WORLD OF MY DEVISING – Act I
“War means fighten, and fighten means killin’.”
-- Nathan Bedford Forrest, pre-Fed general
The world was nothing more than pain and darkness, occasionally small flashes of light or sound would penetrate to reveal some of what lay beyond, but then the pain would return and burn it from view. For the first seven days, the patient lay in the regeneration chamber, unable to remember who or what it was. It realized that it should be something, but the memory structure seemed just out of its grasp; it felt was a curse it could not tolerate to bear. On the eighth day the memories returned. They seared at his consciousness and he wished that he could return to his former, blissfully numb state.
“Sergeant, you've had a better view of this than me, what are we facing?"
"Well suh, I've seen about sixteen hostiles..." Suddenly there was an explosion, and their chameleon circuits went dead. "What the hell?"
"EMP... shit!" John cursed. "Fall back!"
Fire and shrapnel all over… O God the pain… who is screaming? Sergeant? Sergeant? Respond, damn it! Where are you…
“The LT and Sarge are down, continue falling back in pairs. I’ll cover the first round.”
That’s Stroebel. Good, he’s still alive. O God, the burning, ahhh! Can’t take much more of this! Sarge, can you hear me… can’t move, something’s on me. Jeez, the pain!
“Jackson, Wells, your too far out, your going to get isolated! Damn it, move!”
“Suh, I can take some of them out!”
“No, Lear, they do not know your position, for God’s sake stay hidden. People move! There are too many of them to make a stand… Can’t hold them much longer. Reynolds, cover me. I’m falling back.”
“Ok, Wells your up. Reynolds, fall back!”
“What the hell? BARRAGE!! TAKE…”
Oh God, I killed them. I got cocky, they followed me up that hill, and now they are all dead. Why God, why did you let me live? Is this your punishment?
“Sir, the patient’s mind is back with us. He has reconnected with his memories… but it’s not pretty in there.” Heather Catstevens reported, leaning over the man in the bed. She was a low-level mind mage, specialized in healing troops who had suffered severe head or mental trauma. It wasn’t an easy job, and Heather was having trouble focusing after this latest session. It never used to be like this, she thought, before the war. “There’s still lots of residual guilt and self-blame for the loss of his men. In short, he’s pretty torn up. I suggest we keep him sedated until the psych has had a chance to contact him.”
Dr. Ben Stromren nodded somberly. “That’s a good idea, sergeant. However, why don’t we in touch with the buddies of his that survived. Their presence will help the healing process.”
“Yes, sir. It won’t be too hard to find them. They’ve been making regular visits… every day.”
“Howdy, sergeant! You ready to go see the LT?”
Master Sergeant Paul Links looked over at Corporal Lear and grunted. “Sure, just let me finish up with my exercises. This here arm is the first chunk o’ metal I have ever had hooked on me. Takin’ me a bit o time to git used ta it.”
Lear took a seat next to his friend and watch as the Sarge went thru a series of mental exercises moving each of his new fingers in turn.
“Sarge, that med tech called me, you know the psych one with that real nice…”
“Yeah, yeah… I remember the ass, get ta the important stuff.”
“Well anyways, as I was about to say, she called me and says the LT’s brain is back on line. From what she tells me, he’s constantly running over the fight in his head, and… well, he blames himself.”
“Well, hell!” Links’ fist came down with a crash on the table, “How could the LT have known they were going to shell us from space? It not like we got some kind of warning. We were ordered to make contact, which we did… it’s that bitch Admiral not warning us, that got Stroebel and them waxed. Hell if that mortar hadn’t blown the hell outta, and buried, me and the LT might have fallin back under that torpedo barrage.”
“Yeah, but the LT doesn’t remember that part. He’s just focusing on the whole ‘gitten waxed’ part of it. Anyway, they want us to work thru the Ass…err psych tech, to in-ter-ject our memories and encourg-ments in ta LT’s brain. Something like that. Anyway, she seems to think that will help bring him out quicker.”
“All right, son. Guess I’m done here, let’s git on over thar.”
With the conversation ended, the two men made their way to the LT’s ward. “Howdy, Ma’am,” stated Lear, with an accompanying glace at her more feminine features, “it’s shore is nice ta see you again,”
Heather just glared back at him. “Corporal, I can cut through that Neolithic clay you call a mind so easily, so if you would please concentrate on the task at hand… instead of things that you stand no chance of achieving…”
“Sorry, ma’am, I…”
“Oh,” Catstevens cut him off, “and the name is Sergeant, NOT the Ass!”
“Yes Ma’am,” Lear’s voice and face dropped like that of a boy with his hand caught in the candy jar. “How can the Sarge and I help the LT?”
“The initial stages of his coma were caused by the extreme trauma received during battle. That damage has been repaired, but he seems to have further mental trauma that is keeping his subconscious from allowing him to wake up. I need you to think your way through the day he was wounded from your perspective. Show him that he made the right decisions. Show him that you and the men believed in him enough to follow him and that it was just a bad turn of fate that caused this. Coming from you it might be enough to bring him out.”
“Ok, sarge, let’s get going.” the corporal nodded as he stepped toward Walters’ inert form. Catstevens took Lear’s hands placed one on John’s forehead and the other on her own. The sniper tried to communicate through her to his commanding officer, but then got nothing. The guilt was shoving his mind back. Sensing failure, the psych tech cut short the contact.
“That was unsuccessful… but the first attempts usually are. Sergeant Links, are you ready to try?” she offering her hands to him.
“Guess so,” replied the sergeant, “anything that gets the boy back on his feet. There aren’t that many decent LT’s out there, it would be a shame ta see this one waste away.” He then took up position, similar to the one vacated by Lear, and began to “talk” to the LT.
“Lieutenant Walters, this is Sergeant Links. I think it about time that you got over this crybaby business and got back ta work. There aint a damn thing you coulda done about that scrape we got ourselves into, so you just need ta snap out of it. It weren’t you that got the platoon killed, it was that damn Admiral whats-her-bitch’s decision to bombard her own people. You were a good platoon officer and could be again if you would just stop your belly-ache-in. I am an old dog and old dogs don’t hunt with just anyone. So unless you are tryin ta make me look the fool for trustin’ your green ass, you need to get out of this bed and back ta soldierin.”
