CAUTION, WIT, & DISCRETION – Act IV
“Never trust a relative. It is far worse than trusting strangers. With a stranger there is a possibility that you might be safe.”
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
I smiled. “Of course it does not apply to me. I am the soul of caution, wit, and discretion. Trust me in all things.”
-- Roger Zelazny, The Guns of Avalon
Entering Shiro’s large industrial room, the doctor stood in the middle, his magical forces suspending and restraining a rat in the air. Concentrating on the subject, a small sharp rod came across the room, puncturing through the rat. Moving it over to its cage he soldered the rod to the cage and put the rats food just out of reach. Pulling out a hypodermic needle, he injected the rat with an iridescent substance.
“Now let’s see how many hours it takes for this to work.” Turning to Damien, he motioned towards the newsvid screen. “How many times do you think you can get away? Come here.” The machine obeyed, and the doctor cut off a piece of his skin with scissors. The bleeding ended quickly, and Shiro put it into a petri dish. “In case you don’t come back.”
“I was paid very well for that bank job, and that organization is interested in your services again. Download your experiences, grab a laser carbine and a few clips for you weapons and be gone. They will meet you at the corner of Fifth and Washington Street. And remember, every police camera in this town is programmed to find your face so keep it covered.”
The machine complied, leaving as quickly as possible.
The corner of Fifth and Washington was not as abandoned as the machine would have preferred. A known area for prostitution, there were simply to many people and to many police out even this late as night. Finding the corner, Damien was approached by a woman, her short skirt and revealing tube top allowing the machine to assume she was a prostitute.
“Hey, buddy, you need a ride?”
Translation -- Hey buddy: A greeting, slang. You need a ride: Do you need transportation. Conclusion: Negative.
The machine said nothing.
“Well if you ain’t gonna buy my services, get the fuck off my corner!” She moved to push the machine, and it countered by throwing her into a nearby light post. Although the algorithm tried to make him kill her, the logic processors overruled it, the murder in front of other people could jeopardize his meeting with the organization. Instead the machine picked her off the ground by one foot and held the small short woman into the air.
“Leave.” Dropping her on her head, the bruised woman ran off crying. It waited another five minutes, when finally a large black flitter pulled up. The leader of the bank heist, a smaller man who was a mind mage among other abilities stepped out, along with black man with the deep scar and infrared eye.
“Since we will be seeing each other on a more permanent basis, I suggest we get to know each other’s names. I am M. Codos, and he is M. Tyson, at least for this mission. Drake Richter, I assume?”
“I am Damien Richter.” the machine replied.
“Whatever, let’s be…” He was interrupted as three men and the prostitute approached.
“That’s him, he attacked me!” The middle man stepped forward. “Hey man, don’t be messin’ with my girls.” The pimp pulled a plasma pistol and two others also made motions to go for hidden weapons. The machine reacted faster, pulling the laser carbine at full speed and going invisible. He was about to pull the trigger when Codos sent him a message. No weapons fire, not here. It will activate the police cameras, it will get someone’s attention. The machine put away the weapon and walked over to them still invisible.
“Where’d he go? “ the man said to Codos, who shrugged. Immediately, the women’s tube top was ripped off, a large folding knife falling from under her large naked breasts and disappearing. Within seconds, the pimp’s neck split open, the blood rushing all over his clothes as the cut continued down the side of his neck and into his chest cavity, the invisible knife being thrust into the grooves between his ribs and continued traveling until it had cut his heart in half. Grabbing the dead man the machine held up his arm with the plasma pistol, shooting each of the other two men in the head. The knife reappeared in the stunned woman’s hand, covered in the blood of the pimp. The back door to the flitter opened and closed as the machine reappeared inside.
Codos and Tyson got in and began driving. “That was unnecessary, although somewhat interesting.” The machine said nothing. “Still not one for talking, I see. It’ll make this a long trip.” They drove for hours, eventually reaching a large factory with active smoke stacks. They were approached by armed guards in power armor, who appeared and then disappeared as soon as the occupants were ID’d. Pulling inside of the building, the men began to show the machine around the building. “Our organization is the largest of the three major organized crime groups on Avalon. This building, one of many, is used primarily for the manufacture of designer drugs and mass production of chemical based drugs we market to the masses, along with a being a holding station and distribution center for the plant based drugs we import. Our alliances, partnerships, and the services we give to many senators and major politicians on Avalon allows us to cut deals as to which facilities the LI will raid, and therefore who and what they will find there. This is the main reason Avalon does not reportably have an organized crime problem. Unfortunately, two other organizations have this deal, and they want a monopoly. That’s were we come in.
“Our job is to first kill the largest of the other two organizations. Many of their best fighters were redrafted, leaving only a few old werewolves and mages to augment the humans they now use to defend themselves. We have located all three of their major factories. Two are lightly defended, and would pose little problem. The third is also their command center. It is heavily fortified and manned by their best. It is the fortified one we are to destroy, so that the other two facilities we can simply absorb.” Codos handed him a datapad. “Memorize this by tomorrow. We will show you your room, then I suggest you join us and the rest of the team down at Gilligan’s Island Strip Club. Oh, and you’ll probably need this.“ Codos threw a mask at the machine as Tyson led the machine to its room.
At a table at Gilligan’s the machine ordered the cheapest meat and vegetables, eating the large meal with water while the other men drank. Aware that they would soon be intoxicated and unable to guard themselves, its files told the cyborg to move to a position where it could monitor against threats. Seeing that the bar in the corner had a mirror in front of it, the machine moved to it and sat down at an empty seat.
Translation: The seat has been removed. Statement is false. Continue with orders.
“THE SEAT IS FUCKING TAKEN!” The man got up, standing by the cyborg. Damien continued to sit there, classifying the small weaponless man as a possible threat. “ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID, THE SEAT IS TAKEN!” The man grabbed Damien by the hair, trying to pull him out of the stool. The machine’s mask came off, although the man could not move the massive weight of the machine. Reaching for his needler, Codos again stopped the machine. No weapons and don’t kill him. The machine rose out of it’s seat momentarily, grabbing the man by his bear gut and picking him up over his head with one arm. Careful not to use too much force, Richter threw him across the room, causing him to skid across the floor and into a wall. Getting up after leaving a small dent, the man limped off.
“Impressive… I would like to buy you a drink.” the man to the other side of him said. “Bartender, Vodka for this man.” The bartender threw a drink down the counter, which the machine caught but did not drink, instead just holding it in his hand. “So what are you, a cyborg? Funny, I thought they would have drafted you by now. I was in TI for ten years, glad to be out. Well don’t just sit there, drink up!” Damien did not listen to him, to busy looking for threats, although his machine side was careful to record the message for later examination. “What, are you to good for me? Won’t drink with a veteran? I’ll beat your ass!”
As the man morphed into Crinos form, Richter rose quickly, activating his boosterware and adrenal boosters, although careful not to go invisible. The 30 foot long werecrocodile threw a clawed punch, which the machine ducked easily. Making approximate calculations as to how much force would only hurt the werecreature, Damien punched it the stomach, threw it out into the open, and did a roundhouse kick to it’s head. Unphased, it pounced on him, as Richter fell onto his back and put his feet in front of him, helping force of the beast cause most of it to go right over him. Rising faster than it, the cyborg kneed it harder in the head, as the creature finally caught hold of the machine’s leg. Picking him up off the ground the croc slammed him into several walls before trying to bite him in half. It then punched him repeatably, the machine blocking most of the blows. In disgust of the unharmed machine’s subdermal armor it threw him 30 feet onto the stage. As the girls ran, the machine rose, waiting for the croc’s charge. The algorithm caused the machine enjoy the fight. Its charge came, and the machine used it’s hydraulics to meet it head on, the smaller, lighter machine left standing as they collided. Grabbing the croc by its tail, the machine grabbed it in two places and forcibly broke it. As the croc turned in pain the Richter uppercut its stomach, the croc tiring from the fight while the expenditure of energy only made the machines hydraulics faster and more powerful. As it did combo after combo the croc went limp, after which time the machine stopped. About to walk away he got a message from Codos. That’s one of their werecreatures, grab him and get out of here. The human bouncers pounced upon Richter, who promptly grabbed each of them by their necks and rammed their heads together. As they fell unconscious the machine walked over to the werecreature, dragging it out of the bar by its head.
