29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Hello fellow Supreme Commander fans! This will be the seventh installment in my ongoing project (which is getting longer and longer). As usual, I highly recommend reading the other books first if you have not done so already (or else you will really be lost). Here are the links to the other books:
http://forums.gaspowered.com/viewtopic. ... 90&start=0
http://forums.gaspowered.com/viewtopic. ... 49&start=0
http://forums.gaspowered.com/viewtopic. ... 78&start=0
http://forums.gaspowered.com/viewtopic. ... 08&start=0
http://forums.gaspowered.com/viewtopic. ... 85&start=0
http://forums.gaspowered.com/viewtopic. ... 36&start=0
Book seven will begin after the Cybran Nation’s retreat in the far reaches of the galaxy (X-day + 47) and work up from there. Unlike the other installments, this book will focus a lot more on character development as the different factions attempt to ally with each other. I’ll also try something a bit different this time such as extracts from the personal journals of different characters. As mentioned previously, I will be away on vacation for the upcoming week so the first chapter will only be available on July 12th. Here’s a preview in the meantime
---Click to Expand---
X-Day + 72…
I remember the day that President Riley died... how could I forget? I saw the shock on his face as the bullet passed through him and I saw the blood ooze from the wound. I remember the way that he seemed unaffected and how he fell a moment later. Most importantly, I remember that part of me was relieved to see him die.
What could have brought such treasonous feelings after so many years of loyal service? Was it the web of lies, his fanaticism, Option Zero or even Zachary Arnold’s fall? Perhaps it was all of those combined. There was only one thing that I knew for certain when I took command of the UEF: I would not make the same mistake.
The Infinite War could and should have ended decades ago and it was our continuous refusal to face reality that allowed it to endure for so long. Men and women fought, bled and died for grand ideals while civilians shopped in Earth’ markets as if nothing was happening. President Riley had always done his best to hide those facts in order to keep morale up. It is only months later that I understand why he did it…
I did not attempt to hide Earth’s destruction or our self imposed exile as we fled in the far reaches of space. I did not lie to our people when I told them that our technology could not face the Seraphim’s wrath. I did not make grand and empty speeches to boost morale. There are no illusions left in the UEF… but our people now know that humanity is being hunted down. I look in their eyes and all that I see is fear and despair.
General Samantha Clarke
“Steady men, steady,” Desjar whispered in his com link. He looked at his left screen for a short second, making sure that the seven other Commanders were holding up. Garriott and Wright looked shaken up, but that was to be expected. The two of them and Desjar had been assigned the task of defending the colony and had weathered eight attacks in the past hour. Although their shields were holding, the battlefield was littered with smoldering wreckage of Aeon and UEF units alike.
Flinn’s face suddenly lit up on Desjar’s screen: “I can hear them! I’m forwarding the audio feed.”
The sound was hard to make out at first, but it steadily grew like an approaching thunderstorm. It was the rhythmic thumping sound of Galactic Colossus, the Order of the Illuminate’s prized experimental weapon. Standing one hundred and twenty-seven meters tall, the behemoth was designed with an armor that was thick enough to weather most types of weapon.
The mere sight of one was enough to evoke nervousness, dread or outright panic in rookie Commanders. In Desjar’s case, the sound only awakened a deep and profound anger. The Galactic Colossus was as close of an incarnation to the concept of inevitability as any unit could get. It was as if the Order of the Illuminate could move and kill as they pleased… and even convert whoever they wanted.
Weisman nodded slowly before speaking: “Sounds like two… no, make it three Galactic Colossuses. This has to be their final push.”
The calm and steady voice of his second in Command snapped Desjar back to reality and he nodded in turn. The rules had changed ever since the day of Black Sun. The UEF was on the run now, its people driven off the core worlds and forced to flee to the far reaches of the galaxy.
On one hand, it meant that they no longer had the core infrastructures that had supported them all these years. On the other, it also meant that they could evacuate everyone given enough time. That fact above all else forced the Order of the Illuminate to go on the offensive. They could not simply advance at a slow and steady pace as they did in Earth’s invasion or else the colony would be evacuated before they even reached it. Desjar wondered, and not for the first time, if this is what it had felt like for the Cybrans through the centuries.
“They are close to the interception point,” said Desjar as he selected his flight of Broadsword gunships: “Beginning the attack in three, two, one, go!”
Flights of air superiority fighters and gunships flew in first, engaging the enemy’s ground forces which included over fifty units and three Galactic Colossuses. The enemy’s units were protected by powerful mobile shield generators and one Aeon SCU was there as well, building additional stationary generators. The attack was just a diversion however, one designed to force the enemy army to slow down long enough for the other forces to come into play.
Weisman, Flinn, Koster and Walton had all stayed away from the battle in order to lure the enemy into a false sense of superiority. Now their air transports were dropping Demolisher type mobile heavy artilleries combined with mobile shield generators in flanking positions. Their combined firepower quickly overloaded shield generators and found the units underneath them.
The trio of Galactic Colossuses paused for a second as if the one controlling them was trying to decide if they could be used to salvage the situation. They then plowed ahead on their own, leaving the bulk of their army behind and relying on their heavy armor to carry them through. This was exactly the kind of mistake that Desjar had been hoping for.
A second wave of thirty gunships which had been waiting near a stealth generator at the back of his base took off at that moment and engaged the experimental weapons at close range. Their heavy plasma cannons melted through layer composite armor in moments, exposing the vital circuitry underneath it. Soon one giant collapsed followed by another a few seconds later. The third barely made it in range of the base before falling to its knees and exploding. The battle was hardly over, however, and Desjar nearly jumped on his controls: “Counter, now!”
The combined forces took the time to finish off the stranded SCU before plotting a course straight towards the Aeon’s base. Gunships, air superiority fighters, spy planes and strategic bombers all targeted the only unit that mattered: the enemy ACUs. Air units fell by the dozens as enemy SAM launchers shot them down, but the Commanders controlling them did not care. Desjar held on to his controls tightly as one shield generator fell, then another and the bombardment finally found the ACU underneath it.
The attack lasted only a few more seconds before their efforts were rewarded with the sight of an exploding ACU. A cheer rang through the channel, but halted shortly as a second explosion lit the sky. Desjar was worried for half a heartbeat until he saw Flinn bouncing up and down his chair like an excited kid: “Oh my god! One of them tried to fly out of her base just as my wing of air superiority fighters reached it. What a newbie!”
The cheers grew even louder and Desjar gave them a few moments to congratulate each other before getting their attention: “All right, that’s two down! Our earlier scouting shows that there are four other ACUs out there and I’d like nothing better than to destroy one or two more before leaving. Garriott and Wright, recycle that army at our doorstep and rebuild our air force. Weisman and Flinn, do the same with the rest of the Aeon’s base. Carmack…”
Weisman interrupted him before he could say any more: “Seraphim unit detected!”
The piece of news killed the mood instantly and Desjar cursed loudly while looking at his strategic map: “Estimate on its base development?”
“Unknown sir,” said Weisman while shaking his head. Desjar took a few seconds to look at their numbers before slamming a fist on his console: “Damn it! Everyone fall back. The evacuation is nearly completed so I want every base beefed up and all of you ready to gate out in a heartbeat. ETA before the final evacuation of civilians is estimated at five minutes.”
Everyone acknowledged except for Flinn who looked at him pleadingly: “Come on, we’re eight against five! We nearly outnumber them two to one!”
Desjar was about to say something but Weisman beat him to it: “Do as your told Flinn! A single Seraphim unit out there makes it so that we’re the ones who are outnumbered and you know it. So cut the heroic crap and fall in line!”
Flinn acknowledged grudgingly, but Desjar could not fault him. It was hard to fight in a war when units were so obviously unbalanced.
It took Samantha a full two minutes to negotiate her way through the chaos of the newly built command center until she finally reached her post. She looked at her screen and refrained from cursing when she realized that the data had not been updated in the past half hour: “Why aren’t we online yet? I want a status on Commander Desjar and his troops, now!”
The General looked around for someone to answer her, but most of the technicians and analysts were moving frantically around and the two nearby symbionts were simply standing upright like zombies. She pointed a finger at one of the technicians that was supervising the latter: “Why aren’t those symbionts plugged in yet? We need updated information as soon as possible.”
The man paled visibly and raised his hands in apology: “Sorry General, but we haven’t had the time to reinitialize the symbiont interface just yet. It will take us at least another hour to do it.”
“So you expect them to stand there uselessly for a whole hour?” said Samantha while resisting the urge to snort: “Just let them reinitialize the system if you don’t have the time to do it.”
The technician’s eyes widened in utter horror and he shook his head vigorously: “That would be crazy! I mean… my apologies, General, but it would be a serious breach of our security protocol if we did so. The symbiont interface is designed to warn us if one of them is malfunctioning or has been corrupted for some reason. To allow them to initialize it would defeat the whole purpose of having one in the first place. I cannot break such a critical protocol without clearance from my superior officer.”
Samantha resisted the urge to shout, but her eyes darkened as she spoke: “We’ve been forced to evacuate three times in the same amount of weeks. On each occasion we have wasted over a day just to get our command center operational and we can’t afford to lose that much time. Meanwhile you have symbionts standing around and collecting dust! Go tell your supervisor that I want a solution and that it was due three weeks ago. Am I making myself clear?”
The technician nodded quickly and scrambled away just as Samantha’s transmitter vibrated. She quickly remembered that an emergency meeting was about to take place and that she was required to attend. Hopefully this time the conference room would be online.
The UEF ACU moved through the newly built complex at a steady pace while making sure that it was always under the protective barrier of a shield and stealth generator. Lieutenant General Hall made a final diagnostic before nodding in approval and initiating the conference uplink. In past times, at least half of those concerned would have been there in person, but now having more than one veteran pilot in the same room was fast becoming a luxury that they could no longer afford.
The uplink was completed in a few seconds and soon twelve faces appeared on his monitor. Samantha’s face was in the middle of Hall’s screen and she nodded as soon as everyone was online: “Let’s make this short and sweet since we all have urgent duties to return to. I want a casualties report.”
The first to answer was Brigadier General Fletcher: “No civilian or military casualties here. The evacuation was a success.”
Samantha nodded and turned to Desjar who was still piloting his ACU as well: “No casualties and we destroyed two Order Commanders before gating out.”
A murmur of approval rang through the conference, but Desjar was quick to raise a finger: “From the looks of it, Order units stumbled on us by accident and we managed to hide our numbers long enough to lull them in a false sense of security. We might have destroyed the invasion force completely if it was not for the arrival of a Seraphim ACU. We left almost immediately afterwards in order to avoid another Royc incident.”
The murmurs died down instantly at that reminder. The battle of Royc Two had taken place only a week ago. Five pilots had been killed and two had barely escaped with their lives after trying to engage a pair of Seraphim ACUs. The event was a clear reminder of the superiority of Seraphim technology.
The following reports were less optimistic with a total of eight dead pilots and six thousand civilian casualties. Samantha listened to it all before turning to look at Hall: “General, I believe that you had an update concerning Seraphim units?”
Hall nodded and forwarded the data as he spoke: “The good news is that we have finished compiling the data and we now have a pretty good idea of the capabilities of Seraphim’s air units. The bad news is that it is just as we feared: we are seriously outclassed.”
Samples of video footage were being forwarded to all pilots as Hall spoke: “As you all know, our Wasp air superiority fighters has an armor rating of three hundred and sixty and damage per second of eighty. Estimates of the Seraphim’s version, however, shows that it has an armor rating which is higher than twenty-five hundred and a damage per second which is above four hundred. Worse yet, an analysis of the few pieces of wreckage that we have managed to recover show that they manage to build them using the same amount of mass.”
“So they are over five times more powerful than ours and for the same cost,” said Fletcher while shaking his head: “Not to mention their regeneration ability or their experimental bombers. No wonder we can’t keep up with them.”
Hall raised a hand to get everyone’s attention: “Intel so far suggests that their regenerative capabilities are not innate. They can only divert part of their energy to power that ability after getting a certain number of kills. Considering the difference in power, however, then it does not take them long to achieve that goal.”
The news was more distressing than anyone liked to admit, but it was Samantha which jumped to the heart of the question: “How long until we can manage to duplicate that technology? Do we have any leads?”
“Our scientists scarcely know where to begin,” said Hall bluntly: “We would need a major breakthrough or to find a way to steal that technology. The Seraphim’s units have self destruct systems designed much like our own which destroy all vital pieces of technology. Overall, it might mean months or even years before we can reverse engineer it.”
Everyone shuffled in their seat until another pilot finally said what they all thought: “God damn it, we can’t last that long. The Order, the Seraphim or that QAI thing have managed to track down and attack us every week and each time we had to fall back. We can’t keep this up for months, never mind years! We’re not Cybrans for goodness sake!”
Hall nodded curtly and he then leaned forward: “That’s why I suggest that we contact them and ask for their help.”
The words left everyone stunned and even Samantha found her mouth hanging open. Fletcher was the first one to recover: “Say that again?”
“You all heard me correctly,” Hall proclaimed without hesitation: “The Cybrans have always been two steps ahead of us, escaping in the blink of an eye on almost every occasion. Sometimes we would launch an attack against a settlement only to find that it had disappeared before we even reached it. If someone has developed the art of evasion, it’s them.”
Fletcher snorted: “So you’re suggesting that we run and hide…”
“In order to reverse engineering Seraphim technology and strike back,” said Hall while nodding: “That is my suggestion, yes. We have a man who has the means to set up a meeting with them. If we’re lucky, this may also be the cornerstone of an alliance that would allow us to work together against the Seraphim.”
Fletcher was about to object one more time, but Samantha spoke first: “Even if we manage to contact them, there is no guarantee that they would be willing to help us and no telling what they would ask in exchange. Why are you certain that they would go along with such an alliance?”
Hall looked from left to right and made sure that he had everyone’s attention before speaking: “We’ve already determined that we will lose unless drastic changes are made. It is my hope that the Cybran Nation are working under similar constraints at the moment. If anyone has a better plan, then by all means step forward.”
Every other Commander looked around, but none of them spoke and in time they all turned towards Samantha. She took a moment to digest the suggestion before finally nodding: “I sure hope that you know what you’re getting into.”
Desjar stepped out of his ACU as soon as the cockpit opened and handed the data pad to the quartermaster. The man looked at it quickly and shook his head: “I’m sorry sir, but we won’t be able to stock up your ACU with high grade personal rations or fully repair your air conditioner. Part of our cargo was lost during the last evacuation and we just can’t find it right now. You’ll have to make do with standard field rations in the meantime.”
A sigh escaped Desjar, but he nodded slowly: “Just do your best to keep me operational, thanks.”
The quartermaster apologized one more time before handing him another data pad: “I took the liberty of downloading our most up-to-date colony map and marking the location of your quarters.”
Desjar nodded his thanks and went towards the elevator. He pressed a button and the doors opened a few seconds later. He was momentarily surprised to come face to face with Brigadier General Fletcher. The other Commander saluted instantly and stepped aside to make room for him. Desjar saluted back and stepped inside before pressing the button that would lead the elevator to first floor.
The two of them waited in silence for a few moments before Fletcher finally spoke: “I can’t believe that Hall is serious about allying with the Cybrans. Could you imagine trusting any of your computerized systems to them? They’d probably be filled with viruses and spy programs by the time that they would be through with them.”
The prejudice was not unexpected, but Desjar did not share that particular one: “We might not have any other choice if we’re to stay alive.”
Fletcher looked at Desjar from the corner of his eye and then shrugged: “Heck, if that alliance works then Hall will probably push for an alliance with those Aeon rebels just to reverse engineer Seraphim technology more easily.”
Desjar’s gloved hands contracted without him even realizing it and he spoke without thinking: “They can rot in…”
He stopped himself just in time, but it was clearly apparent that Fletcher had understood what Desjar had been about to say. The elevator stopped suddenly and the Brigadier General offered a few parting words before stepping out: “Keep in mind that some of us feel just as strong about the Cybrans, Commander.”
The doors closed, leaving Desjar alone.
Jessy moved through the small apartment, unpacking the generic goods that had been provided with the new quarters. Everything from spare clothes, soap and towels were included, but the way that they were arranged in the boxes was a mess. Jessy was not an ACU pilot, an analyst or even a mechanic. She had worked in the accountability department when she had first met Desjar and all of those skills seemed meaningless now that they operated under martial law.
She was still determined to play her part and currently, that meant taking care of her husband and their daughter, Melissa. She would make sure that their living quarters would be as much of a home as they could possibly be.
The sound of footsteps outside the door caught her attention and she rushed to open it. She smiled when she saw her husband with a data pad in hand and hugged him fiercely while whispering: “Welcome home.”
Desjar hugged her back as she planted a kiss on her cheek: “Why are we whispering?”
Jessy took a step back and pointed towards Melissa who was sleeping on the couch with a blanket tucked tightly around her: “She said that she couldn’t sleep in her room so I let her lie here while I unpacked. I don’t want to wake her up, not after all she’s been through.”
“She’s still having nightmares?” asked Desjar with a concerned look on his face. Jessy nodded and he stepped closer to his daughter. Even now, Melissa held on to her blanket tightly as if she was afraid that a monster would pop up in her dreams at any moment. Desjar ran a hand delicately along her forehead and some of the tension seemed to disappear. He then leaned down and picked up his daughter effortlessly.
Although she was still asleep, Melissa’s arms moved reflexively and wrapped themselves around her father’s neck. He carried her to her new room and tucked her in carefully before stepping out. He was about to hug Jessy again when he suddenly realized something and he looked down at his watch. Jessy noticed this and nodded: “They said that it’s only six in the afternoon here, but I guess everyone is tired now.”
A click of a button allowed Desjar to cycle through alternate times and he shook his head: “Maybe, but it’s one in the morning the next day back on Earth… back home.”
Desjar double checked the date and then turned back to his sleeping daughter who was now thirteen years old: “Happy birthday.”
Life is precious…
Just saying those words aloud makes them sound like some sort of evangelic statement, but they are true nevertheless. Each one amongst us is a soldier, pilot, analyst, scientist, biologist, doctor or anything else that is required of us. There are no freeloaders in the Cybran Nation or if there are, then they are branded as outcasts until they make something of themselves. As such, the death of any Cybran is a loss no matter who they are. This is especially true if you consider how easy it is to remember names once you have an AI implant.
Does this means that our way of life is the next stage of human evolution? Hardly. Rivalries, hatred, anger, jealousy, envy, we know all of these and they are part of our lives. The mere mention of some nodes like the Assumpta is enough to make most peace minded Cybran wince in disgust. Simply having implants is not enough to forge a common ground.
How could such diverse people become a nation and fight in the Infinite War? The answer was a simple one: we hated our enemies more than each other. The way that the UEF enslaved our kind incited us to fight side by side to free them. The merciless cleansing of the Aeon Illuminate drove us to protect each other’s backs. Our common hatred and our will to survive unified all of our voices until they became a deafening roar that drove our armies like a gigantic spear all the way to Earth.
Had QAI understood this fundamental aspect of our human nature, then maybe it would have thought twice before attacking us. Its initial attack devastated our ranks unlike anything that had ever been done to the Cybran Nation in centuries. In the end, however, we managed to survive and this is where QAI made its mistake. It did not matter who died or whether they were loved or not. Our enemy had struck all of us.
Now we hate QAI and the Seraphim with an unmatched fury. Now we hate them more than our former enemies…
Elite Commander Ivanna Dostya
The two sets of blades connected viciously, sending sparks flying in every direction. Dostya felt Valerie’s blade slide along her own and changed her angle so that it would not strike any part of her body. Her foot kicked up a heartbeat later, but Valerie hopped out of reach and prepared for another assault.
Although she had taken two fencing courses when she was young, Dostya still marveled at the difference between the traditional martial art and fighting with plasma blades. Fencing had a simple set of rules destined to give one player the right of way. The first one to attack was granted that privilege which was immediately lost if the attack was parried. If applied correctly, the principle assured a harmony of quick exchanges between opponents. Such a concept did not apply to the Assumpta’s fighting style.
This was most likely because of the nature of the plasma blade itself. Although it was simple, it was still one of the deadliest types of close combat weapons. The blade was designed to liberate heated plasma particles after striking an opponent, penetrating almost any form of body armor. This ensured that even a graze would cause severe harm. The shock to the nervous system alone could be enough to incapacitate even the strongest of fighters.
There was no time to contemplate the situation any further as Valerie charged forward. The air rang with dozens of clashes in a few seconds as the Assumpta assassin tried to break through Dostya’s defense. A well placed counter locked their blades and Dostya leaned as if to deliver a head butt. Valerie recognized the move which was probably borrowed from Bagby’s repertoire and moved her head sideways. What she did not see was Dostya’s foot as it connected with her belly. The blow knocked the air from her and she had to hop a few times to regain her balance while maintaining her guard up.
Dostya sheathed her practice blade, took two towels which hung form the wall and threw one of them to Valerie. The assassin caught it and nodded gratefully: “Your technique has improved.”
“And your lessons have increased in pace,” said Dostya as she wiped the sweat from her brow: “Care to explain why?”
Valerie paused for a moment, looked at her practice blade and then back at Dostya: “I did not realize that my movements were so obvious. You are right, however. You have been our Chaslain for over two months now and no one has held on to that position for as long as you have. There are some whispers - quiet ones - that you might be unwilling to select the next Redfog in order to remain in power.”
Dostya raised and eyebrow, fully aware of the gravity of the accusation: “Is that what you believe?”
“If that is what I believed then I would not be in a hurry to teach you as much as I could with a blade,” said Valerie without the slightest hint of hesitation: “No one has ever dared to attack a Chaslain, but I would advise you to be mindful of the possibility as time moves on. Like it or not, you are not Redfog.”
Vivid memories of the deceased leader of the Assumpta Node coursed through Dostya’s mind and she refrained from shuddering. No, she was nothing like him nor would she ever want to be. She placed the towel back on a hook and reached for her flight jacket just as a voice came through her transmitter: “Commander Dostya, we have received a burst transmission from the UEF. I think you’d better come see this.”
DV crossed his arms as the data flashed on the five screens in front of him. He twisted his head sideways and looked at Hall from the corner of his eye: “I hope you realize that we wasted four hours just setting this place up, right?”
The Lieutenant General sighed while nodding wearily. He had originally planned to contact the Cybran Nation from the colony, but that plan had been scrapped by their IT department. They had argued that DV was a hacker and, by some definitions, a full blown traitor. The only way that they would allow him near a terminal with unrestricted access to the quantum network was if he was not in the colony at all. It had taken three ACU pilots – including Hall – to build a temporary outpost and assure its protection while DV attempted to contact the Cybrans: “If it was the only way to ensure that there would be no security breaches then I can see why our IT department was so insistent about it.”
The hacker snorted and returned his attention to his screen: “I don’t want to ruin your day, sir, but you have way more security issues than you can imagine. If the IT department has problems taking advice from me then imagine what will happen when you tell them to listen to a Cybran.”
Hall was about to offer a counterpoint when something beeped on DV’s screen. The hacker jumped on his seat and cracked his fingers: “Now we’re talking. Um… that’s what I thought would happen.”
The other screens lit up as DV sent multiple search queries across the quantum network. He then spoke without even turning his head: “This is a Chimera dialect. It’s a combination of messages, stories and pictures. I’m rather rusty so if you want them to believe me then you’ll have to keep it basic, non technical and direct. I’ll need you to think fast or else they’ll start doubting me.”
Hall rubbed his moustache for a second: “Anything else that I should know about before we start?”
“Yeah,” said DV as a face reddened somewhat: “Some pictures are not PG thirteen. So avoid commenting on those and don’t ask me where I got them either.”
The hacker’s embarrassment surprised Hall who did his best to ignore it: “All right, tell them that we need their help.”
The hacker’s fingers moved nimbly over his keyboard, forwarding pictures of a cat meowing, a man eating and a boat sinking. Meanwhile, he typed some comments concerning the tale of the boy who cried wolf.
Hall was about to ask what it all meant when a series of rather indecent pictures was transmitted back to them followed by a recipe for peanut butter and jelly cake. DV looked it briefly and bit his lower lip: “Damn it! You can’t bake a cake with that!”
“Excuse me?” said Hall, obviously puzzled. DV ran a diagnostic of the network before slamming his console: “It means that text messaging is not secured, or at least they won’t risk it. You remember that QAI thing that everyone’s been talking about? Well judging by the recipe, they won’t risk any forms of non encrypted messages with us over the quantum network; it limits my vocabulary a lot. So don’t pay any attention to what we’re typing. Only the images matter and if you did not get it, then so far they are telling us to get screwed. You need a counter proposal, quick!”
A shake of his head allowed Hall to clear his mind from the last series of obscene images and he leaned forward: “We have manpower, food, medical supplies and information that we’re willing to share.”
DV forwarded his own set of indecent, animal and historic pictures before describing a way to download music files. There was a brief pause before several pictures were transmitted back including one of a big pile of dried manure. DV barely looked at it before shrugging: “They’re not interested.”
“Tell them…” Hall paused, knowing that he might very well overstep his bounds, but determined to find some common ground: “Tell them we’ll trade our symbionts.”
The request was forwarded through another series of seemingly unrelated pictures and the two of them waited. The response came in a flurry of pictures with most of them having raised middle fingers followed by another pile of manure and indecent pictures. The connection was terminated abruptly afterwards and Hall shook his head sadly: “We failed.”
“No we didn’t,” Said DV as his fingers moved in a blur: “If I’m not too rusty, the five middle fingers indicate that I should look at the fifth picture which points at the manure. The manure is fresh and that’s a good sign if you want something to grow. It has eight flies moving around it which brings us to the eighth picture where there’s a chick slapping that guy’s butt.”
DV rubbed his chin before finally nodding: “They’ll want to discuss things with you in person at Open Palms.”
The news brightened Hall’s mood immediately despite his doubts in the hacker’s interpretation. He straightened while grabbing his transmitter: “When did they want to meet?”
A chuckle escaped DV who pointed at the pictures again: “Did you see any signs of a clock in there? I sure didn’t. That means you have to head there right now. Otherwise, they’ll be long gone before you even show up.”
Dostya stood over her console with over half of the command center looking at her expectantly. She waited a few seconds longer before nodding towards the analyst from the Chimera Node: “Did he understand?”
“Most likely,” said the analyst, his unblinking gaze fixed on his screen: “And his taste in pictures has not changed. I am certain that it is him and not QAI trying to pass itself as a human. You should know, however, that this latest series of transmission bursts might have attracted QAI’s attention. The odds of it investigating this area in the foreseeable future is now of seven percent.”
There was a brief pause before Dostya turned to Valerie: “Grab another pilot, we’re going.”
She then turned to the rest of the command center and spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear: “Everyone else, evacuation protocol code yellow.”
There was no need to say anything else as everyone scrambled in all directions. Warning lights flashed through the corridors as Dostya and Valerie made their way towards the hangar. It would take seven minutes for every Cybran to evacuate and three more for their non essential supplies to follow. Once that was done, a few Cybran pilots and their mechanical engineers would recycle the better part of the base. Fifteen minutes after the beginning of the evacuation protocol, the only trace that there had been a node present would be a few scorched marks in the ground.
It took a few minutes for Hall to get back into his ACU. He then made arrangements for DV to return to the colony with the other two pilots that had accompanied him. He knew just how big of a risk he was taking by going to the rendezvous alone, but every day that passed was one more occasion for the Seraphim to destroy another UEF colony. It had to stop and soon.
Hall’s hands hesitated for a second over his controls as he considered a simple possibility: could it be a trap?
A sigh escaped him and he nodded to himself. Yes, the possibility was there. He had killed his fair share of enemies through his career and experience had taught him that Cybrans could be motivated by vengeance just as anyone else. He would just have to take that chance for everyone’s sake.
A message flashed on his screen, indicating that his quantum gate had accumulated the necessary amount of power. He stepped inside of it without any further delays, feeling the familiar rush as his ACU gated to another planet. The entry sequence left a large hole in the ground and Hall immediately started building the necessary infrastructures for his base.
His eyes widened in alarm when a Cybran air scout passed over his position a few seconds later. On one hand, he felt relieved that he would not have to search for them. The presence of an air scout, a tier one unit, also confirmed that the Cybran pilot had only gated in recently. On the downside, the fact that such a unit had already scouted his position meant that the Cybrans had arrived here first. In a battle where two pilots gated to a destination at the same time, a head start of a single minute could be enough to tip the battle beyond any hope of victory.
The Lieutenant General shook his head to clear his mind and opened a channel towards the air scout that was flying above him: “This is Lieutenant General Hall. I was the one that asked for your help.”
A second passed before a face appeared on his monitor: “This is Elite Commander Dostya. You have fifteen minutes to plead your case, General. Any attempts to scout our position during that period will result in an immediate termination of negotiations.”
Hall did not miss Dostya’s emphasis on the word ‘termination’ nor did he object. He was the one asking for a favor here and he was just thankful that her terms did not preclude him from building a quantum gate: “The UEF has been on the run ever since Earth’s fall. The Seraphim and the Order have intensified their efforts to track us down during the past few weeks, resulting in military and civilian casualties alike. We need time in order to develop a proper counter for Seraphim technology, but it is a commodity that we cannot afford at the moment.”
A few seconds passed as Hall tried to read Dostya’s reaction, but if she was surprised by anything that he had said so far then she did not show it: “We have optimized our evacuation protocols and tightened our security. It is obvious, however, that it is still not enough and we could use your expertise in those areas. I am authorized to negotiate a settlement which includes the transfer of symbionts to the Cybran Nation.”
“It is rather strange,” Dostya began, her eyes devoid of any empathy: “That a few months ago these same symbionts were promised to us in the name of peace. Now you would use them as currency? What did you have in mind; a fixed amount of symbionts per hour of consultation?”
A cold shiver ran along Hall’s spine as he fully grasped the situation. He had originally hoped to barter with supplies or assistance, but it was obvious that Dostya was only interested in the symbionts. The problem was that they had originally been promised minutes after the Infinite War had ended, when peace was within reach. At the moment, they were still a vital part of the UEF’s processing capabilities. No matter what optimizations that the Cybrans brought, the UEF would lose an equal part with each transferred symbiont.
“Two hours,” said Dostya, her gaze uncompromising. She waited until she had Hall’s full attention before continuing: “You will select one of your colonies, one that fares relatively well, and escort me and one of my men wherever I wish to go for two hours. I will not require any access to your systems, but those in charge will have to answer my questions. Only after my inspection is complete will I accept to negotiate with you any further.”
Hall was about to thank Dostya, but she raised a finger to stop him: “I have not agreed to anything else besides that, so don’t thank me just yet. Also, if Commander Desjar is still in service then I will want him to accompany us and his men on site to guard the colony.”
The Lieutenant General typed something on his console and then forwarded the coordinates to Dostya: “If you gate here then we will be able to escort you to New Madrid. The Mayor there is a friend and I can have everything ready within the hour. You’ll understand if I do not give you the coordinates of the colony itself.”
“A sensible precaution,” said Dostya while typing something on her console: “Although for future reference, a mere forty point eight kilometers away from the colony is hardly enough to keep it’s location a secret.”
Hall’s eyes widened in disbelief and he quickly checked his tactical map. He measured the distance between the coordinates that he had given and the colony and found that Dostya’s estimates were correct. A smile tugged at the corner of Dostya’s lip as she spoke: “It is not because you do not see us that we do not keep tabs on you. There is therefore no need to send a ride to pick me up. I’ll be landing at your air facility in an hour.”
Dostya watched the UEF ACU on her tactical screen as it disappears through the quantum gate a few minutes later. She did not even have to look at her right screen to know that Valerie was glaring at her. She shrugged slightly as she offered an explanation: “Doctor Brackman knew that the Seraphim would eventually turn their attention towards the UEF. It is a lot easier to track them than us after all and we planned for this eventuality.”
Valerie nodded thoughtfully: “Then I’ll make arrangements to have someone take over our ACUs while we head there.”
“No,” said Dostya quickly: “I’ll need you to stay in your ACU in case something goes wrong. I’ll have Keith meet me at the rendezvous point and accompany me.”
The thought of someone else evaluating the UEF’s security measures made Valerie frown: “You know that the Assumpta is just as proficient as Node Fifty-Six in that regard.”
“I know,” said Dostya while raising a hand: “But he knows how to look unthreatening.”
Valerie gave it some thought and did not argue the point any further.
Desjar finished putting on his flight suit in a hurry and double checked his transmitter. Jessy, still dressed in her nightgown, simply looked at him from the bedchamber’s doorway: “I thought that you were getting the day off.”
“Hall wouldn’t have asked me out there unless it was an emergency,” said Desjar as he double checked the rest of his gear. Jessy looked to the closed door on her left and frowned: “But it’s her birthday.”
Satisfied that all of his gear was in place, Desjar went to his wife and kissed her on the cheek: “I’ll make it up to her later tonight, I promise. The call was urgent, but there were no details so it doesn’t sound like a battle is underway. It shouldn’t take too long.”
Jessy sighed and hugged her husband tenderly: “Just make sure that you come back in one piece. I’d rather get you back late than never.”
Desjar returned the hug for a few precious seconds and then hurried out of their apartment. He practically had to run all the way to the hangar. Fortunately for him, Flinn had ordered the maintenance crew to prepare his ACU and he found it online and ready to move out. He jumped in the cockpit and initiated his link to the other pilot: “Got anything for me?”
“Weisman and the others have already left ahead of us,” said Flinn who appeared as puzzled as he was: “They haven’t even called back since they gated. I think Hall has them working under radio silence.”
The cockpit closed around Desjar and he plotted a course towards the nearest quantum nexus: “There will be time to figure it out when we reach our destination. Let’s go.”
Hall waited on top of the air staging facility with a transmitter in hand and three soldiers standing behind him. One of New Madrid’s administrators was there as well; ready to answer any questions that their guests would have. His transmitter beeped suddenly and Weisman’s face appeared: “An unidentified aircraft approaching at high altitude just appeared on our sensor as expected, sir. Commander Desjar has also gated on planet. He’s heading towards the hangar and he’ll reach you in a moment.”
The Lieutenant General nodded quickly: “Thank you, Major. Please forward our coordinates to the aircraft and refrain from doing any excessive scans. We’ll keep operating with minimal communications until further notice.”
A few minutes passed before Desjar came running up the ramp: “I’m here, sir. Why was my whole team called here if New Madrid is not under attack?”
Hall was about to answer when the air suddenly vibrated with the sound of an approaching ship. He looked up just as an aircraft popped out of a cloud, descending quietly as it used its vertical take-off and landing engines. Desjar walked next to him and his gaze narrowed as he looked at the ship: “That doesn’t look like a UEF design. It almost looks like a Cybran model.”
The closer it got, the more Desjar was convinced that he his initial assessment had been correct. Hall nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving the approaching aircraft: “I apologize for the lack of forewarning, but she asked for you specifically. You must have somehow made a favorable impression back on UB Seventeen.”
The vivid image of his crash and near disaster on the Labyrinth planet came to mind in an instant. Desjar involuntarily winced at the painful memories. Hopefully this time, things would go according to plan.
The plane landed with a light thud and the cockpit opened a few seconds later. Dostya stepped out followed by another Cybran and the two walked straight towards the UEF delegation. The administrator extended a hand and was about to offer a formal greeting, but Dostya ignored it and spoke before he could: “For those who don’t know: I’m Dostya and this is Keith. Now let’s get to work. We have a lot to do and no time to do it.”
Hall nodded and extended a hand towards the ramp that would lead them to the elevator: “Our first stop should be the command center then.”
“No,” said Dostya, stopping them before they had even taken a step: “Civilian quarters, kitchens, military quarters and power grids first.”
Desjar and Hall looked at each other in puzzlement and Dostya offered only the simplest of explanations: “This might be a bit of a shock to you, but unless I’m mistaken, the UEF’s greatest weakness does not reside with its pilots.”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 17 May, 2009, edited 22 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
The weakest link
I remember the day when I went hunting in the snow covered mountains of Pisces Two with my grandfather. I was fourteen years old at the time and barely strong enough to wield the rifle that I was carrying. My grandfather left me at the entrance of the wolf’s den as he carefully stepped inside to look for tracks. It was then that that wolf stepped around the tree on the other side of the grove and looked straight at me.
Its ears were pulled back, its eyes narrowed to slits and it held its tail parallel to the ground even as I aimed my rifle at it. As strange as it sounds, there was no hatred in those eyes or at least none that was personal. The only thing that I saw was a promise: if I shot and missed that it would not miss me.
I remember the frantic beating of my heart that day, but it was not fear that made me lower my rifle. A balance between the primal drive to survive and the will to live had forged the wolf’s gaze and I could not bring myself to end it in the name of sport. I wanted to learn what it took to change a creature in such a fashion and that was one of the many reasons that pushed me to join the UEF.
My gaze changed over time as I learned about protecting, lost friends and survived through desperate battles. I believe that I became stronger and a little wiser for it. I looked in the eyes of those around me and I saw many things from hope and dreams to fear and despair. I saw everything from the noblest to the darkest traits of humanity.
It is only today, however, that I have come across a wolf’s gaze in a human set of eyes. Dostya was the first Cybran that I ever met face to face and the way that she looked at me brought me back to those childhood days. I look into those eyes and I wonder what they have seen to transform them so.
Lieutenant General William Hall
The curious, startled and sometimes terrified gazes of everyone that they crossed followed them as they made their way through the colony of New Madrid. Dostya was in the lead, her quick pace forcing everyone else to keep up or be left behind: “What is the size of the colony’s population, the standard number of ACU pilots, evacuation time and the day that it was relocated here?”
The colony’s administrator fumbled with his data pad as he searched for the answers: “We have over sixty thousand civilians here. Under normal circumstances, we have ten ACU pilots working in rotation so that there are always four active at any one time. This colony was relocated here a week ago and the last time that we evacuated, it took us roughly an hour to get everyone out.”
“I did not ask for a rough estimation, especially when it comes to evacuation time,” barked Dostya as she took a sharp turn towards the civilian quarters: “I want an exact number from the moment that the enemy was detected to the time when every civilian was evacuated.”
The administrator was about to object, but a nod from Hall forced him to do the calculations: “If we use those markers… then it took seventy-eight minutes for the complete evacuation of all civilians.”
Keith, the Cybran that had been following Dostya in silence all this time, shook his head in disbelief. They finally stopped in front of a civilian complex and Dostya pointed at three doors in quick succession: “Override the security lock on these three apartments. Keith will make a quick inspection of all of these and then we’ll be off towards the kitchens.”
Hall motioned for one of the soldiers to comply, but the administrator stepped forward to block them: “You can’t! Judging by the lights then there are people in there!”
“That’s kind of the whole idea,” said Keith while smiling innocently: “But don’t worry, I won’t eat any of them.”
“Put away your video game, dear. It’s time to eat your cereal.”
Dan looked up from his screen for a split second before returning his full attention to it: “Just serve Marc’s bowl first, mom. I’ll be done in a minute.”
His mother sighed, but gave the bowl to Dan’s younger brother instead and then moved to fill another. Dan smiled in glee as he reached the final boss of his latest game: United Commandos. This one was a Cybran and an ugly one at that. The boss’ resonating voice that came from the speakers was loud enough for everyone to hear: “Nothing will save you now…”
The sound of a bowl crashing to the ground startled Dan and he hit the pause button immediately: “Jeez! It’s not that scary, mom!”
He looked up, expecting his reaction to draw at least a nervous laugh. What he saw instead was his mother taking a step backwards while covering her mouth with her hand and Marc’s spoon dangling uselessly from his mouth. Dan was about to ask what was happening when a voice came from behind him: “Don’t mind me, I’m just passing through.”
The boy looked down instinctively, thinking that he had accidentally resumed his game. His mind simply refused to acknowledge that the voice had come from behind him even when the Cybran walked by. Everyone looked at him in mute shock as he opened the refrigerator, peaked inside for a few seconds and then closed the door. The Cybran then took a look at the three small bedrooms before nodding and heading towards the exit. He paused next to Dan and looked at his screen: “United Commandos? That looks like fun.”
The Cybran walked towards the exit where a UEF soldier was apparently trying to find something to say. The man scratched the back of his head and finally blurted: “Err… sorry for the disturbance, ma’am.”
Dan’s mom collapsed in the closest chair as soon as they left and Dan looked at his younger brother who was still sitting with his spoon dangling from his mouth. The sound of something dripping caught his attention and he looked under the table: “Mom… I think Marc just wet himself.”
Hall, Desjar and Dostya stayed outside and watched as Keith entered the second apartment. The Lieutenant General tried his best to appear at ease, but the unorthodox inspection had unsettled him: “Why are we inspecting civilian quarters and why start here?”
Keith got out of the second apartment and entered the third as Dostya answered: “There’s little time to explain why we’re inspecting civilian quarters. However, the reason as to why we’re starting here is simple. Soon word will spread that Cybrans are in this colony and when it does, there will probably be a mob forming. Inspecting civilian quarters after that will be next to impossible.”
Something apparently occurred to Dostya and she took the administrator’s data pad without his permission and handed it to Desjar: “Establish a link with your squad and monitor their movements. I’ll want an update on their situation every ten minutes.”
The Cybran Commando hopped out of the last apartment just then and shrugged: “It’s everything that we thought it would be.”
Hall was about to ask what that meant, but Dostya stormed off at a quick pace once more: “Kitchen next.”
The group moved on, making a quick inspection of the most important civilian structures. They were done twenty minutes later and, as Dostya had predicted, their presence had sparked things up. The streets were bristling with activity by the time that they entered the military quarters and repeated the exercise. Again, the Cybrans only appeared interested in the living quarters and other mundane areas. Whatever chaos that their presence sparked, however, was quickly dispelled whenever Hall ordered it to.
An hour after the Cybran’s arrival, they had just finished inspecting a tactical room when Dostya finally exclaimed: “That’s enough, we’re done.”
On one hand, Hall was glad that that the inspection was over, but he did not like the finality of her tone: “We can resume negotiations then?”
Dostya turned to him and shook her head: “You said that this colony had a mayor, correct? Then let us go ahead and meet him now. He is directly concerned by what I’m about to say.”
The administrator was about to object, but Dostya cut him off just as he opened his mouth: “This is my last request. We’ll be leaving afterwards, regardless of what decisions are taken. Your services won’t be required for that meeting either.”
That last argument was probably the one which convinced the administrator and the man walked away while reaching for his transmitter. Desjar looked at the tactical update on his data pad and frowned: “Koster’s scans reveal a lot of activity in our streets. We’ll need to take an air route if we want to avoid a mob. Fortunately for us, it appears that the Mayor’s office is in a penthouse accessible through an air lift.”
The two Cybrans looked at each other, but refrained from making any comments. It took a few minutes to prepare the meeting and another five to arrange for an airlift. They flew aboard a variation of the UEF gunship designed to ferry passengers. Keith groaned as soon as the penthouse from the thirty story building came into view: “Do I even want to know how many people live up there?”
Hall looked around in embarrassment for a few seconds before answering: “The Mayor and his wife live alone now that their two sons have moved out. He does use the penthouse as his office, however.”
The ship landed soon afterwards without incident. The three soldiers that had accompanied them up until now stayed near the ship as the rest of them entered the penthouse. The first room that they entered was undoubtedly the Mayor’s conference room. A large oval table with enough chairs to accommodate twenty people was set up amongst dozens of unopened boxes. A quick look towards the labels showed that they contained generic luxury goods designed for those that had a high station. Dostya found herself moving towards the large windowed section which offered an exquisite view of the colony.
The sound of approaching footsteps caught everyone’s attention and Hall extended a hand: “I would like to present Anthony Barns, the Mayor of New Madrid and his wife, Marguerite. He has been elected for his third term in a row now and has the full support of his people. Mayor Barns, I would like to present Elite Commander Dostya and Keith, her security advisor.”
It was obvious that the unexpected visit had caught them off guard, but the Mayor still smiled pleasantly while inclining his head: “Welcome to New Madrid, Commander. I hope that you’ll excuse the mess and our general lack of preparation. As you no doubt know, we only had a little time to prepare. Was your visit of our colony satisfactory?”
Dostya nodded, but folded her arms in front of her chest: “It was, but I’m afraid that you won’t like what I am about to say. I will be direct; if this colony is a good representation of the UEF then it does not matter whether you have Cybran technology or assistance. You and all of your people will die.”
Valerie stared at her monitor and made a slight adjustment to her patrolling spy planes. If the Seraphim attacked then they would have the necessary forces and facilities to escort Dostya out. If the UEF betrayed them… then they would make sure that her death would be balanced out by thousands of civilian casualties.
“A Chaslain walking into UEF territory is absurd.”
The complaint came from one of the two Assumpta pilots assisting Valerie. She frowned in disapproval and decided to steer the pilot back on course: “Redfog would have done it, in secret or in broad daylight and without hesitation if it was necessary. You should not expect a worthy Chaslain to be capable of any less.”
The face of the second pilot appeared on her screen and frowned: “So what does this meeting means? Why is she willing to help the UEF instead of accomplishing her duties to our node by selecting the next Redfog?”
“A pilot worthy of holding that title should be capable of acknowledging the realities of our time,” said Valerie, her voice threatening: “And that reality right now is that we should make use of every option at our disposal to defeat QAI and the Seraphim even if it means allying with the UEF. If you have failed to realize this then you should not even have the right to question her.”
Both pilots flinched and returned to their duties without any further complaints. They would be silent for now, but those same thoughts still echoed through the rest of the Assumpta Node. Sooner or later, Dostya would have to accomplish her duties and select another pilot to bear the title of Redfog. Valerie could only delay the inevitable for so long.
The proclamation left a deadly silence and it took Mayor Barns a few seconds to recover: “You must mean that…”
“I meant exactly what I said,” proclaimed Dostya without hesitation: “There was no hidden meaning, negotiation angle or threat intended. Your people will die and no amount of efforts on my part will save this colony or any other like it. It’s nothing personal; it’s just how it is.”
Hall stepped next to the mayor and tried to defuse the situation: “Surely we can do something. Our pilots are capable of learning anything that you are willing to teach.”
“I have been fighting the UEF and the Aeon Illuminate for over twenty years,” said Dostya while refusing to budge an inch: “I would not have spent the better part of that time running and hiding from UEF pilots if they were notoriously incompetent. I know fully well that they can learn and more than one Cybran has made the mistake of underestimating their enemy and paid for it with their lives. The periodic updates that Commander Desjar has been giving us through this inspection have not disappointed me in that regard.”
