"The Jesuits knew that if you want to confound your enemies, the best technique is to create clandestine sects, wait for dangerous enthusiasms to precipitate, then arrest them all.  In other words, if you fear a plot, organize one yourself; that way, all those that join it come under your control."

-- Umberto Eco, "Foucault's Pendulum"


                Alistar sat near the portal of his stateroom looking out amongst the stars. So many of those bright lights have people living on them, he thought, so many foes to crush under foot, so little time. A small smile played on his face as he thought of engaging in battle again. It had been far too long. He thought again about what he would tell Russell Fargus when he saw him again, how he could explain his absence. It would be up to him if he'd ever fight again. Either he'd get another promotion… or get busted down to private. Then again, they might string me up like they did that bitch Sarah.

            He quickly shook that thought from his mind. From what the Resistance tells me, old Russ has done quite well for himself. I hope all that power hasn't gone to his head.

            Nana Dimiye came from behind and silently put her arms around her grandson. "What are you doing, my darling boy?"

            "I didn't hear you come in." he replied, annoyance creeping into his voice.

            She chuckled. "I didn't want to disturb your stargazing. It looked like all that concentration could shatter that portal. Is all this wool gathering helping you to remember… anything?"

            He didn't bother turning around. "No.”

            She walked around and pulled up a chair to face him. "What is the last thing you remember?"

            "Is this really necessary? Do I have to keep talking about it? "

            "We could do this the easy way…" Nana moving her hands towards his head.

            He recoiled ever so slightly. "No, I don't want that… ever again."

            "All right.” his grandmother pulled her hands back. “If you want your memories recovered, you know you have to keep doing this. What is the last thing you remember?"

            Alistar sighed. "I was on Avalon and the enemy was overrunning our position." he answered robotically. "I charged out to face them in order to buy my division enough time to escape. My attacks halted them briefly, but with all my weapons blazing, I ran out of ammo in less than a minute. Once I couldn't keep up my fire, they moved forward again and I hid in a sub basement with the last of my suit power keeping my chameleon circuits active. When that was gone, they detected me and soldiers started to storm the building. I'd just started to punched in my suit's self destruct codes when a bright light surrounded me." I thought Polaris had come for one last visit… probably to gloat, he thought, but the major never shared that with his Nana.

            "One second I'm about to die, the next I'm in an empty room… Buddha knows where. You know the rest."

            "It's important for you to go over it."

            "All right…you came into the room with armed guards a few seconds later and explained to me what happened. I was yanked me from there after I read your message. The message activated a correspondence transponder you'd placed in my suit." All of a sudden, he stopped. "Why did you wait for the last possible moment? You could have rescued me anytime."

            "My darling boy, I told you… it wasn't intentional, it just happened that way."

            Sure, just a coincidence… and I'm Emperor of the Eastern Bloc. "Then you briefed me on the mission you had planned. Said I was a perfect candidate because of my history of amnesia and my covert ops training. So I was taken back to Earth, given the mission specifics, took a trip to the body fixer for a make over, and took a seat in the brain washing machine. All so I could impersonate some fundie that was earmarked for their special project. Some fundie kid that made the mistake of getting kidnapped by you."

            "Is that all you remember?"

            "Yes. I've read the mission reports over and over again and don’t remember it happening to me. As far as I'm concerned, it was someone else who did it." His face soured at her. "I guess that was one of the perks of using me."

            "Alistar! Don't ever think like that! You know that I love you!" Nana blinked away the tears forming in her eyes. “I had my orders. Had I been able…”

            Uncomfortable, he changed the subject. "Do you plan to share this new found technology with the rebellion during the negotiations?"

            "We haven't decided yet. We have to meet Fargus in the flesh before we decide anything.  If he officially ends the draft like he said he's going to, then… maybe, we can sign an alliance. But it’ll only be the beginning."

            "What do you mean?"

            "Things have changed, my boy, things that should have been changed long ago.” She sighed and glanced out the portal herself. “At least we no longer have to answer to Rashid King or InSec."

"I don't understand."

            "Never mind. It’s not important for you to understand that. We have been waiting… the Resistance, I mean… so long for this opportunity. All obstacles will soon be removed that keep the people from governing themselves. In the end, they now need us as much as we've ever needed them. If all goes well, we’ll finally be on the road to true democracy."


            Once the delegates from Earth reached Wilke's Star, the scenario played out predictably. Reporters from every star system were there waiting for Alistar and the rest of the ship's passengers as they landed. He was glad in retrospect that Nana had taken the precaution of shielding their images with holographic projections. A known TI war hero walking off a ship with the hierarchy of the Resistance would have caused a media explosion, if not an all-out riot. I thought we were to arrive in secret... Fargus, you camera hogging son of a bitch!

            A fleet of land cruisers were waiting to take them to Headquarters as they exited the spaceport. During the short ride, a thought occurred to Alistar. "Nana, you did tell them that I was coming, didn't you?"

            Her silence answered his question.

            "That's just perfect! I'm MIA for a month and show up out of the blue with the head of the largest resistance organization in history. You should have told them. Was this Vitek's idea?"

            "Just stick to the story and you'll be fine. The surprise of your return will help to soften their side… besides, we thought it would be a nice surprise."

            Alistar sulked for the rest of the ride. When going to a party, bring a gift…and I'm the gift.

            After reaching the compound and going through the usual security procedures, the Resistance group was shuffled into a large empty conference room.

            "General Fargus and his staff will be with you momentarily." an adjutant told them as they were left alone. One by one, they dropped their projections, all except for Alistar. After standing there for a moment, they took seats at the enormous table, Vitek sitting at one of the ends.

            Curious, Alistar took a smell in Vitek's direction. His curiosity was rewarded as he smiled. The scent is wrong, that's not Vitek, His mind laughed. The paranoid son of a bitch sent a double in his place! As another thought occurred to him, his amusement ended. Wait a minute… how do I know the man I met was the real Vitek?

            "Nana, is that…"

            His question ceased as the doors opened and Fargus entered the room, staff in tow. Alistar immediately recognized most of the faces present, especially Major-General Joel Thomas Fabin, who sat down only a few meters away from him. I am a dead man. He thought.

            "Welcome, delegates!" General Fargus boomed. "With all of the long distance communication we've been doing for the past few weeks, It's so nice to finally meet you all in person."

            Vitek stood up to address the room. "Thank you, Russell, for your warm greeting. But… we have limited time here, so why don’t we get down to business."

            "Excellent suggestion, Marko." Fargus replied, trying to create familiarity within the room. "We're already in agreement with the general terms of these negotiations, we have only the specifics to discuss. Where would you like to begin?"

            "I'd like to start off with presenting you with a gift." he said, looking over to Alistar. "Would you please stand up?"

            This is it, Alistar thought as he stoop up, time to open your present, Fargus. A second later, the holographic image around him dropped revealing his true form.

            Every member of the rebel faction stared at him, open-mouthed, and in shock. They're going to hang me from the yardarm…


            The next twenty-four hours were monotonous for Alistar Dimiye. As the proceedings continued with the delegates, he was being poked and prodded to determine whether he was some sort of clone or imposter. Question after question was asked and answered.

How did you escape Avalon? -- My grandmother rescued me.

Did you know she was a Resistance agent? -- I suspected.

Why didn't you turn her in? -- I didn't suspect until recently and had more important things to worry about.

Why didn't she rescue you entire unit? -- Why don't you ask her?

Are you currently or have you ever been a member of the Resistance? -- No.

            He never worried about being caught in a lie or half-truth. His mind was such a twisted tangle of crossed wiring and blank spots that the mind mages interrogating him came up empty. His psyche was such a hard nut to crack that they kept bringing in new interrogators on the hour so the old ones could get some rest. It was an unexpected perk of living the life that he did.

