“The world has grown so bad that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.”

                                                                        -- Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3.


Zechariah McNeilly looked over his orders again, his fists clenched in rage, and anger filling his mind.  His past three assignments had been used to further the alliance between the Resistance and the TI Rebels.  Now he was being told to accept this ridiculously foolish deal.  Like it or not, they were his orders.  Orders that he was committed to fulfilling.

The Imperial Councilman from the Eastern Bloc showed up in the same manner as the previous time.  Zechariah made a note of the Asian’s guards he had left at the entrance.  He felt like killing them, all of them.  Not just the guards and the councilman, but all the pathetic creatures in the room.  He calmed himself as the councilman sat down.

            “My employer has chosen to accept your offer.”  McNeilly spoke calmly.

            “That is good,” Ito smiled, “the sooner we get this settled, the sooner I can return to Showa.”

            Zechariah again became overwhelmed by his anger.  His mind became overwhelmed by Ito’s ridiculous offer and the fact that the Resistance had chosen to accept it.  He again transformed his body into armor, preparing to kill the councilman sitting before him.  Errol jumped in to close the conversation.  “Well then, I…” His words were interrupted as a black spike punched through his chest.  Automatically, Ito pulled out a plasma revolver and his guards rushed forward to put down the threat. Right then, everything in the room went into chaos.

            McNeilly felt his hand grasp on one of his favorite weapons, hidden underneath the shadow of his coat.  The plasma rifle quickly came up to Ito’s forehead and released one round, killing him instantly.  Zechariah knew that he had just damned himself… but he didn’t care anymore.  As the crown prince’s guards began to fire, the hodraida shifted one hand into a spike thrusting it into the first guard.  The weapons they wielded against him did nothing but inspire him to kill them.  Taking quick aim, he shot a second guard in the head dropping him with one shot.

            The other three guards were a simple matter.  Zechariah threw a bolt to fry the third guard’s mind and moved around to put the spike in the fourth guard’s head.  That left only one guard, and suddenly, he was nowhere to be seen.  McNeilly quickly scanned the area, but before he could finish, he felt his feet lift off the ground and suddenly slammed against a wall.

            The guard watched, overconfident in his abilities as Zechariah screamed in pain, continuing to slam him into the wall. He tried to send pain through him, but the figure seemed immune to inner magick attacks. All the time, he smiled in glee. My prince is dead, but with his killer’s head, perhaps I can save face.

            What he didn’t notice was that every time Zechariah slammed into the wall, he reached with hands. After a while, the wall became softer and softer, finally allowing him to pass right through.

            The guard was shocked and rushed to the giant hole in the wall. As he came closer, McNeilly punched him with the spike, killing the mage instantly.

            Zechariah collapsed to the ground, catching his breath from the pain flowing from his repeated thumps against the wall. If my nanites hadn’t changed the matter of the wall so I could pass through, I… He raised his head to look at the dead bodies all around him. I’d be like them.

            His body soon repaired the minor damage and he got to his feet. Looking in disgust at their weakness, he spat at the nearby body. Only human.


            As soon as he crossed the street, the building exploded behind him, leaving nothing behind of the fight that had taken place.

            Was that absolutely necessary? his inner voice asked.

            “I thought so.”

            Damage dealt by the mage has already been repaired.  I hope you have a way to explain this to Vitek.

            “No, I’m not worried about it either.”

            You can’t just walk away from this.

            “Watch me.”  he growled back at his other self.  “And watch me kill anyone who tries to stop me.”

            And if Vitek catches you?

            “He won’t.”

            Or the Eastern Bloc?

            “Neither will they.”


            Zechariah had to find a way off Jennifer’s Star as soon as possible. A transport was due to leave in twenty minutes; McNeilly didn’t like waiting in the Lyndesty Shuttle Transport Station, but he had no choice. He didn’t care where the transport would take him.  He was finally free; no one could stop him.

Sipping on a fruit drink at the bar, he looked into the mirror and waited impatiently. It was that fact that saved his life. He was able to dive when the cloaked figure suddenly appeared; the man’s gauss rifle annihilating the seat McNeilly had just occupied.




            Alistar Dimiye thought it was just another raid. The cats have trying to cut our lines of communication ever since we started moving out of the city. They can’t have the manpower… catpower, whatever they haven’t got to keep doing it. Besides, it’s not doing any good.

            With the casualties evacuated back to Valhalla Ridge, they had a full legion and a half to counter anything that the cats would throw at them. They had been pushing forward against the enemy for the last few days. The raids had been a weak attempt to slow down the humans’ advance. Not going to work, kitties, the general smiled, I will personally pile your corpses and eat your flesh. I will drive hard into your territory, thrown down your standards from the worlds you have enslaved, and drive you insufferable race into the dust. My name will be cursed by your descendents for all time… those I let survive.

            The first sign of danger was also the last. Suddenly, a section of the plasticrete walls of the town exploded in fierce fury, and the cats rushed forward. Dust flew everywhere and the general couldn’t see what was happening. Without his power armor, he rushed out of the headquarters, changing into Crinos form towards the battle. “Plug the gap!” Alistar screamed as him and his men rushed forward.

            They were too late. The black-metallic forms of the K’Nes power armor leapt forward on all fours, blasting their way through the rushing reinforcements like grass. Dimiye bashed against the incoming cats, hacking his way crudely through them. Without his own power armor, though, he was quickly overcome by the feline creatures.

            The cats kept beating him; no matter what Alistar did, he couldn’t break out. There’s too many of them! His claws were blunted against the metallic armor of the cats. As he roared, the K’Nes finally dropped him to the ground, smashing his body into powder.

Then a roar came from somewhere above. The cats parted and Alistar managed to lift his head. In his bloodied and bruised state, he could see one of them remove his helmet and walk over to him. “Purraaaa shuuu reah.”

One of the K’Nes objected. “Praetorrrr, reah baccccch duu…”

NAE!” the leader replied; Alistar was completely cut off from the conversation. Without his power armor, there was no automatic translation. “Shuuu reah.

The cat bowed and took out a strange collar. Placing it around Dimiye’s neck, Alistar would feel himself growing even weaker. Once it was in place, they lifted him up. The pain made him black out.


            He awoke in his own headquarters, light streaming in through the window, but the collar was still firmly attached to his neck. Alistar still felt weak but he managed to lift his head to look around. Standing in the corner was a cloaked figure, every part of its body completely obscured from view. Dimiye found it very funny, managing a weak laugh. “Are you the interrogator? Are you supposed to frighten me?!”

            The figure stepped closer and then removed its hood. Underneath was standing the leader of the LI, an older blonde-haired woman. The general leaned his head back in shock. “Colonel? You betrayed us? You betrayed your own world?”

            “Colonel Freda Elliot didn’t betray you. I’m afraid she was dead when I got here. The K’Nes managed to capture and torture her to death before they withdrew.” the woman smiled. “I simply took her place. Assume the form and people will believe anything.” She leaned closer to the werewolf. “And so did you?”

