“I wish I would have met you, but now it’s a little late.

 What you could have taught me; I could have saved some face.

 They think that your early ending was all wrong.

             For the most part, they’re right, but look how they all got strong.”


                                                                        -- Filter, “Hey Man, Nice Shot.”


Malachi Spyder watched the outside monitor as the shuttle took off.  The major had held true to his promise; Dimiye had held them off for long enough for everyone to make it.  Once they made their escape, there was no way they could get shot down from this range.  As the tiny craft juggled and jostled through the choppy air, he managed to make his way up toward the front. Once at the cockpit, the major turned to the co-pilot. “You got an extra com here?”

The pilot looked back at him like he had just turned into a bug. “Um, sir? Who are you trying to call?”

“We need to get in touch with General Fabin.”

“Sir,” the co-pilot turned to him, “our radio’s not going to reach orbit without help. You’re going to need a micro-burst transmitter.”

“I think Lieutenant Fischer on the next shuttle, sir. He’s got our only one.”

“Well,” Spyder grunted in frustration, “thanks anyway.”

The major picked his way through the crowded shuttle, hoping to find a friendly face among all the grunts. They looked at him with suspicion. I’ve led these men, he thought, but they still don’t know me. Something’s gotta change.

There, near the end of the large shuttle, was Justine. She sat there staring out the tiny window. The sergeant-major seemed distracted, as if someone would come through the door at any moment. “Tina?”

She turned and looked over at her lover. “Yes, sir?”

Oh, we have to pretend we’re professional, Malachi scoffed mentally, even though everyone in the unit knows we’re together. “You all right?”

Her eyes looked up at him, sitting on the verge of tears. “Is it true?”

Spyder managed to sit down next to her. “What?”

“Major Dimiye. Is he… dead?”

Malachi looked out the window. I wish he would come through it, he thought, I’m not ready for this. “Yes.”

“Did you see him die?”

“I saw him walk off toward the enemy, Tina. He held them off long enough for us to escape. He saved everybody.” Spyder looked once again out the window, watching the clouds pass by.

“Then he might not be dead!”

“Tina,” the major replied, “I know he was good, but no one walks into that many troops and survives. He’s dead.”


“Face it, Tina!” Spyder whispered harshly. “He’s dead!”

She brought his power armored chest closer and whimpered against the nanotech skeleton. Malachi just stood there, protecting her tough image, while letting the woman inside her cry. All of them caught in events that none of them could have predicted, lost in the white clouds above Avalon.


On the ground, with the warm New African sun on his back, Malachi soon found Fischer and his micro-burst transmitter. “Lieutenant, get me through with Fabin.”

“On the Ariadne, sir?”

“On the moon for all I care!” Spyder snapped. “Just get him!”

“Yes, sir.” Fischer replied, quickly adjusting the controls.

Soon the screen showed the grainy image of General Fabin. “Ground Command.”

“Sir, this is Major Spyder, Dead Boys. We’ve been forced to fall back to the New African continent…”

Joel shot him a strange look. "Why am I talking ta your lame ass, major? Let me speak ta your commander!"

Spyder hesitated before responding.  “I'm afraid that Major Dimiye couldn't make it out."  He said the last sentence quietly, as though if no one could hear it it wouldn't be true.

"Excuse me?"  The general sounded impatient, "I missed that last one."

"Major Dimiye is dead, sir."  Spyder spoke up.

"WHAT?!"  The general turned pale at the statement.

"Well, sir, he felt that the only way…”

“Al's dead?!"  Fabin’s body seemed to be rapidly draining of blood.

"Al, sir?"

"AL! Al Dimiye! That is… was… oh, f…”

The transmission cut off abruptly. Spyder turned to the lieutenant. “Get him back!”

“Sir, transmission cut at source!”

“Then get it back!”

“Sir,” Fischer pleaded, “we were already at our limit. If we transmit again, the enemy’s going to get a fix on our signal. We can’t allow that.”

Or rocks the size of skyscrapers are going to drop on our heads, he realized. “Very well. How long before we can try again?”

“Another couple hours, sir. That’ll be enough time to reestablish contact and keep our signal disguised. Besides,” Fischer patted the machine, “this baby needs to recharge.”

“Major Spyder!” called out an angry voice over the tall savanna grass.

Malachi’s head popped up and saw a power armor bouncing over towards him. It didn’t take long to figure out who it was. “Major Wilhelm?”

Fredrick Wilhelm was not pleased to see him. “Major, just what the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

“Contacting the ground forces commander.”

“That’s my job. In case you’ve forgotten, the chain of command falls to the 1st Brigade commander. That’s me.

Spyder knew Wilhelm had a grudge against him, ever since he joined the unit back in Babylon, but this was ridiculous. “Look, I was…”

“You’re trying to undermine my authority! I was with Major Dimiye a hell of a lot longer…”

That’s it, he thought, I’m sick of putting up with this crap. “Listen, Fred, I’ve been on this continent for an hour, setting up a perimeter, establishing a camp, and determining the wounded. The first time I hear from you is when I hit the transmitter.”

“That’s because that is your job, major.”

“Not for the whole division, major.”

“Are you questioning my authority?”

“No, I just wanna know what the fuck you’ve been doing with your time?!”

“I could write you up for insubordination, major.”

“Then you might as well write me up for this!” Malachi immediately took his armored fist and smashed it against Fred’s unprotected skull. The mage went down hard, and instantly, every trooper in hearing distance rushed over to the fight.

Spyder wasted no time. Leaping up, he brought his whole suit down on Wilhelm, pinning him to ground.  “You like that? You little brown-nosing shit?! Do ya?!”

Wilhelm flipped suddenly, knocking Malachi off him. As Spyder landed, he could see the huge crowd of troops around them. Fredrick tried to charge him, but as he did, Malachi projected intense pain into his opponents head. The attacker went down, screaming in terror.

Malachi quickly did a front kick and knocked Wilhelm back into the dirt of the savanna. As he did, he looked up into the crowd of shocked faces. “Does anyone else have a problem with my authority?!”

No one said a word, nor did anyone challenge him, as he walked out alone out of the circle of dead boys.


“Major Spyder? Are you there?"

Fabin seemed to be in much better mood than his previous call. “Yes, sir.”

“Your last call caught me off-guard, major. I was sure that tough son-of-a-bitch would outlast me.”

"We need our orders, sir.”  Malachi was bored. It had been a few days under the blistering hot New African sun and they were getting baked.

“Did you hook up with the Twenty-Seventh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then what’s ta trouble? Take your instructions from Major-General Cao.”

Spyder sighed. “Sir, General Cao states that we are ‘in desperate need of rest and relaxation.’ So he leaves us back in the deep reserve.”

“You don’t need R&R?”

“Sir, we’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s hot, and my boys are angry.”

“Not my problem, major.”

“Sir,” Malachi pleaded, “we all want to fight back. We owe it to Dimiye to hit them as hard as we can.”

"I understand. All right, major, take command of the division and head back towards the city. Give him some hell. I send Cao the release.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And Spyder, you’ve got some good men. Don’t make me regret this.”

“You won’t, sir.”

“Good. Discom."

When the signal dispersed, Spyder looked up into the bluer-than-blue sky. For a moment, he thought of the EFS Schaumberg, and the slow paced career he had so desperately wanted to get away from. Malachi smiled. God certainly has a sense of humor.




            “You got the sealant ready, Sihk?” Petty Officer Leisa Horton asked her coworker over the radio in her Righteous Army environmental suit. Baisihk Al-Jibraugh nodded and held the steel plate firmly against the wall of Dock 50 in the Phoenix Yards.  Leisa pressed the massive rivet gun against the plate and fired.  With a hiss of pressurized gas and a deafening clank, the gun punched a steel rivet through both the plate and the hull, fastening them together.  After popping two more rivets in place, Leisa and Baisihk quickly sprayed molten plastic sealant around the edges.  It quickly hardened into an airtight seal, mending the hole torn in the hull by flying wreckage from the Saint Andrew.  Both Leisa and Baisihk wore a shard of that wreckage around their necks on a chain… a souvenir of a job well done.

            “I think that’ll do it, Chief” Leisa said over the suit’s radio.  “Where do you want us next?”

            “Good morning, my fellow Warriors of the Cross,” the sword’s voice suddenly interrupted, booming though the station’s PA system.  “As most of you know, today brings a test to our resolve to complete our holy mission.”

“Seal the puncture over there.  It’s marked in red,” Chief Venkat-Ramani told them, pointing.

 “Many of our brethren have perished for the faith,” continued the announcement, “including Sword Augustus Simeon, when our flagship exploded this morning, an act of ruthless and cowardly sabotage by the enemies of God.  I ask now for a moment of silence to pray for our fallen brothers.” 

Leisa, Baisihk, and Maitri suddenly froze, frightened, staring at each other in the ensuing silence.

After a second, the announcement continued.  “The Lord, in his unerring wisdom, had his reasons for this tragedy, as we were able to catch the culprit before he could do more damage.  Commander O’Reilly, the depraved monster responsible for the atrocities in the Death Dock, has been arrested and held for questioning.  He will be executed tomorrow morning at 0800 hours in Dock 27.  All are expected to attend.  Take time to mourn for our brothers.  The wrath of God will be brought upon their murderer soon.”

The three former Fleet dock workers looked at each other apprehensively.  Baisihk and Maitri looked toward Leisa questioningly, and watched her face harden into anger and resolve as she looked down at the heavy rivet gun in her hands.  Finally she looked up at them, her jaw set.  “Chief,” she asked firmly, “I think it’s time for a coffee break, don’t you?”

“Yeah, it’s been a stressful day,” Maitri Venkat-Ramani agreed, “why not take an early break?”

