CAUTION, WIT, & DISCRETION – Act I
“Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum ipsi tibi.
If you wish me to weep, you yourself must first feel grief.”
-- Horace, Ars Poetica, v. 102.
"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."
Xavier lifted up his body to look at the figure standing in front of him. "Who are you?"
"I am known by many names." Then the figure walked out of the dark shadow revealing his face.
Every muscle in Pollos' body suddenly tensed up. "Mordred?" he asked with a hint of fear.
"There are some who call me that."
"What do you want with me?" Xavier tried to play dumb, but he knew that the ancient vampire knew that the assassin had killed his childer.
"I think you know." With a slight glee in his eye, "the same thing everyone else wants from you… your sword. Only you possess the power to wield it, with the uncanny power that it possesses."
"What do you mean? If you’ve got so much power, what the fuck do you need me for?"
"Yes, I do have power and men, but I fight a different war than yours. With all you mortals killing each other, it makes it easier for me to strike, but before I can… someone with enough power will need to take the object I require."
"Are you making a proposal?" Xavier reached into his pocket of the jacket he was wearing, grabbing the only cigarette undamaged.
"Don’t misunderstand, this is not a proposal. I am not asking you to get it, I am telling you to get it. I didn't forget about what you did to my darling Elizabeth, but you are too important to kill now, unless you attempt to resist. Take care of this and we will call it even. My revenge dies when the item is safely in my hands."
Xavier takes a large puff of the cigarette. "Okay, so what’s this 'special' item you want?"
"Something very rare. So valuable your precise TI keeps it guarded at all times, with the highest security available. One might actually think they didn’t want me to get my hands on it."
"What makes you think that I will be able to get it? What stops them from killing me?"
"Nothing. However, that’s a risk I’m willing… or more specifically, you’re going to have to take. I believe your sword will get you through... it is stronger than you think."
He has no idea how far I have developed Kuar. Still, I don't understand what he means… it’ll get me through? I’m the one who has to go through the whole thing, not Kuar… "All right, I guess I’ll help you.”
“You never really had a choice. I have treated you as a equal out of respect. Please do me the same courtesy.”
“Fine. But before I go out, I am going to need some time to heal."
"We have all the time in the world." Mordred nodded and stood up, walking away. As he passed into the shadows, his voice lingered. "I am curious. How far have you developed the sword?"
"The seventh level… as far as I know. Nothing else has happened for a while."
"Let's see how strong you really are… rest, for now."
Xavier finally woke up from his short slumber. It looks like those nano's are doing their job. I feel like I could take on the world. Then Pollos made Kuar appear and looked at it. All along, you have been telling me what to do. It was you who led me here. You have brought me here for a reason haven't you? Right then, someone walked in. "It is time, come with me."
The man led Xavier into a large room of the castle. The air in the room was dry. From what Xavier knew from history, this room was a knight’s training ground; many duels passed in this room.
As he walked into the center of the room, five vampires also stepped in. "Now show me your powers."
The vampires jumped down at Xavier. He quickly maneuvered himself out of the way. Then with a quick motion, he disappeared from sight. I need to figure out what the fuck is he doing with me? Why is he just toying around? What does he really want with me? Xavier moved his attack onto a weaker vampire, knowing his best chance to even the odds was to take some of them out. At first, the vampire was too quick for him to hit. Then… Kuar, speed up! With lightning speed, Kuar was brought up through the vampire's right arm, slicing it into two. Then looking left, Xavier felt something smash into his side. Throwing his balance off, Xavier fell to the ground. Before he could make it to his feet, something had picked him up and slung him into a near by pillar.
With a swift swing of Kuar, the pillar came crashing down onto the vampire in front of him. Now the third vampire was something else. During the battle, Kuar was barely in time to stop one attack
while the next attack was already in progress, always keeping him at the defensive. Waiting for
the right moment to strike forward at his adversary, he finally saw it, and Xavier let a small mystic aura come off the sword. Soon the vampire thought he was Pollos's ally, turning his back on him. It gave Xavier all the time he needed, landing Kuar in the lower kidney area, and the in the upper neck area. The last two leaches went after him together, again overpowering the young fighter, until Kuar and Luos talked to each other. It didn’t really made sense to the assassin, but he knew that they were talking to each other.
Then something happened. With a majestic look at the vampire in front of him, the vampire suddenly lost control of his own arm. After a little of struggle, his right arm smashed into his upper chest cavity, smashing almost all his ribs in the process.
The last vampire looked up then back down at Xavier. "Well done, it seems you have learned a lot… and not all of it from your blade.”
"I’ve learned a few tricks here and there."
The man was unimpressed. "It is time for you to go. A new transport is waiting for you outside."
"Where am I going?"
“New Tokyo, the Fuji Depository. It was built for only one purpose… but you’ll discover that soon enough.”
“Tell me something,” the uniformed major asked the beautiful woman across the table, “do you always make your killings personal?”
Veolin gave him a wry smile as the two of them sat there in the restaurant, waiting for their victim to walk through the door. “He’s not to be killed. This is just a warning.”
“You’re avoiding the question, my dear.”
“No, I’m not.” the were-cobra took another sip of her drink. “I’m just correcting your mistake.”
“Ah, always the perfectionist. If I may ask…”
“You may not.”
The major sighed. “Life is never boring on Wilke’s Star, especially with you on it, so this extra mystery isn’t really necessary. You’ll know I’ll find out sooner or later.”
“Then I’d prefer it to be later. By then, I’ll be out of reach of your grab bag of generals.”
“You have an interesting way of describing the Emergency Council.”
“I say things as I see them. You traded Auntie Sarah for a handful of Sarahs. I really don’t see the improvement.”
“No,” the major took a bite of his tender veal, “an assassin like yourself wouldn’t.”
“And what are you? You’re nothing but Fabin’s hired killer.” Veolin shot back.
“Killing is just my hobby. I’m actually more concerned with the fiscal health of the new Federation.”
“But you just happen to do a lot of… hobbying?”
“Finance is often facilitated by changes in the political situation.”
“Now you’re avoiding the question.”
“No,” the major smiled, “just correcting your mistake.”
The restaurant door opened, Veolin opened her makeup case and saw Jason Monk reflected in the mirror. She quickly closed it again. “It’s time.”
The major was already standing up. “Thank you, I can see that.”
Monk turned his head and saw the officer stare right at him; by then, it was too late. The major threw out his hands and two giant lightning bolts flew from his fingertips. The vampire was soon caught by the massive current as other patrons dived for the floor. Just before his body was about to catch on fire, the mage withdrew his hands, and the charred Jason dropped to the lavish carpet.
The major, unashamed, walked towards the door and looked at his work. Monk still writhed in pain as the vampire struggled to maintain consciousness. His attacker smiled as he hovered over him. “A message from the Jackal. You have proven your power; now he has proven his. He can get to you at any time. Remember that.”
No one bothered to stop the mage as he left the restaurant; The vampire’s blood quickly healed him and he soon disappeared out the door. As the patrons stood back up and finished their meal, no one noticed where the mage’s companion went, leaving the building during the chaos.
Andrea Treschi sat at the diner, watching the news on the vidscreen. I don’t believe it. Arthur Clarke is now Grand Council Chairman. This changes everything. Normally it would be nice to work with him again, but since he still blames me for the death of his son, so I doubt he’ll take me back as leader of the Raptors. At least, not without a major bargaining chip… now, what could I offer that furball?
“More coffee, hon?” the bucktoothed waitress asked him, her hair frazzled after a long shift.
Is this another InSec agent? I wouldn’t be surprised… I don’t suspect that Gergenstein will trust me too far without keeping some eyes on me. Treschi didn’t bother scanning her; there was no point. Unlike before, he wasn’t meeting anyone here, so she wouldn’t be able to overhear anything. Besides, my mental defenses are up, she won’t be able to intercept my thoughts. “No thanks. I’ll just take the check.”
“Just a sec.” she said before disappearing behind the counter. Andrea looked over at the headquarters building across the street. I could offer him InSec, get a chance to reinstate the organization, but… nah, his new government is still unstable. They wouldn’t accept InSec back, not after such bad press, even if Clarke wanted them back at all. Too many questions unanswered. There has to be something else I can do. Something else I can…
“Here ya go, hon.” the waitress said, plopping down the check in front of him.
Treschi took a cursory look at it, then back to the woman. “You overcharged me.”
“Unh-uh. That’s the price.”
“Ridiculous. A cup of coffee doesn’t cost two credits.”
“Does now, hon. Fed credit ain’t worth the electrons it’s printed on. Whole universe is going to hell with all these alien invasions. Now unless you’ve got some Bloc yuans…”
“Never mind.” Andrea thumbed his credit chit for two credits and ran it through the scanner. As he did, the connection was electric in his brain. “Yeah, the whole universe is going to hell.”
