DESTROYER OF WORLDS – Act II
"There is no reason to fire the gun, except us men think it's fun,
But your god said not to kill anyone…
I think you're living a lie, I think you're living a lie,
Because people die all the time, and you don't seem to mind…"
-- Volkskrieg Overdrive, “First Law”
The blackness erupted, bringing forth a flurry of colors. Looking down on the planet, he saw his utopia. Billions of minds working together towards one goal, selfishness was a thing of the past and efficiency the religion of the masses. Circling the planet were tunnel drive juggernauts, ruthlessly killing the human, bug, and Jurvain invasion fleets. Near the center of the planet, underneath the buried skulls of those who opposed him, his every neuron was mapped into electrical circuits, as he had become the communal server for his trillions of mobile killing workstations. His only thought, only goal, "To crush the ways of individual will: to find the ultimate evolution of humanity.".
Minimum powered down time reached. Closing neural exploration algorithm. Powering up in 0.003, 0.002, 0.001.
Damien awoke, rising from the floor and jacking into the mainframe. Giving his Insec security clearance, he searched Insec databases for his first target, a new clone for to further the combat capabilities of the human based cyborgs.
Search */All-Databases/Combat-Abilities/Human/Avg-Statitics/All-Areas/High-Ranking/Avalon/Alive.* Result: Former Insec Agent Xavier Pollos. Exceeds all standard levels of combat abilities especially in marksmanship and covert missions. Exceptional combat skills, although hindered by non-conformist personality dysfunctions. All combat abilities are currently accelerated by some form of magical sword.
Last seen: George's Bar and Spill, Parkinson Square, Avalon… approximately 3 minutes ago. Currently pursued by InSec agents with orders to terminate former agent Pollos.
Damien left the database, bringing up the InSec command center. Send Emergency Transport NOW to location F3653.
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. A silence passed between Xavier Pollos and Veolin as they stood there in the darkness. Finally, Pollos uncloaked himself; it wasn’t doing any good, she could still see him. "You’re not a very good tracker, either. Didn’t anyone tell you… you’re not supposed to expose yourself."
"You left me no choice."
“I told you. You seem to forget that you killed the leader of InSec only a week or so ago. You were about to run into a trap; you could understand why they might be a little upset.”
"That still doesn’t explain why you were following me."
"You wouldn't understand.”
“Why not? Do you think I’m stupid?”
Veolin coughed out a laugh then too another drag on her cigarette. “There’s too many people interested in you. Anyone with your skills tends to draw a crowd. I represent one of those interested parties.”
“Treschi.” Pollos growled.
“And others.” The were-cobra smiled. “You see, whoever can get you on their side… we’ll let’s just say it makes it worth their time to have you followed.”
"Why? What’s so special about me?"
"You are the key to the war, M. Pollos. You can end the whole thing… anyone with even a touch of sensitivity can detect that."
Xavier leaned back against the brick wall. "Everyone keeps saying that, but no one bothers to explain it to me.”
Veolin finished her cigarette and rubbed it out with her boot. “Then I better not. My employers might get angry…”
“Damn it!” the assassin shot back. “What is going on? Why am I the key?!”
She put on her goggles and smiled. “Al-Hazen placed thirteen encryptions on his talisman known as Kuar. These were patterns of such power and cunning that they couldn’t be unlocked by the strongest mages and vampires. They said that Mordred himself couldn’t get past the first three.” Clicking the lights off, the only illumination was from the opening door; it shadowed the Raptor in an eerie light. “How many have you discovered?”
Pollos swallowed. “Seven.”
Her strange smile was visible even in the dim light. “Good luck, M. Pollos. I’ll be watching.” Then she closed the door.
Xavier waited a minute before he found another way out of the building. Carefully, quietly as possible, he made his way back onto the streets. It didn’t take long to leave Parkinson Square. Pollos knew that there was another monorail station a mile away. With enough backtracking, he hoped, maybe I can get these people off my back.
The assassin saw an alley off to his left; that’s going in the right direction. As he turned into, another figure appeared at the other end, coming towards him. As Xavier walked closer, he recognized him. Oh my God… it was him. The guy he fought in the Grand Council chambers… that damn cyborg tin can.
The machine said nothing, holding its weapon in one arm, a hypospray in the other. The assassin laughed; this is too damn funny, Pollos thought, he just doesn’t know when he’s been beaten.
Richter put away the hypospray and walked closer to Pollos. "Surrender."
"Sorry. I don't have time to fool around with you, tin man."
Damien began processing the situation. Boostware and adrenalin boosters activated on full burn. Nanotech on standby.
The machine wasted no time, firing the carbine directly at he assassin's kneecaps. The sword appeared with impossible speed, dissipating the blast. Wheeled expertly, the cyborg dodged his first counterattack, being moved back. Xavier disappeared into thin air, trying to buy himself some time… enough to bash the wall of the alley with Kuar. The bricks fell like a waterfall, covering the cyborg in so much masonry that he soon disappeared underneath.
Xavier breathed a sigh of relief, sheathed his sword, and walked away. The sound of crumbling masonry sent chills down his spine. When he turned around, the cyborg was there, standing in the midst of the bricks, his carbine raised.
"What the FUCK do I have to do to kill you?!" Pollos screamed. Before the cyborg could fire, he pulled out his two plasma revolvers, and opened up. His first shots managed to slag the carbine in his hands, the rest hit his chest exactly… to no effect.
The machine lunged; the assassin had no choice but to do the same. The two exchanged punches and kicks, but Pollos was still faster, continuing to pound the cyborg back. However, Richter had another advantage; his pain editor gave him near invulnerability to the human's blows. Soon the tables were turned; trapping the assassin against the wall, the machine did combo after combo into the human, his arms moving in a blur. Xavier fell to the ground, spitting up a pool of blood on the ground. Richter took out the hypospray and then held up Pollos' bleeding face.
"Not quite!!!" The human's arms flew up too fast, grabbing the hypospray, and injected it into Damien’s face. The powerful sedatives instantly disorienting it.
Neurons incapacitated. Attempting to compensate. All nano-tech reassigned to destroying sedatives.
The machine staggered back and the assassin gave retribution. Being beat back, Richter attempted to regain control. Pollos never gave him a chance. He continued hitting it until he finally knocked it back to the end of the alley.
Xavier wiped the blood from his face. "Let's see how you like this!”
With one good kick, the assassin sent the machine out into the road. Tripping over the curb, Richter’s senses began to come back to it. However, it had only time to focus as the flitter slammed into it. Deflecting off, Damien was spun into the next lane, again being hit. Flying into oncoming traffic, a semi-hovertruck attempted to brake in time, hitting the Damien squarely. It made no attempt to get up as a multicar accident converged onto its location.
Pollos smiled from the curb. “Not your day, is it, tin can?” The assassin left; he had a train to catch.
A crowd of pedestrians stood around the body, waiting for the meat wagon to come pick it up. The machine twitched once, then stood up, readjusted it's broken sunglasses, and started walking in the direction Xavior went.
"Fuck maaannn, are you all wright? Shit, mahn you face looks like hamburger!." Damien looked at the street punk, standing in front of him. Aware that the algorithm Leviathan had given him was running, he made no attempt to control himself as he was filled with a feeling of... disgust for the dirty pierced waste in front of him. With one quick movement he did a roundhouse into the side of the punk's head, killing him instantly. Turning off the algorithm, the machine reached down, picking up a large bowie knife that the punk had tucked into his pants. The crowd separated, a look of awe on their faces as the machine continued in the direction Pollos went.