 “Sihk, I think we’re going to need some more rivet guns for second shift.  Maybe some heavy laser cutters – you wanna get those from storage?” Leisa said, signaling with her eyes.  “Chief, I’m sure you can get him an equipment request.   I’ll round up the rest of our crew and meet you in the break room.”


“We’ve got to get to him somehow,” Leisa muttered to her coworkers over the chipped tabletop in a corner of the break room.  “They’re gonna question him and he’s gonna crack like a fucking egg.  He’s a pathetic worm,” she said, taping the tabletop, agitated.  “He could blow the whole goddamn network.”

“I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Maitri whispered skeptically, curling a lock of jet black hair around her finger, a nervous habit she had never been able to break.  “He could expose the project he’s on and maybe three other people,” the tall Hindu argued.  “If we stick our necks out, we could go down, too.”

“No, it’s more serious than that,” Leisa argued fiercely.  “they could get every person and every project out of him… no, we’ve got to get to him before the fundies do!”

“Leisa,” Baisihk reasoned, “only Smashie knows all that, and no one knows where he is!”

Leisa stared at Baisihk intently, drumming her fingers to control her impatience.  He didn’t get it.  “It’s more serious than that,” she repeated, finally.  After a second, Maitri suddenly gasped and nodded understandingly.  Baisihk still didn’t get it. 

“O’Reilly is Smashie, idiot!”  Chief Maitri hissed at him.

“Oh,” Baisihk said, suddenly realizing the implications.  “Fuck.”

“Fuck is right!” snapped  Leisa.  “If the Jesus Freaks find out about us, it’s over!  We can’t let that happen!  We’re all that’s keeping the crusaders form cranking out ships, and I don’t care who the hell has to die, the fucking crusaders are not gonna keep the Yards!”

Baisihk and Maitri were silent for a second, stunned by the ferocity of their cell leader. Suddenly the loudspeaker system interrupted with a loud message.   “ALL FORMER EARTH FLEET PERSONNEL RETURN TO THEIR QUARTERS IMMEDIATELY.  REMAIN THERE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

The foursome looked at each other silently for a several seconds, shocked and afraid.

“It’s starting already,” Leisa said in disgust. “That’s it, we gotta get to O’Reilly first.  Put your helmets on and pray no one recognizes us as Fleet – we’re going to the brig.”

Finally, Maitri nodded.  “Okay,” she whispered quietly, “what’s the rescue plan?”

“Rescue?”  Leisa echoed, looking at Maitri puzzled.  “Chief, we’re not gonna rescue him.  We have to kill him.”


            “Is he telling the truth?” Reks asked the chaplain, who struggled to discern the truth in Xinjao’s mind.  For several seconds, the chaplain was silent, not moving, unsure.

            “No…” the chaplain said doubtfully, “but he’s not lying, either…”

            Reks looked at him, confused. “What do you mean?”

            “It’s not a lie, but it’s not the truth either… “ the chaplain said, concentrating so hard he trembled.  “he’s making up names out of thin air.  He’s telling you what you want to hear… just to avoid the pain.”

Reks looked back at the fat terrified wreck.  “Do you think he knows?” he asked.

“I can’t tell…” the Chaplain said, unsure, “but he’d tell you if he did, I can tell that much, he’s desperate… no, I guess he doesn’t know.”

            Reks stood statue-still, controlling his rage.  Finally, he threw down to soldering iron in disgust. “Send out all available personnel to find this ‘Smashie’,” he ordered, turning to his soldiers, “and anyone else who might know anything.  Bring them in for questioning.  We must find all the spies in our midst before more lives are lost.  And as for this piece of filth…” Reks said, looking back at the naked, whimpering engineer, “throw him back in the brig… and get him a medic.  I want all our brothers to watch him burn tomorrow at 0800 – keep him alive until then.”

            Xinjao looked up hazily through his remaining eye at the person who approached.  The doctor who had replaced his hand looked back at him sadly, shaking his head as he opened his first aid kit.  “Jesus wept, O’Reilly,” he said, “you had a good position for a prisoner.  Why’d you have to go and do this?”


The guard on duty at the security desk looked up as four people in environmental suits carrying toolboxes walked up to the window.  “Can I help you?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah,” the tallest one said through the suit’s speakers.  “We’re here on assignment to repair the – shouldn’t you be in a suit?” they asked suddenly, a touch of concern in their voice.

“Suit?” the guard asked, confused. 

“There was a hull breach reported in the brig area, it was next on out list of holes to patch up…” the repairman said, looking down at a datapad.  “We were kinda expecting to find this place airless and depressurized.”

“Hull breach?” the guard asked, skeptically.  “I don’t think so.  I think I would have noticed that.  None of the walls are exposed to space, anyway.”

“No,” said one of the repairmen, checking his schematic, “but it does border on a depressurized bulkhead… I guess that means the bulkhead could have been ruptured.”

“Really?” the guard said, mildly surprised, “I didn’t know that.  Anyway, no one’s reported a hull breach that I know of.”

“Well…” the repairman said, confused, accessing a file on their datapad, “Yeah…  here it is, on the list, signed by the emergency repair foreman,” they said passing the datapad through the window. “See for yourself.”

“The guard picked up the datapad and read the orders, checking for authorization.  “Hmmm… looks legit,” he mumbled to himself, scrolling through the file.  He spun around to his companion in the security office.  “Hey, Rick,” he called out, “there been any hull breeches reported in security or the brig?”

“I haven’t heard of any.” Rick answered from within the office.

“Paperwork error?” the repairman asked his companions with a shrug.

“Could be.” one of them answered. “Things get pretty confused during an emergency.”

“Well,” another repairman said skeptically, “it could also be a slow leak from a molecular puncture that turned up on a scan.  Might not be noticed with the naked eye.”  He stepped up to the window and leaned toward the guard.  “You guys been having any headaches?  Lightheadedness?  Shortness of breath?  Colder than usual?”

“Uh, no… I don’t think so,” the guard answered, clearly growing uncomfortable. “Rick?”

“It is kinda chilly in here…” Rick shrugged.  “But then, it’s always cold in here…”

The repairmen looked at each other again.  “Move on to the next one?” one of them suggested.

“Weeelll…” another hesitated, “better not to take any chances with a hull breach.”  He turned back to the guard.  “Mind if we take a few tests, just to make sure?  Measure the air pressure, check air composition, scan the walls for microscopic fractures?”

The guard looked unsure.  He turned to his companion across the room, questioningly.  Rick shrugged and nodded.  “All right.” the guard agreed, hitting a switch that unlocked the door to security.

The team of repairmen entered and opened their toolboxes, pulling out tools and equipment.  They went through the motions of scanning and testing for pressure leaks in the room. 

“Looks fine in here,” Baisihk said with a shrug.  A series of glances and nods were exchanged between Leisa, Maitri and Bhanu, then Leisa crossed over to Rick, watching them somewhat nervously from his console.

“You keep a record of communication in and out of security?” Leisa asked Rick.  “I wanna see who reported the breach, and where…”

“Yeah, sure.” Rick agreed, turning toward his terminal while she watched over his shoulder.

“Mind letting us into the brig area so I can check in there?” Maitri asked the other security officer.  He nodded, flipped the switch to unlock the door, and led them down the rows of cells.  Maitri looked back at Leisa, questioningly.  Leisa nodded: now.

Without a second’s hesitation, Leisa quickly turned, pressed the barrel of the rivet gun again the back of Rick’s head, and fired.  The steel bolt shot through his head and crashed into the monitor in a shower of blood and sparks, along with most of his face.  She heard the hiss and pop of several rivets guns firing and a strangled cry behind her, followed quickly by the clank of bolts burying themselves into steel.  She turned in time to see the others staggering back, the recoil from the unbraced rivet guns almost knocking them over.

Leisa silently motioned them to get down and aim for the doors that led to the areas beyond the security office.  They waited for a few moments, but no one came through them… they were in luck.  No one had hear the security officer’s death cries. 

“Bhanu!” Leisa said softly, “watch the hallway, let us know if anyone is coming.  Sihk, get the weapon locker open, fast!  Maitri, keep an eye on the doors!”  Then she turned, pushed Rick’s body out of the chair, wiped his blood off of the screens, and pulled up the prison directory, trying to find which cell O’Reilly was in.  After searching for a few seconds, she stood suddenly, picked up the dead officer’s plasma revolver, and headed for the brig.

“Maitri, open Cell 7.  I’ll take care of this.  The rest of you keep a lookout,” Leisa called as she disappeared into the brig.  For a second, her cell looked at each other in shocked silence, appalled at their cell leader’s calm ruthlessness.  For a second, they all feared her.  Then they slowly returned to their tasks.  Baisihk continued to try to override the combination lock on the weapons locker with trembling, numbed fingers.  No one entered the normally busy security office.   It was quiet… too quiet.

“This place is deserted…” Bhanu mumbled, “that ain’t right, man, most of the security team should be here… think it’s a trap?” he asked, worried.

“They would let two soldiers and a prisoner die for a trap,” Maitri reminded him, “there’s gotta be another reason…” she explained as she looked over the communication records Rick had pulled up.  “Yeah, here it is.  Most of the security team was sent on some massive manhunt in Dock 14 about twenty minutes ago… damn, we really lucked out!”

A sudden burst of curses irrupted the conversation.  Leisa burst out of the brig, furious.  “We’re too late, he’s not in there!  They must be interrogating him already, godammit!  Shit!” she exclaimed. Leisa stood there for a second, trying to figure out what to do. “Okay,” she decided. “We either gotta find where they took him and shut him up, or get him afterwards and find out what he told them.  Find out where he is, fast!  Sihk! You got that damn locker open yet?”