“Freeze!” He felt the barrel of a plasma rifle against his head as a platoon of TI decloaked, the loss of the mask having alerted the surveillance cameras. The machine for a second stood still, then on full burn threw the huge croc over him, falling to the ground and pulling an H-90 in one hand and a needler in the other. Hit only a few times before the croc covered him, the machine stuck out the guns and sprayed their former positions. Rising out from underneath, they were all dead, but so was the croc. Dropping into the sewers, the machine evaded its way back to the drug factory.
At the Joint Forces Command Center, TI Captain John Cashnov and the mystery man studied the footage from the dead platoon’s power armor.
“Interesting, see that response time? It’s twice their original speed.”
I lose a platoon and it’s fucking interesting! “And just how do you know this crap?”
“Well, I was originally supposed to lead a squad of them, but, things change.”
He’s got to be a fucking InSec agent. No one else would feel perfectly comfortable not having a name. “So what’s next, genius? How many more of my men will you kill to capture this thing?”
“However many it takes.” The man said with a smile. “And that is the full truth.”
There were no bars on San Angeles anymore; there were even fewer restaurants, in fact, there were few public places where people could meet on the capital of the Christian Federation. Of course, the fundamentalist government preferred it that way, and they weren’t about to change any time soon. Although this put a slight cramp in Andrea Treschi’s plans, continuing his cover in the garments of a military chaplain, it wasn’t completely without its benefits. As he sat down in the chapel next to the Minister of Peace for his daily lunch prayer, he suspected nothing.
“Lord,” Treschi prayed, speaking just above a whisper, “I give praise to Your Name, O Lord, and thank you for the blessings you have bestowed upon me and your Righteous Army. Give us strength to face the trials ahead. I also ask for you to have mercy on your servant, Randall Kettering. May you give him long life for his dutiful service to Your State here among the worlds.”
That got his attention, the former smuggler noticed as he mumbled through the rest of prayers. He could feel the minister’s impatience for him to be finished so he could ask about Kettering. Elder Randall was the vice-president of the Christian Elder Assembly, the Christian Federation’s rubber-stamp legislature, and in theory, the third most powerful man in the whole government. If he was to step down, there would be a rush by the other administrative ministers for the post. This was an important piece of information for a man in charge of foreign affairs.
Andrea finished his long-winded prayer, taking a perverse pleasure in watching the elder squirm, waiting for him to finish. When he did, the general stood up and went to leave, and waited for the minister to say, “Excuse me, brother?”
Treschi turned around. “Yes, brother?”
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing your prayers. Is it true that Kettering is stepping down as vice-president?”
“I didn’t catch your name, brother.” Andrea raised his eyebrows.
“My apologies, brother. I’m Reginald Samuels, Elder of the Assembly.”
“Ah, I see. Well, in answer to your question, yes… I’m afraid Kettering is planning on leaving. I talked to him recently and was sorry to hear his decision.”
“Interesting. When did you hear this?”
“When I made my report to the Minister of War this morning. He came into the meeting and talked to the minister. I got the impression that he wanted him as his replacement.” In actuality, everyone knew that the War Minister was the natural successor, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to place himself “at the scene.” Treschi had spent days around the government buildings, figuring out the little soap opera that revolved around Bad Andy’s court. He soon learned that while dressed as a chaplain, he was better than invisible.
“So you are well-placed then, brother?”
Andrea took off his coat and showed the white sash on his arm, a triangle drawn on it proudly. “I’m Chief of Chaplains for the Righteous Navy, brother.” My ID would check out as Captain Brennan Percival, and he was Chief of Chaplains for the Righteous Navy. Pity that he was blown up on the Saint Andrew, as well as the rest of the 1st Fleet at Phoenix.
“My apologies, sir, I didn’t realize…” the minister replied.
“That’s all right, brother.” Treschi replied, holding a smile inside. A captain outranks an elder every day in the Christian Federation. “A common misconception.”
“With respect, sir, would you join me for lunch? I am curious about the fleet operating in His great cause.”
This time, Andrea smiled openly. “Gladly, elder. It’s simply amazing what one can hear here… and out on the frontier. For instance, I heard the strangest thing from one of my charges about signals from the TI faction…”
It’s always so cold in space. Dark and dry and cold.
O’Reilly ran his fingers across an icy plastic porthole on the Schaumburg, watching it steam up from the heat in his hand. It’s just above absolute zero on the other side of this window… you can’t keep it from seeping into the ship. The thermal units do what they can, but… it’s always cold. Xinjao shivered in his uniform and wiped the steam away with his other hand, the cold, dead cybernetics having no effect on the freezing window. He lit a cigarette and inhaled the warm smoke, watching through the porthole as the ships of Task Force David lumbered silently through the orange and black swirls of hyperspace toward Alpha Centauri
His body ached and his eye burned, but he couldn’t sleep. The night before a battle, he never could. So instead he made his usual sleepless rounds, checking and double-checking every wire and coupling… but everything was perfect. The Schaumburg’s engineering staff was excellent. But then, it wasn’t his ship he worried about breaking down during a firefight…
We must be mad to take these into battle, he thought, gazing out the porthole at New Israel’s ancient, battered hulks floating through space. They were all three times older than he was, covered in repair plates and carbon scorching and rust. The Israelis had gotten them working– don’t ask him how – and they were holding together, but they were obsolete, inefficient, and slow. Their weaponry was outdated. There wasn’t a single gravity drive in the whole bunch. Oh, and they were staffed by skeleton crews of inexperienced and under trained volunteers.
Our two heavy cruisers are armed with PLAMSA HOWITZERS, fer cryin’ out loud! Those have been useless since they invented electromagnetic shields! And who told General Horton those clown cars are gunboats? They’re a bunch of orbital missile platforms fastened to cargo freighters! And that assault ship? It’s got ONE laser for offense! Christ… the only ship we got that the Fleet even still uses is that Mandela destroyer… and they’re considered the worst ships in the Fleet. And as for that light cruiser… well… actually, that ain’t a bad ship. Not too old, armed to the teeth… I guess we lucked out on that one.
He snuffed out his cigarette and left the chilly observation deck, huddling deeper into his coat as he walked down the cold corridors, lost in thought. Then again, the Righteous Navy hasn’t got much either. And we’re using our cruisers as carriers for high-tech fighters that are better than anything they’ve got… if we had enough pilots for them all, that is... He had been able to trick, blackmail, bribe, and scrounge over a hundred fighters…but they only had pilots for half of them. Otherwise, our fleet is as pathetic as Bad Andy’s…. and a whole hell of a lot smaller.
He worried about the imminent battle. He worried about the ships holding up. He worried about the green crews performing under fire. And he worried about himself. He had never been in command of a force this big before. His only naval combat experience was a brief moment on the Benedict… and if another ship hadn’t come to his rescue, he would have died. I couldn’t even take out a single crippled ship – how am I supposed to take an entire system?
