many of them.  Those InSec bastards started firing on escape pods before we convinced them it was a bad idea.  Then they took some of the prisoners with them when they left."

            "I only need a bridge crew," Erich reminded him.  "Your hodraida still controls the ship, your men will be the marines with the guns.  My people will fly the ship to Avalon, and they'll all go down in the shuttle with me."

            "All right, commodore, we'll do it your way." Coppinger nodded, then stared directly at Von Shrakenberg.  "But if this is a trick, I'll space you myself."

            "Admiral, I'm planning on going alone into the Grand Council chamber, full of powerful mages and politicians, then accuse the Marshal of the Federation of high treason.  Sucking vacuum for five minutes seems like an acceptable alternative."


            Several hours later, Treschi, Maxwell and his staff were on the EFS Ares, preparing to leave for Avalon. Andrea’s meeting with the general was not for another twenty minutes. He was in an officer’s cabin, drinking a cup of tea, and contemplating the last several weeks. Naturally, he maintained a mental block to hide his thoughts; it was a precaution he had become used to taking.

How far have I come? he asked himself. So far, everything that has happened has done according to design; not all of it was mine. Being shot by Rashid King had foiled the original plan. After all, it would have never been pulled off if I was dead. Yet, I live… and as some wise man had said, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

He managed to obtain damaging information and provide it to the enemy; the defensive specifications of New Paris. It would bring to bear even more questions about the competence of InSec protecting vital Federation data. Although, the Grand Council and Rashid King would certainly find others to blame, he thought, the military would not.

The string of military defeats had risen more than a few doubts about the marshal's leadership. Less than a month after he took office, the Federation had suffered some of the greatest defeats in her history. Of course, that the leak involved the security of a major system was more than coincidence. With King as marshal, it would be difficult to reinforce Avalon, preventing a military coup could take place. However, with the sudden urgency to defend the capital, military leaders such as Admiral Vorheis and General Maxwell would be given more latitude. They would able to decide which forces would be most "useful" for Avalon's safety.

            Effectively defending the outer systems would be impossible, Treschi understood, but the upper brass would most likely consider it a necessary evil. They would probably think that if the spineless Grand Council were unwilling to promote a competent military leader to the marshal's position, then the Federation would lose more than just a few systems; she would even lose the war.

            Of course, Andrea knew, it was likely that a few systems would be lost in the upcoming coup. It was inevitable. In a sense, I've nearly fulfilled my deal with Auntie Sarah. There was only one task left to complete; finding Samuel Wall.

Funny, he thought, shaking his head, a few weeks ago, everything seemed lost. Andrea allowed himself a brief smile. Amazing how quickly things can change in politics. He looked at the chronometer and realized it was time to go. Treschi finished his tea and made his way to the CIC.


Ten minutes later, the general and the recently appointed lieutenant colonel were standing alone in the admiral's private projection suite. When the head of the Tech Infantry asks for something, he is rarely denied. In front of them was a holoproj computer; Treschi’s AI program had already been uploaded.

“Fox, please display star chart program four.” the smuggler stated into the terminal.

After a brief flash, the room went dark. Suddenly, it was as if they weren't in a ship at all, rather as if they were drifting in the midst of space. The two of them were trapped in a highly advanced planetarium… but even that couldn't come close to how they felt. The effect was amazing as the entire known universe swirled around them in a sphere of light. Andrea allowed himself a momentary sense of pride about his AI. Even though it lacked a soul or even a life of its own, it was still quite capable surprising other people… including himself.

“Fox,” the general glanced at Treschi before continuing, as if to see if he was allowed. “Please focus on the inner systems, the Minos to Rios belt, and the New Paris System.” It didn’t take long for the collection of neural sub-processing units to bring the desired sectors to life. With only a brief pause, the universe shattered into the sectors designated, being portioned around the room. “Now, turn the inner system display to a parallel vector, and display all current military data, as updated through the Minos net relay."

"Specify detail." Fox asked.

"Limit ground forces to legion level, with exception of specialized units, and spacecraft to the squadron. Provide all relevant information based on the marshal's daily status report template."


The display exploded into the movements of numerous legions, multiple specialized battalions, planetary defense systems, as well as naval squadrons to full-sized Federation armadas. The holoproj now contained the orders involving the movement of millions of Fed military personnel. The computer added animation for ships traveling between star systems. Precise time and distances were displayed in one section of the galaxy beneath their feet that was not of concern to the proposed operation.

While Maxwell started moving the icons around, Treschi's subconscious calculated the integrated derivation of all the possible outcomes. It was the best he could hope to achieve, given the lack of information about the enemy. It took nearly two hours before the general was done. Andrea made a few suggestions (respectfully) before the General opened a secure com channel to the grand fleet admiral.

A rather disturbingly large image of the admiral’s face suddenly appeared in the center of the room. “Kristen? This is George.”

“George? What do you want?"

“Admiral, the security of the New Paris defenses has been compromised by the enemy. One of our top agents has determined that the target may not be New Paris, but likely Avalon itself. Activate Plan Red."

"Plan Red?! George, that's only allowed if the capital is…"

"Haven't you been listening? Avalon is in danger, Kristen, we need to cover the inner systems now."

"Plan Red was developed before the war, George."

"I'm transmitting the alterations as we speak. Please… trust me."

"I'm the one who has to answer to the Council for this, general, not you. You're off there in Minos."

"I'm leaving for Avalon as we speak. The Federation's survival depends on you."

She rubbed her forehead; strands of her white hair fell out of her perfect do. "All right, George. I'll do it… but you better be here to back me up."

"I will. Take care, Kristen, I'll see you soon. Discom.”


Two days later, Treschi left the Ares in a shuttle, bound for Patton Base… and the Raptors headquarters. Looking out the oversized passenger window, Andrea got to see the flurry of activity taking place on the base. Hundreds of shuttles were landing and troops were being unloaded. Somewhere around half the Raptors' manpower was being unloaded in Avalon, as well as a dozen other battalions from other specialized forces. Crusader teams had been pulled off the vampire hunting assignments, Black Talons off combat search-and-rescue, and even the Red Scorpions, whose specialty extended into forward observation behind enemy lines, were all there. All of them were the best units in the Tech Infantry… and they were all in one place.

As soon as he got out of the shuttle, Sergeant-Major Luther was there to greet him.

“Welcome to Avalon, sir." the were-bear spoke, his deep voice easily heard over the whirr of the shuttle's turbines. "The officers' meeting starts in a few minutes, and… a visitor are waiting for you in your office.”

