"The chronicle is quite specific about the point that the slaughter was excessive chiefly because the battle took place without preparations and premeditation."

-- Herman Kahn, "On Thermonuclear War"


            Abdul Johnson rose to his feet, the rage pouring off his face 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.

            Among the Grand Council's twelve members, six of them are mages; three of them were dead before the rest of them could react. The plasma bolts fired at Councilor Johannsen deflected harmlessly away from his head, while Cocoleti mentally swept the plasma revolvers out of King's hands, hurling them away into the corner.  Council Member Mwilambwe shot a bolt of crackling energy at King, but the marshal dodged it with ridiculous ease.  One could feel the magickal energy rippling through the room, as the powerful awakened did battle the most unlikely of places.


            Dimiye's insertion pod rocketed through the vastness of space. Great Buddha, not a space walk! Not in the middle of a battle like this! He went to his suit's CPU as all the data for the mission scrolled along his HUD at a breakneck pace.


Primary Mission Objective: Take control of Archimedes Orbital Station.

Secondary Objective: Acquire enemy shuttles and proceed to rally point 577-4.


That's all?! his mind screamed. Fabin…you son of a bitch! The Ark was the largest civilian station in orbit around Avalon, positioned right behind the enemies' defensive line of ships. Corvettes, frigates, destroyers, and the usual medley of cruisers stood between the Ninth Division and its destination. Alistar knew that it was no coincidence that his division had been given this assignment. Fabin was used to handing him missions that anyone else would call impossible… but this time, it was.

            "Dimiye to Command."

            The worried face of Colonel Wolfe appeared before him, Wolfe now filling in as commander of the 86th. "Al, take the damn space station!"

            "But, sir…" He retorted, fear welling up inside him.

            "But nothing!" The colonel's face went from frustration to sadness. "You've gotta take that station or us ground pounders are going to sit here for days. There's no other way through that defensive line."

            Alistar pushed down his breakfast; the meal had somehow become alive, trying to escape his body. "Roger that, sir. Over and out." I can't do this. It's a strategic civilian station, but it's heavily guarded. Why make us take that thing?! Why, with all those enemy ships out there. He thought looking at the specs of the massive space station. This was no orbital weapons platform; it was just big.

It’s a civilian station, but we gotta get into the dammed thing first. The ships around that thing will rip us apart before the station's point defenses finish the job… He then brought up specs for the nearby battlestation Achilles, currently anchoring the enemies' flank. Total personnel of 2300, one brigade of LI… we could hit that with minimal ship contact, but still…

            He checked his computer and quickly pulled up his combat dossier. It contained every mission he'd ever been on, scenarios he'd gone through in simulators, and theoretical battle plans. He'd been over each one many times, correcting mistakes he'd made and fine-tuning, but he knew he'd never planned for this scenario.

            "Sir," Major Ganges cried over the com, "Are they serious about this?!"

            "What do you want us to do here, sir?" Wilhelm asked.

            "Hold on." Dimiye replied, his voice so calm he was shocked it came out of him. The soldier ant assault… this would be perfect if those other ships weren't out there. He racked his brain trying to account for the ships ahead. Finally, a solution presented itself.

            Quickly revising the plan, he soon transferred it to his com system. "Transmitting orders now. Get ready, everybody, and do exactly what I say."

            Malachi Spyder's eyes bulged as he saw the data coming across his heads-up display. "Sir, this isn't our target."

            "If we hit the Ark head on, we'll all die. Now follow my procedures to the letter, mister!"


            The EFS Palatine spotted the pods as soon as they were ejected from the Ariadne. "Sir, drop pods!"

            The captain came over to his weapons officer's console and studied the screen. "They must be desperate to start landing troops. Track those pods and fire once they enter weapons range."

            "Yes, sir." The weapons officer replied.

            He turned to the comm officer. "Relay that information to the other ships on the line and to our fighter squadrons." The captain pivoted over to his sensor officer. "Are you tracking them?"

            "They're sneaky little fish, sir, but I got em."

The thousand pods hurtled towards the space station. Well before they came into the range of the enemy guns, they exploded open.

"Sir," the sensor officer reported, "I've lost the signals."

"Don't worry, ensign, it's an early drop." The cruiser captain smirked, laughing at the troopers' foolishness. "The troopers ejected from their pods before we could fire upon them. They're hoping that the chaff would mask their movements." He turned to his weapon officer. "Wait until the chaff is within range of our phalanxes, then fire on anything large enough to be a man."


The massive cloud of debris reached the line of ships. "Sir, I'm not getting many targets."

"Don't worry, lieutenant, they'll be towards the end of the debris field."

The sensor officer spoke up. "I'm having difficulty making out much myself, sir."

"It's an old trick, ladies and gentlemen. Just make sure they don't get past us." The captain allowed himself a smile. The troopers might be hot shit on the ground, but they've got a lot to learn about space combat. Prepare to get a hard lesson in three-dimensional warfare.

The ships of the line then opened up on the hundreds of targets too large to be debris.


            Andrea Treschi allowed himself a smile, sitting in Maxwell's office within the Defense Building, when he realized that everything he had been planning was becoming reality. All that he had built up was about to be unleashed on the Federation… and it could all still go to shit, his paranoia added. Unfortunately, you can only bluff so long, he knew, in the end, you still have to show your hand.

In his hand, he held the speech, the words that would propel hundreds of thousands of troops to topple the Grand Council. Johnson, King… all of them are weak. I would have seen this coming. Finally, he sighed, picking up the datapad, and making his way to the briefing room. There his words would go out to a dozen other bases all across Avalon and a hundred more on other planets. The loyalist Tech Infantry would hear his call to action; he could feel their outrage and indignation as he walked down the corridor, hundreds of minds screaming for vengeance.

            Once he entered the briefing room, he realized that it something else, their casual thoughts turned on a single point. What is it? Had something gone wrong?! His eyes scanned across the room, passing by several agitated brass, until his gaze hit General Maxwell. 

            "Colonel," he began, "I'm afraid the situation has changed."

            Shift forward a step, he told his body, give yourself room to run, and bring the left hand within reach of the plasma revolver. "What?"