General Horton and the other Israeli captains had strong objections to O’Reilly’s battle plan -- charge out of the jumpgate guns blazing and overwhelm the picket with sheer numbers. It was too risky, they said. Left them too exposed. No room to maneuver. But without a grav drive, O’Reilly had pointed out, pouring out of the jumpgate was their only choice. Besides, he had argued, if Fleet intelligence was right, there were only about a half dozen ships in Alpha Centauri – Task Force David outnumbered them three to one. What was the worst that could happen?
O’Reilly was fairly sure they would win… at least, he couldn’t see how they could possibly lose. Still, he knew any competent commander could tear up a simple charge like his very easily… it wouldn’t take much. How bad are our losses going to be?
A chill washed over him. It’s always so damn cold in space…
Xinjao’s comm link beeped at him suddenly. “Uh, hello? Captain?” the timid voice of Lieutenant Higgins asked. “We’ve, um…. got a situation here…”
“Anything serious, Gene?” O’Reilly mumbled wearily, opening the channel.
“Well, uh… we’re being scanned,” he answered nervously
“What?” Suddenly Xinjao was wide awake and paying full attention. “Who? Where?”
“Uh, I can’t tell, sir. We’re not picking up anything on, uh… oh, wait… I’ve got something small on the edge of long-range scans… looks like a – fighter? Wait…oh… sorry, sir, we lost it.”
“Location?” O’Reilly asked uneasily, walking quickly toward the bridge.
“Um… between us and the Alpha Centauri jumpgate. Along the beam… I think.”
“Shit! It’s a scout ship – it’s gotta be!” O’Reilly cried, his stride toward the bridge breaking into a run. “Dammit, they know we’re here! Chase the fighter, Gene! Try to shoot it down before it can warn its friends! All ships, full burn! Red alert! Everyone to battle stations!”
Hyperspace ripped a swirling orange hole through the jumpgate, and a lone Warhawk fighter bearing the double cross of the Righteous Navy shot out like a bullet into Alpha Centauri.
“ENEMY SHIPS HEADIN’ FOR US!!” the frightened pilot screamed, “TONS OF ‘EM!!”
“Control yourself, sailor!” Lieutenant Richard York barked over the radio. “How many ships?”
“About twenty,” the pilot answered, calmer but still shaken. “Most of them are just missile boats, but I read at least four cruisers and a destroyer!”
Shocked silence answered him. “All that for here?” York finally asked, stunned. “ETA?”
“Maybe an hour?” the pilot answered.
York drew in a deep, shaky breath. “Okay, we’ll activate the field as soon as you’re clear.” He opened a channel to his entire tiny squadron. “Red Alert! Enemy at the gate! This is not a drill! Launch fighters, all ships to assigned locations! Remember, men… God does not give us challenges we cannot overcome. Trust in the Lord -- God will provide for the faithful.”
“…baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam,” the chaplain finished solemnly.
“Adonai eloheinu, adonai echad,” the soldiers intoned.
“All right, boys,” Rabbi Yakov said to the Israeli troops floating around him for the pre-battle blessing. “We’re psyched and we’re ready, but don’t forget -- we’re green, and they’re desperate. If the battle gets ugly, just remember -- your sacrifices will protect the home world and defend the faith. God has always provided for his chosen people… but check your ammo anyway, and watch each other’s backs. Okay, men… let’s do it.”
All over the ancient ships of Task Force David, alarmed crewmen pulled themselves weightlessly along dusty, creaking corridors lit dimly by flashing amber lights. Sirens screaming red alert echoed down the narrow halls as sailors strapped themselves into battle stations, marines pulled on armor and pilots climbed inside fighters. The air was full of nervous orders bellowed over the roar of the engines and the whine of charging defense grids. Troops scrambled nervously to their posts and loaded torpedo tubes, primed fusion shells, warmed up lasers and sealed pressure doors. They were tense and inexperienced… but ready for war.
“Jump point closed, captain,” Lieutenant Higgins nervously told O’Reilly on the bridge of the Schaumburg. “The fighter has, uh, jumped into Alpha Centauri.”
“Damn!” Xinjao cursed. He’d hoped to prevent the scout from warning the picket… but the little fighter had been too fast with too much of a head start for them to catch up and shoot it down. Well, we’re not far behind it, he thought as the jump gate appeared on long range sensors, at least they won’t have much of a warning. Still… he couldn’t shake a feeling of dread…
Although the battle was still far away, Xinjao’s pulse began to race as he clipped a translator aid into his ear as he opened channels to all his ships. As long as just a single voice came over the speaker, it could translate Hebrew and Yiddish for him. O’Reilly checked and rechecked each of his vessels, barking out orders until he was satisfied every ship was exactly where he wanted it for the jump into Alpha Centauri: fighters launched and formed up in squadrons ahead of the task force, capital ships lined up in pairs behind the fighters, gunboats and supply ships bringing up the rear.
“Approaching the jump gate, captain,” Lt. Higgins said anxiously “Jump point forming.”
O’Reilly was vaguely aware that his hands were shaking as he plugged one end of his interface cord into his console and the other into the socket at the base of his skull. He noticed several of his crew flinch as they watched him. He couldn’t blame them; it had to be disturbing to see a cord sticking out of their captain’s head. Gotta get a cybermodem implant someday, he made a mental note to himself. Man, what I wouldn’t do for a smoke right now…
He mentally ran through the connection routine to the Schaumburg’s computer, then accessed the sensor logs and displayed the data to his cybernetic eye. The semi-transparent tactical map of space scrolled across his field of vision, broken into a 3D grid with Task Force David in the center. From here – in this ghostly simulation of the space around him – he would command the battle, like an ancient god who controlled the ships while watching from afar.
“Okay, men, this is it,” O’Reilly broadcast to his ships in English and Hebrew. “We outnumber them three to one, so this shouldn’t be too tough… fighter squadrons through the gate first, spread out and secure the jump gate, covering us while we enter the system. From there we’ll break into mixed squads and attack the enemy ships – fighters surround and contain while gun boats and capital ships saturate their targets with missile fire. I’ll confirm targets for squads once we’re through the gate and know what’s on the other side. Good luck, everyone.”
O’Reilly gripped his command chair tightly as he saw the orange chaos of hyperspace burst into a swirling portal to the stars on the main view screen, both excited and frightened as he watched his little fleet charge in. This is it, Xinjao thought as his fighters swarmed out into the sector, it’ll be rough getting through the gate… but then we can easily overwhelm them with--
O’Reilly flinched sharply and shut his eyes as a bright flash lit the space before him. He looked back at the hazy image on the screen as the sensors compensated for the brightness and saw another flash… then another… and another… O’Reilly stared before him in slack-jawed horror as one by one his fighters were consumed in nuclear blasts. His ghostly 3D tactical display lit up like fireworks as something shot down his fighters with alarming speed and accuracy… and his ships were heading right into it…
The Schaumburg shot into normal space as nukes detonated around them, rocked by the blasts as they speed through the wreckage of their own ships. Suddenly the hazy view screen went white and the ship shook violently as it rolled to the side, nearly throwing Xinjao off his chair.
“..damage to the forward batteries, grav and chemlazers down…!”
“… yarak babor sheshata mimenu…”
“Man down! Man down! Half of beta squad isaaAUGHHH!”
“Wh—what the…,” O’Reilly stammered, bewildered. “What’s happening??” he asked, watching more and more friendly units blip off his tac display. “Higgins! Where’s that fire coming from?! Who’s firing at us?!”
“I can’t tell, Sir!” the terrified Lieutenant cried. “I’m not reading any ships or weapon fire!”
“…Disraeli and the Samarian taken heavy damage…”
“Kol hamon k'kol shadai!”