“The problem is not with them,” said Dostya as she pointed a finger towards the Mayor: “The problem is with your civilians.”
Barns had not expected to be the target of the blame nor did he take it well: “What! How dare you? We have made significant sacrifices to reach our current state. Even now, our new evacuation protocols should guarantee everyone’s safety in under an hour.”
Dostya’s arm twisted towards Desjar: “Commander, if you had to use a word to describe the act of defending a civilian colony for a full hour while being pummeled by superior forces then what would it be?”
Desjar almost looked towards Hall for approval, but decided to answer honestly without doing so: “It’s hell.”
The Mayor snorted and waved the notion away: “We can shorten it even further then. It’s nothing that a little elbow grease won’t solve.”
“Five minutes,” said Dostya while exposing her open palm: “That’s how long a Cybran has to reach his designated escape capsule. Another two minutes later and all civilians are off world. If he fails to show up, the base is under attack and there is no clear victory in sight, then he will be abandoned there to die. There won’t be a second departure.”
Everyone in the room aside from the Cybrans sucked in their breath and it was Hall who tried to object: “But that’s… unreasonable, isn’t it?”
“Unreasonable?” echoed Dostya as she motioned towards their surroundings: “What is? To favor the life of a trained pilot, one who might be capable of saving thousands in the long run? And for what? So that a civilian’s procrastination can be tolerated, encouraged and nurtured? No, this is war and not a game!”
“We can adapt,” said the Mayor while puffing his chest: “We found ways before and we’ll do so again!”
“Can you now?” said as Dostya as she walked uncomfortably close to the Mayor: “Then why wait? Let’s start here.”
Dostya stormed through the nearby corridor and towards the bedroom without waiting for an answer. She gestured around with her hands while she walked: “You’re not a scientist, engineer or biologist. You don’t need that much space; what you need is an access to a conference room just like everybody else. If you really want to impress me then just use a virtual conference program from a standard terminal. If you think that your position as mayor entitles you to a certain amount of luxuries then you are mistaken.”
A snort escaped Dostya as she stepped into the bedroom and found the doors to a walk in closet. She stepped inside it just as everyone else entered the room: “You only need two or three sets of clothes per individual. They developed stain resistant fabrics a long time ago and you might consider something that’s weather resistant. You don’t need nightgowns or pajamas, just sleep in your clothes and be thankful for the time that it saves. Formal clothes that you never put on are only good when you get buried.”
Dostya stepped out of the closet with a stack of clothes in one arm and a pair of high heeled fashion shoes in the other. She pointed the latter towards the Mayor’s wife: “If it prevents you from running, is not acid resistant, does not protect your foot and makes you accident prone then it’s not attractive. Keep that in mind.”
She threw her entire load to the ground and moved on to the nearby library: “Always nice to see rows of books on a shelf, but if you want to look important then knowing something is a lot better than appearing as if you do.”
Dostya reached forward, grabbed one book after the other and threw them to the ground: “Everything here is or should be digitalized: dictionary, thesaurus, World War Two history series, political life stories, a baseball card signed by Babe Ruth, family album…”
The Mayor’s wife sprang forward, grabbed the family album from the pile and retreated to her husband’s arms. Barns looked at Dostya angrily, all forms of civility gone: “Show some respect, for crying out loud! She lost her entire family in the Infinite War! This is all that’s left of them.”
There was no sympathy in Dostya’s eyes as she fetched a small device from her pocket and exposed it for everyone to see: “A small, high density, EMP resistant data storage chip. You scan the pictures and you keep them close to you. You can even wear it as a necklace or have multiple copies in case something goes wrong, but that’s where the line is drawn.”
The Mayor moved between Dostya and his wife as if to protect her. Dostya merely turned to Hall and raised and eyebrow: “See this? Imagine the same scene being repeated again and again through thousands of families in this colony. Imagine how many Cybran ‘advisors’ it would take to pull it off. It would take months and this place could be attacked any day now. The worse part is that in the end, we would fail despite all our efforts.”
Dostya placed her hands on her hips as she spoke: “That’s why I said that no amount of stealth technology or assistance can fix this. Your people have not hit rock bottom just yet… call me back when you lost half of them.”
Dostya moved back towards the living room, ignoring Desjar and Hall’s objections as she moved past them. She stopped when a single cry tore through the penthouse: “Wait!”
The Mayor’s wife stood at the entrance of the bedchamber, tears sliding down her face while she clutched her family album to her chest: “I’ll scan them. I’ll just… I’ll just need a moment alone with them first.”
With that, she ushered everyone out of the bedroom and closed the door. Barns looked at Dostya furiously and extended both hands to the side: “Are you happy now that you made her cry? Is that what you wanted to happen?”
To everyone’s surprise, Dostya flinched at that, but nodded: “If you want to survive, then it’s a start.”
Ten minutes later, Dostya, Keith, Hall, Desjar and Barns were all waiting in silence back in the conference room. A storm was brewing outside and Dostya stood gazing out the window. Hall waited a moment longer before clearing his voice: “If we don’t act now then the UEF will be hunted into extinction. We need your help, Commander Dostya.”
Lightning flared in the distance and Dostya closed her eyes for a second: “We lost half of our military with QAI’s initial attack. Our civilian losses were just as staggering. We had to triple the efficiency of our evacuation and security protocols just to stay ahead. These standards are harsh, even for us.”
The admission caught everyone off guard and even Keith looked surprised that she would reveal such critical information. Dostya turned around and sighed: “It would take hundreds of Cybrans weeks if not months to train a single of your colony. The odds of this place being attacked before you’re ready are against you and we cannot afford to lose a single Cybran in the process. We can’t save you.”
Desjar’s fists tightened as he looked at everyone in the room: “But you must have a plan, right? Have you guys figured out a way through Seraphim technology? Maybe with that edge then we could stand against them and buy some time!”
Dostya winced and shook her heads: “Reverse engineering enemy technology is one of our strengths. We mostly did it by infiltrating enemy networks and getting the data that we needed. We can’t understand the Seraphim’s language, never mind infiltrate them. By the time that we figure out a counter then it will probably be too late for you.”
Hall looked towards the approaching storm and nodded as he came to terms with his new idea: “There is one last option: take us with you.”
Everyone looked at him and Barns shook his head in disbelief: “You can’t be serious.”
“I’ve never been this serious before in my life,” said Hall with his hands folded in front of him: “We need to learn and we need to learn fast. If we can’t do it on our terms then the only option left is to do it on theirs.”
Keith shook his head: “We can’t compromise…”
“The same standards,” interrupted Hall, his gaze unwavering: “Five minutes to reach the escape pods. Anyone that staggers is left behind. If you can train a single colony then they, in turn, will be able to form the rest. Teach us to operate without symbionts and they’ll be yours, all of them.”
Dostya stepped forward: “Cybran quarters, tasks, food and living standards. There won’t be any compromise when it comes to those. If you want this to work then you’ll need a whole colony which includes children, the sick and the infirm. They must be included in the process and not cast out.”
Hall nodded and Dostya turned to Desjar: “We’ll need to train pilots… and in this context, that means that their families must follow as well.”
Desjar’s heart skipped a beat as his mind registered the full implications. He had always struggled to keep the war out of his family’s life. According to Dostya, however, this was part of the problem. The urge to refuse was increasing rapidly until Dostya added: “Your family would be safer with us than where they are now.”
A few more seconds passed before Desjar nodded in resignation. Every set of eyes then turned towards the Mayor whose face had turned deathly pale. Barns looked left and right before speaking in a weak voice: “I can’t make that kind of decision, not with so much at stake…”
“Yes, you can,” said the voice behind him and he turned around to see his wife approaching. She wiped a tear with the back of her hand and tried to smile: “You’re the one who cut all of New Madrid’s superfluous expenses so that we could pay back our debts. You’re the one who changed our school policies to support our children instead of letting them down. You’re also the one who cut down our crime rate in half by taking the fight to the criminals that ruled the streets.”
“Marguerite, I can’t…” started Barns, but his wife placed a finger on his lips to shush him: “You might have been elected in office because you played the political game well, but our people kept you there because you did what was right, even if it meant sacrificing what we loved. If making a radical change is the only way to survive then they will follow you.”
Marguerite moved past her speechless husband, walked up to Dostya and extended her hand: “May I?”
A few seconds passed before Dostya took the data storage chip from her pocket and placed it in Marguerite’s hand.
I never thought that I would see this day, oh yes. Today, an entire UEF colony came to us for assistance. I am very proud of Dostya for all of her efforts, very proud. The only question that remains is this: will the UEF find the strength to stand anew?
In order to stand, one must first acknowledge the fall and to do that, one must accept the very concept of change. The UEF has lost Earth, the chance to take control of the galaxy and its entire social structure. There is no shame in falling, none at all. My children have fallen many times and yet they have always climbed back up.
What can we do for them? Nothing except show them how to position their feet and provide a hiding place while they learn. It will take time, oh yes.
Doctor Gustaf Brackman
X-day + 74…
One day; that was all the time that the Cybran Nation needed to build a new node that would accommodate sixty thousand additional refugees. If the task had fallen to the UEF, it would have undoubtedly taken a week just to get the logistics underway. Dostya had departed New Madrid as soon as the deal had been made, taking with her a file containing the list of all of the colony’s civilians and UEF personnel. She also left five sets of coordinates and a simple list of instructions.
The UEF would send an ACU and then gate their citizens to these five transit points prior to handing them over to the Cybrans. Each transit point would remain in operation and communications would be restrained to a bare minimum until all citizens were transferred or the location became compromised. Each citizen would only be allowed to carry a single backpack. Any extra baggage would be confiscated and destroyed upon arrival.
When Desjar had left his home, he had expected to return and celebrate his daughter’s birthday. Instead, he had to tell them that they would be leaving everything behind: their home, their possessions, their friends and even their way of life.
Melissa ran into her room and closed the door before anything else could be said. Desjar was about to go after her, but the way that Jessy was looking at him with her hands on her hips warned him that he had other problems as well. He looked at the floor and shook his head slightly: “There was no other choice.”
“Of course there was,” Jessy said, her stance demonstrating that she would not back down an inch: “You could have asked us what we thought about it or others could go in your place and we could stay here amongst our own people. Why are you willing to trust those that would have killed you a few months ago?”
Desjar shook his head and kept avoiding her gaze: “It’s just the logical thing to do…”
There was something else in his voice, something that Jessy had never encountered before and she would not back down until she knew what it was: “What changed? It’s not like you to depend on strangers. What aren’t you telling me?”
“I’m scared, ok?” said Desjar while slamming a fist in the couch: “You wanted to know then there it is; I’m scared!”
Jessy’s stern look melted and she reached for her husband. She took his hand and held it in her own: “Of course you are, just like the rest of us.”
“It’s not the same thing. I’ve always known that I could die out there. Me, Weisman, Flinn and all the others, we had to accept that we could die every time that we took command of an ACU. If we made a mistake then we covered each other’s backs and we could pull through the worst of things. As long as we did our job then we knew that you would be safe back on Earth, but now…”
Desjar sighed and allowed some of the tension to drain out of him: “Now if I make a mistake then you or Melissa could die. Every time that I see a missile fly past me, it feels as though I’m back in that canyon. I see you crashing because of my mistake. I can’t… I can’t fight like that. I don’t think any human can.”
Jessy hugged Desjar instinctively and the two of them stayed together for a few seconds before she took a step back: “I’ll go pack our things.”
“ETA before departure is ten minutes. I want every pilot in their ACU and ready to gate on my mark. Valerie, you’re with me.”
The Assumpta assassin nodded towards Dostya and the two of them made their way through the command center. This would be one the largest operations since their defeat a few months ago and it had to be done in a short amount of time as well. As much as Dostya would have preferred to wait a week or two, she knew that the settlement of New Madrid could be attacked at any moment and that their plans would come to a crushing halt if it was destroyed.
“Dostya, I need to talk to you!”
The cry came from somewhere amongst the crowd and Dostya’s gaze narrowed as she tried to spot the one that had hailed her. A form suddenly squeezed itself with surprising grace through two technicians and she groan instinctively: “Bagby, we’re busy.”
The old SCU pilot ignored the comment and grinned: “I know; the incoming UEF colony and all that. But it’s important!”
A sigh escaped Dostya, but she found herself nodding anyway. As far as Bagby was concerned, it was always a better idea to hear him out than to ignore him: “Fine, what is it?”
“Um… could we talk in private?” said Bagby while purposely nodding towards Valerie: “You probably don’t want me to say it in front of her.”
Although Dostya was willing to listen, her reserves of patience were wearing thin and she could not afford to delay any longer: “Bagby!”
“It’s about Kazuo,” said the SCU pilot while raising both hands defensively: “I can’t make fun of him anymore. He and Valerie are… you know… intimate. How can I make fun of a guy if he’s insane enough to date an Assumpta? Do you even know how many knives she has on her?”
Dostya blinked in surprise and even Valerie’s mouth opened in disbelief as Bagby continued: “So I was thinking that with those UEF pilots coming to join us that I could…”
“No!” said Dostya without any hint of hesitation. Bagby immediately raised a finger: “But if I can just…”
Dostya shook her head again, her tone becoming even sharper: “No!”
The old SCU pilot raised both arms pleadingly: “But poking a newbie or two makes me feel young again!”
“Then find someone else!” cried Dostya, the fiery look in her eyes clearly indicating that she would not make any compromise on the issue: “In the meantime, just stay away from any UEF pilot or citizen before you start an all out brawl. They’re not ready for you yet.”
Dostya ended the discussion by storming way, but Valerie stayed behind. The Assumpta assassin stepped towards Bagby and spoke barely above a whisper: “If you ever torment Kazuo again then you will find out first hand just how many knives I carry around.”
She looked him straight in the eye for a few seconds before turning away and sprinting to catch up with Dostya. Bagby scratched the back of his head while muttering to himself: “Wow… she really loves him, doesn’t she?”
The UEF ACU appeared with a bright flash and Weisman barely had the time to look at his sensors before a pair of flying transports appeared above him. His fingers reached for the overcharge button reflexively, but he relaxed when he noticed that they were only carrying mobile stealth generators. He opened a channel instead, directing the signal towards the transports: “This is Major Weisman. I’m here to set up the transfer.”
The face of a Cybran with Japanese origins appeared on his screen and nodded: “I’m Commander Kazuo Ishii. I’m transmitting recognition codes and stealth frequencies. Input them now so that I can drop the deceivers. You should start building the necessary infrastructures and deploy a quantum gate. I’m setting up one of my own ten kilometers away from your position. That will be the transit point. A second gate is already established thirty kilometers to your south. That one will be an emergency escape point for you if things go wrong. I have my own escape route if that eventuality arises.”
Weisman quickly established his build queue and Kazuo waited for him to be finished before continuing: “Once everything is set up, you will send a single signal to your colony to begin the transfer. Do not send any other type of transmission through the quantum network unless if it’s to tell them that the transit point is compromised. Every transmission through the quantum network increases the odds that QAI will investigate by point one percent.”
Is that how the Cybrans had found New Madrid? By tracking down data traffic through the quantum network? The question caught Weisman’s curiosity: “Wait, if that’s the case then won’t transferring our civilians also increase those odds?”
“It will,” replied Kazuo as he typed something on his console: “But we have over thirty other commanders out there running decoy missions. If we keep a low profile then the network traffic will be similar across three dozen worlds. QAI won’t have any other choices but to play the odds.”
Weisman’s eyes widened as he fully grasped the concept. He had heard rumors that the Cybran Nation had developed some type of next generation stealth technology. From the looks of it, however, it seemed as though they were simply playing a never ending game of hide and seek with the lives of their people constantly hanging in the balance. Kazuo nodded as if he could read his thoughts: “Welcome to the Cybran Nation.”
The quantum gate lit up for a split second as the Cybran ACU appeared and walked out. Dostya looked at her view screen, taking the time to appreciate her return to Minerva before linking with the newly built node: “Dostya reporting in. Decoy point Theta abandoned, no casualties and two of QAI’s ACUs were destroyed.”
Data was forwarded to her screen at a near blinding pace as the emotionless face of a Chimera analyst appeared on her screen: “We lost seven decoy points so far and transit area four. No casualties, but we definitely caught QAI’s attention. The UEF pilot at transit area four was General Hall. Shall I patch him through?”
Dostya nodded and Hall’s face soon appeared on her screen. She immediately recognized the new rank pinned to the left side of his vest. No doubt he had been promoted to make his mission more official. Hall bowed his head slightly before speaking: “I commend you on your strategy, Commander Dostya. I had not expected that QAI and the Seraphim could be deployed so efficiently. Do we have any idea how they found us?”
“My visit was not exactly a secret, General,” said Dostya as she keyed in a few queries: “A simple picture of me or a transmission mentioning my name originating from New Madrid would have probably been enough to catch QAI’s attention. It would explain its rash attacks on our decoys points.”
Of course, Dostya did not bother to point out that any loss that QAI endured could be replaced in a short amount of time. Hall nodded, but remained skeptic: “I mean no disrespect, but considering what is at stake, could the leak also originate from your side?”
Dostya checked her sensors one more time before shaking her head: “Doubtful… we’re still alive.”
Melissa closed her eyes reflexively as the insect-like legs of the Cybran air transport latched on to their vehicle and lifted them off the ground. A few of the other passengers squirmed as they ascended rapidly and a some were even praying. Melissa opened her eyes again and she knew without a doubt that they were afraid. And why shouldn’t they? They were all at the mercy of the Cybrans now.
A man in the seat in front of her, a security guard judging by the few pieces of his uniform that Melissa could see, looked out of the window and gasped: “Minerva…”
Curiosity got the best of Melissa and she leaned towards the window. She was greeted with every imaginable shades of red. The ground, sky, suns and even the mountains were all variations of the same color. At that moment, a child’s voice came from behind her: “Mommy; is this hell?”
It might as well be, thought Melissa as she kept gazing out of the window. There were no visible lakes or fauna in the region; just a lifeless, soulless desert. The view changed suddenly as they crossed a bright energy field. Melissa was momentarily blinded and they were over the Cybran node by the time that her vision cleared up. She was disappointed as soon as it did and one of the passengers further down the aisle was the first to make the comment: “It’s so small. Where are the rows of artillery, factories or experimentals?”
Their transport suddenly dropped in altitude before anyone else could say more. Melissa barely had the time to catch a glance of the structure that they were approaching: a tall and ugly building that was roughly twenty five stories high. They landed on top of it and the rear door of their vehicle opened a moment later. A Cybran peaked in - drawing a few startled gasps - and spoke loudly enough so that everyone could hear: “Please move out of the transport and form a line outside. Bring your backpacks with you and make sure to leave nothing that you value behind. This vehicle will be recycled once we’re done.”
Jessy helped Melissa remove her straps and the two of them walked out of the transport with the rest of the passengers. There were roughly twenty Cybrans waiting for them outside with most of them standing guard. Although their weapons were still in their hoisters, the red facial circuitry unnerved more than one civilian. It took some probing for someone to finally step towards the checkpoint and a few minutes later, all civilians had formed a line. Melissa’s gaze was drawn left and right as she looked at Cybrans and refuges alike.
The words interrupted Melissa’s daydreaming as she and her mother stepped forward. Jessy presented both of their identity cards and the Cybran barely looked at them for a second before nodding: “Jessy Perez Desjar and Melissa Desjar. My listings show that your quarters should include a spot for James Desjar, correct?”
Jessy nodded and the Cybran entered the data on his console before nodding: “Your quarters are ready. You’re on level ten, unit sixteen. You and your husband have been granted administrator privileges to your quarters and interactive interfaces by default. It is recommended that you review the privileges and internal network accesses prior to letting your daughter use them. Your configuration will be saved even if we move.”
The Cybran suddenly leaned forward and frowned: “I’d recommend ordering new sets of clothes as well. Minerva has some pretty harsh weather which is most suited for class D suits or higher. Now move along.”
“Wait,” said Jessy while reaching forward: “Where is my husband? When can I expect him to join us?”
“He’s an ACU pilot,” said the Cybran as a matter of fact: “So don’t expect him to be back for a few hours at least. Getting them up to speed with stealth, evacuation and security protocols is our top priority. They won’t be joining you until they acquire a rudimentary understanding of those. More than that, I cannot say. Now move along.”
The heavily fortified set of doors opened as soon as Desjar’s ACU stepped within range, revealing a section of the unremarkable hangar. The first thing that he noticed was the other four UEF ACUs waiting nearby. A quick scan confirmed that they belonged to Carmack, Koster, Wright and Hall. It also showed that they too had been upgraded with a personal teleportation, resource allocation and engineering suite module.
Desjar found an empty spot and watched as the docking ramps extended automatically. He gulped despite himself. This was the big moment, wasn’t it? Once he stepped out of his ACU, he would be as mortal as the rest of them and possibly at the Cybran’s mercy. It was not a position that he particularly enjoyed, but it was too late to back out now.
The cockpit opened at the push of a button and Desjar was just locking up his controls when Hall appeared around the corner followed by Koster: “Glad you made it, Commander. I just received news that the rest of your squad made it safely and that they will be here in the next few minutes. We have not suffered any casualties in the transfer. Elite Commander Dostya is here as well and she is waiting for us.”
“Good,” said Desjar before turning towards Koster: “Stay here and greet the others.”
“Yes, sir,” said Koster while saluting. Hall and Desjar then walked down the ramp towards what appeared to be a meeting room. The General gave Desjar a few seconds to get used to their surroundings before speaking: “I have to hand it to Dostya; she does not leave anything to chance… or perhaps I should say that she knows how to play the odds.”
“I don’t know, sir,” said Desjar as he kept looking around: “The defenses surrounding this Node were not that impressive. Quite frankly, the lack of anything major is making me nervous.”
They entered a room just then where parts of Desjar and Hall’s teams were assembled. There were twelve pilots so far and they would be a total of eighteen once everyone got here. Hall spotted Dostya speaking to another Cybran further back and led Desjar to them: “The others are on their way, Commander Dostya. It won’t be long.”
The Cybran that Dostya was talking to turned around and Desjar found himself backing away two steps while bringing his arms up to defend himself. Valerie made no move against him, however, which left Hall and Dostya confused as they glanced between the two. Hall cleared his voice and raised an eyebrow: “I take it that the two of you have already met?”
“I tried to kill him,” said Valerie as a matter of fact: “I was surprised to learn a few days later that my blade had pierced your arm and not your heart, Commander. You are surprisingly hard to kill.”
Desjar could feel his heart pounding and he had a hard time willing himself to lower his arms. Valerie noticed this and shrugged: “I meant that as a compliment. Our conflict was nothing personal.”
Hall moved as if on queue, placing a hand on Desjar’s arms in order to encourage him to lower his guard: “It’s only natural that past frictions would come to the surface. I’m sure that we’ll work past them, right Commander?”
A few seconds passed before Desjar finally lowered his guard: “Yes, General. Please excuse my reaction.”
Valerie shrugged as if the incident had already been forgotten and moved away. It took another ten minutes for everyone to dock and reach the room. Hall nodded to Dostya and she, in turn, spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear: “This will be one of the rare occasions that you will all be in the same room. Enjoy the moment, but pay attention.”
The screen lit up behind Dostya as she spoke, exposing the standard layout of a UEF base designed to protect a colony: “This is what you used against us during the Infinite War. A colony designed to hold over one hundred thousand civilians protected by shield generators, tactical and strategic missile defenses, an adequate amount of anti-air turrets and a quantum gate.”
The image zoomed out, exposing the other military facilities that surrounded the colony: “The number of Commanders assigned to protect a colony is what determined its surrounding defensive and offensive capabilities. As a reflex, each of you would build the strongest army that your respective ranks allowed you to and had spy planes patrolling your borders. Very few of you were actually allowed to have experimentals sitting around. The risk of a technological theft or sabotage – most notably by us - was just too great.”
A few pilots shifted uncomfortably, not exactly enjoying that a Cybran could describe their inner workings so well: “Under normal circumstances, a well defended base could last for hours. An entire colony and even its defending pilots could be safely evacuated in that period of time. Many strategies were used to shorten that period by the Aeon Illuminute and the Cybran Nation, but none of those are relevant in this context. The only thing that matters is this: none of the defenses used by the Cybran Nation or the UEF can stand against the Seraphim.”
The declaration seemed to echo through the room and Dostya made sure that everyone understood that part before continuing: “Until we can pierce the secrets behind their technology, the Seraphim’s experimental bomber is one of the most devastating units in the field. Our air units cannot stop it, it regenerates and a few of them working in a group can take down any shield configuration and destroy what is underneath. Our data suggests that unlike our units, the Seraphim’s experimental bomber does not have any need for fuel. As such, it can even be built outside the range of a standard strategic missile launchers or the Mavor.”
The image disappeared and was instantly replaced by an image of the node: “This is the newly rebuilt Node Fifty-Six. It has been redesigned to accommodate your people and it can now house up to two hundred thousand civilians and military personnel. Do not let its small size fool you; it has everything from command center, medical and training facilities.”
“But what about its defenses,” interrupted Flinn. Every set of eyes turned to him as he spoke: “This kind of setup would not hold off a standard attack for more than five minutes even in the best of circumstances. Heck, there are not even many mass extraction points around.”
Desjar motioned for Flinn to shut up, but Dostya was already scowling: “The purpose is not to fight back, but to hide, escape and be reestablished elsewhere in the least amount of time. Observe.”
The image zoomed out, exposing the four military bases that were set up roughly sixty kilometers away from the Node: “Each of those settlements houses a single pilot whose mission is to detect the enemy using omni sensors and stealth spy planes. Each settlement and the Node itself are shielded by powerful stealth generators. If any of those are detected or if an enemy is located then an alarm is triggered.”
Multiple enemy signals appeared on screen as Dostya kept speaking: “The ACU pilots must intercept or mislead the enemy long enough for the Node to be evacuated. Every civilian and military personnel must reach an evacuation pod within five minutes. After that delay is passed, all pods are automatically launched through a system of internal rail through the node. These will ferry the pods towards a powerful gate nexus. The entire colony will be evacuated in a single burst. Those that remain behind will be trapped by a quantum wake that will deny the use of the gate for twenty-five minutes.”
Weisman raised a hand and waited for Dostya to nod towards him before speaking: “What about our ACUs? If we’re in our quarters then we can’t reach them in five minutes.”
“Excellent question,” said Dostya while pressing a button that caused the image to zoom back on the colony: “A pilot that is considered off duty must reach an evacuation pod like everyone else. A hierarchy will exist between members of your maintenance staff. If the pilot is unavailable, then one of those must board the ACU and use its personal teleportation upgrade to escape. The ACU’s safety is secondary only to the pilot’s.”
The image disappeared and was replaced by the rough blueprints of a UEF and Cybran ACU: “Each of you is expected to keep your personal teleportation upgrade online at all times. Deviation from this protocol is strictly forbidden. This is the ultimate trump card in terms of escape until you can reach a friendly quantum gate or build one of your own. It is also the only way to travel large distance on a planet without appearing on sensors or leaving a trace through the quantum network. Are there any questions?”
Flinn looked left and right to make sure that no one was angry with him before raising his hand: “So we just sit out there, keep our eyes open and wait for someone to make a technological breakthrough?”
“No,” said Dostya while zooming out on a galactic scale: “That is just the basic concept of defense. For it to be effective, even against QAI, we need to create the statistical possibility that we could be anywhere. With the number of UEF and Cybran pilots here, we should be able to maintain over twenty active missions around the clock. We, in conjunction with the other nodes, will blanket this entire planet and surrounding systems with false signals, forcing QAI to investigate at random. Should we detect an increased probability that this sector would be investigated then the Node will transmit a yellow alert and will be moved as a preventive measure. Expect it to move in such a fashion every two to three days.”
A murmur started circulating through the room, but Dostya cut it off: “Your first task is to familiarize yourselves with our escape pods. I don’t expect to have to do so, but if any of you is not perfectly knowledgeable in Cybran units then step up and we will remedy the situation. Once that’s done, I expect half of you to stay here for your first shift while the others get some rest. You will each be paired with a veteran Cybran pilot until you have your basics straight. On another note, our security personnel will see to the welfare of your district for the next twenty-four hours. We expect your staff to be trained in our protocols, rules and use of weapons after that.”
Dostya turned to Hall who nodded in turn: “We came here to learn, so let’s get to work.”
Keith, Queren and Sjet had been assigned to guard the upper level of block C for the past hour. So far nothing had happened aside from a minor skirmish between refuges. It was a pain, but the Cybrans would have to take charge of local security until the UEF’s staff was ready to replace them. Sjet’s eyes suddenly widened and he nodded towards Keith’s back: “On your six.”
Keith turned his head and swore silently as one of the refugees came walking straight towards them. She was dragging a boy with one hand and holding a Cybran wrist computer in the other. It did not take the commando long to figure out what was coming and he immediately turned to Sjet: “Where’s Bagby?”
“He can’t come here”, said Sjet while shaking his head: “Dostya’s orders; she said he would cause a riot or something.”
The leader of the commando team sighed deeply and turned to Queren: “There’s no way that I’ll pull this off without being a jerk, will I?”
Queren shook his head silently and the woman walked in range before he could think of an escape plan: “You, I need your help.”
Keith closed his eyes, took a deep breath and turned around with the most pleasant smile that he could muster: “Yes, ma’am?”
“My eight year old son somehow managed to order this through that… thing in our quarters,” she said while exposing the wrist computer: “I checked it out and it has everything from communicator, simulator and video player.”
The commando gave it some thought for a few seconds as he tried to figure out what was the proper thing to say. He finally decided to say the same thing that he would have if it was a Cybran child: “Smart kid.”
The woman presented the device to the commandos: “He can’t have it; it’s too expensive. If a boy of his age should have something then it should be cheaper.”
Keith’s eyes widened in disbelief and he had to will himself to blink just to absorb the notion: “I’m sorry, but are you telling us to use the same materials to make a device of a lesser quality?”
For a moment, Keith had hoped that the simple logic of the question would have been enough to force the woman to think, but she nodded vigorously instead: “In real life, I would have to work for weeks to pay the bills and finally afford something like this. Children need to understand that getting what you want can only be done through hard work, discipline and respect. They can’t just have it after they ask; that’s instant gratification! So I want you to take it back and explain this to him.”
She handed Keith the wrist computer and he looked at it for a few seconds. He turned to Sjet and Queren, but it was obvious that the other two commandos would not get involved in this. Keith sighed one more time before kneeling down and motioning the boy to step forward: “Come here, kid. You ever heard of a Cybran unit called the Mole?”
The child shook his head and his mother looked at Keith questioningly as he kept speaking: “It’s a robot that looks like a spider and it’s roughly about as big as you. We use them to scout very early in an operation. Some kids even load a Fido program in it and use them as pets. It does not look like much, but the technology inside of it is more advanced than all the toys that you ever owned. Even that wrist computer is just a joke compared to it. A fully upgraded land factory can build a Mole in less than two seconds.”
The mother was about to interrupt him, but Keith raised a hand to stop her: “The UEF has the same level of technology, but for some reason, they never gave ordinary civilians access to it because it would crash the economy, violate copyrights and such. You’re smart, right? So whenever someone tells you that they need to work for weeks to get a piece of equipment that took less than a second to manufacture, then I want you to remind them of what common sense is.”
The boy nodded with a mischievous smile and Keith raised a finger: “Oh and about that discipline and respect thing that your mother mentioned, I’d listen to her if I were you. If you don’t have discipline then you won’t reach the escape shuttle in time which means that you’ll either be blown to atoms, burn to death or die of starvation. You need to learn respect too, especially when facing other Cybran children. If you don’t then they’ll send you back home with lots of bruises, a puffy eye and a broken nose. Ok?”
The mischievous smile disappeared and the boy nodded again. Keith patted him on the head and turned to his mother: “See? I told you that he was a smart kid.”
The woman snorted, took her son by the hand and stormed off. Sjet came right by Keith’s side while shaking his head: “It could have gone better. Still, it’s her job to be the parent, not ours. All she had to do was take the time to set the terminal accesses. How hard can that be?”
Keith straightened while stretching his neck: “Let’s just hope that she does it before her kid accidentally stumbles in the porn part of the internal network. Now that I think about it, maybe we should have locked it by default.”
Sjet shrugged: “Most of its content was made by the UEF so at least they can’t blame us if they find it sick and twisted.”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 02 Aug, 2008, edited 4 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Communism was the first word that popped into my mind when I learned that the Cybrans had no concept of money. The predominance of red lights and consoles did nothing to erase that initial impression, but my first eight hours alongside one of them changed that outlook. Every Node is different, a pilot named Kazuo explained, but almost all of them estimate the value of a possession, information or service by the time that it took to obtain or the lives that it saved.
In that regards, things such as high definition monitors, latest computers and perfectly calibrated weapons are worth next to nothing. Each can be manufactured in a few seconds after all, so why should they matter to anyone? It feels strange to think of an apple or a steak being luxury goods worth more than the latest hover car model.
There are no numbers to track any of it, but everyone knows who the important figures are. A teacher is worth part of his students that ascended to greatness, a doctor is appreciated for the lives he saved and a hacker renowned for what his skills have unlocked. An ACU pilot’s actions are directly responsible for the safety of thousands of Cybrans. As such, they wield the most power and influence.
I remember asking my instructor what the ‘richest’ person would look like. He frowned at me as if I was being a jerk by asking, but he answered anyway. Someone who became that important would never have a problem finding people to help him, listen to what he had to say, support him when he was down or stand by him right through the end. I immediately thought of my family when he told me this and of how they would do the impossible for me.
I look at what being rich means to some of these Cybrans and I find that I cannot disagree with them.
Major Carl Weisman
Flinn stretched and yawned loudly: “Oh boy… I’m beat. It’s been what, sixteen hours straight? From the moment where we started evacuating New Madrid, I mean.”
Desjar nodded while rubbing his eyes and did his best to appear awake. Flinn, Koster, Walton, Weisman and him were in an underground transit system on route towards their quarters. Koster scratched his unshaved neck while tapping his foot: “I took a look at our sector prior to leaving my ACU. It looks like the outside is marked with blue lights instead of red. I just hope that the Seraphim won’t use the distinction to target us if they find this place.”
Flinn tried to stay silent for a few moments, but his nervous nature finally resurfaced: “So who were you guys paired with? Mine had no sense of humor, but she was really hot! Well ok, she looked as though she would stab me or something. You should have seen the look in her eyes when one of my engineers stepped out of the stealth generator’s range while on patrol; it looked like she would shoot me right there and then. I’m sure she was just kidding though.”
“You idiot,” replied Weisman while smacking Flinn behind the head: “The one you were paired with was Valerie. She’s the one that nearly killed Desjar a few years ago.”
The pod stopped before Flinn could protest and the doors opened. Koster stood up and motioned for Flinn to follow: “This is our stop, come on.”
The doors closed as soon as they stepped out and Walton nodded to himself: “They purposely split us up. If an incident happens then we won’t all die at the same time I suppose.”
Again the pod stopped and it was Walton’s turn to step out, leaving the other two pilots alone. Weisman looked at Desjar a few seconds before leaning forward: “Sir, I’d just like you to know that if you or your family needs anything then you can come to mine. There are twenty three of us here and they would look after Jessy and Melissa as if they were their own.”
Desjar nodded and smiled in gratitude: “Thanks for the offer. I’ll keep it in mind.”
Their vehicle stopped and Desjar shook Weisman’s hand before stepping out. He took some time to look back as the pod sped away and marveled at the system. The entire node was designed with this automated transport system into place to ease travels between locations. Both it and a series of walkways were encased underground so that its occupants would never be bothered by the local weather. There was also a network of streets above ground, allowing someone to use other means of transportations.
There would be more time for exploration later and Desjar stepped into the first elevator that he could find. It took him to the tenth floor and he started searching for his new apartment. What puzzled him as he walked was that there was a door every meter and a half, but only a few of them had a green light above them, indicating that they were active. That notion still puzzled him until he found unit sixteen.
The door opened as soon as he stepped in range, startling Jessy who had been waiting on the other side. She recovered immediately and rushed into his arms: “Welcome back, I was worried about you.”
Desjar looked around while hugging his wife, taking into account the cramped space. From what he could tell, they were standing in some kind of living room which was barely more than four and a half by three meters. The wall on the other end of the room had three doors, each leading to a small room which was one and a half by two meters. There were also three doors leading back into the corridor, but only one of those was active. Melissa’s door was closed at the moment which caused Desjar to worry, but a more practical concern came to mind: “Where’s the bathroom?”
“There’s a common washroom outside,” said Jessy while taking a step back: “From what I can tell, everything from power distribution, equipment relays, main water valves and escape pods are located in the center of the building with the quarters on the edge. I suppose that if we’re under attack then it’s more important that those systems are not the first one to break.”
“But what about the furniture and beds?” said Desjar while looking left and right: “They didn’t include these in our quarters?”
Jessy raised a finger and smiled triumphantly, actually glad that she could show her husband something new: “It took me a while to figure out, come take a look.”
She stepped into her apparently empty bedroom and accessed the console near the door. It only took her a moment to navigate through the menu and a part of the wall to the right lowered itself on its own, forming the basis of a horizontal bed. Desjar touched the mattress and found it firm, but still comfortable: “But why not simply just put a bed in the middle of the room?”
Jessy pressed a button and part of the bed, lifted itself back into the wall, leaving only a section large enough to act as a seat. Multiple supports suddenly moved from the ceiling, stopping in front of the chair. Each lit up in turn; exposing a holographic computer display. Desjar turned a surprise look towards Jessy who only shrugged: “One room, multiple configurations. There are a number of presets allowing it to be reconfigured as a bedroom, small exercise area or office amongst other things. The living room has similar options.”
A home with multiple configurations; no wonder Cybrans could fit so many people in such a small Node. Desjar had been about to ask why there were three doors leading into their home, but he understood before he even asked the questions. Their quarters were fully customizable and so was their living space. If a family had a lot of people, they were entitled to have a bigger living room. If a family grew bigger or split up then all they needed to do was to insert or remove walls and activate or deactivate doors.
“What about Melissa?” said Desjar as he stepped back in the living room and looked towards the door leading to his daughter’s bedroom: “How did she handle it?”
Jessy looked towards the closed door and shook her head: “She went to bed… she’ll need time to adapt.”
Melissa sat in her bed while holding her knees against her chest. This place wasn’t home…
There were no windows in her room and the only way for her to see outside was to access a camera through her terminal. Not that there was anything else to see aside from the nightmare that they had stepped in, she reminded herself. Melissa’s fingers brushed against the screen, switching through the near endless options that it offered. Her eyes caught something and she pressed the button on a whim, activating the audio receptors outside the residential block.
There was no sound except for the wind; no birds, rain or anything natural. She was about to stop the audio feed when she heard something: the sound of a creature howling.
No wolf could possibly sneak that far in colony or a Cybran node. So it left the Cybrans as the only possible explanation. They were probably on a roof somewhere, trying to scare the new kids on the block and mocking them with spooky howls. Melissa stopped the audio feed and closed her eyes. She really hated this place…
Hall rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the screen in front of him one more time. He had just returned from the mission just like everybody else and his body cried out for sleep. There was just so much left to do and so many people depended on him. He was so absorbed by his work that he did not notice it when Dostya walked around the corner: “You won’t do anyone any good if you fall asleep on your console.”
The voice startled Hall and he had to take a deep breath to steady himself: “I just need to check out a few more things before turning in. I don’t have anyone waiting for me so it will be all right. Has there been any incident while we were away?”
“A sixteen year-old boy broke his leg an hour ago,” said Dostya without even looking at the data pad that she was holding: “We haven’t taken the time to include your medical personnel in our infrastructure just yet so he’ll be treated by us in the meantime.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Hall: What happened to the injured during an evacuation if they only had five minutes? He rubbed his moustache once before nodding: “I’d like to visit him, if I may. I would like to tour that facility and ask a few questions while I’m there.”
“You should get some rest instead,” said Dostya, drawing a small nod from Hall who only replied: “So should you and yet we’re both still up, aren’t we?”
Dostya considered the argument for a few seconds before sighing: “Our Chief Medical Officer is called Ell. I’ll warn her that you’re coming.”
Bagby stepped inside the elevator and pushed a button while whistling a happy tune. Today was his yearly implant checkup which he had purposely avoided for the past five years. It’s not that he didn’t like doctors; they had patched him back together more than once after all and Ell’s staff had some of the best specialists out there. Going to a hospital when everything was fine just seemed like asking for something to be wrong.
Besides, it’s not as though he was doing it for the right reasons anyway. Being denied the right to mess with the UEF boys just left him restless. Boredom was just as dangerous as anything else out there or so Bagby thought. Maybe if he faked a heart attack in front of one of the new doctors then it would draw a few laughs.
The sound of rapid footsteps caused Bagby to reach forward and stop the door long enough for another passenger to step in. The old SCU pilot instantly recognized General Hall even as the man thanked him. Bagby’s eyes followed Hall’s fingers as it pushed the button to the desired floor while his mind twirled with the thousands of possibilities that were begging him to act. Hall’s age, his mustache, their setting, everything screamed for Bagby to cook up some insane story that would make the whole situation awkward.
The impulse became so overwhelming that Bagby opened his mouth as if to speak, but he managed to close it shut at the last possible moment. He had promised Dostya that he would not do anything to jeopardize their alliance just yet. It was hard, but he was though and he would find a way to…
“There’s no need to be shy,” said Hall while nodding reassuringly: “If you have any questions then feel free to ask me or any other UEF officer, we’ll answer it to the best of our abilities.”
There mere notion of being shy was so alien to Bagby that it left him speechless even as the elevator stopped and Hall stepped out. Bagby waited until the doors closed before lifting his gaze to the ceiling: “Damn it, there’s a limit to how much temptation I can ignore. I hope D appreciates everything that I’m not doing…”
“I’m scared dad!”
The boy’s whimpers resonated through the room, but the father only turned on him furiously: “Well you should have thought of that before running like crazy. Of all the times to break your leg, you had to do it now…”
The argument went on and Ell shook her head in annoyance. Why did they persist in turning this into an all out drama? It was just a broken leg and it would be fixed in no time. Ell motioned for her assistant to prepare the boy just as the elevator door opened. She nodded slightly before speaking: “Welcome, General Hall. I’m Ell.”
Hall walked straight towards her and bowed his head respectfully: “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. How is the boy?”
“Overly panicked, just like his father,” replied Ell while rolling her eyes: “It’s just a broken bone after all. We just reset the pieces, create a small incision, fuse them into place and two hours later he’ll be ready to run again. I wasted more time explaining the procedure than we’ll need to execute it.”
Hall was about to ask if the operation was worth the risk of an infection, but decided not to. This was probably not the time to question Ell’s competence, not when he knew nothing of their medical procedures. He cleared his voice instead and changed the topic: “I would like to know more about this medical facility. More to the point, I would like to know how our own medical personnel will fit and what will happen during an evacuation.”
The Chief medical officer nodded, stepped closer to a terminal and accessed the node’s layout: “Quite frankly, we don’t know how your people will fit into it. We established this medical center on the border between the Cybran and UEF district so that it could be accessible to all. We’re currently working at sixty-eight percent capacity, but I expect that this will change when your people are fully integrated. Our maternity ward will be ready to accommodate your people in the next few hours. I’m not sure that many will volunteer without the necessary prodding, however.”
Hall nodded, but this had only addressed part of his concerns: “What about serious cases; those who are attending surgery or who need long term care? How do they fit in the evacuation protocol?”
Ell’s fingers moved in a blur over the console and the image of a pod appeared on the screen: “Every patient in surgery or for long term care with mobility restrictions rest in these pods. They are equipped with emergency life support and automated response protocols. They will immediately seal themselves during an alert, stabilize the patient and then slide towards a specialized escape pod. If a patient is undergoing surgery then the medical team only has a few minutes to stabilize him prior to departure. As you can guess, we only practice major surgery when the odds of detection are low.”
A sigh of relief escaped Hall despite himself. Ell noticed this and shook her head: “Did you believe that we abandoned our people so easily to save ourselves? You should know better by now.”
Hall was about to offer his apologies when a terrified cry tore through the corridor. The two of them ran towards the source and found the father gesturing frantically towards a viewing window: “What is that thing doing to my son?”
A shudder ran along Hall’s spine despite himself. The boy lay sedated on the table as two dozen insect-like robotic arms reached out towards him, each holding a specialized instrument. The scene made it look as if the room would eat the boy alive, but Ell’s exasperated sigh reminded Hall that it was not the case: “I described the operation at least six times! What was not clear about it?”
“What is that thing?” cried the father as he waved frantically: “Where are the doctors, nurses and all that other stuff?”
Ell’s face screwed up as if she was trying to make sense of it: “Why would we want four or five more sources of contamination in there? Are you praying for an infection? A doctor is controlling all of these which allow him to be more efficient and precise than any human limb could ever hope to be. If we did it manually then it would probably take a few more people to pull it off.”
She turned an annoyed look towards Hall: “Are they all going to be like this?”
Hall had been about to answer, but another scream came from further down the corridor. This time it was a Cybran’s voice and they ran into another room. They found woman standing on top of a surgical pod while waving frantically towards the ground: “Get away, get away!”
They all looked down and Hall had to use all of his training not to smile: “It’s… just a cat.”
“It’s a rat!” screamed the Cybran as she kept waving frantically: “It has fur and a tail; therefore, it’s a rat! Everyone knows that the UEF always had problems with those! It has to be full of diseases! Just look at those insidious eyes and the way that it licks its nose!”
A small eight years old girl brushed against Hall’s leg as she stormed past him: “Kitty!”
She caught the cat, lifted it in her arms and covered it with hugs and kisses, to the horror of the Cybran standing atop the surgical pod. The small girl noticed this and giggled: “You’re funny!”
Hall cleared his voice in embarrassment and turned to Ell, a mild note of irony filling his voice: “Well, I suppose that some cultural shocks are unavoidable.”
The next two days passed without any major incidents, allowing events to proceed according to schedule. Keith, with the help of other Cybrans, trained the first UEF security detail in the use of the Mark-Three pulse rifle. The weapon was designed to emit a localized shockwave that was strong enough to stun a human. This was the only type of firearm allowed in any civilian district. Even then, severe restrictions were placed so that they would only be carried by security personnel while they were on duty.
On the upside, the fact that local security was once more provided by UEF staff had done a lot to stabilize morale. Hall was on his way towards the Node Fifty-Six’s command center while reading a data pad with the rest of the civilians’ complaints. Most were unavoidable such as small and ugly quarters, harsh planetary conditions, communication silence with other UEF colonies and the quality of Cybran processed food. The last complaint reminded Hall of the gel-like substance provided through any distributor. It contained every element that a human body needed, but tasted worse than a month old recycled stew.