            "Auntie Sarah decided to make her move. Her warships just jumped into the system, it must be most of her fleet." George Maxwell locked gazes with the smuggler. "It's an invasion."

            Andrea relaxed, his fear of a counter-coup subsiding. So, he realized, the Aunt actually took my advice. Funny, I was sure it would take her another week. "Good."

            One of the brigadier-generals was shocked. "Good? How the hell can this be good?!"

            "Sir, we knew that the Rebels would attack sometime… don't be so surprised. Just be glad that we acted in time."

"But with the insurgents in system," she argued, "we can't afford to carry out our plan."

"That's why it's the perfect time to strike." Treschi walked over to the sensor readout, watching the dance of spacecraft being performed with only a minute delay in time. "With our fleet engaged and the Council's attention distracted, we can move in, and take command."

The interrupting brigadier was insistent. "If we disrupt our chain of command now, we risk losing the battle. Then what use is your coup then?"

"Do you really want to leave this battle to the Council to lead?" His voice carried with it the stunned silence that quieted the room. "Let's face facts, war is too important to be left to the politicians." Treschi stared the general down until she relented. In his mind, he knew he had misquoted Karl von Clauswitz. Luckily, he's been dead for four centuries. It's nice to not have to argue the point.

            "My thoughts exactly," Maxwell replied, glaring with a predator's grin.  He picked up a datapad from the nearby table.  "We will have to make some small changes to the plan, shifting our reserves to…" 

            Before he could finish, a lieutenant ran into the room.  "Sir! We've just intercepted signals from the Capitol Guard!" he yelled out, almost out of breath.  "Rashid King…. he's firing on the council!"


            Ensign Eugene Higgins’ heart pounded in his chest, his breathing short and shallow.  He was positive everyone in the room was watching him.  This was all going to go wrong and he was going to die a horrible, slow, agonizing death.  He just knew it.

He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves.  No matter how dangerous, he had to do it.  Shame and guilt overpowered him since he started working for the Righteous Navy in the Phoenix Yards, a weak act he had committed out of fear of the labor camps.  Joining the Phoenix Resistance was the only way he had found to live with himself.  So, bolstering his courage, he walked slowly past the door, took one final look around to make sure no one was watching, and slipped inside.  Once aboard the ship, he pulled up a map of the Saint Andrew, then scurried toward the auxiliary control room.  The few busy techs he encountered were preoccupied with their own repairs and paid no attention to him.  Of course, Eugene swore all eyes watched him with suspicion...

The auxiliary control room was deserted, as always, a thin layer of dust on everything.  Eugene quickly powered up the control console for the ship’s gravity drive and accessed the delicate programming code that kept the six gravity fields in perfect alignment.  He whipped out the datapad he had found in his tool locker that morning and found the hidden, encrypted file.  Entering the password, he opened it, and read his orders one more time.


ENS Higgins:

Work assignment for 06/11/2243: RNS St. Andrew.  Gravity drive needs verification of new gravity field balance.  Access the Field Alignment Protocol in Propulsion Systems and adjust code.  There is evidence that the gravity field alignment is diametrically out of balance by 0.2 G.  Verify this.  Download patch script to FAP source code to ensure compliance with adjustments.

CPO Jack “Smashie” DuCroix


            Glancing nervously at the door, Eugene went about his task with a speed born of fear.  If anyone catches me doing this… One by one, he accessed each of the six gravity planes generated around the ship by the grav drive and changed them from their perfect balance to 0.2 G opposite of each other.  This isn’t that bad, he told himself, trying to calm his nerves.  If I’m caught doing this, it’s bizarre but not really dangerous…. but the next step was. 

He patched his datapad through to the console with shaking hands and began downloading the loop script.  This’ll do the damage.  I get caught with this, I’m fucked, he thought to himself, looking out the door window for any sign of movement.  This shit doubles the error for every G…will they notice?  Will they trace it to me?  It’s less than a one-gee error for maneuvering speed… they’d never notice that, would they?  He drummed his fingers nervously on the console, wondering why it was taking so long to download. Oh, man… if they catch this before they jump to the double digit G’s… Reks’ll ram that sword up my ASS!  C’mon, you fucker, LOAD already!!

Finally, the download completed.  He quickly pulled up the access logs and erased any record of his accessing the Field Alignment Protocol, and powered down the console.  He was done.  The trap was set.  He just had to leave the ship, and he was home free.  He tried to walk nonchalantly down the corridors, to act relaxed, like he belonged here.  Would they recognize me in a line up?  I shoulda worn a hat…

Relief washed over him as he left the St. Andrew uneventfully and left the dock.  He erased the message and the loop script from the datapad and tossed it in a trash bin.  All right, he thought, I’ve done my part.  I’m outta here.  No more of this cloak and dagger shit for me!

Yet as he left, a nagging feeling tugged at the back of his mind.  He stopped and turned back, looking back at the trash bin across the room.  With a sigh, he slowly walked back and fished the datapad out, crossed over to the tool cabinets, and put it back in the same place.  Tomorrow morning it would be waiting for him with a new assignment.  He left the dock mumbling to himself.

Fucking conscience…


“Remind me… what is this guy supposed to be wearing?”

            “He’ll be wearing all black—trench coat, suit, pants, hat—except for a silver armband on his left arm,” came the bored response.

            “I’ve scanned the area five times already.  Are you sure he’s come out yet?”

            This time the response was almost a little impatient.  “Watch the building exits; it usually doesn’t take this long for him to come out, but maybe—“

            Miller Loosier was cut short by the sudden emission of two rounds from Hex’s plasma rifle.  Ever since Miller mentioned his sniping abilities, Hex had been very eager to compare his own skills with someone of Millers caliber.  They now sat on the roof of a building in a Resistance combat simulator.  Miller, who was feeling somewhat out of place serving as a spotter instead of looking down the sniper scope, was eager to see the results of his pupils two shots.

            “The scope says the distance is 1.687 kilometers,” Hex stated, with a tone that implied an evaluation of his performance was desired.

