Arc: Apocalypse

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Mobius 1
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Arc: Apocalypse

Post by Mobius 1 » Tue May 20, 2008 11:11 pm

The definitive TE story returns to start off the rebuilding of the OZ/OO/Whatever. Formatting for chapter openings are off, since my hard drive copy went straight MS Word formatting without bbcode and I had to go through and format by hand. What is below is Chapter One, Two, Part One of Three, and an Interlude.

ARK: Apocalypse

Zrmahk City, Zrmahk
Near the Ark/Frok’tar Alliance Border
May 23rd, 2592


*All is translated to English standard and metric values/

I woke up this morning. I rolled out of bed. I brushed my teeth. I took a looks at the newsholo, and then threw it away in disgust, not even assimilating the headline.

I pulled on a pair of pants, a jacket, a pair of large boots. After a short pause, I grabbed my powersword and tied it around my low-slung belt.

I hit a button, and the hatch leading into my apartment slid open.

I stepped out into the street.

It was full of eight-hundreds of different species. Different colors. Different shapes. Different sizes. Some even towered over me, at my full half eight-meter height. Some were the sizes of small children, skittering around and between legs. Every so often, I spotted a lone groundspeeder trying to make its way through the congested streets of Ronsktv. Air taxis thundered above my head. Every so often, a police speeder could be seen flashing by, rushing off to some unseen threat within the city.

I smiled, adjusted my jacket, and shied away from a Terina beggar; a large copper dish fell outward in its gleaming claws, a scarf around its scaly head. I slowly forged ahead, finally reaching my destination- Ljrahk’s Breakfast Hut, a squat, steel, open-air structure tucked into a lively corner of the street. All sorts of dead meats hung from a head-height ring that encircles food preparation area. In the center of the area was the owner of the structure, who, like the hut, was short and sturdy. He was a Nahktar, three eight-segment meters tall and with a deep black hide. He had quarter-eight extra pairs of arms surgically grafted to his hips, and each were holding knives, busy chopping vegetables on a cutting board while his two upper arms gesticulated wildly, Ljrahk was in an intense argument with a troublesome customer, a tentacled Urok- a wide, white creature with a huge, horned head-crest and no less than ten eight-segments tentacles protruding from all angles from a small torso situated under the creature’s huge head.

Ljrahk looked up at me, a gave me an exasperated smile that seemed to say in a moment, this twit’s on my last nerves. Then he turned back to the feisty Urok. “And I be telling you, you’re not getting any more beer! You even think about driving, and you’ll kill everybody on this planet!” he yelled.

I shrugged, and took quarter-eight segment large steps forward, laying a large, quarter-eight-thumbed hand upon the motioning Urok. “Um…. Thing… sir… ma’am… whatever. You’re pretty inebriated right now, and it wouldn’t exactly be that good for the general population if you decide to take a few more drinks.” I pulled out my cheap, throwaway communicator, and handed it to the Urok. It accepted it tipsily, flipping it around with quarter-eight tentacles. “Now go,” I said, motioning with my other hand. “Call a cab. Giddout.”

The Urok scuttled off, and I rolled my eyes as he, she, whatever it was left. Turning to Ljrahk, I sat down on a high-necked stool and slid a couple of credcoins across the counter. Crossing my arms across the counter, I leaned forward- my breath huffing out, as I wiped sleep from my eyes. “So, ‘Rahk, how’s it going?” I asked accepting the tall metal glass of gunmetal juice.

“Well, apart from that Urok, I’d say I’m alright,” said Ljrahk as he washed a glass with a rag that looked about as dirty as the glass did, his one good eye affixed upon the back of the Urok, which was now almost lost in the crowded streets of Zrmahk City. His other eye was covered with an eye patch made of purple fabric, a large yellow logo in the middle of it that designated his status as a veteran. “Buh how ‘bout ya, Drlan?”

I nodded, raised my glass in what was an ‘I’m all right’ gesture, and nodded. “I’m all right, just fine.”

“An’ how ‘bout Tkl? I hear you just graduated.”

He was indeed correct, I’d been on the Tkl Space Station, College to all of the Ark, for the past seven planet-revs, getting my Proficiett in Human Studies. I had graduated fourth in my class, an honor considering Tkl was one of the best Colleges concerning the study of alien species. Human studies had only just been offered during the last three-quarter-eight years ago, and I had jumped upon it as a major. I was in luck, it was an extremely popular class and I just barely gotten in; by the skin of my teeth, as the Humans say. My final thesis had been on the Human military and its culture (That was the best way I could cut down the title into laymen’s terms (Again, another delicious human idiom, or whatever they called them.) .

“Indeed” I said. “Very interesting creatures, humans.” I paused, looked around a whispered to Ljrahk: “I’ve been offered a job in the military.”

“As what?” ‘Rahk asked, giving what could only be interpreted as a grimace. He had been in the military himself, before being discharged due to a particularly nasty plasma wound to the gut. Literally, a Frok’tar automaton had backhanded him three-eight meters back, walked up, and pressed its wrist mounted plasma thrower into ‘Rahk’s gut. The whole experience hadn’t exactly given ‘Rahk the highest opinion of the service, not after the benefits, or lack of, he got after being discharged. (“Stupid bureaucracy” he’d always mutter, and move onto another subject).

“An adviser, apparently. They want me to teach their troops in the best way to kill humans.” I twitched my shoulder spikes, indicated exasperation. “As if this war hasn’t gone on long enough for us to have billions of trainers by now. What, with all the casualties- and the protesting.”

‘Rahk gave a grave nod of agreement, and then brightened. “Did you hear ‘bout the news? It seems our military actually got something right, in the midst of a geee-gantic failure.”

I hadn’t been paying much attention to the news as of late. You see, Tkl is rather close to the Core of Ark Territory. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that citizens become more and more nationalistic the closer it is to the capital, that controls on freedom and the press become more and more restrictive, and that military presence on the streets is stepped up. The further and further away you are from the core, the more the government’s control slackens, the less nationalistic the citizens are. Of course, there are extreme surges in nationalism and government presence on very other world or so along the border due to the active and long-lasting border war between us and the corpocratic Frok’tar Alliance. However, while Zrmahk is almost right on the (current) border, we’re not very resource rich, nor are we situated atop a particularly active or important slipstream, we do not warrant a military garrison. While the press is very loose out here, where I was, Tkl, which is rather close to the Core, had every regulation and propaganda from here to Andromeda. Although considering ‘Rahk had stated that ‘Our military had finally something right’, it sound like the sorta thing Tkl’s propaganda-rich press would report. I paused to think about that, and came to the conclusion that the development had occurred while I was in transit to halfway across the galaxy (Even by the considerable speed of slipstream travel, which is about a light-year a minute on average, it would a take more than a few hours).

Now that I considered it, Zrmahk was probably playing up the failure to the extremes, and the success had been a mere footnote. I took a sip of the gunmetal juice, and nodded. “Enlighten me, ‘Rahk.”

“It would seem that the military decided to build a new Ark.” He paused, to gauge my reaction, seemingly guessed correctly about my projected response, and then nodded. “That be right, Drlan. As if one gigantic planetoid isn’t enough for us. As if one planetoid the size of these planets isn’t enough!”

I nodded, remembering the odd practice termed “tax” by the humans, and winced if they ever had to endure the stress of having to provide for one of those battlestations.

‘Rahk continued. “Well, it seems the whole thing was a trap to get the humans out of their groove after they recaptured New Cal. And we almost crushed them (what a surprise), but one of there commando teams found a seam and exploited it, and exfiltrated just as there flagship shoved one of our singularity torps down the planetoid’s throat.”

He paused again, and then asked “Well, since you just came out of that propaganda hole that is Tkl, you probably know what the Tyrax is by now.”

I nodded. ‘Tyrant-Experimental’ they called it. We heard all about that. Some great advance in not only flesh-metal interfacing, but robotics as well, and ‘system multi-troop management’, which my friends and I had spent long hours debating about what that truly was. I held the opinion that it meant that there was some sort of “Master Tyrax”, and that it had control of several other remote-control “minor” Tyraxes. Of course, that suggestion was more of a joke than anything else. Still, we heard about it about two eight-planet rotas before graduation- the news was relatively new. “Did he have anything to do with the ISAF raid?”

‘Rahk nodded. “Indeed, he found someway onto there flagship and hacked into there security system.”

“That doesn’t exactly sound good for the humans.”

‘Rahk shook his head emphatically. “And not only did the Tyrax get there slipstream routes, the ones to Mars, but he also knocked off a big shot. The King of Spades on the wanted list, some guy named Measly or something like that.”

I snorted. He’d have to be, I thought. “Anything else happen as of late?”

“A few famous people died, all that stuff.”

I was about to ask for a refill for my drink, when the air around was filled with plasma fire.

The customer two seats down from me simply disappeared, having turned into a roughly Nahktar-sized cloud of white blood. The bar around me caught on fire, just as ‘Rahk’s famous liquor cabinet went up in a multi-colored ball of flames. I all could hear were screams, explosions, and the whine of plasma weapons.

I threw my hands up (As if that action would somehow ward off superheated plasma), and stepped up and onto the counter, diving down behind it as a plasma bolt filled the space I just occupied not less than a second ago. Even though Nahktars were notoriously heat resistant, the sudden increase in temperature scaled my scales and singed my spines.

Looking to the right, I turned to see ‘Rahk crouched behind the counter, one of his arms a bloody stumps, flowing white blood, the other waving in time to his rant, unheard over the din, the over two loading a battery into a battered longrifle. He looked over, saw me, and directed his third arm to grab a plasma pistol and toss it over to me. I caught it deftly, checking the charge and looking through a hole in the counter that had not been there before. I saw no less than eight Uroks, all chattering and chortling to one another, their assorted tentacles wrapped around various weapons, waving them around, spraying the Breakfast Hut with all sorts of radiation, energy, and slugs.

In the center of the gang, I recognized our old friend, the one I had sent away earlier. I snorted. Must’ve taken offense to something I said. Drunken Uroks were notoriously unstable, but this…

Just my luck that bastard would get a couple of his friends and try to repay some perceived offense.

Sticking the plasma pistol over the counter at an angle perpendicular to my arm, I fired off a couple of shots at random. One sailed over the gang’s head; the other singed a random Urok’s firearm, sending it spinning out of two of his tentacles, only to be caught by three more.

I brought the pistol down, looked at it as though it had somehow betrayed me, and then tried my tactic again sticking the plasma pistol over the counter and firing randomly. It was obvious I had had no military training, but after all the stuff I had seen on the holos, how hard could it be sure. Sure, I could check the charge and ready the pistol like some sort of super commando, but I obviously couldn’t aim worth crap.

Turning my head I saw ‘Rahk curse mightily as the barrel of his long rifle was blown off when he was in the process of firing it, causing a small explosion and sending him along one side the rectangular interior of the counter, bouncing off a cabinet and against the center food prep island. I crawled over to him and checked his pulse, assuring myself was he indeed still alive.

Whipping around I saw the Uroks advancing upon our position (Geez, four-eight seconds into this, and I’m already thinking like a soldier!), scampering around, over chunks of heavcrete, dead bodies.

What a day, I thought- not even an eigth into the day and I’m already about to be killed by a gang of drunken Uroks. Whoop-pee.

I cast my eyes around desperately, looking for a method in which I could defeat my adversaries. I immediately thought of using one of ‘Tahk’s famous alcoholic drinks to make a form of explosive. Then I remembered that the drink cabinet had been the first thing hit, and I despaired.

I saw a flash of dark grey, as something relatively Nahktaroid in shape materialize out of nowhere in the middle of the crowd of aggressors. At first I hadn’t seen its point of origin, and then I realized it must have dropped from the ceiling.

What came next was the fastest scene of violence I had ever seen in my entire life. Legs flashed out and, by sheer speed, bisected several Uroks at once. Two arms flung three Uroks several hundred feet in the air, a metallic-clawed foot sending on Urok into a pillar at once seemed to be approaching the speed of sound, liquefying the Urok and shattering the pillar. One Urok tried to flee and single, sleek, small, dark red rocket rose out the blurs and came down, almost vertically on the Urok’s head, creating an explosion that blew a crater three meters in diameter into the duracrete.

Blood flew everywhere, at such speed that it shattered glass. Tentacles, like those served at the local dock market smacked against walls with a sickening wet ‘slap!’ noise, then slid down to the floor, still flopping about, in their last reflexive death throes.

And then, not even two seconds later, it was over. The blur stopped, and a single being rose out of the carnage like a wraith- tall, even for a Nahktar, looking like a hideous fusion of Nahktar and machine, turrets and launchers and blades and who knows what else sprouting out of his body at odd angles-

I gasped.

-I had realized what that thing was, and, in an instant, my blood chilled, as I could not help wonder with increasing hopelessness what this thing, this monster was doing on our small backwater planet, why it would even bother dealing with us, that it could only mean something important-

The Tyrax was on Zrmahk.


* * *

I opened the door to my apartment an hour later, the morning’s events playing over in my mind. I remembered, in a haze of feat, the Tyrax straightening up and then leaning over a body of an Urok, his death’s head mask inches from the Urok’s face. It was only when the Tyrax spoke that I realized that the monster had left one Urok alive, presumably for the purposes of interrogation.

The voice that had issued from the cyborg chilled me to the very bone, it was as terrifyingly artificial, yet so intensely calculated, it seemed almost like a purr, yet, at the same time, a roar.

“Why, doomed, did you deem to attack this-” he paused and gave sound that almost sounded like a sigh, then continued- “breakfast hut?”

The Urok groaned, and gave a very rude gesture with his tentacles, those that were still remaining.

The Tyrax gave a noise that this time I knew was a sigh. With a flick of his wrist, he produced an absolutely wicked-looking blade from a slot in his wrist and held it up to one of the Urok’s eyes.

Shaking my head, I looked up I saw, in my own apartment, the very last thing I would see on this planet.

A human.

What the hell was a human doing on an Ark-occupied planet?

He shouldn’t be here.

But there he sat, polishing a long tube that I could only identify as a shotgun. He was tall for a human, indicating he had at the very least grown up on a low gravity planet. His short blond hair complemented his piercing cool blue eyes, eyes that were now looking down the sights of his shotgun pointing right at me.

“Hello there, Drlan Nuva.” He said in English Standard.

“How did you get in here, human?” I asked experimentally in English

The blond-haired human gave me an odd look, fed another round into his plasma shotgun, and answered in Tahk: “Your planet has a lot of homeless people on the streets. Just cast a shawl over your head, look like a Terina beggar. Sure, I had to wear a tail and a bit of makeup, but it’s not that hard.”

I thought about the homeless Terina I had seen out on the street this morning, and shivered. “You know it’s not nice to call them homeless…” I said, again in English.

The blond man stared at me for a second, and then, with a slight smile on his face, replied, again, in Tahk. “What do you want me do call them? Residentially challenged? Urban Explorers?”

I shrugged. As pointless as that little conversation may have seemed, it stood to prove to us that each other had proficiency in their counterpart’s language. The various words just used in our opposite language were rather difficult for either species to reproduce, only to be accomplished by someone with aptitude in the foreign language.

“Who are you with?” I asked. “ISAF? ONI? Hey, do you have a name?”

He gave a grim smile, and replied in English, “You’re a smart one. You may know me as the Operative, which obviously indicates I’m with ONI. I’m not supposed to tell you that, but that rule does seem rather pointless, doesn’t it?” He pumped with his shotgun, which gave a satisfying chick-chick noise as he moved the pump action. Then he turned his eye upon me. “I saw you at the market today. You’re not exactly a big fan of the war, are you, Drlan?”

The question totally caught me off guard. “N-no,” I stammered. “I’m not.”

“Would you like to help me stop it?”

* * *

Aboard the Terror Cause,
Orbiting Mars, Capital of the Interplanetary Space Alliance
May 23rd, 2592


Lieutenant Colonel Leo Bateau reclined in the smart chair and surveyed the briefing room. Smith was twiddling his thumbs, looking about as bored as he could be, while Sarah sat with her eyes closed, humming some old Earth British tune that Bateau didn’t particularly care about. Caesar sat over in a corner, his eyes closed, twirling a combat knife in one hand and a plasma pistol in the other.

At the other end of the briefing room were a small cluster of pilots, all talking in hushed tones. Bateau thought he recognized the red-haired LC of the Raptor’s Rogues, holding a intense conversation with a oddly Austrian-looking combat robot. He definitely recognized Pierce Blake, a Carnage Marine he had once served with on a mission behind Ark lines.

Over in another corner, reclining and, his face blank, sat Seth Halcyon, resident psion. His arms were folded and his eyes affixed upon the door, he looked absolutely uncaring.

All in all, all men and women brought together by the late Jak Easly.

Bateau gave a bored sigh, if only to break the silence, which was deafening. A fly buzzed through the room, by Halcyon’s face. The fly then stopped in midair and simply dropped to the floor.

Halcyon’s face was blank.

With a soft sigh of air, a hatch at the aft end of the room slid open, and two men stepped in. One was tall and reedy, very pale, wearing a bland business suit, briefcase in hand, the second wearing the green dress uniform of an Air Force Captain-Marshall. Robert Deckard and Kirkus Devonshire, respectively.

“Evening gentlemen, ladies,” said Devonshire, his voice bored. Placing his hands behind his back, he surveyed the room. “Members of 303rd Storm Commando Squad, Raptor Squadron, I, upon the request of the Director of Naval Intelligence,” he indicated Deckard. “have called this meeting to order to initiate special forces Operation Judgement Day, number five-oh-oh-kay-dee-seven-cue.”

“Well I can guess what this mission is about,” muttered some Raptor Bateau didn’t recognize under his breath. Nevertheless, it carried across the room. “Some big suicidal conquest that will surely bring the end of the war. After all, you don’t name some random mission judgement day. Christ.”

Devonshire ignored the comment and sojourned on, oblivious. “Mission objectives involve a joint mission of the two stated squadrons, splitting into two mixed teams. Team Lambda will deploy and assist a company of Carnage Marine in overseeing the crippling of the massing Ark fleet intelligence suggests is growing in the Narot system as a supplement to the main fleet that the main ISN battle group will engage within the next to weeks. They will have the support of the 105th Expeditionary Fleet, Battle Group J-Omega. Team Phi-Psi will conduct a deep undercover sub-operation well behind Ark territory, infiltrating an Ark-controlled planet and collaborating with agents already on the planet in assassinating the current ring of Ark military leaders, who are currently congregating on the planet in question to oversee the final conquest of Martian-controlled space. In particular, the capital.” He paused. “participants in the operation will have free choice as which mission they go on.”

“So,” Smith said, sitting up. “Team A will head off and destroy and oversee and assist and whatever an Ark fleet that is going to act as an trump card in that conflict in the New Wales system, saving the day, getting the glory, while Team B goes where no squad has really gone before- into Ark territory, sneaking past layers of security checkpoints, Ark system security fleets, and who knows what else to try and go undercover on a world that has human population-zero and try to assassinate the high brass of the entire Ark all by themselves? Brass who, truth be told, are probably just as deadly and dangerous as the entire previous security measures combined?”

He paused, looked around impressively as if he expected someone to cry “Surely Not!”, and then gave rare grin. “I am so going with Team Phi.”

Halcyon spoke, for the first time since entering the room. “I’ve already been assigned to team Psi,” he noted- (“Team Psi? Is some sort of joke?” muttered a Raptor in the background.)

One by one, Devonshire “helped” assign the various commandos to the two teams. Team Lambda had Mitchell and large portion of the Raptors, those who weren’t either on a solo mission or still recuperating from the injuries the Tyrax had inflicted upon them, while Team Phi-Psi had Smith, Caesar, Sarah, a pair of Raptors whose names were Rickson and Torus, and Halcyon

Bateau nodded to Devonshire. “Requesting permission to lead team Lambda, sir.” He hoped to work with the Carnage Marines again; he hadn’t been able to associate with them since the Phoenix operation. Besides, the mission was perfect for him. Massive destruction and chaos was his specialty, and he prided himself on it.

“Denied,” stated the Captain-Marshall blandly. “I have a special notice here that you are to lead Team Phi-Psi.”

Deckard, who had been silent most of this time, stepped forward. “Indeed, Captain-Marshall. It would seem that the special element to team Phi-Psi requested personally that Bateau be included in the sub-operation.”

“Special element?” asked Torus, leaning forward, his voice curious, his right eyebrow cocked. “What special element?”

Deckard gave a small little smile, the type that people who usually knew something others didn’t allowed themselves in the form of gloating they could only participate in. “You might know him, Bateau. He picked him up, floating dead in space around the edges of the New California system. While his ship was dead, he was very much alive…”

The Captain-Marshall opened a pocket in his uniform, pulled out an old fashioned chrono, glanced at it, and then slipped in back into the pocket, buttoning it. He gave in discreet nod to the ONI Director. Deckard turned over to Devonshire, gave the annoying little smile again and cocking his head in a gesture that spoke This’ll be good., then turned back to the assembled merchants of death and spread his arms. In fact, he should just be arriving now…”

Through the two vertical glass windows parallel to each other along the thirds of the doors, Bateau thought he could make out a shadow approaching. Vaguely humanoid, indistinctly tall; it was hard to tell. So it was some surprise Deckard had arranged? I can’t wait, he thought dryly, with a strong sarcastic tinge.

Rickson saw it too and sat up in her chair, swiping a single blond lock out of her face and whispering, “Easly…” The Raptors all had similar reactions, with exception of a female Lieutenant Colonel and Blake, who were exchanging money.

Unconsciously, Bateau found himself totally and utterly focused on the door, which slid open…

To reveal something definitely not human.

“Tell me, where is our beloved Colonel Easly?” asked Trego, late and former Supreme Commander of the Ark, grinning in a way that could only be interpretted as

-ear-

-to-

-ear.


Chapter 2- In the Air Tonight…

[right]“Lo! Here we are, at the end of this universe, and nothing is what it seems to the common man. What chance does the common man have? Here, there, evil is spreading. Hero becomes villain, villain becomes hero. Lo! What is one to think, in this never-ending spiral of madness? When does thoust draw the line? Beware, ye mortal men, for hell hath no fury like that of a common man.”

-Lines 945-51
Hark, Come Death Upon Us!- Ancient Early 22nd century Epic.[/right]



Bateau was up first, his pistol out of its holster and in his hands, pointing straight at Trego’s forehead. Sarah merely wrapped her elbow around the barrel of her rifle and pulled, flipping in deftly over the back of her chair and into her lap, pointing it at Trego one-handed, while her other hand stifled a yawn. Smith merely looked at Trego for sec, and rolled his eyes. The Raptors, who were in civies, had no weapons, but their combat droid did- a hefty, fearsome looking six-barreled autocannon.

“You’re dead.” Bateau said after five seconds, coking his head to look down the sights of his sidearm. “I killed you.”

“An accurate assumption, Bateau,” answered Trego, the edges of his gigantic maw of a mouth quirking upward in a very human-like gesture.

Smith meekly raised his hand. “Um- Leo? I think I killed him.”

Bateau’s eyes darted towards Smith, who was slumped onto the massive briefing table, laying his head upon his arms. “Point,” he replied, his eyes darting back to glare at Trego.

If Trego gave any sign that he recognized the tension in the room, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he sauntered over to stand behind Deckard in the odd bobbing Nahktar military walk, and then turned back to face the collected squadrons, his face blank.

“How the living hell are you still alive?” Smith asked, sounding mildly annoyed. “I do believe I emptied-” -at this, he threw a glare at Bateau- “-an entire clip his to your chest.” He paused, as if expecting someone to exclaim What a kill!. When no one did, he add: “At don’t give me any bullocks about clones and holograms. I’m spec ops, and I’ve enough of the bullshit for one year, thank you very much.”

Trego swept his eyes over to look down distainingly at Smith, the three square, sharp extrusions of bone quivering with the Nahktar version of glee. ”Sophisticated battle armor and a bit of holographs. Something you humans lack woefully behind in,” he said sarcastically.

Go to hell.”

“I’ve been there. It’s overrated, I must say.”

Deckard cut in. “Please, gentlemen, ladies-’ he threw an unsure glance at Trego- “-um, Nahktars- I’m sure you’ll have time sort out your differences on the trip to Zrmahk. After all, it is on the other end of galaxy, and with the method of travel you’ll be taking, it should take fifteen days to get there.” He motioned for Bateau to sit down and holster his pistol, which he did, noticing, to his annoyance that his pistol was somehow locked onto “Safety”- he threw a glare at Halcyon, who shook his head imperceptibly.

Bateau noticed Devonshire had moved over to further brief the Raptors, talking in hushed tones. He turned his gaze back over to Deckard, and was about to open his mouth, when Longbow beat him to the question, speaking for the first time during the evening. “And how, Mr. Deckard, are we arrive at our destination?

Deckard shuffled his notes, something totally unnecessary considering he had full cybernetic implants and could just call up any fact directly onto his retinas. “We can’t get you anywhere near the area in an ISN vessel, but we have contracted a reliable freighter Captain who regularly runs shipments to and from the Froktar worlds along the alliance’s Ark border. Since Zrmahk is practically neutral territory between the two states, he could get you in there relatively safely.”

Bateau, who had liaised with ONI before, noticed the curios omission of the ‘and out of there’ part- but this time, D’Oro beat him to the punch- “You didn’t mention anything about getting us out, Director-General.”

“We’ll see to that later, shalln’t we, Major,” Deckard replied, emphasizing the last word. Waving his hands, a holographic display shimmered into life behind him, over the table, showing a certifiably grey planet, which Leo guess to be the planet Zrmahk.

“Now, you’ll meet at Spacedock E7-A6, Diamond District down topside at 1000 hours this coming Friday, where you’ll meet our liaison, Captain and former retired ONI agent Lennart Rietman.”

* * *

Bateau threw his worn and tattered duffel over his shoulder as he trudged through the grungy spaceport, averting the gazes of the various shopowners, illegal cybernetic surgeons, drug dealers, and prostitutes. The Diamond District, a large sub-area on Mars where the entirety of the Martian capital, Neo York was located on, was about half-and-half. That is to say, one half rich, gleaming commercial and governmental buildings housing the administrative capital of the ISA and the headquarters of at least twenty-four multinationals, while the other half dark, dystopic, and very dirty.

In case it couldn’t be surmised, he was in the cyberpunk half.

Hooded gangsters were slumped against walls, their bodies heavily modified to match their apparent uses. Bateau caught himself staring at one guy who had had his head replaced with a cannon, his arms with flails, and his legs with tank treads.

Whoa.

Trailing behind him was Grissom, he had ran into her on the Metro, with a a duffel and a long plastic case containing what was probably her prized Colt XM-series Ramjet Sniper rifle. He was surprised she had got it past the MetroCop screening stations, the ammo she used had enough punch to blow the head off of a Tyrannosaurus Rex- He would know, he had seen her do it back on New Cal. Still, they were officially black now- the mission had started, and they were to pose as civilians from here out, so Sarah couldn’t just use her military ID.

Accessing his Neural chip, he called up the dock number of their ship - E7-A6. and the name of the ship, Alt Vertraut. He recognized it as German, but had no idea how to pronounce it, so he decided he would leave that to Grissom- he would bet that she knew those things.

Turning into a shadowy recess in the dark grey steel wall, Leo was confronted with a keypad and a large sliding door, which currently resided in what was the closed position. Before Bateau could lift a hand to guess what the code was, the door slid open silently, disappearing into the ceiling, and Bateau was greeted with the sight of a tall, thin man, dressed in a greasy grew jumpsuit and sporting a grizzled five o’clock shadow that looked something permanent. “Bateau?” he cocked his head to the left, looking around the edge of recess to catch sight of Grissom. “Grissom. Come in, come in,” he said, motioning them forward with his hands and looking furtively around.

Bateau was taken aback. He had been informed that no one would know of their mission except Deckard, the Raptors, Devonshire, and of, course, the Prime Minister. He didn’t think Deckard had informed Rietman that he was transporting a spec ops team. Leo had assumed the man was just a retired man who ran a shipping operation in his “retirement”.

He shrugged mentally, reminding himself to be more far-minded in the future.

Rietman eyed him with a tired eye. “You think I wouldn’t recognize a spec ops team when I see them, mate? You may be a Carnage Marine, but you gotta due something about your posture. Nobody ‘round here stands straight.”

Bateau raised his eyebrows, a smile twitching along the end of his mouth. “You researched us beforehand?”

“Hey, I’m ONI. I’ve got contacts.” Chuckling, he pushed back graying hair. “C’mon, Rome-boy and Smithy are already on board.” He turned away and paced toward the ship, muttering under his breath about Ian.

* * *

Bateau walked up the gangway into the depths of the hundred-meter ship, noticing the width of corridors and the brightness of the surrounding, two attributes that were usually not associated with the idea of a freighter. Shipping captains had some bug going in their heads that all their ships had to be dark, dank, and shadowy, free to cultivate all manners of malevolent xenomorphic creatures.

He paused the entrance to the ship, with Sarah standing silently behind his shoulder, eyes taking in the surroundings. “Nice,” she said, moving past Bateau venturing tentatively down the corridor. Bateau followed her, his steps silent in the large, echoic hallway.

Rounding the corner, he came to a wide flight of stairs, the handrails trimmed in- was that wood?

Taking the steps two at a time, Bateau pulled up beside Sarah and saw a doorway directly in front of them, apparently on the other side of a hallway that the staircase spilled perpendicularly into.

Shrugging, Bateau stepped into the room. It looked like any ordinary lounge you’d find at an upper-class nightclub, white, light blue railings, a couple crescent tables and a bar. Bateau saw Ian Smith hunched over the bar, arguing animatedly with Lennart, who seemed about to hit the Captain upside the head with a particularly large bottle of New Florida bourbon. Bateau also saw Johnny “Caesar” D’oro sitting at one of the table, playing a game of holochess online. There was a broad, muscular man leaning with chair back against the wall, feet propped up on a stool, also playing a game of holochess. With a quick glance, Bateau saw that the two games were one in the same, although it seemed neither player had realized it yet. In another corner, laying on a couch, and apparently fast asleep lay a sandy blond-haired woman who seemed to be in her mid-twenties and currently fast asleep, a heavily modified plasma rifle laying across her slowing rising and falling chest.

With the exception of the two most powerful members, his squad- Major Giovanni “Johnny Caesar” D’Oro- plasma specialist and off-time pilot; Captain Sarah Grissom-McDonnell, covert ops and primary sniper; Captain Hack Torus, team hacker, netrunner, and security guru; Second Lieutenant Megan Rickson; heavy, heavy weapons specialist and secondary sniper/primary scout; and Captain Ian Tiberous Smith, close combat expert and master of the blade.

And to cap things off, two beings simply blinked into existence in the center of the room and little ado, in such a way that indicated a psionic teleport. Bateau raised his eyebrows. “Blinking. That’s new. I didn’t know you had that on your lineup.”

“I’ve been practicing,” said Seth Halcyon, Office of Naval Intelligence Special Operating Field Agent and quite possible the most powerful human psionic being in the known galaxy. Beside him was a tall, scaly creature, almost a terrifying four meters in height, his head brushing the ceiling. Dressed in what constituted casual wear for a Nahktar, Trego (The human tongue would find it impossible to pronounce the latter four parts of his name) still looked absolutely fearsome. The Nahktar form in characterized by long, powerful, triple-kneed leg structures that were usually a mottled grey and could quite literally survive being submerged in lava for days at a time. In the upper quarter of the body was a small, unarmored torso that that two long double-elbowed arms jutting out at lower 45-degree angles from the torso. Meanwhile, a large head was set directly out and forward form the middle of the torso, with three large bones arcing away from the face along the top, left, and right sides, and a large, fang-filled mouth taking of most of the face. Trego had clothed himself in what seemed to be a cross between corduroy and armor plating along his legs, and a tough white jacket that had yellow armpads and a long leather straps that held pistol holster down around his second knee.

Apparently, this was the equivalent of street wear for a Nahktar. Bateau noted that mentally, as the only real piece of true Ark territory he had been on had been the Ark itself, a massive moving planetoid from which he had been one of the only survivors of a raid against several years ago. He still sported the plasma burn on his face from when Trego had pressed a burning rifle muzzle onto his face.

He shook his head mentally. He’d have make time for a long talk with Trego, to answer a “Few” questions about what had happened over the past number of months. Besides the obvious “Why the hell are you still alive?” and the “Why aren’t you back aboard some big-ass Valk-class, kicking our bald, pink, monkey asses?” and but not least: “What the fuck is the Tyrax? Tell me how to kill it. Now, lava skink”.

Looking around the walls of the room, he only just now noticed the large, antique posters, some advocating enlistment during the Scorpia Wars, some old campaign posters for Olympic, the first AI to become Prime Minister of the ISA. He pursed his lips. Everybody had their own little hobby- for Torus, it was messing with the regulation systems of the residences of the rich and famous, for Sarah, it were those damned British martial tunes, for Smith it was his meter-long vibrosword and criticizing everything in sight, for Johnny, it was some long-gone Terran European nation-state that seemed to think putting red thick brooms on their helmets and wearing skirts and sandals into battle was a good idea- for Halcyon, it was playing around with his psionic powers, having objects blink across rooms or just plain sitting menacingly in a corner. However, Lennart’s collection of posters was something that actually interested Bateau, especially when he noticed the old movie posters for classics like Old Familiars and FMC.

So, he had around a month to spend on this freighter, going way to other end of galaxy, to the Ark, to the supposed end of this wretched war. A month to plan the operation, liaise with Rietman, and interrogate Trego for all he was worth.

But he had too many thoughts spinning around his head right now. He turned to Rietman. “Do you happen to have VR linkups on your ship? And how long until we’re in slipspace?”

Lennart nodded, motioning to a far door. “Aye, I had them installed four months ago for another occasion. They’re up a deck. As for Departure time, we’re cleared to take an exit lane at 1430, enter into the ‘stream an hour after that.” He paused. “Here,” he added, pressing a button behind the bar. A hatch slid open in the ceiling, and a small spherical robot glowing a faint blue floated down. A trilling voice emanated from somewhere within the robot, as it turn in a wide semi-arc, surveying the squad. “Oh, visitors? For me? Follow, visitors, I shall take you to the library.”

And with that, the robot floated off, out through a door in the far wall, humming to itself.

Bateau exchanged a glance with Sarah, who quirked her eyebrow. She shrugged, and followed the droid.

* * *

Things were spinning rapidly out of control. In slow motion, Bateau saw Sarah moving across the catwalk, drawing what seemed to be a plasma pistol from a food container. Whipping his head around, he looked at Renault, there eyes locking for half a second.

Something electric passed between that stare, the surprised look on Renault’s face, the look of scrambling thought on Bateau’s face. Then Bateau dragged his eyes down, to see the way the metal catwalk was warping around Renault’s feet, the way the ceiling two meters over the Frenchman’s head was trembling. Yelling loudly, the grabbed Smith by the shoulder and shoved him down hard, just as Renault threw open his trenchcoat. With a wave effect from the center of the chest where the coat had been ripped off, the blue polo shirt underneath the trenchcoat became molded black armor, and Renault instantly grew two meters as the torso, arms, and snarling head of a Nahktar dissolved into view. All around him, the other French scientists threw off their coats- and presumably holographic disguises to reveal black-armored Nahktar commandos, brandishing crude axes and plasma sub-machine guns from nowhere.

In a flipping motion, the “Renault” Nahktar brought two long-barreled plasma rifles up, underhanded, spewing purple flame. Bateau saw a bolt connect squarely with the back of Sarah’s helmet, knocking it off and sending here flying forward, off the catwalk and down a story, where the back of here collar caught on an extruding metal bar.

His squad- Dusk, Caesar, Hack, and two Second Lieutenants- Garigson and Marok- all dived for cover behind the pillars that ran along the circumference of the shaft, spaced every five feet or so. Garigson was with in the stomach, practically ripped in half, plasma and blood and gore spewing from his gut. The squad broke for the doors of the rooms that led off the circular shaft, as did Leo- but, as he changed his course, a plasma burst stitched its way in front of him, hitting a power conduit and blowing Bateau backwards.

Bateau flew backward, diving over the edge of the catwalk and falling four stories before catching a cable, swinging around it, and falling, like a cat, to the metal catwalk below. Looking up, he saw the large feet of the Nahktar special forces squadron four stories above him.

Bateau brought his K-5 Gatling Carbine to his shoulder and fired a burst up into the grating above him. Each individual bullet was gyroc, being that it had a rocket attached to it. As such, the stream of .30cal rounds tore its way up through the catwalk and downed one Nahktar before their squadron scattered, the catwalk plate falling out from below them. The lone body toppled downward, smacking against the below plate before the Nahktar scrambled to its feet, firing plasma down at the L.C. Bateau cursed and ducked into a side room.

Torus moaned as the plasma melted ice the ice above him, punching warball-sized holes in the wall and sending gallons of superheated water gushing down onto his fatigues. Rolling onto his stomach, he stuck his shotgun out into the hallway one-handed and pulled the trigger. The gun bucked in his grip, producing a hearty boom which stood in stark contrast to the tinny whines of the spec-ops plasma rifles.

In the room with him was Marok and Dusk, both of whom were taking turns to fire out of the newly gouged holes in the wall at the advancing Nahktar squad, reloading while the other was firing and vice versa. Torus pumped his shotgun again, sliding a flasher into the chamber and aiming the old gun high, shooting it above the heads of the enemy squad. “Flasher!” he yelled, polarizing his anti-flash lenses. Both Marok and Dusk took cover, sliding their helmets down, as the round exploded, filling the ice shaft with a blinding supernova of illumination. Two Nahktars tripped and stumbled over their large legs in the confusion, falling backwards over the short railing and down several levels. However, the other three had shielded themselves in time, and rushed forward, solidifying their personal shields and spraying plasma fire.