“At least you got your coffee.” she smiled before walking away again. Treschi stood up and put on his raincoat. I know what Clarke wants… and I’m in the perfect position to give it to him.
“Do you have an appointment?” the buxom secretary asked Andrea, batting her eyelashes at him.
The former smuggler pulled out his papers and handed them to her. “General Fabin is expecting me.”
She took a cursory look at the documents and thumbed the vidcom. “Your majesty?” Treschi couldn’t hear the response; the secretary wore a concealed earpiece. “Yes, sire… yes. Very well.” She looked back up at him. “His Highness will see you now.”
Treschi nodded, took the documents back, and walked in the door. The entire office was a shrine to Scottish paraphernalia. Bagpipes, claymores, tartans everywhere, and a giant flag bearing the St. Andrew’s cross draped dramatically behind Joel Fabin himself. The smiling Scot was sitting there, beaming a strange smile at him, while some major he’d never seen before was sitting beside him. “Ah, Major Treschi, take a seat.”
“Thank you, sir.” Andrea nodded and took the chair offered.
“Now, major… or do ya prefer colonel?”
“Whichever you prefer, sir.”
“Whad’dya think, Chuck?” Joel asked the major beside him. “Is he a major or a colonel?”
“Definitely a colonel, sir.” the mysterious major answered, examining Treschi closely. “No doubt about it. He has an eye for command.”
“Or taking it, from what I hear.” Fabin returned to that strange smile. “So, colonel… ya contacted us through the right channels, ya have all the papers… what the hell can we do for ya?”
“It’s more of what I can do for you, sir.” Andrea smiled back.
“Why do they always start with that line?” the general threw his hands in the air. “It’s always ‘I can help ya,’ or ‘I’m yar only friend.’ Why don’t ya skip the bull, colonel, and get to the point?”
Treschi cleared his throat. “Your fleet is wrecked, your troops are scattered, and your planets are so spread out that you can’t possibly defend them all. To add to that, you’ve got the combined Jurvain/K’Nes battle groups coming down on you, which after Midgar, are going to roll you up like carpet. That’s if… if the other Federation doesn’t exploit your weakness first. You need help.”
“And yar gonna give it me? How?”
“Two parts. Your military intelligence is almost non-existent. I have connections within elements of InSec that can compensate for that. With their help, your forces can be better informed, and certain strategic obstacles can be eliminated.”
“That’s if we clutch that den of vipers to our bosom, right?” General Fabin commented.
“They need funding, as does any organization. You can fund them, they provide the information you need. Information that will save you from losing this war… sir.”
“What’s the second part?” the major interrupted.
“You need a front to fall back on. You can’t afford a war on three fronts. As a Raptor, I worked closely with then General Arthur Clarke. Now that he’s chairman of the Federation on Avalon, a cease-fire could be established… perhaps more, but only through someone he trusts.”
Fabin pointed at the colonel. “You?”
The major shook his head. “I don’t believe you.”
“Beg your pardon?” Treschi pivoted towards the unwanted stranger.
“I don’t believe you and Clarke are such good friends.”
“Check my personnel file, it’s on public record. I served under his direct command for over a year. The gen… sorry, the chairman doesn’t put people that close unless he can trust them. The fact that I became an officer in that organization should read volumes.”
“But what does this tell me?” the major took out a mini holoproj transmitter and activated it. Suddenly, he saw himself in that strange underground room with Wall, MacManus, the lady in red… and Clarke standing right beside him.
“How did you get that?!” Treschi blurted out before he could stop himself.
“No matter.” the major nodded. “Watch.”
The picture unfroze and Wall spoke. “However, M. Smith appeared to be more… effective than expected.”
Clarke roared. “Enough of this! It’s time for blood.”
“You already had him kill his mother. A life for a life, that’s what I promised you.”
“Not good enough.”
The major turned off the holoproj and smiled. Andrea was not amused, rage filling inside him, but he kept his face and voice calm. “Who are you?”
Joel Fabin leaned back in his chair. “Colonel Treschi, may I introduce you to Major Charles Babbage, Minister of Political Finance.”
“An odd term for odd times, M. Treschi.” Babbage nodded. “I already met with your associate Veolin. A charming woman, I must say, although she lacks skill in the art of conversation.”
“That still doesn’t explain how you got that vid.”
“You could say I got it from my father.”
“And your father is…?”
“Richard Fox.” the major stated simply, as it silenced the room.
“Fox is dead. He died in the last war.”
“So was Wall until he suddenly reappeared. In fact, so was Clarke, until he walked in on the Senate. It’s amazing what people will believe… the second triumvirate, with all their power and might, is suddenly eliminated within months of taking office. It seems silly that anyone could believe that, but they did, and everyone was so convinced they didn’t see them coming back. Until it was too late.”
“So you work for your father.”
Babbage leaned his head from one side to the other. “It’s more appropriate to say that we help each other out.”
Treschi knew he was completely outclassed. Turning back to Fabin, he asked, “So you’re saying no?”
“No, colonel, I’m saying that I don’t think ya can do what ya promise. I’m not about to let InSec into my government just so they can wipe us out.”
Andrea took the opening. “What if I can?”
“What if I can do what I promise? What if I can get a cease fire signed between both Federations? That would prove my usefulness, correct?”
Fabin turned to Babbage as if to say something. The major simply nodded his head. Joel turned back to Treschi. “What the hell! If ya can get that old blood and guts to make friendly like, then ya gotta deal. It’s gotta be public, though… none of this ‘he said, she said’ shit. It’s gotta make the news.”
Treschi nodded. “Done.”
The Scot laughed out loud. “If Clarke’s that pissed with you, you’re gonna be nothin’ but a splat on his carpet when he’s done with ya. If yer not… we’ll do business.” Joel let out another long laugh. “Now be done with ya!”
Andrea Treschi gave a mock salute and walked out the door. I really don’t want to face Clarke again. It would have to come sooner or later, especially if I want the Raptors back, but if I do… there’s only three alternatives. One, he’ll kill me. Two, I’ll live but get nothing. Then there’s three… and if that works, then I’ll finally get back in this game.
The first few days were difficult. Alistar Dimiye, trapped in what used to be his headquarters, was poked and prodded by every device imaginable. The pain ripped into his brain at times in which he thought he would die… but he fought on. Mages were brought in to open the secrets of his brain and still he resisted. However, when he was alone, he privately wondered when death would come. Even Polaris did not torment him in his moments of silence. Perhaps that is his torment, he wondered.
The werewolf had lost track of time in that cold barren cell. When the door opened again, Alistar didn’t even bother to look up. It’s another interrogator, he thought, here to torture me again. If this damn collar wasn’t around my neck…
Warm hands were placed on his shoulders, and someone was fiddling with his collar. It suddenly opened and the hands pushed it aside. Dimiye could feel the strength building inside him again. Alistar lifted his head… and looked straight into the face of Stacy Johannes.
Al instinctively shot back against the wall. What is that psycho bitch playing at?! The werewolf couldn’t see clearly in the dim light, but he was able to notice the look of concern on her face. Finally, she brought her finger to her mouth and said, “Shhh… it’s all right, Al. I’ve come to get you out of here.”
“Bullshit!” Dimiye managed to speak, coughing out phlegm that had collected there for the past week. ”What… what are you…”
“I’ve no time to explain, Al. The guards are all drugged but they’ll wake up soon. We don’t have much time. Now come on…” Maegwin walked back to the door, then turned when she noticed Alistar wasn’t following. “What are you waiting for? Do you want to stay in here?”
Dimiye finally got enough strength to stand. Why is she tormenting like this? I know she’s just going to deliver me into enemy hands again! Still… it’s better than sitting here. The werewolf weakly made his way after her, walking out into the lit hallways, walking towards the main door.
They passed the drugged guards all the way out the front door. The moon cast an eerie glow over the sleeping city. Nobody was waiting to beat him up again; all that remained were sleeping cats and a old flitter, its engine idling. Maegwin wasted no time and got in the driver’s seat, bringing it up to full power. “Get in!” she stressed in a whisper.
Al followed along in a daze, getting into the passenger’s seat. As soon as he did, the flitter whisked off through the broken streets of the Midgar settlement, wrecked by the war.
It didn’t take long to reach the outer marker and they soon left the colony behind, heading towards Valhalla Ridge. Dimiye looked back at Maegwin and asked. “Why?”
She spared a glance at the weakened werewolf and smiled. “Well, how else did you think you were getting out of there? Magic?”
“You were slapping me just the other day.”