“Samarian on collision course with the Schaumburg!”
“… al t'lamed et aba ex la'asot y'ladim…”
“…im en ani li mi li ux'she'ani l'atsmi… ma ani v'im lo axshav ematai!”
“Will someone please speak some fucking ENGLISH!!” O’Reilly roared angrily as the damage reports poured in, numbly concentrating on his tac display. He combined sensor reports from all ships into the 3D tac map and desperately searched for enemy ships, enemy fire, enemy anything that was tearing apart his ships … this was all happening so fast… What the hell is it?!?
“What are your orders, sir??” General Horton screamed over the channel. “Talk to me!!”
“Im tirtsu en zu agada!?”
“What do we do, captain?” the helm officer asked, as the ship rocked from another blast.
“I… uh…” O’Reilly answered, dumbfounded, “um… evasive?… yeah, evasive!”
“Evasive from what, sir!?” his pilot demanded
“I… I don’t know!!” Xinjao yelled in frustration, not understanding what was happening all around him. Then he saw it: tiny dots of light on the tac display, scattered all around their ships and the jumpgate … it wasn’t debris, it was…”
“MINEFIELD!!” O’Reilly cried in alarm, “Minefield! All ships reverse thrust! Come to a full stop!! We’re in a fucking minefield!!” He felt the Schaumburg sharply decelerate and watched on his tac display as all his ships and fighters suddenly slowed. The constant nuclear flashes and explosions abruptly dropped off.
“Torpedoes! Full salvo! Closing fast!” O’Reilly’s tactical officer shouted, “I’m reading twenty… wait, no, twenty-five torpedoes incoming on multiple vectors!”
“Where from?!” Xinjao demanded, regaining control of the situation.
“At least six ships – can’t tell what kind!” she answered, “Each on a separate attack plane… over five hundred thousand kilometers… beyond scanning range, sir!”
“All ships shoot down the torpedoes!” Xinjao ordered, allowing himself a brief sigh of relief as all Israeli ships opened up on them with their laser cannons… but instead of familiar beams, the lasers only kicked out bright clouds of light, dispersed harmlessly far short of their targets.
“What… the… hell??” O’Reilly mumbled, shocked.
“Uh, captain?” Lt. Higgins said timidly, “uh, I’m reading reflective dust out there… lots of it… uh… the lasers aren’t gonna be any good past, um… a couple hundred kilometers?”
“Shit!” O’Reilly swore, fear gripping him as the torpedoes bore down on them unopposed. “All ships fire missiles, torpedoes, shells, anything… just shoot down those goddamn torpedoes!!” Again, he watch his little fleet simultaneously launch a salvo of projectiles at the missile… but instantly alarmed reports started pouring through the comm channels. Everyone’s weapons flew off course, their targeting sensors jammed somehow. A few of the enemy torpedoes were shot down… but the vast majority kept coming…
“All enemy missiles converging on the Samarian!” the tactical officer cried out.
“All fighters, shoot down those torpedoes!! All ships… open up with lasers when they close to five hundred kilometers!” Xinjao ordered, a hint of desperation creeping into his tactics. The crews of Task Force David watched helplessly as their fighters made a valiant attempt to stop the barrage, but over a dozen torpedoes got through…
“Samarian!” O’Reilly barked, “Evasive maneuvers! NOW!!”
“We can’t! We’ll hit a mine!” the distressed captain replied. “We have to abandon sh—“
A dozen torpedoes crashed into the Samarian with kilotons of explosive force, ripping it apart into pieces, fire dancing across the hull in zero gravity. Secondary explosions rippled through the hull as the smaller pieces blew apart… until the final bright flash lit the sky as their ruptured engines vaporized what was left. A stunned silence descended on the crew as they stared in shock at the spinning shrapnel of the most powerful ship that came through the jump gate fifteen minutes ago.
O’Reilly was the first to break the silence. “Survivors?”
Lt. Higgins checked his instruments. “Um… I’m not reading any life signs, sir…”
“Captain? We’re being hailed… they want to speak to man in change.”
O’Reilly closed in eyes and lowered his head, anger and pain etched into his face. “All right,” he finally said, “put them through, audio only.” His fists slowly clenched as he listened to the dreaded -- yet somewhat familiar -- speech.
“This is Richard York, Lieutenant of the Faithful -- we have you trapped, defenseless, and surrounded. We wish to save your souls, not end your lives or destroy your ships. If you surrender and accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, you will not be harmed… but unless you cease and repent, you leave us not choice but to abandon you to His wrath.”
O’Reilly’s scream of utter rage seemed to last forever.
The monstrous machine was armed to the teeth, ready to destroy anything that stood in its way. As it moved through the void towards the gray horizon that never came any closer, the young soldier inside was haunted by the gray thoughts that haunted him. Ehud… Hex… he had seen his friends Wade and Remy get killed as they had raided the Resistance R&D facility on Mars. He had the All-Father… but now, that small victory seemed to be considerably less than the loss of those he had fought with. Everyone around me dies, the boy thought, and I can’t do anything to stop it. Depressing thoughts continued to cloud his mind. He had long given up trying to silence them, and every moment he listened to them, they more and more mirrored his own sentiments.
Everyone that you see in what we politely refer to as “reality” actually believes that it is real. Sure, there “are” mages out there who know that it’s not quite as real as it seems, but no one understands it like we do. They can’t handle the truth: Nothing is real. No one exists. I say that you exist and speak to you for the sake of argument. I also know that I myself do not exist. If we were real, our lives would be much better.
Ehud knew that voice. The grey man… what does he want now?
Do you think I’m joking? Look at your memories, Hex. Do any of them make any sense? Do you really have any feelings for this “sister” of yours? She isn’t real, and therefore she may as well be dead, even in “reality.” Do you really believe that there is a God? If there is a God, what has He ever done for you? He never gave you real parents, let Xaktos kill the only “father” you ever had—even Atkins was a waste of human flesh—and allowed the woman you love to be killed—though that actually was good for you. If there really is a God, then “reality” is a sick little dream of His. He’ll wake up eventually, and we’ll all disappear into nothingness. I just beat him to the punch.
Hex sat in the mineral bath thinking up dozens of arguments against the whisperings of the gray man. “The fool hath said in his heart: ‘There is no God,’” was all that came to him.
All of the creatures that “live” in this dream are still asleep. Mages are the ones with the best chance of realizing that everything is fake, but most of them won’t accept the fact that they themselves aren’t real. Those that do come to this realization still cling to this foolish dream, and walk about in it. Merlin could have joined us in the void, and for a time, he did… but he wanted to stay asleep and pretend that he could change the final outcome of this dream. The same for Grey and several other powerful mages whom you may see abroad, gathering up all of the goods and power that they can in a vain effort to prevent the inevitable.
You want to quote scripture? Let’s quote scripture. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.” What happened to Merlin? What happened to Grey? They got really powerful and eventually they died. What good did their power do them? It didn’t keep them alive. What good would life do them? “Reality” destroys anything that’s alive—and most things that are already dead, too.
Hex couldn’t take anymore of it. “Just shut up!”
The gray voice was suddenly silent, and Hex could somehow feel that he had reached his destination. He tensed in anticipation of the burn, and as he did, the All-Father seemed to tense up as well.
Reality came crashing down around him. Sitting there in the mineral bath, he could see the city of Sanfran lying below him. Something was wrong… I know something is wrong.
Diving the All-Father down towards the ground, he used the zoom function to close-up on Kash’s house. He could see four people. One was knocked out, another standing, and yet another holding a child captive. Cerise!
The mobile suit hit the shield outside Sanfran and burst it like an oversized soap bubble. Rushing down, he kicked in the retros, and suddenly pointed his guns at the ones trying to threaten his sister. They didn’t stand a chance.