Hall lowered the data pad as soon as the doors to the command centered opened and was nearly overwhelmed by the level of activity. Over forty Cybrans were operating all sorts of consoles and speaking at the same time. Those that looked like analysts had at least eight screens, each with data flickering through them at a rapid pace. Hall was still trying to figure out where he was supposed to fit in when Dostya stepped down from a raised platform and handed him a data pad: “We just went through four evacuation exercises in the past day and the highest UEF evacuation rate was ninety-five percent. This basically means that at least three thousand of your civilians were left behind each time. This is unacceptable, General.”
The unexpected verbal assault caused Hall to straighten defensively despite himself: “I’m sure that the local security staff is doing all that it can…”
“The success ratio dropped by two percent in the last exercise,” interrupted Dostya, her gaze as cold as steel: “If this is the best that your people can do then you will have a lot of dead bodies on your hands very soon.”
“You can’t make four exercises in a day and expect people to take them seriously,” argued Hall while handing the data pad back to her: “If they become like a routine then people will treat them as such. It’s just like fire escape drills.”
Dostya cursed in a language that Hall could not understand and he let her vent for a few seconds. She stopped as something suddenly occurred to her. She looked at the room’s main display screens and her gaze settled on the one that exposed their detection probability. Hall followed her gaze and noticed that the number was at four percent.
The Elite Commander nodded and turned back to him without warning: “Then what we need is a fire…”
“I raise you five hundred,” said the cook while caressing his cards. Two of his opponents, an accountant and a human resource manager, looked at their cards and folded. Only the lawyer nodded: “Betting money from a salary that we no longer have is rather pathetic. But I’ll take you on and I’ll even bet my lucky cowboy hat.”
A whistle of appreciation came from all participants who, under normal circumstances, would have never played together. At the moment, they were united by a single and ugly fact: they were all without a job. The Cybrans simply had no use for any of their professions and none had found anything better to do than to play poker. So the men were playing in one apartment while the women were talking and watching over the children in the other. The cook rubbed his chin and smiled: “I think you’re bluffing…”
“Then match my hat with something of your own and prove me wrong,” retorted the lawyer calmly. The cook was still trying to figure out what to do when red lights suddenly flashed through the common area of the apartment. The Lawyer looked up and snorted: “Let’s finish this hand. This is probably just another one of their stupid…”
His words were drowned out by an explosion that rocked the entire building and sent their cards flying off the table. They looked at each other in mute shock just as another explosion hit the building followed by rapid laser fire. Holographic consoles shorted out and a pipe burst in the ceiling, showering the entire room with water. The four men stumbled frantically out of the room and into pure chaos.
Men, woman and children were running in every direction. A few of them were doing what they were supposed to and headed straight for the evacuation pod. Most were first trying to get their packs from their quarters, assemble their children or find missing family members. Panicked screams filled the air, mixed with cries for help or others calling out to their loved ones. A single UEF soldier stood amongst it all and urged anyone that was hesitating in the right direction.
The soldier screamed for a man to slow down as he ran frantically towards the escape pod, slamming into a disoriented woman in the process and sending her crashing head first into a bulkhead. The screams and desperate pleas to hurry only increased when the lights started flashing more quickly, indicating that the evacuation was only a minute away. By then, most of the civilians had reached the escape pod and were busy strapping themselves in while screaming for those left behind to hurry up.
There was no timer to indicate the final countdown and a unified shriek of outrage escaped those in the pod as the door closed, sealing six people outside. Every light suddenly shut down, and the sound of blaster fire outside the building stopped instantly. The doors to the escape pod opened slowly and normal illumination was restored through the level. People looked around in confusion as the sound of someone clapping reached them.
“Congratulations,” said Keith as he stepped around the corner. He turned towards the six that had been trapped outside of the escape pod and shrugged: “If this was real then you would be dead.”
The stunned silence was shortly replaced by cries of relief mixed with outrage. One voice could be heard over the others: “So this was just another test? You guys faked all of this?”
“The lasers and explosives used to attack this building were very real,” said Keith, drawing an immediate silence from the crowd: “The only difference between this attack and a real one is that they were calibrated to only cause moderate structural damage. I don’t think that anyone will argue as to how convincing it was.”
A murmur of protest started rising again, but Keith slammed a fist against the wall: “All of you, shut up! Six of you died here. If this is what happened on every floor then over four thousand of you died because you could not follow a simple procedure. That’s over five percent of your population!”
Keith stormed in front of the first delinquent, a mother holding her son in one arm and a backpack in the other. The latter was so badly shaped that the Commando did not even have to guess at what happened: “If you can’t stand to be separated from something then don’t unpack it! Your life is more important than your kid’s toys!”
The mother cried while holding her child, but Keith was already moving towards the next pair: a teenage boy and girl. He only had to look at their wet hair, clothes, difference in skin pigmentation and the way that they were holding on to each other to figure it out. Keith turned towards evacuation pod and spoke so that everyone could hear: “Are your parents in there?”
The Commando only had to listen to the mixed cries of relief to understand that they were: “Well if any of them are wondering, they were having fun together in the shower. If this is news to either of their families then you might also need to have the whole discussion about you know what!”
An anxious cry escaped the girl, confirming Keith’s theory that she had not told her parents and he turned back towards her: “One thing to keep in mind; you might be tempted to take the time to get dressed so that you don’t have to live down the shame of your parents finding out, but you won’t get to live it down if you’re dead.”
Keith stopped in front of the next person, the soldier who had stayed behind to help everyone else. The man refused to lower his head and his eyes reflected the anger at being tricked in such a way. Keith nodded slowly: “You did what you had to, good work.”
The Commando turned around and addressed those in the escape pod again: “He had to stay behind and keep you relatively organized so that others could live, that’s his job. Had you all been more organized, however, then he would still be alive. If you want to return the favor then do not ask him to die again.”
Keith finally stopped in front of the woman who lay unconscious on the ground. He checked her vital signs first, making sure that she was stable before pressing a button on his wrist computer. He spoke loudly, but not to her: “Escape seat seventy-eight, Mortimer Balding, step out of the escape pod.”
The man’s seatbelts unbuckled automatically and he stepped out of the transport on shaking legs. Keith turned to him and gestured towards the woman: “You panicked and your reckless behavior would have killed her under normal circumstances. You’re staying here with the rest of us.”
The man nodded while shaking, but Keith’s last comment gave birth to a series of protests and questions from the escape pod. The commando lost what remained of his patience and shouted to silence them: “We have not been detected, but the damage done to all of these facilities was real. Our intent to leave this planet was also real. I want you all to take a good look at these people!”
Keith gestured towards those outside the pod before speaking again: “They will all remain here and take the second transport off this Node twenty-five minutes after you escape. Their odds of dying, although still small because we have not been detected, are twenty times higher than yours. Take a good look because there is still the probability that you will never see them again. Look at them well and remember that this is the first and last time that me or anyone else will stay behind to drive the point home. The next time that any of you is stuck outside of an evacuation pod during a red alert, you won’t survive!”
Yellow lights suddenly filled the corridors and five seconds later the escape pod’s door closed.
Dostya tapped her fingers together while watching the video feeds from the command center’s main monitors. She and Hall were the only two people left, the rest having gone in the escape pods as per normal protocol. They had decided to stay behind and make sure that the second wave of the evacuation proceeded as planned. Hall had to take a few steadying breaths before finally daring to speak: “This isn’t right…”
A few moments passed before he dared to step in front of Dostya: “You can’t cross that line ever again, are we clear?”
Dostya stood up slowly, looking at the General with unblinking eyes: “I won’t, but not because you ask it.”
Her fingers moved slowly over her console, shutting down one terminal at a time: “Over four hundred Cybrans stayed behind to monitor your people and drive the point home. I asked them to risk their lives so that your people could awaken from their deluded state. I won’t ask them to do anything like that ever again.”
Hall’s gaze was momentarily drawn towards the monitors as they were shut down, each having displayed the civilians that had been stuck outside of the escape pods. Dostya sighed the moment that they were all closed and looked towards the ceiling: “The next time will be for real… and they will die.”
The UEF General shook his head sadly, his hopes for the future barely hanging by a thread: “There will be riots…”
“Good,” said Dostya as she started walking towards the hangar: “They have to stay alive if they want to complain.”
Chief Medical Officer’s log, X-day + 95.
We have just transferred to another planet for the fourth time since our merge with the UEF colony and I’m happy to report that there were only a few minor injuries compared to our first attempt. The move has also allowed us to increase the size of our medical facilities to accommodate the needs of our new colleagues and their patients. Each side is treating their own people now and they will probably only need our assistance for exceptional cases.
This is a big step and everyone should be happy, but it’s not the case. Tensions are at an all time high and I can’t imagine it changing for the better. I look into their eyes and all I see is resentment, almost as if they were blaming us for all the bad things that are happening to them.
Our standards might be harsh, but they are also responsible for keeping them alive. We are not the ones that allowed their society to evolve up to a point where over sixty percent of their production was dedicated towards services and entertainment. No Cybran is ever going to accept the blame for that and if things do not change soon then this alliance will fall apart.
Ell, Chief Medical Officer of Node Fifty-Six
Flinn’s right leg kicked up three times in quick succession, but each blow was met with a well timed block. The pilot jumped backward while hopping on the tip of his toes and stretched his neck from side to side: “So they tell her that all her banking experience is worthless now, can you believe it? They then hand her a series of data pads concerning signal analysis or something and tell her that it’s her new job!”
He threw another punch, but Weisman ducked out of harm’s way while keeping his guard up: “Uh huh.”
“But that’s nothing compared to my cousin,” said Flinn as he hopped to the side: “She has a crippled leg and you know what they told her? That it’s a good excuse to learn network hacking twice as hard! By their reasoning, if my grandparents were still alive then they would have probably had to work four times as hard because they were old and senile! This is just so …”
Flinn tried to punctuate his latest outburst with a blow, but Weisman caught his arm in a flash and twisted. The younger pilot went flying through the air and landed with such force that it knocked the wind right out of him. Weisman offered him a hand while shaking his head: “You’re distracted.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” groaned Flinn while taking the outstretched hand: “Didn’t you win the tournament two years in a row?”
Weisman helped Flinn back to his feet and readjusted one of his arm protectors. The two of them were sparring in the training room above the ACU hangar. A few other UEF pilots were there as well, either training or merely venting their frustrations against a punching bag. The room was also used by Cybrans, but each faction remained on their side as if by an unspoken agreement.
Kazuo entered the room just then and walked towards them. Weisman noticed this and motioned for Flinn to stop before walking towards him: “Trouble? I thought that we weren’t supposed to go out for another thirty minutes.”
“No trouble,” replied Kazuo instantly while handing him a data pad: “Just some news. As your assigned partner, I decided to vouch in favor of your abilities. After this next scouting mission you will no longer need my direct supervision. You will only depend upon HQ’s orders just like everyone else, congratulations.”
Weisman was surprised by the news and nodded his thanks. So far, only three other pilots including Hall and Desjar had been granted that privilege. Flinn snorted while removing one of his arm protectors: “In my case, Valerie will force me to use training wheels for the rest of my life.”
Kazuo glowered at Flinn, but Weisman moved between the two of them: “I’m sorry; things have been hard on all of us.”
“I understand,” said Kazuo after a few moments: “We’re just as stressed as you are. It’s not really my style, but it kind of makes me wish that we could go on a raid or something.”
The two UEF pilots looked at each other in puzzlement and back at Kazuo: “A raid?”
“Hai,” said Kazuo while shrugging: “It’s the kind of thing that we usually did whenever morale was down or after we lost some of our people. Take a few pilots, target a supply depot and steal as much as we can. It’s not a crippling blow to anyone, but even a minor victory is still a victory.”
Flinn moved past Weisman, his eyes wide and eager: “So you’re telling us that if we pulled off a raid then we could eat something else than the bio sustenance thing?”
Kazuo nodded and Flinn turned to Weisman: “What are we waiting for? Let’s get this thing started!”
It only took an hour for the idea to spread like wildfire and end on Hall’s lap. It was his turn to preside over the command center and he had to open a link to Dostya and Desjar who were out on the field: “I’m not sure that I approve of a whole operation dedicated towards stealing supplies. Its just not what the UEF stands for.”
Desjar nodded while making a few adjustments from his ACU: “I just don’t like the concept of eating Aeon food. Who’s to say that we won’t have to deal with allergy problems?”
“You won’t,” assured Dostya who was several hundred kilometers away: “We have raided UEF and Aeon supply lines in the past. Aeon supplies are not as varied or fattening as UEF rations, but they are tasty and have exceptional nutritional values.”
Hall had been so used to Dostya shooting down any idea that was linked to non essential needs that he was momentarily taken aback that she had not done so. He leaned over his console and lifted and eyebrow: “I thought that the Cybran Nation did not approve of the notion of comfort food.”
“We don’t approve of the time it takes to produce, store and distribute it,” clarified Dostya while lifting a finger: “There are more efficient things to do than to grow a cow to maturity before slashing it to pieces, especially during these desperate times. If a transport of finished goods is passing right in front of us, however, then it’s another story. As long as our security and disinformation efforts are not compromised then I have no objections. It will only earn us a day or two of food for the entire Node, but it would be worth it.”
Hall still did not like the idea of a theft, but he had to admit that a positive form of motivation would be a welcomed change.
The news of the raid spread through the Node the moment that it was approved, leaving most high ranking UEF officers baffled that military information was so easily accessible. Then again, almost every Cybran was more or less involved with the war effort. They, in turn, did not see a point of hiding it from anyone.
When Jessy returned home after a long day of learning signal encoding, she found her the whole floor of her building bustling with excitement. Her neighbor told her the rumor with a wide smile which left Jessy momentarily shocked. A few months ago, the mere thought of stealing would have been the excuse for a protest back on Earth. Being the wife of an ACU pilot, Jessy had always known that many things had been kept from public knowledge in the past.
Now, however, people saw the raid as something else entirely. Some considered it the chance to strike back, others to reclaim what the Seraphim and the Order had stolen from them and a few even saw it as a chance to cement their relations with the Cybrans. The few who felt that the raid was undignified held their tongue, knowing that their views would be unpopular under the circumstances.
For a moment, Jessy wondered if the sudden change of philosophy was because of the Cybrans’ influence, but she shook her head almost immediately. It was nothing but human nature: principles, whether good or bad, tended to waver in the face of an empty stomach. No one had even been remotely tempted to take more then their necessary share of the Cybran’s bio sustenance gel.
The door to Jessy’s quarters opened as soon as she stepped in front of it and she found Melissa sitting in her bedroom while looking at her screen. The girl turned towards her mother for a few seconds and then back at her screen: “He won’t be back. He has to work extra hard for the other pilots in his squad.”
Jessy’s heart contracted painfully for a second, but it was not because of the news that her husband would be late. He was an ACU pilot and she had known from the moment that she had fallen in love with him that it would be hard. No, what worried her was the way that Melissa kept talking about him. Not once since they had joined the Cybrans had she ever called him ‘dad’.
The node worked for the next three days at a near frantic pace with everyone contributing to the global efforts one way or another. The established prerequisites were harsh but fair. They needed at least five UEF pilots fully trained in the art of stealth, a targeted site, a plan and for the node to move prior to the attack. This would ensure that none of their security protocols would be compromised and that everyone would be able to enjoy Aeon supplies for a few days.
What neither Dostya nor Hall had expected was the zeal with which everyone threw themselves into their work. Three possible targets with associated strike plans were ready for evaluation and fourteen of the eighteen UEF pilots completed their training.
The two of them stood in the command center and watched the latest data being forwarded on the main screen. Hall leaned forward on his console and frowned: “I trust that our intelligence concerning the Order is fairly accurate, but what about QAI? How can we be sure that it does not have a base in the area?”
“The Order has been focusing on the UEF and QAI on the Cybran Nation,” said Dostya while bringing a view of the galactic map: “Logically, it might simply be because QAI is more adept at keeping us on the run. Our efforts to spy on Order communications have revealed another possibility. The Order is apparently experiencing a high level of civilian unrest. In that context, mixing QAI’s forces with theirs could complicate that situation.”
Dostya zoomed back on the area of operation and nodded: “The plan is solid and has multiple escape points should the Seraphim show up. It will also take full advantage of UEF and Cybran technology. There are no reasons to hold back.”
For a moment, Hall hesitated not because of the plan, but because of his own moral objections. Dostya noticed this and crossed her arms: “Our attack might slow down the Order for an hour or two. It’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something that will benefit the rest of the UEF as well.”
“I know,” replied Hall while taking a deep breath: “But just because I can rationalize it does not mean that part of me won’t regret hitting a civilian complex. Let’s just do our best to keep human casualties to a minimum.”
Dostya nodded and opened a channel: “Operation Mongoose is now live. All pilots; prepare to gate in two minutes.”
The countdown appeared on Flinn’s screen and he smiled in excitement: “Finally! I’m going to get some decent food tonight!”
Weisman’s face appeared on his screen and frowned: “You’d better not be distracted again. I don’t want you to die while I’m placing decoy emitters to cover your tracks.”
“Don’t worry,” assured Flinn while keeping his gaze on the countdown: “I have two very good reasons not to screw this up: my stomach and the fact that Valerie will get back at me if I do.”
The squad’s second in command shook his head: “This is no joking matter.”
“I wasn’t kidding either,” retorted Flinn while plotting a course towards the quantum gate: “She promised to carve my butt if I messed up so that I would feel it for weeks. She also clarified that it was not a figure of speech either. I can tell you one thing about Cybrans from the Assumpta Node: they may not be the best teachers, but they are good motivational speakers.”
Dawn was still several hours away on Lyra One. The planet’s surface had once been home to one of the biggest UEF agricultural centers in the galaxy. Its quantum gates had operated non stop, supplying the core worlds with an abundance of grains, dried fruits and textiles used in every day products. Some of those exports had also been the key to manufacture the supplies that the UEF had used on the battlefield.
Now, all traces of the once great agricultural network had been erased by the Order of the Illuminate, giving the local fauna a chance to reclaim the lands that had been exploited for centuries. The Order had only settled some of the most fertile lands for their own needs and those were being exploited by specially designed facilities.
The night air was peaceful over the forest eighty kilometers away from one such facility. The only trace of activity was the occasional burst of lights coming from the fireflies that were buzzing around. That changed when two waves of energy surged forth, burning the entire area in seconds. Kazuo and Valerie did not speak as they went to work, building the necessary infrastructures that were part of the first phase of the plan. It took them twelve minutes to build a fully operational base complete with a quantum nexus. They then sent stealth spy planes followed by transports loaded with deceivers.
Information was a rare and valuable commodity, but in a war ruled by ACUs, it was also something that changed constantly. The raid was meant to be a short one and having a pilot gate too close to a newly built enemy base or sensor station could transform it into a long battle that they could not afford. Fortunately for them, the spy planes confirmed that their information was valid and Valerie transmitted a single burst through the quantum network to send the next phase of the plan into motion.
The transports carrying deceivers hovered over each of the three entry point as one UEF ACU gated in after the other. They then landed and provided the necessary stealth fields while those bases were being built twenty kilometers away from their target. Desjar just finished his initial build queue and then opened a tight transmission to the other two Cybran pilots: “What did you find?”
“Nothing unexpected,” replied Kazuo who was busy building other quantum gates: “We had our spy planes alter course a few times to avoid enemy units. Everything is proceeding according to plan.”
The data was transmitted to Desjar screen and he fast forwarded through the replay of the past twelve minutes. Something bugged him for a split second and he viewed the replay again, slowing it down when it reached its seventh minute. His eyes focused on the lone unidentified ship that the spy planes had detected and avoided: “Hold off the attack; we need to prolong the mission by five minutes. We’ll assure our own air defense during the engagement instead of using your air force.”
“Every minute that we delay is a risk,” said Kazuo, his face becoming darker: “There is nothing in that data suggesting that there is something more dangerous than…”
Desjar cut him off and transmitted the sensor data that had caught his eye: “Look at that speed. It’s not the speed of a tier three spy plane but of a tier one scout plane. We’re not dealing with a veteran Order Commander like we originally planned. The fact that she is using tier one units suggests that they have not unlocked all of her blueprints just yet.”
There was no way to confirm that information without a visual scan, but if it proved to be true then it could very well enhance their odds of success. Desjar’s mind sprinted through the possibilities and he leaned forward eagerly: “Can you guys fake a transmission? Can you make it appear as though we’re destroying that entire agricultural center?”
Kazuo’s face screwed up in confusion and Valerie was the one to respond: “If you can capture the settlement’s main transmission array and then transfer it to us, yes.”
“Good, then stay out of the fight for now, keep building air units and await my signal,” said Desjar while relaying new instructions to Flinn and Carmack: “With a bit of luck, we’ll kill two birds with one stone.”
There were over a hundred workers in the facility; each of them holding a position with a very specific purpose. Growing food could be fully automated through machines, but for a believer in The Way, doing so was nearly unthinkable. Every living organism had needs and fulfilling those created a distinction between surviving and thriving.
Crops were no exception to that rule, having different requirements due to the soil, sunlight, atmospheric composition and more. As such, an agricultural facility still needed farmers, biologists, genetic engineers, chemists and more. The end result was a crop that would not only be used in the creation of rich and healthy food, but also in an exploitation that would not harm the local environment in the long run. Working in such a place was for the men and women whose souls were too gentle to directly participate in the war. This did not imply that the war would not come looking for them.
Alarms suddenly flashed through the complex as UEF troops appeared out of nowhere. The surprise attack destroyed the few automated anti-air defenses with calculated precision, leaving the settlement wide open for the transports that followed. Mech Marines, Titans and Engineers were quickly unloaded, destroying all forms of resistance and capturing each building. There was simply no time to escape or hide, the UEF was there.
“Enemy forces are being mobilized west of our position,” said Carmack while forwarding the sensor data to everyone else: “The enemy Commander is forming battle lines. If everything goes as predicted then her main forces will reach us in four minutes.”
Desjar nodded and turned to Valerie: “We just captured their main transmission array. Do it!”
The Assumpta assassin nodded and began transmitting on an Order frequency. Each pilot looked at their side screen from the corner of their eye as the simulation played forth. The image showed Mech Marines as they marched down the streets, shooting everything that they could find and leaving burning buildings behind them. The voice of a terrified Illuminate civilian followed: “… we are under attack. We will not survive much longer, please help us!”
A group of fleeing civilians suddenly surged forth from a burning building and tried to run towards cover. One Mech Marine turned and fired, each machine gun bullet tearing through flesh and sending body parts flying in all directions. Flinn’s face paled on Desjar screen and he shook his head: “Man… are you guys sure that this is just a simulation? Can our Mech Marines really do that?”
“It’s their default behavior if configured to their highest aggressively setting,” replied Valerie, her voice completely impassive: “This extrapolation was based on actual battle data.”
Desjar refrained from asking about the origin of the data and focused on his tactical screen. Sure enough, the Order Commander troops suddenly broke rank, sending every land and air uint that she had to try and save her people. Had she known about the Cybran’s stealth air force in the area then she would never have done something so reckless. Desjar’s face darkened and he turned towards Kazuo and Valerie: “Now’s your chance!”
Stealth strategic bombers and air superiority fighters flew onward without any further prompting, slipping between the disorganized army and the base’s defenses; catching the enemy ACU off guard. The first pass collapsed the enemy’s personal shields and forced it to its knees. The bombers flew in for a second pass before the ACU could recover and the sky soon lit up with a bright explosion.
Flinn and Carmack cheered, but Desjar quickly turned to them: “Let’s continue according to plan. We capture as much as we can and leave in four minutes. Let’s get off this rock before any enemy reinforcements can catch us.”
Everyone acknowledged and the engineers that had infiltrated the settlement went to work, capturing cargo containers that had been meant for the Order’s war efforts and carrying them to the waiting transports. Desjar accessed one of the Mech Marine’s visual sensors on a whim, confirming that no major damage had been done to the settlement’s civilian structures.
A sneer formed on his face as he considered a very simple fact. Had the positions been reversed then the Illuminate would have undoubtedly cleansed the settlement instead of just pretending to do so. He would not sink so low, however, because unlike them, he was not a monster.
A few hours later, Desjar stood upon the suspended walkway overlooking the rest of the hangar with a cup in one hand. His men were below, unloading Order supplies and putting them on a moving rack that would lead them to an automated analyzer. The Cybran designed robot had two dozen arms, each equipped with a needle capable taking the smallest of samples and analyzing them for toxins and poisons. Neither the Aeon Illuminate nor the Order had ever used such a tactic, but the Cybran Nation would take no chance in that regard.
The laughter coming from below brought a sad smile to Desjar face and he was so absent minded that he was startled when Hall came besides him: “It’s kind of strange that despite all of our technology, both the UEF and the Cybrans prefer to unload the cargo by hand.”
“I think it’s to make it real,” said Desjar while relaxing once more: “We spend so much time directing our forces from the safety of our ACUs without ever touching anything after all. This victory might be a small one, but actually touching these supplies makes everyone realize that we did it for something.”
Hall nodded in agreement and pointed towards Desjar’s cup: “I take it that this is one of their non-alcoholic ciders that I heard about? Is it good?”
“I have no idea,” replied Desjar while playing with the cup absentmindedly: “I just took it so that my men wouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying the spoils. They deserve the right to celebrate without worrying about me.”
“There’s nothing keeping you from enjoying this day either, Commander,” said Hall while gesturing below: “You worked just as hard as any of them; harder even. Even Dostya asked me to transmit her congratulations to you and we both know that she does not give them lightly. You shouldn’t feel any guilt at taking some pleasure from this victory.”
Desjar shook his head, his gaze distant: “I don’t need stolen rations to feel any better. We killed an Order Commander today. That’s more than I could have ever wished for.”
The statement was grim, but Hall knew that it was not the only reason that Desjar refused to eat or drink the stolen goods. His hatred of the Illuminate was personal and no amount of fighting would ever fix that. Desjar noticed Hall’s intense gaze and deflected his concerns: “Something was wrong with today’s setup. I fought them for a long time and I never once encountered a newbie Aeon Commander without a high ranking pilot to guide her. We got lucky.”
Hall nodded, willing to respect Desjar’s privacy: “We’ll keep an eye out for that. Maybe with time, the explanation will present itself.”
The two of them stood silently and their gaze was inevitably drawn to Flinn who seemed to be the happiest of them all. Not only had he freed himself from Valerie’s tutelage through hard work, but he was now the Robin Hood of the common man.
“Hey guys, check it out!” said Flinn while brandishing a box with strange markings on it: “Aeon makeup! If any of you guys had a secret fantasy then this will be the perfect item to role play tonight!”
A chorus of merry laughter resounded through hangar and Flinn raised both hands to catch everyone’s attention: “Let me see if I can find a dress to go along with it!”
The pilot eagerly ran back inside the container, moving over boxes containing food to search for the hidden loot behind them: “I got something! Hey guys, this feels as soft as satin! Whoever’s taking it home for his wife or girlfriend will be one lucky guy in the morning!”
Someone made a lewd whistling sound which brought another round of laughter. Flinn’s voice kept coming from deep within the container: “Talk about a full set, is that a wig?”
Something came crashing down and everyone looked towards the container as Flinn stumbled out in a hurry: “Breach!”
Pilots and technicians reacted instantly, jumping behind supply crates while drawing their weapons and aiming them at the container. Desjar was already moving, letting his cup fall to the ground while sprinting towards his ACU. He jumped in the cockpit as soon as he reached it, initiated an emergency startup and locked on to the cargo container: “Everyone stay down!”
Blue lasers fired from the ACU, disassembling the top portion of the cargo container in a few seconds and leaving it open for him to scan. His eyes widened in shock when he saw a woman draped in Aeon robes shielding a girl with her body. She looked up at the ACU in horror, her mouth moving in a silent prayer.
Bagby sat on top of a crate in one of the Cybran hangar, pouring a mixture of Aeon Cider and Cybran Minerva Swamp in the same glass. He looked at the cocktail with a critical eye and sniffed it twice before taking a sip with his eyes closed. A shudder ran through his entire body and his eyes popped open: “Well… now I know for sure that some things don’t mix. Then again, maybe it’s just an acquired taste!”
Keith, Sjet and Queren suddenly surged past him and the old pilot raised and eyebrow: “What’s going on?”
“Two Aeon women in the UEF’s cargo!” cried Sjet without slowing down. Bagby was surprised by the answer and slapped his knee while grumbling: “Damn it, why do the new guys get all the cool stuff?”
The old pilot looked down at his improvised drink and then shouted towards the running Commandos: “Hey! Mind asking them if they want to make a trade?”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 16 Aug, 2008, edited 5 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
For some reason, I always believed that I was beyond something so petty. I could talk, drink, laugh and cheer with any other person no matter their sex, skin color, origin, belief or accent. Whenever I saw a protest on the news concerning one form of discrimination or another, a small part of me always felt a measure of pride at not being part of the problem.
I managed to keep a hold of these principles even during the Infinite War. Yes, sometimes I was angry with the Cybran Nation and the Aeon Illuminate. Why wouldn’t I be? I lost friends during the war. Some of them died to the Aeon’s zeal, others to Cybran ambushes and a few even fell because of our own bureaucratic incompetence. I mourned their loss, but it was part of the job and the wounds healed in time.
When I thought that Arnold was dead, I believed that I had lost a mentor, a friend and a family member all at once. I was devastated, but I was willing to carry forward and fight both for my sake and his. It was only later that I realized that he had not been lost, but stolen. I saw him in their uniform, piloting one of their ACUs, speaking their words and fighting against the men and woman that he had defended all of his life.
He later died in the name of something that I did not understand and at the hands of those that had captured him. When the Aeon Illuminate took him from me, they managed to tear off something precious; something that was part of the very foundation of my being. I hate them because of it.
Now I look at the cowering Order civilian below me, and I have difficulty seeing her frightened gaze for what it is. I see the green robes, the silver hair and clear eyes that stole Arnold from me… and a part of me wishes that she would give me an excuse to fire.
Is it an irrational prejudice? There is no denying it and yet if I must be honest with myself, I must admit that I do not care. No amount of rationalization will heal the wound that their kind has inflicted upon me.
Major General Desjar
Dostya stormed through the corridor while speaking in her transmitter: “Check everything and then check it again. I want a new evaluation of our stealth measures, I want our ACUs and the stolen cargo to be scanned for any possible contaminants that could be used to trace them and I want our patrols doubled. I want all of this right now!”
The doors to the hangar’s observation deck opened as soon as she stepped into range and she gazed at the scene below. The two Order captives had been cuffed and were being restrained against the ground by Keith’s team. The rest of the UEF’s personnel were still standing around which caused Dostya to swear in Russian. She pressed a button to the side of the window, activating the hangar’s speaker: “Every pilot who is not in an ACU should move out of that hangar this instant!”
She then noticed that Desjar’s ACU was active and still aiming its main laser at the prisoners: “Commander Desjar, a security detail is on its way. Guard the area until they take them away.”
Dostya then turned her gaze towards Keith who was busy inspecting the cargo container: “Keith, report.”
The doors behind Dostya opened and Hall stepped in the observation deck just as Keith activated his transmitter: “There’s a torn layer of plastic shielding separating a small section of the cargo container. My guess is that it effectively masked their bio signatures, making it impossible to distinguish them from the supplies as long as they didn’t move too much. From what the UEF personnel has told me, it appears as though Flinn tore the shielding while searching for other supplies and accidentally stumbled on them. They had no weapons or any electronic devices on them.”
“Order refugees?” questioned Hall, but Dostya raised a finger to stop him while speaking to Keith: “Bring them to our restraining facility and have Ell perform a deep scan. I want them ready for interrogation within the hour.”
She closed the transmitter and turned towards Hall: “I don’t want any ACU pilot near a cargo container until further notice. Every supply box will be thoroughly analyzed before we even think of distributing them to the rest of the population.”
“Agreed,” said Hall while looking through the window. The General hesitated a second before speaking again: “I want to be there when the interrogation begins.”
The request surprised Dostya and she initially shook her head: “You are an ACU pilot as well, General. A copy of the report will be forwarded to you. Your time would be better spent elsewhere instead of overseeing this.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” replied Hall while rubbing his chin: “Both the UEF and the Cybran Nation were warned of the Seraphim threat by rebellious pilots of the Illuminate. If our captives are in any way related to that movement then this might be a good opportunity to contact them.”
Desjar’s finger remained over the button that would fire the ACU’s weapons until the prisoners were carried away. Only then did he allow himself to take a deep breath to calm his nerves. Part of him had wanted to fire and erase any trace of their existence. It had not been his call to make, however, no matter how he felt.
It took Desjar a few moments to perform a maintenance check and power down his ACU. When he stepped out, he was momentarily surprised to find a Cybran leaning against the rail of the suspended walkway as if he was enjoying the spectacle below. Desjar had crossed a lot of Cybrans during his time here, but he had not met that one before. Somehow, there was something about him that seemed oddly familiar. His mismatched suit identified him as a pilot and yet he was at least over sixty years old.
The Cybran noticed him just then and turned around with one of the Order’s ration bars hanging from his mouth. Desjar’s gaze was momentarily drawn to the other four bars in the pilot’s hands and it appeared as though he was busy tasting one after the other. The two of them just stared at each other for a moment as Desjar struggled to remember where he had met that pilot before. His mind was still filled with thoughts of their prisoners, however, and he found himself shrugging it off.
For a moment, it appeared as though the Cybran pilot was about to say something, but he apparently realized that talking would be a bit hard with a ration bar hanging from his mouth. He instead fetched another one from his back pocket and presented it to Desjar. The UEF pilot barely looked at it and shook his head: “No thanks.”
Bagby watched Desjar leave the other way while chewing his meal. He gulped the remaining third of it in one grotesque mouthful before burping loudly: “Well, that’s interesting.”
The old pilot then moved on to this next ration bar as if nothing had happened.
Ten minutes later, Keith stood in the control room overlooking one of the prisoners with Ell by his side. The oldest of their captive was strapped to a chair which restrained any type of movement. The Commando looked at the eight screens which displayed the room from multiple angles and sighed loudly: “This is going to be a long night.”
The door opened just then and Keith turned around in surprise as Hall stepped through: “General, there is no need for you to be here. Every piece of information that we manage to extract will be forwarded to HQ as soon as we have it.”
“I have no doubt that it will,” said Hall while stepping into the room: “However, I would like a chance to speak with the prisoner first.”
“Either interrogation or discussion will have to wait until I’m done,” interrupted Ell while pressing a buttons on her console: “We need to make sure that she was not purposely placed aboard that container as some kind of biological weapon. It was never the Aeon Illuminate’s style to do something like this, but we don’t know how much they changed since they transformed into the Order. I’m beginning the scan.”
A machine suddenly dropped down from the ceiling in the prisoner’s room and began circling her while performing a number of scans. Ell looked at the data on her screen and spoke to both men: “Human female, approximately twenty-six years old. Scans reveal no physical anomalies. Life signs are good as expected by a member of the Illuminate. Musculoskeletal system is well formed, but lacks the distinctive marks or injuries left by intensive physical training. It does not seem as though she is part of the Order’s military.”
A small appendage suddenly surged from the machine and plunged into the captive’s arm, drawing a startled cry from her. It retracted almost immediately, its small needle allowing a single drop of blood to fall to the ground. Another wave of data appeared on the screen and Ell nodded: “Blood analysis underway. Her antibodies and genetic markers match the general configuration expected from a member of the Illuminate. There are no traces of diseases which are historically associated to the UEF, so she is not a convert.”
Something appeared to bother Ell and she looked at the data on another screen: “The tests on the other prisoner were done before you got here, General. I’m comparing their DNAs now and it looks like my hunch was correct; they are sisters.”
Hall rubbed his moustache and nodded: “Impressive work. Can you tell me anything else?”
The Chief Medical Officer shook her head and Hall nodded in appreciation. He then started walking towards the door that would lead him to the interrogation room. Keith immediately jumped in alarm: “Hold it! You can’t go in there!”
“Why not?” said Hall while turning around. The Commando sighed and scratched the back of his head: “Listen, General. I’m not putting your skills as a leader or pilot in question, but interrogating someone from the Illuminate is another thing entirely. I’ve seen kids lie more skillfully than any of them, but their lack of deception is balanced out by a keen insight into the human psyche. If your body language is even remotely out of sync with your words then she will pick it up. In other words, if you say that you’ll torture her and not mean it then she’ll know. You can’t play good cop, bad cop with one of their kind.”
Keith then pointed towards the console: “If you want to keep her off balanced then you should use this console. It will scramble the tone of your voice and you’ll be able to control the room’s mechanical arms if you want to drive a point home. Trust me, there’s nothing more disturbing to them than to be unable to pick up non-verbal components.”
“I understand,” said Hall while acknowledging with a nod: “I have spoken with Aeon prisoners in the past, however, and I think that there might be another approach to this. Let me see if I can get something on my own. If not, then I won’t stand in your way as you try to extract information out of her.”
Keith did not object any further and Hall stepped inside the interrogation room. Ell looked at the Commando and raised an eyebrow: “I’m surprised that you did not try to stop him again.”
“If he knows a way to get some information out of her then I’ll give him his chance,” said Keith while looking away: “Besides, the alternative is usually to let someone from the Assumpta Node do it. We both know how that usually ends. ”
Ranez half ran, half stumbled through the swamp without daring to look back. She did not know how she had ended up here; she only knew that she was in grave danger. One moment she had fallen asleep in her quarters back on Matar only to awaken here. Her groggy state had indicated that she had most likely been drugged, but what she could not figure out was by who and why. She was only an Oracle in training and it made no sense for anyone to abduct her.
A misstep caused Ranez to stumble forward and she barely caught herself in time. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and tried to analyze her environment. She was walking through ankle deep water and the nearby skeletal trees restricted her movements. They also made it impossible to get a good view of the sky which meant that she could not figure out where she was by looking at the stars. The air smelled heavily of decay as if the environment was constantly struggling to survive.
The entire setting was highly disturbing to the young Oracle, but at least it gave her a clue as to where she was. From the looks of things, it appeared as though she was on a planet where the terraforming efforts had either failed or had suddenly stopped. There were only a few of those in the galaxy and if she could get a good view of the stars then she might be able to figure out where she was.
Ranez eyes darted side to side and she spotted a section of land that could potentially lead her up a small cliff. She ran towards it with renewed hope, determined to find a way off the planet. A shadow in her path suddenly shifted and she barely had the time to blink before she felt a wave of pain course through her leg. Ranez fell face first in the muddy waters and momentarily choked as she reflexively gasped in pain. She lifted her head back to the surface and coughed loudly while twisting on her back.
The first thing that she saw once she rubbed her eyes was the person that she had previously mistaken for a shadow. She was young, probably sixteen or seventeen years old, and she was aiming some kind of a sword straight at her. Pain forced Ranez to look down at her leg and she immediately noticed the cauterized slash that had sliced through her muscles and most likely part of her femur. Ranez looked back at her aggressor while crawling backwards: “Why are you doing this? What do you want?”
The young woman did not answer and merely stepped forward through the water. Her eyes clearly reflected her intention to kill and Ranez found herself panicked by the lack of any pity in them: “Please do not do this; I have not done anything to you! Just find it within yourself to grant me mercy and let me go.”
The words forced the young woman to pause and for a second, Ranez thought that she could reach her. She could almost feel her aggressor look deep inside herself and search for the truth of her words. Ranez’s hopes vanished when those remorseless eyes looked at her again. There was no more sign of pity in them than there had been a second ago. She raised her hand defensively and a whisper escaped her: “No…”
The blade slashed forward, slicing off her hand and leaving her chest wide open for the following downward thrust. It pierced Ranez’s heart before her brain even registered the loss of her hand. What caught Ranez’s attention during her last precious moments was her aggressor’s eyes as they gazed right through her. They showed no remorse and they did not look away in guilt. The entire world darkened and Ranez collapsed shortly after.
Megan pulled back her plasma blade and allowed the blood and water to evaporate along its edge before strapping it on her back. She then reached down and grabbed the corpse, taking special care to grasp the severed appendage before dragging it away. The planet was deserted and there was therefore no point in trying to impress anyone by displaying the body somewhere. There was still the chance of it revealing their presence, however, but she solved that problem by dumping the body in a puddle of quicksand not too far away.
A few moments passed as Megan made sure that the body would sink. She was not surprised to find Redfog waiting nearby when she turned around and their gazes locked for a few seconds. Megan finally shrugged and walked past him as she headed towards their camp: “If you want to test me then at least make it interesting by getting me someone that can fight back. Anything else is just a waste of time.”
Redfog did not object as his apprentice moved past him and waited until she was gone before smiling. Yes, he had captured the Order Oracle specifically because she was a non-combatant. He had wanted to see if Megan would be capable of killing someone that was no match for her.
The leader of the Assumpta Node was not worried at all that she had taken the time to listen to the Oracle’s pleas. She could have dispatched her opponent more quickly of course, but that would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. To kill someone quickly was the mark of a good tool or weapon. To face everything that an opponent represented and to emerge both victorious and undiminished was a trait that one needed to become the next Redfog.
Of course time was still a factor and Redfog pressed a button to access the latest report on his wrist computer. His eyes scanned through each word carefully and he then nodded to himself. Yes, there was still time for him to train his apprentice. Everything was still perfectly under control.
The door opened and both Hall and Desjar stepped inside the laboratory. Dostya was already there, making a few adjustments to a console before walking towards them. The whole scene would not have disturbed either of the UEF pilots had the console not been next to a transparent tank that held a human brain. Desjar cleared his voice while looking at the array of instruments that surrounded them: “Any particular reason that we could not do this at HQ?”
“I have recently returned,” said a voice that made both Hall and Desjar twirl around in surprise. The hologram of Doctor Brackman smiled innocently, an unimposing figure wearing outdated clothes in the middle of a room filled with high tech equipment: “I wanted to get the chance to finally meet the two of you in person and hear General Hall’s report in person. I thought that it would be interesting, oh yes.”
Dostya stepped closer and extended a hand: “Doctor Brackman, this is General Hall and Major General Desjar. Gentlemen, meet Doctor Brackman.”
It took a second for Hall to recover and finally nod in greeting: “Well met. I take it that you are not really here; for security purposes I mean?”
“Oh, I am here,” said the Doctor while first pointing at himself and then at the floating brain: “Or rather over there. It is all a matter of perspective, really. We did ask you to leave your weapons at the entrance of this building for security purposes, however.”
Both Hall and Desjar looked repeatedly from the brain to the hologram and the Doctor gave them a few moments before nodding encouragingly: “You had something to report concerning our new guests, General?”
Hall took a steadying breath and nodded: “Our two captives were apparently being transported through an underground network so that they could escape the Order. They were trying to reach a splintered faction of the Illuminate known as the Loyalists. This faction is led by a pilot known as Crusader Rhiza. She was the one that warned the UEF of the Seraphim’s involvement nearly two months ago. They have been waging guerilla warfare against the Order ever since in the name of their Princess.”
“It seems a bit too convenient for me,” interrupted Desjar while shaking his head: “We just happen to face a newbie commander and accidentally find two refugees in a cargo container. How can that be coincidence?”
“Chief Medical Officer Ell monitored us while we spoke,” countered Hall, his gaze unwavering: “Heart rate, breathing and brain wave patterns all indicated that she was telling the truth. It’s either that or the Order managed to completely change their mentality from The Way in order to become liars without peers.”
The mention of The Way caused Desjar to frown, but it was Doctor Brackman who spoke next: “Interesting, very interesting. Did she say why she wanted to escape the Order?”
Hall nodded while raising a hand: “Her brother was apparently the one assigned to guard the settlement. Two weeks ago, a Seraphim came to inspect the planet and he accidentally scanned its base with a spy plane. He was later arrested and taken away on suspicion of being a Loyalist agent. A few days ago, members of the Order’s Inquisition started inspecting the settlement while looking for copies of those scans. Our two captives feared for their lives and when the opportunity to escape presented itself, they took it.”
“Did they have a copy of those scans?” interrupted Dostya in a flash. Hall shook his head slightly: “She neither confirmed nor denied that part so there’s no way to be sure. However, both the Order and the Loyalists took a vivid interest in them. Since they do not have the scans with them, it is possible that they managed to give it to the Loyalists first.”
“But we have no tangible proof,” observed Desjar. Hall nodded immediately: “Which is why I’m suggesting that we try to track down and contact the Loyalists.”
The declaration left an awkward silence in the room and Hall waited a few seconds before continuing: “We have much to gain if we ally with them; allies, pilots, information and technology. What’s even more important is that members of the Order are defecting to the Loyalist movement. The Order is composed of those that are the closest to the Seraphim and as such, they are our best information lead. The key to unlock Seraphim technology could reside in an accidental scan or in the mind of one of their scientists. Allying with the Loyalists might be our best option under the circumstances.”
“With all due respect, General,” began Desjar while shaking his head: “We still have a lot of work to do here. We are slowly getting up to speed thanks to the help of the Cybran Nation, but once that’s done then we still have the rest of the UEF to train. Can we truly afford to ally with the Loyalists in the middle of it all?”
“We might not have to,” said Doctor Brackman, drawing every set of eyes back to him: “Guerilla warfare is something that the Aeon Illuminate has not done often during the Infinite War, oh no. The Cybran Nation has the technology to quickly become self sufficient anywhere and the UEF has available supplies thanks to the efforts of their colonies. It stands to reason that the Loyalists could potentially be low on food and medical equipment. If that is the case then we might be able to trade those for information.”
“But do we want to help them?” asked Desjar, determined to make his point: “The Illuminate routinely practiced genocide against the UEF and the Cybran Nation, no matter who was in charge.”
“That changed on Eridani,” said Hall. Desjar turned a puzzled look towards the General who shook his head slightly: “The incident was kept off record by order of President Riley, but the Princess’ Champion was responsible for saving our colony there. She protected it from one of her own and from a UEF pilot who thought that she was trying to convert the citizens. She then left and the citizens are alive even to this day.”
“Curious, most curious,” Said Doctor Brackman while pacing the room slowly: “If we are talking about the same pilot then she also spared a Node on Procyon. It appears as though the Princess’ actions were in tune with her words even prior to the day of Black Sun. If the Loyalists are following the same philosophy then this might be interesting, oh yes.”