Frantically the team searched for any kind of record that would tell them where O’Reilly had been taken, but their search was fruitless.  Their quick in-and-out mission was dragging on forever, their nerves growing more strained with every minute that passed.  It was only a matter of time until the messy murders in the security office were discovered, and none of them wanted to be there when it happened.  Baisihk had finally managed to get the weapon locker open, only to discover it was empty except for one plasma rifle that appeared to be broken.  Sihk was working furiously trying to fix it.

“There’s gotta be a way to find him, there’s gotta be…” Leisa muttered to herself, desperately.

“Shit!” Bhanu called out in a harsh whisper.  “Someone’s coming!”

“How many?!” Leisa asked as she raised her plasma revolver and moved for cover.

“Six!  We’re fucked! Wait… I don’t believe it! It’s fucking O’Reilly!


Xinjao hobbled down the corridor in agony, flaked by four guards and the doctor.  The Doc had patched O’Reilly up as best he could, but broken ribs and noses would take time to heal. However, his eye was gone for good.  He kept looking to his right, expecting something to be blocking his peripheral vision… but nothing ever was.  Dammit, I had just gotten all my limbs accounted for, too, Xinjao thought.

He knew this trip was his best chance for escape, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how to overpower six people… and frankly, he didn’t know if he had the energy.  He still had the plasma revolver he had hidden among the machinery in his prosthetic hand, but his arms were secured behind him, making it hard to use.  Hell, he could end up shooting himself in the ass…

“What the HECK?!”

O’Reilly looked up.  They had just entered the security office just before the brig.  One of the soldiers escorting him stared in surprise at a smoking access terminal covered in blood.  A dead security officer lay next to the chair. Several other bodies littered the ground in deep red puddles of their own blood.  The soldiers around him exclaimed in alarm and reached for their weapons. Suddenly they heard the office door slam shut behind them.  O’Reilly turned just in time to see someone in an RA environmental suit, who was hiding behind the door, shoot the man next to Xinjao.  As he fell, the air lit with noise and confusion.

O’Reilly’s guards gunned down the attacker in a hail of plasma.  Suddenly another guard fell to the ground, plasma burns across his back.  They turned to face another person in a suit sniping at them from behind a terminal.  O’Reilly dropped to the ground and rolled onto his back, trying to squeeze his legs through his handcuffed arms so he could use his wrist weapon.  As he struggled on the floor, he saw a corpse suddenly roll over and fire at his guards with a rivet gun, killing one of them.  O’Reilly finally managed to bring his arms up for a shot…

The Doc stood in the center of the madness, frozen in place, completely dumbfounded by what was happening. He looked over and saw Xinjao on the ground, holding out his arms to him.  Out of instinct, the Doc reached out his hand to help him…

The Doc fell dead to the ground, a hole burned through his chest.  There was only silence for a few seconds. As the smoke drifted toward the ceiling. O’Reilly looked around at the two people in suits ran over to their fallen comrade.  “Thank God!” Xinjao cried, as he moved to stand.  “If you guys hadn’t—“

The “corpse” launched her self at him.  Xinjao was thrown on this back as the small, dark-haired, pale-skinned, blood-covered woman straddled him and rammed a sharpened screwdriver under his chin.

“Don’t move, you fat bastard!” Leisa cried, as she twisted the screwdriver into his fat flesh.  “Now tell us what you told the fundies before I ram this into your brain, you fucking traitor!!”




Jenny raised her gun and was instantly cut down; Brutus’ body exploded into Crinos and was immediately pulverized; Sill tried to escape but instead took two shots to the head… it was all happening so fast.  He could sense Calvin being blown away behind him… then something incredible happened.

A blinding yellow light filled the room for a moment, and everything stopped.  Suddenly, a man in his early thirties stood directly in front of Hex.  Nothing about this man had color; even his expressionless face seemed somehow drained of all its hue.  There was a strange air about him that made Hex believe he wasn’t really there, and he wouldn’t have believed that he was there if he hadn’t spoken.

“You have failed them, Hex.”

The child looked about the room, but everything he saw was in shades of blue.

“You have failed them,” repeated the statue-looking man,” just as you failed Xaktos eight years ago.”  The child stared at the statue blankly, as though he did not understand.  They stood in silence for a moment.

“Remember,” the gray man commanded, holding out his right hand.

The memory was forced to come to him over and over again.

The blackness of the deep sleep test tube trapped him as an eight-year-old, but he could still hear, see, and feel all that was transpiring in the Project Zeus research facility.  The other children were fighting the enemy, but all of them were killed mercilessly by the veteran Tech Infantry platoon.  He could feel the platoon and Atkins coming to the lab… he could see Atkins gloating over Xaktos… he heard Xaktos’ promise of revenge…

“Just as you failed Xaktos, you have now failed your new family.  You can’t protect them, Hex.  You can’t protect anything.  Don’t even try to.  You will fail.  They did not create you to protect.  They created you to eradicate all who stood before them.”  The gray man still showed no emotion on his face or in his voice as the boy stood silent.

“If I had been as powerful now as I am in my time, I could have easily stopped all of this from happening.”  He paused.  “Don’t worry, Hex.  They are dead now.  They can’t feel anything.  You are the only one in pain now,” the gray man paused and smiled, ”but pain is important. It builds character.  Let this pain and anger empower you, and use the power to take your revenge, though nothing will ever quench your thirst for blood now.”

Hex was about to speak, but suddenly the gray man disappeared in another flash of light, and in his place he saw hot plasma.  He watched helplessly as it burned into his shoulder.


He awoke with a start in his bunk in the transport’s bunkroom.  What the hell?  Slowly he realized that it had all been a dream.  None of them had really died.  He jumped out of his bunk and looked at the other bunks.  All of them were empty.  He heard sounds coming from the mess hall, and immediately ran for the door—but when the door opened, the transport’s interior was not on the other side.  Instead, he was in some sort of military hospital.  Instinctively, he turned around and looked back into the bunkroom.  He saw three men lying on the floor, presumably dead.  As he walked over to check their pulses and take their weapons, the bunkroom suddenly changed into a hospital bedroom.

Hex stopped dead in his tracks and soon realized what was happening. The cell really was dead. He had been captured by the Righteous Army. As he turned around, the boy quickly understood; only one of the men was dead, the other two had been knocked out when he ran past them out the door.  He had no idea where the bunkroom came from, but he didn’t have time for that at the moment.

They were aiming their revolvers at him, but he was too close and too fast, kicking one of the men in the stomach, but his kick went into both of their faces, and they both flew backwards.  He immediately dove into invisibility, embracing the cold of non-existence this time, for it was much kinder to him than reality ever was.

“ENOUGH!” a voice screamed and all the men walked away from where Hex had been. Even the boy was frozen by the sound and his eyes turned toward the figure dressed in the black suit, chain around his neck, and wearing a white armband.

The figure stepped forward into the room and looked straight at Hex’s non-corporeal form. “You have nothing to be afraid of, my son. Come out and join us.”

The boy shook off the confusion in his mind. No way in hell I’m believing this guy, he reasoned, time to get out of here. Hex launched a flying kick into the black suit. The man held out his right hand… and the invisible man hit an invisible wall a foot from his target.

“Please come out, my son.” His left hand came out in a gesture of greeting.

Hex reluctantly came back to reality, appearing before the man in a blaze of heat, but the boy managed to hold himself steady under the pressure of the burning warmth of his body.

The black suit smiled. “Thank you. I’m sorry if they frightened you. Sometimes the soldiers of the Lord are not the most reliable souls.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m sorry,” the man put his hands down, rattling his chain, “I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Ira Weiss, Lieutenant of the Faithful, Minister of the Faith.” The black suit angled his white armband toward Hex, decorated with three linked circles, as if to signify something.

The boy didn’t understand whatever he implying. “My name’s Hex. When are you going to kill me?”

Weiss laughed. “No, Hex. We’re not going to kill you. You’re too… fascinating to kill.”

“Fascinating?” I’ve never heard myself described like that, he thought.

“Yes.” Ira looked over at the men around him. “Take that body and leave us.”  The men were scared; they quickly grabbed their fallen friend and scurried out the door. As soon as they were alone, the lieutenant turned back to the young man. “Do you see this?”

Hex looked where he was pointing, back into the bunkroom. The boy still couldn’t believe his eyes; it looked exactly like the transport. “It’s…”

“It’s an illusion.” Weiss explained. “You put it there.”


The lieutenant waved his hand and the “bunkroom” changed back to the simple hospital room it originally was. “Your mind created a sense of comfort… your friends’ ship, I assume, which our navy has been unable to find.” Weiss waved to a point behind him. “Take a seat.”

Hex turned to see a chair that wasn’t there a minute before. The boy sat down instinctually. When he turned back, the lieutenant was also seated… but there was no chair. “What’s going on?”

“I think you know.”

“No, I don’t.” the boy shot back.

“From what I can tell, you awakened at a young age.” The room suddenly turned from white walls to a uniform shade of green. “This is always difficult, even for adults, with years of experience in what they believe is reality. But you…” the green coalesced into trees, creating a forest around them, “…you never had that advantage. For you, reality has always been fluid. Now that your power is increasing, you have no sense of balance, no grip on reality to anchor yourself on. It’s been difficult for you, but you have no concept of what you can become.”

Hex was becoming unnerved by the forest around him. “Take us back.”

“Back? Back where?”

“To the hospital!” the boy screamed, his senses becoming frayed. Too much is happening at once, his mind realized.

“We’ve never left. Or to put it another way, we’re in the forest AND we’re in the hospital. It’s all the same place in the end.”

“Take us back!”