Ducking away, Torus fled deeper into the room, which seemed to be some sort of biological lab. The Nahktars announced their entrance with a plasma grenade, it soared high above the room and applied itself to a large (occupied) specimen jar, burning a bright purple. Throwing himself forward and sling behind a solid work table two rows over from the ticking grenade, Torus distinctly heard Dusk yell “GRENA-“ before the room flashed a terrifying violet and Smith’s voice was cut off with a terrifying scream and the Nahktars came and it was all happening too fast and-

It was the barrels that brought him back into the realm of the living. Large, yellow barrels, marked with some long scientific mumbo-jumbo he didn’t understand, why not, it was not his specialty, ohjesus, my gun’s jammed-

Tinny, in the background, he though he heard the detached voice of Rickson speaking over the radio, clam, clinical, unmarred my the sound of gunfire. “Phi team, this is caliber. Mark, I see six hostiles approaching the base, departing from a Montu dropship-“

-There was the distinct sound of a sniper rifle-

“Scratch that, make that five hostiles approaching the base”

Torus was kicking his legs, scrambling from around the work station, tossing his shotgun away and drawing his pistol, chambering a round and rolling out from behind the desk to the safety of another, firing, all in one unsmooth, frenzied motion, yelping as plasma licked his heels, seeing the Nahktar moving around the room, firing at Marok, splitting his chest open with hell’s wrath-

-He felt something punch him in the chest, a dull pain radiating from his torso. Looking down, he saw that his breastplate scorched, sizzling, melting- he felt like one of his ribs had been cracked-

-Torus looked up to see the Nahktar commando- the one who had been imitating Petard, step forward form the shadow and kick his pistol from out of his hand- Torus distinctly though he saw his hand go with it. Raising its own plasma rifle, it pressed the superheated barrel against Torus’ forehead, eliciting a scream of pain-

-the scream stopped and Torus’ clawing left hand reach his right leg ankle holster, pulling the small standard-issue covert ops pistol out, turning off the safety- pointing the pistol at the barrels, the yellow ones-

-The Nahktar worted in his own language, pressing the trigger of his rifle in surprise-

-“Wort at this, motherfucker.” Torus choked, pulling the trigger-

-The plasma burned away his brain, killing him just as the bullet impacted against the barrels, taking the three Nahktars and the entirety of B-deck with him.


D’Oro had just reach A-deck when the explosion shook him to his feet, falling down around the end of hallway and against Caliber, who had running backwards, firing her submachine gun over her shoulder. Catching him in a deft movement, she grabbed his collar with her free hand and swung him around in a swift motion, throwing him back around the corner. Releasing him and sending him flying, she took the hand and broke open the barrel on the bottom of her machine pistol, twirling a shell in her fingers and sliding it into the 40mm tube, snapping the tube closed. Taking brief aim, she awaisted the inevitable rain of grenades that flew around the corner and fired. Her specialty shell released a gravitonic pulse, sending the plasma grenade back to their owners. Two Nahktars were shredded in the resulting chaos, one more losing an arm.

Caesar disoriented, stumbling, was knocked backwards by the ambush, toppling over the side of a smashed railing, falling two stories before regaining his senses and using his wrist-mounted grapping hook, the signature weapon of the 303rd to swing onto C-deck.

Landing, he brought up his MA-12 Pulse Rifle, sweeping it right into the face of a snarling Nahktar, his legs a bloody mess. The Nahktar roared, swinging its arms and knocking Caesar backwards, shattering his prized MA-12.

“You SONUVABITCH!! I liked that rifle!!” he yelled, getting to his feet and striding defiantly forward, unbuckling a grenade from his belt. The Nahktar roared defiantly, his fang-lined moth wide and big enough to swallow Johnny’s head.

Drawing his hand back, he powerfully rammed the grenade into the Nahktar’s mouth. “Shove it, Ark-tard!” He said, backpedaling and swinging down a level just as the Nahktar’s head exploded, taking three meters of catwalk in every direction with it.

Landing on his feet, he tried to recall the vertical positions of the two Nahktars that had fallen over the edge when he caught sight of Longbow on the other side of the shaft, one level up, her collar caught on a protruding pipe, her body limp. She seemed dead, but, no, he could just make out her chest moving. She was alive.

The deck below his feet shuddered as there were a series of explosions up on A-Deck, and then, a high-pitched whizzing noise. He instantly recognized the sound as that of someone rappelling- indeed, just as he was bringing his pistol up, Rickson dropped into view, swinging herself onto the deck, catlike, retracting the line.

“Sarah’s still alive,” he said slowly, pointed a finger up at her limp form.

Caliber didn’t even pay her a glance. “That’s great, Johnny. Would you like to go get her?- ‘cause we’ve got five fully armored Nahktars coming into here, they ain’t happy, and they’ve got a tank.”

“A what?” D’Oro said, backing away from the side of the catwalk at towards the staircase that led down to E-deck, where he assumed Bateau was, battling the two misplaced Nahktar.

Rickson nodded, her short blond hair swirling around her head like it was caught in a windstorm. “That’s right, Rome-boy. Get your ass moving. We’ve only got one way to go, and that’s-“

“-Down,” Caesar finished for her, and then threw himself down the steep, thin steps, taking them seven at a time. He leapt the last twenty, pounding down onto the grating and sweeping his pistol around- nothing was there.

There was another boom, the loudest one yet, and Caesar turned to look up and see a fireball emerge from the levels of A-deck. Rickson smiled. “I left them a little present,” she said, shoving Caesar in the shoulder. “Get going, that won’t stop them for long.”

Caesar stumbled forward, and then picked up the pace, moving around the catwalk that ringed the circular walls of the ice shaft, checking each room that branched off into the ice wall itself in turn, scanning it, calling a code name, and then using Rickson’s ample supply of 40mm grenades to raze the room. All stealth was totally thrown out the window at this level of the game.

Caesar kicked in the last door it the shaft to be greeted by a burst of plasma fire. Reflexively ducking out the way, he felt his hair singed, the heat scalding the top of his head. He fell into a crouch, and then, losing his balance, onto his butt. He kicked his legs scooting backward and out the doorway, firing his pistol upward at some unseen enemy. It went empty, and he rolled onto his shoulder, plasma fire trailing him as he rapidly reloaded, Rickson firing over his shoulder at the pair of Nahktars.

Clawing his way to his feet, D’Oro chambered a round into his pistol and stuck it into the doorway, firing blindly, yelling out both on the squad frequency and into the air code phrases that called for Bateau to pick up, and to identify his position. “Hood, respond Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot, Omega-Nine-Caesar. We’re gonna raze this room, and we needa to know if you in there!”

Rickson swore as her submachine gun ran dry, she was out of bullets. Attaching it to her belt, she unslung her sniper rifle- it may not be the best thing in these close quarters, but with the different imaging systems she could make out the Nahktars in the haze of the room. Wiring the scope’s view onto her vision via the links in the grip and her wrist, she saw the red shapes of the Nahktars in the haze of the room, attached to the ceiling, hanging down and firing with too red-hot plasma rifles in each hand. Scanning the room, she saw no sign of Bateau, dead or alive.

Shrugging, she brought her rifle to her shoulder and fired two shots.

Bateau was in a world of trouble. His mike had been knocked out, so he was flying blind, in a matter of speaking. The bastards had cut out the lighting systems, not a problem to a fully augmented Soldier of the Alliance such as himself, but an EMP/flasher combo, like those they had used on Omega Octanus system, would permanently blind him. He had been lucky the first time, now he was a bit more cautious.

In fact, they had been using them.

Inordinately.

In fact, he had had to switch off his image enhancement system.

Total darkness.

He couldn’t see a goddamned thing. If a knife came at him in the dark-

The edges around his vision started to fizz out, slowly, but gaining in pace, and with sudden pain, Bateau sat bolt upright in his VR chair, wrenching the neurojack out the back of his brain reflexively.

He was back aboard the Alt Vertraut.

Assuming he had been killed by the system, he looked angrily around. “Who the hell turned the difficulty level up to 93? The point of the mission of close-quarters squad combat, not total chaos.” He paused. “Trego,” he yelled.

The Nahktar was running down the hallway, past the VR room when he heard his name and poked his head into the VR chamber. “I assure you, meatbag, it wasn’t me.”

“Who else would do it?!” Bateau snarled, putting his feet awkwardly onto the cold floor and standing up, his knees trembling (an after-effect of sudden VR disengagement).

“Because,” Trego said, looking like he couldn’t be bother at the moment. “We’ve just dropped out of the slipstream.”

“Why?” Bateau asked, confused. “We’ve still got two week to go before we get t…” he trailed off, just as the deck gave a tremendous shudder under his feet.

“You’ve got turret K-2,” Trego said, before rushing off again, presumably to the command deck.

* * *

Zrmahk City, Zrmahk
Near Ark/Frok’tar Border
June 1st, 2592[i/]

He’s been having me do all these odd errands. I’ve been all over the city. Places I’ve never been before, places I never even knew existed. It took me days to get the smell of sewer out of my clothing. He just gives me the army green boxes with rounded corners of various shapes and sizes and tells me where in the city to put them, what to attached them too. Oddly enough, the boxes just stick to where they’re s’posed to go, and nowhere else. Then they whir, and somehow become indistinguishable from their surroundings. I know it’s there, I can feel in, and I can plainly see it if I concentrate hard enough, but they just disappear if you glance at them. It’s as if you already need to know they exist to see them. Which raises the interesting question of how the “Operative”, as he calls himself, will find and use them if he doesn’t know where they are. He may know the location, but having never physically seen them there himself…

Who knows, I’m rambling. He just tells me that they’re full of “supplies” and that he needs to be “prepared for any circumstance.” Considering half the places I’ve put these boxes, he either believes in over-preparation, or he’s the most paranoid person I’ve ever met. It doesn’t surprise me; I accidentally got one of the boxes open by accident, and found it full of guns, ammo, knives, medpacs, and a long barreled rifle that seemed absolutely impossible to have been fit into the quarter-eight unit box. There were also poisons, a change of clothes, and a miniature action figure that had the English standard letters “TLW”, long black hair, and had a button on the back that, when pressed sent a seven-eighth unit length of flame sprouting from the minute right hand of the figurine.

Right.

Right now, we were on another box run. This guy thinks he’ll have a fight everywhere. In fact, we’re in my best friend’s apartment, forty stories, and he’s setting up the box in the bathroom. I’m in the living room, flipping through the political commentary channels, listening to state-approved drivel. The Tyrax was in town, and nobody, I repeat, nobody wanted to be anywhere near political dissent. We had all seen what had happened in the market.

The Operative stood up and moved to the living room, wiping his hands of his combat pants, looking disparagingly at the scuffs on his kneepads. Shrugging, a put his ‘spanner in a pocket on his boots, and flopped down in a large easy chair. Forgetting the fact that the chair was built for an alien creature twice his size, he actually looked quite comfortable.

“I believe that’s all of them. Assuming no screw-ups, we should be ready to start in a couple days. The delegates should be arriving by then.”

I nodded, a very odd gesture for me, considering it was so human. To express assent, the average Nahktar would waggle his shoulder protrusions, to express dissent, he would draw his facial horns back. Humans communication seemed to be a lot more grounded in nonverbal cues that verbal. Since Nahktars are telepathic within three-eights meters of fellow Nahktars, communication is usually emotion and feeling based, as it takes skill, concentration, and several years training to perform word-for-word conversations or would could only be surmised as an “instant download”. Usually, this skill was thought in the higher education, to those jobs for which it was a necessary skill. Martial and political realms, for instance, along with several sports and zero-g engineering and sailing.

I grunted- a expression whose meaning, which to my surprise, I found to be pretty much the same across most species capable of reproducing the sound.

“So,” I asked, in English. “You still haven’t told me what this big plan of your entails.”

He nodded, sipping out of a hip flask, his free hand resting on his sidearm. “I was hoping to tell you in a more secure place, although, if you insist-”

WHAM!

There was a blur, a crash. The right wall-window literally exploded as a grey blur, a dash hit the Operative’s chair, and in less than a blink of an eye, the chair and the Operative were gone, and wall-window on the other side of the room shattered outward. I was knocked backwards by the back blast, slamming against a wall. I was on my feet in a instant, running over to the egress wall, and looking down in the streets, between to parallel rows of towering spacescrapers, and saw the Operative, still in his chair, wrestling with the thing that had apparently caused his sudden exit.

It was a sleek, grey missile, a hundred-meter trail of exhaust stretching out the back end. The entire combo was over four hundred meters in the air, and the missile took a vertical turn, downwards, going so fast that it shoved the Operative into the street at well over Mach 3. With a gigantic shockwave that literally raised up the street like a pebble in a pond in a hundred meters in every direction. With an almighty crack, the smoke cleared to show an absolutely titanic crater, rubble every where, the Oeprative at the center, climbing up, blood streaming from a cut on above his eye, his jacket in bloody tatters. I was amazed he was still alive, totally dumbstruck. I was then totally blown away when, in one hand, he produced a rather gigantic and lethal-looking pistol, and a long, wicked-looking energy sword in a other.

I saw why. Around were no less than twenty tanks, four squads of Nahktars, and, sliding in form above to cover the entire thing, hovered three menacing and buglike gunships, their forward ball laser turrets wilding tracking, rolling like eyes, pointing at the Operative.

“Ouch…” I muttered, as the lead tank rotated its turret, took aim, and fired.

* * *

Neo York, Diamond District, Mars
Capital of the ISA
June 1st, 2592


The group of three thugs deposited the broken man in front of the powerful man. This situation was totally ironic, considering the broken man had once been powerful, he had once been the most powerful man in all of the Interplanetary Space Alliance. It was ironic, because, just a few hours ago, the broken, once powerful man, had been considered whether or not to fire the powerful man standing before him. That was before these thugs had switched out the cars in his motorcade, before they had escaped into the sewers. The Broken Man had put up a fight, of course, and gotten beaten to within an inch of his life for his trouble.

The broken man expected the powerful man to give a speech about his virtues and about the broken, once powerful man’s stupidity. How excellent the powerful man what, yadda yadda, yadda.

The broken man knew what was coming, he couldn’t saw that we ever wanted to see this ending coming, however. Hell, the broken man thought, I’ve been around since the 20th century. Cryofrozen. Fought in the Scorpia Wars. Did a damn good job. Cryofrozen again. Found myself in the 26th century, decided to run for Prime Minister. Who knew I’d actually win. I went through thick and thin, I can honestly saw I did a damn good job.

“What you’re thinking right now, stop it,” said Office of Naval Intelligence Robert Deckard, as he raised his pistol and placed it against the Prime Minister’s forehead. “Stop it.”

There was a single shot, and the Prime Minister, chancellor and president of the human race, fell silently backwards, his hands still tied behind his back, landing on his side, blood seeping from the single hole in his temple.

Deckard smiled and tossed the pistol to one of his subordinates, before turning away and placing his hands in his long, thick coat and breathing outward, his breath making the air in front of him opaque. He sighed. “How far away is the Ark fleet?”

One of the agents pulled out a ‘pad and glanced down at it, his eyebrows raised. “It’s about two weeks out sir. Our fleet is holding position on the edges of the Wales system.”

Deckard nodded silently, as if reassuring himself. “Mccorl doesn’t suspect a thing?”

“No, Mr. Director,” replied the same crony, pocketing his ‘pad. “She’s currently conferring with Gibson at the moment as to the special forces group on Zrmahk.”

Deckard smiled self-assuredly. “We shouldn’t worry about them. Our sleeper should take them out. It was a good idea to put him in there last second. Their CO will never see it coming.”

“And what of the loose end?”

“I contacted the Experimental. They just cornered him.”

“Good.”

Chapter 3- Waylaid Plans

Part 1 of 3- Cautionary Tale


The Alt Vertraut was heavily armed for a ship owned and operated by a single man. There was an autocannon turret above the bridge, two turrets on either side of the small- two-fighter bay, and two 16-missile magazines on either side of the ship. Bateau, right now, was situated in the turret above the bridge, which was in fact a room off the sparse, tidy bridge, led up to by a five-rung ladder.

Situated in the comfy acceleration couch, Bateau quickly familiarized himself with the controls. Or lack thereof. Instead, there was a single helmet, opaque all the way around. A look and shoot system- nice.

Sliding the helmet onto his head, Leo looked up to the top-left-hand corner and blinked twice- standard startup for most ISAF HUDs. The targeting computer came up, and he swung around to look at the aggressor, the display instantly zooming in and compensating.

It was of Martian design, about the same size as the Vertraut. Leo couldn’t see any turrets on it besides six point defense autocannons, but the thing did sport two forward-facing missile tubes and a fearsome-looking comm array.

“Pulled us right out, we landed several AUs from it, but it’s gaining. They’re laying down heavy jamming, only ultra-short range burst can get through, a klick-range,” said Rietman yelled Rietman through the hatch as he and Trego ran through the command deck, checking all ship sections.

What’s the loadout in the missile racks?” came D’Oro’s voice over the comm.

Bateau was cycling through safety checks when he heard Rietman’s hurried reply: “Standard stuff- illegal fire and forget anti-fighter missiles and two nukes in each rack.”

Trego winced. “That isn’t going to be enough to take down this vessel.”

“Indeed,” added Halcyon, who seemed to be with D’Oro in the missile room, running over formulas. “I recognize it, that class is a hardy set of bastards”

“Great,” muttered Bateau under his breath.

“We’ve reached flank speed,” announced Rietman. “Trego, you’re the better commander than I am. I am giving you command for the duration of this battle.”

Trego nodded. “Project tactical onto the displays. I don’t need close-ups of that ship.” He moved around a console, and stared at the holographic display. “He’s got better grade missile tubes than us; he’ll have better range than us. First thing I’d do, go for tubes and engines if I wanted the ship alive. If I wanted us dead, I’d pull back and launch a nuke. It seems that the tubes have enough projection power to do that.”

“So,” interjected Rickson. “That they could have killed us already, but they want us alive?”

“No,” Trego replied. “I didn’t say that, Lieutenant. I’m saying they want to kill us personally. If they had nukes, that’d have shot- oh, damn.

Bateau’s targeting computer tracked two sliver tubes about ten meters long heading away from the ship.

“What’s their ETA?” Trego yelled.

“Fifty seconds,” responded Longbow, who seemed to be in the ship’s computer core. “How’s this bucket’s shields?”

“Not military grade,” answered Rietman.

“Intensify all back. I trust I don’t have to remind you to take evasive actions, Mr. Smith,” said Trego dryly. “Fire the FaFs at the missile tubes, at the speed that ship is moving, they’ll be in range in time to hit it. Their autocannons won’t be able to weave through. The nukes would just get hit several hundred thousand kilos out.”

“Already done. These missiles are railgun launched, we’ll be able to jink, but we won’t be able to get out of the projected path.”

“Very well,” sighed Trego. “All crew, brace for impact.”

Bateau rolled back out of his seat and into the bridge, the hatch to the autocannons, meter-thick hull, sliding into place. He saw Smith wrestling with the controls, Trego and Rietman hurriedly strapping on their crash webbing. He saw the missiles screaming in, blue tongues of flame leaping out behind them.

They entered the kill zone.

The missiles broke apart, rapidly expanding outwardly and catching the Vertraut on the tail. Of course, this is all too much a vast understatement on a grand scale- to the inhabitants of the Vertraut, it seemed like hell in space. Neither Bateau nor Smith made it towards their crash chairs in time- but they were lucky, Trego caught them with a gravitic manipulator before the slammed into a bulkhead. The tool in his hand surged as it absorbed the duo’s kinetic energy, transferring it into its power cells for future use.

Halcyon, in the missile tac center, wasn’t so lucky. He was thrown out of his crash webbing. He tried to throw up a telekinetic bubble- just as a large section of a ceiling beam swung down and hit him in the rib cage, shattering it and pinning him against the wall, near death. Torus, who was still extricating himself from his turret, broke his arm in the psychotic shaking funhouse that the entry tube had become. Rickson, who had been in the ship’s hangar, hit the CLOSE HANGAR BAY doors button before the explosion came, even so, the temperature raised near fifty degrees Fahrenheit inside the hangar as he hung on for dear life against a hangar bulkhead.

Then, as quickly as it had come, it receded. Trego was the first on his feet, asking questions about how long it would take for the ship to recover from the EMP. Rietman was up next, saying the ship had jump-start procedures in place, it would only take two minutes. Bateau and Smith dropped to the floor, on their feet in an instant.

“Radiation?” he asked, heading for the turret hatch.

“Quickly dissipating,” replied Smith. “Okay, status report: We’ve lost both missile tubes, autocannons above the bridge and on the left of the fighter bay. Thank whatever Deity there is the nukes in our mags didn’t go of-“

“Dusk!” Bateau snapped.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Drivers, both sublight and slipstream- are offline, all we have are emergency maneuvering jets 7-13 and 15. Sensors are offline, all we have are passive and aft vidcams. Our comp core is offline from the EMP, there’s a good chance it didn’t shielf it’s memory in time of the hit; it may have been wiped. Decks 3, 7 and 9 are open-vac, sealing now. The cargo hold is also open, there’s a gigantic rip about five meters wide down there. Oh, and shields have been overloaded.”

“So we’re pretty much dead in space?” yelled Rickson from down the hall.

Rietman unclipped a miniature holograph projector from his belt and plugged it into a console, a view of the enemy ship fizzled into view. The ships was burning in two spots- the missile tubes.

Trego nodded. “Fortunately, it seems our hasty retaliation got through, their missile tubes are also crippled. They’ll scan us once they interference clears, move up to autocannon range and rake us. However, except for the breach in the cargo hold, the only other weak points are the hangar bay doors.”

Rietman spoke up. “I’ve got four repair drones, automated, they’re probably moving in to seal up that rift in the hold. Otherwise that ship can just line up and spray into the gap.”

Trego nodded. “Then they’ll go for the hangar bay. Since they can’t get through with just autocannons, they’ll either need to open a hatch and fire a man-portable missile. Or they’ll float a man over and they’ll attach explosives manually to the doors, either by man or machine.”

Bateau clicked his radio. “Rickson, remote uplink with the autocannons. You’ll have to do it off-site.”

Trego nodded. “First thing they’ll do is take out that autocannon.” The Nahktar truned towards Rietman- “What defense besides the autocannon does the hangar have?”

Rietman shook his head. “None. None whatsoever.”

The Nahktar turned to ask Bateau a question but the Lieutenant Colonel was already gone, hurrying down the bridge corridor, towards the armory.

He met Rickson, D’Oro, and Torus there, all swarming the armory box. Bateau unlocked it with a signal from his implants. “Arm up,” he said, grabbing a machine pistol in one hand and a Jackhammer Rocket Launcher in the other. “We’re about to be boarded.”

Five minutes later they were all in the hangar, readying their guns. D’Oro, on his way back to the missile tac center, found Halcyon under a pile of rubble, nearly severed in half. He winced, and sent for a medbot to collect the psychic.

Trego was doing last-minute maneuverings with the thrusters, but it was for naught- the enemy ship easily outmaneuvered him and initiated a tractor contact with the ship. Bateau ordered Rickson to blast away at the enemy ship, which she did, relishing every bullet that- pinged right off the enemy ship’s hull. Not even the external autocannon cockpits were harmed.

“Oh, shit,” muttered Torus, raising his rifle, securing himself to a ceiling rack next to the inoperational scout fighter Rietman maintained.

“Face shields up,” called Bateau, slotting the three parts of his helmet that covered his face in with a mental command, sealing them. He anchored himself to a side wall, walking up it and locking his magboots so as to avoid decompression blast-out

“They’ll come through the seam,” said Rickson, moving behind a bulkhead and reading a sling of grenades in her right hand.

“Go for the head, but leave one alive, if you can. These guys are human, and I they definitely ain’t pirates,” said D’Oro from around the entrance to the hangar, slotting a plasma rifle around and loading a rocket into the overbarrel launcher.

“They may have cloakers, stay on omni-spectrum,” added Grissom, touching her visor and then aiming her ramjet rifle.

“They just disabled the autocannon,” said Trego over the intercom as the ship shook, a tremble at first, then a series of staccato beats as the hangar hatch glowed brighter.

“They’ll be strobing a laser across the doors, probably followed by a batch of Betty Crocker Mix n’ Bake HE rockets. Then will come the boarders,” grunted Smith, hefting a gargantuan T3C triple-turreted autorifle from the hip, each ball barrel focused, quivering, like hound dogs, on the hatch.

Sparks began to fly off the hatch. “Raise armor shields, hunker down,” whispered Bateau over the comm, trying to become one with the side closet. “This is gonna be roug-“

He didn’t finish the remark, the doors to the hangar bay of the Vertraut exploded inwardly, five rockets spreading out into all corners of the room , exploding, the explosions sweeping outward, hungry to eat all traces of humanity in the room.

Interlude: Battle of New Wales

“Reorient course one-two-zero by zero seven five!” shouted Captain Shane Herrick, gripping his the rails of his command platform, holding on for dear life.

“Coming about,” answered Lieutenant Farrell, as the stars wheeled over the viewscreen.

“Firing Solutions for the Requiem, get me a target!” ordered Herrick watching as the Ark destroyer came into view, rows of plasma turrets glowing and streaking in different directions, trying to swat off the smaller patrol boats and gunships that were swarming around its spinal weapons spindle. Flashes of fire and lances of lightning crisscrossed the void of space as a line of turrets tracked the Ragnarok, Herrick’s ship as it oriented to fire its ship-to-ship autolasers.

“Calculating, sir,” yelled Lieutenant Xavier over at weapons. “Solution in hand, targeting the engine bank.”

Requiem’s, the Ark destroyer’s, propulsion systems flared white-hot as it accelerated forward, bringing herself about as the Ragnarok’s quintet of heavy autolasers tracked, trying to avoid the crippling blast. It was for naught.

“Sink the bastard!” commanded Herrick.

“Firing!” responded Xavier, as the bridge’s lights dimmed as power was diverted to hulking autolasers, which streaked across the emptiness between the two destroyers, crackling the very fabric of space and painting the jagged housings of the Requiem’s engine bank, heating a molten purple before obliterating it and swallowing the propulsion system whole, annihilating it and spinning the Ark ship around to point nose-first at the ISN cruiser.

At this range, there was no need for a targeting solution. With the Requiem’s engines disabled, it was fish floating dead in the water.

Liquid fire lanced out from the human ship and overloaded the nose shields of the Requiem, which vanished in a expanding waves around the bulbous nose of the craft.

“Put a torpedo down from stem to stern,” muttered Herrick coldly, watching his weapons officer acknowledge the order. A single Bearclaw streaked away from the belly of the Ragnarok and hit the enemy ship right on its tip, burrowing past the armor and going into overdrive right as it exploded, extending the explosion from the bow of the ship to the aft reactors, which collapsed upon themselves before the fuel caught and the entire Ark ship streaked apart.

“Sir!” yelled Qi, over at tactical. “We’ve got two more destroyers closing, coming out from behind the Stormhawk!. “Lateral lines are tracking!”

“Sir, we’ve got no power in the engines. That last shot depleted us!” yelled Ghet from engineering.

“Shields,” sighed Carter at Defensive. “Are at twenty percent.”

“Do we still have maneuvering thrusters?” queried Herrick.

“Negligible, Captain,” answered Farrell.

“Wait!” shouted Qi. “Incoming missiles from the port destroyer!”

Herrick nodded grimly, and then turned to the AI console. “Surtr, depressurize the starboard fighter bay,” he ordered quickly.

Sutr whirled into life on top of the bridge’s holopedestal, a fiery giant. “Aye-Aye, Captain,” he responded in a deep, burning voice. “Depressurizing in three, two… NOW!

The Ragnarok jumped sideways as the entire cavernous launch bay vented outward, to the left as the missile streaked along its length before its proximity fuses detonated it roughly five hundred miles behind the ship, buffeting it forward, almost five thousand klicks from the firing destroyer as the starboard-side one reoriented, plasma streaming from its cannons in rapid-fire stutter, tracing over the ISN ship’s shields in a wide arc before they fail near to belly, cutting into a pair of the Ragnarok’s heavy autolasers, which detonated in a flash and propelled the ship up on its nose relative to the icy green planet.

“We’ve got a shot, Captain!” screeched Xavier. “On both ships!”

“Take it!” shouted Herrick over the din of exploding conduits and rifting floor panels. “Fire all weapons! If we’re gonna go out, we’re going to take the fuckers with us!”

Fire and metal and light streaked away from the Ragnarok, every last turret, launcher, and tubes spewing out all sorts of death, which came out in wide arcs relative to the ship’s dead tumble, impacting against a menagerie of foes: Juet’lak fighters, small gunboats and the against the shields of the two Ark destroyers. With such deadly close-quarters naval combat, fatality was at every corner, which the Ark ship commander knew as the shields overloaded under the assault.

That was the second to last thing that went through his mind. The last was the huge piece of shrapnel from a bulkhead explosion nearby, a smaller part of a huge chain of explosions rolling throughout the starboard destroyer, which finally detonated with a silent bang, fire licking out, then dying in the vacuum of space.

The other ship was a bit luckier, as the spiral of slugs that hit it only knocked off its front quarter. Atmosphere vented outward, killing another fourth of the ship’s crew, those closest to the breaking point before pressure doors kicked in and the ship began a death spiral into the atmosphere of New Wales, where it would fall into the ocean, wiping out a nearby coastal town with the gargantuan tsunamis it generated.

Herrick gripped the rail tightly, his knuckles white, as the Ragnarok began its own slow death plunge. However, the ship would never reach the surface of the besieged ISA planet, as an overjuiced Bearclaw missile went off, a total accident, taking the Ragnarok with it.

Such was a small part of the titanic naval brawl taking place right above the Martian-held planet of New Wales, last planet on the slipstream stepping stone path to Mars, ISA capital. It was an all-out last stand, all in from the human side. The Judicator, Admiral Gibson’s personal flagship, a forty kilometer behemoth was present, protected by a thick bubble of ten-klick Spartan-class Dreadnaughts, mass drivers and Autolasers and screaming through the advancing Ark naval monster, which responded in kind with huge barrages of plasma, which burned though the very flesh of the human fleet, which, in high orbit was engaged in a slugfest of gods with the Ark fleet.

The Brute Hope and the Black Fleet had showed up ten hours earlier, their appearance had been a colossal boost in morale amongst the entrenched sailors, which had lasted all of four hours, after which the merciless Ark commander steadily outmaneuvered the greatest human and artificial strategic and tactical minds. Even the Brute Hope itself, the seventy-five kilometer deity that served as the flagship of the ISN itself had been drawn out into a apocalyptic duel with three other Ark Valkryie-class SBS’, each three times the size of their human opponent.

Individual arcs began and ended in that nexus of flame and demise: loss, betrayal, revenge, and murder all were present, adding a touch of their signature here and there. They could be seen in the endless contrails of the flying aces that fought the bloodiest battle of all, trace found in the lives of boarders and counterboarders, whose close-quarters gore and hand-to-hand clashes spraying the walls with blood, both red and white. A trained eye could see them in the outlying intelligence stealth ships that stayed on the fringe of the battle, silently collecting data and occasional finding each other by total accident in a pulse-pounding chase of covertness and furtive sensor pings.

The Ark fleet had arrived directly in-system roughly twenty-two hours, ago during which the human armada had been conducting an all-out evacuation of the civilian population of the planet, Only a third of the planet’s inhabitants were off planet, and only a fifth were outsystem. When the Ark attack fleet finally shoved its way into high orbit, only one of eight civilian ships were getting through the gauntlet.

The planetary shields were still up, so the plasma hadn’t started to fall on this penultimate defense. Something that caused Katherine Mccorl, Grand Admiral of the Interplanetary Space Alliance to breath a momentary sigh of relief as she shouted orders over the din of the cavernous main command deck of the Brute Hope. At her side was the swirling holograph of Virgil, represented by a bearded man in a tan tunic and a slight Scottish accent, easily the most advanced strategic artificial intelligence ever commissioned by the Armed Forces. Normally the pair would sit quietly, conversing quietly as the AI downloaded orders into the main command network of the fleet, but as the battle had turned a bit too personal for the ISN Flagship, she had been forced to take personal command of the vessel.

A medium-height woman, her eyes a steely grey match for the grey that mixed with the amber in her bunned hair, Mccorl was dressed in the crisp black uniform of the 10th Defense Fleet, also known as the “Black” fleet, partly for its group-wide paint job, partly for the universal cloaking systems that each every ship in the fleet sported. Not that it did any good, for, in such close-quarters fights, the systems were rendered quite useless.

At this moment, she found herself pondering the fate of Team Lambda, the special forces team she had sent to neutralize the Ark reinforcements in the Narot system, such a large battlegroup that could surely tip the tide of the battle in a manner even greater than that of the Black Fleet.

And then there was Phi-Psi. It was almost as though she had signed their death warrants, sending them right against the leaders of the Ark themselves. They were going to enter a web of lies and deceit so deep they could positively drown in it. She already knew of several unknown factors that were already influencing the equation; rogue agents on either side. She knew of faction within her own government that would be overjoyed to see the mission fail, fall flat on its face.

Shaking her head, she couldn’t help but wonder what her opposite amongst the Ark fleet was thinking…

* * *

Kerlt Aelretk Ragnos was thinking of water. That’s right; the Warmaster of the Thirtieth Fleet of Glorious Advancement was thirsty. He beckoned for his Raptor-like Terina aide to bring him a long, warm tube of the liquid to quench his pressing thirst. The air in on the command deck of the Valkyrie-class Fleet Dreadnaught Repentant Forge had become uncomfortably cool, and Aelretk needed something to warm his reptilian insides. His aide scampered back less than a twelfth passing later, the tall, thin aluminum mug clutched between its clawed fingers. Aelretk gratefully accepted the beverage, then downed in one feel gulp. He shuddered as the temperate water spread into his torso, heating him back up and banishing the sluggishness from his body.

Raising himself back up, he activated the powergloves he wore on each hand by pinching each pair of his four thumbs together. They glowed a bright, clear blue around his hands, which he began to move in elegant waving motions, orienting his fleet to poke and prod quietly at the numerous human battle groups before smashing them, one by one, with waves of his hands and a flash of plasma. A human would take one look at the old Nahktar and think he was conducting a musical masterpiece. Which Aelretk was doing: only his masterpiece was that of fatality and bereavement. The rest of the command staff kept a wary distance from the old Warmaster’s sunken podium, which was about three meters wide and situated five meters below the deck of the bridge. Ice-cold water flowed from cone-like projectors about a meters from the lip of the hole, forming a freezing waterfall that encircled Aelretk and fell into the ocean-like blackness almost a hundred kilometers beneath him. Surrounded by constantly shifting holograms and colors, the Nahktar didn’t seem to notice that he was being held over a deep body of water on a single thin metal platform by a single grav beam. There were no raised rails to keep the Nahktar from falling off, but he moved around on the small platform, meeting various tactical representations with a critical eye before literally waving his hands and fixing the problem.

Aelretk had served for over two hundred years in the Ark Cosmic Navy, from a lowly ensign and eventually becoming a Fleet Warmaster, one step below Supreme Commander. And while there were over a thousand Fleet Master, Aelretk had never gotten involved in a web of bureaucracy and lies that encircled Ark politics, he had wisely avoided that arena and instead lorded over the invasion of human space, the Battle of New Wales being the second-to-last step in his grand, sweeping plan to appease his superiors and conquer the particularly rebellious Martian state. Some people just didn’t know when they were conquered.

Sweeping his hands in low cutting motion, he masterminded the death of over a million sailors and buried himself in his gruesome task.
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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Mobius 1
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Re: Arc: Apocalypse

Post by Mobius 1 » Tue May 20, 2008 11:43 pm

Chapter 3, Part 2: Doppelgänger


Xarek Koro Rahkt made his way through the hectic command center to confront his in-command, the towering Tyrax. The cyborg was standing tall in the center of the chaotic deck, calmly accepting datapads pushed into his hands left and right, glancing at them, and then throwing them into a growing pile at his feet. If the Tyrax had been capable of expression, Koro was sure it would be either expectant eagerness upon the demise of the only human to ever infiltrate this close to Ark leadership- or distaste at the datapads being handed to him, as he could simply download the information from the local computer net.

As there were no bodies lying around with their faces bloody pulps, Koro could only assume the latter. However, Koro couldn’t help but stop and stare at the live-feed of the shattered crater in the middle of the hovervehicle intersection, a small man and a pulverized sofa at the epicenter of the basin. In perfect picture quality, Koro saw the man slowly draw a sword and a gun from his tattered jacket, right as the first tank fired.

* * *

The Operative surveyed the situation before him in the speed it took to blink. There were twenty-three Jet-Hawk tanks, saucer-like behemoths with dual plasma turrets and ring of smaller laser turrets along the main body. Behind the ring of tanks were roughly fifty Nahktars, holding of sorts of heavy weaponry: missile launchers, sniper rifles, and mortars. They are looked cool, collected, and positively malevolent. Orbiting overhead were three wasp-like gunships, there bug-like eyeball turrets rolling wildly, sometimes fixing on the Operative, sometimes on a nearby building.

Silently, he withdrew a large pulse pistol from a shoulder holster underneath his jacket and unhooked a thin metal cylinder from his belt, flicking it on, watching the jet-black beam project a meter outward, sizzling under the constant rain. Shaking his head to clear the long bolnd hair out of his eyes, the Operative trudged forward in the mud and gravel, towards the nearest tank.

The tank’s turret crackled as a blue ball coalesced at the tip of its turret, and then boomed as the beam exploded at the Operative.

With reflexes bordering on the supernatural, the Operative twisted his shoulder down as the beam flashed over him, evaporating on the air around before swinging his sword in a wide arc and catching the energy on the tip of the blade, bouncing it into another tank like a mirror would to a pen laser. The poor tank crumpled inward and then exploded. Moving quickly, the Operative swung his blade around, bisecting four more tanks before the attacking tanks cut off the beam, rotated on its center, and fired, rapid-fire mortars at the Operative.

As did every other unit in the rain-soaked plaza, the place where the human stood becoming a sun’s core and heat and obliteration. Mortars, snipers rounds, everything, attracted like a magnet to that very area.

But their target wasn’t there. A single sniper stationed halfway up an adjoining building spotted the man running up the side of another cornering building. Tiny puffs knocked duracrete out from the wall below the Operative as he ran before backflipping off the skyscraper and landing, feet-first, onto the circular body of one gunship, reaching a hand down- the hand of god, really- into the cockpit of the ship and grabbing the pilot by his collar, yanking him out bodily and hurling him like a missile at another gunship, which was trying to line up a shot on his besieged brother, unaware of the fleshy missile before it decapitated him and sent his craft spiraling down, out of control, into a nearby building, killing a sniper pair and raining wreckage down on a half a squad of Nahktars, crushing them instantly.