Zechariah McNeilly walked quickly, hoping to get off Earth as soon as possible; he hardly cared if Jessica Martel was keeping up at all. As they went into Sanfran, he expected to be stopped at least once. Not today. Everyone was running around town like chickens without heads. Something was happening; something bad. They didn’t abandon the settlement as long as the shield generator was operational. One look up told him that it was. Who cares if they’re spooked? That’ll give us the time I need to get Shannon… and kill Kash.
Finally, as they got close to Kash's house, he turned to see where his “partner” had ended up. He saw her just a short distance behind. McNeilly stopped to let her catch up. I guess I need someone to get Shannon out of there before… I have my fun. He looked back again, impatiently, and saw that she had stopped a few feet behind, looking around. What was she doing? Eventually, she motioned for him to move back towards her.
"Great, she's giving me orders." he muttered under his breath. He noticed the look of desperation on her face and begrudgingly moved towards her. She’s slowing him down; I want this done with. “What?”
"Look up there." she spoke quietly, pointing to a rooftop. Zechariah saw nothing, but she insisted, "There's a man up there with a sniper rifle. I’ve been watching him follow us the entire way. He's after one of us.”
Iosef Ruzyho cursed when he saw her pointing. Nah, it had to be coincidence… no, it wasn’t, she had pointed directly at him. I don’t have time to waste on these two… I better get Zech now!
"You see that house over there? That's where Shannon is, that's where we should be." McNeilly spoke harshly at her, but she kept insisting that they were being followed. When she looked at the rooftop again, she quickly shifted her body to armor, and shoved him back. As she did, an incredibly powerful plasma bolt struck her left arm. She was knocked back, injured, but she'd live. Zechariah saw the threat and raced to attack.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Ruzyho spat out as he reloaded his plasma rifle and aimed again for McNeilly. Zechariah was moving way too fast for a normal human, so Iosef readjusted his sights. As he tracked him quickly, the sniper sized him up, aimed, and fired. The bounty hunter wasted no time, threw away the rifle, and leapt down into Crinos form. The werewolf was ready to finish the kill. I don’t care how well I placed the bolt; I’m going to make sure he’s dead.
WHAM! The plasma bolt knocked Zechariah to the ground with terrible force. He had strengthened his body into armor, which had taken the force of the blow, but he was still hurt. McNeilly managed to lift up his head to see the large werewolf coming toward him at full tilt. As the werecreature was about to hit, suddenly he was knocked off to the side by an invisible hand, like a toy in the hands of a god-like child.
His head turned the other way to see a little girl, her outstretched hands partially covered by her long blond hair. Shannon, Zechariah realized, and managed to stand up. Being careful not to put his back to the felled werecreature, he cautiously stepped towards her. “Thank you, Shannon.”
“I know you.” she replied with strange seriousness. “You really hurt Daddy’s feelings.”
“I…” I intend to hurt him more than that. “I’m sorry. We came to take you away someplace safe.”
“Liar!” Shannon yelled back.
Out of his peripheral vision, he saw Jessica stalking her way towards the child. She’s something more than Horadrim, McNeilly understood, Vin Dane didn’t bother to tell me that bit. No Horadrim could have done what she did. “I’m sorry you believe that, Shannon, but right now, Earth’s not a safe place for you. We came to help you.”
Suddenly the little girl took a step back. “You’re with the others, aren’t you?”
Zechariah knew what she referring to. “Yes, I am. We don’t hurt our own kind, Shannon.”
“Then why are you doing this to us?! Why can’t you leave us alone?!?!”
“Because…” Just then, Jessica had managed to get behind her and grabbed her, trapping her in Martel’s arms. She screamed something fierce; it was taking all of Jessica’s strength to keep her down.
Satisfied, Zechariah turned to finish off the werewolf, when suddenly the shield generator dropped. Oh, shit… He looked up, in fact, everyone in Sanfran looked up to see the giant mobile suit land several feet from the confrontation below.
Erich Von Shrakenberg stared at the flag bridge monitor on board the EFS Zeus. After three days in hyperspace, his fleet had finally reached the beacon intersection that corresponded with the Earth System. "Are we ready for jump?" he asked of the side screen, showing activity on the ship's primary bridge.
Rear Admiral J.J. Adams, the task force's flag captain, nodded his assent. "First Squadron ready, sir." The corners of his mouth curled upwards for a moment. A few months ago, Adams had been the task force CO, while Erich had been his flag captain. That mission had won both of them promotions, but since then, things had somehow changed.
The gravitic drive on the Zeus tore a hole in reality, and the massive Star Control Ship poured through into normal space. Alongside, the Theseus and the Draco did likewise, and the three large warships appeared in the inner solar system, within a million miles of Earth itself.
"That ought to get their attention." Johanna Ingolfsson remarked with a smile.
"I hope so," Erich replied, and resumed staring at the monitor screen. Now, to make sure they notice us…
"Jump points detected, Near Earth Orbit!" The resistance technician practically screamed out the warning.
"How many?" asked Chuck Coppinger in a steady voice. Gotta calm these boys down, he thought to himself. Frightened officers make mistakes. Coppinger was on board the captured InSec ex-Horadrim battlecruiser Canaris, now renamed Casimir Pulaski. They were in orbit around Mars with the rest of the Resistance fleet, waiting for the attack they knew was coming.
"Uh…three," reported the technician, feverishly working over his panel. "It looks like one Ares-class Star Control Ship, and a pair of DN's…one Electra, one Avalon."
Coppinger let himself sound puzzled. "Interesting…those ships are too big for a hit-and-run raid, but if they only have three ships, they haven't got a prayer against the Battlestations in Earth orbit. I wonder what they're doing there?"
"They're firing at the defense platforms on the far side of the moon," replied the technician.
Coppinger frowned. The moon was less well guarded than Earth was, since most of the settlements were deep under the satellite's surface and thus essentially immune to orbital bombardment. It didn’t help that ever since the Resistance took over the system, the few settlements on the moon were practically abandoned. "What is their current position?" At less than half a million kilometers, anything near the moon was well within the range of torpedo tubes on board the battlestations orbiting the Earth itself.
"Chuck, they've moved behind the moon, and are holding themselves in a low artificial selenostationary orbit," the sensor technician reported. The Federation fleet was using their engines to essentially hover at a lower orbit, rather than settling into a higher orbit with the same rotational period as the moon itself, or moving faster and thus circling the moon.
"Damn it, are they in range of the battlestations or not?"
The technician made some quick adjustments on his panel. "That be a negative. We can see them with the sensor network, but none of the battlestations have a clear shot."
"Can we use delayed thruster activation to curve the torpedoes around the limb of the moon?" If they could let the torpedoes coast most of the way, and only activate their onboard engines at the last minute, they could curve the torpedo trajectories around the bulk of the moon and still hit the enemy ships.
"Nah," the technician answered, "the torpedoes would have to kill too much of their forward momentum to make the turn, then they'd be easy meat for their point defenses."
Another technician interrupted. "They've finished destroying the lunar defense platforms, and started bombarding the surface batteries." There were a handful of defense bases on the lunar surface, mounting large grav lasers that could shoot upward to space without fear of atmospheric interferance. They were intended to stop attempted landings. Against a moving starship out at orbital distance, however, they didn't have much of a prayer.
Coppinger drummed his skin-suited fingers on the armrest of his command chair. "Our information says that Erich Von Shrakenberg is in charge over there. I've met him, he seems somewhat sane. Hail the bastard."
The smiling visage of Erich Von Shrakenberg appeared on the viewscreen. "Hiya, Chuck. How's that fine ship I gave you?"