Treschi nodded, grabbed his case, and walked with Luther towards the headquarters building. “What about that Pollos guy?”

“Some InSec fucks showed up and demanded his release before we could finish a thorough interrogation. Our inquisitors screwed with his mind and implanted a tracking device. Veolin's on his tail.”

“Shit," Andrea cursed under his breath, then shrugged his shoulders, "I thought that might happen."

            "Nothing to worry about, sir. If he even farts in our direction, we'll know about it."

            The newly minted colonel was not amused. "Right… let's go."

It didn’t take long for them to get to his office. Standing was an old lady that looked like a hag; her unkempt appearance made Treschi wonder how she got in the base in the first place. "So, what do my friends from Internal Security have to report?”

“We have determined that there is a traitor in your ranks. We don’t know who.”

“As I suspected." Treschi wasn't surprised. "Anything else?”

“Yes… the ship you requested is available.”

“Go ahead to the meeting. Let them know about this possible infiltrator. We'll be along shortly.”

After they left the room, Andrea looked at the sergeant-major. He could sense the rage inside the were-bear starting to grow; his mind was an open book. This traitor was the reason Arthur Clarke was dead.

Time to play the blame game, Treschi thought, after all, I know who the traitor is. “Do you think it's Colonel Nielson?”

Luther thought about it for a moment, Andrea could see the realization dawning on him as the idea rolled around in his head. Finally, he gave a short nod.“Yes."

The colonel looked at his chronometer and looked back at him. "I think that's enough time for the truth to sink in. Shall we join them?"

"Wait," the were-bear paused, "I need to get something…”


            In the conference room were most of the Raptors’ officers, sitting around a large table, the kind that dominates the entire room. Several other advisors from the other specialized units were also in attendance. However, at the head of the table, it was obvious who was in command.

“So the truth comes out.” Colonel Tanya Nielson breathed as her glance struck around the table. Her attempts at eye contact often failed; only a few nodded in agreement. The others looked at Tanya impassively.

            Her hand instantly dropped to her datapad. “Hmmm… it seems to me that Andrea Treschi has managed to rise from a mere lieutenant to a lieutenant colonel in our organization in only two months." A smile dashed across her lips. "A coincidence, ladies and gentlemen?”

            A few minutes later, Luther returned to Treschi's office, carrying a large war hammer. The blood lust was flowing through the sergeant-major with every step that he took. Andrea wasted no time and they walked towards the officer’s meeting. As they made their way down the hall, Luther grew larger and larger as he shifted into Crinos. By the time they reached the doors, he was over ten feet tall… and still growing.


            “We must not tolerate infiltrators into the Rap--“

            There was a huge crash as the door was bashed open. Standing in the entrance was Luther, hovering in full Crinos form. Andrea Treschi stood beside him as Nielson suddenly broke into a coughing fit. “Tanya, you should be more careful, you might choke.”

            As Tanya sat in her chair coughing fiercely, Luther stepped forward, raised his war hammer, and bashed it down on her head. Even if she had survived the massive concussion, the were-bear made sure she didn't with another swing on her lifeless corpse.

            Treschi picked up her chair, dusted it off, and sat down. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, I think we all know who the traitor was." Andrea nodded to Luther, who never swerved one millimeter from her stance, glaring over the frightened officers. "We are in real danger of losing the war, unless we take some action." The new leader of the Raptors eased back in his chair. "It's about time we cleaned out all the traitors to the Federation."


The conference room on Deimos was small, and the twelve officers were crowded around the table.  "What now, another interrogation?" Captain Terry Carter had been stuck there for over a month. He was sick to death of his host's hospitality.  "Or are they gonna show us more faked footage of Fed warships firing on unarmed transports. This recruitment speech is getting more annoying by the day."

            "I don't know," Lt. Commander Henri Lefarge answered,  "I'm just glad to get out of that stinking cell."

            Lt. Esteban Martinez leaned forward. "At least there's one good thing about being on Deimos."

"What's that?" Lefarge asked.

"In one-twentieth gee, even prison cots feel like soft featherbeds."

            Before anyone could smack him, the door opened and Erich Von Shrakenberg glided into the room.  Captain Carter shot to his feet, almost smashing into the ceiling in the low gravity.  "Good god, Erich!  They got you too!"

            "No," Erich said with a smile.  "They didn't get me.  I got them."


            "The situation is not what it appears," Erich answered, "here's what's happening."  Von Shrakenberg took a seat and all the officers in room sat next to him, listening with rapt attention. "You all were on the bridges of your ships when we hit Mars.  You all saw the ships that hit us when we fell into their trap."

            "Damn straight," Terry interrupted.  "Whoever they were, they jumped in and out of space like nothing I've ever seen!  I didn’t think the Resistance had that kind of technology."

            "They don't." Erich continued.  "Those were Horadrim ships, operated by Earth Federation Internal Security."

            "But InSec isn't allowed to have anything bigger than a frigate!" Lefarge exploded.

            Commander Ganya Ivanov jumped in the conversation as well. "And why would InSec be helping the Resistance?"

            "Please settle down. All will be made clear," Erich said in a placating voice.  "The first reason is political. As you all remember, the post of marshal had been vacant since Auntie Sarah's failed coup.  Well, they decided to appoint a new marshal.  With Clarke out of the way, there were only two candidates: Admiral Vorheis, and Commandant Rashid King.  King believed that by handing the Fleet a big defeat, he'd win the marshalship… and he was right.  According to news reports I've seen in the last few days, Rashid King is now marshal.  The man who sent his ships to fire on Earth Fleet vessels is now running the entire Federation military."

            He let that sink in for a few moments, then continued.  "The second reason is even more insidious.  As you all know, the leader of the Resistance, and the most wanted man in the Fed, is Marko Vitek.  Well, he's been dead for the last eight years; I saw his body with my own eyes.  Someone's pretending to be him and controlling the Resistance.  That someone is in the service of InSec, and InSec didn't take kindly to our mission to destroy their puppets here in the Earth System."

            The officers gathered looked either stunned or skeptical, but Erich plunged on.  "Internal Security was originally ordered to infiltrate the Resistance a generation ago, for the purposes of gathering all anti-government groups into one organization, so they could be rounded up and eliminated.  Now InSec has firm control over the Resistance's top leadership on Earth and the other systems they control… but the Resistance keeps getting more powerful every day.  InSec is not controlling the Resistance so they can destroy it, they are controlling them so they can destroy the Grand Council!"