            Once they were all satisfied that he was who he was, they gave him a fresh uniform and a room to sleep in. Dimiye had no trouble falling asleep.


            The next day was an exciting; both factions announced their alliance, the TI and the Resistance were now united against the draft and for a true Federation. It was a public relations supernova whose presence was felt on every human-occupied world. Alistar experienced it as the majority of humanity did, over the vids. Although he was where the action was happening, he'd been confined to quarters until further notice.

            While in isolation, he checked the vids for news that he'd missed while away. He knew that the TI fleet had lost a most of its fleet when it finally abandoned Avalon, but that wasn't what interested him the most. He learned of the alliance between the K'Nes Tor and the Jurvain. He learned how the Frontier Worlds Territories had been annexed. Then he found out that the Bugs were on the rise again. All of humanity has been killing each other and now we're paying the ultimate price. If this is the price for our arrogance, then it serves us right.

            He went from the news archives to check more on the current situation on Wilke's Star. What he saw relieved him; the vids were broadcasting his picture as scores of people cheered in the background. "So, they announced that I'm alive. Looks like they won't dispose of me after all. I guess I'm still a very useful piece of propaganda."

            Soon afterwards, his door opened as men in uniform came for him.


            "Are you Major Alistar Soldati Dimiye?" Russell Fargus asked.

            "Yes, sir… it's me." he replied to the board of inquiry before him. He stood in the middle of the room while they were seated on an elevated dias; large groups of people sat behind him.

            "Al, do you know why you’re here today?" General Fabin inquired.

            Well, the vids rumored that I'd be promoted, but I'm guessing you just want my picture taken. "No, sir, I'm not sure."

            Fargus took over. "M. Dimiye, we’re here today in an effort to figure out what to do with you. After all, you left your command, you went joyriding with the Righteous Army, and suddenly you return from the dead! You’ve left this army… even the very cause in confusion. Thanks to our newfound allies, we understand that you are not to blame, but we still don’t know what to do with you?” Russell leaned back in his seat. "Do you know?

            I'm sick of this Mickey Mouse shit! I've done more than my fair share already. "Sir, I know there's a rumor going around that you'll be promoting me to colonel..."

            "General." he interrupted.

            "Sorry, sir, I meant lieutenant colonel."  

            Fargus held up his hand to silence him. "I don't think you understand what we mean…General Dimiye."

            Alistar was about to speak then stopped short. General? "But, sir…I'm only 21 years old!"

            Russell smiled broadly. “It is the finding of this board of inquiry that Alistar Soldati Dimiye has acted with distinction, showing bravery under fire, and that his later actions were consistent with that duty. We therefore promote you to the rank of Brigadier-General and will assign a legion for your command… at the earliest possible convenience.”

            The crowd behind the wall of brass hats roared, standing to their feet and cheering. Bathed in their adoration, Dimiye could only stand there, lost hopelessly in the glow of the lights.




            As the orange swirls opened into the void, Xavier got his first glimpse of the world that awaited him, Earth. It had cost Pollos a fortune in credits to make the three-jump trip; regular commercial flights to the heart of the Resistance weren’t available yet. The ship looked like it was falling apart, held together by frayed wiring and chewing gum, and the pilot was a freak. “Heh, heh… we’re in the… heh, Earth System.”

“Earth’s the planet, moron,” Pollos corrected, “it’s the Sol System.”

“Heh… whatever. Anyway, um… we’re here. What’s your plan to… heh, heh, get past the… heh, uh, heh… the um…” The pilot suddenly exploded into a flurry of childish laughs that he couldn’t contain anymore.

“Past the planetary defenses?” The pilot shook his head, continuing to laugh hysterically. “Open a channel… point it at Earth.”

“Um, uh… okay!” The pilot played around with the controls, finally activating the com screen. “Heh, heh… go.”

“This is Xavier Pollos.” the assassin spoke through the vocal pickup. “Vitek wants to see me. We’re coming in fast so don’t shoot us down, for fuck’s sake!”

There was a moment or two of static before a bored voice sounded on the other end. “We know who you are, M. Pollos. Think you can make it to Sanfran on your own?”

“Well, some cords would be nice.”

“One moment.” Suddenly, planetary coordinates appeared on the com screen. “Tell your pilot to come down on those.”

“Will do… heh, heh.” the pilot said, setting up the insertion into the planet’s atmosphere.

“See you when I hit planetside.” Xavier gruffly cut the link, looking out the front viewport at the blue ball growing larger. The fall into Earth gave him time to ask the questions that had bugged him since he left New Madrid.  'What in the world would Vitek want with me?  Why can't anyone leave me alone?  This has been going on too long; I am going to find out the bottom of this problem now. He lit a cigarette and let the sweet smoke drift through his brain.

            Once the small transport made its way through the buffeting atmosphere, it settled slowly towards a small settlement put on the end of a peninsula, flanked by a bay on one side and the ocean on the other. When the craft finally landed on a plasticrete slab, Xavier turned to the pilot. “Think you can wait here for a while?”

“Heh, heh… it’ll cost.”

“I’ll pay it. Now wait.” He commanded, then walked out of the shuttle. As he reached the airlock, he took one last drag of the cigarette in his mouth, then as the lock opened, threws it on the ground.  When he looked up, he saw two men standing in front of him. 

            "We have been waiting for you, Pollos."  One of them said, motioning for him to follow.

            "Right… whatever."

            Lately Xavier has been visiting many small and just ordinary buildings lately, and this one was no exception.  The only thing that he noticed was that there were hidden sensors everywhere. Hidden guards joined their electronic vigil; chameleon suits hid among the omnipresent electronics.  The place was well defended, even without the giant generator, which had to be hooked into something big, not operating. It was like they were waiting for something to happen… soon.  As Xavier is walked into the squat structure, he is frisked, then let through into the room that awaited him.

            Xavier opens the doors to see Marko Vitek sitting in an overstuffed chair, drinking out a vase-like container, watching a news broadcast on the holoproj. "Ah, M. Pollos. Glad you decided to join us."

            "The only reason I’m here is because you know something that I want to know."

            The holoproj was displaying some press conference; Pollos could care less, but the old werewolf was obviously amused. "You mean that sword."

            "That’s the one."

            “Take a seat.” Marko waved to a small stool beside him. When Pollos didn’t move, the Resistance leader pointed to it again. “Don’t be a bigger asshole than you already are. Have a fucking seat.”

            Xavier reluctantly sat down. As he did, Vitek turned off the holoproj, and hit the intercom. “Cassandra, could you come in here?”

            The door opened and a rather small woman appeared, her mousy black hair was cut short revealing a rather ugly face. Marko waved her closer. “Cassie, could you take a look at M. Pollos’ sword for us?”

            Pollos revealed Kuar and held it out; he did not let go of the sword. The old werewolf turned off the lights as she made a quick motion with her hands and the twelve symbols appeared on Kuar’s blade, the same ones he remembered from King’s office. As Xavier’s eyes danced over the iridescent light, he saw the thirteenth symbol glowing from the ball of the weapon. "There are 13 symbols on this sword, each an incantation to release a power to be accessed by the user. You already knew about that, but there’s something else, something you probably didn’t notice before. King didn't want you to know about this."  Vitek pointed to the seventh symbol, every mind knows its thoughts, the assassin remembered, and suddenly noticed an extra flourish to the side of the symbol. "You probably didn’t notice that before, did ya? That’s not meant to be there and it has nothing to do with that power. It’s more like… a trademark, let’s you know that Al-Hazen created the sword.”

“What’s your point?”

“Have you noticed something?” Cassandra spoke, her voice a strange deep alto. “No matter how hard you try, you haven’t been able to activate the eighth power?”

“I’ve been a little busy.” Xavier dodged the question. “What is it?”

“You see, Al-Hazen never meant for Kuar to be wielded alone. He created something else, an item designed to assist the sword’s user.”