Maegwin reached over with her free hand and grabbed his. “Oh, I’m sorry, Al. I’m afraid she blames you for everything bad that’s ever happened to her. I tried to stop her, but… I wasn’t strong enough.”
“Maegwin. She hates you with a passion I… I can’t fight most of the time. I’m sorry for what she’s done to you, Al, but if we can get us off planet, there’s hope.”
“Then… who are you?”
“Who am…?” She looked out the flitter window and stopped the vehicle. “We’re here.”
As they stepped out of the flitter, suddenly both of them were looking at a K’Nes fighter craft. Maegwin rushed forward and opened it up. Getting in the pilot’s seat, she looked over at the frozen Alistar. “Coming?”
The werewolf stepped over towards the fighter and swung himself into the gunner’s chair. “Where are we going?”
“Maegwin has a freighter waiting in orbit around the outer planet’s moon. It’s been hidden by its shadow. If we can reach that, we can make New Tokyo in a couple of days.”
“Come on, Al, quit wasting time. Strap in.”
“Al,” she stared at him, “Maegwin is going to wake up in four hours. If I don’t get you in hyperspace by then, she’ll kill you, and we’re both lost. Now strap in.”
The werewolf did as he was told, without understanding why, and soon the cockpit sealed around him. Soon, he felt the g-forces pushing against him as they built up speed, escaped the atmosphere, and left Midgar behind.
As the fluid of the growth tube drained, the machine again supported its own weight. He looked normal again, slightly larger with the added displacement of the hydraulics, and still lacking flesh on his foot and arm. The dull iridescence of his bitanium limbs shone in the darkness of the room, set off by only a slight light visible, coming from the doctor’s headset and computer terminals. Perched over several sets of fried chameleon circuit systems, ripped from the broken Mark 100 suits strewn throughout the capital, the doctor paid little interest to the machine in front of him. When Doctor Shiro finally spoke, he didn’t even look up from his work. “Damien, what is your status.”
Connecting directly to a nearby console, the machine uploaded his condition onto the screen.
All electrical systems operating at 100%. Body temperature at 102 degrees to account for decreased biological energy production in outer peripherals. Hydraulic system upgrade complete. Nanotechnology upgrade complete. Combat Readiness: 99.8%.
“First a test.” The doctor reached down to the floor and picked up a large synthetic diamond. Throwing it at Damien, the machine interpreted the command to catch it. “Now Damien. Hold it in your good hand. Good. Now crush it!” The machine complied, it’s flesh compressing heavily as the metal underneath put pressure onto it. Without delay a stream of blood escaped from the machine’s hand, and the diamond cracked loudly underneath. Releasing the bruised and bloody hand, the diamond fell to the ground in a thousand pieces. Richter looked at the hand; as soon as he did, he received a new input from his bloodstream, the feeling of a migration of sensors. Almost instantly, the cuts began to seal, and the bruised flesh began turning back to normal.
“I was able to apply another Horadrim code to your cybernetics. You now have even greater control over your nanites, and can facilitate even more of them. Now go. You require clothing, go supply yourself. Return when you have completed your mission, but do not allow yourself to be followed. I will have your next mission ready for you when you return.” The doctor turned back to his work, activating the chameleon circuits and watching the table turn practically invisible while the lights flickered. “Takes too much power…” he muttered under his breath. Shiro rushed over to a nearby console, connecting to the black net through a trusted link.
The machine walked to the door, grabbed the H-90, and felt the smartgun link connect as if it were his own flesh. “Damien,” the doctor looked up from his console, “activate First Strike protocol in all combat situations. I am curious of its effects.” Accessing his database on the city, it selected the nearest major clothing store, and went into the abyss of the slums of Avalon. Leaving the building, having only his files on Avalon and nothing else, the computer activated First Strike, dropping his target acquisition time from 0.005 seconds to 0.001.
“This is LI flitter 552 responding to man down and burglary alarms at 55623 Washington Street, over. Is the suspect still… OH SHIT!” As the brakes of the speeding flitter activated, a trenchcoated figure jumped from a second story window of JC Bar & Company in the dark of night. Landing on its feet only twenty feet in front of the speeding flitter, the gauss/plasma combination of the H-90 opened up. When he stopped, the flitter’s burning remains were split down the middle and blown to both sides. Emulating full automatic mode, he conserved ammunition by calculating his arm swing and fire rate times, surprising a six man team to his left that never got a chance to shoot. The plasma rounds melted four troopers right down the middle, the other two in the rear suffering debilitating burns from the excess of plasma spray. Turning back to the building it just escaped out of, Damien fired the plasma rounds back at the reacting LI still inside the building, with the front entrance exploding with fiery delight. Richter quickly dodged behind wreckage and charging into a nearby alley, the machine rolling as he hit the ground, barely dodging the lance cannon shots from a nearby aerodyne gunship. Opening up with a gauss/plasma combo, the aerodyne was incinerated. A fury of melting hovership rained down upon the troopers that had just recently arrived. His eyes barely had time to focus before shooting into the opposing unit’s lines; the increased reaction time worked perfectly, once all life forms could be designated enemy units.
Picking off wave after wave of lightly armored traffic directors, the machine turned its gun to the pavement below between waves. Blowing a hole into the nearby pavement, the machine waited for the inevitable. Reserves for the LI were coming in uncoordinated spurts, yet more kept coming. Hearing the standard chink of the firing of a grenade launcher, the machine dove down the hole with lightening speed. The grenade blew, the whole side of the building came down with it, leaving the alley filled with wreckage.
“Command, suspect has been eliminated!” The trooper exclaimed, thrilled with the prospect of having lived.
“Roger that,” the commander replied, as the pile of rubble suddenly erupted into a cloud of dust, ”canceling further support…” He was unable to finish the transmission, as the trooper’s head and his communication equipment were slagged with the rest of the wave. Recognizing their weakness, the machine took the offensive, Damien’s teleoptics targeting the grenade launchers, with his plasma rounds catching the magazines of the deadly weapons only 75 yards away. The massive force of their explosion caused the sides of the large plasticrete of the skyscrapers to shell off into the streets. Richter continued his charge, picking off the helpless troopers as they appeared from the flaming debris.
Back at their command post, the LI commander listened in horror, unable to defeat one unarmored burglar. Sure, they’ve never faced this kind of action before… but no one could expect this! Rapidly running out of options, the captain made a plea. “Attention all TI in the vicinity of Andersonville: This is Major Roger Owens of the 21-dash-72 Light Infantry Brigade. I have lost 150 troops to one armed burglar. Assistance is required.” Knowing that his career was dying out there with his men, the officer buried his head in his hands, waiting for his support and demotion.
“Retreat!” one trooper yelled before his death, a burst of plasma burning through his front from a hit in his back.
“Stand your ground! We don’t fucking retreat, we’re the fucking…” The sergeant’s head became flaming atoms as the plasma round passed through it. The fleeing made only a token effort to fire back, their emotions killing their courage.
Elimination of all witnesses is preferable.
Dropping the last of the visible LI, the machine stopped its charge, the few surviving LI having disappeared. Behind it was the glow of fire, bodies and parts of bodies strewn across the ground in morbid arrangement on and underneath massive chunks of plasticrete. Slowing his reaction time to normal, the machine took its chance to escape, dropping down into the sewers before more backup could arrive. As his algorithm analyzed the human’s behavior, his disgust for the illogical breed ran deeper; 163 soldiers had been sacrificed for a set of clothes.
Back at JC Ward, the TI investigation team arrived, eager to see what kind of creature defeated so many. “1st platoon, establish defensive perimeter, 2nd plat…”
The captain was cut off by the sound of another shuttle coming in to land. As the troopers made room for it, the door opened and more troopers jumped out, bearing the shoulder flash of the TI Special Service.
“Fucking Raptors.” the captain muttered under his breath. The officer walked over to the landing troops and hit the proximity band. “What is the meaning of this? 7-dash-534 can…”
The Raptor lieutenant stepped forward. “Pardon me, sir, but the LI said they needed all TI in the area.”
“We really don’t need…”
“With all due respect, sir,” the lieutenant interrupted again, “I think we know what you’re dealing with, better than you do.”
The captain repressed a moan; I hate it when they’re right. “Very well, this is a joint operation. There’ll be no prejudice towards each another tolerated.” Turning back to his own troops, he called out, “Research teams, find what you can.”
Using past skills, the machine determined he had not been followed, and arrived quickly at Shiro’s office. Inside, the doctor sat at his console, the blacked-out image of a woman and a large “Accept” button on screen. As soon as he focused on Damien, he clicked the button. Checking his bank account quickly, the doctor killed the connection.
