DESTROYER OF WORLDS – Act III
“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
-- William Butler Yeats, “Second Coming.”
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.” Joseph 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?”
"I see it," said Erich Von Shrakenberg, watching the icons move on his tactical display. He hit the comlink. "Commodore Smythe, where are you going? They're withdrawing, we won. There's no need to chase them."
The jovial image that appeared on the main screen smiled back. "Sorry, old boy, but we can't just let them escape. We have to thrash them or they'll just come back later."
Erich scowled. "I'm not exactly happy about that either, but they still have over fifty ships over there, including three Star Control ships. You have six carriers and four destroyers. Let them go, it's not worth it."
Smythe simply grinned. "I believe it is. You see, commodore, they’re damaged, low on fuel, and probably have few fighters left. We're coming in fresh. I guarantee we'll give them a good pasting. Care to join me?"
Erich thought for a few seconds. Well, I wanted to get in the thick of the fight, here's my chance. Why do I think this is such a bad idea? "Wait five minutes while I my ships catch up with you. If you're going in anyway, I've got an idea."
"Captain Belbo, if you and your crew will kindly transfer over to the Ise, we'll send you back to Avalon," said Terry Carter, standing on the bridge of the EFS Kirishima, flanked by TI troopers in light power armor. “I'm afraid you will have to talk to the Fleet Intelligence boys for a while, then we'll find some suitable accommodations where you can sit out the rest of the war." "Internment camps," grimaced the rebel captain, "lovely."
"As far as I know, you never actually fired on Fed ships. I'm sure you can convince them you were forced into working for the rebels, if you choose to do so."
"My hypocrisy only goes so far, Captain Carter," spat Belbo. "Maybe lying comes easy for you and your little Council friends, but some of us still have a sense of honor."
"Well, if you insist on the camps, I'm sure we can oblige you." Carter said icily. "Until then, though, I'm afraid we have need of this ship. I'm sure my friend here with the plasma carbine can help you find the shuttle bay?"
"I can find it myself, thank you." The rebel captain strode off to join his crew on the shuttle, followed by two troopers.
Carter turned to the technicians who had accompanied him over from the Repulse. "Okay, we have less than an hour to get this ship underway again. I want main power back online in fifteen minutes, and all hull breaches sealed in twenty. Move it!"
"Ma’am, the Home Fleet is moving out from Avalon." Commander Ephraim Daniels was still unhappy over pulling out from the enemy system, but he was still doing his job as the fleet’s tactical officer.
Danielle Twedt glanced at her display. "They can't catch us before we reach the Wilke's Star jumpgate."
Ephraim chose his words carefully. "No, but if they come out from behind those battlestations, we will still have an edge in numbers."
Twedt's lips hardened into a thin line. "Commander, as I said before, even if we win, we won't have enough ships to hold this system. We're leaving."
Daniels managed to avoid screaming at her. He couldn't quite stop from frowning slightly. "By your command, ma’am."
"If you're quite ready, commodore?" Smythe was visibly impatient on the main display.
"Let's go." replied Erich. "All ships, full ahead." Let's get this over with, he thought to himself.
Smythe's carrier group moved out at flank speed, escorted by four of the five battlecruisers from Erich's squadron. All the fighters from both groups of ships moved out ahead, preparing to strike the enemy fleet rapidly heading for the Wilke's Star jumpgate and safety. Holding places in the formation were also several sensor drones, mimicking the cruisers and frigates that should have accompanied so many capital ships.
Erich turned to Commander Simonson. "Is Terry ready over on the Kirishima?"
Erich nodded to himself. "All right, make the jump to hyperspace." Let's hope whoever the admiral is over there, they haven't heard about Rios yet.
Daniels walked over to Admiral Twedt's command chair. "Ma’am, I have an update."
The admiral was lost in her thoughts and didn’t hear him at first. "Hmmm?" she blurted, finally noticing the commander standing next to her. "Sorry, what is it?"
"That task force from New Paris is still moving to intercept us. It looks like they will reach us shortly before we reach the gate."
"Do we have enough reserve acceleration to get there first?"
"No, admiral, not without leaving behind some of the more badly damaged ships," Ephraim replied.
"Any update on their numbers?"
Daniels shifted his weight slightly from one foot to another. "The computer is still saying forty-plus ships, but the readings are a little funny. I believe at least some of those sensor echoes are actually drones."
"Sneaky devils." Twedt said with a smile. "So we still have an advantage in numbers?"
"Exactly," the commander replied, "and there's something else. The tactical intelligence boys have intercepted their transmissions. They believe that Erich Von Shrakenberg is in command, apparently they've made him a commodore."
Danielle let that thought sink in for a moment. "The guy who took out the Jutland at New Madrid? I thought he was killed on some silly raid on Earth."
"It looks like the rumors of his death have been slightly exaggerated.”
“If the intel boys can be believed."
“They can, ma’am.”
Danielle Twedt mulled that over for a bit. "Well, if we can kill one of the Fed's pet war heroes…” …maybe Fargus and his cronies won't shoot me for losing this battle, she reasoned. “Cut acceleration by five percent and prepare to launch fighters. Let them catch us."
"And then we'll see who catches who." Commander Daniels added with a tooth-baring smile.
Captain Kumar checked his tac board on the EFS Lexington. "They're slowing down, it looks like the decoys haven't fooled them."
"More’s the pity," Commodore Smythe sighed, "never trust a drone to do a ship’s job, that’s what I say. You'd think Von would have learned something from Mars." He sat back even more nonchalantly in his chair. "Looks like the rebs wants to scrum early… we shall oblige them. Inform all wing commanders to go to formation Blenheim Three. If the Hun’s boys can’t keep up, then so be it.”
“Yes, sir.” the communications officer began relaying the command to the hundreds of small craft advancing in front of them.
“When you’ve finished that, please contact the Home Fleet and give them my compliments. Tell them to hurry up… they don't want to miss the party."
"Jump point detected near the New Paris gate," reported the sensor officer on the Santa Cruz. "Single jump point… one, perhaps two entry spikes reported."
"Some captain refusing to die valiantly for the Fed," Admiral Twedt wondered with a smirk, "or is this a call for more reinforcements from hyperspace?"
Commander Daniels blanched. "Ma’am, if that is Von Shrakenberg over there… did you read the dispatches on what he did at Rios?"
"What do you mean?!" the admiral shot back angrily, then realized what he was talking about. "Oh… so you believe he’s trying to sneak around behind us and blow up the gate?”
"It's a possibility I think we should examine."
"No, he'd never blow up one of the Avalon gates… he'd never dare. Besides, if he blows up the gate to Wilke's Star, they can't counterattack later."
"Ma’am, we know they had dreadnought and battlecruiser reinforcements waiting in hyperspace. I doubt they'd redeploy heavy ships without sending escorts.”
“And we haven't seen any jump in.” Twedt realized. “So what do you think is his plan?”
Daniels closed his eyes. "I’d rally them to hit us as soon as we move through the gate."
"Wonderful. We can either go in all at once and he’ll blow the gate, or go in piecemeal and be destroyed likewise.”
"Quite a tactical dilemma." the commander concluded.
"We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Keep the fleet together, I want to kill this squadron from New Paris quickly and get out before the Home Fleet catches us."
The EFS Repulse coasted through hyperspace, surrounded by the escorts of the reinforcement dreadnoughts and battlecruisers who had been stranded in hyperspace by the closed jumpgates. Terry Carter stood next to Erich on the bridge, folding his hands again and again. Taking a look at the chronometer, he turned to his old friend. “Well, the other ships should be hitting the enemy fleet right about now.”
"I know." Erich could see the battle in his mind. The two swarms of fighters meeting in space, interpenetrating and flashing past each other on their missions of destruction. The bright explosions of fusion cannon shells and lance torpedoes. The silent iridescence of laser beams flashing through atmosphere leaking from shattered hulls. The spray of blood, rapidly crystallizing in the frozen vacuum of space. The horrible groaning of hull plates torn asunder by thermonuclear explosions, and the frantic screams of human beings trapped in compartments deep inside wrecked starships.
It was beautiful.
"Where the fuck are all these fighters coming from?!"
Commander Daniels tried desperately to find the answer to his admiral’s question. "Getting good readings on the enemy ships. We’ve got several heavy carriers, escorted by destroyers and… Revenge-class BC's."
"Ma’am, the enemy ships are breaking off." reported the sensor officer.
"Good,” Twedt was satisfied, “another few minutes and the Home Fleet would have caught us. I guess their little trap failed."
"We’ve lost seven more ships, five more badly damaged, and I’m only getting signals from half of the fighters we sent out." Ephraim listed. "We only got one of their carriers, and damaged two BC's in trade… that doesn’t even include what's waiting on the other side of the gate."
Danielle stabbed at the tactical plot. "Whatever is on the other side is preferable to tangling with the Home Fleet. We have to go through the gate now and trust that we can handle whatever this Von Shrakenberg character can dish out."
"Prepare for a trans..." Admiral Twedt ordered and stopped herself, "Wait, we can't risk him blowing the gate. Send two destroyers through first. If he's planning on blowing the gate, we'll only lose two tin cans. If he's got a fleet waiting for us, the entire fleet can transit right behind them and take them out."
Commander Daniels relaxed. "Aye, ma’am." At least she's not totally insane, he thought. Still, I'm darn glad I'm here and not one of the two sacrificial lambs we're sending through. Whatever Von Shrakenberg is planning, they're dead.
"The gate is opening," announced Commander Simonson.
Commodore Von Shrakenberg turned to face the tac screen. "All ships, as the targets appear, fire."
The two destroyers never had a chance. Over a dozen cruisers and destroyers poured fire into the two hapless ships, who never even got a firm sensor reading on their attackers. They were blown into plasma within seconds.
"Okay, that should shake them up." Erich commented. "All ships, scatter. All hell is gonna come through that gate in about two minutes, and you don't want to be anywhere nearby." Of course, we have to stay close enough to send the signal. One of these days, someone is gonna start buying shares in jumpgate construction companies whenever I visit a system.