Xavior walked toward the monorail station, glad he had finally gotten everyone off his back. He had been within sight of his destination. when he heard a nearby window shatter behind him. A bloody muscular arm pulled him off the ground and in through the broken window. Looking up, his eyes locked onto the cyborg’s gaze; its cold eyes unflinching as it smashed a brick onto his head.
Pollos came to his senses slowly, unsure of where exactly he was. It was cold, dark; a sewer most likely. He became aware that he was being carried… probably by that thing. Acting as though he were still asleep, he brought Kuar to his hand, and very quickly, jabbed the sword through where its heart should be. It fell, first to its knees, then he impaled it several more times. Reaching down, he felt for its pulse; there was none.
“I don’t know what the fuck you were, but I will have you cut open and find out.” He pulled the surprisingly heavy object up a manhole, depositing it on ground in some abandoned factory they had come up into. Shuffling around in his pockets, he grabbed his cybermodem. It was time to get some answers.
The Bible has many stories in which angels appear to men. In almost every instance, the man’s initial response is fear. As Hex slowly rose to his feet to attempt to meet this new threat, he was unimpressed. The boy willed fire to scorch the angel-filled sky and eagerly awaited them to fall from their positions burning. To his dismay, they were unharmed. He collapsed back to his knees, frustrated by his seeming powerlessness. He watched as the fire dissipated, and slowly, the angels started to draw away from plain sight.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they, child? Very few of the Faithful have the gift of being able to look into the spiritual realm.” Ira Weiss just stood there, marveling at the celestial host that hovered above him and the rebellious teen. “I never grow tired of looking at them. They have protected me since my childhood. You can’t hurt them, Hex.”
Hex stared at the pavement in anger; under his derisive glare, the concrete steps cracked all they way up to within a foot of Weiss, then the cracks split around the “lieutenant” in a circle.
“Hex… have you ever read the Bible?”
“What does that have to do with anything? If you’re not going to kill me, then let me kill you!” Hex picked up a piece of the pavement and it turned into a plasma revolver, from which he immediately fired off as many rounds as he could before he accepted that he was unable to defeat his opponent with that approach. Every bolt that he fired bounced off a spherical force field that surrounded Weiss.
“Exodus 20:13: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ I’m going to assume, then, that you have not read the Bible. Am I right?”
“Well… yes,” the teen replied slowly, his weapon returning to a rock.
“How do you believe the universe was created, Hex?”
“That hardly matters. It’s here now and I don’t really care how it got here. What’s your point?” I’ve got to find a way out of this place, he thought.
“Some believe that the entire universe was contained in one miniscule point of condensed matter from all eternity until, one day, this single point exploded into the universe.”
Hex sat dumbfounded. “Don’t Christians believe that God created the universe?”
“Think about it. A single point of condensed matter? Who created the matter? Why did it condense? Why, if it was inert, did it explode?”
“Explosions don’t create things. They destroy… like this!” he shouted as he hurled the rock at Weiss and dove for cover. He turned and saw that the rock exploded right in Weiss’ face, but the man was unharmed.
Ira smiled. “There are problems with any theory. I’m glad that you can at least see one.” The boy got back up and walked over to the bottom of the charred, cracked steps. “Yes, Hex. In the end, after the theories and the explanations and everything we do to avoid the awful truth, logic states that we must return to the only true answer. God did create the universe. Six days he made the whole universe and on the seventh He rested. He created man in His own image, and commanded him to take care of the Garden of Eden.”
Shit, Hex cursed to himself, what have I gotten myself into now?
Ever since man disobeyed God in the Garden, sin spread like a disease to every single human of every generation. Over two thousand years ago, God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for mankind’s sins: eternal life without God.
The boy sat there and heard all of it. Weiss’ speech went on for at least an hour, but by the end, something had changed inside of him. All the pain in his life seemed to break on those shattered steps. In that small, quiet space, Hex was convinced, convicted, and confessing.
The boy told the man everything… everything he could remember clearly about his life, but a lot of it didn’t make sense. By the end of the day, Hex (who decided to once again use the name “Kiddo”) had accepted Jesus as his personal savior. The boy was relieved to no longer bear the guilt of having killed so many people with his own hands.
Kiddo had spent the last two days on a transport headed for San Angeles, reading a book that they never had offered him back on the Auschwitz. He started with the gospels, and then moved on to read the Old Testament. The story of the Israelites was fascinating. Time and time again, they strayed from the path God had laid out before them, and when this happened, some sort of disaster fell upon them. Only when they turned their hearts back towards God did their trouble end, but peace never lasted long. Today, he had already read Acts and Romans, and would have continued to read the epistles. A longer than usual beep from the door interrupted him.
Kiddo jumped out of the chair in his quarters and ran to answer the door, although he already knew who was on the other side. Kiddo reached the door while it was still beeping. A somewhat shocked Ira Weiss stood in the hall.
“Were you waiting for me at the door?” asked the Minister of the Faithful.
“No, I was over there in my chair reading.”
“Did you use a correspondence jump to get to the door?”
“I think we need to teach you a little about how Time works after our meeting.”
“Didn’t I tell you why I wanted you to come to San Angeles with me?”
“Maybe you did… I’ve just been so wrapped up in the Word since you gave it to me that I might not have heard you. I’m sorry.”
“You need not apologize for your love for the Scriptures, child. It is precisely because of this attribute and certain other talents that you possess that I have brought you to the capitol of the Christian Federation. There is someone on the surface who wishes to meet you, Kiddo.”
The boy pondered for a moment. “You don’t mean…”
“Come on. We don’t want to be late to our meeting with Andrew Tremont.”
Caleb soared above San Angeles like a metal valkyrie, conducting souls to heaven through his twin pulse cannons. The moons of the planet were in the correct orbit to allow flying so as to avoid possible detection from prying eyes outside the system. He felt the wind glide off his mental frame as he approached his targets deep within the desert. He activated his rail cannon with a single thought.
The first dozen targets were torn asunder as he strafed them. Round after round tore through them as the supersonic projectiles met their destinations. Then warning lights sounded in his mind; multiple air and ground targets were approaching. He quickly armed his anti-craft and anti-personnel missiles as the targets locked in. The air targets were cheap interceptor drones; the ground targets, old land rovers on auto-pilot. Although he knew this, the brother reacted as if they were the threats they were supposed to represent.
Dozens of missiles poured out of his Archangel mobile suit. His targets went evasive, but few were spared in the onslaught. Those he missed the first time went down as he took control of the missiles' guidance systems for another pass. The entire melee lasted a precious few seconds. The outcome was never in doubt, and in the end, he was the last one standing.
All too easy… he thought, kicking in the retros and returning back to the production facility.
He sat silently on a bench as a technician downloaded the data on his training mission.
"Now don't worry, Brother Caleb," the withered old technician’s grin was missing quite a few teeth, "this won't hurt a bit."
He plugged into Caleb vest, and as the download started, Caleb felt it. A brief moment of static charged his mind, then relief came; it was almost like urinating. "This technology is really amazing."
"Yep.” the technician grunted, watching the readouts.
“You don’t agree?”
“To be honest with ya, brother… I'm thankful I don't have to wear one of those things."
A thin smile appeared on his face. "I understand your feelings, Brother Thomas. But… being in a mobile is like nothing else I've ever experienced."