“Good. You survived. Jack into the console and download your experiences while out.” The machine complied, uploading his memories into the doctor’s mainframe. Moving towards the medical kit, the machine took out a scalpel and tweezers, pulling or cutting out shrapnel and debris caught in its subdermal armor. The nanotech worked quickly, hardening blood into scabs before it could even run onto the floor.
”Come here, I have something for you.” The doctor grabbed the scalpel, making a surgical cut into the machine’s abdomen. Grabbing the chameleon circuits, the doctor inserted them into his abdomen roughly, then went to type on the computer console. “This control driver is crude, but it is the best I could do with the time I had.” Shiro uploaded it onto him, then continued. “Here is the file for you nano-tech on how to hook it up. It should activate automatically with you boosterware and adrenal glands, although you do have a kill switch.”
While it dressed it’s wounds, the doctor briefed him on the next mission. “We’ve been paid 5,000 credits now and 35,000 later to kill a prominent lawyer with connections to the loyalist TI and government. That’s grossly under the norm, but then you are a new name to the group. Our sponsor for this event tells me that one Frederick Evans eats dinner at the Gantal restaurant, and will probably be there for another two hours. There is an identification file on the desktop. I suggest you get moving.” The machine nodded, switched clips on it’s H-90, downloaded the file, and walked again into the night.
“Sir?” The research mage reported the team’s discoveries, after finishing their neural examinations of all wounded.
The captain was monitoring the transmissions of his unit. “Yes, private, what have you found?”
“From current evidence, it appears it was a cyborg. They hit it repeatedly, but it kept fighting, unphased by…”
“A CYBORG?!” the lieutenant cut in, seeming to appear from nowhere. Visions of Patton Base and other massacres danced in the Raptor’s mind, remembering the formed sections of bitanium subdermal armor and other cybernetic parts found. “Tell me it’s the same bastards that attacked Patton.”
“I researched Patton Base myself, sir, and the vision in these survivor’s heads collaborates with we know of that battle.”
“Finally!” the lieutenant exclaimed.
“Sir,” the trooper went on, “I would like to point out that it appears to only be one… bastard.”
“Then it’ll be easier to destroy,” the Raptor smiled, then turned to the captain, “with your permission.”
The commanding officer nodded and broadcasted his orders. “Attention all troops. We have reason to believe the same bastards that destroyed Patton Base caused this mess. All units are to head out by squad, find him, then call for backup so we can eliminate this son-of-a-bitch. Research teams, generate that mental image into something transmittable… I want everyone in this fucking city to know his face. Out.”
The Gantal was a very high class restaurant; reservations required for all except the elite. However, M. Evans was such a regular at the establishment that he had his own table. Damien got through the door without difficulty, but the maitre ‘d blocked him. “Sir, I must ask you to leave.” Noticing his charred clothing and scars, he shook his head. “You in no way fit to our dress code. Leave now or I will be forced to call the LI.”
Damien scanned the restaurant with his eyes, ignoring the maitre ‘d’s threats, finally locating Evans halfway across the room. Without another thought, Richter grabbed the maitre d’s head with his fleshless hand, pinching through the skull, then throwing him to the floor hard. Its pace quickened as the machine moved towards the table.
“Sir,” a platoon reported in, “we have reports that our cyborg as been found.”
“Where?” the captain shouted back.
“Security cameras at the Gantal picked him up seconds ago.”
The commanding officer accessed the situation quickly, then hit the command channel. “All teams converge on that location. Backup requested.”
“I mean can you believe it? What kind of government are they?! First they abduct our Senate, then open fire on their own citizens? It is outrageous that they…” Evans continued his impromptu speech, unwarned by his associates wide eyes. Pulling a plasma pistol at point blank range, the man’s business partner’s and their dates watched in horror as Richter shot him once in the back of the head, burnt brains and blood spraying all over the elegantly dressed sitting across from him. Pulling the H-90, the machine backed slowly into the kitchen, watching the crowd.
“Raptor Team One, moving in for the kill!”
The captain broke into the channel. “Negative, Team One, wait for supporting elements.”
“Sir,” the Raptor lieutenant commed in, “this cyborg is already on the move. If we wait any longer, our target will escape. The team can handle this.”
The captain moaned and relunctantly agreed. I really hate this guy; I hate his smug superiority… and I hate that he’s always right! “Bring me his head on a stick, Team One.”
As the armored troops sprang through the windows, the machine brought it’s H-90 to bear, the plasma killing a few of the team instantly, but the residual burns killing a great many of the fleeing inhabitants of the restaurant. Hit by the Raptor’s return fire, Richter flew into the kitchen, following the backwards force deeper into the kitchen. Reaching into it’s trenchcoat, the machine pulled out an improvised plastic explosive remote mine, throwing it quickly into one of the drawers of the cabinets and turning towards the way it came. Firing the gauss rifle through the walls, the machine took the enemy by surprise by jumping through the weakened walls, and back out into the main room just as the Raptors assaulted the kitchen. His machine side activated his chameleon circuits, both his barrels belched fire as more dropped before his weapon’s wrath. With all the holes in the wall, the night sky was becoming visible. Turning his head towards it, he jumped out of the way as he noticed the movement. An aerodyne blasted the floor he was standing on into large chunks.
The combat protocol didn’t allow his eyes time to adjust, so the machine refused to wait, blowing the plastic explosive with his wireless modem. His eyes focused in time to see the cooks smeared into nothingness and an armored soldier blown off balance, giving the machine time to raise his weapon and put a single gauss round through the soldiers eyes. Moving carefully out of the building, the machine walked over to a sports flitter, popped off the maintenance panel, and hotwired the machine into activity. Jumping inside, the machine calmly pull away.
Just them, five more combat flitters arrived on scene, and Richter gunned the engine. Speeding through the streets, Damien quickly looked up the performance capabilities on the flitter company’s netsite, modifying his driving technique to accommodate. Redlining the engine the machine did a 180-degree turn, flying back towards the pursuing vehicles. As they swerved they hit parked cars and trees, deflecting and flying deep into buildings.
More flitters came on scene and the machine pulled its plasma pistol, offering fire at the troopers who tried to stop him. They returned fire, hitting him once, but the shot caused no debilitating damage. The battle became even more three dimensional as a fighter was called in, the machine being challenged to its limits to avoid the fighter’s weapons on each pass it took. Moving into the subterranean highways, only the combat flitters could follow.
He shot an inconvenient civilian driver next to him in the head, ramming his vehicle lightly into the wall of the tunnel, watching as the civilian vehicle bounced back into the pursuing vehicles. The flitters impacted into one another, creating a fiery flame ball of twisted wreckage, sealing off any pursuit from behind them.
Leaving the tunnels, two had stayed on his trail but the machine kept using gravity to limits, putting more and more space between him and pursuing vehicles. Finding a way out, the machine again turned, right into a roadblock prepared by TI troops. The plasma ripped into the vehicle, but the machine ignored the pain, flooring the vehicle and downshifting, pulling it’s plasma pistol and firing upon the roadblock’s flitters’ main batteries. The engine went past redline as the plasma fire destroyed it, the main gravitic unit also damaged as the flitter became nothing more than a large projectile doing more than 300 mph. One corner touched the ground, the resistance causing the flitter to roll against the pavement violently before slamming into the roadblock. The wreckage intertwined other flitters and debris, finally stopping against a building.
The machine rose, the high G accident causing massive injuries from his internal organs impacting into each other. Rising slowly, staying conscious only through liberal use of his adrenalin boosters, Richter’s hydraulics easily freed him from the wreckage. Yet his human brain shut down as the machine in him kept him moving. The machine’s nanotech cloaked him as a firefight erupted between him and the TI at the road block, minimizing their effective targeting of him. Covering himself as best as possible, the machine fired his way towards a manhole, and jumped in. Putting away the H-90, it swung quickly along the pipes running across the ceiling. Finding a dry spot nearly a mile away, the machine could move no more. Crawling into the cramped drainage tunnel, it powered down to repair the massive damage.
Zechariah moved quickly to anything that he could use as cover, bringing his own gauss rifle up while shifting his body into armor. Diving behind a pillar, he fired at his enemy blindly. Shit! Who the hell is this guy? he asked himself. Another blast of his enemy’s gun obliterated the pillar he was hiding behind. McNeilly thrusted a spike at him, but the man suddenly shifted.
A mage, he thought, great… more fricking humans. He fired a burst, gauging where the mage had shifted to; his enemy was too fast. Shifting from place to place, the mage fired when there was an opening.
Zech was quickly growing tired of this, and while he dodged, his other self desperately tried to think of a countermeasure. Nothing seemed to be working as the station’s interior was quickly being ripped apart. Finally, McNeilly threw a bolt towards his enemy, redirecting it as the mage moved from place to place. His enemy was being pressed harder and harder, shifting even fast to move away from the attack, and finally made a mistake. In his haste to dodge the electric bolt, he had let Zechariah move about unnoticed, and he fired the rifle as quickly as possible, catching the man off guard. The man fell lifelessly to the floor from the gauss rounds. The hodraida smiled as he let the bolt fry him, even though the man was already dead.