“Sarge, your alive? I thought you were… I tried talk’n to ya… no answer.”
“Yessir, I’m alive. Not easy to kill old cuss’s like me. They got one of my arms, but hell I’ll trade that if it means I get a few more years of chase-in young bucks like yerself.”
“I’m so… so ashamed…How can I face men again. How can I take the responsibility for so many lives again. The weight… it’s so heavy.”
“Well boy, I reckon you just do it. You aren’t the first ta lose men. A wise man once said that war means fight’in, and fight’in means killin. I have lost men, and I am sure I will again. I don’t see as your any better than me, and I know I am no where near yoru better, so I guess that means were even. All I can say is I followed you before, I am willing ta follow you again, but your gonna have ta move yourself first.”
“Thank you for your words, sarge. Give me some time to think on them.”
“Ok son, I’ll be back tommorow, you just git ta healin. We need ya back, but we want all of ya back.”
At that Links brought his hand away from Walters’ forehead and backed away from the bed. Catstevens turned to him and said, “I think you made great progress there… enough that I am not going to tell anyone about your opinions of our admiral.” Links shrugged, Lear smiled. “It will take a little more time, and a few more sessions, but I am sure he will come around. His case is not unique. Annihilation of a first command is something that has ruined many a young officer’s career; I see it all the time. Luckily, we have enough understanding of the human mind that we are able to treat the internal trauma as well as external wounds. You and slobber-boy here are more than welcome to come by anytime during visiting hours. The more contact he has, the quicker he will come back to us.“
“We’ll be back, don’t you worry ‘bout that. Come on, Lear, lets go kill some brain cells over at the Water’n Hole.” Links nodded, turned, and the two men turned and left the hospital.
Putting much thought into the objects on his desk until the mystery man left, Captain Cashnov knew his duty. If he could control his thoughts a little longer... the secure link to the knew the marshal's office opened. On the other end, Clarke's secretary stared at him, an ironic sight since the man was both blind and deaf. The powerful mind and spirit mage acted as a good median for Clarke, who reportedly spent much of his time between reality and the safety of the umbra.
The mage lightly probed his mind, then spoke. "This channel is secure. What is it that you want, M. Cashnov?"
"I believe I may be under the influence of a strong mind mage who has affected my judgment and misled me. Who is it that was assigned to me to help track and capture Drake Richter? Were those really my orders?"
The mage stared at a computer screen for some time, finally finding LI Captain Cashnov's orders. "Ah, here it is. You were ordered exterminate suspect Drake Richter. No one was assigned to help you. Were you aware of this?"
The captain held is head low. "No, Sir."
"And there is a man there, ah, yes, there it is in your mind. That man. Go take a vacation. The chairman believes he has a solution."
After sleeping to an optimum level, the machine awoke his mind and body, the cyborg raising to collect food from the food tent. It ate silently and quickly while evaluating the 62 soldiers around it, many of whom stared at the nearly healed plasma burns on his body and head. When nearly all were finished, Codos entered the room to address the group.
"All right men, today is it. We have a fully functional Mk 100 suit for each of you, it is time to move. Today we destroy the Pershnick family or die trying. Full mission orders are loaded onto the suits displays."
Codos and Tyson led the men through sweatshops and chemical labs to the basement, and with the flick of a switch the machine was greeted by the sight of sixty-five Mark 100 suits, well maintained and ready for combat. His algorithm yearned for the combat ahead as he walked towards the suit. "Richter!"
The machine turned towards Tyson. "Go to that one." The machine complied as normal, finding his to be specially modified, the suit equipped with a data link directly into the software. It plugged in to the suit, feeling almost a kinship with it. Seeing the other suits also come to life, the combat cyborg again found its place.
A freight flitter pulled out into the gates of the Pershnick's compound. In similar fashion, a soldier decloaked, reached in to check the driver's ID, when the freighter exploded. A shockwave threw the inflamed suit into and through the side of the compound, and the flames illuminated several other cloaked suits. Immediately, Damien's allies opened fire, the suits being blown to pieces as they moved across the street towards the Pershnick's compound. As they crossed, the street two flitters screamed around the corner, gunfire coming out of both sides of them.
Richter activated his suits thrusters, flying over them and opening fire upon the flitters. However, before they were destroyed, they impacted into eleven of his allies. Almost immediately, fire opened up upon them from three sides. Codos was hit instantly, the shot passing clean through both sides of the power armor. A forces mage caused a momentary gravity pulse within a soldier to Richter's left, causing him and his armor to implode and then fall upon the ground in a puddle of mush. A bolt from the H-90 easily killed the old mage, when Richter saw Tyson go down, his leg blown clean from his body. Tyson's weak subdermal armor protected him momentarily as the bolts wore it down to nothing. Their leaders dead, the other soldiers turned to run.
The algorithm causing intense hatred within Damien, his logic processors restrained him only momentarily. The psychopathic thoughts of another lifetime flooded into his head as he turned, the H-90 shredding the cowardly humans behind him. The strong emotion was like nothing he had yet experience, he loved the hate for them. Something snapped within his head as the memories of a past life came pouring forward, thousands of murders, thoughts, and psychopathic control of Drake Richter available to access. Feeling power beyond that of his chemically and hydraulically enhanced body, his enraged mind forced his body to nearly destructive levels as he dodged the enemy’s shots and killed them one by one. Knowing that he could not win without reinforcements, hating the fact that he may not be able to finish the mission, the machine decloaked for a split second, just long enough for a security camera to lock onto his unhelmeted face.
"Captain Cashnov, Drake Richter has been sighted!"
Cashnov reacted instantly. "Have all LI forces with in a 20-mile radius form up outside of the combat zone and then attack with force. Call the TI for reinforcements. I want this done with now."
The man in black flew into the room. "What is your plan?"
The captain looked confused. "Who told you that the cyborg had attacked again?"
He was for the first time surprised. "What?" The mind mage tried to read Cashnov's mind, but was unable. Panicking, he threw a fireball. Immediately, the image of Cashnov melted away as the fireball impacted harmlessly into an invisible shield. The weretiger underneath shifted to Crinos, and with great speed, pounced upon the mystery man, rolling and throwing him into the wall. The mage hit the wall, falling unconscious. Clarke's secretary stepped out of the closet, having countered the man's magic, and one of the elite guard looked down upon the pitiful opponent as it shifted back out of Crinos form.