Pollos was getting frustrated. “Well, where is it?”

“That’s the problem.” Cassandra answered.

Vitek explained. “It disappeared a long time ago; lost during a vampire raid against Al-Hazen. Not wanting for the vampires to get a hold of both items, he handed them off. Kuar was handed to your ancestors, Luos was handed to someone else."


“The other item.” the woman explained. “It looks like a glove.”

“At least, we think it looks like one. Our records are rather scarce.”

“Wait,” the assassin interrupted, “how do you know any of this?”

The old werewolf leaned closer to the man. “The Traditions, of which Al-Hazen was a member of, were the predecessors of our organization. You see, despite what the Technocracy and their accursed Federation would like to believe, the Ascension War never ended.”

            "And you don't know where the other item is now?"

            "No. Like I said, after the raid, we lost track of it when it was passed down. We didn’t know what happened to Kuar either… until you started using it everywhere.” Marko brandished an evil smile and took another glance at the sword.

            "Any leads?  Anything at all?"

            “Only one.” Cassandra answered.

Vitek shot her a nasty glance then turned back to the assassin. "Yes,  we have one. His name is Gabriel Daphonston."

“Who’s that?”

“A vampire. He participated in the raid on the raid that killed Al-Hazen.”

            Pollos had been absorbing all this information, but in their entire discussion, he never had a chance to ask the burning question on his mind. "Why are you helping me?"

            "For the same reason everyone else is. We want you on our side."


            "Because of your sword. It was meant for us, M. Pollos, but now I guess that’s impossible. You’re the only one that is capable of reaching the thirteenth level.”

            "That’s why you want me to find that other item, that Lucos…”

“Luos.” Cassandra corrected.”

“Whatever. All you want is to use me so that you can gain a major leap in power.”

“I’m glad we understand each other."

            "Then what about being the key to ending the war?” The assassin demanded.

            The old werewolf smiled. “All in good time, M. Pollos. Find Luos and… we’ll talk.”

            Pollos stood up, put Kuar away, and walked out the door. As he walked back into the mud-soaked streets, he cursed the werewolf’s name under his breath. Fucking old, insane, self-righteous… bastard!




Ehud had been sitting alone in the barracks for hours, recovering from the wounds dealt him by… no one?  He wasn’t sure how to explain what happened to Wade and Remi… or to Weiss for that matter when he had visited him early that morning.  He was healing quickly, and would be ready for their last training session by the end of the day, before they left tomorrow.

He had spent most of the day reading his electronic Bible, trying to find something that spoke to him.  To his dismay, it looked as though the gray man may have been right.  Maybe I’m not fit to be called a faithful servant of the Lord. Then something that reached out from the display and grabbed him… literally.

For a moment, he struggled against the hands, then finally, he made them disappear with a thought.  What is happening to my reality? he thought to himself.  He was surprised to hear himself think back; there is no reality.

As he read the verse, a sense of dread came over him.  If this is true, than we are not following the instructions God has given us. 

An intrusive thought forced its way through his mind along with a strong feeling of pain. They are not following the instructions that God has given them.  Have you forgotten what I told you? Hex is not one of them.  What does it matter if they don’t follow their own rules.  They don’t really exist anyway.

Of course they exist! Hex shot back in his mind.

Well… technically. On the low level on which these mortals do exist is only for your amusement. They exist so that you will have something to do and people to manipulate.  But all that I have said are just words.  Words, too, are only used to entertain you.

Hex fought the thoughts and pain but was powerless to expel them. Fool!  Don’t you get it yet?  Even I don’t exist! NOTHING exists.  Stop trying to shut me up and just do it.

Another note of pain played on the teenager’s body. Ignore it, idiot!  If pain does not suit you, then it is no longer needed.  Have done with it.

Then, just for a moment, the teen, sitting alone in the Righteous Army barracks… understood… nothing was real unless he wanted it to be.  For that moment, the voice was silent, and he could see everything that was happening, had happened, and would happen everywhere… he was God.  But the sensation was gone before it came.  He hadn’t been ready for it, and couldn’t believe what was happening, and immediately that moment disappeared from reality.

Good, the voice mocked again, you’re learning.  I leave you now to your mission, because without it, you would have nothing to do.  Have fun… Hex.




            Captain Drake Edwards stood near the service desk, finishing his coffee while watching his LI going onto patrol. Suddenly alerted by the sound of breaking glass, his head shot up, spilling his coffee all over his shirt and pants.  Seeing nothing, he looked back down to see how badly he had stained his coffee, only to see a large, burnt, bleeding hole that used to be his abdomen.  His spine severed he fell helplessly to the floor, the cloaked power armor alarms clashing with the sound of plasma bolts.  Capturing a darkening image of everyone, armed or not, being quickly exterminated in the building by unseen forces, his head exploded under a gun butt, the XES having returned their interest to him by finishing the job.

Police Station 456 cleared, object 963 of Operation Anarchy completed.  Returning to base to recharge.

Leviathan continued the direction of the XES, the LI and police forces posing almost no threat to the experienced and advanced cyborgs.  She knew making Federal TI forces impose martial law would do little good to help Internal Security forces.  They had to strike again.

Mainframe Report:  Operation Anarchy

Results:  91.825% of all LI and Police Stations Destroyed, along with 5,029 Police Flitters and 341 Police Aerodynes.  99.625% of all Police and LI troops have returned to their homes, according to InSec surveillance.

Mainframe Report:  XES Growth Tube Production

Results:  80 XES will be finished in 2 hours.  Insufficient food and material for another generation.

Richter stood at the front of The Busy Bee supermarket, a needler at home in his outstretched arm.  Directly in front of the barrel stood the store manager, his pants soiled and his hands behind his head.  The visible security cameras smoked quietly while lightly armored Centon scientist-cyborgs dumped large amounts of water, canned goods, and other assorted foods into chains of linked shopping carts, running over massacred stock boys along the way.  While the Centon-models left the store with the food, Damien forced the manager to transfer the chit card revenue to his Swiss account, impersonating the actions of an emotional being.  Leaving the I.D. of a dead TI soldier, he once again tried to impersonate a renegade TI soldier.  Dropping down into the sewer after the Centons, he reported the success of his mission to Leviathan.

Excellent.  Suit up in power armor for action against TI forces.  You will lead 160 XES, with a two other groups of 120 also engaging. 

The other groups already scouting Avalon City, Damien was about to leave when Leviathan contacted him again.

Damien, you, I, and all other cyborgs available are to meet with Gergenstein in James Square in 5 minutes.  Head out with your troops, I and the Centon Series will meet you there. 

It didn’t take too long to reach the abandoned plaza; this part of the capital city had been burned during the Battle of Avalon. The XES assembled into the square, Leviathan greeted the colonel as soon as he and his advisors appeared.

"Leviathan, nice to see you again.” Herbert Gergenstein asked, dressed in frayed civilian clothes. A look of regret passed over his face. “Is this all of them?"

"No, there are more of us.  Would you like a full report?"  She became aware that Damien's algorithm was running, but was unable to turn it off; a problem she determined she would analyze later. 

"Unnecessary, I just wanted a few questions answered.  I would like all my Level One security clearance agents to be given access to your factory. Is this a problem?”

“No, sir.” she paused momentarily.  "Done."

Gergenstein pulled a digital recorder out of his pocket and pointed it at Leviathan's face.  "Are these the men who exploded a tactical nuclear device on the outskirts of Avalon?"

"Yes, sir." she answered honestly.

"Raptor Cyborgs," he mumbled under his breath, "this should get me back in the public's good graces."  He looked again at Leviathan, reaching for another device in his pocket.  "With the blockade over, my supporters have been able to return to Avalon."  He held up his hand, and over a hundred soldiers in power armor came into vision on the rooftops around them, rifles of various types in hand.  "Thousands of them."