"Fully functional and armed to the teeth," Coppinger replied with a humorless grin. "I hoped I wouldn't have to reintroduce you to it personally, but you leave me little choice. Get out of my system or I will destroy you."
Erich's smile grew wider and more predatory. "Funny, I was gonna say something similar to you. You and the Resistance have twelve hours to surrender. That is, surrender completely and unconditionally, all of your forces here and in the other systems you control. If you do not surrender at that time, I will destroy all life in this system."
Coppinger laughed. "You don't have the ships to do that. You have eight mass drivers, hardly enough to wipe out a small county, much less several inhabited planets. You don't have the ammunition!" Most ships only carried a couple dozen reloads of steel projectiles for their mass drivers, because each ingot massed up to 150 metric tons.
"Who said I was going to use mass drivers?" Erich responded, then nodded to a crewman offscreen.
Coppinger turned an inquisitive eye to the technicians monitoring the system-wide sensor network. One of them looked up in horror. "Chuck… I think you should see this…" Coppinger nodded, and the image on the main viewer switched to a feed from one of the sensor platforms near the moon. The EFS Ares was pointing down towards the dark side of the moon. The spherical dome of the gravitic ram at the bow of the ship was glowing brightly. As the resistance fighter watched, the gravitic ram fired, and a point singularity shot out of the muzzle and streaked down towards the surface of the moon a scant hundred kilometers below. The miniature black hole struck the surface near the crater Daedalus. A 50-kilometer wide section of the lunar surface erupted in a blinding flash of light, as the artificial singularity was choked, trying to swallow more mass than it was able to. As the pseudo-mass of the singularity evaporated, it exploded, blasting a massive new crater in the surface, over 10 kilometers deep.
Admiral Von Shrakenberg's image flashed back on the main viewer. "As I said, I don’t plan on using mass drivers."
Coppinger looked at the image as if Erich was a moron. "You dolt, I was on the team that designed that thing. You can't use a gravitic ram to bombard Earth, there is enough mass in the upper atmosphere to choke the artificial singularity. The black hole will never reach the surface."
"Who said I was going to bombard Earth," Erich asked in a mocking tone. "I'm gonna drill a hole down to the moon's central core. Then, the ore freighter we dropped off a few light-days outside Pluto's orbit will arrive. We boosted it to 80% of the speed of light last week, before taking a hyperspace shortcut to get here first. When that puppy crashes into the core of the moon, the result is your classic irresistible force hitting an immovable object." Erich leaned closer to the camera pickup. "You took physics at the Academy, Admiral Coppinger. You work out the math. Ten million tons, at point-eight-cee, slams into a planetoid core…"
Chuck was not amused. "You can't be serious."
"…the resulting explosion will be big enough to shatter the moon into a billion pieces. Most of it will eventually re-coalesce into a new, somewhat smaller moon. Another big chunk of it will go into temporary orbit around the earth, producing a ring system a lot like Saturn's, if a bit less colorful. It ought to be quite beautiful. Too bad no one on earth will be around to appreciate it, since at least a quarter of the mass of the moon will impact on the surface. That's enough to cover every square centimeter of the Earth's surface to a depth of 300 meters. I’d suggest you open an umbrella store down there, but I don't think it would really help."
"No, you're insane to think you could stand up to the might of the Federation. Come on, you're outnumbered a thousand to one. Granted, I'd rather drop a few hundred thousand TI Marines down on Earth and take the planet back properly, but, well, you might have noticed, we're a bit busy right now. A little war going on… well, several wars, in fact. So, you're right, I don't have the forces to take back the system in a nice way. I tried a few months ago, and you stopped me. So now I do what I have to do, I work with what forces I have, but one way or another, you and the resistance will no longer be a threat to the Federation." Erich sat back again in his command chair. The ship visibly shuddered around him as the gravitic ram fired again. "You have twelve hours, because that's how much time it will take to finish excavating my little tunnel to the center of the moon. Then I'm going to do the same with Phobos and Deimos, and crash both of them into Mars. Those are small enough I can use freighters Then Europa, Ganymede, and Titan. The outposts on Pluto, Callisto, and Mercury are small enough to destroy with conventional mass drivers. The asteroid belt habitats and attached shipyards will be taken by troops in a follow-on expedition now forming up at Avalon. They will be instructed to not take any prisoners. Surrender or die, it's that simple. Von Shrakenberg out."
Coppinger sat and stared at the display as it flashed back to the feed from the sensor platform. The Ares fired the gravitic ram again, and the crater was now over 100 kilometers wide and easily that deep. A thick cloud of dust and debris hovered over the crater, taking quite a while to settle back down in the weak lunar gravity. Between singularities, the Federation ship fired its grav lasers and chemlasers to disperse the dust cloud and fuse the crust on the sides of the crater to prevent it from collapsing.
Chuck stood up on the bridge of the Pulaski and turned to his crew. "The rest of our ships can't reach Earth until just before the deadline. We're the most advanced ship in the universe and we're fighting for our homes. There are only three ships there… and we're gonna kill them."
In hyperspace, Commodore Malcolm Lennox sat on the bridge of the EFS Nicodemus. He was hovering over the hyperspace co-ordinates corresponding to the Earth-moon gravity well, waiting for a signal, and it finally came. "Sir, the Azov reports a gravitational buckle corresponding to Mars orbit," the comm officer reported.
Lennox grimaced. "That bastard Von Shrakenberg was right again. Activate distortion projector!" The Nicodemus-class dreadnoughts were too old to have one of the newer types of gravity drives, which could double as shields as well as propel a ship through normal space. Instead, she mounted a first-generation drive that was only good for tearing holes into and out of hyperspace, and relied on her massive arrays of ion engines for maneuvering.
"Grav buckle detected, bearing oh-five-seven by twelve, range, two-zero klicks," sang out the sensor officer.
"Jump to those coordinates!" Lennox gave the order as a formality, the helm officer was already working his panel.
Coppinger's Horadrim battlecruiser surged out of its own artificial gravity well, popping into normal space with weapons blazing. Powerful energy beams lashed out, lancing into the side of the EFS Ares. The first beam gouged a 500-meter-long hole in the port launching bay, sending deck crewmen and shuttles spinning off into space from hangar decks opened to vacuum. The second pierced the truncated cone at the base of the gravitic ram sphere, punching through and out the other side. Men, equipment, and atmosphere gushed out the gaping holes in the hull, and the power surge caused the sphere of the gravitic ram itself to explode spectacularly. The third beam neatly sliced off the top pair of weapons pods containing half the warship's mass drivers and grav lasers.
On the flag bridge, Erich Von Shrakenberg was knocked out of his command chair as the ship bucked beneath him. He immediately clawed his way up until he was half-kneeling, and barked out an order. "Blow the docking bay!"
Four kilometers behind him, explosive charges recently wired to the massive dome that made up the aft quarter of the ship were set off, blowing the panels apart and away. The massive two-kilometer-deep docking bay usually held four small battlestations and several small assault ships. The battlestations had been left behind at Avalon to help defend the capital while half the home fleet was away. Out of the cavernous docking bay surged two battlecruisers, two light cruisers, and four destroyers.
"Damn it," Coppinger cursed on board his Horadrim battlecruiser. Damn it, I should have known that he'd bring more than three ships with him, no matter how thinly stretched they are for ships. I never would have gone in alone against these odds. "We got their Gravitic Ram, prepare to jump back to Mars to rejoin the fleet," he ordered.
"Sir, jump point off the starboard bow!"