            More officers had joined the "skeptical" camp around the table, but those still in shock were even deeper in shock by now.  "Rashid King is planning a coup.  He's probably waiting for the Federation to wear itself out in the civil war, so it is as weak as possible.  When there are not enough ships and soldiers left to stop him, he will strike."

            "But if the Federation is weak, won't the other factions just destroy him after he takes power?" asked Martinez, one of the skeptics. 

            "Do you really think that the Resistance is the only faction they control?" asked Erich.  "You saw those Horadrim ships in action.  I finally understood what this war was about when I saw those tunnel-drive ships up close.  They can jump in and out of space a lot faster than even a grav-drive ship.  With a squadron of those ships, they could have ended this civil war any time they wanted.  Jump into a system, smash a fleet, and jump out again before anyone can react.  Oh, that wouldn't have taken back any planets, but it could have immobilized our enemies and we would be free to concentrate on one planet at a time without fear of retribution.  The war would be over in 6 months, and most of that would be travel time for our ground forces moving from one planet to another."

            A few of the skeptical officers had switched to shocked expressions, and those who had been shocked were now wearing looks of numb incomprehension.  "Who told you all this," asked Terry Carter.  "Some Resistance interrogation officer?"

            "No," replied Erich.  "Not Resistance, someone else."  He thought for a moment of telling them he heard most of this from Lwan Eddington, but decided that would be a bad idea.  Eddington had once been Marshal, but most people thought he was working with the Resistance in some way.  Von Shrakenberg knew it wasn't true, Lwan was on nobody's side but his own, but he didn't want to explain this.  "Most of this I worked out on my own when I saw those Horadrim ships in action.  This war isn't about territory, it isn't about planets or land or rich asteroid belts.  It's about power.  Who wields it, and who gets power wielded over them.  The whole thing, going back to Auntie Sarah's coup, maybe earlier, was all orchestrated by Rashid King and his InSec thugs.  They want power, and they are willing to destroy the Earth Federation to get it."  By the end of this speech, Erich was so drained from the strong emotions he was feeling, that he sat back down heavily… and bounced back up six inches in the weak gravity. 

            "Assuming that we accept this…radical theory of yours," Captain Carter answered, being the senior officer in Erich's audience, "assuming it's true, what can we do about it?  We're stuck here, and I think I can be certain you aren't about to suggest we all get up and join the Resistance. One valiant effort to overthrow the Grand Council and put them in charge."

            "No, I'm not suggesting that." Von Shrakenberg replied, a weak smile was all he could manage after his old friend snubbed him.  "Remember, the Resistance is just another puppet of InSec.  We're stuck with them for the moment, but I've managed to cut a deal with some Resistance people I think I can trust."

            "You realize that the Grand Council will call us traitors if we accept any help from them." pointed out Martinez. 

            "Some of you have served with me before." Erich pointed out.  "Henri, you served with me on the Stornoway.  Terry, we were at the academy together.  The rest of you probably know me and my family by reputation.  Would any of you consider me a person likely to betray the Federation?  I have dedicated my life to serving the Federation.  I volunteered for Earth Fleet, and I have risked my life every day since then, defending the Federation.  I have fought and bled for the Federation, and I have killed for the Federation.  I will never betray her, and as long as I breathe, I will not allow anyone else to do so.  Do you doubt me?"

            One by one, the officers shook their heads.  "Okay," Von Shrakenberg began, "with some help from the Resistance, I have obtained control of a warship that we can use to get back to Avalon.  However, to make this work, I need a bridge crew of loyal Earth Fleet officers I can trust, to get us past the Home Fleet, so I can bring my evidence against King before the Grand Council.  They are the only ones who can stop him… and I believe they'll listen to me."

            Terry stared right into his old friend's eyes. "What kind of ship?" 

            Erich smiled. It was the same kind of grin usually seen on tigers, right before they took down an antelope.  "One of those Horadrim ships I mentioned earlier.  It's ready to go, we just need a command crew."

            "A Horadrim battlecruiser," asked Lefarge incredulously.  "And the Resistance is just going to hand it over to us?"

            "No, it's just our taxi to Avalon," the commodore admitted, with a sense of regret.  "After they drop us off at Avalon, they'll most likely jump back to Earth… but we did a good job on their fleet, and one ship isn't much of a threat to the Federation, even one as powerful as this.  It's not like they have the ability to build more of them."  He brightened up a bit and the predator's grin came back to his face.  "Besides, once King is out of the way, without traitors within our own government, sabotaging the war effort for their own ends, we can conduct a real war again… able to smash Auntie Sarah, Bad Andy, and the Jurvain ourselves.  With King out of the way, we'll be able to cut a deal with the Resistance, once they've purged their ranks of the InSec infiltrators.  Once the war is over, we'll end the draft, and restore the Federation."

            "That's an awful lot of if's and when-we've-won's, Erich," Terry Carter growled, but his frown slowly turned into a smile.  "But if anyone can pull this scheme off, you can.  Count me in."

"Who else is with me?" Von Shrakenberg asked, and one by one, the other officers stood up and shook his hand.  They left the room and headed for the shuttle pad.  


What has happened to me? Xavier Pollos asked himself, sitting there on his kitchen floor. I've been played like a pawn… by King, by Elizabeth, and now by Treschi. I don't even know who I am anymore. What the hell I have become? Who am I? Assassin? InSec agent? Free agent?

            The assassin managed to get to his feet. There's only way to get out of this, Pollos decided, the same way I've done everything in my life. I have to fight.

            He quickly got dressed and started taking action. Access to the InSec mainframe has to be good for something, he thought, and dived into it through a remote terminal. Activating one of the system's search engines, he was hoping to make his first move. "Authorize Pollos, Xavier. Rank, Captain… Codename Janus."

            The entrance block suddenly melted in front of him, changing into a scary interpretation of a cartoon monitor. "Howdy! I'm Mercury! I can help you with any inquiries into the agent-accessible part of the Internal…"

            "Skip the intro," Xavier interrupted, "run a trace on all known contacts of Elizabeth, a Brujah vampire, a known leader in the Sabbat organization. Cross-reference this with the Avalon city database, date limit, one year from today. Signify when you're finished."

            "Certainly, I'm more than happy to help you with all…"

            Pollos turned away from the screen and went over to the couch. "Computer, show me Avalon Action News."