Weiss became deadly serious, staring into Hex’s eyes. “You do it.”

Hex closed his eyes and began to see the hospital back in his mind. “Take me back… take me back…” he began to mutter. When he opened his eyes again, they were back in the hospital… but they were both standing.

“You see, Hex, you’ve been given a great gift. You probably despise it. So did I.” Ira led the boy over to a pair of chairs and they both sat down. “When I was… well, much younger than you, all I wanted to do was sing. I had a beautiful voice and I wanted to praise the Lord with all my heart.” Weiss crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. To Hex, it looked like some of meditation technique, like the ones he had learned in the Center. It was always difficult for him; the black suit made it look natural. “Then one day, I woke up. I learned that the world is fluid and it scared me. It scared my family, my friends, everyone. Then one day, they sent me away, forced me into the Tech Infantry. I didn’t want to go. They took me away from everything I had ever known. The only thing I had left was my faith.”

“Great,” the boy mumbled, “you’re a chaplain.”

Ira sighed; the man knew he wasn’t getting through to him. “No, Hex.”

“But you said you were a Minister of the Faith.”

“Minister of the Faith doesn’t mean chaplain.” Weiss smiled. “At least, not in the Christian Federation. My job is to help you understand, and accept, what you are.”

“I know what I am.” Hex shot back. “And I know who you are. And I know I don’t want to be here!” The boy suddenly drew a circle with his fingers and stepped through.

The next thing he knew, the teenager was in an empty hangar. Hex wasted no time and ran for the door. Before he could, Weiss walked out from behind a pile of crates. “Do you think you can run away so easily?”

Hex sidestepped and found himself on a beach. The boy looked around and saw no one around… not for miles. The beach rose up into a hill and the teenager rushed up towards it. As he reached the top, again he saw no one and nothing except green hills for miles. “Quite beautiful, isn’t it?”

He spun around to see Lieutenant Weiss lounging on the grass beside him. The minister looked up at him and smiled. “Why do you insist on playing this game?”

Hex ran again, running from the green hills into a rocky landscape. The mountain towered above him like a colossus with snow covering everything. The wind was kicking up, driving the chill through the boy’s bones. As the teenager rushed through the boulder strewn landscape, there was a peculiar whooshing sound. Suddenly, Ira skidded to a stop in front of him, dressed in full winter gear, wearing skis. “Cold enough for you?”

“AAAH!” The boy screamed, turning around, rushing through the streets of a city in the early morning light. He ran until he could run no more… and then kept running. Finally, he found himself at a church, and collapsed in front of it.

As he gasped for breath, Hex could hear the sounds of a man’s voice singing. When he looked up, sitting there on the steps in front of him, was the lieutenant. “But since we’ve got no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Between breaths, the boy gasped, “Why are you doing this to me?!”

“Because you’re fascinating, Hex. I told you that. I want to help you.”


“You’re never alone, Hex. None of us are.” His hand waved in an arc above his head. “We’re surrounded by angels every day. When you know that, you’ll never be scared again.”

“That’s crazy!”

Ira closed his eyes and stood up. Walking down the steps, he placed his hand over Hex’s eyes, and spoke softly. “Oh Lord, open his eyes, so he may see.” When he removed his hand, the boy jumped in surprise. All around them, flying high above and standing beside him, were angels. They were translucent, not quite discernable against the light… and beautiful. There were so many that they seemed to crowd the sky.




            Alone in this dimly lit place of God, the young man walked up to the abbot in the chapel. Dressed in the purest of white gowns, he knelt before his elder, knowing he would be alone no longer. Now I will take my place among the righteous, he thought as the abbot placed his hands on his head, soon I will be one with God.

"Do you except the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"


            "Do you reject Satan in all of his forms?"


            The abbot dipped his head back into a small pool of water, washing away all his previous misdeeds. When he brought his head back up, a cool temperance filled him.

            "Arise and be counted…Brother Caleb."

In that small, quiet space, the abbot had named him in the eyes of God.


            Caleb calmly waited in his new commander's office. As his eyes crossed around the room, he noticed that it was clean and had few decorations. Good, he approved, a man not concerned with earthly trappings.

            After his quick view, his new commander walked in, his plain clothes adorned only with the white armband with a triangle written on it. "Ah, Brother…?”

“Caleb, sir.” the young man went to stand to pay his elder respect.

“Please stay seated, Brother Caleb. " He took a seat behind his desk. “My name is Harrell Rogers, Captain of the Faithful.” The officer took a closer look at his new recruit. “You're probably wondering why you're here."

            "Yes, sir, I am." he said calmly.

            The captain opened a file on his datapad and put on his reading glasses. "You're from Beowulf, correct.?"

            "Yes, sir."

            He smiled. "So am I. You also attended the engineering college at Visa?"

            "Yes, sir, I did."

            "What did you specialize in there?"

            "Mechanical and Astro Engineering, sir."

            Rogers leaned back in his chair. “Did you have Professor Cajigas there?”

            Caleb smiled. “Yes, sir. Hardest calculus teacher I ever had.”

            “Yeah,” Harrell smiled back, “I needed a tutor and I still barely passed her class.” The captain turned back to his datapad. "And since then, you've worked at the Melvin Ship Yards and at Cosgrove Industries. As well as three years in the LI Reserves?"

            "Yes, sir… till the war." Caleb affirmed.

            Captain Rogers took off his glasses. "And what do you think of the war, Brother Caleb? Some from our flock think we dishonor the teachings of Jesus by taking up arms."

            Caleb's eyes locked with his superior. "We have a righteous cause."

            "We do indeed." Rogers said, finally standing up. "Come with me, brother, I'll give you the full tour."

            They walked outside and hopped into a nearby land rover. As they drove down the long, narrow dirt road, Captain Rogers attempted some small talk.

            "So… is this your first time to San Angeles?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "Do you like it?"

            "I haven't seen much of it, sir,” Caleb lifted his face to let the sun warm his face, “but the sun is nice."

            "Well, I think you'll like it here. Lots of sunny weather, praise the Lord."

            "Yes, sir." he answered. Suddenly, the new recruit saw figures approaching on the horizon. They seemed to be jumping up and down like power armor, but something was different.

            "Is that power armor, sir?" he asked, confused.

            "You are familiar with power armor, aren't you, Brother Caleb?"

            "Yes, sir, but those suits seem…" As the suits approached, he realized what was wrong. My God, they must be a good nine meters tall! he thought, watching in amazement as the suits turned just short of the road and traveled the same direction they were going. He was speechless.

            "Crusader mobile units," the captain clarified for him, "front line infantry assault suits. That's what were doing here." You couldn’t chisel the smile off his face.

            Caleb watched the behemoths as they raced gracefully along the side of the road. Even with the huge rifles they were holding, they dashed along side the road just like a person would. "They move so smoothly…how is that possible?"

            Rogers smiled. "You'll find out soon enough. We’re almost to the production facility."

             As they exited the land rover, the captain led Caleb into a large hanger attached to the production facility. The hanger was filled with men busy at work. The smell of industrial chemicals and the sound of machinery made him feel at home.

            "Stay close, it's easy to lose your bearings in this place."

            Caleb looked up at a giant robot just like the ones he'd seen on the road. He couldn't get over the size of it. "Sir… how many men does it take to pilot one of these?"

            "Just one." he said before looking over at one of the pilots. At least, he looked like a pilot, except for the strange armored body plate he was wearing. The shielded collar was incredibly strange. "Brother Kyle, would mind joining us?"

            The man approached them. "Brother Kyle, this is Brother Caleb. He'll be working on the All-Father Project with us."

            He took his hand. "Welcome, brother! The Lord will need as many of his servants here as possible.”

“Thank you.”

Kyle looked around at his fellow pilots. “If you'll excuse me, sir."

The captain nodded and then he walked away. Turning to Caleb, he explained, "You'll notice we all go by only one name around here. It's an extra security precaution. Don't ask too many personal questions either. That's a standing order."

            "Yes, sir." the recruit nodded. Rogers soon took him over to another hanger.

            "This is the Archangel class." Harrell said, pointing to an even bigger machine than one the recruit had seen before. "This model just hit production earlier this week. It's fully flight capable unlike the ground units which only have jump capabilities. She's a beauty… a full fifteen meters of the Lord's wrath!"

            Caleb stared at the elegant craft before him. It's beautiful, he thought, it almost looks like an angel of the Lord. "I suppose this model requires a co-pilot?"

            "Nope, just one… but don’t get too attached to these babies. You won't be working on the Crusaders or AA's you've just seen… except in training. You've been assigned to the All-Father Project."

            The young man was confused "I thought all of this was the All-Father Project!"

            "Come with me." Rogers waved. 

            They walked down a series of corridors that had Caleb utterly lost. Then they entered another large hanger… and that's when he saw it. He unconsciously gasped at the sight.

            "This, Brother Caleb, is the All-Father."

            Caleb was in awe of the gargantuan humanoid figure before him. It was almost too tall for the hanger they were in, he noticed. If God were a machine, he'd look like this.

            The smile on Captain Rogers' face almost split his head. "She's a big one, all right."

            "How tall?" Caleb burst out.

            "Twenty-one meters… and change. The All-Father here is designed to operate in all combat environments. Land, sea, air, space…" The officer handed Caleb a datapad. "She's fully armed, got her own point defense system, and has a sophisticated anti-sensor suite. That's what the big shield it carries does."

            Caleb was almost drooling at the engineering masterpiece before him. "How about armaments?” The recruit quickly remembered his training. “Sir."

            "The gun is a particle phalanx. It's similar to what you see mounted on ships but modified for a higher rate of fire. The head houses twin 180 mm pulse chem lasers; same weapon the Crusaders use. We've tried to make parts as interchangeable as possible to reduce costs."