            Miller said nothing at first, trying to hide his shock by lighting up a second cigarette.  “Let me see that,” he said, gesturing at the rifle.  Hex handed it to him gingerly.  Miller started adjusting the range and searching the target area.

            “Second floor of the taller office building in the northeast section of the courtyard.”

            There was a long pause when the older man held the rifle steady to observe the teenager’s handiwork.  “…I can see that the first shot only grazed his shoulder… my angle is bad.  Where did the second hit?”

            “The neck,” Hex said, beaming with pride.  Miller looked unimpressed.

            “Not bad…” Miller started as the holographic city disappeared replacing the rooftop elevator with the exit.  “…for a kid.”

            Before Hex had a chance to get angry, the doors opened and Brigette walked in with Sill and Jenny.  “Are you two quite done yet?  We’ve been waiting to load the mission training scenario for twenty minutes now.”

            “Actually, I j—“

            “We were just wrapping up,” interrupted Miller.


Dimiye hit Battlestation Achilles with a thud as his magnetic boots connected with the hull. The long trip to the station in his powered-down armor had been nerve racking… and cold.  He looked over at the enemy ships a few thousand klicks away as they lit up the intact inner shells of the drop pods he'd ordered his men to manually eject from. He breathed a sigh of relief. Good thing we took that detour.  He bit down on his dentcom. "All units power back up and report. Make sure to juice up your chameleon circuits." Once his brigade commanders had reported in, he started up again. "Wilhelm, have a platoon disable but not destroy the station's primary and auxiliary comm systems on my signal. All units converge on these coordinates." He quickly downloaded the data to his subordinates. "Wilhelm, you're in charge of the main station breach. Spyder?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Pick a battalion and come with me. We're heading right to the station's primary bridge."

Spyder quickly relayed the orders. "Dragish, your unit's with me. Sergeant-Major?"

"Sir?" Justine D'Amprisi commed in.

"Guide the rest of the brigade over to Major Wilhelm's unit. You'll be following them into the station."

"Yes, sir." she replied, a hint of disappointment crept into her voice.

John Dragish finally replied. "Coming over to you, sir."

Malachi finally reported back. "We're with ya, sir."

Once all units were in position, Dimiye gave the word. "Move out!"


"Sir, Admiral Langley reports that the ground force has been destroyed."

"Excellent," the rear admiral in charge of Avalon Orbit Two triumphed, "now we can turn our attention back to any incoming ships out there." He leaned over and checked his formation. "Order the Stalingrad to come about to heading 312 mark 67."

The comm officer attempted the request. "Sir… comm systems not responding."

The admiral was unabashed. "Switch to auxiliary systems."

"All auxiliaries are off-line, sir!"

"All of them?" he shot back, running to the comm station to see for himself. "What the hell is going on?"

A crack of static broke through the silence of the command room. "Sir," The Light Infantry commander wailed, "enemy troops have entered the station!"

A cold sweat washed over his body. "Dear God…"


            Treschi stood there for a moment, visibly turning ideas over in his head; when he moved, though, there was the feeling of authority surrounding him.  "General Maxwell, it's obvious to me that King has betrayed the Federation. He's sold us out to the Rebels."
            The look of shock on the lieutenant-general's face was quickly replaced with understanding. "Of course," he nodded, "by taking out our leadership…"

            "He intends to leave us disorganized, allowing Auntie Sarah to destroy us piecemeal." Andrea was pleased that the general was such an intelligent ally; he hated working with idiots, although they were often less of a threat.

            Maxwell grinned widely. "I think it's time we saved the Federation… don't you agree, colonel?"

            "Absolutely, sir." Treschi nodded, handing the datapad to the general. "You address the troops, tell them what King has done.  It is necessary to assume control of the Federation in order to save us all."

"Then we can hit every InSec installation, take them down, and justify it in the name of 'restoring order.' After that…"

"If I might recommend something, sir?" the Raptor interrupted, "I would suggest capturing what you can, taking some prisoners, but only flattening the buildings as a last resort. It's obvious that Internal Security has been hiding technology from us for years. We would be foolish if we didn't take advantage of that."

The general turned toward his subordinate. "And what will you be doing, colonel?"

"I'll take personal command of the assault force and secure the capitol.  We'll stop King."

            "But Treschi," Maxwell reminded, "for this to work, we'll need to protect the Grand Council, not eliminate it."

            "I know.  Don't worry about the Council.  I personally guarantee their safety."


The air rippled and crackled with magickal energy as King and Gergenstein fought the three surviving mages for dominance in the Council chamber.  The normal humans in the room were either dead or cowering behind their chairs, including Erich Von Shrakenberg.  He had surrendered his sidearm before entering the chamber, and now felt naked, helpless in the fight raging only a few feet away.  So the commodore did the only thing he could; he ducked under the table. 

            Damien Richter watched the events unfolding before him with detachment.  His orders were to protect Rashid King, and when the other mages began to attack him, the machine stepped forward to complete his task. The needler appeared in his hands without a second thought, forcing the council members to keep a force field active against his plasma carbine's bursts. There were others in the room, but they were normal humans, and as they were unarmed, they posed a minimal threat.

            Xavier Pollos burst into the room just as Councilor Mwilambwe was torn in half by a correspondence portal, teleporting the lower half of his body to the other side of the room.  It didn't take long to find what he had came for… at last, he thought, King is mine. While the marshal was distracted, Xavier charged forward. "KING!!!" he screamed, Kuar lifted in rage toward the author of his dishonor.


The invisible warriors scythed through the station with impossible speed, destroying anything that got in their way. "Spyder, the command area is up ahead. Secure it!"

Malachi quickly rushed ahead, only to find the blast doors were engaged. "Dragish. I need some men to blow that son of a bitch!"

"Sir, I…"

"Get me the demolition team now!"

"Roger that." the captain answered. The forms of several invisible high-speed ghosts shot ahead of the battalion. Once the rest of them arrived at the doors, they found that charges had already been set. "Fire in the hole!" One of his troopers screamed as a massive explosion rocked the station. Once the smoke cleared, a large hole in the doors was suddenly revealed.

