WHERE EAGLES DARE NOT PERCH – Act II
“War was too important to be left to the generals.”
-- Georges Clemenceau, pre-Fed political leader
Erich Von Shrakenberg suddenly found himself in a richly-decorated room, the drawing room of some palatial mansion, a throwback to the long-vanished days of Old Earth. Samuel Wall sat down in a large upholstered chair beside the fireplace, somehow managing to look perfectly at home despite the fact that he was still wearing the swim trunks from the beach. Wall calmly poured himself a drink from the cut-crystal decanter on the small table beside him.
"Okay, M. Von Shrakenberg," the politician began, "now that your silly little gesture is over, shall we talk like civilized men?"
Erich was still badly shaken by the sudden reversal, but somehow the ridiculous picture of Wall sitting there in bermuda shorts gave him strengthened resolve. "Is this the part where you take me up to a high mountain, show me all the kingdoms of the Earth, and offer to share them with me if I will only I play along? Or is this the part where you blather on and tell me all about your plans before having me quietly killed?"
Wall laughed. "The former, I'm afraid… it's better to stick to the old method. One bald guy and a hollowed-out volcano, like in the old two-D spy vids. Of course, I’ve upgraded from the volcano, it had a nasty smell." He took a sip of his drink. "Are you sure I can’t convince you into joining me? We're natural allies. Two old-fashioned, normal humans, adrift in a sea of mages and vampires.”
“You forgot werewolves.”
“Werewolves never make good politicians. My point is that we’re two honorable men with nothing but the best interests of the Federation at heart."
"Are you sure that's all you're thinking of, the good of the Federation?"
"Of course. The Federation is in chaos. It needs a symbol, a rallying point… a strong voice to bring order out of chaos. We need to bring peace to the galaxy."
"And you're that symbol?"
"Who would you prefer, Arthur Clarke?" Wall crossed his legs and dangled his glass from the ends of his fingers. "He was useful once, but he's become a little obsessive-compulsive over the years. A good soldier, but never able to see the big picture." Samuel looked quizzically at Erich. "You remind me of him, in some ways. The same single-minded dedication to your cause. It makes you inflexible… it's a weakness, you know?"
"And a source of strength," Erich pointed out.
"Being uncompromising is not the same thing as being strong," Wall reminded him. "A strong man knows when he has to compromise. Politics is all about compromise. You military types give orders, you expect them to be obeyed. You receive orders, you obey them without question. Politics doesn't work that way, and thank God for that, otherwise more people would die needlessly."
"And how many people have died already in this political conflict." Von Shrakenberg shot back. "How many more people will have to die before the politicians come up with a compromise? And just how many of those deaths will have been worthwhile, when all is said and done?"
"Too many, on all counts. Which is why I have come out of retirement."
"And you're gonna just ride in on your white horse and save the day, hmmm? Talk the Rebels and the Resistance into laying down their arms, throw Bad Andy a bone, make him Minister of Public Morale or something, put Modred in charge of the Avalon Blood Bank?" Erich laughed. "I don't believe it."
"I didn't expect you would," Samuel replied good-naturedly. "Since you expect me to behave like the bad guy, how's this? I could threaten to make public some of the Von Shrakenberg family's dirty laundry. You know about your mother and her new boyfriend, I believe?"
"You know, usually when rich widows look to have a respectable dalliance, they shack up with a tennis pro or their personal trainer. Or at least another rich man who can serve as an acceptable replacement husband. They don't usually start bonking a low-level accountant who wasn't even a vice president in their dead husband's company. You ever wonder what hold he has over her, what dirty secret he has threatened to reveal if she didn't regularly, shall we say… bring a whole new meaning to the term spread sheets?"
"What are you talking about?" Erich grew angrier.
"Ah, not yet, Admiral Von Shrakenberg," Wall continued, "you don't expect me to show all the cards in my hand, do you?" When the naval officer didn't respond, he went on. "Perhaps unusual sexual tastes run in the family. Here you are, a handsome, well-connected military hero, 44 years old, and still single. No known romantic attachments, although you seem to hang around a lot with that bubbly little blonde second cousin of yours."
"There's nothing like that between Johanna and me…"
"Oh, isn't there? You know, second cousin is far enough out on the family tree to not be technically illegal, although it is still close enough to get you talked about. Come on, Erich, you two are almost the same age, and you played together as children. Are you sure you never played doctor in the ol’ nursery, you show me yours, I'll show you mine? You never once went behind the gardener's shed and practiced docking maneuvers on the grass of the Von Shrakenberg family estate?"
"Shut up!" Erich was livid with rage.
"You see, it's not whether the accusations are true or not, it's whether people will believe them. You'd be surprised the kind of things people are willing to believe. Take your relationship with Admiral Vorheis, for example. What hold does she hold over you? Is it simply that she is your commander-in-chief, and she ordered you to come and kill me? I'd think that would be the kind of order that an idealist such as you would have a problem with. So what is it between you? Are you attracted to her? Do you long to rub up against that milky-white albino skin?"
"Come on, Erich. You're a blonde Prussian, she's an Albino… your kids would be practically transparent!"
"Shut up," Von Shrakenberg shouted, reaching over and slapping Wall. "Shut up, you twisted old man! It's nothing like that!"
"I never said it was." Wall calmly responded, grabbing Erich's wrist before he could slap the man again. "I simply said that it was the kind of thing that many people could believe. I was warning you about a potential threat to your career. You should be more careful about appearances, Admiral."
"So what do you suggest?" the admiral asked through clenched teeth.
"As I said, we are natural allies. I'm sure it must have annoyed you when Admiral Vorheis knowingly sent you and your Uncle Karl into a trap at Mars, just on the off chance that you might somehow win anyway, saving her pasty white political skin. We both know that wouldn't happen under my leadership."
"Oh? Like you ordered Admiral Twedt to withdraw from the Avalon system, and then ordered Commodore Smythe to attack her fleet."
"Such sympathy?” Wall smiled. “Amazing you would be so concerned for someone you were doing your best to kill just days before, M. Von Shrakenberg. The Federation won the battle, didn't they? And you yourself reaped much acclaim and honor from your slaughter of the retreating ships."
"Do you think I never considered this. Do you think I don't feel empathy for those I fight?"
"No… I don’t. Don't try giving me that ‘brotherhood of arms’ speech, I don’t believe it and you only think you do. In the end, we both want the same thing. We want to win. Whether you choose to believe it, we’re really not all that different."
"So you keep telling me." Erich replied. "What are you offering? What is the great deal you’re going to give me?"
Wall stood up from his chair, crossing over to the french doors, looking out the window. "A new order is coming in the Federation. You can be a part of it. You want to save the Federation, correct?"
Von Shrakenberg started to follow Wall to the doors, but stopped and leaned against the mantel of the fireplace. "What officer doesn't want that?"
"You'd be surprised. Promotions come fast in wartime. You think command of the Home Fleet is a plum assignment? I can get you Vorheis' job. Hell, I could get you the marshalship. You want to win this war? I can give you the chance." Samuel turned to face Erich again. "I'm sure you have some ideas on how to change the way this war has been fought. You could lead the entire fleet, direct the strategy that will end this war once and for all."
"It's an intriguing offer," the admiral responded, "I don't suppose you could give me a few days to think about it?"
"No, I'm afraid this is a one-time only offer. Things are about to happen; this is your only chance to get in on the… ground floor, so to speak." Wall suddenly turned to look out the window again. The whine of a shuttle engine could be heard through the french doors. "Oh, now what is that pale-skinned bitch trying now?"
Wall began, and lifted his comlink to order his guards into action, but he was suddenly cut off by the admiral’s scream. Erich grabbed the poker from the fireplace, and ran after the old man, screaming his war cry. The sound forced Samuel to turn around, lifting his arm just in time to take the terrific force of the blow.
The politician screamed in pain, but used his other fist to land squarely in the admiral’s chest, bending his chin. Wall wasted no time bringing his knee up into Erich’s face. As Von Shrakenberg went down, he swung the poker again, knocking the old man’s legs from underneath him. They both fell down to the carpet below, the flag officer’s weapon now trapped beneath his enemy’s body.