The Operative, satisfied, slid lithely into the cockpit of the gunship and yanked hard on the controls, bringing a line of tanks under his sights and thumbing the trigger before they could blow him out of the air- four stitching lines of blue plasma traced a line of best fit in between the quintet of Jet Hawks, igniting them in an otherworldly vortex of outbursts. We was already rotating his plane when the eventual trail of fire reached him knocking one of his engines off and near-blinding him as plasma splashed like rain over the clear cockpit.

Satisfied, he smashed his way through the assaulted glass and rolled out, holding onto a needlelike comm spire that was close to the cockpit, not even flinching as plasma hurtled by him. Hanging onto the lolling craft, his feet swinging wildly over empty space, he gingerly reached a foot in and kicked at the controls, sending the gunship plowing nose first into another building. He managed to flip off, and was barely two meters from the catastrophe when a rocket roared at him from out of the blue, exploding and sending him flying roughly forty meters higher into the air.

Whipping his head around, the Operative saw the last surviving gunship hovering a hundred meters away as another thin, grey missile streaked away from the top launcher. As it closed, the Operative convulsed his body, flipping himself over to face, upright, the missile. It came at him, and he flipped up as he fell, briefly touching the missile and firing downward his gun exactly into the detonator for the missile- deactivating it. Using the missile as a platform, the human pushed off, gaining altitude as he brought his gun up and fired right at the cockpit of the attacking ship.

The homing rounds, controlled by computer and powered to orient themselves so as to always hit their target- focused their stream onto each turret of the gunship, jamming the revolution ball motors. Lining up carefully, the Operative then glided down onto an exposed floor on the facing building, just ahead of the omnipresent trail of plasma from the surviving tanks and squads. Bobbing and weaving through the halls deeper into the building, he cut into a corridor bisecting the entire level and found two Nahktar commandos barely five meters, away, both holding Atomizers and nasty grins.

Not breaking his stride at all, the Operative came forward, waving his plasma sword in a wide upward sweeping arc, fanning away the disintegration bolts while brining his gun hands around pouring the rest of the magazine into the left Nahktar’s face. The second of the pair began to backpedal rapidly, but the human was there in an instant: one swipe of the blade mangled the atomizer; another deprived the Ark solider of his head.

Moving quickly past the felled and still smoking bodies, the Operative came to an all-to-familiar green box attached to a wall. It was only two square, but when he opened it and pulled out a WST E-58a Automatic Rocket Launcher, which was about two meters long. Slapping the massive forty-five missile clip into the gun and wheeling around, he worked his way five more stories up before walking calmly back towards the open face of the building, the wind whipping around him. Briskly strolling forward, the Operative ignored all this and reach the edge of a floor overlooking the square, roughly three hundred stories up. At this height, everything looked tiny out from above, even though hundreds of blue blobs floated gently upward, but at this range, they were wild shots, affected by wind and neatly dissipating in wide clouds of ions.

-Which gave the Operative immediate pause. On a normal, clear day, a blast from the tanks’ main cannons could reach the upper atmosphere and, when on full power, blow a cruiser out of orbit. Even on a rainy day such as this, reaching him would be no problem.

The human ducked behind a large metal spar as a sniper bolt boiled past him, sending molten driblets of alloy splattering in all directions. Wondering why the snipers didn’t fire at him, he concluded only one item off the top of his mind: they were trying to distract him from something. But what?

The clouds parted, and the Operative got his terrible answer.

* * *

Koro couldn’t help but gulp as he watched the single monkey move with terrifying swiftness through the first engagement before disappearing into a still-habited office building. The initial casualties of the first battle group were sickening: fourteen out of twenty-seven tanks destroyed, two out of three gunships downed, and thirty-nine out of fifty commandos slaughtered, not including four sniper-scout pairs that the human had neutralized as he made his way up the building.

The Tyrax had immediately wanted a complete demolition of the “infected” building, but its “handlers”, the Senatorial Imperators (A fearsome group of white-clothed Nahktars whose hooded appearances gave them the ghastly resemblance to a Deinonj grouping, specifically involved in guiding the Tyrax, acting as a “limiting factor”) were cautious. The building hadn’t been evacuated yet, and on this liberal planet, such an act would be a public relations disaster. Contrary to what human propaganda made it out to be, the Ark wasn’t the totalitarian religious theocracy (it had actually started out to be), it was a full-fledged democratic republic, and such and act would have a very large trial and a huge blowout.

The Tyrax had made it painfully obvious he didn’t give a, as said it, shit. While the cybernetic war machine was usually wary of the cloaked Inquisitors, today his notorious disrespect for his political overlords was flagrant and insubordinate. Koro was only a Lower Praetor, and, as such, he had only a minuscule of the titanic power struggle taking place mainly in this command room, a power battle between the two powerful political parties within the Ark: the Aviwt and the Drenash, manifested as the Conclave and the military, respectively.

And, while the Tyrax had no taste for politics, he did recognize their usefulness and knew full well that as one of the most powerful commanders in the Ark military, filling up Trego’s positions, he would be embroiled in the deepest of supremacy clashes. He was not disappointed.

And right now, he, the Tyrax, had won.

The cruiser was called in for an orbital strike.

* * *

The flame only reached out for three meters before dissipating into a smoking cloud, raining metal fragments onto the floor. Bateau stood tense for ten seconds, and then slowly rotated to glance at Longbow. The large-bore barrel of her rifle was smoking, her body totally relaxed. She gave a silent nod, but then tensed when the doors of the hangar exploded inwards.

Pieces of metal flew in every direction before being sucked into the abyss in between the two starships and suppression fire stuttered out from the swirling haze. Bateau ducked behind his covering bulkhead reflexively and sighted through his rifle sideways, the view through the scope laid over onto his field of vision. At least twenty fully armored humanoid forms floated forward in the darkness, jetted forward by rocket packs and firing sleek silver railguns in the vacuum, the slugs propelled outward in a rapid tat-a-tat-tat of a three-shot bursts. Aiming quickly, Bateau knew he that the boarders were at their most vulnerable now, when they made their “open-air” transition from ship-to-ship, with absolutely no cover, just suppression fire. Shifting his rifle, he highlighted the right-most aggressor, claiming it as his own over the teams targetnet and let off a four-shot stutter, paused, then let off another pair of shots. The leading quintet impacted against the soldier, the first two shots slowing his momentum, the next three overloading his shields.

The soldier had barely recovered, his black armor tarnished a glowing red when the follow-up pair slammed into his gut, ripping the ribbed abdominal open and spraying the space around him a fine mist of red droplets as the armor began to drift apart in two pieces, silently in the blankness of space. Rapidly moving his rifle, Bateau selected the next target to the left and fired again, putting down four more attackers in the space of ten seconds before ducking under a barrage of railgun bullets and reloading.

The silent gunfight continued for over twenty seconds before a grenade was lobbed by a miscellaneous boarder, missed by both snipers, allowing the surviving reinforcements to land in a cloud of propellant on the deck of the hangar, forming a firing formation and throwing out pop-up field-deployable two-meter square energy shields. More men came through, eventually twenty-one in all.

So far, Bateau, thought, Team Phi-Psi hadn’t taken any casualti- another blooming grenade explosion and a burst of fire, and the Hack fell to his knees, clutching bloodied shoulder before another triplet hit him on the side of the helmet, spinning him to the floor. Smith was next, taking a blast to the quads and going down on one knee, before hauling himself backup and pumping a grenade into the loose formation of energy shields.

Miraculously, it got through without being blown out of the air by pinpoint fire. Men were blown in every directions, the energy shields flattened, and blood sprayed the bulkheads. Rapid stammers of bullets put down the survivors.

However, as Bateau the remains of the failed attack, he just barely heard the door to the rest of the ship, which was pressure shielded due to the hard-vac of the hangar, hiss open. Bateau whip-turned, just fast enough to see the flash of a barrel and blackness.

* * *

The cruiser was small by Ark standards, only two hundred meters from tip to tail. It looked like an ovoid shape with five whipping trailing spires, all studded with cleverly concealed plasma banks. A quick estimate put the Operative at twenty light plasma turrets, four on each arm, with a circle of missile tubes and lasers on the rounded nose of the craft. It was as black as the sky, as though the very skin of the craft was trying to mask itself amongst the thunderheads. In fact, the only thing that truly gave ups it position to the casual eye were the purple flashes running down its length and being channeled down onto one of the five tails.

The Operative now knew only one singular thing would keep him alive in this upcoming engagement: speed. He had been lucky and skilled during the previous fight, he’d have to act in a superhuman manner during this fight.

No problem, he thought, considerably paler- although not a scared pale, a certain pale that was the opposite of withdrawal, the sort of pale that only seventeen leading nanobiologists in the entire galaxy recognized. The Operative made no attempt to shield himself against the howling wind; made no attempt to dodge the driving freezing raindrops.

As only seventeen Nanobiologists in the galaxy would know, though nobody could see, the human’s steady eighty beats a minute heart rate skyrocketed to over seven hundred.

The Operative threw himself off the ledge of the building, brining his launcher up and manually attaching a large meter-long rocket to the barrel before seemingly not taking time to aim and squeezing the trigger. Laser fire impact the ledge at the precise location he had been standing no more than thirteen millionth of a second before- because of this- the jump, the attaching and firing- had happened on the scale of one millionths of a second, as only seventeen Nanobiologists in the galaxy would know. As such, the floor of the building that the Operative had formerly taken was already demolished by the massive shockwave of his pushing off before the laser had even hit.

The missile addition had barely left the barrel in a plume of smoke before the Operative had reached down to his belt and flung off at least four tiny round silver balls about the size of ball bearings. The thrown marbles pulled ahead for the advancing missile for the just the barest of time- but perfectly calculated by the speeding computer inside the Operative’s mind. They blew outward in a puff of red smoke releasing billions of tiny razor-mirror shields- at the same time the anti-missile laser fire lanced out from the cruiser. The sand-shaped fragments heated, but easily dispersed the laser fire into a neutral glowing cloud, right as the missile plowed past- right over the cruiser and above it. The Captain of the ship barely had time to breath of sigh of relief when the rocket went from mach two to zero two half mach in less than half a second, reversing course and coming nose-down onto the top of the ship exploding in a lance of fire, stabbing down into the ship and overloading the shields before precisely targeting the external shield emitters themselves, knocking them out permanently for the duration of the battle.

Total elapsed time since the heart rate spike: one tenth of a second.

The Operative had fallen only a hundred feet before he threw another a pair of three of the balls each, the set up and one down. The ascending triplet intercepted the expected laser fire of the cruiser, scattering, while the falling beads, going much faster than terminally velocity, blocked several snipers shots from the newly arrived combatant in the field: the tall, gleaming Tyrax. Rain splintered off the cyborg’s shields as it stood in the center of the crater.

The Operative twisted as he fell, saw the new target, and grinned. This was going to be good.

* * *

Koro approached his superior in the command center, wishing to delver the urgent eye-only hand delivered message from the Tyrax’s own human agents when the holocloud within the bunker shorted out, then rebooted two seconds later. An Urok technician apologized hurriedly stating that there was movement taking place much to fast for the holoprojectors to process, overloading it.

Koro knelt before the fuming nexus at the center of the command bunker, one that already knew what that taken place in that second of battle the projector had missed. The Tyrax stood, shaking with mechanical concentration as the bunker fell silent around him. All that could be seen on the holoprojection was competing blurs in the crater, right before plasma fire rained down from above, flashing out the tactical representation for several seconds.

Noticing the lull only five seconds later, the Tyrax turned to Koro and nodded. “There is no need for that. Deckard has already carried it out, and the human-“ he gestured at the holoprojection for Koro’s benefit- “-is as good as dead.

Chapter 3/Part 3: Cataclysm


Infiltrator Combat Unit 9631, Designation “Nickel”, came online without so much as a jerk. Primary objectives flashed over his HUD, overlaid by routine boot-up sequence, testing all forms of connections. A system diagnostic meter, or SDM, flashed into existence in the top left corner of his display, showing a condensed form of a health meter. Passive sensors were online next, confirming his position a half nanosecond before his photoreceptors fizzled online. He seemed to be stuffed in some sort of small closet, roughly a meter square and two and a half meters in height. A tight fit for his broad chassis, but he hadn’t sustained any damage. Olfactory valves instantly presented him with a menagerie of odors: sweat, plasma… burning flesh.

His brow wrinkled as his behavioral module entered the system, though it was a random gesture. Nickel had no use for such emotions in this tight closet. Further scans confirmed him to be on a starship, Beowulf-class, roughly 97.8 meters long with a cargo bay taking up 70% of the structure. IFF tags and codes listed this ship to be the Alt Vertraut, maintained and operated by one Lennart Rietman. A large picture of the man overlaid itself as Nickel briefly confirmed the man to be a 99.7% match to the picture already on file.

Additional thermal scanning determined there to be no less than fifty-one beings aboard, one a Nahktar. Another three bodies revealed themselves to be psionic, though one was a very close to mortem. Analysis of the remained profiles determined seven more profiles to be, with 78.4% certainty, to be Lieutenant Colonel Leonardo Bateau; Captains Mackenzie Torus, Ian Tiberius-Smith, Giovanni D’Oro, and Sarah Grissom-McDonnell; as well as First Lieutenant Megan Rickson. The dying psion revealed himself to be Agent Seth Halcyon, and the Nahktar to be Nzatrohk’Traehgo’Kjtakeq, referred to in shorthand as “Trego”.

From the relative positions of the outlines, three of the unknown men each seemed to be standing guard over the team, which was separated into five cells: Bateau and Rickson in one, McDonnell and D’Oro in another, Smith and Lennart in the third, and Trego having his own cell. An extra five men seemed to be situated around Trego’s cell. All of the team seemed to be unconscious, their postures signifying that they had been thrown in the cells with little care: bodies were strewn over one another. Halcyon seemed to be lying in medbay, where one of other psion and two other men moved about. Another five men perused the bridge, and slight, encrypted transmission told of their continued conversations with the three men in the engine compartment. The rest of the men eleven in all, seemed to be patrolling the craft. After additional searching, Nickel found Torus on the hangar floor on the opposite end of the ship, his lifesigns erratic and failing.

All of this took a second and a half.

Though Nickel’s usual modus operandi called for brute force, he exercised restraint and wormed his way into a simple access to remotely open the door. It could only be opened from the outside, but not from the inside unless there was computer access. It was unavoidable.

The doors slid open and Nickels stepped quickly out of the small vestibule, scanning the hallway he occupied visually. Blank grey walls, with the odd work of “art” here and there. Nickel quickly estimated the nearest enemy to be two hallways over and coming his way, though unawares. This was good. Though Nickel was already dressed in a black ISMC uniform, he was unarmed. There was a high probability this human had a satisfactory weapon. If such a group were capable of capturing all of Phi-Psi team and nearly killing Halcyon, there was an 80% chance that they’d be able to incapacitate Nickel before he could kill or incapacitate them first. Thus, we’d need to acquire a weapon from the sentry, one that his behavioral package suggested would “level the playing field”.

Nickel readied himself as the guard round the corner. The armored human’s first mistake was not looking up as he nervously made his way down the corridor. The second was activating his external speakers, and saying more than there words: “Hello? Anyone down there?” The ICU did not have time to marvel at his enemy’s incompetence before he dropped down and broke the man’s neck.

He caught the corpse as it slumped in his arms, slowly and silently lowering him to his floor. Quickly he stripped the corpse’s more important possessions, including the helmet’s radio, a small but bulky gun of unknown make and model, and the included extra battery packs. He also found a sling of stun grenades and a large combat knife. These would suit his needs for now.

The radio around Nickel’s neck crackled. “Traj? Find anything. You’ve stopped.”

In a perfect replication of “Traj”’s voice, the Infiltrator spoke. “Affirmative, I’m fine. Just checking out some of the art.”

“Look, Traj, I don’t care about your art tastes. You ain’t going to find the next Picasso here. Control, over and out.”

So the dead man actually was an art enthusiast. That was a good turn, as Nickel had ventured out on a tenuous branch when saying that. Not that it mattered now. The fact there was not a patrol buddy suggested either extreme incompetence, which, on one hand, seemed to go with the human’s already exhibited characteristics, but, on the other side, didn’t fit a group that captured Phi-Psi.

Nickel threw his elbow out, catching the advancing solider in the gut. His stealth failed near instantly, rippling outward from the point of impact. Nickel brought his other hand up and crushed the drawn knife out of the would-be assassin’s grip, shattering it into a pulp. The commando gave a muffled grunt as Nickel rotated at the waist, still not bothering to stand, and killed the man with a flat-hand to the face.

It would have been optimal for there not to be a counterpart, since Nickel couldn’t impersonate two at once- it had already been revealed that the sentries had tracking signals, but not life-sign monitors. Two signals moving together wouldn’t work. So, Nickel stripped the other commando of useful gear and dragged both into the closet. Then, a gun in each hand, he advanced down the corridor.

* * *

Bateau awoke with a slight groan, blinking his eyes rapidly as his vision hashed out of unconsciousness. As his memories returned to him, he sat up.

“’Bout time.”

Bateau swiveled his head to see Rickson sitting in a corner, knees to her chin and hands wrapped around her legs. Her blond hair was drawn up behind her head, except for two large, long strands the fell across each eye. Groaning, Bateau sat up, surveying his surroundings. The two of them seemed to be in some sort of holding cell, about five meters square, and perfectly Spartan, just tall grey walls. Bateau looked down to discover they had stripped his of his armor and weapons, all he and Rickson had were their black body gloves that their armor plates attached to. Great.

Rubbing his eyes, he asked: “I guess I was first down. What happened?”

Rickson shrugged. “They must’ve looped around from the hole in the cargo bay. They moved one-by-one, shooting everyone in the head. Had I not noticed the model of the gun, I would’ve thought us doomed.”

Bateau nodded slowly. He would bet a month’s pay there was some sort of camera and maybe a listening device planted in the cell. That limited things.

“You sure we’re still on the Vertraut?” asked the El-Cee, sitting down next to Rickson.

She shook her head silently. “I only woke up a couple minutes before you. I don’t have any sensor implants, do you?”

Bateau massaged his temples, he had one massive headache. “Naw. Just some adrenal stuff and a jack port.” He motioned to the base of his neck, where a small metal disk resided. “The only person who I believe has a remote access implant is Torus, and he got clipped back in the hangar. Did you catch what happened to him?”

“Neg. They just left him there, although with the wounds he sustain, I’d give him a twelve hour lifespan without meds. It’d be a slow, painful death.”

Bateau blinked. From what he knew about the man, Mack “The Hack” Torus didn’t go down lightly. “Any relations back home? For Torus, that is?”

Rickson shrugged. “Orphan. He lost his entire family on Chindi almost a decade ago, when he was sixteen. You wouldn’t have guessed it, but he’s the youngest member of the Raptors, even younger than me. Only twenty-five.”

“How old are you?”

“’Round twenty-eight. My b-day is in a couple months. Though I doubt I’ll make it through this mission to see it.”

Bateau, in spite of himself, chuckled. Optimism was something that could easily be found in spades amongst Marine Snipers, it was a state of mind that came part of the package. Sarah was a prime example of that. Never a negative thought. However, amongst the Infantry Officers, alcoholism, pessimism, and sometimes downright sadism were rampant. After, all in this war, you had a very good chance of seeing your entire command being slaughtered. Pessimism wasn’t just a state of mind, it was a practical matter. “You’ve been spending a lot of time around Smith, have you?”

She gave a thin smile. “To tell the truth, he’s avoided me. No, I s’pose it’s Easly who I got it from.”

“Easly?”

She didn’t answer.

Bateau frowned. Easly hadn’t been involved since his wife died, he avoided relationships like a Nahktar did snow. And he did know a small bit about Rickson: she had a small reputation for being cheerful and friendly, almost a negotiator. This streak, he realized, had only come around after Easly had died. He fell silent, contemplating

“How ‘bout you?” she asked ten minutes

“My wife’s stationed on New Florida right now, she commands a unit off of Key West Central. She’s as far from the action as can be, New Florida’s probably the safest place in the universe right now, even moreso than Mars.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Protective?”

“No,” Bateau smirked. “She got reassigned after the Second Siege for evaluation. Standard practice for anyone captured by the Ark.”

Rickson nodded. “The famous Fifth Operation. A lot of good people owe you their lives for ending that battle.”

“Shame,” muttered Bateau. “Trego’s still alive. That Rep just does not want to die.”

That’s not exactly on my list of things I want to do.

Bateau gave a jerk, sitting up. Trego? he thought. Get out of my head!

Pity, said Trego’s voice in his mind. It’s taking a lot of energy to establish a link from this distance and across species, so I’d think you want to listen to what I have to say…

Spit it out, then, growled Bateau.

I think I’ve I.D.ed our captors. They’re-

There was a straight psionic blow, sending Bateau convulsing backwards onto Rickson. She grabbed his head before it clanged on the cold metal floor and look down at him, concerned. “What was that all about?”

“Trego contacted me telepathically. He said he had possibly IDed the armored bastards.” Bateau paused. “He was cut off before he could say.”

She shrugged. “Oh. Well.”

* * *

The air whipped at the Operative as he fell, faster than the raindrops. Twisting his body, he surveyed his landing sight- and was astounding to see a tall-gleaming Tyrax staring up at him. Two racks of missile launchers were extended from each shoulder, and a long electrified whip extending from the right wrist, crackling in the stunning downpour, were the weapons the human assimilated at the time. Bringing his knees up to his chest, he positioned the ARL between his legs and fired at the Tyrax. Missiles trailed out at the rate of eight rounds a second. The Tyrax trailed his right arm across the sky in response, knocking the missiles out of the air with a crack of its whip.

The Operative let off another burst as the Tyrax was recovering from the commitment of the attack and three shrapnel missiles arced out from the cyborg, making mincemeat of his attack. The human got the gist: he couldn’t kill the Tyrax with the rocket launcher. Great.

And then he was on the ground, landing with his sword up. The Tyrax charged in the downpour, lightning crackling down into the street around him and off his whip. He flicked it, and the Operative rolled, taking a slash at the whip from the side. It skived off with a shower of sparks, and the Operative was forced to retreat as a missile soared away from the Tyrax, arcing at his formerly occupied position.

The Tyrax rolled its whip again, wrapping it around the Operative’s sword and nearly tugging it out of his hands. The human found himself in a tug-of-war his the Tyrax- and the Tyrax was winning.

Out of the corner of his eye, the Operative saw the turrets of the still orbiting destroyer roll and aim and his position, blue discharges playing along its spiky tips.

With a silent blink, the Operative let go of his sword.

The Tyrax, momentarily started, took a step back to balance himself as the sword flew at him. Quick as a gunslinger, the Operative drew his pistol and aimed it from the waist at his sword.

Seeing this, the cyborg jerked his whip to fling the sword aside- but it was too late. The Operative fired, and the bullet collided against the highly unstable battery cell specially made for the high-end duty of maintaining the saber’s form.

The turret on the destroyer fired.

The Operative turned and fled, one leap, two- and he bounded onto the low-flying remaining gunship, which, unawares of the overzealous starship, had come in low to manually target the pesky human with its cannons. Plasma arced away from the focusing tips- to late, the ship plunged two feet as the Operative landed on the wide antigrav dish behind the small ball cockpit, whose rippling gravitational currents propelled the Operative far, far away from the ground strike.

* * *

There was a shout from outside the cell, a muffled boom as though a large amount of compressed air was focused and impacted a fleshy object. Bateau sat up and a second later, the door to the cell slid open.

A tall man, roughly two meters in height, stepped in, a bulky carbine in each hand, short brown hair, and an extremely muscular body under a set of black armor stepped into the cell. “Bateau. Rickson. Are you impaired?”

“-Nickel? Why are you here? How?”

Nickel did not respond. A small window popped up in the corner of his vision, listing possible responses: “To free you from your captors. “Come with me if you want to live.”, and “To save yo lives, bitches.”, but Nickel dismissed it and simply nodded. While it seemed humans appreciated redundancy in communication, he had learned that this unit did not. He repeated his query: “Are you impaired?”

“Well-” grinned Bateau. “I’ve got a massive head ach-“

Nickel overlaid his facial patterns with an analysis of his voice currents and determined that while the comment was made in jest, the Lieutenant Colonel was indeed under the influence of a “headache”. “Stay behind,” he said stoically, then turned to Rickson, raising his eyebrows in a motion that his behavioral package told him would indicate it was her turn to answer the same question.

“Yeah, um… I’m good.”

“This is optimal. Here, shoot with this,” he said, stiffarming one of the carbines at her. “Jovia Arms BR-20 Buster Carbine. Fires a compressed shockwave, maximum range one hundred yards, twenty shot clip. Middling accuracy, intended for close-quarters combat. Here,” he said, tossing a chain of magazines at her. “Five clips.”

Rickson blinked and accepted the weapon and ammo. Nickel turned and started out the door when a grenade plopped off his chest and bounced to the floor, rolling with a clang. Nickel paused to look at the grenade and then kicked it back at his unknown assailants. There was a scream and a hollow explosion, then silence.

He walked off, and Rickson followed tentatively. Bateau made to follow, paused, and then went out. A pistol slid across the floor to him, followed by two cassettes of 9mm bullets from Nickel’s direction. Bateau glanced in the ICU’s direction; he was still walking determinately forward, blandly shooting each and every one of the cell guards in the face with his Buster Carbine. The air contorted and shivered around his gun and its concussion bubble formed, and then shot out like a warball at the nearest guard, taking his head off and sending his body flying nearly ten meters backwards.

Smith heard gunfire and faint explosions, then, the next second, the door to his cell caved in, and a broad Austrian man stepped in and asked him if he was injured. Wow, he thought. This is odd. When he answered negative, the man gave him an odd looking gun and gave him a short description as though he were a narrator for a civilian gun catalog. Smith accepted the carbine sardonically. “Yippe. Rescued by emotionless sales specialist extraordinaire and his blond sidekick. Whoo-hoo.”

Sarah gave him a small punch on the arm before taking his gun and stepping out in the corridor. Smith growled, running a hand through his air before following.

It was a slaughterfest. With Nickel taking the lead, the boarders didn’t stand a stance. With the cellway corridor only two meters wide, only one or two men could engage Nickel at a time, and they didn’t stand in the face of such an onslaught. For their part, each liberated member of Team Phi-Psi looked on wistfully.

Trego was last; his guards were dispatched with a pair of grenades. Nickel entered the cell to find the Nahktar unconscious, a large gash on the left side of his face. Accessing his database on the physiology of Nahktars, he determined the wound to be superficial and that Trego would regain consciousness in fifteen minutes. “There is nothing to be done to catalyze his awakening,” noted Nickel as he moved away from the alien and reloaded his BR-20.

* * *

It took fifteen minutes to sweep the ship and eliminate the boarders. There was an intense but brief firefight in the engine room, but nobody was hurt, and not even Nickel’s external biological flesh was nicked. The only positions that still contained hostiles was the bridge and the medbay. Nickel had done several things along the way to aid their fight: he had a three-meter radius jamming bubble preventing the men in the bridge from contacting their mother ship. He had also locked them out of accessing the Alt Vertraut’s computer and control system’s using Rietman’s supplied codes. Lastly, he had helped to patch up Torus, but had determined that they would have to retake the medbay within twenty minutes if they wished to retain their comrade’s life.

They approached the medbay directly, as due to its “floating” construction, they could not enter covertly, only through the front door. Nickel approached the door from around a corner, and readied his carbine when there was a slight ‘pop!’ and a tall, thin man simply existed behind him, a large knife in one hand, sliding across Nickel’s throat. The Psion was about to Blink again when he noticed the utter lack of blood from the long, vicious neck wound.

Nickel grabbed the arm still wrapped around him and flung the wound-be killer over his shoulder. The man Blinked out of existence before he hit the wall, and he reappeared instantly behind D’Oro, would flinched out of the way as the knife sailed past his ear, drawing blood. Caesar flung out a snap kick at the man and he hit nothing but air- the man had Blinked again.

Nickel was already striding forward towards D’Oro when he paused, then jerked around right as the Blinker emerged in front of Rietman- a knife around his throat- BAM! A bullet sailed into his head, or at least where his head had been- he Blinked again this time Rickson, who was gashed across her shoulder before wrapping a chokehold around the wiry man- gone again.

Bateau stumbled forward as there was a flicker behind him; the man had come out kicking then disappeared. Sarah tried to keep tracking him with her pistol before it was yanked from grasp, just disappeared- before reappeared in the hands of the psion, who flung it at Smith. He caught it with a definite look of confusion. Nickel for his part, stood stock still, tracking each move the Blinker made but not offering to intervene.

It was Smith who caught on first (at least the first human), and was drawing his pistol when a single shot rang out. Nickel holstered the still smoking handgun, impassive. The Blinker toppled to the floor his knife about to stab deep into Rietman’s neck

“How’d you know?” asked Rietman quietly.

Smith quickly answered for Nickel. “The space where the Psion planned to Blink rustled faintly everytime he was about to blink. Hard to tell in such cramped conditions,” he gestured around at the sparse passageway, “But I’m sure our toaster here could keep track of those things a lot better than I can.”

Nickel nodded blankly, and then turned to the door. He contemplated his next move as only a machine could. It was possible for him to open the floors a small sliver and deliver an explosive device or stun emitter inside- but that risked killing Halcyon, and the loss of such an asset to the team was unacceptable. Or, he could directly walk in and quickly shoot every hostile but he had no idea what sort of weaponry was stationed on the other side. He quickly remedied that conducting a secondary scan of the interior. Two men were stationed on either side of the door, large railguns drawn. Nickel calculated a 42.8% chance they would take no further action beyond shooting, though he gauged the highest reaction time exhibited a member of the squad and his own to have an 80.3% probability of exhibiting higher reaction times than either of the two commandos. Still, his primary objectives called for him to place his own existence under that of the others.

Drawing a pistol into each hand, Nickel strode forward and triggered the door to open. Two shots rang out in the silence of the ship.

* * *

The Strike was pinpoint perfect, but the blast was not. Plasma shot down as though directed by the hand of Zeus himself into the crater, right as the Tyrax was blown backwards by the explosion of the energy sword, which depleted his shields well enough for the layers of radiation and energy from the shot to sweep him out of the crater and into a nearby building like a rock across a lake. The tanks surrounding the hole in the ground were spun like frisbees, their external systems, their antigrav failing, but their crews still alive, kept alive by their many layers of armor. However, any Nahktar commando still alive was instantly obliterated, their footprints even swept from the face of the planet.

The Captain of the destroyer had been overzealous in his attack; he hadn’t had to go-ahead to launch the attack. He had been overcome by the rage of a single monkey-man dealing so much damage to his precious ship. And by the time he had realized who else was down there, he blanched. But it was too late by then.

As for the Operative, he was riding away on the back of a long transport truck; ARL slung over one shoulder, body low to the fuselage as the truck soared higher into the convoluted Zrmahk traffic.

Drlan, for his part, stood stock still on the highest level of the domicile building, the rain dripping off his face. Besides the immediate “What have I gotten myself into?” thoughts, there were also twangs of “Wow! Stick it to him!” and “Oh, shit!”, he was the first to spy the Operative sneaking and speeding away. Swearing, he began to work his way out of the apartment and down the building.

* * *

The Operative drew himself forward, towards the cockpit of the ship, the wind howling like a banshee all around him.

There was an explosion behind him- he turned, saw a dark shape of the Tyrax rise out of the rainy haze like a vengeful wraith, leaping onto a hover vehicle some two hundred meters away.

The two stood on their respective mounts staring for a few seconds, gauging each other up. They slowly started walking in opposite directions, leisurely.

And, as one, they leapt.

The chase was on.

The Tyrax was up and forward, scrambling along the underside of a waste barge before flipping higher, running along the side of a building.

The Operative ran down the length of the huge cargo craft, diving off its nose and launching a zip line from his gun- it caught on a passing family van. He swung in a high arc, releasing the line and traveling up, up and over a squat building into another lane of traffic, where he doubled back onto a spine of a huge sub-orbital continent hopper. The Tyrax saw this, leapt off its current vessel, which sidelined into a nearby wall. The Tyrax slammed into the side of a median building, blowing up glass and bounding through the floor like it was a world-class track. With one more leap, he was a vehicle away from his quarry.

He announced his presence with an arc of plasma, which flew over the Operative’s head with inches to spare, sizzling in the downpour. He swore and turned his head to see the Tyrax readying to leap forward. Acting quickly, he swung his launcher around and blew a round at the cyborg’s chosen means of transportation. The rocket soared through the air and its target stuck out a gravitic hand to catch it, but it was too late- it impacted in the middle of the car, which exploded underneath the Tyrax, dropping him from view.

There was barely time to sigh relief for, at that moment, three forms dropped from the sky from a chasing dropship. They were almost humanoid in size and proportion, only two meters tall- a thin, gunmetal grey that mounted no weapons other than fists. They were Tyrants, the robotic precursors to the Tyrax and the cold, soulless police force of the Ark. The acted without remorse, without hesitation- so the Operative discovered as one immediately slapped a spinning kick across his face, running him to the deck. His face fluttered over the abyss, but he had barely time to marvel the view, he had to roll to avoid a vicious stomping kick aimed at his head: fast, deadly.

Rolling to his knees, he launched himself straight up an icy leg swept under his, trying to knock him back down. He was up, and over, flipping himself off the head of an incoming Tyrant, pushing him into his partner. He landed, brought up his ARL to blow the colliding pair away when- wham! His gun was knocked from his grasp by a crushing blow to the wrist. It dropped and skittered across the soaked wind-swept deck of the liner, towards the edge.

Another strike kneecapped him, sending him to the floor, howling through clenched teeth. The third Tyrant, which had attacked from behind, was on him in an instant: hands reaching for his throat, his face, his eyes. He struggled with the droid, but it was too strong, too heavy. The Operative felt cold, hard hands around his throat and knew it was over.

He sighed, and saw the cars flashing past in the air, whipping behind, below and overhead. Overhead…

He tensed

The Tyrant, sensing the resistance, doubled his efforts just a bit. The human struggled for a second, and then smiled. He bucked his pelvis, throwing the attacking Tyrant off of him and into the path of an onrushing car, which ripped the automaton off him like it was greased with oil. Free, the human jumped to his feet, just in time to be attacking by the recovered pair of remaining Tyrants. They came from either side with matching blows: straight punches to the face.

Ducking under the first punch, this brought the Operative’s hips up, in a straight line a deliver a tremendous kick into the chin of the other Tyrant. The first Tyrant swiveled his arm down to slap the Operative’s head off. Panicking, he straightened and caught the oncoming punch in a locking arm bar. The second Tyrant recovered, came forward. The Operative released the first robot’s arm with a shove.

It was fists from here on. Blow after blow, parried, blocked. Cars flashed by overhead, occasionally obscured the lethal fight of trio of combatants from the astonishing eyes of sidelining onlookers. It was fast, it was almost untraceable. With another charge, the twins preformed a second pincer attack from either side. A simple push was all it took to place the human over the pair, hopping off their shoulders; he came up in a roll, running away towards his lost gun, which was in danger of tipping off the edge on a seeping puddle.

While one Tyrant was thrown back, the other was on the ball, launching itself off the mark at the human, crash-tackling him feet from the ARL. They rolled, inches from the edge, close to falling off to a long fall and a short death. Flexing his body, he pulled his knee to his chest, getting a boot between them just as the Tyrant began to pound him face, over and over and over. The Operative saw stars; there was a pounding pain in his skull.

He extended his leg, rolling both of them off the liner.

* * *

“Rietman,” said Bateau quickly, once they were in the medbay. “Is it possible to access the bridge from here, through these computers?

Rietman walked briskly forward, examining the consoles. “Yes. Yes, I should be able to.”

“Vac it,” ordered Bateau darkly.

Rietman went to work, typing quickly at the interface. Bateau weaved through the spacious medbay to Longbow and Smith, who were tending to Torus on the autolitter. The LC watched for a moment before commenting “How is he? He looks like crap,”

Smith nodded in a throwaway manner. “That he is. The round skimmed across the inside of his skull. No truly major damage that he can tell: he’s stable, but he’s lucky he’s still alive.”

“Shit!” yelled Rietman.

Bateau whirled on toe to face him. “Captain?”

Reitman was pissed, working the interface rapidly. “Somehow, they worked their way back into my ship. My bloody ship, bastards. They just got in, they’ve locked out my access except for cameras. Well, at least we have the bloody fucking cameras, but we’re stuck in the room.”

Bateau began to walk forward when Rietman let out another fevered curse. “This is bad, Leo. Bad shit.”

Longbow’s brow furrowed. “What is it, Captain?”

Reitman looked up. “There’s nothing I can do. They’re ebbing the EV systems.”

“Which is…” trailed Rickson.

Nickel looked impassive. “They’re venting our air.”

* * *

The pair lashed out hands at the speed of sound, barely catching the railing of the liner, blinking as sheets of rain rolled off the gently rounded roof of their ship. The Operative saw his ARL flash past, and he lanced out a hand to grab it. He just barely got a hold on the hellbore barrel by the very tips of his fingertips.

It was quick, he’d give it that. The Tyrant certainly didn’t waste anytime, bringing a leg up and giving a decisive blow to the human’s gut, almost knocking him free of tenuous perch. An explosive gasp of air escaped the man’s lips as he gripped wildly on the slick metal, feeling it slipping past his groping fingers. He needed purchase, he needed grip.

What he needed was a recharge. His power-up from earlier, on the spacescraper was slipping through his fingers with the same speed as the ship, and there was nothing he could do. With his enhancements, he could take on all the Tyrax and Battlecruisers in the world, without them he was just a simple spy practically begging for his face to be blown off.

He lost it. His grip, everything. He fell, one hand still outstretched for the sky. There was nary a shout, a scream.

With the speed of lightning, he rolled his ARL around in his hand so that he now held it by the grip and whipped the gun upwards so it hooked its forward grip in the empty space between the Tyrant’s robotic shin and tendon.

The robot looked down in electronic surprise, and gave his foot a deafening shake, hoping to dislodge the troublesome human. The grip almost slid out of the space.

The Operative fired. The rocket was instantly up and in the face of the Tyrant, depriving him of his in an instant before continuing upward and exploding with a small crack. Fortunately for the human, the robot’s grip hadn’t been killed by the lack of cranium, in fact, in grip was now locked over the rail with colossal force. Groaning, the Operative scurried his way up the Tyrant’s body, flipping up and onto the roof.

