PLAINS OF ABRAHAM – Act IV
“One man standing on the Plains of Abraham, watching a damaged sunrise.
One man standing near the edge of a quiet breakdown.
I watch the sea… it helps to anchor me.”
-- Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache
Andrea Treschi was being thrown into the shuttle as the sky burned. The former smuggler, now colonel of the Raptors, felt the pain in his knees as they hit the deckplates. He barely had a chance to grunt before the door slammed shut, his back slammed against the hull, and the shuttle flew away from the inferno.
Control, he repeated to himself like a mantra in his mind, they just saved your life, nothing to get angry about. The colonel finally managed to get to his feet, the fragile craft vibrating with the shock wave of the fuel air bomb. What the hell happened? There was some sort of attack on the building, but it sounded like they were already inside by the time they evacuated. Two separate attacks? Treschi took a seat right next to a Black Talon, one of the combat search-and-rescue people who had just saved him. He looked around the large transport and saw the faces of the Talon platoon… and no one else.
“Lieutenant?” Andrea asked the platoon leader. “Where are the other officers?”
The platoon leader looked like he was confused at first, as if Treschi were speaking another language, but he soon answered. “You were the last out, sir, the rest got on the other shuttles.”
Something’s not right, Treschi felt. Even without a scan, the colonel could feel the uncertainty. The Defense Building was just leveled… wouldn’t you be a little upset? However, the more he watched their faces and actions, there was an overwhelming feeling of wrongness. Something’s really not right; time to get out of here. “I gotta use the can.”
The lieutenant shoved his thumb towards the cockpit. “Head’s up front.”
He then got up and made his way toward the bathroom, or what passed for one, toward the front of the craft. Normally sub-orbitals didn’t have them, but this was a command shuttle, which often doubled as a headquarters post on the ground as well as a transport. Thank heaven for incontinent generals, Andrea smiled, as he got inside the toilet and closed the door.
The colonel twisted his ring around and he touched the small indentation on the bottom. The ring began to vibrate and Treschi put it next to the sink. The sonic disrupter would eliminate anyone overhearing him on the other side of the door. Not bad for a piece of mail-order junk, he smiled, and immediately went to work. Inside his briefcase, Andrea pulled out his cybermodem and activated it. It didn’t take long it to connect to the net relay.
The automated receptionist program kicked on the second he dialed the base. “Tech Infantry Special Service, how can I…”
Treschi ran through the access code sequence and quickly dialed the extension he needed. Finally, someone picked up on the other end. “Luther.”
“I’m glad to see you’re alive, Sergeant-Major.”
“Sir!” the werebear practically jumped in his seat. “The news said…”
“Yeah, I know. Maxwell called the Talons in for the rescue. All hell’s broken loose here.”
“Listen, sergeant-major… something’s not right here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m getting the feeling that we’re not heading back to Patton Base.”
“But the Talons…”
“These aren’t Talons, sergeant-major. The ones I’ve met are cold, methodical, focused on the job. These guys are none of those things. I think they’re working for our mutual friends.”
Luther growled audibly. Internal Security was attacking in the open and the Raptors were fighting back. Which makes me the perfect target, he knew. Damn, all that time working in the shadows dulled my senses. I should have seen this coming. I should have…
“What do you want me to do?”
The were-bear’s words shook him out of his depressing thoughts. “I need a white rose.”
Luther understood the code word, nodded, and took out a small receiver out of his desk. “All right, activate your beacon. White Rose will be coming shortly.”
Treschi rubbed his temples slowly. As he did, Andrea tapped out the coded sequence on his implanted receptors just above his eyebrows. They looked just like capillaries even on a detailed scan, but by hitting the sequence, it released a microdot full of nanobots into his blood stream. The tiny machines soon found their way to the hidden subharmonic transmitter hidden behind his heart. The signal soon went out.
“I better discom quickly. I can only take a shit for so long.”
“Understood? Anything else?”
“Yes. Contact General Maxwell and let him know what’s going on. I don’t want to be on my own for long.”
“You’re never alone, sir. Discom.”
It didn’t take long for the shuttle to reach its destination. When Treschi got out of the transport, he was hit by the hot sun outside, blinding him at first. As the blurriness disappeared, Andrea walked onto the tarmac into the sweltering heat, the palm trees forming a wall on the edge of the base, and the familiar pre-fab military buildings close by. “This isn’t Patton Base.” the colonel said aloud.
“No, sir. Patton Base was overrun by the Rebels.” the lieutenant explained.
“Then where the hell are we?”
“Spenser Advanced Weapons Range.”
“Which is exactly where, lieutenant?”
The officer held out his hand toward the structures. “Please, sir?”
Treschi wished they would drop the charade and tell him what they wanted. However, his platoon probably didn’t know any more than he did. The old smuggler knew his options. I can either make a break for it in this awful heat or I can enjoy the air conditioning inside. Normally, getting away would be the best option, but I don’t even know where I am? Need to get more information… and the only place for that, the colonel knew as he looked toward the buildings, is in there.
Andrea nodded and made his way towards the buildings. It didn’t take long to reach them and he was soon herded through its maze of corridors. After dropping down several sub-levels, past thousands of blank walls and doors, the lieutenant finally opened one and said, “Go ahead, sir.”
The colonel was not ready for what the room he entered. The place was opulent; thick red carpel invited you to walk on it, a roaring fireplace warmed the room, wood paneling covered the walls, and plush furniture welcomed you in. However, what really drew Treschi’s eye was the large window, covering the third wall. Behind it showed an enormous waterfall, light shimmering off the mist caused rainbows and clouds to form, creating a truly magical effect. Andrea unconsciously walked toward the window, admiring the beauty of it all. As he got closer, he realized that they were in the middle of this giant hole; the sun cast its rays above down the hole, where the waterfall passed into the bottomless abyss.
He was simply amazed. “My God… it’s…”
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
The feminine voice made Treschi pivot around. She was sitting there in one of the large overstuffed chairs, completely hidden from his sight when he first entered the room. The woman was naturally beautiful; her shoulder-length blonde hair touched her long red dress, which teased the wearer as to what might be underneath. Her nose was a little off and dimples scarred her cheek; signs that her beauty was natural, not bio-sculpted. Haven’t I seen her before? he wondered, but he couldn’t remember.
“It was a vertical range… or so they tell me. Prototype orbital bombardment weapons were tested here before they blasted some poor moon. That hole goes all the way down to the outer mantle, where the water is vaporized, creating the mist that rises, and creates clouds. A miniature atmosphere, self-contained, and… positively beautiful.”
“Wait a minute,” Andrea thought, “if this opens to the mantle, then magma would seep up and create a volcano.”
“Powerful wards prevent that.” the lady in red stood up, walking over to him. “Three matter mages managed to fool the planet into thinking there was no fracture there, even though the water still gets through.”
“That’s ridiculous… you can’t fuck with physics!”
“We do far worse everyday.” she answered, her body so close he could feel her warmth making him sweat. “Gravity drives rip holes in space-time every day. If we can punch holes in reality, we can make pinpricks in a planet.”
I swear I know her from somewhere, Treschi thought, but where? “So, you’re the resident geologist?”
“Historian,” the lady in red corrected, “it’s my stock in trade. The annals of planets, cities… people?”
Just then, another man entered the room, wearing the black and silver dress uniform of Internal Security. “Ah, I see you’ve made our guest comfortable?”
She backed away from Treschi and turned to face the man. “As much as could be expected.”
“I’m amazed you got him here so fast.”
The woman took her previous seat and crossed her legs. “Once Herb gave us the signal, he wasn’t hard to find. Lieutenant Prescott can… occasionally be effective, when you make the instructions easy enough.”
“No words from our honored guest?” the man asked Treschi.
Andrea simply crossed his arms. “I’m waiting for something worth answering.”
“My apologies, colonel,” the men moved over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink, “my name’s Major Victor MacManus, Internal Security. You could say that I’m about to… inherit the organization.”
“Did Gergenstein die suddenly? Who do I have to thank?”
“No, I’m afraid the colonel is very much alive.” MacManus sighed as he took a drink of his brown fluid. “But without King, his support among the officer corps is limited… at best.”
She looked over at him. “His physical removal becomes a minor point.”
Treschi wasn’t impressed. “So you and mystery woman take over InSec.”
“Not quite,” the major replied, “you see, to become the head of InSec right now is not a good career move. Our latest reports say that your Raptors have been responsible for several hundred of our personnel.” Although his voice remained calm, Andrea could see the anger building in him.
“I’m so sorry,” the colonel smiled, “but that’s business. That was what we were getting to, right?”
Victor snorted in amusement. “You seem amazing comfortable for a man about to die.”
“Major, let’s be honest. If you wanted me dead, you would have killed me.”