“What are your orders, sir?”

"I am afraid your forces are no longer needed, bad for PR. Of course, we'll keep you… we still don't have the plans for your model on record."  He pulled the EMP shock pistol from his pocket.  At that moment, she knew what he planned to due to her and her troops, he had made no disguise of that, but her programming was completely loyal to him.  Damien became aware of the situation, his algorithm overriding the loyalty protocols, and now his programming was free of any loyalty to them.  Quickly he routed InSec targets and random target acquisition tables to the XES and Centons. 

Leviathan detected the error in his programming and attempted in desperation to wipe his circuits clean.  She was too late, before his network defenses could be breached, she fell to the ground unconscious, her shielding unable to stop the specialized weapon.

Then the slaughter began.  Both sides fired their first rounds before the other’s round hit, all of them suffering horrendous casualties.  Gergenstein had disappeared, but Damien had other concerns.  Through the firefight, he shot his way to Leviathan’s body, continuously being missed by inches.  An XES shattered in front of him, a lance cannon having purged a hole through it.  He grabbed the limp Leviathan, handed her to a Centon series, and ordered all non-XES back to the base.  The dutifully tried, all but a few of them were gunned down before moving into the sewers.

Damien's attack force, down to seventy XES, made a fighting withdraw, being followed by somewhere around 3,000 cloaked troops closing in on their position.  A plan formulated in his head, he accessed his wireless netmodem, contacting the other two hundred XES.

Group C is under heavy attack.  Leviathan is incapacitated, I am in command.  Have the TI forces been located?

His answer came quickly, group A and B having found too large a force to engage.

Tech Infantry forces found.  Moving towards your position, believing to have found the TI faction we have been mimicking.

Affirmative.  Group A and B, circle behind them but do not engage, only stop to resupply and take on reserves. 

Damien continued the backpedaling of his forces, combat happening in close quarters as they paused.  The sensors picking each other up at point blank range, his troops fought better but were outnumbered.  As their numbers dropped into the forties, the TI forces arrived.  Richter paused near a manhole, shot out the covering, and then turned his needler onto the TI forces.  The smartgun was accurate, he killed two nearby TI soldiers.  As the forces met, the area glowed strangly as both sides confusedly fired on each other, thousands of assorted beam and missiles in the air at once.  Emptying his needler, Damien ordered Team C down to the sewers, finding only XES 6 and 7, both badly shot up. 

The battle raged above, as the InSec troops dug in, they were suddenly attacked by mistake by the TI troopers.  The troopers threw wave after wave at their enemy, which parted before them, scattering to escape through the maze of the city.

Damien finally reached the base, only to find the scattered remains of their army. Five Centon series, Leviathan, and 2 unharmed XES were left.  He accessed the mainframe, killing the InSec security clearance and looking up the self destruct sequences.  Activating them, the remaining cyborgs downloaded their info of themselves and their facilities, gathered a few examples of the experimental devices the Centons had made, and then dumped all but communications and self destruct applications on the computer.  Monitoring the number of XES within the conventional and nuclear system's blast radiance, small devices activated nearby the largest of Avalon's underground fusion reactors.  As soon as the XES were out of range, it would all blow.  About a kilometer from the base Damien heard the conventional weapons explode, the base and everything within destroyed.

Far outside the city, Damien ordered groups A and B to evacuate at triple speed.  As the last ten living XES from groups A and B closed on their perimeter, the ground shook violently as skyscrapers on the horizon and buildings all around them collapsed.  Almost to fast for the machine to time a blinding light raised from the earth, his suit going into lockdown.  At that very millisecond, trillions of tons of brick, dirt and plasticrete flew out in all directions, a hole being blown into space, the stars being momentarily visible in midday.  As the shockwave approached, they were lifted off their feet, combined with all the ruble. 

When Damien opened his eyes again, he could only see nothing.




Malachi Spyder again thought of the field he had seen; the dead bodies surrounding him.  For days, the image had haunted him, showing him again and again the trouble Wilhelm had caused.

Lieutenant Eleanor Ragdowski stood next to him, operating the scanner with a veteran’s precision. "Sir,” she mumbled as blips started appearing on her machine, “I think I've got him."

"Where?"  Malachi spat.

"Looks like the good major’s headed for Avalon."

"Exactly how many are with him?"

"Three battalions… I think, it’s hard to tell."

At that moment, Justine D’Amprisi, full-time sergeant-major and part-time lover, came bounding up the forested hill, reaching their observation post. “Sir?”

“Well?” Spyder didn’t have time for politeness.

“It’s official. Between all the troops we have, we barely have a brigade operational, that’s if you don’t count the other demi-brigade of wounded.”

“What about weapons?”

“Drained,” Justine threw her H-90 on the ground, “which our suits will be as well before long. That bastard took our recharging can.”

“What about those little friends of ours?” Spyder pointed all around them, indicating the Fed units which had been shadowing them.

“We haven’t seen them.”

“Doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” Ragdowski replied.

Malachi sighed and stepped away from the women for a moment. Looking up at the trees, he could almost forget what happened. Finally, he turned back to them. "Elly, till I get back your in charge of the unit.”

“Sir,” the lieutenant reminded him, “I’m sure that Captain Illingworth has seniority.”

“He’s also missing an arm and won’t be moving out anytime soon.” Spyder shot back. “Just make sure that no one leaves. See if you can get General Cao back on the line and get some reinforcements. I’ve gotta run an errand.” He turned to the sergeant-major. “Tina, come with me."


Lieutenant Jon Walters stared at his orders in disbelief.  Sergeant Links, as any good NCO, could tell when something was afoot and approached the officer. “L.T., you look a tad fuzzled. Something ‘bout the orders?”

Walters turned off the dispatch off his HUD and answered the older man, “Sarge… I don’t rightly know what to make of this.  We are supposed to disengage from the enemy, withdraw towards the center of the capital, and treat any Rebs we meet as possible allies.”

“That’s a hell of an order, sir.”

“Tell me about it. Problem is how do we disengage from a superior force and move quickly without getting waxed?”

“This from General Wierimu?”

“No, First Army Command. That’s what worries me.”

One of the troopers overheard them and jumped up. “Shit fire! Those RAMF’s are some messed up hombres!  One day, we’re supposed to blow the rebs to sausage, and now they want us to walk away from them like yesterday didn’t even happen.”

Ignoring the private, Walters was confused. “RAMF’s?” he asked the sergeant.

Links cleared his throat in embarrassment. “Um, rear-area mother fuckers… sir.”

A slight smile creeped onto his face, but he was already lost in thought. “What we witnessed yesterday might be more than just a split in the Dead Boys. Maybe that’s evidence of a larger faction split in the Rebs.  Maybe some of them have seen the writing on the wall and are coming over to our side.  If that were the case, it would explain these messed up orders.  Even so, I’m not going to get my men waxed by assuming those Dead Bastards might be friends. Perhaps I should back off a bit and observe.  We are scouts after all.”

A plan already forming in his mind, Walters turned to Trooper Lear and issued orders.


Justine and Malachi made it into the suburbs of Avalon with ease.  Slowly he approached a building he knew all too well.  The house once belonging to his friend, Bob Schmidt, was completely boarded up.  Regardless, he made an entrance, becoming even more horrified of what he saw inside.  The luxury house was in shambles. Walls shot out, doors on the floor, holes in the ceiling, and blood stains on the wall.

His mind quickly picked up thoughts left behind from people now dead.

"Looks clear, let's go."

"Shit!  Look out!"

"Who the fuck is this guy!"

"Its a fucking monster!"

"Clear out! We'll just blow up the building!"

"Help!  He's got my leg!"

"What are you?!"

Malachi was jolted out of his thought by a gruff voice. "Good to see you again, Malachi."  A seven foot tall werewolf arching his back to fit in the room looked him right in the eye.