"Jumpgate cycling." noted Terry Carter quietly.
"As soon as that gate opens, fire lance torpedoes on active seeker mode, they should clear anything directly in our path," Admiral Twedt ordered. "Then come charging right behind them."
The rebel fleet moved through the Wilke's Star jumpgate at maximum acceleration. As they entered the gate, a signal was sent from the Kirishima to the Repulse. The empty battlecruiser activated its gravity drive, sending a pulse of gravitic energy to open a jump point back to normal space. The gravitic pulse interacted with the more powerful field emanating from the open jump gate, and horrible energies crackled in the orange-lit fury of hyperspace. Disabled safety systems failed to shut down the grav drive, and the energy buildup surged to its inevitable crescendo. Both the Repulse and the jumpgate exploded as their gravitic systems went into overload. The wormhole collapsed explosively, crushing the forward third of the rebel fleet into oblivion. The collapsing jumppoint funneled part of the energy of the explosion back into normal space, and the energy pulse destroyed another six ships and damaged a dozen more of the rebel ships lucky enough to be bringing up the rear of the formation.
Admiral Twedt crawled slowly to her feet, her command chair knocked off its mounting by the shuddering impact of half a destroyed frigate on the bow of the massive Coral Sea-class Star Control Ship. "What the hell was that?"
"Jump point interference," whispered Ephraim Daniels, "the only way to blow up a normal-space gate from hyperspace. He must have known we'd send ships through to check, and waited for the main body before springing his trap."
Danielle kicked her command chair violently. "Damn it! Now we have no way home! Half our ships are too badly damaged to jump without the gate."
"Ma’am, some of the ships can still jump. We can at least salvage something… order them home."
"And what about us? We lost half our forward grav nodes… we can't jump."
"Sir, I advise you transfer your flag to another ship before the home fleet arrives."
Danielle Twedt looked again at the plot. It couldn't have come down to this, she thought. She had come so close to taking Avalon. "When I get my hands on that Shrakenberg, I'll crack open his skull and serve his brains up as cat food."
"Aye, ma’am." replied Daniels. "I believe Shuttle Bay Six is still operational.”
“We still have a few minutes.” Twedt hit the ship com system button. “All hands, this is the admiral. Abandon ship, I repeat, abandon ship.” Looking over at her com officer, she ordered, “Tell all operational grav drive ships to take as many ships as they can with them. Those that can’t are ordered to abandon ship and self-destruct.”
“Ma’am?” Ephraim asked for clarification.
“We’ll leave nothing behind for the enemy, commander.” Danielle explained. “Let’s go.”
“This way, please…" the commander led the way to the lift doors. All the while, Ephraim tried to contain the hatred inside of him. When General Fargus reads my report, my dear admiral, you’ll wish you had died with this ship.
In the orange glow of hyperspace, Erich sat on the bridge of the EFS Kirishima and smiled. "With all the debris left here, I doubt they will find us… even if they jump in on top of us."
"Yeah…” Terry Carter’s words trailed off on the silent bridge.
“But what?” Von Shrakenberg insisted.
Terry sighed. “But now we have no way to counter-attack Wilke's Star. Now would be the perfect time to strike."
“Don’t worry,” the commodore assured his friend, “there are other gates to Wilke's Star." And unless they negotiate an end to this war, I bet I'll get a chance to find them. This war is over… but I doubt anyone else knows it. It's only a matter of time.
Samuel Wall powered down his vidphone and turned back to Andrea Treschi. “You see, a man is only as powerful as his friends. So now that all this…” Wall waved his hand in the air, “war will soon be over, I put it to you again. InSec and the Raptors, working together to build a stronger Federation? What do you say?”
Treschi just stood there, taking in what had just happened. I haven’t worked this hard to let it all be swept away, he thought. Of course, I don’t have much choice, do I? Refuse and the beautiful vixen will send me through that window. Accept and I become another of Wall’s pawns. Andrea smiled and stepped forward to shake Wall’s hand. Better to live… and fight another day. “Very well, M. Wall. I accept.”
“Good.” Samuel shook his hand, the colonel noticing the odd strength in his grasp. “Together, we can restore this broken nation… with us on top.”
“Of course.” Andrea stepped back, making sure he was on line-of-sight with all of them in the room.
Wall yawned and then nodded to his guest. “If you will forgive me, there is much I need to do… and not much time to do it. I assume you can find your own way out?”
Treschi, MacManus, and the lady in red got up and walked out the door, finding their way back out of the labyrinth of the base’s understructure. As soon as the massive doors closed, Samuel looked over at one of his bodyguards. “What do you think, your highness?”
The oriental man stepped out from behind his chair, went over to the bloody stain in the carpet, and knelt down. “Was this truly necessary?” he asked in flawless, crisp, and accent-less English.
“Even I can’t predict everything. One can only try to push things into my favor.”
“Clarke is a wild card. I need him for his reputation, but… I had no idea how his son’s death would affect him.”
The olive-skinned man touched the blood with his hand, feeling it with his fingers. “He’s a liability. You should eliminate him.”
“Eliminate Clarke?” An amused look came to Wall’s face. “I’m afraid you don’t understand, your highness. The general is a rather… extraordinary man.”
“So I gathered.” the Chinaman wiped the blood from his fingers and stood up. “What happens now?”
“Now? Now we restore the Senate. A legitimate authority is necessary from which to rebuild the Federation..”
“How do we do that?”
“With one call.” Wall nodded, activating the vidphone once again. As soon as he dialed the numbers, a familiar face came to greet him. “Ah, M. Vorheis. We have things to discuss.”
“I know this won’t go over well with the Raptors…” the lady in red spoke, guiding them both through the confusing paths of the base.
Treschi noticed that she didn’t bother speaking until MacManus left. “Really,” he replied sarcastically, “what made you think that?”
She tossed her hair to the side. “This won’t be easy, M. Treschi, but nothing ever worth doing ever is.”
Andrea clapped slowly. “Bravo. Soon you’ll start talking like the Wall.”
The lady in red stopped and faced him. “Shall we talk plainly?”
“Sure. Let’s start with the reason why you were in that room.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I can understand why Clarke was there. I can even understand why MacManus was there, since he is the defacto head of InSec, if you can believe him. But you,” Andrea touched her chin, “you bring nothing to the table. You had no reason to be there at all.”
“I asked to be there. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Treschi rolled his eyes. “No. Wall wanted you there. One of InSec’s ‘best agents’ doesn’t reveal herself when anonymity is one of her weapons.” He focused on her face. “Now what I want to know is why.”
“That’s beyond the point, isn’t it? I was there.” The mysterious woman stepped forward, getting comfortably close to Andrea. “And Wall isn’t the only one who can make deals.”
“I know your men will have difficulty accepting the new arrangement. I am willing to accompany you and gain your officers’ support, thereby allowing you to keep your part of the agreement.”
The colonel ran his fingers through her hair. “It’s very tempting… but aren’t you putting yourself in unnecessary danger?”
“Risk is an acceptable factor in politics.” The lady in red placed her finger on his lips and outlined them.
“No deal.” Treschi grabbed her hand and shoved her away. “I think I can manage just fine on my own, thanks. Besides, letting you inside our base wouldn’t exactly be smart, would it?”
A smile came across her face. “It’s not the size of the man, it’s the size of his treehouse. All right, M. Treschi, what do you want?”
“The only way this is going to work is if we’re full partners with InSec. That means the Raptors will have complete access to all your organization’s files, including the mainframe.”
“Are you insane?!”
Andrea leaned against the wall of the underground corridor. “After this coup de theatre that Wall’s proposing, we have nothing to guarantee our position. You can eliminate us at will. If we’re truly going to join InSec, we’ll need the same privileges as your average agent.”
She sighed. “Very well… but only on the condition that you share your information with us.”
“You’re saying you don’t have it already?”
The lady in red cocked her head to the side. “I’m saying that if we’re going to be partners, we’ll need a full exchange… correct?”
Treschi waved his hand down the hallway. “Are we going? We have to back to Patton Base if we’re to convince the officers?”
She smiled and led the way out of the basement.
Once they got to the shuttle, Andrea noticed the addition of a large box with them, but said nothing about it. Whoever this woman was, he knew, she wasn’t the kind to answer questions. It was a long, boring trip to Patton Base, flying over trees, fields, and city blocks like so much scenery. Finally, once they landed, Treschi was relieved. She might dangerous, but now, she’s on my turf.
Or so he thought. As soon as he stepped out of the shuttle, a giant hand reached out, grabbed him, and shoved him against the side of the craft. The colonel struggled against the arm until he realized its owner. “Sergeant?”
Richard Alexander stood there, two steps away from changing into Crinos form. “That’s right, sir. I’m still a sergeant. Do you know why, Treschi? Because I listened to your sorry ass!”
“Calm down.” Andrea said, gasping between breaths.
“I’ll calm down when I get what’s coming to me!” Alexander shot back. “I did your dirty work, Treschi, and you left me hanging! You went and left the Raptors after you got all the credit for my work! You did well by me. Now you’re the fucking colonel and I want my goddamned promotion!”
Andrea just stared back at the man holding. “You want a promotion?” he squeaked.
“Damn it, Treschi, you owe me!”
“You want a promotion? Let go of me!”
Richard thought about it for a second, then reluctantly let Andrea’s feet touch the ground. Treschi cleared his throat and gathered his senses. However, the werewolf was insistent. “Well?!”
“You want a promotion?” The colonel leaned against the shuttle. “You really want a promotion?”
“Yeah.” Alexander replied dryly.
“Very well, sergeant-major.” Andrea smiled as Richard’s eyes seemed to bulge. “To be an officer in the Raptors, one needs to prove himself in our organization.”
“You know damn well I’ve been busting my ass for you!”
“Yes, but that hasn’t gotten you anywhere, has it?”
The werewolf’s eyes started directly at the colonel. “No.”
“Because of your brother. His stain touches you and any in your family. Be thankful that I don’t notice it.”