            The holoproj exploded to life in a dazzling display of color. A giant blonde woman suddenly covered an entire wall of his living room. "…although military sources are reluctant to explain the recent buildup of forces in the Avalon System, unofficial sources close to the Grand Council state that there is an immediate threat of attack, and that the capital must be defended… at all costs. In other news…"

            "Computer," Xavier interrupted the newsfeed to access the newsvid's search engine, "search for all references to Rashid King in the last three days, specifically referring to location."

            "Confirmed," it belched back, minimizing the active feed into a small corner of his wall, and started listing its results in a list before him. It didn't take long to figure out that the Grand Council had been occupying a lot of the marshal's time. At some point, King's going to be at the capitol building; the only question is how to get into the most secured point in the Federation. The answer was glaringly obvious. Create a distraction.

            "Search complete!" the terminal suddenly sang out.

            Pollos rushed over to the terminal to see the sickly-sweet Mercury bouncing up and down the monitor, pleased with itself for a job well done. "Show me."

            "Certainly, and if there's anything else…"

            "Yes, shut up."

Mercury went silent as a list of matches appeared in his screen. It would take all day to track them down. Luckily, he thought, vampires don't move until night.


It was two o'clock in the afternoon when he finally found the right place. The place was a stately home, probably left over from the early colonial days, near the city core. Pollos walked right up to the nicely varnished wooden doors and knocked.

            A butler came up to the door; he looked like he was straight out of a 2-D vid, formal suit and coat, white gloves and all. "Yes?"

            "I want to see Elizabeth."

            "And you are…"

            "Xavier Pollos. She approached me with a job to do, I need to discuss it with her."

            "I'm afraid the lady is rather indisposed at the moment…"

            "Look, asshole," the assassin cut in, "I know she's a fucking leech, just tell her…"

            "Sir, if you're going to act that way, I'm going to have to ask…"

            Pollos reached up with his hand, grabbed his neck, and pinned him to the door. His other hand grabbed his hands, and then by pushing his body next to his, blocked any other attacks he could do. "Listen and listen good! Now that I know she's in-system, here's what we're going to do, brown eyes. I'm going to call you sometime tonight about a meeting. I'll pick a place close by, so she won't have to walk far, and then we'll talk. It's that simple… got that?"

            The butler managed a grunt.

"Good." Then Xavier threw him down on the floor. "Tell your lady that I'll see her then."


The Canaris popped back into normal space; a false black hole erupting inside the orbit of the battlestations guarding Avalon. In the small protected space, they couldn't fire the ship without hitting the surface of the planet.  As soon as they materialized, the ship began to broadcast a signal.  "This is Commodore Erich Von Shrakenberg of Earth Fleet," Erich's image declared over the monitors of Avalon Space Control.  "We have escaped from a Resistance prison and seized control of this warship.  I must speak to the Grand Council in person immediately. I have news of a grave threat to the Federation.  I can only deliver this message in person." 

            "Avalon Space Control to Commodore Von Shrakenberg. This is an unusual request… I can't possibly…"

            Erich cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Do you see this ship?! If I can manage to sneak in here so easily, I could blast the capitol building and everything around it to ashes! The Grand Council needs to act now to stop this threat. I don't care how you do it, but get me access!"

            The stunned controller finally managed a nod. "One moment, sir."

            The com screen went blank for a moment and the commodore watched the planet below. Erich choked back the tears as he saw the horizon roll towards and pass over them. It ends today, he screamed in his mind. No more InSec, no more deception, no more lies! Today, the descendants of Earth reclaim their government and restore it to its former glory. It's the end of the old age… and the beginning of the new.

            Suddenly, the com signal beeped again and the image came through. Chairman Abdul Johnson sat at his desk, seemly unconcerned that a Horadrim battlecruiser was aiming its guns at his head. His dark face was a picture of serenity. "Well, commodore! Glad to see you're alive. Now, why don't we discuss your… how does one say it, return from the grave?"

            "Sir, the Federation itself will be in the grave unless I speak with the Grand Council now."

            "You don't seem to understand, commodore. The Council is not in session…"

            "Then put it in session!" Erich barked.

            Johnson leaned back in his chair. "It is not your place to dictate orders to us."

            "We don't have time for niceties, sir! If I don't speak soon, you won't have a place to give orders from! Now convene the Grand Council!"

            Abdul paused. His eyes betrayed a full acre of Hell's fury upon the upstart naval officer. Finally, with a sigh, he sat back up. "You leave me with no choice, do you?"

            "There was never any choice to give, sir."

            The chairman gave a short nod. "Very well. You have clearance to land at Capitol Park. The Council will meet in half an hour. Discom."

A few minutes later, a single shuttle left the Canaris, swooping down into the great megalopolis below.


Summoning the Master, call forth his form most vile.

Champing mass of questing flesh, protoplasmic pile.

An ancient hunger never filled, until the universe is killed.

The endless host of merging souls, that's sucked into the flaming hole!

Guts and giblets cascade down, blood soaked entrails hit the ground.

Splitting skulls and raking ribs, flushed down rusted human sieves.

Protruding mass of reeking bile, light the final funeral pyre.

Assemble now are armies, know that we can't fail.

Bring forth now the master, so we can end this tale!


And we'll kill everything! Yes, we'll kill everything!

We will kill everything, including ourselves, ourselves, ourselves!

And dedicate your life to war…dedicate your life to war…dedicate your life to war…


The music stopped and Dimiye kept singing. His quarter's door was informing him that he had a visitor. "Enter!" he growled as he quickly morphed out of Crinos form.

"Boss?" Benjamin inquired, "Everything okay in here?"

"Fine, Peter… just fine. Why?" He said panting and sweating a bit.

"Well sir, you could hear that music from two doors down the hallway. What is that stuff anyway? The guy's voice sounds familiar."

Alistar was slightly embarrassed. "It's a 20th century rock band. I got into them on Minos."

"Oh yeah, 'G-war' or something."

"GWAR." Dimiye corrected.

"Yep, heard a few guys listen to that before. They pretended to be 'space barbarians on crack' right?"

Alistar was slightly annoyed. "Peter, why are you here?"

Benjamin went into sergeant-major mode. "We're exiting hyperspace in about an hour. They just announced a meeting for all senior officers on the bridge at 0930."

Dimiye turned to his terminal, which was flashing its incoming message icon. "Thanks Peter. That'll be all."

"Shall I accompany you to the meeting, sir?"

"Yes…meet me in front of my door in fifteen minutes."