            Caleb followed along on his datapad. "An onslaught missile system, sir?"

            "Yep. She's got a significant payload of anti-personnel and anti-craft missiles. But the onslaught system gets attached to the frame in snap on segments for extra anti-warship capabilities.. They need to be ejected if you're going to use the suit's full speed. The Veii 8 engines can really cook. 0.5 c is no problem for this gal."

            Caleb's head was reeling from all the unfamiliar information he was receiving. Veii 8 engines? 180 mm pulse chem lasers? How does a laser pulse? Then he noticed something totally unfamiliar. "Sir? What is this… 'Free Electron Cannon'?"

            "That's new. Then again, all of it’s new." He pointed over to the All Father. "It projects a heavy photon beam without the use of chemical reactants. That's what those two boons near the shoulders are." He pointed out. "The boons focus the photons with many small grav fields tied together in sync. They act like two big focus and emitter arrays. It's one hell of a sight when it fires."

            "This thing must be a pig on power flow."

            "Oh, it is! That's why it has seven separate generators all dedicated to various systems."

            Caleb looked up in disbelief. "This model has to require at least a dozen operators then."

            "Nope… just one." Harrell answered, reaching over to a nearby locker.

            "How is that possible?"

            "With this." He handed Caleb an armored breastplate he had seen the other pilots wearing. He immediately noticed his name stenciled onto it. "This is the Mechro Link… or half of it anyway. It's what allows one person to pilot these craft. Let me help you with that." He adjusted his suit for him. "It's a neuro-sensor web that mimics the actions of the neuro-ganglion in your lower central nervous system. Mostly voluntary and involuntary muscle control. You'll want to wear it as much as possible. The longer you do, the more precise the link."

            Having put on his vest, Caleb felt a strange sensation along his spine. "It tingles, sir."

            "That's the memory buffers accumulating data on your neural net functions. You won't even notice it after a few days."

            "And this is just half of the mechro link."

            "Yes. The other half resides in the suits themselves. Each unit is based of a synthetic skeletal and muscle system very much like the human body's. This is controlled by a primitive hind brain structure constructed of c-strings. Which, in turn, takes its orders from the data feed to it by the vest." He said, tapping Caleb's vest. "Which is, of course, controlled by the pilot."

            "So, it's all analog?"

            "Very good. We found transferring an analog signal to digital produces too much clock time. Or at least, Professor Zeas thought so."

            "Professor Zeas, sir?"

            "He's the great man that developed this technology for the Lord's Armies. This project is the reason we haven't been producing much power armor. But we want everyone to think that's what we produce here."

            "I understand, sir.”


“So, what do we call these…robots?"

            "Suits, or mobile suits to differentiate them from power armor. Mostly we call them mobiles." He looked back at Caleb. "You've had a long trip, let me show you your quarters."

            "Sir, if it's all right with you, I'd like to get to work immediately."

            A smile broke across the officer’s face. "That's the spirit! Come on, we'll start your mobile training right now!"

            Caleb followed Captain Rogers through the maze of corridors again. Then they entered an almost empty room save one small structure; a box in the middle of the room.

            "This is our suit simulator. It's where most of your training will happen." He opened the box. "Hop in."

            Caleb entered the chamber. He was amazed how immediately familiar he was with the controls. I know what all these controls do, but how? the recruit wondered, activating the simulator.

            "Surprised?" Rogers asked. "The vest involves two-way processing. The data buffers not only download, but upload information to you. For a few more credits per unit, it cuts training time down by nearly 70%!" The captain was obviously pleased with himself.

            Caleb listened to his commander dutifully, but couldn't help divide his attention on the simulator. This will activate the Mechro Link. At first, he felt like two beings. A small little bag of meat and an invincible metal juggernaut with the same mind. Then the duality of his existence slowly faded into a merging of the two.

            "This is…incredible." he said aloud.

            "It's like taking an illicit chemical… or so I'm told. The first time is always the best." His captain told him. "Now, I'm gonna give you an hour in here. When I come back, we'll grab some chow in the community hall and introduce you to the rest of the All-Father team." With that, he closed the chamber.

            Caleb sat there getting used to his new form. It was an incredible experience. He could almost feel the mechanical monster he was in. The Crusader unit he was in was like a second skin to him. The mobile's sensors must feed into the link. He thought as he unconsciously blinked. He flexed him mighty arms and looked at the huge rifle he was holding through his new eyes. Still a bit of double vision, but the view screen is well designed to match normal vision.

            Suddenly, red warning lights appeared in the chamber and in his mind. He checked his sensors and saw the platoon of power armor approaching him. This is it, he thought, time to see what these can do. 




Jeffrey Centon was enjoying a quiet morning in the laboratory, drinking his coffee, and watching the enzymes reacting with each other. Most of his staff and his fellow scientists had been into the lab in days. They’re afraid, he knew, taking another sip of the illegal Columbian coffee. With the battle going on around them, they’re afraid to die. Jeff snorted his amusement. You’re just as likely to die here as at home. Of course, they all have families, kids, and the dog to worry about. I haven’t got that… not anymore.

Visions of Amy flooded into his head. Doctor Centon winced at the pain of memory and turned to the electron microscope again, hoping to distract himself again. Then he saw it. That’s it, his thoughts exclaimed, the HAP serum! Auntie Sarah, rot in hell… I replicated it!

The wall behind him suddenly exploded; books, glass, and equipment flew everywhere. Jeff shielded his face at the last moment, still getting clubbed on his shoulder by something heavy. Suddenly the heavy object pulled back.

Dr. Centon whipped around to see a man standing before him, dressed in a long trenchcoat, dusted by the drywall he just walked through, with his eyes covered by shades. Taking out a hypospray from his pocket, the man brought it closer to his neck.

“NO!” Jeff shouted back, slamming into the thing. As hard as he hit it, Centon was simply knocked back. He can’t be moved!

The man grabbed the doctor’s foot and began to drag him closer. No matter how many kicks he slammed into the man’s leg, Jeff couldn’t stop him from getting him closer to whatever’s in that hypospray.

“Freeze!” called out from the hole in the wall. Jeff and the mystery man both looked over at the two security guards, both pointing their plasma revolvers at the brute. Centon sighed in relief; at last, I’m saved.

“All right, buddy,” one of the guards came forward, “let go of the good doctor and put your hands up!”

The man didn’t say a word but did exactly as the guards said. Jeff quickly shuffled away from the brute, managing to get to his feet.

The guards moved forward with precision. They better, Centon thought, I hope they’re not hiring idiots at the Fed’s chemical warfare research center.

As soon the two men got with reach of the brute, it moved. Jeff froze in awe as its hands flew at with superhuman speed, grabbed their revolvers, and yanked them out of his hands. Without a sound, it flipped the weapons around, and blasted both of them in the chest.

The brute didn’t wait for the bodies to drop. He swiveled over to the stunned doctor. “Pick up the hypospray.”

“Who are…”

Jeff was stopped by the man’s plasma revolver, raising to aim for his head.

“Pick up the hypospray.”

Dr. Centon picked up the device; the brute made no movement or sound. “Now what?”

“Inject it into your neck.”

“You’re serious?”

“Inject it into your neck.” he repeated.

Left with no other alternative, the doctor pressed it against his neck, and activated it. As he slowly went unconscious, he thought about Amy again; now there no distractions from the pain he felt. I wish I had a reason not to come to work today…


Damien Richter stood alone in the lab. His mission was simple; find suitable cloning hosts for the replication facility. He grabbed the doctor and carried him fireman’s style down to the basement. There he found the hole which he had cut into the building from the sewers. He dropped the doctor down first, jumping in after him. It didn’t take long to reseal the hole in the facility’s basement floor. Directive #11: Whenever possible, leave no trace.

Carrying his unconscious body again, it didn’t take long for Richter to resume his bearing. According to Leviathan’s own protocol, he made sure to take a different path each time. The possibility of discovery is our greatest threat. We must work in secret for our objectives to be reached.

As soon as he reached the facility, the cyborg was just one of many, working quickly to construct the facility necessary to continue their survival. He moved over to Leviathan herself, sitting in the midst of the work, continuing to administer the new colony. “Report.”

“Mission accomplished.” Richter replied, holding the doctor’s head up in order for her to see his face.

“Excellent, Damien. Please place him in the first tube. He will be important for our future cloning efforts.”

Richter obeyed, walking over to the nearby man-sized tube, placing the doctor into chemically-induced stasis. Leviathan smiled once the cyborg was finished with the settings. “Very good. With Doctor Centon under our control, his genetic stock will be an excellent addition to our new army.

Damien said nothing.

She cocked her head to the side and stared at him. “Do you not care about our glorious work? Does it bore you?”

“I obey.”

“Of course you do.” Leviathan replied, turning back to her console. “Damien, plug yourself into the console.”

The cyborg did as he was told. She plugged herself into the machine and soon accessed Richter’s mainframe. Leviathan probed into his mind and began to speak through the connection. There are several things necessary for a colony to survive, Damien. Food, shelter, resources, goals… all of these are meaningless without a leader to lead them.

But what if the leader is destroyed? Without a leader, the colony falls weak, and is often conquered. Therefore, there must be a successor, able to take up the leadership of the colony, should all be lost.

Richter absorbed all the information she was entering into him, but understanding none of it. You were the first of your kind, Damien. You have the potential to become so much than you can possibly understand.

There was a pregnant silence within the cyborg’s mind. I am entering a new algorithm into your processors. It will allow you to begin to reason with your organic brain. The machine will still take over in times of emergency, but it will allow you to rebuild the colony, when it becomes necessary. Another pause as more information was being downloaded into his memory. Disconnect.