Dostya stepped next to a console and typed a few queries: “If the Loyalist movement is still small then it could stay hidden on numerous worlds around or even in Order space. Tracking them will not be easy, but we can take for granted that they are not too far from the planet from which our captives tried to escape. We should start immediately before the trail gets any colder.”
“You and your people should get some rest, oh yes,” said Brackman while looking at the two UEF commanders: “Take what time you can to enjoy your victory. Tomorrow, the search begins.”
Hall and Desjar stood together in the elevator that would lead them out of the research facility and the General waited a few seconds before speaking: “You seemed reluctant to accept the notion of an alliance with the Loyalists.”
“I am and you know why, General,” replied Desjar without hesitation. Hall nodded slowly, but he could not let the conversation end there: “I need to know if this is going to be a problem.”
“I’m a UEF Commander,” said Desjar, chewing on the words as though they left a sour taste in his mouth: “I don’t always like the reality in front of me, but I learned a long time ago that we either work with it or get killed. If you say that the best way to win is to ally with the Loyalists then I’ll follow you. I’ll fight by their side, help them, take their input and even nod politely if I cross one of them in a corridor. I’ll do everything that is required of me to win this war and protect my family.”
Desjar turned his head and looked at Hall from the corner of his eye: “But I’ll never be friends with any of them nor invite one into my home. Should they ever make an attempt to convert me, one of my men or any of our citizens then they’ll go back home in an ambulance. That’s where I draw the line.”
Hall nodded in understanding: “If the day ever comes that we ally with them then I’ll make sure that it will be crystal clear.”
The elevator stopped and Desjar allowed some of his frustration to drain away: “Thank you, sir.”
Fleeing in the rain
Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? It is? Oh, well that explains the red light. Ahem, let me just collect my thoughts for a moment. I know that a lot of people like to record their deep thoughts, anxieties and philosophies, but quite frankly I find it all boring if not depressing. So in my spare time, I decided to record something that could actually be useful for future generations. Now pay attention kids: this is a bar!
Since the dawn of humanity, we have always felt the need to relax and get drunk in one fashion or another. It’s a good way to open up and maybe get stupid enough to actually talk about stuff that matters or ask a girl out. Now as you know, we Cybrans are all about efficiency and we had to make a few sacrifices to keep this place open wherever we went. First of, only someone who got kicked in the head or was born retarded can be our barman. We have to use them somewhere and this is as good a place as any.
Hey Bob, nice to see you! Hey! Would you stop cursing at me like that? It’s going to be a pain to edit it out of my video. Your name’s not Bob? Oh well, I’ll call you Bob anyway. I just like that name; it’s easy to remember.
Oh and speaking of sacrifices, we only get to make Minerva Swamp these days. It’s easy enough to brew, but it’s kind of weird to make it when you’re not on Minerva. It tastes like crap, but it will get the job done. Did you know that they added calcium and vitamin supplements to the drink? I’m not kidding! It’s the irony of getting wasted and healthy at the same time, hah! I’m sure that a few people on Earth thought about it, but somehow no one ever had the balls to market it. Too bad for them.
Oh and this little thing right here is the sobriety pill dispenser. If there’s an emergency, you press the button, swallow those and prepare for a wicked kick to your system. The worst is mainly a lot of sweating and pissing. Now if you drink responsibly then you won’t find yourself leaving a wet trail as you run to your ACU or SCU. Believe me; I speak from experience.
Well that’s it for today! My next lesson will be Cybran speed dating: how not to end up with a psycho! Have fun out there kids!
The one, the only, the legendary Bagby… could someone tell me how to shut that darn recording thing off?
X-day + 110…
‘Don’t worry; your father will be back soon’
Melissa remembered her mother’s words as she walked down the street. It has been a week since her father had left on his mission and it seemed as though he would never come back. Not that it mattered anyway. Even when he was home he was never truly there.
She kicked a stone as she walked, thankful that this new world had an atmosphere that allowed her to move on the upper streets. At a first glance, the living conditions were not as far removed from Earth and the blue sky was refreshing. Of course, all of that was offset by the unpredictable weather patterns and violent storms that raged every few hours. Class two tornadoes were a common occurrence and required near constant maintenance from the mechanical engineers that prowled the streets.
A spy plane suddenly flew above the city and Melissa’s gaze was momentarily drawn to the sky. She saw it for a second, but her gaze lingered on a the top of a nearby building. Was it her imagination or had she just seen a weird reflection on top of it? It was almost like in one of those movies when light reflected on the scope of a sniper’s rifle.
Melissa looked around nervously and quickened her pace towards the complex that was used as a school; the feeling of being watched increasing with every step.
Rhiza took a bite from her ration bar and chewed it slowly from the relative comfort of her ACU. It was not the taste that bothered her; the Illuminate had long ago specialized in making food that was nutritional, compact, easy to preserve and with a myriad of flavors. What bothered her was that there were so few of them left. Over a week has passed since their secret smuggling route had been destroyed and their supplies were running dangerously low.
The pilot looked at her meal thoughtfully for a few seconds and sighed. She then folded the remaining half and placed it back in her side pocket. She knew that she was not supposed to do that. An ACU pilot could not afford to have her reflexes slowed down because she was not eating properly. Right now, however, her soul would feel more appeased if she did her part like everybody else.
Going through her daily routine would be the best way to keep her mind off her stomach and she moved with determination. She first picked up her makeup kit, ignoring the fact that it was two third empty and applying it on her face so that her onboard instruments would be able to read her movements more easily. Rhiza looked at her reflection in the small mirror and was slightly appalled that she had not found the time to cut her hair in months. Under normal circumstances, acolytes would have seen to such simple needs upon her return to Seraphim Two, but that would be impossible as long as the Illuminate was trapped in Kael’s clutches.
Thalia’s face appeared on her monitor just then and her eyes gleamed urgently as she spoke: “We have just detected a UEF base sixty kilometers away from our position. Early scans suggests that the pilot has been there for at least twelve minutes. We have no idea how he stayed hidden for so long. What should we do?”
Rhiza frowned while looking at the data that was being forwarded to her. Twelve minutes was a long time, enough to have fully operational base and launch an assault. Had the UEF’s tactics changed? The speed and secrecy with which they operated seemed almost Cybran in nature.
She was just about to order an evacuation when Thalia’s face screwed up in confusion: “We… we’re being hailed?”
The signal was forwarded to Rhiza’s screen, exposing the stern face of a UEF pilot: “This is Major Weisman hailing any Loyalist forces in the area, please acknowledge. We have come to this planet on a mission of peace. If you are here then please acknowledge, over.”
Rhiza studied the pilot’s face intently, trying to get a sense of his intentions. His muscles were taut, clearly demonstrating that he was not comfortable with what he was doing. Then again, he was exposing his position in hostile territory. He could be a decoy, but Rhiza did not sense the eager anticipation often demonstrated by those that were about to lure an enemy into a trap.
“Thalia, prepare our people for evacuation just in case,” said Rhiza while opening another channel: “This is Crusader Rhiza, leader of the Loyalists. Please state your intentions.”
The UEF pilot was momentarily startled, but quickly recovered: “Standby, I’m patching you through.”
Rhiza was taken aback as the pilot’s face was replaced by that of an older Commander: “Greetings, I’m General Hall. I hope that you’ll forgive our lack of etiquette, but we don’t have much time. Many of us gated on this world and the odds of someone investigating our presence are high. We could be interrupted at any moment. If you have any civilians in the area then I would suggest giving the signal to evacuate now.”
“What are your intentions, General?” asked Rhiza while her hands moved across her console. She discretely ordered the evacuation to begin while advising the other Loyalist Commanders to remain vigilant. She did not know whether the General’s claims were true, but if they were then it meant that the UEF had changed its gating protocols significantly.
“I am part of a UEF task force which is working in cooperation with the Cybran Nation,” said Hall while forwarding a few tactical images: “We raided an Order settlement over a week ago. It appears that we unwillingly captured one of the cargo containers that was destined to you as well as two refugees which were trying to escape the Order. We would like to return the latter to you.”
Rhiza had difficulty hiding her surprise and she tilted her head to the side: “What are you asking in return?”
“At this very moment, for a set of coordinates so that we can send them safely to you,” replied Hall while typing something on his console: “Our time is limited and we cannot afford to remain here for more than another three minutes if we are to avoid detection. We hope that you will see this as a gesture of good will.”
Hesitation held Rhiza in check as she studied the General. He displayed a strange combination of elements that she was unaccustomed to seeing in a UEF pilot. That was hardly surprising in itself since most forms of communications between enemy pilots were in the form of taunts in which pilots usually displayed determination, aggression, overconfidence or arrogance. The man in front of her appeared calm, in control and on his guard, but there was also a sense of honesty and an open mind that was unusual in an ACU pilot.
A few more seconds passed before Rhiza typed something on her console, transmitting a set of coordinates to two of her pilots before forwarding them to Hall: “These are the coordinates that you requested. If you send our people there then we will be waiting for them.”
Hall nodded while typing something on his console: “The two refugees will be carrying a data pad with them. It contains a series of instructions should you wish to contact us. The procedure is long, but it will guarantee each side’s safety. We are fighting a common enemy, Crusader Rhiza. There might be much that we could accomplish if we worked together.”
The UEF General was about to say more, but was interrupted by another transmission: “Seraphim unit detected.”
“Withdraw,” said Hall to the unknown pilot before turning back to Rhiza: “We have to leave. Good luck, Crusader Rhiza.”
Three hours later, Weisman, Flinn and Koster stood together on the suspended walkway of their hangar. All three pilots were stretching or rubbing their sore muscles, the painful result of over a week spent in their ACUs.
“I need a shower,” said Weisman, drawing a nod from Koster. Flinn reached towards the ceiling with both hands as he tried to fix a cramped muscle in his back: “Think there’s any of that Order food still around? I feel like eating some and falling asleep for a whole day.”
“I heard that they managed to distribute it all before they moved the Node again,” said Koster while rubbing his neck: “Personally, I packed three of them in my backpack.”
Flinn’s face lit up immediately as he looked at the other pilot: “can you give me one?”
“Forget it!” said Koster while walking away. Flinn was fast on his heel with both hands held pleadingly in front of him: “Aw come on! I’ll pay you back for it someday!”
Weisman waited until the other two pilots were out of earshot before stepping towards Desjar’s ACU. The Major General was still in his cockpit, checking one system at a time: “You know, sir, our mechanics would be glad to take care of that maintenance for you.”
Desjar nodded, but did not stop the diagnostic: “I know, I just need to get my mind off of things.”
“You mean off the illuminate?” asked Weisman. The question made Desjar pause over his console. After over a week of searching, Desjar had dared to hope that they would never find the Loyalists. If they never found them then it was back to life as usual where things were simple. Instead, they had finally managed to make contact and Desjar knew deep down that Hall was capable of making it work. If an alliance was ever struck then he would eventually find himself fighting side by side with the same people that had killed Arnold. Deep down, he could not come to terms with that.
“If you need to unwind then we can go to the gym. A few rounds in the ring could do you some good,” added Weisman. Desjar knew that the other pilot was trying to help, but he found himself shaking his head anyway: “Thanks, but you’re still better at martial arts than I am. I’ll just perform a full system check to clear my mind.”
Weisman smiled in understanding: “Understood, sir. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”
Desjar paused and watched Weisman walk away. He was thankful to have him as his second in command, but there were limits to what he could do to help. Desjar simply needed to work himself to exhaustion. It was the only way that he knew to go home without accidentally unloading his accumulated frustration on his family.
Rhiza paced anxiously back in forth in front of their medical tent. On one hand, their initial encounter with General Hall had been more than she had ever dreamed of. The two refugees had been returned to them as promised without asking for anything in return. Then again, there was still the possibility that the data pad that she was holding in her hand was nothing more than an elaborate trap.
Thalia came out of the tent just then and nodded reassuringly: “They are unharmed and perfectly healthy. Their screening turned out negative for any toxins or diseases and they were fed Order rations during their stay. There are signs of stress, but nothing that cannot be attributed to living in captivity for over a week or escaping the Order in the first place.”
“Did they say anything about their captor?” asked Rhiza anxiously. Thalia nodded slowly: “UEF soldiers and officers discovered them in the cargo container, but they were escorted by Cybrans to a detention facility. This does support the theory that they are working together. They also spoke of General Hall; he was the one that questioned them and saw to their welfare during their stay.”
The situation confused Rhiza and she listened carefully as Thalia finished her report: “They told him of our movement and the reason as to why they were being pursued by the Order. According to them, General Hall seemed genuinely interested in the possibility of an alliance with us and treated them as honored guests.”
Thalia smiled brightly and had difficulty hiding her excitement despite Rhiza’s skepticism: “Why are you concerned? This is great news! Wasn’t an alliance exactly what the Princess wished us to accomplish all along?”
“It is,” said Rhiza, her gaze distant: “It does, however, seem almost too good to be true. We cannot base our judgment of an alliance on the words or actions of a single man.”
“Nor can we refuse the possibility based on suspicions alone,” replied Thalia while nodding in understanding. Rhiza looked down at the data pad that the refugees had given her and gave it some further thought before speaking again: “We will have to meet them face to face.”
The next day, Hall’s ACU stood in the middle of his newly built base at the meeting coordinates. Two other UEF pilots had gated on the planet as well, building additional quantum gates just in case that something unexpected happened. His hands moved carefully over his controls, but he still felt optimistic about the upcoming meeting. Hopefully, it would end with one more ally or at least one fewer enemy.
Rhiza’s face appeared on his monitor just then, bowing respectfully before speaking: “Greetings General Hall and thank you for agreeing to meet us. Your presence here honors us all. I would also like to thank you for seeing to the welfare of two of our own. We are in your debt.”
“It is I who should thank you, Crusader Rhiza,” said Hall while bowing his own head in return: “I am grateful that you took the time to contact us so soon.”
“I have spoken with my sisters in arms,” said Rhiza in a gentle tone: “What you said during our initial meeting was true; there is much that we could do for each other. It is clear to us now that we cannot stop the Order or the Seraphim on our own. We might stand a better chance if we followed your example with the Cybran Nation and stood united against a common foe.”
The outright admission and its implications surprised Hall for they surpassed all of his expectations. He bowed his head once more respectfully: “Your words are wise, Crusader Rhiza. I am glad that you see things this way.”
“However, a condition must be met before we can help each other,” said Rhiza, a wave of regret crossing her features: “I mean you no disrespect, General. Your words ring true and were it just me then I would chose to trust you. However, our experience in the past has showed us that sometimes, those that lead your people do not always adequately represent them. Your political standings have always been… confusing to us.”
Hall understood all too well what worried Rhiza and was hard pressed to fault her. It was obvious that she was expressing her concerns as delicately as she could and he nodded to let her know that he was not upset: “You have thought of a way that I could prove our intentions?”
Rhiza folded both of her hands in front of her like a chalice: “We did and that is why we must ask for the privilege of visiting your people. If two of us were allowed to view your citizens and the way that the UEF and Cybran Nation cooperate then it would do much to put us at ease. We could then know that the desire for an alliance is shared amongst both people and not just amongst its leaders. In exchange for such a privilege, we would offer all of the information that we have gathered concerning the Order of the Illuminate.”
A flicker of a wince crossed Hall’s features and his eyebrows lifted in concern: “You do realize that many still feel the loss brought on by the Infinite War. Our relations with the Cybran Nations are not perfect and tensions still flare from time to time. Some might feel a certain level of hostility towards you.”
“We are fully aware of that,” assured Rhiza with regretful eyes: “Many atrocities were committed during the Infinite War and we have much to atone for. I am fully prepared for that and I would not hold it against you or your offer of an alliance.”
“The Cybran Nation has been overseeing our security protocols,” warned Hall carefully: “If I submit this proposal to them, they will decide which section of the Node you will be able to visit or not. Knowing them, you will most likely not be allowed to bring any scanning or interfacing equipment with you nor would you be able to travel by using your ACUs.”
Rhiza nodded without any hint of hesitation: “We are fully prepared for that. I and Commander Thalia are both ready and willing to place our lives into your hands, General. We would follow those restrictions without complaint.”
A few seconds passed as Hall considered the offer carefully. Rhiza was willing to put her life on the line to give the alliance a chance, but she would not risk the entire Loyalist movement for it. He could hardly blame her for that, but what truly worried him was everyone else’s reaction. As he had said, tensions sometimes flared between the UEF and the Cybran Nation, but those were still next to nothing compared to what the Aeon Illuminate had previously done. Their ruthless cleansing during the Infinite War had left many with the sole desire for revenge. The fact remained, however, that there was no way for him to create an alliance without risking such a confrontation.
Hall finally nodded: “Agreed, when would you be ready to depart?”
“We are ready this very moment, General,” assured Rhiza gratefully: “We had also prepared for the eventuality that we could not bring our ACUs with us and we have already made arrangements. We hope that this suits your needs.”
Desjar sat on a nearby container and unzipped the top portion of his flight suite. He had just spent the last eight hours on patrol and now that Hall and his men were back, he would be free to return to his family. His duties - and not to mention his recent brooding - had kept him from them far too often of late and he would have someone cover for him.
The sound of rapid footsteps caught his attention and he looked up just as Flinn came running towards him: “Did you hear? They just arrive a minute ago!”
“Who’s ‘they’?” asked Desjar while shaking his head: “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“The Loyalist leaders!” exclaimed Flinn excitedly: “I just heard a minute ago that Hall brought them back with him.”
A scowl appeared on Desjar’s face immediately and he was about to ask for a clarification when the reinforced doors that separated their section of the hangar from the next one opened. Everyone paused, turned around and saw the two Loyalist pilots. They were being escorted by both Hall and Dostya. Three Cybran Commandos were following them as well, their hands on their weapons.
“This is kind of exciting, isn’t it?” asked Flinn absentmindedly. The word was not the one that Desjar would have used and his face darkened with each step that they took. One of the pilots, Crusader Rhiza if Desjar remembered correctly, looked up at him suddenly and their eyes met. She had been the one that had risked gating into UEF territory to warn them of the Seraphim threat over two months ago. Desjar had not welcomed her presence then and he was not about to do so now.
“What are you doing?” asked Flinn when he noticed Desjar zip his flight suit back on. The Major General did not look at him and merely scowled: “Hall’s men are here, but I can still give them a small break. I’m going back out there.”
Flinn’s eyes widened in alarm, only then noticing how angry his commanding officer appeared to be: “But weren’t you supposed to…”
“Don’t get anywhere near them, Flinn,” interrupted Desjar, his gaze uncompromising as he turned it on the worried pilot: “That’s an order.”
Jessy closed the channel and turned towards Melissa who was sitting in her room: “He’s going to be late. He volunteered for another shift so he won’t be back for few hours at least.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Melissa scornfully while looking away. The reaction surprised Jessy and she moved closer to her daughter: “I know that his duties take a lot of his time, but we both know why he’s doing it.”
Melissa turned towards Jessy and shook her head: “Even when he’s home, he’s never really here. So why should I care if he’s here or not?”
Jessy straightened immediately, her tone growing more severe: “Listen young lady, your father…”
“Is never here!” cried Melissa, an angry tear running down her cheek: “He hasn’t laughed, played or truly listened to me or you ever since the day when he lost Arnold! The reason that he’s out there is not to protect us, he’s out there because he can’t stand being around us!”
Jessy had seen Melissa angry before, but this was something different. She reached forward to comfort her daughter: “It’s going to be all right…”
“No, it’s not! Why do you keep doing that?” asked Melissa angrily: “You keep saying that everything is going to be all right, but it’s not! We lost our home, we lost our friends and we’re barely even a family anymore! Yet you keep smiling as if it would make everything better!”
The accusation hit Jessy like a punch to the gut and she involuntarily took a step backwards while holding a hand over her chest. More tears streaked down Melissa’s face as she simply cried: “I hate this place!”
She jumped to her feet and ran out of the apartment, ignoring the cries of her mother calling her back home.
A few hours later, Desjar was forced to return to the hangar and disembark. He could easily pull off two shifts in a row, but both Cybran and UEF protocols had strict rules concerning work hours during peaceful times. Every pilot needed his rest in order to remain efficient for when it truly mattered. What those rules did not cover was the treatment for a pilot with a tortured soul.
That was the reason that Desjar found himself walking down the surface streets aimlessly in the middle of the night with his transmitter shut down. He knew his hatred was irrational and it wasn’t like him to feel like that. He just didn’t know how to deal with it and he doubted that anyone could understand. He walked for so long that he lost track of where he was and only came back to his senses when a drop of rain fell on his head.
“Oh great,” said Desjar aloud. He cursed even louder as the rain soon transformed into a downpour, making it impossible for him to see further than a few meters in front of him. The sound of approaching thunder warned him that this could potentially transform into a tornado and he stumbled blindly forward. A door suddenly appeared in front of him and he stepped inside in a hurry. The light combined with the water in his eyes blinded him momentarily and he had to rub them for a second before opening them again. Once he could see, he found forty set of Cybran eyes staring straight at him.
Hex-Five was the first one to notice him and he beckoned at him from the other end of the bar: “Welcome… please come over here and join us.”
Melissa walked aimlessly, her arms wrapped around her shoulders as she tried to ward off the night’s cold air. She knew that she should return home, but she didn’t want to. Part of her felt sorry for the way that she had shouted at her mother, but she could not have kept all of that grief hidden forever. People had begun whispering that things were getting better of late, but she did not feel that way. She was still trapped, alone and miserable, forever fleeing from world to world just like everybody else.
But why had she fled from her own home like that? There was nowhere that she could run to, no matter how far she went. She turned around abruptly, deciding that it was time to return. Her eyes widened in alarm as a figure that had been following her quickly jumped back into the shadows. Even though she had only caught a small glimpse, she had seen the traces of facial circuitry and knew without a doubt that she was being stalked.
Melissa’s heart started beating frantically and she ran away as quickly as she could. She had crossed Cybrans before, but none had ever actively tried to hide from her like that. She did not know who her stalker was or what he was after. Her mind raced with all the possibilities from kidnapping to some kind of revenge against her father. Melissa looked up as she ran while trying to get an idea of where she was, but her heart sank when she saw the red lights that indicated that she was in the Cybran part of the Node.
How could she have been distracted enough to blindly walk into it? She searched for a street number or anything that would tell her that she was heading in the right direction, but rain suddenly started falling and soon she could barely see in front of her. Fear turned into despair as she realized that she was lost, alone and with a dangerous stalker fast on her heels.
Melissa turned into a side street; hoping to hide in its dark confines. A Cybran mechanical engineer waited there on standby and she hid between both set of wheels even as the storm increased. Her lips moved in a silent prayer, imploring her father or any of other UEF pilot to somehow find her. She was so focused on the path that had led her to her hiding spot that she did not notice the hand sneak from behind her before it covered her mouth. Another arm wrapped itself around her waist and a muffled cry escaped her as she was dragged backwards.
Desjar’s eyes darted left and right, taking stock of every Cybran in the room, the drinks that they held and the Hot Plasma sign near the door.
It took him a second to put it all together and realize that he was standing in the middle of a Cybran bar; something that he did not know even existed. Everyone was still looking at him, their eyes reflecting either annoyance or mild suspicion. The sound of thunder reminded Desjar that a tornado could strike at any moment and that it would not be a good idea, physically or diplomatically, to run back outside. The figure at the other end of the bar motioned towards him again: “Come on in. You don’t intend to stand there all night, do you?”
Desjar stepped forward, having no viable option left. He did recognize a few faces as he walked - Cybrans that were part of the maintenance or security staff - but none of their names came to mind. The one that had hailed him extended a hand as soon as he walked in range: “It is good to finally meet you, Commander Desjar. My name is Hex-Five. I am a trader of sorts.”
“A pleasure,” said Desjar, taking the offered hand while looking at the two other Cybrans that were waiting besides Hex-Five. The mere sight of their bulging muscles was enough to convince him that they were bodyguards, something that a ‘respectable’ trader would not need.
“I would offer you a drink,” said Hex-Five while motioning towards the barman: “But Cybran liquor would be rather crude to your pallet. It is an acquired taste, one which I have not personally gotten used to. I could, however, offer you a glass of fine wine. A rarity in these parts, to be sure, but a small favor for an accomplished pilot such as yourself.”
Alarm bells rang through Desjar’s mind as he considered the offer. On one hand, Hex-Five had the appearance and dignified manners of a successful businessman. On the other, it almost felt as though the offer had strings attached to it. Just thinking about it brought flashbacks of a day years ago when a Corporal had offered him pills to help him ‘relax’ between battles. The first sample had been offered as a gift of course, but Desjar had refused back then and the Corporal in question had been caught and dishonorably discharged a month later.
Desjar was still trying to figure out a way out of this proposal when a figure suddenly burst through the door while cursing loudly: “Dear mother of a whale’s belly! You’d have to be crazy to go through a storm like that to get a…”
The rest of the words died on Bagby’s lips the moment that he noticed Desjar at the other end of the bar. He recognized the UEF pilot and for a moment, his conscience wrestled with the promise that he had made to Dostya to avoid any contact with them. That promise burned off in the face of a simple realization: if he could not goof off in the middle of a bar then where could he?
It was therefore with a wide grin that Bagby walked to the other end of the bar and rudely moved between Desjar and Hex-Five. The smuggler protested loudly, but Bagby ignored him and stared right at the UEF pilot: “Whoa, that’s weird…”
“I’m sorry,” said Desjar while looking back towards the exit: “I just…”
“You’re a guy in a bar without booze!” exclaimed Bagby loudly before turning towards the barman: “Hey Bob, you lazy snob! Get some booze rolling, will you?”
“We were talking,” said Hex-Five. Bagby waved at him in annoyance without even turning around: “Yeah, yeah, sure you were Hex-Four. So we’ll be having two bottles of Minerva swamp with glasses. Thanks Bob!”
The smuggler stood up angrily and slapped a hand on the table: “And what makes you think that he’s entitled to that?”
“Excellent point Hex-Three!” interrupted Bagby without taking his eyes off Desjar: “Hey kid, did you do any work today? You know; fighting, patrolling and stuff?”
“He pulled a shift and a half,” came the shout from somewhere in the bar. Bagby nodded vigorously and grabbed the two bottles that the barman put on the counter: “First rule says that any man who worked is entitled to drink. Come on kid, I have a private table over there.”
Hex-Five immediately blocked his path and so did the two bodyguards behind him: “And who made those rules, you?”
“Sure did,” said Bagby while nodding: “That’s because of rule number two: any bar that I step into becomes my bar. It comes with seniority.”
“And what if I don’t agree with your rules?” said the smuggler threateningly. The old SCU pilot shrugged again while shaking his head: “Well that’s a crying shame, because the third rule says that anyone objecting with rule one or two gets kicked out of my bar. Sorry Hex-Two, it’s time to go. I’d suggest doing so on your own before your name counts down to zero.”
A snort escaped the smuggler who motioned towards his bodyguards: “I’m not sure that you noticed, but I brought friends…”
Hex-Five’s proclamation trailed off as every Cybran in the bar suddenly stood up and looked straight at him. Bagby grinned in obvious amusement and gracefully stepped around the smuggler while offering a wink: “I’m not sure that you noticed, but I have more of those than you do.”
Bagby sat at a table in the corner of the room and motioned for Desjar to follow even as Hex-Five and his bodyguards stormed off. The UEF pilot hesitated for a moment before stepping forward. He still wondered if he had made the right decision when he saw the old man serving the drinks: “Sit down kid and drink up. You wouldn’t insult an old man by refusing, would you?”
Desjar sat down and considered his options. Every Cybran in the room was still staring at him and from the looks of it, this old pilot was far more important than anyone had ever let on. He finally took his glass and shared Bagby’s toast. He swallowed it in one shot and his eyes opened wide in shock as the liquid ran down his throat. He choked violently and Bagby offered him a few playful slaps on the shoulder.
“Better a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy I always say,” said Bagby while grinning widely. A thought suddenly occurred to him and he shrugged as he poured the two of them another glass: “Actually, I never said that before, but it feels as if I’ve been waiting to say it for a long time.”
Desjar finally managed to stop coughing and looked at the glass: “You’re sure this stuff isn’t poison?”
“Oh heck no,” said Bagby while draining his glass in one shot. Desjar hesitated a moment longer and did the same, wincing as the vile concoction went down his throat. Bagby grinned widely as he finished his explanation: “We’d never insult a drink by poisoning it. Now putting poison on the rim of a glass…”
Desjar’s eyes widened in alarm and he looked at his glass reflexively. Bagby slapped him once more on the shoulder: “Just kidding, hah! This is going to be a fun night!”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 31 Aug, 2008, edited 6 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
If an important lesson must be learned prior to even touching the controls of an Armored Command Unit, it is that no other form of combat is as personally engaging. Each and every trait will be tested: reflexes, determination, imagination, logic, resilience and much, much more.
What few understand, however, is that you will often know your enemies intimately. Some of their actions will touch you personally up to the point of admiring them as individuals. Others will leave you with a feeling of dread or utmost anger. Not all ACU confrontations are lethal and more than one battle has ended with a draw or with one side escaping. As such, you might face the same opponent more than once.
You can no more deny your feelings than you could deny your very humanity. A true believer in The Way, however, will find the will to continue despite these obstacles. A master will remain undisturbed whether he destroys the galaxy’s greatest criminal or his own brother.
Speech given by Avatar-of-War Marxon, year 3938
Melissa struggled as she was dragged out of the rain and into a small alcove. A door closed silently in front of her, plunging the room in near total darkness. Her captor leaned on her then and whispered urgently: “Quiet!”
A vivid shock coursed through Melissa’s mind and she stopped moving instantly. It was not due to the command or her aggressor’s strength, but because the voice lacked the artificial quality of a Cybran’s. They both stood in the darkness in silence until they heard the sound of footsteps splashing in the water. Whoever was outside stopped near their hiding spot and paused for a moment.
Melissa’s heart was beating so frantically that she was afraid that she would die right there. A few seconds passed before the footsteps moved away and she sighed in relief. Her captor leaned forward again, his voice barely above a whisper: “We have to wait a bit just in case that he turns around. Can I trust you to stay quiet if I remove my hand?”
A simple nod was all it took for her captor to let go of her mouth. Melissa’s eyes were slowly getting used to the darkness and she could see that they were in a cramped space. A shiver ran through her body and for a moment she was glad that her captor’s chest was warm. She twisted her head to try and get a look at him, but his features were hard to make out. He stood a head taller than her, but she could tell by the tone of his voice that he was just a boy.
A few more seconds passed before her captor nodded and pressed a button to the side. The door opened again and he stepped out in the rain. He looked left and right to make sure that they were alone before grinning: “That was close. This is why you should never hide near a mechanical engineer; it’s always the first place that they’ll look.”
Melissa just stared at him and a small part of her mind prayed that the darkness would hide the fact that she was blushing. From the looks of it, the boy was perhaps a year older than her. He had rugged good looks and his muscles were well developed for a boy of his age. What mainly caught her attention was the wild look in his eyes.
Every other kid at school always looked glum; overwhelmed by their situation and constantly moving from planet to planet. The boy in front of her looked like he did not have a care in the world and was ready to charge through everything like a rebel. Melissa knew deep down that her feelings were probably colored by the fact that he had just saved her life, but she did not want to look away either.
The boy turned towards her then and extended a hand: “My name’s Foil. Are you coming?”
“My… my name’s Melissa,” said the girl while blushing: “But I… I should return home.”
“We’re just a few blocks away,” insisted Foil, drawing a confused look from Melissa: “You came all this way and managed to escape by a hair. If you turn around now then it will all be for nothing, but if we make it, you’ll remember this night for the rest of your life!”
Melissa did not understand what Foil was talking about and at the moment, she did not really care. All she knew was that he was offering her an adventure; an escape from all the troubles that had recently plagued her life. She hesitated a second longer before taking his hand and the two of them ran together in the rain.
“Ok, that’s enough of an introduction,” said Dostya while stopping the procession. She turned to Rhiza while motioning towards Thalia with one hand: “Commander Thalia is your expert concerning the state of the Order, correct?”
Rhiza nodded and Dostya’s gaze turned towards the younger pilot: “Then she comes with me, Sjet and Queren for a debriefing. Crusader Rhiza, I will leave you to explore the Node. Keith will determine which Cybran facilities are accessible and General Hall will do the same concerning the UEF district.”
“Thank you,” said Rhiza while bowing her head. Dostya nodded before storming away with Thalia in tow.
A door opened and a small boy urgently motioned for Foil and Melissa to step inside. It closed behind them and Foil barely had the time to open his mouth before a girl appeared around the corner and hugged him fiercely: “Foil!”
Melissa’s heart sank, feeling foolish for her previous excitement as Foil smiled: “Hey Nial, don’t tell me that you’ve been worrying about me?”
The girl jumped out of Foil’s arms and punched him in the shoulder: “You big dummy! It’s bad enough that my boyfriend can’t make it because he got caught last time! It would be boring without you around.”
Melissa found herself sighing in relief just as two other shapes appeared around the corner. One of those jumped up and down excitedly: “Hey Foil, I knew you’d make it! You’re the best, you know? I always admired you Foil!”
“Hey Quy,” said Foil while extending his arm to keep the excited eight years old at a respectable distance. Nial sighed even as Foil grinned at her: “I had to either bring him along or have him blow my cover. Right now, I’m wondering which is more painful.”
The hyperactive boy poked his tongue at Nial: “You’re stuck with me big sister, whether you like it or not. Hey, who’s the newcomer?”
Every set of eyes turned to Melissa and she blushed despite herself even as Foil took her hand: “This is Melissa. We got this close to getting caught by a chip head, but we made it anyway. She’ll be hanging with us for the night.”
Quy was jumping up and down again, eager to get the details of the story when the figure that had been waiting further back stepped into view. Melissa was surprised by his near feral look. The newcomer was leaning forward as though his upper spine was crooked and his head was covered by a mess of long hair. What truly caught her attention were his eyes; they just stared ahead without blinking or looking at anyone. They were also lined with dark circles as if he the boy had not slept in days: “Hey…”
Foil smiled and waved a hand: “Hey Tie, glad you could make it.”
“The party is this way,” said Tie as he turned around without further explanation. Everyone started walking and Melissa followed the group while still holding on to Foil’s hand. Soon they could hear the sound of music and Melissa was stunned when a door opened, revealing a huge dance floor where over a hundred children were dancing and jumping around to the latest rock and roll music. Foil turned a grin towards her then: “See? I told you that you’d remember this night!”
The Cybran cursed loudly. The storm had finally stopped, but it had also erased all traces of his target. He finally activated his transmitter while holding a hand to the receiver in his ear: “I lost her…”
He listened to some unknown speaker and soon nodded in annoyance: “You don’t need to remind me. Just try to track her down and I’ll get her. Don’t you worry…”
Melissa had to catch her breath as the gang made its way to a table on the side of the room. They had just spent the last ten minutes dancing non stop… if one could call jumping around like crazy a form of dancing. Only Tie had preferred to stay behind and had remained seated all that time. Everyone sank into their chairs gratefully and Melissa’s smile matched Foil’s. It had been a very long time since she had fun like that.
Quy came to her side just then and looked at her eagerly: “So what are you? Foil is FS, me and Nial are Red S and Tie’s a Chim.”
“It’s rude to ask that, Quy,” said Nial to her younger brother. The boy merely shrugged while looking at his sister from the corner of his eye: “I’m eight so I can still get away with it. So what are you? Jade, S Earth…”
“Earth,” said Melissa the moment that she heard the word. She did not know exactly what all those other acronyms were; maybe they were just something popular in the other UEF colonies. Quy’s head reared up in surprise: “You don’t look it.”
Melissa was about to ask what that meant, but Foil interjected: “Hey, let go of her Quy. You know how hard they got hit so stop probing, ok?”
“Thanks,” said Melissa to Foil as soon as Quy hopped away. Part of her wanted to ask him if he had a girlfriend, but she was too shy to do so and motioned towards the sound system: “So how did you get all this stuff down here?”
Foil grinned while pointing at different pieces of equipment: “A lot of us were involved and we all did our parts. It’s not as hard as it looks when you know how to hide your tracks. Some of us ordered unrelated parts while others were responsible for dismantling and reassembling them into a sound system. Poking holes in the security grid was tricky through. Tie was involved into that part.”
“And it’s going to be a lot harder next time,” said Tie while chewing on his nail: “They just won’t let me do it the same way twice.”
Melissa was about to ask another question when the lights suddenly dimmed and a projector came online. An ominous music started playing as the image of a Scathis was projected against the wall. Quy immediately started bouncing in his seat: “This is it? This is it right?”
Nial hushed him and then turned back towards the image. Everyone in the room was looking at the video expectantly and Melissa was probably the only one who had no idea what would happen. She dimly remembered her father mentioning the Scathis to Arnold during a family supper and it seemed to match the description on the screen. Would a Fatboy appear and destroy the Cybran experimental weapon?
The Scathis deployed its multiple cannons and the music changed accordingly, rising with multiple violins playing in the background. A Cybran pilot appeared in the upper right corner of the image with what appeared to be a conducting baton in hand and Melissa’s confusion grew tenfold. What the heck was that movie about?
The Scathis started firing just as the Cybran started waving the baton around and the music switched to a mix of rock and roll with classic instruments. The image was instantly replaced with that of an Aeon base being bombarded and everyone in the room cheered wildly. It was only at that moment that Melissa realized that she was in the middle of a room filled with Cybran children.
“Oh man that is so cool,” exclaimed Quy while bouncing in his chair: “Can any of you guys even imagine what it would be like to be with Bagby? If I was an adult then I would give everything for a chance to get a drink with a legend like him!”
A loud and pronounced belch escaped Bagby after drinking his eighth glass of Minerva Swamp. He leaned heavily on his chair and scratched his crotch contentedly: “Oh yeah… that’s the stuff, right kid?”
Desjar rubbed his eyebrow to try and clear his mind. Was it his imagination or was the strange drink slowly tasting better? It did start to loosen his tongue and he pointed a finger towards his shirt: “Why do you keep calling me a kid? I have a pretty high rank you know.”
“You expect me to judge people by the pieces of plastic that they wear?” asked Bagby with a snort. He emptied another glass and shook his head: “Nah, that’s just too boring. Besides, you’re young compared to me so I get to call you a kid. Heck, I’m a kid compared to Brackman. It kind of makes it worthwhile to have a brain floating around in a tank for just such an occasion.”
A chuckle escaped Desjar, but his face became serious again: “So why did you come to me like that? Fetch me at the bar, I mean.”
“To piss off Hex-Negative for starters,” said Bagby with a wide smile: “Slimy guys like him annoy me and I make it a point to return the favor every time. That and you were all alone back there. If a brawl exploded then you would have been seriously outnumbered. I have a soft spot somewhere in me for underdogs. So yeah, you needed help and still do from the looks of it.”
Desjar reached for the bottle and poured himself another glass: “What makes you say that?”
“Your eyes,” said Bagby while nodding knowingly: “You got the gaze of a man that wants something to explode just for a chance to vent. Like starting a good bar fight, you know? Getting into one here would be a bad idea though so I figured that I would get you drunk and see what came out of you.”
A snort escaped Desjar as he drank his glass in a single gulp. Bagby cracked his fingers and leaned forward: “Let me just use my near omnipotent powers of deduction here. You, sir, lost someone to the Aeon. Am I right? From the looks on your face, I’d say a brother.”
Desjar paused for a second and shook his head: “Shows what you know, I was born a single child.”
“Bah!” snorted Bagby while slapping the table: “A brother’s a brother! It’s not a question of blood, you dummy. If you treat him like a brother then he is. Same thing goes for marriage too. You think you need a fancy ceremony and a ring to get married? You just have to argue like an old couple! You be careful who you call a sister though… because you can’t have sex with your sister after all, that’s just disgusting.”
The constant twists that Bagby kept throwing Desjar’s way were confusing, but he had to admit that the old pilot had been right. The UEF pilot looked at the bottle in front of him, but did not reach for it: “I guess you’re right… but you wouldn’t understand.”
“I lost my boy,” admitted the old pilot, drawing Desjar’s surprised gaze back to him: “I mean sure, he did not come from my loins or anything, but I loved him like he was. I got over it though. I got to admit that it kind of helps that the bastard that did him in is dead too.”
Desjar refrained from asking which faction had been responsible and nodded in sympathy: “How did you do it? How did you get over it?”
“I did a lot of things,” said Bagby while pouring the two of them another drink: “And a lot of people helped, my girl included.”
The old pilot placed the bottle back on the table and raised his glass: “In the end though, that kind of pain is pretty much like a bottle of booze. It’s better to empty it, even with a complete stranger, than to keep it bottled forever. I speak from a lot of experience on that part.”
Desjar hesitated a moment, his groggy mind trying to determine if his mysterious friend truly meant what he said. He finally raised his glass in a toast: “Yeah… I lost my brother to them.”
Their glasses connected and the two of them drank the night away.
“There are not many who walk on the streets,” observed Rhiza as she gazed around. The scenery made the Node appear lifeless.
“This planet has harsh weather conditions,” said Hall while pointing towards the night’s sky. “If you move topside then you risk getting caught in a storm in a heartbeat.”
Rhiza turned her head towards Keith, but the Commando merely followed two steps behind them without saying a word. He was observing her intently as if looking for any sign of betrayal. She could not fault him, but looking at him reminded her of something that was bugging her: “General, can I ask you a question on a sensitive topic?”
Hall nodded curtly and Rhiza measured her words carefully: “When I first tried to warn the UEF of the Seraphim threat, I was greeted by a pilot who… how shall I put this… might harbor ill feelings towards me. I thought that I saw that same pilot when we were in the hangar.”
The General winced, but nodded: “That would be Commander Desjar.”
Rhiza knew that she had just stepped on a sensitive topic, but kept speaking anyway: “I realize that it might be presumptuous of me to ask, but could it be possible for me to meet him and offer an apology? It is obvious that I somehow wronged him in the past and I would like to atone for that. It is part of The Way to try and solve those conflicts instead of letting them fester.”
Hall’s discomfort was obvious as he shook his head: “I am not sure that this is a wise idea at the moment…”
“Could you please ask him?” said Rhiza with a pleading look in her eyes: “I will not bear him any ill feelings if he refuses.”
A few seconds passed before Hall reached for his transmitter. He typed a few keys but frowned when no connection was established: “That’s odd, his transmitter is turned off. That’s not like him.”
Hall turned to Keith who picked up his own transmitter while pressing a finger to his ear: “I need a trace on Commander Desjar.”
The Commando’s eyes widened in alarm as someone answered him: “You’ve got to be kidding me? Damn it!”
Keith closed the transmitter and immediately sprinted down the alley: “He’s only two blocks away, we have to hurry!”
Both Hall and Rhiza hesitated a moment before running after him. Rhiza was the first to catch up to the Commando: “What’s the problem?”
“He’s in a Cybran bar!” shouted Keith in desperation: “We have to get him out of there before he gets himself killed!”
“Lube boy? Hah!” exclaimed Bagby while slapping the table: “He was a man after my own heart!”
Desjar nodded and emptied another glass with a wide grin. He had to blink a few times just to be able to speak afterwards: “Not as much fun at parties though. He was a good drinker, but too much brooding. That and… don’t take it the wrong way… but I think you’re crazy.”
“Darn straight I am!” shouted Bagby happily so that everyone could hear: “You are slow, you know that? I thought that you would have figured that out at least five drinks ago.”
Desjar feigned to be hurt and poured himself another glass with the hint of a smile on his lips: “Well… it might be because I met a crazier Cybran before.”
“What!” cried Bagby while slapping both hands on the table: “Who is this usurper? Put your proof on the table so I can challenge the guy for my title back.”
“It happened a long time ago,” said Desjar, his grind widening: “We were on Matar…”
“Bad idea kid,” interrupted Bagby with his hand held up: “War stories in the middle of a Cybran bar?”
“I get my *** kicked in that one,” offered Desjar which brought an immediate nod of approval: “Then I like it already!”
Desjar smiled again and resumed his story: “So we were in this big fight, the fate of an entire settlement on our shoulders. My buddy was busy building an omni sensor when this Cybran SCU came straight at me. I barely had a second before he picked me up, said ‘time to dance Johnny boy’ and carried me all the way over the cliff. We both went tumbling right off!”
Bagby’s head jerked back in surprise, not because of the story’s events, but because he remembered doing that once. Desjar went on ahead, apparently pleased that he had Bagby’s attention: “I almost bit my tongue off because of the shock. I tried to recover, but he got back on me in a flash and what does he say? Tomatoes are natural aphrodisiacs! My mind was so blown away that I froze and he got me good!”
A group of patrons that were sitting on a table out of Desjar’s field of vision had been listening in on the story. They looked at each other before pointing their hands at Bagby with a questioning look on their faces. Bagby motioned for them to remain silent and kept listening to the story while holding back his amusement: “Keep going.”
“The rest is all a blur,” said Desjar while twirling his hand near his temple: “Got a concussion from it, a mean one. It landed me in a hospital. My buddy later told me that the pilot had practically been break dancing on top of me. At the time, I kind of wished that they had let me watch the replay. A guy has to be completely crazy to pull off a stunt like that.”
Bagby frowned for a second: “You couldn’t watch the replay? Why?”
“The records were sealed,” said Desjar with a snort: “Riley wanted his big new Mavor to be glorified and all that. An SCU pilot getting his *** kicked didn’t quite fit into that picture. That guy was a real bastard right until the end.”
The old SCU pilot nodded thoughtfully: “Well, you’re right about one thing: it’s hard to be that crazy…”
“We’re here,” said Keith as they stopped in front of a door. The Commando immediately turned towards Hall: “You come with me, move slowly and don’t say a word. You pick him up and I keep the others off your back.”
Keith then turned towards Rhiza: “You stay here. We have enough troubles as it is.”
Bagby saw Keith and General Hall enter the bar from the corner of his eye and a wicked grin formed on his lips: “I don’t suppose that you remember the pilot’s name at least? If he was that crazy then maybe he sent a transmission where you could identify him or something.”
It took a moment for Desjar to pour himself his next drink and give it some thought. His foggy mind was grasping weakly at the distant memory: “He did actually and even sang an old pirate song or something. He had a weird name like Blogby, Burby, Piggy…”
Keith walked into range just then and nodded in relief: “Thanks for keeping it under control, Bagby…”
Desjar whirled on Keith suddenly with a happy grin: “Bagby, that’s it!”
The UEF pilot found the world spinning from his abrupt movement, but his mind still registered that something was very weird. His drinking buddy was laughing uncontrollably and the Commando in front of him was looking perplexed: “I’m sorry but… what did you just call him?”