“Is he dead?” Arthur Clarke asked, looking at the sleeping body of the discovered InSec agent.
The secretary cocked his head for a moment, then replied, “No, sir. He is merely asleep.”
“Then his luck just ran out.” the chairman smiled looking at his prey, “Give this man over to the Raptors. They’ll get the information out of him. Gergenstein hands aren’t getting inside Avalon… unless he bothers to knock at the door.”
The cloaked machine separated from his power armor, programming a quick autopilot program and sending it to run away. The cloaked guards of the Pershnick compound thought they saw their last cloaked opponent run, uncloaking and actively using their sensors to target the cloaked suit. As it disintegrated under multiple plasma hits, the machine killed the visible with one great swing of it's H-90 and needler, dodging in time to see the erratic shots from more cloaked soldiers pass in front of it's face. Running for the blown open entrance of the compound, the machine fired in front of it, impacting into the soldiers pouring out of the gap one after another. It ran the tunnels with great speed, playing cat and mouse much better than the stunned soldiers.
Almost unnoticed by the Pershnick soldiers, the streets suddenly became filled with LI flitters and gunships. The gunships made quick work of the guards, and the flitters unloaded as SWAT teams entered the compound. Inside the machine encountered the first group of LI, killing them before he could turn down the first strike protocol. Finding the nearest exit, Damien exited the building, the LI's numbers being sufficient to finish the job. Almost wholly unnoticed in the chaos, the machine shot it's way out of the battleground, and no longer having a leader from the other drug operation, the machine dropped down into the sewers to evade it's way back to Shiro.
Entering Shiro's lab the machine was instantly greeted by a full growth tube. Inside a flesh colored humanoid formed, it looked as though only 2 days until completion, although it should have been 3 days along in growth when he was last at Shiro's.
"Damien, it is a shame that the attack was unsuccessful. However, I have another mission for you immediately. Recharge your weapons, download your mission and be on your way." The doctor walked back over the a large black mass curled around a heat rock in the half destroyed cage that used to hold the rat. Picking it up with his mage powers, he moved it over to the growth tube, dropping it in. Instantly with fluid motion it swam to the humanoid figure inside, engulfing 90% of it's surface area. Damien grabbed the recharged weapons, and headed out of the lab.
Arriving at address, the machine was confronted by a large skyscraper, the new Light Infantry Command Center. Entering the front door, he found the main lobby to be abandoned, its detection equipment off, and even the cameras did not track him. His mind and his logic processors agreed, it was a trap. In order to gather intelligence the machine tried to jack into the main computers, however they had been turned off. The machine was unable to overpower its orders. Unwilling to enter the elevator to the Office 25C of Floor 674, the machine broke open a ventilation shaft, and began to scale up.
Damien walked to the office slowly, his weapons drawn and fully cloaked. The machine examined the door, finding nothing abnormal about it, but still took the safest route by slamming into the room through a wall. As the dust settled, the machine's eyes came to focus on none other than Dr. Shiro in the center of the room. The machine had orders to receive additional orders when it reached this destination, yet Shiro, tied and gagged in the center of the room, was unresponsive. The rest of the room had been emptied, it was bare except the walls were covered by nothing but mirrors. Its guns still held out, the machine was caught off guard when two separate werewolf hands flew out from the mirrors, each grabbing the barrels and pulling each inside. The machine attempted to follow, the mirror only breaking when it tried to pass through.
Across the room a werewolf stepped out, the nine foot tall gray wolf snarling as it walked calmly towards the machine. In back of him, Damien heard another step out, turn
ing to see brown werewolf opposite. They charged at once, however it was apparent they were not in it for the kill. The machine did a roundhouse to the head of one, his fist impacting the other, their heads flinging to the side violently but their bodies staying straight on course. They both tackled him, trying to hold him down. The hydraulics were slightly stronger, and the machine was able wrestle off the attackers, however in their hands lay his only two other weapons, a bowie knife and a grenade. Unarmed, the machine stood ready as they backed off. Both bowed slightly, then walked into the umbra.
Turning back to Shiro, the machine began untying him. The doctor. began to come around, but was still quite out of it when he heard another step out of the mirrors. This time, out stepped the marshal himself, Arthur Clarke. The chairman began to circle the machine.
"So this is InSec's mighty cyborg? The one who’s caused so much trouble?” Clarke snorted out a laugh. “You’ll at least be good exercise today.”
Richter said nothing, dropping the useless invisibility as Clarke shifted into Crinos form.
Damien attacked first, his right foot heading directly for Arthur's head. Clarke blocked the kick easily with one hand, while the other hand sunk into the thin layer of surface skin, his foot and grip being used to flip Richter onto the ground. The machine went down, but quickly swept the chairman’s feet out from under him. Rising only to his knees, the machine put incredible force into his mechanical fist in order to crush the head of the chairman, who dodged in time for Richter's hands to pass into the tile and plastcrete floor. With Clarke moving only slightly slower than the machine, it was unable to dodge when the former general brought his fist’s full force onto the center of his spine. The subdermal armor braced the attack enough that it did not break. The cyborg turned and kicked the were-tiger in the stomach. Each of them rising to their feet, the tiger stalked it's prey as Richter searched for weaknesses. It had few, being more susceptible to damage although healing to quickly for it to matter. Clarke was slower, but much more skilled.
"Impressive… perhaps you’re everything they say you are. Let's make this more interesting." Both the werewolves, Clarke's guards, appeared with a bitanium spear. They threw one to Clarke, and then one to Richter. The machine accessed the file on spears and bayonets in its databanks, and was ready for battle.
This time, Clarke attacked first, swinging the spear like a club at Richter's head. The machine maid no attempt to dodge, instead it walked into it, the blow stressing but not breaking the subdermal armor that surrounded his neck. Being within inches of the chairman, the machine went in for the kill, thrusting the spear through his abdomen, as Arthur brought around his spear again, this time knocking the machine onto it's back. The former general screamed in pain and inched backward, pulling the spear out, and then laughed in a cryptic style.