            “Then… who are you?”
            She stood up and covered her face with her hands. As she rubbed hard, Alistar could see flecks of something come off her face. When she finally removed her hands, the face that greeted him drove him into shock. “STACY?!”

            “My name is Maegwin, Al.” she corrected, “but I think you know that already.”

            “But… how…”

            “Yes, I know I was reported dead. It’s amazing how easy that can be arranged. Poor Tamara, though…” Maegwin waved her hand in a careless manner. “Well, there was no way she could live. Someone had to die to provide a more believable escape. I switched my body mass with a corpse I got from the morgue. I just pushed Tamara in to the abandoned building, pulled the switch, and… poof!” The laugh that emanated from her lips was of pure glee.

            Dimiye was revolted by the notion. Knowing who she was did not prepare him for the psychopathic mess that stood before his helpless body. “You… you sacrificed an entire planet? Just to get to me?”

            Maegwin slapped him hard across the cheek. “I would give the bastards every planet in the Federation if I could get to you!” She drew back her hand and rubbed it. “Lucky for you, I only had to lose one.”

            “Don’t you know they’ll kill all of us. They hate the Federation…”

            “So? What has the Fed done for my family? Hmmm? They killed my grandmother, almost killed my aunt, and my father was left bankrupt by their silly plots. What could I possibly owe them?”

            “Then what do you want with me?”

            The woman smiled and bent down, pressing her lips against his. They caught each other in their embrace, enjoying each other’s warmth, then suddenly, Maegwin broke away. “No, no, NO!” she screamed. “Get out of my mind! AAAAGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!” She rushed against the wall and bashed herself against it. Again and again, the woman tortured herself until the pain was great enough, knocking herself to the floor.

Finally, she picked herself up off the floor, and looked back at Dimiye with murderous rage. She drew her dagger and took a step forward… then stopped. “No, my dear companion. I’ll leave him to the cats. I’ll let you watch as they tear your precious Alistar limb from limb.” Maegwin suddenly tensed up, shaking throughout her body, until it stopped again. “This is my body, bitch! NOT yours!”

            Alistar stayed silent as she put the knife away. “Goodbye, Al,” Maegwin replied, walking towards the door, “I’ll remember to send your desecrated remains to Fieras… when your body no longer has the will to survive.”

            When she left, the sound of the door closing, eerily echoed in the empty chamber, leaving the general alone in the light.




Lieutenant Jesse Horton and half of his platoon were taking their turn patrolling the perimeter of the orbital defense grid control center a mile outside of New Peoria.  The assignment was boring, the equipment was pitiful, and his men were only going through the motions. This was not what a well-trained front-line trooper deserved, Horton thought. Looking at the flat landscape around him, he wondered why they would put such an important building out in the open.  Not that it mattered right now.  The Righteous Army wasn’t coming—some Fleet engineer had crippled the fundies’ fleet—and the leeches had already been beaten back pretty soundly.  It was a widely held opinion by the TI stationed on Valkyrie that they were going to get stuck sitting on their asses for the rest of the war while everyone else saw the action… and got their promotions.  Although both of the bordering systems were unable to attack them, they were in no position to move against Phoenix and rejoin themselves with the rest of the Earth Federation.  They largest ships they had at their disposal were destroyers… and they had only a handful of those.  Most of their orbital defense consisted of corvettes and weapons satellites.

His mind on the Jurvain/K’Nes alliance and what it could mean for the lucky bastards not trapped in the middle of nowhere. Only when he looked up did he notice the corvette as it flew haphazardly through the sky.  He hadn’t seen many of them descend from orbit, and every time he did, he always checked in to ensure his duties were fulfilled.  Captain Hiller was a sucker for “teacher’s pets”, and brownie points were the only path left to him to get a promotion.

Horton bit down on his dentcom.  “Geiger, can you I.D. this corvette out here?” he asked his corporal inside the control center.

“Which one?”

It was typical for Wesley Geiger to answer all questions with a question; it drove Horton crazy. “There’s only one ship in the sky as far as I see, corporal.  Which one do you think I mean?”

“…the EFS Allegrezza?  Hold on a minute… I’ll check in with the fleet boys.”


On board the Allegrezza, Ehud was hurriedly recalibrating the targeting sensors to achieve better accuracy on ground targets.  He’d practiced doing it a few times on the Auschwitz, so he was the one given the job, while Remi had reluctantly assumed the helm. Unfortunately, he confessed that atmospheric flight had never been his strong suit.  This was confirmed when he took control and they could almost feel the ship slow down.  Meanwhile, Wade stood at tactical looking for a hole in the air defenses, with “Sammy” no more than a meter away from him.

“Okay, Remi, switch with me.” Ehud urged, having finished with the sensors.


Lieutenant Horton took a look around at the two squads that were with him; everyone looked as bored as he felt.  Whoever is piloting that corvette is doing a piss-poor job, he thought to himself.  It steadied itself a second later.  He almost wished that the corvette were a threat so that he could dive for cover and relieve his itchy trigger finger.

What’s taking Wes so long? he wondered and then moaned unconsciously.  He’s probably making them say everything twice.  It’s a good thing that no one is attacking, otherwise I’d have to depend on him to--  Suddenly, the corvette turned towards him and nosed down at a threatening angle.  I don’t like the look of this…

“Sir, that shuttle should be headed due south of—“ Horton stopped listening when he saw two distinct flashes at the front of the corvette.  He would have told his men to get down as he himself instinctively dove in vain behind a small pine, but the chemlasers hit too quickly for his words to be formed, burning off most of the left side of his body and starting a small fire a couple of meters behind his position.


            The bridge of the Allegrezza was quickly becoming a ball of flame. “What’s happening?!’ Wade screamed over the sound of exploding consoles.

            “We’re taking damage from the squads on the ground.” Remi explained at the weapons station. “I’m trying to neutralize them…”

            “You idiots!” the captured captain screamed at him. “You’re ruining my ship!”

            Kennedy ignored him. “Brother Ehud, can you land this craft?”

            “It’s going to be close.”

            “Close isn’t good enough. Abandon ship!”

            The three of them abandoned their stations and moved to the back of the burning bridge. Wade rushed over and grabbed the captain, dragging him over to the other two, already opening the correspondence portal.

            On the other side, they stepped out right next to the control center.


            The next thing that Ehud Hex knew, he was sitting up in a bed with white sheets. There were several beds in neat orderly rows throughout the room. A woman in a long dress came over to him. “Are you all right, brother?”

            “What happened? Where am I?”

            “You’re on Valkyrie, brother.”

            “Then why am I here? I should…”

            “Your troop brother picked you up after you were injured. There was a firefight… you were hit bad early on.”

            “Did we…”

            “Yes, brother, we won. The Lord’s cross has been brought here. Rest now. Your duty is done.”




            A demoralized silence hung over the bridge of the EFS Schaumburg.  The engineers and yard dogs at the consoles went about their tasks in oppressive silence, occasionally mumbling questions and orders.