A foot flew towards his face at what seemed to be exceeding terminal velocity. Alarmed, the Operative let his knees go out from under him, dropping onto his butt as the kick sailed millimeters about him with enough force to make his nose take a very painful meeting with the back of his skull.

But this time, the Operative was ready. His ARL in one hand, he swung it in against the Tyrant’s knee, locking his arm and pulling the trigger. There was a flash of light in the storm, and the knee disappeared, taking the Tyrant overbalanced and onto the floor. Giving it a kick for good measure, the Operative stood up and fired another round, this time into the face of the Tyrant.

WHAM!

The Operative was thrown roughly sixty meters towards the bow of the ship by a tornado of force; it was quite synonymous with being hit by a freight train. He skipped against the cold alloy like a smooth stone, skidding to a slow halt.

The Tyrax was back. It had established its stance on the far end of the ship, roughly a hundred meters away. Lightning scythed across the night, and the fearsome silhouette of the cyborg was emblazoned across the sky.

Calculating quickly, the Operative figured one or two minutes before he could trigger another overdrive. In the meantime, he needed a distraction to keep the Tyrax from splattering him across the faces of seven consecutive office buildings.

He rooted in his pockets, and found what he was looking for: a dart-shaped charge, roughly a foot and half long. Nuclear tipped, the second of the pair he had obtained earlier.

Racking the sky with his eyes, he finally made out the manta-like shape of the still-shadowing battlecruiser, which seemed to only just now rooted out their location and was powering over to them. It was still smoking, and the Operative surmised its shields were still down, courtesy of the first nuke.

He began screwing the charge onto the barrel of the ARL. The Tyrax blurred in the rain again, and appeared a half-second later in front of the Operative, a gravtic hand catching him across the throat and tossing him casually towards the aft of the boat. The Operative recovered more quickly this time, rolling onto his back and aiming at the oblivious cruiser.

The Tyrax was again at his side, the invisible hand wrapping around him like a glove and slamming him over and over again into the deck, cratering it like an asteroid. Up and down, over and over. Blood began to flow from the Operative all over his visage. From the Tyrax’s wrist came forth a wicked blade of crackling plasma, the pounding stopped and the blade flew forward, towards the Operative head.

There was a shrill tone was the ARL still just scarcely clutched in the man’s hand. A weak smile flashed across his face as he depressed the trigger. A thunderous gout of exhaust gusted out from the barrel as the gun, at the moment held limply facing the floor, fired the charge. It crashed straight through the weakened point in the liner’s hull, the liner they were standing on. The weak point was the crater created by the violent convulsions.

Without, the charge would’ve detonated against the hardened armor of the suborbital, unable to correct its flight path in time to bring it to face the cruiser.

The round crashed through a porthole from the inside out, arcing back up in the sky and towards the cruiser.

Unconsciously, the Tyrax dropped the Operative to watch the nuke seek upwards towards the cruiser. The human fell in a heap to the floor, like a lumpy collection of dirty socks. Inwardly, he was smiling. His enhancements were recharged, and he could go into overdrive.

The charge lanced like a spear of fire into the side of the ship, gutting its belly in a deistic explosion and rolling it onto its side. Internally, the ship was charged like a rock from the contained nuclear explosion, externally in was burning great gouts of flame in only two or three places.

Then, like a doomed whale, it rolled onto its spine and began to fall from the sky.

“YOU!” whirled the Tyrax, turning to face the Operative. To his surprise, he found the human standing upright, gun at side, deathly pale.

The charge, when it had pierced through the suborbital liner, must of hit something vital- or maybe the suborbital was in awe of the oscar-worthy acts of the battlecruiser and believed imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. Who knew at the moment, they didn’t care to reveal it. The liner gave a tremulous shudder and decided to fall from the sky as well. Tremors turned into Richter-impressing seizure s as a mighty explosion tore through the inside of the liner.

A leg scythed out from nowhere, skinning past the Operative’s arms as the human flailed for grip on the overturning liner. He whipped his head around to see the Tyrax, down low and advancing forward: long leg over long leg.

The cruiser, pouring flame, increasing its plummet, probably hoping in its metallic mind to hit the same place the liner was projected to go. Perhaps it was trying to honor the memory of its late commander by literally crushing his enemies by sheer weight.

Arms flailed now, pounding into the hull of the ship and throwing up a beehive of shrapnel wherever it connected. The Operative, now as agile as a postcat, weaved his way through the carnage as hovervehicles of all shapes and sizes impacted against the suborbital as it plunged from its designated spot in the sky lanes. Tiny explosions peppered the majestic ship as the cruiser loomed overhead like the grand finale.

The gunship, ever present on the periphery, decided it wanted another go. Two more Tyrants dropped like rocks onto the spinning ship, this time bearing assault rifles. Bullets rained down from above in a wild X, tracing towards the Operative. Seeing their meeting point, the Operative detonated a point-blank concussion pulse using his enhancements, which threw like two feet off the doomed liner. Spinning in mid air, caught by the jetstream, he fired a rope piton from his launcher, landing him on an unscathed portion of the falling ship, right where the two Tyrants fell around him, rifles up. The Operative straightened into a combat stance, facing away from the Tyrants as the cases from all the bullets finally rained down around them.

The Operative raised his hands behind his back and slowly turned around. The first Tyrant, on the left tightened his fingers around the trigger.

He lashed out quickly, decisively. The Tyrant to the right was deprived of his assault rifle in an instant by a slicing arm. The Operative next brought his hand down on the left hand droid’s barrel, pushing it down and launching into a spinning butterfly kick. The Tyrant to the right came forward, drawing an energy knife from his upper arm and swinging it in a wide arc towards the side of the Operative’s head. The rocket launcher was up, and in the Tyrant’s face as the blade paused, inches from the human’s neck. BOOM! The right Tyrant was deprived of his face as the left Tyrant was up and spinning with the stock of his rifle, aiming for the neck. Parrying, the Operative slapped the stock down so that the rifle rotated in mid-air, so that the business end was now pinning in the chest of the Tyrant. The Operative backed a step up and delivered a massive kick into the out-sticking stock, the force pushing the Tyrant’s fingers, still awkwardly gripped around the trigger, into it. The gun let off a short roar, and the Tyrant was killed by his own gun.

The Operative heard pounding, and whirled in mid-air, flames licking his form like he was an otherworldly demon, to see the Tyrax bound forward, claws outstretched. Involuntarily backing up from the sight of a six-meter tall cyborg hurtling at him, the Operative drew a bead and let rip with his rifle blowing a series of neat holes in the face of the Tyrant, who was merely inconvenienced. He landed with a groundquake, going for the throat immediately. The Operative ducked the blow as it crossed over the sound barrier with an otherworldly crack, hitting the floor where the human had stood only seconds before with the weight of a mass driver.

The Liner shattered. Into two parts. Just from the force of the hit, it began to tear itself apart as more and more explosions peppered it, its structural integrity gone, it was only five thousand feet off the ground and at terminal velocity. The battlecruiser overhead blotted out the sun, and it was only two hundred feet above. Seeing that the construction of things, so to say, was deteriorating, the Operative latched one last grappling line onto his ARL.

“This!” he Yelled, running past the scrambling Tyrax.

“Is!” He leapt up, aiming his launcher at the one-in-a-million shot at the hook that could carry him out of this vapidly closing void. The air was now several hundred degrees in temperature, though he didn’t seem to notice.

“My!” A collection of small concussion grenades rained down around the Tyrax, causing all hell to break loose with his attempts to escape.

“Stop!” He fired.

The hook arced away from him, flying far until it landed on a speeding sports car, hoping to vacate the area of the up and coming disaster. The mags engaged, and the Operative was yanked out the air by the reeling, flying further towards the light where there were not two gigantic spaceships trying to flatten themselves before they hit the ground.

Fifty feet between, two hundred to go…

Thirty feet between, seventy-five to go…

Five feet, he was almost there…

And then, gloriously, we was out and free, propelled by the massive outburst of air from the sandwiched ship, before being swept along a taut line far away from the apocalypse.

All in the middle of it was the Tyrax, riding the hell hounds down to the planet’s surface. He tried vainly to transfer his digital essence, but the interference was too great.

It was just too great…

The ships hit with crust-cracking might.

It was hell in Zrmahk City.

* * *

“Bateau!”

The air had been thinning out for the past five, minutes, and the people inside the medbay were helpless to counteract the affects. The room was equipped with two oxygen pumps, both of which were fed off of the main enviro systems, though they kept their own onboard backup storage, totaling an hour’s worth of air, if the mains were cut. They hadn’t broke out the pump yet, but considering one had to kept on the infirm Torus at all times and there were six other humans in the room, it wasn’t going to last long. Breaths off the stale air were getting lighter, intervals between intakes were getting longer.

The sound came from a dropped radio at the far end of the hold. The Lieutenant Colonel jerked his head up from the computer console where he and Rietman had been working, trying to at least establish camera access inside the bridge, another thing the boarders had cut off. Setting down his tools, Bateau took two bounding steps in the lessening gravity towards the lone comm and scooped it up to his ear.

“Trego? S’that you?”

“Yes!- Yes, goddammit! Finally.” Squawked the voice of the temperamental Nahktar from the mini commlink.

“You were s’posed to be out for the count,” mentioned Bateau.

“Yes, I know. Skipping the pleasantries, I know of your predicament. You’ve got… yes, that’s right. A half hour of air left before you have to break out the pumps.”

“Where are you?”

“Right outside the bridge.”

Indeed, the former Commander was a few meters from the bridge, hiding around a corner from the direct line of sight of the hatch, which was currently closed. He was weaponless, but that didn’t change the fact he had killed two of the attackers on his way up. However, he was pretty sure he had escaped detection.

“Listen, Trego. There’re five men on the bridge, and, last time I checked, they’ve all got railguns and buster rifles. You can’t take them alone.”

Trego lifted an eyebrow, or at least did the alien equivalent of the expression. “You offend me.”

“Okay, you could take them alone, but you can’t kill them all in time before the docked patrolship right next to us start ripping us to shreds.”

“Point, but we’ve already determined they’ve locked out all access from the bridge. Really, Bateau, I fail to see how our illustrious captain doesn’t have a single override code for his own ship that can get past these pitiful pirates.”

In the sickbay, Rietman heard this and furrowed his brow. Bateau cocked his head. “Lennart?”

The Captain just shook his head. “Hot damn.”

“What?” asked Longbow, sitting up.

Rietman slapped his forehead. “Of course, it’s been so long ago…”

“Out with it, you old coot!” came Smith’s muffled voice from the far end of the room.

The old ONI agent threw a quick glare at the origin of the comment, and then spoke: “Indeed, I put one in when I first got the ship. I thought I had deleted it a couple years ago, it was part of a trim-up package from a more unsavory rep. But I found out part of the job was botched when my EV systems went screwy last month. So, there is quite possibly the chance that the code is still there.”

“Hot damn indeed,” grunted Rickson.

“What’s the code?” asked Trego impatiently. “There’s a terminal on this hallway, but it’s right in sight of the bridge cameras.”

“Gimme a sec, I’m trying to remember…” muttered Rietman.

“Just give me the goddamn code!” hissed Trego impatiently.

Lennart lowered his hands and smiled. “Got it. It’s Hidosa 20XX Sovereign. Just say it to the terminal, and it’ll give me direct control of the ship, wherever I am. Unfortunately, you have to be less than two feet from the terminal when you enter the code, or it won’t accept it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Lame code, gramps.”

“Keep talking, and I’m vent you too, Rep.”

Trego pressed his back tighter against the corner, then whirled around to face the bridge corridor. Three long strides were all that separated him from the terminal’s max distance, and just one more from the bridge. He began to move, at speeds almost to fast to be clocked by the human eye.

The hatch slid open, revealing two armored commandos brandishing long and lethal railguns. “Freeze!” filtered forth a voice from the left-most one.

Trego froze. He was one step from the terminal, glowing on the bulkhead. But there was no way he could taker another step without getting his head blown clean off.

Gritting his teeth, he flexed the claws on his feet and gripped them hard into the civilian-grade flooring, which gave way without a protest. One of the boarders saw this, and tightened his grip, pulling the trigger on his firearm.

The Nahktar let out a slight hiss and ripped the floorplate right out of its mooring, bringing up a six-by three meter slab of steel in front of him right as the bullet clinged against it, sending it spinning backwards. But, like a barreling train, it was propelled forward yet again by a charging Nahktar, who took the final step lithely and muttered:

“Hidosa 20XX Sovereign, Assholes.”

From what he could see inside the bridge, the faint soothing blue light that permeated the control room flashed an angry red. What Trego couldn’t see were the flashing of the lights in the failing medbay to a bright green and a sudden gust of air as the life support was recoupled.

“Brace yourself, Trego!” yelled Rietman. “Computer, seal of subsection 1. Vent the bridge. Authorization code Prefect 777 Unlimited.”

The decompression was explosive. Rather than take the tactful route, the panoramic bridge windows giving such a good view of the sky around the Alt Vertraut slid open with a series of successive bangs!, each one becoming fainter and fainter as the air of bridge vacated the starship violently, sweeping the invaders along with it as though they were clutch in a gigantic invisible hand. Those they had personal oxygen hookups and there was an excellent chance their mothership would be able to easily retrieve them, what happened next was extremely surprising and suspicious.

Trego, who was get in position from the violent buffeting only by virtue of the gaping hole in the floor, relaxing as the bridge hatch slammed shut, stopping the tirade as the life support began to equalize the atmosphere in the bridge with the rest of the ship. The process was completely concluded half a minute later, right as the first of the Storm Commandos reached the bridge, freed from their ironic prison, brandishing buster rifles and reacquired personal weapons.

The sensors bars around the hatch flashed a perfect green, and the door hissed open with a slight outpouring of smoke. The group piled in, taking up positions, hoping to disengage from the parallel vessel and possibly beat it back. Rietman, who had run immediately over to sensors, hunched over the console, booting it manually and personally viewing the hard results even as the information swirled into view in the form of a large holographic display.

As he spoke, the ship began to shudder.

“I don’t get it. They’re disengaging their grapplers and moving off. They’ll be in critical jump distance in twenty seconds, far enough away to fall into a slipstream. No weapons are tracking.”

“What?”

Rietman nodded. “Yeah, I’m just as confused. But to top all this off, they could jump right now and catch us in their shockwave. It’d be an easy, clean way to kill us.”

“It’s almost as though they’re trying to keep us alive…” murmured Bateau as the enemy cutter flashed out of existence, the slit leading into the slipstream collapsing upon itself in a minor explosion.

Trego frowned. “Yes, but why not? They had ample opportunities: the nukes, and the fact that they chose to board us after they had us perfectly sessile. Even after they had firmly established control over us and the ship, they stored us away, alive. No, they were here from only two reasons: to take something or to leave something.”

Smith groaned. “Be that something a tracker or a bomb,”

“Undeniably, those are all very really possibilities.” Accounted the Nahktar seriously. “Another possibility, however, we must account for is information.

Rickson, who was still in the medbay with Torus, came in over the radio. “What is that supposed to mean, Trego?”

Trego glared intensely at the commlink before continuing. “It is rather obvious. This is an ONI mission, after all. It would be almost expected for there to be a mole within the team. And, looking back on the aerial tactics employed by the boarders when they were storming the hangar, those men may have very well been Minutemen.”

Bateau glanced around the bustling bridge, and threw a hard glance at the former Nahktar officer. “We’ll finish this later.” Grabbing the commlink, he began to speak to all those on the Vertraut. “Listen up. While our boys left in an awful big hurry, there’s still the chance they left something behind. Ian and Sarah, I want you two to check other the ship for transmitters, erasers, the whole shebang. Nickel, I want you to coordinate with Johnny to cover the hull. Rietman, you need to work through the computer systems with Trego for the same shtick. Rickson and I will oversee damage control and repairs. Oh, and will somebody please go over these bodies for any clues as to their identity or purpose and then get rid of them? We’ve got a day to get this ship FTL-worthy before our window closes for Zrmahk. Got it?”

The various pairs nodded and set off across the ship to conduct their duties. Bateau wound his way through the ship to sickbay, only to meet Rickson halfway. Brushing a blond lock out of the way, she glanced around the small hallway they were standing in, which ran parallel to the Vertraut’s cavernous cargo bay. Assuring herself that they were alone, she handed Bateau an average-looking Chatter with a bulky datachip plugged in, taking up several of the datapad’s slots.

Taking the chatter dubiously and glancing back up at the Raptors sniper, Bateau asked, perplexed: “What’s this?”

Shifting nervously from foot to foot, Rickson answered quickly. “I found it on one of the bodies in the medbay.”

Bateau flicked the diminutive computer on and cast a fleeting look at the opening summary page, before looking back at Rickson. “So, wha-“ and then he froze, instantaneously whipping his gaze back down to the Chatter.

“Sweet mother of god,” he breathed, grabbing Rickson by the arm and yanking her into an alcove, where they were shielded from the corridor’s camera. “Did you read totally through this?”

Rickson nodded boldly. “Yes. It’s pretty scary.”

“Sonuvabitch,” swore Bateau, wiping away the beads of sweat that were forming around his forehead. Leaning against the wall, he slowly slid down to a sitting position on the floor.

He read:

Office of Naval Intelligence
File An-4507-Gamma-96/12y4p

Classification Umbra: TOP SECRET
This document is to remained classified, revelation to those without clearance is punishable by black hole execution.

Subject: Operation LES QUATRE CAVALIERS
Input Date: 04-21-2592

File Directory:
-Project Outline- Project Dius Donum
-Staff
-Subject
-Specimens
-Project Results[/b]

It was a simple home page, but Bateau knew it was top shit. Classification Umbra was the very tip of intelligence classifications; you could count the people who had such clearance on a hand or two. His eyes also zeroed in on the Dius Donum project, the other term he recognized. He knew a brief bit about that project, and its objective: using Deinonj to empower humans with absurd psionic powers. The project was only a success with Seth Halcyon, who was currently on life-support upstairs across from Torus. Everybody else had died, come up empty, or had powers so pitiful that they barely worked. Bateau keyed the Project Outline subdirectory, and came up with a small video file detailing the purpose of the operation. A thin, balding man flashed up onto the screen, and Bateau immediately recognized him as Robert Deckard, ONI Chief.

“Ladies, Gentlemen, Constructs.

I’ll be direct: the Les Quatre Cavaliers Project is the future of warfare. As you’ve already read the project manual, this’ll be brief. Imagine, if you will, a single man, with the power to destroy cities with only his mind. You need not imagine, as such psionics walk among us daily. But now, imagine a psyker capable of destroying a planet, using starships as interstellar fencing swords, and obliterating a man from a face of the earth. Well, imagine no further. I’ll assume your already briefed on Agent N: our best psion out there. He is capable of all of the incredible powers I listed. He can delete a planet from existence. Who would trade a planet for a billion more of these soldiers? All capable of wiping out armies, fleets… with only a thought.

Its common knowledge that psionics are a fickle thing, and are not tied to your… heir. That is to say, it is not guaranteed that, if you have powers, that your child would as well. Our knowledge of psionics is just too limited at this current point in time to track down this abnormality.

However, there is the question of clones…”


Rickson pushed the Chatter against Bateau’s chest, muffling the sound of Deckard revealing something vaguely important. “You should probably get through the rest of it after we’re done and we jump. We still have work to do.”

As if on point, Caesar’s voice came over Bateau’s commlink “Sir? We need that leak in the cargo bay fixed before we can cover section eight. There’s an auxiliary line that got cut, and we can’t tell if it’s interference or if the line got cut. If it’s the latter, we’ll be here a bit longer than anticipated. If it’s the former, it won’t be long until it’s the later. There’s only so much the repairs drones can do.”

“Copy that, Caesar,” intoned Bateau into his shoulder-mounted commlink. Standing back up, he added: “We’re on our way to get suited up for EV. We should be out in fifteen minutes.”

He stared down at the Chatter for a long time before tucking it onto his belt and beginning to walk down the hall to the room where Rietman kept his set of EV suits. He motioned for Rickson to follow. “C’mon, let’s get this finished. I’ll look at it tonight. Tell no one. This can’t get out any further. No one.”

* * *

Nineteen hours and copious amounts of grueling, tedious work later, the Alt Vertraut was safety back in the cross-galactic slipstream, traveling at Factor 2 speed- in laymen’s term, two light-years a minute. Bateau, dirty and tried, reclined on his bunk, alone in his quarters, fingering the Chatter. Everything appeared to be in order. Smith and McDonnell has reported back that the team hadn’t left anything behind besides bodies, and those were all dead. No stowaways, no erasers. Nickel and D’Oro had reported similar results with the hull. Trego and Rietman had only just finished, and had reported a clean system.

Still, they had a thousand questions and no answers. None. Random attacks were not uncommon, but slipspace interdiction and as well as the attack being right in the middle of the blank territory edging Scorpia space was. The former implied top-shit patrons, and the latter specifically identified them as the exact target. This was a hit job, plain and simple. However, weapons and tactics specifically highlighted ONI Minutemen as the primary suspects. This made no sense, since the Team itself was on a dedicated ONI mission.

Shaking his head, Bateau felt an overwhelming sleep wash over him. They had been up for twenty hours, and without combat-ready adrenal implants to call on, that was a long time to be ground-pounding. Still, he managed to hold onto conscious long enough to key a respectable new password onto the Chatter and shut it off. Five seconds later, sleep did the same to him.

The frenzied beeping. Yup, that was it, he decided. That was what was preventing him from sleeping. Groaning, he called up a minor calendar implant, and a small display plopped into his vision, telling him he had been asleep for three hours. Sitting up with a huff, he reach over to bunk-side nightstand and groped around for his comlink in the dark. Frustrated, he muttered “Lights.” The overwhelming flash of white that followed burnt out Bateau’s tired senses, and he squeezed his eyes shut reflexively against the overload.

“Not so bright,” Bateau growled, and the luminosity responded as such, dimming to such a factor that he easily snatched up the small radio on the far end of his dresser. Keying it and holding it up to his ear, he rubbed his eyes. Dammit, he was a fucking Storm Commando. A Carnage Marine. He shouldn’t be this exhausted. “Bateau here.”

“Sir, this is Smith. I think you better come see this. Quick, I’m in the Sickbay.” The voice came over the link harried and sincere, and Bateau was up instantly. Smith could dick around all he wanted, he was master pranker, but this seemed deeper.

Pulling his shirt back on, Bateau threw on some flip-flops and ran out of his room, tugging on the other shoe as he hopped forward, his jumps steadily smoothing into a deep, bounding sprint.

Skidding to a halt in front of the Medbay, Bateau slid into the ajar door to find Smith standing over Torus’ inert body, looking extremely agitated. There wasn’t anybody in the room. The usually sardonic soldier looked up when the Lieutenant Colonel appeared and motioned for Bateau to come over.

“I was walking by, heading to my quarters when I heard the flatline,” he stated without preamble, motioning to Torus.

Bateau was confused. Only earlier, he had been told the comatose hacker was stable and should recover before they got to their destination. “What the hell happened?” He couldn’t make out Torus’ head from this angle; it was shrouded in deep shadows.

Smith shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking, Leo. This ain’t natural. And from this angle, it’s rather obvious.”

“Huh?”

His eyes narrowing, Leo moved steadily closer to the pair of coffin-like med-beds, Halcyon’s on the left, Torus on the right. Compared to the nearly severed psion, Torus looked positively normal. That is, until Bateau saw the bullet hole.

Smith nodded. “This was murder, Leo. We have a killer onboard.”

His words hung in the air like a devastating pronouncement. How could this be? Smith himself had declared that all the boarders were gone, dead, off the ship. The option left for them to entertain was that one of the members of Team Phi-Psi killed Torus.

Picking off the weakest first.

And at this time, everybody was a suspect.

Bateau looked up from the blood-ringed gory hole in the netrunner’s forehead at Smith quickly. “Tell no one. The killer’s onboard, and we can’t let anybody know that we know. No one enters the medbay. Kill that retarded flatline.”

Smith started towards the medcomp, then paused, morose. “He’s been dead for at least an hour, rigor mortis has set up. And the videos…” he trailed off, shaking his head. “I was about to say the vidcams could prove my innocence, but I just realized the obvious.”

Bateau nodded. “It can show who did it.”

No sooner than the words left his mouth, then Bateau’s commlink gave a short beep. Touching it, Bateau nodded. “I’m here.”

“What the fuck is going on here, Bateau?”

It was Rietman.

Cocking his head, Bateau asked, quite calmly, considering that a murder was in his team: “What’s wrong, Lennart?”

“Is this a joke?

“I’m afraid I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about Captain.”

“I wake up at two o’clock in the fucking morning, to find there’s someone on my bridge. I head up there, but it’s currently sealed off!”

Bateau was systematic. “Do you know who’s on the bridge, Rietman?”

There was a long pause.

“Lennart?” prompted the Carnage Marine.

“Yes,” answered Rietman. “Yes I do. Jak Fucking Easly is currently sitting on my bridge, and he says he wants to talk to you.”


Chapter 4: Ragnarok

“Beware the fury of the patient psion.”

Alt Vertraut

“My name is Kieran Drax, and I my memories begin now.”

It was certainly an odd opener for Jak Easly: indeed, it was Jak Easly. Or, Jak Easly if he didn’t have his extensive collection of distinctive scars and even more noticeable cybernetics attached. Without them, Bateau at first thought the Jak Easly he first met on Artemis had come back from the dead. The man sitting before him certainly had a youthful quality, brimming with energy and life and optimism as Easly never had.

The two men were sitting opposite each other on the bridge of the Alt Vertraut, a study in contrasts. Bateau was tense, leaning forward and brimming with questions, confusion, and overall curiosity. On the other hand, the doppelganger a few feet away was calm, at peace with the world. He was reclining in the Captain’s chair, fingers steepled around his mouth, obscuring it. Even so, Bateau thought he could make out a thin grin.

When the man finally spoke again, breaking the copious silence since his obscure pronouncement, his voice was smooth and youthful, a contrast from Easly’s deep gruffness. To all eyes, be appeared to be twenty-one, the exact same age Jak Easly entered military service from his secretive beginnings. And all eyes were on him, from Rickson’s wide-eyed stare to Rietman’s brusque annoyance, to Sarah’s cool, pragmatic gaze that hazily lined up the sights small pistol held by her hip onto the man’s forehead.

Always prepared, Sarah.

“I don’t remember anything beyond waking up in this chair. I knew that I wanted to talk to one Leonardo Bateau. I assume that’s you?”

Bateau swept a hand through his short black hair. It was so surreal; it had to be some sort of trick. It just had to be. But no, sensors on every level determined this guy to be human, so that ruled out robots. He had absentmindedly consented to a blood test, which Rietman had sent through his floating blue assistant to the medlab- something Bateau dreaded. Not the part about the man who called himself Kieran Drax being related, or, worse, a clone of Easly, but the probably discovery of the body. Not so good. For anyone,

Banishing his thoughts, he nodded towards the brown-haired man. “Aye, that’s me. Perhaps you’d like to tell us how the hell you got on this ship and why the hell you’re a Jak Easly clone.”

The man, Kieran, looked puzzled. “Who’s Jak Easly?”

Bateau groaned. There was always the actual possibility of amnesia or just plain clone insertion. But this guy had avoided both Smith and Rickson as they did their sweeps. And Smith was about as paranoid as they got.

“Fine,” growled Bateau. “Where do your memories begin?”

Kieran had been absently surveying the modest bridge, jumped and turned his gaze onto Bateau. “Pardon?”

Exasperated, Bateau repeated “I said, where do your memories begin, then?”

Cocking his head as though the question was asking whether or not he was positively blue, Kieran gestured at Rietman’s captain’s chair, the one he was currently sitting in, right in front of them all. “Here,” he said simply. “That is to say, I remember waking up in this chair with an overwhelming compulsion to speak to you. I had no idea who you were, but my memories told me that that odd panel over there-“ He pointed at the comm panel a few feet away. “-Would talk to the man who was very angry, pounding on the door.”

Kieran Drax rotated his head to face Rietman. “You woke me up,” he said, in an accusatory tone.

Rietman’s face reddened. “I did no such thing. Besides, you’re sitting in my chair.” He uttered the last few words in a muted hiss, as though it was a capital crime.

Nodding, Kieran settled deeper into the highly cushioned throne. “I must concur that this is a very comfortable place. I can understand your anger.”

“Give me one reason I shouldn’t vac you. That’s what we-“ he caught a glare from at least four of the commandos. “-I do to stowaways.”

He paused for a moment, then deflated under the angry stares. “Fine. I’ll just dandy by while he rubs his ass all over my chair.”

“Begone, then,” muttered D’Oro with a throwaway wave of the hand.

With a harrumph, Rietman retreated to the periphery of the bridge to sulk. Wit that out of the way,

“So… Kieran,” said Bateau. “Let’s start with what you do know, remember, etcetera. Did your ‘memories’ tell you why you needed to speak to me. What about?”

The man nodded. “You have a dying man on board, and one who had already passed from us. I think, I know, there’s no other way to describe it, that I can heal him?”

Bateau was nonplussed. “How?”

Kieran raised a single finger and pointed it at Bateau’s scalp where he sported a long but thin cut from the Blinking boarder earlier. Nothing happened for a couple seconds, then purple sparks danced down the young man’s fingers and alighted upon Bateau’s forehead, writhing it and out, mending, repairing: healing.

Bateau involuntarily brought a hand up to feel where the cut was located. Or had been located: it was utterly gone. One glance at the looks of shock on Rickson’s and D’Oro’s faces told him all he needed to know.

“Hell of the night,” he muttered, wiping the now homeless blood from his face and squinting at Kieran. “A Healer.”

* * *

I found him deep in a sewer several miles out on the fringes of town, where the office buildings only scraped the clouds instead of the upper atmosphere. It was dark and dank, though he didn’t seem to mind. He was sporting a new set of clothes: a thight black tee shirt and jeans, which were revealed in the small flickering flame emanating from the tip of a ham-sized plasma pistol, over which he roasted some sort of avian in a deliciously spicy concoction. Deebeeque sauce, or something like it. It was particularly delicious.

Zrmahk City had effectively fallen into a state of chaos. From, a completely objective standpoint, dropping two klick-long starships into the middle of crowded, bustling metropolis could do that. Despite the material carnage, only nine hundred had perished in the crash, not counting the unknown numbers aboard either vessel. However, several thousand were injured, with everything from burns to missing limbs.

All as a result of the worn human in front of me.

“I should have never gotten into this,” I growled, leaning against the opposite wall and sliding heavily to the ground.

Glancing up concernedly from his food, the Operative regarded me through a veneer a worried expressions, though I could see his eyes were still cold and calculating. Examining, evaluating. Leaning forward, he set his food aside. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why so, Drlan?”

I thought it was pretty much obvious, much I decided against throwing up my hands in exasperation. I had the sinking feeling he didn’t feel any remorse at all. “Doesn’t it bother you, that you killed over a thousand innocent people today, just to get away, just to kill a single Tyrax?

Shaking his blond hair out of his eyes, he regarded me for a full minute, then replied, “Yes. It does. It’s regrettable that all those people had to lose their lives.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hint of regret in those words at all.

“-No, you don’t regr-” I started, but he cut me off.

“But don’t think, for a moment, Drlan thank I won’t sacrifice a whole planet of more civilians to put an end to this war.”

I paused, shocked by the statement. “You’d just throw away a thousand Nahktars? That’s easy, for a huma-”

His cold eyes locked back on mine, practically shooting lasers that could of drilled through my like a bullet. “I extend that statement to a billion humans, too.”

Taken aback, I took another path: “So you’re in total support of the phrase ‘the ends justify the means’?”

“Yes,” he said, quite deadpan. “When the other choice is the extinction of one of our races- although the likely result will probably be mine- yes, I’d happily knock off more civvies.”

“But-“

“Happily. And right now, the very existence of the Tyrax is a threat to us, to you, to everyone. So, yes, I’ll be damn sure I do everything within my power, everything to take one down when confronted by its ugly face.”

“All that for one Tyrax?”

He nodded. “Yes, indeed. The Tyrax, for one thing, seems to have a brain. He has power. He has ambition. And he has connections. That, combined with a very-high placed position, can affect a lot of people in this galaxy. Chairman Kehksol, the very director of your vaunted Council Conclave, and quite possibly the most powerful Nahktar in your entire Ark, trusts the Tyrax as his right-hand man. Now, what would you say if the Tyrax had made a deal with a human- Richard Deckard, to be precise, and had bigger plans in mind? What if I told you the Tyrax could overthrow Kehksol, the Conclave, and your entire goddamned senate?”

I didn’t know what to think. I had been caught up in the argument, my greatest weakness- I couldn’t stick to one topic and form a cohesive argument for it. In the weeks I’d spent with this human, I wasn’t exactly sure if he was telling the truth or playing off my low skill. Bypassing the entire conspiracy, I hit upon one core root of his points. “What kind of deal? From what it sounds like, this deal with Deckard sounds like it’ll do a wonder of good for your Alliance, and will only sow chaos within the Ark. A win for you: the war is lifted, and the Ark is overthrown. And from what you plan to do, it sounds like stopping the Tyrax will keep the war going and the Ark stable. Why help your enemy stay stable by knocking out the Tyrax and keeping your fellows in the grinding pit?”

Impressed, he took a bite out of his food, chewed it slowly, and swallowed it. “Because I’m going to kill the Conclave myself. And the Tyrax. I’m going to kill every single goddamned one. I’m not going to sit back and let the Tyrax do the talking. Because, as soon as he’s in power, he’ll knock out the humans with everything he’s got. The only reason the ISA is still standing is that the war started as some political game of yours. But, by now, it’s much more than that. No matter who wins on your side, me and my group loses. That’s why I’m going to kill every single goddamned one of them.”


* * *

The gigantic bunker, form the outside, looked to be nothing more than a small flat on the outskirts of Zrmahk City, with only a couple gunships patrolling like amiable flies to give any indication it was something other than that.

Well, if you thought that, you were wrong. It’s that simple. You just don’t stick the Council Conclave of the Ark itself into a small flat and leave it unprotected, save for a few Operative snacks. No, the very flat itself was solid, sitting on top of a full half-kilometer of armor, multiple sandwiched shields, and enough point defense to flatten the face of a small moon. Hundreds of crack commandos, uniformed or not, patrolled both the inside and outside of the fortress in unnoticeable paths, all carrying enough heavy weaponry to bring down a dozen legions and moreso.

This bunker was impregnable.

This was the retreat of the Ark Council Conclave, where twenty of the highest-placed Nahktars met in seclusion to discuss and plan what was most dire to them: the very destruction of the Interplanetary Space Alliance, the final hack to the dangling thread on which it clung. From here, the twenty elites planned, schemed, and directed.

It was this group of nineteen that the Tyrax watched impassively, from a balcony high above their massive planning tables of holographs, arms folded over his massive chest. A couple of meters away stood the twentieth and chief member of the council: Asarohk Kehksol Navariak: chairman, and quite possibly the most powerful being in the galaxy. On his mood rode the lives of trillions, on his whim rode the livelihood of even more.

And, and the current moment, he was furious. Steaming seemed an accurate descriptor for the mottled red of the tall and well-built Nahk, as the fine mist that permeated the room and congealed at their feet seemed to reaching a boiling point around him.

“He did what?

The Tyrax didn’t regard his superior for a second, wondering how long he could drag out the silence. He calculated for another seven seconds, and went for it. Right on the precipice of the end of the seventh second, he vocabulated: “The human was responsible for this.”

Kehksol threw up his hands. “‘This’?! Is that what you call it?! You lost four squads of prime commandos, three of our prized scout/sniper teams, four dropships, and five full squadrons of JetHawk tanks! And let’s not forget the entire fucking battlecruiser he dropped in the middle of the city!! Thousands dead, more injured! I ought to melt you, you fucking tin can! We spent a week tracking him, you kept telling me to wait, to see what he does, and he gets away!”

The Tyrax was fully aware that Kehksol would like nothing better than to pick up his commlink and order the security detail of the base to simultaneously wipe the Tyrax from the face of the universe. It truly didn’t seem wise to mention the loss of the Tyrax unit and the squad of Tyrants. He would “bet” that Kehksol wouldn’t even bother with the orders and take down the Tyrax on his own. Kehksol, who had spent over a hundred years in active combat service before retiring to the political life, was about as formidable as the Tyrax, even counting weaponry. He was the only person in the galaxy that Tyrax f- no, fear is too strong a word, but respect is too… disrespectful. We’ll settle on fear, then. Although, considering the performance of that single measly human earlier in the streets, the Tyrax decided to bump the Operative up onto his “respect” list, the members the Tyrax could count of one hand.

“Chairman Kehksol, be assured I have already assigned my personal agent to tackle the problem. I’ve had him under my wing for several years now, working undercover in the human ranks since the beginning of the war. He only just recently broke away from the military, after the NewCal/Septimus battles. He will find your lost Operative.”

The door at the far end of the chamber hissed open, and past two hulking and dangerous imperial guards stepped a tall and lanky human, brown haired with facial scars and heavy cybernetics. Though unarmed, he gave off a distinctive air of lethality, as though he could snap your neck with his cybernetic arm at seventeen paces.

Kehksol looked down at the human for a second, sizing him up with a professional eye. “Yes, I’ve known about your pet project for quite awhile, Tyrax. Still, it’s quite a pleasure to meet him, all the same. I’ve heard quite a bit about your exploits, Agent.” Turning back to the Tyrax, he added. “Though I’m pleased with his inclusion, do not think you will get any more chances after this. I’ve got three more Tyrax units up and running, all of whom would be quite eager to take your post.”

Without so much as a flourish, Kehksol turned and left the balcony. The human looked up the Tyrax, smiling. “Two. He still doesn’t know?”

The Tyrax shook his head. “No. He need not be worried, either.” He stood silently for a few moments, starring down at the ordered chaos below. “Did Deckard send off for how long it would take for his team to get here?”

Nodding, the human passed over a small datacard. “He just sent word that they’d be here in less than a week, five to six days.”