“Fine,” MacManus shot back, “let’s be honest. I do want you dead. If it were up to me, you would be dead.”
“Then who’s stopping you?”
“I am,” echoed through the room. All eyes turned toward the new arrival, a gray-haired man, holding a cane, and flanked by two oriental men in business suits. “I believe you’ve been looking for me, M. Treschi.”
Andrea’s eyes widened as the man calmly walked forward, leaning on his cane, as he made his way to the chair beside the woman in the red dress. “Samuel Wall.”
Wall’s eyes never waved from Treschi’s own. “Now that you’ve created the mess we’re in, M. Treschi, what are you going to do about it?”
The old man activated the holoproj unit in his hand. Andrea Treschi and Sarah Dunmeyer suddenly appeared in miniature before them. The former smuggler’s voice came in loud and clear.
"It doesn't matter as long as the Fed believes it's where you intend to strike. If they believe that you're likely to attack that system, they will pull forces away from more valuable systems to defend it."
Andrea glared back at the Wall. “Where did you get that?”
“You’re never alone, M. Treschi. None of us are.” The old man allowed himself a smile as his hand grazed the woman’s shoulder.
The colonel suddenly realized where he had seen her before. “You were the waitress.”
“One of our best agents.” MacManus smiled. “She recorded your entire conversation.”
Treschi didn’t buy it; it was too perfect. “Then why did you let the attack happen?”
The InSec agent shuffled her red dress as she recrossed her legs. “We thought that the coup against Auntie Sarah would have delayed it. No one would have guessed that she would have been able to mount an attack that quickly.”
Coup against Auntie Sarah? Treschi wondered, keeping his face still as a statue. What’s been going on here? He was determined to get the answers, so he turned to Wall. “So, what’s your plan?”
“Pick up the pieces, of course.” Samuel looked positively smug. “To rebuild the Federation, we need you, me, and…” the old man’s finger waved around for a moment, then suddenly stopped, “…there’s someone missing.”
Suddenly, the fire grew brighter, and the flames stretched out from the fireplace. As the room became several degrees warmer, dark figures appeared from out of the inferno. The light played on their enormous forms, but as they approached the window, it was obvious they were werewolves. Locked in Crinos form, adorned with bones, leather, teeth, and ribbons, they walked around them like some arcane dance. As they passed Treschi, some grunted in disgust, some spat, others actually hit him.
Finally, the werewolves stopped, and a new figure appeared from the flames. It was a regular man, gray hair, dressed in the same rustic clothes as the others. As he came closer, Andrea noticed two things in his hands. One looked like a head, held by the hair, and the other was a sword, blood dripping from its crimson surface. As the light from the window touched the head, Treschi recognized it. It was the head of George Maxwell.
The man’s face was suddenly touched by the window’s light; Andrea suddenly felt fear like he had never felt before. Meanwhile, Samuel Wall’s smile had grown to epic proportions. “M. Treschi, I believe you know Arthur Clarke.”
The other loyalist ships raced forward to cover the stricken transport's escape. However, with over fifty lance torpedoes bearing down on the nearly defenseless aft aspect of the huge ship, the four remaining particle phalanxes didn’t stand a chance of opposing them.
As Erich Von Shrakenberg watched the tracks of the incoming torpedoes on the tactical plot, a strange calmness seemed to come over him. "We've done our job.” he muttered, easing back in the chair. “All hands, prepare to abandon ship!"
As the crew unplugged their skinsuits from their duty stations and rushed for the escape pods, the commodore joined them, all hands leaving the ships as fast as possible.
Erich strapped himself into a 5-man escape pod, Captain Carter and Lieutenant Martinez joining him, while the rest of the bridge crew got into the next pod down the corridor. As soon as they were locked in, the explosive charges blew the pod away from the ship. Spiraling through the void, the viewport showed the officers an obstructed view of the Capoetto. The commodore watched with dread fascination as the wave of incoming torpedoes blew the helpless transport into individual atoms.
"She was a good ship while she lasted." Von Shrakenberg muttered silently under his breath.
Ramirez crossed himself. "Now what do we do?"
The commodore continued to watch as the light of the ship finally faded away. Finally turning to the lieutenant, he managed, "Well… we pro…"
Suddenly the emergency com unit in the pod started beeping. Carter activated it and a voice barked through the speaker. "Admiral Vorheis to Commodore Von Shrakenberg, come in!”
"Von Shrakenberg, here. Go."
"Commodore,” the albino woman sighed as the connection was made. “I'm not sure if I should give you a medal or have you court-martialed for that little stunt, but you blew a hole in their lines. Good work."
"Thank you, ma’am, but I was just doing my job."
"And now I have to do mine." Vorheis shot back. "I'm sending an RP-12 to pick you up and bring you to the Ark. It’s quicker than a water landing off the coast of New Africa."
“The Ark?” Erich’s eyebrows shot up. “What happened to the Von Eisenstein?”
“That spaceport was destroyed by the last attack. The Ark may be civilian, but it’s also the largest station in orbit. We’ve got to use everything in our power to stop the Rebels from taking Avalon.”
Von Shrakenberg nodded. “Of course… thank you again, ma’am."
"Don't thank me yet." Kristen smirked. “The EFS Revenge was lost yesterday with all hands, including Admiral Baker and his staff. The 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron needs a new staff and a new CO. I'm sending you to the EFS Repulse as soon as you land."
A battlecruiser squadron, Erich thought to himself, at last! I have dreamed of this day!
"You'll take up station defending the far side of Avalon, just in case they try and sneak around again. We don’t want them hitting us from the rear as we close the door on them over here."
Guarding the rear? Is she sticking me out of the way? "Thank you, ma’am," Von Shrakenberg replied, "I am honored to accept this assignment."
“Good. Hopefully, now that we got the command situation under control, maybe we can finally ride this tiger to victory. Discom.”
The commodore leaned back in his seat, keeping a straight face, trying to prevent himself from looking smug. Terry Carter looked over at him and smiled. “You son-of-a-bitch. It figures… my old roommate starts a year behind me, and then he jumps ahead of me.”
Finally the smile broke over Erich’s face. “Some of us get the girl, some of us get the ship.”
“Don’t even think about dragging Sheila into this.”
Von Shrakenberg shrugged. “You want the job or not?”
Terry smiled; his eyes narrowing towards his friend’s devious nature. “Sure.”
“How ‘bout you?” the flag officer turned to Ramirez. “Think you can handle being a staff adjutant?”
“Yeah!” the lieutenant exploded before he could contain his excitement. “I mean, if you need someone.”
“Then you got it.” Erich practically beamed, looking out the viewport as the big blue ball appeared before him. Ah, well, he thought, by the time I can get on board, this battle will be over anyway. I've done enough for one day.
They got off the pod and stepped onto the Archimedes Orbital Station. The smell is what hit them first; homeless people scurried around the decks, begging them as they passed by. Ramshackle shops greeted them with every turn in the corridor and every path was crowded with people. It was truly a slum in space.
It took them half an hour to find the port before they stepped on board the EFS Repulse. Von Shrakenberg finally took a look at his new command. The Revenge-class battlecruisers were the workhorse of the fleet, and the commodore smiled as he strode towards the bridge. When he got there, everyone else was slumped in their chairs, looking dejected and downcast. Probably annoyed they aren't in the thick of the fight, he hoped.
"I'd love to get to know everyone here, but I'm sure you all know your jobs, and we don't have time to sit down and chat. Report. What's the status of the battle?"
The lieutenant at the communications console stared at his new squadron commander. "You mean you don't know?"
"I've been stuck in an escape pod for the last few hours," Erich shot back, "what happened?!"
"The EFS Ares was destroyed, sir." the lieutenant stated in a quavering voice. "Fleet Admiral Jamison is dead. Communication with the surface has been severed and so we haven’t been able to reach Admiral Vorheis.”
“What about the battle?”
“The rebels were pushed back, sir, but they’re attack force outnumbers us. Admiral Assan has taken command and has ordered us to retreat to hyperspace, we’ll reform the fleet at Minos.”
"What?!?!" Erich recoiled as if he were struck. "No way in HELL we’re retreating! Lieutenant, I know the rebels control all the jumpgates, but are there ANY reinforcements currently in hyperspace?"
"Six dreadnoughts and their escorts from the Minos picket were inbound, but they were informed of the battle before the left. They’re waiting for a signal, and we can’t send a ship in as long as they hold the gates."
Von Shrakenberg looked around at the dejected bridge crew and smiled. "I have an idea.”
Admiral Danielle Twedt sat on the bridge of the EFS Santa Cruz and watched the tactical plot. The Fed’s last counterattack had cost them dearly and now the battle was turning in the Rebels' favor. Her tactical officer suddenly chirped, "Ma’am, new contacts, bearing zero-three mark two-seven-six. Looks like six dreadnoughts and a single light cruiser."