“Bagby?” replied Keith in confusion. Desjar’s mind was bogged down by the large amounts of alcohol that he had taken and he slowly turned towards the old pilot who was laughing uncontrollably: “You’re Bagby?”
The old man nodded before burying his head on the table and slapping it hysterically. The sight and the whole situation seemed practically impossible, but Desjar was too drunk to make sense of it. A chuckle escaped him and he tried his best to not let it roll out of control. Bagby’s laugh was so sincere, however, that he soon found himself giggling.
Keith looked at the two pilots in succession, trying to figure out what they were laughing about: “What’s going on?”
Bagby leaned back in his chair and pointed at Desjar: “I tried to kill him!”
Desjar’s giggling transformed into an all out laughter and Hall stepped next to him with a concerned look on his face: “Commander?”
“He… he…” Desjar actually had to concentrate on his breathing long enough to utter as sentence: “He tried to kill me!”
Bagby roared in laughter and both Keith and Hall were surprised to find that the other patrons were laughing as well. The UEF General turned a questioning look towards the Commando who only covered his face with the palm of his hand: “Just… don’t ask.”
“This night…” said Desjar, trying desperately to stop laughing so that he could say a full sentence: “Can’t get any crazier than this!”
“Sure it can!” cried Bagby in obvious glee. Desjar wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, unable to stop laughing: “How?”
“Simple!” said Bagby as he tried to point at himself: “All it needs is for an Aeon chick to come give me a sponge bath!”
The whole room exploded in laughter once more and even Desjar found himself laughing with his mouth wide open. A commotion suddenly came from the front of the bar and someone cried out in surprise. Many patrons jumped to their feet and it took a moment for Desjar and Bagby to notice what the problem was. A colorful string of curses escaped Keith and Desjar’s smile disappeared at the sight of the Aeon pilot.
For a moment, no one dared to move. It was Bagby who broke the silence by raising both hands towards the ceiling as if he was imploring some unknown deity: “All it needs is for two Aeon chicks to come give me a sponge bath!”
If there is one thing that a person should understand about Cybrans in general, it’s that there is only one sure way to earn respect across all nodes.
Politeness? Do you believe for an instant that either UEF or Aeon etiquette would have been a match for the Jade Node’s context based protocol? Intelligence? Even the most accomplished scientist would be intimidated should he ever have to face Doctor Brackman on his own field. Humor? I would dare anyone – Cybran or otherwise – to stay with Bagby for a week and see if they are still sane afterwards. Courage? Hell, I would rather face a whole UEF platoon than sleep in the same room as an Assumpta assassin.
There is only a single commodity that is universally understood amongst all of us and appreciated for what it is: honesty. It does not matter whether a person is right, wrong or if the listener agrees with him or not. If an individual speaks his mind, then everyone else will know where he stands and will decide for themselves if they want to fight besides him or not. If anyone should speak from the bottom of his heart, like any human is capable of, then will reach more Cybrans than he realize.
Keith, Cybran Commando
At first nothing happened, but Bagby kept his hands raised towards the ceiling: “I said…”
“Shut up!” whispered Keith harshly back to the old pilot. Rhiza hesitated a moment, half regretting her decision to step inside the Cybran establishment. She had originally taken Keith’s warning to heart, thinking that Desjar’s peril had been a serious threat. The booming laughter had persuaded her that the Commando had been grossly exaggerating and she had stepped inside to try and play her part. She half contemplated leaving, but it was too late to back out now and she took a step forward instead: “I was hoping to meet you, Commander Desjar.”
Every Cybran patron turned towards the UEF pilot. Desjar shook his head slightly and turned to Bagby: “You win.”
“Eh?” said Bagby while allowing his arms to drop back on the table. Desjar nodded at him and bowed his head: “You’re the craziest Cybran that I have ever known, so you win.”
“Thanks kid, I appreciate that,” said Bagby while taking another shot of Minerva Swamp. Desjar stood up slowly while speaking to Hall: “General, I’m drunk. I think I should head home before I make a mess of things. I’m sorry about all of this.”
Hall grabbed a hold of Desjar when he almost tipped over and guided him towards the exit. Rhiza looked at the pair in confusion. From the looks of things, it seemed that the Commander’s intoxicated state was not unexpected which was a concept that was completely alien to her. She bowed her head slightly anyway, intent on carrying her original intention: “Commander, I wanted to extend my apologies. It is obvious that either I or my people have wronged you in some way and I am deeply sorry for that.”
Desjar and Hall passed by her and the Major General snorted in disgust, refusing to even meet Rhiza’s gaze. She frowned, slightly upset that her genuine attempt to ease their relation was not helping: “If that is not enough then pray tell me what I did wrong so that I can attempt to make amends.”
“So, you want to know?” said Desjar while stopping. Hall tried to nudge him towards the exit, but Desjar turned around slowly, his anger having a sobering effect on him: “You want to know why I don’t give a crap about your apology?”
The sudden burst of hostility was unexpected, but Rhiza nodded, determined to see this through. Desjar pointed a finger at Bagby which caused the old pilot to blink in surprise: “See that guy over there? He nearly killed me and used every possible cheap shot in the book. He also killed a lot of good UEF pilots and he’s damned good at it.”
More than one patron turned an angry look towards Desjar, but those disappeared when he continued: “And you know what? I don’t hate him one bit for any of it. He did what he had to do with what he had. So did every other Cybran here and I respect them for that.”
Desjar dropped his hand to his side and shrugged: “Sure, some stuff that was done to us was bad, but we did the same. I did some things that I’m not proud of either.”
A sigh escaped Desjar as he looked at Rhiza: “But that’s not what you and your kind did, right? You killed every man, woman and child on each world that you conquered, cleansing them one after the other without pity or remorse. If it had just been that then maybe I could have found a way to forgive you, but it did not stop there, did it?”
Rhiza opened her mouth, but Desjar ignored her and kept speaking: “You took a few, brainwashed them and then you sent them back towards us. You sent them to die by our hands.”
A shock coursed through Rhiza’s mind as she realized what she was being accused of: “We didn’t…”
“You took my brother!” shouted Desjar, not caring for anything that she had to say: “You took him from me; tore him from his friends and family! You turned him into a weapon so that he would destroy everything that he once loved and when he did not perform as expected, you killed him!”
A collective gasp could be heard through the room as Desjar pointed an accusing finger at Rhiza: “You know what the only two differences are between the Seraphim and you? They are a lot better at doing what you did and they have yet to sink to your level. So as much as I’m concerned, you’re the real monster here.”
Desjar whirled around just then, stepping out of the bar without anyone’s assistance. Rhiza simply stood frozen into place, having never been the focus of such hatred before. She looked around for any hint of sympathy, but found none.
“I like him,” said Bagby while slowly standing up. Keith tried to hush him, but Bagby waved him away: “I’m just saying that his heart’s in the right place. I’d be as furious as him if that had happened to me. So yeah, I like the kid.”
Rhiza turned towards the old pilot and raised both arms pleadingly: “But how can I possibly remedy the situation?”
“No clue,” said Bagby while walking woozily towards the exit: “As far as I know, you girls never tried to brainwash any of us; only kill us. But at least now you know why he hates your guts. That’s something right? You should probably thank me for doing half the work for you, doll face.”
Bagby made it past the confused Loyalist pilot and winked at Hall when he reached him: “Don’t look so glum, General. As far as Cybran diplomacy goes, this was a heck of a good night!”
The video image of the destroyed Aeon base disappeared and the children cheered one last time before the music resumed. Foil looked at the grinning faces at his table, but turned a worried glance towards Melissa: “You look pale. Are you ok?”
A thousand different scenarios ran through Melissa’s mind as she contemplated what would happen if they found out that she was not a Cybran. She mentally cursed herself for not putting the pieces together. The fact that she did not know anyone or that none of them were wearing UEF clothes should have tipped her off. She was just glad that most of her clothes had been torn in the past month and that she had been forced to replace them with Cybran equivalent. She nodded slightly and tried to smile: “Sure, maybe I just need some air.”
Quy suddenly hopped off his seat and stepped next to Tie with an eager look on his face: “Hey! How many rumors about the Chimera Node are true? I heard you made a few genetic alterations, right? I heard you barely sleep four hours a day, don’t need to blink, can process information more quickly even without implants and never had a case of machine complex. Is it true? Huh?”
The feral looking boy sighed, his gaze distant since he refused to look anyone in the eyes: “You should try asking a single question at a time and actually wait for the answer.”
Quy snorted and jumped back in his seat: “Your node is boring anyway. Rumors about the Assumpta are far more interesting! I heard they have to kill someone before they turn sixteen, even if they have to capture one out of nowhere! I heard they can even eat human flesh and that they don’t have a hint of a conscience! I even heard that they have to pick another Redfog or else they’ll turn into sissies and…”
A knife suddenly planted itself in Quy’s seat right between his legs, drawing a startled cry out of him. A chuckle escaped Tie as he pointed a finger towards a lone figure standing on the catwalk above them: “I just heard that there were a few of them here.”
Foil leaned forward and removed the knife from the seat: “Good, it’s just a warning.”
“Warning?” cried Quy helplessly: “He tried to kill me!”
“You’re not bleeding, so it’s a warning,” argued Foil while presenting the weapon to the eight year old boy: “Now go up there, return the knife and apologize. You know that they take their reputation seriously.”
“It’s either that or you try to throw it back to him,” said Tie with a shrug. The boy from the Chimera Node started chewing his nail again: “If you throw it right next to him then you earn a point. If you cut him, you get a mortal enemy. Finally, if you kill him well… I don’t think you’d return home in one piece.”
Quy’s face grew paler by the second and Foil turned a disapproving glance towards Tie before speaking: “You go up there. Tie and I will be right behind you to back you up. Come on, let’s go.”
All three boys stood and made their way up the flight of stairs, leaving Melissa and Nial alone at the table. The image of the knife stayed engraved in Melissa’s mind and she could almost picture the Assumpta and every other kid in the room coming at her to slash her throat. She was startled out of her worries when Nial spoke to her: “You’ll need to drop an anvil on his head.”
“Excuse me?” said Melissa as she turned to the other girl. Nial merely shrugged and smiled enigmatically: “Foil; you’ll need to drop an anvil on his head if you want him to notice you for something more than a friend. He’s a good guy, but he’s as clueless as they come. He won’t realize that you’re interested otherwise.”
Melissa’s face grew red, drawing a chuckle from the other girl: “He just cares a lot about anyone that’s in trouble; that’s who he is. That’s how our little gang was formed despite all our differences. It’s strange how one person can make all the difference, huh?”
The simple question made Melissa think about her current situation. At first, she had thought that the Cybrans were a single and unified people. They worked so efficiently together that, on the surface, they appeared united. Her time tonight had shown her that each individual was unique and that their Nodes were as different as UEF colonies.
The three boys came back down the stairs just then and Nial waved at them: “Any luck patching things up?”
Quy stood between Tie and Foil and was trying to save what little dignity he had left: “We had a discussion, that’s all.”
Nial smiled knowingly, but Foil was quick to change the subject: “One of the other kids mentioned that the storm has passed and that there’s a full moon. You all know what that means!”
Nial stood up and motioned for Melissa to do the same: “Come on, it’s time to head to the roof.”
Desjar walked alone down the street towards the UEF quarters, using the fresh air to clear his mind before heading home. It was not the first time in his life that he had ever gotten drunk, but this was probably one of the rare times that he was recovering so quickly. Knowing the Cybrans, their Minerva Swamp was most likely designed so that most of its devastating effects would wear off soon after someone stopped drinking it.
Part of him regretted having exploded like that in front of everyone, but he also felt relieved at finally saying what he had been keeping bottled for so long. Bagby might be insane, but he was probably right about that part. Hopefully Hall would find a way to patch things up; one that did not involve him.
The sound of something howling caught his attention and he looked up towards a nearby building. He briefly wondered why someone would do that, but then shrugged. After tonight’s insanity, he doubted that anything else could surprise him.
Foil ended his long howl in a low note before turning towards the other children: “Tonight is a night to remember. We have pulled off another Rave without getting caught!”
The twenty children who had followed Foil on the roof whooped and then waited for the charismatic youth to continue: “Life is hard and the Seraphim have not made it any easier. We are forced to hide, to flee and even to ally with our past enemies merely to survive. Tomorrow is another day where we must do our part, but not tonight.”
Melissa watched as Foil suddenly jumped near an antenna and used it to haul himself higher: “Tonight, we take the time to remember that freedom is not something that is merely handed to us. It took courage, determination, ingenuity and a whole lot of guts to organize all of this in secret and that is something that we should all feel proud of! We are the ones that made it happen!”
Another cheer ran through the crowd as Foil raised his head towards the sky: “Tonight, let the very moon bear witness that we are not only alive, but that we are free!”
Foil howled towards the moon once more and Melissa watched with a mixture anxiety and awe as Tie, Quy and a few others joined in. Nial nudged her in the ribs before howling as well and Melissa hesitated for a few seconds. It seemed so very childish to do something like this. Then again, she was just a child, wasn’t she?
Melissa finally raised her head and howled timidly. She felt her face flush in embarrassment, but soon all children were howling; their combined voices resonating like a chorus. Melissa’s embarrassment soon disappeared and was replaced by something else, something that she had not felt in a long time.
Ever since X-Day, she had followed her family, had gone to school, had been evacuated and had conformed herself to either UEF or Cybran rules. Not once during all that time had a choice truly been offered to her, but she understood now that it was there nonetheless. It was her choice to howl like the others. It was also her choice to be happy or not with her family, no matter what the war was throwing their way.
Melissa took a breath and howled once more towards the moon, her voice rising as high as the others. Tonight, she was free.
The lone Cybran scouring the streets paused and looked up as he heard the howls. He cursed himself for his own stupidity and started running in that direction. The girl must have somehow found her way inside a Rave; that was the only way to explain how she had disappeared. She would not get away from him this time.
A few minutes later, the children were back in the basement, the sound of music mixing with laughter and cries of joy. Melissa smiled through it all, forgetting that she did not truly belong there and merely enjoying herself. Her gaze lingered on Foil more than once and she wondered briefly what she could do to get his attention.
Nial suddenly brought out a bottle from a pouch to her side and her little brother brought out a series of small cups: “No Rave can be complete without a drink!”
Both Foil and Tie looked at her eagerly as she poured each of them a small cup and even Melissa was curious when she was handed her own. For a moment, she thought that it was some kind of alcoholic drink, but a quick sniff assured her that it was probably just something sweet. Quy smiled eagerly as his big sister poured him his drink and he looked at everyone around the table: “I bet that none of you can even tell what it is!”
Nial poured the last of the liquid in her cup and raised it in a toast: “To a great Rave!”
The others raised their drinks and each of them took a careful sip. Foil’s eyes widened in surprise and even Tie’s face brightened in delight: “Wow, you really outdid yourself this time Nial. What is this stuff?”
Melissa enjoyed the taste in her mouth for a second before nodding: “It tastes like grape juice made from concentrate.”
Everyone turned to look at her and Quy’s mouth hanged open: “How did you know? You had some before? Scorched Earth always had the best loot. It took us a whole week to figure out a way to get this out of our secret stash without anyone noticing.”
Melissa blushed in embarrassment, but the conversation soon resumed about another topic as everyone enjoyed their drink. She allowed her gaze to wander from one member of the gang to the other, but it stopped when it crossed Tie’s. The boy who never looked at anyone in the eyes was now looking straight at her without blinking. The full weight of his scrutiny settled on her and for a moment, Melissa was afraid that he had somehow figured out that she was not a Cybran.
That moment was abruptly interrupted when something exploded near their secret entrance. Melissa’s heart skipped a beat when a Cybran suddenly stepped into view and looked straight at her, his facial circuitry glowing in the dim light. She knew without a doubt that he had been the one stalking her even as Foil’s hand closed over her own: “It’s a raid; we have to get out of here!”
Desjar finally reached his apartment complex and was surprised to find Weisman with a pair of security guards moving outside with flashlights. He waved at them as soon as they spotted him and he grew curious when Weisman ran towards him: “What are you guys doing out here?”
“Sir, it’s your daughter. She’s missing,” said Weisman urgently. The simple proclamation hit Desjar like a knife in the guts. His mind reeled with all possible disasters and with everything that he should have done just as Weisman placed a hand on his shoulder: “We got it here. We’re not going to rest until we find her.”
Desjar thanked him and sprinted towards the complex.
The gang crawled through an escape tunnel as quickly as they could with Foil leading the way. They stopped near a sealed hatch as Foil entered the code and Melissa looked behind her quickly. Nial was covering the rear with her little brother in front of her. Tie was in the middle, his unrelenting gaze resting on Melissa once more. A shiver ran down her spine as she thought that the strange boy had somehow uncovered her secret.
The hatch opened just then and Foil motioned towards the others to follow him. He helped everyone out of the tunnel and on the city street just as the sound of rolling thunder came from outside the city: “Stay low and stick together.”
“No,” said Tie, drawing a confused look from everyone even as he motioned towards Quy and Nial: “You two go that way. You’ll be safer and the rest of us will move faster.”
“But we could be caught,” protested Quy. Tie merely shook his head and then turned his gaze back on Melissa even though he spoke to Nial and her brother: “I don’t think that this specific raider is after you. Trust me on this.”
A curse escaped Foil, but he nodded anyway: “We don’t have time to debate, so let’s do as Tie says. Come on!”
Foil, Tie and Melissa ran in one direction while Nial and Quy ran the other way. The boy from the Chimera Node was still throwing Melissa some meaningful glances every few seconds and she was growing nervous about it. Foil merely ran ahead, his eyes searching left and right: “I know this great place to lose someone. It’s just up ahead.”
Tie’s incessant staring only accentuated Melissa’s guilt and she decided that she could not hide any longer: “Foil, there’s something that I should tell you…”
Her words were interrupted as a sharp sound came from behind them. Melissa did not even have time to dodge as something wrapped itself around her ankles and made her fall forward. She scratched her knees and palms on the hard pavement as she landed and looked backward just as a Cybran came into view.
Foil sprinted back towards her, but Tie merely stopped and placed his hands in his pockets. The leader of the gang placed himself between Melissa and the approaching Cybran and raised his hands as if to calm him: “Come on, it’s her first Rave. You’re not heartless enough to bust her on her first time, are you?”
The Cybran ignored the question and merely stepped forward. Foil looked back to Melissa for a second and smiled in resignation before turning back towards their aggressor: “Fine, take me instead. I was the one responsible for organizing a lot of it so you might as well take me.”
Foil’s smile disappeared as the Cybran shoved him out of the way without so much as an explanation. He landed hard on the ground, but quickly jumped back to his feet: “You bastard! If you think that we’re going to take that then you have something else coming your way. Let’s get him Tie!”
“No,” said Tie, apparently unperturbed by the whole scene as he shifted from one foot to the other. Foil turned an incredulous look towards him: “Come on, I need you! We can’t let this happen to one of our own, not like this!”
“She’s not one of us,” said Tie with a shrug, drawing an incredulous stare from both Foil and Melissa and even making their aggressor pause. Tie scratched the back of his head with his right hand and sighed: “Her skin tone, her clothes, her movements, her speech, everything about her says that she’s UEF. That and this guy wasn’t trying to bust our Rave; he was targeting her the whole time.”
Foil shook his head in disbelief and turned towards Melissa only to see a tear slide down her cheek: “I wanted to tell you, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!”
The Cybran picked her off the ground just then and placed her on his shoulder. Melissa only cried helplessly as she was taken away from Foil. A few seconds later, a light rain fell over the Cybran Node.
Desjar burst into his home only to find Weisman’s mother trying to comfort Jessy. Both of them looked at him and he could immediately tell that his wife had been crying for the better part of the night. The older woman squeezed Jessy’s hands one last time before turning towards the exit: “I’ll go help with the search as well now that you are here. We won’t stop until we find her.”
Both Desjar and Jessy nodded in gratitude. Desjar waited until she was out of the apartment before stepping forward: “I only learned about it a minute ago. What… what happened?”
“We can’t go on like this,” said Jessy while wiping a tear with the back of her hand: “She ran because of us; because we’re not a family anymore. I… I don’t know how to fix this.”
Although she had not said so, Desjar knew that the large part of the blame rested squarely on him. If only he had been there for them instead of hiding behind the controls of his ACU then maybe this would not have happened. He had been so focused on the past that he might have just lost everything. He stepped forward and wrapped Jessy in a hug while blinking away his own tears: “I’ll do anything it takes to make it right. I promise.”
The two of them stood together for a few moments, trying to find comfort in each other’s arms. The doorbell rang just then and Desjar moved towards it, hoping that someone had some news. Weisman was on the other side with a relieved smile on his face. He stepped aside immediately to give Desjar a clear view of Melissa and the Cybran who had brought her back.
Her palms were scratched, her hair was wet and it was obvious that she was holding back her tears. Jessy immediately surged forward and wrapped her daughter in a hug: “Thank god, you’re home!”
The Cybran looked at Desjar even as Jessy ushered Melissa inside the appartment: “She accidentally joined a Rave, a party that Cybran youths sometimes throw around. They mistook her for one of their own.”
Desjar reached forward and clasped the Cybran hand eagerly: “I can’t thank you enough. If you need anything just…”
“It was nothing,” interrupted the Cybran while nodding towards the elevator: “I have to leave. You go ahead and take care of your family.”
Desjar nodded gratefully one last time before going back in his apartment. Weisman escorted the Cybran towards the elevator: “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“Ien,” answered the stranger. Weisman bowed his head slightly and smiled: “The Major General meant what he said. If you need anything just let him or one us know and we’ll help as best as we can.”
Ien nodded and the two of them stepped in the elevator. Weisman studied the Cybran, noticing amongst other things that he was rather young and most likely still in his twenties. He hesitated a moment longer before asking a question: “I’m curious about one thing. I thought that the Cybran Nation did not approve of parties considering our current condition.”
“We don’t,” assured Ien while nodding: “But the Rave has been around for centuries. It is both a tradition and an education tool at the same time. If the children can muster the necessary technical, security, stealth and spy skills to pull it off, then we let them have some fun. If they don’t then they get caught and punished accordingly. Some sections of the node are purposely left with weaker security to give them a chance. They all eventually realize that it’s as much of an exercise as party, but those that figure it out don’t tell the youngest to preserve the sense of excitement.”
The notion seemed strange to Weisman and he lifted a hand: “Why would they do that? It’s obvious if you take the time to think about it.”
“Why do you think that Christmas is still celebrated by the UEF?” replied Ien with a shrug: “You can choose to believe in Santa Claus and that there’s a quantum gate in the North Pole so that he can visit every house in the galaxy. Traditions like that don’t survive centuries because they make sense; they do so because the message is more important than the belief. In the end, it’s about people and food and no one will be angry if you believe in it or not.”
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Weisman offered his hand just as the Cybran was about to leave: “Thanks again. We owe you much.”
Ien shook his head and waved the notion away: “No, it is our debt that was paid. He spared my family; my brothers and I watched over his.”
The Cybran hesitated a moment, shook Weisman’s hand and offered one last clue to the confused pilot before leaving: “Do us a favor and thank him for the sandwiches.”
“You’re grounded,” said Desjar as sternly as he could: “I’m taking the next few days off and we are all going to sit down and talk. I know I have been distant of late but we’re a family and…”
Melissa suddenly surged forward and hugged Desjar fiercely: “I’m so sorry Daddy!”
The unexpected dash stunned Desjar and he listened as Melissa spoke: “I’ve been selfish. I kept blaming everyone else for what we had lost instead of doing my part to make it better. It’s my fault and I missed you so much!”
“I missed you too,” said Desjar a choked voice while hugging his daughter with one hand and drawing his wife with the other: “It’s my fault as well. I should have opened up instead of shutting my family out.”
The three of them just stood together in silence, enjoying the feeling of being a family once more.
Hall pressed a button and the door opened, revealing the cramped space: “These will be your quarters for the time being. I just received word that Commander Thalia is on her way and will be joining you shortly. I would appreciate it if you did not attempt to travel anywhere without an escort.”
“Thank you,” said Rhiza while bowing her head. Keith waited until the door closed before speaking to Hall: “What a day. I’ll go get some rest as soon as Queren and Sjet get back here. They’ll take care of the night shift and I’ll relieve them in the morning. You look like you could use some sleep as well, General.”
Hall nodded wearily. He had not known what to expect from the Loyalists visit, but somehow he had hoped that it would have gone a lot better than that. There was nothing more that he could do here at the moment, however, so he might as well get some rest.
Back in her quarters, Rhiza just sat on her bed, unable to shake the vision of the grief stricken pilot from her mind.
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 11 Sep, 2008, edited 2 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
A failure to listen
I sit in these quarters, unable to rest for more than a few hours. Maybe writing my thoughts on this simple data pad which was provided by our host us will help ease my mind, but I doubt it. Today I was branded a monster by the man that I was trying to befriend and I must admit that it troubles me to no end.
The accusation was crude; a violation of just about every founding principle of The Way. The strangest part, however, was not the proclamation in itself, but rather that after Commander Desjar left, I found no trace of sympathy in anyone’s eyes. Every Cybran in the room, as varied as they were, sided wholeheartedly with him. I could even tell that although General Hall had not approved of the behavior, he did not truly fault Commander Desjar for it. I simply do not understand why.
The Way teaches us that solving conflicts is impossible unless both sides are willing to listen. I always took for granted that every human being would understand that, but what do I do if listening is not a possibility? How do I solve this problem in order to become something other than a monster in their eyes?
Thalia woke up to the sound of light tapping. She opened her eyes and saw Rhiza sitting on her bed with a data pad in her hands. The younger pilot blinked a few times before speaking: “You should take the time to rest while you can.”
Rhiza was startled by Thalia’s words and smiled in embarrassment. She bowed her head while touching her forehead, offering a silent apology for waking the other pilot. Thalia stretched in her bed, her mind still recovering from the seemingly endless questions that Dostya had thrown her way. Most of those had been repeated over and over again, as if the Cybran had been hoping to catch her in a lie. Thalia pushed those thoughts aside for the moment and focused on Rhiza: “You appear worried. Did something happen last night?”
A sigh escaped Rhiza as she lowered the data pad. She closed her eyes to clear her thoughts before speaking: “I wonder what it would feel like if someone close to us was to forsake The Way and embrace another philosophy.”
“That would be highly unlikely,” said Thalia with a shrug as she sat in her bed: “The Way is the truth. Anything else that would be true would therefore also be part of The Way. There is no higher calling.”
“But imagine for a moment that there was,” insisted Rhiza while leaning forward in her bed: “What would we feel if someone left us under such pretences?”
“Curiosity and a willingness to learn about it?” asked Thalia in confusion. The younger pilot shook her head to clear it: “Perhaps you should explain to me what happened. I could assist you more efficiently this way.”
Rhiza hesitated a moment before nodding: “It is Commander Desjar; he hates our people. He claims that we stole his brother and that we killed him after he failed in his mission. He would not listen to anything that I had to say nor would I know what to say to comfort him even if he did.”
Thalia gave it some thought while rubbing her chin: “I do not recall of a converted pilot who’s family name was Desjar. Maybe it was a half brother? If we only knew who he was referring to then maybe we could offer some comfort or clarification. The mere notion of us killing one of our own makes me doubt the veracity of this story. The UEF has been known to lie to its people after all.”
“My thoughts are one and the same,” admitted Rhiza while sighing in desperation: “But we did not take a copy of our main databases when we left our settlement. I cannot imagine myself asking General Hall for that information and I am not sure that Commander Dostya would be any more cooperative in that matter.”
Thalia’s face brightened suddenly as a thought occurred to her: “I know of someone who could help us!”
Sjet yawned loudly while rubbing his right eye: “I’m sleepy and this is boring as Hell. I can’t wait for Keith to relieve us.”
Queren nodded and it seemed as though he was about to say something when the door to the Loyalists quarters opened. Thalia stepped out and bowed her head towards Sjet: “My apologies, but could I have a moment of your time?”
The Commando stepped forward cautiously, but stayed out of arm’s reach: “What is it?”
“I would ask for your assistance, if I may,” said Thalia carefully, as though using anything but the most polite wording would upset the Cybran: “Could you tell me if a specific Cybran pilot is here? When I last saw him, he referred to himself as the pirate lord of the Red Skull Node, conqueror of the machine complex, undefeated…”
“Bagby,” interrupted Sjet, confident that no one else would make up such a title. The commando did not even try to figure out how the Loyalist pilot knew about him and merely shrugged: “Yeah, he’s here. Why?”
Thalia’s smiled broadly: “We would like to see him and ask for his help.”
Sjet’s eyes widened in disbelief and he was shaking his head without even realizing it: “Lady, do you have any idea…”
Queren poked Sjet in the ribs just then to interrupt him and motioned for the Loyalist pilot to wait while he dragged his buddy away. The silent Cybran turned his back to Thalia to block her view and made a smooth wave motion with his hand. Sjet looked at it and raised an eyebrow: “What do you mean ‘let it slide’? Do you have any idea…”
Queren repeated the motion with a mischievous smile playing on his lips and then pointed at his wrist computer which, amongst other things, could access the node’s camera network. Sjet slowly realized what his partner was suggesting and smiled conspicuously. The two of them exchanged knowing nods before Sjet moved back towards Thalia: “Of course, I’m sure Bagby will be delighted to see you.”
Koster pulled hard on his ACU’s lateral control panel, trying to move it to gain access to the environmental circuit board behind it. The thing was bolted so tightly, however, that it refused to budge: “Just a little… damn it!”
The panel suddenly jerked forward, throwing Koster back in his seat and rupturing a minor cooling tube in the process. Flinn reached forward to catch the tube and managed to pluck it shut before it made too much of a mess. The two pilots looked at the blue ooze that covered their hands and Flinn was the first once to wince: “This stuff is disgusting.”
Flinn was startled when a towel suddenly fell in his hand and he looked outside the cockpit just in time to see a Cybran technician throw another one to Koster from four meters away. Flinn waved at the technician gratefully: “Thanks a lot!”
He waited until the Cybran had walked away before turning to Koster: “Since when does that happen?”
“What are you talking about?” said Koster while assessing the damage to his ACU’s environmental control board. Flinn looked out of the cockpit again before talking: “We just got some help without asking about it. Usually, everyone just stays on their side of the hangar. Did something change since yesterday or what?”
The two pilots looked at each other, shrugged and then went back to work.
Hall brushed his uniform to straighten it and looked at himself in the artificial mirror. Cybrans quarters were not designed to include such a simple commodity as the real thing, the principle being that a mirror could shatter and cause injuries during an attack. Instead, the computer screen was designed with a built in camera so that his image was displayed on it. It was another mark of Cybran ingenuity, but Hall would still have preferred to have a real mirror.
A touch of a button switched the screen back into its standard mode and Hall was not surprised to find a message coming from Desjar. He read it and soon nodded approvingly. Desjar had pushed himself too hard lately and some time off with his family would help him recover while easing the negotiations with the loyalists. Hall pressed another button to hail the node’s command center and was taken aback when Doctor Brackman appeared on his screen: “Oh, hello General Hall. Hello.”
“Doctor Brackman?” asked Hall in surprise while checking his console to make sure that he had pressed the right button: “Forgive me, I was trying to reach Commander Dostya.”
Brackman smiled while nodding: “I am overseeing things for a few moments while she takes care of other matters, oh yes. Is there something that you needed?”
It took a moment for Hall to recover from his initial shock. He then nodded and decided to act the same way as if he was speaking to Dostya: “I just wanted to let you know that Commander Desjar will be taking the next few days off. I also wanted to extend my apologies for his behavior yesterday.”
The Doctor tilted his head to the side as if he was trying to weight the concept: “You are referring to his actions at the Hot Plasma Bar?”
“You know what happened?” asked Hall, suddenly worried. He had hoped to break the news as smoothly as he could instead of having it spin out of control.
“The entire node knows,” said Brackman, an enigmatic smile playing on his face: “Do not be so surprised, General. Information travels very quickly amongst my children, oh yes. I predict that Commander Desjar’s outburst, as tactless as you fear it might have been, will do much to bridge some gaps between our people. I really must commend you on your foresight in bringing him here.”
A wave of confusion coursed through Hall. Had Brackman heard the right story or had it been horribly distorted by the time that it had reached him? From all appearances, the Doctor appeared pleased and Hall did not really want to change that: “But it might have harmed our chance of forming an alliance with the Loyalist movement.”
Brackman shook his head slightly: “I do not believe that we had much of a chance to begin with, General.”
Hall frowned in confusion even as Brackman spoke: “There are two fundamental principles behind an alliance. One is to understand what we have in common and the other is to know and accept that which will forever set us apart. As long as the Loyalists do not fully grasp the latter then I fear that this will not be the last incident in sight.”
Thalia pressed the button near the door and waited, but nothing happened. She looked at Rhiza to her right before turning to Sjet who was waiting further down the corridor: “Are you sure that these are his quarters?”
“Absolutely,” said Sjet with one foot waiting in the adjacent corridor as if he was about to hide: “You might need to press that button a few more times. Just think of it as a test of persistence.”
Rhiza frowned, certain that the Cybran Commando was not telling them everything. She did not object as Thalia pressed the button again and only prayed that things would work out smoothly.
Bagby lay in his bed, grinning stupidly in his sleep with his face buried in his pillow. It had been a long time since he had fun like that and he would cherish it for weeks. An unconscious chuckle escaped him accompanied with a bit of drool even as he started dreaming of all the possibilities now that he was free to meddle with the UEF and Loyalist boys and girls.
The old pilot’s mind was trying to find a way to incorporate all of those crazy ideas together and he heard a ding when he thought of a chocolate milkshake mixed with mustard. A small - very small - part of him realized that this was a poor choice for a drink and wondered why his mind would ring as if he had hit the jackpot. The sound was repeated again and he realized that it was merely the doorbell: “Go away…”
A few more seconds passed before the doorbell rang again. Bagby took a hold of his pillow and wrapped it around his ears: “I need my dose of sleep and erotic dreams! Go away already!”
Another pause was quickly followed by the another ring, causing the old pilot to sit up in his bed. Bagby grabbed the nearly empty bottle of Minerva Swamp and started walking towards the door. He was so annoyed that he did not even bother putting his pants back on, confident that his old boxers were more than appropriate under the circumstances: “God damn it, why did they make sound proof doors? I can’t shout for people to leave because of them!”
Bagby pressed a button near the door to open it, fully intent on giving whoever was on the other side a piece of his mind and probably a kick in the back. The harsh words died on his lips when he saw Thalia bow towards him with her hands held in front of her like a chalice: “Forgive our intrusion, but we humbly ask for your assistance.”
“Sweetheart?” asked Bagby dumbly. He looked from the two gorgeous Loyalists in front of him to his bottle of Minerva Swamp and raised an eyebrow: “Whoa… now that’s good stuff. I don’t know what Bob added, but I like it!”
A chuckle escaped Bagby and he smiled despite himself. If this was a dream then it was a heck of a good one! He extended his finger and poked Thalia in the shoulder. It took Bagby a few seconds - and pokes - before he realized that the Loyalist pilot felt a lot more real than most dreams and that she was looking at him in confusion instead of giggling like she was supposed to. It was only then that his eyes widened in horror and that he took a step back: “Holy cow, you’re real!”
Thalia nodded, setting her confusion aside and bowing her head once more with her hands still held in front of her: “We would ask for the benefit of your wisdom.”
Bagby raised a finger, his mind desperately trying to grasp the mere concept of wisdom in the current context. Something occurred to him then and he looked down at his legs: “This goes against every fantasy that I ever had… but I need my pants.”
“Are you sure that he is the one?” asked Rhiza the moment that Bagby closed the door. Thalia nodded, her movements betraying her uneasiness: “I am certain that it is him. Perhaps we have simply caught him at a bad time?”
The door opened again and Bagby took a step outside, his pants now firmly secured. He had a bottle in his hand and two glasses in the other as he looked left and right: “Just out of curiosity, who escorted you here?”
Thalia kept her hands in front of her in the shape of a chalice, confused but willing to answer. According to the Illuminate’s etiquette, she was bound to respond to her benefactor’s questions until he found it appropriate to answer her original request. Her eyes darted to her right, but there was no trace of the Commandos: “Commander Dostya introduced him as Sjet and…”
“You’re a bastard Sjet!” cried Bagby loudly, startling both Loyalist pilots. Bagby shrugged before looking at Thalia again: “Oh, sorry about that. That’s just the way that I’ll say ‘hi’ to him for the next few weeks.”
Thalia was about to ask what that meant when Bagby placed one of the glasses in her outstretched hands. He then filled it with the strange liquid in the bottle and did the same with the remaining glass before handing it to Rhiza: “I hereby bestow upon you the fruits of my wisdom.”
The old pilot winked at her, a mischievous smile playing on his lips: “By the way, if you had joined your friend last night then my reputation would have acquired a new legendary level. Heck, I would have become some kind of Cybran prophet or a messiah.”
Thalia wondered if she was supposed to apologize, but Bagby simply raised his bottle and started drinking. He emptied what was left of its content before throwing it back in his quarters. He then clapped his hands together and turned towards the door: “Ok, that’s it for the wisdom part. Now Sweetheart, could you show me which button activates my doorbell?”
Thalia was still bound to do as she was asked and she pointed at the yellow button with finger. Bagby took a small blaster from his belt, aimed and fired in an instant, blasting half of the console to pieces. Sparks made both Loyalist pilots take a step back reflexively, but Bagby simply holstered his blaster before turning to them: “I’d kind of appreciate it if you did not tell anyone about this little toy of mine. I’m not supposed to have one of those in my quarters.”
He then placed a hand on each of their shoulders and smiled: “So kids, have fun out there, Alleluia, peace on Earth and happy trick or treating!”
Bagby walked back inside his quarters and closed the door before either pilot could say anything. Rhiza smelled her drink for a second and flinched away reflexively, her nose wrinkling in disgust: “Maybe we should ask Commander Dostya instead.”
Thalia took a tentative sip, but immediately started coughing, her eyes bulging wide at the vile taste. She then nodded towards Rhiza, convinced that it was the wiser course of action.
Sjet and Queren were laughing uncontrollably, having seen everything on their wrist computers. This video would circulate around the entire node before the end of the day. Sjet turned to Querent and slapped him on the shoulder: “Did you see their faces? It was priceless! It was…”
Querent immediately stopped laughing and stood at attention. Sjet’s smile slowly faded as he realized what had just happened: “Keith is standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
The silent commando barely tipped his head and Sjet turned around with his hands held wide: “Boss, I…”
Keith lifted a hand to interrupt him, his gaze unforgiving: “I don’t even want to know how your twisted mind somehow thought that bringing them to Bagby was a good idea.”
“But they asked for him and Queren was the one who convinced me to do it!” protested Sjet while pointing towards the other Commando. Keith snorted in disgust: “Right, the guy who barely says three words in a day made you do it? You’ll be pulling off double shifts for the next week and I’ll triple it if you say another word!”
Sjet was left to gesture helplessly as Keith walked towards their two Loyalist guests. The Commando finally sighed and dropped his arms to his side: “But it’s always the silent ones…”
He finally turned around and glared at Queren who was looking away innocently: “You’re a sadistic bastard, you know that?”
“I want Talon and his men at these coordinates within the hour,” said Dostya while pointing at the command center’s main screen with one hand: “What is so complicated about that?”
“It’s the nature of the mission,” said Valerie once again. She chose her words carefully before speaking again: “Talon is one of the two most likely candidates to become the next Redfog. Scouting is hardly a task worthy of his skills or aspirations despite the high probability of encounter. I would suggest sending him on an assassination mission in Order territory. It would keep him busy for a greater length of time and hopefully soothe his ego.”
Dostya shook her head while focusing on a data pad that another technician had just brought her: “He is good, but I can’t lose him for a month long operation. We might need him again soon and I don’t intend to support his candidature by playing favorites either.”
She approved the request for supplies and handed the data pad back to the technician, but he still stood in front of her: “Is there anything else?”
“The Loyalist delegation wants a minute of your time. They say it’s urgent,” replied the technician. Dostya motioned for him to send them in even as Valerie stepped closer to her. The assassin whispered so that only she could hear: “You cannot dodge your responsibilities forever. If you do not play this game then sooner or later its main players will take matters into their own hands.”
Dostya looked at Rhiza, Thalia and Keith as they stepped inside the control center, but still spoke to Valerie: “Let’s hope for all our sakes that it will be later.”
It was obvious by Valerie’s posture that the assassin did not agree with her, but Rhiza stepped into range just then and bowed to the two of them: “My apologies for disturbing you, but I require your assistance. I was wondering if you could help me in a sensitive matter.”
“Make it quick,” said Dostya impatiently while motioning towards the frantic level of activity that surrounded them: “This is a busy morning.”
Rhiza bowed forward and placed both of her hands in front of her like a chalice: “We were wondering if you knew the name of Commander Desjar’s brother. We would be most grateful if you could reveal it to us.”
“Ask General Hall,” barked Dostya while waving a hand dismissively. She had enough on her hands with just the Assumpta Node threatening to rebel. She did not need to aggravate the situation with the UEF by speaking behind their backs.
Rhiza bowed lower, adopting an even humbler tone: “This is a matter of some delicacy. We are trying to resolve this as gently as…”
“Commander Desjar has no brother,” interrupted Valerie, drawing everyone’s gaze back to her. To the assassin’s mind, the sooner the Loyalists were out of the room, the sooner she could get Dostya’s attention back on important matters: “He was born a single child. The closest person that would qualify as such would be Commander Zachary Arnold, converted near the end of the Infinite War and killed on X-Day.”
Rhiza’s eyes widened in shock and she straightened reflexively: “Forgive me, but how do you know this without consulting any of your databases?”
“I tried to kill him,” said Valerie as a matter of fact. Dostya groaned and Keith slapped his forehead. Rhiza looked at the two of them in turn before asking the first question that came to mind: “That is a figure of speech, correct?”
For a moment, Keith half considered explaining what the Assumpta were about. To them, it was a matter of pride to be intimately aware of every detail of a target’s life if they failed to kill him once. The purpose was to have every available tool should the opportunity present itself again, but it would be nearly impossible to explain that without accidentally giving birth to a hundred more questions.
Keith finally decided to simply shake his head: “It just means that she knows what she’s talking about. Please tell me that it answers your question.”
Rhiza’s confused look was quickly replaced by a beaming smile: “It did, very much so! I can now make amends to Commander Desjar. Thank you!”
The two loyalists bowed to everyone in turn before moving out of the control center. Keith hesitated a few seconds before grumbling to himself: “Am I the only one who hasn’t tried to kill him yet?”
Rhiza walked quickly down the corridor with Thalia on her heels. Keith was forced to jog to catch up to them: “Where are you going?”
“To the training room,” replied Rhiza without slowing her pace. She turned her head and smiled broadly towards the Commando: “We passed it by on our initial visit. I believe that this is where we saw a few UEF an Cybran pilots train. It is the likeliest place where we can either find Commander Desjar or someone who can escort us to him if he is in the UEF district.”
Keith was about to protest, but Thalia beat him to it first: “Are you sure that this is a wise course of action? All we have is the pilot’s name and little else.”
“I have met Zachary Arnold once before,” said Rhiza as they reached the training room. There were twelve pilots; four of which were part of the UEF. Rhiza’s gaze settled on the one who was busy training another: “I know how to solve this problem.”
Rhiza stepped towards Weisman who was showing something to Carmack: “… use all of your muscles and not just your back or else you’ll eventually injure your spine.”
The UEF Major noticed Carmack’s gaze trail off behind him and he turned around. The sight of the smiling Loyalist pilot immediately set him on his guard: “Yes?”
“Could you please tell me if Commander Desjar is here?” asked Rhiza eagerly. The two UEF pilots glanced at each other before Weisman answered: “The Major General will not be reporting in today.”
Rhiza did not mind the minor setback and took a step forward instead: “Then could we have permission to visit him at his residence? We have great news for him!”
A dark shadow crossed Weisman’s features as he spoke: “Major General Desjar is off duty right now and I sincerely doubt that he would appreciate such a visit. It would be best if you restrained your interactions to General Hall.”
“But you do not understand. We have news concerning Zachary Arnold!” protested Rhiza while extending both hands. She did not know why her interactions always seemed to spark such hostile reactions, but she was certain that the key to solving it was within her grasp: “I have met him and I can tell Commander Desjar about the circumstances that have led him to join the Aeon Illuminate. He was personally enlightened by the Princess and made a greater contribution towards our understanding of The Way than most other pilots, myself included. Don’t you see?”
“Oh I see,” said Weisman, his entire body growing tense as he spoke: “Now I ‘know’ that I won’t let you see him. Get out of here.”
“Please,” begged Rhiza while extending a hand towards Weisman’s shoulder: “You know in your heart that we are only…”
In the Illuminate, the gesture of placing a hand on someone’s shoulder was intended to encourage trust and indicated that a person was willing to do anything it took to improve the situation. In Weisman’s eyes, however, all that he saw was an attempt to convert him and he reacted the same way that he would have if she had reached for his throat instead. His left hand reached up, catching Rhiza’s wrist in a strong grip and holding it at bay.
Rhiza also reacted in turn without thinking, responding to the sudden hostility by whipping her hand gracefully around. She disentangled herself from Weisman’s grasp and caught his own wrist before twisting it in a lock. The move was meant only to neutralize an aggressor without causing any lasting damage, but her eyes widened in horror at what she had done: “I…”
She had been about to say that she had not meant to hurt him, but Weisman reacted with blinding speed. His entire body moved as one, doing a cartwheel motion that allowed him to move him arm back into a natural angle while twist out of Rhiza’s grasp. His foot kicked up at the same time, catching Rhiza straight in the face. The blow sent her reeling backward and Weisman was back on his feet with his hands held in a defensive position by the time that she recovered: “I’m not letting you take a single step in our district. I won’t let you poison Commander Desjar’s life any more than you already have, not for as long as I stand!”
Rhiza wiped the small tickle of blood coming from her nose and looked around. Every Cybran and UEF pilots in the room had formed a circle around them and were looking at them expectantly. Why were they doing this? Was this form of combat expected and even encouraged?
She looked at Weisman again and there was no doubt that he was fully prepared for a fight and that he had meant what he had said. Rhiza took a deep breath and raised her arms in a standard Suulki defense. It was against every principle of The Way, but if she had to fight to earn the right to speak to Desjar then she would do it.