"It can't be you?!"

"It is." Bob smiled with his oversized werewolf teeth.

“I don’t understand,” Spyder gasped, “I would have detected…”

"Mal, I've managed to hide what I am since I hit puberty. Little tricks my parents taught me about staying alive… and away from the Raptors. My family’s been Bone Gnawers for centuries. If we know anything, we know how to blend in… and be ignored.”

The major shook off the images he kept sensing. “So what are all these images?”

“Images?” Bob looked around the room, then suddenly realized what he was talking about. “Oh, you’re probably picking up the thoughts of the battle here. A small group of LI was sent here to investigate us about a week ago; they didn’t get very far. I’ve tried to keep my political connections small, but I guess someone followed the paper trail.”

“I don’t understand. You’re into politics?”

“Kinda. I don’t know what I’m in now. What with the Senate meeting, rumors about Samuel Wall, and some Treschi guy rallying..."

"Treschi?" Malachi interrupted.

"Yeah, some guy named Treschi’s rallying the New African front. Why?"

"Nothing.” Spyder shook off the thought. “Can't be who I’m thinking of."

"Well, we should probably be going."

"Where?"  Justine finally stepped in, having overheard the entire conversation.

Schmidt pivoted to face the new threat, but Malachi blocked him. “Friend, Bob. Friend!!!”

The werewolf paused and finally nodded. “Sorry.” Turning back to the major, he explained. “This place is under constant watch.  InSec may be underground, but they’re still around.  Hope and I have a place where we should be safe."

"Hope? Is she okay?"

"You'll see when we get there."

Believing there was nothing more to be said, the large werewolf quickly went behind the house.  The other two followed him, watching as he activated a small transmitter, and a glowing portal appeared. Bob wasted no time in shoving them through.


"You'll forgive me for the harsh ride, I'm still trying to get used to this correspondence shit."  The welcoming face of Hope Johnson turned towards them.

"You're a fucking mage?"  Malachi shouted.

"You catch on quick." she moaned, turning towards Bob. “Where’d you find him?”

“At the house. I thought he was another patrol at first.”

"How..." Spyder was still completely lost; the two people he treated like family were suddenly so different.

"I induced it." Johnson clipped off an answer, then turned toward the sink to wash her face.

Induced awakening had been heard of, back during the illegal experiments done by Pyramus Grey, but it had seldom been done again. It was considered inhumane. "Why?"

"I needed help,” Schmidt explained, “and she asked if she could help."

"You didn't tell me this is what you meant!"  Suddenly Hope threw a crate at Bob; the werewolf easily dodged.

"She's not taking it very well."  Justine smiled.

Hope shifted her stare at her. “Listen, bitch! You may have grown up with this shit in your head, but I didn’t… okay?!” Suddenly, she grabbed her head and massaged it, trying to soothe away the pain. “All right, Mal… why are you here?”

            “I need to know something. Are the illegal arms still in stock?"

"Most of them,” Bob replied, “why?"

Spyder smiled. “We’re gonna need them… and some really powerful explosives."




Andrea Treschi sat down in the office that had been prepared for him. They were still in New Africa, but as he heard the whirr of the shuttles powering up, he had knew that the bluff had worked. Soon the armies would be off and heading for the capital city. He felt that he was nearing a focus of his efforts; the colonel didn't want to risk all he had worked for by blundering into a situation in which he was ill prepared.

In front of him were two computer terminals, a keyboard and two ear plug audio devices. Each audio plug broadcasted on separate frequencies, though you could still hear both if you listened. The feed coming in would be confusing as two people spoke at the same time about largely unrelated topics. Throw in the fact that the second audio device did the same you had four audio channels coming in at one time; when you have to manage your resources, you want to do as much as possible.

He started by focusing his concentration. Slowly but surely he pulled it together. Slowly he felt his consciousness begin to divide. Splitting and re-splitting, each a completely functioning duplicate of the mind of Andrea Treschi. Above it all, the many mental subroutines sat the core personality.

He plugged in each audio device and clipped a mike to the collar of his shirt. He slid himself up to the desk and activated each monitor. Each came to life, as he put a hand on each keyboard and begin calling up comm requests for his audio receivers, visual reports from the two monitors and net sessions for each keyboard.

A human would be hopelessly lost in the mass of data coming into Treschi. But as a mind mage, Treschi easily routed each stream of input to a separate conscience. Meanwhile, the highest conscience queued up three more mental sub routines to consider three important issues.

            "Attack on Raptor Facility 16 shows no sign of sphere magic..."

            "Fleet command reports a temporary loss of contact with..."

            "Sir, our preliminary investigations into the whereabouts of General Clarke have so far returned no results…"

            "Uh M. Treschi, my name is Joel Richers on the high orbital research facility Hawkings. As per your request we trained the long range scopes on several of the deserted but still restricted Hodraida worlds. I'm sorry to say there is very little to say..."

Reports flashed up on each monitor listing troop strengths on Avalon and the other three planets in the system. Treschi scanned them making sure there was no surprise or hidden units scattered on the planet or on any near by celestial body. He glanced over the fleet reports knowing he could do little at the moment to influence that piece in the game. Still it never hurt to keep an eye on things. It might even be worth it to spread rumors of a Jurvain surprise attack. For certain, there was members of the fleet with similar inspirations and ambitions as Andrea. It was better off if they were distracted away from where they could interfere in Treschi's own plans.

            "Where are you, Clarke?" Treschi muttered to himself as one of the final subroutines reached out with mental tendrils for the thread of conscience that represented Arthur Clarke. Having spent time in the general’s presence he had felt the dynamic power in the man. And in the nether realms of the astral plain that dynamic nature blazed for those attuned to look for it.

But Clarke was hiding it well; he knew Treschi and he knew this would be a logical search method. So he had apparently hidden himself… but not far. Andrea could feel his former superior. And on some level, Treschi knew that Clarke could feel Andrea looking for him.

"I know you can feel me, general." Treschi sneered as he projected his thoughts. "I've been wondering. How does it feel knowing that you let your own son die? Oh I know you thought he was a soldier and he had his duty. But this wasn't war and he wasn’t a soldier. This was politics… and you let him die. You let him down. I watched the vids of you that they spewed like vomit when you 'died'. The great and glorious hero. Truth be known, you’re no better than me. I will sacrifice anything to see my way to the top floor. And what's important to you Clarke? It ain't family, but from what I've heard, it never was. You faked your death and left the Raptors to me. You knew what I would do with them. So loyality is not big on your list either. That puts you down to my level, I believe."

Whether Clarke had heard his barbs, Treschi had no idea; in truth, he didn't care. It was all a calculated attempt to draw the general out. As long as Arthur was alive Andrea knew his control of the Raptors could be shattered at any point. But if everything went well, Treschi wouldn't need them much longer either. They may be the elite of the Tech Infantry… but they were still just TI. The whole of the Tech Infantry organization was far bigger. The Raptors had never been their favorite children. Even if the general returned to claim his group, the influence of the founder of the Raptors on the TI would be minute at best.

"Still," Andrea muttered to himself, "it doesn't hurt to be prepared." He sent one of his mirrored consciences looking into Raptor records. Taking down Clarke would be no small job; the right cadre of Raptors could do it. Clarke was only one man. Andrea was of the opinion that it was Clarke's ties to Richard Fox and Maeve Harrington who had helped a blunt ground-pounder up through the ranks. That was Clarke's problem. "He thinks small." Treschi smiled.

            "So the Horadrim aren't quite what they appear to be." Another mirror conscience thought to itself. Apparently Clarke had also got wind of it as well. There were several covert gray ops missions dealing with fact finding on the Horadrim.