“Don’t forget, colonel,” Richard warned, “I know how you became so high and mighty in the Raptors. I’m the one who really got you this job. I think I’ve earned my commission.”
“In my eyes, not theirs.” Treschi pointed to the headquarters building. “If you want to get ahead in the TI, sergeant-major, you’re going to have to do something spectacular.”
Alexander growled. “And you just happen to have something.”
“As a matter of fact, I do. I need you to find Marko Vitek.”
The werewolf laughed. “Marko Vitek, leader of the Resistance… you want me to find him? We’ve been trying to kill him for years!”
“Exactly, which means that the Raptors must have been infiltrated.” Treschi stared back at Richard. “Mind you, I don’t need you to kill or capture him, just find out where he is.”
“And then, I’ll write you a commission.” Andrea smiled. “Do we have a deal?”
“Sure.” Alexander nodded and started to walk away, but something stopped him. “Just one thing.”
“If the Raptors have been infiltrated, how do you know that I don’t work for the Resistance?”
“I don’t.” Treschi stood up. “But if you are, you won’t be able to find him, and you won’t get your commission. Let’s just say I’m counting on your… enlightened self-interest.”
“Hmph.” The newly-minted sergeant-major grumbled then walked away.
The officers gathered an hour later. The lady in red made herself comfortable in the corner of the room; as comfortable as she could, the eyes of every Raptor in the room were upon here. None of them liked an unknown variable. Treschi stayed calm, relaxed in his own chair at the head of the table. He tried to ignore the blood flecks from Colonel Nielson that were still present before him.
As soon as they all sat down, the colonel began the meeting. “I’m aware that you all know what happened recently.” The knowledge of the fight between Clarke and Luther had spread throughout the base. If I can use that to my advantage… “The general… apparently, is not dead. He lied to us, left us in the cold when we desperately needed him. Arthur Clarke abandoned us.”
The shocked looks on the officer’s faces quickly dropped as the realization of what he had said came over them. Treschi began to feed the air with his thoughts, using his mind to calmly suggest the truthfulness of his speech. It wasn’t enough to detect but it was certainly persuasive. “General Clarke not only abandoned us, without explanation, he also tried to destroy the Federation. He personally killed General Maxwell, destroying our only chance to restore a stable government after the tragic fall of the Grand Council. He personally killed Sergeant-Major Luther, for no reason, apart from the fact that… well, you know the story.”
Andrea purposely left off the reason. The version of the rumor that the colonel heard was that Luther had died defending him. Of course, the troopers who had teleported with the sergeant-major were too busy facing off Clarke’s pack to realize what he was saying. Luther died because he demanded an explanation; an explanation that the general wasn’t willing to give. “Now that we’ve been abandoned, cut off, and left in the hands of fate, it’s time to grasp our own destiny.”
“What do you mean?” Major Wenke, one of the brigade commanders, asked.
“We’ve been offered the chance to help reestablish the government. The catch is that our little war against InSec must stop.”
“What?!” one of the lieutenants jumped up. “We’re winning! We’ve got them on the run!”
“It’s simple numbers, lieutenant. We have anywhere from nine hundred to a thousand men in our organization. InSec has ten thousand official members and a greater number of unofficial agents. Yes, we can kill thousands of them, but that leaves thousands more that we haven’t found. We can’t win.”
“But we can work with them, is that right?”
Treschi looked at the speaker, Captain Moreno. Yes, he thought, he always was the clever one, wasn’t he? “I don’t like it any more than any of you. But it’s our best hope of restoring the government and winning the war!”
Wenke shuffled in her seat. “So what does she have to do with it?”
The lady in red stood up, brushed off her long dress, and walked forward. “I represent one of the factions inside Internal Security. Despite what you might believe, we’re not a united organization. Too many people with too much power over too wide an area. We have camps like any large group that answer to different leaders. I’m one of them.”
The major wasn’t convinced. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m the one who’s securing this deal with your group. Frankly, we don’t want to work with you either, but the situation demands otherwise. For us to help each other, I’m offering to allow the Raptors’ complete and total access to our mainframe and confidential files. With our intelligence network, and your know-how, together we can help build the Federation into the shining beacon to the universe it was supposed to be.”
“Clever speech,” Moreno chided, “but they’re just words. And we all know how meaningless words can be. What kind of assurance do we have that you won’t just turn on us?”
She turned to Treschi. “If the box I brought in the shuttle could be brought in here? It will help explain things.”
The colonel nodded. “Of course.” Andrea hit the intercom button and repeated the order.
The lady in red continued. “InSec has nothing to lose by this agreement. Our official status has been eliminated by this stupid fighting between us. We need that back if we’re to regain our position in the government. Although the Raptors are well-respected, they don’t have the authority in the Federation to accomplish much. We can help change that.”
Suddenly, the double doors into the conference room opened, the large box being carried by powerful anti-grav units. Wenke was the first to ask. “What’s in the box?”
The woman swung the box around and began to open the lid. “A gift. A sign of the new order’s faith in the Raptors.” The large lid came off , the lady took out a hypospray, then activated it inside the box. When she was done, she smiled, and tilted the anti-grav units so they all could see what was waiting inside. A woman was inside, her youthful beauty was betrayed by the varicose veins on her legs. She was rather badly beaten up, as the woman came to consciousness, the moans of pain were rather evident. “This is Lisa Quinlan… at least, that’s what we think her name is. She has been the executive secretary to the InSec commandant for the last twenty years. Her appearance has changed over the years, but the mind has stayed the same. Her knowledge of our organization is extensive; in fact, she probably knows more than what’s in the mainframe. Consider this a sign of our new alliance.”
Treschi stared, like everyone else in the room, at the woman as she began to wake. With the secrets she knows, he realized, we could bring down their organization within weeks! What’s that lady hiding… she wouldn’t just give us a fusion bomb and not expect us to use it. There’s more going on here than what’s being said.
The colonel smiled and stepped forward to catch the injured secretary. I guess it doesn’t matter, he thought finally. At least with her, I stand a chance to get back in this game.
In the abandoned factory, with the giant cyborg dangling in front of him, Xavier linked up his cybermodem to Damien's head. It didn’t take long to make the connection. However, every time he looked at the screen, the modem failed to create the standard emulator screen. There was something… fluid in the way his brain worked. Pollos tried inputing the cracker programs that he bought sometime back on the black market. Nothing worked; the system kept rejecting everything he threw at it. Finally, he activated his special program, the Wedge. The second he activated the codebreaker system into the cyborg, the machine’s defenses kicked up, and started eating into his board.
Xavier panicked and pulled the connection. “Shit.” he cursed. Well, you didn’t expect it to be some school mainframe, did you? Time to call in the experts.
Grabbing the cyborg, Pollos grunted under the weight of the huge monster. However, straining, he managed to put him on his shoulder. It didn’t take long to reach the street and hailed a cab. As soon as one stopped, Xavier threw the rock-solid body in.
As Pollos took his seat, the cab driver looked back through the double-reinforced transparent aluminum. “Hey, buddy! What the fuck did you do to him?!"
Xavier looked over at his unwilling companion, quickly noticing that Damien looked like a raw hamburger that had been only partly put over the grill. "He had a really rough night." he replied, gesturing drinking a beer.
"Your cred, buddy. All right, where to?"
"Kenmore and 4th Street, Galahad."
"Slide your credit chit through the slot, buddy, and we’ll get going."
As soon as he did, the flitter rushed off through the streets of Avalon. When they reached there, he dragged the slug out of the cab, and then carried him up the door. Before he even hit the door, a small man opened it, appearing with a shortened slugthrower. “This ain’t a morgue, asshole. Take your carcass and get the hell out!”
"I’m a friend of Mark Smith. I need your help."
“Mark had a lot of friends. What does it mean to me?”
Pollos sighed, struggling under the weight of the giant man. Too bad I can’t tell him who I am. That would make this a hell of a lot easier. “Mark always said you liked a challenge. This is about as challenging as it gets.”
“Why?” the man with the sawed-off shotgun looked closer. “Who is he?”
Xavier lifted up his head. “Latest generation of InSec cyborgs. Ever want to crack a man’s brain?”
The small man looked around nervously, and once he was sure no one was watching, he opened the door wider. "Get in here."
Pollos brought the cyborg into the house as the owner led him through several cluttered hallways and into the basement. The place was packed with electronic equipment and several monitors. In the middle was a table; Xavier put Damien on it.
“So, Smith’s friend, what do you want done with him?”
The assassin activated his credit chit, dialing the amount he was willing to pay. “I’m going to give you five grand. You’re going to find out what he knows.”
“Is that all?”
“That’s all. Send the information as an attachment to my account. The number should be on the chit.” Pollos handed the chit over to the small man. “Got it?”
“Yeah, but don’t you want…”
"Sorry… I really have to leave.”
“Business to attend to?”
“Something like that. You can do the
The small man looked at the cyborg. “Oh, yeah. Don’t worry about it.”
Once Pollos left, he went over to the cyborg. "He didn't pay me enough to kill you, that'll cost double." The man laughed a little, strapping the cyborg down, using the ancient leather straps on the table. Grabbing a nearby comm unit, he dialed it, bringing up a computer generated likeness of a 20th century soldier. “Hey, Cybersoldier, I have another job for you. Pay is 900 credits, if you can do it."
"I can crack anything." the man replied, obviously offended by the comment.
"I doubt it, this cyborg has professional job written all over it."
"What do you think I do all day long? Plug it in!" The small man plugged its cybermodem into the wall, and sat down with a bottle of vodka.
Some time later, the image again animated. "I'm in, it's a little strange in here, I've never seen this kind of programming language before. What are we looking for?"
The man thought for a while longer, finally coming up with an answer. "He said everything, but I think you first ought to give me control of it. It could wake up at anytime, and I can't guarantee that anything I give it will keep it asleep."
"Plug in your datapad, I'll route control of it there in a few minutes. Some sort of anti-virus program popped up, it's making things annoying in here." The picture disappeared for a few seconds then came back on. "I have the orders cleared, some sort of kidnapping mission, along with some other scarier shit. I'm bugging out as soon as I have control transferred, I am being virtually attacked by that damn program. It's modifying itself as we speak. Are the credits in my account?"
