CAUTION, WIT, & DISCRETION – Act III
“But here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land
And countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.
-M. Bogle, No Man's Land
“How did you get this number?”
“It’s not important, ma’am,” Veolin said through the vidphone, “I came to ask about our mutual friend.”
“Our mutual friend?” Lieutenant-General Irene Weirimu, recently appointed head of the Federation TI, sat there on the other end of the vidphone connection, completely bewildered by the woman on the other end. “Look, I don’t know who you are…”
“I’m a lieutenant in the Raptors, ma’am.”
Weirimu rubbed the side of her tanned face as she looked at the strange woman. “Is this a secure channel?”
“It is on my end.”
There was a slight flicker as Irene touched a button beside her. “We’re secure.”
“Gergenstein is thankful for all the help you’ve granted InSec over the years. He hopes that you appreciate all we’ve done for you.”
The general seemed to literally squirm in her seat. “I remember.”
“Good. You did get the message we sent you?”
“And has the package arrived?” Irene looked off-screen and suddenly a man, dressed in the habit of one of the Righteous Army’s chaplains, stepped inside the vidphone’s cameras. Veolin blinked as she realized who it was. “Treschi?”
“Thank you, lieutenant, I’m on my way.” Andrea replied, then cut the connection. Turning towards her, he smiled. “I trust all the arrangements have been made?”
Irene gave him a dirty look then handed him a datapad. “There are your papers. We had to use up our contacts inside the Reorganized Orthodox Baptist Church; I doubt we’ll be getting much help from them later on.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Treschi replied, looking over the authorization documents. “All I need is to get in once… after that, when all goes well, I shouldn’t need all this.”
“Are you done, general?” Weirimu shot back. “Clarke may seem to like you, but that doesn’t mean I have to.”
Andrea put the datapad in his coat. “Come on, M. Weirimu, you should think of the future.” He brandished one of his patented smiles. “Since I have the ears of both the commandant and the chairman, I could be in a unique position to help you.”
“Of course,” she smiled back, “I wish you a good journey, M. Treschi. Your contact will meet you at the spaceport.”
“Thank you.” the former smuggler smiled and then walked out the door.
“Hope the damn fundies shoot you down.” she muttered under her breath, as soon as he was out of range.
...why the command, "Thou shalt not kill"? God created man in His own image; thus, to kill a man is to strike at the glory of God reflected in man. There have been times and places where God has not poured out any of His saving grace. When this happens, men's fallen natures take complete control, and the reflection of God's glory is minimized to such a degree that God's justice can no longer tolerate their sins. It was so when God opened the floodgates of heaven and destroyed all but Noah, his family, and the animals. It was so when God poured out fire from heaven to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. It was so every time that God ordered the Israelites to destroy the nations whose land they took over.
There are times when wars are necessary to stop injustice. It was so when the Nazis killed thousands of people for no reason other than their heritage. It was so when the bugs landed on Terra and would have surely eradicated our entire species if we had not fought back. It is not so now.
Andrew Tremont has taken advantage of the current widespread political strife, and has put the entire human race in jeopardy. He has made the gospel of Christ a stench to every soul in the Earth Federation. He should be sending in prayer warriors with Bibles and protected by the armor of God to bring the lost to salvation by the grace of God. Instead, he sends in soldiers with obsolete slugthrowers and weak plasma weapons, with pitiful light power armor-- if they get any protection at all-- in a vain attempt to bring the galaxy to submission to the power of Andrew Tremont.
This is the statement of a young man, who is totally confused by the actions of the "Christian" Federation. Perhaps I am in the wrong. I submit myself to the church and the civil government. If they can show me through sacred scripture that I am wrong, then I will recant and repent. If not, then after completing my latest assignment I must remove myself from the Righteous Army-- and the Christian Federation as well.
Respectfully submitted, Ehud
Wade, Ehud, and Remi were well on their way to Earth from Alpha Centauri before Lieutenant Ira Weiss had a chance to look at the datapad that Ehud had given to him. To say the least, what the lieutenant saw before him was unsettling. Several arguments against the war the Righteous Army was waging were presented, and every one of them was potentially hazardous to the war effort. They were arguments that he had heard before by several of his brothers who had refused to join the Christian Federation. At first, Weiss was unconcerned, but after considering Ehud's last mission, Ira turned pale.
Weiss reached for the vidphone and made a call. "Alice? Is Andrew in?"
Zechariah looked around him, lost in the wonder of the star screen before him. McNeilly was still overwhelmed by his trip to his home planet… at least, he thought it was home. The strange buildings, the idyllic landscape, the ships… strewn about in orbit like so many broken toys. He had never been there before, but for the first time in his life, he felt like he was home.