            “Baishik, run a diagnostic of the tactical systems,” Captain Xinjao O’Reilly ordered, still stunned by what had happened, but trying to keep up a strong face.  “Check if targeting lost any accuracy during repairs.”

            “Oh, we already checked that, captain,” Collins called out from the propulsion console. “We ran a full test of… um… “ his voice trailed off, silenced by a harsh glare from the captain, who silently beckoned him over.

            “I want everyone doing something – no matter how trivial -- until we leave for the surface.” Xinjao hissed to Collins in a low voice.  “Understand?”

            “Uh… not really, sir,” Collins answered, puzzled.  “Why? Don’t you think the ship is —“

            “We have to keep them busy, Collins,” O’Reilly explained slowly, “so they don’t have time to think.  They can deal with the bombing of the capital later, when they’re ready… but now, we need to maintain discipline.  That’s why the display screen’s off.  I don’t want anyone seeing the damage… not from orbit.  It’s got nothing to do with how well any of you guys did the repairs… got it?” 

Collins thought about that a second, then nodded and returned to his post.  If I had known what was gonna happen, O’Reilly thought sadly, I would never have dragged them up here.  Firing on civilians is bad enough… but firing on your own citizens?  The ones you’re supposed to be defending?  I’m surprised I didn’t have a mutiny on my hands….

            The command to fire on the suburbs had been a shock… but they were sailors with orders to follow.  Captain O’Reilly had dragged his feet, taking plenty of time to precisely aim their torpedoes at troop columns before firing.  The Schaumburg had only kicked off two before the brief bombardment ended… but it was enough to wipe out any doubts that they had hit civilians.  Thank God I’ve only got torpedoes, O’Reilly swore inside, I’m not sure I could have followed orders if I had mass drivers…

            Now he had a ship full of stunned, angry sailors… a ticking time bomb.  If I can just get them down to the surface and into the bars, the captain figured, they can drink away the guilt and anger, pick fights and get in brawls… so long as there are no court-martials, they’ll be fine… eventually.

            O’Reilly hit the button to broadcast an announcement all over the ship as they approached the space dock.  Keep it short and sweet… “This is Captain O’Reilly.  I’d like to thank all of you for your fine performance during the crisis on the surface.”  Xinjao paused, trying to find the right words -- something reassuring but not sappy.  “It was a hard decision, but you chose to defend your Senate from enemy factions,” he finally said.  “That’s something to be proud of.  I don’t want to hear any doubts or regrets – you were all just following my orders, and I’m taking full responsibility for any consequences.” I might as well, I’ve already got enough blood on my hands…  “Now, as promised, we can all return to our well-deserved shore leave.  Report to shuttle bay two after docking for transport to Fleet HQ.  Good Luck.”


“Kyle, I don’t know how you did it but we got a posting!” bubbled Ensign Melinda Jestine.

“I told you Mel, stick with me and we will go places,” replied Ensign Matthew Dade, “a guy in personal owes me big.  So which ship?”

“The Schaumburg, apparently its captain put out a request for personal for almost every position on the ship.”

“Wonder why they are needing so many people?  Who cares, I am sick of waiting for a posting; tell Sloth and J.W. we have a ship!  I need to pack!”

The four SF-25 Crusaders bore in on the Schaumburg.  After clearance was given for landing the flight waggled their wings and docked with the fighter bay.

The Flight Officer greeted the first three pilots as they left their crafts.  Dear God their young, where did they get these pups, the big one doesn’t even have hair on his chin yet.  His thoughts were interrupted as the cockpit on the flight leaders Crusader came up.  

“Matthew Dade, flight commander of the Four Aces, where should we stow our gear? and where do the other pilots wet their whistles?”

“Well, son, you can follow me to your quarters, but as to the other pilots…your it.” Replied the older man.

The larger of the 4 pilots broke into a toothy grin and slapped Matthew on the back exclaiming “Hot Damn, Leaf, first assignment out of flight school and your already squadron leader!”

Fresh out of flight school! What the hell have we been given? And what the fuck is the deal with the scarves these kids are wearing…


            Xinjao O’Reilly stared off into space; unmoving, silent.  The cigarette in his hand was half ash.

            Jennifer, O’Reilly’s old fiancé from a distant ten years ago, and her husband Christian waited silently, listening.  Xinjao had called her out of the blue and invited them out for a drink, wanting to chat and catch up on old times.  It had surprised her.  Although they had parted on bad terms – she made him choose between her and the Fleet, and he chose the Fleet – that was ten years ago, and with time and a happy marriage, she had dulled the resentment she felt.  Then when they had met in the hospital, the reunion had been amicable, so… she accepted the invitation.  Of course, she knew what he really wanted… she had seen people in his condition before.  The man had been through a lot and obviously needed someone to talk to, and she was probably the only friend he could find. 

So they had met in a quiet bar, the windows boarded up after being blown out in the bombardment.  She introduced him to her husband Christian.  Xinjao had been mildly surprised.  Chris had been friendly and excited.  I think every man wants to meet a war hero personally, Jennifer wondered.  For the first hour or so, Jennifer and Xinjao had reminisced about the spacedock on St. Michael’s Star where they met, and laughed together about Smashie’s unique ability to break thing.  Then O’Reilly told them about how Smashie had saved his life in Dock 14.

            As soon as he mentioned Dock 14, the flood began.  O’Reilly started telling them everything…the whole gruesome story.  He told them about the atrocities he committed in Dock 14 and how he watched all his friends die following his orders.  He told them about the zero-G shootout and his hand being blown off.  He told them about being captured and forced to work for the Righteous Army in their repressive, judgmental society.  He told them about the resistance, sabotaging the St. Andrew, and being arrested.  He told them how his own resistance cell tried to kill him.  He told them about the fight with Calton Reks and the destruction of the Phoenix Yards.  He told them about the seventeen thousand, one hundred seventy-eight people he killed.  And he told them about the nightmares.

When O’Reilly finally finished his tale of killing and dying and fire and blood, he just lit a cigarette and looked away with that haunted, thousand-mile stare.  Christian and Jennifer were too shocked to say anything.  What could you say after something like that?  So the trio just sat in silence.

Jennifer was worried about Xinjao.  His whole personality had changed.  He used to be hardworking but carefree, a blue-collar yard dog who liked his machines and his beer.  Now he was just… grim.  Quiet.  Touchy.  His whole demeanor screamed post-traumatic stress syndrome.  She had seen the symptoms before in her medical psych classes.  It was fairly common in torture victims. 

Oh, he hadn’t said anything – just that he was interrogated.  But Jennifer was the doctor who patched him up when he returned to Avalon, and she had seen the welts, the electrical burns, the broken ribs and busted teeth, the hole burned through his eyelid…  Between that and his paying to have the most powerful pain inhibitor she’d ever seen surgically implanted, it was pretty obvious what happened.

Although in some ways he seemed like a stronger, more confident person, she could tell he was struggling with strong emotions and big questions.  He needed to talk, to sort it all out.