Spyder charged the hole and fired several plasma salvos into the breech. "All clear, sir."

"Let's move!" Dimiye growled.

They poured through the breech and over the secondary fires caused by the plasma. The command crew was standing there waiting for them.  One of them stepped forward. "I am Rear Admiral…" His words turned to shrieks as Dimiye fired his plasma rifle and blew both his kneecaps off.

The major quickly turned towards the rest of the command crew. "I'm going to make this brief. I know you've locked out the station's controls from the bridge by now." He paused to look down at the still shrieking admiral. "You will now unlock them." One of the command crew spit at his feet in disgust. He was rewarded with a plasma bolt to the head.

"Stop it!" a crewman cried out. "We surrender!"

Dimiye shot the man and woman next to him in the face. The crewman watched as they fell limp to the floor. "Your terms are unacceptable to me. Now give me access to this station's systems…now."

            The command crew went back to their stations and quickly brought them back on line. They were then escorted off the command deck.

            "Wilhelm to Dimiye." His suit's comm crackled.

            "Dimiye, go…"

            "We've secured the rest of the station, but we have a lot of prisoners here sir."

            "Stuff them somewhere secure, Fredrick, then post some guards. Once you've done that, fall out to the shuttles. I'll give you further orders then."

            "Affirmative. Wilhelm out."

            Alistar bit down on his dentcom. "1st Platoon, thank you for your patience. Bring all station comm systems back online and head for the shuttle bays."

            He turned back to Spyder. "Do we have weapons control?"

            The major had cycled his hands out of the power armor and they were flying over the consoles. "Getting control… now."

            "Good," Dimiye took a look at the sensor readings. "Contact the Ariadne and inform them to exploit the breech."

Malachi looked at him funny. "What breech, sir?"

Alistar allowed himself a smile. "The one we're about to create. Fire on these three ships then hail the enemy vessels."


            The Palatine shook as the frigates next to it were engulfed in fusion fireballs, their reactor cores breached.

            "Where the hell did that come from?!" The captain ejaculated.

            The helmsman checked his readings. "Battlestation Achilles, sir!"

            "Sir, the station is hailing us."

            "On screen!"

            The image of the werewolf appeared before him. "This is Major Dimiye, surrender your vessels immediately or be destroyed."

            "Cut transmission!" the captain barked. No, he thought, they couldn't have! We burned their asses in the pods. Still the fleet officer couldn't ignore the trooper who had just faced him. He managed to collect his thoughts before answering. "Signal the station again."

            The holoproj of Dimiye dominated the screen. "My apologies, major. I'm afraid…"

            "I don't have time for this, captain," Alistar interrupted, "surrender or die. Your choice."

            The captain shrugged. "Then we surrender."

            "Very wise. Transfer your control codes to us and touch nothing."

            "Understood. Palatine out." Once the transmission ended, the captain immediately went to work. "All right, Comm, start transferring the codes in thirty seconds, but make the transfer last as long as possible. If you can scramble it slightly, I wouldn't mind."

            "Yes, sir." the ensign smiled.

            "Also send a narrow-band transmission to the Stalingrad and any other ship in weapons range of that station. 'Achilles compromised, fire on our mark.'"

            The cruiser's executive officer suddenly stood up. "Sir! We just…"

            "I'm not about to hand Avalon to the rebels, commander!" the captain shot back. "Now, either help me, shut up, or get the fuck out of my way!" The exec was quickly humbled as the ship's commanding officer continued to work quickly. "Guns, how fast can you get a passive lock?"

            "Two… three minutes." the tactical officer fumbled over his answer.

            "You've got one. Do it."

            "Sir, no one can get a passive lock in a minute!"

            "Don't give me excuses, lieutenant, give me results!" the captain shifted his gaze again. "Ops, cut power to everything but weapons and essential systems. Let the major think we're complying."

            "What about engines?"

            "We can't run our way out of this one. Leave us thruster control, but dump everything else… including engines."

            "Yes, sir."

            "Any luck getting through to the Stalingrad?"

            "Yes, sir," the ensign answered, "they're relaying the message to the fleet."


            Another thirty seconds passed before the com system erupted again. "Sir, Achilles is hailing us."

            "On screen."

            Dimiye again loomed larger than life. "Captain, I have not received your codes."

            "Major, I assure you that I sent them."

            Alistar glared deeply at his opponent. "Maybe you don't understand, captain. I have my weapons locked on one of your fusion reactors. If I don't get those codes soon, I will order them to fire."

            "I do understand, major, and I'm more than happy to comply." The captain looked over at the tactical officer. After a frantic tapping of the console, the lieutenant turned around and nodded. "Com, send him our control codes."

            The ensign nodded. "Aye."

            Just then, the Palatine fired its six rear particle phalanxes into the battlestation.


            Just outside Capitol Park, Treschi's shuttle landed, along with the other Raptor forces, and they disgorged their deadly cargo toward their target. As his armored troops rushed forward, they waded into the middle of a full-scale street battle. The Capitol Guard was giving way to over a hundred InSec shock troops blasting their way forward to get inside.  The Raven assault copters, which had covered their approach to the landing site, began strafing both sides indiscriminately. The Raptors needed no encouragement and opened fire with their plasma rifles, adding to the symphony of slaughter.


            Richter saw the assassin coming toward his charge as soon as he entered the door. As he swung his needler around, the man's image instantly recalled to memory. Captain Xavier Pollos, InSec. Personnel file indicates that he is incompetent in his tasks, lazy, unpredictable, but effective. Immediate and uncertain threat, wait for further information.

            The assassin immediately noticed the cyborg as he turned the incredibly large gun towards him. Pollos thought Damien looked confused, but he might look like that all the time, he thought. He's definitely a threat. He's standing between me and King. Without another thought, he turned his charge into a roll, shifting his position, and when he came out, Kuar sliced through the plasma carbine's barrel, rendering it useless.

            Severe threat, his computer upgraded Xavier, and brought his foot down on the assassin.          


            Treschi's troops had nearly finished off both the InSec and Capitol Guard before Andrea charged up the steps of the builiding. The former smuggler was rather disappointed; the plasteel armored doors had clanged shut seconds before he got to them. "Luther," he turned to his sergeant-major, "if you please."