Then he was back on the ship. He didn’t want to leave, but Vin Dane said it was necessary; so much to do before… well, he never said exactly what. Apparently he didn’t trust McNeilly with that secret yet. There was a lot of things he didn’t know about the man who had saved him and brought him home.
He looked again at the ring on his finger. This is one of those things, he thought. Dane said it would help him counter magic, but I still don't understand how a small ring’s gonna stop someone from fucking with reality. Still… if Vin Dane believes it will, it probably does. He might not trust me, but I have to trust him..
Suddenly the door opened, McNeilly pivoted around, and saw Dane stepping in. "It's time."
Zechariah nodded. "All right, who am I taking?"
"We need… to speak about that." Vin turned around and headed back out the door. McNeilly caught the hint and quickly caught up to the walking hodraida. They stepped slowly for a moment then suddenly Dane stopped. Zechariah looked at him for a second, then noticed what he was looking at. Suddenly standing before them was a beautiful woman, shoulder length blonde hair, green eyes, and an amazing body. The skin-tight jumpsuit she was wearing left nothing to the imagination. "This is Jessica Martel,” Dane explained, “she will be your partner."
As Zech faced the back of his hand in the adaptation of a ancient greeting, Jessica just looked strangely at him. Something’s not right, he thought, and stepped forward to touch her. The second he did, McNeilly jumped back in shock. “She’s human!”
“Very good, Zech.” Vin gave a slight smile.”
“I’m supposed to work with a human?!”
“She's not totally human." Dane replied, his eyes locking with McNeilly’s.
"What does that mean?" Zechariah questioned.
"She and the others like her have been slightly altered. They’ve been given a soul web.”
“A soul web? I thought that was impossible.”
“Impossible for our lost children,” Vin corrected, “although they certainly tried. They managed to duplicate themselves through human reproduction, like you, Zech. However, this is something different. They have some of our abilities, but they are still human.” He turned to the woman. “Right, Jess?"
The woman, having stood there silently all this time, nodded quietly.
"It's the first time she’s been out since the… change. We need her to come back, so treat her better than your last partner."
“Do you understand?” Vin stared at Zechariah, a deadly intent creeping into his voice."
“Yeah, I got it… okay.”
"We need to go." Jessica finally spoke in a light alto voice.
"Thank you, Jess.” Dane nodded. “Yes… the two of you need to find a certain hodraida by the name of Shannon and bring her up here. She is important to our future research. That’s all." Finally, the elder turned and left, leaving Zechariah looked questioningly at his partner.
"A human?” McNeilly asked doubtfully, “With horadrim skills?"
Martel just stared back at her new partner, brought up her hand, and shifted it into a spike. "Satisfied?" she growled, looking as if she wanted to ram that spike right through Zech’s body.
The full hodraida snorted out a laugh. "Quite. Let’s go."
Iosef Ruzyho sat there high in a tree in full camouflage, watching the strange group of people come off the shuttle. Oh, we thought we were so fucking clever, the bounty hunter thought to himself, focusing his eyes to see the group spread out. Jump in and hide behind Mars, wing a shuttle around at low velocity toward Earth, and then shift in through the orbital defenses like a piece of space junk. And you almost got away with it, had you not told the automated battlestation computers the correct password. Should have kept radio silence… 50/50 chance of clearing the defense grid, but no one would have questioned the landing.
Ruzyho shifted his sniper rifle to look at the newcomers. Yeah, they’ve got that strange walk, like walking on two legs comes almost too natural. Fucking horadrim; think they own the whole goddamn galaxy, just ‘cause they can do some idiot tricks. Dodge a fucking bullet, asshole!
Then he saw him. Zechariah McNeilly, as I fucking live and breathe… I knew he’d have to come here sooner or later. That idiot hates Kash as much as I do. Iosef lined up his sights on the money prize… then stopped. No, I’m only going to get one chance at this, better wait till they split off… then he’s mine.
"Jessica,” Zech told her, once they were away from the shuttle, heading toward Sanfran, “we’re going the wrong way. We’ve gotta go to Kash's house."
“Kash’s house? Why would you go there?”
"Shannon’s his daughter... that’s where we’ll find her." McNeilly smiled to himself.
“Great…” Martel moaned, following Zech, whose thoughts were turning more and more homicidal. At last, Kash, it’s pay back time.
Erich Von Shrakenberg sat in his ready room on board the EFS Zeus, going over the final supply and training reports for his fleet. He was about to take half of the Home Fleet to attack Earth. The last time he had gone to Earth, he had been part of a task force of 24 ships. This time he had 16. The last time, he had Admiral Karl Von Shrakenberg to lead the fleet. This time, he had only himself. The last time, he had confidence in his plan and his orders. This time, he was full of doubts.
The last time, he had been beaten. He had lost half his fleet, including a Star Control ship, only the fifth Earth Fleet SCS to ever be lost in combat, and he had personally killed one of the previous ones after it fell into enemy hands. This time, he couldn't see how it could possibly go any better.