"Well, you're young yet, brother…give it time."
Caleb silently laughed. "Have you been rated on these yet?"
"Nope… and I don’t wanna be. I'm too old to be stomping around in that tin can. Besides, I’m too set in my ways. They need young folks without my bad habits to run these things."
The sparsely-toothed grin reappeared. “Can you imagine one of these with a limp? Or with gas? I’d hate to see how the computer would interpret my bad breath!”
Caleb laughed as the download of the mission files completed. He turned back to Thomas as he removed the data cord. "How am I doing?"
He consulted his data pad. "Hmmm… this is the best darn efficiency rating I've seen yet! How long have you been in the program?"
"A little over a week, why?"
Thomas looked at him. "Your link rate is up to 96.7%! Some guys never get that high."
"You're joking with me Brother…"
"No… really! Look for yourself!"
The entire team was in the All-Father project room. Caleb was young, so the day-to-day tedium of the progress meetings hadn’t affected him yet. Looking at the senior members of the staff, he knew that would change one day. The meeting finally started as Captain Rogers entered the room, looking even more cheerful than usual.
"Brothers, today is the big day. The final test of the Free Electron Cannon is upon us."
The room hushed as the project team gasped their excitement.
"Sir?" Brother Raynard rose form his chair. "Will we be able to see the test?"
"Yes, brother. Doctor Zeas has procured us a vidfeed from orbit. We'll get to see the results as they happen."
More excited whispers burst from the room full of engineers. Caleb had been studying up on the cannon’s specs, so he was excited as well. I hope it works, he thought, the theory is sound… well, I couldn’t find any errors in the equations. But still…
"Sir? Have you given any thought to our proposal?" Brother Kyle asked.
"Yes I have,” the captain answered, “and the higher-ups are dutifully considering calling it ‘The Mega Laser.’" Laughter filled the room. "I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Brothers, the test will commence at 0130. You have an hour to yourselves, but I want you all at the Status Room by 0120. Any questions? Good. Now let us end with the Lord’s Prayer…"
The hour went by quickly as the men in the All-Father project filled the Status Room. All of them were nervous, some scared; everyone was praying for a positive outcome.
Dear Lord, Caleb prayed, please give us the strength to follow the path you have set for us. Please give us the endurance to complete the work you have set before us. Allow the success of this weapon so that we may punish the wicked. In your son’s precious name I pray, Amen.
He stopped praying as the vidfeed came to life. The observation craft showed them a great view of the cannon boons. The giant weapon was mounted on the front of a frigate.
"There it is, boys!" Harrell Rogers exclaimed as cheers filled the room.
The frigate pulled away from the camera towards its target.
"Sir, what is that?"
"It's an old dreadnought from Enoch that was scuttled at the battle of Hrothgar." Rogers said, pointing at the gigantic burned out hull on the screen. "The salvage teams didn't find much of value after it went down, so we’re using it as a practice dummy."
"Serves them right, god-damn hell spawn…"
"Watch that blasphemy!" Rogers chided Brother Thomas.
"Sorry, sir, force of habit."
Caleb watch in fascination as the frigate went into position and locked onto its target.
"Here goes nothing." Brother Raynard said to himself.
The frigate powered up the cannon; beautiful swirls of golden light appeared between the boons as it readied to fire. This is it. We're the first people to ever see an eight meter grav laser fire.
Captain Rogers stared at the sensor readouts on the screen. "I know the grav chamber will protect the boons, now we’ll see if it will protect the vessel firing it."
The cannon spewed forth its payload of photons at the derelict vessel. The men gathered held their breath while the beam focused on the target. The camera paned back to the frigate; it didn't have a scratch on it. As the cannon cycled through the last of its cool down procedures, the men gathered cheered.
"What's the target look like!?" Brother Raynard yelled.
The camera eventually went back to where the target had been. All that remained was molten debris that was slowly hardening in the vacuum of space.
Caleb was running a diagnostic on the All-Father's peripheral motor pathways when he hear the scream. He looked down from his perch to see a man's body crumpled on the floor below. The first thing he noticed was all the blood, the second thing he noticed was that the man was Raynard.
He quickly unstraped himself and made his way down to the fallen man as everyone else in the hanger did. He kept his distance as the pool of blood grew larger. As medics came to bring him to sick bay, Rogers ran in.
"What the hell happened in here!?"
"Sir, Brother Raynard fell from the catwalk!" Thomas informed him.
He silenced the stream of obscenities trying to escape his mouth. "How did that happen?"
"Well, sir…" Brother Paul started, "he noticed an obstruction in one of the head guns and…well, he's done it so many times before…"
"So he took off his safety harness to save time and ended up breaking his neck." The Captain finished the thought, shaking his head. "That's it! From now on, anyone found working on the higher levels without proper safety equipment gets an official reprimand and fined! Is that understood?"
They all nodded.
"Good, well then…back to work."
As the crowd broke up, Brother Kyle approached the Captain. "Sir, who will take Brother Raynard's place in the field tests?"
"I don't know Brother… not now, I haven't the time."
"I'll do it." Caleb answered from a few feet away.
They all turned to look at him. "You? You're the least senior certified pilot here!" Kyle burst out.
"I'm a better pilot than you are." Caleb said matter-of-factly.
Kyle stated walking towards him, but was stopped by the Captain's arm. "Patience, brother. Don't let hubris cloud your mind." He looked at Caleb. "And that goes for you too, son."
"The field tests should be performed by the best pilot we have." He pointed to Kyle. "And he isn’t it."
Kyle strained against the captain's embrace. "You arrogant little bastard!"
"Enough of this, both of you! Keep this up and I'll bounce both of you from this program!"
Caleb walked up to Kyle, still being held back by the captain. "Why do you wish to pilot the All-Father so badly, brother?" Caleb asked. "Is it for his glory, or yours?"
Kyle stopped struggling from the captain as he let hold of him. "You want to see who the better pilot is? Then let’s find out."
"Sir, permission for myself and Brother Kyle to enter the simulator."
The captain looked at both men hard for a moment. "Granted…"
The building exploded in front of Caleb, absorbing the shot for him, as his Crusader suit dashed past. Kyle was good; he kept using his jump jets to throw off his counter-attacks, a controlled burn just above the buildings. No matter how the brother turned and twisted, he couldn’t get the initiative, forcing him to constantly react.
Suddenly, his threat warning went off; Kyle had gotten behind him again. Caleb was just able to race into the side street before his enemy’s missiles destroyed the structures behind him. Got to find a way out of this, the brother’s mind screamed, and instantly the mobile suit’s computers listed several alternatives. No, no, no… these won’t do. Every time I make a move, he’s able to fire first. None of these will work unless I gain the initiative. How will I…
Kyle’s suit had jumped in front of him suddenly, cutting off his protected escape route. The missile lock warnings suddenly went off and Caleb acted fast. Bashing his giant metal arm into the building beside him, the plastcrete blew apart into a whirr of pieces, just enough chaff as was necessary to stop the incoming missiles. His temporary advantage wouldn’t last, he knew, Kyle’s damn good… but not as good as me.
Caleb hit the jump jets and flew up above the rubble cloud. Suddenly, Kyle’s suit was right with him. Both pilots activated their lasers and blasted. The shock of the kinetic blast was enough to knock both their suits down to the ground. His enemy got quickly back to his feet; Caleb wasn’t that lucky. The right leg’s damaged… and Kyle’s still coming. The brother quickly rolled the suit to get out of the way of any potential strike and soon the thruster got him back to his feet. Laser fire blasted all around him and he rushed as fast as his suit could take him out the target zone.