"Now why should I pay you, you hardly have told me anything?" The doctor knew none of his other hackers get any information more than Cybersoldier.
"Fine, it's your funer... ... OH SHIT!" The comm unit went dead, the transmission having been killed at its source. The room suddenly came to life as the equipment showed the cyborg’s vital signs spike to normal. Agonizing in fear, the man backed against the wall as the sound of leather snapping rang to his ears. He closed his eyes and began to cry as a hand closed around his throat, lifting him off the ground.
"Where am I?" the machine asked, no emotion in its voice.
"If you set me down... .. I'll tell you!" the doctor's voice was nearly strangled off by the hand as he wheezed for breath. The machine turned its head from side to side, looking around the room.
"Protocols do not allow compromise." The machine squeezed, causing the man's head to become very red, and in time, fall limp with death. With the threats eliminated, the machine stood still, searching its databases for orders.
Files not found. No authorities recognized. Control transferred to self. Orders:
His brain began to directly access his databases, spurred into activity by Leviathan's algorithm. Mission: Survival.
The machine reached into the dead man's pockets, removing his credit chit and ID. Searching the premises for a weapon, he found none, and made his way towards the exit of the building.
Illegal arms dealing ten blocks from present location, according to InSec records. Most logical area to acquire needed contraband.
The machine walked the ten blocks with no opposition from the passing people, most of whom just stared at his mangled face and clothing. Arriving at the location, he identified a nearby drug store where contraband weapons had been sold. Walking into the store, he was greeted by the sight of an extremely young woman pharmacist, wearing very tight clothes, sitting behind the counter. His logic sensors collaborated with his brain to determine she was not a pharmacist… and that he was in the right place. "Where are the weapons."
"Excuse me?” she hit a button under the counter repeatedly, a worried smile coming across her face.
"Give me weapons now."
"Uh..." Two large men walked out of the back room both dressed in light power armor, one having forgot his helmet.
"Is there a problem here... what the fuck are you, asshole?!" They were caught off guard by his hamburger of a face, starting to resemble looking human again. "Looks like you've tried this before!" They looked at each other, laughing, and walking towards him with closed fists.
The machine could wait no longer. The feeling of hatred for the two men was intoxicating. It longed for the combat to come, and skillfully manipulated the bowie knife into its sleeve as it walked towards to the men. With a quick throw towards the ground the knife flew out of his sleeve, being caught skillfully by his right hand. Raising the knife above his head, he threw it hard into the helmetless man, only the handle visible as the man dropped to the ground with loud thud, a pool of blood spreading on the ground. The machine jumped backwards as the woman made a break for the door, catching her by the arm and throwing her hard into a wall. She didn't get back up. Tackled by the other thug, Damien kicked the man across the room, raising and forming martial arts stance as the thug charged again. Knowing that blows to solid armor where in-effective, the machine did a round house into his head, stopping the charge cold. Moving in for the kill, the machine jumped onto the thug, twisting the helmet 360 degrees around the armor.
Moving to the front of the store, the machine closed the doors to the building, and dragged the bodies into the back. He looked at the human women breathing on the floor, analyzing the unidentified feeling in his body. Turning off the algorithm, the machine began to inventory the weapons in the building.
Xavier Pollos almost made it. He was standing at the Von Eisenstein Shuttle Transfer Station, ticket in hand, waiting for the military to lift their restriction on civilian travel. The battle was over and he was ready to be on his way to New Madrid, via Minos. The wait was boring, but as long as he avoided the homeless man’s vomit next to him, he was rather comfortable.
Suddenly, someone cast a shadow over his body. Pollos didn’t even bother looking up. “You want something?”
Xavier looked up at the hunk of flesh standing in front of him. Why does everyone know my name on this fucking planet?! “Who are you?”
“Richard Alexander. I need your help.”
“I don’t you know, buddy, and I don’t owe you any favors. Help doesn’t come cheap… besides, I’m a little busy.”
“Maybe a million creds could change your mind. Half now, half in advance… that is how you operate, isn’t it?”
Who is this guy?! he wondered. “Maybe… what’s the mission.”
“I need some backup for a mission.”
“I need to find Marko Vitek.”
"XES 211, XES 472… did you find Damien Richter?" Leviathan asked, processing a map on the location of nuclear reactors in Avalon.
"Negative." both said in unison, moving to jack into the mainframe.
Continue search, Leviathan?
The leader processed her options for a second, then came to a definable, logical answer. No. All available combat models will receive battle plans in 12 hours, 13 minutes, and 47 seconds. We will now crush the opposition.
The three sat there, as the rain came down on the Avalon plain, the edge of the capital city only now beginning to appear to them. Ragdowski, Spyder, and Proctor just waited there in awkward silence, trying to figure out what to say to each other. They had been separated by time and space for so long that it was hard to figure out what to say. It had only been a month… maybe two, since they were all together on New Madrid. It might as well have been two centuries, Malachi knew, this war has caused too much to happen too fast.
“Corporal Proctor,” Elly finally managed, “see to our unit. See they’re treated well.”
He stood there for a moment longer, then finally nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
As he walked off, the lieutenant looked back at the brevet colonel. “Well, sir, what’s the plan now?”
“To strike back.” Spyder coughed. He thought it sounded confident, but Malachi wasn’t sure. Hell, I don’t know what to do next. Without supplies, without support, heading right into the heart of the enemy? How the hell did Dimiye manage this?
“Brilliant.” Ragdowski shot back. “All reports told us that you were headed back to the city. Is that true?”
“That’s where the battle’s decided, Elly.”
She pointed at the sky. “I guess it wouldn’t help to tell you all hell is breaking loose up there.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Malachi replied, “we’re down here.”
“And what if the Fed wins that battle? Are you going to surrender?”
I don’t really want to think about that now, Spyder thought to himself. Damn it, Elly, will you stop picking my brain! “We’re Dead Boys. The only life is through victory.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, sir. What’s the plan?”
“We can’t surrender, lieutenant. The Fed’s painting us as war criminals. They’ll kill us if we fight, they’ll kill us if we don’t… I prefer to fight. And down here, in that city, we can change this war.”
“Your division’s going to do that?”
Before he could answer, Fredrick Wilhelm came over to them, a couple of HAP troopers flanking him. “Sir." the major spat out the word as if it were a curse.
"What is it?" Malachi tried to sound patient, but it came out irritable.
"We should be moving on."
"Really?" Spyder locked stares with the troublesome brigade commander.
"Sir, we’re sitting ducks out here. More units will come after us. If we don’t move…”
“You trying to tell me my job?” the ersatz colonel shot back.
Wilhelm puffed up a little more. “I feel obliged to inform you of the tactical situation, sir.”
“I’m well aware of the tactical situation, major.”
Fredrick stepped closer. “If you don’t give the order to move out, I will." A smile creeped on the German’s face.
Spyder knew from his expression that either way, the major planned on taking command of the Dead Boys. It was time to make a statement. "Freddy, shut the fuck up!"
Wilhelm stood his ground; the smile disappearing from his face. “If you don’t feel up to the burden…”
“I thought I made it clear, major.” The mind mage stepped closer; the two HAP soldiers tensed as he did. “I’m in command. I decide when we move.”
“Then you better decide quickly, sir. Scanning satellites pass over our position in ten minutes.”
Spyder really wanted to punch him, but something told him that it wouldn’t do any good. Besides, Wilhelm’s two bodyguards won’t let me in close enough. “Let them look then. They can’t react for another fifteen and we need to time to check our casualties before we move again.”
"We move out in twenty minutes." Malachi interrupted. “Do you have a problem with that, major?”
The three of them left, leaving the colonel and the lieutenant alone. Malachi hated politics. He hated plans, back-stabbings, and anything cloak-and-dagger. Still, this war had changed everything. He had learned to predict when these things would happen, hopefully getting out of their way. Fredrick was one of these things, and unlike before, he couldn’t just step aside.
"Your division seems to love you." Elly laughed as Malachi sat down. "Are they all like that?"
"Most of them." As Spyder watched Wilhelm walk away, he realized he had only two people he could trust: Elly and Justine. If we somehow survive this, Malachi thought, I’m going to get some more allies. I’m going to need as many as I can get.
Lying down in the trees close by, Jonathon Walters watched the two of them walk off towards the rest of their unit. “Comm,” his thick drawl penetrated through the dentcom, “send a short transmission to the old lady. We’ve found the Dead Boys.”
“Yes, sir.” the communications trooper clicked back.
Walters looked over at the man next to him, his power armor covered in leaves, like everyone else’s, so that the tell-tale energy signature of a chameleon circuit couldn’t be detected. “Did you catch that conversation?”
The suit’s head moved up and down. “Every word, LT. Looks like they got trouble in the ranks.”
“What’cha wanna do now?”
Walters knew he wasn’t ready for this kind of independent command. What if I do the wrong thing? What if I get them all killed? I don’t want my boys to die… “Looks like they’re heading towards the city. Let’s make it difficult for them. Get 2nd Squad to plant a spiker mine in their path, put Four behind them, and us and three’ll keep out of sight. No heroes, you copy? Keep out of their fire.”
Twenty minutes later, the Dead Boys moved out, splitting up by platoons, stretching out their lines to hide their numbers. With chameleon circuits sucking away their precious energy, they approached the city.
“Tina, give me the situ.” Malachi asked.
Justine D’Amprisi quickly shot back the report over the com. “All units proceeding according to established pattern. Should reach the edge of… um, let’s see… Kensington within a few minutes.”
“Keep erratic maneuvers until we rally at Checkpoint Alpha,” Spyder ordered, “maintain maximum stealth until rally point.”
“Yes, sir. Current ETA to Alpha is one hour, forty-two…” Suddenly, several dots disappeared from both their HUD’s, “What the fuck was that?!”
The colonel quickly scanned over the frequencies to reach the affected sector. “Ganges, report!”