The Horadrim could very well be the swing point of the whole civil war. Andrea had never seen them in combat but others had. There ships were light years ahead of any Earth Fleet vessel. The whole Centurion line of battle suits, the ones that had pretty much turned the Bug War, were just inferior copies of some armor technology used by the Horadrim.

They had been helping InSec… or maybe they still were. Treschi decided he would need to pursue that direction further. He had eliminated the original contact but she wasn't the primary player in that area; Andrea could just feel it. She had been someone else's servant. Not likely Wall's… nor Gergenstien's, nor his dead predecessor King…

The question on InSec remained why? What would they gain? Treschi doubted that InSec would have had anything to really barter with that they would have wanted. For that matter Treschi doubted that he had anything as well. What would interest an alien race that had been in space before humans had got out of the trees and stopped throwing feces at each other?

The attacks on the Raptors occupied another piece of Andrea's mind. The Raptors had a menagerie of enemies but none of them could pull off anything like the recent attack. The attack had been much too organized and the attackers had highly advanced equipment. Reports indicated little magical residue; most of that was attributed to the killed Raptors. The level of destruction done indicated that this more than a terrorist raid. None of the reports and collected evidence suggested battle suits. Well, at least, common troop battle suits. There was the possibility of smaller suits, but judging from the damage, the attack was more than any standard human could inflict. That left only Kindred, ghouls, or cyborgs. No vampire would make it to Avalon short of Modred or one of the heads of the Black Hand.

"God help me if I’ve got Modred gunning for me." Either it was ghouls or cyborgs. Either way, it needed to be dealt with. Andrea began making preparations for a trap for these new attackers. The suits that the Raptors use were not standard TI suits. There are at least three dozen specialties added to each suit. Generally a suit was issued to a trooper from the outset and if it ever became damaged to the point that it would need replacement, likely the soldier would need replacement as well. Treschi sent out a request to have one hundred and fifty suits delivered to a distribution site. That order very well could be picked up by the unknown assailant. If they did and jumped at the opportunity for an easy raid they would be in for a surprise. Andrea further added the order to have a Raptor man each suit. They would remain in the suit for several days with hypnotics to keep them asleep till needed. And when the assailant attempted to take out the facility containing 150 empty armors, they would catch 150 fully armored Raptors in the face. Andrea further ordered Raptor agents to look into the previous attacks. If the enemy failed to take the bait, Andrea did not want to leave it be. Eventually he would discover the location of the enemy strong point and he would unleash the Raptors on it… or better yet, the whole TI. Andrea intended to make an example out of anyone attacking the Raptors, and the line troopers would make great messengers.

Quinlan dominated another thought process. She was at least for the moment maintaining the pretence of being on his side, but she most likely had her own ideas. On the other hand, Treschi had to admit he was becoming intrigued about her. He would still have to be prepared, though. Treschi ordered a hit team be prepped and ready for immediate deployment if he felt she was becoming a problem.

            Eventually Andrea pulled away from the desk and walked out of the room. Quinlan was already waiting. "You ready?" she asked.

"As ready as one can be." the colonel smiled back.




            Xinjao O’Reilly crawled through the dark hallway, coughing through the smoke as he stepped around wreckage and ducked under dangling wires.  The passageway was filled with smoke, lit dimly only by the red flash of emergency lights and the small fires that smoldered away deep in the debris of the ruined structure.  The wreckage was eerie… but vaguely familiar…

            Xinjao suddenly stopped, looking around through the dark smoke, listening… he just heard a muffled cry for help?  There is was again… a weak, breathy voice calling out, soft but loud, like a whisper right next to his ear…

            He tracked down the eerie cries to rubble from a collapsed ceiling, right below a giant 14 painted on the wall.  Shoving and pulling plates and wires away, he dug down into the wreckage, following the voice.  A familiar face greeted him, contorted in pain.

            “Doc!” O’Reilly cried in surprise.

            The Righteous Army doctor who had patched up his arm reached out toward him, crying out for help.  O’Reilly tore away at the rubble, pulling him out by his arms, trying to free him.  “What happened, Doc?” Xinjao asked, straining to lift up a desk plate, “Are you all right?”

            “Jesus wept, O’Reilly,” the Doc groaned in his unnatural whisper, rolling out from under the heavy plate.  “Why did you have to go and do this?”   Xinjao let the plate fall back into place and turned to the Doc… and froze, staring in horror at the charred wound burned clear through the Doc’s chest.

            “This is war, O’Reilly,” he moaned, lurching forward and grabbing onto Xinjao’s jacket, “Why did you have to go and do this?  Why?”

            Xinjao yelled in fright and tried to push the wounded man away from him, struggling with the Doc’s unnaturally strong grip as the man kept pleading in a feeble tone.  Finally, Xinjao broke away and spun around in terror, preparing to sprint… and slammed right to a cold, fur covered wall of muscle.   Strong hands slammed onto his shoulders and claws ripping in his flesh.  O’Reilly screamed in pain and surprise as he looked up at the ice-covered werewolf.

Trembling with fright, Xinjao stared in horror at Rek’s dehydrated body, covered in ice crystals, freeze-dried by the vacuum of space.  “We need people like you,” Rek’s growled at him, the skin stretched tightly over his skull. “I'm prepared to make you an Elder.  I’d like to shake your hand, O’Reilly,” Reks said, suddenly grabbing Xinjao’s wrist, sinking his ice-cold claws into his hand, “The good one, that is…” The frozen beast suddenly wrenched his arm back, popping Xinjao’s arm out of the socket, ripping his arm off at the elbow in a spray of blood.  O’Reilly screamed and thrashed around, stumbling backward as Reks released him. 


            O’Reilly woke up screaming. The nurses and doctors rushed to hold him down, but he couldn’t help screaming, terrified at what he had done. Finally a voice reached him in his state of panic. “M. O’Reilly! Can you hear me?!”

Xinjao kept screaming, trying to shove his way through the wall of hands holding him down. He kept fighting them until he heard the words, “Chin! You’re safe!”

            Suddenly, Xinjao stopped, and looked up at the beautiful woman standing above him. She looked awfully familiar; with effort, the hands pushed him back down. He felt straps being tied around his wrists and ankles but his eyes kept fixed on the woman. She gave a weak smile and said, “It’s all right, Chin. You’re safe. You’re going to be okay.”

            Once the straps were secure, the army of nurses disappeared, with only the beautiful doctor remaining. “Sounds like you’ve been busy, Chin. You’re still not making many friends out there, if your injury list is any indication. I hear it’s going to make the record books; most combat injuries for personnel still able to walk.”

            “Who are you?”

            The doctor looked hurt. “You don’t remember, Chin? I haven’t changed that much in eight years, have I?”

            The fleet officer squinted, trying to figure out who was standing above him, and then his eyes went wide when he finally did. “Jenny?”

            “Doctor Jenny to you.” she smiled. “Well, when you left, I had to do something with my time.”

            It took a second to remember her as she was, before she obviously went through the bio-sculpt. They had served together on the St. Michael Yards; for the first time in his life, he was in love with a woman who loved her back. He was only a petty officer back then, but she didn’t care; they were happy together. However, he was in Fleet, she wasn’t, and he wasn’t about to give that up. “You do look different.”

            “Doctors get paid more than contractors, Chin.” Jen winked, then picked up a datapad, making some notation. “It seems like you did pretty well yourself. You elected for advanced prosthetics and had the money to cover them. Sounds like Fleet pays well.”

            “I… don’t understand.”

            “It’s okay.” the doctor patted his arm, “Disorientation is common with new cybernetics.”

            “Cyber…” It was only then that Xinjao realized he was looking at her through two eyes. His heart leapt for joy. He managed to lift his head enough to see his two beautiful arms, one looking just like the other. Laughter filled his mouth as tears ran down his face. “My God…”

            “Well, I don’t quite rate that high,” Jen smiled, “but it sounds like I did a pretty good job.”