“Give up yet?” he heard the mocking sound of Kyle over his com unit. His fellow brother was enjoying his superiority so far.
Caleb bit down on the dentcom. “Greater is he that is in me, Brother Kyle, than he who is in the world.” Then he hit the jump jets again and fired a barrage of rockets towards his enemy’s position.
Kyle easily dodged the attack and began to blast his pulse lasers back at him. Caleb’s instinct was to hit the retros to avoid the attack. Then something inside him told him different; the brother shifted and hit the jump jets again, plunging him right towards the other suit.
Lasers seared the outside of his suit, damage warnings blazed inside the suit; the brother ignored everything but the kill. Kyle’s suit was suddenly bashed into the building behind him by a nine-foot tall battering ram fueled by several thousand pounds of thrust. After they both dropped to the ground, Caleb’s opponent managed to roll out from underneath his suit, but his exoskeleton was damaged, which prevented him from reaching any kind of speed.
Caleb took advantage of it immediately. Kyle’s used to fighting at long distance, he realized, let’s see how he does up close. His armored fist suddenly came down against his shoulder, spinning his suit around, bringing up his other fists for protection. He didn’t give him a chance to react, continuing to pummel his suit, forcing him on the defensive.
Kyle kept trying to activate his lasers but to drop his guard would allow his attacker an opening. However, Caleb wasn’t as hampered. Fainting to the right, his opponent faced his right arm to block his blow. Bringing his own laser at point blank range, Caleb activated it, slagging Kyle’s own laser.
The brother unconsciously jumped back from the damage and Caleb struck again. Making a quick jump with his jets, both feet landed squarely in the center of Kyle’s suit, dropping him back down. Kyle couldn’t react fast enough. Caleb continued his assault, blasting his own laser and his missiles, until finally, his opponent was neutralized.
A signal beeped in the suit, telling him that Kyle had left the simulator. Caleb did the same, regretting it the instant he stepped outside of the box.
The brother looked humbled as he walked over to Caleb. “I’m… sorry, brother. My pride overcame my understanding.”
“Pride goes before a fall, brother.” Caleb nodded.
Kyle smiled. “I just didn’t expect it to be from a mobile suit.” He placed his arm on his new brother. “For the glory of the Lord.”
“For the glory of the Lord.”
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!!”
“What?!” Xinjao cried, utterly bewildered. Out of the frying pan into the fucking fire!
“Don’t play dumb!” Leisa snapped, giving the screwdriver another half twist. “I can see the fundies worked you over good, and I know a fat old pervert like you sang like a canary!” she hissed. “Now what did you tell them?”
“Nothing!” O’Reilly cried. His mind clocked away, thinking of a way out of the situation. After an electrical circumcision from a fundamentalist werewolf, Xinjao was considerably less frightened of this little girl and her tool kit then he probably should have been…
“Like hell!” Leisa retorted, accentuating the words with little jabs from her screwdriver. “C’mon, O’Reilly, how much did you tell them about the resistance? We gotta know how much danger we’re in!”
“I told them we existed, nothing else! I told them about Smashie, and they won’t find him because he doesn’t exist!” O’Reilly mumbled, trying not to lower his jaw too far down onto the impromptu knife at his throat. He could feel a warm liquid beginning to pool under his chin. “That’s it! I swear!”
“Bull-SHIT!” Leisa all but shouted “I’m not fooling around, O’Reilly!”
“Neither am I!” O’Reilly snapped as made his move. With all his remaining strength and adrenaline, he suddenly twisted to the side and snapped his arms up. The mechanical fingers closed around her neck like a vice. The shock was clear on her face; only because he caught her by surprise had he avoided an amateur lobotomy. “Think carefully before you move that ‘driver, bitch!” O’Reilly warned her, speaking around the screwdriver stuck in his jaw, “you kill me, my muscles contract, the hand closes around your throat. Now I swear to GOD I didn’t squeal on the resistance! I tricked them into believing I didn’t know anything, and that Smashie was in control! They haven’t got jack on us!”
“You expect us to believe this shit?” Leisa croaked out around the steel fist surrounding her throat. “They burn your eye out and you never broke? Bullshit. I want the truth, O’Reilly!” Leisa and Xinjao lay perfectly still on the floor in a stalemate, hands at each other’s throats. Leisa glared at him, not sure how to handle this; Xinjao could do nothing but wait, having played the only card he had. Neither was beaten and neither would admit defeat.
“I know you don’t think I have the guts to die under torture for principles, Lesia… and you’re right,” O’Reilly hissed at her. “But don’t underestimate my hatred -- I’d rather die than let those bastards have the Yards!” Xinjao watched her face soften into uncertainty. I’m getting through to her… gotta press the advantage… “Look…I fooled their mind mage with misleading answers that were technically true - so when I said I didn’t know anything, the mage confirmed it, and Reks bought it. The fundies knows the resistance exists, but they don’t know who’s in it or what we’re planning. We’re in security, for God’s sake! Check the computers if you don’t believe me!” Leisa glared back at him silently, clearly uncertain what to think.
“What he’s saying does make sense, Leisa,” Maitri interrupted, ripping her eyes away from the plasma-roasted body of Bhanu at her feet. “There’s a massive manhunt in Dock 14 right now -- that’s why all the security officers are gone. If they really are chasing phantoms, at least that gives us some time…”
“Leisa!” Baisihk barked at her urgently, “Can we please do this somewhere else? Someone’s gonna walk in here any minute, and we need to be gone!” Leis glanced at them, then slowly withdrew the bloody screwdriver. Xinjao released his grip. She stood up and backed away, watching O’Reilly’s every move like a hawk as he stood.
“Alright, guys,” Leisa said to her co workers, “waste him.”
Xinjao heard the familiar whir and click of plasma revolvers charging as he struggled to stand. He shot a terrified glance over his shoulder at Leisa, Maitri, and Baisihk raising their pistols at him, and scrambled for cover. Maitri and Baishik hesitated in the face of cold-blooded murder; that saved his life. Only Leisa fired in time to clip his leg.
“What the HELL?!” O’Reilly bellowed in pain as the bolt ripped through his calf. He pulled himself behind a desk as plasma flew past him.
“You’re a liability, O’Reilly!” Leisa shouted, walking around the console to find him. “If you escape, they won’t stop until they find you, and that’ll lead them to us!”
“But you can’t kill me! You… uh…” O’Reilly stalled, trying to think of a good reason as he scrambled into the corner, looking all around for a way out. “Um… I’m the only one coordinating the resistance! I’m the only one who knows how to set off the bombs!”
“We can manage without you, O’Reilly,” Baisihk said somewhat apologetically, walking toward him. “We’re not stupid, you know. Now come on, guys, let’s shoot him and go!”
“Wait!” O’Reilly cried, looking about wildly. I’m fucking cornered… and I can’t run with a fried leg… “If you kill me, you’ll… uh…” He watched as the trio leveled their guns at him… “you’ll never find out about the escape ship!!” he screamed, throwing his arms over his head and curling into a ball to shield himself from the shower of plasma… even though he knew it was pointless.
Trembling, O’Reilly peeked out from under his arms. The three were still aiming at him, but Leisa held out her hand to stop them from firing. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“What escape ship?” she asked.