“I… uh…” the major was obviously distracted.
“Sorry, sir… I mean, one minute they were there, and then…”
“Looks like… yes, sir, anti-personnel mine. Someone knows we’re here.”
Great, Spyder cursed silently, more good news.
“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.
Xinjao froze in shock. He hadn’t anticipated this. What the hell am I gonna do?
Leisa Horton, however, suffered no indecision. She dropped her datapad like a rock and wrenched the double plasma revolvers out of her tool belt. “GOD DAMN YOU, FUNDIE!!” she screamed, blasting away, her arms pumping like pistons as she fired again and again. “Leave us the fuck alone!!”
Reks whipped his sword up into a ready position for a fraction of a second before his body launched into a dark flashing blur of movement. Plasma bolts whipped past as he dodged and spun aside and deflected bolts with his blade. Leisa screamed curses and damnation, firing away until both revolvers clicked empty. Instantly she fell into a crouch, furiously reloading the revolvers with a speed born of panic.
Calton Reks spun out of his dance into a crouch, sword at the ready. He was panting and glistening with sweat… but that was it. Standing up from the crouch with the controlled precision of an expert warrior, he raised his sword, pointing it at Xinjao.
“You.” he said, and began to stalk toward him, full of smoldering rage.
This is it, O’Reilly thought, I’m going to die. He looked behind him at the airlock to the EFS McInnery… it was close, but with his injured leg he could never cross the distance before Reks tore into him. O’Reilly felt his knees begin to tremble. A disturbing calm descend over him. Facing imminent death, his mind simply accepted it and moved on. He turned back at the werewolf bearing down on him, fangs bared in a hungry grin. Distantly, he heard Leisa cursing as she fumbled to reload.
Xinjao raised the detonator in his hand up above his head. “Take one more step, Reks,” he barked, “and I blow the Phoenix Yards straight to hell!”
The beast kept coming. He didn’t even blink.
Fear and helplessness fused into violent anger inside Xinjao. “DO YOU THINK I’M BLUFFING?!?” he roared. “You SAW what I did in the Death Dock! You SAW what I did to the Saint Andrew! You think I CAN’T blow the Yards?!? Let’s find out!!” He popped the safety cap off the detonator and squeezed down with a click, followed by a high-pitched whine as the transmitters powered up. “If I let go of this, the docks explode!” he shouted at the werewolf. “Kill me and you kill your army! Now STOP… MOVING!!”
The threat registered on the Sword this time. He slowed his pace, then finally, reluctantly, stopped about a dozen meters from Xinjao. He paced back and forth like a caged animal, glaring at O’Reilly with a hatred so intense it would frighten demons. His voice came out in a distorted growl “You’re not leaving this bay alive, O’Reilly. Vengeance will be mine.”
“Don’t push me, Reks!” O’Reilly shot back. “I’m a desperate man with nothing to lose! The only thing keeping me from blowing everything to hell right now is that I wanna get my men outta here!” He paused, gauging Reks’ reaction. The beast paced back and forth growling, the tip of his sword scrapping menacingly across the steel deck plates… but he kept his distance, watching. The arch-enemies glared each other, locked in a stalemate.
This deadlock won’t last forever, O’Reilly reminded himself as cold, calculating logic returned to his mind and searched frantically for a solution. I can’t fight and I can’t run, he analyzed, so I’ve got to outsmart him. What do I know that he doesn’t? What can I do that he can’t?
“Leisa!” Xinjao hissed in a whisper as she stood and raised her guns, “I got an idea -- open your suit’s comm link and get back on the ship!”
“Okay…” Leisa said quietly as she backed away, guns leveled at the werewolf, “but if you don’t blow up the Phoenix Yards, I’ll find some way to do it!” she swore urgently. “We’re all that’s left between them and Avalon! It’s has to stop here!” Then she was gone, retreating down the tunnel to the airlock.
“They’ll never make it to the gate.” the Sword warned. “They can surrender, or face His wrath!”
“Fuck you, dog!” Xinjao snapped, finding a strange fearlessness in certain death. “Now listen: I want you to order whatever soldiers you got heading down here to back off. I want you to tell all your ships to clear out, and the picket at the Avalon jumpgate moved away… if you don’t, you lose the Yard, your fleet, your army, and your life!”
The Sword barked out a harsh, grating laugh. “NO!” he declared defiantly. “How stupid do you think we are?! If we let you go, you’ll just blow the docks once you and your men are safe… I know your type of evil, O’Reilly! Now here are my terms… you defuse your bomb now, and we spare the lives of your men.”
“Leisa?” Xinjao whispered into his environmental suit’s comm link.
“Yeah?” her voice said over the radio
“You guys ready to move out yet?”
“We’re still trying to find a pilot,” she answered. He could hear the stress in her voice.
“Ensign Higgins,” O’Reilly whispered, “and get a gunner for the laser turret, ASAP… No deal, Reks!” he said louder, shaking his head at the Sword. “You’re in no position to bargain. I hold the lives of you and your men in my hand!” he said, indicating the detonator.
“And I hold the lives of yours in mine!” Calton snarled, twirling his sword around menacingly.
This could go on for days, Xinjao thought, I’ve got to keep him talking… play for time… “How did you find us, anyway?” he asked his opponent.
The beast huffed out harsh laughter. “You broadcast it all over the station, fool! ‘Phoenix One is ready for boarding?!’ I hadn’t authorized any departures! The McInnery is permanently attached to Dock Command for security patrols. And the squad number? Phoenix One!”
“You touch that intercom, Reks,” O’Reilly warned, shouting, “and I vaporize this station!”
Reks spun around roaring, muscles tensed, fur bristling, struggling to control the rage. “DAMN YOU, O’REILLY! I’M NOT LETTING YOU LEAVE HERE ALIVE!!”
Xinjao could see Reks was dangerously close to crossing over into frenzy… if that happened, no threat would stop the beast from tearing him apart. “You’re right, Reks, I’m not getting out of here,” he said, trying to calm the werewolf down somehow. “I’ve got to stay here and hold this fucking button to make sure my crew get away! No matter what happens to them, you’ve got me… that’s what you really want, isn’t it?” He watched as Calton’s eyes flashed with a fierce light at the idea and a grin spread across his wicked teeth. “Leisa!” Xinjao snapped, whispering over the comm, “Got that turret gun ready yet?!”
“Kind of…” came the answer. He could hear background voices arguing over how to operate the cannons.
“Defuse the bomb, O’Reilly,” Reks ordered, “and I’ll let your crew go.”
“No way, Reks!” O’Reilly snapped, shaking the detonator. “This baby’s my insurance! I ain’t doing nothing till I see that jumpgate open!” he dropped his voice to a whisper again. “I’m running out of time here, Leisa! Fire those damn guns at the airlock!”
“But that would depressurize the bay!” she objected.
“Exactly!” O’Reilly hissed. “I’m wearing a suit, he isn’t!”
“Oh… right! Gotcha!”
“Very well,” Reks said, staring at the detonator in O’Reilly’s hand with a calculating gaze. “I’ll order my ships to stand down… but I won’t open the gate until you defuse the bomb.” He crossed over the intercom on the terminal in the foreman’s office. “Dock Command, this is Reks. Listen to what I say very carefully, and follow my orders as quickly as you can… jam all signal frequencies in Dock 10, NOW!”
“YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!” Xinjao screamed at Reks, suddenly terrified. Fuck, he’s gonna block the detonator! It’s now or never… “GO TO HELL!!”
O’Reilly yanked his thumb off the switch with a click and hurled the detonator at his nemesis.
Deep within the machinery of the Phoenix Yards, dozens of explosions rocked the station, severing power cables everywhere. An explosion ripped through the main coolant tank in the massive reactor complex in the central hub, flooding the cavernous room with the super-cooled toxic gas as the tank drained. Righteous Army and Fleet engineers screamed and gasped for air, having just enough time to realize the main reactor was overheating before they choked to death, their bodies quickly freezing in the icy air.
Deafening sirens blared red flashing emergency lights cut through the smoke-filled air throughout the dockyards. Soldiers everywhere looked around in sudden confusion and panic as the station around them quickly turned into hell.
The docking bay rocked as the bombs ripped through the station. Reks was knocked off his feet as the detonator clattered to the ground next to him in front of him. Red lights flashed and sirens peeled though the bay. “ATTENTION,” a computerized voice announced through the loudspeakers, “REACTOR MELTDOWN IMMINENT. YOU HAVE FIFTEEN MINUTES TO ABANDON THE STATION.”
Reks roared in utter fury, rage consuming him as he stood, his hairy body expanding even further as it rippled with muscles. “DAMN YOU, O’REILLY!!” he screamed, seizing his sword in both hands and charging across the bay floor. This was Calton’s holy crusade; to finally kill the sick pervert who had denied his holy cause its fleet.
Xinjao looked around desperately for a weapon as the beast stormed at him. He snatched up Leisa’s discarded rivet gun and raised it at the werewolf weakly… there was no way he could stop Reks, but he had to at least try…
The bay rocked again as a bright red laser punched through the airlock tunnel, knocking both of them off their feet. Escaping atmosphere hissed as blasts from the McInnery’s pulse lasers ripped a hole through the hull, rapidly depressurizing the dock. O’Reilly scrambled to pull down and seal his helmet’s visor… if I can just hold out long enough for Reks to suffocate… Both combatants struggled to stand, but the pulse lasers kept blasting, shaking the bay… tearing a larger and larger hole in the airlock…
“Damn it, Leisa!” Xinjao yelled over the comm, “Turn it off! Turn it off before—“
“We’re trying!” came the frustrated reply. “But it’s set for bursts of—“
The rest of her voice was drowned out by a whoosh of air as the lasers sawed off the end of the tunnel and opened a gaping hole to empty space. The stream of escaping air became a hurricane as all the atmosphere in the huge bay was blown out. Xinjao and Reks were lifted off the ground by the wall of wind and went spiraling toward the airlock, along with anything that wasn’t bolted down. Flashing red lights and flying equipment swirled around them as Xinjao flailed about desperately in midair trying to grab onto something. As they tumbled into the short tunnel to the end of the airlock, Reks swung and rammed his sword into the walls, clinging to it with both hands as the wind blew over him, pelting him with flying equipment and debris.