Richter did as he was instructed. He stood there patient, waiting for his next instructions.

Leviathan disconnected and looked at him. “I’m afraid Centon is only the first part. In order to develop the ultimate genetic clone, we will need varied natural ability. Your next task is to capture a master of warfare. Someone skilled in weapons and weaponless combat. Those instinctual reactions are necessary for our mutual goal.”




            "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 Ephraim 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!”  The Rebel ships resumed their headlong charge at the Home Fleet moving out from Avalon to meet them.  The two fleets steadily closed the distance between them.

            "They moved too soon," Danielle leaned back in her chair on the Santa Cruz, "they're going to be out of the battlestations' point defense range when we reach optimum firing distance."  She smiled as she looked over at his tactical officer.  "We're up against an amateur here. I’ve always said that bitch Vorheis was no real combat commander."

            Ephraim turned towards the weapons status board and rolled his eyes. Overconfidence is the real enemy, he thought, sensibility the only cure. Turning back toward his commanding officer, he nodded, “Yes, ma’am.”

The sensor data suddenly changed. The loyalist fleet spewing out lance torpedoes at extreme range, spitting out salvo after salvo.  "They're wasting half their torpedoes, firing at ranges like that," Admiral Twedt watched in stunned fascination at the tracks on her screen.  "Hold your fire until optimum range."

            "I think only the big ships are firing, I'm not reading enough torpedoes for the lighter ships to be launching as well." the tactical officer commented. 

            "What? Everyone knows you want the first salvo to be the heaviest!  What kind of idiot are we facing?"

            The first salvoes started reaching point defense range for the rebel fleet.  Particle phalanxes and fighters easily absorbed the attacks, allowing only a handful managed to get close enough to the enemy ships for even proximity and laser warheads to be effective.  Only two ships sustained minor hits. 

            "Optimum range in ten seconds," sang out Commander Daniels. 

            The admiral leaned forward in her chair, licking her lips. "Let them have it."

            "Ma’am!” Ephraim reported.  "The other ships in the enemy fleet have launched as well."  Most smaller ships only carried single-shot box launchers for lance torpedoes, not full tubes with large magazines for several salvoes. 

            "It will be wasted." dismissed the Admiral. "We've got a look at their jamming and ECCM by now, we won't take too much damage even from the bigger salvo."

            A shout came from the rear of the flag bridge.  "Jump point forming!"

            The six dreadnoughts from Minos jumped back into normal space a little behind and to the left of the Rebel fleet.  Almost immediately, they cycled off two salvoes from their lance torpedo tubes at the Rebel ships.  As the rebel ships rolled to expose more point defense weapons, the formation started drifting apart, the ships giving each other more room to maneuver. 

            "Damn it!" cursed Admiral Twedt.  "Have the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons turn and engage enemy dreadnoughts.  Let's see if we can chase those fuckers back into hyperspace."

            "Aye!" replied the communication officer.  As the battlecruisers turned to point their lance torpedo tubes at the new threat, the sensor officer on the EFS Santa Cruz gave another report. 

            "Admiral, now detecting numerous fighters launching from the dreadnoughts."

            "Excellent," exclaimed Admiral Twedt.  "I think they're here to stay this time. The battlecruisers will finish them.”


            "Come on, fall for it…" muttered Erich Von Shrakenberg, watching the battle on the other side of the system, on board the EFS Repulse. 

            "Sir,” reported his flag captain, Terry Carter, “the second wave is in position."

            “They haven’t turned yet.” the commodore muttered, hoping the enemy admiral would fall for his trick. Von Shrakenberg had had no luck trying to reach the other admirals. Everything was happening haphazardly and on instinct. Like a chicken with its head cut off, he inwardly cursed. Our only hope is that the enemy turns to fight the flank attacks. The reinforcements in hyperspace are the only weapons we’ve got.

            Carter turned towards his commanding officer. “Sir! If we wait too long…”

            “All right," Erich relented, "tell the Dreadnoughts they can jump back out as soon as they are ready."


            "The first salvo will be reaching the dreadnoughts in fifteen seconds," reported Commander Daniels.  "Ten seconds… jump points forming!  The dreadnoughts are leaving again."

            "Fuck!  Tell the squadrons to reform!"

            "Aye…”  Ephraim moaned, about to relay the order when he noticed the sensor readout. “New jump points forming!  Ten thousand klicks at 9 o’clock!"

            "Where do all these ships coming from?!" demanded Admiral Twedt.  "How many jump points?"

            "Four, looks like three battlecruisers and one star control ship!"

            "Who’s over there?!”

            The tactical officer checked his formations. “2nd Dreadnought Squadron.”

“Tell Admiral Matthews to turn and engage!” Danielle screamed. “And for Shiva’s sake, don't let them jump back out again!"


            Erich watched the relay from the Avalon tactical sensor net on the main display.  "Who needs Tunnel Drive ships? We have the most surveyed system in the known galaxy!”

“They’re still not turning to engage.” Commander Simonson reported. “They’re breaking off squadrons to engage.”

Schizen.” Von Shrakenberg silently cursed.

Carter was happy. “That’s great!”

“What?” his commanding officer stared at him.

“Sir, every time a wave of ships jumps out, it immediately sends the current coordinates of the Rebel fleet to the next wave, so they can jump in almost on top of them." Terry explained. “With almost twenty ships in hyperspace, that’s a lot of squadrons to pull off the line. It’s weakening their attack!”

The commodore nodded his approval. Yes, it was working… just not the way I hoped.

Carter grinned like a cat with milk. "The only thing I wish is that hyperspace can't be more of a one-to-one correspondence with normal space. Then we could jump right on top of them."

            Erich laughed.  "That would hardly be fair, captain. Have you ever seen what happens to a ship when it’s too close to a jump point?"

            "No,” Terry turned back to his console, suddenly turning serious, “and I hope I never do, either. I'm not eager to die for the Federation."

            Von Shrakenberg was puzzled.  "If you don't want to die for the Fed, why DID you sign up for Earth Fleet?"

            Carter gave him a sly stare. "Chicks dig guys in uniform."

            "You've been happily married for almost twenty years!"

            "Well,” the captain shrugged, “not every scheme works out the way you planned."


            "They're jumping out again." reported Commander Daniels, gripping his tac screen.

            "Enough of this screwing around," ordered Admiral Twedt, "full speed ahead for Avalon, tell those squadrons to get back in line, and launch all remaining fighters. Let the space jocks guard our flanks."  The Santa Cruz suddenly shuddered.  "And tighten up that formation, they're starting to get through the point defenses!"

            No wonder, Ephraim cursed inwardly, with torpedoes still coming in from three directions.  "Torpedo detonated off the port bow, minor damage to decks 17 and 18, six compartments open to space."

            "Sir, the enemy fleet is reversing acceleration," reported the sensor officer. 

            "Follow them, I don't want them ducking back to those battlestations!" 

The tactical officer gripped his screen tighter. Both fleets have been beaten up. The defenders have lost half their ships by now, because they were stupid, leaving the protection of the capital’s orbit. Daniels watched the tell-tale gravity disruptions appearing on his screen. "New jump points forming, directly ahead!"

            The five battlecruisers detached from Proxima Centauri appeared only a few thousand kilometers ahead of the Rebel Fleet.  They immediately began firing, but it was point blank range for starships.  Vastly outgunned by the larger rebel fleet, all five were blown apart within thirty seconds of their appearance.  However, they managed to launch their torpedoes in time, taking out two of the rebel dreadnoughts, a battlecruiser, and four cruisers. 

            Of course, Ephraim moaned inside, we’ve lost half our ships, too. We’ve wasted our torpedoes firing at ships that jumped out before our salvoes could reach them.

Admiral Twedt looked at her own tactical display and didn't like what she saw.  "Damn, we’ll reach the battlestations’ extreme firing range in one minute.”

“We can still manage to take out their flanking squadrons.”

“No,” Danielle chewed her lip, “the one thing I can’t stand is a fair fight.  Reverse acceleration, take us away from Avalon."

            The commander was in shock. "But, ma’am…"

            "But what?!" Twedt shot back, her own frustration showing in her eyes. “We don't know how many more grav-drive ships they’ve got in hyperspace! They’re going to keep harassing us all the way to Avalon.” Danielle leaned back in her chair. “We've already wasted too much time chasing phantoms. Tell all ships to withdraw and rally at Point Delta. They may have bloodied our nose,” she smiled, “but we still have a few tricks up our sleeves."

            Daniels was confused. "What do you mean?"

            "Call in the pickets from the jumpgates, have them join us at Point Delta. Leave a couple ships at each gate to lay mines… we need to keep them closed.”  The admiral stared at the projected plot now appearing on her screen.  "We'll reform and try again in twelve hours.”  Twedt stared at the big blue ball in the middle of her monitor. “Avalon isn't going anywhere."


            "Sir,” Commander Simonson was manning the sensor station on the Repulse, “sensor network reports rebel ships abandoning the jumpgates to rendezvous with the enemy fleet." 

            "Excellent," Von Shrakenberg answered, "it’s just a shame that we couldn’t force the enemy fleet to turn."

            "Well, the home fleet took one hell of a beating trying." Captain Carter reminded him. 

            "They did their job," Erich returned, “that’s all we can hope for. Is the squadron still on course?”

“Yes, sir.” Simonson answered. “In stealth mode, we’ll reach the New Paris gate in three hours.” 

"It looks like there are only two heavy cruisers on the New Paris gate.” Terry added, checking his tac screen.

The commodore turned toward his friend. “Then when we open up that gate…"

            "…the entire New Paris picket can come pouring in." 