“So what are you going to do now?” Jen asked, “Now that you’re free and safe?”

“What am I going to do?” Xinjao asked absently, rubbing his eyes with his palms. “The only thing I can do… I head back and I fight.  I fight until they’re defeated or I’m dead.”

 “You’re going back?” Jennifer exclaimed, surprised.  Shell shock victims usually wanted to get as far away from the battlefield as possible, to forget the events ever happened. “Why on earth would you want to go back after all you’ve been through?” she asked incredulously.  “Don’t you think you’ve done your part for the Federation?”

“I have to go back.” O’Reilly said simply, as if the answer were obvious.  “I’m a soldier and we’re at war.  If I tried to leave, I’d be shot for desertion.”

“But you don’t have to fight the Righteous Army,” Jen argued, puzzled by his behavior.  “After what you’ve done, I’m sure you could get assigned to a ship yard away from the front lines.”

“Yeah,” her husband chimed in, “you could probably call in some favors.  The Fleet seems pretty impressed you with you.  Hell, I saw in the newsvids that they’re going to give you a medal for valor or something, and the Grand Ad—“ he stopped abruptly as he saw O’Reilly flinch at the mention of the medal.  It was as if he had been slapped.

“That’s fucking bullshit,” Xinjao muttered, stomping out his cigarette angrily.  “I ordered the death of thousands.  They shouldn’t reward people for shit like that.”

Jennifer watched him, puzzled.  “So it bothers you, then?  Having to kill those people?”

“Are you kidding?” O’Reilly asked, shoving another cigarette in his mouth and picking up his lighter.  “Sometimes… if I think about it too long…” he didn’t finish the thought.

“Then why go back and do it again?” Jennifer asked.  “What you did before you had to do, it was self-defense.  People understand that.  But if you attack… if you consciously choose to fight…” He’s standing on a psychological brink, she realized, he can turn back or dive in.  But if he jumps, he’ll never be the same…

“I have to, Jennifer,” Xinjao interrupted.  He had already made up his mind.

“No, you don’t,” she argued.  “You can transfer off the front line and put it all behind you.”

“I can’t do that, Jen.  I can’t forget what happened!  Too many people have died already.  Too much has been destroyed.  It has to end.  The Fundies have to be stopped!”

“Why?” Jen asked, more as a devil’s advocate than anything else.  She was beginning to comprehend the complex, confused psychology of the man before her.  He doesn’t know why all  this has happened to him, she thought, so he’s trying to bring meaning to it through his one-man crusade,

O’Reilly had to stop and think about that.  He inhaled a deep breath of smoke and slowly released it.  “Because I believe in freedom,” he finally answered.  “Freedom to say what you want, believe what you want, express yourself any way you want.  Freedom to drink beer and smoke cigarettes and read Playboy.  I know they’re just everyday freedoms, but… Jeez, we’ve got so few left,” his voice trailed off.  He took another drag.  “We’ve got so few left, we gotta protect the ones we still have...  and every system that falls to the Bible Thumpers lose those freedoms.  Everyone who doesn’t conform they punish.”

He’s trying to justify all the killing, Jen realized, he’s trying to rationalize what he’s going to do. 

“Y’know, they made our female dockworkers on Phoenix wear dresses?  No shit! Floor length dresses!” O’Reilly continued.  “Can you imagine trying to climb a scaffold and use a blowtorch it that get up?” O’Reilly shook his head.  “Leisa hated them.  I saw a lot of injuries caused by those damn things… catching on fire, getting stuck in machinery, tripping over ‘em at bad times… and really, the women engineers were lucky they were allowed to work at all.  If the Fundies didn’t need the labor so badly, they wouldn’t have.  The Holy Rollers prefer their women barefoot, pregnant, and silent in the kitchen.  That’s what I’m fighting against.  That’s why we’ve got to stop Bad Andy.”

Then again, maybe he’s got a point, Jen thought.

“But why you?” she asked. “They may need to be stopped, but you don’t have to do it.”

“No one else is going to!” O’Reilly scoffed.  “Vorheis…” his face soured.  “Vorhies thinks they’re ‘not a threat’.  No one in the Fleet’s gonna invade them,” he said with disgust.

“Really?” Christian asked, surprised.  “Why not?”

“Can’t spare the ships.  Too politically sensitive with the Fed’s churches.  Trust me, I know.  I’ve pleaded with every admiral and general I could find in the last few days.  No one will touch the idea.”  O’Reilly took another drag, letting the tobacco smoke drift around his face.  “Leisa an’ I were supposed to round up supporters for the invasion, but I’ve come up empty.  I can’t imagine she’ll do much better.  The Fed’s gonna sit on its ass and let Bad Andy build up until it’s too late to stop him.  We can’t let that happen.  There’re no good guys in this damn war, but there are a few villains… and Bad Andy’s one of them.”

He’s obsessed, Jen thought as an uneasy feeling crept over her.  People like him – filled with hatred, hell bent on a personal vendetta, rationalizing their violence – were capable of terrible things…


Jennifer looked up at sound of the voice, and saw two rather… ugly people approaching their table.  The middle-aged man was short and powerfully built, with a swarthy, dark complexion and a pock-marked face.  He wore a black beret with a golden six-pointed star over his thick, curly dark brown hair, and the khaki uniform he wore she had never seen before.  The girl was short, pale, dark, and wore and Earth Fleet Uniform over her muscular frame.  She had a small, round face with large, dark brown beady eyes and a long hawkish nose… Jennifer could help but think she looked a bit like a bird…

“O’Reilly!” the bird-woman said, obviously excited, “I got someone I want you to meet!”

“Leisa?” Xinjao asked in surprise, turning toward the pair.  “Good to see ya!  Who ya got?”

“Captain O’Reilly?” the military man asked, offering Xinjao his beefy hand.  “Scholem alekam.  I’m General Schuyler Horton, New Israeli Milita.  I believe we may have some common interests?”

            The smile dawned in O’Reilly’s eyes and spread to his lips.  “Yes…” he said, gripping the general’s hand and shaking it tightly, “I think we do.”  He quickly turned back to Jennifer and Christian. “Sorry, gotta go… business.  You know.”

            “That’s alright,” Jennifer nodded, “we need to be get home anyway.  Maybe again sometime?”

            “Oh, yeah, sure!” O’Reilly said, shrugging into his jacket. “Oh, and Jennifer… thanks.”

            “Anytime,” she said, managing a smile as she watched him leave.

            “Did you say General Horton?”  O’Reilly asked as the trio headed for the door.  The general nodded. 

Xinjao threw a questioning glance at Leisa, who merely shrugged. “I said I had some connections,” she said.


            “That poor man,” Jen said once they had left the bar.  “I can’t believe what he’s been through…”

            “I wouldn’t want to be him in a million years,” her husband agreed.  “I guess being a war hero isn’t as glamorous as they make it out to be in the history books.”