A few minutes later, Zechariah hijacked the waiting shuttle, and made his way off the planet. One thought went through his mind. If I ever get back to Earth, I’m going to kill the man who sent me on this mission in the first place. Kash, that bastard… he’s a traitor to our race.
As he approached the Epsilon jumpgate, another ship suddenly appeared in front of him. The scanners registered it as a black hole, but when it finally materialized, Zechariah recognized it for what it was. A Horadrim battlecruiser? What is this doing here?
Before he could find out, the ship locked onto the shuttle with some sort of beam. McNeilly’s little craft was quickly brought inside the larger craft by large tendrils, finally directing it inside. The shuttle’s engines were dead as well as the rest of the power on board the craft. The dark bay before him was filled with other shuttles, but nothing else about the place seemed visible. As the craft stopped, Zechariah made his way to the door, cycled it open, and stepped out into the bay.
A man was standing there, his eyes a little too far apart, with his hair so slicked back it looked like part of his body. “Welcome home, Zechariah. My name is Vin Dane. I believe we have a lot in common.”
The Grand Fleet Admiral and Erich Von Shrakenberg sat together in the Rear Admiral’s private dining room. There was no one around in the huge space, and their guards were standing outside, leaving them alone as they ate their meal. It was a rather odd; Erich really didn’t know what to say to her. After all, she was his commanding officer, and there was a fine line between friendship and sleeping with the boss.
Kristen swirled her wine around in her glass. "So tell me, Erich, why did you volunteer for Earth Fleet?"
"Family tradition." Erich said with a grin. "Surely you noticed how many Von Shrakenbergs there are in the fleet?"
"Yes, I met Admiral Karl Von Shrakenberg on several occasions,” she replied, taking another sip of her wine, the red of the drink clashing strongly against her pale lips, “and… I understand you have several other siblings and cousins in the Fleet."
Erich sat back in his chair. "Six generations of Von Shrakenbergs have served in Earth Fleet, winning two Von Eisenstein crosses, four Grand Council Medals of Honor, and a couple dozen other major medals… but it goes back farther than that." He sat forward again and looked in her eyes. "Hans Von Shrakenberg was a knight in the thirteenth century who rode with Frederick Barbarossa on the Crusades. Other Von Shrakenbergs served with Frederick the Great's Prussian armies, and fought with Blucher against Napoleon. They served in the Kriegsmarine in both world wars, and stood guard in the Fulda Gap against the Warsaw Pact's armored divisions in the Cold War. Adolf Von Shrakenberg was in the first graduating class at Tereshkova Fleet Academy. It’s a long and glorious history."
"And now you're writing a few new chapters?" Kristen said with an admiring look.
"I do what I can," Erich replied dismissively. "How about you?"
“Not as interesting, I’m afraid. In the Pi System, the only planet capable of sustaining life is far out from the sun. It’s a very dim world and the first settlers out there didn’t cope. They killed themselves off in suicides; they couldn’t adapt to the environment. Many such settlements there failed, but they kept trying, as the planet is rich in verendinite. Finally, the Ooutermeer Conglomorate decided to set up a mining post there. They made sure they wouldn’t make the same mistake twice and genetically adapted their colonists to the colder environment. The adjustments created a colony of albinos. My great-great-great… however many greats there are, was one of those first. We’ve bred true ever since, there’s gotta be over a million of us now.”
“So why did you leave?”
“Pi One is rather dull when you get around to it. There’s the mining operation, there’s the city, fields, and lots and lots of rock.” Kristen smiled as she took another sip of wine. “I applied to the Fleet Academy as soon as I came of age. You know, ‘join Fleet, see the universe?’ Well, I did. When I graduated, I got on board the old EFS Aryan for patrol duty of the inner systems. God, that was dull. I vowed never to serve on another ship in my life.”
“Really? I find that hard to believe. Ships are the most interesting…”
“Don’t get me wrong, Erich. I know that Earth Fleet means serving on ships, but I couldn’t stand being cooped up in those tin cans… for months at a time? No thanks. Battlestations, construction docks, ports… much more interesting than charting vast reaches of space.”
“How did you get around the ship duty requirement?”
Her eyes flashed for a moment, then she returned to her drink. “By being damn good at my job. The administrative track might not seem all that exciting you, but it’s what keeps our ships out there. Getting the supplies, getting the personnel transfers… all that has to be done by somebody. I started in the Bureau of Personnel. Do you know how much they go through to get ships filled every day? Well… I got things done!” The wine was obviously starting to get to her head. “I got myself a commendation, a promotion, and made connections. I volunteered for shit jobs that no one else would touch and came out smelling like roses. I made sure to get noticed, Erich. That’s the real difference between you and me. Fleet notices you and what you do… I made sure Fleet noticed me.”
“I’m sure they do.” Von Shrakenberg looked at his chronometer. “Oh, the victory party has started. We should probably go.”
“Oh, screw the party! There’s always a party somewhere for some big shot… let’s just stay here.”
“We are the commanding officers, Kristen. We should at least make an appearance.”
Vorheis made an enormously loud sigh. “All right! I…” She looked at her hand for a moment, then back at Erich. “I’m drunk, ain’t I?” The rear admiral nodded. “Oh shit, I can’t go out like this. You got a black jacket or something?”
“A sober pill, admiral.”
“Yeah, it’s in the bathroom.”
“Good! I’ll be right back… and then we can party.” she smiled before disappearing out of the dining room.
The officers’ mess of the EFS Zeus was one large dance party, celebrating the restoration of the government, and the turning point in the war. Now with Clarke in power, it seemed like things were finally changing for the better. The Federation was finally on a war footing, ships were being built and repaired, and the draft was ripping through the planets like a wildfire. A new wave of volunteers rushed forward, hoping to beat the draft, and get better positions in the military then those who followed after.
Erich and Kristen were among the well-wishers, dancing to some strange techno-opera mixed in with chromium metal riffs and animal noises thrown in just for effect. It was hard to see anything in the mass of partying Fleet personnel, except the pale face of the smiling CNC dancing close beside him. Then the door opened.
Most of the party animals didn’t notice the new arrival; Von Shrakenberg could hardly miss him. Arthur Clarke, the new chairman of the Federation, was suddenly in the mess hall surrounded by a large group of bodyguards. The chairman looked around at first then consented himself to a seat on the side. One of his guards walked off and got him a drink. Erich was amazed by the power that the werewolf seemed to emanate from his body.
Finally, the music turned slow, and before the rear admiral knew it, Vorheis grabbed his hands and stepped into the close dance. Erich looked down and saw Kristen’s face right next to his own. The albino’s nose wrinkled as she noticed the expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“Clarke. He’s right over there.”
She shrugged. “So?”
“Don’t you think we should talk to him?”
“Why?” Kristen wrapped her arms around his neck. “He’s such a bore.”
“I’ve never met the gen… chairman before.”
“I think you’ll be a little disappointed. He may be great in your history books, but he’s a real…”
“Don’t you see,” Erich interrupted, “this is the perfect opportunity. If we can talk to him now, we can convince him to stage an offensive against…”
“Erich,” Kristen chided, “I’m sure that the chairman will reveal his strategy when he’s ready to. He’s no fool.”
“But this is my… our opportunity. Clarke’s shown that he’s willing to win the war. Maybe we can guide him in the right direction. Who better than us?”
Vorheis sighed. “All right, Erich. Let’s go talk to Clarke.”
The two of them strolled off the dance floor and walked towards the chairman. Before they even got close, one of the large bodyguards stepped in their way. “Identity cards, please?”
“Excuse me, trooper,” Kristen replied, “I wish to talk to Chairman Clarke.”
“I know. Identity cards?”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me, trooper. I’m commander-in-chief of Earth Fleet. I wish to speak to my superior.”
“All persons must be confirmed before entering the chairman’s presence. Now, you will hand over your identity cards, or you will step away.”
Vorheis huffed and finally pulled out a piece of plastic, handing it to the tall man. He ran it through a scanner, checked her thoroughly, then passed it back to her. Von Shrakenberg went through the same degrading routine before they passed into the circle. She went right over to the reclining chairman and said, “What’s the meaning of this?”
Arthur Clarke looked up from his drink and stared at the grand fleet admiral. “Security, admiral. My predecessor suffered a terrible fate because he didn’t expect an attack. I choose not to make the same mistake.”
“But you know me.”
“You could be anyone in a skinmask or chameleon circuit. My guards were simply being thorough.”