"Have it back!" With that, the marshal threw it at the machine, who caught it on his way to his feet. The two volleyed strike after strike at each other, the spears striking each other with lighting speed as the two volleyed back and forth. Pressing his strength advantage, the machine advanced forward while surging adrenaline levels past safe operating levels. Finally making up for his lack of skill, the cyborg knocked Clarke off balance, and swung mightily to crush Clarke's head. Unexpectedly he caught it, bringing his own spear into and through the subdermal armor of the cyborg. Clarke threw the cyborg's spear to his feet, and motioned for his. The cyborg thought quickly, sending his nanites to eat through the bitanium spear. When the cyborg finally complied, he threw only the exposed handle to the general, the rest being unwound to refill the hole made by the spear. The cyborg pressed its advantage, trying to kill the general unarmed.
As the would be fatal blow approached, time slowed and Arthur moved calmly back.
"You would fight me unarmed? How very disappointing. They programmed nothing of honor into you, of course, I should have expected that from InSec.” With that a werewolf entered from the umbra, handing the marshal his red dagger, which grew to length as time came back to normal. “Alas, I shall have to teach it to you."
The machine did not stand a chance. With the first hit the bitanium spear split in two, reducing the cyborg to merely dodging it. Unable to mount an attack, the machine continued what defense it could, fortunate that it's hydraulics never tired. As they fought, Shiro came back to consciousness.
The machine was disappointed by his order, it wished for its creator to join it in combat. Besides, it could not back away from the battle.
Kill me now, I will not rot my life away in G2.
Damien Richter followed the direct order, turning his back to Clarke and punching his fist through Shiro’s head. Before he could turn, he felt the sword pass through his neck. As Richter's head fell to the floor, it rolled enough to see the silver sword cutting his body into large chunks. As his vision went black he felt one last, large transmission across his wireless modem before the self destruct programs activated his nanites to slowly decompose his corpse into nothingness.
Less than half an hour later, Arthur Clarke entered the press room, still in his bloody clothes with the head of Damien Richter in one hand and his red sword in the other. Walking up to the microphone, the chairman said a short speech for those who lost family members to the cyborg.
"...it is done. THE DAY OF THE CYBORG IS OVER!" With that, he held the decapitated head up in the air, as the crowd marveled in murderous delight.
Twenty-four hours later, his eyes opened in the growth tube, covered in a thick, black armor. Processing complete…
O’Reilly shouted and roared, pounding his fists against the arms of the chair in frustration as he screamed at the enemy commander, swearing insults that would make a sailor blush.
“That is not an answer,” his opponent stated simply over the com link when O’Reilly had finally finished his rant. “You are surrounded, you are trapped, and your weapons are useless. The jump gate has been set to explode if you try to retreat. You have only two options: surrender or be destroyed. I will only ask you one more time: will you accept Jesus and be born again?”
“Give me a couple minutes to talk it over with my crew, will ya?” Xinjao finally answered.
“You have sixty seconds,” Lt. York answered. “Then we open fire on your ships.”
“Any ideas?” O’Reilly asked, staring at the deck. He couldn’t bear to look at his crew.
“We were fighting this fucking campaign to prevent capture and forced conversion, O’Reilly!!” General Horton hollered over the com link, furious. “I speak for all New Israelis when I say that we are NOT going to surrender! Damn it, I warned you, O’Reilly!! I told you we’d be—“
“Look! I fucked up! I know!” O’Reilly snapped, “but we got forty seconds to come up with a plan, so bitch me out later!”
“We need to blast our way out of this damn minefield!” someone suggested.
“How?” the tactical officer retorted. “Our weapons won’t work!”
“We don’t have enough time!”
That’s it. O’Reilly thought. We need more time. Bluff. Stall. Delay. Play for time. He opened a channel to the enemy commander. “Alright, Fundie, you win!” he growled. “We surrender. We’ll power down our weapons and let you board our ships.”
“Nice try, Captain,” Lt. York smiled humorlessly, “But we’re not moving within range of your weapons, we’re not deactivating the minefield, and we’re not boarding your ships with the crew still onboard.”
I thought so, O’Reilly thought, narrowing his eyes at the scrawny Lieutenant, you don’t have the ships or the manpower to board us, do you?
“Instead,” York continued, “you will power down your ships and evacuate in shuttles and lifepods, which should be small enough to navigate through the minefield unharmed. Fly them into orbit around Centauri Minor, where our ships will pick you up and escort you to the surface. We’re watching you closely, Captain, and we’ll open fire at the first sign of anything suspicious.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, shaygits?!” General Horton yelled over the com link the second Xinjao cut the connection to York.
“Buying us some time!” O’Reilly yelled back. “If we power down the ships and slowly eject empty life pods, we’ve got maybe thirty minutes before they realize we haven’t left. We’ve got that much time to find a solution, so I want everyone researching all escape possibilities, NOW! Deactivate the mines, open the jump gate, blow up their ships… hell, I don’t care if you have to make a grav drive out of bubble gum and Q-tips, just find us a way out of this mess!!” O’Reilly pulled up damage reports for his ships as the bridge descended into a flurry of activity. Crewmen feverishly poured over terminals and consoles, searching desperately for a way out.
“I just knew it! We’ve flown into a friggin’ ambush!” Dade swore, frantically piloting his fighter around flying debris from the Samarian. “Get yer shit together, Aces! Jestine, get on the scanners and try to find a weak spot in this minefield. Everyone, form up on me and keep it tight,” Dade screamed into his com link. He reached back into himself and tried his best to enter that zone that only fighter jockeys can truly describe. Skillfully maneuvering through the minefield to the aft of their fleet he tried desperately to keep his flight intact while Jestine scanned the area.
“Sir, I’ve found a weakness!” Jestine radioed in. “The mines are eight kilometers apart. The blast area is about seven kilometers… it’ll be tight, but a fighter should be able to navigate through the field without setting them off!”
“Good job, Ace!” Dade shouted. “But what about the rest of the task force?”
“There’s a shitload of mines between us and the planet… but the field behind the gate is much thinner!” she reported. “Thick enough to hurt us, but the fleet might be able to break out…“
“Ok folks, looks like the large ships are screwed, but I think I may have a way out of this. One second…” Dade cut the channel to his fighters and hailed the nearest gunboat. “Jehovah’s Wrath, this is Dade, wing commander of the fleet fighters. I have a plan but I’ll need your help.”