            “War isn’t glamorous,” Jen said sadly.  “It’s hell.  And O’Reilly’s turning into a demon… I’m almost scared to see what he does next.”




            "Well, that's the end of that." Admiral Vorheis flatly stated, a satisfied air creeping into her voice.  "Time to inform the Senate, then make my announcement to the press.  We have to put a careful spin on this or the outlying planetary governors could rise in revolt. Carry on."

            The grand fleet admiral strode off the flag bridge and Erich watched her go.  Damn you for making me do this, he thought at her back, damn you to hell.  Von Shrakenberg turned to Terry Carter, speaking in a low tone.  "Terry, download the bridge monitor recording of the last hour or so.  Put it on a datachip for me, would you?"

            The captain looked at him with a puzzled expression.  "Why?" he asked at first, then it dawned on him.  "You're worried about the bombardment."

            "Exactly.  If the people demand a scapegoat for the damage done, I don't want it all to land on me."

            "I gotcha." Terry replied, turning to his console for a moment.  When he turned around, he handed Erich a small data crystal.  "Here ya go."

            "Make another copy for yourself and keep it in a safe place." Von Shrakenberg replied and walked off the bridge. 

            "Politics can sure be annoying." Terry mumbled under his breath, going through the process again.  


            Kristen Vorheis had changed from her standard uniform into the gold-trimmed dress uniform for the press transmission.  She would be broadcasting from one of the briefing rooms in the "Flag Country" section on Deck 17.  Ares-class Star Control ships had extensive facilities for fleet commanders, including several admirals' briefing rooms, with a complete Tri-D studio on board. A crew of enlisted personnel was setting up the camera rig in the briefing room when Erich strolled in. 

            "Admiral?” Von Shrakenberg walked over to Kristen, still prepping for the transmission.


“Ma’am, I have good news. The fleet has managed to turn back the Jurvain assault at New Paris."

            "Oh." Vorheis replied absent-mindedly.  She was using the viewscreen on the wall of the room as a makeshift mirror, giving her hair a final smooth-over. "Well… good for them."

            "Yes," Erich continued.  "Commodore Smythe… I mean, Rear Admiral Smythe, apparently used some innovative new fighter tactics to pull a rather neat ambush of their fleet.  The enemy were forced to withdraw with heavy losses to their warships, although their invasion transports escaped unharmed. Unfortunately, most of the fleet under Shoemaker’s command had been destroyed in the process. They were barely able to provide a picket for the system before returning to repair." Had that bitch let me lead the fleet, he thought, we would still have most of those ships!

            "Well, at least Smythe didn't blow up any jumpgates in the process." Kristen replied, finishing her hair. As she turned towards him, her red eyes stared at him with intent.  "I’m serious, admiral.  You can't go around blowing up jumpgates every time you enter a system.  We need those for inter-system trade.  It's that trade that holds this Federation together.  If the trade disappears, so does the Federation, no matter what you and I might do to hold it together.  Do I make myself clear?"

            "Yes, ma’am." Erich replied calmly. 

            "Good." she answered, stepping towards the podium. Vorheis stopped in mid-step, then turned back to Von Shrakenberg. “You may never understand what I’m doing here, admiral, but I ask you to have faith. This speech will determine the fate of our country. I always knew that the New Paris situation would be resolved, but this is important to me. The government must be established or we all suffer. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Yes, I understand. I understand that you’re finally getting what you wanted. Little things like this war have lesser significance.

She finally took her place at the podium.  "Now I must make my speech.  Get another update from New Paris, and when I am finished, we’ll decide which ships need to be transferred to recover our systems’ defenses."

            "By your leave." Erich saluted smartly, then left the room. 


            Kristen Vorheis looked squarely into the cameras; her image was broadcast across the Earth Federation on all channels of the Galactic Net.  "Fellow citizens, I am Grand Fleet Admiral Kristen Vorheis, Commander-in-Chief of Earth Fleet.  I come before you today with grave news.  There has been an attempted military coup on Avalon, staged by elements of the Tech Infantry with help from the remnants of rebel forces stranded on the capital after our recent battle.  While it’s still not entirely clear exactly how many units and officers took part in the coup, I can say with certainty that it has been thwarted by loyal elements of the Tech Infantry as well as the Home Fleet.”

            After a deep breath she continued. "With the government secured, and the peace established, we can continue our necessary task of reuniting the Federation. The Senate, meeting aboard an Star Control Ship in orbit, has selected a new Grand Council to lead our government. Its chairman is a figure beyond reproach, a warrior who has, time and again, shed his own blood in the defense of the Federation.  A soldier and politician, a man whom all of us respect greatly.  I am pleased to present a man whom many thought was dead, but whom I am very glad to say is very much alive.  I give you… Chairman Arthur Clarke."

            An unsmiling Arthur Clarke entered the camera's field of view and took Vorheis' place at the podium.  "Citizens of the Federation, I greet you as your new leader.  Understand that I do not take the this position easily or lightly. We are in a time of great civil strife, both from outside and within. What is necessary is a strong arm to crush those who oppose us, who would seek to destroy our most sacred institution, and bring peace, law, and order back to the galaxy. These are the true rights of every citizen, to live without fear, and any government elected by the people must establish that before all other concerns.”

“This war must be fought. To that end, we will use all our natural resources, including our mineral wealth, the production might of our united planets, and indeed, our strongest resource, our very lives. When we have expended our mighty arm, the nations that oppose us will wither, and we shall prevail.”

Clarke looked down at the podium for a second, then looked back at the cameras.  “This I swear to you this day. Long live the Earth Federation!”


            Two levels up, Erich Von Shrakenberg watched these events from his ready room.  I never should have doubted you, Admiral Vorheis.  Clarke is just what we need, I should have known he wasn’t dead, but where did she find him?  He pushed aside his questions and turned off the display,  going back over the reports on ammunition expenditure and damage assessment. The sound of his door opening made him look up. 

            "Hello, admiral," Kristen Vorheis began.  She was still in her fancy dress uniform, but her collar was open, revealing just a hint of the milky-white skin at the top of her cleavage.  "I hope I’m not disturbing you."

            "Not at all, ma’am. Just going over some paperwork."

            "Good." she said, looking off into space for a moment.  "The victory party has started. And I don't have a date.  Care to join me?"

            “Excuse me, ma’am?” Von Shrakenberg was taken aback.

            “It’s taken us this long to finally get things in order. I think we have a cause to celebrate.”

“With all due respect, the rapidly deteriorating state of our ships…”

“Erich, we’ve gone through a lot in this war together, a lot of things I regret. But the thing I regret most is not enjoying life when we get the chance. The only problem is,” she sat on his table, “when you finally get the rank you deserve, you stop having friends, and gain political allies instead. I guess it’s the price you pay for command.”

“I think we all pay that price, ma…”

“Kristen.” she corrected. “My name is Kristen.”

“Yes… Kristen.”

“Thank you. And I know, most of the time, I’m willing to accept that price. But for one night,” Vorheis touched his hand, “Erich, I want to be a normal woman again. All I ask is that you join me.”