He's gonna wait right out side the whole time. Dimiye thought as Benjamin left the room. A small smile lit up his face. "What would I ever do without you, Pete?" Perish, most likely, his mind answered.  

He'd been more edgy than usual the past few days in hyperspace. His new quarters that now afforded him a spectacular view showed him nothing but the orange swirl of endless clouds. He's been keeping his portal closed.

Now we finally get told where the hell we're going. He thought as he changed into a new uniform. They all expected to be told of their mission after leaving Wilke's Star, but were kept in the dark. That meant the entire 86th Legion had nothing to do but wait till they reached the objective. The waiting was driving many of them to madness, even more of them to drink. Alistar coped by ranting and raving in his quarters while listening to deafening music.

We get blind folded and sent into a meat grinder while the rest of the army goes off to start an uprising. "Typical." he said aloud. Instead of having days to get familiar with the plan, we'll have hours.

He longed for the distraction of battle planning to take his mind off his personal problems; there were many. Let's see…grandma is on the Feds most wanted list…wants me to end the draft…could turn me into a frog if I say no. My trusted superiors send me Buddha knows where while they wrestle power from the grips of the leader of this revolution. I didn't get my promotion, and three quarters of my division are juiced up HAP heads who will die in a few years if we can't find a reversal process. Oh, and my ex-girlfriend who has been plotting to kill me for about six years and is responsible for making my career go nowhere starts shacking up with me a few months ago and then fakes her own death to get away from me because she's a head case! I think that's about it.

Don't forget about killing your entire platoon, his conscience added.

Yeah…thanks a lot.

And Tess, don't forget Tess. You truly loved her you know?

All right, enough… time to get to business. He told himself as he exited his quarters, wondering exactly when he'd started talking to himself. Benjamin was waiting.

"Ready, boss?"

They started walking down the hall. "Great Buddha, yes I am!"


Four days traveling through hyperspace and Malachi Spyder was still baffled by his orders.  Abandon the system?  What for?  What the hell was so important that we had to drop everything?!  His only hope was that Colonel Dim… no, that was a field promotion, he's back down to major again… just like me. Of course, no one makes the mistake of not giving him respect. Wish I could get the same.

All this time cooped up on the Ariadne was starting to show on him and his men. Especially my men, Spyder knew, but they're not quite human anymore, are they? Most of the time they were busy in the exercise rooms or jogging down the halls or sparring with each other; they needed to do something. The blood was boiling through their veins and could not keep them still.

I wish I could talk to Dimiye. He could help me out with this situation. However, the division commander hadn't been seen during the whole trip. Any attempt to visit his room was greeted with a blast of thumping tones and loud power chords. I think in the pre-Fed days, that was called music. It was obvious he was too busy to be bothered. Somehow, he had to get his four brigade commanders in-line.  With Justine's help it wouldn't be nearly as hard, but it was still a pain in the ass.

He assembled them all in one of the few small conference rooms on-board the assault dreadnought. With the ship filled to capacity, it was the only place not crammed with troopers.  As Justine and Malachi entered the room, the four captains were already arguing.  Jim still managed to notice him through the chaos as he called out, "Atten-SHION!"

The four of them, slowly, came to.  Malachi returned their sloppy salute, and they backed down into their chairs.  Malachi looked over at his new brigade sergeant-major and then gestured with his eyes at the four.  Justine nodded; it was obvious that these officers were a danger to his unit.

Roland slouched and stared at them lazily.  Captain Illingworth sat up as though he was being drilled.  Zilloux sat and stared as though she were trying to pry into their souls.  John Dragish looked as though he were the only one who remembered how to just sit down, and it probably wasn't a good thing.  He had that vacant look, like there wasn't a war going on.

"All right, captains, listen up. I brought you together to introduce you to someone. This is Justine D'Amprisi, our new sergeant-major."  As he was speaking, Spyder began to concentrate with the other half of his mind.  A sense of calm came over the whole room, keeping them under control, and keeping their attention on him.  "She'll be dealing with you on a day-to-day basis and I've put her in charge of… ahem, personnel matters. She'll be able to correct as she sees fit and has full authority over you. You may consider any order she gives as an order from me."  His calming effect was transformed into submission, slowly forcing them to accept this turn of events.  "So any problems or disagreements go to her.  Understood?"

"Yes, sir!"  The response echoed.

D'Amprisi stepped forward. "Dis-MISSED."

As the four walked out of the room, Malachi kept his mental clamp upon them, conditioning their minds to accept the new order. Once they left, Justine walked over to Spyder. "Do you think it'll last?"

"With any luck.  Can you deal with them if it doesn't?"

"Don't worry about me."  A smile spread over her face.  "I'll have them spit-shined in a week."

            "If we have a week." Spyder muttered before he took a seat.

            The sergeant-major took a seat next to him, her hand touching his shoulder. "Do you have any idea where we're going?"

            "None. I tried talking to the commander, but…"

            Justine sighed and leaned back in the chair. "There's an awful lot of troops here for a milk run. Something big is happening."

            "Yeah." Malachi breathed. "Something real big."

            She got out of her chair and stood behind her lover. Trying to massage his tense shoulders, Justine was worried about him. "It's all right to be scared, Mal. We're all scared."

            "But they've got things to do. I don't."

            D'Amprisi stopped for a second then looked over at the door. "Computer, lock." The bolt clicked as the door was secured.

            "What did you do that for?"

            Justine brought her head down right next to his. "I've got something for you to do."


Pollos was sitting in the dining room of Capitol Park Pizza, looking out the bulletproof window at the gorgeous capitol building nearby. He had his cybermodem there on the table, ready to let him know when a Grand Council meeting was about to take place. It was time to take care of King… once and for all.

            Darkness came over the city and as he nibbled on the piece of incredibly greasy pizza, he watched the vidshows on his visor, one inane show after another, each of the net channels showing another piece of pretty trash. If there's ever a reason to break away from the Fed, it's to avoid sitcoms. Sitcoms never challenge authority, never break the rules of good conduct; they simply entertain to the basest level of humanity. If I don't live beyond tonight, at least I'll know I don't have to watch this crap ever again.

            Suddenly his netagent clicked in Action News into his main view. "This is a breaking news update!"