Xinjao’s fingers clawed fruitlessly at the smooth steel of the airlock tunnel for any kind of handhold. Skidding along the walls, he shot out into the void of space… and finally grabbed onto a piece of scorched, twisted metal jutting out from the severed wall of the blasted airlock, swinging out to the side of the hole as the fierce wind pushed him out of its path. He could feel his weak grip slipping. With all the remaining strength of tortured body, he swung his left arm forward, latched onto the wreckage with his mechanical left hand, locked it in place with his thumb…and dangled there on the edge of space before the steaming cannons of the McInnery.
The enraged werewolf glanced behind him at the pit of space… and saw the object of his hatred clinging to the edge of the tunnel like the parasite he was. Pulsing with rage, Reks swung his muscular arm and slammed his claws down into the steel deck plates. “And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger,” he roared, sucking down the air blowing past him, “those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers!” Claws ripping into the walls, Reks pulled himself toward the depraved worm who had dared to obstruct God’s divine plan.
Terror filled Xinjao when he looked back in the tunnel and saw Reks crawling toward him, eyes glowing red with rage. What the fuck does it take to kill this guy?? Frozen in fear for but a second, he shook himself into action. Think, THINK, THINK!! Xinjao urged himself. How can I fight him? What can I do? I need a weapon, he thought, scanning the wreckage for anything that could pass for a blade. I’ve the hidden blaster in my wrist, but I’ve already used up the power cell, I –
Suddenly, the answer came to him in a flash. Ripping a piece of twisted metal off the hull, he tore a hole in his environmental suit over left forearm in a cloud of escaping air and heat, the suit’s automatic tourniquets sealing off the breech a second later. Fingers flying, he popped the casing off his robotic forearm. He could feel the tunnel shaking with each blow as Calton slammed his claws down, pulling himself toward his prey. Fumbling in the awkward gloves, Xinjao ripped out the dead power cell from the plasma charge in his wrist and tossed it into space. With trembling fingers, he pulled out the power cell that ran his hand’s cybernetics…
“And they shall will know that I am the LORD,” Calton gasped out as he climbed over the rim of the tunnel, wheezing as the last of the air in the bay ran out, “when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!” The Right Sword of the Faithful snarled down at the man dangling helpless before him, the fiend who had killed so many of his soldiers, and swung his arm up for the killing blow…
Xinjao popped the power cell into the charger and hit the firing mechanism. The plasma bolt shot out of the vent on the back of his hand and into the beast, burning through his fur and into his chest. It caught him completely by surprise, the force of the blast throwing off his balance and knocking him out into the yawning space behind him. He tried to roar in anger, but couldn’t draw in enough breath. He flailed about as he spiraled into the abyss beyond, thrashing wildly at first, then weakly as he choked for air, shivering as ice crystals formed in his fur. O’Reilly watched the werewolf fly away, as the man shrank from view, speeding off into the night.
Relief swept over Xinjao like a wave. He couldn’t believe he had survived. He had pushed his traumatized body to its limit. Suddenly he felt very weak and very tired. But he couldn’t rest yet… slowly, he became aware of voices calling to him over his suit’s radio.
“…know you’re out there, but if you don’t respond, we’re leaving without you!”
“I’m here, I’m here” O’Reilly said into the radio. “What’s going on?”
“We got five ships heading our way, ETA three minutes!” Leisa shouted. “They’re crappy RA War Freighters, but there’s five of them! Are you coming or not?”
“Yeah… yeah…” Xinjao said groggily. “I’m not that far away from the boarding airlock… just give me a few seconds…” Having dried up the power cell in his artificial hand, he had to wrench it off the wreckage. Now how the hell am I gonna get over there without a jetpack? he wondered as he climbed around the wreckage and pointed himself toward the McInnery. There was an old dockworkers’ trick for spacewalk emergencies like this, but he had always been too chickenshit to use it. Well, drastic times call for drastic measures, he figured and, reaching behind his back, he found the valve on his oxygen tank and released some of his compressed air. It was just enough propulsion to give him a gentle push toward the ship. I hate spacewalks!
He soon left the security of the hull and drifted out into open space. The McInnery was a huge target, but if he missed… or bounced off…
“What’s your status, O’Reilly?” Leisa squawked urgently over the comm channel.
“I’m on my way over…” he replied.
“Can’t you go any faster? We’re running out of time here!” she complained.
“If I go any faster, I’ll bounce off the hull!” Xinjao snapped. “I’ve only got one working hand and there’s nothing to grab onto on the hull as it is!”
“You’ve got ninety seconds!” she snapped. Terrifying seconds ticked by as Xinjao slowly crossed the open void in the silence of space. Finally he reached the hull and pushed himself along it towards the airlock. What I wouldn’t give for some magnetic boots right now! Goddamn cheap RA suits…
“Damn it, they’re in range!” Leisa shouted. “What’s taking so long??”
“Just a few more seconds…” Xinjao pleaded, reaching his arm out toward the hatch as the flash from the McInnery’s pulse laser cannons lit up the air around him. “Got it!”
“That’s it, we’re out of here!” Leisa yelled. “We got five minutes to get out of the blast radius!” Suddenly the McInnery’s impulse thrusters kicked into full burn, and Xinjao found himself dangling from the airlock of a speeding spacecraft by one hand. He pulled himself up to the airlock door, depressurized it, and wrenched open the hatch. As he was climbing inside, however, he glanced up at the Phoenix Yards… and froze in fascination.
The Phoenix Yards were dying. The Righteous Army had jettisoned all fifty of the detachable repair docks and were trying to tow them away with transports and freighters… but they wouldn’t get out of the blast radius in time. Scores of small ships buzzed around and away from the Yards, trying to evacuate the enormous crew. The tangle of space traffic was horrendous. But what O’Reilly couldn’t drag his eyes away from was the central hub, the heart of the construction station.
The massive structure flashed and rippled with secondary explosions all over its massive, circular surface. Sections of the hull crumpled in on themselves, buckling the hull. The hub vented smoke and atmosphere from a hundred wounds, and debris swirled around it like a cloud. Names and faces flashed through his mind: Paulson, Rymir, Smitty, Smashie, Bertram… friends who had lived and died on the station he had called home. He saw the bright flash begin to blossom and roll over the hub, and know what was coming. He ducked down into the airlock and closed the hatch as the blinding flash illuminated the space around him, and the shock wave violently shook the McInnery… the death throws of the once mighty Phoenix Yards.
War is such a waste of good machinery… Xinjao thought sadly. He managed to hold the emotions at bay for a few second, but then the dam broke and his face crumpled. In the darkness of the airlock on that tiny ship, hidden in his environmental suit, no one saw him cry.
Brother Caleb waited alone, pacing within the situation room aboard the Saint Michael. He was nervous… so, he did what he usually did when he was nervous, he prayed. Dear Heavenly Father, please let these field tests go well. Give me the strength to perform my duties in accordance with your will. Watch over all of us in these trying times… we have so far to go and many dangers on our way. I lift all my worries to you, Lord. All this I ask in your son’s precious and holy name, Amen.
The door opened as Captain Harrell Rogers entered. "It's time to go. Nervous?"
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't."
"Don't worry, son. You're about to pilot the most advanced piece of hardware in the galaxy! Let me tell you, I'd give up a lot to be in your shoes right now."
A strange sensation tugged at the back of Caleb's mind. It was near the place where his suit connected with his thoughts. This had been happening ever since he'd bested Brother Kyle in the simulator. It had started to worry him. His behavior had become erratic in the past week. He'd hid it well, but he was worried. What if Thomas was right to be scared… Lord Jesus, give me strength.
"You all right?"
Caleb’s head snapped towards his CO as he escaped his thoughts. "Yes, sir. Just got a case of the pre-flight jitters."
Rogers started towards the door. "Come, there are a few people that want to meet you."
They entered the hallway and moved quickly through the ship's corridors. After a few minutes of walking, they reached their destination. Caleb's eyes went wide when he saw who was in the room.
"Brother Caleb, this is Dr. Zeas here." Rogers said, as Caleb went to shake his hand. "And this fine gentleman… well, you should know who he is."
The man came up to Caleb and shook his hand firmly. "Hello, Caleb. I’m Andrew Tremont. Nice to finally meet you.”
The clean-cut, photogenic man seemed to calm and reassure him with his very presence. Caleb couldn’t help but smile as their handshake ended. “I… uh, nice to meet you, sir.”
“Please,” the Commander of the Faithful smiled back, “call me Andy.”
“Yes, sir… Andy.”
“Brother Caleb is one of our most talented recruits.” Doctor Zeas explained. “His training results are the highest we’ve ever had in the program.”
“I’ve read your report on the shuttle ride, doctor,” Tremont replied, “although I’m amazed that someone so young was given the honor of piloting the All-Father. Especially with so little time in the program.”
Captain Rogers stepped forward. “Sir, the original test pilot was injured. Caleb has proven himself and therefore was given the position.”
The commander’s eyebrows went up. “Indeed?” Tremont put his arm around Caleb’s shoulder. “Well, brother, would you mind if I walk with you to your new craft?”
The young man couldn’t say anything at first. Finally, he managed, “Uh… yes! Yes, sir!”
All of them clustered around him laughed. Andy finally led the way and they left the command deck and went toward the hangar. As they left, the brother couldn’t help but notice the tense looks between the commander and a couple heavily armed men. Once they were out of earshot, the leader of the Christian Federation spoke quietly. “So… Caleb, you must feel proud of your accomplishments.”
“Yes, s… Andy. I’m proud to be a useful servant of the Lord.”
Tremont looked up at the huge mobile suit in front of them. “I remember when I was your age. I was in charge of missions for my church… the whole denomination, at that time. I had no idea I’d be here now.” Andy looked back at him. “Never let anyone stand in your way, Caleb. They’re only taking up space.”