“That’s assuming they bypass the Kaeleron Singularity.” The Tyrax said a few seconds later. His charge grimaced. “And I would bet their charts don’t cover it. In fact, we only just discovered it last year. It plays havoc with FTL streams, and you know it. For all we know, they could be here within a few hours, or a few months. We need to be prepared. Speed up alterations to the defense net code; I want it done by the end of the day.”

The human just turned to leave when simultaneously, the comlinks upon all of the strategists all across the cavern gave a shrill chirp. The Tyrax himself rounded, rapidly absorbing a bulletin from the planet’s defense net. Huge holograms below showing expanding views of the New Wales battle partially flashed over to show a tactical representation of the Zrmahk system, with dozens, no hundreds of bogeys.

“Oh, shit,” muttered the Tyrax.

“What is it?” asked the human, coming forward to view the exploding chaos in the room below.

The Tyrax’s voice was grim. “We just had a Frok’tar battle group jump into high orbit. Preliminary estimates put it somewhere in the range of five thousand ships. ”

* * *

Admiral Gibson gave a howl as the plasma impacted like a jackhammer into his left arm, causing it to spasm. The pistol he clutched tightly in that hand flew into the air, clattering to the deck below. With a roar, he swept his assault rifle across the room and blew a basketball-sized hole in the face of the offending boarder.

The bridge of the Reclaimer was in utter, total anarchy. Naval guardsmen intermixed with elite DART troopers and simple helmsmen stood in all out battle with fully armored Nahktar high commandos. The monsters, a good two to three times the size of the defenders, moved like swathes through the bedlam, sending up bodies in showers. Soldiers worked in teams to bury the aggressors under the sheer weight of fire, but the battle was pitched. Gibson himself had taken to the clash, beaming off climbing aggressors from his perch above the titanic bridge of the Judicator-class Superdreadnaught, a true monster of a vessel rivaled only by the Brute Hope herself in sheer bulkage. In a perverse sort of game of king of the hill, Gibson’s roost upon the holographic projector spire seemed to be the gold crown of this life-or-death battle, where he fended off would-be takers with a combination of wild roars, akimbo gunplay, and the standard club from a rifle butt.

From it above it all, Grand Admiral Mccorl watched it, all of it, with the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders. Tactically, there was nothing she could do for her friend: they were separated a massive cluster group of Ark vessels that had just jumped into system, right in the middle of their formation. They’d been sitting on the end point of a slipstream, and hadn’t even known about it.

Strategically, this battle was the less giant stand, and more clusterfuck. Ark reinforcements just kept piling into the system, they were literally appearing faster than they could kill them. Now, Mccorl was in the perilous position of choosing to call in more reinforcements herself; at the weakness of leaving the piddling number of inner colonies they still owned totally unguarded.

She had to do something. And fast. She whirled as the sensor chief called out over the barely-controlled din of the bridge: “New contact, bearing seven-zero-three! Counting fifty, no a hundred… A hundred and twenty eight contacts, ma’am! Ark battle group, formation epsilon. They’re powering up autolasers, and launching J/Ls, vector seven-one-eight. Contact in twenty seconds!”

One of the more senior tactical officers whirled to face her. “Ma’am, we’re tracking a massive troopship surge from the central Ark column, bearing two-two-three.”

Shit. They, through one stroke of luck, had been able to segregate the brawling from the planet proper, at least one AU out. No troops had landed yet, and the defense systems of the New Wales had been reduced to taking potshots, sniping from several million kilometers away with grazing super Autolaser beams purple flashlights in the flickering anarchy. Even as she watched, one carved across the bow of an Ark destroyer screen on the edge of the Beta fleet, resulting in a haze of large, fiery explosions that boiled out into space before bubbling into nothingness.

And as she issued another rapid-fire set of orders, she watched the massive Ark fleet, almost dragonlike, begin to roll in space and present flanks to them. So far, they’d isolated at least five major battle groups, and right here, three were turning away, disengaging. One of her battle groups was quick to exploit the damage, until they realized they were firing upon the full banks of rear shields the Ark vessels now presented. Withering covering fire was laid down, and a million humans died, cremated alive or flash-frozen in the icy void of space.

However, most of the fire, he noted, was meant as large, bunker-buster fire, meant for the larger warship to keep their Super Autolasers off of them. Cycling in and sending a new explosion of orders out through her cybernetic FLEETNET link, she saw massive volleys of missile spam sail underneath the bellies of the Ark vessels, past the light point-defense on the engine-mounting rear, over the scorches fronts that had been taking the bulk of the human fire, and pull up in a sudden change of momentum, but not orientation, exploding against the seared bows, creating massive gouts of flame.

Highlighting seven areas with her NAVstylus, she keyed in Virgil, who has heading up fleet fire control in Comp Cent One. “Bonjour,” came the exasperated reply. He certainly had every right to be so. It wasn’t exactly easy to coordinate billions of guns over several sprawling AU of battle.

Keying in the targets at lightning speed, she heard an impressed electronic intake of breath. “Indeed, Kate.”

“Plat two CSK Bearclaws in each target. ASAP, because we both now they probably aren’t going to stay long.”

Undeniably, only seconds later, an ensign called out that the fleeing ARK battle groupings were charging up their Slipstream capacitors- it should take only thirty seconds to obtain full charge. “Quick,” she yelled. “All ships, back off. We all know what a massed slipstream entry is like! I want spy drones in there, now! We need to see where these bastards are going!”

As her own fleets arced away from the trio of running Ark vessels, trading potshots, nineteen stealthed Bearclaw “Capital Ship Killer” missiles streaked away from the convulsing ISN ships, one such launcher breaking up just after it got its missiles into the air, hit by a globule of plasma a mile in diameter. The cloaked missiles were the second-best thing the Martians had to Helios antimatter warheads, creating a “null-zone” of multi-nuclear death some thirty kilometers in diameter. Unable to be detected by sensors in the heat of battle, they had a 60% success rate. As such, ten were shot down, three by accidental and unpredictable traded shots. In the edge of the massive holo-tac-map, Mccorl saw the capacitor countdown speed towards zero.

One fleet got away clean, its fire lanes relatively unobstructed and ECM low due to the recent haze of a singularity torpedo that only Ark sensors could penetrate. However, the second fleet only shot down two of the missiles aimed towards it, and four blossoms of hellfire bloomed into existence on the galactic-east side of the group, leaving a ragged 23% to limp into the slipstream, some two hundred ships.

However, Formation Gamma in the center of the shitstorm was totally unable to parry the nukes, trapped between Mccorl’s 10th Defense Fleet and the 33rd Advance. Seven bosoms of holy light bitchslapped Gamma into the Great Oblivion. Spy drones across the net fuzzled, and only nine managed to hitch a ride with Formation Alpha, the one that had escaped unscathed. However, twenty-four drones had managed to hitchhike the 29% of Beta, partially due to the majority being released from the stores of the ISN Orwell, on the west of Beta and on the side that was able to shoot down the duo of Bearclaws.

In less than two minutes, the battle had definitely taken a turn for the better for the ISN. Of the nine monstrous central formations, three had fled to parts currently unknown, cutting the enemies faced down by a third. Also, it seemed as she took a step back from her station to view the larger holo-tac-map, no new reinforcements were flowing in.

They might have a chance of pulling through.

However, those ships that had pulled out…

* * *

“Forgive me, Tyrax,” said Koro as he followed along at the cyborg’s side. “But my knowledge of greater galactic astrocartograpy is weak. Zrmahk is a week from New Wales. How do you intend to get your reinforcements in, in time?”

A flickering holoprojection sputtered up in front of them, projected from a small laser on the Tyrax’s chest. “Yes, I straight route would. However, they’re passing Kaeleron Singularity, which is located very close the galactic core and is one of the oldest in the local group, not counting the center mega-holes. Slipstreams experience massive distortions when they pass near gravitic singularities on a quantum level. In simpler terms, they bend the laws of time and space, acting as shot-puts towards the intended destination travel time is close by a significant order of magnitude.”

Even so, the Tyrax knew, it would take two days for the groups to arrive at the wormhole. Once they hit the halfway point, however, the remaining distance could be covered in less than an hour. While human slipstream drives hovered on anywhere from a lightyear to five a minute, Ark vessels operated on scales of fifties and hundreds.

What he also knew, however, was that the Deckard’s strike team had also just reached the Kaeleron black hole, and would enter orbit at any minute. He knew he was to guide them towards Kehksol, and his inside agent would help with that process, as well as harassment attacks from his Agent.

He only had two variables right now, both out of his hands: the Froktar fleet in high orbit and the Operative. He could have reinforcements from the closest planets within ten minutes, but they could only perform holding patterns, as they could not seriously hold back the Frok’tar fleet for anywhere approaching the time needed for his reinforcements to arrive. The Operative, also, was a major thorn in his side. If he ran into the human strike team, the Tyrax was truly uncertain how the Operative would react. Would he ally with them or wipe them all out in a paranoid fit?

Koro stopped, placing a hand to his earpiece. “Sir- we’re getting scattered reports from across the Republic. It appears this incursion in on every level along the Mettok-Lawtser line, with several deep pushes towards sector command centers.”

As he expected- it wasn’t just a singular appearance, but this was a major offensive on the Corprocrat’s part. The Tyrax had always considered the Ark’s headlock on their upper political echelons airtight. Sure, they had splintered off during the one-year grace period two years ago, but they were still mostly tools. Had they grown a backbone? Had Deckard decided not to trust in him and send some back-up for his shock troops? Or were the Frok’tar finally taking notice towards current events and were hoping they could take the Ark’s mind off of the humans, attacking the long static Mettok-Lawster line?

But, to focus into the tactical picture: they fleet could obvious take the planet right now, so why not? Why wait for reinforcement on the Ark’s side? Didn’t they know they had the entire Conclave trapped? No ships could land or leave, and system-wide teleporter signals were being blocked, so that knocked out that possibility of getting them off-planet.

What was going on?

* * *

“Slipspace reversion in five minutes,” chirped Alt Vertaut’s Comp Cent as the wary group, Kieran in tow, made their way to the medbay. Bateau, who had been silently calculating how he’d play the situation, considering the murderer of Torus was someone in the group, and he only trusted Smith at the moment. He couldn’t let word of Torus’ death to get out, since he had to keep the killer thinking ignorance of the death. He had been quietly surveying faces as well, hoping the killer would betray some form of apprehension at the prospect of being discovered- but no such luck had befallen Bateau, as the entire crew was too enticed by the appearance of someone who looked like a pristine physical clone of Colonel Easly and was a psionic healer.

And, with this new development, there was no way he would find the killer. However, he could steer the group away from the Medbay and back towards the bridge.

Caesar was the first to state the obvious: “What? We’ve still got a week ‘til we arrive in-system!”

There were two possibilities: first, and most fresh in their minds: the chance of another interdictor boarding squadron. In the Vertraut’s state, there was no way the ship could stand up to the handshake nukes the last group had immediately deployed. Second, and even more alarming was the idea that the Rietman’s ship had suddenly gained an implausible exponential increase in speed, allowing them to cross swathes of light-years in less than twelve hours.

Either choice was enough to pull the group to the bridge.

“Team,” Bateau barked. “Bridge. Whatever this is, we need all hands in order to adapt to this complication. Kieran, our little experiment will have to wait. Both patients are in stable condition at the moment. Are you trained at all in any form of starship operation?”

A nod came from the seeming doppelganger, who had been taking in the moment, dark eyes calmly taking in people’s reactions and responses. “I’ve been trained extensively in defensive tech. What model shields does this vessel have?” he nodded, directing the last question at Rietman.

Rietman, who had had been tapping commands into a holoprojection that had been following him along the corridor back towards the bridge, emanating from the wall, looked up suddenly. “Uh- yes. A Lorentech model fifteen, with four extra Trekker munitions Buckler capacitors.”

Highly illegal, but nobody would argue the point in a million years. Drax nodded, apparently not caring about the sudden responsibility thrust upon him or the utter lack of questions.

“Trego, you’ve got tactical. Caesar, you’ve got sensors. Rietman, maneuvering. Caliber- weapons, Longbow- engineering. I wanted every system up five minutes ago,” snapped Bateau as the group broke into a run. “We’ll get one active scan, covered by the transitional radiation. From there on it’s passive. We’re out of P/D chainguns, just our missile tube. I want sensors in coordination with the solution suite. Sarah, we need slipstream capacitors hot- reroute power from life support in the cargo bay and decks G and H, as well as the microreactors for the autocannons. That should put us over the edge.”

Reaching for his comm, Bateau keyed Smith. “Dusk, hang tight in the bay. You heard all that?”

“Affirmative,” came Smith’s voice, slightly hassled. “Listen, I’ve pulled up the video. Do you want me to ‘hang tight’ with it?” There was a certain aggression in Smith’s voice the alerted Bateau to a wrong, something. Something was going down.

“Yeah,” said Bateau. “We’ll view it when we get the chance. Right now, you just have to keep Halcyon stable. Actually, we’ll reroute power distribution to your screens. Sarah will need to give Caesar a hand at sensors: we’ll only get one shot with this.”

“Copy that. Dusk over and out.”

When Bateau reached the bridge, he found the team arrayed across the bridge, guiding hands through fluid holoprojections and touch-screen flatlanders. “One minute to slipstream transition,” came Comp Cent’s voice chipperly.

The ship up and ready for action, for all they could do was sit and wait tensely for the transition. Seconds ticked by like bombshells, and when the computer gave the five-second countdown, the pressure congealed into what seemed to be four feet thick around their waists (Or, it Trego’s case, his ankles). The ship gave a imperceptible shudder and the tac display flashed into life, gaining more form, less ephemeral by the millisecond as the single active scan they got, masked by the energy emitted from their realspace transition. Contacts began to fill the air, floating serenly around a brown-green-blue world that with a black spiderweb over the equatorial line.

But no, sudden blasts hit them. They weren’t cut out of the air. In fact, considering the sheer amount of vessels in-system, it was an odd miracle they were still alive and nobody had noticed them at all.

The first item came immediately to all of their attention. They had reached there coordinates- they had reached the Zrmahk system, their intended coordinates putting them slightly out-system. That was a major problem, but not instantly dangerous to any of them and could be pondered later.

The second was much more troublesome. The fleet floating over Zrmahk was that of the Frok'tar Alliance.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Frok'tar, allow your humble narrator to explain. For many millennia, the Ark has waged war on the one other major superpower in the galaxy- the corprocratic Frok'tar Alliance. As diverse as the Ark, if not more, in terms of sheer biodiversity, it covered a might quarter of the galaxy with its heavily populated rainforests of cityscapes, all dominated by eight magnificent trading houses who met, twice every Terran year, to confer as to matters of state. A monstrous security force, mostly automated and commanded by glorious spider-like mechanoids had found itself squared off against the expansionist Ark in an essentially unchanging war for close to eleven thousand years.

And it looked like this static war was about to get hot, fast.

And considering this was the current location of the Ark Conclave, it was a wonder the orbiters didn’t just knock the planet out of existence. Maybe they wanted to hold the leaders hostage, and sue for surrender. At this point, they could only guess.

* * *

The Operative glanced up at the sky and back down at the holodisplay before him of the Zrmahk inner system. A new contact had blinked, flashing a silent pink on the registry.

“Bingo,” whispered the Operative, leaning forward.

I didn’t get it. After several hours of silent observation, we had watched the Frok'tar fleet chase and around up any contact, no matter how transient, that flashed into the system. Boarded or destroyed, it was that simply. This ship, which was undoubtedly human, hadn’t been touched, and it had been floating there for an hour. Something was special about this ship. “Why aren’t they approaching?”

He looked up from the console and wove his hand through the air, finally depressing smoothing against something in midair. There was a slight chime, and an entire starship appeared, some twenty meters in length, a small courier. It was large and bulky, with two heavy machine guns mounted on each wing, each flanking a tiny boarding hatch.

The Operative grinned. “Because, they are cloaked. In a very advanced manner, as present-day technology does not permit. Cloaked vehicles are always detectable if you look hard enough, but what this ship sports a whole new generation of cloaking sheaths. I know, because that’s how I got onto this planet.” He paused for a moment, zooming into the hologram I now knew to be projected from a small semisphere protruding from a tiny hatch on the courier. “And,” he added. “I doubt they know the tech has been installed.”

“How do you know?” I inquired, curious as to how the inhabitants of the arrival weren’t aware of the reason why the were still alive.

The Operative keyed a couple more commands into the system, and the ship’s maneuverings over the hours came into existence as an orange line. “See this path?” he asked, tracing the stripe. “These movements aren’t consistent with a Captain that knows he’s totally free from reprisal. He could stand under the nose of the Frok flagship all day if he wanted, and not have a hair on his head touched. This guy, however, is skirting around, trying to get within the shadow of one of Zrmahk Centauri’s moons, so it can’t be noticed. And he’s trying to do it as quickly as possible, as though is luck could run out at any moment. See there, and there-“ he highlight data lines surrounding the human ship and circled a portion of the vessels. “He’s got his missile tube heated up. He’s ready to party if need be.”

I nodded, taking it in. “Would you do that if you were in that situation?”

He nodded. “Probably. However, I’d first do some extremely cautious and reserved tests as to why I’m not an extended trail of atoms smeared across the abyss.”

He keyed open the hatch of the courier to reveal a spacious interior of blinking lights and controls panels. Indeed, the interior of the small puddle-jumper seemed to be a lot larger than the slight physical size of the ship allowed. Yet another magic trick from my mass-murdering acquaintance. “This is your ONI strike squad, Rahk. Manipulated to extremes, and none the wiser. I’m sure they’ve already picked up several passengers with no idea as to how the got there. In fact, I’d bet on it. But that’s a whole different set of black intel, something I’m not exactly sure about.

Based on the ship’s movements and the nature of this mission, I’d guess the commander of this group, Rahk” he slowly said, his face devoid of emotion except for what seemed to be slight glee. “To be one Lieutenant Colonel Leonardo J. Bateau. He’s the only one in current memory with preexisting ONI contacts and the personality trait of lumping all of his overarching problems off for a specific point in time to be dealt with and focusing on the here-and-go. That is, he’s more reactionary that proactive. He’s an excellent man sure, a superb commander, and my prime pick for any strike mission, but he’s also totally over his head and has no answers.”

The Operative took a giant step onto the overhanging wing of the ship and into the door of the Courier. He was gone for a few seconds, during the which the ship came alive with a quiet thrum of power. His head reappeared a few seconds later: “All aboard. We’re going to go have a little chat with my friend.”

I heard the distinctive sound of a pistol’s slide being racked, and decided to follow.

* * *

Bateau had dispersed the team across the ship in preparation for planetfall. Rickson and D’Oro were synthesizing the armory, gathering all of their gear into a stripped-down, stealth Gento dropship they found, packed in the cargo bay by ONI. Since Torus was dead, and he was their primary Netrunner, Bateau had assigned Nickel and Trego to sort through the comm traffic of the system with Comp Cent and give them an accurate picture of the situation, command structures, patrol patterns, and a comprehensive ground detail. Rietman and Sarah were conducting repairs on the ship’s autocannons, in case fists were thrown. Right now, he himself was escorting the healer, Drax, towards the medbay and Smith. They needed Halcyon back as quickly as possibly, as he was their biggest asset on this mission, more so than Trego, Nickel, or the newly arrived and questionable Drax. Possibly, if the Conclave didn’t have Screamers up, Halcyon might even be able to psionically “Snipe” them from orbit.

A trailing thought appeared in his head. They undoubtedly had an assassin aboard, one of their own. And he had taken out on of their larger assets already, Torus, who could had easily circumvented the BattleNets of both fleets if need be. Halcyon was also out, one of the most powerful psions in the galaxy.

As if on prompt, Sarah’s voice came aboard the radio. It was annoyed to the extreme, positively angry in a sense Bateau had never heard the ever-cool sniper be. “What the fuck happened to my sniper rifle?”

Filtering over the yells from Longbow came D’Oro’s voice. “Sir, someone’s tampered with the stealth sheaths of the Gento.”

Nickel’s flatline German overcut: “Sensors are offline. Acknowledge.”

Rietman began chattering about the NAV suite, how they would- the Slipstream interface had been smashed. Which was repairable enough, but it suddenly became clear to Bateau that the saboteur was taking out the vital systems of the Vertraut. No duh. That meant that the next target was- the subspace engines and slipstream driver. Not good. Producing his pistol, he started running towards engineering.

He called for a comm check. Everybody reported in, acknowledgement lights flashing. Everyone accept Trego. His FoF tag was off. Not good at all. Suspect number one.

Kieran kept pace. “Should I continue to medbay?”

It was entirely possible, more than likely, that Drax himself was the saboteur. He didn’t want him guarding his back when he went into engineering. On the other hand, there was a very small chance of Bateau being able to take on Trego in close quarters. Bateau had done it once before, yes, but there’s only so many times you can take on a three meter monster in combat when the thing has a kick that can take your head off. Trego would have the advantage if he indeed was the saboteur.

Bateau swore and told Drax to head to the medbay to fetch Smith. Right now, Smith was the only one Bateau trusted.

Medbay

There wasn’t much more waiting to be done on Smith’s part. He had sat on this for only a couple hours, troubling himself with what to do. The videotape couldn’t be right, pshah. He had to go to someone with this, and no one outranked him. That left it up to him. Great.

Dialing his comm, he pulled up Longbow. “Longbow, you need to come to Medbay.”

Trego stepped out of the Medbay purifier, sanitized for the clean-room environment. Out of the interference of the sterilization, he took a step back as the comm chatter hit his ear. “What the hell is going on?”

***

Bateau leaned out into engineering, a long, dark room with several pillar-like power conduits running down its length in the center. Dark diagnostic displays patterned the walls, providing the only flashes of light in the pitch-black room. With the murky sentinels straddling the middle of the room and the displays flickering on and off, the room had a sinister strobe effect in motion. Bateau’s cybernetics tried to kick in and cut through the interference, but a fuzzy haze settled over his vision, a mediocre attempt to compensate for the blinking.

In the far end of the room, a large shadow moved through the darkness, darting in between the conduits with animal grace. Leveling his pistol, Bateau descended into the pit.

Five minutes earlier, medbay

“Oh, my god,” Sarah whispered, looking down at the tiny holoprojection of the medbay’s security camera for what seemed an indeterminate amount of time, before looking back up at Smith. “Is this altered in anyway?”

“No,” Smith assured her, his eyes grim. “I had Comp Cent run a check on the file integrity. Rietman’s got an excellent anti-tampering program, while not enough to stop the boarders- the Minutemen, it’s enough to verify a vid file.”

Sarah nodded, and brought up her gun. “All this time. I’ve known him for close to eight years. Dammit. We’ve got to take him down, Ian. Now.”

Engineering

Bateau edged forward, down the length of the bay, his gun up and at the ready the shadowy form darted in and out of his vision at least twice, not aware of Bateau. As he got closer, and open computer interface revealed itself, lying accessible at the feet of the saboteur. The shadow crouched for a few seconds, typing instructions into the keypad. The silent tapping of keys contrasted with Bateau’s gunshot heartbeats, a machine-gun staccato in the still room.

Bateau was four feet from the intruder, his gun ready for an incapacitating strike, surgical to the back of the head with the taser prongs built into the butt. It was only now he realized the shadow was only human, tall, about two meters in height.

Raising his gun high for the shock, Bateau brought it down with extreme force, right as the shadow whirled to meet him. Cold, dark hands gripped his wrists, holding them in a vice grip, the sparkling prongs of the taser inches from his face. Shining, spotlight eyes emanated from the swirling clouds that seemed to formulate the wraith’s body, its head. A silent hiss slowly escaped from where a normal human would have a mouth, as the gun- slowly, but surely, began to move back up, away from the specter’s face.

A red dot blinked onto Bateau’s chest. A twin of the first was not short after, slowly trailing up, slowly hovering into his right eye before settling on what he presumed to be his forehead.

Turning his head a fraction to see this new threat, he made out two more silhouettes at the entrance of the room, rifles raised.

“You bastard,” muttered Sarah, coming into a stray light. Bateau could make out Smith behind her. Longbow’s reddish hair was tied back in a pony tail, a large rifle pointing right at Bateau’s head.

“Missile approaching. Vector unknown,” chirped Nickel’s voice over the Com. Rietman, who had hands elbow-deep in a mass of electronics and wires, looked up to see the flashing beacon moving towards them at a rapid pace on the tac holo. He swore explosively and climbed down into the bridge, through the rear hatch that lead to the head autocannon. “Range,” he demanded instantly.

“Eight thousand kilometers. ETA: one minute.” Intoned Nickel emotionnessly.

Another oath. “Evasive maneuvers, now! Can you bolster my targeting computer with a solution from the tac? This thing needs to go down.” Without so much as pausing as Nickel nodded, Rietman clambered back up into the bubble-configuration P/D turret, and synced his targeting computer. Bringing the control helmet down on his head, he saw the HUD flash up in an array of displays, all of which he cleared with a swipe of his eyes. The only item left was the circular targeting reticule, the ammo counter, and the steadily insistent beeping of the missile, locked on and incoming.

Moving his head around to face the oncoming target, Rietman felt the slightest movement as the bubble cockpit itself spun, in accordance with the motions of his head. Bobbing his head while the range and ETA on the data tag connected to the missile quickly lowered themselves, Rietman lined the targeting reticule attached to his eye motions up with the missile, a ghost image overlaying firing solutions and offsetting for lead. The missile was small enough- just a small Fire and Forget missile, small enough to be decapitated easily by the burst of fifty caliber shells. The missiles may be geared towards firing at evasive targets, but point-defense was not a strong point. However, the missile would have to get within seven kilometers for the small civilian defense autocannons to be in accurate range.

Ten seconds to range.

Five.

Deal. Rietman let out the harshest squint he could muster, and the autocannon rumbled loudly in the small confines of the turret, snaking rounds silent in space. The missile swerved, and for one wild moment Rietman thought it would hit them. Fire and Forget missiles could either be fitted with wide, weak burst meant for taking out entire squadrons of unshielded fights, or focused and directed blasts capable of easily battering their way through the shields of the Vertraut. He was counting on the former, but the latter was more likely.

The computer adjusted accordingly, and, at the last second, just outside the killzone, the shells connected, scything cleanly through a stabilizing fin, causing it to veer off course, but not far enough to avoid the shells that knocked its red cap off, leaving it dead in space.

“Is the computer fooling with us?” came D’Oro’s voice from the bridge. He must have been called here by Nickel when the missile had been detected. Removing his head from the coordination helmet and sliding back into the bride, Rietman saw Rickson, too, was examining an internal status holo of the ship with Caesar.

“The docking hatch has been established. Someone just linked up with us, and we didn’t even see them,” said Caesar, reaching for his comm and issuing warning to his other squadmates. “Boarders,” he growled as he and Rickson fled the bridge, toting rifles, with Nickel following behind.

Two decks down, in the general living area they had first entered upon the embarking of their mission. The door at the far side of the room was lit with an orange light, telling of a stabilizing status as Comp Cent equalized the atmospheres of the Alt Vertraut and whatever was the other side. All three solider took up firing positions across the room, with cover behind bulkheads and walls. Trego and Drax appeared seconds later, both toting carbines and settling into new positions. Drax did the movements assuredly, as though he had been fighting his whole life.

The light flashed green and the door opened with a slight hiss.

Nothing happened for a full half minutes. Caesar was about to throw out a sensor drone to explore the dark interior of the ship across the threshold of the black porting collar when a small, grey grenade sailed through the air like a marble, bouncing off the wall and landing down at Caesar’s feet, blinking. He threw himself out of the way, right as a voice called out from the hatch. “There’s no point. It’d only go off when I push the button. Now, all of you back, before I blow a hole in the side of your ship.”

Caesar spun to see a tall, pale blond man with baggy combat pants and a ragged brown coat sheltering combat armor step out of the hatch, a large pistol in each hand, individually targeting Caliber and Nickel. Behind him followed a resolute Nahktar, dressed in ad-hoc armor and hefting a T3C assault cannon, whose three barrels rolling wildly before locking on Trego, Drax, and Caesar,

Trego stopped short, as did the Nahktar. “Brother…” he said, hushed.

The Operative glanced at Trego and swore. “You’re supposed to be dead. And you,” he said to the Nahktar behind him. “Are related?”

“Great,” muttered Caesar.

There was a tense Mexican standoff of sorts, Trego and the Rahk staring slack-jawed at each other, the T3C still targeting the enemies in it’s owner’s wake, and the Operative, Rickson, and Nickel all pointing guns at each other.

The air stretched thin, and when it seemed the tension could go no further, the room exploded.

* * *
And, just when it seemed the tension could go no further, a tiny hologram appeared in Smith’s free hand. The security camera. The medbay was lain out before them in plain terms, both Torus’ and Halcyons bloodied bodies still alive but unconscious.

And, in stark detail, Bateau saw the door to the medbay open- and watched himself enter.

Bateau on screen walked quickly, glancing at Halcyon, before drawing a pistol out of his jacket and placing it against Torus’ temple.

There was a flash of light, a hazing of red, and Torus flatlined. Bateau glanced around, and quickly left.

That was it. It was as simply as that.

Bateau had killed Torus.

He looked up at the two fellow commandos, utter and genuine surprise coloring his face. “I didn’t do that. I was asleep in my room, you know that.”

“No, I don’t.” growled Sarah, moving forward. “Drop the pistol, Bateau. There’s no point struggling with thin air.”

Bateau looked down quickly, to see the wraith had utterly vanished. The computer he had been tampering with was pitch black, crackled open.

He was totally off-balance, totally misunderstanding.

And then, from the opposite end of the room, near the engineering access hatch that led to the rear escape pods, a tall man with brown hair and facial cybernetics appeared, facial scars coloring his features. A viscous rifle was clutched in his hands, crackling with green energy.

Distracted and unable to make out the face of the intruder, Sarah removed her rifle from Bateau’s face and aimed it at the new man. “Easly…?” she said, interpreting features.

“No,” Bateau said as the intruder stepped into the light. Blue eyes flashed in the dark, and an absolutely evil smile spread over the lips of the man.

“Adamson.”

The man nodded at Bateau, his smile never faltering. “Bateau. I believe the expression is ‘long time, no see’.”

Bateau spat. “I carved your eye out on Horus. You should be dead.

“How times reverse themselves, Leo,” quipped Scott Adamson, Agent of the Tyrax, before he shot Leonardo Bateau in the face.

Bateau fell to the ground, heart stopped before he hit the floor.

Sarah’s rifle cracked, but Adamson moved to quickly for the eye to track. A second later, she and Smith were on the ground as well, their hearts frozen.

Adamson looked at the bodies, grimaced, and move towards the forward docking collar.

* * *

Five Minutes Later

The Operative caught the grenade in midair and slung it back at the attacker, before it exploded in flight halfway across the room, bathing them in green light.

Cutting through the smoke like a wraith, he pressed towards the source of the attack. A kick lashed out at him from the left, he weaved out of the way. A knife sliced through the air like butter, before being knocked away. Pistols were drawn, and shoved against their opposite’s respective throats.

“Look’s it’s round two, then, Scott,” beamed the Operative.

“Looks that way, Null. It’s like Horus all over again.”

“Maybe you’ll stay dead this time.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

And, with a flash, they went for their triggers.
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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Mobius 1
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Re: Arc: Apocalypse

Post by Mobius 1 » Tue May 20, 2008 11:58 pm

I realized, back last summer, I went from chapter four to chapter six. So I inserted a sixth marker and renamed the fifth chapter. This collects chapters 5-9.

Chapter Five: Operating Agent

Aboard the ISN Kestrel
Deep Space
May 12th, 2592


Casey Elliot stared at Mccorl for a second.

“That’s a joke,” he said. “Right?”

The Grand Admiral looked up from a chair with a bitter stare and arched an eyebrow. “It’s no joke, Elliot. How much have you heard about recent events in the war?”

“Nothing in several days,” I said. “Then again, I have been helping the Raptors here,” he added, gesturing at the weary and dwindled Raptors Rogues behind him, who had just completed their mission against the expeditionary Ark fleet.

She nodded. “I though as much. The Ark began a heavy offensive right after they pulled their major attack force out of New Wales. This is the first time they’ve concentrated their efforts on disrupting our communication. We suspect that a great many fleet and planets never received the word through our Net.”

“They found weaknesses in the communications lines,” Elliot said, following along. “But they waited to exploit them until it would hurt us the most.”

Mccorl nodded. “Precisely. The first attack came on Sal Seti, at our Operations Center there. Several psions were taken, as well as the senior Fallen of the region.”

“Alive?” I asked.

She nodded. “Yes. Which was an unacceptable threat.”

The Fallen were an unaffiliated council of psions, the top fifty of the entire human race that spread themselves amongst all human territories and acted as surrogate guardians for the region they chose. The greatest of their kind, they could move planets or blink across systems. However, since the war began, they had begun to assign themselves to specific fleets- ISN or not, as sentinels for the group.

Which entered one of the more horrific parts of the Ark-ISA War- the Ark didn’t have psions. So, they took every chance they got the get their hands on one. When the Ark takes a psion alive, it wasn’t so they could treat them to ice cream. They would make you one of their own. Elliot had only seen it once- a cryokinetic off of Le Ceveric had been put out against the Ark Angel 6th mechanized division, and had frozen over the entire planet.

If the Ark managed to turn a Fallen, especially one of the more senior commanders, it would give them access to a treasury of knowledge and secrets- to say nothing of the fact that they would effectively gain, in effect, a psion of their own. A turned Fallen would be a deadly threat to the Fallen, the twelve human nations, and the galaxy itself. They never talked about it, but there was a sort of silent understanding among psions that they would never be taken alive. And an equally silent fear that they might be.

“You went after them,” Elliot guessed.

Mccorl nodded. “A major assault. New Olympus, Nantahala, Dragonside, and Excelsior. We struck at what we knew to be major Ark strongholds there to acquire intelligence to the whereabouts of the prisoners. Our people were being held in the Gateway. “ She waved a hand vaguely at the man on her right, who I identified as a General Sam Grissom, recently promoted to be chief-of-staff for the Marine Corps.

“Our intelligence indicated the presence of a good half of the highest-ranking members of the Ark not already on Zrmahk, including the three Senior Warmasters. The Court and the rest of the Fallen took the field with us.”

That made Elliot raise his brows. The Court were the administrators of the Fallen, and its leaders. They had mostly stayed out of the war proper, careful to risk their precious hides. An offensive action like a full assault from the Court, the seven oldest and strongest psions in the galaxy, had been long overdue.

“Who changed their mind?” I asked quietly.

“Deckard,” said Mccorl. “He pointed out, that with our team on Zrmahk, we could strike a decapitating blow to the leadership of the Ark. Nicholas Kerrivan, the current head of the court, had little choice but to agree.”

Even though Kerrivan was a master of defensive shields and mental telepathy didn’t mean he couldn’t kick some serious ass if he needed to. You did get to be the head of the Fallen by collecting bottle caps, and Kerrivan was generally considered to be the most powerful psion in the galaxy, barring the rogue ONI psion Halcyon.

Elliot had seen Kerrivan in action once, what he was capable of. A couple of years ago, he had pulled down a moon in the lap of an Ark battle planet and then slung a couple black holes into the surrounding Ark fleet just to stop them from advancing on New California during the First Siege.

“What happened?” asked Pierce Blake, one of the few remaining Raptors from the horrific operation earlier, quietly.

“There was no evidence of the presence of the Warmasters or their entourage, but other than that he attack went as planned.” Grissom said. “We assaulted the Ark’s stronghold and took our people back with us.”

Mccorl’s face twisted with sudden and bitter grief.

“It was a lure,” Elliot said quietly. “Wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said quietly. “We moved out and took our wounded to Atlantis.”

Atlantis was the mobile training center of the entire ISA military, but had, in recent months, the giant space station had been converted into a battlefield hospital.

“What happened?” asked Korrigan, another surviving Raptor.

“We were betrayed,” she said, her words carrying more sharp edges than a sack of broken glass. “Someone with our ranks must have reported our position to the Ark. They attacked us with twelve hours.”

“When was that?” Blake asked.

Mccorl frowned, and looked across the table at Grissom.

“Three days ago, Martian time.” Grissom provided softly.

“I’ve not slept,” Mccorl said. “Since two weeks ago, when the Ark first struck at New Wales.” She paused. “The attack was vicious. They were coming for the Court, and the Ark’s own psions managed to cut us off from escaping into a Slipstream for nearly a day. We lost thirty-eight fleets that day, in fighting all over the Lawrence system.”

They all sat there for a moment, stunned. Thirty-eight. For the love of god, between the twelve human nations, there were only two hundred forty, a hundred and sixty of that belonging to the ISA alone, the largest of the human nations. In a single day, the Ark had killed nearly 20 percent of our fighting force.

“They paid for it,” Grissom rumbled silently. “But… they seemed almost mad to die in order to kill us. Driven. I saw four singularity torpedoes detonated within two hours of each other. I saw their fleets set nukes in the paths of their trashed and burning dead hulks in order to clear fire lanes. We must have taken three of their fleets for every loss of our own.” He closed his eyes and his stony face was suddenly masked with a very real and very human grief. “They kept coming.”

“We had many wounded,” Mccorl said. “So many wounded. As soon as the Fallen were able to force a shunt in the nearest slipstream, we retreated through the paths around the Core. And we were pursued.”

Elliot sat straight up. “What?”

Grissom nodded. “The Ark fleets followed us into the slipstream,”

“But,” wondered Korrigan. “Isn’t supralight combat impossible? You can only communicate in a slipstream, not actually engage in fighting.”

Grissom nodded. “But it didn’t stop them. They’ve somehow devised a new technology to allow everybody within the vicinity to open fire. We saw them alongside us, and were totally slaughtered when they opened fire.”

“To make things worse,” said Mccorl. “They called up Deinonj.”

Elliot took a sip out a mug of ale. Deinonj. Ark fleets were bad enough, but Deinonj were a new step. These beings inhabited a totally different dimension, engaged in a totally massive war of such scale that no mind could comprehend. It took a tremendous person of power to call up these beings into our dimension, and nine times out ten, they were on the side that allied itself with the Ark. Near immortal, they were reincarnated after each death, more powerful after each time. This raised a whole subset of matters alone: the more powerful ones could control where they “respawned”, so they used it to move across the galaxy at great speeds, or just gain and gain power. They were masters of a vague menagerie of powers, from telekinesis to reality manipulation. Fortunately, their “vessels”, or connections to the real world, could be cut by a straight stabbing through their “heart”, or center of power.