            “You operated on me?”

            “Who knows you better?” the doctor gave him a mischievous wink.

            O’Reilly smiled. “After all, you have examined me before.”

            Jen nodded, rolling her eyes. “Get some sleep, captain. Apparently you’ve got some debriefing to go to as soon as you’re well.”

            “I’m a commander,” Xinjao corrected, “not captain.”

            “I’m not blind, Chin.” she hit a few buttons on the datapad and showed it to him. It was a standard personnel sheet, listing him to captain. “In my profession, you can’t afford to make mistakes.”

            “Nor in mine. Jen, can you take off these straps? I think I’ll be okay now.”

            “Get some sleep, Chin. You need it.”




            Erich Von Shrakenberg looked blearily at the clock next to his bunk; 0603 hours.  Despite the large quantity of alcohol he had consumed the night before, he hadn’t managed to get any sleep at all.  What Aglié had told him had shaken him to the very core. However, Erich had to admit, the man had a point; several, in fact.  Erich sat up on the edge of the bed and gave up any thought of sleep.  He had to meet with Admiral Vorheis in just under two hours, and if he fell asleep now, he'd never make the meeting. 

The commodore shambled over to the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet.  The quarters were only temporarily assigned to him, but he knew that the bottle of oxy pills would be there.  The Logistics Command officers who assigned temporary quarters on board starbases knew that Fleet personnel, like any warriors, occasionally let themselves celebrate a little too enthusiastically.  Erich swallowed two of the anti-intoxication tablets and then took a shower.  By the time he got out of the shower, he was starting to feel more awake and alert.  He put on a dress uniform and headed for the mess hall to get some coffee.


            "Ah, Commodore Von Shrakenberg," began Grand Fleet Admiral Kristen Vorheis, "pleased to see you."

            Erich smiled.  "And I am pleased, as always, to see you, ma’am."

            Kristen returned the smile.  "That was quite some stunt you pulled up there the other day." she stated. “You’ve left me with quite a problem. Technically, you saved the Federation and should get a medal. You also technically violated the orders of your superiors, therefore making you a traitor and a mutineer. Technically, you should be presented before a court-martial.”

            “So what’s to be done with me… technically?”

            She smiled. “One of the blessings of our current situation is that I have to answer to no one.”

“Except the citizens of the Federation.” Von Shrakenberg reminded her.

Vorheis waved the comment. “The point is, I’m the final arbiter of what’s to be done inside Fleet. No charges will be brought against you. Which brings me to a more important point…”

“The fighting between TI and InSec.” Erich interrupted.

“Yes,” the albino woman sighed, “its tearing Avalon apart.  InSec has a lot more heavy troops than we thought and some other assets that came as quite a surprise."

            "I saw the crater on the way down. Destroying Patton Base was not supposed to be something InSec was capable of doing."

            "And that's not all. We now believe that many of the attacks originally attributed to the Rebels were actually the acts of some InSec holdouts still hiding here in the capital."

            Erich's eyebrows rose.  "If they're still running around in the capital, they must be a lot stronger than we thought.  There must be a quarter million troops in the capital district.”

            "Used to," Vorheis corrected, "most of our forces are either fighting the Rebels or are dead. What little we have inside the city has been augmented by our LI forces. But that is the Infantry's problem.  Ours is twofold."  She stood up and activated the viewscreen on the wall, showing a tactical plot of the Avalon system.  "First off, we have to ensure that the Rebels, or anyone else, comes to Avalon.  A lot of our ships were damaged in the fighting. If a serious fleet comes here, we're in trouble." 

            "I see what you mean.  If we put enough ships covering the jumpgates, we won't have enough in close orbit to stop them from making a direct jump with grav-drive ships and bombarding or invading Avalon itself."

            "Or the four other inhabited planets in this system,” the grand fleet admiral added, “or the asteroid mining operations and shipyards.  A raid on any of them could seriously disrupt our rebuilding efforts."

            "We're gonna have to leave something uncovered," Erich decided.  "If we try to protect it all, we will be spread too thin if a serious attack comes." 

            "And that's your problem." Vorheis replied.  "As of now, you are promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and given command of the Home Fleet."

            "You can't be serious," burst out Erich.  "A rear admiral? In charge of the Home Fleet?! Ma’am, not only is that rank ridiculously low for the job, but I don't have anywhere near the seniority for such a post!"

            "Yes, but since the Home Fleet now consists of two or three active squadrons, neither of those concerns shouldn’t be a problem. You’ve seen the damage reports. The rest of your ‘fleet’ is in drydock, I’m afraid. This… among other reasons, are the reasons you were chosen.”

            "What are the other reasons, ma’am, if I may inquire?"

            "Your superior tactical skill, your uncanny ability to destroy much larger fleets than your own… several factors came into this decision.” Kristen smiled.

            "You flatter me." Erich replied. And you’re giving me this job because you know I'm too junior and inexperienced to play mess-hall politics game and take YOUR job.

            "I don’t make this decision lightly.  With the current power vacuum on Avalon, a lot of factions are going to be tempted to seize power.  I'm sure I can trust you to not attempt a military coup and fight one if such an attempt is made."

            Von Shrakenberg moaned. “Just what we need, another civil war in the middle of the one we're already fighting."

            "Exactly. In two days, what's left of the Senate will convene here in the capital.  They will elect a new Grand Council and form a new government."
            "Ah," Erich realized what she was hinting at, "you suspect they might try to disrupt the Senate meeting?  Some sort of terrorist attack?"

            “We can't allow any party to disrupt the one legitimate civilian authority we have left."

            The new rear admiral noticed the dropped hint.  "You mentioned a second problem.  Is that it?"

            "No," Kristen replied.  "The second problem is in New Paris."  She keyed the wall viewscreen again.  "The 2nd Jurvain Fleet just transited through the jumpgate into that system.”

            Erich was shocked.  "That's further than any alien fleet ever got before!"

            "Exactly.  As thinly spread as we are here, we’ve had to send most of our operational ships through to reinforce New Paris." 

“Ma’am,” Von Shrakenberg stood to attention, “request permission to transfer my squadrons to the New Paris System.”

Vorheis sat back down and folded her hands on her desk.  "Request denied. As much as I'd like to send you, I can't allow you to face them again."

            "Why not?!"

            The albino stared right at her subordinate. “The Jurvain see you as a bogeyman, the ‘Gatecrasher.’  If the they realize that you're facing them again, they will spare no effort to kill or capture you.  After your defense of Avalon, you’re too important as a symbol to risk your loss.  I also need you here to defend Avalon… because you're the only one who can."

            Erich sagged. "I understand." Oh, yes I do. You're confident that if someone attacks here, I'll save your pasty albino hide.  And since you know that I have no personal political ambition, I'm less of a threat to your own. Yes… I understand very well..

            "I'm glad that you do." Kristen replied.  "I'll have someone from Fleet Intelligence supply you with a full briefing.  I suggest you move your personal effects on board the EFS Zeus.  It sustained very little damage in the fighting, and will be out of spacedock within days.  Pick your own staff and take charge of the situation.  Dismissed."

            Erich snapped her a salute, pivoted on his heel, and marched out of her office.  Admiral Vorheis stood up, walked over to the chair facing her desk, and plucked out the eavesdropping device that Treschi had surreptitiously left behind.  She dropped it to the floor and crushed it beneath the heel of her service boot.  "That should hold him for a while." she hissed to herself. 


            Von Shrakenberg sat in his new quarters aboard the EFS Zeus, walking around the admiral’s cabin, and enjoying the amenities of having the largest room on the largest ship in the galaxy. As he wandered through the private dining room, kitchen, bar, living room, drawing room, bedroom, he finally ended up in the spacious empty closet. This place is a fucking barn, Erich thought to himself, how is one man supposed to use all of it?