Wall wasted no time, punching the admiral in the balls, and then rolling over on the officer’s arms, moved to smash his enemy’s windpipe. Erich brought his own fist and bashed it against his side, wincing against his own pain. They repeatedly bashed against each other until Von Shrakenberg heard the whirr of a plasma revolver against his head. “Let him go.” sounded in crisp English.
The admiral slowly let go of the old man and was forced to his feet by a large Japanese man in a three-piece suit. When Samuel Wall managed to get to his feet, he coughed up blood before he could speak. The sound of plasma bolts sounded outside. “My associate there is my personal bodyguard, M…” Wall coughed out more of the viscous fluid, “…Von Shrakenberg. A member of the Yakuza. They don’t take well to being ambushed.” The politician finally managed to strike a commanding pose. “Futoshi, please kill him.”
Before Erich could feel the cold sweat running down his back, the french doors suddenly exploded in an array of plasma bolt fire. The Yakuza bodyguard suddenly dropped, an energy bolt hitting him square in the forehead.
As figures rushed into the room, Von Shrakenberg grabbed the poker again, and rushed towards the old man. Samuel Wall only had a few seconds to react before the metal club impacted against his skull. He swung the iron poker again and again, smiling in murderous glee, until Wall's lifeless body fell bloodily to the carpet below. The admiral raised to hit the bloodied corpse again when Johanna Ingolffsson rushed over and grabbed him. “He’s dead, Erich! It’s over!”
The flag officer still wanted to smash his brain in, make sure the bastard was dead, that he was never coming back. “I…”
“It’s over! Let it go!” Captain Ingolffson screamed back, trying to get through his thick skull. “Please, Erich. Drop the club.”
The bloody poker dropped slowly to the carpet alongside the red mess of what used to be Samuel Wall. Erich spat at the corpse, his hate slowly dissipating as he was ushered out. “Nobody fucks with my Fleet." he mumbled, but no one was listening. The assault shuttle dropped down to a hover landing in the garden beyond, and as the security team rushed onto the opening loading ramp, Johanna helped her cousin onto it.
It wasn’t until the shuttle took off again that Erich finally sorted out the signals in his head. “What took you so long?” he managed to weakly speak.
Ingolfsson coughed out a laugh. "It took us a while to break through the jamming and lock on to your signal." The security team was silent, still in shock from Von Shrakenberg’s bloody act; his cousin was on the verge of tears. “Erich…”
"Don't worry about it." the admiral shot back, the adrenaline and pain slowly going away. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” she replied, as the shuttle started buffeting in the atmospheric turbulence.
“What about the coup?”
"It's started. Troops are already moving on the capital."
"Ours or theirs?"
"Then we'd better get back to the Zeus, hadn't we?" Erich replied, sounding more like himself by the second.
Andrea Treschi stood outside of the legislative building, watching Light Infantry troopers escorting the politicians out of the area, onto the waiting shuttles. Lisa Quinlan was standing there, watching the strange scene happen before them. “What does it mean?”
The colonel narrowed his eyes. “It means that Vorheis has activated her own plan.”
“Her own plan?”
Lifting a pair of binoculars to his eyes, he watched the little procession pass before his enhanced vision. He recognized some of the faces as people Wall had contact with, remembering the datachip that had forced him to this position in the first place. “If the senators are being moved, what does that tell you?”
“The admiral’s declared martial law.” she stated flatly.
“Yes, which she wouldn’t do if Wall was still pulling her strings.” Treschi smiled. “Pity, I rather liked the old man.”
“But that leaves us hanging.”
“Literally.” Andrea finally put his binoculars away. “Without the Senate, there’s no reason to attack the capital.”
Quinlan finally understood; her eyes flashed in surprise. “She’s betrayed us.”
Treschi walked back to the flitter in the alleyway, not bothering to answer her. No, he thought, she betrayed me. Oh well, I knew she would, if given the chance. But how did she get the chance? As he stepped inside the humming vehicle, he activated the hidden com circuit. “General?”
The bald head of Edward Llangollen suddenly appeared on the tiny screen of the hovercar. “Treschi? What the hell do you want?”
“The Senate’s being removed as we speak.”
“What?! I thought you said…”
“I was wrong,” the colonel interrupted, “listen, we only have one move now. We must seize power ourselves. Destroy all opposition, get inside the capital city as fast as you can.”
“What are you talking about, colonel?”
“I’m saying, sir… watch out for falling rocks.” Treschi then abruptly cut the connection.
Quinlan leaned forward in the open doorway. “If Vorheis doesn’t support us, then our plan is fucked, Treschi!”
“No,” Andrea scooted over to the driver’s seat, “there’s always options. Get in.”
Lisa got in the flitter and closed the door. They quickly rushed off through the streets of Avalon, moving erratically through side streets and alleys across the capital city. “Where are we going?”
“To see an old friend… and I think you know where he is.”
Grand Fleet Admiral Kristen Vorheis was waiting for them on the flag bridge of the EFS Zeus. "Good job, admiral," she smiled, her lips forming a thin line on her pale face.
“You lied to me.” Erich Von Shrakenberg spat back.
“Yes,” Kristen replied matter-of-factly, “I couldn’t afford to have one of Wall’s mages scan you. I had to make him think you were trapped.”
“So you sent me down to the beach with a malfunctioning signal beacon!” Erich shouted at his commanding officer, the rage boiling inside him again.
Vorheis looked over at Captain Ingolffson, who shrugged, before looking back at the angry Prussian. “The device did work. The signal beacon allowed us to track you to the mansion. Somebody managed to scramble the signal when you were on the beach.”
“But they could only do that if they knew the specific frequency! They didn’t jam all frequencies or Wall wouldn’t have been able to get out.”
Captain Terry Carter, the Zeus’ flag captain, walked over to his friend’s ear and whispered. “Bramanti has been missing since you went down.”
Erich snapped his head back to Terry. “What? You mean…”
“We fear that my contact in Fleet Intel was compromised by Wall.” Kristen sighed. “That’s probably how he got… information on me. I’m sorry, admiral. We had no choice but to use you as bait.”
Von Shrakenberg wanted to scream, wipe the smug smile of his commanding officer’s face, and tear the rebels apart. However, he knew that neither of those options would be acceptable at present. It wouldn’t do me any good anyway, he realized, stick to the matter at hand. “What’s the current situation?”
Captain Carter activated the datapad in his hand. "The TI forces from New Africa are marching on the capital. Now we’ve managed to scrape together a legion from here and there, and the Home Fleet transports dropping into the capital now."
"Excellent." Vorheis answered, standing up from the command chair. "The senators should be arriving now; I should go meet them. The LI forces should meet up with our forces arriving."
"Quarters have been prepared for them, ma’am." Ingolfsson answered. "All the pieces are in place."
"Good," Erich concluded, “now if the other side doesn’t have any nasty surprises for us…"
“Which they always do.” Terry reminded him.
“Then we’ll have to be ready for them.” Von Shrakenberg winked. As Vorheis moved to offer Erich the command seat, Erich took it, never keeping his eyes off the albino. Yes, we’ll save the Federation again, he thought, and when that’s done, we’ll take care of other matters later.
Treschi pulled the flitter into the driveway of a old suburban house. It was one of the inner circle burbs, with buildings that had been there for over a century. The paint was falling off the white two-story house, making it look somewhere between a haunted house and a country estate. Andrea and Lisa got out of the car. The colonel looked around the dilapidated structure and turned back to the secretary. “Are you sure this is it?”
“It’s one of our most secure safehouses; it’s not even on the master list.”
“This is the third house we’ve checked. He might not even be on Avalon.”
“You said ‘we have nothing to lose,’ didn’t you, Treschi?”
Andrea snorted out a laugh and walked over the front door. Placing his hand on the door, the chime activated. No response. The colonel did it again and finally he heard the sound of bolts being thrown. Finally, an elderly woman appeared at the door, her frail body looked in the same condition as her house. “Yes?”
“We’re looking for… ahem, your son. Is he in?”
“Well, I don’t know.” she chewed on her finger, looking muddled. “Who are you?”