Coppinger whirled around to face his helm officer. "Turn to face the jump point, fire as they come out!" If we can kill them before they get a weapons lock, we have a chance… Then Coppinger noticed just how close the jump point was forming, and how big it was, and he knew they had no choice at all.
The EFS Nicodemus surged out of hyperspace practically on top of the Pulaski. The first burst of energy beams tore into the belly of the massive dreadnought, cutting deep into the hull. Then the ship rolled over to present its top deck, densely packed with weapons turrets, to the Horadrim ship. All thirty-two chemlaser turrets fired as one, at point-blank range. The Pulaski writhed under the fire like a living thing, twisting and turning in a vain attempt to avoid the beams of coherent light. Over a dozen of the beams struck home, tearing shallow gashes in the organic hull. The Pulaski returned fire, drawing two energy beams in a line that obliterated both mass driver mounts and tore into the lance torpedo platform. The power surge from the energy beams knocked out power to the mass driver turrets, sparing the Resistance vessel from their fire.
But the onslaught missile system on the Nicodemus was still undamaged, and this was one of the rare instances where an enemy ship was close enough to use the antiquated weapon. Nearly a thousand short-range fusion-tipped missiles poured out of the VLS launch tubes, swarming towards their target. The pulse energy beams on the Pulaski rapidly dispatched most of the missiles, but over a dozen slipped through. The close-range detonation of fourteen megaton-range thermonuclear warheads bracketed the Horadrim ship, destroying most of the weapons mounts and stripping the organic armor off the sides. Any human-built ship would have been instantly vaporized, but the alien ship was merely badly damaged.
Coppinger swore as he saw on his display that the tunnel drive system was damaged. The automated repair systems would fix it in a few minutes, but until then, he couldn't escape. "Finish that bastard off," he snarled.
The Pulaski fired again at the Nicodemus, and the energy beam tore into the top deck through the gaping rent left behind by the previous salvo. This time, the beam cut deep enough into the hull to reach the main fusion reactor, and the magnetic containment bottle failed. The fusion core exploded, turning 2.6 million tons of starship into a sun-bright ball of expanding plasma.
Coppinger swung his ship around, and turned to finish off the Zeus. He saw a veritable cloud of fighters, launched by the two battlecruisers that had been hiding inside the star control ship's docking bay. The battlecruisers themselves were bearing down on him, spitting lance torpedoes and grav laser fire in his direction. So were the cruisers and destroyers. The two dreadnoughts and more fighters that had been screening the flagship against ships that might swing around the moon from earth were also pulling back to engage his ship. With his engines damaged, he couldn't jump out. With most of his weapons damaged, he couldn't fight against these odds. And, with ships charging in from all sides, he couldn't run. Oh, well, at least I killed that Gravitic Ram. He can't finish digging a hole to the core, so when the freighter impacts, all it will do is make a bigger crater, not break the whole damn moon into fragments.
Coppinger grimaced and turned to his executive officer. "Contact their flagship, and signal our ship's surrender."
Erich Von Shrakenberg tried to look nonchalant despite the tear in his skinsuit and the sparking control panels behind him. "I'm glad you see fit to surrender to us," he began. "And once your leaders on the planet agree to as well, I will cease my operation."
"They'll never surrender to you," Coppinger spat back, "and you lost your God Gun, you can't play Death Star anymore."
Erich smiled, even though he didn’t catch the reference. "Ah, but you see, I brought a spare." Another jump point opened up nearby, and the EFS Temujin jumped in from hyperspace. "The Alexander-class DN's also carry a Gravitic Ram, although not as powerful as the one you blew off my bow," Erich continued over Coppinger's renewed cursing. "Of course, it will take us a couple more hours than planned to dig that hole, but don't worry." He looked sadly around the flag bridge of his battered flagship. "The freighter is still far enough out that we can divert it by remote control. We'll just have to use this now-useless hulk instead. You can console yourself that you've bought your masters another four hours of life." Erich cut the connection and turned to Johanna. "Continue the operation. Prepare to transfer all personnel from the flagship to other vessels in the task force, starting with the wounded. When that Horadrim ship is taken under tow, we'll use it as an additional lifeboat."
With that, Erich strode off the bridge to change into his spare skinsuit. He doubted the Resistance would give up without a fight from their other ships now on the way from Mars, and he didn't want to go into battle without his vacuum-protection skinsuit.
Hidden on the other side of the sun, Vin Dane turned to one of his Horadrim companions aboard his Battlecruiser. "Did you see that?"
"Yes," the other Horadrim replied. "They fought bravely, for mere humans. But they still lost nine-to-one in tonnage terms."
"True, but we cannot let them gain control of one of our ships," Dane continued. "Nor can we let them bombard Earth while so many of our children are still on the surface."
"Of course not." the Horadrim replied with a predatory sneer.
The Horadrim battlecruiser moved to swing around the sun and swept towards the Earth.
When they jumped into the New Tokyo, it was already too late. Alistar Dimiye sat the pilot’s controls and watched the K’Nes battle fleet swarm down upon on the surface of New Tokyo 3. Damn it, the general cursed himself, we could have held the line at Midgar. This didn’t have to happen! It’s all because…
His eyes darted back to the glaring the bound and gagged Maegwin, glaring her fierce hatred of the werewolf through her pretty eyes. I should kill her, he knew deep inside. She has betrayed the Federation and the lives of billions of people, but… there’s something about her. Most of the time, she’s definitely Maegwin, and others… could it be? I don’t know. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I have to go down.
Her head drooped for a second then shot back up. She’s tired, he caught the sign. Soon the other woman will return; the one who saved me in the prison. Such a strange combination. Hate and love in the same lovely package.
Alistar’s eyes went back to the scope. With the enemy fleet already in orbit around the main planet, docking on autopilot at one of the orbital stations was out of the question. There was only one way to get to the surface… and I haven’t the faintest notion how to fly this thing in an atmosphere. I’m a fucking ground pounder! All I know about freighters is that you don’t want to fly them into a planet… and that’s precisely what I’m going to do.
Dimiye hit the engines and increased his speed. All he could do was wait and pray that the K’Nes battle fleet didn’t notice him. With the ship on autopilot, the general unlatched himself from the chair and floated in the zero-gee over to the galley. If I’m going to die on a fool’s errand, might as well do it on a full stomach.
Maegwin kept slipping in and out of consciousness; she was obviously trying to fight off the other personality inside her, the one that only came out after she had fallen asleep. The general ignored her as he grabbed one of the emergency ration packs which had been crammed into every empty space in the framework. It tastes like sand, he thought as he took another mouthful, but it’s better than nothing.
When he came back, she was looking at him with a different eye. It’s the other Maegwin now, he understood, and undid her gag. “Are you okay?”
“A little tired,” she replied, “I don’t know how long I keep doing this.” She suddenly noticed the black void outside the front viewport. “Are we there?”
Alistar nodded. “There’s just one problem. The cats got here before us. We can’t dock at the orbital stations.”
She sighed. “You’re not a pilot, Al.”
“Neither are you.”
“Oh,” Maegwin smiled, “I’m full of surprises. Let me at the controls?”
Is this some sort of trick? Or is it Maegwin hoping to get loose so she can kill me? he wondered. I’ll have to take the risk… it’s death if I’m wrong either way. Dimiye stepped forward and undid the binds and the anti-magic collar.
She smiled and rubbed at her wrists, then floated over to the pilot’s chair. Turning off the autopilot, Maegwin looked over at him and said, “You better take a seat… this flight’s about to get a little rough.”