His trusty assistant obligingly turned his lance cannon towards the building, promptly blowing a hole in the reinforced marble… next to the door.  After rubble cleared away, they threw a few grenades through the opening, and waited for the explosion. Then the colonel and his lead squad entered the building. 


            Xavier Pollos took the kick hard to the chest. He still managed to roll to his feet, but he had got the breath knocked out of him. The assassin quickly spun Kuar around like a shield while Richter swung the remnants of his carbine as a club, constantly moving to find a weakness in his defense.

            How do you kill this fucker?! Xavier's mind screamed, catching his breath back. He's as strong as an ox! As Pollos continued to parry his attacks against his makeshift shield, he quickly realized the flaw in the cyborg's attacks. He's not defending his feet!

            Without another word, Kuar went still in his hands, then Xavier dropped to the floor, kicking Damien's feet from underneath him. Richter dropped, Pollos rolled to his feet, and Kuar went straight into his chest, right where the thing's heart would be. The machine was broken and the assassin paid it no more mind.

Pollos ran straight for King, his blade ready for the long-awaited kill… and smacked into an unyielding force field.  The force of the impact threw him back and onto the floor.  King turned for a moment, and then laughed, while the chair next to Councilor Cocoleti exploded. The leg of the chair, driven straight into her heart, killed the mage instantly. 

Luckily for him, Erich Von Shrakenberg crawled towards the corner of the room unnoticed, too distracted by the battle raging around him. Finally, the commodore reached his prize, and picked up one of King's discarded plasma revolvers. 


            Deep in the bowels of the Phoenix Yards, several layers underneath the central hub, Maitri Venkat-Ramani, CPO, and Baisihk Al-Jibraugh, PO2, crawled through a hot, cramped access tunnel.  Maitri swung the light from her helmet lamp around, searching for the right cable as she wiped sweat out of her eyes in the suffocating darkness.

            “Okay, I think we’re in the right place…” she said, looking down at the map on her datapad.

            “You sure?” Baisihk asked. “This all looks kinda the same to me.”

            “I hope so. We’re as close as I can figure.”  She looked up at the thick power cables covering the walls, mystified. “Now which fucking cable?”

“Check the orders again, I’ll get the charge ready.”

Maitri entered the password and opened the encrypted file, a gift left on the datapad they had found in Baisihk’s tool bag that morning. Sweat dripped onto the screen as she read.


To: PO1 Maitri Venkat-Ramani, PO3 Baisihk Al-Jibraugh, PO3 Hrahk Ibn-Fauod

Work assignment for 6/11/2243: Phoenix Power Systems.  Diagnostic shows possible power cable burn-out in Central Hub, Power Plant, Level 1.  Locate cable at point of damage and verify this.   Use torch fuel and remote beacon provided for job.  See schematic attached for details.

CPO Jack “Smashie” DuCroix


The petty officer pulled up the schematic and studied it.  It showed clearly which cable they had been subtly instructed to sabotage.  The real thing wasn't so clear, as the cables twisted and intertwined along the wall.  She wiped dark wet hair away from her face and scrawled a big X one of them.  “I think it’s this one.”

“Are you sure?” Baisihk asked, looking up from rigging the crude remote detonator, the one he had also found in his tool bag that morning, to a small canister of blowtorch fuel.

“No,” Maitri said flatly.  “It would really help if this Smashie guy told us what the power cable led to,” she grumbled irritably.  “I might be able to figure it out if…”

As he worked on the charge in the dim light, he muttered, “Gotta be something big. We’ve been setting cables to blow for days now.  Howie’s cell has been doing the same thing.”

Maitri looked at him sharply.  “We’re not supposed to make contact with the other cells, Sihk!”

Baisihk spread his hands defensivly.  “Hey, he’s my roommate!  We both let things slip.”

“For Shiva’s sake, Sihk!  Be more careful!” she scolded him, her temper frayed by the heat.  “The less anyone knows, the safer our network is!  I don’t wanna get caught if the cover’s blown, do you?”

He merely winked at her.  “You’re beautiful when you’re angry, you know that?”

“Fuck you, Sihk. You got the charge ready yet?”  She wanted to slug him, but decided there wasn’t enough room for a good swing.  Mental note: Hit him after we leave the crawlspace.

“Yeah, but which cable are we rigging?” he asked, picking up the charge again.

 “It’s one of the cables in the red cluster…”  Maitri said firmly.

“Hmm…” Baisihk pondered.  “We could blow all of them…”

 “Yeah… why not? You think you could use a larger fuel canister, maybe set it to blow two or three cables at once?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said as he went to work on it.  The parts kept slipping out of his sweat-slicked hands as rivers of perspiration flowed down his arms. “Man,” he said, panting, “I really, really hope the next cable we have to rig isn’t so close to the main reactor… I think I’m gonna melt…”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Maitri said, flapping her soaked shirt in a vain effort to cool off.  “They’ve all been close to the -“ she stopped suddenly, stating at Baisihk with wide eyes.  He returned the gaze, puzzled at first, then the realization dawned on him. “He’s not gonna….” she said doubtfully… but there was no other explantion.  “Oh, shit!”

They stared at each other in disbelief for several seconds.  Baisihk finally broke the silence. “YEAH!!” he said, excited suddenly. “THAT’S the way to deal with the Jesus Freaks!  That’ll screw ‘em over GOOD!!”


            "What the fuck?!" Dimiye roared, as the Achilles rocked with the blast of charged electrons and protons. "Report!"

            Captain Dragish was manning the sensors. "That cruiser fired on us! It's turning around!"

            "Burn it!"

            Spyder's hands flew over the console before his fist banged in frustration. "We lost our lock!"

            "Fire, damn it!"

            The battlestation's grav laser grazed the light cruiser as it brought its own heavy weapons to bear on the Achilles. Light speed weapons ripped into the side of the orbital station, taking out a considerable chunk of the weapons platform.

            "Shit! Spyder, get me that lock!"