            Well, she does look good in a uniform, Erich thought. What the hell, it can't hurt my career.  And if she's seen in public alongside me, she probably won't hang me out to dry over that bombardment.   "Admiral, I would be honored." he replied and stood up.  He offered her his arm, and together they strolled down to the mess deck for the party.  This time, though, Erich reminded himself, I'm gonna go light on the booze.




Condition Analysis:  Third degree burns over 15% of outer surface area.  Second degree burns over 75% of area.  Approximately 15% of total muscle mass inoperable due to burns.  All vital organ processes normal.  Biological energy reserves down to 5% of normal.

Damien processed the information, lying on top of a pile of other bodies and assorted hardware that the scavengers had not yet processed in.  The room was dark, with no ambient light, although he had detected the sound of rats running through the room.  Cutting his only hand on a scrap of metal, the machine continued processing the report while remaining as still as possible.

Left eye fused to eyelid.  Right eye functional.  All major bleeding has been stopped.  Debugging programs report major errors.  System is unstable.  Massive electrical damage in ICs under repair by nanites.  Approximate repair time: 5 Days.  Insufficient material to regenerate right arm.  Typical Right Arm Regeneration time: 55 days.  Compress left hand.

The machine tightened the muscles of its hand, catching the rat inside.  Squeezing tightly it killed the animal, then brought it to its lips and ate.

Stomach prepping for consumption of unprocessed food.  Additional food allowing another 15 hours of life functions.  Right leg unresponsive below knee.  In need of amputation…

The machine stopped eating the remaining bits of the rat as the lights turned on.  Lying perfectly still, the machine listened, cautious of the men.

“So, Hass, you tell me you picked up a few new highly advanced weapons?”

“That’s right.  Oh, ah, don’t mind the bodies, we’re gonna clean them up later.”

“Certainly.”  The mystery man said, walking closer to the pile.

“Hey Moe!  Get your ass in here.”

Auditory input suggests presence of a third creature. 

“These weapons…  are any of them laser carbines?  With a smart gun link?”

“Well, uh, let’s see, here’s the H-90s I called you down here for, but, I thought I did see a laser carbine… yeah, right here.  And yeah, there’s the smartgun link.”

“How much for it?”

“Well, you have been a regular customer… 500 credits.”

“You didn’t even know what it was.”  The man’s voice got deeper.  “It’s dry.  No power.”


“150”  The mysterious man countered, his voice then changed drastically. “NO.  It is for sale for 50 credits.”

Anti-Magic Sensors indicate the presence of a strong mage.

“It is for sale for 50 credits.”  Hass repeated.  “It is for sale for 50 credits.”

“Good.  Now, Hass, I’m very interested in your products now, that rifle shows me that you may have what I am looking for.”  He focused onto Damien, seeing bits of exposed subdermal armor through burnt flesh and the fresh blood on the dead corpse’s lips.

“Moe, I suppose you wouldn’t mind showing me that corpse up there…” he felt no need to point, he instead placed the image straight into Moe’s mind.  “… I’m not sure I could pick it up.”

“Yeah… sure, Doctor Shiro.”

Cross referencing Doctor Shiro:  Mastermind and head researcher for the Nimrod and Nexus projects at InSec Elysian Fields Research Center.  Strong magical engineer abilities, although nearly removed from project six times for mental instabilities.  Confirmed dead by XES 2 shortly before the destruction of Elysian Fields Research Center.  Error in records.  Dr. Shiro and all accomplices pose maximum danger.

Moe grabbed the machine, and it suddenly came to life.  The nearly skinless monster grabbed onto the man’s neck it lifted him off the ground, watching Hass quickly raise the H-90 in his hands.  As it saw his fingers pull the trigger Damien swiveled Moe in front of him, the plasma bolt bursting Moe’s abdomen into a bloody shower all over the machine.  Its shield gone, and unable to charge with no weapon and one functional leg, the machine threw itself behind a supporting beam.  Looking back with its one eye, the machine no longer saw any of the men.

“Damien.”  Doctor Shiro said, although the Damien could not locate him anywhere.  The room seamed inconsistent with past readings.

Neurons are under influence of magic.  Too few electrical sensors online to function without neural input.  Shutting down non-vital organs.  Cutting brain blood flow to unconscious levels to restrict interrogation. 

            As Damien again went black, he felt the doctor address him again, “I wrote you, you can not hurt me. Resistance is futile.”


Richter reawoke inside a growth tube, the tube’s nanotech repairing the fresh surgery wounds.  His skin was nearly all back, and there were no shortages of material in the special embryonic fluid.  Checking his internal clock, he found nearly a week had passed.  In place of his amputated leg and right arm flesh was growing onto new hydraulics, exactly the same as from the upgrade files he had downloaded from Elysian Fields before it’s destruction.  Realizing he couldn’t move, his eyes located Doctor Shiro sitting next to a computer console.  The room was filled with artifacts they had used, along with many that had only existed in his upgrade files.

“Thank you, Damien, you stored the exact files in your memory that I needed to repair you and continue my research on Project Nexus.  Don’t bother trying to move, I’ve already gained complete control.”  The doctor typed into a datapad, holding it up for Damien to see.  “Beautiful isn’t she, Damien?  Leviathan will accomplish your mission.  She stole a civilian vessel, loaded it up with hostages and in a purposefully public scene flew right into rebel space before anyone could get authorization to stop her.  How I miss her.”

Suddenly the doctor’s mood changed from sad to happy, his instability apparent.  “It’s good to have one of my creations back under my control, free from InSec.  I forgive you and your kind for trying to kill me, XES 3.  You didn’t have enough of Leviathan in you to recognize your true good.”  The doctor regained his composure, walking back towards the computer terminal.  “I’m enlarging your nanite factory, and after you’ve completely regenerated you will have full hydraulics in all your limbs.  A great thought hit me, since we never completely finished the field test, we might as well get paid in the process.  Have you seen the cost of mercenaries during the war?

Unable to move, Damien powered down to concentrate on healing himself.  As the mind slept, the machine in him kept recording the doctor’s hours of rantings. 

“…damn Gergenstein for taking you away from me.  You were the only thing perfect…”

Near the door, a custom H-90 smartgun sat on a recharger, waiting for Damien to rise and kill.




            Gergenstein had convinced him; of course, Victor MacManus didn’t have much of a choice. Trapped in a shuttle bound for Wilke’s Star, he patiently listened to Herbert’s plan. It was bold, risky, and full of potential. It’ll never work, MacManus thought, but the way things are going in this universe, it’s better than nothing. “All right, Herb, I’m back in. I’m not sure how I’ll convince the rest…”

            “You’ll find a way.” the commandant assured him.

            Victor gave him a cold stare. “I’m not sure. I got a lot of them in line because they didn’t particularly like you. With Wall, it was a good combination, and a chance for them to get promoted. Now…”

            “Now they’re just as trapped as the rest of us. If they reveal themselves, they’re dead. If they try to go on their own, just as dead.”