“We’re friends of his from work. He’s been absent lately and we were concerned.”
“Well, I…” the grandmother’s eyes widened when she finally saw Quinlan. “Lisa? Is that you?”
“Yes, Mother Zither. Can we see your son now?”
She nodded weakly. “I’ll check.” Zither opened the door wide and called out, “Herb?! Herb, your friends are here.”
Gergenstein walked out and appeared at the top of the stairs. “It’s all right, mother. Let them in.”
Treschi smiled as he walked to the foot of the stairs. “Ah, colonel. It’s good to see you again.”
“And you, too, colonel. I must say… I’m surprised you found me.”
“Wasn’t easy, Herb.” Lisa replied, smiling.
Herbert leaned against the railing. “Now that you’ve found me, Colonel Treschi, what do you want? If you wanted to arrest me, I would have seen the shuttles outside.”
“I assume you’ve been keeping track of what’s happening.”
“Yes,” the InSec commandant nodded, “I have my contacts.”
“Good,” the former smuggler replied, “that’s what I’m counting on.”
Brigadier-General Alistar Dimiye sat aboard the command deck of the EFS Kutna Hora en route towards Midgard. The K'Nes were making a big play for the system, and it was up to his legion to stop them. The Kutna Hora had been red-lining it's engines for the past two days in order to get his troops on the ground before the K'Nes did. Everyone prayed to their respective deities hoping they would; God help the settler caught under the floating cats.
As he looked out upon the orange swirl of hyperspace, the general thought about the events leading up to this. Buddha, I was a lowly sergeant just six months ago, and now I command ten thousand men. Still, if the K'Nes get ground troops on Midgard first, it'll be the shortest command stint in history.
The 103rd Legion was under his command. It was a newly created unit, composed of green recruits, veterans from another defunct legion, and scores of HAP soldiers. Auntie Sarah had been busy churning out the chemically augmented super men. Even though the program was only in full production for a month, thousands of these men and women had been transformed. Roughly six thousand of those had ended up with him. A one way ticket to hell, Dimiye thought, knowing the reversion process hadn't been perfected yet.
The thought was pushed out of his mind as the orange swirling light of hyperspace turned to white and blue.
"You must move quickly, my son." the mighty Polaris’ voice boomed across the interdimensional space.
"Have the K"Nes reached Midgard?" he asked.
"No, but they will arrive before you. You must prepare yourself for the battle to come."
Before Dimiye could reply, a familiar visage appeared before him. He was aloft a gigantic mountain of death and suffering, crying victoriously to the heavens. He'd seen the vision many times before, this hill of blood and flesh. But when he saw it this time, instead of horror, it put a thin smile on his face.
"What will you do when the time comes?" the celestial asked.
"And for whom do you kill?"
His smile broadened. "For you, my Lord."
"Thousands of fighters, sir. The sensors are having trouble keeping up with the count." "How many capital ships?"
"About twenty ships, sir.” the sensor officer replied. “But they're almost all carriers for those fighters."
The captain watched the view screen as a schematic of the enemy fighters was displayed. He grunted. "Damn, those are well built looking machines." Better than our own fighters, he thought. "I was told the K'Nes relied primarily on fighter craft… now I know why. Have they spotted us?"
"No, sir, but at the speed we're traveling at…"
The captain cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Call the general to the deck.” he told to his communications officer before turning back to his conversation. “Any chance to use our stealth systems?”
“Not unless we cut our speed.”
“Never mind. Try and keep us hidden but for Allah’s sake, don't kill our velocity. We're gonna need it."
Dimiye entered the command deck, causing all in the room to gape in awe. His armor was now just like it had been in his visions. It was the grinning skull and skeleton motif of the dead boys, but much of the black had been replaced with a blood red color; intimidating wasn’t the word for it.
The captain quickly recovered from his surprise. "Sir?”
“I thought it would be best to show you the current situation." the fleet officer gestured to the screen.
Dimiye studied the situation for a moment, seemingly unaffected by the mass of fighter tracks displayed on the screen. "How long would it take to drop the whole legion and our supplies at our present velocity?"
"Five minutes. At our present speed, we’ll need two… maybe three drops. We can’t afford to slow down or those enemy ships will quickly pinpoint us."
"Do those carriers of theirs have any orbital bombardment weapons?"
"No, I seriously doubt it, but we read three cruisers out there; they might."
"It's a risk we'll have to take. I want a high-speed drop on the dark side of the planet.”
“If we make one drop, most of your men will be hanging there!”
“I understand.” the general was unconcerned. “Once we're all away, get back to the gate and tell the reinforcements to hurry."
"Sir, are you sure that's…"
Dimiye cut him off. "We can handle their troops, captain. But you don't have near the fire power to face their fleet… or am I mistaken?"
The captain sighed with relief. "No, sir, you’re not." he went to his chair and activated the clock. "We'll drop you in twenty-two minutes. Good luck."
The general sat in his command shuttle, watching his ten thousand men breach the thick atmosphere of Midgard, cloaked in darkness. He was glad it'd worked out this way. If a fleet battle ensued, he would have had to lead his troops from orbit, instead of on the ground. Desperation doth have its privileges, he thought. It’s a risky move, but I have to take it. The first side to reach the planet's main settlement would have the advantage.
"Anything else we can do for you, sir?" the captain asked over the com line.
"No, we'll be fine. Just keep us informed of the enemy's movements for as long as you can."
"Then you should know… they spotted us on our entry, their transports have moved towards the planet. They should be dropping soon."
"Well, at least we’ll have a head start. How many transports?"
"Only five, but that means you've got somewhere between fifteen to twenty-five thousand enemy troopers to deal with." the captain said, the sound of rumbling echoed as near hits rocked his vessel.
"We'll manage. Just tell the rest of the fleet to act quickly."
"Any other orders, sir?"
"Yes, get your ass out of here." he cut the link.
The entire legion rushed towards it's objective. It was dark, but that didn't mean much to supernatural troops in power armor. The heavier elements were lagging behind, but time was of the essence. We need to get there first, was the only thought going through Dimiye's mind.
He signaled to his comm officer. "Have you contacted the settlement's commander yet?"
"Patching through now, sir."
Dimiye set the link to his HUD as a woman appeared before him. He couldn't help thinking he'd met her before. "Colonel? This is General Dimiye of the one-oh-three, I assume command. Do you have a fix on the enemy's location?"
"Yes, sir!" The reinstated LI colonel replied, sounding perky for a woman facing imminent death. "We've got a very large force heading towards our position. I put it at forty-five klicks southwest of Asgaroth. It won’t take them long to reach us."
Dimiye paused to check his maps and data locators. "Colonel, that puts them closer to you than we are… but we’re closer to them."
"Colonel, have you erected fortifications?"
"Iron clad. But we don't have enough men to hold the entire line. Between switching from hiding to Colonial Marines back to LI, I’ve lost most of my division."
"Figures. We're gonna head them off before they reach you. Have you evacuated this area?" Alistar indicated an area between the enemy and Asgaroth.
She looked at the map grid being sent to her. "Yes, sir. The entire civilian population has been moved to Valhalla Ridge. The cats’ll never find them there.” The colonel blinked. “Why?"
"That's where all hell's going to break loose.”
“Nevermind. Just hold tight till we arrive."
He bit down on his dentcom, killing the HUD, and quickly switched his comm link. "Captain Patterson?"
"I see your hovertank battallion is having no problem keeping up. Move ahead of the column and do exactly what I say."
The K'Nes battle armor was sleek and deadly looking, just like the feline warriors inside them. The thousands of metallic cats rushed towards the objective, running on all fours to increase their speed.
"Praetor! The humans are turning to intercept us."
Naarah, the K'Nes ground force commander, bared his fangs as he looked on his screen, hissing with glee. "It looks as if the humans want to fight after all. Finally. Our last visit here was rather disappointing.”
“Tell all ujon commanders to engage the enemy.” Naarah shot back to his impatient subordinate. “That's my order to all ujon…attack!"
The situation map of both commanders showed the same thing, two large waves of troops moving to smash each other, until suddenly, the image went blank. A bright white light shattered the darkness. It took minutes before Naarah could restore contact with his subordinates. "What happened!?"