“I thought only human psions could call up the Deinonj,” he said quietly.

The majority of the Deinonj in this galaxy, numbering just under five hundred, had been dumped into this universe by an accidental misfire in psionic powers during the Battle of Zeus, near the system of the same name. None had been called up since.

Mccorl nodded quietly. “You are correct.”

Elliot’s stomach lurched at the thought. Someone had told the Ark where to find the Court. Someone had blocked off their slipstream escape route so strongly that the most powerful psions in the galaxy had required a full day to open them again. And someone had begun calling up Deinonj again, in numbers, sending them to attack the Fallen and the human fleets.

With a chill, he remembered Mitchell, the team commander of the assault against the Ark backup fleet. He had betrayed them when they were closest to their objective, killing off his own men and women. The ISA is not what it was. It has rotted from the inside. It will fall. Soon.

“The fleets fell back to fight a holding action against the Ark battle groups so that our wounded could escape to safety,” Mccorl reported, her crisp voice at odds with her weary eyes. “That was went they loosed the Deinonj upon us. We lost another forty-three fleets in the first few moments of combat, and many more were wounded.” There was silence as she took a long pull from her mug of stimcaff, emptying it, then setting it down sharply on the table, anger flickering in her eyes. “If Court members Illya and Emmerson had not come to our aid with fleets from the Ark Angel, we might have all died right there. Even with them, we managed to hold them only long enough for Kerrivan to raise a shield behind us, to give us time to escape,”

A shield?” Elliot blurted. “Are you telling me that they stonewalled the entire might of the Ark navy and the Deinonj? With one shield?”

“You don’t get to be the head of the Fallen by collecting bottle caps,” Grissom said, his voice dry.”

“There were many injuries, and damaged vessel,” Mccorl continued. “But as the hospice on Atlantis was taken, we diverted our worst cases to a hospital we control in Scorpia space.” She stared at her mug for a moment. Her mouth opened, then she closed it again. She closed her eyes.

Grissom frowned at her. “The Ark knew,”

Elliot got a sick, twisting feeling in his stomach. “Oh, God.”

“The place was a fortress of Scorpia battlements. There was no way for the Ark to breach it from slipstream, and nothing short of the Ark itself could have broken through them.” Her mouth twisted, and her eyes glittered with rage and hate. “Which is why they used a Annihilation Bomb.”

“My god…” Blake said.

Beyond the sheer power of the black hole-spawning singularity torpedo ,there was only one item that dwarfed it: the Annihilation Bomb. A sheer light-year of space-time rift, effecting deleting whatever was in it radius from existence. It had only been used once before, and that was on the ISA checkpoint at North Point.

Grissom stepped in where Mccorl’s voice failed. “They deployed it against the entire system, the still-operation protective fleets, the men and women lying in the hospital, and the ships docked in the repair yards.

No one survived.”

There was dead silence.

“Counting the losses from the battle earlier today,” Mccorl said, a slow, low snarl in her voice. “During this last week, we lost one hundred and thirteen fleets. Today I ‘buried’ over a half trillion men and women.”

They sat there stunned.

In a single, vicious stroke, the Ark had very nearly destroyed the militaries of the entire human race, killing a good ten percent of its entire population.”

“They’ve crossed every line,” Mccorl said, her voice quiet and precise. “Violated every principle of war. Madness, they had gone mad.”

“They’ve committed suicide,” Grissom said silently. “The Scorpia have been quietly rebuilding themselves since their defeat two hundred years ago. Not many people know it, but they’ve become a galactic power once against, a force to be reckoned with. ONI estimated a year on the time it took for them announce their presence in the galaxy once more. They can’t ignore this. We’ve been uneasy allies with them through a secret truce made a year ago, but they’ve kept out. But they can’t possibly let this go. The Ark doesn’t have a prayer between them, us, and the Frok'tar alike.”

Mccorl shook her head. “They were taken by surprise. They aren’t prepared for a fight. And we’re holding on by our fingernails. We’ve got less than fifty fleets capable of combat. Without our communications net in order, human nations have been attacked individually and by surprise. We’ve lost word with the Fellowship and the Commonwealth of Bulter. We don’t how many humans have died.”

“And it gets better,” Grissom said. “Agents of the Ark are haunting the slipstreams. We were attacked on the way here, twice.”

“Our priority,” Mccorl said, voice crisp, “is to consolidate our force and to draw upon every available resource to restore the ISN as a fighting force. We must draw the Fallen together and make sure they are protected. We’re reorganizing our security and doing new codes from the ground up. And, frankly, we must protect the Court and the Black Fleet. Together they wield more power than any score of fleets, and it can be concentrated to deadly effect, as Kerrivan showed at Atlantis. So long as they stand ready to strike, we have enough chance to survive.”

“And more importantly,” Grissom growled, “the psion who betrayed us, whoever he or she is, fear the Court. That is why their first move was an attempt to destroy them.

Mccorl nodded. “If we can hold on until the Scorpia mobilize for action, we can recover from this attack. Which brings us to today,” Mccorl said, and studied Elliot, tired and frank. “Every other Fallen able to fight is currently engaged against the enemy or safeguarding the Court. Our lines of support and communication are tenuous. But we do know that Kerrivan made a special request for you to join the Fallen. After your exploits bailing the Raptors out of the trouble against the backup Ark fleet, we feel we need you on our side. You’ve been unaligned thus so far, but we feel this war is going to come to an end soon. We need every resource available to us. We need you, Casey.”

Elliot stood there for a second, stunned. And then he nodded.


* * *

Aboard the Alt Vertraut
In Orbit over Zrmahk, Ark Space
May 9th, 2592


The pistols went off with violent force. The Operative managed to jerk his head out the way in time, and the heavy-caliber bullet sped past by his head with only millimeters to spare.

Adamson, Agent of the Tyrax, was not so lucky. His head snapped back as the bullet tore through his lower jaw and out of his head, spraying a revolting mixture of blood and brains over the ceiling of the Alt Vertraut’s lounge. Limply, his body crumpled to the floor.

Brushing the specks of blood that now covered his jacket off, the Operative turned to be confronted with the barrels of two guns both pointing directly at his face. Caesar was three meters away, holding a T2B just out of reach. Rickson crouched at the far end of the hazy, smoke-filled room with her sniper rifle clutched tightly to her shoulder, the wide-bore plasma barrel’s mounted laser sight flickering between the Operative’s eyes.

Slowly, he raised his hands. “Peace.” He made eye contact with each of the people in the room. “Megan. Johnny. Mr. Reitman.” With a note of intrigue in his voice, he added, “Trego. I thought Leo crushed your throat a year ago.”

Trego looked up the other Nahktar in the room, Rahk, and smiled. “You’ll find I don’t even die properly.”

The Operative nodded, seemingly accepting that. His eyes fixed on Drax. “I’m afraid I don’t know you, but you look familiar.”

“Kieran Drax,” supplied the healer.

“Well, I came on board to save you from this sonuvabitch,” he said, nudging the body of Adamson with his foot. “Believe it or not, he would have taken you all out. In fact, we need to get moving, before he-“

Hands appeared out of nowhere, and the Operative was lifted off the ground. With a shout, he was thrown violently into the ceiling, carving through the metal and hitting the ceiling of the next floor, before bouncing onto the floor of that deck.

Standing where the Operative had been only moments ago, was Scott Adamson, no trace of the two gaping holes in his head inflicted only seconds ago.

Rickson glared at Drax.

“Don’t look at me,” he said, raising his hand defensively. “I can’t heal from that far.”

A dozen blossoms of gore flowered on his chest as Caesar opened up with his rifle, and he took a step back under the weight of the fire before ducking behind a bulkhead. They heard the audible clinking of the bullets as they popped out of his chest and the wounds sealed themselves. A pistol appeared around the corner and it barked something fearsome. Reitman gave out a shout and fell, taking a hit in the leg. Both Rickson and Caesar rolled to cover while Trego simply waded forward and swung and absolutely massive spin kick at the spot where Adamson was hiding, the humongous foot catching the man in the chest, going through the other side, and sending his body crashing through the wall, into the ship’s small kitchen and mess.

“That was for shoving me out the airlock, you asshole,” he said.

The Operative swung down through the ragged hole in the ceiling and landed, catlike, amongst them. “Do you have a ship ready for your operation on the planet?” he asked hurriedly.

Trego paused.

“C’mon,” said the Operative. “With that guy haunting this place, I think I’m the lesser of two evils right now.”

“Yes,” said Rickson. “We had a stealth Gento prepped that we just moved to the hangar bay, but the stealthing mechanisms just went out.”

“The code’s alpha-tango-nine-seven-theta-charlie-zero,” rattled off the Operative quickly. “Adamson remotely deactivated it on his approach.”

“How do you know that?” asked Lennart through gritted teeth as he tended to his bullet wound. “That code’s ONI eyes only.”

The Operative shrugged. “I know my way around planes.”

A whistling sound permeated the air, and they spun to see a grenade sailing towards them.

“Run!” shouted the Operative. “Now! I’ll take care of the prick!”

They paused, and then the grenade hit the ground. They bolted.

Raising his foot like a goalie, the Operative kicked the ball across the room at the kitchen, where the ‘nade had originated. It exploded just as it hit the threshold between the two rooms, bathing the area in green light and bulging out the doorways like a circle.

From the smoke and fire emerged Adamson, the front of his face sheared by shrapnel and his chest a bloody pulp from the force of Trego’s kick. As the Operative watched, the wounds and trailing strings of flesh rewove themselves, forming a contiguous human being.

“Well, Null,” he said, cocking his head. “The nature of the beast reveals himself. You can’t kill me. It’s as simple as that.”

A black blade of energy sprung from the Operative’s fist, projected from his energy sword.

“I doubt you can grow your head back once your neck has been deprived from its tender loving care, Scott.”

* * *

Rickson, Drax, Caesar, Rahk, and Trego, who was carrying Reitman, made their way down to the hangar bay, running down the red-bathed corridors and hurrying down stairs. They reach the long straight-away between the engine room and the hangar bay just when- BOOM! A tattered explosion rebounded through the ceiling and the Operative slammed through it at an oblique angle, cratering the floor three feet. Slowly, he began to pick himself up, right when- WHAM! Adamson flew down from above, slamming him further in the floor and began beating the shit out of him, fist after fist- left, right, left, right- into the Operative’s face.

“This way!” yelled Reitman pointing into the engine room. “There’s a accessway tube that leads around to the hangar’s autocannon hatch and into the hangar!”

They all took a sidestep away from the carnage and were met with a bloodchilling sight- the bodies of Bateau, Sarah, and Smith, strewn haphazardly across the floor.

Reitman swore. “Adamson must have come in through the rear escape pod.”

Rickson and D’Oro moved forward to check pulses. They both shook their heads.

“I got a good look at that rifle that Adamson lost a minute ago, the one he toted in,” stated Trego. “It was one of the ONI BioForce rifles.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em,” stated Reitman, ignoring the booming explosion one hall over. “They basically use electrical energy to stop the victim’s heart. However, a second blast from the gun, if applied within five minutes, can restart the heart with no permanent damage.

The wall of the engine room exploded inward and Adamson fell into the far wall, his rifle clutched in his hands. He tried to bring it to bear at something outside the room, presumably the Operative. However, two quick shots rang out, and Adamson convulsed twice, a pair of red beads appearing at his throat.

The Operative quickly crunched into the room, his pistol raised.

“Wait!” yelled Trego ,and he came forward, kicking Adamson’s dropped rifle into his hands and spinning to point the gun at each of the bodies on the floor in turn, placing a shot of green energy each in their chests. Spasmodic coughs followed, and the trio sat up in turn, clutching their chests. The rifle began to beep, and Trego looked down at it disgustedly. Out of juice.

“Quickly,” said the Operative, motioning with his pistol. “Get to the Gento. You’re sure you’re fully loaded up?”

Rickson nodded quickly as she helped Bateau to his feet.

Smith’s eyes fluttered open, then snapped wide as both he and Sarah grabbed for their guns and pointed them at Bateau.

Adamson began to stir.

The Operative put two more rounds into him.

“Now,” he growled, “is not the time for this. Deal with it in the Gento.”

A quick headcount.

“Hey,” he said. “Aren’t you missing someone?”

“Shit,” muttered Caesar. “Halcyon’s still in the medbay.”

“He’s in a remote gurney, right?”

Reitman nodded.

“Well, order him down.”

As Reitman started imputing orders into Comp Cent, the Operative reached for his sword, knocked away during the fight with Adamson. However, the cylinder in his hand he brought up was a smashed wreck, a hunk of burnt metal and plastic. Shit.

“Dusk,” he said. “Didn’t you have a sabre?”

Smith, over by the ladder that led into the hangar, looked up. “Yeah. It’s in the Gento.”

The Operative jerked his head. “Get it. Quickly.”

“And who are you, exactly?”

An IFF signal was activated, but on an ultralow, ultratight frequency so only those within twenty meters could receive it. Smith stiffened visibly when he saw the rank displayed: the double arrowhead insignia of an Air Force Major Marshal, roughly equivalent to a Major General: 0-8 on the scale. All that showed up on the name line was “Avalon” and the detachment read as “Operative”, a rank reserved for someone who comprised the super black ops section of ONI, completely autonomous.

“Yes, sir.”

Two more bullets plopped to floor, and Adamson twitched. The Operative raised his pistol, but the hammer clicked down. Empty. The engine room was empty. Smith had gone for the sword, but there were no weapons he had to call on. His pistol was empty, with no reloads. His second pistol had been snapped in half by Adamson, and his knife was little more that a toothpick, cast aside by earth-quaking blow three decks up. The BioForce gun was dead.

Moving quickly, he went for Adamson’s body, and supersonically stripped off his weapons at the utmost speed, as Adamson’s stirrings became greater. A security-locked Ark plasma pistol. The Operative didn’t have the safety code, so useless. A silver baton that may have been an energy sword, it was impossible to tell.

Grenades.

Score.

Adamson’s eyes snapped open.

The Operative, rearing back, seized Adamson by the lapels and hauled him bodily to the second escape pod alongside the one the Tyrax’s Agent had use as entry. This left-side pod would be his egress, the Operative decided.

Cold, bloodied hands seized his wrists, grips like iron. Bones were about to crunch.

From this position, with Adamson lodging himself against the closed hatch so he could not possibly go through if it was open, the Operative could see down into the hangar through an open access hatch. Forty feet down, he could see Smith only just heading into the Gento, running for his sabre.

Not soon enough.

He had to finished this quickly. Adamson’s strength was multiplying by the second, and soon the Operative’s wrist would be nothing but toothpicks. He checked his powerup reserves, and found he still had another hour until he could another feat like he had down earlier with the Ark attack force.

Adamson was lodged against leftward and backwards movement. Fortunately, this positioning left him vulnerable to the very position the Operative was pushing against- the right side. And on the right side of the hatch, in between it and the open right hatch, were the two open/close buttons for the escape pod entranceway hatches. They were arranged vertically, one glowing red, the other glowing green.

With a sudden reversal, the Operative yanked Adamson bodily to the right, catching him off balance. Tugging him hard, the Operative placed Adamson’s head right in front of the buttons. However, since he couldn’t move his hands, held in such by Adamson’s vicelike grip, the Operative used his head.

He brought it back and then slammed it into Adamson’s. The latter’s head slammed backwards, right into both of the bottoms.

Instantly, several things happened.

The hatch on the right, leading to Adamson’s unrevealed personal craft, slammed shut.

The one on the left, sealed tightly closed, flew open.

Adamson, dazed by the blow to the face, unconsciously loosened his grip on the Operative’s wrists.

Seizing this opportunity, the Operative whipped his wrists out of Adamson’s grip and grabbed the two grenades mounted on each of his sides. Dialing one to a thirty degree blast radius with a two second timer, the Operative lifted his right leg up and planted a ultimate kick in the middile of Adamson’ chest, shoving him into the open four-foot circle. Adamson folded over at the waist and went up to his ankles. The Operative tossed the first grenade into the hatch with Adamson, and it landed right down the open collar of his shirt, exploding with a hearty whumpth, and tossing Adamson into the open lounge of the escape pod.

The Operative dialed the other three grenades to full force and gave them fifteen second time limits, tossing them into the pod with Adamson.

“It’s time for you to leave,” he stated flatly, slamming his fist down upon the “Close and EJECT” button above the circular hatch. Instantly, the hatches to the escape pod hissed shut with a slight tremor the pod blasted away from its mother ship, getting a good kilometer out before detonating a triple explosion of green light.

The Operative slumped, just in time to see Smith throw himself into the engine room with his sword, almost slicing himself open with his attempts to get the sword to the Operative, who merely glanced up at him wearily.

“It’s a little too late, now, you know?”


Chapter 6: Fever Dream

The Operative surveyed the smoking hangar. “We’ve got thirty minutes to get off this ship. I’ve got a window that’ll only be open for three and a half hours, and we need to seize it. That means a half hour for Q&A, children.”

“And who the hell are you?” asked Rickson challenging.

The Operative doubled tapped his IFF Tag, revealing the rank of Major Marshal and the codename of Avalon. There was a stiffening across the group for those who had cybernetic access to IFF signals- that is to say, everyone accept Drlan. Nickel’s eyes narrowed as he conducted a full body scan of the man and nodded, eyes suddenly widening in recognition. The Operative threw him a quick glance, and there was silence. No one else saw the soundless exchange.

“I’m effectively taking control of this mission, Phi-Psi team. We’re leaving this boat and heading down to our LZ, a hundred miles out from Zrmahk City. I shall conduct a briefing during the trip. I’ve been told all gear is stowed, but I must ask if anyone needs anything. We cannot conduct this assault unprepared.”

Hush.

The Operative, or Avalon as the people assembled in the hangar now thought of him, nodded. “I’ve got four issues to take care of before anyone gets on that Gento.” He turned towards Halcyon. “First. Seth Halcyon’s assistance will be vital to this mission. I want all details: cause, effects, down-time. You-” he said, pointing at Smith. “-You’re trained in medical, so I think it’s safe to assume you took care of him. What’s up, Doc?”

Smith looked up from Bateau, but keeping his gun pointed at the kneeling Lieutenant Colonel. “Yes, sir. We were attacked by what we’ve concluded to be ONI Minutemen en route. A nuke was fired at us, and a structural beam dislodged in the blast nearly severed him in half. If it were not for his psionic abilities, he would have died. He’s in stable condition, but it’ll be another two weeks until the wound stitches itself up to perfect condition. He’s in a healing trance, so there’s nothing I can do medically.”

“Okay,” said the Operative. “I’m hoping issues two, three, or four could clear this up for me. Issue two is blond guy. Kieran Drax. Who the hell are you?”

Drax straightened. “I was left behind after the assault, I guess you could say. To be totally honest, I don’t remember anything before yesterday. Nothing. I’ve got knowledge, but no memory. Kinda like that one Bourne guy.”

“I’m stating the obvious here, but you look like Jak Easly, twenty years younger and blond,” said the Operative. “I’ll shoot straight. Are you a clone?”

“Naw, I’m Easly returned from the dead. I asked the Reaper to take a couple years and wrinkles and maybe a few robotic parts off and am the Colonel reincarnated to wreak havoc upon my enemies.”

“Smartass,” muttered Avalon. “I see you inherited his sarcasm.”

“I’m also a psionic healer,” stated Kieran matter-of-factly, dropping the sardonic manner.

“Bingo,” sang the Operative. “This should solve issue one.” He turned to Smith. “And why haven’t you used him yet?”

“I was ten minutes away from, before you guys showed up and trashed the place,” retorted Smith.

“Okay, do it.”

The med cart was slowly opened, pinkish air hissing out like dry ice down and spreading out over the floor of the hangar. The temperature in the hanger, already rising as the atmosphere failed rapidly, cooled exponentially as the biofreeze spread out and revealed the body.

Thin tendrils of flesh ran themselves along the wound, mending the cap in the massive severance that almost cut the man in half. Even as they watched, the flesh slowly pulsed and grew slightly as the psionic healing process went.

“You sure you can do this?” asked Avalon to Drax. The latter nodding, brushing his hands on his combat dress and waving his hands into fists, where they exploded into twin balls crackling energy. Slowly, Kieran knelt beside the open stretcher and placed his hands on the wound, moving up and down the slice, mentally feeling the extent of the wound. He closed his eyes and concentrated, and the balls of psionic energy slowly began to pulse down into Halcyon.

Halcyon convulsed as though he had been hit with electroshock paddles.

Bones began to race out of the mass of the pulped flesh, retracing themselves and growing where they had been snapped off. Muscles, tendrils of red-grey cells began to pulls themselves over the bones. The intestines wove through the stomach cavity, followed by kidneys, the spine itself. Skin came last, dispersing like stretched latex over the ribcage, meeting- converging on the point where Drax was focusing on Halcyon’s body, With a final wave, like raindrop, the skin merged and the wound looked whole again.

Drax sighed and slouched slightly. “Holy shit,” he breathed, barely able to believe it himself.

“Right,” the Operative said, looking away, evidently satisfied. “You don’t fix death, do you?”

Drax cocked his head. “That’s beyond anyone’s abilities.”

“Well, I don’t see Mack Torus anywhere. Am I right in assuming he was killed, presumably during this attack you mentioned?”

Reitman frowned. “He was supposed to be in stable condit-”

Smith cut him off. “He’s dead. Gunshot wound to the head.”

Rickson furrowed her eyebrows too, confused. “Yeah, he got shot, but you said he was in stable condition.

“He has shot during last night,” Sarah said quietly. “And we’ve got a videotape proving the killer.”

“Ah,” the Operative said, piecing it together. “That answers my next few questions.”

“Bateau killed him while we were sleeping. One shot,” said Smith. He raised a small vidchip. “Here, look for yourself.”

Halcyon’s eyes fluttered, and he sat up slowly, groaning and clutching his head. “What’d I miss? Wait- don’t tell me. I’ve got it.”

“Telepathic bastard,” someone muttered.

“It works,” Halcyon said. “Instant updates. A prevailing thought right now is that I should check Bateau’s mind to see the truth. After all, the mind can’t lie.”

“And?”

There was a long pause as Halcyon settled his gaze on Bateau. And then, slowly, he nodded. “He killed him,” he stated simply.

The Operative stepped up. “A step onto the next most obvious question: I’ve known Leo Bateau for quite a while, and he wouldn’t do this sort of thing. He’s straight, not mixed up with any of the under-the-table shit that’s been happening over the past week. Why would he do this?”

Trego spoke up. “I agree with this Avalon Operative. The Lieutenant Colonel isn’t exactly the conspiracy type.”

Bateau, for his part, had remained silent for the proceedings, frantically thinking of what he could say. He had two solid pieces of evidence leavened against him, and he didn’t exactly have an alibi. It was rather obvious to him that he had been set up, but by who?

In growing desperation, he reached for the first phrase that came to his mind, one that could potentially distract them and save his life. “Les Quatres Cavaliers,” he muttered under his breath.

Both Halcyon and Avalon, who had started conversing in masked tones, whirled unexpectedly. “What did you say?” asked Halcyon, his tone inscrutable.

Avalon’s eyes only widened and he clapped his hands. “We’ve got to get on the Dropship, all. We’ve got a three hour window for my plan, one that, when shut, will make the mission a hell of a lot more impossible.”

“What about Bateau?” asked Rickson, her gun moving back and forth.

The Operative calmly pulled a pistol from Caesar’s belt and rained a heavy blow to the back of Bateau’s head. The man fell without so much as a protest, slumping unconscious on the floor. “We don’t have time for this,” he stated. “Drug him up and tie him up, then lock him in a storage locker onboard the Gento, where he won’t get in the way. We literally don’t any time at all for this.”

* * *

The Gento flew swiftly through the Zrmahk system, approaching the dark side of the planet under an impenetrable cloak. The system had been pirated two years ago by the ISN from a stolen Ark flagship captured during the Second Siege of New California by none other than the 303rd themselves. While completely undetectable, the outlook of external sensors was extremely poor, almost bordering on making the ship double blind. A preprogrammed course was the current navigation as the entire team gathered around Avalon and a small holoprojector, which was currently showing the area around the Conclave in every direction for two hundred klicks.

Avalon highlighted the main bunker itself. “This, as you all can see, is the home of our friends the Conclave. Quintuple sandwiched shielding with strong enough to stop all but a planet buster. Aerial and internal defense system could stop a billion men. Surveillance is everywhere. There’s no way in, and as you can see, the main entrance and exit looks like someone is just farming turrets and SpecOps security. It’s pretty much impenetrable.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some convenient ways out if the bunker is breeched. As you can see,” he said, highlighting several lines leading away from the bunker for several hundred kilometers. “There are fifteen rapid transit escape tunnels leading to camouflaged hangars. The second the vast security system thinks the Bunker is breeched, it moves the Conclave into each of the pods and shoots them down the tunnels to the dispersed hangars. Boom, transit time is less than thirty seconds.

Now, here’s where we can stick our hammer and chisel,” Avalon highlighted a small facility about fifty klicks from the Bunker. “The security system is mostly automated, but there is a small computer tech crew that oversights the entire thing. They authorize the escape alert, and operate the transit arrangement. I’ve got the kicker, right here-“

He lifted a small disk and wiggled it in the light from a overhead glow panel. “A little friend prepped this from me. It’s one hell of a virus. This’ll get us what we want. Basically, this’ll behead the Conclave. Step one, it hits the general alert for the Conclave, claiming the compound has been breeched. The group moves into the tunnel and sets off. The virus then closes the shutters to the hangars in front of the pods and cuts the brakes. The pods hit the shutters at a good forty thousand miles an hour. Nice and clean.”

Drax spoke up. “Why don’t they just head out the front entrance instead of hitting the pods?”

Trego stepped in. “The Frok'tar fleet overhead takes care of that. They’re not going to use planet busters, or they would used them already, which means the Conclave is untouchable inside the bunker. However, once they exit, they’re open to assault. They can’t extend the shields for bunker to cover the escape, so their only way out is through the bunkers,” he said, praising the simplicity of the plan.

Sarah pointed at the security facility, which was situated a mile underground. “Won’t the Conclave bunker see through the alert?”

“-Unless it’s coming from the security building, they have no reason to suspect it,” said Caesar.

“How heavily defended is the security bunker?” asked Nickel as he loaded an autocannon.

“About a hundred and fifty Nahktars,” replied the Operative nonchalantly as he picked up a standard MX pistol off a nearby gun rack and checked the chamber. “It’s a full garrison.”

“How do we stop a distress signal from the facility before we take control of the computer room…” Rickson checked the map. “-at the bottom of the bunker?”

“The Gento has a pretty heavy duty ECM package in coupling with the cloak,” said Reitman, pointing out a bulky pillar near the rear of the Gento’s cargo hold. “But that doesn’t cover land lines.”

The Operative waved his hand. “I’ve got another program for that,” he supplied, as Drlan handed him another data chip. “This’ll be plugged at the above-ground elevator, shutting down external communication to the facility. They won’t even known we’re coming. Besides, I doubt the Gento’s ECM package could stop a priority comm signal from an Ark transponder. No way.”

There were a few minutes of silence as they all loaded their weapons and prepped their gear. Then Drax spoke up. “I think we’ve hit our turn with the questions- where the hell did you come from? What have you been doing before we got here?”

Avalon shrugged. “I’ve been waiting for you guys to show up, mostly. Oh, and I killed a Tyrax.”

“What-?”

“He dropped an Ark destroyer on top of it in the middle of the city,” provided Drlan.

“Yeah. I was out of nukes,” added Avalon.

“Nukes-”

“And I destroyed twenty tanks, three gunships, and an entire platoon of Nahk Commandos.”

“Jesus,” muttered Rickson.

“-This is standard. He destroys stuff,” interjected Drlan.

“Destroyed anything since then?” asked Reitman.

“No, but I seriously am thinking about it,” said the Operative. He racked the slide on the MX. “Ready to do some damage?”

* * *

The security facility sat as what was basically a small cargo elevator protruding in the outskirts of the industrial sector of Zrmahk city. A mile drop went to the bunker, which consisted of a huge cargo and garrison room and a small computer center overlooking banks of servers.

In the massive garrison room, about a hundred and fifty Nahktar commandos were all loading guns and activating their vehicles. It was a scene of utter chaos.

Xarek Koro Rahkt ran into the room, frantically loading a huge plasma cannon.

“Our comm lines were just cut!” shouted one of the tech behind him as Koro flipped the cannon around.

And then, with a silent whoosh the doors of the elevator shaft into the facility slid open, revealing eight shapes.

Chapter 7: Moment of Glory

The Operative of Avalon.

Trego.

Dusk.

Longbow.

Caesar.

Drax.

Caliber.

Nickel.

All armed to the teeth, positively dripping with guns and blades and grenades.

The world entered slow motion.

The assault squad burst into action.

The Operative was already taking a running step forward, whipping two throwing knives underhanded up into the foreheads of a pairs of Nahktars, who held, blood splattering from their skulls. His long coat flapped in the outburst of wind from the elevator.

Longbow and Caliber both fell to a knee, each situated on the end of the line, mirror images. Twins shots rang out and two more Nahktars, in the far corners of the room fell in twin geysers of white blood as they tried to bring their portable manned turrets on line.

Caesar, Dusk, and Drax all leveled rifles. Long, short, it didn’t matter. Bullets rang out in the cavernous room, killing Nahktars at least twice their height.

Nickel was standing behind the Operative and entered a heavy firing stance, bring forth a massive gatling gun. The barrels began to whir

A huge mech lumbered out of the Ark ranks, short and green, its ball-shaped body cockpit heaved a right arm that must have been twenty feet long, tipped with a massive axe at the onrushing Operative.

The blade sailed through the air.

But the Operative was already in between the attacj abd the body. Drawing two MX pistols from his shoulder holsters, he placed one foot on the circular cockpit and then another, backflipped in midair- his pistols went out, targeting Nahks on either side.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

Nahktars went down in sprays of blood. The mech spun, and leavened its left arm, which mounted a huge acid cannon at the group.

Drax slid forward on his knees and through three small, flat silver disks. They flew through the air and detonated with strong boings, emitting geodesic shield bubbles in midair, protecting the group as the acid bubbled and splashed against the energy domes.

Drax recalled the disks to his waiting palms with a flick of his wrist, twirling the still active shields to splash an enemy group on the right with the floating acid, boiling them alive. Caesar ran forward and leapfrogged Drax, spraying his huge rifle one-handed as he chucked a pair of grenades, forward, at the Operative, who had just landed in a crouch facing the mech, dropping his empty magazine out of his two MXs, clattering to the floor the same time he touched it. Seeing the grenades, he took a step back and placed a foot at the axe rushing at two hundred miles an hour at his back, stepping on the flat part of the axe!!

Using the axe as a platform, he hopped up again and swung his left foot around in a massive butterfly kick, hitting the grenades- one, two- into different sides of the room, where they exploded with deadly force, throwing Nahktars far and wide into the air.

Precise sniper fire whipped over his shoulders as the markswomen gave Trego cover for his assault. Running forward and simply leaping high over the mech and the Operative, he drew a pair of massive sword from his hip scabbards and with four swings, killed ten commandos. Flipping in midair and landing upside-down on one hand, he swung both legs in full circle, literally kicking the heads off of three more Nahktars as they rushed forward, firing with their rifles. The severed heads sailed across the room like soccer balls, bouncing off their comrades.

The mech turned to meet him, shoving its axe out at what seemed to be lightspeed, going for the jugular. Trego ducked underneath the speeding axe arm as it flew overhead, missing him by millimeters and impaling some unlucky commando behind Trego. Reaching up with both his blades, Trego brought them up with a scissor-like motion, chomping off the arm at one of its many elbow joints, sending it flopping heavily across the metal deck of the cavern.

Nickel began to walk forward into the room, spraying his cannon in everywhich direction, ignoring the plasma bolts harmlessly licking his external skin shell.

Caesar and Dusk moved quickly now, reloading in opposite intervals, moving through the sea of Nahktars that no one really considered huge. A normal grunt would have been terrified of seeing a twelve-foot alien bent on killing you for the first time, but these men merely laughed at the thought and went for the headshot, aiming almost vertical. Drax on his part, were using two of the shield disks as energy-like razors in midair, scything through legs and arms and who knew what else as he threw the third disk back to provide cover for Longbow and Caliber as they rained precise, marked hell upon the far end of the room.

The Operative, at this time, landed from his second jump next to the first Nahktar to die in the assault, who had a large knife sticking out of his head. Looking up to see another monstrous Nahktar rushing forward, forgoing the actual purpose of his rifle in utter rage to simply smash the Operative into the deck with it. Dodging the first blow lithely, he plucked one blade from the dead corpse nearby and flung it into the Nahktar’s knee joint, causing it to stumble. Keeping low and moving in wide, sweeping leg movements across the floor, he reached the other knife and chucked it into the Nahktar’s face some three meters up before barely managing to roll out of the way of the crashing body.

Wailing madly, the mech firing another blob of Acid into the ceiling above Trego, causing it to melt and send gallons of molten slag dripping down on him. Trego saw the falling globs and punted a still-living Nahktar up above him, holding him like one would a towel against the rain, to absorb the falling droplets. The commando screamed the entire time. As the deadly precipitation was quenched, Trego flung the body at the group of Nahktars laying down fire behind a overturned hovercart, who yelped as the corpse, soaked in acid, slapped wetly into tem, melting off the fronts of their faces.

Up now, the Operative slotted two new clips into his MXs and began wading through the crowd of bodies and those who wished to be, calmly dispatching anybody who got in his way his dispassionate headshots, splattering blood and bone and brains everywhere. Nahktars fell right and left, their shots going wide.

Thirty seconds had passed, and Team Phi-Psi had killed more than seventy Nahktars.

“Call down Halcyon!” yelled the Operative over his radio. “It’s time!”

The psion had stayed up aboveground with Reitman and Drlan, acting as a reinforcement/trump card if things went sour. But now, speed was of the essence.

No one replied.

“Halcyon!” yelled the Operative again, yanking the pin out of a grenade and shoving the whole thing into the snarling mouth a Nahktar before shooting him in the gut, sending him flying back into a fuel truck. The explosion rocked the bunker.

“Reitman here!” came a voice, finally. “Halcyon’s gone. I mean, he just flat out disappeared. One second, there, the next second gone!”

“What the fuck are you talking about!?” yelled Caesar, climbing up into an abandoned turret and using its guard as a shield against downfalling plasma bolts as he rained down his own hellfire on the Nahktars around him. Suddenly, a bolt caught him in the shoulder, throwing him to the ground. His armor plate had stopped most of the damage, but he still landed heavily, the breath knocked out of him.

Koro, at the other end of the room, lowered his rifle and began motioning for his troops to fall back as the massive blast doors leading to the comp room began to grind shut.

The mech, flailing in the middle of the room, finally balanced itself out and brought its Acid blaster to bear on the Operative once again. Seeing this, he bounded behind a parked Juet’lak fighter, which was positively dripping with missiles, four on each wing. The Juet’lak, fragile by spacegoing standards, easily withstood the onslaught of acid on its nose, where its mediocre armor was the heaviest.

Then, without warning, the rear grille of the spaceplane, inches from the Operative’s head, glowed a lively purple, indicating activation. The Operative had only milliseconds to dive out of the way before the fighter’s Antigrav came online, blasting the area where he had been crouching only moments before with enough Antigrav to pulse the fighter ten feet into the air, easily moving around in the twenty-meter ceiling of room.

The Juet’lak spun in midair and aimed its pug-like nose down at the Operative, stubby forward-swept wings looking like two open arms.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” muttered the Operative as a laser lit up his chest, emitted from the right bottom corner of the body.

He rolled forward, heading around the fighter to the left as a deadly shower of plasma hit the ground around him, kicking up globules of metal all over the place. Coming out of his roll, he barely had time to dodge right when the sparking stump of where the mech’s arm had been cut off slammed down to his left, denting the floor.

Nickel, Dusk and Caesar were on it in an instant. Slicing forward, they concentrated their fire on the short legs of the mech, aiming for the hydraulic joints. One leg shorted and gave out, dumping the mech onto an angle. Caliber and Longbow followed shortly afterwards.

“Acid line one,” stated Longbow.

“Right. Targeting acid line two,” announced Caliber.

Two shots rang out and the mech reeled backward, the long hoses leading to its acid launcher severed by a single ramjet bullet and a single DC-5 plasma bolt. Acid sloshed everywhere, but Trego moved quickly in, snatching up the exposed Operative while Drax covered their escape with roving energy shields which absorbed the acid handily. Spinning, he maneuvered the shields to slice into the thick armor of the rounded cockpit, cutting off the slightly flattened top portion, which served as the sensor surface for the pilot. The metal sliver flew back, landing on a hapless pair of Nahktars with a resounding thud, revealing the pilot inside.

Blam.

Blam.

Two shots, one each from the snipers in the elevator and the mech pilot’s brains painted the side of the hovering Juet’lak, who rotated like a Tyrannosaurus disturbed from its meal to look down upon the snipers.

A missile ignited and streaked towards their position.

There was no way the shield could absorb such a blow.

Drawing a concussion grenade from his belt, he dialed it to his lowest power and tossed it with all his might.

It was a race between the ‘nade and the missile.

The grenade won.

It sailed behind the two snipers, detonating in an instant and tossing them lightly forward, out of the elevator and past the onrushing missile, which slammed epically into the fall wall of the elevator with a crack of light and sound and fire.

The Juet’lak spun before the missile hit, already seeking its next target. It found Nickel.

Point defense grade shells rained down upon the Juet-lak for all of one seconds from a range of ten meters. Armor flayed, but at this range, he didn’t need to aim. Another missile spoke a lethal gospel, detonating under Nickel’s feet and flinging him to the far corner of the room.

“Trego!” shouted the Operative. “Fastball special!!”

“You got it!” yelled Trego back. Still holding the Operative by the back of his jacket, he took three complete circles before throwing the Operative like a baseball right at the Juet’lak!!

The Operative bounced lightly off the cockpit, slightly knocking the plane, before scrabbling at the left wing and gaining a purchase. The plane, spun, trying to shake him off, before spinning upside-down in juking vigorously.

Sniper rifles cracked. The right wing-tip plasma cannon burst into flames, sending the fighter’s automatic guidance system to right itself.