            The large blonde woman suddenly appeared again in his visor. "A mysterious ship has appeared in the skies above Avalon. Its pilot, Commodore Erich Von Shrakenberg, has asked for an emergency session of the Grand Council. Chairman Johnson approved his request and said he will convene the meeting in a half-hour. What this meeting is about…"

            Xavier didn't care what the meeting would be about; he cut the vidfeed connection. Opening up his vidphone connection, he dialed Elizabeth's net address. The butler, again, answered it. "Ye… oh, you."

            "Thought you wouldn't hear from me, huh?" Pollos taunted.

            "It was a faint hope, sir."

            "Tell her to meet me at Capitol Park Pizza in half an hour."

The butler sighed. "Oh, very well. Discom."


An unmarked black hoverlimo pulled up next to Elysian Fields Research Center.  Before it stopped moving, Damien Richter, dressed in a uniform of a black trenchcoat and sunglasses, jumped out the back door of the car.

No unusual activity.  Proceed with mission.

"Area secure."

With clockwork, Rashid King, two guards, and two of his secretaries, moved quickly towards the door.  Richter moved directly behind them, watching for any changes in the situation while keeping one hand inside his trenchcoat, clenched on the trigger of his carbine.

"Colonel Gergenstein! Marshal King and M. Richter are here."

"Send them in."

The door opened and the two of them entered the improvised office back at Elysian Fields Research Center.  The head of InSec was there to meet them, although the machine could instantly tell that despite his pleasant look, he wasn't happy to see the marshal. "Glad you could make it, sir."

"I'm sorry about coming early, Herb, but I had the chance to take a suborbital from the VE. I don't want to be out of the capital city for too long, but after seeing the results of M. Richter here, I decided to see this place myself."

Gergenstein turned to look Damien, "Then he meets with your approval?"

"Quite impressive tactically, but… he is quite the paranoid bastard. His performance at the benefit dinner last night was lacking.  I need something more socially inclined.  How is Project Nimrod?  Is she all that the technicians promised?"

"The program seems to be a complete success.  They are still running a few tests, so it's best that they weren't disturbed.  However, back to the XES; was his performance satisfactory?"

"He operated well."  King nodded.

"We have three more test subjects online.  Two are combat ready, the other will be within 24 hours."

"And the other eight?"

"Online within the next 72 hours.  At current production we can grow one soldier in about six days.  Programming takes another day."

"Anyway we can speed up the process?"

Herbert cleared his throat. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. We need a secure manufacturing facility, but that large an expenditure requires discretionary funds… which only you can sign off on." 

"Certainly, I'll take care of it tomorrow.  With the Tutanken incident last week, my enemies are planning on stepping up their efforts.  I may have to activate Leviathan any day now."

"We'll be ready," the commandant assured him, "but until then, let me show you your two new guards… then Project Nimrod."

"Very well."

Gergenstein turned to the cyborg. "Damien, the technicians would like you to jack into Outlet 4 in Hall C.  You're to download all files since your last release from this facility.  Do you understand?"

Outlet 4 is located on the second floor, exactly 10.2 meters into Hall C, or 2 meters from this location. Threat is minimal. "Yes."  Damien left the room quickly; near the door was the location he sought. Jacking into the outlet, he downloaded his memory onto the files in the central computer.

Clearance level allows viewing of all information on this system.  Insufficient memory for complete copy.  Logic processors uploading all information that will allow more efficient mission completion.

When he saw King and Gergenstein leave the office,

Mission status: Downloading incomplete, King is not guarded.  Error in mission. The machine was unable to decide, allowing his mind to take over.  Looking at the construction of the building, he quickly formulated a plan.

Clearance to security systems and cameras denied.  Attempting to compensate. 

Pausing from the downloading, his automated hacking programs easily cracked the advanced code.  Pulling his laser carbine from his trenchcoat, he tracked the position of King through the security cameras.

King and Gergenstein stood before two more XES, currently off-line.  "Like I said, their greatest strength is their adaptability.  Their nanotech is quite versed in installing any upgrades we feel are necessary, and I'm told they can even perform surgery on themselves should we need them changed fast.  Isn't that right?"

A scared young technician stopped trying to act busy. "Yes, they will even upgrade themselves if they get half the chance."  He quickly scurried off, pretending to be checking nearby equipment.

Damien watched King from the cameras as he continued downloading.  Hydraulic limb synthesis program downloaded.  1,289 programs downloaded, 589 to go.  Continuing to file on expanded nanotech healing capabilities.

"Herb, I want these in full production until the production facility is completed.  Leviathan will go much smoother with them in operation." Richter watched them through the cameras, analyzing their conversation as they walked along. Leviathan: reference to mythical sea creature. Cross-indexing… the name of a book by Thomas Hobbes, concerning political theory. Hobbes speculated that man requires a strong government that… His mind quickly shut off that flow information. Details irrelevant, continue download.

King continued. "I think you know the situation we've had with Raptors."

"Yes, sir." Gergenstein sighed. "In the last week, they've killed three of our operatives, and then took Xavier Pollos into custody."

"Pollos? Who is… oh… of course. Did he talk?"

"I doubt he knows anything even if he did. We managed to secure his release but our scans indicated nothing seriously done to him, besides some memory discrepancies. Nothing vital."

"Very well. If this is going to work, I need the experimental soldiers on my side. One of them will do very little against them."

"I beg to differ, sir. The XES are meant to be front-line fighters.  Although they have their uses, one Nimrod would make a hell of a difference."

"Then let's see her." 

Gergenstein led the way down a hall, then through three security doors.  Behind triple reinforced transparent aluminum, they could see a woman standing before two Bug warriors.  They worked together against her, but she blocked their magical and physical advances. Jumping off one, she grabbed the eye of the other, then ripped it from it's body.  Retreating, she positioned herself between the two, getting them to hurt each other with their attacks.  With no armor and no

weapons, she fought the battle with little difficulty, hurting them when she could.

"Project Nimrod!" King cried. "Herb, you have outdone yourself!  When will she be done?" 

"About a week.  She is almost completely computer-controlled, using only the minimal in flesh, primarily as sensory nerves and outer covering.  She is socially inclined, and because of her in-built magic shielding, can block all but master mages.  However, we believe her main selling point is that she's intelligent, ruthless in combat, and loyal.  As soon as she is completely debugged, we will begin moving more of her kind into our more covert operations."

"Excellent. I will name a system in your honor, Herb, but I must be getting back. The war doesn't run itself, and with this latest threat Maxwell's discovered, I need to supervise this system's defenses."