The ujon commander was horrified. "Praetor… the humans… they tricked us! They used nuclear devices on our troops!"
The praetor was stunned. "On their own world? They must be mad!" He soon shook himself out of disbelief. "What of our assault?"
"Three of our ujon were completely consumed in the blasts. Our assault has been blunted. But now… the humans are charging through the irradiated zones. Praetor, we are fighting mad men!"
"These humans are as irrational and insane as I've heard.” And have no concept of the honor of battle, Naarah’s mind added, despicable hairless apes. “Call off the attack and retreat."
The ujon commander bowed his head in relief. "Yes, my Lord."
Dimiye looked at his situation map and smiled. The large red wave was moving away from their position. You got a crash course in human nature today, my little kitties. We play for keeps… don't fuck with us! He checked his data again. Three of his divisions were in lockdown mode.
"Sir?” one of his divisional commanders called in. “What are your orders? Should we chase them?"
"No. Call back all units. They learned their lesson for today. Besides, we have more important things to worry about." He went back to his data and started giving orders. "Divisions 2, 3, and 5; guard the outer perimeter while in lockdown. Hovertanks, that goes for you as well. The rest of the legion is to take places in the settlement's fortifications. This is far from over."
The spirit of the 103rd Legion was high; they'd won their first victory with minimal effort. Dimiye decided not to spoil their mood as his thoughts grew constantly darker. His inhuman enemy now knew he'd just taken the gloves off. Very soon, Alistar knew that they’d do the same, using their thousands of fighters against him. It was only going to get worse.
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!
Xavier made his way back to the waiting ship. Avoiding the large puddles that seemed to dominate the settlement of Sanfran, thoughts started to flood his mind. How do I find out where this Gabriel character is hanging around? Why does he know where this ‘Luos’ thing is? As he walked towards the landing port, he passed a young mother and her child, walking hand in hand toward the center of town. My mother… now I remember. She was killed at that LI base when my father was away. They were after the sword… Kuar? Why am I remembering this now? Seeing the waiting ship, he realized what he had to do. I need more information.
He reached the small craft and walked inside. At the controls, the freaky pilot was leaning back, watching a vid of the last Gun Metal Grey concert. “Hey, dumb-ass!” Pollos screamed over at him. “You have a way to hook up to the net relay?”
“Heh, heh, heh… uh, what?”
Xavier picked up a spare piece of metal lying on the table next to him, threw it with precision, and hit the holoproj unit, turning it off. “Net… relay! Do you have a connection?”
“Oh, heh, heh… um, yeah… sure.”
The pilot pointed back to the strange device the assassin had been using as an ashtray. “That piece of crap?”
“Heh, heh… hey, heh… it works!”
“Yeah, whatever.” Pollos blew him off and pulled out his cybermodem and hooked it up to the strange machine. With what he wanted to do, he wasn’t going to activate the holoproj unit; he didn’t want the pilot to overhear him. After some time searching the Galactic Net, bouncing from site to site, he finally found what he was looking for… the name of a friend. He had been a friend of his for a long time, providing him the illicit information necessary for his old life… the life he intended to get back.
Activating the text emulator, he touched the ill-used keyboard, and ran his fingers across it. It took a few moments to get used to the strange feeling; the net was so graphically-oriented.
X DarkSable- Alex? Are you there?
X AngelHand- Mark? Is that you?
X DarkSable- Yeah, it has been a while?
X AngelHand- Sure has. What’s with the fancy script?
X DarkSable- Not on a secure connection.
X AngelHand- Then what the hell are you calling me for? Discom now!
X DarkSable- Correction. Connection secure, room isn’t private.
X AngelHand- This better be good.
X DarkSable- I need you to help me. Can you do a trace?
X AngelHand- Who?
X DarkSable- Gabriel Daphonston. He’s been around for a long time.
X AngelHand- Vampire?
X DarkSable- Yep.
X AngelHand- Leeches don’t like being found.
X DarkSable- I’ll risk it. Can you do it?
X AngelHand- I gotta break connection and go global. I’ll get back to you.
X DarkSable- How long?
X AngelHand- A minute if I’m lucky, five if the CPU’s picky. Stay online?
X DarkSable- I’ll be here.
Alex’s icon disappeared from the tiny cybermodem screen. While waiting, Xavier lit up a cigarette, the nicotine helped him to soothe his mind. Kill one guy, he thought, kill another. Find a piece of the puzzle, pick up another. Hopefully this Gabriel will give me what I want… but nothing’s ever easy.
Suddenly, his friend’s icon appeared back on the screen. The text emulator went back into action.
X AngelHand- Are you there?
X DarkSable- I’m here.
X AngelHand- I got your info. You got the creds?
Pollos whipped out his credit chit and ran it through the cybermodem. He keyed out the usual amount, transferred it to him, and then put it away.
X DarkSable- That good enough?
X AngelHand- Plenty. That leech is not an easy one to trace.
X DarkSable- That’s why I called you. What do you got?
X AngelHand- Wasn’t easy. Do you know how many Gabriels are in the Fed?
X DarkSable- Don’t care. What have you got?
X AngelHand- Can’t be sure, but I got a Gabriel sitting in the dark zone of Proxima. Checked his ID and it trails black about three years back. Clear leech sign.
X DarkSable- That’s it?
X AngelHand- It’s that or this partial trace I’ve got on Wilke’s Star… or Phoenix, if you like Fundies.
X DarkSable- I’ll take it. Thanks, Alex.
X AngelHand- More than happy. Discom.
“Hey!” The assassin shouted over at the pilot, still watching the Gun Metal Grey concert at full volume. “HEY!”
The pilot looked over at him and finally turned down the vid. “Heh, heh… what?”
“Set course to Proxima. Dark Zone.”
“Dark Zone… heh, heh… um…. heh, heh, heh…” the pilot broke out into uncontrollable chuckles.
“You have trouble hearing? Dark Zone. Pronto.”
“Heh, heh… no way, man. Um, too much trouble. Forget it, heh.”
“All right, asshole. How much?”
“No way, man… heh, heh. Dark Zone’s trouble.”
“Listen, little man, you’re either going to take me to the dark zone or I’m going to slice you in half. Now how much?”
The pilot quickly looked around the room, as if checking his options. “Very bad, heh, heh. Um… you’re going to have to pay triple, heh, heh. And I take off after, man. Heh, heh, heh.”
“Hundred grand to sit there, can you handle that? Just get us there.”
“Heh, creds first, heh, man.”
“Half now, half on arrival. Got me?” Xavier dialed half the outrageous price into his chit and stood up to put it in the ship’s account.
“Yeah, heh, heh, sure, man.”
Pollos ran the chit through and sat back down on the squeaky chair. “Go.”
The engines roared to life. The walls of the rickety craft actually shook from the force of the blast. The assassin leaned back in his chair and moaned. When you’re in this business, he knew, you don’t fly first class.
The Dark Zone was the most unpleasant place in the Proxima Centauri system. The third planet was barely livable, the temperature at the equator barely got above freezing, and harsh winds whipped around at hurricane velocities. However, a fault line somehow developed in the middle of a mountain range, carving out a deep valley. Shielded from the harsh winds, warmed by a nearby volcano, the small valley soon teemed with life. It had been used by smugglers a hundred years ago until the Tech Infantry cleaned them out. When they found turbidium on the rock, it became the site for the small mining camp, but the vein soon ran dry, trapping a small group of unwilling colonists. With thick clouds from the volcano shadowing the place, and the rampant amount of people wanting to kill each other over the scraps, it quickly became known as the Dark Zone.
When he got off the small craft, the first thing he noticed was the cold. In the dark, he could tell that it wasn’t snowing, but the chill sunk through to his bones. His first place to check was the local bar, a rickety shack with a weak neon sign saying “Bloody Mary’s.” As Xavier walked in, he passed by people being carried out, blood staining their clothes. Once inside, many of the crates that substituted for tables were broken, except for the one in the corner, where a rather tall man sat sipping his drink. The dim light flickered behind the bar, where a pregnant woman was picking up bottles.