            Suddenly the door chimed and the rear admiral made his way towards it. “Yes?”

            “Why don’t you open the door for your new ops officer?” a feminine voice called back.

            Von Shrakenberg smiled as he opened the door to Captain Johanna Ingolfsson. Erich smiled at seeing her cousin again. “Johanna! I’m surprised you were able to make it so fast!”

            “Well, since my ship is still in spacedock, I didn’t have much else to do.” Once she stepped into the cavernous space, she let out a low whistle. “Rank does have its privledges, Erich.”

            “I’m thinking about converting it into a fighter bay and taking one of the smaller rooms.”

            “Don’t you dare.” Ingolfsson shot back. “Otherwise, what will us more junior officers have to complain about?”

            Her cousin smiled back. “You may have a point. Why don’t we…” Erich’s sentence was suddenly cut off the door chime. “Yes?”

            “Admiral Von Shrakenberg?”

            Erich felt chills going down his spine; the last time he had heard that was referring to his Uncle Karl. “Yes?”

            “I’m from Fleet Intel, sir. I’m here to brief you on the current situation.”

            The rear admiral opened the door and a short Indian man appeared in the hallway. The man held out a datapad to the senior officer. “Captain Narsimhan Bramanti, Earth Fleet Intelligence. May I come in please?”

            Erich did a cursory glance over his official documents; looked official enough, he thought, luckily Johanna’s here to cover my flank. “Yes, of course.”

            As the captain came in, he noticed Johanna standing nearby. “I’m sorry, sir. I thought you’d be alone.”

            “Captain Ingolfsson is my operations officer. Whatever you need to brief me on can be said in front of her. She has my utmost confidence.” Erich walked over to the bar. “May I offer you a drink?”

            “No thank you, sir. I’ve come directly from Grand Fleet Admiral Vorheis’ office to brief you.”

            Von Shrakenberg was confused. “I was just there. She already gave me the report on the current situation.”

            Narsimhan pulled out a small stylus and waved it around the room. “Not that situation, sir.” When the little green light appeared on top of it, he clicked it twice and it started to blink. “There. Now we can speak freely.”

            “Would you like to tell me what this is really about, captain?"

            "Gladly,” Bramanti replied, “As you know, the Senate will soon convene to elect a new government.  Two-thirds of the senators ran off to join Auntie Sarah or other factions when she pulled her coup, either because they directly supported it, or because they were afraid for their lives. They’re not being recalled by Admiral Vorheis or anyone else in the government.  They were recalled by Samuel Wall."

            Erich stared in obvious incredulity.  "Samuel Wall?  I thought he was dead."

            "So did everyone else. Unfortunately, he's very much alive.  He apparently was hiding out in the Eastern Bloc since the fall of the Second Triumvirate.  However, despite his long absence from politics, he still has quite a following and a reputation."

            "So why come back now?" Johanna asked. 

            "There's a power vacuum, sir, and he means to fill it.  Wall has enough dirt on the senators in his files to force them to vote any way he likes.  Samuel Wall will be the new power in our government; the new Grand Council and Senate will be nothing more than a rubber stamp."

            "That might be just what we need right now." Erich mused.  "A tangible symbol of the Federation. One strong voice would keep the various factions from fighting each other."

            "If only that were so." Bramanti replied. "While InSec and the Raptors were busy fighting their little turf war, Fleet Intel was actually being an intelligence service.  You see, we know a few things about Factor Wall. If you want to activate that datapad, I think it’ll explain everything."

Johanna walked over and looked over Erich’s shoulder as he activated the datapad. The official documents shifted to a video transmission, showing Samuel Wall sitting at a chair. “Commodore Smythe, this is Samuel Wall.”

            The voice of Joesph Smythe was heard over the picture of Wall.  “Factor Wall? An unexpected pleasure. What can I do for you?”

            “I want you to destroy the rebel fleet.”

            Erich paused the playback.  "A civilian, not even one in government, giving orders to a Fleet officer… in the middle of a battle?!  That's far from kosher."

            "Skip to the next file," Narsimhan replied, leaning against the bar. "This one we intercepted a few minutes before."

            This time, the screen was split.  On one side was Wall, sitting in the same chair as before.  In the other, was a woman in an admiral’s uniform. “Admiral Twedt, this is Samuel Wall.”

“Factor Wall?  What can I do for you, sir?”

“Withdraw from the Avalon System immediately.”

            Bramanti finally stepped forward and took the datapad from Von Shrakenberg’s shocked grasp. Erich and Johanna stood open-mounted.  "We're being played like puppets.” Johanna whispered.

            "I wondered why they pulled out so easily.” the rear admiral nodded.

            "That's not the half of it," the intelligence agent continued, "we also believe that, once Wall is in power, he will come to an accommodation with InSec.  End the campaign against them in return for their support."

            "He can't do that," Erich exploded.  "Neither the military nor the people will support him if he kowtows to InSec!"

            Narsimhan tapped the datapad with his hand. "Yes, they will. Wall will push the agreement through his sources into the only legitimate authority left in the Fed. That’s why he’s bothering to do this at all; in the end, no one can accuse it of being illegal. In his opinion, coming to an agreement with InSec will end the fighting that is currently tearing the capital apart."

            A pause came over the trio until Ingolfsson straightened up. "What can we do to stop it?"  

            "We can find Wall," answered Bramanti, "I need you two to kill him."


            Samuel Wall enjoyed the warm sun of the Avalon tropics. Sitting beside the beach, relaxing in his chair, cold drink by his side, he took a break from all the political maneuvers that had to be done. In another couple days, he thought, it’ll all be over. The waiting has almost been intolerable. It’s almost time. As the Factor watched the waves, he put on his sunglasses and closed his eyes, hoping for a short nap.

            “M. Wall?” a voice asked to the right.

The old man’s eyes flashed open, seeing a middle-aged man in a swimsuit, sitting in the chair next to him. Funny, he wasn’t there a second before…  “Excuse me?”

“You’re Samuel Wall, aren’t you?”

The factor was annoyed. “Who are you?”
            “Rear Admiral Erich Von Shrakenberg, Factor. Pleasure to meet you.”

“Von Shrakenberg? Oh, yes… the Gatecrasher. I’ve heard of you.”

“And I’ve heard of you, Factor Wall. Word on the street says you’re about to takeover the new Senate and rule the Federation.”

“Sounds like the street’s talking too much.” Wall casually replied, taking a drink.

“Word also says that you’ve made a deal with InSec, to have them reestablished in the government.”

The old man smiled. “You win the prize, M. Von Shrakenberg, would you like a cookie?”

“No, I want you to return to the Eastern Bloc, leave the Senate alone, and the Federation make their own decisions. I cannot allow InSec to be part of the government. They are a danger to all the citizens of the Federation.”

“A danger? They created the Federation, Admiral.” Wall took another drink. “Besides, why should I listen to you?”

“Because if you don’t, I’m going to kill you.”

Samuel laughed. “You’re an admiral, M. Von Shrakenberg. I see no troops with you and your ships are in space. You’re powerless, Admiral.”

Erich smiled and looked up at the sky. “Yes, my ships are in space. One last chance, Factor.”

The old man’s eyes hardened. “No.” Wall was annoyed as he took another sip of his drink, dropping his left hand to the ground.

Von Shrakenberg shifted and pulled out a small transmitter. “Oh well, I gave you a chance.” The admiral smiled as he clicked the device. Nothing happened. All of a sudden, Erich’s panicked, clicking the device like mad.

Wall set down his drink and lifted a similar device in his other hand. “Why don’t you try mine?” Samuel clicked the com signal and both of them vanished in a flash of light. Five seconds later, the beach was hit by a orbital projectile, wiping out their beach chairs, and everything else within a mile radius.



Click to go to the previous act in the storyGo back to the Table of ContentsClick to go to the next act in the story

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