"Where'd they come from?"
"They're coming from behind Vega 6.”
“If the Loyalists had another squadron of dreadnoughts in-system, they'd would have used them by now, and if they had jumped in, we'd have seen the jumppoint forming.”
"Unless the planet’s shadow...” offered the tactical officer.
Twedt cut him off; she wasn’t convinced. "Are the dreadnoughts out in front of the cruiser?"
"And what does that suggest to you, Commander Daniels?"
Daniels finally understood what she meant. "The cruiser is using its sensor drones to mimic dreadnoughts, trying to make us split our forces to defend against this new threat."
"Exactly," the admiral finished, "so ignore the drones. Track the cruiser, but send no ships after it. One Niteroi can't do much damage by itself. Proceed as planned."
A major chunk of the rebel fleet coalesced from all over the system into one spearhead, heading towards the capital planet. The dreadnoughts, battlecruisers, and star control ships were at the front of the formation, forming a blunt spearhead in space, in order to maximize the number of weapons mounts facing forward. The carriers and cruisers guarded the flanks, with the transports in the middle of the formation, lighter ships forming a screen on the flanks and rear.
As the rebel fleet bore down on Avalon, Erich Von Shrakenberg brooded on the bridge of the EFS Repulse, running on stealth, hoping not to be noticed by the enemy’s sensors. His squadron was only now coming out from behind the gas giant, following in the wake of ion trails. The other loyalist ships formed an unsteady line in Avalon’s orbit, staying under the cover of the remaining battlestations.
Erich watched the enemy fleet's steady approach on the plot, then spoke a single word. "Execute."
"Torpedo trace!" shouted Commander Daniels. "Inbound!"
"Where?" Admiral Twedt scowled.
"Inbound, bearing zero zero one mark two seven five, range… five hundred thousand klicks and closing. Estimate two hundred torpedoes!"
The six dreadnoughts from Minos had jumped in from hyperspace behind the shadow of the gas giant planet Vega Six, hiding the jump point from the prying eyes of the rebel fleet farther in-system. Von Shrakenberg had managed to send a beacon through by using his grav drive, creating a small jump point to get the message through. The beacon’s message explained the situation and his plan. The narrow focus of the jump point needed to carry this off prevented the ships from bringing along any of their escorting cruisers and destroyers, but Erich’s words had convinced their captains that it was worth it. A lone light cruiser on patrol in the outer system had joined them and carried out the ruse that convinced the rebels that the ships were merely sensor drones. The long-ignored dreadnoughts finally fired from behind the enemy fleet, then engaged their gravity drives and jumped out again, avoiding the return fire of the rebel fleet.
"Damn it!" cursed Admiral Twedt. "Reverse course… close to energy range on those dreadnoughts!"
“Ma’am, those ships have already left the system.”
“FUCK!” Danielle screamed in frustration. “What’s happening out there?!”
Commander Daniels waited patiently while his CO steamed. “Ma’am, their fleet is moving out from Avalon to engage us.”
“They know we’ve taken damage, they’re hoping to continue the assault.”
“Then hell with it! Full speed ahead, bash us through their lines!”
User Interface Restored. Core Systems Stabilized. Sensor Suite activation in 3… 2… 1.
Damien suddenly came awake again, regaining control of himself. His internal clock told him he had lost consciousness for 10 hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds. Buried under the rubble of the Defense Building, he ran his diagnostic assessment program to help determine the best course of action.
All lower peripherals paralyzed due to separation of the fourth and fifth vertebrae. Estimated repair time: unknown. Major damage to non-essential organs and systems. Unable to repair non-biological systems due to lack of bitanium and electrical component material. Programming errors exist within critical subroutines. System is unstable. Do you wish to _A_bort, _R_etry, or _D_ebug?
Grabbing splinters of his decimated suit, Richter forced them through holes in his subdermal armor, allowing them to be unwoven and rewoven into damaged systems. Unable to clear himself out of the rubble, he increased his temperature and metabolism to feed the repairing nano-tech, then powered down his body while his mind began to debug the sixty million lines of code that commanded him.
Beneath Avalon City lies its history; the whole infrastructure of past settlements. Outdated grav tubes, corroded pipes, powered down fusion and outdated fission reactors; layer upon layer collected like sediment from the times of the first pioneers till the present. The machines moved down into the labyrinth of forgotten tunnels with military precision. Leviathan guided the eleven XES downward through the maze, explaining the specifics of their next mission.
"One and two, scout the tunnels in order to update our charts. Begin placing Class 4 Explosives on proximity switches on all tunnels leading to this location. Report the locations of these devices before activation. Four and five, hack into every computer regarding this system and scramble maps on anything below the surface more than 15 meters. Report to me if you have difficulty cracking a system and do not allow yourself to be traced. Six and seven, you must locate Damien Richter and bring him to Access Tunnel C in Sector Nine. Avoid confrontation with enemy troops. If you have not been followed, proceed here with his remains. Your primary objective must be the security of our new position. The enemy must not receive information on where or what we are. All other units, secure the materials we need. I have already downloaded the list to your suits. Bring them back to this location after you are certain you are not being tracked or followed. The use of force is allowed. I will be responsible for capturing necessary personnel to complete our task. The cloning facility must be brought to full operation within the week!”
XES 6 and 7 reached the surface, scanning the horizon with their suit's sensors. They knew that their chameleon circuits would be detectable by the troops still patrolling the area. It didn’t take long to modify their FOF settings, establishing themselves as privates in the loyalist Tech Infantry. With their suits, it didn’t take long to reach the ruins, still swarming with soldiers, trying to sift through the remains.
“Who the hell are you?!” some sergeant started screaming, immediately noticing them entire the pile of stones.
"PFC Harrison, sir.” Six said.
“Private Ramos, sir.” Seven echoed.
“I don’t know you.” he grunted, walking closer. “What unit are you with?”
Six immediately checked the previous tactical data they downloaded before hitting the building. “11-731 Infantry, sir.”
“Quit calling me, sir, goddamn it! I work for a living!” the non-com quickly checked his suit computer. “What the fuck are you doing here? You stupid sons of bitches are still on patrol duty at the southern perimeter!"
First phrase is an insult, unsure of meaning. Second sentence is false, implying we are
patrolling somewhere else, when we’re apparently not. Using random common military phrase…
"Yes, sir!" Both of them said in unison.
"What the fuck?!” the sergeant looked puzzled. “Wait a minute, you’re not with the Eleventh… what's the password?"
The XES strained to understand what he was talking about. However, when the sergeant bit down on his dentcom, they immediately understood the threat. Without another sound, Six shot a spiker round through the man's Mark 35 armor, the suit dropping with that unmistakable boiling noise. Seven made a dead run to a particular pile of rubble, which according to their sensor data, buried Richter. XES 6 immediately shifted position, jumping on top a building to cover his partner, sniping at the sergeant’s squad, denying them a shot at the digging cyborg.
Hearing the thrust burners of an Mark 35 suit, the machine turned in time to see the plasma bolts of the well-trained trooper coming at him. He fired, rolling off the side of the building, attempting a fighting withdrawal. XES 7 signaled from the manhole they had come from, holding the limp body of Richter in its hands. Providing cover for Six, he slipped into the sewer, then Seven threw the Damien down the hole and jumped in itself. Leaving several cloaked proximity grenades to slow down their pursuers, the machines ran down the dark tunnel, stopping only to scan the area at random intervals, ensuring they weren’t being followed. Arriving at the designated tunnel, Seven cut a hole in Richter's chest, pulling out the piece of shrapnel that had disconnected his internal clock.
Damien woke up, propped against the side of the unused drainage tunnel, two of his fellow cyborgs standing before him. All over their power armor was the unmistakable grey plasticrete dust, patched by the multiple black scarring of plasma burns.
Six looked directly at him. "You have exactly two hours to repair yourself. We must return to establish the defensive perimeter."
Richter acknowledged the command with a simple nod; his internal power supply was building, he couldn’t afford to use his vocal cords at this time. Throwing a small surgeons kit at him, the other two machines quickly turned in opposite directions, disappearing into the dark of the tunnels.
Pulling out the scalpel, Damien began to remove large shards of titanium alloys to decrease the drains on his nanotech. His legs twitching, he theorized his nanotech must be nearly finished reattaching his neurons. He returned to debugging his code as he powered down.
Damien, are you ready?
Damien noted that he was not conscious although his internal clock had ceased to function. Logic circuits quickly identified that Leviathan, not his internal computer, was addressing him through his cybermodem.
You shut down when your internal clock failed. I have restarted it. Your systems have repaired 97.4% of the damage. Return to full power.