“I’ve got an escape ship prepped and ready to get us out of here when the bombs go off,” O’Reilly spat out as fast as he could. “I wanted as few people as possible to die.”
“Where is it?” Leisa asked.
“Dock 10… but you’ll need me to fly it,” Xinjao answered.
“We’ve got pilots in the resistance,” Leisa countered.
“But I rigged the ship so one person could operate everything,” he explained. “The controls are all screwed up. And the access codes are all in here,” he tapped a mechanical finger against his temple.
“And they are?” Leisa asked him suspiciously.
Xinjao shook his head slowly. “Oh, hell no, Leisa. If you want them, you’ll have to keep me alive and take me with you.” He paused, gauging their reaction. Baisihk and Maitri looked at each other, clearly interested in the idea. Leisa was still skeptical, undecided. “Aw, come on!” Xinjao whined, “Our cover’s blown… we can’t sneak around breaking things anymore! The resistance has gotta spring whatever traps we have left and get the hell out of here. It won’t make much difference if I’m dead, and I’m a hell of a lot more use to you alive!”
“You can blow the traps,” Leisa asked slowly, “and get us safely out of here?”
“That’s the plan we’ve been setting up for months,” O’Reilly answered.
“Alright,” she finally agreed, lowering her revolver. “You’re in. But we gotta work fast. Which way to the escape ship?”
“Dock 10,” Xinjao said, “but I need to go to my quarters in Dock 14 first.” He cautiously stood up, wincing at the burning pain in his injured leg. I’m getting used to fucking living with pain…
“Dock 14? Are you crazy?” Maitri exploded. “The entire security staff is turning that place upside down for Smashie right now!” the chestnut-skinned Hindu argued.
“Look, we gotta go there!” Xinjao protested. “I’ve got a remote detonator for the bombs there that I rigged to be a dead man’s switch - if they kill us, KABOOM! It’s our best way to guarantee safe passage out of here!” he pleaded. “Look, if it gets too hot, we can always scrap the idea and find some other way to set of the bombs… but we gotta at least try. Look, you don’t have to come - I can go alone.”
“Fuck that, O’Reilly!” the fiery little woman swore. “I’m not letting you out of my sight!” She turned to her companions. “Maitri, collect the guard’s weapons and grab as many ammo clips as you can. Sihk, see if you can get those cuffs off of O’Reilly.”
“Leisa!” Baisihk exclaimed in disbelief. “This is suicide!”
“Every second until we’re off the Yards is suicide!” Leisa snapped. “You knew the risks when you joined the resistance!” Reluctantly, Baisihk began looking up the combination to O’Reilly’s restraints.
“I’ve gotta make a quick announcement…” Xinjao said, crossing to loudspeaker system.
“You touch that microphone,” Leisa said, raising her pistol, “and I’ll burn your head off! Are you trying to get us caught?!”
Xinjao held up his cuffed hands innocently. “It’s a secret message to the resistance,” he pleaded, “all just part of the plan, Leisa… trust me.”
They’re on to us. They’ve gotta be. Why else would they confine us to our quarters? What are they going to do to us? Are they going to question us? Are they going to torture us? What if they torture ME? What if I break? Should I just tell them anyway? Try to bargain for a better position? How much do they know? Do they know about me? Do they know what I did to the Saint Andrew?
Endless questions raced through Ensign Eugene Higgins’ head as he paced around his dormitory room, too scared and agitated to sit still. He couldn’t stop the endless questions, and he couldn’t answer them. The more worried he became, the more questions he asked himself; the more questions he asked himself, the more worried he became. He was well on his way to working himself into a paranoid frenzy.
“ATTENTION ALL PERSONNEL: PHOENIX ONE IS PREPPED AND READY FOR FLIGHT. WILL ALL DEPARTING PASSENGERS PLEASE REPORT TO SPACEDOCK FOR BOARDING.”
Why did I go along with this resistance bullshit in the first place? Now I’m gonna - Eugene stopped suddenly, his endless questions interrupted. He had been so lost in thought he had almost missed the announcement. Phoenix One? Why does that sound familiar? What a minute… Suddenly his stomach clenched as he realized where he knew it from… the announcement was a code that something had gone terribly wrong….
If we ever hear that, we’re supposed to… Eugene pounced on his desk and scrambled around madly for the datapad. Finally he found the right one and punched in the password for the hidden file with trembling fingers. The screen lit up before him; a schematic map of the Phoenix Yards appeared, then zoomed in on a red flashing object in the loading bay of Doc 10. USER LOCATION? the screen prompted him. Eugene typed in the address for his dorm as beads of sweat formed on his brow. Instantly a red line sped out from the flashing red object, zigging and zagging across the screen, blue schematics zooming by in a blur until the line stopped in an access tunnel passing under his room.
Am I supposed to follow this? Eugene wondered. I wish the resistance weren’t so damn cryptic! Some clear instructions would be useful right now… Eugene quickly changed into black clothing, stuffed a few valuables in a knapsack, unscrewed the floor panel, and crawled into the narrow service tunnel. In a second he was gone, crawling into the darkness toward whatever awaited him at the end of the red line.
“This is stupid, O’Reilly.” Leisa moaned as they approached Dock 14. There were several guards waiting outside the giant airlock leading into the “Death Dock.” Xinjao had convinced them to carry a large box that they make believe was heavy; it was necessary if he was to cover up for his limping. The box looked technical enough, stamped with several warning labels, and looking rather important. Of course, it’s probably a box for the cafeteria’s coffee maker, O’Reilly thought. As they approached the airlock, dressed in their RA white environment suits, no one questioned them as they walked right past them.
There were hundreds of people rushing around the dock, making it cramped for all involved. However, almost all of them were dressed exactly the same. They’re all looking for Smashie, Xinjao realized, they’re not looking for four people entering the heavily patrolled part of the station. It didn’t take long to reach his old quarters. No one was inside. O’Reilly saw what he needed; the detonator and the slide rule. He managed to limp over and get them then rushed back. “Here they are.”
“We don’t have long.” Baisihk answered. “Next patrol’s due back in a minute.”
Stuffing the two items into the box, he picked up his corner of it. “Let’s go.”
Dock Ten was also packed… but with a different group of people, Earth Fleet personnel. There were at least a couple hundred of them, all carrying some kind of makeshift weapon. Crude slug throwers, flame throwers, rivet guns, staple guns, and several types of explosives adorned their hands. My God, O’Reilly thought, I never realized the Resistance was this big. How are we going to get them onto a corvette that can comfortably fit fifty?
“You’ve really stepped in the shit now, O’Reilly.” Leisa mirrored his thoughts.
“Yeah,” was all that Xinjao could manage in response, “let’s get out of here.” As they approached the crowd, he took his implements out of the box, and placed them in his hands. The box down, O’Reilly bore the pain and actually stood on top of it.”
“Friends!” he tried to scream over the murmur of the crowd, “I think you all know who I am! Thanks to your help, we’re finally going to leave this hell-hole forever! The airlock you see next to you leads to a ship which will take us out of here. It’s gonna be a tight fit, so please be patient, this is our only chance. Let’s go home!”
The crowd cheered at his words and soon cleared a path to the airlock.
“Are they all on?”
Leisa checked her datapad. “Almost. I think we’re the only ones left, but… you haven’t see how it is in there.”
“I don’t care. It’s our only ride home.” Xinjao shot back. “Let’s get…”
“NO!” came a terrible scream that seemed to fill the now-empty dock. Standing on the other side was a werewolf in Crinos form… carrying a large sword.