“This is Captain Ronsheimer,” the reply came. “I’m willing to try anything at this point… but we’re not about to surrender to the inquisitors out there!”
“No disrespect for you and your crew sir,” Dade said, “but we both know these gunboats won’t make much difference in a fight. But if you and some other captains are willing to eject and do some space walking, we could use their mass to break out of this minefield!” Dade explained. “The mines are thinner behind the jump gate, and I think we can blow a hole outa here if we use the gunboats as battering rams. If we can get the fighters and gunboats free, we’d at least have a chance against that fleet out there!” Dade listened anxiously to the silence at the other end of the comm link. It was a lot to ask of a captain to sacrifice their own ship.
“All right,” Captain Ronsheimer reluctantly agreed, “If it’s the only way... I’ll talk to the other Captains and explain.” Everything was set in motion as Dade transmitted the plan to the Israeli flight commanders. The Fleet fighters began to assemble around the Four Aces, trying to look as much as possible like they were beginning landing maneuvers on the Schaumburg.
Precious minutes had ticked by fruitlessly, and the crew was desperate. Between inexperienced, frightened crews and the chaos stirred up by battle damage and emergency repairs, they were no closer to getting out of the minefield now than when they had “surrendered”.
“What can you tell me about that minefield, Gene?” O’Reilly asked as he pulled up sensor data to the optical display in his cybernetic eye. “What are we dealing with here?”
“Well, uh, they aren’t really mines,” the pimple-faced Lieutenant Higgins stammered. “They’re just, y’know, standard Fed fusion shells, with, uh, the fuse set to proximity detonation.”
“What… fusion cannon ammo?” O’Reilly asked surprised. “That’s it?”
“Uh, yeah,” Higgins continued, “And, uh, y’know the shell’s targeting sensors? Well, it looks like they’re using the transmitters to, like, jam the targeting sensors in our torpedoes!”
“Clever…” O’Reilly mumbled darkly, even more worried. Whoever set this up is good…
“And that, um, reflective stuff that’s screwing up our lasers?” Higgins continued nervously. “It isn’t, y’know, standard countermeasure chaff, it’s… well… it looks like metal shavings. Y’know, like from a factory or something?”
“Jesus Christ!” Xinjao swore, burying his face in his hands, “If I get killed in an improvised minefield thrown together out of junk… that’ll just be humiliating!”
“Captain!” his tactical officer called out. “They’ve screwed up our grav lasers, chemlasers, fusion shells, missiles, and torpedoes, but…” he turned to Xinjao with a wicked grin, “our particle cannons and phalanx are still working! Most ships our size don’t carry ‘em, so they probably didn’t bother preparing for it – so we’ve still got point defense and at least two Big Guns!”
“Finally! Some good news!” O’Reilly exclaimed sarcastically.
“Captain O’Reilly, this is General Horton,” Schuyler said over the com link, “Remember those plasma howitzers our two heavy cruisers are armed with? They’re non-guided mass weapons – they can fire through this mess!”
“Good, good,” Xinjao said pensively, “how many are still working?”
“All four,” Schuyler answered. “Most of our plasma phalanx are working, too, so we’ve got point defense. We were at the back of the convoy – the fighters took most of the mines.”
“Okay, we’re getting somewhere…” O’Reilly said.
“Uh, captain?” Lieutenant Higgins asked timidly. “Y’know how the mines are, like, jamming the guidance systems on our torpedoes?” O’Reilly nodded. “Well, uh, their torpedoes didn’t have any trouble getting to us… which would mean—“
“That they must be using an open frequency somewhere!” O’Reilly finished, eyes wide. “Higgins, you’re a genius! You’ll get that second stripe in no time! Rotate frequencies until you find an open channel, start with all standard Fed frequencies – if we can get our shells and torpedoes working, we can get back in the game!” O’Reilly opened a com link to all of his ships.
Andrea Treschi sat at the dinner table, his skin itching under the skinmask as he pretended to be comfortable. There the former smuggler was, pretending to be Captain Brennan Percival, Chief of Chaplains to the Righteous Navy, and it was proving to be a longer role than he had originally intended. Sitting in Elder Reginald Samuels’ home, who just happened to be the Minister of Peace, they discussed pleasantries back and forth with Samuel’s family, and the man who sat at the foot of the table. He needed no introduction; everyone knew who the Minister of the Faith was.
Lieutenant Ira Weiss had been smiling throughout dinner, just like everyone else, as the family enjoyed its modest meal of roast beef, several exotic fruits and vegetables, fresh ground coffee… things that would cost an entire year of wages in the Christian Federation, Treschi knew, but pretended not to. He concentrated on Weiss, who people only talked about behind closed doors. He’s the unofficial number three man in the CFRA, head of the secret police, or Ministry of Faith… whatever face you feel like calling it. He’s the man who can get things done, and exactly the man I have to convince.
When the dishes were cleared, and Samuels’ wife and family disappeared, it was finally time to talk about more serious issues. Luckily, the elder provided Treschi’s introduction. “I’m glad you could come for dinner, sir.”
Ira smiled as he dotted his mouth with his napkin. “Your offer intrigued me, elder. Especially your mention of a possible treaty?”
“Yes, Captain Percival brought it to my attention. We got to talking and he mentioned that one of his chaplains had picked up an offer of alliance from a listening post in Phoenix. They pursued the notion and actually got a response from the TI faction in Wilke’s Star.”
“Interesting,” Weiss nodded, “tell me, captain, when did you discover this?”
“Only a few days ago. Since the poor chaplain realized he was out of his jurisdiction, he called me for guidance. I decided to consult the Minister of War, since I was due to meet with him anyway concerning the recruitment of more clergy. He suggested speaking to Elder Samuels, as this was more his department. Luckily, he chose to speak to you.”
Samuels nodded and smiled, choosing not to reveal that Treschi had told a lie, because the last person Reginald wanted to know about Kettering stepping down was Weiss. Ira’s curiosity turned to intense interest, and the minister pushed the matter forward. “So what would you suggest on a course of action, captain?”
“Well, sir. I figure I should travel to Phoenix myself, contact this man, and discover the nature of this treaty.”