It was the bartender that clicked something in him. A memory of his mother, standing in the room of their small house, washing dishes. From what it looks like to Pollos, she’s pregnant. Yes, she is pregnant, he decides. Then, out of nowhere, a dark figure comes through the door coming up from behind the woman. With a clean sweep with his right arm, he sliced open her neck, quickly licking to the vital juices. All of a sudden, the body goes into convulsions, and the vampire holds up his hand to steady his mother. His hand… it’s covered by something, some kind of silvery glove. My God, it’s Luos!
"I won't believe it!” Xavier told himself. “My mother wasn’t killed by a vampire! It couldn’t have been him!"
"What’s yer problem, kid?" The bartender stopped picking up her plastic bottles.
Shit, I was thinking out loud. "Nothing. Just thinking to myself."
“You can think all you want,” the pregnant bartender replied, “but you better drink something or get the hell out of my bar.”
“Right.” Pollos ran the credit chit through the slot. The woman picked up one of the bottles, filled it with some steaming substance, and handed it over to him. “What’s this?”
“That’s your drink.”
Xavier took a drink of the mysterious substance. It was hot, sweet, and definitely alcoholic. The assassin almost coughed on the first sip. “What do you call it?”
“The only drink we’ve got here. Lava Mud. These welfare junkies can’t afford anything else so I don’t stock it.” The woman leaned over and stared at him. She had once been beautiful, the man could see, but a couple scars and fatigue had eroded it away. “Take some advice, kid. Pipe down, don’t make eye contact with anyone, or you’ll get hurt."
"I think that I can take care of myself. Thanks for the insight."
As he took another swig of the Lava Mud, Xavier thought about the visions he had been having. Who is making me see this? Who? I have been seeing these memories ever since…
"The name’s Mary, stranger. Like the name of the bar, you know?"
"Know this place well?"
"I know every dirtball on this piece of rock. They all come here eventually."
"Any chance you know who Gabriel Daphonston is?"
The pregnant woman tensed. "Yeah."
“Where is he?”
“Out. You can’t find him.”
"Well,” Xavier lifted up his credit chit, dialing it for 100 credits, “how about now?"
"You don't understand. He’s out, and if you’re smart, you’ll get back on your piece of shit ship and get the hell out of here.”
"I need to find him." Pollos grabbed her wrist.
At that moment, the man in the corner started to walk over towards them. Xavier saw him coming and let go of the bartender’s hand. “Got a problem?”
"I don't mean to intrude,” replied a very polished, refined voice, “but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with M. Stuart. Are you are trying to find Gabriel?"
"Yeah, that’s right."
"Well, then I can help. I’ve been waiting to see him as well. We have some unfinished business to attend."
“I think I can find him myself, thanks.”
“In this town?” the slick voice coughed in amusement. “Every door’s closed to strangers, except of course, M. Stuart’s establishment.”
Mary looked over at the man. “Gabe, don’t…”
“Gabe?” Pollos’ eyes raised. “You’re Gabriel?”
The vampire stepped back slowly. “Yes, M. Pollos. I think we have much to discuss.”
Ehud... Hex... Kiddo... whatever his name was, the young soldier wandered down the row of shelving holding numerous small arms and a few combat rifles. The small armory to which Wade's "troop" had been given access lacked many things. First and foremost among the absent were the katana and wakazashi, the two weapons that the young soldier missed the most from the armory on board the Auschwitz. Neither did he find an MP5, let alone the exact model which he favored. Most of the weapons were slugthrowers, but none of them were very desirable.
They had several plasma revolvers at their disposal, but for this operation, the son of none anticipated a serious need for rifles and other more powerful weapons. Unfortunately, the Righteous Army didn't possess many advanced weapons, at least not to the young soldier's knowledge. What they did have were mounds of obsolete weapons; they would have to do. One did catch his eye, however, and he grabbed it and all of the ammo available. Remi, seeing Ehud's selection, gave him a funny look, but said nothing, knowing of Ehud's incredible skill with all sorts of weapons. Once Wade had selected the main weapon (along with digging out a lance cannon) that the three of them would use for the mission, they left the armory and headed for the shuttle bay.
It didn’t take long to get out of the docking station’s armory and out to their shuttle. It was a strange looking craft, with an impossibly long “beak” attached to the front, and several odd engines slammed on the back. Hex tried to examine the design closer but he was pushed towards the airlock by Remi. The shuttle was cramped, but it was clean and well-built inside. The albino took the pilot’s controls as the other two filed in. Once they were clear for launch, the oblong shuttle took off into the big black. It didn’t take long for the teenager to figure out where he was going. “Why are we going to the Beowulf gate? Why not go directly to Phoenix?”
“Because, brother,” Wade Kennedy reminded him, “where we’re going, they don’t like visitors.”
In the next second, the shuttle went through the gate, disappearing into the wilds of hyperspace.
The shuttle ride was long, but it provided Ehud with just the opportunity he needed to read God's word. As he read it, he was compelled to ask Wade about the most disturbing verses he had come across which seemed to go against what the "Righteous" Army was doing. At first, Wade seemed to be ignoring him.
"Wade, did you hear me? I think my question deserves an answer. How can we fight a physical war when the Bible clearly says that we are engaged in an spiritual one?"
"Ehud, now is not the time for –-“
“Wade—sir, I don’t think I can go into battle focused, if I can’t settle this matter in my mind.”
Wade stared into Hex’s eyes, and after a long pause, the troop leader relented. “All right, Ehud. What’s your argument?”
“I’ll let the Lord speak for me. Exodus 20:13: Thou shalt not kill.”
“You can’t be serious, brother. Didn’t the Lord command the Israelites to kill thousands? This was not a sin. God had given them a righteous cause.”
“Has He also sanctioned this under the new covenant, and has the Commander of the Faithful received word from God Himself?”
“When Samson killed a thousand men at Ramath Lehi, did he stop to ask God if it was okay?” Hex thought for a moment and decided that he needed a different approach.
“2 Corinthians 10:3-4: We do live in the world. But we do not fight in the same way the world fights. We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weap—“
“What translation is that, Ehud?” Remi suddenly asked, confused.
“Oh… it’s an old children’s version,” the slightly embarrassed teen confessed.
“There’s your problem, brother. Stay with the King James Version,” suggested Wade, then went back to watching the orange swirls of hyperspace as though the discussion were over. Hex would not be ignored, however, and quickly grabbed another datapad.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. Does that sound more proper to you… sir?”
“This verse… speaks of… God’s ordaining the use of magic by his followers.” Wade looked a little nervous. Hex knew why and pushed his point.
“Ephesians 6:12: For we wrestle NOT against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Matthew 5:39: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
“Would you question the authority of your elders? I thought that you were a trustworthy servant of the Lord. Perhaps I was wrong. Go sit towards the back and pray that the Lord will forgive you for your pride!”
Hex silently moved to the back of the shuttle, but couldn’t seem to concentrate on praying. His thoughts tended to drift more towards the mission that was upon them. He would have to take this evidence to a higher authority after he returned to San Angeles… if they survived this test.
Xinjao and Leisa sat in the warm, antiseptic white room washed with fluorescent light, waiting for the debriefing committee to conclude their deliberations on the Phoenix incident. The two of them had been waiting in the lobby for an hour now; conversation had run dry. Leisa read over her report one more time, brushing short black hair out of her pale face, looking for inconsistencies. Xinjao paced around the room, agitated. He was dying for a smoke. A tall cold beer would be nice, too…
“Well,” he rationalized out loud, “they’ve got over four hundred personal reports to sift through… there are bound to be inconsistencies between that many reports… I guess that would take a while…”
“Probably trying to verify it all,” Leisa agreed, trying to hide her own anxiety, and failing. She looked up form her report. “You don’t suppose they still think Smashie was running the Resistance…?”
“God, I hope not!” Xinjao said, a little frustrated. “We musta gone over that with the committee for hours! I can’t believe there was so much confusion on that! I guess we did our job too well… everyone thought a phantom was in charge, no one knew who we were, there was no paper trail… brilliant for fighting fundies, but makes it hard to take credit for it later on!”