"Fire!" The platoon of troopers opened fire on the advancing division. It was a hopeless effort really. Two maybe three would fall. They were too good, way too good.
"Lieutenant! They've taken cover! They're firing! What should we do?!"
Thoughts pumped through her head, confusing her too the breech of insanity. Finally she managed to get out the order. "Hold your fire!" The shooting stopped quickly and the newly promoted lieutenant prepared to surrender.
Malachi listened as the shooting stopped and someone yelled out. At first it was still drowned out by the ringing of the gunfire in his ears, but he quickly made out the message.
"Hold fire!" He shouted. His men stopped shooting and slowly the already shattered platoon crept out. Malachi counted seven; the HAPs were incredible. Only a couple seconds of shooting and they had nearly wiped out the platoon.
The platoon CO came up last, hand pressed against the metallic left arm of the suit. Malachi stepped out to greet them. As he came closer one of the troopers with his faceplate up suddenly went pale.
Malachi felt fear jolt through him as he recognized the face.
"Corporal Proctor?" Malachi came to the realization at last. Most of the Fed army was here; odds were likely that everyone he'd fought with before was here. Which meant that....
Malachi turned to see his former platoon sergeant holding her arm coming towards him. As she realized who it was, she stopped.
Elly Ragdowski began to slowly come closer. Hardly believing that her former CO had made lieutenant colonel, switched sides, and was leading troops towards his former capitol city, she looked at him doubtfully.
"Lieutenant?" Spyder could think of no other way to greet his former XO, who was now his enemy.
"You wish to surrender?"
"Very well then, Elly."
Finally she broke out in rage, "What the hell are you doing here!"
"The same as you. Fighting a war none of us wants to.”
“You swore an oath!”
“Yes, damn it!” Malachi shot back. “Yes, I did. But when that same government abandons you on Babylon… when it doesn’t give a damn about who you are when it comes to their political games… what’s the point, Elly?”
“The point?!” Ragdowski was on the verge of fuming.
“I need your help… and you need mine. Whether or not we're still on the side we started on doesn't really matter anymore."
"You killed some of the people that you used to lead. You shot me!" Her hand had come off her arm and blood trickled down her arm.
Malachi gestured his arm at the of the downed HAP trooper. "You shot him," Then he gestured towards a group of HAPs gathering up the platoon. "they shot back. Its what they're trained for."
The lieutenant backed down. "Right, sorry."
"Have the medic look at your arm, okay?"
"I'll want to talk to you later… about what happened."
The lieutenant nodded and headed off towards the rest of her platoon. Spyder looked at what had happened and saw the casualties being dealt with. Too many lost, he realized, and we haven’t even reached the capital city.
Brigadier General Irene Weirimu held her head in her hands, her face looking past the edge of the urban sprawl that was the capital city. More raids against the outer ring of suburbs were testing the fragile command structure of the Fed’s loyal TI troopers. Suddenly a shadow came across her path. “You sent for me, ma’am?”
Her tanned face looked into a very young lieutenant’s face. Older than most of what we get out of OCS these days, she reminded herself, but is he up to the task? “Lieutenant Walters, yes?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The thick drawl of his voice seemed silly to her, but she was from Proxima; she wasn’t used to the accent of the frontier worlds.
“Good. You come highly recommended. I assume you’ve met your platoon?” Walters nodded. “That’s good because for the mission I have in mind, you’ll need to know them very well.” The lieutenant said nothing, but she could already see the confusion in his face. “We have had intermittent difficulties defeating the raiding units which constantly attack the capital. Central Command can no longer allow this to happen. My legion has been specifically tasked with stopping this threat. However, the last three units I sent to engage the enemy have been destroyed.”
“Where do my boys fit it, ma’am?”
“In ancient history, the British used a group of men called the Long Range Patrol to fight a desert war against a more effective enemy. We are faced with a similar situation, faced with a hardened veteran unit called the Dead Boys, and traditional methods for attack have failed. Our reports have them approaching the city limits any day now… this can not be allowed. Your platoon will be responsible for harassing the enemy, slowing down their advance, and providing accurate intelligence. However, do not engage. Do I make myself clear?”
Walters paused for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Anything else?”
“That’s all. You move out as soon as you are ready, but no later than tomorrow morning. Dismissed.”
Captain Jacopo Belbo paced the bridge of the EFS Kirishima, annoyed that he was not allowed to take part in the battle further in-system. "Fuck, when are they gonna let us mix it up in a real battle? I'm tired of this rear-guard shit."
His exec, Commander Chandra Gupta, looked at him with a quizzical eye. "Sir, we're staffed almost entirely with volunteers from the ground corps. You and I are about the only ex-fleet officers on board. The crew needs more training before a real battle."
Jacopo knew she was right. Still… "But how the hell are we gonna get some experience sitting here? We can't even put the ship in training mode, because we have to keep watch for any ships moving up to open this gate."
"The crew are running constant active sensor probes in a hostile star system," Chandra replied, "don't you think that counts as training?"
"Not if there is nothing for them to see," the captain retorted. "I can read a tacdata upload. Little Krissy," he practically spat, "hasn't got the ships to spare to run all the way out here, and they'd have to get past Admiral Twedt first anyway."
"Some of those big ships in hyperspace might jump in out here," Gupta ventured.
"Nah, we'd see a jump point soon enough to blow the gate, even if we couldn't do much to a BC or DN if it jumped close enough to hurt us."
"And a digital gate like this one, unlike a hyperspace jump gate," Gupta nodded, "doesn't have a constant beacon in hyperspace for them to lock on to jump near enough to the gate to surprise us."
"This far out from the primary, we might as well be in Bug space," the captain snorted. "But if we were in Bug space, at least we'd have something to shoot at."
Two million kilometers away, Erich Von Shrakenberg was also pacing his bridge. "We should have joined the main fleet after that battle. A squadron of battlecruisers might have made a difference there. One of the other ships should have gone alone to Avalon VI."
Terry Carter turned to his old friend and put a hand on the shoulder of his combat skinsuit. "Quit blaming yourself. Four ships one way or the other wouldn't have made much difference back there.”
“We still should have at least been there. It was our duty…”
“Erich,” his friend interrupted, “out here, we can make a difference. We just open one of those jumpgates… and can bring in enough reinforcements to turn this battle."
Von Shrakenberg shrugged. "Well… it's too late to turn around and go back." He turned to the sensor officer. "Status on the enemy ships?"
"Sensor net still has a firm fix on their location, they're radiating on all active sensors."
Erich nodded. "Good thing we changed the codes on the sensor network. I'd hate to fight this battle without them. Shipboard sensors can only reach so far."
"Ten minutes to firing range." Carter reminded him.
"Okay," the commodore began, "you know the plan. Hold fire as long as possible. First choice is to use the Grav Lasers to blast away their comlink array so they can't warn the rest of the fleet. But if they see us before we're close enough for beam weapons, open up on them with lance torpedoes and make a dash for the gate. Got it?" The bridge crew nodded their assent. "Good, communications, have you got a good feel for their IFF codes and encryption system?"
Lieutenant Fitzwater at the communications station nodded weakly. "I can fool them for a few minutes, but if they have some periodic check-in signal we haven't seen yet, they'll know something is up."
"A few minutes is all we'll need."
"Captain Belbo, getting a possible contact at bearing zero-one-five mark zero-three-seven!"