“It’s a wise precaution, sir.” Erich chirped up.
Clarke ignored him. “What can I do for you, admiral?”
“We were hoping to speak to you about what you intend to do with the Fleet.”
“I intend to use it, admiral.” Arthur took another sip of his drink.
“With our enemies weakened, we can force an offensive and gain ground against them.”
Von Shrakenberg looked at his commanding officer quizzically. “Ma’am, after New Paris, we don’t have the ships to accomplish that.”
“The defense of our core systems must be our first priority, admiral.” Clarke shot back. “Offensives can’t be planned with ships we don’t have.”
“Then perhaps a limited offensive,” Vorheis offered, “against our enemies. Say against Babylon… that system has been in dispute for the past three months.”
“Babylon accomplishes nothing. It is neither a great moral victory to use as political capital, nor a strategic victory to plan our offensive.”
Erich stepped forward. “What about the Christian Federation? Or the Resistance? A small force against them should easily overwhelm their weak naval forces.”
“Perhaps Earth,” Arthur mused, “not only would it be a great moral victory, but it would also gain us control of the larger construction yards, which we desperately need.”
“Intel reports that their fleet has never recovered from the Battle of Mars. We should be able to crush them beneath…”
Clarke stood up and faced Vorheis. “How many ships would you have available to use, without weakening our defenses?”
Erich smiled. “I’m sure with New Paris vindicated, we can withdraw two of my squadrons for operations. That should easily crush…”
Suddenly the chairman snapped his head towards Erich, the admiral’s smile dropped; The werewolf’s expression was one of pure annoyance. “Who is this person who speaks to me as if I needed his advice?”
“This is Rear Admiral Erich Von Shrakenberg, commander of the Home Fleet.” Vorheis answered.
“Ah,” Arthur nodded, sniffing the air around Von Shrakenberg, “the Gatecrasher. Yes, I’ve heard of you.” As if Erich was a passing thought, he turned back to Kristen. “What are the vulnerable gates to Avalon, not counting Earth?”
“Alpha Centauri and Phoenix are held by the Righteous Army, and Babylon is disputed between us and the TI Rebels.” The albino rattled off the list. “All other threats have been negated by non-functional jumpgates.”
“The Righteous Navy has few ships after Phoenix… or so I’m told.” Clarke thought about the situation for a moment. “Since the Jurvain are intent to press their new offensive against New Madrid, we’ll need sufficient ships there to defend it. Do you have the necessary resources there?”
“Yes, sir. Smythe is coordinating our efforts there.” Kristen nodded.
“Then we can spare two squadrons, correct?”
“Yes, sir, I believe so.”
“Very well,” the chairman turned back to Erich, “Vice Admiral Von Shrakenberg will take two of his three squadrons and crush the Resistance.” The werewolf stepped uncomfortably close to the German. “I want to be clear on this point, vice admiral, you are to crush the Resistance. That means you will accept no terms but unconditional surrender. We don’t have the legions available to make planetary landings nor do we have time to wait. You will destroy every ship, every settlement… everything that does not surrender at the instant you make the offer. If they don’t, you will kill them. Hopefully those that follow won’t make the same mistake.”
“Does this mean you’re authorizing planetary bombardment, sir?”
“Didn’t you hear me, vice admiral? I said crush. I expect the entire northwest frontier cleared and under our control in two months. If you can’t accomplish it in that time, I’ll find someone who can.”
Erich snapped to attention. “Yes, sir!”
Clarke snorted out a laugh and went back to his chair. “Was there anything else?”
“No, sir.” Kristen shook her head. “Thank you for you time.”
Vorheis motioned with her hand for Erich and her to leave. They quickly left the circle of bodyguards and left the dance; the party was over, too much had to be done.
Erich escorted Kristen back to her temporary quarters on board the star control ship. The albino woman smiled prettily as they reached the door. “Would you like to come in for a nightcap?”
“I better not. If Clarke wants me to take out the Resistance in two months…”
“Forget Clarke,” she replied, grabbing his collar, “stay with me… just tonight, I promise.”
Von Shrakenberg couldn’t help himself and leaned down to kiss her. Her warm lips felt good against his. However, Erich couldn’t bring himself to take any further, and broke off. “I’m sorry, I… have to start planning for the campaign.”
Kristen pouted. “Erich, the war can wait until tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Von Shrakenberg nodded and walked away, down the corridor.
He felt a great relief wash over him as he finally cleared his CO. It wasn’t much longer before he reached his own room. Keying the door code, he walked in… and Johanna Ingolfsson was standing there. “Johanna? What are…”
"M. Aglié sends his compliments." she answered. "He says things didn't turn out the way he expected… and he has a new job for you."
The host of the Lord had spread like wildfire over the surface of Valkyrie, and within fourteen hours, only a few small pockets of resistance were left to be dealt with. They had run into a problem when confronting small clusters of the Tech Infantry battalion stationed there-- they had power armor.
There were three cities that the gospel had not yet reached, and the most stubborn one was the city of the damned, New Gary. Crime ran rampant there, and when the Righteous Army dropped, the TI appealed to anyone with weapons to defend their "freedom." The response was immediate. Some fifty thousand people in the city arose at the call to arms, and with the help of a platoon of TI troops and another platoon of marines, they were effectively resisting the will of God.
Watching the Righteous Army move forward was quite a sight to behold: it always inspired godly fear of the wrath to come, and a love of His grace for having rescued you from it. However, the Righteous Army was no longer advancing. They were dug-in around hills at the outer perimeter of New Gary, just out of range of their weapons. If they moved in any closer, the locals would riddle them with everything from plasma rifles and older sniper rifles, and a little further in they would be under grenade and small arms fire.
Normally, Rick Tiller, Lieutenant of the Faithful, would not have let such trifles bother him, but normally, the Righteous Army had the overwhelming advantage of numbers. This time, they were outnumbered over three to one. The majority of the army was elsewhere, securing other locations first. They would be back to mop up New Gary eventually, and Tiller was supposed to keep the heathens trapped in the city until then. He had been promised some kind of help from the higher-ups, but he doubted it would be what the situation required.
"Sir, the guests you were expecting have arrived."
Tiller turned to see Deacon Jackson with an older man and two kids-- one with pasty white skin. "You must be K-Troop. I don't know what you guys are supposed to be able to do for me, but whatever it is, do it quickly. The damned are growing braver, and if they come out of the city against us, their numbers far exceed ours..."
The older man spoke first. "The battle is the Lord's, brother." He looked around at the Lord's soldiers. "Tell them to lay down their weapons and pray."
Tiller gave the man a surprised look, but did what he was told. Within a minute, fourteen thousand faithful soldiers were knelt in prayer. From the top of the hill, the captain could see the city come to life as makeshift soldiers came streaming out of it. Tiller eyed the man before him carefully, wondering if this was such a good idea.
Ehud was a little tired from all of the running, but his breath was catching up with him, and the burning sensation was mostly over with.
Wade proceeded to address the group as best he could. "The Lord is with us. Pray that He will destroy our enemies before us, as He did for the Israelites when they were faithful to Him. Pray also that he will destroy the sinful city of New Gary, for its sin is a stench that must surely fill His nostrils daily. Pray-- and the Lord will send fire from heaven onto the city, as with Sodom and Gomorrah!"
At this, Wade turned to Remi and Ehud. "Brothers, it is time to show the heathens the wrath of God. Remi, have J and L-Troop signaled they're ready?" Remi nodded. "May the Lord have mercy on their souls," Wade whispered, and pulled a small pad out of his pocket, pressing the detonation key.
Lieutenant Jim Michaels was the first to hear it. He knew better than to turn and look, but he could not fight the instinctual urge. New Gary's tallest buildings were exploding, and fire was spreading everywhere. The whole city was being engulfed in flames. It was an awe-inspiring sight. Everyone that was moving out of the city with him had stopped to look.
Michaels could see quite a few secondary explosions that had to have been stirred up by magic. This snapped him back to reality. He had to get everyone to come out of the daze, but there were some twenty-thousand people under his "command." He simply didn't have the equipment for that sort of command. That… and their homes were being destroyed.
Wade turned back to Tiller. "Sir, have the troops pick up their weapons. The Lord has delivered the enemy into our hands."
“We understand you’re trying to launch an offensive against the Christian Federation.”
“I’m not trying to, I’m going to,” Captain O’Reilly corrected the Israeli general as the three of them entered his temporary quarters at Fleet HQ. “It’s just a matter of how and when.”
General Schuyler Horton flashed a crafty smile. “Then I think we can help each other,” the well-spoken man said, sitting down. “The New Israel Militia is a small but… respectable army. It was originally designed strictly for the defense of our home world, but recent political events have changed the map of the galaxy, forcing us to… reevaluate our priorities, so to speak.”