            “They could be free agents, hiring themselves out to other governments.” MacManus paused and smiled. “Much like us.”

            Herbert was not amused. “Then we cut off their mainframe access, seize their bank accounts, wipe their false identities… don’t you remember anything from your training?”

            “I’m just letting you know the possible…”

            “I know the possibilities.” Gergenstein shot back. “Quit talking to me like I’m some first-year trainee. I was working inside Earth Fleet for years, sweating to get their top secret information out. I’ve paid my dues.”

            “I know, commandant. No one was questioning your qualifications.”

            Herbert snorted out a laugh and walked over to the pilot’s door. Entering into the cockpit, he was barraged by the swirls of orange and black staring out at him through the windows. Andrea Treschi was asleep and the dark-skinned Cornelius was diligently monitoring the controls. Gergenstein quickly noticed the golden earring hanging from the werewolf’s ear. A skull over sixteen bones; he had seen quite a lot of combat, most likely during the 2nd Civil War.

            The commandant carefully made his way over to the pilot, who gave no impression that he hadn’t even entered. Whispering close to his ear, Herbert asked. “How long till we reach Wilke’s Star?”

            Cornelius touched a button and a holoproj lit on the window. “Another half-hour. Approach?”

            “I’ll leave that up to the colonel.” Gergenstein looked over at Treschi. “Well?” The former smuggler didn’t move. “Colonel, I know you’re awake. Do me the courtesy of speaking.”

            Andrea only moved his lips. “Use the commercial SAC for now. If challenged, use my name.” Treschi smiled as his eyes opened. “I think I’m still on the guest list.”

            “That’s your plan?” Herbert wasn’t impressed.

            “Simple plans are the best, commandant.”

            “I’m putting a lot of faith in your abilities, Treschi. This had better work.”

            “I’m doing the same. Victor’s not the only one disposable once you get reestablished.”

            Gergenstein smiled. “You’ll make a good addition to my team.”

            “If I live long enough.”

            “If you live long enough.” Herbert agreed, then walked back to the rear of the shuttle.

            Once the door closed behind the commandant, Andrea sat up and looked over at Cornelius. “Do you still have the alternate SAC’s?” The werewolf pointed to the little row of different circuit boards beside him. “Good. If we registered under the current one in Babylon, they’re going to know that we left Avalon in Wilke’s Star. Change it to another commercial one. Do we have a registry from one of the Resistance territories?”

            Cornelius pulled one out. “Elysia.” Switching the ship authorization codes manually, the werewolf turned back to his employer. “We still need to change the log.”

            “Let me handle that.” Treschi gave a faint grin while raising his hand palm down. “Our signal to system traffic control goes to the net relay. It gets an added carrier wave,” his other hand touched its partner, “which I use to crack into the intersystem traffic database. Change our records to be a allied transport heading towards Wilke’s Star. Easy.”

            “You’re not a hacker.”

            “No,” Treschi pulled out a modified cybermodem and smiled, “and I don’t have to be. One of the devices Stewart made for me. I wasn’t always a colonel.”

            Cornelius was not impressed and turned back to his piloting. Andrea didn’t mind the silence and used it to concentrate on the adjustments he had to make with the program. Fox could do it for me, he thought, but no. I still need to do some things myself.


            The trip down had been uneventful. Now, with the rest of his entourage safely in the so-called Grand Hotel, Treschi made his way to meet his contact. At the 22nd Street Bar (imaginative name, he thought), in the middle of the night, he found him. Even disguised as he was, his contact seemed out of place there, perched on the stool.

            Andrea took the seat next to him. “Akkad?”

            “Call me Jason.” the vampire corrected, his pale skin making a sharp contrast to Treschi’s own.

            “Very well. Have you made the contact I asked for?”
            “Let’s understand each other, M. Treschi.” Jason Monk replied. “I didn’t say anything to Leonardo when you made your move. You even trusted Ricardo here,” the vampire pointed to the bartender, pretending not to hear him, “to help you. Well, he moved up to fifth circle, but what have I gotten in return?”

            “Control of the first circle.”

            “The first circle?” Monk scoffed. “I’m told to drop everything I’m doing and rush to Wilke’s Star, I’ve been dodging Black Hand for the past three days, and for what? A contact in the rebel government? Cornelius is working for you directly and Leonardo is dead.” The vampire dipped his fingers in his drink and then raised them to his lips. “You were right, my sire had lost sight of the needs of our organization, but you have left me with nothing.

            “What do you want, Jason?”

            “My commercial interests have run at a loss thanks to the war. They need an influx of capital to continue operation. Say six million credits?”

            Andrea wasn’t amused. “You must be joking.”

            “Do you see me laughing, M. Treschi?”

            “You’re mad.”

            “Perhaps, but I know you have it.” Jason pretended to take a sip of his drink. “And you’re going to give it to me.”

            “Oh really?” Andrea’s eyebrows raised. “And why should I?”

            “Because if you don’t, I become the new Jackal.”

            “You are mad.” the mage replied, reaching for the stake hidden in his jacket.

            “Do you think anyone in the organization will miss your passing? You have not had our best interests at heart, you sacrificed two members, and you have only used us. I think that the members would welcome a change.”

            “Are you sure you want to challenge me?”

            “I don’t want to challenge you, Treschi.” Monk answered, “I just want my cut of the profits. I’ll take them… or your life. Your choice.”

            Andrea smiled as Cornelius came through the door, hands stuffed in his jackets, plasma revolvers bulging slightly from the pockets. “I think I’ll take your life instead.”

As Treschi made his move, Jason was faster. One hand flew up and grasped his neck; the other aimed right at his chest with sharpened fingernails. “Try anything and my hand flies on its own. I stand to benefit more from your life than your death. I don’t want control of the Jackals, I just want what’s coming to me.”

Andrea’s eyes pleaded at Cornelius, who ignored him as he took a seat, staring right at the two of them. Monk noticed the look and smiled. “Cornelius brought you into the organization, M. Treschi, but whose circle did you think he was a part of? He’s been working for me for a lot longer than he has you. And, of course,” the figure next to the vampire suddenly turned towards him, “Charlie is a constant companion. Ricardo might be able to help you, but not before Cornelius burns a hole in his head.”

Why didn’t I see this coming? Treschi thought, hoping talk with give him enough time to find a way out. “Why don’t you kill me then?”

“I just want your money. Then we return to business.”

“As usual?”

“More or less.”

Andrea reached over slowly and grabbed a napkin. With a pen, he wrote down a couple numbers. “The United Swiss Bank, account number and password. The six million’s there.”

Monk released him and pulled out an envelope. “You have an appointment with Joel Fabin, a member of the Emergency Council, tomorrow at 8 am. Here are the documents to get you in. He was the right-hand man of Fargus, but after the fiasco at Avalon, his power has diminished. Make him an offer and he may be desperate enough to take it.” Jason stood up, taking the account number; Charlie followed suit. “Nice doing business with you… Jackal.”