“Jesus, ya go through hell for the Federation,” Leisa bitched, “and they want certification papers signed in blood to prove it! Do they think you put out your own eye with a paper clip?!”
O’Reilly started pacing again. “Then again, do we really want credit for this? I don’t even know if we’re heroes or scapegoats yet. Maybe we should let the phantom take the fall. Jeez, I still can’t believe they want us court-martialed… who was it again? Recognized Orthodox Baptists or something?”
“Reorganized Orthodox Baptist Church. You shouldn’t be surprised. That’s Bad Andy’s church, he’s their hero. They’ve got branches all over the galaxy.”
“And they’re all citizens of the Federation...” Xinjao said, “One vote each and not afraid to use it.”
“God, I hate the religious right!” Leisa spat venomously. “They can all eat shit and burn in hell!”
O’Reilly stopped pacing and looked up at Leisa. She sat arms folded, a scowl on her round face and a fire in her brown eyes. He’d seen the look on her face before… when she killed his prison guards. The Chinaman suddenly snapped at her. “What’s the deal with you, anyway? I mean, me? It’s obvious why I hate them. They blow off my hand, kill all my friends, torture me… it makes sense. But what’s your story? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone hate them more than you…”
“You mean you honestly don’t know?” she asked, a hint of an amused smile creeping across her lips. Xinjao merely shrugged. Leisa’s smile drained away. “If we don’t stop them… now…” she said, undoing the buttons at the collar of her uniform, “there’ll be another six million.” She pulled back her lapel to reveal a golden six-pointed star hanging on a thin chain around her neck, the same chain that held her piece of St Andrew souvenir shrapnel.
Ah, Xinjao thought, gazing the star resting on her chest in sudden understanding, that explains a lot. I should have guessed it, really… oohh… those have got to be at least a B cup, maybe C…
“Get your eyes out of my cleavage, pig,” Leisa snapped, yanking her lapel back and buttoning her collar. “Jeez, you could at least try to be subtle about it! I’m not one of your PornNet girls, you know.”
In the back of his mind, O’Reilly knew she had to be enjoying the look of shock and guilt carved into his face. Of course she knew about his collection… everyone at Phoenix had known about it… but no one had ever mentioned it to him before now, especially not a woman. The quick thinking that had seen him safely through the torture chamber and the fight with Reks utterly failed him. Xinjao stood awkwardly, frozen, unable to think of a single way out of his embarrassing predicament. Thankfully, the guard entered the room, escorting them into the committee room, stopping the situation before he could humiliate himself further.
“We’ve discussed the evidence and come to our conclusions… at ease, sailors.” the rear admiral heading the committee began. “Now, before we get underway, we’d just like to verify the total damage done by your resistance network. We’ve determined a conservative number of confirmed kills compiled from the reports. The numbers are… quite impressive. So let us know if any of these numbers sound inflated, understand?”
“Yes, sir.” they both replied with a nod.
“Very well, the official records show 35 Righteous Navy warships, including their flagship and only dreadnought, and over forty docks and the central hub of the Phoenix Construction Yards,” the Admiral paused, looking up from the datapad he was reading questioningly.
The mention of the Yards’ demise sent pangs of sorrow and guilt through O’Reilly – he had always loved the place; it was an engineer’s dream assignment. It was hard to accept that he had destroyed it. So he merely nodded and moved on. “Yes, sir. I believe that’s accurate.”
The admiral turned back to his datapad. “And the Deputy Commander of the Righteous Army… you claim to have killed him yourself?”
The flag officer paused long enough to cast a disdainful glance at the engineer; a man who had barely passed every physical fitness test throughout his entire career. “You killed a high-ranked werewolf? A war veteran, all by yourself?”
The admiral arched his eyebrows and turned back to his pad. “Can anyone verify this claim?”
“The sensor logs of the McInnery will confirm that Reks was blown out of an airlock into space, sir,” O’Reilly replied tightly, feeling himself growing defensive at the admiral’s obvious opinion of him.
“So you saw the body? Saw him revert to human form?”
“No, sir… but he shot off into space without a suit! Between decompression and lack of—“
“But you didn’t actually see him die?”
“Well, no, but there’s no way—“
“Then it is not a confirmed kill,” the committee chairman cut him off, making an entry to the file. Xinjao could feel his heart begin to pound in anger, but he kept his mouth shut. “Now, the breakdown of the total confirmed enemy casualties,” the admiral continued, moving on, “stands at 278 in Dock 14, a minimum of 1,600 sailors and 10,000 invasion troops aboard the St.Andrew, an estimated 320 sailors aboard the destroyed war freighters, and at least five thousand personnel aboard the Phoenix Yards. The total estimated enemy kills by the Phoenix Resistance stands at 17,178 people, including over 350 Fleet personnel.”
O’Reilly looked away.
The admiral looked up from his pad at them. “Commander O’Reilly, if this number is accurate, it gives you the highest indirect kill ratio of any Earth Fleet sailor during this war, second only to Admiral Erich Von Shrakenberg. Can you verify this estimate?”
Xinjao stared at the floor in silence. Suddenly he stood and started pacing again, arms folded, never looking up at the admiral. “Seventeen thousand one hundred seventy-eight…” he mumbled to himself, staggered by the number… he knew was responsible for a lot of lives, but this… He remembered the sorrow he felt looking at the body of Rymir, his youngest foreman, and tried to multiply that sorrow by seventeen thousand… he couldn’t. His mind couldn’t even begin to conceive what he had done.
“Commander O‘Reilly?” a member of the committee asked, a hint of concern in her voice.
“Seventeen thousand one hundred seventy-eight…”
“Yes,” Leisa said suddenly, her voice strong and firm, “that estimate is accurate. If anything, it’s too small.” O’Reilly listened to her, briefly envious of her ability to remain so unaffected by the number.
“Commander O’Reilly, is this true?” the admiral asked. Xinjao stopped pacing. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to calm himself. He could allow his voice to break in front of the committee. When he opened his eyes again, staring at the Admiral, something in them had disappeared.
“Yes,” he agreed softly, “if anything, it’s too small.”
The committee chairman arched his eyebrows again as he made an entry into the file… Xinjao couldn’t tell if the man was dubious or impressed. “Well,” he said when he looked up again, “this brings us to the next point: this committee’s conclusions.” This is it, O’Reilly thought, sitting down again and bracing himself for the verdict. From now on, I’m either a war hero or a war criminal… it all depends on the politics. “It is the conclusion of this committee of inquiry into the Phoenix incident that, although Commander O’Reilly’s and Petty Officer Horton’s actions were unconventional, they were in accordance with the Earth Fleet’s scorched earth policy. They were neither unnecessarily cruel nor inhumane, and their failure to offer terms of surrender, take prisoners, or discriminate between civilian and military targets is understandable given their difficult and extreme tactical situation.” Xinjao exhaled in relief as both he and Leisa visibly relaxed. “Furthermore,” the admiral continued, “it is the opinion of this committee of inquiry that both Horton and O’Reilly acted with resourcefulness, courage, and distinction, in accordance with their loyalties to the Federation and their responsibilities to their crew. For this reason, the Earth Fleet has dismissed all charges of war crimes leveled against Commander O’Reilly and Petty Officer Horton by religious organizations within the Federation.”
O’Reilly turned to look at Leisa, who smiled at him in relief. He managed to smile back, with his mouth at least. Although relieved at avoiding a court martial, the official political interpretation absolving the massacre didn’t do much to ease his conscience. Inside, he still knew what he was.
“Atten-SHION!” the commodore next to the rear admiral barked out, standing up from the table. Xinjao and Leisa jumped up and snapped to attention. “Due to your fine leadership and superior performance in battle,” she said, crossing to Xinjao and pinning a second gold circle on his collar, “the Earth Fleet has officially promoted you to the rank of captain, in full command of a light cruiser. Congratulations, Captain O’Reilly,” she said, shaking his hand firmly and smiling.
“Thank you, ma’am.” This time, Xinjao couldn’t resist the small smile crossing his face.