Returning to normal
Assembling a team of ACU pilots is a bit like creating a football team. You just can’t expect everyone to be a good quarterback, linebacker and receiver at the same time; each player has a specialty. Why else would we have a pilot like Flinn around? The guy is obnoxious, easily excitable and probably needs medication to help him sleep. I often told him that someone screwed up his wiring when he was born and plugged him the brain of a hyperactive hamster instead.
Well you know what? I never saw a guy type faster on his console or react as quickly to micro manage and intercept multiple enemy groups at the same time. Heck, I once fought him using simulators and there is no greater pain in the rear then this guy to pull your interceptors from their patrol routes and into an anti-air zone. In other words, his role is to screw up enemy plans. So yeah, sometimes he drives me nuts, but I’m glad that he’s on the team when things get rough.
As for the others; Desjar is the leader, I and Garriot are the defensive line, Koster and Walter are the offense and Wright is the economy wizard. Weisman? Just look at what his favorite sports and hobbies are. You’ll figure it out soon enough.
The makeshift ball caught Melissa square in the chest, but she wrapped her hands around it at the last possible moment. She sighed in relief and looked at her last opponent, the sixteen year old boy who stood a head and a half taller than every other child. The guy had good reflexes which made him hard to eliminate and his throws were powerful as well.
Melissa waved with her hand, motioning for her two remaining teammates to hold on to their own balls for a moment: “All together on three… three!”
The improvised missiles flew through the air and their opponent was forced to jump sideways. Melissa’s ball still touched his leg and bounced upwards before falling to the ground. A cheer immediately erupted from the other children who had been eliminated and they all came around the victors while shouting: “Go blue, go! Go blue, go!”
Melissa laughed happily, enjoying the moment while looking around. Cybran consoles did not have a ball schematic in their databases, so she had spent the better part of the morning ordering and then stitching together a series of clothes to make them. She had then, with her parent’s permission, invited Weisman’s nephews and nieces to play a game of dodge ball outside before heading to school. What had first been a small game had quickly grown as more and more children from the surrounding buildings had joined them.
Many parents were on the sideline as well and Melissa waved happily towards her father and mother who were standing together not far away. They waved back and Melissa allowed her gaze to trail off, noting the sheer amount of people that were watching and encouraging them. It was then that she saw a familiar shape standing alone in an alley.
Desjar wrapped an arm around Jessy and drew her closer: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her as happy as this.”
“That probably applies to every other child as well,” noted Jessy as a ball rolled next to her feet. She looked at the hastily stitched ball for a moment before kicking it back into play: “I wonder where she got the idea of making balls using ordered clothes like that?”
“I don’t know, but it sure got everyone else’s attention,” said Desjar while gazing at the fifty or so people who were now watching the match. It would not be long before the children would have to run off to school, but no one wanted to break their fun just yet. A smile formed on Desjar’s face when three children came to Melissa: “Weisman’s nieces and nephews are following her lead as if she was their General.”
“That part she got from her father,” said Jessy while nudging him gently in the ribs. Desjar planted a kiss on Jessy’s head and watched as his daughter motioned for her group to wait while she stepped outside of the playing field. It was only then that he noticed another figure waiting in a nearby alley: “Do you have any idea who that boy is?”
Jessy squinted to get a better look before shaking her head: “No, I haven’t seen him before.”
Melissa spoke to the newcomer for a minute, their words indistinguishable over the game that was taking place without them. For a moment, a group of children blocked Desjar and Jessy’s view. When they moved away, they saw Melissa walking back towards the sidelines, her steps appearing lighter. Desjar nudged his wife back: “Now I ‘know’ that she got that happy bounce from her mother.”
He was rewarded with a smile and the two of them looked back towards the game. For a split second, Desjar wondered how Hall and the others were doing, but he quickly pushed the thought away. Today he would take care of his family and nothing else. Besides, it’s not as if things could get any worse than last night now that he was out of the picture.
Thalia watched in horror as the battle went on to the cheers of those in the room. The UEF pilots were encouraging Weisman while most of the Cybrans were simply interested in a good fight, no matter who won. Thalia turned a pleading look towards Keith who merely stood with his arms crossed: “Can’t you do something? We have to stop this!”
“And risk having it explode in an all out brawl?” asked Keith without even looking at her. The Commando merely shrugged before returning his full attention to the battle: “Right now, it’s a civilized fight. I’ll intervene if someone tries to pull off a killing blow, but otherwise I have no reason to.”
One of Rhiza’s kicks passed within an inch of Weisman’s face, drawing a gasp from the crowd. Thalia felt the urge to place a hand on Keith’s shoulder to convey the seriousness of the matter, but remembered at the last moment what disastrous results it had accomplished when Rhiza had done so with the UEF pilot. She took a breath and spoke as diplomatically as she could: “Nothing can be gained by having Rhiza humiliate him in a fight.”
“You seem awfully sure of that,” said someone behind Thalia. She turned around and found another UEF pilot looking straight at her. Thalia touched her forehead while bowing slightly: “I meant no disrespect, but Rhiza is a formidable opponent. Illuminate pilots train both physically and mentally every day and she is more dedicated than most in that regard. Her opponent has not even managed to strike back since the fight started.”
A crooked smile appeared on Carmack’s face: “You go ahead and keep thinking that.”
Rhiza twirled gracefully, throwing a roundhouse kick that met nothing but air. She ended the move in a perfectly balanced position and studied her opponent for a few seconds. Weisman moved deftly around, using only small shuffling motions to move in and out of range. His arms were held up in a standard UEF combat style yet something was amiss.
Martial art training was a requirement prior to becoming an ACU pilot in the Illuminate. Even the most competent Crusader could be ambushed outside of her war machine after all and as such, it was part of their duties to be able to defend themselves. A section of those courses covered standard UEF styles and how to counter them. Their technique consisted mainly of close range strikes designed to deliver the greatest amount of power prior knocking out an opponent or immobilizing him in a choke hold.
It was for that reason that Rhiza had adopted the Suulki defense. Its graceful circular patterns were meant to build momentum and deliver powerful kicks while maintaining a safe distance. She had expected her opponent to step blindly into range and earn a few painful blows in the process, but he had not done so. Instead, he merely moved in and out of range while trading quick jabs and kicks that were easily blocked or dodged aside. A thought suddenly occurred to Rhiza after throwing a few more quick kicks: was time a factor?
She was the one who needed to win in order to be granted an audience with Commander Desjar, not the other way around. If she did not take the offensive then would she be judged unworthy? The realization that time was not on her side forced Rhiza to think of a new plan.
The circle of people that surrounded them was large, but it could perhaps be used as a distraction if she forced her opponent into it. She moved forward suddenly, throwing a kick that forced Weisman to take a step backward. Rhiza then threw another using her other leg prior to spinning in a reverse roundhouse kick that should have forced her opponent into the row of spectators.
Instead, Rhiza felt something bite deeply into her thigh even as her leg was blocked. She hopped away reflexively, but her leg refused to support her full weight and she had to limp backwards. She understood her mistake the moment that she looked at her opponent’s boots. Weisman was wearing most of his pilot’s uniform which included steel capped boots. He had blocked her blow with his left arm, trading one painful kick for a chance to launch an attack at her left thigh.
Rhiza could only imagine the size of the bruise that would appear there later, but she had other more pressing problems. Her wounded leg was numb and could barely support her full weight. Meanwhile, Weisman used the opportunity to move in closer. His movements were a blur, throwing a combination of palm, elbow and knee strikes in quick succession. Rhiza tried to match them, blocking a few blows in the process, but her footwork was impaired. Furthermore, her opponent was now using a mixture of martial art styles that she was unaccustomed to, focusing on quick moves a second only to switch to more powerful blows afterwards.
A knee strike suddenly caught Rhiza in the solar plexus, knocking the air out of her. She countered with a punch, but her aim was off and it merely dealt a glancing blow on the side of her opponent’s face. The ineffective strike did not slow Weisman down and he battered her defenses away prior to delivering a hammer fist blow to her temple that sent her crashing to the ground. Rhiza still found the presence of mind despite the ringing in her head to protect herself with her arms against any following attack, but none came. Weisman took a step back instead: “This battle is over.”
Rhiza blinked a few times while trying to regain control of her breathing: “What?”
“I said it’s over,” replied Weisman sternly. He brought his hand near his left eyebrow, wiping a bit of blood caused by a small cut when Rhiza had struck: “You’re in no position to fight back and I won’t kick people when their down.”
Rhiza used the reprieve to slowly get back on her feet: “But I still need to see Commander Desjar. I cannot allow myself to give up.”
“You fool!” shouted Weisman angrily while bringing his arms back up: “What do you need me to do, break your limbs? I will if it becomes necessary!”
Rhiza raised her arms in a Suulki defense once more and nodded: “Do what you must and so will I…”
A snort escaped Weisman as he took a step forward, but a strong voice shouted over everyone else’s: “Stand down, Major Weisman.”
Every UEF pilot and even a few Cybran ones moved away, breaking the circle and clearing some room for Hall: “What is the meaning of this?”
The General looked around, his stern gaze forcing more than one pilot to look away in embarrassment. Rhiza slowly realized that their battle had apparently not been part of their proper behavior and she lowered her guard: “I was trying to convince Major Weisman to lead me to Commander Desjar. He said that it would not happen for as long as he stood.”
“She wanted to tell him about how much of a good convert Commander Arnold was,” said Weisman immediately while pointing an accusing finger at Rhiza: “Under these circumstances, it’s the last thing that he needs to hear!”
Rhiza straightened reflexively, confused by her opponent’s reaction. Back on Seraphim Two, only young boys prone to angry tantrums had ever exhibited something akin to this type of behavior in front of her: “You mean that he should not know the truth?”
“Enough!” said Hall, putting an immediate end to the debate. The General turned to Weisman and motioned towards his bleeding eyebrow: “Are you seriously injured, Major Weisman?”
“No, sir,” said the pilot between clenched teeth while staring at Rhiza as if he would pummel her right there. Hall nodded slowly: “Then you and the other pilots here are still scheduled for scouting duty. Get to your ACUs; you have a job to do.”
Weisman whirled towards Hall, obviously surprised: “But, sir…”
“I’ll handle this, Major,” said Hall, his voice calm yet uncompromising at the same time: “You are dismissed.”
The Major hesitated a moment before finally saluting and walking away with the other UEF pilots in tow. Hall waited until the other Cybrans returned to their duties before turning towards Rhiza: “Come with me. The two of us need to talk in private.”
A wave of pain coursed through Rhiza’s left leg with each step, but her blood circulation was progressively returning to the bruised limb. She could overcome the pain as she followed General Hall outside the command center, but she could not ignore the waves of disappointment that emanated from him. She had failed him somewhere along the line and the blame apparently rested squarely on her.
“If a contest of strength was not the proper way to earn the right to speak to Commander Desjar then I apologize,” said Rhiza tentatively as she tried to mitigate the damage that she had somehow caused: “But my intentions were pure. I learned that Zachary Arnold was very close to Commander Desjar…”
“They were like brothers,” said Hall while stopping near an omni sensor. He turned to look at her, the weariness from constants years of turmoil evident in his eyes: “Every UEF pilot who has ever served with either of them knew about it. Commander Desjar’s men are particularly aware of that part of their history.”
The statement surprised Rhiza and she took a moment to consider its implications. Almost everyone here had known about it? The next question that came to her mind seemed obvious: “If they respect their leader so much then why do they wish to keep the truth from him? Zachary Arnold died a hero.”
Hall sighed and sat against the Omni sensor: “Did it ever occur to you that this might be about something else than simple truth? Did you consider, even for a moment, that Commander Desjar is entitled to feel as he does whether he is right or wrong?”
The question sparked a wave of frustration within Rhiza. They were blaming her because she had wanted to tell him the truth? She raised both hands helplessly, trying in vain to get her point across: “Why do you and your people have to keep your lives so needlessly complex? Why must you constantly shroud each other with lies, deceits and ignorance when it is so much simpler to communicate truthfully and honestly?”
“You are talking about following The Way?” asked Hall in a neutral tone. Rhiza leaned forward, speaking before she had even had the time to think: “Yes!”
For a moment, Rhiza thought that she had finally managed to make some progress, but she saw another wave of disappointment course through Hall’s body. The General sighed, his eyes gazing sadly as Rhiza’s as he shook his head: “Doctor Brackman was right, you are not ready for an alliance.”
A small part of Rhiza hoped that Hall was lying just then. She could not believe that she had somehow offended the Cybrans as well, but she could see in his eyes that he was not deceiving her. He motioned towards the omni sensor with one hand: “Sit down.”
Rhiza looked around while desperately searching for a way to rectify the situation: “I…”
“I said sit down and take the time to listen,” said Hall more forcefully. Not since her childhood days had Rhiza been talked to in such a fashion, but she knew deep down that this was not the time to be upset. She had failed every step of the way to make friends or secure an alliance. Perhaps what the General was about to say would help explain why.
“I do not approve of Commander Desjar’s feelings towards the Illuminate,” said Hall while folding his hands in front of him: “But I respect his decision and do not hold it against him.”
Rhiza took a moment to consider this before shaking her head: “I do not understand. If you do not approve then how can you respect his decision?”
“There are many things that I do not approve of,” said Hall softly. The General looked at the buildings that surrounded them and imagined everyone that moved through them: “But it does not mean that I will attempt to correct them all. My grandmother was a very religious woman while I was not and yet I loved her as any grandson possibly could. I do not understand the Cybran’s desire for cybernetic augmentations, but it is not my place to judge or condemn them for it. Finally, I could never approve of a belief system that would justify the cleansing of entire worlds, but I am willing to place my resentment aside to make this alliance work.”
Is this what The Way looked like to an outsider? Did they think of it as a weapon or as a form of justification for mass murder? Rhiza’s eyes widened in horror: “The Way was never intended as a means to harm others.”
“And maybe I am wrong to disapprove of it so,” said Hall, conceding the point. He looked back to Rhiza then, his eyes reflecting his many years of experience: “Just as I can also be wrong about Cybran implants and on the day I die, I might learn that I was wrong about my grandmother’s belief in a god as well. The only thing that matters is that I am free to make a choice which also includes having the possibility of being wrong. I have the right to such a freedom and if I wish to maintain it, then I must also respect everyone else’s choices as well.”
Rhiza looked away and gave it some further thought. Back in the days of the Aeon Illuminate, she had always respected and obeyed the wisdom of those that were more accomplished in The Way than her. If someone told her that she had done something wrong then she merely bowed her head and accepted to change. She was an ACU pilot after all and not an evaluator or a priestess. It had never been her duty to deepen her understanding of The Way, but rather to trust in the wisdom and experience of others in that regard.
The vision that Hall was proposing meant that everyone, from enlightened philosopher to mundane soldier, was free to make their own choices and mistakes. The prospect seemed chaotic at best; a cycle that would forever force humanity to repeat the mistakes of the past. And yet the Princess had wanted the Infinite War to end and for the Aeon Illuminate to show tolerance and understanding: “So… I must respect Commander Desjar’s choice then? There is no possibility for me to ever make amends?”
A sad smile touched Hall’s face and he nodded his sympathies: “Just because he does not listen to you now does not mean that he will not agree to do so later. Work alongside him and his men, accept his boundaries, treat him with respect, and one day he might chose to listen to you. Change takes time, however, and there is still the possibility that the two of you will never be friends.”
Rhiza could almost feel a wave of anguish course through her entire body at the thought. In order to be part of this alliance, she would have to live in disharmony. She would have to accept that others would fear, loathe and hate her and that there might not be a way to correct it other than preaching by example. She took a deep breath and tried to let her fears wash out of her: “It will be… a difficult lesson for me to learn. But I will try.”
Doctor Brackman’s holographic image raised an eyebrow when the screen showed Hall place a comforting hand on Rhiza’s shoulder: “Interesting, so very interesting. Wouldn’t you agree?”
The data displayed by another trio of screens moved at a near frantic pace in front of Dostya’s eyes. She looked back towards the Doctor only briefly before shrugging and returning back to work. Brackman moved closer to her and leaned towards the side as if to get a better look at her face: “You should take the time to appreciate it, you know. Spying on General Hall to make sure that he does not betray us or form a secret alliance is one thing, but it does not mean that you cannot appreciate his display of humanity at the same time.”
Brackman’s subtle point, that Dostya was perhaps missing out on life, fell on deaf ears and she did not even look at him: “As long as it confirms that no Cybran lives are put in danger then he can say what he wants whether he means it or not. At the moment, I can’t afford to trust anyone completely.”
There was more to her words than she was letting on and Brackman suddenly grew curious as to what had caught her attention: “Is something troubling you?”
“Talon’s scouting report just came in,” said Dostya, the tone of her voice betraying her uneasiness: “He and his men located Order bases along these four planets, but none in the adjacent sectors. This is a typical interception pattern, but there are obvious holes to it. This means that either the Order has made a huge mistake or the Assumpta Node has become lazy. There is also the possibility that they are feeding us disinformation as a means to pressure me into selecting the next Redfog. I’ll have to whip them back on course before things roll out of control.”
Brackman frowned, his image practically freezing into place as his entire mind focused on the matter at hand. The holographic projection then waved towards the data, copying it from Dostya’s console to the seven displays that he normally used. The galactic map in the center was quickly updated and clearly showed the holes in the Order’s net. Dostya watched the Doctor, apprehending the worst: “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes…” said the Doctor while absentmindedly stroking his moustache. Dostya nodded one final time before heading out: “I’ll leave for the Assumpta Node with Valerie and come back in a few hours. This is the kind of matter that can only be solved in person.”
Later that day in the hangar, Hall stood in front of Rhiza and Thalia with Keith by his side. The four of them waited near a Cybran air transport which held a shuttle designed for quantum travel in its claws. Hall handed Rhiza a data pad while nodding in approval: “Commander Dostya and I agreed prior to your arrival to give you the schematic for the Cybran food processing plants. With it, you will be able to eliminate the necessity of smuggling goods which will expand your strategic options as you continue your guerilla warfare against the Order and the Seraphim. The data pad also contains a new list of instructions to come into contact with us.”
Rhiza bowed, ignoring the pain in her leg: “Thank you, General Hall. We are very grateful for all that you have given us.”
“Just don’t expect it to taste good,” said Keith more to himself than anyone else. Rhiza bowed towards the Commando next, the motion catching him by surprise: “And thank you for watching over us during our stay. Your patience with our lack of understanding was most appreciated. I would only ask that you convey this sentiment to Commander Dostya as well when she returns.”
Hall had hoped that her absence would have gone unnoticed, but he was glad that the two Loyalist pilots had not taken it personally. He watched as their guests boarded the shuttle and Keith waited until the door closed before allowing himself to relax: “Finally. Maybe things will return to normal now.”
Keith had been about to say more when the sound of something crashing followed by a string of curses came from behind them. The two men turned around as a door opened, revealing a Cybran covered from head to toe in used oil. The Cybran started walking forward, grumbling under his breath the whole time. It was only when he stepped within a few meters that Keith recognized Sjet and asked the only question that could explain it all: “Bagby?”
The commando spat a mixture of saliva and oil on the ground before grimacing in acknowledgment. Hall merely stared despite himself, only daring to speak when the oil covered Cybran had walked out of range: “Is this the kind of situation where I’m better off not knowing?”
“Uh huh,” said Keith, glad that the UEF General had assimilated that concept on his own.
Dostya walked through the corridor at a rapid pace with Valerie right on her heels. Every Assumpta that they crossed moved quickly out of their way, not wishing to hinder their Chaslain; the one who was tasked with selecting the next Redfog. Under normal circumstances, Dostya would not have traveled to the Assumpta stronghold, but Talon’s behavior was as close of a provocation as he could make it. If she did not stop it here and now then she would quickly lose control and the node of assassins would become a problem.
It was for this reason that Dostya was now carrying her plasma blade; the weapon that had been given to her when the role of Chaslain had been dumped on her lap. She had no intention of using it, but she trusted in the power that it symbolized. At least finding Talon was not an issue. The assassin was reportedly in the node’s main hangar which was another message in itself. Talon had his own dedicated hangar for him and his followers. The only reason that he was not in it was obviously because he hoped for a public display. Dostya knew that she was therefore stepping into a trap, but that did not mean that she would necessarily be the one caught in it.
The door opened ahead of her, exposing the interior of the octagonal hangar and the ACUs that it held. Talon and his men were standing over a console in its center and the Assumpta Commander immediately raised his head when Dostya stepped in. His features were unusually hansom for a Cybran, the lines of his facial circuitry arrayed in a complex yet symmetrical pattern that gave him an air of nobility. Those attributes were quickly forgotten when he smiled, however, his eager eyes reflecting a jackal’s hunger: “To what do we owe the honor, Chaslain?”
The form of the question made him appear submissive, yet his entire body language betrayed his true intentions. Dostya knew from first hand experience that Assumpta Assassins excelled in games of intimidation, but she was no novice towards conflicts either. She took the data pad from her belt and threw it on top of Talon’s console with a snort: “If you have a concern then bring it directly to me. Don’t waste my time and endanger lives to get my attention.”
A direct and uncompromising approach had often worked to destabilize a game of intrigue, but if Talon was caught off balanced then he did not show it. The assassin merely allowed his gaze to drop for a few second before looking back towards Dostya: “This information is accurate, Chaslain.”
Dostya had expected everything from a dismissal to a shift in blame towards her role as Chaslain. What she had not expected was for Talon to actually stand by the information that he and his men had gathered. She placed both hands on her thigh and frowned: “Is it?”
“It is,” said Talon without a trace of a doubt. His eyes remained fixed on Dostya while he motioned towards the pilots on his right: “Two of my best men were in charge of scouting those sectors. I had the same reaction when they came back empty handed and I scouted both planets in person. The facts remain what they are: neither the Seraphim, QAI nor the Order have taken an interest in those sectors.”
Dostya paused, her mind working furiously to make sense of the situation. On one hand, their enemy’s deployment made no sense and clearly showed that something was missing. The simplest explanation was that someone had screwed up, but Talon had just offered his personal guarantee that the information was accurate. If she questioned it without any proof and it turned out that he was right then her credibility would be severely impaired as would her control over the Assumpta: “Then how do you explain this?”
“I don’t,” said the assassin, bowing ever so slightly as if to confirm his allegiance: “I am merely a faithful servant following the commands of his Chaslain. My duty is not to question, but to obey.”
Dostya was certain that Talon did not mean it, but the formulation was perfect and she could not press the matter further without proof. The one thing that was odd, however, was that he was not using the opportunity to question her role as Chaslain. If she left now then the whole encounter would end in a draw. Dostya nodded to demonstrate that she accepted his allegiance, but her voice remained stern: “We’ll see…”
She turned around then, intent on taking her ACU and scouting out the planets herself. Her eyes widened in surprise when Scales, the other favorite contender for the position of Redfog, stepped inside the hangar with his men and stopped, blocking the exit. Dostya could practically feel the vicious pleasure in Talon’s voice as he spoke: “But since you are here, perhaps you could take the time to settle a matter that has been plaguing the Assumpta Node.”
Dostya turned her head slightly so that both leaders were in her field of view. Talon walked in a relaxed fashion as he made a wide circle around her: “Scales and I have a disagreement of sorts since we are both hoping to become the next Redfog. Truth be told, there is little that we agree upon except for two things: only one of us will have the opportunity to reach our goal and we have both waited long enough.”
Valerie snorted, her stance shifting as if she was about to draw one of her many hidden knives: “Only the Chaslain can decide who the next Redfog will be.”
“Unless the Node is unanimous in its support,” said Scales, his booming voice echoing through the hangar: “In which case, the Chaslain must appoint the next Redfog or chose to step forward as a contender for the position.”
Talon had kept walking the whole time, like a shark slowly circling its prey: “Scales and I have already made arrangements. Should one of us fall then the other will be deemed superior and his followers will swear allegiance to the victor. Your only task, Chaslain, is to choose the form of combat. Unless if you believe yourself to be worthy of the title of Redfog, of course.”
The trap had been sprung and there was nothing that Dostya could do to free herself. The only way for her to deny them the opportunity was to challenge them both and the resulting conflict, whether she won or lost, would destroy every chance that the Assumpta Node would cooperate with the rest of the Cybran Nation in the near future. Even if she won, she would be challenged time and again for her lack of viciousness.
Dostya’s gaze was drawn to Talon and she studied him for a moment. There was no doubt that he had the proper level of sadism, paranoia and animalistic instincts required to remain in power. What he lacked, however, was the foresight and calculating mind of his predecessor. An unquenchable thirst for power would harm relations or destroy the node in the long run.
What Talon lacked, Scales appeared to have in abundance. He had the cold and calculating mind required to lead the Node successfully, but his instincts were not on the same level. If he ever became Redfog then it would only be a matter of time before he was challenged or simply murdered by one of his own.
Dostya’s time as Chaslain and her previous encounters with Redfog had convinced her that only a precious few could hold on to the position for any length of time. She also knew, without a doubt, that Redfog had not chosen an heir because he had found none worthy of the position.
In the end, however, Dostya had to make a choice for the good of the Cybran Nation as a whole. Either candidate would weaken the Assumpta in due time, but the best way to keep them working with her for a short while longer was to approve their demand. Her gaze remained uncompromising as she spoke: “We have no resources or pilots to waste. The issue will be decided here between the two of you with plasma blades. I want the outcome to be a definitive one.”
Talon smiled sadistically as he turned to look at Scales, obviously pleased that the battle would only end when one of them was dead: “It will be our pleasure.”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 27 Sep, 2008, edited 6 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Ruthless… that is the first word that will usually come to the mind of those that have dealt with me. You could add everything between cruel, sadistic and relentless as well. To wear the mantle of Redfog is to embrace many of these principles, but it does not restrict an individual to them. A human who is constantly forced to act according to his most vile instincts might be worthy of fear, but he will never truly rise to his full potential.
Take death, for example. It is both relentless and unavoidable and yet only those that are in its grasp fear or think about it. But what if death was given a shape? What if it had the capability, as rare at it might be, to show mercy or compassion? Would it not become more real? Would you try to befriend or serve it? Would it not, suddenly, become something worthy of worship?
To truly become Redfog, one must be shapeless and yet unbreakable. Only by being capable of anything, from the vilest act to the greatest sacrifice, can one hope to accomplish everything.
Talon took a step forward while brandishing his plasma blade, but Dostya raised a hand to stop him. She then lifted a finger and waved it towards the other pilots in attendance: “Clear the hangar of anything that could explode if hit by a plasma blade. We don’t need any type of… accident.”
Scales men responded immediately while Talon’s waited for a confirmation from their leader before moving. He nodded curtly and they went to work, hauling crates of weapons and engine parts out of the way. Dostya looked at each contender slowly before speaking again: “Remove every other weapon.”
Both pilots hesitated for a second before moving. Dostya knew that she might accidentally be stepping on a few Assumpta traditions, but this was not just about fair play. Talon and Scales had maneuvered her into this trap, but that did not mean that she would stand idly by like a sheep. By enforcing her rules, she was making it clear that she was still in control. Such a move might be pivotal to her future dealings with the Assumpta Node, no matter who won the match.
Attendants stood by each contender as they removed blasters, knives, small explosives and other exotic weapons. Talon took it a step further, removing the top part of his flight suit and exposing his perfectly chiseled chest. Scales hesitated before doing the same, exposing his well toned if scarred body.
Dostya’s gaze was momentarily drawn to Scales right hand which had been replaced by a cybernetic implant. She understood now that Talon had stripped off his flight suit to force his opponent to do the same and make the upgrade obvious. She raised an eyebrow, having a new appreciation for Talon’s insidiousness: “You’ll have to remove any type of upgrade that would not be available in a normal limb.”
Scales looked as though he would object, but thought better of it. Claw like nails suddenly emerged from each fingertip and the assassin unclipped them one at a time before handing them to his attendant. He then removed a minuscule dart from a hidden compartment in the back of the hand and delicately picked it up, its tip obviously coated with poison. Dostya watched as his attendant wrapped it in a towel before moving away.
Both contestants turned towards Dostya and waited expectantly for her to speak. She let a few seconds pass to make sure that she had everyone’s attention before raising her voice: “This will be a battle to the death using plasma blades. The winner will be entitled to become the next Redfog. I do not need to remind anyone here of the consequence of any outside interference.”
A deadly silence followed, confirming that everyone understood the gravity of what was about to happen. Dostya moved to the side of the hangar and gracefully jumped on a crate before turning around: “Begin.”
Back in the Assumpta Node’s command center, the few but efficient tacticians were busy. Everyone knew by now what was transpiring in the main hangar, but none of them dared to monitor the battle. Whoever won would become the next Redfog and a new leader often had to enforce his powerbase with the help of a few, and deadly, examples. Being inefficient in one’s work on the day of ascension was the best way to become just that.
The Lead Tactician was about to order a full sensor sweep to ensure that the node would remain undisturbed when a Cybran ACU suddenly appeared at the edge of the base. The lack of a quantum wake instantly revealed that it had done so with the help of a personal teleportation upgrade instead of using a gate and the lead technician instantly motioned for everyone to be on the alert: “Unidentified pilot, do not move or you will be destroyed.”
The image was automatically forwarded to the main screen and many in the room gasped. The ACU had obviously seen better days, its hull being so damaged that it was barely recognizable. The innate regeneration systems had managed to keep it operational, but the lack of any high level maintenance had left the hull scorched and distorted.
For a moment, it almost seemed as if the ACU had come back from the pits of hell, but the Lead Tactician shook that notion away. He was about to order intruder to power down when the cockpit suddenly opened and the pilot jumped out. Ground interception teams moved in automatically, following the principle that anyone who had not been cleared by the command center was to be captured and treated like an enemy.
The Lead Tactician’s eyes widened in disbelief when the assassins which had been dispatched stopped a few meters away from the unknown pilot and then cleared the way. The image zoomed in on the intruder and a murmur of disbelief circulated through the command center. Redfog was back…
Scales and Talon circled each other slowly, standing at a respectable distance with their plasma blades held in front of them. Dostya studied them from the sideline with her arms crossed. Had the battle been something as crude as a fist fight then Scales artificial hand could have been an asset. Most artificial limbs were designed to be stronger and faster, but strength had limited applications with plasma blades and the added wrist speed would be offset by the fact that the artificial limb’s movements were easier to see and anticipate.
Unlike his opponent, Talon’s entire body was constantly in motion, his limbs gracefully swaying back and forth. Each movement could instantly transform into an attack or a parry and the hypnotic dance was apparently enough to keep Scales unbalanced.
The tension kept increasing until Scales suddenly surged forward, slapping Talon’s blade aside with the flick of a wrist and lunging forward in the blink of an eye. For a split second, Dostya thought that the fight was already over, but Talon gracefully stepped out of range; his opponent’s blade coming an inch short of touching his chest even as he countered. Scales parried the counterattack and stepped back while frowning darkly. No matter how quick or strong his artificial wrist was; it did not change the fact that the rest of his body could not move at the same pace.
Talon smiled sadistically as he slowly stepped forward again: “You should have rallied to my side, Scales. Did you ever consider the consequences of what would happen if you lost? How old is your daughter again? Six?”
“She is ready to die,” said Scales, refusing to let himself be taunted into an attack. The pilot took a small step forward, his eyes narrowing dangerously: “And as far as I’m concerned, either you kill her or she dies because of your incompetence if I let you become Redfog. I can only change that by getting rid of you.”
“You wound me. I would never kill her,” said Talon, his tone making it clear that he was mocking his opponent. The sadistic assassin’s hurt expression transformed into a wicked grin even as he allowed his blade to delicately caress his opponent’s weapon: “I’ll ‘break’ her!”
Talon twisted his wrist quickly, using the side of his blade to push his opponent’s weapon downward prior launching a second strike towards it. The purpose of the attack was to strike the back of an opponent’s blade which was not shielded by the plasma edge and hopefully shatter the weapon. The attack was a textbook one and Scales did the proper parry, twisting his blade one hundred and eighty degrees so that both edges would meet while pulling up.
What Scales had not anticipated was the effect that Talon’s verbal taunting had caused on him. The mention of his daughter, as expendable as she was, had sent a dose of adrenaline coursing through his body while the emphasis on the word ‘break’ had caused him to exaggerate the counter move. Talon had apparently planned it all, his blade moving aside at the last moment to avoid Scales’ exaggerated counter. The end result left Scales artificial wrist exposed for a split second. Talon slashed sideways before Scales could recover, tearing through the base of the limb and severing its control circuits by the same occasion.
The entire attack had lasted less than a second, but it was enough to send Scales’ plasma blade flying through the air as his artificial limb twitched uncontrollably. Talon lunged forward before Scales could step back, his blade piercing his opponent’s chest. The sadistic Cybran did not stop there, moving forward and burying his blade all the way to the hilt with one hand while taking a hold of his opponent with the other. He then leaned forward and spoke softly in Scales’ ear: “I told you that you should have joined me.”
Under normal circumstances, a plasma weapon was specifically designed to burn as it sliced, making a brutal but clean cut that did not bleed. Talon wanted to drive the point home, however, and retracted violently while twisting, allowing the other edge of his blade to tear through the nearby arteries and exit from his opponent’s chest with a fountain of blood. Scales fell to the ground instantly, his entire body convulsing as the life ebbed from his eyes.
“All of you are witnesses,” said Talon, his eyes wide in glee even as he brandished his bloodied blade: “I have won! By our Chaslain’s words, I am now the new Redfog! Let anyone who would oppose me step forward.”
Talon’s words echoed through the hangar, leaving only silence in their wake. Many eyes turned towards Scales’ supporters, but none of them made a move to oppose him. A feral grin appeared on Talon’s face and he was about to call for everyone to bow down when a barely perceptible sound interrupted him.
It was subtle yet rhythmic; a pounding sound accompanied by a high pitched screech that grew with each second. The hangar’s metallic walls distorted the sound ever so slightly, but it soon became clear that the rhythmic part was made by heavy footsteps. Everyone turned towards the entrance from which the sound was coming from and a few stepped away while putting their hands on their weapons.
Assumpta Assassins were trained in the art of stealth and no one ever walked so loudly unless he wanted to make his presence known. A figure suddenly stepped out of the darkness and into the doorway, his frame obscured by the tattered cloak and hood that he was wearing. He paused for a short second before walking forward again, his heavy footsteps echoing through the hangar even as the screeching intensified.
More than one set of eyes gazed down, noting the tip of the plasma blade that poked from under the cloak which was making the horrible sound as it scratched the ground. Talon scorned at the newcomer and raised a hand, preparing to motion towards his men so that they would kill him: “You dare step in here with a drawn blade in front of the new Redfog?”
Maybe if the intruder begged then Talon would grant him a quick death instead of the humiliation of being dismembered one piece at a time. The figure stopped again, but his voice did not hold a single trace of fear as he spoke: “The new Redfog, is it?”
A wave of dread coursed through all of those gathered and even Dostya’s eyes widened in disbelief. She turned towards Talon and noticed how tense his body had become even as Redfog removed his hood, exposing his masked face: “I might have something to say about that.”
Hall stood over his console and frowned, not liking the information that he was looking at. Other reports had just arrived, identifying new Order strongholds which were sprawled through the galaxy. Early data had suggested an interception pattern, but a closer inspection revealed that their net was not secured. Anyone with the proper intelligence could bypass them and reach any other sector of the galaxy aside from the core worlds and the planets close to Seraphim Two. Dostya had left a few hours ago to deal with the Assumpta Node, but this latest intelligence did not come from them. What was the Order up to?
The command center’s main screen still showed that their odds of being detected were as low as four percent. They had purposely reduced the amount of operations from Node Fifty-Six during the loyalists visit in order to keep those odds from rising. What if they had missed something because of that? Considering their enemies success so far, it seemed unlikely that they had just grown negligent in the past few days.
“Which pilots are rested and available?” asked Hall aloud to no one in particular. Data immediately appeared on the main screen and one of the Cybran analysts answered: “Commander Flinn and Koster have just finished some routine maintenance on their ACUs. Kazuo is also available.”
Hall nodded and opened a channel towards Doctor Brackman. The holographic face of the doctor appeared on the mains screen and raised an eyebrow in surprise: “Hello General, hello.”
“Good evening, Doctor Brackman,” said Hall while forwarding his data: “Events are progressing in an unforeseen way. Did you have the time to look at the latest intelligence?”
The Doctor nodded, being uncharacteristically silent as Hall kept speaking: “Something isn’t right. With your permission, I would like to order an evacuation further along the rim worlds as a precaution and lead a small squad to get a better look.”
“And what if you find nothing?” asked the Doctor while tilting his head to the side. Hall paused for a second before responding: “Then we’ll go further in, try to contact General Clarke and pray that she has answers. If not then I fear for us all.”
Redfog started walking, each step echoing loudly as the leader of the Assumpta Node made his way towards the center of the hangar: “I left specific instructions before leading the attack on Earth. I made sure that, should I fall, my power would be entrusted to someone who would be best suited to assign a successor no matter how the Infinite War ended. I chose Dostya as my Chaslain specifically because I knew that she did not want the burden of such power.”
“Yet what do I find upon my return?” asked Redfog as he stepped next to Scales’ body. The leader of the Assumpta Node purposely dipped his blade in the blood before looking back towards Talon: “I see one of our best lying in a pool of his own blood and his opponent gloating as if he had somehow accomplished something of importance. I see my orders, those designed to assure Assumpta’s superiority, baffled by a young and foolish pilot who cannot control his own thirst for power. So tell me ‘Talon’…”
The emphasis on the name made it clear that Redfog still considered himself to be the true owner of the legendary title: “How should I feel after discovering all of this?”
Talon took a quick look around, noting that many of Scales supporters were apparently quite willing to switch their allegiance to the old Redfog. The assassin took a step back as he spoke, inching towards the relative safety of his closest supporters: “You left us without a clear successor!”
“And this makes you worthy of being one?” asked Redfog as he matched Talon’s pace. The screeching of his plasma blade as it scrapped the ground grew only more dramatic as it left a trail of Scales blood behind it. Talon retreated until his closest supporters were right behind him. Unlike Scales, most of Redfog’s body was composed of cybernetic implants which gave him an unsurpassed edge in terms of strength and speed. Talon could potentially still win a conflict, but he would have to find a weak spot first and he doubted that he could manipulate the leader of the Assumpta Node as easily as he had Scales.
Redfog stopped within melee range with his blade still held down. His lack of a defensive posture only made him seem more threatening as he spoke: “You are unable to look beyond the moment. Your mind is so warped by your desires that you cannot see the chasm ahead of you.”
Talon did not question the harsh critic, thankful for the reprieve that could give him the time to come up with a plan. If only he could find a way to distract or otherwise injure his opponent…
Redfog smiled under his mask, amused by Talon’s frantic search for a way out. His gaze slowly turned from Talon to the pilot who was standing straight behind him: “You are so deluded that you cannot even tell friend… from foe.”
The sound of a blade being drawn sliced through Talon’s mind. Those behind him were his most trusted men, but they had all served Redfog before him! He could barely stand against Redfog, never mind against a second opponent at the same time, and he reacted purely on instinct. He twirled around in the blink of an eye, slashing the throat of the pilot that Redfog had been looking at in a single swing.
For a split second, Talon felt the primal satisfaction of killing the one who had intended to betray him. The reasoning part of his mind registered the fact that the pilot in question had a stunned look on his face and that the he had no weapon in his hands.
The thought ended as Redfog’s blade slashed with inhuman speed through the back of Talon’s skull. The world seemed to slow down as his knees gave out from under him. The sadistic Cybran felt himself slip to the side and saw the one who had apparently betrayed him fall one step ahead of him. It was only when his former ally fell to the ground that Talon saw the girl who had been standing behind him with a knife in her hand. A wave of helpless frustration coursed through his mind as he hit the ground, but it was soon buried by the massive system shock that followed.
“This is my new apprentice,” said Redfog while extending his left hand towards Megan. More than one pilot turned an incredulous look towards the small girl, amazed that someone without any upgrades had managed to slip inside the hangar. Then again, Redfog had grabbed everyone’s attention as he had closed in on Talon. The girl had apparently used the distraction to slip by unnoticed and had acted as a decoy by making the noise of a blade being drawn.
The leader of the Assumpta Node looked at Talon’s twitching body and frowned: “I hope you realize how insignificant you are in my eyes if a child has more potential than you.”
Redfog’s looked around, his eyes piercing every pilot in the hangar to make sure that none would dare to oppose him. When he was satisfied, he merely waved as if nothing had happened: “Now leave us. Dostya and I have important matters to discuss.”
The declaration jolted every pilot back to reality and they moved away quickly, convinced beyond any doubt that this was indeed the original Redfog. The leader of the Assumpta Node waited until only he, his apprentice, Dostya and Valerie were left in the room before speaking: “You did well under the circumstances.”
Redfog looked at the bodies that surrounded them before sheathing his blade: “The death of three pilots is unfortunate, but I expected to be forced to destroy half of the Assumpta Node to restore proper order.”
It took Dostya a few seconds more before she could accept that Redfog was really in front of her. She jumped down from her crate and took a step forward while pointing an angry finger at him: “Do you have any idea what you put me through?”
“Do not act so shocked, Dostya,” said Redfog sternly, his tone making it clear that he did not feel any guilt over his actions: “We both know that you have found many uses for my node during my absence. It all worked out in the end, but do not think that I am not grateful.”
The assassin fetched a disk from his belt and extended it towards her: “This includes all of my scans and battle data with the Seraphim. I am sure that Doctor Brackman will be able to make use of it. You can also rest assured that the Assumpta Node will continue to cooperate with the rest of the Cybran Nation for as long as our enemies have a tactical and technological edge. Finally, my new apprentice also guarantees that you will never have to become a Chaslain ever again.”
For a moment, Dostya felt the overwhelming urge to punch Redfog in the face. Her rational side resurfaced quickly, however, and she realized that he had just handed her everything that she could have hoped for. Under his control, the Assumpta Node would remain a strong asset and she would be freed from the burden of overseeing its daily operations. The battle data in itself was invaluable and could become the key to win the war. Dostya was still upset that he had thrown her in that position in the first place, but no amount of frustration would change that and she took the disk without further complaint.
Redfog turned away from her then, apparently considering the matter resolved, and stepped towards Valerie: “You performed admirably, my dear.”
Dostya’s mouth opened wide in shock as she understood the implications. Redfog’s timing was just too perfect for him to simply walk in today. He had no doubt contacted Valerie in secret months ago and she had kept him up to date on current events the whole time! The betrayal left Dostya speechless as Redfog lowered his voice: “Now all you need to do is ask.”
“Kazuo,” said Valerie, her voice barely above a whisper: “I want to be with him.”
Redfog raised his head slightly, judging Valerie for a few seconds before finally nodding: “Then go.”
The leader of the Assumpta Node moved away without further explanation with his apprentice in tow. Megan waited until they were out of earshot before turning to her master: “A moment of kindness for a lifetime of loyalty?”
Redfog barely spared her a glance, refusing to answer her question: “Come. Your training must continue.”
An hour later, Koster’s army moved through the desolate plains of UG Prime. The faint light coming from the far away stars drew eerie shadows on the battlefield, giving everything a ghost like and surreal appearance. UG Prime was not a planet in itself and its limited atmosphere was not even breathable. The asteroid, which was the size of a small moon, was simply sailing through space, having yet to settle in orbit around any star system.
Under normal circumstances, no one would have bothered with it. However, the fact that it was moving through a region of space devoid of any interstellar phenomenon for the next five hundred years made it one of the most sought after transit points in the galaxy. Whoever controlled it could gain access to ten other key points with minimal energy consumption.
The light gravity, barely a fifth of Earth’s, forced every ground unit to move in slow motion. Koster was even now climbing up a nearby hill in order to get a better vantage point. Once he reached the top, he was greeted by the sight of hundreds of destroyed units. Aeon Harbingers laid intertwined with UEF Titans, a testament to the viciousness of the Infinite War’s final days. The UEF pilot looked at the scene sadly before shaking his head: “This is a graveyard.”
“Many brave pilots died here while trying to slow down the Aeon Illuminate,” said Hall over his transmitter. Koster looked at his tactical screen, noting that Hall was operating at least fifty kilometers away. The pilot shook his head to clear it: “It just seems unnatural, sir, to have everything frozen in place like this. On any other world, nature would have eventually covered the wreckage, but not here.”
Flinn’s face suddenly appeared on both of their screens: “Kazuo found enemy units; Order by the looks of it! We haven’t been detected yet, so I’ll be setting down a base to face them. I’m seeing a lot of lights in the distance so maybe they are already engaged.”
Updated data gathered by Kazuo’s spy planes was quickly forwarded to each of their screens. The Cybran pilot’s face appeared then: “UEF forces detected. From the looks of it, both armies gated recently and are in a tier one or two stage of the battle.”
“Dig in and avoid detection for now,” ordered Hall while laying a new course: “We have the element of surprise on our side. Maybe we can use it to assist him in a single and decisive blow.”
Flinn shook his head while drawing Hall’s attention to another part of the battlefield: “Can’t do, sir. I’m detecting a land army composed of thirty units on the UEF base’s flank. By their speed, I would say that they are mainly Auroras. The UEF pilot only has six units prepared to intercept them. Permission to assist?”
Hall frowned, not liking that option. Their armies could assist, but if they failed then it would leave them vulnerable to a counter attack since none of them had a well established base yet. The General was about to order Kazuo to pull back while giving Flinn the green light to attack when Aeon units suddenly started disappearing in quick succession. Flinn whistled in appreciation while typing on his console: “Wow… wait a second. We don’t have any tier two ground units designed to fight at that range, do we?”
A scout plane suddenly flew over Flinn’s position and he was hailed a second later: “This is Brigadier General Fletcher, identify yourself. You’re not supposed to be operating in this area.”
Flinn forwarded the signal to Hall who immediately opened a channel: “Brigadier General Fletcher, this is General Hall. We came to scout out the sector and fell on you by accident. We wanted to confirm whether the Order was operating in the area or not.”
Fletcher’s face lit up in surprise, but he recovered quickly and smiled: “Not anymore, sir. We’ve been keeping them on the run for the past two weeks and we won’t be slowing down any time soon.”
The surprise on Hall’s face must have been obvious, causing Fletcher’s grin to widen: “You can stop playing hide and seek with the Cybrans, sir. It looks like we won’t need their help. We’re winning.”
My fellow citizens, I come before you today to tell you what you already know to be the truth. Wild rumors have been circulating concerning the Aeon Illuminate and the Cybran Nation, rumors that claim that they might reach Earth in a month or two. Granted, the fighting on our border colonies has intensified recently and there have been casualties. What every news network has failed to mention, however, is the reason for this sudden surge: desperation.