"Intensify sensor sweeps on that bearing, notify the Ise, see if they can get a fix," the captain ordered curtly.
"Another sensor ghost?" queried Commander Gupta. "That's the third one in the last six hours."
"Maybe, maybe not…" Belbo replied, calling up the sensor data on his own display for a better look. "At least it's some more training."
"The contact is still there, but it's very weak," reported the sensor officer. "I can't get a firm range reading."
"Bring up the targeting sensors, maybe they can get a fix," ordered Belbo. "Battle stations, everyone!"
"Active targeting emissions! Estimate thirty seconds until they have a fix!"
"Schizen," Erich cursed. "Can you hit them before they see us?"
The weapons officer nodded shakily. "I…think so, sir."
"You'd better. Fire in ten seconds." Erich wished for a minute that he had Herbert Gergenstein at the weapons panel again. He could have hit the enemy ship from another hundred thousand kilometers further away. Then he caught himself and snorted in disgust. Yeah, if he was at the weapons panel, I could strangle that treasonous son of a bitch with my bare hands…
"Contact confirmed, estimate battlecruiser, unknown class!"
"Shit." Captain Belbo cursed. "Launch fighters, fire all torpedo tubes!"
"Aye, si…" The weapons officer was suddenly cut off in mid-word as the ship was violently rocked by an explosion. The sitting crew were thrown against their restraints and the captain was thrown to the deck, caught out of his command chair. The lights flickered and went out, and the dimmer emergency lighting circuits cut in a fraction of a second later.
"Weapons power out, main communications down," shouted the exec from her panel.
"Grav laser hit, main hull," announced the sensor officer. "Main sensors down, secondaries report similar hit on the Ise."
"Picking up a signal on tactical comnet," the exec cut in, in an urgent tone. "It's the enemy ships, they're demanding our surrender."
"Like hell! Can we get a signal to the fleet?" asked Belbo desperately.
"Not for at least an hour, the main antenna is completely fried."
"Docking bay reports damage to the bay doors, unable to launch fighters," reported the weapons officer.
"Patch me through to the enemy commander, maybe we can stall them.” The captain ordered. “We’ve got to a message to the fleet."
The image of their opponent soon appeared in the main viewer. "This is Commodore Erich Von Shrakenberg to rebel ships. You are outmatched and outgunned, you can't win. Surrender now and no further harm will come to you. Resist or delay, and I will blow you to plasma. You have 20 seconds to reply."
"Like hell I'm gonna surrender, we're not beaten yet!" Belbo shot back.
Erich smiled. "I have four undamaged Revenge-class Battlecruisers in energy range that say otherwise. You're outnumbered and outclassed. Surrender or die, it's that simple. You have ten seconds."
"If it helps, I happen to know that Auntie Sarah has been deposed in a coup. On Avalon, the Grand Council are all dead.” The commodore leaned forward. “There's no point to fighting any more. With any luck, this war will probably be over within a week. Please, there's no good reason for you to die. Five seconds."
On the Kirishima, the news hit them hard. Captain Belbo's jaw worked up and down, like a fish gulping in water. Suddenly, Erich's image on the screen smiled again. "Thank you, Captain Murayama. Power down your systems and prepare to be boarded. We will assist you in your repairs and send over shuttles for your wounded." Erich's hand obviously moved towards the weapons panel on the arm of his command chair. "Captain Belbo, your answer?"
With the other ship surrendered already, there was no choice. "I agree to your terms." He sat back heavily in his chair as the image disappeared. What the hell was the point of it all?
Alexander was tired of waiting. He said I’d come with him up the ladder, he
thought. Damn it, I’ve held up my part of the bargain. Now I want my
commission! He went into the first office he could find at Patton Base and
activated the vidphone. In a few seconds, the image of his platoon officer
appeared. “Sergeant? What do you want?”
“Get me Treschi.”
“What?” the lieutenant shot him a puzzled look.
“I said, get me Treschi. You can do that. I’ve been trying to contact him every since he got back and nothing. Now patch me through to Treschi now!”
She was not impressed. “This could be grounds for insubordination.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sergeant Alexander shot back, “but it’s a lot better than certain people finding out about that collection you have? I’m sure a word or two here and there…”
“Look, Rich,” the lieutenant desperately changed the subject, “I can’t get you the colonel because he’s not here.”
“Then find him.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Because Colonel Treschi is a little busy at the moment.”
Sitting in the luxurious, broken room, the six of them sat in the room; the pleasantries were over. Andrea Treschi sat there, not able to get comfortable in his chair, looking at Wall with his two bodyguards, and the two InSec agents. They’ve taken both my most powerful allies away from me, the colonel thought, and I’m left with fewer cards. Now here I am, playing in the big game, and my royal flush has been turned into two pair. Damn it, there has to be something I can do. They wouldn’t have left me in the game without a reason.
“You almost made it, M. Treschi.”
Damn, the former smuggler thought, I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve got to stay focused, after all, this is the most deadly game of all. “I’m sorry?”
Samuel Wall leaned back in his chair and smiled. “I said you almost made it. You were about to establish a functional government that would be able to bring order out of this chaos.” The old power broker yawned and scratched his ear. “Of course, we couldn’t allow it.”
“We?” Andrea asked. If he can reveal some more of his allies…
“A man is only as good as his friends, M. Treschi. I made sure that I had the support of certain factions within InSec, the connections within the government, and the resources to make it possible. Eliminate the supports,” Wall made a scissors out of his two fingers, “and the man falls. So you could understand why your friends needed to be… out of the way.”
“Naturally.” Get to the point, old man!
“The Federation is in a time of crisis, colonel. It is a time for a calming hand to appear, to calm the confusion that has grown as of late.”
“Not me, M. Treschi, please…”
“The chairmanship is a dangerous position,” Major Victor MacManus explained, “and not very safe.”
The lady in red smiled. “To be in control, it is often better to run things behind the scenes.”
“But we can’t do that if this fighting continues!” Wall ejaculated unexpectedly, slamming his fist on the arm of his chair.
Finally, Treschi realized, the truth comes out. “You mean the Raptors and InSec.”
“Exactly.” Samuel relaxed. “This futile, idiotic war must stop… for the good of the Federation.”
“The good of your Federation.” Andrea corrected.
The old man chuckled softly. “They’re one and the same, colonel. You stand to gain more with my help than you could ever hope to gain on your own.”
Now that you’ve left me with no choice. “I could tell my men to stop hunting down your agents, but I have no guarantee that InSec will do the same.”
“You have my word.” the major smiled.
“Right…” Treschi stood up and glanced at them, “even if I do believe you, and the attacks stop, there’s still Gergenstein. After all, you say that you only control part of InSec.”
The lady in red recrossed her legs. “The colonel will be taken care of. Have no doubt about that.”
Andrea went over to the window, avoiding the blood stains on the carpet, so he could watch the beautiful spectacle before him. “That’s great. Forgive me for sounding selfish, but… what’s in it for me?”
MacManus stood up. “Internal Security knew that Auntie Sarah was planning a coup. However, we lacked the ability to act on it, since we didn’t have the resources.”
“No resources?” Treschi pivoted around, doubting what he was hearing. “You have ten thousand operatives!”
“Officially.” the lady in red smiled.
“Yes, we have ten thousand operatives,” Victor answered, “but they gather intelligence… they’re not front-line troops. If we sent in the troops against a military junta…”
“They’d be slaughtered,” Andrea realized, “so what’s the offer?”