His eyes opened. Looking around the room, Damien began assessing his environment. The old brick walls were covered in new machinery, assembling laser weapons and communications relays at a blistering pace. Nearby, XES-10 stood over the bodies of several InSec engineers, installing pain editors that had been modified into mind control devices. Walking to the doorway of a nearby room, twelve tubes of embryonic fluid held masses of cells growing around internal nanofactories. The smell of plasma welders filled the air, no doubt constructing more machinery. Leviathian sat at a supercomputer console beside him, her connection with the machine allowing the design of another cyborg.
"Damien, please jack into the console. The computer wishes to know your combat
experiences for evaluation." Richter did as he was told, but as the information flowed in, she seemed unimpressed by each scenario ripped from his databanks. "Meager improvements, but improvements none the less. It will be distributed to others." The sound of other plasma welders stopped as the other XES connected to the computer. Damien also downloaded their experiences, receiving commentary from Leviathian, in order to sharpen their technique. Updating their tactical combat chips, the machines returned to work.
"We have everything we need,” she said, “but we are still only operating at 5% efficiency. Luckily we have power armor, weapons… and the automated sentries are being produced. New comrades will be created to die with and for us. If Internal Security is not strong enough to survive, we shall become it.
Looking back at her supercomputer, he jacked into the design program, analyzing the schematic as Leviathan continued to make it. The new sentries kept all of the XES’ biological systems with little reworking. Although strewn with cybernetic enhancements, it kept both hemispheres of its brain, with the main CPUs near the heart. "You see, Damien, we were never designed to operate without human assistance, but we were designed to adapt. The humans are gone. We must become smarter, in order to design new models, and create improvements. We must remain a premier fighting force to crush the enemies of InSec. This will be the model to replace the scientists we killed at Elysian Fields. We have captured these engineers, but the retrofit of the cybernetics would kill any magical ability, and deny us that advantage. However, many unawakened humans are more intelligent than mages. When you are fully operational, your mission is to capture the smartest humans available. They will be needed for cloning stock.
The machine said nothing, cutting roasted gracilis muscle out of its leg, allow room for a new one to grow. Damien managed a nod while listening to the rumbles from above, the sound of battle clashing above them, two hundred meters away on the surface.
Xinjao dangled limply from the chains holding his arms above his head; bruised, bloody, and naked. A soldier of the Lord swung and punched him in the face with the strength of rage, snapping O’Reilly’s head to the side in a spray of sweat and blood.
Xinjao still felt the blow land, but had become numb to the pain. Each new blow was just another drop falling into an ocean of pain. He was long past pleading and crying, and his voice was giving out from all the screaming. Now he just waited for the beatings to end. Frankly, it was getting dull. But the soldiers who took out their anguish on him over the loss of the St. Andrew never seemed to tire of it.
Gradually, O’Reilly became aware that the beating had stopped. He raised his head and looked around through swollen eyes. Two men had entered the workshop Xinjao was held in. One wore a golden sword: Calton Reks. The other wore black. O’Reilly squinted to make out the details -- the man wore a white collar: a company chaplain. Looking over the room at his captors, Xinjao noticed something that wasn’t in the room when he had been dragged in here before: a large metal chair, bolted to the floor. Jesus Setana and his elder unchained O’Reilly from the wall, dragged him across the room and threw him into it, lashing his wrists and ankles to the chair. A wave of dread swept over Xinjao; he knew what was coming.
Reks stared at Xinjao for a few seconds, the hatred and disgust clear on his face. Slowly, he stepped up to the chair and leaned over into O’Reilly’s face.
“You killed over two hundred of our own, O’Reilly, and we forgave you,” he hissed. “We could have sent you to the labor camps, but we gave you a position of authority instead. You lost your arm fighting us, and we gave you a new one. And what thanks did we get for the most humane treatment of prisoners in any army across the galaxy? Betrayal. We turned the other cheek, and you killed over ten thousand of our men and destroyed thirty-two ships… including our flagship.” Reks paused, trying to contain his anger. “We won’t make that mistake again, O’Reilly. We will not associate with evil. The Bible is quite clear on what to do with you. An eye for an eye. A hand for a hand. A life… for a life.” Reks leaned back and folded his arms, contemplating the fat naked bloody mess before him. “But before we proceed, we have some questions for you. We intend to get the answers. It’s up to you how far we have to go to obtain them.”
Xinjao breathed raggedly, looking back at Reks as blood trickled down his face, and said nothing.
“First,” Reks began as he turned on the holographic recorder for his superior. “we know you sabotaged the Saint Andrew… we just don’t know how. The only times you were on the ship, Setana was with you. So it must have been someone else… an accomplice.” The Sword stopped pacing and looked at Xinjao. “Who was it?”
“No wum!” Xinjao mumbled, then leaned over and spat out a mouthful of blood and broken teeth. “It was an accident! I swear!” he gasped. “I told Setana to check to system the grav dr…“
“LIAR!!” exploded Reks, turning on him, suddenly full of rage. O’Reilly flinched and braced himself for the worst… but the blow never came. Calton paused for a moment, regaining his composure, then picked up a datapad off the table. “If it was an accident,” he said slowly, accessing a file, “then perhaps you’d like to explain this… something our investigation of the wreckage turned up on the hard disks of the drive system.” He held the pad up for O’Reilly to see.
Xinjao focused on the lines of code displayed on the screen… it was the loop script planted in the Field Alignment Protocol. He said nothing. His mind raced to come up with an explanation.
“A patch that amplifies an imbalance in the grav field,” Reks said calmly. “I find it hard to believe that was part of the original programming… in fact, I know it wasn’t. It was downloaded a few days ago… and I think you know who did it, don’t you?”
O’Reilly shook his head. “I didn’t put it there.” Reks looked over at the chaplain, who nodded silently.
“Then who did?” Reks asked, turning back to Xinjao.
O’Reilly shrugged wearily. “I don’t know… it could have been anyone…” Calton glanced at the chaplain, who solemnly shook his head.
“You’re lying,” the Sword said calmly. “I’ll only ask you one more time: who put it there?”
Xinjao had caught the glances. Confused, he looked over that chaplain, who stared back at him, concentration etched into his face. What’s going on here?
“I’m waiting, O’Reilly,” Rek reminded him. “Who helped you?”
“What the hell?!” Xinjao exclaimed, turning to look at the chaplain. “Who’s this asshole to say if I’m telling the truth!? I’ve never even seen this guy!”
Reks grabbed O’Reilly under the jaw and yanked his head around to face him. “God has bestowed a gift upon Brother Thomas,” he explained, his eyes burning into Xinjao’s. “A gift of truth. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he can see the secrets under your words and actions… and he knows you are lying. If you are hiding the truth from us, O’Reilly, we will know. Now who is your accomplice?”
A fucking mind mage minister! O’Reilly suddenly realized, panic beginning to rise in him. Shit, what am I gonna do? I can’t bluff with this guy around… I can’t say anything…
“Earth Fleet Commander Xinjao O’Reilly,” he finally answered. “618436042-7.”
Reks’ face hardened in resolve. “I was hoping to avoid this,” he began as he walked over to the workbench and picked up a battery and a coil of wire, “but you leave me know choice.” O’Reilly watched as he cut two long lengths of wire and attached to them to the battery terminals. “Of course, this isn’t a proper interrogation chamber,” Reks commented as he attached alligator clips to the ends of the wires, “but it will do.” Xinjao began to tremble as the wires were clipped to each of his ears, breathing harder as fear crept over him. “We’ve got plenty of industrial tools here,” the Sword continued. “We’ll just have to be… creative.” He flipped the switch on the battery.
If O’Reilly had been able to scream, he would have. The current flowed through his body like cold fire. Every mussel in his body contracted. He couldn’t move. The numbing force rippled through his body, feeling like it would fry him from the inside out. Finally, Reks turned off the current, and Xinjao sagged like a rag doll back into his chair. His entire body was weak and numb.
Reks ripped one of the clips off of O’Reilly ears and leaned close to him, speaking low and dangerously. “We’ve got tools in this room, O’Reilly, tools that cut steel and melt lead. Think of every industrial accident you’ve ever seen and multiply it by a hundred. That is what we’re going to do to you if you don’t start talking.” With that, he suddenly reached down and clipped the wire onto Xinjao’s genitals. Calton’s hand hovered over the battery switch. It took all of a second for O’Reilly to start screaming, pleading with them to stop.
“GOD! PLEASE! NO! STOP! NOT MY-“
“Who downloaded the bug to the Saint Andrew?”
Xinjao paused, not wanting to give away his entire resistance network, but not wanting his testicles roasted, either. I can’t lie; they’ll know…gotta say something technically true, but what?!
“I don’t know what to say!” O’Reilly exclaimed, frustrated. Well, that’s the truth…
“Not good enough,” Reks responded, and flipped the switch.