Erich dropped the readiness report onto his desk, then angrily swept it off onto the floor. Damn it, I shouldn’t have to be doing this! he thought. We should be winning this war, not desperately fighting just to stay alive.
His thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the chime announcing that he had a visitor. He quickly gathered up the stack of reports from the floor, and cleared his throat. "Enter." he intoned.
A short and stocky man with the insignia of Earth Fleet intelligence entered his ready room. “Greetings, Admiral,” the man began. “My name’s Commander Scaragoglu, Fleet Intel, here to provide your intelligence briefing for Operation Foliage Gear.”
Erich smiled. “Well, at least we’re back to random computer-generated code names for missions. I guess after Operation Ziggurat failed to reinforce Babylon, they decided to be more discreet in the future?”
The commander returned the grin. “We thought about calling this one Operation Destroy Earth, but… that wasn’t cryptic enough.”
A shadow seemed to cross Erich’s face, and he was suddenly all business again. “Okay, commander, what do you have for me? What am I up against?”
The intelligence officer walked over to the wall display and plugged in a datachip. “We analyzed the data records from all the ships that made it back after the last attack. Those Horadrim ships are nasty customers, and we know that the Resistance has at least one of those ships now, don’t we?” He shot an accusing glance at the Admiral.
Erich shrugged. “It was that, or let King carry out his coup unopposed. Okay, possible bad call on my part. Any ideas on how to beat them?”
Scaragoglu turned back to the display. “There were two distinct classes of Horadrim ships. One we’re calling a Battlecruiser. Those are ships similar to the Canaris that you’ve ridden in, and it looks like you faced three of them. The other four Horadrim ships were slightly smaller, and we’re calling those heavy cruisers.” Two elongated, rounded shapes appeared on the screen, with wicked-looking forward-swept projections along their sides like the serrated blades of some medieval weapon. “The Horadrim ships seem to use energy weapons exclusively, no projectiles like missiles or torpedoes. The weapons have very efficient focusing systems, and seem to be able to maintain their beam coherence out to two million kilometers or more.”
Erich let out a low whistle. “That’s twice the range of our best grav laser. But lance torpedoes are effective out to five million kilometers. Perhaps if we stood off outside their weapons range?”
The commander shook his head. “We don’t know that two million klicks is their true maximum range, it’s simply the longest range we’ve seen them in use. And besides, at extreme ranges, lance torpedoes take several minutes to reach their targets. By the time the torps get there, they will have had plenty of time to jump out with those tunnel drives. You’ll have to close to energy range to effectively engage them.”
“What can you tell me about the tunnel drives? From what I saw on the Canaris, they can jump in at any point you choose, and they don’t go through hyperspace.”
“Correct, they use multiple-dimension technology to create a shortcut from one point in our universe to another point, but they don’t need to travel through hyperspace to get there. We don’t think they even can enter hyperspace, they must use some other dimension that we don’t have access to.”
“Great. They can run to somewhere we can’t chase them, and pop out anyplace they want.”
“Exactly,” the commander concluded. “They appear to use something similar to a gravity drive for normal-space maneuvering, at least there is no reaction drive we can identify. And they can pull more g’s of acceleration than even the newest drives we have.”
“So even in normal space, they can outrun us. Wonderful.”
“Yes, nice toys you handed them.”
“Point taken.” Erich answered with a grimace. “What about the rest of the Resistance ships?”
The commander changed the picture on the wall display to show several human-built ships. “Most of their own ships were either destroyed or badly damaged. We think they’ve repaired about half of the damaged ships, and may have finished another ship or two that was half-completed in the Utopia Planitia shipyards when they took the system. In our worst-case projection, we think you’ll be facing ten ships.”
“What kind of ships?”
“Well, their biggest seems to be the Racinante III, their flagship. It’s equivalent to a dreadnought, even has a gravity drive, although it is light on lance torpedoes and heavy on the fusion cannons and chemlasers. It does appear to have at least one Jurvain-type Hellbore cannon, probably bought from the Frontier Worlds Territory.”
“Another ship you don’t want to tangle with at close range, but with that grav drive, forget about standing off and using torpedoes.”
“Exactly. They also seem to have a pair of older, battlecruiser-sized ships, probably rebuilt from ships we sold to the Eastern Bloc. We think you killed one of them outright last time, but the other might have only been damaged. The rest of their ships are captured destroyers and frigates, with a light cruiser or two thrown in for fun.”
“Great,” Erich concluded. “Against the Resistance fleet alone, I have good odds. If they got new ships from somewhere, or those Horadrim ships show up again, it gets way too close for comfort. And we know that both InSec and the Horadrim themselves are cozy with the Resistance, so we have to assume that they’ll be there.” Erich threw up his hands. “Any idea how I’m supposed to beat them?”