Yes, you heard me correctly. It is desperation that forces the Aeon Illuminate in a final dash towards Earth, throwing away their slow strategy of cleansing one world after another. It is desperation that has forced the Cybran Nation to come out of the shadows, disregarding decades of covert planning, and face our forces in broad daylight. They do this now because both factions have realized the inevitable truth: we are winning!
It is our vigilance that has thwarted the Cybran Nation time and again from infiltrating our core worlds. It is our creativity that has allowed us to constantly evolve our technology up to the point where it is now a match for the Aeon Illuminate’s alien weapons. Most of all, it is our courage and unflinching determination that has convinced our enemies that the UEF is the one true power in this galaxy.
So let them come to us. Let them realize that none shall ever set foot on Earth! Only then will they understand what a true human spirit can do!
President Riley’s speech to the core worlds, one month before X-Day
A stunned silence followed Fletcher’s declaration and it took Hall a few seconds to digest it all: “You have developed a counter for the Seraphim’s technology?”
“Not yet,” said the other Commander while shaking his head: “But we did the next best thing. We established an impregnable base on Tyros Three and we have held it successfully for the past month. Every attempt by the Aeon Illuminte or QAI to dislodge us has failed.”
“Tyros Three has no major mass extraction points,” said Hall in confusion. He remembered that few battles had ever been waged on the desolate world, but that almost all had favored those on the offensive side. The General made a query on his console before nodding, confident that his memories were accurate: “So how can such a thing be possible?”
“It had few ‘accessible’ mass extraction points, sir,” said Fletcher with a crooked smile: “A terraforming team was dispatched under special orders from President Riley six years ago. They discovered that the planet’s core had a dense metallic center that could be harvested if proper efforts were made to dig into the planet’s crust. They have been busy working all this time and they were the ones who contacted us a few weeks after you left.”
Data flashed on Hall’s screen, exposing the planet and the few strategic sites. Most of those only had two to three mass extraction points, forcing Commanders to rely on mass fabricators for most of their needs. Theories had been made concerning mass extractors that could dig deeper into the earth’s crust, but every research project had determined that it would not be cost efficient. Of course, none of those studies had considered the possibility of a massive digging project.
Fletcher nodded, apparently following Hall’s train of thought: “The landscape was remolded, lowering entire plateaus by several kilometers to gain access to those mass deposits. It was literally redesigned to become the perfect fortress! As long as we hold these strategic sites then it becomes nearly impossible for any enemy force to gate in and establish a base considering the limited amount of resources available.”
Flinn appeared on the screen then, having listened in since the beginning: “No offense, but I remain skeptic especially after the way that the Infinite War ended.”
“We have learned from our mistakes, ‘Lieutenant’,” said Fletcher while scorning at the younger pilot: “General Clarke has been overseeing our strategy thus far and has adapted it accordingly. We are no longer fighting on multiple fronts as we used to. We are using Tyros Three to wage war wherever the Order is the weakest and we have been successful.”
Flinn had been about to offer a retort, but Hall cut in before he could do so: “Is General Clarke aware that the Order has been establishing a blockade on the surrounding planets?”
The question brought Fletcher’s attention back to the General: “She is, and we have been launching several missions to ensure that we do not get backed into a corner. The Order does not have the necessary troops to occupy every planet that we can access from Tyros. We have been constantly attacking their weaker fronts and killing a few of their pilots in the process.”
Hall recognized Clarke’s influence in the choice of strategy. He remembered her vividly opposing Riley’s deployment orders in the past, opting to protect critical planets instead of spreading their forces across the galaxy. Fletcher kept speaking passionately about their recent prowess: “Once our researchers have cracked the Seraphim’s technology, we’ll do more extensive attacks and take the fight straight to them. Even now, they have developed a new unit, the Mongoose, to help us deal with enemy tier one units. These things are deadly if properly managed.”
The proclamation brightened Flinn’s face instantly: “Can you transfer the schematic to us?”
Fletcher shook his head: “I’m afraid that I’m not at liberty to do so. It’s a matter of security.”
Although he never said it, Hall could plainly see the accusation in Fletcher’s eyes. He was not allowed to do it, that much was true, but he also did not want to do so because Hall was working with the Cybrans. Such a reflex could hamper the progress that they had made so far, but now was not the time to deal with it. Hall turned towards Flinn while opening a channel to Koster and Kazuo: “Return to base and resume normal operations. I’ll follow Commander Fletcher to Tyros Three and speak to General Clarke in person.”
The technician crews moved in as soon as Dostya and Valerie’s ACUs docked in the hangar. Their cockpits opened shortly afterwards and Valerie jogged out towards the other pilot. Dostya was just removing her gloves, refusing to look at the Assassin: “I trusted you…”
“And I never betrayed you,” said the assassin pleadingly: “I simply did not tell you everything. I did not know why Redfog was refusing to return, but I knew that it had to be important. Perhaps he used the time to train his successor in order to ensure the node’s stability when he returned. Regardless, I assure you that you had my full support.”
“But you did it all for him,” said Dostya accusingly, only then looking at Valerie. The Assumpta Assassin flinched, but did not look away: “Not just for him. I also did it for you, for the Cybran Nation… and for Kazuo.”
The mention of the Jade Node pilot forced Dostya to pause and consider Valerie’s words. She did not claim to understand everything about the Assumpta mindset, but she knew that Valerie’s first loyalty had always been to her node. In their case, love was a distant concept that was not meant to influence a pilot in her actions. Valerie lowered her gaze, apparently embarrassed by what she was about to say: “I wanted to be with him and now I can. He serves Node Fifty-Six and I would do so by his side if you will have me.”
The realization that Valerie had done all of this out of love shocked Dostya. She knew that deep down; she had always associated the Assumpta with something more primal. In the end, however, they were just as human as the rest of them, no matter how hard they tried to be otherwise.
A sigh escaped Dostya and she rubbed her eyebrows: “I’ll expect you to earn my trust back. You’ll also have to do your share when it comes to training new pilots and I expect you to solve problems like one of us would instead of using intimidation all the time.”
Dostya used the most severe tone that she could muster, but each request only widened Valerie’s smile. How could she possibly scowl someone whose previous life consisted of eagerly waiting for Redfog’s next order? Dostya finally raised a hand in annoyance and started walking away: “And be nice to Bagby. He’s Kazuo’s friend so I don’t want the two of you fighting.”
Valerie bowed even as Kazuo’s ACU walked into the hangar: “Consider it done.”
The Jade Node pilot’s face was grave as he finished his report: “And then the General left us, Doctor.”
A moment of silence passed as Brackman considered the news. The holographic image rubbed his mustache a few times before finally nodding: “You did well to let events play out, my boy. Take the time to rest now. Yes, time to rest…”
The Doctor did his best to appear confident, but the truth was that this latest development could endanger their whole alliance. The Cybran Nation needed the UEF to survive, that much was true, but lasting peace would never be possible if the rest of the symbionts were not freed. The progress that they had made with Hall was substantial, but it would all be in vain if General Clarke decided to stand on her own and keep the symbionts.
Perhaps that was part of the Seraphim’s plot as well.
Keith stormed into the hangar, going straight towards Bagby who was sitting on top o f a nearby crate. The old pilot ignored him and looked towards Kazuo’s ACU as the docking ramp extended towards it. This only aggravated the Commando further: “Mind giving Sjet a break? I just found him hanging upside down from the mess hall’s ceiling!”
“Hey, he turned my world upside down, so why can’t I do the same to him?” argued Bagby while sliding off the crate. The old pilot watched as Kazuo got out of the cockpit and started walking towards them: “Besides, I could have done worse. I left him his pants after all.”
The sound or rapid footsteps caught their attention and the two of them turned around only to see Valerie hurrying towards them. She stopped briefly in front of Bagby, looked at him from top to bottom and hesitated for a second. The SCU pilot was about to ask if he had a stain somewhere when she suddenly surged forward and wrapped her arms around him: “I apologize for every time that I implied that I would kill or maim you in some way. Despite your irritating personality, I still think that you are a worthy pilot.”
The sudden move caught Bagby off guard and he just stood there without moving: “Err… thanks?”
“Valerie?” asked Kazuo in confusion as soon as he stepped into range. The Assumpta Assassin quickly stepped away from Bagby, moved towards Kazuo and kissed him passionately before he could say anything else. The embrace lasted several seconds with Valerie displaying a near primal hunger for affection. When it was over, she took Kazuo by the hand and dragged him towards the hangar’s exit.
Both Bagby and Keith looked at them leave with their mouths open. The old pilot was the first to recover and his hands instinctively went to his chest to check for wounds. When he found none, he turned towards the Commando: “Is there a knife stuck in my back?”
“Nope,” said Keith, his eyes still wide in astonishment. Bagby sighed in relief, but then pointed a finger at himself: “And she apologized to me?”
Keith nodded, still not believing that he had seen it: “Yeah.”
“And the two of them just rushed off to do some non PG thirteen stuff?” asked the old SCU pilot, his brain finally catching up with reality. Keith managed to close his mouth and nod: “Uh huh.”
Bagby scratched the back of his head and shrugged: “No wonder I’m not getting any saner as the years go by. I think I need to go get wasted. Are you in?”
All thoughts of Sjet flew straight out of Keith’s mind and he nodded again: “Definitely.”
A few hours later, the moon rose high in the night’s sky, washing the node in a strange greenish light. Melissa had donned the standard Cybran class G suit, a thick and cumbersome uniform that encompassed her from head to toe. It even included a face mask, but she kept that part on her belt until she truly needed it. At a first glance, it seemed like an overabundance of protection, but one only needed to look at the desert that surrounded the node to be convinced otherwise.
The new planet that they had moved to had a stable weather, but only the Polar Regions were terraformed to support life. Everything else was covered in sand and although the nights were cool, the day’s temperature could rise above seventy degrees Celsius. Anyone caught outside when the sun rose without the proper gear would find himself blinded and suffocating because of the heat.
Not that Melissa was in any danger of that while standing on the roof of her apartment complex, but there was no point in taking chances. A sudden swishing sound made Melissa turn around and she smiled when she saw Foil step through the door. She was still technically grounded, but those restrictions only prevented her from leaving the apartment complex for any other purpose than to go to school. It did not prevent Foil from coming to her.
“You played well in yesterday’s game,” offered Foil while stepping closer. Melissa felt her face flush and smiled: “Maybe you and the others could come and join us next time. The more the merrier.”
Foil stepped next to Melissa and the two of them gazed out towards the desert: “I don’t think that it would be such a good idea. I mean, what would happen if they found out that we are Cybrans?”
“I don’t think that anyone could tell with these suits on,” countered Melissa with a giggle. Foil tried to find a flaw in her plan, but soon gave up and chuckled instead: “I’ll see who’s interested. By the way, Nial wanted me to tell you ‘nice anvil’ or something. Does it mean anything to you?”
Melissa felt her face flush once more and looked away innocently: “Oh it’s nothing; girl talk, that’s all.”
“Well I’m glad that there’s at least one constant in this galaxy,” said Foil teasingly. The boy looked at Melissa again, the curiosity obvious in his eyes: “So what’s Earth like? What’s the difference between fall and spring?”
Melissa smiled as she tried to explain the different concepts that seemed so alien to Foil. The two of them stood together on top of the apartment complex for the next hour, sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.
It took three days before Hall returned to the Node, his ACU heading straight to the hangar. Dark circles underlined the General’s eyes, but he refused any offer of refreshments and purposely headed towards the command center. Desjar, now back on duty, joined him along the way and the two of them found Dostya waiting for them. She motioned towards a side room and they all stepped inside without a word.
Two screens lit up as soon as they entered, one exposing Doctor Brackman in his laboratory while the other had a Cybran that Hall had never met before. The Doctor nodded curtly, offering Hall a welcoming smile: “Hello General, Hello.”
Dostya motioned towards the Cybran on the other screen with one hand: “This is Redfog, leader of the Assumpta Node. He was trapped behind Seraphim lines for a while and only recently returned to us. His ACU gated on planet to secure the transmission, but he will not be joining us in person.”
Hall turned towards the Cybran and bowed his head slightly. He remembered reading reports about this specific pilot and he had thought that he had died on Earth. He had only slept a few hours in three days, however, and his mind was too cloudy for him to worry about that now. Hall turned towards Brackman and sighed: “General Clarke has established a stronghold on Tyros Three. I spent part of my time there trying to see if she was somehow being manipulated by the Seraphim into a corner, but from what I can tell, she is in full control.”
Brackman nodded towards a nearby chair and the General sank in it gratefully even as he kept speaking: “President Riley ordered the fortification of Tyros Three in secret, using it as a complement for Option Zero. It was designed so that if Earth fell then the UEF would have a stronghold to fall back to and continue the war.”
“It is strange that we did not hear about it,” observed Dostya, her gaze narrowing. Redfog shrugged from the comfort of his cockpit as if it did no matter: “Information concerning Option Zero was most likely leaked on purpose to limit our strategies. Any attack on Earth had to take it into account.”
Hall did not exactly like the notion of leaked information, but the past was the past and there was no point debating it now: “Regardless, Tyros Three appears invulnerable in its current state. I cannot give you specifics for security reasons, but a number of sites were dug around the world to create ideal fortresses. Under normal circumstances, the maximum number of mass points available to a Commander gating on planet is two to three. Each of those forts, thanks to the terraforming efforts, has access to twenty such mass sites with nearby cliffs acting like a natural shield.”
Hall folded his hands in front of him and nodded: “They are defended by top of the line weapons including multiple Mavors and Fatboys. New units, some of which are still being optimized, have also been deployed. So far, only the Mongoose has been perfected enough to be cost efficiently deployed on the field. Other units such as the Ravager are still under development, but a few prototypes have been built around each base.”
The words hung in the air for a moment before Dostya finally stated the obvious: “So in other words, they are comfortable and don’t want to go through with the original alliance. Correct?”
Although he did not like the way that Dostya had phrased it, Hall knew from experience that any attempt to soften the blow would only aggravate the situation: “General Clarke’s strategy is militarily sound and offers very concrete and daily results against the Order. I was unable to convince them that our original plan could offer better results despite our success at keeping the colonists alive.”
“What about the symbionts that we were promised?” asked Dostya while placing her hands her hips. Hall had been about to answer that a compromise would have to be reached, but it was Redfog who interrupted him: “The symbionts are a moot point. The only thing that matters is that the UEF has been maneuvered into a trap. If we do nothing then they will all be destroyed.”
“Do you have proof of this?” asked Hall urgently, glad for the reprieve: “Do you have any information that I could use to convince them that this is the case?”
“I do not,” said Redfog dismissively. The assassin’s tone was calm as if he was simply describing the weather: “There is only a single thing that I am certain. As a faction, the Seraphim have only made a single mistake since the beginning of their campaign. Their units and their combat practices show that they move forward, not back. The fact that they are not targeting the Cybran Nation or the Loyalists at this moment tells me that they are still aiming for the UEF. They would not do so unless they planned to succeed”
The assassin’s words hanged in the air like a portent of doom, but Hall needed more information than that: “We all know how dangerous they are, but if you had some kind of proof then we could prepare.”
Redfog shrugged again, his gaze uncompromising: “Then prepare…”
A day passed and then another without any sign of Seraphim activity. Multiple scouting and interference missions were launched, but all confirmed the same thing: the UEF was standing strong and still operating at full capacity.
Meanwhile, news of Tyros Three quickly spread through the node, sending the rumor mill in motion. Hall woke up anxiously every morning, fearing that a petition to move back to the UEF would be waiting for him as soon as he reached the command center. There was no doubt in his mind that the alliance would fall apart should that ever happen, but there was nothing that he could do to prevent it.
If the Seraphim were purposely leaving Tyros Three intact to thwart the alliance then their understanding of human psychology was far greater than anyone had ever given them credit for. They would destroy months of hard work simply by not giving the alliance what they needed the most: a common enemy.
Although he tried not to let it show as he made his way towards the command center, deep down, Hall was in a brooding mood. It was infuriating to realize that there was nothing more that he could do to ease the tensions. He hated to admit it, but the best thing that could happen for the alliance right now was for Tyros Three to come under attack. The realization made him sick to his stomach.
A cheer rang through the command center just as Hall came around the corner and he unconsciously quickened his pace. Cybran and UEF analysts turned to him in surprise as soon as he stepped inside and hurried back to their station in embarrassment. Hall looked left and right suspiciously, but everyone was avoiding his gaze. He finally stepped next to a UEF analyst and leaned down over him to get a look at his screen.
Nothing was wrong at a first glance, but Hall noticed a minimized video uplink on his terminal and he activated it before the analyst could protest. The image appeared immediately on the screen, displaying a game that a group of children was playing outside now that the sun had disappeared on the horizon. Hall did not know what they were playing exactly, but balls and Frisbees were being thrown everywhere while a Cybran Mole moved around.
“What is this?” asked Hall while looking around the room. An uncomfortable silence followed before a Cybran analyst stood up: “It’s a game being played outside. Nothing was happening on the network so we were keeping score.”
The game suddenly ended and one figure jumped on a nearby rock. Hall increased the volume and caught the last part of her sentence: “… redo teams and start again in five minutes.”
Hall’s brows furrowed in concentration as he tried to figure out the implications. A suddenly realization hit him and he moved quickly towards his console. He then accessed his daily reports and skipped straight towards a section dedicated to children welfare. His eyes widened in astonishment when he noticed reports of children going missing in the night only to come back exhausted in the morning.
The General accessed the video feed from his console again and only then realized that he could not tell whether the children were UEF or Cybran. He zoomed in on the one who was in charge of the group and smiled when he recognized Commander Desjar’s daughter. These children had succeeded where adults had failed; they had found a way to let go of their differences and play together. This was the reason why the colonists were not eager to uproot them again and why the Cybrans were not as willing to kick them out.
Hall looked around the room and took a moment to get a feel for the place. Yes, mistrust was still present, but it was nothing like the first few days when they had been forced to work together. The situation on Tyros Three might not doom them after all.
A serene smile touched Hall’s lips as he straightened: “I have some paperwork to take care of in private. Should anyone have the final score upon my return then please tell me.”
X-Day + 170…
Samantha moved through the command center, her shoulders straight and her head held high. Several weeks had passed since General Hall had visited Tyros Three and she had not heard from him since. Multiple missions had been dispatched to harass the Order and make sure that a clear route was available should Hall and the colonists wish or were forced to join them. So far, however, no such attempt had been made.
Doubts lingered in Samantha’s mind on whether this was a good sign or not, but she placed those aside as the image on the main monitor was replaced with the live feed of the latest Ravager model. The prototype tier three point defense turret was designed to fire a near continuous stream of armor piercing bullets that could be effective against swarm of units or even highly armored experimental models.
The Project Manager in charge of the research efforts spoke loudly enough for everyone in the command center to hear: “Preparing to test the Ravager Mark Five dash six. Unit mass has been reduced from seven thousand to four thousand without a drop in firepower. Target is a reproduced shell of a Galactic Colossus with approximately the same armor value. Beginning the test...”
Everyone’s gaze was invariably drawn to the screen as the Ravager’s barrel started rotating. A few seconds later, a stream of bullets was fired, impacting the makeshift Galactic Colossus and tearing through one layer of armor after the other. A few hesitating cheers rang through the command center and were quickly followed by whoops of delight as one of the target’s arms was torn to ribbons. The cheering stopped when the left side of the Ravager exploded, spilling its ammo everywhere.
The Project Manager looked at his data and frowned: “The heat sensors malfunctioned, allowing the ammo feeding rail to overheat and jam. We’ll have to get back to the drawing board if we want to fix this while maintaining or further reducing the mass restrictions.”
Samantha nodded encouragingly towards the man before turning back to her other duties. Creating a prototype weapon was easy in its initial stage. If they had the technology to build something as enormous as Black Sun then assembling something as small as the Ravager appeared simple on paper. The trick, however, was not just to build the weapon, but to do so with as few resources as possible while maintaining its efficiency. A good weapon was useless if it took an army’s worth of mass to assemble.
A Tactical Analyst looked up at Samantha then: “Brigadier General Fletcher reports a successful push on Milor Two and is requesting permission to pursue retreating enemy forces.”
“Granted,” said Samantha immediately while returning her gaze back to the tactical map on her screen: “But make it clear that fall back protocols are still in effect.”
The analyst was about to follow his orders when every screen that displayed information concerning the Quantum Network started going haywire. Samantha slapped her console and turned to the technicians near her: “Reinitialize the system! Send out a planet wide alert and intensify our patrols immediately.”
Everyone scrambled to get their systems back online and one voice rose above the rest: “We haven’t been hacked. I’m detecting a massive quantum disturbance through the entire network; source unknown. We’re attempting to compensate.”
Samantha turned towards one of the Tactical Officers who was shaking his head in confusion: “We lost our connections with team Alpha, Delta and Zulu’s gates. We can still contact them, but they can’t get back here. I don’t get it; I get the same error as if I was trying to link up with a gate that was too far away.”
The statement caused Samantha’s heart to skip a beat and she immediately accessed the quantum network’s diagnostic subroutines. She sent out a few queries on a hunch and she felt the blood drain from her face when the results came back in: “Space Gates Sixty-Three and Sixty-Four are no longer responding… they’ve been destroyed.”
Everyone in the room paused in their work and turned towards her. No faction had ever dared to do such a thing during the Infinite War. Each had something to lose should the quantum network be damaged, but it was obvious now that the Seraphim were not bound by such constraints.
Samantha waited until the data was updated on her screen before sighing. Tyros Three was still linked to the quantum network, but the destructions of these space gates had changed the energy requirements to travel to other sectors. It came as no surprise that the routes that were unaffected were those where the Order had set up its most reinforced strongholds. Their enemies had been unable to maneuver them into a corner, so they had changed the battlefield instead to create one.
Tyros Three was still an impregnable fortress, however, and Samantha was about to issue orders to redouble their patrols when an artificial voice resounded through the command center: “Strategic launch detected.”
“Where is the attack coming from?” asked Samantha urgently. An analyst shook his head quickly as he cried hysterically: “Unknown, it just appeared above us out of nowhere. Counter measure deployed… direct hit, but the enemy missile is still heading for us!”
Samantha typed furiously on her console and took manual control of a secondary strategic missile defense silo: “Launching a second anti-nuke missile.”
Everyone turned towards the main screen which displayed the counter measure as it flew up from their base. It intercepted the enemy missile and the following explosion could be heard through the command center. One analyst looked at his screen and sighed in relief: “Enemy nuke destroyed; scans negative for any sign of an enemy base. It’s almost like the missile was launched from a unit above us.”
The notion was absolutely ridiculous, but Samantha had been busy reviewing the data and the missile had indeed appeared out of nowhere. Any unit capable of firing a nuclear missile would have to be massive and could not possibly hide from their sensors. A cold shiver ran along Samantha’s spine as a thought occurred to her. She activated an external camera and aimed it at the sky. Her eyes widened in horror as she understood what had just happened: “The missile was fired from the moon...”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 17 Oct, 2008, edited 5 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
A repeat in history?
How far should one allow himself to go to secure victory? What is the limit that, once crossed, marks us as the very monsters that we have sought to defeat and summons forth the heroes that would seek to stop us? The Aeon Illuminate struggles with these questions even as the Avatar-of-War marches on, destroying everything in his path.
Although his name has become the very symbol of inevitability, I remember Jaran Marxon as the kind hearted young man that he once was. His smile was compassionate, a sure sign that you had his full attention. It is therefore with great sorrow that I have seen him change into this relentless weapon. It further saddens me to know that it was not through pain and loss that this transformation occurred, but simply by choice.
Marxon is prepared to sacrifice everything to end the Infinite War, including his very life. I, on the other hand, am only prepared to sacrifice my own existence to remind him of who he once was. I therefore wait in my chambers, hoping that the man who will cross my door will be my pupil and dear friend Jaran and not the Avatar-of-War.
Final entry in Abigail Toth’s journal
Lieutenant Mendez’s face appeared on Fletcher’s screen, his eyes reflecting his nervousness: “Sir, should I keep pursuing the Order’s forces?”
“Don’t stop!” shouted Fletcher immediately, his fingers moving frantically over his console: “Let them think that everything is still going according to plan. If we stop the pursuit now and give them time to breathe then they’ll come back to finish us off in minutes.”
The other Commander nodded before closing the channel. Fletcher then scanned the quantum network, trying to update all possible escape routes now that the two space gates had been destroyed. New travel patterns were calculated in a few seconds and he slammed his fist against his side panel as soon as the numbers appeared. The only escape routes were farther away from Tyros Three and in territory that had not been scouted in weeks. They could accidentally gate in the middle of another battle if they were not careful.
Fletcher’s eyes darted left and right as he considered his limited options. If the data in front of him was correct then the other two strike forces were also trapped behind enemy lines. The problem was that since they were on other worlds, it would be unsafe for him to hail them or General Clarke to formulate a strategy. Any quantum communication had a high probability of being intercepted and decrypted before the plan could be put into motion.
A string of curses escaped Fletcher when Mendez’s forces suddenly fell back. The pilots face reappeared a second later and shook his head: “Too late, sir. Enemy reinforcements have arrived. What are your orders?”
“Return to your quantum gates,” ordered Fletcher while looking at his outdated data: “We’ll hold for a while and jump if things get out of hand. We’ll have to do this guerilla style and…”
A Cybran face appeared on Fletcher’s monitor just then and nodded: “This is Elite Commander Dostya. Disable your link to Earthcom. I will send you the coordinates of a secured transit point once you have complied.”
Fletcher scowled even as he opened a channel: “This is none of your business. You have no authority here.”
The Cybran’s eyes narrowed as she spoke: “These orders come directly from General Hall. If, however, you believe that you and your two teammates can take on the Order blockade all by yourselves then by all mean do so. You have two minutes to comply.”
The transmission ended as soon as Dostya stopped speaking, leaving Fletcher fuming. For all he knew, this could be part of the Seraphim’s trap and he might accidentally gate in front of a Galactic Colossus. With things as they were now, however, there were not many other viable alternatives.
Hall’s ACU patrolled the perimeter of the forward outpost; each step reminding the General that time was not on their side. Dozens of pilots had been dispatched on a daily basis, exploring the surrounding planets, collecting as much information as possible and striking when a rare opportunity presented itself. None of them had expected the Seraphim to be daring enough to destroy the space gates, however.
Now their missions had been altered, their first goal being to save as many stranded UEF pilots as they could. Desjar, Dostya and the others had all been dispatched, leaving Hall to guard the forward outpost and greet the incoming pilots. The task was nerve wracking, especially since he could not keep tabs on any of them without giving away their position.
The face of an old Cybran pilot suddenly appeared on Hall’s screen and winked: “Don’t you worry for nothing, pal. My girl will get the job done and your kids are not half bad either. They’ll get back here safe and sound with those lost boys of yours.”
The lack of protocol surprised Hall for a second, but he had heard a lot of rumors concerning Bagby in the past few weeks. He did not know exactly how the old SCU pilot was supposed to fit in all of this, but recent events had convinced him that his influence was not to be underestimated: “It’s the fact that we are operating under radio silence that I find disconcerting.”
Bagby nodded while tapping the side of his head: “I know what you mean. The best trick that I found to relieve the stress was to say the first thing that pops up in my mind. You either evacuate the insanity in small doses or you end going bonkers like… well what do you know, Redfog’s here.”
The assassin’s face appeared on their screens then and nodded without saying a word. Hall had been about to offer his greetings when two quantum signatures appeared on his radar. The General sighed in relief and opened another channel to the two pilots: “I’m glad that you found him, Commander Dostya. Is there any news of the others?”
“They are waiting at different transit points,” said Dostya while typing on her console. The Cybran pilot nodded at some unseen data before looking back to Hall: “The other two teams were located and extracted. No casualties have been reported so far, but the situation is quickly spiraling out of control. We need to devise an exit strategy for Tyros Three or all will be lost.”
“We might not need to,” said Fletcher while shaking his head. The UEF Commander crossed his arms and tilted his head upwards: “Even though she is isolated, General Clarke can hold Tyros Three.”
Dostya rolled her eyes, but instead of interrupting Fletcher she merely forwarded a transmission that was being broadcasted on all frequencies through the quantum network. Samantha’s face appeared on all of their screens: “… and we expect the number of nuclear attacks to increase. So far, our defenses are holding and we are busy increasing our supplies of strategic missile defenses. However, it takes two countermeasures to stop a single of their missile and we have no idea how they can keep this level of attack with the moon’s limited resources…”
“They are attacking from the moon?” asked Hall under his breath. Dostya nodded and forwarded the numbers to everyone: “In theory, the sheer amount of resources necessary to sustain such an attack should be beyond what Tyros Three’s moon can provide. Standard nuclear missiles are not designed to operate at such long ranges either, but there is no telling when it comes to Seraphim technology. With time, it might be possible for them to launch even more of them up to the point of overloading General Clarke’s defenses. It could be matter of hours, days or weeks, but should the Seraphim completely destroy a fortified position on the planet then they will then be able to gate over and take up the fight in person.”
An awkward silence followed and it was Fletcher who finally spoke up: “Then we have no choice but to attack. If both factions strike a single sector at the same time…”
“Then both would be destroyed,” stated Redfog flatly; unimpressed with Fletcher’s suggestion. The assassin folded both of his hands in front of him and leaned over his console: “Every Order stronghold is heavily fortified. No direct assault, no matter the stealth measure employed, has a chance of uprooting them quickly. I have no doubts that the Seraphim will also intervene should an Order stronghold threaten to collapse.”
Hall winced, but could not refute Redfog’s logic: “Do you have something else in mind?”
“I do,” said Redfog while loading the galactic map on his screen. The leader of the Assumpta Node lifted his hand slowly and tapped a planet on the edge of the map: “We should strike Seraphim Two and its outlying colonies instead. If we apply the proper amount of pressure then the Order will be forced to send back a large part of its army to defend it. This will create the necessary holes in their defenses to evacuate Tyros Three.”
A sneer escaped Fletcher as he lifted a hand in dismissal: “And what do you want us to strike, their military plants or their precious gardens? No amount of destruction will pull them off a sure win!”
“We will raze their cities and kill every man, woman and child,” said Redfog without as much as a flinch. The suggestion drew a collective gasp from the other pilots even as he continued: “If we intercept and broadcast the civilians’ pleas for help on all frequencies then the Order will be forced to intervene. Their precious Way will make sure of that. Besides…”
Redfog let the words hang in the air, his eyes looking at Bagby’s image for just a second before turning his gaze back towards Dostya: “It has been done before.”
Although she did not know what Redfog was referring to, Dostya did not miss the fact that Bagby had just grown awfully pale in that instant. Now was not the proper time to discuss the past and try as she might, she could not find a flaw in Redfog’s logic. Even Fletcher was starting to nod slowly: “Clarke should be able to hold Tyros Three for a while. This plan might give us the opening to…”
“No,” said Hall softly, his gaze cast downward as if deep in thought. Fletcher turned towards him and frowned: “The Aeon Illuminate cleansed dozens of worlds in the past and the Order is not any better so why should we not do the same? With all due respect, General…”
“I said no!” interrupted Hall more forcefully. The General looked up, his gaze uncompromising: “Purposely targeting civilians is not the way that this war should be waged.”
Redfog snorted while tilting his head up ever so slightly: “You’ve picked a bad time to become squeamish, General. This war will not end on principles alone.”
“And it will not end without them either!” said Hall sternly, meeting the assassin’s gaze: “Even if everything goes according to plan, in the long run our actions will forever scar the next generation of Order pilots! We will be trapped in the Infinite War all over again and I cannot allow that to happen, not without exploring every other possibility first!”
The bold words hanged in the air for a moment, but none dared to challenge them, not even Redfog. Hall then turned towards Fletcher, his gaze as hard as steel: “Has any other secret research program been developed while we were away? Is there any other edge that we can use?”
The Brigadier General hesitated for a second and the reaction made Hall frown: “This is not the time to be holding back.”
“There is nothing else, sir,” Said Fletcher while shaking his head: “A prototype defensive satellite is on the table, but its weapon systems have not even been designed yet. Variations of the Titans have also been tested, but that’s about it.”
The declaration hit Hall like a bullet and the General instinctively shrunk away from his console: “Is there nothing else? Won’t someone tell me of another possibility to save our people?”
Hall gazed at each pilot in turn, watching as they shook their heads and looked away. It was only when his gaze turned to Dostya that the Cybran Commander sighed: “How far are you willing to go?”
The question hanged in the air for a few seconds before she clarified it: “How far are you willing to trust us, General? Are you willing to trust us with your ACUs, your health and even your very lives?”
“I have placed the lives of an entire colony in your hands and the Cybran Nation has not let me down,” said Hall, a smile appearing on his face: “From that moment on, I was willing to put my own life on the line.”
“Good,” said Dostya while forwarding a set of coordinates to every pilot: “We have a contingency plan. Everyone regroup at these coordinates. I must warn you, however, that this is going to be hell.”
Thirty minutes later, five UEF and two Cybran ACUs walked through the desert of Stagnol Prime. Weisman zoomed in on the distant Cybran base and winced: “Kazuo, isn’t that base up there a bit small? What’s the point of bringing so many pilots here?”
“I do not know,” said the Jade Node pilot with a shrug: “I was not even aware that we had a settlement in this sector.”
A rumble shook the ground before anything else could be said and each pilot reflexively ducked behind the nearest cover. They watched in awe as a gateway suddenly emerged from the sand, exposing the interior of an underground passage. Kazuo’s ACU moved from behind its cover first and motioned for everyone else to follow. The war machines descended several hundred meters below ground level before finally emerging into a hangar that could easily accommodate fifty ACUs.
Flinn was the first pilot to emerge from his cockpit and he immediately ran towards the newer pilots. He waited in front of one ACU in particular and smiled when the cockpit finally opened: “Hey Tim! Long time no see! Come on, don’t be shy. Let me show you around. Desjar is going to be really happy to see you and Koster always kept saying that he owed you a beer.”
The eager pilot grasped Tim by the hand and dragged him along the walkway. Weisman shook his head in desperation even as Flinn stopped in front of a pair of Cybran pilots: “This guy is Kazuo as you no doubt heard and the pilot next to him is Valerie. She can be um…”
Valerie’s gaze made Flinn nervous, reminding him how harsh of a teacher she could be. The younger pilot decided to settle for the first compliment that came to mind: “Motivating! Yeah, that’s it. It’s a good idea to stay on her good side.”
It was obvious from the looks of things that Tim did not know how to properly respond and the pair of silent Cybrans in front of him were not making things any easier either. Things got worse when an old Cybran suddenly stepped into view and extended a hand: “Hi, my name’s Bagby and I’m an alcoholic.”
Tim shook the hand with a confused look on his face. Flinn looked at Bagby while scratching the back of his head: “Ok… I probably should have warned you that things can get a little strange around Cybrans. Most of them are pretty friendly once you get to know them.”
The frantic level of activity that surrounded them was so intense that no one noticed Ell until she stopped in front of the group of pilots: “You’re late, take off your clothes.”
A chuckle escaped Bagby even as he shook his head: “Come on Ell, try dinner and a movie first.”
“This is not a joke and we don’t have time for games,” said the Chief Medical Officer while shaking her head. She pointed at each pilot in turn: “Remove everything aside from your undergarments except you, Bagby. You’re an SCU pilot so you don’t need to.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. Why do the kids get all the fun?” protested Bagby loudly. Ell moved away without giving an answer and the old pilot grumbled under his breath before turning to Tim: “Welcome to the Cybran Nation, kid.”
A chill ran through Desjar’s body as he sat on the cold metallic chair with nothing else but his boxers on. From the looks of things, time had not allowed the Cybrans to manufacture the necessary pillows. Desjar’s gaze turned to Hall who was sitting to his left and to Dostya who was one seat further.
Somehow, having over fifty UEF and Cybran pilots all lined up in their underwear seemed ridiculous, but Desjar’s train of thought was interrupted when a nurse came to him with two pills in a cup and glass of water: “Swallow those.”
Desjar hesitated for a second, but he saw both Hall and Dostya swallow their pills from the corner of his eye and did the same. The nurse took the cup and glass of water away when he was done and handed him a bowl. Desjar looked at it in puzzlement before turning to the nurse: “What is that for?”
“You’ll know in a few seconds,” said the nurse while taking a step back. Another question was just being formulated in the back of Desjar’s mind when his stomach churned violently. He tried to hold it back, but the reaction was so sudden that he vomited the entire content of his stomach in a single heave. The bowl was taken from his shaking hands as soon as he was done and a bottle was shoved into them just as quickly: “Drink this.”
Ell moved amongst the pilots as the treatment was administered and was not surprised when Flinn protested: “This stuff tastes horrible!”
“And it won’t taste any better after you’ve complained,” interrupted the Chief Medical Officer sternly. More than one UEF pilot who had recently joined them cast her a venomous look, but she ignored them and kept speaking: “Explanations will be coming soon. Be patient for a few minutes longer.”
Meanwhile, Hall took a deep breath as one of the nurses plunged a large needle into his left arm. He was forced to do it again when she plunged a second needle into his right one and he waited until she was done before trying to relax: “I hate needles.”
Another nurse had just completed the same procedure on Dostya and the Cybran nodded in agreement. Both watched as the machines that they were plugged in were turned on, drawing blood from one arm before returning it through the other. It took a few more minutes for every other pilot to be similarly hooked up. Ell nodded in satisfaction and stepped in front of the group: “Please avoid moving and stay calm. This process takes thirty minutes to complete so I will take the time to explain the medical aspects of what you are going through.”
A screen lit up behind Ell, showing a representation of the human body: “As you are all aware, we have just cleaned out the content of your stomach and the liquid that you have just drunk will disable your digestive tracts for the next day or two. The machines that you are hooked on work on the same principle as plasmapheresis; we extract your blood, remove the plasma and return it to you. The only key distinction in this case is that we are not just removing the plasma but replacing it with an organic compound designed to help you stave off the possible complications of this operation.”
“What kind of ‘complications’?” interrupted Fletcher from the second row. Ell nodded as if on cue: “Nausea, loss of orientation, fainting, cardiac palpations, breakdown of the nervous system and cardiac arrest. All of which practically spell out death in your line of duty.”
Her words left a deadly silence and she waited until she had everyone’s attention again before turning to a Cybran who had been waiting in the shadows: “This covers the medical section of this briefing. I will let our host take care of the military part.”
The Cybran stepped out of the shadows, his features obstructed by the helmet that he was wearing: “A new breed of technology was developed by the end of the Infinite War, but rarely applied: recall technology.”
The image on the screen changed, showing the image of a Cybran ACU: “I will skip the theory and go straight to the practical applications. By using a facility such as this one, it is possible for us to pull back an ACU without it having a quantum gate on its end. I am sure that you all realize the military application of such technology.”
A gasp escaped most of the UEF pilots even as the Cybran ACU on the screen disappeared out of thing air. Flinn was the first one to speak up: “Why weren’t we ever told about this? I mean, we could have used this before, right?”
“Our alliance did not cover sharing technology,” said the mysterious Cybran while folding both hands behind his back: “That and the ability to recall has its limits. A single ACU being recalled leaves an obvious trail through the quantum network, one that QAI will be able to use to track down any facility that uses it. The effects on the pilots are not to be underestimated either. A single recall has roughly the same effect as three back to back harsh quantum jumps. The treatment that you are currently going through will afford you some protection, but make no mistake: this mission will test all of your limits.”
The screen shifted to display a view of Tyros Three and its surrounding sectors: “The mission is simple. Our enemies expect us to run the blockade with all of our strength, so we will do the opposite. We will make quick successive attacks on multiple fronts, strike to weaken them and recall out the moment that they organize. We will then regroup and strike again, rotating pilots so that each of you have a few minutes to recover before sending you back. Each skirmish will last a maximum of ten to thirty minutes, win or lose. We will also upload all tactical information concerning the Order to the UEF as we fight. Hopefully, General Clarke will be able to use that information to plot an escape route.”
Weisman lifted a finger while making sure not to move his arms: “Must our ACUs be modified in some way to be compatible with this recall technology?”
“A beacon is currently being installed into your cockpits,” said the Cybran with a shrug: “You will be required to activate them prior to each recall.”
“Wait, I locked my cockpit prior to getting here,” said Flinn while shifting in his seat. It might have just been Desjar’s imagination, but he could almost feel as though the Cybran was smiling under his helmet: “Don’t worry, we unlocked it for you.”
Redfog watched the briefing from the far back with his arms crossed in front of him. He knew that the Tip of the Spear’s technology was experimental, but it would be enough to throw the Order off balanced. He would have made a better use of it of course, but now was not the time to force the issue.
A barely perceptible shift alerted the assassin to the presence of someone behind him and he twisted his head to the side: “Don’t bother sneaking up on me. I know you’re there.”
Bagby stepped out of the shadows while scratching the back of his head: “Gosh, I guess I must be getting old. You’re not getting a tune up like all the others? Maybe you just don’t have enough blood or even something as basic as a human heart left in you?”
“If you have something to say then do it,” said Redfog in annoyance while turning sideways to look at Bagby straight in the eyes: “I have no time for your games.”
Bagby’s eternal smirk disappeared, his eyes growing dangerously calm: “You know why you’re still alive, don’t you?”
“As I recall, you were the one that advised him to kill me,” said Redfog, his voice equally calm. Bagby shook his head and sighed: “I’m not referring to the day where the old Red found your barbecued hide. Maybe I’m being a bit too cryptic, so let me spell it out for you. The only reason that you’re still alive is because you let my boy go and because it was Riley who did him in and not you.”
The old pilot’s gaze lowered to his hands as he flexed them slowly: “You toy with people, I get that. You’re just as messed up as your predecessor was, I get that too. Now let me make one thing absolutely clear about me. Dostya is my girl, the last precious thing in my life. If something ever happened to her, I would track down the one responsible, kill him and burn down everything that he ever stood for to the ground. I would also destroy anyone or anything that stood in my way, even if it was the entire Assumpta Node. And as you pointed out previously, I have done it before.”
Bagby let the threat hang in the air before turning away: “You just think about that the next time that you try to make her your Chaslain, ok?”
The leader of the Assumpta Node smiled under his mask, not the least bit upset: “I understand now why he said that he liked you. He would have chosen you over me had you not fled after that day.”
The memory caused Bagby to flinch for a second. Yes, he remembered the day when he had joined a group of Assumpta pilots deep into Aeon territory. Back then, the massacre had been the only way to delay them long enough for the UEF to recover from a near catastrophic retreat. It was the reason why he had never piloted an ACU since that day.
Samantha stormed through the command center, her gaze focused on the main display screen: “How long until the defense satellite is in the moon’s orbit?”
“Two minutes,” said the analyst closest to her, but he was interrupted when the command center’s artificial voice came through: “Strategic launch detected.”
The target was immediately outlined on the main monitor; one of the other strongholds that was dotting the planet. A pair of counter missiles were fired in quick succession, destroying the alien missile before it could reach the ground. Samantha frowned while looking at the screen: “They are merely testing us so far.”
“One minute until the satellite is in orbit,” interrupted the analyst while typing on his console: “I can already give you a visual if that will help.”
Although the defense satellite’s weapon system was not online yet, it could still prove useful as a scanning tool and maybe they could use it to find a flaw in the Seraphim’s base layout that would buy them some time. What Samantha had expected to find considering the moon’s limited resources was a vast Seraphim base with multiple mass fabricators. To her surprise, the base was compact and well defended with multiple shields protecting it.
“Find me any structure that is not in our database,” ordered Samantha quickly while walking towards her own console. The image immediately zoomed in on a specific structure and she frowned: “Try to enhance the image. What are we seeing here?”
The analyst tried to extrapolate on the data, but the defensive satellite could only scan from above: “Sir, it appears to be a missile silo. The enemy nukes are just… appearing out of thin air. I can’t make sense of these readings, but it almost looks like they are appearing through a portal.”
A cold shiver ran along Samantha’s spine as she looked at the data in front of her. Sure enough, the base only had the most basic resource capabilities. Under normal circumstances, it should not be able to manufacture a lot of nukes, never mind a missile capable of crossing through space. If, however, the Seraphim had somehow developed the technology to manufacture them elsewhere and only transport the finished product then they could keep building more and more of those silos until they could overwhelm any base’s defense.
“Sir, incoming battle data from the front line,” said the analyst while updating the galactic map: “Recognition codes confirmed; it’s from Commander Fletcher. Multiple attacks have been launched against the Order’s position.”
Samantha knew that a frontal assault against the Order was suicide so what was Fletcher, who was most likely supported by Hall, hoping to accomplish?
Some consequences are unavoidable. You cannot realistically train in martial arts without getting bruised nor can you play with knives without getting cut. In the same line of thought, you cannot pilot an ACU without eventually dying in battle, no matter how good you are. One day, you will find yourself outnumbered, outmaneuvered or simply outgunned. Some pilots are better than others at avoiding such a fate, but death comes to all of us in the end.
There are different ways to cope with that eventuality. Some delude themselves in alcohol, others refuse to think about it and some believe in a higher purpose. To me, the answer used to be simple: I would serve Redfog, my master, either in life or in death. As long as he was pleased with me, either end would have left me content.
Now my heart belongs to another and I know without a doubt that he will only be happy if I stay alive by his side. I have to admit that the thought brings me great pleasure, but it also fills me with dread when I stand on the battlefield. Now that I understand how it feels, I have found a new respect for those who have something to lose and yet choose to fight.
A wave of frustration coursed through Fletcher’s mind as he turned around and looked at the odd spherical device that had been hastily bolted to the rear of his cockpit. On some level, every pilot was intimately linked to their ACU in the same way that some civilians loved their tools, cars or house. To have anyone, especially a Cybran, access and modify it without his permission angered him to no end. The fact that they had unlocked his ACU so easily also warned him that Hall had most likely been too lenient in terms of security.
On a purely intellectual level, Fletcher could understand why the Cybrans had done it. Time was an important factor and the practical applications of the recall beacon were not to be underestimated. On the other hand, they had disconnected the ACU’s black box to power it. One could reasonably assume that the black box was the most useless piece of equipment in a battle. However, it would also be the only device capable of revealing if a pilot had been betrayed should the recall beacon ‘accidentally’ fail. It all seemed far too convenient.
A UEF analyst’s face suddenly appeared on his screen and nodded: “We’ve gained a foothold in sector seven. We’re sending you and two other pilots to assist. You gate in one minute.”