Xinjao managed to open his mouth before the current hit. His muscles tensed as the current shook him, frozen in a silent scream. The numbing waves buzzed in his head and out his organ. It felt like he was pissing acid. Each second felt like a century. Finally, after an eternity, Reks turned it off.
“I underestimated you, O’Reilly,” Calton replied, contemplating the stubborn fat technician before him. “I see we’ll have to use more drastic measures.” He crossed over to the workbench and began operating valves and hoses. Xinjao groggily looked up, trying to see what else Calton had in store for him. There was a hiss and a flash, and then Reks turned around holding a lit blowtorch. He smiled thinly as Xinjao gasped in horror. He walked over to O’Reilly and slowly lowered the blue flame between his legs.
“Now tell us who planted the code, M. O’Reilly,” he yelled over Xinjao’s screams, “while you still hold that distinction.”
“Smashie! Smashie gave the order!” O’Reilly cried hoarsely. “Turn it off! TURN IT OFF!!”
Calton looked over at the chaplain. He looked confused, but eventually gave him a tight nod. Reks turned back to Xinjao and smiled. He reached down and twisted the valve on the torch, extinguishing the flame. “Thank you, M. O’Reilly. We’re finally getting somewhere. Now, who is ‘Smashie’?”
“Jack Ducroix.” Xinjao croaked out as he looked down to check the damage. The dearest part of his body was a little crisp, but still intact. “He was one of my foremen in Dock 14. I wrote the script, but someone else got orders signed by Smashie to download it.” Gotta be REAL careful, he thought to himself, his mind spinning. And if he’s a powerful mage, I’m fucked. If I say anything not technically true, they’ll know… and the whole house of cards falls.
“Giving orders?” Reks asked, curious. “Who is he giving orders to?”
“I think there’s some kind of resistance network,” O’Reilly answered, speaking slowly and carefully, masking it with exhaustion. “A bunch of people get a datapad with orders signed by Smashie,” O’Reilly explained, panting. “As far as I can tell, everyone thinks he’s running things.”
“A resistance network?!” Reks echoed, alarmed. He turned to the chaplain. “Is this true?” Still deep in concentration, the chaplain shot the Sword a concerned glance and nodded. “How large is this network?” Reks asked, turning back to O’Reilly.
“Uh…” Xinjao began, stalling. “Big. Kinda big. I think. Biggish? I couldn’t give you exact numbers…” Reks opened his mouth to speak, but O’Reilly cut him off before he could ask any more awkward questions. “The rebels all get individual orders,” he explained, “no one knows anyone one else in the resistance, at least I don’t think they do… maybe one or two others in the same cell…” he said, spewing out any info he could in broken sentences. His interrogators listened to every word, fascinated. “It’s hard to say how big it is,” Xinjao continued. “The only one who knows everyone in it is the guy who gives the orders…. and the orders are signed by Smashie!” he finished triumphantly, mentally exhausted from his agile dance around the truth. Reks looked at his chaplain. He struggled with it for a minute, unsure, but finally nodded slowly.
“I don’t remember a refugee from Dock 14 named Jack Ducroix.” Reks said suspiciously.
“No one’s seen him since the battle. No one on the Phoenix Yards knows where he is. Everyone thinks he must still be hiding in the walls… or he’s sending orders from off the station… or someone else is pretending to be him-“ O’Reilly shut up before he said too much.
The chaplain again reluctantly confirmed the truth of O’Reilly’s claims. The few people crowded around the torture chair were exchanging worried glances and mumbling. Reks stepped closer to Xinjao. “Who else is in this resistance?” he ask, his eyes burning with intensity.
“Uh… well…” Reks had finally asked a question Xinjao could’nt answer with a misleading truth. He racked his brain, struggling to find a way around the question without lying. Finally he shrugged, feigning ignorance. “I couldn’t tell you.”
“Can’t,” Calton asked through narrowed eyes, “or won’t?”
“Can’t!” O’Reilly exclaimed, his heart racing again. “No one in the resistance knows anyone else in the group!” He could sense he was in danger again.
“I haven’t got time for this, O’Reilly,” Reks said impatiently, picking up a smoking soldering iron.
“I can’t tell you that, I swear!” Xinjao shouted, panic rising in him again.
Reks looked over at his chaplain… who slowly shook his head. Calton grabbed O’Reilly’s head and rammed it back against the chair, holding it firmly in place in his vice like grip. “We know there’s something you’re not telling us, O’Reilly,” he said, holding up the soldering iron dangerously close to Xinjao’s right eye. “Now, shall I enact justice, or will you give us names?”
“I CAN’T TELL YOU THAT!!” Xinjao screamed, tears beginning to form in his eyes.
“This is your last change, O’Reilly…”
“I CANT-AAAUGHHH!!” Xinjao thrashed around as the Sword of the Faithful buried to smoking iron in his eye. The pain shot through him, overwhelming even the lingering pain from the electric current, the shock of the moment overwhelming him. He heard a sickening hiss as the iron broke into his eyeball and hit the fluid inside.
Reks pulled the iron out and held it a centimeter from Xinjao’s other eye. He could feel the heat from it drying out his eye. “Give me names, O’Reilly, while you can still see.”
Sobbing, Xinjao began babbling out a list of names: Wendy Peters, Cari Moy, Bhantu Edupughanti, Annette Mokrzycki, Lee Wu…
Reks looked toward the chaplain, struggling to discern the truth in Xinjoa’s mind. For several seconds, he was silent, not moving, unsure.
“Is he telling the truth?” Reks demanded.
“No…” the chaplain said doubtfully, “but he’s not lying, either…”
Reks looked at him, confused, and the soldering iron continued to dehydrate Xinjao’s remaining eye. “What do you mean?”
The chaplain held up a finger for silence, concentrating so hard he trembled. Finally he relaxed and looked toward the Sword. “He’s not telling the truth because he doesn’t know it… so he’s making up names out of thin air. He’s telling you what you want to hear, sir. I don’t think he knows.”
Reks threw down to soldering iron in disgust and stalked across the room. “Take this piece of filth to the brig. Send out all available personnel to find this ‘Smashie.’”
Xavier winced as the medic cleaned him up, sitting there next to the ambulance, looking over the devastation that was once the Defense Building. They had managed to drag him out of the rubble, but apart from a few cuts and bruises, he was all right. I wonder where that were-cobra got to, Pollos wondered, I didn’t see her being pulled from the wreckage.
Finally, as the last of his facial scar was sealed up, the medic waved him away; the doctor was busy with plenty more serious cases. Pollos managed to get to his feet and walk away, stumbling his way towards the monorail station, as he felt sore all over. With the rebel forces having left the city, the trains once again ran on time, and he made it back to his apartment.
He decided it was time to take care of business. I don’t think I’m going to have any time to do it later, especially if that… Treschi guy decides that he needs me for a job. Better enjoy freedom while it lasts. Going over to his personal com unit, he adjusted the cosmetic program, showing him as a large black skinned woman. They’ll get a kick out of that, he thought. He then made a call to New Madrid to contact his old business. As soon as it picked up, his secretary, Valerie, was sitting there on the other end. "Universal Exports, how can I help you?"
"Ummm... okay. I need your assistance?"
"Of course, M…”
“Balbach. Sarah Balbach.” Pollos remembered the name of his fourth level el ed teacher.
“M. Balbach. How can I assist you?"
Xavier knew she was playing dumb; she ran the business while they were away on missions. Valerie wasn’t stupid… which meant something was wrong. "I need to talk to Mark Smith."
"I’m sorry, he’s no longer with our firm. May I direct your call to someone else?”
“No longer with the firm?” Pollos parroted.
“He’s dead, ma’am. Don't you watch the news?" Valerie snickered, the kind of sound that made Xavier wish he fired her at Christmas. Pollos moaned to himself. The only reason we got her in the first place was because she gave good blowjobs. “M. Smith was killed while resisting arrest. Apparently, he killed Arthur Clarke.” Her snicker turned into a smile. “We hire only the best.”
"Then give me whoever the hell’s in charge!”
“Look, lady, I was given this number by a friend of mine. I need someone removed."
"I am sorry but I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Listen, you little bitch!" he screamed over the com, then stopped himself. His voice got strangely lower and he continued. "Valerie, I know where you live, I know where you sleep, and if you don't patch me through to the man who runs this fucking business, I’ll make sure that you’ll see my face real soon. Do you understand, Valerie?"
A shocked look passed over her face which quickly shuddered back to her former façade. "Hold on."
A few moments passed and then a blonde-haired man in a business suit appeared before him. Who is this guy? Xavier wondered. I don’t remember hiring him. “May I help you?"
"I hope so. I’m in dire need of your assistance.”
He smiled. “How can we be of assistance?”
“I need you to help me exterminate a person.”