“In recognition of your excellent performance, leadership, and initiative,” the commodore said, crossing to Leisa, “Earth Fleet has promoted you to the rank of senior chief petty officer. Furthermore,” she said, pinning two more gold & silver stars on her collar, “this committee has logged an official recommendation for Officer’s Candidate School in your file. Congratulations, Chief Horton.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’m honored.” Leisa replied, shaking her hand.
“At ease, sailors.” the admiral said, leaning back in his chair at the long table. “Captain, O’Reilly, your new assignment is Captain of the EFS Schaumburg, assigned to the 2nd Fleet in--.”
“The Schaumburg?” O’Reilly echoed in disbelief.
“Yes,” the Admiral replied, “we’re short on ships at the moment. The Schaumburg just came out of repairs in dry dock… is there a problem?”
“No, sir,” O’Reilly answered, grinning. “No problem at all!”
“Chief Horton?” he said, turning to Leisa, “you’ve been assigned to Aft Damage Control on the EFS Hyperion.” Leisa’s eyes went wide at the mention of the Avalon-class Dreadnaught. It was a choice assignment for an NCO. “Both those vessels are to be assigned to 2nd Fleet, currently assembling a task force to relieve ships fighting the Jurvain in New Paris.” Leisa and Xinjao exchanged a quick, confused look.
“Uh… beg pardon, sir,” O’Reilly began hesitantly, “but… uh… was there a mix up or something? I thought we both requested assignments with task forces on the Righteous Army offensive. Our knowledge of their ships and battle strategies would be a valuable resource to—“
“And as soon as there is an offensive, you’ll be part of it,” the admiral assured, cutting him off. “At the moment, no invasion of the Christian Federation is planned. Quite simply, Earth Fleet can’t spare the resources. Once the rebels are defeated and the aliens driven back, we can mop up the Righteous Army. But for right now, they aren’t a threat.” The admiral knew from the looks on their faces that it was a poor choice of words. There was a second of shocked silence, then both of them burst into protest.
“NOT A THREAT?!” Leisa exclaimed, outraged.
“Sir, they are dangerous, unpredictable fanatics!!” O’Reilly shouted.
“Their navy use suicide ships!” Leisa cried, “Their army took six systems with no power armor!!”
“If you don’t stop them,” Xinjao spat, “you can your kiss civil rights goodbye!”
“The Christian Federation doesn’t have any navy to speak of,” the admiral said evenly. “They can only threaten three of our systems and they haven’t got the strength to take any of them.”
“No one thought they could take Phoenix, either!” Leisa argued
“But they did,” the admiral countered, “and a handful of Fleet engineers made fools of them.”
“That wasn’t because they’re incompetent,” Xinjao insisted, “it’s because they’re merciful!”
The admiral shot him a confused look. “What?”
“They chose to spare my life three times,” O’Reilly explained, guilt beginning to wash over him again. “If they had killed me any of those times, they’d still have the Yards and be pumping out ships!”
“But they didn’t, and they lost the Yards.” The admiral replied, losing patience. “Thanks in part to your actions at Phoenix, the Righteous Army is a minor threat compared to the Rebels or the Jurvain. They can sit on the back burner for a few months until we get the situation under control.”
“That’s why we should kick ‘em while they’re down and roll through their systems!” Leisa yelled.
“Please, sir,” O’Reilly pleaded, “give me just one task force. I’ll wipe out the rest of their fleet and free up the picket ships for the front line against the Rebels! If we stop now and let them rebuild, who knows what they could have but the time we return?!”
“Captain O’Reilly,” the commodore said in a less friendly tone than before, “Earth Fleet has no intention of squandering valuable resources just so you can pursue a personal vendetta.”
“Just one ship!” Leisa insisted. “Give us just one ship, and we’ll—“
“Chief, the matter is closed,” the admiral said firmly. “If you want to fight the fundies, you’ll have to come up with your own navy, Earth Fleet is not interested. Now, you both have your orders and we expect you to follow them.”
“I see, sir,” O’Reilly said coldly, standing at attention. “May we go now?”
“Almost,” the commodore said, a little friendlier. “There is just one more thing. This committee has decided to award the two of you medals for your actions at Phoenix.”
Leisa was speechless, eyes wide with pleasant surprise. Xinjao looked genuinely shocked at first, then baffled, and finally uncomfortable and embarrassed. “Please, sir,” he mumbled, “there’s no need for that… we were just doing our jobs...” And I don’t want a reward for crushing seventeen thousand, one hundred and seventy-eight lives…
“Nonsense!” the commodore declared, “Look at your prosthetic hand through your cyber-optic eye, and then tell me you don’t deserve at least two Blood Stars.”
Xinjao stopped and thought about the common fleet medal for injury in battle. Well… he had certainly earned those… “Well… maybe, yeah, I guess…”
“Fine,” the commodore agreed, “We’ll present it to you in a few days, as soon as the fighting around Avalon is under control and Admiral Vorheis is availa—“
“Vorheis?” Leisa echoed, shocked.
“The grand fleet admiral wants to present the awards herself,” the commodore explained. “Oh, and be sure to wear your dress uniform for the cameras.”
“CAMERAS??” O’Reilly exclaimed.
“Yes, she’d like to do the honors at the press conference.”
“Please,” O’Reilly said softly, turning pale and blushing at the same time, “do we have to do this?” Vorheis… medals… press conference…he wondered, confused. This doesn’t make any sense…why make such a big deal out of this?
“Of course we do,” the commodore said, voice hardening, “There isn’t a problem… is there?”
“Look,” Xinjao pleaded, staring at the floor, “Try to understand … I’m not exactly proud about killing so many people…I… I’d just rather not broadcast it to the entire Federation! Churches all over the galaxy are beginning to hate me… I’d just rather a keep low profile… Do you see what I’m trying to say?”
“Look, captain,” the admiral explained, “we can’t spare the resources to fight the Righteous Army just now. So we need to play up what few victories we’ve had against them… even if they were accidental…”
Suddenly it all clicked into place in Xinjao’s mind, and he felt the anger well up within him. “I see,” he said, narrowing his eyes. You need me for propaganda. To justify doing nothing to stop Bad Andy. I’m just a pawn in your game, and if the galaxy hates my guts… well, that’s just too damn bad, isn’t it?
“So we understand each other, then?”
“Yes, sir. I think we do.”
“Good,” the admiral said, “dismissed.”
His suit finally leaving lockdown mode, Damien struggled to free himself from the silt he was trapped in. Finally finding something hard enough for the suit to lift its massive weight, his head broke the surface into daylight.
As he reached the open sky, Richter saw the large crater before him, ripping up another part of the capital city from the nuclear explosion. Since the reactors were underground, most of the blast was contained, but the damage was still devastating. The machine cared for none of this, turning its attention to salvaging the rest of its troops.
The rest of the XES broke through the shattered surface soon after. Most of them were unarmed or low on ammunition from fighting. After some digging, they found the found the Centons, two of which had been crushed beyond repair. The living Centons were in poor shape, lacking power armor they were exposed to the worst of the radiation. Ordering the best of the XES out of their suits, his uninjured self included, the Centons entered their power armor to escape the radiation and heal themselves.
However, it was Leviathan that continued to amaze Damien. She had no power armor and yet showed no signs of damage. Still unconscious, Damien seized the moment to gain control of her. Jacking into her, he was immediately overwhelmed by the complexity of her mental landscape. It took a minute or so for his processors to finally comprehend the strange system, partially Horadrim-based, partially human programming. However, since his own system was built from some of the same elements, his cybermodem quickly recovered and began accessing the system. The damage report said that the damage from Gergenstein's weapon had already been repaired; she stayed unconscious for his convenience. In the short time they had, he was already earning a few basic commands. The machine located her loyalty and orders coding, inserting himself as her superior.
Cutting the direct link, Damien ordered her up. She complied. Although superior to him in every way, she regarded him as her superior. His command still supreme, Damien ordered his troops out.
Our suits and ID’s show us as being rebel TI soldiers. We must assume they suspect us as the source of the nuclear explosion. Raptor, loyalist TI, and InSec forces are to be classified as extreme threats. All troops move out.