“The Raptors are an effective force,” Samuel detailed, “but chasing mages and werewolves… it won’t last forever. Sooner or later, the draft will be repealed, and your men will disappear in the TI hierarchy. Your organization needs a position of more… permanence.”
“As InSec gathers the information…” the lady in red began.
Treschi quickly discovered the end result, “…the Raptors will act on it.” I’m given a bone and expected to like it.
Wall nodded. “Exactly.”
MacManus leaned on the back of his chair. “Think about it. The best of both worlds. A united front from which to… protect humanity. Together we could make sure this tragedy could never happen again. What do you say?”
I’d rather shoot you and let dogs eat your corpse, Andrea thought, but he bided his tongue. “It’s an interesting offer. But there’s still the problem of the war.”
“Oh yes,” the old man yawned, looking bored, “the war. Well, we can soon take care of that.”
"Ma’am, there was a momentary glitch in the datalink to one of our gate pickets.” Ephraim Daniels reported on the Santa Cruz.
“Which one?” Danielle Twedt asked.
“The cruisers guarding the New Paris digital gate." the commander replied..
"Is the signal back?" The admiral asked impatiently; the rebel fleet was almost assembled for their next strike.”
"Yes," Daniels answered, "I guess it could have been a momentary power surge in their systems. Still, with the light-speed lag, whatever happened occurred seven minutes ago."
"Then forget it. Without the sensor net, we can’t find out what happened for another fifteen minutes, and by then… we’ll be ready to go.” Admiral Twedt sighed within her open vac helmet. "When the last ships arrive, commander, order the fleet to proceed to Avalon… again."
“Yes, ma’am.” the tac officer replied, secretly sending the message to the New Paris gate picket. I’d rather be wrong than unprepared, he thought as he went behind his commanding officer’s back.
Danielle unhooked herself from her command chair and strode across the bridge. "In the meantime, you have the conn. I have to visit the head." As she walked towards the tube capsule at the rear of the bridge, she smirked to herself. After 250 years of space travel, you’d think we’d find a way to go in space suits without those damn painful catheters.
Erich Von Shrakenberg watched the flashes of the self-destructing rebel mines on the main viewer. "Send a fighter through the gate to New Paris. Call in the fleet. We only have a few more minutes before they realize what we've done here."
"Admiral on the bridge!"
Danielle Twedt strode back to her command deck, a much better expression on her face than when she left. "Report.”
“The last ships are falling into position now.”
“Very well, signal all squadron commanders. Tell them to move out.”
"Yes, ma’am, all squadrons…" Suddenly something appeared on the tac screen; Commander Daniels began working feverishly over the panel in front of him. "The digital gate is opening!"
Erich watched in bleak anticipation as ships poured through the digital gate from New Paris. However, the commodore was not pleased with what he saw. “Ten ships? All they sent us was ten ships?”
Captain Carter turned to his friend. “Maybe there’s more coming…”
“Sir, communication coming in.” Commander Simonson reported.
Von Shrakenberg composed himself and turned toward the front. “On screen.”
The picture congealed into the image of another flag officer, his helmet off showing a shock of brown hair, and a rather young face. “Greetings, old boy! The name’s Smythe… Commodore Joesph Smythe of the 1st Tactical Carrier Group. Have no fear… the cavalry is here.”
Erich stood there for a moment, trying to hide the look of shock on his face. Between the flag officer’s strange appearance and accent, Von Shrakenberg found it hard to know what to say. “Um… commodore, I was expecting the entire New Paris fleet.”
"Admiral Shoemaker sends his compliments," a look of disgust came across the Brit’s face, “but he believes that the situation does not dictate the need to move his command.”
Does not dictate the need?! The entire Federation’s at stake! “Then why are you here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I don’t agree with my superior’s analysis of the situation.” Smythe said with a gleam in his eye. “Well, don’t let us sit around here talking all day, let’s get on to that jolly old war, shall we?”
“Ahem… indeed. Form up on my squadron and follow us in.”
Smythe sat up. “Not to be a bother, old boy, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to launch my fighters first, so they can take a forward position in front of your squadron. Then my carriers would be more than happy to oblige you.”
"Very well," Erich reported, "Let's only hope the enemy is dumb enough to go for Avalon again. With any luck, we can trap them between us and the Home Fleet.”
“Jolly good show!” the commodore was all smiles. “Discom.”
Von Shrakenberg sat back in his chair and groaned. Terry Carter turned towards him. “Sir, fighters won’t make a dent against…”
“I am well aware of the situation, captain.” Erich moaned. The greatest battle in Earth Fleet history is happening around us and they send me fighters?! Might as well dispatch my chariots to drop caltrops behind their lines. “Tell all ships to deploy drones, different classes. Maybe with all these fighters, they’ll believe it’s a real fleet.”
“Yes, sir.” Fitzwater replied, dispatching the orders.
"Admiral, it's hard to tell at this distance, but it looks like a large task force came through from New Paris… at least forty ships, maybe more."
Admiral Twedt cursed under her breath. "We're outnumbered again."
"We can't leave now!” Commander Daniels pleaded. “We're still almost evenly matched!"
"Oh, if we can sucker them out from behind those battlestations, maybe, but…”
“Ma’am!” her communications officer piped up. “Signal coming in on narrow band.”
“Narrow band?” she parroted. “Very well, put it through.”
On her screen, an old man appeared seated in a large chair. “Admiral Twedt, this is Samuel Wall.”
“Factor Wall?” Danielle was taken back. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“Withdraw from the Avalon System immediately.”
Twedt snorted out a laugh. “With all due respect, sir…”
“Your mother is on life support on New Tokyo. Critical condition, is she not?” Wall’s eyes seemed to tear into her soul, even across the vast distance. “Withdraw your fleet.”
The admiral never felt so vulnerable in her life. “Sir, I…”
“Your brother has a nasty phenol barbiturate habit. Where he gets the money to support would be of great interest to the authorities, I’m sure. Have you forgotten your private account numbers? I can gladly give them to you. Let’s see, now… United Swiss Bank number 2-7…”
She cut the communication abruptly. “Tell the fleet to withdraw… using the Wilke’s Star gate.”
“WITHDRAW!” Danielle screamed.
Commodore Smythe leaned back in his chair, watching in rapt enjoyment at the plot in front of him. His flag captain watched with him and shared his excitement. “It seems that they fell for Commodore Von Shrakenberg’s bluff.”
“Indeed they did, Captain Kumar. A job jolly well done, I should say.” Joesph took a closer look at the rebel fleet. “Of course, it doesn’t seem to take much to scare those rebs, does it? After all, they could have simply turned to face us, then attacked Avalon. Oh, well… more’s the pity. We would have gave them a warm reception.”
“Sir,” his communication officer piped up, “signal coming in on narrow band.”
“Narrow band?” Smythe parroted. “Would you put it on screen, please?”
An old man appeared seated in a large chair. “Commodore Smythe, this is Samuel Wall.”
“Factor Wall? An unexpected pleasure. What can I do for you?”
“I want you to destroy the rebel fleet.”
Joseph stared at the stranger on his com board for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, sir. Anything else?”
As the screen went blank, the commodore went into action. “Lieutenant, inform all fighters to increase speed. Inform Von Shrakenberg that we are breaking formation and order the group forward.” Finally turning to his flag captain, he smiled. “Let’s make sure we beat the Hun, shall we?”
END OF ACT II
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.