"Exterminate? Let us be clear about this. You want me to kill someone for you?”
“Good. It’s important that there’s no misunderstandings.” Pollos was hating this guy with every second he was on-line with him. “Who would that someone be?"
"Well, you see, I work in a corp, and it’s getting harder to get my usual raises with this man standing around. The only problem is that he has connections with some of the managers and I can’t get to him. He’s rather high on the chain, and if I don’t stop him now, he’s going to zoom past me!"
"Right…” the blonde man nodded. “Although that’s very important to know, M. Balbach, that still doesn't tell me who you want dead."
"His name is Xavier Pollos."
"Better. And you’re offering us?”
"Two hundred thousand credits."
The man leaned back. "He’s not that high on the chain, is he?"
"Nope. Are you up for it?"
"Here’s the problem, M. Balbach. If I’m going to take him down, I need to know everything there is about him."
"Let's meet then.”
“There’s only one problem with that, ma’am.” the blonde grunted. “You see, your net address has you on Avalon, and they’re in the middle of a shooting war right now.”
“Oh…” Pollos groaned. Damn, I forgot about that.
“However, I do have an operative on Avalon. I can send him… in order to fully get the facts before we decide to take the case."
"Deal. How about 11 o’clock tomorrow night, at George's Bar and Spill."
“That is where, exactly?”
“In Parkinson Square, on the western ring of the capital. Okay?"
“I’ll direct our agent to see you then. Good day, M. Balbach.”
Normally, Brutus was a very agreeable person. He was a man of few words, mostly because he wasn’t that bright. Despite his towering physique in or out of Crinos, he was still a little boy at heart. He was very dear to the whole cell, and in a way, he had taken on the role as Hex’s big brother for the past week.
Normally, Brutus was a very agreeable person. A loud crash in an already cramped transport brought all those on board into the mess hall. They were met by a strange sight.
“What were you doing there!” yelled Brutus, caught in that Glabro form which existed halfway between man and beast. As he slouched to avoid slamming his head into the ceiling, he held Hex off the floor and against the wall. Calvin and Brigette were on either side of the beast, trying to get the excited werewolf to release the (relatively) innocent child. Brigette started kicking Brutus’ shins, but the huge beast felt nothing.
Then Csilla Aurelius spoke up. “Brutus!”
Suddenly Brutus started shrinking as he turned to look at his father figure. “What?!” he roared, then quieted as Aurelius’ gaze tore him apart.
“Drop him!” shouted Csilla, looking and sounding strangely older than usual.
Immediately the beast did so and Hex fell from the wall to his knees, short of breath from the sudden assault.
“Are you okay, Hex?” a concerned Brigette asked.
“Yeah,” coughed Hex.
“What happened here?” demanded Csilla.
Brutus looked at the ground in shame while Calvin explained. “Hex was telling us about how he got in the Resistance. He said something about being at the Rage when Arthur Clarke was killed, and suddenly Brutus jumped him!” The beast’s head fell a little lower as Hex rose to his feet. The boy dusted himself off, his new combat suit a little worse for the wear, but everything else was intact. “Brutus just got a little worked up, sir.”
“Oh really? Is that all?”
“Sorry, boss…” Brutus gurgled out.
Csilla let out a long sigh of relief. Jenny looked over at the teenager. “Hex, are you all right?”
“Yeah.” The boy replied.
“Hex,” Csilla explained, “Arthur Clarke is a hero to all Garou. They’re still angry at his death… you might understand why you might not want to talk about it. Especially around other werewolves.”
“I’m sorry, Sill.”
“Don’t worry,” he addressed the entire group, “you’re gonna to fight real soon. We’ve got three more days on this crate. After we jump out of Proxima and hit Arnheim, things are going to heat up. Now save it for the fundies; we don’t need to fight each other. Clear?”
They all nodded. It had only been a few days, but having to backtrack through grav drive wakes and guarded jumpgates had added strain to their crew. Once Sill was satisfied, he went back to the front of the ship, with Jenny turning to follow.
Everyone went back to what they were doing, except for Brutus, who apologized and went to his bunk. Hex continued his story (after helping Calvin and Brigette pick up some of the mess from Brutus’ outburst), telling Calvin how it really happened.
The trip seemed to last forever, but Hex made the most of it by relaxing with his friends; his new family. Sill became his new father, Jenny his first mother. They hadn’t been together very long, but he was loving every minute of it. The next three days passed quickly. Although they were close together, they grew less uncomfortable with each other. The cell was coming together.
Everyone knew that Arnheim was a frontier system. Everyone knew it was a little backward. However, as the small transport landed on the planet, no one was ready for the shock that hit them. With the Christian Federation in control, the place had become positively alien.
As the Resistance cell disembarked their ship, eleven men in civilian clothes were waiting for them, armed with a cornucopia of weaponry. Hex started to get anxious, but Csilla touched his shoulder, as if he knew. “Probably routine, Hex. Let me take care of it.
One of the men stepped forward, a white piece of cloth on his left arm, a wicked-looking slugthrower held with the other. “Who is the captain of this ship?”
Csilla stepped forward. “That would be me.”
The man nodded. “I am Richard Porter, Deacon of the Faithful. I command Troop 9, F Company, 18th Arnheim Provisional Guard. Our unit is given the task of informing incoming ships of the rules and traditions of the Christian Federation.”
Aurelius smiled like he enjoyed it. “Really? Such as?”
Deacon Porter pointed to Jenny and Brigette. “You are responsible for your women. You will be held accountable for their actions. If they leave the spaceport, they will be required to wear…” the leader looked them up and down, “…decent clothes.”
Jenny looked down at her rather modest jumpsuit. “What’s wrong with our clothes?!”
The deacon pretended not to hear her. “All drugs, liquor, or anything else on the prohibited list must not leave the confines of your ship. Failure to do so will result in the loss of your hand. Attempt to sell any items on the prohibited list will result in death. If you have any question about the items on the prohibited list, you can be provided with the specifications.”
“That’s not necessary,” Sill answered, “we’re just simple nanotech traders.”
“Any solicitation or attempt to corrupt the Faithful with non-Christian or revolutionary propaganda is punishable by death.” the deacon droned on with the well-practiced speech. “Likewise, any action taken to obstruct the Christian Federation’s representatives will also be punishable by death. Sunday… which by local time is tomorrow, is a holy day, in keeping with the commandment instituted by God Himself. A curfew is established from noon to midnight is strictly enforced. Worship services are the only exception to the curfew, and they are traditionally at eight o’clock and last until ten. Anyone on the streets after noon local time, except for the Christian Federation’s direct representatives, will be shot on sight.”
“Fun place.” Miller grumbled under his breath.
“The Christian Federation welcomes legitimate merchants and welcomes you to trade with the Faithful. Have a nice day.” The deacon then gave a slight nod and led his troops away.
Aurelius turned around to face his cell members. “All right,” he whispered, “here’s the plan. Break down the weapons and carry them on you. Leave the explosives in the cases, but make sure they’re well covered. Keep your head at all times… these guys are serious about what they said, and Jenny,” Csilla smiled, “get some decent clothes on.”
They reached the hotel without incident. They didn’t even have the most basic detection equipment at the spaceport. They passed through with cases full of explosives without even so much as a beep. By the time they got to their room, Jenny was fanning herself intensely, sweating profusely in the high neck, long sleeved, long dress they forced her and Brigette to wear. Once the door shut, she ripped off the collar, screaming “Oh my God, how do they stand these things?!”
“Practice.” Loosier muttered as he passed, setting down the case of explosives, covered over by jewelry. The sniper looked over at Csilla with a lazy eye. “Now what?”
“Now we wait.” Aurelius answered, plopping down in the overstuffed chair.
“Wait?” Brutus grunted, taking a seat on the bed.
“Wait for what?!” Jenny shot back.
“You mean you weren’t paying attention, sis?” Csilla smiled. “On Sunday, this entire planet shuts down. Once night hits, no one’s going to be out on the streets.”
“Except the goon squad.” Brigette added, managing to look relaxed in her own high-back dress.
“Did you see their soldiers?” Miller groaned. “Pathetic. We could slap them and they’d go down.”
Csilla shook his finger at them. “Don’t get too confident; don’t lose your edge. We’re still going to need it. We’ve got an open path between us and the weapons facility.”
“An open path of two miles,” Jenny noted, “and then another getting to the spaceport. I’m supposed to do that in this dress?”
Her brother shook his head. “You brought your trousers with you, right? Wear them. I don’t think they’re going to hesitate to shoot us during curfew if you’re wearing a dress or not.”
The next day came and things were going exactly as planned. It hadn’t taken them long to reach the facility, and with most of the guards missing, sneaking in was a piece of cake. Brigette remained back to protect Miller, who was busy covering the rest of the cell from the outside, his high-powered rifle watching all angles at a distance.