“Sir?” The young man was confused. “I mean, Andy?”
“Sorry, brother. I was simply saying to always go after your dreams.”
“To glorify the Lord with your work.” Caleb smiled.
For a moment, the smile dropped from the older man’s face, and the brother could feel the coldness behind his eyes. Then Tremont snorted out a laugh and warmness flooded the pilot. “Yes… of course.”
Caleb slowly entered the cockpit of the All-Father. He knew from all the training sessions of the last week that it would be different from the rest, but he was no less surprised when he entered. Having sat in it before, he was already familiar with the controls. He crawled into the tiny space and strapped himself in. This was no ground run, he'd done that in this suit. This was the big full systems space flight. It frightened him like nothing had before.
What's happening to me? he questioned himself, I'm a wreck! This isn't jitters… something's wrong with me! Could it be from the link? Oh God…
"Prepare for pre-flight check." his comm sounded.
He activated the cockpit controls and started the pre-flight routines he knew by heart. The familiar steps calmed him down, diminishing his fear, but the terror would not leave him.
"Prepare to activate Mechro-Link."
"Activating Mechro-Link." he replied in his usual steady voice. He hesitated at first, then pushed the button. The link to the All-Father was different from the others. It was purer; none of the blurriness between the melding of man and machine. This was the refined version of what man was capable of… when he extracted God from the machine.
Soon after the link was established, liquid entered the chamber he was in. Gravity couches were deemed too expensive for the already costly unit. Instead, the pilot was submerged in a mineral bath in order to sustain the higher G's expected. The human body could endure 10 G's before it reached the breaking point. In a liquid solution, that number was raised to 50. As an added bonus, the minerals in the solution also increased the link's efficiency. The end result made the pilot feel like a machine's living brain.
"All-Father launch in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…" The voice on the comm was briefly drowned out as Caleb made the Veii 8 engines roar to life. The new feeling of acceleration calmed him as he enjoyed the purity of the speed he was traveling at.
He'd been dancing around orbit for hours now, completing the last of the field tests. Only a few remained, then he could end this and get some sleep; he was getting tired. He'd been rocketing around the planet at full tilt and blasting more targets than he could remember. Somehow he kept himself at the ready… after all, the best was about to come.
Dr. Zeas's voice spoke to him. "All right, Caleb, here comes the good part. Move to these coordinates and secure an onslaught system."
The coordinates were fed to him and he did as commanded. Three sets of onslaught systems were waiting for him at a nearby satellite. He activated a command and the first one attached itself to his frame.
"Well done, pilot. Now proceed to target J-54 and await further orders."
He soared over to his objective. It was a large asteroid that had been rigged with a large point defense system. He obediently awaited his orders.
"Lock on target and fire at my command. Fire!"
He let loose with his payload and instinctively repositioned himself to avoid any incoming fire. The missiles went for their target. Some were intercepted, enough of them got through to destroy it. As the vapor cleared, all that was left was the odd piece of celestial debris. A small smile appeared on his face.
"Hot damn, that's a kill!” the doctor’s voice paused for a moment. “Sorry about that, sir. Pilot, pick up another system and rendezvous at these coordinates."
Once again, Caleb and his machine did as they were told.
One of his bodyguards came up to Andrew Tremont and whispered in his ear. The commander nodded and he turned to the command staff. "Dr. Zeas, I’m afraid I have to leave now.”
"But sir… you haven't seen the best part yet! Please. Stay a few moments longer, you won’t regret it!”
“Doctor, I’m afraid I’m already late for a meeting. Please download the recording to my office… I’ll view it later.”
“But you may regret not seeing this in the flesh."
"What are you talking about?"
"Sir, I must insist you stay to see the Free Electron Cannon fire. Please! This is what we've been waiting for."
The bodyguard stepped forward. “Sir, Lieutenant Weiss is…”
Tremont cut him off with a wave of his hand. "I have other duties to attend to, doctor. Doing the Lord’s work does not always allow… recreation. I apologize." Without waiting for the doctor to plead again, the Commander of the Faithful walked off with his entourage, back to his shuttle.
"Caleb," the voice spoke some time later, after another hour of missile tests, "We’ve finished the onslaught system tests. We’ll be testing the cannon next."
"Yes, sir." came his reply.
"Good, relocate to these coordinates and await instructions."
It didn’t take long before everything was ready. Caleb soon stood before his target in the vastness of space. In those few moments between thruster fire and execution, the brother felt the exhaustion wash over him like rain over his body. He shook his head and tried to brush off the confusion in his veins. This is right, he thought to himself, this needs to be done. Only a little further to walk among the stars and…
"Pilot, lock on to the target and prepare to fire the cannon."
"Yes, sir." His sensor eyes locked onto the target as his weapon of mass destruction charged itself. The sensation was like nothing he had ever experienced. He felt the energy welling up inside of him like a star being born inside his chest. It was strange and wonderful all at the same time. The swirls of golden light pouring in were almost hypnotizing.
After several seconds, the star inside of him was almost too much for him to bear… but he dared not let go of it yet; the warmth of it was joyous. He felt his star reaching a critical mass and thought, it’s time to let it go.
Suddenly, his mind tugged at him again, the same place it had before. Unlike the last time, though, the force of it was unstoppable. He saw himself disengage the target lock and swing the cannon around. Lord? Why am I doing this Lord? Is this your will?
"What's happening?" Captain Rogers asked.
"I don't know.” the doctor replied before turning to the com unit. “Caleb? What are you doing?"
"Sir!" a voice screamed over the ship's PA system. "The cannon is about to fire and is locked on to our position!"
Panic instantly overtook the doctor. "Caleb! Stop this! Stop this right now!"
Caleb could hold onto his star no longer. May God forgive me…
A brilliant beam of energy streaked along the heavens, cutting a swath of annihilation in its path. After a few seconds, it stopped. Where it had been, nothing now remained. The Saint Michael was gone, as were many of the orbital weapons platforms.
He went into geosync orbit around the planet while waiting for his cannon to recharge. After a minute, he selected its next target: the research station. As it powered up, he looked down at the beautiful blue and white marble below him. He shall judge among the nations and rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.
The beam of light cut through the darkness and incinerated the research station below him. As the fires above and below dissipated into the void, numerous blips appeared within his consciousness. Dozens of fighters from every which way were closing in on him. Beware my wrath….
They came in droves and were destroyed by the dozen. What attacks he couldn't dodge or fooled by his jammer shield, were easily intercepted by his point defenses. He launched missile after missile, destroying them with phalanx and head guns. In the end, there was no one left to fight. As he headed for the Alpha Centauri jump gate, the picket there shared the same fate.
He stood there, alone in space, with only his thoughts for company. They were driving him mad. Dear God…why did I do this? I shouldn't have done this! Why did you make me do this?! He waited for an answer to his prayers… and none came. Finally, he keyed in the coded sequence and activated the jumpgate, leaving the void behind, entering the chaos of orange swirls.
Ira Weiss led Kiddo off the shuttle, stepping into an anarchy of movement; the huge spaceport was clogged with loading and unloading shuttles… filled with soldiers of the Righteous Army. They were out on the tarmac near the large building, the blazing sun warming them both as they watched the palm trees sway in the distance; everything looked mystical to Hex. As they reached the entrance, they were greeted with a large friendly sign: “Welcome to New Jerusalem!” New Jerusalem was obviously hastily painted over Santa Monica. The doors opened automatically as they walked in. Several soldiers in the entrance room moved to intercept them, but one look at Weiss backed them off. As they walked through the gates, the teenager couldn’t help but notice the other new arrivals to this frontier planet taken aside and questioned. No one dared stop this man next to him, dressed in black on the hottest day of the year.
As they stepped into the flitter waiting for them, Ira caught a glimpse of Kiddo’s eye. “First time to San Angeles?”
“Yeah.” he nodded, looking at the beautiful scenery around them. Everything was warm and inviting; even the grass seemed to beg you to run on it. “I could never believe that…”
Weiss smiled and shuffled his young charge into the flitter. As the car scooted off, the lieutenant cricked his neck and looked out the window as well. “Fifth-generation terraform, those planet engineers really did a number of this world.”
“What?” the boy managed to pull his head away from the scenery.
“This planet used to be a barren rock, much like many in the Federation. God created the universe, brother, but he didn’t leave us many planets that were habitable.” Ira found it hard to pull away from the windows himself, but he managed. “I think that He had the right idea. If it was too easy to move into space, we would never have grown as His children.”
“It’s so beautiful.” Kiddo muttered. “How did they…”
“The terraformers incorporated some Hodraida technology into the rebirth of San Angeles. They managed to replicate their Gaia process, then adding all of the best versions of compatible fauna and flora… and they made this colony. It was originally supposed to be a resort world, but the funding fell through, and the Fed colonized it.”
“Can we see more of it?”
Weiss closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Kiddo. I’m afraid we’re here on business.”
“Commander of the Faithful,” the lieutenant corrected, “you mustn’t use such coarse terms anymore.”
The boy bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”
Ira grabbed his chin and gently lifted it up. “Man fears what it does not understand. We name, we categorize, and we think we control it. When we’re done, Kiddo, no one will have to fear again.” The flitter came to a comfortable stop in front of a huge building. “We’re here.”
The two of them waited calmly outside Tremont’s office. For the fifth time since they sat down, the secretary looked up from her typing and sighed. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”
Weiss smiled. “No, ma’am. We’re fine.”
“I do apologize about all this. The commander was unexpectedly called away, and…”
Suddenly, the doors burst open, and two armored guards fanned out on either side of the door. They looked at the two interlopers with suspicion; Hex knew that if he made a false move, he’d be dead. Then a clean-cut photogenic man stomped into the room, a look of intensity seemed to scar his face, forcing everyone to turn toward him. Kiddo knew at first sight that he was angry; his mind trying to hold in the pent-up rage inside so much that he broadcasted his thoughts of fury.
“Alice, hold my comms.” he said, before rushing towards his office doors.