The cyborgs moved away from the city, as Damien accessed the algorithm for a reason for any of them to exist. Upon review and comparison of his files and past orders, his infantile brain came up with only answer: The XES existed to kill for whoever supported them. They had to have funding to receive the raw materials needed to expand and conquer. And they would kill to receive funding. The machines left for the suburbs of Avalon, Damien's nanotech repairing his DNA almost as fast as the radiation destroyed it.
Lieutenant Jon Walters lay in complete silence as he surveyed the battle torn landscape that lay to his front. A slight sense of movement from his right was all that alerted him to the presence of Trooper Lear. The trooper crawled quietly up to the officer and flashed a few hurried, yet precise gestures. “Sir, we rigged all the corpses like you asked… oh, and that Dead Boy colonel and another trooper have broken away from the others.” His silent report complete the soldier wiggled back to his post.
“This is either a great opportunity to meet up with friend over there or a trap.” the officer mumbled to himself. “Well, Jon, you don’t win by wars sitting on your ass…”
In a near mimic of Lear’s motions, Walters informed Sergeant Links to keep two squads in position to shadow the Dead Boys, while 1st Squad and two of the mind mages shadowed the colonel and his friend.
Using the telescopics built into his suit, Jon, yet again, scanned the target house. “You sure he is in there?” signed the lieutenant.
“Yessir, him and something nasty.” signed Corporal Stroebel.
“Nasty? What do you mean nasty?” was the hurried response.
“Images… strange ones from the house.”
“What?” the lieutenant started to sign but suddenly all of them felt the opening of a correspondence beacon.
The corporal jolted upright and broke radio silence. “Fuck! They jumped out!”
Lear kicked the tree next to him. “Shit! We had the fucker!”
Walters ignored their curses as he focused on the signal. He followed the correspondence jump through time and space, plotting it with his mind. Finally, when he was satisfied with what he found, he reached out and opened a portal himself. “Through the hole, boys!”
The platoon yipped as they raced through the hole, chasing their elusive prey.
The four of them, Malachi, Justine, Bob, and Hope, quickly entered another correspondence portal throwing them to Spyder's brigade, along with more weapons, ammo, and a recharger for their suits. Elly Ragdowski was standing there to greet him. “Malachi?"
"I got us some ammo."
"And those two?"
"Friends. What did I miss, lieutenant?"
"Umm... nothing. It’s been pretty quiet so far. Where'd you get the recharger?"
"Trade secrets." Spyder smiled.
Their conversation was cut off abruptly as their sensor officer ran over to them. “Ma’am, I…” he managed to look up and see his commanding officer standing there, “sorry, sir. I…”
“Spit it out.” Malachi moaned.
"Sir, it looks like there's a group in power armor headed this way."
"Shit. Who are they?"
"Looks like they're on our side, sir."
Spyder turned to Justine, "Wilhelm?"
"No," she started, "from last reports, he was heading away from us."
"Then who… how did they get here?"
"Maybe it’s Roland.” Elly suggested, “nobody found her body, maybe she went in after Fredrick."
"Maybe..." Spyder finally shrugged off what was happening. "This is insane. If they register as ours, then we don't shoot, “ the colonel pointed to his group. “You four, come with me."
The five of them headed out towards the group approaching them. It quickly became evident that it wasn’t Roland, but someone who walked in an almost lifeless way, as though he were nothing more than a robot. Spyder quickly did a scan of the man's mind and found nothing but a large mess of threat categories and tactical plans. He regretted having come out here now, but it was too late to turn around.
Upon leaving the city, their power armor picked up a brigade of TI soldiers outside of the city. Upon closer examination, their signals indicated that they were with the rebel faction. His logic processors analyzing data from the InSec mainframe, he determined that the rebel TI government would be able to supply all that they needed.
Damien move straight towards the camp , the other soldiers staying within sensor range of the base but out of direct sight.
His squad had jumped back to the field, following the Dead Boys’ colonel back to their camp. As he watched the drama unfolding before him, Lieutenant Walters realized it was too much data to comprehend. In digesting this latest tidbit of information, Jon allowed himself to slip as deep into thought as battlefield readiness would allow. “Ok, we’ve got some bad-ass mind mage colonel, two troopers and two civiies that he obviously trusts with his life, and some unknown, powerful entity facing us. I’ve got one light platoon and a few mind mages.” Looks like you have gone and done it this time, he finally decided.
“What’cha saying, sir?” Sergeant Links whispered, sitting next to him as they watched the meeting from a distance.
“Nothing.” Damn, Jon thought, gotta stop thinking out loud. After taking a deep breath, he considered the problem again. Orders want me to make friends with this guy, which might be good because I seriously doubt a stand up fight would result in anything but a blood bath. If we could end this here and now, more boys will go home in one piece. Think John, damn it, think. Finally, something came to him, completely crazy… but that could work. Dicey, certainly, but it would be a hell of a story… “Corporal! You think you could get his attention?”
Stroebel looked over at him. “Yessir, but… why would you want that?”
“I want to talk with this guy… Lear, I reckon you telling me you were the best shot in this whole damn army.”
“I am, sir.”
The trooper smiled. “I could knock the tits off a momma rabbit at 300 yards in a dust-storm. What’cha have in mind?”
“I want you to get into a position that gives ya a pro-per view of that bunch over there with the biggest gun we have. If they want to get frisky when I contact the colonel, I want you to punch a hole in their lines large enough to park a battle-cruiser in.”
“Consider it parked, sir. What about the other group in power armor?”
“Hopefully it won’t come to a fight, but if it does… well, give them a dirt nap.”
"I am Damien Richter of the Resistance,” the mysterious figure in front said in a strange monotone, “I and the others require rifles, ammunition, and power armor."
God, it’s me again, Spyder thought to himself, I've got another favor to ask you. Get me off this fucking planet. I can’t take it here anymore; this is too nuts. "What the fuck do you mean?! You’re criminals to the Fed! I should blast you right now!"
"I require restocking, you will restock me."
"Like hell I will!"
"Unless you want to die, give me what I ask." The man said, his tone getting harsher.
"Listen, I've got barely enough for my men and I, and here you come… someone not even on our side, demanding my supplies!”
Walters had his chameleon circuits running at full power, hoping that his power armor would shield him until he was within talking distance. However, the conversation with the strange newcomers and his favorite colonel got more heated. This could get ugly any second, Jon thought, best to interrupt now. He bit down on the dentcom and clicked over the proximity frequency. “Colonel? Come in, please.”
Richter swiveled around, looking for any indication of the mysterious transmission. Proximity frequency means that new target is within ten meters of current location. His power armor sensors went to full to find the transmitter.
Spyder unconsciously took a step back. He cycled his own frequency to the proximity band. “Who is this?”
“Lieutenant Walters, sir, we’ve been following you for some time.”
That mysterious battalion, Malachi realized before replying. “Lieutenant, where are you?”
“Sir, that’s not important. I’ve come to tell you that the war’s over.”
Damien had focused his scans to the down slope of the ridge they were standing on. Checking for unusual power signals…
“First Army Command tells me that the 27th Army has joined up with them. The battle is over, sir. We can get your men to proper hospitals and…”
Richter had finally found the source of the signal. Current tactical information indicates that both factions are still fighting. Conclusion: communication is an attempt at enemy deception. Threat upgraded to maximum; eliminate target. The machine swiveled his spiker gun towards threat…
Lear saw the cyborg moving suddenly towards the off-color patch in the grass which was his CO. With his scope, he quickly focused on the spiker gun in the machine’s arm, and fired.
Damien’s arm came clean from his body; the machine registered the new problem, dropped to a prone position, and moved to locate the new threat. He activated the cybermodem to contact the other cyborgs in his unit. All units… attack.
As the entire ridge exploded into fire, Colonel Malachi Spyder was completely lost in the explosions of plasma bolts that ripped all around him. Suddenly, his power armor locked up, and the life expectancy counter started spiraling down its percentage. As his body fell down to the ground, it was only then that his brain registered that he had been shot. Another bolt passed through his armor and the counter got closer and closer to zero. Malachi’s mind panicked as it hit the hard ground of the ridge. “Shit…” managed to escape his lips, before the counter cycled to zero, and his soul left his body… leaving the planet behind at last.
END OF ACT II
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.