The elder vampire bared his fangs and pointed to the thirteen others of his kind. "Now my brothers, let us harvest this soul."

The thirteen vampires struck with lightning speed; each attacking in a different style.  Xavier barely got his sword up to block their first attack.  His counter move was much too slow; the first vampire easily ducked under the swing and brought his fist to meet Xavier's chest.  His punch threw Pollos hard into the nearby wall. Blood began to run down Pollos’ chin as he picked himself up.  "Why are you so slow?" he asked himself.

By the time he got to his feet, the vampires had encircled Xavier, and there was no way to escape.  He had no choice; he had to fight them off, all fourteen of them.  Once again, he brought up his sword in readiness.  "Kuar, I need you.  I need you to help me." 

The next vampire came with even faster speed, his fingernails turning into huge claws, ones that would tear through flesh with ease.  At that point, Pollos understood; he was fighting for his life. Xavier could barely keep up with him.  The vampire attacked, but they were so obvious that the assassin felt like he was just toying with him.  From the pain the vampire inflicted on him, he could feel every bone in his body about to break.  The vampire leapt at him, Xavier blocked with his sword, countering with a wide swing… but the vampire easily dodged. 

"Speed up, Kuar, it’s time for you speed up."  The vampire smacked him a right hook. "Speed up now!  I command you!"  With lightning speed, Kuar moved toward the vampire, cutting its arm clean off of his body.  The leech took a look down at his arm, his blood quickly sealing, and took a step back into the awaiting vampires. 

Then three of them stepped forward, showing their fangs; Pollos prepared himself for them.  They wasted no time, and soon, Xavier’s speed was the only thing keeping him alive. Then he had a plan.  "Kuar, hit my target with piercing precision… kill my foes."  Then with a quick twist of his wrist, his sword began to sing as it was thrown toward its prey.  The three vampires forward easily dodged the sword, but the others standing behind were not prepared, and one of them became its target, sliding in right between his eyes, splicing his head into two.

Kuar imbedded itself in the wall behind all of them.  Xavier quickly cleared his mind, willed himself, and suddenly appeared holding the sword’s grip.  Pollos wasted no time.  Spinning Kuar in a fast motion around his body, he began to project an aura.  The barely perceptible glow drove the leeches mad.  Two of them attacked another of their own kind, ripping the limbs off his body.  Three others leaped on another helpless vampire. Another tried to attack Santino, but the elder vampire saw it coming. With his bare arm, he slammed it into chest, cracking its ribs, then ripping off its head from its body. When the effect ended, only six of them were left, not counting Santino. The six madly rushed towards Xavier and the assassin braced himself.  Each time he would block one, another would smash into him. After several frenzied seconds, Pollos couldn't keep up with the pace.  Slowly, he began to accept his inevitable fate.

Then something strange crawled through Pollos’ nerves.  Kuar began to speak.  Not in the language of mortal men, or any other language one may speak through lips; rather, it was more of a feeling, like the sword was telling Luos where and when the next strike was going to happen.  They constantly told each other what to do; taking over the assassin’s thoughts.  All Xavier could do was just watch his body slowly dispatch the vampires one by one. Soon, only Gabriel and Santino were left.

Gabriel quickly looked at Santino and then over at the triumphant Xavier, "There is no way that I’m going to die for you." Daphonston said, then began to run out of the small room of treasures.  When he reached the doorway, Xavier threw Kuar, striking the wall next to him. The vampire stopped and looked over at the sword. Smiling, he grasped the hilt of the sword, and tried to pull it out of the wall.  As he did, a jolt of energy flew threw his body, frying him where he stood, finally throwing his charred carcass across the room.

"I guess I have to take care of this myself." Santino whispered, making a quick motion with his hand.  Air began to flow through the room like a tunnel, Xavier’s vision began to fade, and all the candles in the room blew out.  When his eyes shifted to the sudden change in lighting, he noticed a glow coming from Santino’s eyes. Pollos was drawn to its light and stared back at them. He could hear words being mumbled, sounding like a chant, but it all became a blurr to him.

Santino smiled. "Now, mortal... prepare yourself to die."  With a large stride, the vampire made a swing at Xavier's head.  The assassin easily dodged the attack… or so he thought.  Then a huge cut appeared across his cheek, blood spilling everywhere; Pollos couldn't understand it.  He watched Santino's movements; he didn't even touch him.  Santino must have been faster than my eye could see, he realized. Suddenly, Xavier looked down at his chest, saw that his stomach was sliced open.  Pain came in a rush to the assassin’s body. He fell to the ground, flopping to his knees in a pool of blood.  Blood began to flood into his eyes, turning them into a crimson tint.

The elder vampire stepped closer to hear the mortal’s cries of pain. "Tell me, M. Pollos, did you really think you had a chance?  Against me?” Santino laughed in pure delight. “Please. I have faced many assassins and many swords. Fire, flood, peril, and pain… I have known them all. And now, so will you." 

Spiting the drying blood out of his mouth, the assassin managed, "What are you talking about? I am still here."

"You haven’t figured it out yet, have you?  I have forced you to waste your energy."

"What the fuck… I just killed all your men."

"They had to die, that’s why I brought them. I couldn’t face you as you were. Despite what I might think of your ability, your weapon is rather potent."

"You’re going to suffer the same fate… by my hand."  Xavier then could feel the power coming back to his body; all the talk had given his nanosurgens enough time to heal us his chest wound.  Kuar was giving him the energy to fight.

Santino stepped back, feeling the power growing in him. He looked back at the sword imbedded in the wall. “Oh, we’re still trying to win? Can’t have that.” The elder lifted his finger to his head and pointed at the weakened assassin.

Suddenly, Pollos felt his blood begin to boil; the pain was excruciating. As he felt his life blood begin to slip away, dizziness overcame him, and he went unconscious.


He awoke in darkness.  "Where am I?"

No response came at first, but Xavier could feel someone walking in the shadows. Pollos knew he was on some sort of table, but nothing else could be seen. “Who are you?”

The steps came closer and Pollos could feel fear wash over him like a wave. “Who are you?!”

We found him after much searching, deep in the Earth, and bade us go, saying that…


The man’s voice crept over his skin like a disease. The sweet honey words equally frightened and soothed him as he lay helpless on the table. “Know who you are, first, and be true to your self. You are my children, all, but I would sooner shatter you like flawed pottery than have your weakness be that you are but a flawed copy out of my mold.

The fear had finally claimed him and he was frozen there as the figure finally hovered over him. Pollos could smell the perfume mixed with the rotten decay. “I remember those words, they were spoken to me by my sire, long before time was time.” The creature came closer; the hem of his garments caressing the assassin’s body. “Before the Children of Seth were allowed to run free, wild and breeding like insects, infesting the worlds they touched.

“Who…” managed to escape Xavier’s lips.

I have sought you from afar, young Mark. I have taken great pains to bring you here. You could not hide from me forever.



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