Download complete.  All working upgrades accounted for; insufficient material to enact.  Disconnecting modem. As he was about to close the connection, he noticed a variation in the front desk's camera.  Image is a digital reproduction.  Imminent threat assumed.  Moving from camera to camera, he found the source, and traced it.  It promptly shut down.  Then he saw the threat.  Moving straight towards the two leaders were four men, plasma weapons charged and ready in their hands.  Initiating emergency procedures. 

Using the plan he had already theorized, he graphed the location of the enemy from the security cameras.  Target acquired.  His needler drilled a hole through the floor, finally ending into the head of one of the aggressors.  As soon as he dropped his, Richter's clip was spent. Damien quickly cut the power to the building.   As the lights died, the computer system was on a separate power source, and he brought the other two XES online.  Unjacking, he sprinted down the stairs, moving to reach King's position.

With the lack of power, the three living men clicked on their spookeyes, making their way back towards the front entrance, dragging their dead.  If they had already been discovered, the mission was blown. Using thermograph sensors, the XES' found each other easily… as well as their target. Moving ahead of them, the three cyborgs climbed into the raised ceiling, avoiding their enemy's visual optics.

The three men never had a chance to react before the XES' fell from the ceiling, each of them overpowering their target.

In time, the power came back online.  Moving into the blood-smeared main corridor, King finally reached them. His eyes snapped wide as he saw the three cyborgs, each of them standing on top of their own pile of broken human flesh.  "What the fuck happened here?!" 

Holding up his arm, Damien held the out the separated tattooed skin of one of the aggressors. In an intricate design, there was a type of standing lizard carrying a plasma rifle, and grinning viciously. The letters underneath said RAPTORS.

Suddenly, King's com beeped. He picked up angrily. "WHAT?!"

"Marshal, Chairman Johnson has called an emergency session of the Grand Council. You must come at once."

"What's happened?"

"Sir, there's a Horadrim ship in orbit."


            "Where is Rashid King?" Erich Von Shrakenburg demanded, sitting at the large round table, containing eleven of the twelve leaders of the Federation.

           "I have been assured by Marshal King," Abdul Johnson replied, his annoyance becoming more evident by the minutes, "that his shuttle will be here any moment. Until he arrives, though, why don't you begin your…"

            "No." Erich replied, speaking calmly, but with a force that no one could deny. "All members of this council will be here before I say a word of what I need to say."

            Abdul threw up his hands in frustration. "Very well!"

            As if on cue, Rashid King threw open the giant doors to the council chamber. Flanking him were two men; one he recognized, one he didn’t. The mystery man shifted perfectly off to the side, scanning the area with his eyes. He's the only man in this room that has more of a pole up his ass than I do, Erich laughed to himself. The other man, though, made his fists clench. Moving towards the wall, dressed in the black-and-silver of Internal Security, was Lieutenant Commander… no, he corrected as he read his insignia, Colonel Herbert Gergenstein. The commandant's eyes flashed when he saw his former commanding officer, but then they narrowed, shifting his position to the other side of the doors.

            The large black man in the center, though, steamed directly towards the table. "What was so damned urgent that I had to…" Suddenly, King noticed Von Shrakenberg sitting at the table. "What the hell is he doing here?!"

            "Marshal, please take a seat. Commodore Von Shrakenberg is the reason we called the meeting today."

            "Chairman, I demand…"

            "You'll demand nothing!" Johnson barked back, taking everyone at the table by surprise. "Now sit down!" King sat down in his chair; the look on his face was the same as if he'd been slapped. Finally, Abdul turned his burning gaze upon Erich. "Now you will give us the message that you needed to see the whole Grand Council for… in person."

            The commodore managed to stand to his feet; with the eyes of the Council upon him, it was the hardest steps he had ever made in his life. "Ladies and gentlemen, I come before this body to warn them of the greatest villainy ever perpetrated upon the Federation. I will give evidence, in detail, that Internal Security has created this entire war for the overthrow of the Grand Council and to gain control over humanity."

            "Lies!" King ejaculated, pounding his fist on the table.

            Erich was unaffected. "I will explain that the Resistance has been controlled directly by InSec for most of this decade, and that it has been a tool of them since its' creation. I will show how Marshal King got his post, by using unauthorized and technologically advanced ships to support the Resistance fleet in the destruction of Task Force 54 off Mars."

            Rashid was livid. "This is nonsense!"

            "And also," Von Shrakenberg shouted above the noise of the marshal, "I will prove that InSec has been hiding technology and equipment for its own purposes for years, planning its eventual move to seize this body, eliminate it, and become a strong fist from which to enslave humanity forever!"

            "I can't believe…"

            "I accuse Marshal Rashid King of high treason against the Federation and demand his immediate court-martial before this body!"

            "You have no proof!" King shouted back.

            The commodore looked over at the Grand Council Chairman. "Sir, I came here today in a ship not of Earth construction. This sensor data," Erich pulled out a datachip in his hand, "from that ship proves that it's the InSec battlecruiser Caneris. If you check this data against that recovered from the Battle of Mars, you will find that it can match the effects done to destroy our fleet. That is but part of my proof, ladies and gentlemen, sufficient for a trial in any part of the Federation, regardless of what office they hold."

            Abdul Johnson rose to his feet, the rage pouring off his like sweat off a charging rhinoceros. "I was willing to discard the Tutanken testimony as slander, since the governor himself wasn't willing to confirm it, but this?!  You have lied to us… to me! You will stand trial, M. King… and you will not leave this room until we are finished."

            Rashid King stood up himself, glaring back at the chairman. "Then let me finish it now." The marshal opened his arms and suddenly plasma revolvers flew into his hands. With one practiced move, he aimed them at Johnson, and fired. Two plasma bolts found their way into the Grand Council Chairman's chest, striking him dead without another word.

            Without hesitation, he opened up on the other members, making his way toward the commodore.


            Elizabeth came in the door exactly twenty-minutes later, flushed with blood, and staring at him with a gaze that could cut through bank vaults. She quickly found the seat next to him. "You didn't have to be rude to Rupert."

            "I feel that the direct approach works best." Xavier smiled.

            "You're not much on subtlety, are you, M. Pollos?"

            "Fuck subtlety, Beth! Why did you send me after Treschi?"

            The leech's eyes darted around the room. "Keep your voice down. There are other people…"

            "Fuck them too!" Xavier shot back, driving his hands underneath the table. "That was a fucking suicide mission!"

            "I don't have to listen to this." Elizabeth stood up.

            Pollos felt Kuar slide into his hand. "Then listen to this!" Xavier brought his hands up, slicing the table in two. The blade almost made it to her head before the assassin was thrown across the floor.