            "I'm trying, sir!" the brigade commander shouted, his hands flying over the unfamiliar controls.

            "Stop trying and DO IT!"

            Finally, as another volley of fire was turning the battlestation into burger meat, a blinking light told the major he'd finally got it right. "About time!" Malachi howled and hit the fire button. An entire barrage of gravity and chemical lasers suddenly focused on the Niteroi-class light cruiser at close range, the energy weapons touched the ship, ripping it into a thousand pieces.

            Everyone on the bridge crew breathed a sigh of relief as the wreckage of the Palatine passed helpless by. Alistar put his hands on Malachi's shoulder. "Good job, major."

            Spyder closed his eyes and let the stress wash over him. "Thank you, sir."

            At that moment, Command Sergeant-Major Benjamin rushed into the room. "What the…"

            "Don't worry, Pete. One of their cruisers tried to jump us but we got the bastard."

            "Thank God for…" Suddenly, the mage and everyone else was thrown to the floor as the station was rocked by another explosion.


Two more guards, Hex thought, unsheathing his katana. Damn it, how many more of these fuckers do I have to kill?

            "Problem?" Csilla's mocking voice came over the com. Aurelius was all smiles and revolutionary rhetoric off the field, but when it came to actual work, he was a ruthless son-of-a… "Hex! Is there a problem?"

            The boy opened his mouth and no sound came out. While he was mouthing the words, the subvocal com system picked up the voice and transmitted to his commander without betraying his position. "Two guards, in front of a pressure door."

            "That's the one we need. You're point… take 'em out."

            Take 'em out, Hex scoffed the words in his head. The rest of his team didn't have to jump out in front and wait for a hail of plasma fire to burn him down. You wanted action… this is action.

            The trained killer was used to working alone; working in a team was completely different. He constantly had to remind himself that he had to cover the people coming up behind. All his previous training had never prepared him for fighting with a group; Hex had to rebel against his instinct with every step he made.

            He feared the cold. As the boy slowly passed into non-existence, the icicle chill fed through his veins, pressing him to move forward. Turning transparent, he moved out from the safety of the corner to move forward, hoping that the guards didn't have sensors. The two men in civilian clothing were completely unaware of him… until he chopped off both their heads. They didn't have time to scream before their corpses hit the ground. With a practiced move, he allowed himself to become more opaque, feeling the heat of re-entry burn him again.

            The next thing Hex knew, Csilla was next to him, while the rest of the team made quick work of hiding the bodies. "Are you all right?"

            He nodded and sheathed the bloody weapon. While the guards' corpses disappeared under a pile of trash, Jenny went to work on the door lock. Her mess of circuitry quickly found a way to attach to the simple numeric keypad. Numbers flew across the readout until they stopped at a combination; her fingers removed the device and entered in the numbers. The pressure door slid open as the team fanned out on either side of it. Luckily, no one was on the other side. Quickly, Csilla led the way inside and into the weapons production complex.

            Then all hell broke loose. Guards poured into the room and the cell members opened fire. Jenny dropped, unable to react in time. Brutus suddenly got big; the great werewolf rushed forward and mauled the fundies as they waded through. Hex and the others managed to create a firing line behind some boxes and plasma was raining down on them from everywhere.

            Another door opened to the side next to Brigette and she turned to attack. Too slow, he thought, as a side glance watched her get eviscerated by the incoming troopers. Their entire flank was suddenly open. Although Calvin managed to get the first two flankers with his knife, there were way too many for him at once. He fell with another plasma bolt to the head. Suddenly, they were completely surrounded, and as the cell was whittled down to nothing, Hex got hit by a plasma bolt in the arm and it dropped him.

            A beep sounded and everything froze. "Scenario completed," the bland computer voice called out, "elapsed time: seven minutes, twenty-two seconds."

            Jenny stood up and looked at the mess of holographic guards around her. "What's the average success rate?"

            "Out of the seventeen sessions, five have successfully reached and destroyed the complex. Rate of success: 29.41%"

            "Not good enough, damn it!" Csilla roared, kicking the immobile holoproj. "Not even fucking close!" Their fearless leader stormed over to Brigette. "You were told to block that door!"

            "I didn't have time!" she screamed back.

            "Face it, girl! You don't have what it takes!"

            "I can pull my own weight!"

            "Bull-shit!" Aurelius shot back. "We put you on point and you drop the ball. You're in the middle and you can't support us fast enough. You're on flank and you get overrun. Face it, Brigette, you're endangering the entire mission!"

            "HEY!" Hex rushed over, getting between the two of them. "It's been a long day… all right! Let's take a break and we'll go through it again in the morning."

            "Yeah," Miller echoed, "cut the kid some slack."

            Csilla just steamed at her a moment longer then turned on the sniper. "Where we're going, Looser, we don't have any slack."


            Luckily for the machine, the cyborg's heart wasn't where it was supposed to be. Nonetheless, the assassin's blade had managed to break one of his main bio-electrical transmitters, and the system shut down to repair itself. If Damien Richter was in pain, he ignored it; sensory suppressors took care of that. His nanobots were quickly repairing damaged systems and he soon regained mobility.

Pollos, on the other hand, bashed away at the shield and accomplished nothing. King laughed as he continued his assault against the only mage left to stop him.

            Erich had crawled around to the end of the table, and close to him, he could see the strained form of Herbert Gergenstein.  Rage filled up inside him; he had trusted Gergenstein, and had considered him a friend.  They had both sworn an oath of loyalty to the Earth Federation, and now he was here, helping Rashid King destroy the very government he had sworn to defend. Von Shrakenberg could contain himself no long and blasted away at his former weapons officer.  The plasma bolts dissipated uselessly against the invisible magic shield but it definitely grabbed King's attention. His part of the shield dropped as the marshal threw a bolt of energy toward him, bursting the plasma revolver in a blaze of light.


            "Captain, report!" Dimiye roared.

            John Dragish quickly got up and checked the sensors. "Sir, a battlecruiser fired on us. We've lost connection to the lower three decks of the station."

            Malachi quickly checked his own batteries. "I've lost three chemlasers, several particle cannons…"

            Alistar quickly cut him off. "Redirect fire toward that ship!"