Andrea felt Weiss beginning to scan him; Treschi smiled openly. He had slowly been allowing his magick to create another mind; an alter ego to cover up his true mind. Ira scanned the false memory to discover that Percival was, in fact, who he said he was, that he was looking for a chance at promotion, and was hoping that he had found it. The poor chaplain who found the information wouldn’t be able to take any credit. The lieutenant seemed pleased with what he found; nothing out of the ordinary in the political arena of New Jerusalem. “An interesting suggestion.”
“Of course, I would have to have plenipotentiary powers to negotiate such a magnificent opportunity for His cause. I wouldn’t dream of assuming them without the approval of the Commander of the Faithful.”
“No,” Weiss nodded, “you are a good and faithful servant of His Kingdom Among The Stars.”
Treschi noticed the use of the new advertising phrase that had come out recently. The Bible is so annoyingly terracentric, as you would expect with any book written before spaceflight. Makes catchy phrases difficult for the fundies. “Thank you. Do you believe that such an action could be possible.”
“We’d prefer to have one of our own ambassadors contact the Rebels.”
“Sir,” Andrea quickly moved to counter the argument, “I got the distinct impression from the transcript my younger chaplain sent me, that a man of the cloth was what they preferred.”
“I wonder why…” Ira moaned.
“Clergy are respected, sir,” Samuels answered, hoping to get some of this glory rubbed off on him; his office had little to do when one was attacking all their neighbors, “even outside His Federation.”
“So they are.” the lieutenant reluctantly agreed. “Come by my office tomorrow, captain, you’ll have the necessary approval by then.”
“And I’ll need a ship. I couldn’t expect to make this connection from here in San Angeles.”
Weiss looked concerned for a moment. Did I play my hand too far, Andrea wondered, before Ira relaxed again. “Of course, one of my personal ships should suffice. After all, we wouldn’t want a Rebel patrol to destroy you before the treaty is signed?”
He wants to keep an eye on me… great. That’ll mean getting out of the Christian Federation will be harder than I thought. I can’t refuse the offer; I’ll just have to look for a way out without arising suspicion later. “We wouldn’t want that, sir. Thank you.”
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.
Erich Von Shrakenberg returned to the flag bridge of the EFS Zeus, wearing his spare skinsuit. "Status report." he barked out in an authoritative tone.
"The Nicodemus was lost with all hands," Johanna Ingolfsson replied. "The Zeus can still maneuver, although with such heavy damage we're limited to about five g's of acceleration. The gravitic ram is gone, as are both upper weapons pylons. Damage to the bow has rendered 84 of our 256 lance torpedo tubes unusable. The upper four port landing bays are destroyed. The three port lower landing bays can still launch and recover fighters, but at about half capacity since several of the airlock doors are warped. Over six hundred killed or missing, and another two hundred and six wounded, almost half of them critical."
"And the rest of the fleet?" Erich asked with a grimace.
"The Renown, Azov, and Aguirre are still in hyperspace. All other ships are in close powered orbit of Luna. Aside from some fighters, we escaped otherwise unscathed."
"Not good, but not as bad as it could have been." Erich concluded. "Estimated time left until the moon's core is reached?"
"Another ten hours for the Temujin to finish the bombardment," Johanna confirmed. She sat back down at her panel and worked the controls for a moment. "Admiral, new contacts on long-range sensors."
"Show me." The main display switched to a large-scale map of the inner solar system.
Johanna highlighted the contacts as she spoke. "One contact moving out from the system primary, over 100 g's of acceleration. Ten contacts moving in from Mars. They're closer, but boosting at only four gravities. Analysis suggests the fast loner is another Horadrim ship, the others are the Resistance fleet, moving at the speed of their slowest vessel."
Erich stared at the display, a puzzled look on his face. "The Horadrim ship is moving in normal space, not using the tunnel drive?"
"Correct," Johanna replied. "They might have seen what we did to the Canaris, not want to risk us having more ships in hyperspace that can jump on top of them," she offered helpfully.
"Perhaps. But something tells me no," Erich stated, starting to pace the bridge. "If that's an InSec ship, I doubt they have ship captains experienced enough to figure that out. And any who did, would realize that coming in through n-space like that just leaves them open to long-range torpedo fire and fighter attacks long before they get close enough to hurt our big ships." He gazed intently at the sensor trace for several seconds. "I don't think that's an InSec ship. So who are they?"
Johanna looked up with a wry smirk. "We could always hail them and find out?"
Erich smiled. "That's crazy… but it just might work. Open a channel."
The main viewer lit up with the image of a strange-looking man standing on the command deck of a Horadrim battlecruiser. "What do you want?" it hissed.
"I am Vice Admiral Erich Von Shrakenberg of the Earth Federation," Erich stated. "We have authority here. Do not interfere or I will be forced to destroy your ship."
The figure laughed; a frightening, rasping, hissing sound. "We have no intention of interfering. How you humans kill each other is of no concern to us. Release our brother on board that battlecruiser to us and I may spare your life."
Johanna cut the sound and spoke quickly. "Erich, if we break the connection between the Horadrim and the ship that he's merged to, the ship will self-destruct. We need that ship as a lifeboat." If they were going to crash the Zeus into the moon, over 20,000 crewmembers had to be taken off. If they had brought along the full TI Marine detachment, that number would have been tripled. Some could go on to the other ships in the fleet, but they wouldn't all fit.
Erich restored the sound. "I'm afraid I can't do that. We need that ship to transport our wounded back to Avalon. If, however, you will follow us to Avalon after this is over, I'm sure we'd be willing to turn him over to you then. Humans and Horadrim have been friendly since the Coral Sea Treaty, I'm sure neither of us want to jeopardize that relationship."
"The Coral Sea Treaty was a farce," Dane hissed back. "You kidnapped our children then arrogantly imposed a truce upon us. He finally have our children back… and we will have nothing more to do with your pathetic species."
Erich slumped in his chair. "All right, come get him." He cut the connection, then sat back up and leaned forward urgently. "Johanna, has Admiral Coppinger been brought aboard yet?"
"Yes, he came back on one of the empty shuttles that was ferrying non-essential crewmen over to the Horadrim ship."
"Have him brought up here."
A few moments later, Chuck Coppinger was escorted onto the flag bridge by two burly marines in light power armor. Erich swiveled his chair around to face him. "Chuck, I'd ask you for your name, rank, and serial number, but I hear you Resistance types don't use that kind of thing, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut to the chase."