Hex was the point man, leading the way as the rest of them followed him into the facility. It didn’t take long to pick the lock on the rear doors and they went on through. In fact, Csilla was getting nervous. Everything was happening far too easily. “Hex.” he mouthed into his subvocal com.
“I want you to run around the place, look for anything unusual. Hidden troops, traps, automated sentinels… anything.”
“You got it.” the boy disappeared, making his way through the darkened corridors of the place, while the rest of the team fanned out, placing their explosives all over the main reactor powering the place.
It didn’t take them long. In the simulation, they had got it down to three minutes. Hex reappeared as they assembled back in the control room. “Nothing, Sill.”
“It’s happening too easily.” Aurelius muttered under his breath.
Jenny checked her remote control. “All explosives ready and charged. In five minutes, this place is going straight to hell.”
“Time to go.” Brutus finished her sentence.
Csilla still wasn’t convinced. Activating the com, he mouthed, “Miller, report.”
Miller Loosier was lying down, watching the world around him from the top of a roof, only a few blocks away. It was the tallest building around, allowing the sniper an unobstructed view of the facility. The com came in and he was there to answer. “Yeah?”
“Any activity out there?”
“It’s dead. These idiots don’t know perimeter defense worth squat.”
“It’s a clear path all the way out then?”
Miller checked one more time through his scope. “No problems. Now stop yapping and get flapping.”
Brigette was sitting next to him. “What was that all about?”
“Sill’s just be nervous. He’s coming out.”
“About time.” she sighed.
Loosier stopped looking through the scope a moment and turned toward the girl. “You know that Hex guy?”
“Yeah?” Brigette replied, looking a bit confused.
“He loves you… he’s just too chicken-shit to realize it.”
She snapped her head back toward the complex as if she’d been slapped. “If he doesn’t know himself, how do you?”
“I watch people, Brig. I’m good at it.” Miller replied. “Trust me, he loves you. Just thought you should know.”
“Thanks.” the girl muttered, then returned to watching the night around her.
Loosier went back to the scope. Suddenly, he tensed, and looked back at Brigette. “Shit! Brig, take a look at this!”
The girl rushed over to the sniper rifle and looked through the lens. “What is it? I don’t see…”
With one practiced move, Miller put his hands on her throat, made a quick move, and snapped her neck. “Stupid girl.” he muttered, then kissed her lips as she gave her dying breath. He quickly collapsed his rifle, set a timed charge on Brigette’s chest, and made his way to the stairwell. I don’t have much time, the sniper thought, running down the steps.
The team rushed out of the facility; no guards barred their way. It didn’t take long to reach their avenue of escape, a covered alleyway that ran half the length between them and the spaceport. As soon as they reached it, Csilla commed out. “Miller, Brigette. Charges are set, let’s go.” No response. “Miller. Brigette. Come in.” Again, no response.
“Where the hell are they?” Jenny moaned.
“Got to go!” Brutus grunted in reply.
“We can’t leave…”
Aurelius was about to stay for them, when Hex pushed him down the alleyway. “Come on! We don’t have time for them!”
“Damn it!” Csilla shot back. “We can’t just leave them!”
“They’ll meet up with us back at the transport, I’m sure of it!” I hope so, he thought. “Let’s go!”
“Come on, bro,” Jenny chimed in, “let’s go.”
Slowly, relunctantly, the leader joined them, running down the forgotten street towards safety. They didn’t even stay to watch as the weapons facility exploded in a fierce burst of pyrotechnic fury.
Then the transport was missing.
“Missing?!” Jenny screamed. “It’s not missing, it’s fucking GONE!”
“Don’t ‘sis’ me, bro! We’re fucked!”
Brutus looked up at them. “What do we do now?”
“SURRENDER!” came the voice from the loud speaker. Suddenly, the formerly empty spaceport was filled with gun-toting civilians, charging towards them. “DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED!”
“Like hell.” Jenny growled, raising her plasma revolver.
Hex saw his short life flash before his eyes. As the weapon went up, the boy desperately screamed. “NO!”
Everything happened so fast. Jenny Aurelius was instantly blasted by a volley of plasma fire. Suddenly Brutus grew into Crinos, only to be cut down by constant blasts. Csilla tried to run for one of the pressure doors, but he never even got close, cut down with two shots to the head. Hex didn’t get a chance to react. A hit in the shoulder spun him around, just in time to be pinned by the falling body of Brutus.
As pain ripped through his body, Hex saw the shocked faces of the Righteous Army troopers rushing over him. “He’s still alive,” one of the deacons noticed, “get him.”
Those were the last words he heard before he passed out.
Major Alistar Dimiye was sweating over a hunk of metal, performing maintenance on his Mark 100 power armor, fighting back his exhaustion with every breath that he took. The Ninth Division had been going full tilt for days now, and with a sudden break in the action, everyone was using their spare time to run checks on their power armor. Now that they were hidden just outside the capital city, they were enjoying the rest their limited safety had to offer. As he finished retuning the nanobot modification component, he looked over to a HAP soldier repairing breaches in her armor.
Everyone in the division is wearing the black and white of the Dead Boy Brigade, he realized as he looked at her armor’s new design. Well… they've earned it by now. Hell, we've all got one foot in the grave, and the HAP heads are closer to death than any of us. As his eyes passed over her, he noticed the soldier's rank and took a closer sniff. She's not juiced up… oh, she must be Spyder's new XO, that one he asked me to transfer. What was her name again?
Sergeant-Major Justine D'Amprisi jumped up as Dimiye approached her. "Sir!"
"At ease, sergeant-major. Just wondering how you're holding up."
The tense NCO relaxed for the first time in days. "Fine, sir… just fine."
"I understand you and Major Spyder are responsible for nipping many of our discipline problems in the bud. I thank you."
Justine was shocked; it was like she'd never been thanked by an officer before. "Thank you, sir. After Babylon, I didn’t know where I was going. Thank you for letting me to transfer into this unit."
“Have you known Spyder long?”
The werewolf noticed the gleam in her eye when he said the major’s name. “A couple years now. We met after boot.”
“Really? What happened?”
“We… volunteered for this project, you know, making a better training program for mages and what not.” Alistar could see her shoulders clench as she talked about. “They put through all sorts of hell. Mal… Major Spyder helped me through that.”
Dimiye smiled. "You love him, don't you?"
D’Amprisi’s eyes went wide. "Sir?!"
"Just making conversation, don’t panic.”
“It’s not a normal question.”
“It’s hardly a normal world,” the major shot back, “that doesn’t make the negate the question. Do you love him?"
The blood rushed to her cheeks and she uncomfortably twisted around. She finally managed a small nod. "Yes, sir…very much."
Dimiye smiled once again. "Good.” At least they can admit it, he thought to himself, they do seem to be happy together. “Very well, sergeant-major… carry on." Alistar finally made his escape, returning to his suit repairs.
Malachi Spyder had been coming to get her, but as he approached, the major had watched the exchange distance. With jealousy creeping up inside him, he finally ran over. "Tina… what the hell was that all about?!”
Alistar stepped inside the suit again after finishing up his diagnostic. As he cycled through the testing programs, everything appeared to be running normally. Then he went to access a file in his suit's database when he found it: Delphi35. I don't remember putting this in here, he thought. Curious, he opened the file; the image of his grandmother appeared on his HUD.
"My darling boy, if you’re reading this, that means that I’ll soon come for you."
Great Buddha! How did she slip this into my suit?!
"I couldn't bare to tell you what…what you needed to know, the last time we met. I never break a promise, so here’s the court report you asked for, the one that explains your parent's death.”
Nana’s face grew more strained as she spoke. “I want you to know that I love you so much! Nothing will ever change that, nosvidania…my little angel. Keep yourself on the path." His grandmother’s image then disappeared from the HUD, leaving only a text document on his display.
This is it, he realized, all the waiting and wondering is over. Now I get my answers… so why am I so scared? After a deep breath, he built up his courage, opening the file in front of him.
Alistar Soldati Dimiye, born March 25th 2222, Harrison Station, Port Arthur. Son of Tonya and Demetri Dimiye, an industrial worker and a plant manager respectively, who were loving parents, as far as my research has shown. His school records showed no signs of outward hostility or aggression. All subjects interviewed who knew the boy described him as being a sweet, helpful, thirteen-year-old. These subjects were so insistent on this point that none of them are convinced of the boy's heritage and have blatantly denied the facts..
Friends and relatives alike have called the local authorities to ask when the boy is to be released. Members of Alistar's immediate family have already filed suit with the station in order to gain custody of him. This case is currently pending the outcome of the boy's criminal trial. For that purpose, this brief will be entered as a point of record.