“Finally,” muttered Fletcher under his breath while laying a course for the nearest Cybran quantum gate. So far, only the pilots that had been part of the UEF and Cybran alliance had been dispatched under the pretext that they had been trained to work efficiently together. At least it meant that Fletcher would only team up with men that he trusted instead of any chip head.
The analyst nodded as soon as the ACU stepped into the gate: “Be prepared for a jolt, sir. Those Cybran gates don’t work the same way as ours do.”
The countdown appeared on Fletcher’s screen and he nodded in determination. The six claw-like towers were slowly angling towards the ACU, giving him the impression that he was trapped in the maw of some vicious beast. Arcs of electricity surged forth the instant that countdown reached zero, sending him through the quantum network.
An involuntary chill ran along Fletcher’s spine as he gazed at his main monitor. He had attended a conference or two on the theory behind quantum travel and he had heard rumors of pilots using gates that were not of UEF design. Theoretically, traveling from one end of the galaxy to the other was a near instant process. In reality, however, most pilots experienced a few seconds of awareness as they moved through the quantum network.
Scientists were divided on the matter, some calling it a fabrication of the human brain to compensate for the fracture in reality while others called it a distortion of the space time continuum. Some pilots even jokingly called it the loading screen as if it was some kind of video game. What everyone agreed on, however, was that the phenomenon was different depending on what type of gate was used.
When using a UEF gate, most pilots reported seeing the locking matrix, a series of cylinders that shifted into place as automatic adjustments were made to correct the ACU’s course through the network. Each cylinder’s rotation was accompanied by gut wrenching tug as if the pilot was somehow sitting in rollercoaster ride. Although its exact nature was unknown, the side effects of the phenomenon had been thoroughly documented and medication had even been developed to counteract the effects.
Fletcher had heard rumors from other pilots that had captured Illuminate gates. They had told him that the feeling was completely different, like being all warm and fuzzy inside and out. The notion of something pleasant being associated with a battle seemed completely out of place in Fletcher’s mind and further proof to the alien nature of the Illuminate. Still, even that would have been a preferable option than what he was experiencing right now.
A red boiling cloud shifted on the main screen as data flashed in quick succession. The writing was too small for Fletcher to read, but it was not what caught his attention. He felt neither tugging nor warmth; only a cold and calculating stillness with no sound whatsoever. A single thought occurred to him then: this is what a reasoning death must feel like.
The quantum travel ended abruptly and the image on the screen was replaced by a tactical view of the battlefield. The reentry sequence was punctuated by a small jolt of static electricity that coursed through Fletcher’s body and snapped him back to reality. The Commander’s hands moved instantly over his controls as he assessed the situation. It was time to get back to the war.
Desjar winced when he saw Flinn panic on his screen: “They are coming from everywhere. I can’t stop superiority fighters with plain interceptors!”
A Cybran tactician appeared on their screen for just a moment: “Copy. Transfer units and prepare to recall in five, four…”
The units were transferred to Desjar in the blink of an eye and a distant flash three seconds later confirmed that the ACU had been transported back. The added troops would only last for a minute longer, however, especially considering the sheer amount of bombers that were now flying towards the base. Desjar cursed under his breath and turned towards the tactician: “Confirm the recall?”
“He’s here,” assured the Cybran quickly while typing on his screen: “Can you keep the Order forces occupied for two minutes?”
Desjar looked at his tactical screen for a second and his stomach churned. The Order had two fully operational bases in the area with full tier three technology and economy. He and Koster, on the other hand, had just barely reached tier two before being detected. Fortunately for them, what was left of Flinn’s base was far away and most Order forces were still there: “We can, but don’t take any longer than that.”
The tactician nodded before closing the channel and Desjar immediately sent scout planes in every direction to act as a diversion. A few Order units moved to intercept, but the rest were still heading straight for him. Mobile flak artillery fired furiously, trying in vain to keep the swarm of bombers and gunships at bay.
Desjar was doing his best to micromanage his forces to keep them alive when an explosion warned him that the nearby shield generator had just exploded. The UEF pilot knew without a doubt that the enemy had switched targets and was now aiming for a quick kill. He plotted a new course instinctively, running towards the next shield generator while recalling every mobile generator his way.
Light lasers bolts coming from enemy gunships scorched the rear of the ACU as it ran, but Desjar made it under the next shield generator before the bombers could make another pass. He kept running even then, knowing fully well that the energy field would not hold for long and making his way towards the third one. The second generator collapsed a second later, but Desjar was still one step ahead and the mobile flak artillery had been pounding away at the enemy air force the whole time.
The frantic dance lasted a moment longer before the Order’s air force retreated, having lost too many units to finish off the UEF ACU. Desjar heaved a sight of relief just as Koster appeared on his screen: “Nice job sir, but take a look at this.”
A beacon flashed on Desjar’s tactical map and he only had to look at the speed of the approaching land army to guess at what it was: “They have a Galactic Colossus in that formation.”
Koster nodded quickly, but was interrupted when the Cybran tactician reappeared: “Activate your beacons. We’re ready for you.”
Both pilots complied and Desjar felt an electric tension in the air even as timer counted down on his screen. He took a deep breath as soon at it reached zero, but it was immediately stolen from him. What happened next was one of the most violent quantum leap that Desjar had ever experienced, feeling as though someone had just plugged an electric wire down his spine and then used it to pull him off a cliff. The sensation ended as abruptly as it began with a loud bang, leaving him as disoriented as if someone had just thrown a stun grenade in his cockpit.
Desjar kept his eyes closed as he tried to recover his balance and was dimly aware that the Cybran tactician kept speaking to him: “Commander Desjar, please respond. Take a breath and respond.”
“I’m here,” said Desjar while slowly opening his eyes. The tactician nodded before forwarding some data: “Your vitals are good. I’m forwarding the coordinates of your assigned quantum gate. ETA before the next departure is seven minutes. Make your way there and do your best to recover.”
The image disappeared as the channel was closed, but Flinn hailed him a second later: “This kind of trip really sucks.”
On another planet far away from the war, a Cybran and a Loyalist ACU stood upon the open plain, each staying within the relative safety of their own base. The two pilots had been speaking for the past six minutes now, an eternity in the context of a battle, but a necessity nonetheless.
Rhiza considered the proposal that had just been presented to her very carefully before finally nodding: “We will assist you to the best of our ability. We cannot allow the UEF to fall under these circumstances. However, I would ask for a small favor in exchange.”
The holographic image of Doctor Brackman raised an eyebrow before nodding: “Do tell, my dear. Do tell.”
The Loyalist leader considered her request carefully before speaking again: “The Princess’ Champion returned to us briefly some time ago. We have told her of our progress and she immediately insisted that a specific package be returned to the UEF. It was, according to her, one of our Princess’ wishes. Will you assist us in returning it?”
The Doctor nodded quickly while smiling: “Of course, my dear.”
“Then we will ready our forces at once,” said Rhiza while typing on her console. She looked up when she was finished and raised an eyebrow: “I must say that I was surprised when you contacted us directly, Doctor Brackman. I mean no offense, but I never knew that you could pilot an Armored Command Unit.”
Brackman smiled while laying a course towards his quantum gate: “Expect the unexpected, my dear. Oh yes.”
The shock of the return trip jolted Fletcher to the core. His teeth were so tightly clenched that he had to make a conscious effort to relax his muscles and exhale. He then tried to move his hands, but they were still wrapped around his controls as though they had a will of their own. It was obvious by now that the side effects of recalling so often in a row were cumulative.
Meanwhile, a Cybran appeared on his screen with a concerned look on his face: “Commander Fletcher, please respond. Commander?”
“I’m here, damn it!” barked Fletcher angrily while finally managing to pull his arms back. The outburst surprised the Cybran, but only for a second: “Are you all right?”
“What do you think?” snapped Fletcher back while rubbing his hands: “You just sent me on three missions over the past hour, all of which ended with a recall in less than ten minutes. Why the hell do you send me in losing scenarios like that? Hell, I was on my way to recovering from that last attack before you pulled me back!”
The Cybran’s image was replaced by the helmet of the mysterious pilot who had briefed them: “Unavoidable. Multiple feints have been made to confuse our opponents and force them to reinforce the wrong sectors. Only by doing so will we create the openings that we need. Your last mission was evaluated to be a strategic bottle neck, despite your recovery in the end. In such a scenario, it is better to recall you while we can instead of having to do so at a critical time when we cannot.”
A scorn formed on Fletcher’s lips as he considered the lack of military protocol. The last thing that he could tolerate right now was to be talked down by a Cybran who was staying behind like a coward: “Then send me to a sector that could actually use my skills. I’m through being a decoy for you to play with.”
“Only two sectors have shown promise,” argued the Cybran coldly, not at least bit intimidated by Fletcher’s tone: “One no longer has any available gating zones and the other will need a pilot in the next two minutes.”
Fletcher smiled in victory, convinced that he was finally making some progress: “Fine, send me to that one.”
“I’m looking at your vitals,” said the Tip of the Spear: “Your odds of fainting are twenty-four percent if we send you back so soon.”
The UEF pilot scorned again and slammed a fist against his side panel: “I did not climb this high by being in those twenty-four percent. Just send me back there, chip head!”
A moment passed as the Cybran considered the options before finally nodding: “All right. I am sending you the coordinates of the quantum gate. However, the Cybran leading the attack might not be very… cooperative.”
“Let him do his part and I’ll do mine,” said Fletcher, convinced that no Cybran pilot could possibly keep up with him.
The Cybran ACU stood in the middle of its base, its cloaked frame impervious to all but the most powerful of Omni sensors. Although most of the base’s structures were linked to him, the Tip of the Spear was busy assigning each pilot to a given sector.
A careful balance had to be maintained so that the recall engines were available when they were the most needed. Having such an edge gave them an unparalleled amount of mobility, allowing them to pull off multiple feints in a relatively short amount of time without sacrificing their pilots. However, even the most dedicated pilot could withstand its effects for only so long and the process would only work if they kept their enemies unbalanced.
The recall engines flared one more time and the Tip of the Spear’s immediately focused on the pilots’ life signs. One in particular had hard time even though it was not unexpected: “General Hall, are you all right?”
Hall’s face appeared on the screen, the General gasping for breath with his eyes closed. Although he was physically fit for a man in his fifties, it was obvious that he would not be able to sustain many more jumps: “Your vitals are erratic, General. I am sorry, but it appears that your physiology might not have adapted properly to our recall technology. QAI will be attacking us soon and under these conditions, you might be the best one suited to lead our defense.”
“I understand,” said Hall between clenched teeth. The General took a steadying breath before speaking again: “However, since QAI is of a Cybran design then wouldn’t you be more apt at facing it?”
A signal appeared on the Tip of the Spear’s screen and he smiled under his helmet as he shook his head: “Not under these specific conditions, no…”
Hall had been about to ask what that meant when the two of them suddenly received a wide broadcast hail: “This is Crusader Rhiza. We have come to assist you in defending your position.”
The Tip of the Spear smirked while turning his attention back to the global strategy: “Ah, perfect timing. I’ll leave the base’s defense up to you, General.”
The UEF ACU appeared with a bright flash and stood immobile for a few seconds. Back in the cockpit, Fletcher twisted to his right and puked what little content was still in his stomach. He wiped his mouth with the back of his shaking hand and his eyes widened at the blue substance that parched his lips. He remembered then that the Cybrans had forced them to drink a vile concoction and he could only hope that this was all that it was.
The pilot forced himself to take a deep breath and turned his attention back towards his console, having already lost a few precious seconds fighting off the effects of the quantum jump. He waited until most of his initial order queue was set before listening on the local transmissions in passive mode. Unfortunately, there was little that he could gleam from the chatter.
Like it or not, an ACU was at its most vulnerable the moment that it initially appeared on the battlefield. In order to avoid detection, every pilot was required to maintain radio silence until their base was fully operational or until they were detected. Under normal circumstances, Fletcher would have allowed himself a burst transmission, but the Cybrans had insisted that QAI could narrow down his position a lot quicker if he did and could then potentially transmit it to the Order.
A few minutes later, the base’s infrastructure was in the process of being upgraded to a tier two economy when an Order spy plane flew over it. Fletcher cursed loudly before opening a channel towards any allied forces in the area: “This is Brigadier General Fletcher. I have been detected and Order forces are on their way, link up.”
A beep on Fletcher’s tactical screen informed him that the nearby mass extractor had just been upgraded thanks to the assistance of the mechanical engineers, but no one returned his hails. A quick diagnostic confirmed that his transmission was not being jammed and he spoke once more: “This is Fletcher to any forces in the area, can you hear me?”
Another few seconds passed, but there was still no answer and Fletcher slammed a fist against his side panel before opening another channel: “God damn it! HQ, whoever was supposed to be waiting for me must have gotten fried. I need an immediate recall!”
“Our recall towers are unavailable at the moment,” said the Cybran tactician coldly while typing on his console: “We would need you to wait three minutes.”
Multiple signals appeared on Fletcher’s sensors, exposing a land army which included over fifty units. Unsurprisingly, the enemy force was heading straight for him and what was even worse; a Galactic Colossus appeared to be bringing up the rear. The land army moved ahead of the experimental weapon, confident that it could destroy Fletcher’s base on its own: “Are you out of your mind? I don’t have three minutes!”
“There’s nothing I can do, sir,” said the tactician, his tone becoming sarcastic as he kept speaking: “So unless you have an unparalleled knowledge in quantum network mechanics that we could use to speed things up then I suggest that you focus on the enemy instead.”
Fletcher swore viciously while looking at his tactical screen. His base was on the edge of a bay so he could escape in the water. Unfortunately for him, he did not have a sonar station out there and there was no telling if there were any Order units in the water. Sacrificing his base would buy him only a minute at best, but it would not guarantee his escape.
A flick of a wrist sent Fletcher’s army to the edge of his base and he plotted a course towards it as well. His ACU was vulnerable without a personal shield generator, but its overcharged ability still made it a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. Maybe if he gave the Order forces a bloody nose before retreating then the enemy pilot would think twice before committing any more units to the pursuit when he escaped under water. He assigned a pair of newly manufactured Mongoose and a mobile shield generator to act as bodyguards and waited for the inevitable.
The UEF pilot braced himself as soon as the enemy army appeared on the horizon and prepared for the worst. Nearly three dozen harbingers led the charge followed by mobile shield generators and mobile flak artillery units. They hit Fletcher’s front line at first, but quickly changed their targets to the ACU as soon as it was spotted. The UEF pilot responded by falling back, using the nearby structures as cover while also forcing the enemy army to break its formation in order to follow him.
The two Mongooses fired in turns, their gatling plasma cannons pounding the approaching Harbingers, but doing little to slow them down. The enemy’s return fire was intercepted by the mobile shield generator and Fletcher used his ACU’s overcharged shots to deal with any enemy unit that got too close. It took all of the Fletcher’s micromanaging skills to keep both Mongooses alive and firing during his strategic retreat and to his credit; over a dozen harbingers fell during the charge. His base, however, was not as fortunate.
Power generators and mass extractors exploded even as harbingers destroyed any unit that the factories were attempting to produce. The UEF’s forces, composed mainly of tier one Strikers and Lobos, could not stop the Order army and was quickly torn apart. Soon Fletcher and the few units acting as bodyguards were backed against the bay despite all of their valiant efforts.
The UEF pilot knew that he was out of options the moment that the mobile shield ran out of power, but that did not stop the intense feeling of dread that washed over him when he heard the shriek of a high powered laser coming straight behind him. He initially thought that the Order Commander had sent a Galactic Colossus from behind to catch him by surprise, but that notion disappeared when a heavy microwave laser surged forth, catching the nearby Harbinger and destroying it in seconds.
Fletcher turned around and had to dodge to the side even as the trio of Monkeylords surged from the bay with their weapons firing. The Order army was so deeply committed to the fight by that time that it did not have the luxury of falling back and the experimental weapons sliced right through it, their heavy microwave lasers and electron bolters tearing enemy units to pieces.
When they were done, the Monkeylords turned their long range heavy electron bolters towards the Galactic Colossus that stood on the horizon and fired simultaneously. For a second, Fletcher wondered if the Order pilot would charge forward anyway, but Cybran transports suddenly popped out of nowhere, dropping Loyalists, mobile stealth generators and mobile flak artillery as support troops. The Order Commander quickly decided to pull its experimental weapon away, but a few seconds later a wave of stealth strategic bombers escorted by superiority fighters charged in and made its attack run.
The masked face of a Cybran pilot appeared on Fletcher’s screen just then and spoke in a pleased tone: “Good, everything went exactly according to my plan.”
Fletcher turned towards Redfog, his outrage obvious: “You used me as bait?”
“You’ll get over it,” said Redfog dismissively. The leader of the Assumpta Node’s eyes pierced the UEF pilot even as he spoke: “Besides, you might wish to keep in mind that depending on the definition, some baits do not get the chance to survive their use.”
The barely veiled threat forced Fletcher to swallow his pride and he focused on his decimated base instead: “Fine, then at least provide me with air support while I make repairs.”
“You have an army’s worth of wreckage at your doorstep thanks to me,” countered Redfog with a snort, his army laying a course to pursue the fleeing Order forces: “Take care of your own problems.”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 02 Nov, 2008, edited 9 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
As requested, I have attempted to analyze the human species as a whole. So far, my research has determined that as sentient creatures, humans are illogical and irrational.
In order to ensure its survival, an individual should only focus on its current and future needs while also taking into account the needs of the collective as a whole. Instead, most humans base their decisions on emotions, false assertions, misconceptions and far worse. Pride is such an important factor that something that would benefit a collective will be refused if it benefits other individuals more. Ironically, a human that would act using pure logic would be defined as being emotionally damaged.
My analysis has also determined that the capacity for a human’s evolution is related to his overall level of comfort. The more comfortable an individual is, the less likely he will be tempted to accept any change even if it is for the long term benefit of the collective. This also implies that the more desperate an individual is, the more he will be ready to alter fundamental parameters. If pushed far enough, a human is even capable of disregarding instinctive imperatives such as survival.
My conclusion is therefore as follows: in order to vanquish a human collective, most notably the UEF, we must maneuver our forces while remaining as unthreatening as possible. Only by doing so will an opportunity to quickly end the Infinite War present itself.
Analysis provided by QAI, log 5873908-A, year 3821
The Cybran ACU appeared on the battlefield with a bright flash and immediately started building a land factory. No sooner had the outline of the structure appeared that a series gauss cannon shells tore right through it. The ACU barely had the time to turn around before the next volley found it, blowing apart its left arm and sending it staggering backwards.
It took a few seconds for the war machine to stabilize itself before it rushed towards cover. The incoming bombardment from the nearby Fatboy pummeled it before it got the chance, sending it crashing to its knees and soon rupturing its core. The following nuclear explosion brightened the sky, causing Hall to reflexively raise a hand to shield his eyes: “Enemy ACU in sector twelve destroyed.”
“This is too easy,” said Carmack, his forces guarding the southern edge of the Cybran complex: “Why is QAI the only one attacking our position? Why isn’t the Order giving it a hand?”
Rhiza’s face appeared on both of their screens, her features disturbingly calm despite the fact that she was fighting on the eastern border: “All of those that have fled the Order and sought asylum with us have confirmed our suspicions: the Order has yet to work in tandem with any other faction aside from the Seraphim.”
“Really?” asked Carmack sarcastically while raising his arms into the air: “Then this attack is all one big coincidence?”
Rhiza shook her head, choosing her words carefully before speaking again: “You misunderstand me. It is obvious that both the Order and QAI follow the Seraphim’s plan. However, the Order has yet to fight in the same field of operation as QAI. It is possible that Evaluator Kael’s standing would be damaged if she was ever forced to fight alongside a Cybran construct.”
Hall was about to point out that it was therefore vitally important to watch out for any incoming Seraphim when a priority call appeared on his screen. He recognized the signature of the transmission and quickly activated it: “General Clarke, I must warn you before you speak that this link is not secured.”
“We know,” said Samantha, her eyes darting left and right as she monitored multiple field of operations at the same time from her ACU: “However, the situation is critical and we cannot afford any more delays. Is Telbos Five secure enough to begin the transfer of civilians?”
Hall looked at the tactical updates that were being forwarded to him by HQ and took a second to think. Everything that they were saying would be decrypted by QAI soon, but few teams were still operating under the cover of stealth and most of Telbos Five had been secured: “It is, but we don’t know for how long. How is the situation on your end?”
A curse escaped Samantha as another strategic launch warning flashed on her screen. They were becoming so constant now that she actually had to disable the audio message: “The enemy’s rate of fire has increased by one missile per hour. A few of our strongholds have fallen, but our civilians are being constantly moved by transports to ensure their security and our pilots are managing to rebuild our facilities as quickly as they are being destroyed for now.”
The statement caused Hall’s heart to skip a beat as he measured the implications. So many civilians had been transferred to Tyros Three that It would take hours to evacuate everyone even under the best of circumstances. Hall’s worry must have been written all over his face, but Samantha interrupted him before he could object: “Don’t worry, we’ll make it…”
Samantha closed the channel and looked to her right console. The latest data estimated that it would take five hours to evacuate all the civilians under the best of conditions. Looking at her tactical map, Samantha doubted that they could last another two. After that, the Seraphim would have a large enough opening to gate to the world and then everything would be lost.
With their feet on the ground, the Seraphim could be capable of producing their experimental bombers while still launching strategic missiles from the moon. Any army that would be forced to move afterwards to avoid a nuclear strike would be attacked by experimental bombers before it would have a chance to recover. The transports carrying civilians in particular would be extremely vulnerable and tens of millions would die before they could escape.
An uncomfortable ball formed in the back of Samantha’s throat as she opened another channel. The scarred face of Major Simons appeared on her screen, a veteran of the Infinite War and one of the most hardcore pilots that Samantha had ever had under her command: “Major, I need time.”
A clear understanding flashed in the Major’s eyes. Samantha hesitated, the thought of ordering Simons and his men on a suicide mission tearing her heart and threatening to steal her voice. The Major nodded in understanding, his voice uncharacteristically gentle as he spoke: “Just ask us, General.”
The simple suggestion touched Samantha deeply and she nodded gratefully: “Will you do it?”
The Major nodded fiercely, all trace of softness disappearing from his harsh features as he opened a channel. When Simons spoke, it was with the voice that would have made even the harshest Drill Sergeant proud: “Listen up! The General has just asked us to buy her some time. Let those willing take a step forward!”
A few seconds passed before Simons console started lighting up. The Major then nodded in satisfaction, having confirmed that his entire squad had volunteered: “All right, let’s give those bastards a taste of what we can really do!”
Each ACU then headed towards its quantum gate, their destination set for Tyros Three’s moon.
Desjar’s eyes widened in disbelief when a quantum signature appeared next to his base, but he sighed when a UEF signature was confirmed: “This is Major General Desjar, identify yourself.”
The face of a young pilot appeared on the screen and nodded: “Captain Antler. I’m ready to begin the transfer of civilians.”
“I’m opening a link between you and one of our quantum nexus,” said Desjar while typing quickly on his console. Once the data was transmitted, he returned his full attention to the forward line where his army was pushing against an Order stronghold: “Readjust it to accept the arrival of civilians. We have another gate nearby to send them off planet once they get here.”
Desjar was about to say more when Carmack’s face appeared on his monitor: “I’m back. Where do you need me?”
A signal beeped on Desjar’s screen, indicating the other’s ACU’s position in a secured area. Desjar quickly shook his head, puzzled by the deployment: “You were supposed to stay behind and assist General Hall. What happened?”
“The Loyalists reinforced his position,” said the other pilot while shrugging: “I don’t like it much either, but I have to admit that they know what they’re doing. QAI can’t even gain a foothold on the planet with all three factions holding it.”
The mention of the Loyalists sent a surge of adrenaline coursing through Desjar’s body, but he held his temper in check. Right now, they needed all the help they could get to save millions of lives. His personal grudge was insignificant compared to that: “Take sector eighteen and prepare for the worst. Let’s hold this place for as long as we can.”
Less than four minutes had passed since their arrival on Tyros Three before one Commander’s forces were detected. The land attack that quickly followed completely eradicated the base, causing Simons to curse loudly. The Major’s scorn froze on his face when Murphy appeared on his screen: “There’s not enough atmosphere here for them to use their air units either! They didn’t use their screwed up giant bombers!”
“That means we can outmaneuver them,” said the Major while focusing on his tactical map. The experimental orbital defense satellite had been able to map most of the enemy base prior to crashing on the moon when its fuel reserves ran out. From the looks of it, there were four Seraphim pilots: one busy with adding more of those insane strategic missile silos while the others were arrayed in a triangular formation around it.
Past battles had taught Simons that their technology was simply not good enough to hit the Seraphim head on, even if they used experimental units. They did not have the time to build them anyway; those missile silos had to be brought down soon before Tyros Three fell.
This left him with only one alternative and Simons immediately began upgrading his ACU with a personal teleportation upgrade while speaking to the fourteen remaining pilots: “Listen up, I want everyone to gather as many units as you can, the more the better. When I finish upgrading, you guys will wage an assault on all fronts, drawing enemy units and giving me a chance to destroy the silos. If all goes well, you guys can bail out when I’m done.”
Murphy’s mouth opened in disbelief when he understood what the Major was suggesting: “Sir, you can’t just teleport in there and take them out! You won’t make it back!”
“I’m not going to self destruct you dolt!” shouted Simons back, his gaze as hard as steel as he made a rough estimate on his tactical map: “You guys just be ready act when I give the order. We’re only getting one shot at this!”
The next few minutes ate at Simons’ nerves, but the Seraphim made no further move to attack. The only sign of activity coming from their base was the near constant stream of missiles that were launched one after the other. The fact that they had not redirected a few of them to ferret out their aggressors spoke volumes on their overconfidence.
A green light soon appeared on Simons’ console, confirming that he had just completed all of his upgrades. It was now or never: “Launch the attack now!”
Hundreds of tier one and two units stormed off, closing in on the Seraphim’s base from all directions. Although they might have seemed like an insignificant threat to the naked eye, their sheer numbers could potentially slip past the Seraphim’s slow firing turrets and under enemy shield generators. If, by some miracle, it happened, then the diversion tactic might actually do a lot more damage than anyone had hoped.
Simons waited until those troops moved within striking distance before powering up his teleportation engines. Meanwhile, he zoomed in on the battle with his tactical screen to get a better view. His eyes opened wide as a new unit appeared on his screen: “What are these things?”
“No idea, sir,” said Murphy while monitoring his forces: “They look like oversized versions of their ACUs… what the hell? They’re tearing through our forces as though they were made of paper!”
Simons cursed under his breath and his gaze went straight to the countdown timer on his screen which had only ten seconds left to go: “Steady men, steady!”
Every second that passed seemed like an eternity as the Seraphim’s new experimental units obliterated the attack wave that should have been a credible threat. The countdown finally reached zero and a rush of adrenaline surged through the Major as his ACU’s teleportation upgrade activated. He was immediately transported in the middle of the Seraphim base, right next to an enemy missile silo. He fought off the usual wave of nausea that came with such a rough ride with a grunt and immediately targeted the nearby shield generator, destroying it in two shots.
Red lights flashed through Simons’ cockpit at the same moment as energy blasts hit the rear of his ACU. He quickly noted the pair of large Seraphim point defense turrets that were firing at him, but he did not have the time to deal with them. Instead, the UEF ACU used its advanced engineering suite to quickly build a shield generator of his own; using it to absorb incoming fire prior to building small, but powerful tier one turrets. He then assigned those to target the enemy missile silo and kept adding more as quickly as he could.
A feral grin appeared on Simons’ face, the pilot being confident that he could destroy a few enemy silos and buy General Clarke the time that she needed. He had even planned that should he fail, the destruction of his ACU would cause enough damage to finish what he had started.
A thought occurred to him then and he scanned the silo; trying to estimate its structural integrity to be on the safe side. The Major took a second while the scans were underway to look at his target, appreciating its exotic if alien design. From the looks of things, it had fired a missile not long before Simons had gated in and was not yet ready to fire another. The grin disappeared from his face when the scan results appeared on his screen. Although it was only an estimation; the enemy silo had the structural integrity to withstand at least three ACU explosions!
Murphy’s face appeared on his monitor at that moment, the pilot obviously panicked: “We can’t damage them! These new units’ regenerative rates are increasing even more rapidly than their experimental bombers. All the damage that we did in our initial attack has already been repaired. We’re being overrun!”
The situation got even worse when a Seraphim ACU appeared on Simons’ screen. The UEF pilot knew that the Seraphim had the necessary technology to destroy an enemy ACU with a single overloaded shot and that he could not hope to stand against it nor even destroy a single missile silo before it reached him.
Just as he thought that things couldn’t get worse, warning lights appeared on Simons’ screen and he turned around just in time to see a missile emerge from the silo, appearing progressively out of thin air as if by magic. The UEF pilot could not understand how such a thing could be possible and a look at his sensor readings showed that they were off the charts.
One thought did occur to him however and he reached out for his controls to power up his teleportation upgrade. A warning flashed on his screen followed by an audio message: “Warning, quantum distortions detected from nearby structure; attempting to compensate.”
Power levels dropped down automatically to avoid a core overload, but Simons quickly shook his head: “Override…”
Red lights started flashing through the cockpit, but the Major ignored them and kept increasing the power levels. Another message resounded through the cockpit: “Warning, teleportation field exceeding standard parameters. Core breach probability rising.”
“Override!” shouted Simons while pushing the limits of his ACU beyond what it had been intended to do. The energy field that normally surrounded an ACU while using a teleportation upgrade had nearly doubled in size, causing bolts of electricity to lash out in all directions.
“I’m not a tech wizard,” said Simons while scorning towards the incoming Seraphim ACU: “But they always said never to mix quantum energy fields.”
The Major’s fingers paused over the controls for a second as a wicked grin appeared on his face: “Let’s find out why!”
A push of a button overloaded the teleportation upgrade even further, extending the energy field so that it touched the area where the enemy strategic missile was appearing out of thin air. For a fraction of an instant, both fields tried to merge. The differences in amplitude and frequency were just too great, however, and the resulting feedback pulse destroyed both the ACU and the missile silo.
An energy wave immediately surged forth, tearing through the Seraphim’s base and destroying half of it in an instant. Nothing happened for a few seconds after the explosion, but then the Seraphim ACU dug its way out of the wreckage of a nearby power generator. It then looked around slowly, surveying the damage that had been done even as its systems regenerated its damaged hull.
Three experimental strategic missile launchers had been destroyed in the deflagration, but the rest were still operational. The ACU waited a moment longer before getting back to work, replacing the destroyed structures as if nothing had happened.
Back on the surface of Tyros Three, the sudden halt in strategic missile launches felt like a breeze of fresh air. Samantha immediately sighed in relief before opening a channel to Earthcom: “Any word from Major Simons or his men?”
The tactical officer that appeared on Samantha’s screen shook his head sadly: “We just received a burst transmission from Commander Murphy, confirming the loss of thirteen pilots and Major Simons as well. We have not heard from him since and our last data shows that the Seraphim base on the moon is still operational.”
The news hit Samantha like a blow to her stomach. It had taken the sacrifice of fifteen pilots merely to slow the Seraphim down. Now it was her job to make sure that they had not died in vain. They had an escape route thanks to General Hall and the Cybran Nation and they had to make use of it while they still could: “Proceed with the evacuation. Let’s get off this rock while we can.”
X-day + 195
Desjar and Weisman stood upon the walkway, looking at the mess of pilots and technicians that were moving below them. The two of them were exhausted after over twenty days of fighting, blurring their tracks and dodging pursuing enemy forces with little rest in between. Making a few ACUs disappear was one thing, but relocating millions of UEF refugees without getting caught had been a challenge. Quite a few pilots had also died in the process.
A string of curses suddenly came from a group of technicians further down as they tried to eat their Cybran rations and Desjar smirked despite himself: “Hard to believe that we were the ones complaining about the same thing not too long ago.”
Weisman nodded, while rubbing a cramp in his neck: “Feels like we’re back to square one, doesn’t it sir?”
Desjar was about to agree when Hall suddenly appeared further down the walkway. Weisman immediately stood attention, but Hall waved for him to relax and instead presented the small box that he was carrying: “We have just received a delivery. This package was given by the Loyalists to Doctor Brackman with specific instructions to relay it to us.”
“What is it?” asked Desjar warily, having the distinct impression that he was concerned by this once again. Hall took a deep breath before speaking: “They are Commander Zachary Arnold’s belongings.”
The declaration left an uneasy silence and Weisman looked between Desjar and Hall repeatedly, wondering if he could somehow step in to help his commanding officer. Meanwhile, Hall waited a few seconds for Desjar to digest it before speaking again: “Crusader Rhiza told Doctor Brackman that their Princess wanted these returned to us so that proper farewells could be made. The box contains his uniform, transmitter, wallet and a data pad encrypted with a three letter password. The latter has not been accessed by anyone.”
“I can perform the ceremony and offer these a proper burial,” said Hall, referring to the tradition of burying a pilot’s personal belongings in their memory: “I just wanted to know if you wanted to have a chance to look at them first.”
The rhythmic pounding of a UEF ACU’s footsteps resounded through the hangar as a Commander returned from his patrol, but all three pilots ignored it. Desjar hesitated a moment longer before extending his hands. Hall handed him the package while nodding in approval: “I’m due to meet Doctor Brackman and General Clarke. Please excuse me.”
Fletcher cast the holographic image of Doctor Brackman a suspicious glare, not trusting ‘it’ one bit. Both General Clarke and he were ready to assist to this meeting in person, but the Doctor was only transmitting his image to them, his brain being somewhere else in the node. The only other Cybran in the room was Dostya and she just stared back silently with her arms crossed in front of her.
Although he hated the setting, Fletcher had to admit that he hated what was about to be announced even more: “With all due respect, General, you shouldn’t do this. Our defeat on Tyros Three was not your fault.”
“It’s not a matter of blame,” said Samantha firmly: “It’s a matter of what needs to be done for the good of us all.”
Fletcher leaned forward urgently: “But they only attacked us because…”
“They attacked us because we gave them the opportunity,” cut in Samantha, not liking where the conversation was heading. She had heard the rumors as well, soldiers and pilots who were claiming that the Cybrans were partly to blame for the attack. According to those rumors, if they had stood their ground from the beginning then the Seraphim would not have turned all of their attention towards the UEF. It would take a long time for such false assumptions to fade away.
The door to the small conference room opened then and Hall stepped in, bowing his head curtly to all of those in attendance: “I hope I’m not late.”
“You are quite on time, actually, oh yes,” said Brackman, his unusual way of speaking apparently irritating Fletcher even more.
Samantha nodded, dropping her conversation with Fletcher entirely: “I invited you all here to make an announcement. I have already discussed this with General Hall and we have agreed that it is the best course. Starting tomorrow, General Hall will be representing the UEF instead of me.”
Dostya’s eyes widened in surprise and an enigmatic smile appeared on Doctor Brackman’s face. It was Fletcher, however, who spoke up: “With all due respect, we need…”
“I only assumed command because President Riley died,” said Samantha sternly, cutting off Fletcher in mid sentence: “It is obvious now more than ever that the Seraphim threat cannot be stopped by the UEF alone. We need to ally with every human faction that we can. General Hall has succeeded where I have failed.”
“I’ll be blunt,” interrupted Dostya while putting her hands on her hips: “A change in leadership will not affect social tensions. Only actions will.”
“You are correct,” said Hall, speaking for the first time since the news of his promotion had been made public. The General stepped up in front of Dostya and Brackman: “The symbiont dilemma has been delayed long enough. Are you ready to welcome them?”
The question caught Dostya off guard, but caused Brackman’s smile to widen. This alliance might have a chance of lasting after all.
Desjar sat alone in his quarters with the package opened in front of him. Jessy and Melissa were waiting for him just outside, ready to support him the moment that he stepped out. Somehow, just that thought gave him the courage that he needed to browse through the items.
The first was Arnold’s wallet. Most of its content was useless: credit cards, identity chips and such. The only thing of value in there was the set of two pictures: one of Lin, the woman that Arnold had fallen in love with years ago, and one of Arnold and Desjar. The picture was a good one when the two of them had been celebrating a victory in a bar with a bunch of other pilots. That time seemed so long ago that it felt as if it was another life entirely.
The next item was Arnold’s transmitter, but a careful inspection revealed nothing extraordinary and Desjar quickly set it aside. The uniform was next and the first thought that entered Desjar’s mind was that it had probably never been so clean. A closer inspection revealed that some areas had been torn, but than carefully stitched back together again. No doubt the Aeon Illuminate had restored the uniform after Arnold’s capture.
The last item in the box was the data pad and unlike the rest of the equipment, it was clearly of Aeon design. The screen lit up as soon as Desjar touched it, requiring a three letter password just as Hall had said. By today’s standards, or just about any standard for the past millennia, a three letter password was practically a way to beg for it to get cracked. It was also the only clue that Desjar needed to figure out what it was and he typed it without hesitation: Lin.
The data pad accessed it’s only file immediately, showing the video image of Arnold. His hair was carefully combed and his face was clean shaven which seemed out of place in his case. The voice and tone however, were unmistakably his: “Hey lube boy, I knew that you’d figure it out sooner or later.”
Arnold then looked down, as if he was ashamed of what he was about to say: “So listen, um… yeah. I’m trying to find a way to say this. Chances are that if you’re watching this then I did the one thing that I never imagined myself doing and joined the Aeon Illuminate. You might have mixed feelings about me. No wait, I think that if the old me was watching this then I’d punch myself in the face.”
“To say the least,” whispered Desjar under his breath. The video file played on, showing Arnold as he scratched the back of his head in annoyance: “Just look at me, saying deep stuff was never my strong suit, right? So I’ll try to just say it. I think that I’m doing the right thing by joining the Aeon Illuminate. I’m not doing it to make them win, but to stop them.”
The declaration stole Desjar’s breath, but he did his best to keep himself from hoping too much. A part of him had always hoped that somehow, Arnold had done this for some reason that he could not understand, but he was not convinced that it was the case just yet: “I’ve gotten to know them over the past few days, the Princess and Toth at least, and the people here are well… they’re not how I pictured them. I don’t know how to say it, but there’s good in them, you know? A few days ago, I would have said that Black Sun would have given them what they deserve but now... I don’t want to see them all dead.”
Desjar listened carefully as Arnold went on: “The Princess is the true ruler of the Aeon Illuminate, but Marxon is the one leading their war efforts. She’s trying to stop him and I think I can help her from the inside. I don’t want him to succeed and hurt people like Jessy or Melissa and I don’t want Riley to win either. I’m not sure what the Cybrans are cooking up but hell, it can’t be much better.”
The reference to Black Sun caused Desjar to wince since he had played his own part in that. At the time, using it had seemed like the only way to save his friends and family. Now, the thought of killing every Cybran that he had gotten to know over the past few months did not sit well with him anymore.
A serene smile touched Arnold’s face when he spoke again: “Rhianne – I mean the Princess – wants the Infinite War to end and for all three factions to coexist in peace. I still find it hard to imagine speaking philosophy with an Aeon or getting tech advice from a Cybran. It seems crazy doesn’t it?”
The question made Desjar think of the times when they had all been briefed by Cybran technicians on stealth technology or when he had spent a night drinking with Bagby: “Maybe not so crazy…”
Arnold shook his head as if to clear it: “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think I’m doing this for the right reasons. I’m doing it for you, Jessy, Melissa and just about everyone out there that I ever liked. I’m also doing it so that people like Lin and Rhianne will have a peaceful world to look forward to.”
A touch of sadness crept into Arnold’s voice even as he kept speaking: “Rhianne hopes that we will all make it out alive, but deep down I don’t think that I’ll survive this. It feels kind of strange, but I think that I’m ok with it too. My only regret is that I won’t get the chance to tell you this in person and that you may never get to know the truth. I’ll miss you old buddy and if this is this message is the last trace that I leave behind me then I hope that you’ll get it and that somehow, you’ll forgive me.”
The message ended there and Desjar waited for a few seconds as he tried to come to terms with it. He then stood up and the door to his small room opened the moment that he stepped towards it. Both Jessy and Melissa turned to him immediately with worried expressions. Desjar reached out towards them and drew them both in a hug, planting a kiss on each of their heads as he spoke: “Don’t worry, I’m ok now.”
The soft echoes of Kathy’s footsteps could be heard through the halls as she made her way through the Princess’ secret retreat. She was the Champion, one of the few who knew her whereabouts and the only one who was allowed to leave the planet. The responsibility of protecting the galaxy’s best chance for peace sometimes felt overwhelming, but those doubts were erased as she opened the door to the Princess’ chambers.
Rhianne lay motionless in her bed, her face perfectly serene despite the war that was plaguing the galaxy. She was so well taken care of by her attendants that the only sign that she was in a coma was the IV drip that was hooked near her bed. Kathy took a chair and sat next to her, taking a moment to make sure that everything was all right before speaking: “Zachary Arnold’s belongings were returned to the UEF. The message that he had prepared before his death was also relayed.”
A few seconds passed as Kathy studied the Princess for any reaction. They said that sometimes, a comatose patient could still hear those around her. Still, it was probably too optimistic of her to hope that the Princess would show any reaction right now: “Crusader Rhiza assured me that General Hall is an honorable man and that he will see that the package is relayed to the right person should he get a hold of it. Although the times have been harsh, she will be making every effort to strengthen the alliance.”
Again, there was no reaction and Kathy nodded in resignation. She stood up and left the room, closing the doors delicately behind her before returning to her other duties. A few minutes later, a tear formed in the corner of Rhianne’s eye and gracefully fell alongside her face. Had anyone been present at that time, they would have noticed the trace of a serene smile appearing on her face.
The next day, Hall stood in the command center with everyone staring expectantly at him. The General took a deep breath before pressing a button, starting a live broadcast that would later be relayed through the other nodes: “Good evening.”
Hall let the simple declaration hang in the air for two seconds before continuing: “As you no doubt know, our efforts to defend Tyros Three have failed. The Seraphim have succeeded in a scenario that we deemed impossible and we have suffered terrible losses in the process. Yet out of this tragedy, a light has been born.”
The General straightened ever so slightly, giving the impression that he was growing stronger from the words alone: “During the past few months, we have worked hard to ally with the Cybran Nation. This alliance was truly tested during that battle and it pleases me to say that it has endured. Together, we have done what none of us would have managed to do alone and averted a disaster that would have cost millions of lives. Only by merging our respective strengths was this feat possible.”
Hall turned his head and bowed it slightly towards Dostya who was waiting not far away: “That is why my first act as the new representative of the UEF will be to honor that alliance. Effective immediately, all symbionts will be returned to the Cybran Nation. It is time for the UEF’s strength to no longer come at the expense of another faction.”
“I know that at this moment, the Seraphim threat seems insurmountable,” said Hall his gaze unflinching: “However, even the darkest of nights must eventually give way to the dawn. Together, we will learn, grow and adapt. We will cultivate our strengths and work hard to get rid of our weaknesses.”
The words hanged in the air as Hall nodded: “Together, humanity will survive.”
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
Last edited by dotswarlock on 02 Nov, 2008, edited 2 times in total.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Reserved post 9
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Reserved post 10
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Reserved post 11
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
Reserved post 12
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 02 Apr, 2007
Location: Liberec, Czech Republic
Can't wait. Your books are like a drug to me
Replay reviewer at Gamereplays.org
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 05 Oct, 2007
Location: camping near the biggest power-up
so many books, so little time...
/BulletMagnet has read 3.5 books (approx. value) in 2 days.
But, an FA army in an FA environment just looks... right.
Does anyone know how to use air transports? I cant get them to pick up troops.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 17 Feb, 2007
And I added the short preview as mentionned previously. Enjoy!
Links to my fan fiction stories (book 13):
(This thread includes the links to all 12 previous books)
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 16 Feb, 2007
Location: Underneath a rock, somewhere in the Netherlands
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 15 Feb, 2007
Location: Near Sheffield, England
Cheers dude, and heh I see the portrayal of fear and desperation is going to continue as it should.
Hell it even shows in the game, in Supcom you're ported onto planets with your list of objectives and build up to them, even on some of the most frantic missions by the time you actually encounter the main threat you're usually ready for it.
Then in FA, you're being ravaged before you even get on the damn planet, heh, the first thing ya hear is "ACU under attack" alarms. So gave an "OH ****!" feeling when ya saw the difference between how things were during the infinate war, and how they are now against the sephys, these books have portrayed that brilliantly.
Have a good rest that ya deserve and plan them out well, hopefully the "journal" type descriptions will be few and far between (although they do provide a nice insight into the private and personal thoughts and mind of a character) as the "realtime" descriptive nature of the other stories was awesome, especially the battles and so on. I could actually picture Bagby frantically trying to beat the **** outa a Sepharim in my mind heh.
Keep at it dude, theyre brill.
29 Jun, 2008
Joined: 02 Apr, 2007
Location: Liberec, Czech Republic
And I added the short preview as mentionned previously. Enjoy!
Arrrwgh I think I will die... its just too long until July 12th :/
Replay reviewer at Gamereplays.org
30 Jun, 2008
Joined: 13 Aug, 2007
Good to see that you still have steam after 6 books.
30 Jun, 2008
Joined: 08 Mar, 2008
Location: Northern California where the girls are warm. Just keep on rock'n me baby...
All hail the mighty Dotswarlock,Lord of the dance.
30 Jun, 2008
Joined: 07 Oct, 2007
Location: In an ACU of course..
There was only one thing that I knew for certain when I took command of the UEF: I would not do the same mistake.
General Samantha Clarke
That just reads strange
"I would not make the same mistake."
"I would not repeat his mistake."
"I will not do what he did."
' in usage is a much more Here-and-now verb than your likely to find in a journal.
Be that as it may, I'm still waiting on the 12th to get here already... Its going to be a long wait. At least Bagby's still alive.
If I recall correctly, about this time 3 years ago, all the SupCom 1 preview stuff had everyone excited...
Its the complete opposite here
03 Jul, 2008
Joined: 05 Oct, 2007
Location: camping near the biggest power-up
is there any chance of the forum reading about Snoey's fateful victory against the Seraphim? (hint, the map Snoey's Triangle)
/BulletMagnet is now up to date with all six books, and is counting down the days until the 12th.
But, an FA army in an FA environment just looks... right.
Does anyone know how to use air transports? I cant get them to pick up troops.
03 Jul, 2008
Joined: 08 Jul, 2007
I haven't commented on your books for a while but I read them religiously once a week dots, and this book looks like it will be great!
/Holds breath until 12th