"We will never surrender, if that's what you're asking." Coppinger said with an air of defiance.
"No," Erich asked. "They won't? With over 300 million lives on the line, they will let me slaughter them rather than surrender?"
"To butchers like you? No… they will die before they surrender," Coppinger stated flatly. "They know that if they surrender, they will just be put in prison camps or get summary executions. Anyone who would rather go to prison than die never made it this far."
"Too bad." Erich replied. "How about you? The fleet's being expanded, I'm sure we can find a suitable command for someone who has demonstrated such ability and courage."
"Fuck you and your fleet."
"How unfortunate. You see, I have something of a problem here." Erich swiveled back around and activated the main viewer. A sensor trace of Vin Dane's ship appeared on the screen. "This is another Horadrim ship we just detected, heading towards Earth from the vicinity of the sun. It's coming to take back that lovely ship of yours. And, if you think it's gonna save your Earth, forget it. He made it quite clear that he doesn't care how many of you I kill, as long as he can take off ‘his brothers’ still on Earth. The Horadrim have abandoned you to me, and they're abandoning the Coral Sea treaty as well." Erich turned back to face the Resistance fleet commander. "It seems we have a common enemy, M. Coppinger."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," Coppinger shot back. "I'd rather see them take the ship back than let it fall into your hands."
"And I'd rather see it destroyed than fall into the hands of an unfriendly alien power," Erich returned harshly. When Coppinger just stood there in mute defiance, Erich scowled. "I had hoped to persuade you to order your ships to assist me in opposing this alien menace. But I can't fight both of you." He turned to Johanna. "Captain Ingolfsson, order the shuttles to take all humans off the Horadrim derelict and return them to the Zeus." Erich stood up and strode over to the bridge lift. "I'm going over there. We might be able to salvage something from that ship before the other Horadrim get here."
Erich strode off the shuttle in the docking bay of the Horadrim Battlecruiser. Flanked by four TI Marines in power armor, he headed for the command center. What he found there when he arrived surprised him. "Doctor Carter, I presume?"
Dr. Zebulon Carter was merged with the ship, occupying the niche where a Horadrim was supposed to serve as the ship's central command nexus. "It's an… interesting… sensation," the Resistance scientist reported. "I… am… the ship…"
"I thought that the ship needed a Horadrim to control it," Erich stammered in awe. "You mean a normal human can control this thing?"
"No… need soul web…" Carter grunted. "Injected myself… experiment… Tiliash needed… elsewhere."
"So there is no Horadrim on board after all?"
"No… not anymore… but… takes all my… concentration… to control…"
"Doctor Carter," Erich insistently cut in. "There is another Horadrim ship coming. It thinks we’re holding one of them captive. Even if we can convince them that there isn’t, they won't let us control the ship. They'll destroy it to keep it from falling into our hands. Can you extract yourself?"
"No… merging is… permament… if not full… Horadrim…"
"Schizen." Erich looked around the room. The walls seemed to shimmer slightly, as if the ship was alive. They flexed gently, in and out, like the belly of some monstrous beast, breathing softly. "This ship, it can heal itself, repair itself?"
"Yes… alive… organic…"
"How functional is it now?"
"Fully… functional… in three… hours…"
"Just before they get here," Erich smiled. "Doctor Carter, I have a proposition for you…"
Back on the EFS Zeus, Erich entered the flag bridge and ordered a communications channel opened to the incoming Horadrim vessel. "All right, M… whatever, we've taken all our people off that ship. You can come in and pick up your friend. But before you enter our fleet, you must deactivate your weapons systems. Our ships will not fire on you as long as you are not a threat."
"You are not a threat to me." Vin Dane replied. "You defeated our ship because it was commanded by weakling humans. You cannot stand against our warship with a proper crew."
"Then you won't mind if we keep our weapons locked on you while you fly between our ships," Erich asked.
"Your weapons are irrelevant." Dane answered scornfully. "Point them wherever you wish."
"Good. Then you may pick up your ship." Erich cut the connection with a flourish. He turned to Johanna. “Luckily, he has no idea what I’m planning.”
"But surely he has heard of your reputation. He'll know you don't like aliens."
"Of course, he's the same way," Erich answered smoothly. "But while he has nothing but scorn for humans, I have the deepest respect for the Horadrim and their strength. So I am going into this with a realistic picture of what he can do. He thinks he can swat us aside, and he's probably right. But he's not just facing a battered and trapped human fleet. He's facing another Horadrim ship."
Vin Dane ordered his ship to decelerate to match velocities with the Pulaski. "Watch those human ships." he ordered. "If they so much as twitch in our direction, kill them all." He opened a channel to the Pulaski. "Tiliash, it is time to come home."
The Pulaski suddenly whipped around, and every energy beam on the ship stabbed out at Dane's ship. Four of them connected, slicing deep into the Horadrim ship's hull. The human ships nearby opened fire with grav lasers and lance torpedoes, blazing away with all weapons. Dane's ship writhed under the assault.
“Shall we return fire?” the Hodraida asked his commander.
“NO!” Vin screamed, “Leave this place, NOW!”
“Grav buckle detected, near Earth orbit!” the sensor officer called out.
The captain of the EFS Renown smiled. “I don’t believe it, those Resistance idiots still haven’t learned. All right, open the jump point… order the squadron into normal space.”
As Vin Dane’s ship left through the tunnel drive, the Azov, Aguirre, and the Renown came out of hyperspace, right into the field of fire. As the ships of the Earth Fleet pounded the three ships with the incoming missiles, the battlecruiser and its companion heavy cruisers did as they were ordered, and attacked the Horadrim ship. The Pulaski never stood a chance as the grav lances and several gravity lasers ripped into the crippled ship. The Horadrim battlecruiser instinctually reacted back, firing its energy beam back at its attackers. Targetting systems on the other fleet ships reacted to the new threat and instantly activated offensive systems to lock on the Pulaski. Under the massive bombardment, the EFS Renown suddenly burst its fusion bottle, incinerating itself and the three ships in close proximity.
As the light from explosion receded, only debris remained from the tragic firefight. "Oh, my God…” Coppinger spoke, breaking the stunned silence of the command deck, “Why?! What have you done?!”
“I…” For once, Von Shrakenberg was lost for words.
“How could you let him do that?!” the Resistance admiral screamed at Erich. “How did you talk him into it?!"