Weiss stood up; the bodyguards seemed to tense as he did. “Sir…”
Kiddo got his first clear look at Andrew Tremont, his eyes ablaze in fury, staring with a hatred no human should have been able to sear into another. His voice, though, was the epitome of calm. “Later.” he said, before disappearing behind the heavy steel doors.
Alice just sat there, looking at them like a mother ashamed of her child. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”
Ira sighed. “Tea would be nice.”
After fifteen minutes of waiting there, Hex still locked in the epistles of Peter, the intercom finally buzzed. “Alice?”
”You can send them in now.”
“Yes, sir.” the secretary shuffled in her high-neck long dress and smiled at her visitors. “The commander will see you now.”
Ira and Kiddo seemed to stand in unison and made their way towards the large metal gates. They opened on silent mechanical gears, allowing them to pass forward unimpeded, into the Righteous Army’s holiest of holies.
Andrew Tremont sat with his back to them, looking at the large display, split into several sections. Every bit of intelligence that the Righteous Army collected was directed here. In the top right corner of the wall was information on the Phoenix System, showing a chaos of activity through an arcane dance of floating dots; a dark cloud hovering over the string of “impossible” victories. To the left of this staggering defeat was a promise of redemption: information regarding the progress of the “All-Father Project” and the production of the new mobile suits. However, there was a certain intensity to Tremont’s search of the data, as if he were looking for something to blame. At the bottom, an extremely delayed tactical display of the fleet battle in Avalon. All of it was a cacophony of information that only Andrew could understand.
“I apologize for delaying you, Ira.” Tremont said, his voice echoing over the chair back, “I understand you’ve had a long trip.”
“Yes, sir. I hope we haven’t caught you at a bad time.”
The chair slowly turned around to see the calm, collected man that Kiddo had always seen on the newsvids. It was almost as if your eyes were forced to look at him; the force of his personality was that strong. He was relaxed, smiling… but the eyes gave away his concern. “The road to heaven is straight and narrow for a reason, Lieutenant Weiss. It’s not easy to walk it.”
“Of course, sir.”
“I’m glad you came, Ira, I just wish for better times.” As Tremont paused to put down his datapad, Kiddo couldn’t help but notice the smashed pieces of furniture lying neatly in the trash bin beside him. “Let’s begin, shall we? Start with this young man here.”
“This is the one I mentioned to you in my last message. I believe he would make a significant contribution to our next operation.”
“Yes, sir. He’s already familiar with the workings of guerilla warfare and special operations due to his experience with the Resistance.” The lieutenant handed the commander a datapad, then continued. “I plan to take him in one of my units, but I’ll have to speak with the Sword first.”
“The Sword may be delayed for some time.” Andrew replied, betraying nothing with his words. He looked over the datapad briefly and then looked back at them. “You’ve left something out of your report.”
Tremont smiled wider. “What’s his name?”
Hex almost spoke for himself, but something inside of him told him to show respect for his elders, allowing Weiss to answer instead. “Well, I plan to give him a Christian name soon…”
The commander cut him off with a wave of his hand. Looking at the boy, Andrew asked, “What’s your name, young man?”
“Kiddo, sir.” the teenager replied slowly.
Tremont was puzzled. “Kiddo? Hardly a suitable name for a young man of the faith. How did you come by it?”
“I… uh, well…” Hex stammered, once again ashamed of his childhood name.
“With your permission, Ira, I will name him.”
“If you would so honor him.”
The leader of the Christian Federation smiled and stood up. “Kneel, my son.” Hex was reluctant, but he still felt himself drop to one knee. “You shall no longer be called by a child’s name… instead,” Tremont slowly drew a sword; Hex had to fight his instinct to assume a defensive posture, ”you shall be called Ehud.” Andy tapped his shoulders with the blade and then rested the point against the floor. “I have a feeling about you, Ehud. Like your namesake, you will rid God’s people of one of their greatest enemies.”
Hex thought for a moment, then caught the reference. Ehud was a Judge in Israel who assassinated Eglon, the king of Moab. He had read the story just two days ago.
“Now, Ira, since that’s taken care of, was there anything else you needed to see me for?”
“No, sir.” Weiss shook his head.
“Good.” Tremont touched the intercom button. “Alice, could you call Sword Kraft and have him report here. I need a new deputy for the army.”
“Yes, sir.” the secretary blurted.
Finally, the man turned back to his guests. “Lieutenant, I need you to move along with your mission. It is needed most desperately now.” Putting the sword away under his desk, he looked back at the two of them, still standing there. “You can go now.”
Weiss had led Hex through the winding streets of New Jerusalem until they finally reached what looked like a military base. “There are many things you’ll have to learn, Ehud,” Ira smiled at using the teenager’s new name, “but foremost among them is patience.”
“I’m sorry.” the boy muttered, looking around at the men who rushed around the base. It was obvious to him that this was some sort of basic training; the program was indelibly etched into his mind.
“Never be sorry. Sorrow leads to guilt, and guilt is only useful when it leads us to correction.” Hex looked confused at the lieutenant’s words. “I know. What I say may be considered blasphemy, but… ”
“Why are we here?”
“We’re here, dear Ehud, because along your path, you will need different teachers than me.” Finally he led the boy over to one of the white-washed buildings, a barracks, currently empty from what the boy could see. “You’ll meet your troop inside. Your new deacon will instruct you on your team’s mission. I hope that you’ll remain faithful in the hard times ahead.”
Weiss smiled. “Sorry, we use a different rank system in the Righteous Army. Any man you meet with a white armband,” he pointed to his own, “is an officer in the Lord’s service. As with the Hebrews of old, we have leaders of ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, and hundred thousand… as well as the commander to lead the Faithful to glory.”
Actually, Hex thought, it was leaders of hundreds and thousands… but it’s not the time to point this out.
“The ranks go up as such… deacon, elder, captain, lieutenant, sword.”
“Lieutenant is above captain?”
“The original definition of lieutenant was a leader who worked directly underneath a general. A captain was a leader of the portion of the army. We have restored the original ranks. You will meet your deacon inside.”
Kiddo looked inside the barracks again; no one was there. “Shall I wait for them?”
Ira shook his head and smiled. “Never take things at face value, Ehud,” the lieutenant took one more look into the barracks before stepping away from the boy, “that is your next lesson.”
Hex was soon alone again. As he watched Weiss walk away, the boy finally turned into the barracks. The sun and wind seemed to sparkle through the building. Still, as he took a seat on one of the beds, he knew something was wrong. The teenager felt a change in the wind and stood up… right as the bed behind him collapsed.
Kiddo shifted into a defensive stance and quickly let the heat pass away from his body. As he became invisible, weakening his bond with reality, he waited for the next attack. Someone had smashed that bed, he knew, someone’s here.
When the next attack came, the boy was ready for it. The figure moved from above and Hex dived underneath the blow, reaching for a piece of the smashed bed, grabbing a piece of pipe. The metal slowly grew transparent… but not fast enough. It became a beacon for his attacker and suddenly, Kiddo was swinging it around like his old katana. He managed to hold off the repeated jabs of his invisible attacker… just enough to get his feet knocked off from underneath him.
The teenager barely managed to roll with the fall. A second attacker? he realized as the pipe he held finally matched his own invisibility. Hex could still see nothing. What’s going on here?
Slowly, he closed his eyes and let himself take all the sounds around him. The boy heard his attackers coming in… and knew when they were going to strike. His pipe swiped as his hand went to block the right one, then quickly crouched to find off the left one. Kiddo was soon caught between them, with their flurry of jabs and kicks. I can’t keep this up for long, he knew, so he suddenly willed himself into the air, driving his feet into both of his attacker’s heads at once. He felt the sweet impact of his shoes on their flesh, then soon found his footing again, landing back into a defensive position.
The figures didn’t move at first. Suddenly, the boy heard a strange whirring sound on both sides, and Hex opened his eyes. The attackers were visible again, wrapped head to toe in white cloth, with the exception of a metal box on their belts. The right one took off his hood, showing a blonde-haired young man, grinning like an idiot. “I think that’s enough for today.” Kiddo didn’t react at first, but the blonde man held out his hand. “Come back into the light, brother. I apologize for startling you, but I’ve always found that the best test of your abilities is when you’re not expecting it.”
Hex slowly allowed himself to return to reality, resisting the pain of the burn as he did it. As the fire diminished, he looked at the uncovered soldier, saying, “Did I pass?”
“What do you think?” Blondie raised his eyebrows.
The teenager shivered as his transition was completed. “Yes.”
The blonde man smiled. “Correct. I have to say, your solution was… inventive. We have these devices,” he pointed to his belt box, “to create the invisibility effect. Apparently you have managed to achieve it on your own. Plus, your combat training is quite impressive. I’m happy to have you in my troop.”
“Sorry, old cavalry term. Our elders seem to have a penchant for rewriting the dictionary… we would call it a squad back in the Fed. The name’s Wade Kennedy, Deacon of the Faithful, leader of Sigma Team.”
The teenager finally took the deacon’s outstretched hand. “Ehud… Hex.”
“Nice to meet you, Brother Ehud. The man behind you is Brother Remi.” The boy turned around to see the man taking off his hood, revealing someone only slightly older than Hex himself. His white hair and red eyes certainly disturbed the boy. All Remi managed was a slight nod, before taking off his gloves. Kiddo was amazed at how pale he was.
“Where’s the rest of Sigma Team?” Hex asked Wade.
Kennedy shrugged and chuckled quietly to himself. “I’m afraid, brother, that you’re looking at it. However, what we need to do requires few people. With the Lord’s help, all things are possible.”
“Why am I… we, here?”
“Weiss didn’t tell you?” Hex shook his head; Wade sighed. “The devil’s minions have thwarted us, young Ehud. Everywhere they stop the Lord’s plans to bring this galaxy to Christ. Valkriye is one stepping stone toward this goal. Sigma Team is going to knock out the planetary defense control.”
“Just like that?” Hex was shocked.
Kennedy winked. “If God be with us, brother, who can be against us?”
END OF ACT III
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.