Scaragoglu smiled. “You’re the tactical wizard, I’m just here to provide information.” He shrugged. “If you can figure out where they are gonna jump in, you might be able to ambush them. But Resistance fleet personnel are a mix of untrained volunteers and seasoned Earth Fleet veterans. And the tactical ability of InSec or Horadrim crews are unknown quantities. You could assume that they’d jump in at the worst possible time and place for you, but if you prepare for that, then another time and place becomes the worst possible moment for them to jump in. And you can’t assume what they know, or how good they are. We simply don’t know. I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can do, Admiral.”
“Thank you, commander, you’ve been most informative,” Erich said. He rose to see the commander out the door.
“There is more data on the chip, everything we know about their ships,” the Intelligence officer stated as he turned to leave. “Oh… and sir?”
“We also know what you planned to offer them as surrender terms last time.” he said with a pointed look. “Chairman Clarke’s orders are clear. Nothing less than unconditional surrender. We thought about extending your offer, then double-crossing them, but if we do that, we throw away any chance of a negotiated peace with other factions. We believe you can defeat the Resistance even if they don’t surrender. If they give up, fine. If they don’t, you are to crush them utterly. If we let them back in, they will just go to ground again, and we can’t allow them any chance to infiltrate our ranks. If they surrender unconditionally, we can stick them all in prison camps. If we have to offer them terms, they will just destroy us from within.”
“I understand my orders, commander.” Erich said with a level stare.
“I hope you do. Good day, sir.” With that, Commander Scaragoglu left the ready room with a purposeful stride.
Erich sat down and keyed up the information on the datachip. He looked at the estimated cycle time for the Horadrim tunnel drives. Forty-five seconds, he thought to himself. Close, but we might be able to do something with that. As he looked over the data, a plan started to come together in his mind. It isn’t quite hopeless, after all. Damn close, but not quite…
He smiled to himself. He just might be able to pull this off after all.
Xinjao and Leisa stood stiffly at attention side by side at the back of the small, stuffy briefing room in Earth Fleet HQ on Avalon. Xinjao was extremely uncomfortable. He didn’t like the greasy make-up caked on his face for the press cameras. He didn’t like the stiff, uncomfortable dress uniform he was in. He didn’t want the fame and infamy of being a war hero. He didn’t even want the stupid medal! But most of all, he didn’t like the room full of reporters pointing cameras at him… with an audience in the billions. But he was required to be here… and if he played his cards right, he might even maneuver this dog-and-pony show to his advantage.
Clad in her gold-trimmed dress uniform, Vorheis stepped up to the podium in the makeshift studio. With a rumble of whirs and clicks, all the cameras turned toward them and started recording. “On September 23rd, 2243,” the Grand Admiral and master showman began, “two people everyone had given up as dead suddenly flew into Avalon space with an entire warship full of liberated prisoners from a forced labor camp in the Christian Federation.”
Vorheis proceeded to tell the reporters the “official” version of their escape from the Phoenix Yards, leaving out the unattractive or embarrassing details. The Earth Fleet spin on the events dripped with heroic phrases and portrayed them as superhuman. Blah, blah, blah, Xinjao thought, get on with it! His heart pounded and his knees trembled nervously. He wanted this to be over; he didn’t want the entire Federation staring at his beer gut longer than absolutely necessary. The admiral blathered on passionately about loyalty and patriotism, defending the Fleet’s passive containment policy against the Righteous Army… and finally, she got to the point.
“But their escape was more than just a tactically victory, it was a spiritual one,” Vorheis said, wrapping up. “Their escape embodied the spirit of the Federation, a clear message to all that we are not going to roll over and die; that the citizens of the Federation will never stop fighting to defend our civilization, no matter how hopeless the situation! The Battle of Phoenix, after all, was turned from defeat into victory not by admirals or generals, but by non-coms and dockworkers… proof that the little guys can make a difference. If just a handful of prisoners could deal such heavy damage to the Righteous Army, how can the Federation possibly fail to defeat the Christian Federation?”
“Those two people, who displayed such exquisite resourcefulness and courage,” she continued, “were Captain Xinjao O’Reilly and Chief Leisa Horton. Earth Fleet has brought them before the Federation today to show them our gratitude to their bravery and valour. Chief Horton?” Leisa stepped forward and saluted mechanically, standing at attention before the Grand Admiral. “In recognition of the courage and leadership that saved hundreds of your comrades’ lives, we award you the Earth Fleet Cross of Honor.” Leisa bowed her head as Vorheis slipped the prestigious and rare medal over her neck, and applause filled the room.