Xavier Pollos shut off the vidphone and went to the closet. Inside was the weathered black leather overcoat he had brought with him from New Madrid. God, he wondered, how long has it been? The assassin looked around for a calendar. He rushed off to the kitchen and found the one left by InSec. Steve and I… we got here in early April. It’s now September. Five months? Have I been trapped in this nightmare for half a year?!

Pollos went back to the closet and grabbed the jacket. As he put it on, the edges dropped down, touching to the ground. Got to remind myself to see a tailor. As he reached into the comfortable pockets, he pulled out his two hand plasma revolvers. And to clean my pockets before I go, Xavier smiled, which reminds me…

The assassin walked over to the phone and activated a tapeworm program. Within a few seconds, the phone program was eliminated, as well as any record of any call made from it. Then, reaching into his inner pocket, he pulled out a small box. Placing it next to the holoproj unit, he thumbed the switch on top of it, then walked toward the door. Closing it behind him, he managed to reach the street before the apartment burst into flames. Follow me now, you mother fuckers.

            Unfortunately, Pollos knew, that burning his bridges behind him was only half of escaping from view again. Xavier walked over several blocks, dodging down strange alleys and through buildings, until he reached a public vidphone. Stepping inside the booth, he activated the machine, and set the volume to max. The whirr of the background noise was almost deafening… but it was constant. Had there been any electronic tags, the vidphone would have whined something awful. Interference was a harsh mistress; the more powerful bug transmitters would have disrupted the phone’s interface.

Satisfied that he was clean, Xavier rushed into the nearest alley, turned himself invisible, and then ran through a housing complex. It didn’t take long to go down the stairs and make it out the other side. Rushing across the street, he paused, seeing if there was anyone following. No one appeared. It didn’t take long to reach the monorail station.


Parkinson Square was a picture-perfect small town in the midst of the capital sprawl. The center of town was a beautifully restored turn-of-the-19th-century downtown from… some nostalgic bullshit, Pollos thought. Planetary transport took months, not minutes. People still died in legions from the flu. Weapons were archaic slugthrowers and armor was considered obsolete technology. Huh, what’s there to be nostalgic about?

George’s Bar and Spill irritated the assassin from the second he stepped him. It was another picture-perfect place, with aged pictures lining the walls; the authentic atmosphere looking incredibly fake. He went over to the bar and ordered a drink. For about ten minutes, he just waited, looking around, not even touching his drink. Finally, his assassin walked in there; he knew it was him when he came through the door. I should, he thought, I hired him.

While sitting there, he had managed to scan the bar with his detector. Amazing what you leave in your pockets, Xavier smiled to himself. There were bugs everywhere; hidden agents among the light crowd, with really good visual feed coming from all the cameras in the place.  Pollos knew that it had been a setup… but by who? Who’s taken over the company? Are these agents working for the company or someone else? There was only one place for the answers.

After a few minutes, the man the assassin was watching began to grow impatient. Xavier knew that it was the right time. He took his drink and walked down the bar towards the wanna-be assassin, and sits right next to him. “How are you doing?” Pollos asked.

"Excuse me,” the man replied, “I’m waiting for someone."

"Don't mind me, I’m just wondering one thing."  He took a sip of his drink… and almost spit it back up. “What the hell am I drinking?”

The man just shrugged and turned back to the door.

Xavier signaled the bartender and he came over. “What did you give me?”

“You just asked for a drink, buddy. I gave you one.”

Pollos was hacking up phlegm, trying to get the taste out of his mouth. “What drink was it?”

“Shin’s Kiss. What’d you think?”

His eyes were watering like fountains. “I think I’d rather lick the back of a sweaty camel.”

            “I can get that for ya, if you like.” the burly bartender shot back.

            “No thanks. Water would be nice.”

            The tender passed over the clear liquid and went back to serving other patrons. After he cleared his throat, he turned back to the man. “Excuse me.”


"Why is there someone out for my head?"

The man paused for a second. "What they hell are you talking about?"

"Don't play dumb. I know why you are here. I also know who you’re supposed to be meeting. Forget it, they’re not coming." 

"I’m meeting an old friend… excuse me." 

Xavier didn’t let him turn around, grabbing the man’s hand, he twisted it around his back. Moving in close, he started to speak, “Okay, this is how this it’s going to work. You’re going to place that pistol you have down on the bar, slowly, then you’re going to tell me who’s running the show...  understand?"

"Okay." The man nodded and started to take out the plasma revolver with his left hand. As it touched the bar, the pistol spun, aiming right at Pollos. Xavier was too quick for him, though, and before he knew it, Pollos shoved the pistol into his gut. As he pulled the trigger, the man shreaded every major organ in his own chest. The man dropped to the floor, a bloody mess, and suddenly several people in the crowd stood up.

The assassin whipped out his own plasma revolvers and aimed at the crowd. "Now that I have your attention, I have a message for your boss."  The brief pause was electric as it went through the room.  "You tell him that Xavior Pollos is tracking him down and he better be ready... because I’m coming." 

Then, never keeping his eyes off the standing people, he walked out of the bar through the front door.

            Xavier wasted no time. He quickly ran out of the town square and rushed to the nearest alley. Once he was sure no one was watching, he quickly cloaked himself, and continued to run down the small passage. As he turned the corner, suddenly several figures in light power armor began to rush toward him.

"Shit!" he whispers and ducks back into the alley. Not what I need…

Suddenly, a hand fell upon his shoulder and dragged him into the nearby building. Pollos tried to resist, but he couldn’t break the grip. The door shut behind them and he was suddenly caught in pitch darkness.

"What the…" 

Before he could finish, a match was lit, illuminating a woman's face… wearing some kind of strange goggles. “You are a terrible assassin, M. Pollos. No finesse, no style… you start blasting at the slightest provocation, and you just walk into InSec bar and kill one of their agents. Brilliant.”  She finally lit her cigarette and the room fell back into darkness. “I don’t know why I bother with you.”

“Who are you?”

A light suddenly came on, illuminating the small brick room. Then she took off her goggles and Xavier’s eyes went wide. “Well, so much for being unforgettable.”

Oh shit, he thought, it was Veolin… the were-cobra.  She had been following me the whole time.




            “M. Treschi, I believe you know Arthur Clarke.”

            If any other words could have filled him with more terror, Andrea Treschi could not remember them. No way in hell, he thought, watching the image of the general step closer and closer, no! He’s dead! I saw him die! All the universe saw him die!

            Clarke threw the head of Maxwell into Treschi lap, bringing his other hand to his sword’s hilt. Andrea jumped out of the way of the head, looking around desperately, trying to find a way out of this. “This can’t be happening.” Did I say that out loud?

            Arthur gave a grin that could wipe out entire legions. “In Siberia, they say revenge is a dish that is best served cold.”

            “Wait! Wait a minute!” Treschi pleaded. “You’re dead!”

            “I am quite alive.” Clarke growled, stepping even closer

            As Andrea stepped back, he felt his mind processing faster than ever, looking for an escape. Then a sudden calm came over him; he suddenly realized what the old man was doing. “No. You’re not the real Arthur Clarke.” The colonel shot back turning toward Samuel Wall. “You’ve made a clone, haven’t you? Trying to scare me into your twisted plan? Sorry, no deal.”

            Wall snorted out a laugh then made his way one of the chairs. “I’m getting tired in my old age. I better sit down.”

            “It won’t work, you old fuck!”

            Samuel relaxed into the overstuffed seat. “M. Treschi, I assure you, I don’t need M. Clarke’s assistance to assure your cooperation.”

            The colonel backstepped away from Clarke, his grinning mass getting closer, and placed himself closer towards Wall. “You’re still trying to bully me with this freak!

            The old man looked over at the general and nodded. “My old friend, please stand down.”

            “But you said…”

            “Stand down, M. Clarke.” Wall didn’t even raise his voice, but you could feel the power behind his words. “I’m afraid M. Treschi doesn’t believe you’re who you say you are.”

            “They conducted DNA tests and ethereal scans during his autopsy. They confirmed that that was your body that was buried. You can’t fool both those tests. You can’t be the real Clarke!”

            The Wall just leaned back and smiled. “Create a better lock and a better thief will pick it. Enlighten us, M. Treschi, what is involved with an ethereal scan?”

            Why do I feel like I’m back in grade school? Andrea wondered. “An ethereal scan detects your aura. They’re like fingerprints… you can’t change them, they’re an integral part of who you are.”

            “So, the ethereal scan determined that the body was that of a Siberian Bestat were-tiger. Difficult… but not impossible to produce. A detailed scan was not necessary since… well, the victim so well identified. There isn’t a man, woman, or mue in this universe that doesn’t know what Arthur Clarke looks like. Go on.”

            “Wait a minute, the DNA test matched. You’re saying you altered someone’s DNA pattern to match Clarke?”

            “I did nothing of the kind.” Samuel smiled. “The body’s DNA matched Clarke’s, correct?”

            “Yes,” Treschi wasn’t convinced, “but it’s too perfect. How could… whoever you say it is fight off Mark Smith like that? Or wield that,” Andrea pointed to the blood-red blade in Arthur’s hands, “sword! Everyone who’s read history knows that that sword can only be wielded by its owner. No, it had to be Clarke!”

            Wall scratched his nose. “That’s right. It was Clarke. Jon Clarke.”

            “Jon Clarke?!” The colonel questioned. “Who the hell is Jon Clarke?!”

            “My son.” Arthur intoned. “He took my place in that bar. He was the only other one who could wield the sword and imitate me perfectly… and you killed him.”

            “You sent your own son to that bar?” Treschi asked. “How? You couldn’t have known about the hit!”