            Xavier quickly jumped back to his feet. I have to make her angry, he knew, and rushed at her again, his blade charging forward. This time, she side-stepped it, and Pollos barely regained his footing to cut back towards her.

            Elizabeth threw him into the door, shattering the bulletproof glass. "Foolish mortal!" The words rose out of her like a demon coming from Hell. The vampire rushed at him, claws and fangs bearing down on him.

            That worked, Pollos thought, and scurried his way out of the opening. Before anyone else could see him, he circled Kuar around himself, turning him invisible. Of course, not invisible to Beth, he knew, but definitely everyone else. The leech ripped what was left of the door off its hinges as the people in the restaurant ran screaming in all directions. As she came forward, Xavier tried one more parry. Hopefully, that'll be enough to keep her coming at me. The assassin could barely keep up with her attacks, but he tried. Finally, Xavier made a run for it… right towards the capitol building.

            "HALT OR YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON!" called out from the troopers in power armor, their speakers blaring their warning as their spiker guns became active. Elizabeth ignored them, continuing to barrel after Pollos, who ran as fast as he could toward the capitol steps. Just as he reached them, he could feel the leech claws scrape against his back. The pain was searing but the assassin didn't dare stop. She was almost on him…

            Suddenly, a hail of plasma fire came from all around. Elizabeth shrieked in pain as she was pounded by fire from an entire brigade of TI troopers. Xavier didn't bother to watch; he continued up the steps, unnoticed as he ran into the building.

            Now to find King, his blood sang, as he flew through the weapons detector without a beep. As he rushed towards the Grand Council chambers, he began to slow down, looking for detectors and traps that could possibly stop him.

            Then he heard gunfire… from inside the chamber doors. Pollos wasted no time; he rushed right in.


Damn, Dimiye thought to himself, I forget how BIG these rooms are.

For once aboard the Ariadne, he wasn't going to a briefing in power armor. Even when they got… wherever the hell we're going, it would be another thirty minutes to an hour before they were loaded into the insertion pods or assault shuttles or even crammed onto the staging areas for the transit beacons.  Yes, he cursed himself, you get to find out where we're going to die next before anyone else… just another benefit of command.

Alistar and Peter were early to the briefing, but already, the vast room normally used for transit beacons was almost full. Almost every officer in the legion must be here, he thought to himself… before he looked at their ranks. They're all senior officers, lieutenant colonel and up! I remember taking on supplies and replacements, but… they must have brought on two new legions on board. What the hell are we dropping on?

There was Joel Fabin, sitting up on the stage, next to the holograms of several other generals. As the last of the officers filed into the room, the doors shut, and the Scottish maniac made his way to the podium. Everyone noticed the two stars on Fabin's collar. He doesn't waste any time, Dimiye thought. He knew that Joel was appointed to major-general before leaving Wilke's Star, in order to take Fargus' place.

"Fellow officers," Joel's booming voice silenced the throbbing crowd, thanks to the vocal amplifiers planted all over the room, "I'm sorry ta keep you all in the dark this long. Auntie Sarah didn't want this information leaked until we were already in transit."

Auntie Sarah? Alistar wasn't sure he heard right. He would never use that name unless… unless the coup has already begun. But if that's true, why are we still going through with this?!

Fabin continued to speak to a captive audience. "The Fifth Army was removed from its operation in Babylon System in order to join with the Seventeenth, Ninth, Twenty-Second, Eleventh, Third, and elements of the Thirty-First Armies."

A shocked gasp went through the crowd. That's like… half our ground forces! Dimiye realized. What the fuck is going on here?!

"Calm down! Now… our intelligence has managed to gain the defensive plans for the New Paris System. However, the enemy knows that we have these plans, and is therefore moving as many forces to that system as possible." The general paused and then smiled. "They can only really pull those forces from one place… Avalon."

The entire crowd of packed humanity held its collective breath. "Therefore, the marshal has ordered an attack of the Avalon System. Seventh Fleet, which are giving us a ride, will dispatch a squadron ta cover the digital gate, and blast anything that comes through. They will also secure the Wilke's Star jumpgate, which Second Fleet will be coming through ta join us. While the capital's defenses are busy with us, the Eighth Fleet will come streaming in from behind and start attacking the capital planet. With luck, we'll secure the system quickly, and be able ta take the capital."

"But I don't believe in luck. As soon as the vac-suckers give us permission, the Ariadne and its support ships, as well as the other ships carrying our brothers-in-arms, will break off from the fleet, making their way ta the closer planets and stations."  A large holoproj showed the projected course from their exit point in hyperspace. "Now depending on the resistance they give us, we'll have several options for targets. I have no intention ta leave us sitting on our ass while the fleet wins the war."

A brief chuckle went through the crowd; the nervousness was obvious. "Which forces are sent where will be decided by the ground forces commander… that means, me. I hope to get everyone landed and getting pissed around the capitol building… however, some of us will be left behind when the party starts. This won't be easy, and I don't expect ta see ya all there… but ladies and gentlemen…" Fabin's calm attitude suddenly congealed into something deadly, "…I believe that this battle will decide the fate of humanity. All of those who died before ya… are with ya today. Make your names shine."


An hour later, all hell broke loose. The assault dreadnought shook several times with the impact of grazes and near misses. It was a shooting gallery outside, but all that Dimiye's division could was wait in their power armor, hoping to get off the ship before it was ripped out from beneath them. Finally, the order came through, and they were bundled into the insertion pods of the Ariadne. In short, it was a giant gun shooting troopers, with no idea where they were going to be shot next.

"Boss?" Alistar heard Peter's voice over the command line. "Where are we going?"

"Hurry up and wait, Pete," Dimiye replied, "that's the TI for you."

"Launch control to eight-six-dash-nine, respond." a rather bored sounding voice broke in.

The col… major answered. "This is eight-six-dash-nine. Over."

"You've been given a target. Transferring tac data to suit computers now."

"You want to give us a name, control?"

"Archimedes Orbital Station. Prepare for EVAC and take the station from the outside. Once secured, take shuttles and make your way to the planet. That's all."

"We're doing a space walk?!" Dimiye knew the dangers in that. One suit thruster misfire and you were heading for the planet's atmosphere. Sure, the Mark 100's were designed for this, but… "Control, are you…"

"Ready for launch. Five… four… three…"


"Two… one… mark."

Click. BOOM!



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