“The Righteous Army?” O’Reilly asked, skipping bluntly to the heart of the issue.
“The Righteous Army,” Schuyler agreed, nodding. “We’ve been watching them very carefully, Captain O’Reilly. We heard about the Ministry of Faith suppressing the ‘Catholic Heresy’ on San Angeles. We heard about the mandatory baptisms on Beowulf. And we know what this means for New Israel if they ever capture it,” the stocky Israeli said with a hard edge in his voice. “Well, the Hebrew people have been resisting forced conversion for over two thousand years, Captain O’Reilly, and we’re not about to stop now. I’m sure you can understand that.”
Actually, Xinjao didn’t understand. He’d been raised on stories of the Long March and the Easter Rising. All of this was foreign to him, but he nodded and played along. Gotta brush up on Jewish history sometime, he made a mental note to himself as he prepared some coffee.
“New Israel is located on the moon of the gas giant in the Cronos system,” Schuyler explained. “That means the Righteous Army is only two jumps away. Given Earth Fleet’s current defense – or rather, lack of one – against Bad Andy, New Israel…” the general paused, struggling to find the right words, “no longer feels it can afford to stay out of the galactic conflict.”
“I’m glad someone feels that way! Hell, we already got eight sides in this war, what’s one more?” O’Reilly shrugged, pouring some coffee for his guests. “So what do you have in mind?”
“From what Leisa has told me, the Federation agrees with your plans, but they just can’t spare the ships.” Schuyler said as Xinjao passed him a mug. “So what would you do if we told you – purely hypothetically, of course – that New Israel could get their hands on some warships?”
“I would wish to hell I was part of your Militia!” O’Reilly swore.
“Well, I’m afraid that wouldn’t do you much good,” Schuyler countered, “since the Militia is a purely defensive force. Thanks to Harrington Industries’ role in the Second Civil War, the Civilian Arms Reduction Act of 2231 prevents any civilian organization -- including the New Israel colony -- from owning any actual warships,” the general said, sounding more like a lawyer than a soldier. “Actually, it prevents any non-defensive weaponry at all, really....”
“So have don’t have any ships, then?” O’Reilly guessed, frowning.
“We have… large scrap metal structures purchased from Fleet junkyards,” the old Jew answered evasively with a sly smile, “restored for historical preservation, and maintained in an orbital museum. The tactical systems are non-functional, of course, but…” the General winked. “You’d be surprised how quickly they could be reinstalled… if they needed to be.”
“Sounds good,” O’Reilly agreed. “So what’s stopping you from invading Bad Andy?”
“Activate forbidden weaponry and attack other systems? Are you mad?” Schuyler asked in phony surprise. “Why, we’d become hunted outlaws of the Federation ourselves! We wouldn’t dream of doing that! Not without proper authorization, at least…” he added, sipping his coffee.
“So that’s the deal,” Leisa grinned, perched on the edge of Xinjao’s bed. “We could get authorization to invade, but no ships. They have ships, but no legal authority to use them.”
“Of course,” General Horton theorized, “if a certain politically popular captain were to raise a volunteer task force, I think I know a good place to recruit…”
“Done,” O’Reilly said instantly. “I can see one problem, though: there’s a lotta political bullshit blocking any invasion of the Fundies. I don’t know if we can get Vorheis to approve one.”
“Leave that to us,” the short, dark general said firmly. “We’ve got a meeting with Vorheis tomorrow morning. I think you’ll find that New Israel has considerable economic influence in the Cronos system and can be a powerful voting bloc when properly motivated. Vorheis can ignore an Earth Fleet captain… but she has to listen to politicians! Now listen carefully,” the clever old General said, handing datapads to them, “this is our argument for the meeting tomorrow…”
Vorheis kept them waiting for a good hour, but finally Captain O’Reilly, General Horton, and Edwina Smythe, the Agrarian Democrat governor of Cronos, were summoned into the Grand Fleet Admiral’s office. Once introductions and greeting exchanged, they got down to business.
“Thank you for the visit, Governor Smythe, and let me personally congratulate you on your son’s outstanding victory at New Paris!“ Vorheis smiled, diplomatic as ever.
“Thank you, admiral,” Smythe replied in her crisp British accent, “I’m rather proud of little Joey. Actually, it’s regarding certain military policy that I requested this meeting.”
“Really?” Vorheis gave a forced smile. She didn’t like anyone telling her how to do her job. “Well, what are your concerns?”
“Quite simply,” the Governor began, “my constituents in Cronos are not satisfied with Earth Fleet’s policy toward the Christian Federation. They consider them a threat to their liberty and religious freedom, and would like to see a more… aggressive approach.”
Vorheis took the news calmly, but did spare a second to shoot the mother of all nasty glares at O’Reilly; she knew whose idea this was. Several admirals had asked her in the last week if she could shut up the annoying Asian captain who kept pestering them for an offensive. “I understand your concerns,” she began, leaning back in her chair, “and the Fleet agrees the Righteous Army is a danger. But the Rebels and the Jurvain have larger fleets and are a considerably bigger threat. We have to prioritize the enemy and deploy our ships accordingly. We’ve have chosen an active defense policy against the Christian Federation because, well simply, we don’t have enough ships for a three-front war.” Vorheis’ voice was calm but firm.
“If that’s the only obstacle, admiral” the governor replied, “then I believe General Horton has your solution. General?”
“The loyal Federation citizens of New Israel, who understandably having a considerable interest in defending our system from the Christian Federation, are volunteering our resources to help with the offensive. The New Israeli Defense Force has a small number of warships willing to join any mission sent against the Righteous Army. All we need is your approval.”
“Really?” Vorheis said, narrowing her eyes. “Where exactly did you get these warships?”
“New Israel has five antiques in our Naval Museum,” Schulyer explained, handing the Grand Admiral a datapad. “All the weapon systems are non-functional, of course, but they can easily be reactivated with proper Fleet authorization, and Captain O’Reilly here has already graciously agreed to sponsor a volunteer task force to combat the Righteous Navy.”
“Yes,” Vorheis said, shooting O’Reilly an icy stare, “I’m sure he has. Are you aware, ‘General’,” she said to Schulyer, “that civilian organizations owning warships is clearly illegal?”
“They’re not warships, their unarmed antiques,” General Horton clarified, pacing across the room. “Furthermore, if you check your legal history, you’ll see in 2219 in the case of New Israel vs. Raptors, the courts ruled that the awaked rabbinical students trained at Mount Sinai Yeshiva were protected under the Freedom of Religion Acts and exempt from conscription into the Technical Infantry. We could make a similar legal case here for the New Israel Militia.” Schulyer stopped pacing and leaned over her desk. “You could arrest me and confiscate our ships… but it would be a long, messy, high-press, politically unpopular court case that could drag on for years.” He stood up and shrugged. “Or you could let us join Captain O’Reilly’s task force.”
Damn, this guy is good! Xinjao thought, seeing the baffled look on the Admiral’s face.
“I don’t take kindly to threats, M. Horton,” she growled, “and you are aware that the recently-passed Five Acts supersede those rulings.
Schulyer spread open his arms. “This isn’t a threat, admiral, it’s a plea! We simply want to defend our colony, and we’re begging for your approval. You said yourself the Federation needs a more aggressive approach to the Righteous Army, but you didn’t have the ships to do it. Well, we’re supplying you with the ships! Is there any reason not to authorize an offensive?”
“It’s more… complicated than that,” Kristen Vorheis said, struggling to find a diplomatic way to explain the rather awkward problem. “You see, the Federation is under a lot of pressure from… various religious organizations… not to attack Bad Andy. In fact, we’ve received several petitions from the Religious Right to negotiate a peaceful solution to the –“
“Well, we’ve got some petitions of our own,” Smythe interrupted, plopping down an enormous stack of papers on the Grand Admiral’s desk. “We’ve compiled over a million signatures from members of two thousand temples, churches, pagodas, synagogues, and mosques, all calling for the Federation to protect their freedom of religion by stopping the advance of the Righteous Army.” The governor smiled. “You think a couple angry Christians are bad? Wait until you see the hell a million angry Moslems can raise!”
Vorheis bit her lip and glared at them. She picked up the datapad Schulyer gave her and looked over the tiny Israeli fleet. Her eyes widened as she read. “You can’t be serious, General,” she exclaimed, “If you tried to invade the Righteous Army with these ships, you’d never survive! I’m sorry,” she said, putting down the pad, “but I can’t authorize this kind of pointless suicide mission.”