By the time they landed on the surface of New Tokyo, one of their engines was out, the freighter was all of thrust, they had several compartment fires (luckily in the lower decks), and it was doubtful that she’d ever be able to fly again. Luckily we don’t have to, Dimiye thanked his spirit for that, unstrapping himself from the seat. Of course, we’re lucky. If that squadron of fighters that was chasing us hadn’t suddenly decided we weren’t worth the effort…
“Hey!” Maegwin screamed at him. “Quit woolgathering! We don’t have much time!”
Woman was primarily a practical creature, he smiled, grabbed some gear, and followed her out the open airlock. Dimiye didn’t take time to look at the landscape. It was a beautiful city suddenly marred by the violence that usually occurred during a planetary assault. Alistar had seen it a million times; he kept his eyes focused on the woman in front of him, traveling a twisting path through roads she obviously knew well. It didn’t take long to reach their destination… an alley with a basement door entrance.
Maegwin opened the slanted door. “Go in.”
“What’s down there?”
“No.” Dimiye stopped. “You’ve rushed me along ever since Midgar that I haven’t had a chance to think. Now you’re going to answer some questions… now.”
She closed her eyes and walked slowly over to him. “Al, I know you can’t trust me. You don’t know… you can’t know how hard it’s been, trapped in this body.”
“It’ll be easier to show you then try to explain it. Please trust me… just one last time?”
Alistar looked at the door. “You first.”
Maegwin nodded and led the way down, a dark passageway leading down to something that didn’t seem to fit in a downtown building. It looked like someone had built a bunker underneath this otherwise normal structure. She tapped a few commands into the keypad and the door unsealed and opened. She walked right in without hesitation and Dimiye reluctantly followed.
What confronted the general was something he had only seen in old two-dee vids. It looked like some mad scientist’s vision of a laboratory, except with new equipment, a large covered tank in the middle, and an middle-aged couple standing there staring at them. The woman looks familiar, Alistar thought, but I can’t say from where. The elder woman stepped forward in a daze. “Sweetheart? Is that you?”
Maegwin broke into tears as she ran forward. “Mom!” The two women embraced and held each other tight. The general was more confused than ever. Whoever this couple was, it sure as hell didn’t look like the Stephanie Harrington he had seen in the vids.
The man stepped forward and looked at Dimiye. “I bet you’re rather confused.”
Understatement of the century. “You could say that.”
“My name is Reichenspurger Fredrick. I’m glad that you brought my daughter home.”
Reichenspurger? Alistar asked himself. Where
have I heard that name before? No… “You mean… that…”
Maegwin looked back at the confused general. “I think this will explain everything.” She then went over to the tank and removed the cover.
The werewolf’s jaw dropped open. Inside the tank was a fully-grown woman; the perfect clone of Tess.
Suddenly, the ground around them suddenly shook with violent force. The bunker held together but everyone inside was rather shaken. “Earthquake?” the mother suggested.
“Bombardment.” the father corrected. “We don’t have much time. If we’re going to do the transference, we’ve got to do it now.”
With the twin swords swirling in his hands, Xavier Pollos was unstoppable. Through the streets of New Tokyo, the K’Nes warriors, resplendent in their sleek black power armor turned to face the new threat. The assassin had cut path of death through the wide streets of the city. The cats turned upon each other at his slightest whim, while others that got close enough were sliced and skinned by the expertly handled blades.
I finally understand now, Xavier thought, eviscerating the K’Nes warrior in front of him, spraying himself with a fountain of alien blood, this was the moment I was born for! Speed and agility came to him so easily that the bounds of reality seemed to bend just for him. Although Kuar and Excalibur had an obvious dislike for each other, in battle, they worked together, destroying all that came within their path.
Then a K’Nes fighter swooped down to stop the menace to the alien invasion. Pollos smiled, leaped up into the sky to meet it, and then ripped the spacecraft in two. The frightened pilot was suddenly catapulted forward, right onto the forward blades of the twin swords. The hovering assassin was now completely bathed in the red of the cat blood. Kuar… I laugh at gravity! he thought, standing there motionless, a couple thousand feet above the ground.
The troopers on the ground opened up at the new aerial target, plasma rifles singing through the air, reaching out to grab the flying human. Excalibur quickly formed into a sphere to protect him, the energy lances dissipating harmlessly against its smooth surface. Then suddenly, the sphere dived down upon its attackers, smashing into the ground and scattering them, like a bowling ball thrown down from the heavens.
Excalibur reformed in Pollos’ hand as the cats were busy regrouping to save themselves from this god-like presence. As the K’Nes managed to stand, he could feel Kuar growing in strength, as if trying to out-do its rival sword. Before the enemy troopers could counter-attack, the building behind them suddenly lurched forward and buried them. Their cries of terror were soon quenched by the weight of several thousand tons of plasticrete and forged chrome vanadium.
The orb was not to be out done. As the K’Nes battle tank came into view, Excalibur stretched forward, lancing the massive mobile structure right through its gun barrel. A ball of flame erupted from the hovercraft, blasting it to smithereens.
Xavier rushed forward towards the other landing craft, barely visible at the massive speed at which he traveled. At the first waves unloading from their transports, Pollos didn’t have to even fight. Rushing forward, swords outstretched at the sides, he cut them down like a field of alien wheat. At the sight of their comrades slaughtered, the K’Nes rushed back into their ships, and the transports soon took back off.
An entire squadron of fighters came streaming in to destroy the threat on the ground. More, his soul cried out to Kuar, I must have MORE!
His companion sword did not disappoint him. Raising its blade towards the sky, with a twist of Kuar, the fragile craft suddenly disappeared out of existence. Even Xavier, enraptured by the power that was flowing through him, took a step back at the strength that was suddenly his. I do understand. All these years, everyone said I was the key to ending this war. Now I understand. I can obliterate tanks, ships, armies, whole fleets at my SLIGHTEST WHIM! Erase them from existence all together!!!
Pollos smiled wider at the power that was his. Looking up at the shadow of the second moon orbiting the planet, with a blink of his eyes, he could see the massive K’Nes battle fleet hovering far above him. With a short draw of his sword, the moon ripped into two halves, one half hurling toward the unsuspecting fleet. As the frightened craft rushed out of its way, their flagship and several larger craft couldn’t move fast enough. It burst in a poof of fire as the terrestrial bodies scattered into the void.
The crack of thunder, caused by the destruction of one of its moons, rushed across the planet’s surface in a delayed BOOM! Skyscrapers and their glass burst like a opera glass. The streets warped and cracked. Smaller buildings crumbled. In the midst of it all, Xavier stood enthralled, lost in the wonder of becoming a god in the universe.
More, do you hear me?! his soul screamed again, I must have MORE!!!
Then something happened, as if the heavens opened up. Pollos was suddenly frozen by the power flowing through him. His soul seemed to touch the astral plane… and something pulled back. Xavier’s smile suddenly turned to terror as his absolute power over space and time began to cost his very soul. He screamed against the pain, but he was powerless against the massive force.
Xavier’s body was suddenly glowing in a unearthly light. His screams grew louder as his body was being purged of the soul that had been possessed it. In his last moments, Pollos tried to look at Kuar, begging for life, and finding no mercy in the cold metal he was shackled to.
Suddenly, there was a different look behind the assassin’s eyes, a different feel to his walk. The glow had dissipated and the man stood there, warm from new light.
Excalibur suddenly folded up into a ring on his right hand. He held up Kuar and the glowing symbols appeared brightly across its blade. The man looked at the thirteenth symbol on the pommel and watched it slowly fade away.
Sheathing his sword, the man let the blood drip off his body in a waterfall, finally standing there in clean clothes. “I am alive,” escaped Al-Hazen’s lips, “and… it is good to be alive.” Smiling at the new ring on his finger, he laughed out loud. “Now, Mordred, we have unfinished business.”
END OF EPISODE NINE
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.