Koro, at the far end of the room, shouldered his plasma cannon and took a bead on the Operative’s weaving head.

Seeing this, the Operative did the only thing he could- he kicked his foot viciously at a missile hardpoint mounted underneath the wing, hitting the conjunction that clipped the missile in place. The sleek explosive quickly dropped down from the fighter, igniting in midair as the pilot noticed the sudden action and took the opportunity to target the missile on Trego, who was standing in between the fighter and Koro. The missile ignited and shot off in mid-air, streaking towards its target.

Trego, seeing this, actually rushed towards the missile, sliding on his knees and holding his blade horizontally above his head. The missile came in hard, aiming for the spot he had just vacated, but bounced heavily off of the blade, sending Trego crumpling to the floor.

It was three meters from activating the warhead. At this distance, only ten meters from the fighter, the explosive charge wasn’t actually triggered.

And on its new trajectory, it raced up the ramp leading the Koro with speed unheard of in such a tiny room, by standard of space combat.

The missile plowed into Koro, folding him over at the stomach and slamming him into the closing blast doors leading down to the comp room with a deafening shudder. It was difficult to tell if he was actually cut in half by the impact before the warhead detonated, but it truly was clear that the doors wouldn’t close, ever.

The fighter, belching smoke from its right wingtip, ascended rapidly towards the catwalk laced ceiling, hoping to scrape the Operative off before he could do any damage.

Locating the juncture between the wing and the body, the Operative moved quickly, drawing his pistols and placing them against the vertex of the angle, pulling the triggers rhythmically, sending .45 calibers slugs slicing through control lines.

The Juet’lak went into a tail spin.

The Operative didn’t bother to hold on this time. Positioning himself, he pushed off the fighter and leapt into the air, grabbing a hold of the catwalk above as the fighter spiraled into a nearby wall, exploding into a hailstorm of shrapnel that rained down upon the surviving Nahktars.

Letting go of his purchase and dropping easily to the floor fifteen meters to the floor the Operative saw three Nahktars, moving quickly through the wreckage towards him, rifles up and firing.

The first Nahktar stumbled briefly, its kneecap torn out by a stitching of rifle slugs, moving up towards it face, squishing it by a grape as Smith and Caesar moved in, firing their rifles.

The Operative clicked the clip release button on his MX and spun in full circle, pointing the butt of the pistol at the second Nahktar- the clip flew out at mach speed, slamming into the soldier’s head and knocking him back. The brief backwards motion was further compounded as a much deadlier sniper bullets threw the Nahktar back into a burning Jet Hawk hovertank.

The final Nahktar, seeing his companions cut down easily before his eyes- one seemingly by an empty magazine, he hesitated in going for the kill shot.

Quickly and violently, he was splattered against the floor as Drax flattened him with a forcefield out of nowhere.

And like that, it was over. Brutal and efficient, the battle had lasted not even three minutes.

“Well,” said the Operative, sliding a new cassette into his MX, “Now the real fun begins. Let’s get that computer room cleared out and finish this once and for all.”


Chapter Eight: Revelations

The Operative quickly moved into the security oversight room, drawing the datadisk from a knapsack. The room was sleek in the extreme, gleaming silver chrome and neon purple coolant lines running parallel horizontally across the servers arrayed in a semicircle, attached to the far wall. Mounted of the servers were at least fourteen flatscreens, all displaying various power levels and status alerts. In the center of the room, situated in the center of a circle of computer consoles, were several holoprojections- one showing the overall Zrmahk system, working down to the planet itself, then the area surrounding the bunker, including the security complex, and then the bunker itself. The projections were all rotating slowly and displayed many colored tags denoting personnel, for example the “T” tag about ten miles out from the security bunker.

“This, should, according to my friend,” muttered the Operative as he sat in an enormous gelmold chair, designated for Nahktars, but easily conforming to the curves of his body. He waved a hand of a liquid holo display, gently maneuvering the dis tray icon into view and tapping it tree times. “This should be plop and play.”

A purple blister on the console flowed back to reveal an interface, into which the Operative dropped the disk. The disk lit up a faint green a second later and the liquid metal skin flowed back to cover the interface.

The rest of Team Phi-Psi took up covering positions inside and outside of the server room, stunning unarmed technicians. Drax went over to check on Nickel, who sat, smoking and offline, against the right wall, the skin boiled off his chest. Smith gave D’Oro a temporary shot of shockfreeze to cover for the burns on his arm from the plasma bolt.

Trego stood over the Operative’s shoulder. “Not many people know about the Aduro formula. I’d be correct in assuming you’re ex-intel?”

“That and a few other thing,” replied the Operative as his fingers flew over the liquid interface, guiding commands through the currents of the security network until he situated three blinking cursors onto the one representing the bunker.

“General alarm situating… now,” he stated flatly as he tapped the bunker’s icon.

All across the holoprojection of the bunker, orange flashes came up at blast doors and turret bulbs went active. Camera views flashed up on the flatscreens, showing the massive command center in the bowels of the bunker explode into motion as the Conclave began to move towards the escape pods, yelling at security personnel every step of the way, who, in turn, herded the startled Conclave professionally and tersely.

“We can allot five minutes for them to head to the pods,” supplied the Operative, sitting back.

* * *

Drlan watched nervously out of a viewport on the cloaked Gento, which sat some three hundred meters from the elevator leading to the security facility on the industrial outskirts of Zrmahk City. Reitman sat in the cockpit, trying to raise Halcyon on the radio. Frustrated, he set the commlink down and rubbed his temples. “I can’t get him at all. He just stepped out of the ship… and blinked away. No trace.”

Drlan nodded silently and looked back out the window. And then his eyes widened as he saw a small three-foot thin cylinder rocketing towards them, curving in from a shimmering shape floating the orange-red sunset.

“Reitman! “ he screamed. “Out! Now!”

“Wha-” spluttered Reitman until he saw the ship’s TAC map, which showed an unregistered item streaking towards them. A second later, the missile alert in cockpit shrilled.

Reitman flew from his chair and hit the open button for the side hatch, which slammed up with such force that the Gento rocked on its legs. Drlan was not short behind.

He paused “Bateau! What about him?”

“What about him,” shouted Reitman back, slamming the side cargo bay release button on a nearby wall, sending the combat supply crates, one of which contained Bateau, tumbling to the ground some ten meters away.

The two didn’t even bother with the ramp, jumping two meters to the ground below, rolling, and running as fast as they could from Gento. Less than two seconds later, the missile streaked in like a thunderbolt thrown by Zeus, hitting the cloaked Gento Dropship amidships and detonating, throwing the flaming hulk of the ship onto its side before the fusion reactors cooked off, sending a hundred-foot high pillar of flame streaking into the twilight sky.

The pair of fleeing men were thrown forward by the concussive blast wave as the Dropship blew, landing on their backs.

“What the hell was that?” yelled Reitman.

“The Tyrax has arrived,” answered Drlan quietly as the shimmering shape in the sky began to land.

* * *

The pods shot off inside the tunnels at speed upwards of a thousand miles an hour, streaking down the tunnels much like the missile that had just hit, unknown to Team Phi-Psi, the Gento above.

“Thirty seconds,” stated the Operative, standing up from console. Unnoticed by anybody in the room, he unslotted his pistols from their shoulder holsters.

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.”

“So,” said D’Oro coming over, “They hit the hatches and it’s all over?”

“Ten,”

“Five,”

The blinking cursors representing the escape pods hit the end of the tunnels, and continued right on into the hangar bays.

The doors had not closed.


The Operative raised his guns. “Not qui-”

He felt the cool muzzle of a sniper rifle against his head. “-Quite” finished Sarah for him. “You sunuvabitch, you didn’t close the gates.”

Everyone in the security froze.

“The Conclave,” said Drax slowly, seeking confirmation, “Is still alive?”

“Yessir,” said Trego, grabbing his own rifle off of a nearby console. “He tricked us.”

The shot came with startling intensity. The Operative’s knee blew out in a haze of white blood. Startled, he fell onto his good knee, looking up at Sarah.

“We…” he said, punching out the words through gritted teeth as he felt the automated endorphin dispensers in his bloodstream smooth over the pain. “…We need them,”

“What? Why?”

“Because,” the Operative said, pointing up at the holograms. “The Tyrax was going to do it for us. He was going to bring the rain.”

They all looked up at the tacmap, which showed the arrowhead formation of twelve Juet’lak fighters, wings laden with bombs, heading straight-up to the Conclave’s bunker.

“I was going to be their umbrella,” he said.

The elevator at the far end of the atrium dinged.

Hell broke out.

Grenades sailed into the room, smacking off walls and exploding in hazes of blue light, flinging corpses and machinery in all directions. Team Phi-Psi ducked into the computer room, taking up firing positions at their unseen enemies, moving in the haze. It had happened so suddenly, none of them noticed the Operative slip into the center of the complex.

The outgoing fire from the elevator suddenly halted, and the Phi-Psi quickly followed suit. The haze slowly began to dissipate, revealing three figures at the far side of the room, in the elevator shaft.

The Tyrax, in his current armor shell, two and half meters and gunmetal black, a legion’s worth of weapons smoking on his exoskeleton.

Scott Adamson, fully healed, brandishing a bolter rifle.

And Seth Halcyon, on the right, a glowing energy sword emitted from one hand, a slight smirk on his face.

The Operative stood in the open, between the two opposing forces, feeling the beads of several weapons whipping over his head.

“Zero hour,” he breathed.

“So,” said the Tyrax, his deep, electronic voice bemused, it seems we have come to the denouement. “Wherein all is revealed.” He glanced at the holograms behind Team Phi-Psi. “So you did manage to scramble the Conclave. Very clever, boy,” he spoke to the Operative. “It seems I was too late.”

Adamson sneered. “You cunts never knew what was happening, did you? You just wiped out the only oversight that could have stopped the bomber squadron from wiping out the Conclave. But then Null, here-” he jerked his head at the Operative. Halcyon’s eyes widenened. “-warned the bunker.”

“Don’t you realize?” rumbled the Tyrax. “You insects are the fall men. With the Conclave out of the way, nothing can keep me from crushing all in my way. I made a deal with one of your kind. Deckard. I agreed to spare your pathetic species in return for the destruction of those who think they hold my leash. Seth, here-” he stated, indicating Halcyon. “Was Deckard’s inside man.”

“You cocksucker,” groaned Smith.

“And it was a good thing I was along, too,” snarled Halcyon. “I would have never caught this fuck’s inside man prepping the virus,” he waved his saber at the Operative.

The realization hit them all like a ton of bricks.

“Torus was your contact,” said Rickson. “He made you the virus to get into the defense net. He’s the only one good enough.”

“Yes,” whispered the Operative, his first words in this exchange.

“I had to stop the virus from exchanging hands,” relayed Halcyon. “And I needed a fall man. I had the perfect set-up. The faked wound to draw away suspicion- no one would ever suspect a man severed in half.”

Trego frowned. “You took control of Bateau.”

Halcyon grinned. “I’m quite proud of my handiwork. It was rather easy to take control of his body after he had gone to sleep. The taped footage only served to compound his guilt as I channeled the order to shoot Mack in the forehead.”

“But I stashed away Nickel for that eventuality,” interjected the Operative. He retrieved the virus from the Hack and passed it over to me during the fight with Scott.”

“That you did,” allowed Adamson. “You locked away Bateau and allowed his real killer to rendezvous with us.”

“The entire Minutemen attack was a stage,” said Halcyon. “They needed to drop off Drax, as he is a cog in another, separate, and just as far-reaching conspiracy.”

Gun sights reoriented.

“I thoroughly enjoy the distrust that ripples through your ranks,” said the Tyrax with electronic glee. “You needn’t worry, he knows nothing about his progenitors, and his reviving of Halcyon was not planned. He is clean.

I have planned this coup for a painstaking time, but it appears I was too lake to prevent you from alerting Kehksol. Still, there is nothing that can stand in my way now. I may still let your race live, but my current mood calls for its destruction.”

Halcyon circled on the Tyrax. “Now wait one min-” He raised a hand.

“What?” sneered the Tyrax. “No energy? There is no psi to used in this room when I have the nullifier active, Mr. Halcyon. Rest assured I have faith in your ability to kill with your blade and the energy within your body. Call it a preventive safety net, but I need to assure loyalty from you and your employer until the end.”

He turned back to the pinned humans. “Trego, I must say, it’s an absolute pleasure abusing your position. I’m taken a back that, with all your black ops background, you never entertained similar thoughts.”

“I take care not to bike the hand that feeds me,” shot back Trego.

“Well, it matters naught. In a day’s time, this war will be over and I shall be in total control. You humans are so easy to play against each other. If that piddly Bateau was any indication, from where I’m standing, you are doomed.”

A slight slithering came from behind the Tyrax. Seconds later, a pair of streaking bolts took the cyborg in the back, bowling him over and some twenty meters forward. The Operative managed to leap out of the way just in time for the smoking exoskeleton to crash, stunned, where he had been standing moments before. Adamson whirled, gun up, and Halcyon brought his saber to bear.

Dangling from a zipline in the elevator shaft, a colossal Jackhammer missile launcher in each hand, Leo J. Bateau reoriented his launchers on either of the Tyrax’s men.

“Then stand over there. That’s Lieutenant Colonel Bateau to you, motherfuckers.”




Chapter 9: Showdown With the Tyrax, Part I

The Tyrax, its exoskeleton groaning, picked itself up from the crater it had dented in the ground, propping himself up with one hand.

“You’ll pay for that,” he hissed.

Bateau’s eyes twinkled. “Oh, but I already have. You were right about today yielding victory: at the end of today, you shall fall,”

“Then, perhaps it is time for correction on that thought,” growled the Tyrax, hands slotting forth massive bore energy cannons and rocket launchers.

Bateau unslung a backpack from his shoulders. In the stark light of the ceiling glowpanels, they all saw it to be a small green box. “Indeed. I doubt it will take less than an hour.”

He threw the box into the air. It sped through the sky, and landed in the Operative’s waiting hands.

Instantly, a plasma sword was drawn from the box as was a three-foot gatling carbine. Black fire streamed from the emitter as the Operative brought his rifle to bear on the Tyrax. “Your first mistake was allowing me to live,”

“A mistake that shall be rectified shortly,” said Halcyon

“You want a piece of me?” shot back the Operative.

Halcyon kicked a twisted hunk of metal into the air and sliced through it with his energy sword, batting the two pieces at the Operative. “No.”

“I want two.”

The Tyrax slung himself to the side as another pair of rockets flew past, inches away, bringing his cannons to bear upon the Phi-Psi brigade. Muzzles blared, and hulks of slag were thrown into the air as an entire wall was blown inward. A shimmering shield bubble charged out in response, shoving smoke and debris bluntly aside as the two snipers slid out on their knees, twins shots catching Adamson in each of his shoulders, throwing him backwards as he fired his rifle in a stream at Bateau, who was backflipping into the room, unclipping from his belay line as he fell, and landing in a crouch, a scything blade of Halcyon’s sweeping millimeters over his head. He swept the blunt end of his Jackhammer at Halcyon knees. The psion twisted and flipped over Bateau balde coming in at pinpoint-perfect striking speed at graze Bateau’s shoulder. Leo brought his other launcher around and aimed it point-blank at Halcyon, hitting the firing stud. Halcyon managed to parry the projectile, deflecting the rocket into the ceiling, but the sheer brute force of the blast propelled him thirty meters backwards.

Adamson was up in a second, a ramjet bullets flying out his shoulder. Swinging his rifle like bat, he caught the slug and sent it flying at supersonic speeds back at its owner. Sarah barely managed to duck as the slug soared under her armpit, embedding itself in a wall.

The Tyrax took a begrudging step backwards under the weight of the fire directed from the human’s broken barricade, and flicked his wrist outwards- a massive chain whip, barbed and hooked and tridented and everything else at the end flew towards Trego, who stood a meter taller than his human comrades. Trego managed to barely sidestep the end of the whip, but the Tyrax made a slashing motion with his wrist, the action reverberating down the chain, which flew to the left, catching Trego across the chest and tossing him into a far wall.

Caliber and Longbow were up from their sliding entries and spinning, back against back, to a standing position, fire hammering Adamson back as the Agent sprayed the area with his bolter rifle like a minigun, micro rail-fed rockets thudding in every which direction, adding chaos to the unfolding scene.

The Operative came forward, slinging his blade around his head, to have it caught midswing by a recovered Halcyon, sending an explosion of sparks in every direction.
Avalon slid his blade up to and then off of the sharpened tip of Halcyon’s saber, sliding off the flank of the smoking mech and sending globules of molten metal flickering at Halcyon, who ducked the barrage with a wide swipe of his sword, turning the parry into a pincer stab at the Operative’s neck. Energy singed skin by the distance of inches as the Operative caught the thrust, holding it for a second before he planted his boot in Halcyon’s face at terminal velocity, breaking the man’s nose and sending him stumbling backwards in an explosion of blood.

The Tyrax deflected another rocket from Bateau with his wildly flying whip, before somersaulting at least thirty meters towards the direction of the barricade, launching himself into the air so that his arc carried him, upside down and backward to land facing the group, well inside the computer room. Trego, the only one capable of direct engagement, flipped forward, landing on his hands and spinning his legs like deadly helicopter rotors at the Tyrax’s head, who ducked and struck outward at Trego’s hand with the foot at suddenly slotted forth two vicious toe blade. Trego effortlessly push himself off the floor and over the Tyrax, bounding off two intersecting walls and behind the cyborg, who whirled to meet him. Blades were drawn and slotted forth, respectively, and the two giants met it a clash of metal and flesh, tumbling out of the room as its inhabitants scrambled for cover while still trying to lay down fire on the three hostiles.

Adamson stoop wide, sweeping steps forward to meet the oncoming sniper halfway as the two circled past on either side. Bullets and plasma rifles flared, but none struck their marks on the two women, protected as they were by Drax’s roving energy bubbles. Bullets seemed to be absorbed by Adamson, who by now shrugged off the wounds as if they were nothing, high on the Aduro formula as he was. His armored boots narrowed to points as he half-skidded, half-skated across the wreckage-strewn floor, kicking up debris and sparks and he took a broad, low, swift one-eighty to bring his bolter back on the two snipers, who were now behind him. However, sighting straight down the room towards Adamson was Bateau, his sights in between the two makeshift markers the women provided. A rocket flared out and instantly caught Adamson on his right side, blowing out chunks of flesh and sending him spinning to the floor even as the bones, organs, and muscles began to retrace themselves.

The roving swordfight between the Operative and Halcyon moved quickly towards the back of the room, from which scurried Smith, Drax, and Caesar, firing up at the Tyrax while simultaneously trying not to hit Trego, who the Tyrax flipped over his back and sent rolling to the floor behind him. Trego instantly recovered on his feet, and stood two, deep, low, lunging steps forward to meet the Tyrax. The Operative pushed Halcyon back with his sword and a spinning hook kick, into a waist-high, jagged, blown-out wall. Standing in profile, he raised the absolutely massive K-5 gatling carbine effortlessly in one hand at Halcyon and pulled the trigger, sending the six barrels spinning on the chaingun. 15mm slugs thumped out at a massive rate at the off-beat Halcyon, who fell to his knees and brought his sword up, obliterating the slug on his blades. The sheer kinetic energy of the onslaught was held off by the psionically-boosted strength of Halcyon, who had all his power cooped up inside of him, unable to unleash it due to the Tyrax’s nullifier. Bullets began to hit at oblique angles, coming back at the Operative. Simply letting his legs go limp underneath him, the Operative swung his blade in a wide arc while still aiming his rifle in the other hand, swiping them just barely across Halcyon’s exposed knees, cutting away two inches of kneeplates and a modicum of flesh. Halcyon recoiled, coming to a standing position and slashing at the askew chaingun. The Operative responded the only way he could- he clocked Halcyon clean across the face the side of the gun, the star-point protrusions that were the spinning barrels bruising cheeks, shattering bones and tossing the hapless man up a full two meters into the hair before he land, catlike, nursing the blackened side of his face.

“You’ll pay for that,” he growled.

“It was prepaid,” tossed the Operative.

They both came forward in a clash of slashing blades, whirring barrels and whizzing bullets.

Smith and Caesar moved around the Tyrax, aiming fire up the underside of its chest, scrambling out of the control room. Drax moved slower, manipulating shields with electronic gauntlets mounted on his hands. He didn’t see the reformed Adamson come up beneath him, grabbing a hold of the wrist and attempting an arm bar. Drax expertly twisted away, but one of the gauntlets stayed in Adamson’s possession. Across the room, Rickson’s shield flickered out, and she scrambled for cover beside Sarah. Drax, unable to unsling his rifle and bring it to bear, simply let the strap slip and the rifle to clatter to the floor as he went for his pistol in a hip holster, firing from down low, catching Adamson underneath the chin. Once, twice the bullets hit, exiting out through the right cheek, before Adamson manipulated the almost redundant shield in place, sending the slugs off in all directions. The clip ran empty, so Drax went for resort two- reaching down to his belt, he tossed a grenade at Adamson’s feet before rolling behind the wreckage of the mech.

The grenade went off with terrifying force, tossing Adamson high into the air like a rag doll as Drax calmly reloaded his pistols and retrieved his rifle. He emerged from behind his cover right as Adamson rose, raising his bolter one-handed and fired, tracing a line of bullets towards Drax. Seeing the line of death come tracing towards his position, Drax threw himself to one side, throwing up a shield in his stead and firing with both weapons, his rifle in one hand, the pistol in the other. Adamson’s shield got the majority of the onslaught, but a good portion stitched up his right side, tossing that side around, causing him to pivot on his left foot. He bullets came out a few seconds later as Adamson started tracing around Drax, forcing him to a literal standstill. Adamson, however, did not see, coming from the side, the two snipers hefting the massive, sizzling axe that had been formerly attached to the mech and swinging it in a wide, wide circle, catching him in the ankles, taking off his left foot before he fell onto that side, spewing blood everywhere.

The Tyrax shoved Trego away with a miniature pulse detonation from his stomach cavity and slotted forth a massive plasma machine gun from his right hand, spraying the area around him with a barrage of plasma bolts. The vicious whirring of the gun that permeated the room matched the ferocity of the damage as whatever the gun struck slagged instantly. Trego dove to the floor, still lunging forward, but saw, out of the corner of his eye, Smith and Caesar exposed. Staying low to the ground, he swung his leg out in a massive semicircle as though he were a compass, slamming his foot into the torn hulk that was formerly an Ark APC. The two-ton vehicle flew into the air light in was a toy, punted by Trego. Dusk and Caesar, scrambling out of the way of the Tyrax’s assault, were thrown backwards as the APC cratered down in front of them in an explosion of dust and noise. Moments later, a rocket soared over their hears like a banshee, catching the Tyrax on his gun hand, blowing it to hell. However, the Tyrax was not contempt to take this standing down, now with a burning, melting slag-ball for a hand, he swung it at Trego, who had to somersault backwards to a avoid the makeshift bubbling mace.

Forgoing the horizontal slashes, the Tyrax overextended and went for the vertical stab, hoping to catch Trego on the head, having the former Warmaster back into the blow. Trego, however, foreseeing the attack, instead pushed off with his hand, coming forward and crash-tackling the Tyrax around the knees, slamming into a wall, which almost crumpled under the blow. Trego began to knee the cyborg repeated in the chest, viciously and without remorse. Each time the cyborg doubled over before he could slot another pulse concussion bulb into his chest launcher. Trego, on the other hand, did not see the whip fly out, travel along its arc and catch him in the side, flinging him away. The Tyrax drew back the whip another flicking motion and sent it at Trego. Trego threw himself forward into screwing forward leap, rotating between floor and ceiling and snatching two huge plasma cannons off the ground as he landed in a somersault as he launched himself off again, traveling around the undulating strike of the whip. He found himself upside-down again and fired at the ground with the guns, tossing himself in the air and finishing off the leap while opening fire on the Tyrax, who took several steps backwards, recoiling from the tremulous siege.

Trego landed in front of the off-beat Tyrax and grabbed his left hand, at the source of the whip, sliding his hand down, along its length, away from the hand and then seizing a hold of it and tossing Trego over his shoulder as though the weapon was now a noose. The Tyrax was yanked off his feet and into the air before slamming down, hard into the floor. Trego dove forward, firing his rifles, kicking up fire all over the Tyrax. Leaping over the prone figure, he was at the apex of his leap when the Tyrax managed to reload the concussion pulser and detonating it, sending Trego flying up, where he slammed his left side into an overhead catwalk, where he spun, flipping to the floor. The Tyrax caught him before he fell, not in a friendly way, but with a supersonic roundhouse that sent the Nahktar zooming over the heads of the Operative and Halcyon.

An overextended slash and unaccounted parry had the Operative flung up against the side of burning wreckage that was formerly the Juet’lak, a sword held to his throat. IT was only his own blade, positioned some two feet away from his head, holding strong against the very point of Halcyon’s sword that kept the Operative in possession of his head. Locked in a deadlock, or so it seemed, the Operative rammed his knee upward in between Halcyon’s legs, causing the psion to double over and unwittingly remove the blade. The Operative followed the contact between the two swords, though, following the razor down to the emitter, before Halcyon jerked his hand away, forcing the Operative back with an uppercut so fast that it left a vast sheen of green afterimages floating in the air behind it. The Operative stumbled backward, the tip of the Halcyon’s forward flying by, trimming a few hairs on his chin.

However, the weight of the counterattack left Halcyon exposed as physics took over and swung his other side forward, which the Operative punished puritanically with a tremendous axe kick to Halcyon’s left shoulder, sending the man crumpling to the floor. Raising him blade for a final kill-stab, he was swept off his feet by a rebar Halcyon grabbed. The metal beam came back for another pass and the Operative cleaved it in two with his sword before hefting his chaingun around in his other hand to cross it across his body, pointing it an Halcyon’s waist. Star-like barrels spun, and bullets traced along the floor toward Halcyon, who bucked his knees underneath his rear before letting the reverberations bring his torso up into a crouch as the bullets thundered underneath him, and then as he stood from his crouch, inches behind his back. The course was corrected, to the left, chasing Halcyon’s back as the psion spun forward delivering a brutal kick to the Operative’s head, before bringing his foot up for a curbstomp. Halcyon now to close to shoot, the Operative swung his hulking gun around like club, knocking Halcyon to the floor while he himself stood up, backing away and bringing his sword to bear.

Halcyon swung his legs through the air like a helicopter, gathering enough momentum to flip himself backward and land on his feet, bringing his own sword to bear.

Adamson, grotesquely, grabbed his own severed foot as he fell as shoved it against the bleeding stump while he brought the shield over him, catching the two follow-up shots from the snipers. It was stomach churning when he stood up again, on two good feet.

“You just can’t hurt me,” he growled. “Nothing you can do can hurt me!”

“Oh, yeah?” came a voice behind him. Adamson whirled. Thirty meters away stood Bateau, a reloaded Jackhammer launcher in each hand. “You want to put that to the test?”

“Be my guest,” said Adamson, snapping up a fighting stance with his Bolter aimed.

Bateau began to sprint forward, not even bothering to fire his rockets. Adamson leveled his Bolter and began to fire. Miniature explosions flared into existence all around Bateau as he closed the distance between the two. A shot went high and Bateau went down to his knees, sliding forward, leveling both his Jackhammers. Flying forward on his shinplates, Bateau didn’t expect Adamson to flicker forth the shield, not as a bubble, but as a flat ramp, like a tilted piece of paper, starting in front of Bateau and letting off just behind and over Adamson’s head. Bateau hit the ramp at full speed, sliding up it like a water skier, Adamson’s aim going higher and higher as he followed Bateau up the ramp with his fire, rockets going through the one-way shield. Bateau couldn’t get a shot in at all. He was up, now two and a half meters off the ground, floating on a shimmer blue ramp and he was off, past Adamson, over him and behind him. However, there was no way he’d give up this easy. Pushing off the ramp with his legs, he spun in midair so he was now upside down and facing Adamson, who was slowly spinning, not fast enough to meet him, his bolter firing. Both were screaming, shouts of exhilaration, the zero-hour, boom time, cataclysm. Bateau fired both his rockets and was thrown backwards by the backblast, buffeted by bolter shots all around him. The shot flew a mere three, maybe four meters before they caught Adamson, one in the gut, the other in the shoulder, blowing him into pieces right before their eyes. Bateau landed some ten meters away on his back, head facing Adamson’s mangled body, and his shout turned to an insane laugh as he saw his attack worked.

Halcyon and the Operative met one last time in a flash of blades, the last time the Operative would face the man. They caught each others blades and two spinning butterfly flips, the sheer force of the swords meeting nearly causing them to short out. Both men’s muscles bulged.

“How can you hope to beat me, Avalon?” sneered Halcyon. “You but mere flesh and blood, and I am the greatest psion of the age. You cannot hope to defeat me.”

“Well,” started the Operative. “You’d be right, except I have no blood. This white stuff is nanomachines suspended in a supercharged fluid. I have no blood. And I don’t care how fucking psionic you are, you can’t move as fast as me.”

The Operative turned off his blade. It ceased to exist. With nothing to push on, the startled Halcyon took the opening, slashing for the Operative’s throat. However, the Operative moved at speeds unheard off, reignited his blade behind Halcyon’s and slashed it forward himself.

True to his word, the Operative’s blade hit first. It cut through a centimeter of skin, and then stopped, halted dead in its tracked. The Operative paused. Silence. And then Halcyon’s laughter began to ring out across the atrium.

“Can’t get through?” snorted Halcyon. “You see, all that energy cooped up in here forms an impenetrable shield, not unlike the sandwiched shields you find on starships. You can’t get through!”

The Operative cocked his head, seemingly thinking. “Oh well,” he sighed and slammed his forehead into Halcyon’s nose, breaking it and slamming the neck back. The psion stumbled, right as the Operative ran forward, leapt, and planted a massive drop kick in Halcyon’s chest. Slamming him back, down on the floor, out cold.

A new group decided to make an appearance.

The Tyrax’s reinforcements.

To be expected it was only a first waves, but when the twenty Nahktars hits the deck and unclipped their ziplines, it was as if God was spiting in the eyes of the Storm Commandos.

Plasma fire streaked across the room, filling the air with heat and flame.

Dusk and Caesar, supporting Trego, were closest and spun in unison, whipping grenades off and at the Nahktars in each, one fluid motion. The grenades exploded in greenish flare-ups, throwing limbs and gear in the air, decimating twelve of the Nahktars.

Megan and Sarah even more ready. Headshot. Headshot. Headshot. Six Nahktars fell.

Only two Nahktar were left standing, but not for long, as Bateau caught them with a rocket to the face as they tried to find cover.

“It would seem,” he said, taking command. “That it is time to leave.”

“Indeed,” agreed Drax, hurrying over. “I’d bet there’s a bunch more waiting up there, but since they were nice enough to leave us ziplines, how can he refuse their hospitality?”

“It would be extremely rude of us,” added Sarah.

“Nahktars, we can take,” stated Rickson. “The company here is a bit more hostile.”

“Trego!” yelled Smith. “Disengage! We’re pulling out!”

“Gladly!” came the reply as the Tyrax heaved massive blow onto Trego, sending him crashing in their direction. Looking over, he scooped up the inert Nickel in one hand and bounded over to them. Clipping themselves onto the lines at the waist and opening up on the Tyrax for cover fire, the group rapidly began to belay themselves upwards, bounding off walls. Trego and the Operative followed, bounding off the sides of opposite walls, matching the speed at which the special operations men climbed.

Below them, the parked elevator with its open roof slot, trembled, and exploded outwards to reveal the Tyrax, fully enraged. He leapt up, only to be caught by one of Bateau’s rockets in the shoulders, spun violently down to the base of the shaft.

Guns poked their ugly barrels down at the top of the shaft and started firing down at them, the wildly aimed bolts falling like rain past them. Facing fire form two fronts, Rickson shouted unexpectedly as her line was cut. She dropped twelve feet before Trego caught her in his other hand around the chest. Still, she lost her grip on her rifle, and it dropped out her grip, falling a long, long way down to the recovering Tyrax below.

Smith’s line was caught next. The Operative just barely caught him on his leap, slamming him into the wall before tossing him efficiently down to Trego.

They were ten meters from the top.

Five.

And they were over, laying down firing on the dozen-something Nahktars surrounding the elevator shaft, more of a pit in this context. Surprised Nahktars fell wildly backwards as they were shot between the eyes, white blood spewing everywhere. Off to one side sat a medium-size Ark Dropship, its turrets revolving to meets them. Foreseeing the onslaught, the Operative rolled to one side and came up with his K-5, ready to fire, but not before a massive pulse blast from the turret exploded underneath him, flinging him into the air. The rest of the group scattered, taking up firing positions and cover, targeting the two turrets and the Nahktars standing underneath the landing gear, under the belly of the craft. They were cut down in hails of bullets from Caesar, Drax, and Longbow as Trego set down his three charges.

Bateau was on it. Standing behind the wall of a shop on the other side of the street, he rapidly loaded both of his launchers, loading his second to last rocket cassettes into the Jackhammers. Six shots in the guns, and six more in the satchel. Good.

Turning and hitting the one-knee firing position, he sighted the right-side turret and hit the firing stud. The shot thunked out of the barrels and traced a path towards the turret, coming in low to avoid the point-defense lasers and then executing a ninety-degree climb, shooting straight up into the attachment couple for the turret, blowing it right off the ship.

Around them, circling the pit as they were, the Operative recovered and saw the shaft, reached to ready grenades to slow the Tyrax’s ascent- but it was too late- the cyborg burst from the hole in the ground like a demon, throwing arms out on either side for a grip and yanking itself up and out of the hole.

“Reitman! Drlan!” shouted Bateau. “Can you hear me?!”

“We’ve got you, Chief!” came back the voice of Lennart Reitman. “Give us a second, we managed to get onboard the Dropship!”

There was a flash of light from around the side of the turret, and its outgoing fire stopped. “Good job,” commented Bateau as he swung his launchers around to point at the Tyrax. The missiles caught the Tyrax around the legs, throwing him to the ground, onto his belly. Enraged, he slotted forth an autocannon from his wrist and opened fire on the people around him.

“Marines!” shouted Bateau. “Fall back to the Dropship!”

Chaos. Smith and Sarah, nearest, jumped onboard a lowering ramp that Reitman, seated at the cockpit, pointed animatedly down to. The Operative followed, laying down heavy fire with his Gatling carbine, right before it spun, empty. He had no more reloads for it, so he tossed it aside and brought out both of his pistols, one in each hand, alternating the triggers as he backed up into the belly of the ship. Bateau stood by the ramp and fired again at the inexorably advancing Tyrax. The smoke and fire from the detonations was cleared by a roar and a sweeping fist, barbed on both sides with massive blades, gleaming.

The arms swung out, across the ground.

It caught Johnny D’oro in the chest.

The blades exploded out of his back in a haze of red as he doubled over the massive fist, which slammed into the corner of a nearby building, cratering it at impact and reducing the Storm Commando, who had served with them for so long, to a bloody pulp.

However, the Tyrax did not see fit to give them time to grieve.

Time seemed to slow. A small aperture opened from the Tyrax’s shoulder, and a small, almost mortar-like launcher popped out. It rotated and fired at Megan Rickson. She was caught in the open, running towards the Dropship, firing over one shoulder with a large pistol.

Trego saw it, and dived in front of the blast. He was illuminated from behind, silhouetted by the explosion as he and Rickson were picked off their feet and tossed like rag downs into the ramp, where they rebounded into the ceiling of the troop bay and down onto the floor. Both were beaten, bloodied and bruised, and Trego’s back was an unholy mess of mangled flesh, but they were alive, barely. Just unconscious.

Bateau and Drax were last onboard, Bateau simply tossed his launchers up into the bay and yanked out his own pistol, joining Drax in firing at the Tyrax. They might as well have been shooting the monster with rubber bands.

The troopship rose, wobbling off the ground as Reitman, in the cockpit, engaged the repulsors, pulling away from the grasping Tyrax. A stretching fist slid off the side of the ship, unable to get a grip, sending it wobbling out of reach.

No less than twelve Juet’laks soared by overhead, their engines shrieking in the twilight. The Tyrax’s bombing crew.

They were not out of the woods yet.

The ship rocked as the Tyrax began firing, repeatedly, at the belly of the Troopship with his mortar, rocking it wildly but failing to penetrate the superstrong belly shields.

The Juet’laks came around for another pass, and two missiles shot out from the wings of one of the center ships before they peeled away.

It was like an earthquake, throwing them all to the floor. Bateau managed to pull his way to the cockpit, and looked out to see a gaping hole in the area, wild blue sky replaced by grey ground and then sky again, filled with the view of three passing Juet’laks. Smoke was everywhere, he barely made out the unconscious bodies of Reitman and Drlan, sprawled in their g-webbing. Large steel slots rammed down the exposed areas like windows shutting and drawn blinds. The ship, momentarily sealed off, now had no way to see the outside. He had vague training in how to pilot Ark craft, but there was no way to do it without a view of the outside. He had no instrument rating at all, let alone of an alien craft, and those of his team still alive and in fighting shape didn’t, either.

He saw Sarah, Smith and the Operative behind, managing to hold onto the walls as another missile bucked the pilotless Dropship.

“None of us an fly this bucket!” shouted Bateau, holding onto the back of a seat. “We’re screwed!”

“No,” corrected the Operative. “We’re not.”

As if he was transforming, armor began to extend from his backpack, a white battle suit, around the legs, boots, and chest. The bare were left bare. The Operative rolled up his sleeves, revealing extremely pale flesh. Mounted on one leg was a signature plasma rifle, the other held several grenades and large knife.

His blond hair flapping in the wild corridor, the Operative drew the knife with a jerk and brought it stabbing down into his right arms, cutting all the way around the circumference of the limb before withdrawing the blade and leaving a red-white liquid pouring from the band.

Then, what he did next was even more startling. He inserted the blade, tip only, about a centimeter into the underside of his chin. He began to cut, in saw-like motions, moving down the neck and across the lefts side, around the back of the head, and then down the face, right through the middle of the forehead, on the left side of the nose and the back down the middle of the mouth before going to the left of the chin again, completing the circuit.

With the hand that was cut, the knife band, the Operative reached up and laid his hand of the left side of his face, taking his other hand and digging his fingers underneath the knife cut on the right arm.