“Oh, we’re not going to invade them,” O’Reilly spoke up for the first time, “We’re just gonna try to contain ‘em! You know, a guerilla campaign to weaken them? Keep them from spreading? Maybe take back some of the smaller systems for a buffer zone if we’re lucky....”
The grand fleet admiral silenced him with a skeptical glare. O’Reilly looked down, still intimidated by her. It was the first time he ever had to luck to meet the Grand Admiral personally… and he had come to make demands. “Look,” Xinjao muttered awkwardly. “This’ll take some pressure off the Federation, and all it’s gonna cost ya is some fuel and ammo. If we win, you can take the credit. If we lose, you can disown us as a bunch of crazy Jews in space… ya got nothing to lose, really…”
Vorheis watched him silently, thinking. Finally she spoke, tapping her albino nose with a stylus. “Fine,” she said. “You can have your little holy war, Captain O’Reilly. You can raise your ‘volunteer task force,’ but your ship will be the only Earth Fleet ship involved in this unofficial campaign. Furthermore, I’m not about to force any Fleet sailor to take part in this little crusade of yours… so your crew will be formed completely from volunteers. Is that understood?” Xinjao nodded enthusiastically. At this point, he was happy with anything. “Earth Fleet will provide you with fuel, ammo, supplies, any intelligence we have on the Righteous Army, and use of our space docks, refueling stations, and repair yards. But no ships, no small craft, and no fighters.”
“No fighters?” he said, shocked. “But, Admiral… the back bone of any fleet is fighters!”
“I’m sorry,” Vorheis said. “but fighters are scarce right now. We lost too many of them during the battle of Avalon, and we can’t build new ones fast enough to keep up. Oh, and there’s one more condition for this little arrangement. I understand, Captain, that you don’t plan on attending your own award ceremony in a few days time. Is this true?”
Once again O’Reilly found himself staring at the floor and shuffling uncomfortably. “Well… I… with all due respect, ma’am…I just don’t feel--”
“I’ll try to ignore this insult to the Earth Fleet,” Vorheis cut him off curtly. “But I can’t ignore the propaganda value of your actions at Phoenix. You turned a defeat into victory. We need to play that up as much as possible to keep up the Federation’s morale. So if you don’t show up for that press conference, O’Reilly… the whole deal’s off. Do we understand each other?”
Both Schuyler and Edwina turned to look expectantly – and somewhat menacingly – at Xinjao. The whole plan rested on him now. Slowly, reluctantly, he nodded.
“Very well,” Vorheis agreed, “I’ll get the paperwork started. What’s your first target?”
General Horton walked over to the star chart on the wall and stabbed his finger down on a little yellow dot on the frontiers of known space.
“All right, Aces, form up on me. Let's show the folks where their weak spots are.” Ensign “Leaf” Dade brought his Crusader about in a sharp turn and began his attack run on the Schaumburg. “Remember, a Niteroi Class is designed with fewer light guns, that makes her dangerous to other capital ships, but if she is solo, fighters can chew her up, follow me in.”
After a year of almost daily training flights, staying in formation with Leaf came easily to Sloth, J.W., and Mel. The four Crusaders transformed into a tight wedge pattern so that all of their weaponry could be brought to bear upon the target. Leaf could almost feel the “enemy” gunners targeting him, and has such had no problem slipping underneath the aft arc in order to gain the perfect attack approach on the vessels lower weapons command center. The EFS Schaumberg’s computers registered simulated hits and the appropriate sections were shut down. The Aces performed a radical split, breaking into twos as they turned underneath the vessel and then reformed into a diamond formation as they raced out again through the now helpless aft arc.
“Great run folks, let's get back to the ship and kill some brain cells in the Officers Club.”
“Will do boss,” Ensign Jestine replied,” asking permission to begin docking approach now.”
A deep gravelly voice, that could only belong to Sloth cut in. “That was too easy boss, we made those gunners look like fools.”
“Easy yes, but they were not fools. We just exploited a known weakness of this brand of Light Cruiser. Which unfortunately is going to make our lives harder,” came Leaf’s quick reply.
“How does winning make our lives harder?”
“Well, that weakness is normally covered by a complement of around 30 fighters, and last I counted the four of us are all we have….”
Even Sloth was able to crunch those numbers, and offered only silence as a response.
Rosemary SanCouver entered the command office of the Right Sword of the Faithful. She nodded and smiled at him, her head held high. If the middle-aged black woman was uncomfortable in the black dress that covered her from neck to wrist to ankle in the hot San Angeles sun, she didn’t show it. Moving with calm and certainly, she took the chair offered her, folded her hands in her lap, and thanked him. Fortunately, the Sword knew what would have been arrogance in any other Christian woman was just confidence and resolve in Rosemary.
For the first few minutes they chatted cheerfully, catching up on each other’s lives and reminiscing on the “good old days” they spent together in Tremont’s Praenonen, reliving old tales of holy missions … before the women were relieved of their commissions, of course.
“Now, not that I ain’t tickled pink to see you again, Cal,” Rosemary said, addressing the Sword in a shockingly casual way, “But I know you’re busy and can’t spare time to see an ol’ bag like me unless you got some business. So what can this old woman do for the Righteous Army?”
The Sword leaned back in his chair, scars dancing up and down the right side of his face from decompression sickness. “Tell me, Mary… how do you like the home life?”
“Bein’ a housewife is… challenging,” she conceded, with a touch of sarcasm in her voice, “but the joy I get from bein’ a mom more’n makes up for it! Didn’t realize what I was missin’, waitin’ so long to have kids…”
“Do you ever miss the military life, Mary?” the Sword asked, “Miss the Praenonen?”
Rosemary’s smile disappeared. “A woman’s place is in the house, sir,” she recited.
“What would you say if I offered you a commission in the Righteous Army?”
Rosemary shook her head vehemently. “I would say women aren’t allowed in the Righteous Army,” the dark-skinned woman corrected him, fiddling with her wedding ring nervously. “The command comes from the Lord himself, written in his holy Book. I’ve seen the light and been born again… I’m a good Christian, sir, and I would dream of lettin’ my pride—“
“Don’t worry,” the Sword cut her off, “this isn’t a test by the Ministry of Faith… you were one of the original members of the Praenonen, Mary. No one’s accusing you of disloyalty or immoral conduct. In fact, I’ve obtained approval for your participation from Ira Weiss himself.”
Rosemary wasn’t falling for the trap. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m a God-fearin’ woman and-“
“The Righteous Army is stretched to its limit,” the Sword interrupted again. “We haven’t released it to the press, but we’ve suffered some setbacks. We were only able to take Valkyrie by scraping together every ship we had and leaving the rest of our systems with little or no defenses. It’s a house of cards, Mary. We need resourceful officers more than ever, but we’re running out of experienced soldiers. Desperate times call for… unconventional measures.”
Rosemary watched him silently, still suspicious. The aging mother tried to ignore the desires creeping up inside her – craving for her old uniform, longing for a pistol at her hip, and desire for the thrill of the fight. No, she told herself, I’ve left that behind. It is not God’s will…
“Your service record is full of victories you pulled off while outclassed, outgunned, and outnumbered,” the Sword continued. “These are precisely the skills we need now to protect the Christian Federation. Should you not use the gifts God has given you to further His holy cause?”
He could tell from the look in her eyes that she was tempted. She concentrated a minute, absently tucking a strand of silver-black hair back in place, then straightened herself and looked him in the eye. “The troops ain’t gonna follow my orders, Cal. You know that,” she warned.
“That’s already been taken care of,” the Sword said, dismissing the objection with a wave of his hand. “Officially, you’re only being assigned as an advisor to the captain of the picket. Unofficially, he’s been instructed to follow your orders. Only you and he know that, of course.”
“Your mission is to defend Alpha Centauri. The former picket was recently destroyed. This is what we’ve been able to spare to reinforce it with,” the Sword said, passing her a datapad.
Mary glanced over the list. “Where’s the rest of it?” she asked.
The Sword just stared at her.
“Sweet Jesus,” she swore as it sunk it. “A frigate for a flagship? We are stretched thin.”
“Can you hold the system with it?” the Sword asked, watching her intently.
Rosemary stared at the pad thoughtfully, and finally nodded. “Faith finds a way, I reckon… but I’ll need more ammo… a couple tons of mineral dust… drones would be nice…”
“So you accept?” the Sword asked.
“I don’t see how I can refuse, Reks” she said, shaking her head and smiling.
“Good to have you back, Mary.” Calton said warmly, holding out his hand. Rosemary gripped her old comrade’s forearm tightly in the warrior’s handshake of the old Praenonen… and joy flooded her heart. The Lord had answered my prayers! she thought, blinking away tears. She was Lieutenant SanCouver of the Righteous Army again… fighting for the glory of the Lord.
END OF ACT I
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.