            "But we don't have…"

            "DO IT!"

            The Achilles fired upon the EFS Stalingrad as it came closer, blasting the battlecruiser with a lot fewer weapons than it had only a minute before. It returned the favor, smashing holes in the great orbital box with lance torpedoes.

            "I've lost over half my weapons." Spyder reported.

            Benjamin had managed to man the environmental controls. "We've got hull breaches… well, everywhere!"

            "What about the shuttle bays?" the werewolf asked.

            The sergeant-major quickly checked. "They're fine."

            "Good. Spyder, you've got a lock on that thing?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "Put all the weapons on continuous fire."

            "I'm already losing weapons due to circuit failure!"

            Dimiye could understand his subordinate's frustration, but with the deckplates getting blasted from underneath him, he didn't care. "We're abandoning ship, major! DO IT!"

            "Pete, tell the rest of the division to head for the rally point, but leave us one shuttle to get out of here!"

            "Telling 'em now."

            Alistar cycled back into his power armor and the others followed his example. As the troopers rushed for the shuttles, the fleet prisoners running for the escape pods, and the Stalingrad bearing down on them, they all didn't have much time. As the station heaved its death throes, they rolled into the last shuttle, descending towards the big blue ball below.


            As Erich Von Shrakenberg screamed in pain, Xavier saw his opportunity, and leaped forward to swing Kuar. King only noticed the attack at the last second, ducking underneath the cutting edge, and diving underneath the table. Gergenstein saw the danger his leader was in, but with Johannsen pressing the advantage, he had to focus his defense on keeping the councilor busy, hoping that the marshal could take care of himself.

            Pollos continued press the attack, hacking into the priceless dense wood table with ease. King could only manage to create himself a sword to match his crazed opponent's steel. Once Kuar had cut a hole through the table, King jumped him through it, fighting back the assassin with every breath that he took. Xavier pushed himself to go faster and Rashid matched him speed for speed. Their dizzying speed slowed everything down around them, as if time had no meaning. Any blasts thrown their way were easily dodged; the two combatants were locked in this most deadly game.

            Andrea Treschi charged down the hallway, finally reaching the door of the council chamber itself.  This door was also sealed, with dead troopers on all sides littering the corridor. The smuggler simply waved his sergeant-major forward, and the werebear took careful aim with the lance cannon. 


            "No!" Csilla Aurelius said, slamming his fist onto the table. "I won't have her coming on this mission. Brigette is too much of a liability."

            The summer night was warm and calm in Sanfran, but in Aurelius' home, a storm was brewing. "You don't understand," Hex tried to explain, "if she hadn't been around to help me out there, I would never have made it to Earth."

            "She's not a soldier, Hex!" the cell leader exclaimed. "She can hardly fire a plasma revolver, she can't seem to adapt to the tactics I require, and worse still… she doesn't even believe in the cause."

            "That's not true!" the boy shouted back.

            Csilla sighed. "Isn't it? Come on, you can see it in her eyes. She doesn't care about freedom, or democracy, or the ideals that we fight for. Brigette's in this fight for revenge; I don't think she knows what she's trying to revenge, but she'll kill herself, or anyone with her, in order to do it. I'm not about to let her."

            "Listen, I feel the same way. I want revenge against the Fed, too! I want to tear them apart for what they did to me and my sister… but you seem to need me!"

            Aurelius shook his head. "You don't want revenge, Hex…"

            "I don't?!"

            "No, you want a cause. The trouble is you can't find one to believe in because you can't believe in anything."

            "Why is that different?!"

            "Because at least you try." Csilla intoned the word 'try.' "Brigette just wants to kill something, as if blood will answer for blood. It can't, Hex; it won't."

            "But you admit she can fight!"

            "Fight, yes, but she's not a soldier. Anyone can kill; to know when and how to kill is the difference between a fighter and a soldier. Brigette doesn't qualify."

            "You need another person in your cell for your plan to work." Hex pleaded with him. The boy felt he owed her. Csilla's wrong about her, he thought, and she needs this fight. "Look, put him back with Miller. She can protect him and he'll… keep an eye on her." Aurelius wasn't convinced but Hex pressed his argument. "Come on, you need someone back there anyway! She's perfect for that job."

            "All right, Hex, she's in. But I'm not doing the team any favors."

            "You won't regret it, Sill."

            "We'll all regret it… in the end."


Insec Agent Torvich dumped sugar into her coffee and stirred it lazily, sitting down in front of the huge screen.  It was split up into more than a dozen smaller screens, each displaying the view from a spy camera marked for constant supervision.  It wasn’t hard to keep an eye on all of them - almost three-fourths of them showed empty rooms half of the time.  Far from overwhelming… in fact, it was dull.  Someone had to do the shit jobs, though, and it usually depended on who was in the commandant’s bad book at the moment.  Agent Smitsky stretched and yawned next to her, holding out his hand for a fresh cup of java.

“You get the next coffee run.” Torvich told him.  “Anything new?”

“Yeah, we got some action of screen eleven.” Smitsky answered.

“Eleven…” Torvich mumbled, taking a sip. “Which one is that again?”

“Phoenix Yards, Xinjao O’Reilly.”

“Oh, God!” Torvich cried, covering her eyes. “He’s not jackin’ off again, is he?  I swear I’ll shoot the screen if I have to watch that one more time…”

“Naw, he’s working at his desk again.” Smitsky answered.  “I’m tellin’ ya, Jen, he wouldn’t be spanking the monkey if he knew we could see him.  He must think he’s off-camera or something… just trust me, Jen, guys like their privacy when it comes to that.”

 Torvich shrugged.  “Just so long as I don’t have to watch.  So what’s he up to, messing with his arm again?”

“No, looks like he’s writing.  Did they ever figure out what he was installing in his fake hand?”

“Some sort of beam weapon.  Can’t tell exactly what, though.  I wrote it up and put it in his file.” she said, nursing her coffee as she watched the fat pervert.  Suddenly she sat up straighter, and her eyes widened in surprise.  “What the-hey, Mike, check this out!  Screen eleven, O’Reilly!”