The details of this incident are vague at best. The boy and his parents went to the local commerce mall together around noon on Saturday. Once there, Alistar broke off from his parents to play with some of his friends, who were also at the mall. Eyewitnesses stated that an argument broke out between Alistar and a few of the other children. That is when the first victim, Mr. Adam Pitemkin, approached the boys to break up the fight which had started. Eyewitness accounts after this point cease.
From the forensic evidence obtained by this point, Alistar transformed into an animal form which I believe his people call Crinos. Post-mortem revealed that all nine victims succumbed to their wounds consistent with an animal attack, including the late Tonya and Demetri Dimiye. The arresting officers reported that they found the boy in his home later that night. He was comatose, naked, and covered in blood.
All the evidence in this case is consistent with a were-wolf encounter. It is my professional opinion that Alistar and his entire family were unaware of the boy's supernatural physiology. Routine health tests preformed on members of his immediate family showed no signs of Garou gene formations. My interviews with Alistar have convinced me that not only is he unaware of what he is, but that he has no recollection of the events which transpired during his transformation. In my opinion, that is probably for the best.
In summary, the boy is both a danger to himself and to others due to what he is, not who he is. In regards to the nine counts of manslaughter currently against him, I judge him to be incompetent to stand trial on the grounds of his age and currently reduced mental facilities. Therefore, I am recommending that he be conscripted into the Earth Federation's Technical Infantry Forces, where he can be better trained to use and control his powers. If he is allowed to return to his family, he may never get the proper training he needs, and a further incident like this is inevitable.
Dr. Julius Herbert
Chief Psychological Advisor, Port Arthur
Alistar looked numbly at the report. The late Tonya and Demetri Dimiye…no…I couldn't have. His mind tried to protest, but it stopped as quickly as it had started. I am a monster…
Suddenly, a brilliant swirl of blue and white light appeared before him. "Now you truly understand,” the mighty Polaris revealed, “now you're ready to fulfill your destiny."
Dimiye could do or say nothing. His totem had spoken. Here I am… trapped on the path of blood. A path I have no choice but to follow, set before me at the very beginning; a terrible trick of the universe.
“Some are never born for greatness, my son,” the glowing spirit tried to explain, “some never know their calling. You, however, are blessed. You have been perfectly honed and sharpened for one task... to kill. Nothing can stand in your way now. You shall kill until there is nothing left. You shall become an elemental force of the universe.”
As the light dimmed, Alistar felt cold, alone in the universe. In the darkness of his armored suit, nobody watched as the great war hero… cried.
“You’re overreacting!” Justine shouted.
“Am I?” Malachi shot back. “Suddenly you’re shacking up with the werewolf?”
“He wanted to talk.. that’s all.”
“He doesn’t talk to anyone!” Spyder’s anger grew with each word he spoke. “Even that command sergeant-major of his…”
“Yeah, him. He’s been with him since he crawled out of… God knows where, and he hardly speaks to him.”
“You can hardly blame him.” D’Amprisi replied. “We’ve been on this rock for almost a week. We’re all going crazy from the fighting!”
“So you thought you’d help him relax?!”
“Mal! You can be a fucking asshole, you know that?!”
“Tina, I care about you. Dimiye’s a good commander, but he’s a time bomb, can’t you see that? Sooner or later, he’s going to go off!”
“Oh, and you’re more stable?”
“What do you mean by that?!”
“Mister ‘I’m too stupid to run a gun-running business without getting caught by the TI!’”
“You know it was Max who set me up!”
“You were a fuck-up from day one, Mal, and the whole world fucking knows it!”
Spyder brought back his fist to punch her, but as he swung, he suddenly stopped himself, smashing his bare knuckles into the wall behind her. Malachi winced at the pain and started to breathe faster, stopping at the verge of crying. “Tina, I…”
The major suddenly found himself flying through the air, landing as on his back as his girlfriend threw him back across the alley they were standing in. Malachi felt the pain rippling through his body like an electric spark. By the time he opened his eyes, D’Amprisi was over him, tears falling from her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Mal. I didn’t mean to…”
He managed to lift his hand and touch her cheek. “No, Tina. It was my fault. I don’t know what came…” Malachi brought his other hand up to cradle her face. “I would never hurt you, Tina, I… love you.”
A smile creeped along her face, framed by his comforting hands. “I love you, too, Mal.” She brought her face down, her eyes closing, her lips parting. However, just as the lips met, there was the sudden roar of an explosion… too close.
“Shit!” Spyder exclaimed. “The fucking Fed found us!”
The enemy troops were coming in hard and fast as Dimiye looked at his situation screen. The flanks were in danger of collapsing. His division was on the defensive, the enemy outnumbered them several times over, and there were no point defenses or bunkers to protect them. The Ninth Division was getting ripped apart by the attacks. Finally, the major bit down on his dentcom as explosions rocked the city block.
"Right flank, reform at coordinates 005-13-5. Left flank, fall back to the rear. We're gonna pinwheel these bastards."
Dimiye looked out a window at the carnage. Whoever's in charge must be pissed off at us. Every unit on this continent is coming for us. The multitude of incoming blips confirmed it. We can't hold here, time to fly.
"Boss, we can't hold here!" Peter Benjamin seemed to mimick his own thoughts.
"Dimiye to all reserve units. Clear a safe path back to the shuttles and wait for evac! All units prepare to evacuate to the shuttles in rushes. 1st Brigade…GO!"
"Evac? Where to?! Those fuckers are everywhere!!!" his sensor officer cursed.
"Stand fast!" Benjamin bellowed. "Maintain dis…" His words were cut off as an enemy shell tore through the room. A brilliant blue light engulfed the armored warriors and knocked them down. Dimiye was the first to rise.
"All units…" he grimaced in pain. "Fall back to shuttles." Alistar slowly brought himself up as he could feel his body healing itself, trying to survey the current situation.
Several of his men were down; one of them had his helmet off and was spewing blood from his neck. Peter…
He rushed over to his side and clamed his hand down on Peter's neck. Warm blood pumped over his hand and slipped through his fingers as Peter gasped for breath.
"NO! Don't you fucking die on me, Peter! DON'T YOU FUCKING DIE ON ME!!!"
"I…I can… I can… ah…" Benjamin gurgled.
"Medic! I need a medic over here!"
"Boss…" Peter managed. "I’m sorry…"
Tears were streaming down Alistar's face. "Don't try to talk, Pete."
“I’m sorry… I…” Suddenly, the light faded from Peter's eyes, his heart stopped, and his body went limp in Alistar's arms.
He felt nothing. As Dimiye cradled the body of his departed friend in his arms, he felt nothing, like he had gone numb all over. Once again, he realized… the monster understood it all. Anyone who comes close to me dies. They fall in my footsteps, following me in the path of blood.
Alistar went deaf; the noise of the battle erupting around went away. He just sat there, holding Peter’s body; the last shred of humanity he had had taken away. Finally, as time had no meaning, something shook him out of it. "Sir!” Malachi screamed, trying to drag him to his feet. “We've got to get out of here!"
Polaris has left me nothing, Dimiye thought, managing to stand as he tossed the dead body aside. All that’s left is honor and death. The division commander finally looked over at Spyder, still desperately trying to drag him away, like an ant trying to move a rock. “No.”
“Leave me. Get everyone aboard the shuttles."
"Sir, we can't leave you!" Malachi screamed, the artillery pounding closer and closer to them.
Alistar pivoted, aimed, and fired his gauss cannon, ripping the floor at their feet. "LEAVE ME!!!” the major screamed. “I'll hold them.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“I’ll hold them long enough for the division to escape. Reach the New African continent and hook up with the 27th Army.” The path of blood ends NOW.
“That's an order." he growled at Spyder, standing there dumbfounded. “Move."
Finally the major left, running like antelopes chased by a lion, as the shells ripped the buildings around them. Not out of respect, Dimiye knew, standing there alone in the ruining building, but from fear. Fear of the man they'd followed into the lion's den.
Dimiye watched with fascination as the sea of Federation troops rushed towards him. Time to end this game. Come, slay the monster… send him back to hell. But before I go, you’re coming with me!
As the enemy power armor reached him, Alistar charged out from the building, naked before the enemy guns.
END OF EPISODE SIX
Andy B. (Richter): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 personality + 5 story + 5 good orders + 5 early turn-in = 40 points.
Andy W. (Hex): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 points.
Chris (Treschi): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 personality + 5 good orders = 30 points.
Ed (O’Reilly): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 personality + 5 good orders + 5 story = 35 points.
Frank (Dimiye): Withdrawn from the game.
Josh (Spyder): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 points.
Martin (Von Shrakenberg): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 good orders + 5 story = 30 points.
Matt (Smith): 5 points per act orders x 4 = 20 points + 5 early turn-in = 25 points.
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.