The vice-admiral swallowed and stared at his prisoner. "He had a choice. Get killed by that… bastard for daring to control his ship, dissociate himself from the ship and probably die in the attempt, or join me and live.”
“But he didn’t live, you asshole!” Chuck shot back, fury reddening his face. “You and your god-damn self-righteous…”
“Escort M. Coppinger to his cell.” Erich ordered. Two troopers came out of their stance and grabbed the Resistance fighter, cursing at the admiral as he dragged kicking from the bridge.
The silence once again fell upon the command deck of the Zeus, as all eyes turned to him. Von Shrakenberg was relieved when his cousin spoke first. "Sir, the Resistance fleet is now one hour away from firing range."
"All right… pick up any survivors,” although I doubt there are any, he knew, “and move the fleet into defensive formation. Get every ship we have ready… we're going to need them."
The pilot assessed the situation quickly and checked what he saw on infrared and x-ray as he descended. The werewolf isn’t moving, and the other guy is poised to finish the Garou off-he’s been shot, but it looks like he has some kind of body armor. The machine touched down. The lady holding Cerise is also in body armor, left arm injured, but… he zoomed in quickly… that’s not Cerise! That’s Kash’s daughter. Likely threats are the two with body armor.
The pilot immediately activated his weapons, immediately shifting to cover both the man and the lady who was struggling to keep Kash’s girl under control. Hex barked at the woman through the All-Father’s external speaker. “Drop her NOW!”
If anything could get any worse, Zechariah thought, I don’t want to know how. “Jessica, let her go.”
“But Vin…” Martel objected.
“DO IT!” McNeilly screamed. Martel unwilling let Shannon go as she rushed over the towering hunk of metal. Jessica looked at him with a confused eye. Yes, I know what Vin Dane will do if we don’t get the girl, but we can’t get the girl either if we’re dead. Zech waved for her to back away from the giant mobile suit. As the blonde girl rushed over, it didn’t really seem to notice her attackers scooting away.
All Iosef Ruzyho could feel was the pain… and that was slowly receding. The werewolf’s healing powers were starting to catch up and strength came back to his body. Wonder what that little bitch hit me with, the bounty hunter wondered. Above him, he was looking at… he didn’t’ really know what it was, except that it was giving the orders. As he looked to the side, he saw Zechariah backing up. Oh no, you don’t. Time to collect my pay. I didn’t wait on this rock for a week just to get a tan.
Shifting into a wolf, he could feel the pain washing away like a flood. His healing power grew as he shifted. As a wolf, he rushed over, using the tall weeds as cover, to get closer to his target. Soon, he felt his feral instincts tingling, very soon…
“Thank you, thank you, thank you…” the little girl said, hugging the side of the metal beast.
Calling up memories from his intermittent stays with Kash, the pilot spoke over the speaker again. “Shannon, where’s my sister?” Dazed, Shannon only looked at the twenty-one-meter-tall mobile suit confused. The pilot considered his appearance, and immediately rephrased his question. “It’s Hex. Where’s Cerise?”
The young girl was rather disoriented to hear the voice of her best friend’s older brother come from a twenty-one-meter-tall machine, especially after hearing that he had died over a month ago during a raid on the Righteous Army. She stepped back from the machine and asked, "Kiddo? Where have you been?"
Why do Hodraida always answer questions with more questions? he wondered. "That's not important right now. Where is my sister?"
Shannon merely stared up at him for a moment in deep thought. "...she left. Daddy needs your help, Ki--"
"WHERE DID SHE GO!?" The pilot grew tired of twenty questions quickly. Maybe I could scry for her...
"She's on a transport headed out of system. I was supposed to be on it too, bu--"
The pilot listened no more, and immediately launched into space, checking to make sure the jamming shield was activated and looking for any transport sized space craft. He had a sister to find. She's still alive...
As the machine suddenly blasted off into space, all eyes turned to see the giant robot kick into the sky… all of them, except Iosef. He took advantage of the rather large distraction, burst into Crinos form, and tackled the unsuspecting McNeilly.
Zechariah was caught completely off guard. As the werewolf’s claws dug deeply into him, McNeilly winced in pain as they somehow managed to punch through his self-created body armor. The hodraida struggled against the werecreature but the assassin’s grip was like a vise.
Finally, the former Resistance fighter remembered, drove his hands towards the bounty hunter’s chest, and blades went through the furry beast like butter. Ruzyho howled and Zechariah pressed his advantage. Driving his sharpened hands through and through his opponent’s body, the werewolf’s grip became less and less tight, until finally, he dropped to the ground unconscious.
This time, I’m going to make sure he’s dead. With a single swipe, the bounty hunter’s head went flying into the weeds. McNeilly tried to stand up, but it was virtually impossible to move. The pain was incredible and his… adrenalin? was wearing off. Zech laid down on the ground and tried desperately to heal.
Then he saw her face. Shannon was suddenly over him, her long blonde hair getting in his eyes. “Here. Let me.” Pressing her tiny hands on his wounds, she closed her eyes, and he could feel his body slowly regenerating. Within a minute, the wounded hodraida was no longer in that state.
McNeilly managed to sit up and looked straight into the eyes of the little girl. “That wasn’t one of our powers.”
“No,” she shook her head, “it wasn’t.”
“What was it?”
“Our people could never do what the humans call magick, but we knew it existed, so we developed ways to counter it. When our people merged with the humans, something changed.”
“What? What changed?”
“Some of us learned how to resist… and use true magick.” Shannon answered. As Jessica started to sneak up behind her again, this time, the little girl knew. Holding out her palm, it seemed to glow, and Martel stopped. “Don’t. I don’t want to hurt you, but… I don’t want you to hurt me either.”
“Come with us, Shannon,” McNeilly tried again. “If your dad has left, there’s no other way for you to leave. You’re in danger; we can get you off this planet.”
Tears formed and then fell from her face. Sobbing through her words, she managed, “You don’t understand what he’ll do to me! You don’t understand what he is!”
“We don’t harm our own, Shannon. I promise you that.” Zechariah held out his hand, and relunctantly, the little girl took it.
“We’ve got to get off this rock quick.” Martel warned. “In a few hours, Earth’s going to be a wasteland.”
END OF ACT I
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.