Smitsky looked up and saw O’Reilly walking toward the camera, looking straight at then.  The engineer looked nervously toward the door them held up a handwritten sign to the camera.  Torvich scrambled for the remote control and enlarged the screen.

“SEND HELP SOON,” Torvich read off.  O’Reilly held the card up for a while, then flipped it to a second.   “RA INVADING VALKYRIE 6/17." she read, watching the cards flip past.  “IF NOT LIBERATED… WE WILL TAKE ACTION… SEND MESSAGE…”

“’We’?  Who’s ‘we’?”  Smitsky asked absently as he watched O’Reilly flip up the next card.  “What’s that?” he wondered aloud, looking over the gibberish.

“Scientific notation…” Torvich answered, “transmission frequency and broadcast location, I think… shit, has he got a comm channel open for us?” she asked incredulously as O’Reilly put down the cards and walked back to his desk.

“Think we should believe it?” Smitsky asked.

“Could be true,” Torvich mused, “but we better get this info to the boss, see if they can verify it.” She quickly downloaded the information to O’Reilly’s file.

“You go, I’ll keep watching,” Smitsky agreed, “just in case he - what the hell?”

Torvich looked up at the screen again.  While she had been busy copying files, O’Reilly had crossed back to the camera and was holding up another sign: HI MOM SEND MONEY.


            Erich had dived back underneath the table, clutching his scorched right hand in pain. The plasma revolver exploding had sent him to the edge of consciousness. Somehow he fought against the pain, crawling across the floor to grab the other revolver. His only hope was that he wouldn't get shot before he got it.

            Pollos was focused on King, swirling around each other, their blades locked in combat as they swirled around like angry bees. They were equal, easily parrying each other's strikes, caught in a stalemate that neither could alleviate. Exhaustion was coming over Xavier; he couldn't keep this pace up for much longer.

            Then he had an idea. Instead of making a side-cut, he backed up quickly, then threw Kuar at his enemy. Rashid barely managed to block in time, but then rushed to take care of his defenseless opponent. As King swung to strike, Xavier's blade was suddenly back in his hand, blocking the strike. Every time he threw his weapon, the marshal showed his weakness, and it was obvious the battle was draining him as well.

            But if the sword always comes back to me, he thought, dodging a hurricane of quick thrusts, then why can't I go to the sword? Xavier threw the sword again; Rashid was very tired now. As King rushed to attack, Pollos suddenly shifted to his sword, now standing behind the marshal. The mage was shocked. As he turned to find his opponent, the assassin swung for his enemy's head, and sliced it clean off.

            Xavier collapsed to the ground at the same time King's head and body hit the floor. The assassin could only lay there in stunned delirium as he watched Rashid's face, desperately trying to breathe, but could get no air. The eyes stared at Pollos in shock as a voice launched into his mind. I told you… you're the key!

            Then, without another word, Rashid King was suddenly dead.

            A wave of relief rushed over the assassin, unaware of the fighting all around him. He closed his eyes and took in the rush of contentment. He was free again. In fact, Pollos was so relaxed, he didn't notice Damien Richter walking over to crush him.

            Suddenly, the door burst inward again with a deafening explosion, knocking the cyborg to the other side of the room. Gergenstein barely managed to dive out of the way as six feet of biological machine catapulted toward him. Two armored troopers, both bearing the insignia of the Raptors charged in, weapons at the ready.  Herbert screamed to the machine to follow him and rushed towards the side door.

Erich finally got the other plasma revolver and turned on his belly, seeing the form of Colonel Gergenstein trying to escape. "No!" he screamed, aiming the weapon with his left hand. Richter rushed in front of the commandant with unearthly speed, absorbing the plasma bolts the commodore blasted as his former friend. Apart from the massive scarring on his chest, Damien was unaffected, following his new master out the door.

Andrea Treschi and Luther soon walked into the room, gazing at the devastation all around them. Four men managed to get to their feet; Von Shrakenberg was still on the ground as Xavier Pollos slept beside the decapitated body of Rashid King.  The new colonel flipped up his visor and gazed at them all standing in front of him. He said nothing as he calmly leveled the plasma rifle, aimed at the remaining councilors, and tore them to bits. "Fan out."

It didn't take long for Andrea to find the commodore; one hand charred, the other clutching an empty plasma revolver. For a second, he thought about killing him, too, but it wasn't necessary. He's not in the government and he didn't see who just shot the other members, he rationalized and a quick scan of his memory confirmed it. Besides, a hero is always a wonderful rallying point, and we need those desperately. "Are you all right?"

"W… what happened?" Erich managed, the pain becoming unbearable.

"We managed to stop King," the former smuggler answered, "but not before he killed the last of the Grand Council."           

"Wait a minute, don't I know you?" Von Shrakenberg took a closer look at the man's face. "M. Treschi?"

"Colonel Treschi," he corrected, "commanding officer of the Raptors. We heard about the situation and move in. I just wish we were here a little faster."

"So do I, M… colonel." The commodore dropped the revolver and held out his hand. Treschi took it, getting him to his feet. "At least it's over."

Andrea shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Auntie Sarah just dropped her entire fleet into the system."

            "A fleet?" Erich asked, shrugging off the clouds in his mind. "I have to go! They need me!"

            "Commodore, you need to get to a hospital," Treschi argued, "your arm…"

"Is fine!" Von Shrakenberg barked.  "Colonel, if the insurgents are attacking now, this is it! I need to get up there!" The fleet officer had a crazed look in his eye, as if driven by a holy cause. "Don't you understand?! I can't do anything here. I need a ship!"

"And you'll get a ship," Andrea calmed him down, his soothing aura quieting the burning inside the admiral's heart, "but first you need to fix your arm."

The commodore finally nodded and clutched his charred hand like a broken piece of machinery. "Very well. Have your medic patch me up, and then… I will blast these rebels to hell."

Of course you will, Treschi smiled, helping him through the rubble and bodies that was once the seat of government. And when you have drowned yourself and the universe in blood, you'll rip this Federation apart. When you come back, I'll be there to pick up the pieces.



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