“I… don’t know what to say…” Leisa said, obviously overwhelmed, but deeply satisfied. “I’m deeply honored… but this award should really go to all the members of the Phoenix Resistance,” she clarified. “Without the courage and hard work of a lot of people, none of this would have happened. Thank you, Admiral, for such high praise,” Leisa continued, “and especially for supporting our volunteer regiment to guard the Federation against the fanatics.” Leisa turned toward the cameras. “We’re always accepting new recruits for Task Force David. Anyone who want to-“
“The Federation thanks you for your devoted service,” Vorheis said, cutting her off before Leisa could turn the award ceremony into an infomercial. “Captain O’Reilly?” Xinjao’s stomach churned nervously, but he took a deep breath and stepped forward on trembling legs.
“In recognition of your courage, heroism, and selfless sacrifice for the soldiers and citizens of the Federation,” Vorhies said, smiling, “the Federation awards you the Earth Fleet Cross of Honor and two Blood Stars for your injuries in the line of duty.” O’Reilly felt the eyes of the universe on him as Vorheis slipped the medal around his neck like a noose. The room erupted into polite applause and cameras flashed as he turned to the reporters, openly bearing the shiny prize he’d won for the slaughter of thousands. He felt like the world’s greatest hypocrite. He hated it.
“Thank you, ma’am.” O’Reilly said, heart pounding. He hesitated for a second, terrified to recite the carefully prepared speech he had memorized, the terrific gamble he was about to take. “I’m deeply flattered by this great honor,” he began, hoping it didn’t sound too wooden, “but to be honest, I don’t think I deserve it. I didn’t do anything special.” He could feel the anger emanating from Vorheis behind him and sensed her moving forward to cut him off. “I just did what any Fleet citizen in my position would do.” he said quickly before the admiral could interrupt. “I fought to defend the lives of my men and the liberty of our citizens. I did my job to the best of my ability, that’s all. If I had done anything less, I wouldn’t be worthy of this uniform.”
A murmur ran through the reporters and political officers. They loved this kind of modest service-to-the-state bullshit; it was great for inspiring the public. He could sense Vorheis back off slightly; the woman has a nose for propaganda like a bloodhound. “More to the point… I lost,” O’Reilly continued, his nerves settling a bit as his confidence grew. He knew exactly what the press wanted, and he was going to give it to them. “Where the admiral sees heroism, I see only failure. I see men who died and the ships we destroyed. We were ordered to hold the system… and we lost it. Whatever success we pulled off after the occupation we did at too high a price.”
There was complete silence and Xinjao took off his Cross of Honor. He had the complete attention of everyone in the room. “I’m sorry, Admiral Vorhies,” he said, “but I can’t accept an award for loosing the Phoenix Yards. I’m not a hero. I’m just a soldier. And I did the best I could… but I failed.” Vorhies cast a murderous glance at him, but she said nothing. “The real hero here,” O’Reilly continued, “is Grand Admiral Vorhies.”
All the cameras swung toward her. She smiled, but shot Xinjao a surprised and puzzled glance. “Admiral Vorhies has worked tirelessly and made many sacrifices for the Federation since the beginning of this war,” O’Reilly explained. “She has demonstrated her selfless devotion to the Federation, and a fierce commitment to the rights and liberties of the Federation’s citizens. She made the tough decisions and did what had to be done to protect our Senate when dictators tried to size our government. And when the Grand Council was empty… when she held sole military power on Avalon… instead of seizing power for herself, she stepped down and restored our government.” He suddenly seized her hand and pressed the Cross of Honor into it. “If anyone deserves this medal, Admiral, it’s you, for protecting our republic and defending our liberty.”
“Thank you for the compliment, captain,” Vorhies said warmly, accepting the medal but not putting it on. “I appreciate your praise, but I would never award such an honor to myself.”
“That’s why I did it, admiral,” he answered. “Someone had to.” He turned back to the room full of reporters. “Admiral Vorheis is devoted to our freedom and liberty. That’s why she restored the Senate. That’s why she has defended us so fiercely against Auntie Sarah and her TI tyrants. That’s why she pulled ships out of thin air for our volunteer task force to defend the Federation’s borders against the fanatical oppressors of the Christian Federation… and why she transferred four squadrons of fighters to our ships, to defend the citizens’ civil rights and religious freedom! Isn’t that right, Admiral?”
O’Reilly had to give her credit. She didn’t even blink as all the cameras swung toward her for her answer. “Of course,” she answered instantly, “Earth Fleet never had any intention not to protect our northern frontier from the Righteous Army. Even stretched as thin as we are, I will always spare the ships to fight tyranny!”
“Ma’am,” O’Reilly said reverently, “may I have the honor of shaking your hand?”
“Of course, captain,” she said, stepping closer and gripping his hand firmly. “And we appreciate your hard work and sacrifices. You have never failed us.” They both prolonged their handshake, smiling faces turned toward the cameras as the flashes surrounded them.