            Samuel leaned forward. “Yes he did. That’s why his son volunteered to take his place. They were hoping to discover the attacker before it… before it was too late.”

            “How did he know?”

            “Simple,” Wall stared at the colonel, “I told him.”

            Treschi took a step back. “What?”
            “InSec’s not as reliable as they say they are. Besides,” the old man pointed toward the two agents sitting nearby, “I have my connections.”


            “Because General Clarke’s important to the restoration of the Federation. He’s the only man the military will rally behind without hesitation. I had to let King make his move but I couldn’t afford to lose Arthur. He had become too valuable, and unfortunately, too visible. He had to go underground.”

            Andrea looked back at Arthur. “So all you had to do was let your son die.”

            “That wasn’t the plan.” Wall explained. “All Jon had to do was fight off the assassin. Once the assassin was dead, another person would ‘shoot’ him. The bullet was actually a concentrated gel pack. He would have been rushed off to a hospital and ‘died’ there.” The old man leaned back in the chair. “However, M. Smith appeared to be more… effective than expected.”

            “Enough of this!” General Clarke roared. “It’s time for blood.”

            Samuel stood up quickly. “You already had him kill his mother. A life for a life, that’s what I promised you.”

            “Not good enough.” Arthur shot back, raising his sword to strike.

            On the ceiling, a glowing circle suddenly appeared, and a platoon of power armor dropped down from thin air. They spread out around Treschi, creating a circle of protection around him, while Clarke’s werewolves got ready for the attack. “Luther?” Andrea feebly replied.

            “Sorry we’re late, sir.” the sergeant-major replied, looking around at the strange situation. However, he quickly raised his war hammer as the werewolves surrounding them moved to strike.

            “STOP!” Arthur Clarke roared, freezing all of them into immobility. His massive finger pointed right at Treschi. “HE’S MINE!”

            Luther suddenly realized who he was facing. Cycling his helmet open, his eyes shot open, lost in disbelief upon the face of his former commander. “I… what… general?”

            Arthur Clarke squinted hard and soon recognized the face of his trusted subordinate. “Sergeant-Major, get out of my way.”

            “What?! I mean… we saw you die!”

            “I don’t have to explain myself to you, sergeant-major. Stand aside!”

            Clarke moved towards Treschi, but Luther stood still, raising his war hammer to strike. “You’re going to have to explain before I let you take one more step forward.”

            The old general stopped in shock. “You would disobey me… over this traitor?!

            “You left us,” the sergeant-major shot back, “right when we most needed you. You let King take the marshalship and almost lose the war? Damn it, sir, I demand an answer.”

            Arthur shook his head. “Don’t make me do this, Luther.”

            “What kind of leader leaves his pack alone? A coward, I’d say!”

            “What are you saying, sergeant-major?”

            Luther spit in Clarke’s face. “I’m alpha, bestat-ragh! You are too weak to lead a pack,” the sergeant-major looked around at the circle of werewolves around him, any pack.”

            The general didn’t even bother to wipe the drops off his face. “I accept your challenge. I will weep for your blood.”

            “Weep for yourself!” Luther shot back, growing into Crinos form… and kept going. The were-bear turned into a grisly aspect of itself, becoming a huge colossus. The rest of the platoon backed away, as well as Treschi, and the entire circle of Clarke’s werewolves. Even the general himself seemed distracted by it; he almost didn’t move before the war hammer came down. Arthur side-stepped at the last second, imbedding the metal object into the floor.

            The general was in rage, sweeping his sword up to counter-attack with lightning fast speed, but the sergeant-major was ready for him, lifting up the metal handle of the hammer, parrying the attack.

            The enormous were-bear managed to pull the hammer out of the carpet, just enough time to fight off Clarke’s counter-attack. As the general pressed his advantage, the old were-tiger grew into his full fighting form. Luther swept his giant foot to knock his opponent off his feet; Arthur flipped back and continued the attack.

            Luther denied him the chance. The sergeant-major stabbed his hammer forward, throwing off the general’s charge, then swept it, slamming him in the side.

            Clarke went flying, finally being stopped by the wood paneling. The force of the hit broke the façade as the general slammed into it. Arthur seemed unaffected when he cartwheeled out of the fracture, leaped up, and attacked Luther from the top. The werebear was barely able to move up his armored arm to block the flying were-tiger. The general slammed into his arm, dropping him down instantly, but then he whipped his sword into the huge monstrosity’s side.

            The nanotech armor took the brunt of the attack, but Clarke’s sword still managed to knock him back. Arthur wasn’t about to let go of his advantage and pushed forward, Luther barely able to use his hammer’s handle to parry his strikes. Finally the werebear made his move, swinging the hammer down; Clarke was able to avoid the metal club, but not the sergeant-major’s foot. The general skidded across the thick shag carpet.

            Arthur got to his feet, although a little slower than he had before. Treschi noticed that the general was hurt, but trying to ignore the pain going through his body. Clarke rushed forward, swinging his sword around in circle, like a shield… or a buzz-saw. The were-bear saw his former commander coming from across the room, swung the war hammer around so that the handle was facing Clarke, and met his attack.

            However, the general was clever. As the hammer moved to break his metal shield, Clarke suddenly ducked under, his sword touched the handle, then suddenly slithered around it. Luther looked shocked and tried to wrench the hammer back from the sword’s grasp… but it was too late. The sergeant-major quickly noticed it was taking all of Arthur’s strength to hold on, so took advantage of it, and kicked him again.

            As he did, the general skidded across the room again, however the war hammer fell out of the were-bear grasp, following the officer as the carpet eventually slowed him down. Next to the fireplace now, Clarke smiled, lifting up the sergeant-major’s hammer as his sword coiled back into his other hand. “Let’s stop playing with toys.” he said, throwing both down on the ground. Claws grew out of his fingernails and Clarke charged again toward the behemoth power-armored were-bear.

            Luther swung but Arthur easily ducked under the blow. Clarke proceeded to bash against the nanotech armor, forcing the were-bear to move, but it was obviously not causing any damage. With lightening speed, the general bended, weaved, and bobbed away from the sergeant-major’s blows, while continuing his pummeling against the tank. After several attempts, the old were-tiger was learning that he couldn’t take him one-on-one. As he tried to escape, Luther saw his chance. Dropping on him, the were-bear managed to trap him, crushing him underneath the power of his massive muscles.

            The general’s face was a twisted contortion of pain and oxygen deprivation. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t get the breath to do it. Struggling against the beast was no use, so suddenly Clarke stopped, and closed his eyes. In the next second, Luther was suddenly flying through the air, Arthur managing to kick him off like a feather.

            The woman in red barely managed to get out of the way before the sergeant-major fell with a thud, smashing several of the overstuffed chairs. Luther quickly got to his feet, rushing back over to the general… who had still not gotten up.

            Luther stopped as he watched the wrecked body of Clarke wiggle in pain beneath him. The impossible had happened; Arthur Clarke had been defeated. “It’s over.” the sergeant-major announced.

            “No!” the general spat out, managing to lift up his head and chest, “You haven’t defeated the might of the Khan!”

            The were-bear shook his head. “You’re defeated, sir.”

            “It’s not over yet!” Clarke screamed back, his voice choked with blood. “You want to be alpha? You must kill me.”

            “No, sir.”

            “You must! The challenge is not over until one of us is dead. You know that!

            Luther looked like he suddenly lost his resolve. “But…”

            “That is the LAW!” the general interrupted, managing to lift up his entire torso. “Finish it!”

            “But, sir…”

            “FINISH IT!

            The sergeant-major closed his eyes and breathed in a sigh. The general sat there, his entire body tensing, waiting for the killing blow. Then when Luther opened them again, he lifted up himself up, then brought his paw down to finish him.

            He never even got close. Suddenly, Clarke’s fist whipped out, slamming through the were-bear’s chest, through the power armor and his body, coming out the other side. Treschi, standing behind Luther, was suddenly sprayed with his friend’s blood. The look on the sergeant-major’s face was that of utter and complete shock… before his body dropped to the floor, dead.

            Arthur Clarke stood up triumphant, looking stronger than even before the battle. He roared out a victory cry that drove shivers through everyone there. The window even rattled with the fury of it. The general slowly coalesced back into human form, and as his sword slithered across the carpet to him, he grabbed it, cutting off the were-bear’s head in one blow.

            “NOW it’s over!” he cried, shrinking the sword back to its dagger size. Turning to his band of werewolves, Clarke growled, “Let’s go.”

            “M. Clarke,” Wall stood up from his chair, “we’re not finished here.”

            The general just looked back and him and stared. The werewolves disappeared into the flames, one by one, returning through the umbra gate to whatever shadow realm lie beyond. Clarke was the last one through, and as he stood waiting for the last of his pack to pass through, Treschi could see him weakening quickly but desperately trying to hide it with his remaining strength. As the last walked into the fire, Arthur slowly followed them, every step measured with precision… and then he disappeared.


            Treschi looked over at the trooper standing next to him. As he wiped the blood off his face, the former smuggler managed to look over at the private. “Yes?”

            “What should we do about… the sergeant-major?”

            Andrea wringed the blood off his hands. “Take him back to Patton Base. Give him a proper burial.”

            “What about you, sir?”

            The colonel looked over at the gathering. “I’ll be fine, trooper. We need to finish up some things here.”

            “Very well, sir.” he nodded. The platoon gathered the body of Sergeant-Major Luther, each taking an appendage with the fifth taking the head, and walked through the opening correspondence portal, vanishing the same way they came in.

            A silence passed over the shocked gathering in the plush, damaged room. Finally Samuel Wall cleared his throat and broke the silence. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I guess it’s time we got to business.”



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