“I’m going to kill you!” Vorheis hissed softly through the clenched teeth of her forced grin.
“Take a number!” O’Reilly whispered through his own cheesy smile.
New Israel is too…goddamned… HOT!!
This single thought had dominated Captain O’Reilly’s thoughts since he arrived at the Munitions Kibbutz on the God-forsaken hellhole the New Israelis called home. He wiped rivers of sweat out of his eyes for the billionth time as he watched Israeli engineers prep the next test missile for launch. On any other decent planet, a colony in the arctic circle would be cold! Xinjao grumbled to himself. But on a sun-baked rock orbiting a gas giant close to the system’s sun, the poles were the only places cool enough for humans to survive in the refreshingly mild, 130 degree climate. Oh, and it was the only place cool enough that water didn’t evaporate instantly - it just hung around in the air at 90% humidity instead.
Fanning himself with a circuit board in a vain attempt to cool off, O’Reilly watched as an Israeli technician climbed inside a Maverick fighter to launch the test missile. The missile fired its rockets… and went nowhere. At first it wouldn’t release from the launcher, then it suddenly shot forward, corkscrewed, and exploded at it slammed into the dirt.
O’Reilly was thrown into the air by the shock wave and hit the ground with a bone-shattering crunch. He lay motionless, dazed from the impact as dirt and rocks showered down on top of him. Finally, he managed to roll over, pushed himself onto his hands and knees, and with a huge effort managed to stagger to his feet. In twice the gravity of Avalon, every little action on New Israel was a trial of strength and endurance. He had been on New Israel for less than a day, but already every muscle in his body burned from the constant strain. No wonder all the Israelis he had met were short and powerfully built - they had to be, just to function in this gravity!
“What the hell went wrong this time?! Why didn’t it release?!” O’Reilly hollered at the Israeli engineers, who were arguing with each other fiercely. The engineers shot him a puzzled glance and then showered him with an angry burst of Hebrew syllables. “Huh? Wha? What did you - Huh?” O’Reilly stammered, frustrated as he whipped out his datapad and furiously tried to pull up the translation software. The engineers spoke loudly and quickly in the foreign language, pointing and gesturing, and O’Reilly’s program couldn’t keep up with the quick, overlapping voices. “C’mon, guys,” Xinjao pleaded, staring in dismay at the garbled words scrolling across the pad, “Slow down, will ya?!” But the Israelis ignored him and continued their rapid-fire discussion about the failed missile test. Xinjao hated being left out of the discussion; he felt stupid and useless. Between the heat, weight, and frustration, his temper was dangerously thin.
I hate this place, O’Reilly thought darkly. It’ll crush me if I don’t melt first…
“Hey! O’Reilly!” a feminine voice called out behind him. “C’mon, we gotta get inside for the meeting!”
“Already?” he bitched, glancing at his watch as he turned toward her. “It’s not time for the…uh…” he stopped suddenly, staring at Leisa, “…um… the, uh… debriefing…” God-DAMN!
Until now, he had only ever seen Leisa in an environmental suit, a uniform, or the floor length dress of the Christian Federation. Now she wore what most New Israelis wore in the blistering heat - as little as possible. For the first time ever, he noticed her small, sleek figure and generous endowment. The Israelis were a muscular people - and, damn, was that firm, toned look sexy! He noticed her cut off tank top and shorts were soaked with sweat and clinging -- quite nicely -- to the graceful curves of her body.
“Yeah, I know, but the Captain of the Galilee wants to talk to ya before the meeting,” she nodded, wiping sweat off her neck. “Power incompatibility with the modular bay… or something.”
“Yeah… modular bay… cool,” he agree, his eyes roaming up and down her body.
“What’s the deal with the missiles, anyway?” she asked, walking toward the compound.
“The, um… they don’t make missiles for the Mavericks anymore,” Xinjao answered, shuffling awkwardly after her. “And… uh… they sold all the stockpiles to the, um, frontier.” Oh my fucking god… why didn’t I notice this before?!
“Great!” Leisa groaned. “So you finagled us a bunch of fighters with no weapons?”
“Um… they got, y’know, railguns and stuff…” O’Reilly mumbled. “We’re tryin’ to, y’know, retrofit some other missiles for ‘em… it, uh, shouldn’t take long.” Yes, he thought, I believe I can see the face of God in that ass…
Leisa stopped and turned toward him, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Do you have a problem or something?” she asked after a slight pause.
“Huh? What? The missiles?” Where the hell has she been hiding those?!?
“You’re staring at me.”
“No I’m not!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I just noticed… uh…” look at her eyes look at her eyes look at her eyes “that you, um… don’t tan. The, uh, the other Israelis do.” God, why am I acting like such a dork?
Leisa watched him suspiciously for a few more seconds before giving him the benefit of the doubt. “No… not anymore,” she agreed. “I’ve been in deep space with the Fleet too long. I’ve gotten all pale.” She hit the panel to open the door the underground compound “You don’t seem to be getting a nice sunburn yourself,” she said, walking through the door.
“Oh… yeah… I don’t tan, I burn,” O’Reilly said, following her inside. “Irish, y’know…” The blast of cool hit him like a wall as he entered, and he found himself moaning as he sank to his knees. “Oh, thank GOD!!” he swore, “AIR CONDITIONING!!!”
Looking ahead, instead of what Xavier thought was looking for, stood two Mark 100 Power Armor Suits, ready to fire.
Xavier moved with catlike speed. Sliding under the first suit’s aim. Kuar appeared with a glistening appearance, as it slid through the walking battle tank’s thick arm. Xavier watched as the arm fell to the floor. I didn’t command Kuar to come out, he realized, what the fuck is going on? I am in total control? By the time Xavier took hold of his conscious self, he noticed that the other suit was laying on the ground, the upper potion of his body separated several feet from
the lower portion.
Then he saw it; Pollos could hardly miss it. It was a small box standing on a pedestal, set into a small alcove against the far wall. As Xavier walked closer to it, he could feel Kuar humming. each step he took made the hum louder. Before he could touch it, something made him stop. It took an effort to step forward again and actually touch the box.
It was covered in runes and seemed to be made of several different pieces of metal, swirling and interchanging themselves over the surface. I swear… it’s moving. It took a conscious effort to get his body to pick up the box. This is what Mordred wanted? Yeah, I can feel the power of this box, but… there’s gotta be something else to it.
Then Xavier noticed the lid. Very carefully, he opened the top of the box, and saw the light emanating from inside. Then he saw the strange gray orb slowly float out of its container. It seems like it’s looking at me, he thought, as the orb floated up to about eye level.
“Excalibur.” escaped Pollos’ lips before he could stop himself. Suddenly it flew to his free hand and formed into a sword. Xavier could do nothing but raise up both his hands and look at the twin swords before him. Kuar radiated something… was that jealousy? he wondered. Could a sword be jealous? The other sword was ancient of an older design that he had ever seen; it looked heavy enough to cut through plate mail, but the balance… could this really be Excalibur? No wonder the Fed didn’t want Mordred to get their hands on it. But why hide it here? Why not use it for themselves?
Suddenly the roof exploded; the assassin was knocked to the ground as the shards of the ceiling fell down upon him. The new sword suddenly turned into a dome around the wielder. The heavy pieces of stone just bounced off the unconsciously-created structure. When the pings and scratching sounds subsided, the dome reformed into the floating orb, and Pollos could see straight into the sky.
A ship rushed by and Xavier instinctually knew that it wasn’t of Fed design. Invasion? Here? But it could only be…
Another blast made him realize that he was not in a safe place. Did the ‘cats decide to attack? Am I stuck on this planet during another goddamned invasion?!
Just let me kill them all. You don’t need anything else. Just me!
Who said that? he wondered, looking at the two devices in his hands. What’s going on here?
Another rumble snapped him back into reality. “I’ve gotta get the fuck out of here.” Looking up, suddenly he found himself bounding up through the hole, landing with both feet on the ceiling. Xavier stared off into the sunset, now watching all the K’Nes transport landing onto the surface of the planet.
Smacking his lips, the assassin smiled. “It is time. Time for me to get a taste of blood.”
Raising its weapon over and behind him, Damien shot a hole through the window in back of him, and dove back into the bank. Unwilling to follow, the LI surrounded the building, placing snipers in nearby buildings, and calling several aerodyne gunships. When the SWAT teams arrived, instead of infiltrating the buildings, they dropped down into the sewers to cover the machine's favorite route of escape. They were learning.
Having watched them cut off his routes of escape, Damien stood out of view several floors up inside of the building, waiting for them to make their move.
"The is the LI. Come out with your hands up!" The lieutenant waited only a few seconds, not surprised that there was no surrender. "Gas him." The machine did not react to the tear gas, it's pain editor giving it a degree of immunity. "No effect. All right, send the TI units in." With precision several APCs floated up, their well equipped teams running quickly to the entrances of the building and into the sewers. Overhead, two shuttles landed, dropping even more troopers. They were coming at him from all directions.
Unaware, the machine moved into a large office, crawling into the suspended ceiling. Shutting down the thoughts of its mind, there it waited.
The special teams moved quickly through the building, scanning every nook and cranny. Arriving at a large office full of cubicles, they all stopped to use the sonar scan. As it built an image of the room, it soon showed the form of the machine in the ceiling. Swiveling their guns towards its location, it suddenly dropped.
Activating its chameleon circuits and dropping its response time, three of them were blown to pieces before it hit the floor. The other three opened fire, ten of the shots hitting him square in the chest, the massive weight of the blown back machine knocking over several cubicles.
Chest subdermal armor damaged to 56% strength.
Firing its weapon, the machine killed another two slower troopers before the remaining werewolf shot and tackled him. The machine picked up the power armored giant and moved to throw it out the window before the large hand grabbed him, throwing him through several walls. Back on top of him quickly, the trooper brought his armored fist down quickly, the machine catching it but to little effect. The stronger suit met his unyielding hydraulics, forcing the machine into the floor below. As the werewolf dropped after him the machine put one of the H-90's shells through the werewolves chest, rendering it unconscious. Running quickly over to the suit, the machine took off the werewolf’s helmet, studying his tactical display. With the location of every friendly unit in the building immediately on reference, the machine triangulated their positions with respect to his. Bringing his gauss rifle to action, Damien killed a cloaked team charging his position in the same room. Firing through walls at any soldier within range, the gauss rifle drilled holes through walls and floors into the armor.
"Sir, we are taking heavy losses and are unable to locate the cyborg." The lieutenant knew his duty, however costly to the state and the people it was. "All TI units retreat. Aerodynes destroy the building, all other units wait for it to try to escape." The large hovercraft opened fire upon the building, their lance cannons tearing through steel and plasticrete building, large structural girders of the main structure shattering like ice under a hammer.
Hearing the order, the machine moved next to a window, standing against a side wall. Shooting out the windows, an aerodyne promptly appeared, the twin lance cannons destroying everything in front of it. As soon as it appeared the cloaked machine sprinted out of the building, jumping onto the landing gear of the aircraft. Jumping quickly into the cockpit, the machine ripped off violently the head of the pilot, throwing the rest of his body out of the seat and taking the controls. Putting the aerodyne into a controlled roll, the lance cannons shredded a nearby aerodyne and then strafed an entire side of the blockade of LI, the flitters far below exploding with glorious flames into the police that had been using them as cover. Pulling it down to several feet off the ground the machine continued following the blockade, the lance cannons clearing the flitters and helpless LI out of it's path while the machine shot out of the broken windshield at the LI to it's side. The LI scattered and ran, but the TI remained. Finally a visible target, their plasma rifles opened up on the lightly armored vehicle, cutting the hydraulic controls. As the quickly burning vehicle was about crash into nearby skyscraper, the machine baled, falling ten stories into the hard pavement, its massive weight causing it to crumble the top layer of infrastructure and crash into the sewers. Their it lay, as the TI moved onto the body.
"No pulse. No brainwaves. Call the coroner."
Unable to get more air the machine finally intervened, ripping through the body bag it had been placed in. It had been several hours, and this was a ambulance. Walking up towards the entrance to the cab, the machine paused, listening to the men behind the curtain.
"So Bob, what exactly is that thing back there?"
"Dead. That's all that matters."
"I don't know, from what I hear that's Drake Richter back from the dead, back to his killing spree. How do we know he won't come back again?"
The other man laughed as Bob, the driver, punched the man with his free arm. "Shut the fuck up, you fucking wind bag. That ain't even funny. Dead or not, they should have given us a fucking escort!"
Having heard all that it had to, the machine walked calmly forward into the cab. With one swing its left arm karate chopped the driver's head, and then switched the flitter onto autopilot. Turning to Bob, the machine uppercut the fat man's chest with such force that its arm came into Bob's internal cavities and smeared all organs in its path into one. While the algorithm took joy at the senseless killing, the logic processors pointed out more constructive things. After cleaning off it's arm with the medical supplies in back, the machine parked the ambulance in the slums, and rigged it to explode as soon as it was moved. Walking into the sewers, the machine began its evasionary techniques before returning Shiro's.
At the Joint Forces Command Center, TI Captain John Cashnov studied its files on the subject they had killed.
“Sir, there is a gentleman here to see you.” His perky secretary said across the vidphone.
Cashnov took a long look at the beautiful woman before him. Hey, Tanya, he thought, how about we go out and have a few drinks and victory screw? Now if only I could say that out loud… “Yes Tanya, send him in.”
The man walked in, dressed in black completely. “Who… what are you doing here?”
“My name and my organization is not important, however your superiors believed my experience on your little problem cyborg might be helpful.”
“Too late, he was declared dead three hours ago… his body should be here shortly. So, I guess you can get your anonymous ass out of my office.” As the man turned to leave his secretary gave him another message.
“Sir, they’ve found the ambulance holding the cyborg in the slums. It exploded… and the cyborg isn’t there.”
The man stopped walking towards the door, and turned towards the captain. “Perhaps now would not be the best time to tell you that after severe trauma they don’t have a pulse and emit very few brainwaves. I can help you catch him, but the thing is…” the man paused as a smile creeped over his face, “…they want him alive.”
END OF ACT III
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.