With one, sickening plunchk, the Operative ripped the skin off his right arm, slowly as he began to take off his own face with the same right arm. When it all came off, the skin of the face was sitting inside the inside-out sock-like skin of the right arm and tossed with a wet smack against the right wall.

The head went back ,shaking its hair in the wind, the change working its way from root to tip, straight blond going to a dark brown. A curving cross shaped scar traced itself across the skin surrounding the left eyes. Metallic cybernetics glinted in the glowpanels above.

“Not if Jak Motherfucking Easly has anything to say about it.”
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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Mobius 1
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Re: Arc: Apocalypse

Post by Mobius 1 » Wed May 21, 2008 12:01 am

Chapters Ten and Eleven here. It may seem short, but considering twelve was the single largest chunk of story posted on the OZ, I'll leave that on its own post.

Chapter 10: Escape from Zrmahk

There was an eternity of silence, only two seconds in reality.

Smith was the first to break the silence.

“No fucking way,” he breathed.

Easly clambered brusquely past Bateau and into the cockpit, undoing Reitman’s g-webbing and shoving his inert form out of the seat.

And suddenly it all made sense- the pilot’s codes. The rank on the ID tag, consistent with “posthumous” two-rank honorary promotion. His intimate knowledge of their names, callsigns, and previous missions.

Even the title itself- the Operative of Avalon was nod to Easly’s past. About halfway through the war, he gained fame with the Raptor’s Rogue doing hit-and-run raids on the Ark around an area known as the Avalonian Ring, a massive defensive system that stretched across the northwestern corner of ISA territory, allowing billions of refugees to escape the oncoming Ark war machine.

“We’ve still got one turret operational,” he barked over his shoulder, shouting over the craft’s insistent warning bells as he settled quickly into the seat. “Sarah, get in there and see if you can keep the Juet’laks off my back long enough for me to get us back to the Vertraut and out of here. Bateau, you’ve got rockets. Take them and open the rear exit hatch, hold onto the magboot section and help Sarah kill some J/Ts. Smith, get our passengers awake. We need every hand awake and available.”

They stood still over five seconds, then a smattering of “Yessirs” as the group departed hurriedly to their tasks.

Easly slapped a switch on the underside of the control console, causing each of the window-like metal slabs to partially fuzz out, replaced by a view of the outside from the cockpit in the middle and the four aft cams on the sides. They were on 3-D holograms projected on the cold, flat blast doors, but they looked as real as hell. Below him he saw the endless industrial sprawl that marked the outskirts of Zrmahk city, smoke rising from where the Tyrax stood. Out of the corner of his eye, Easly saw a Dropship zoom in to collect the cyborg.

Four Juet’laks shot past him, three on one side, one on his port, wing Antigrav pods leaving hazy trails of gravitic disturbance being them. They wheeled around after they were two klicks away, turning on a dime to head straight on towards Easly.

“I’ve got the turret,” relayed Sarah over the intercom. “Starboard side plasma cannon functional and fully charged.”

“Good,” stated Easly. “They’re coming head on, four of them with an ETA of seven seconds. Delay your fire until my mark.”

Easly dialed the belly shields to full strength, draining power from all other defensive sections, and electrically charged the bottom of the craft. In a flash, he pushed the hull-hugging screen out ten meters from that area of the craft, making the craft look as though it were riding in a giant soup bowl to anyone who could perceive the invisible shields. And then, he turned the shields completely off.

He was flying at four fully armed starfighters with no shields on.

Madness.

The Juet’laks screamed in, and loosed four missiles. Easly noticed two craft, one of them the singular fighter on the port side, were out of missile, their hardpoints empty.

Slamming the throttle, Easly shot forward so that the missiles were barely twenty meters away from their progenitors and rolled his fat, duck-like Dropship on its side so that the missiles flew right by on either side of him, nit even exploding!. They were simply too close to their fighters to have the warhead activate, let alone detonate. Rolling the craft onto its starboard side, Easly saw the tree Juet’laks zoom by overtop of him, pulling out and away.

The last one shot underneath his belly.

Instantly, Easly triggered his belly shields. And then he dialed them to hug the hull.

The effect was instantaneous. The Juet’lak was caught by the shield- on the inside and was slammed against the belly with such ferocity that the fighter simply crumpled, exploding into a fireball as it was grinded against the hull by the shield. Easly dropped the hammering field, and the debris was swept away by the wind. The Dropship, much larger than the puny ship, merely shuddered under the impact, its ultra-thick belly armor unscathed.

“Mark!”

Purple plasma blasts pulsed from the ship’s remaining turret, flaring in the night, and catching one of the retreating Juet’laks square in the body, swiping it out of the air like a fly swatter. The other two fighters broke formations, peeling off in opposite direction. Sarah tracked the right-juking ship and tagged its wing. The fighter lurched and began pouring smoke from that pod, but managed to pull its ass out of the turret’s field of fire.

And right past the butt of the Dropship.

Warning lights flashed in the cockpit as Bateau hit the massive button in the crew bay below to drop the massive drop hatch for letting off troops. Powered my mighty pistons, the solid slab of alloy dropped like a rock right as the wounded Juet’lak came past.

The rocket hit it like a charging rhino, sideswiping it out of the air. One second the fighter existed, the next it was cast into oblivion.

Three down. Nine to go.

The surviving Ark fighter of the decimated flight regrouped with the rest of the Ark fighters, which were circling above. The craft reoriented their noses upon the charging dropship, like an nest of aroused wasps.

Easly slapped all of his shield power forward agonized for an eternity, a full millisecond, whether he should hit more power to shields or propulsion.

He opted for speed.

His tub shot off the mark like a sprinter, rising rapidly to meet the falling fighters.

Missiles streaked towards his ship. There was no way to get close enough to bypass them, and besides, he couldn’t use the same trick backwards.

“Boss,” squawked Smith’s voice over the radio, “I managed to revive Rickson with a keredolephin. She’s up, but won’t be for long.”

“Good,” replied Easly. “Listen very quickly to what I say.”

He relayed the information as fast as his cybernetically-enhanced vocals could convey them, and looked up to view the charging missiles.

“Mark!”

Easly hit the airbrakes at full bloody strength, slamming the nose thrusters on as well. On the tip of a needle, the ship slowed to a near halt and flipped upside-down, its open belly facing the closing missile, practically a wet dream for a target.

Bateau, Smith, and Rickson all hung, magnetically booted onto bulkheads. Smith and Bateau held one each of the two launchers, and Rickson, between the two, sighted down Sarah’s ramjet rifle on a momentary high from the keredolephin-induced revive.

They all fired at once.

Guided rockets shot out, followed by Sarah’s special ramjet bullets, which ignited instantly firing off like they were from a railgun.

Instantly, one of the oncoming missiles, sighting the dropship exploded.

And then another.
And another.

They were shooting the missiles out the sky!

Ark missiles are pretty much bulletproof, except for the very tip of the nose, which is covered with a translucent plastic housing so the guidance assembly can maneuver the missile. As such, its only weak spot was the bulbed front of the projectile.

Missiles cracked in midair, the wind shearing away their wreckage.

Bateau tossed down his launcher. He was out.

Seconds later, so did Smith.

They were out of rockets.

Rickson, however, with the skills of a master markswomen, drew a bead on each of the five more missiles and calmly blew them out of the air, none of them coming within fifty meters of the dropship.

Easly swung his ship around so that the starboard side was facing the fighters, who let loose on their plasma cannons. Working rapidly, the legendary pilot transferred the shields to the side just in time, and the dome washed over with purple bolts over Sarah’s head as she let loose with a wide, sweeping series of bolts that cut four more fighter into ribbons.

And then the group was past, shooting in opposite directions. Only five of the original twelve remained, their numbers scythed by over half in less than a minute.

Smith and Rickson ran immediately over to Nickel. Of the group, he would be the quickest to revive and the most useful.

Four electric jumpstarts to the android’s minifusion reactor jolted the five-hundred pound robot, its beefy limbs convulsing. Its skin was burned away at many points, revealing a shining alloy endoskeleton. It was to this that Rickson connected a chatter computer and began to input the emergency restart codes, her fingers flashing, heading for alt power, and slamming the enter button.

Nickel slammed to life.

It took him only four nanoseconds to receive his orders from Easly over an ultratight comm transmission. He was up, running towards the open hatch, snatching a secured plasma rifle off a nearby wall, shattering its roll restraints.

And then he threw himself out into the void like a skydiver.

Arms flared, he fell a good hundred meters until he saw a silver missile flash by, launched from a nearby Juet’lak.

He soared in like a precision guided bomb and grabbed one hand around the fuselage of the weapon.

The unexpected weight threw the missile off balance, aiming it at the exact trajectory Nickel wanted as he literally slung the missile around full-circle, aiming it back at its owner like a magshot. The projectile struck like a cobra, blowing the Juet’lak out of the air.

He caught the wing-tip propulsion pod on the nearest fighter and yanked himself upwards, over the top of the fighter, towards its wingmate on the starboard side, firing his plasma rifle. Overpowered bolts, on full fifty milli bore dug through the nonexistent armor on the top of the off-balance Juet’lak, splattering the pilot across his cockpit. The ship veered off to port, exploding a second later. Nickel landed in a crouch, knees out, on top of the second Juet’lak, causing it to drop a good meter under his weight.

Knowing what was attacking him, the pilot pulled the steepest ascent he’d ever gone for in his life, turning it into a loop, expecting the unwanted passenger to lose his grip and fall the dozens of kilometers to the ground below. Instead, Nickel held on, keeping his grip easily until the ship came out of the loop, diving- he pushed off heavily, sending the ship berserk as he gained ten- twenty- thirty meters in altitude.

He was sideswiped out of the air by the last Juet’lak, who rammed him at full speed, hoping to splash the bug across his nose. Nickel took a glancing blow, and barely managed to catch a grip on the aggressor craft.

Scrambling quickly onto the port side of the Juet’lak, he reached down and ripped the Antigrav pod off of the two support struts, causing the ship to go into a massive roll.

Nickel looked up to see the dropship only some ten meters away, he leapt, arms wide, barely grabbing the edge of the drop-down butt hatch right as the wingless Juet’lak veered straight into its partner, exploding spectacularly.

Hauling himself into the dropship, Nickel looked on wordlessly at those staring at him in awe. A variety of choice responses were prompted on his red-tinted HUD, but he dismissed the window.

The dropship left the atmosphere

They emerged in a broiling battle, on a scale that no humble human could ever put up.

The Ark and Frok'tar fleets were in full melee, a true brawl. Fighters zipped every which way, accompanied by titanic autolaser beams, cutting through space and capital ships like they were hunks of butter. Silent explosions echoed all around them as they flew along the outskirts of the battle, unnoticed, towards the Alt Vertraut

They were home free. Or so it seemed.

* * *

They entered the Alt Vertraut through a side hatch, spilling into the waiting ship, dropping their weapons and moving people to sickbay, other heading to the bridge to get the ship out of system before they were spotted.

Five minutes and Reitman and Drlan were in the ICU pods, scheduled to be out in an hour. Trego took only a shot of keredolephin and he was up, a shot of liquid skin mending his mangled back. He was up at the bridge in another two minutes, and entered quickly, and stopped-

-Having caught sight of Easly.

“Can you even die right?” he asked after ten seconds.

“Not at all,” the cyborg admitted, turning away from his calculations at the slipstream station. “I would tell all of you all of how I came to be standing here, but it is a thrilling story, and I wish to do it justice. Rest assured, it deals with talking heads, cat men, and slightly crazy marines.”

It took Trego only seconds to make the connection between the mysterious Operative and Easly. He smiled, reveling in it all.

Rickson entered the bridge moments later. There was only stunned silence as she, too, made the connection.

“I wish,” said Easly, to the group assembled on the bridge. Smith. Sarah. Bateau. Rickson. Trego. Nickel. Drax “That I could have told you. That I could have told all of you everything. But I couldn’t. There is still more to tell, rest assured. And as the final act in this play is about to begin, I must give the stage up to my true friend; my benefactor throughout this entire story. He has a few choice words to say on my behalf, and I am all sure you will be enthralled by his speech.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce- hell, you all already know him. Our good friend, the Tyrax.”

The door to the bridge swung open to reveal, in all his glory, the Tyrax, his exoskeleton ravaged but still active, flanked by Seth Halcyon and no less than one hundred Nahktars.

Chapter 11: Showdown with the Tyrax, Part II

Drax and Bateau were the only ones armed on the bridge besides Easly, who had leveled his plasma rifle, not on the Tyrax, but on Bateau, whose hand was dangerously close to his hip pistol.

“Don’t,” he warned the Lieutenant Colonel. “Let’s make this go as easy as possible, Leo.”

“Make what go as easy as possible?” challenged Bateau. “Them shooting us in the heads?”

“No,” said Easly patiently. “He needs the Conclave dead before they discover his plans. He would rather have the entire Ark rallied behind him than have to be significantly weakened by the loyalists the Conclave takes with them when he launches his coup.”

“And we’re the fall guys,” said Smith, deadpan.

“That you are,” said the Tyrax, not bothering to deny the truth. “Though if you participate peacefully, you may yet live past the apocalypse to become mere pets.”

Rickson snorted. “You’re batshit rampant.”

The Tyrax seemed to smile. It has hard to tell. “No, I’m only following up on plans left in my former self’s mind. I wasn’t a cyborg forever, you know.”

“No shit,” sneered Drax. “Then who the hell was your personality based off of?”

BLAM!!

Drax was thrown backwards, pitching over a console as the energy bolt took him dead-center on his torso. He lay there, limp and unmoving.

“Trego,” the Tyrax said simply. “A brainscan a while back of one of their rising stars in a hope to create the perfect soldier.

“In a sense, I quite literally am you.”

Trego seemed to be trembling in rage. The Tyrax turned back to Easly. “You have his head?”

“Indeed,” said Easly, raising, from nowhere a severed head. He held it by its middling blond hair, but the face was unmistakable, even with the jagged lines of flesh torn from the head, three down the face- one in the center, two on the side. It was the head of the Operative. Easly threw the head at the Tyrax’s feet.

“Excellent,” purred the Tyrax, looking down at the grotesque sight. And then, with one single, vicious motion, he brought his foot down on the head, squashing it like a tomato.

Red blood splattered everywhere.

Halcyon frowned. “Sir-” he began, grabbing the Tyrax’s arm.

“Shutup, Halcyon,” growled the Tyrax, shaking clear of the psion’s grip. “I’ve waited too long for this.” He motioned with the other hand to the group of humans before him. “All of you, to the cargo bay. Mr. Askl,” he said to a Nahktar on his left. “Relieve them of their weapons. If anyone resists, kill them.”

They all sat in the cavernous cargo bay, on the floor, surrounded by no less than twenty Nahktars while the rest scurried across the ship, maintaining it as they sent it on a course through a slipstream to parts unknown. They noticed a good majority of the Nahktars were only techs, only forty or so were actually soldiers.

With a plasma barrel pointing at his face, Bateau asked calmly, “Why’d you do it, Easly?”

“Me?” asked Easly as he routed through a cargo box full of golden treasure, with a slightly insane smirk on his face. “To be perfectly honest, Leo, for the same reason Seth is doing it- I don’t really want to see my species go extinct. Listen, if this war grinds on, there’s no way we can win. Yeah, we can hold on. Yeah, we can even fight back. But, eventually, the Ark will crush us. Whether it be today or a hundred years down the road. They’ve got all the time in the universe. Hell, look at their war with the Frok'tar- they’ve been going at it for tens of thousands of years. That’s a serious amount of time, compared to the twelve years we’ve been whacking each other. They’ve got experience at this sort of thing. Us, we’ve only been at the stars for, what, three hundred years? At this point I’d be willing to make a deal with the devil to save humanity.”

“Since Adamson is still reforming at the bottom of that bunker,” said the Tyrax, drawing a set of syringes from a leg compartment. “I thought I’d take care to you show this. The Aduro Formula. My reward for loyal servants.”

Easly paused. For a whole two minutes he stood, there, staring at the formula. And then he rolled his eye and turned away.

“I’ve got to admit Easly, you surprised me there for a second. I didn’t know which way you’d turn, whether you’d stick with your old pals or go with your own conscious, its existence not up for debate at the moment,” commented the Tyrax as it rounded up the rest of the team, dark steel armor glinting in the glimmer of the gigantic cargo hold.

Easly nodded, ambling around, checking out certain cargo boxes. “Me, you can never predict. I like to give the impression that I don’t exactly plan ahead, that I’m a go by the flow guy, but, in reality, I’m not. I plan every moment of the future. Part’s predictable, part’s luck, part’s good intel- it’s all the same to me. But get one thing right- I’ve had today planned for a long time, right- -up- -to- -now-“ And with the accent of the final word, he placed his foot in the small of Halcyon’s back, giving a strong kick while grabbing a plasma sword of his belt. Lighting it up as Halcyon flew forward, he tossed it to Smith, who caught in behind his back, twirling it in his grasp, and obliterating his bonds. He jumped to his feet, bring the sword swinging around backfisted-style into his Nahktar captor’s face and out again with an explosion of blood.

With a flick of his wrist, Easly produced a plasma blade of his own from his mechanical arm and tossed it over to his left, human one, bringing it up as Halcyon regained his balance and lit his own saber; coming forward with a wide slash that Easly caught on his own blade.

The Tyrax was on its feet in an instant, only to barely block a kick to the “face” from Trego, who had had his bonds broken by Smith.

“I believe you took my job away from me. And you’re failing miserably.”

Bateau was up and had snatched a long metal staff, currently dueling with a large Nahktar who had brought out his swords. He was covering Sarah, who had run out to retrieve the guns. A Nahktar was readying his plasma rifle, unlimbering it, when she fell to her knees and slid forward, between the Nahktars legs and out the other side, sweeping one foot out from under him. The Nahktar landed in a heap, but his plasma rifle was up and ready in an instant, spraying plasma rifle after Longbow as she flew around a corner, and saw the stash of guns.

Halcyon threw himself forward, giving Easly’s stab a sharp riposte, while Easly ran backwards, blocking a ferocious series of slashes from Halcyon. “C’mon bro[i/]!” yelled Halcyon, brandishing his blade sand leaping high over a low sweeping slash to his feet. “Even without my powers, you can’t hope to beat me!”

“Y’know, Seth-” replied Easly as he ducked under a quick jab to the face, placing the pummel of the sword in the middle of his palm, and bringing it up backfisted into Halcyon’s chest. “-your great powers should give you a good sense of when to surrender!” he yelled suddenly, rolling out of the way of Halcyon's retort and throwing a box full of jewels at the psion’s face. Halcyon staggered backwards, clawing at his face, while Easly backpedaled in his swashbuckling style.

Rickson slid into the battle, a stolen plasma rifle up and barking. She tripped, and landed back-to-back with Bateau. “Um,” she asked. “Which side are those guys on?”

Bateau, who was busy trying to make do with the pieces of his pipe that hadn’t been sliced up, glanced over at the wide-ranging, swaggering, and very personal fight between the two brothers. Sparks showered and lit up the dim room as their blades met, They leapt and rolled and duck each other’s blade in their own one handed fencing styles, with cries of “Ha!” and the like.

“At the moment?” asked Bateau. “I think we’ve got Easly.”

Rickson nodded let loose another spray of plasma fire, right before Leo dodged out of the way of a particularly vicious slice from his enemy Nahktar, which connected quite sternly with Rickson’s rifle, bisecting it into two neat pieces. Furrowing her brow, she spun around, dodging the next wild swing and chuck first one, and the other half of her plasma rifle, Frisbee-style into the Nahktar’s face.

Trego swept his foot forward, launching a rapid-series of quick jab-kicks at the Tyrax as it backpedaled before the cyborg caught the former supreme commander’s next kick in a vice-like grip an hurled Trego around, sending him flying into a wall.

“Come now, Trego- You’re out of the job.” The Tyrax strode over and threw Trego to another side of the room. Trego smacked against the wall and went limp. The Tyrax allowed himself the equivalent of an electronic smile, before turning back to the battle. He was surprised to be smacked in the chest with a long-bladed energy sword. Sparks flew everywhere as Smith adjusted his blade and began to saw determinably, ignoring the fact that the Tyrax was several meters taller than him, and significantly more heavily armed.

“You… aren’t… as… bad… as… Trego, you big… fat… bastard…” Smith growled as he sawed deeper and deeper into the Tyrax’s armor. The Tyrax drew his fist back, brought it forward, and sent Smith flying across the room and into Bateau and Rickson, who went tumbling down into a heap. The Tyrax began to stride forward to the three downed commandos when a single shot hit him in the shoulder, sparking off to the right, the next hitting him in the face, bouncing off the Tyrax’s head.

There, in the corner of the room, stood Longbow with her sniper rifle at her hip. When she saw the Tyrax stop and turn slowly towards her, she swore and threw a grenade right at the Tyrax. It exploded right in its face, and he exploded through the smoke and chaos, running at unbelievable speeds, hitting Sarah in the chest and then kicking her across the room, over the head’s of the Easly/Halcyon fight and against the wall, near Trego.

Easly saw Sarah come flying by and back-flipped out of the way; combining the move with four others, moving along the catwalk as Halcyon ran forward, aiming a kick at Easly’s forehead. Easly dropped and rolled to the left, his mechanical arm coming up and planting a bone-shattering blow against Halcyon’s chin while kneeing his brother in the chest. Halcyon pushed Easly away from, bringing his sword up in a whiplike motion that caught Easly’s blade in an explosion of fire and light. Easly growled as the two blades locked for a brief moment.

“Y’know, Jak, you never give up! I’ll admit, what you did during the Phoenix Operation was pretty nifty, but we saw it coming from a mile away. Thought you’d go on your own little mission, didn’t cha? You gave your squad quite a scare, damn near killed Bateau. But no, you just wouldn’t stop there, would you? You had to go all goodie on us. Dammit, not even Deckard could predict you anymore. You went totally off the map. Nobody can predict you. I know you knew ONI’s was after you, but this? What about the status quo, Jak? ONI operates on the status quo! The only out was for you to die! The Tyrax set up that bomb on Deckard’s orders! Why!” he yelled, applying pressure and leaning forward into his blade, his face cast in hideous shadows by the flickering light of the blade

“No,” Easly growled, changing the orientation of his blade, sliding it closer, down along Halcyon’s blade and towards his hands. “You’ll find I won’t even die right.” And with that, he shoved the blade right at Halcyon’s hand. But his brother saw this coming and countered the only way he could-

-there was a brief flash of light, overwhelming the two combatants, and they stumbled backwards. It faded, and they found both their sabers had been mangled by the mutual hits to their beam emitters.

Halcyon was on his feet first, running forward, jumping into his air and aiming his boot squarely into Easly’s face. Easly threw his hands up in an x-block, and he was slid back several meters by the force of the blow. He lowered his arms and looked up to see Halcyon rush forward, a long, almost sword-length knife appearing in one of his hands. Halcyon brought up his mechanical arm, a 9mm barrel popped out. He supported his cyborg arm with his real one, Halcyon saw it and spun, whipping his right leg around in a spinning hook kick right as Easly fired the first bullet, it flew past Halcyon’s ear with about two centimeters to spare. Halcyon recocked his leg and sent it out in a straight side kick, sending Easly sliding backwards again. Halcyon jumped straight up and activated the shortsword, which started emitting a shrill hummmm… associated with vibroswords. Halcyon backflipped in the air, sliding his sword into the ceiling and out again. As he began to fall back down to the ground, a meter-square piece of the ceiling followed. Halcyon turned and flipped in mid-air, performing a mid-air bicycle kick that sent the piece flying at Easly.

Easly jumped up, throwing his left shoulder back and out of the way, bringing his torso back and down as the piece flew past him at near-supersonic speeds. It crashed into the bulkhead behind him, filling the space around it with sparks and dust. Easly turned his bullet-time maneuver into a roll and his head thudded to the floor and Halcyon twirled his blade, putting it point-down onto the cold metal floor and running forward, the blade kicking up sparks. Seeing this, Easly popped his legs up and let the wavelike motion bring him up into a crouch. Halcyon brought the blades up and out of the ground in a two-handed uppercut, the vibrosword slicing cleaning through the air behind Easly’s head. Easly, now on his feet and aimed a kicked at Halcyon’s knee, forcing back, then running forward, ducking the spinning horizontal backlash that Halcyon brought along at waist level, and then sticking his pistol in Halcyon’s face. Halcyon blinked and dropped, the gun going off again, the bullet shaving off a couple of hairs. The depowered psion then kicked Easly’s legs out from under him; Easly thudded to the floor as Halcyon landed on the floor himself, on the shoulder blades and spinning his feet around in a chop-like, circular motion and brought him onto his feet and his sword out, coming at Easly’s face.

Easly brought his mechanical arm up to block the attack; the blade skived off his arm-mounted pistol, shattering it. Easly began to kick his legs out, shimmying backwards, narrowly escaping each of Halcyon’s super-quick slashes to the face. He ducked out of the way for the fourth time when his back smacked into a hard column- the metal structural support extending from ceiling to ground. Halcyon smiled, and swung his blade around his head, slicing through the air in a wide horizontal arc before coming straight at Easly’s neck.

Easly brought his head up just in time to duck out of the way as Halcyon’s vibrosword sliced the structural support column behind Easly’s head in two.

Easly let his feet out from under him; he thudded to the floor, face-up. Bringing his knees to his chest, he kicked out, striking the sword from Halcyon’s grasp. It thudded into the ceiling five meters up.

Halcyon staggered rearwards, then assumed a fighting stance, coming forward with a right hook which Easly parried, responding with his own left jab. It was all close quarters now, and Halcyon jerked his head out of the wayward path of Easly’s speeding fist. He retaliated by punching Easly squarely in the gut. Easly took Halcyon by the shoulder his one hand, swung him around, and elbowed him straight in the face. Halcyon turned the recoil into a backflip, landing his hands up. Easly came forward with a snakelike reaching hook kicked, like Halcyon dodged, and then another back-spinning hook, which Halcyon ducking, circling. Leaping straight up and over his brother, Halcyon landed behind him. Easly, who should have been taken by surprise with this sudden maneuver, quickly turned and ducked Halcyon’s lightning-quick hook, punishing his brother with a potent roundhouse upwards into his brother’s stomach.

Easly stepped out as Halcyon fell to his knees. Interlacing his fingers in a big double fist, Easly brought it down on Halcyon’s back as his brother was starting to rise. Halcyon flopped to the ground, and was gathering himself to his feet when Easly stepped around again and grabbed his brother’s arm, hauling him up and throwing him over his shoulder, judo style. Halcyon flew forwards, flipping, and slamming into a wall, denting it.

Smith stumbled to his feet to see the Tyrax come at him, bringing its arm back, a long, snake-like whip coming from its wrist. The Tyrax flicked the hand, and Smith saw the whip come forward. Instinctively, he stepped out of the way, the whip flew past him, the pointed tip grazing his cheek, drawing blood- and hitting Bateau straight in the chest.

Bateau looked down at the spear protruding form his chest, unsure for a second. The Tyrax flicked his wrist again, and the whip withdrew. Bateau put a hand to the wound, touched it with a two fingers. When he pulled his hand away, the fingers were sticky with blood. He looked up at the Tyrax again, and then his knee crumpled out from under him, his body falling to the left, against a stack of crates.

Smith turned his gaze back to the Tyrax just as it flipped its spear-tip whip, it cracking ahead, energy sheathing its length. It came for Smith again, and he flattened himself against the floor, letting his legs go limp in a tactic Easly favored such. If he had not been trying to save his life, he would have marveled at how Easly accomplished the maneuver he himself, Smith, had just duplicated.

Smith saw the tip pass over his face, its point crackling with electricity. Immediately rolling to his left, he snatched a gun off the floor- he didn’t know what it was, he didn’t care- he came up, chest up, and looked forward, aiming the big sniper rifle resting on his chest one handed.

He fired, the first shot, pinging off the Tyrax’s head. It withdrew its whip again, and began to walk forward as Smith pulled the trigger again. The bullet pinged off the Tyrax’s left shoulder. The Tyrax was only five meters away when Smith fired a third time, and the Tyrax was blown away.

What was odd, was that the attack came from the left, blowing the Tyrax to the right, instead of back. Smith drew his knees to his chest and sat up, just in time to see Trego stride defiantly forward, a gigantic metal structural pole in his hands.

Smith got uncertainly to his feet, decided not to help Trego, and went over to check on Bateau. It was bad. The spear had pit him right in middle of the chest, going right through the heart and lungs, and, to top it all off, the spine. Bateau probably wouldn’t live for another few minutes, if at that.

Tearing a strip off his cloth shirt, Smith bandaged the wound as best he could, stopping the flow of blood. Reaching for a first aid kit on his belt, he gave Bateau a rather large amount of painkillers and was about to prop him up, when he saw it-

The Aduro Formula.

In the confusion, the Tyrax had dropped the small set of syringes, sending them scattering across the floor when he had been clotheslined by Trego. Trego was holding his own; and was even getting in a few hits, but, to be honest, he was getting his ass kicked.

Smith made his decision. He grabbed the old-fashioned syringe and raised his high, plunging it straight into Bateau’s adam’s apple.

Bateau sat straight up, his back perpendicular to his legs, which were straight out in front of him, knees together. He started to convulse, arching his back and falling back to the floor, his skin turning grey. Smith watched in amazement as the gaping wound in Bateau’s chest began to heal under the bandages, the heart flowing over itself, the spine reconnecting, the lungs melding themselves. The rib cage extended, interlaced, the skin seemed to melt over itself.

With startling quickness, Bateau sat up, looking around. “Ian. What just happened?”

Smith looked at Bateau, before glancing over at Sarah to see if she was okay. She was already showing signs of stirring. “I hit you with the Aduro formula. Only way, you would’ve died if I hadn’t hit you. The whip pierced your heart, a lung, and severed your spine in two.”

“Damn,” said Bateau, getting to his feet. Looking around, he inquired “Where’s Easl-” He ducked suddenly as Halcyon went flying by overhead, before smacking into a wall and falling onto his face. “Oh,” said Bateau. He stood up; grabbing the sniper rifle Smith had dropped, looking around. “And where are those five Nahktar guards the Tyrax had with him?”

BOOM!!

From the highest floor in the cargo hold, high above their heads, four Nahktars leapt over the railings, seventy meters above their heads. They fell, legs down, firing rifles between their legs, plasma stitching the floor. Smith fell backwards, a bolt hitting him in the arm and spinning him to the arm. He began to crawl out of the way when another bolt hit him in the calf. Ironically, it only seemed to push him harder, as he began to scramble across the floor to inside an open cargo open about seven meters tall.

However, Bateau, who stood in the middle of an opening in the forest of cargo crates, merely looked around him blankly as the bolts hit all around him, focusing into four streams coming at him to form an “x”, him and the center of the burning lines. Just as the bolts neared his position, he coiled himself downward, and then exploded outward, throwing himself up and out of the way as the four bolts intersected. He had jumped out of the way just in time, as he had been standing over a fuel line. Still in the air, Bateau could do nothing as the metal floor below him exploded, hurling him upward almost seventy meters- meeting one the Nahktars midfall.

They fell quickly, the Nahktar battering Leo with his rifle as Bateau himself twirled the sniper rifle around his finger in the pistol guard, before bring it scything up and into the Nahktar’s horizontal neck.

BAM! went the rifle as Bateau as he pulled the trigger, the bullet practically decapitating the Nahktar in a foul explosion of white blood, before flying upward and catching another Nahktar in the hand, sending the plasma rifle flying out it.

Leo, realizing how such a fall could severely injure him, threw his hand out, catching himself on the handling bar of a cargo crate, one of the millions stacked in the humongous crater. He banged into the crate side, the breath knocked out of him, but quickly bringing his rifle up and reorienting it to aim down at the falling Nahktar black ops squad, and pulling the trigger- click!- Empty!

With reflexes as fast as a cat, Bateau, saw the plasma rifle falling and he swung his sniper rifle around, the barrel catching the plasma rifle around the stock and flipping it around and up. Leo let go of his grip on the bar, bounding off the crate and catching the plasma rifle around the Nahktar-sized pistol grip, simultaneously dropping the sniper rifle. He spun in midair, brining the plasma gun’s weight into his other hand, and shouldering it as he rebounded off another crate, leapfrogging his way down. He depressed the hard-to-reach trigger, he let loose as a stream of liquid fire, hitting the highest Nahktar in the chest and cutting him in half, white splattering the walls of crate forest.

Rebounding again, he came level with another Nahktar and pressed the rifle against the alien’s back. Feeling the white-hot metal through his armor, the Nahktar bucked, whipping his legs around behind him and catching Leo with his feet before straightening his body, letting go of Leo with his claws and sending him crashing into the ground in bone-crushing speed. Leo, the Aduro-power-up coursing through his veins, rolled out of the way and to his knees, bringing the rifle to his hip and the Nahktar landed in front of him, its many knees folding to take the impact. Bateau fired wildly, the bolts covering the Nahktar’s body and keeping him up long after he had died.

Leo shuffled as quick as he could to his feet the final Nahktar landed right behind him, shooting and hitting Leo’s plasma rifle as the human ducked out of the way, blown backwards by the force of the blast. The Nahktar, moved forward, about to spray the human with plasma when he was sidelined, smacked into the side of a large crate by Easly, who slammed his boot into one of the Nahktar’s many knees and bringing the alien down to one knee. However, considering how tall Nahktars are compared to humans, these limitations brought the Nahktar only down to Easly’s height. The rep took full advantage of the fact, slamming his face into the cyborg’s, breaking Easly’s nose and sending blood everywhere.

Easly took a step backward before pivoting on his right leg and kicking the Nahktar in the head, slamming the Nahktar into the crate and shattering its neck. Withdrawing his foot and gingerly shaking the white blood off of it, Easly bent down and relieved the rep of its weapon and sidearm, handing the rifle to Bateau and taking the odd pistol for himself.

The former Colonel to himself smiled as he checked the pistol’s power charge quickly and efficiently, before moving over to help Leo up. “No hard feelings about the Tyrax? I had to find a way to lure him onboard and destroy him once and for all. However, it looks like he’s going to make a run for it. If I’m thinking what he’s thinking, we should be reaching his destination in half an hour,” he explained, scanning the room for Rickson.

“None whatsoever,” replied the Carnage Marine, scanning around for Rickson and Smith. “When did you find out your brother wasn’t so much on our side?”

Easly scanned the labyrinth of cargo crates for Trego and the Tyrax, before turning back towards Bateau. “He’s not my brother,” he answered, before moving off, slinking between the crates.

“Wait!” yelled Bateau. “What do you mean, Jak?”

Easly, who was already at the end of the long hallway, stopped. “Everyone knows the great story of Jak Easly, right? Orphaned at a young age, car thief before being forced to join ONI, agent until the war. Hell, you met me at the beginning of the war, that first battle.”

Bateau stopped and nodded slowly, not sure of Easly was heading. “I was half delirious from that assault on the Ark at the time, but, yeah.”

Easly began to run forward again, Bateau trailing behind. “It’s all false. Every bit of it. My point of insertion was that battle. I don’t even have a past.”

Bateau was puzzled. “What do you mean? You have several people who knew you from before that time. Mitchell, your wife, your bro-“ He trailed off.

“Exactly. One’s dead, and two are ONI rats. Do you know what the Dius Donum project was about?”

“Creating psions using the Deinonj?” ventured Bateau.

“Not at all. The Deinonj were a ruse. The entire thing was an attempt to-”

BOOM!!

Hundreds of crates around them blew apart like firecrackers, leveling a straight path to the singular entrance and exit into and out of the cargo bay. Fires burned all around them, the molten contents of the cargo crates alight.

In this newly created hell stood Seth Halcyon, standing a meter in front of the exit, his hand crackling with power.

“-It was attempt to clone the perfect psion!” Halcyon’s voice carried across the cavernous bay easily.

“Trego must’ve accidentally deactivated the Tyrax’s nullifier. Shit, it was the only thing worth keeping the Tyrax alive for. Now we’ve got an angry psion at full power,” breath Easly.

“I’m afraid you may be right,” said Halcyon, though he was sixty meters away. “The Dius Donum project was a part of a much larger and much farther reaching project, one that you only barely know as Les Quartre Caveliers. The Four Horsemen. The manifestations of the apocalypse. In this case, perfect recreations of the perfect psion. Null.”

He spoke the words with terrifying ferocity.

“I am Null.

“And you, Jak Easly, are nothing but a failed footnote on a failed project. You are nothing. But a. Clone.

“You are only thirteen years old. Created a mere year before this war, you were flash-grown and flash-taught everything you needed to be the perfect soldier. The skill imprints and brain patterns of the greatest pilot of his time, the man who presided over the project, was the one who gave you your celebrated skills. You are nothing but a cardboard cutout, Jak Easly, nothing but a copy and paste job attempting to combine the perfect psion with the perfect soldier.

You. Are a. Failure.”

And with that fateful pronouncement, Jak Easly was picked off his feet like a rag doll and tossed against a nearby stake of crates face-first like a bullet. He hit it, arms splayed, a disgusting gout of white nanoblood flaring out in all directions.

Seth Halcyon slowly began to walk forward, each step deliberate and measured.

Bateau lifted his rifle and sprayed Halcyon, aiming for his sneering face-

The bolts dissipated mere feet from the barrel of the gun, expanding out into nothingness. Other than that, Halcyon ignored Bateau, focused on his quarry struggling, but unable to move in the vicelike psionic grip.

Halcyon waved a hand, and Easly slammed against the opposite crate wall, shattering his right arm.

You were inserted on the eve of the Ark invasion, a field testing to see if your as-of-then assumed latent ‘psionic’ powers would ever come to head and if you come blow away the Ark legions with a thought. We, the masters of the project and I , stood, out of system ,watching, waiting. No. You decided to dick around with Lieutenant Colonel Cunthead here, going after Trego with the backdrop of alien invasion falling down all around you. With the world ending all around you, the apocalypse truly beginning, you were supposed to become our one hope, the greatest chance we had. No, you played around with dogfighting and rocket launchers on that private hangar with Adamson and Trego, fighting to escape. Escape? You fucking pussy. We could have ended this right then and there. Trillions of people would have still been alive. I wouldn’t have had to made a deal with fucking Satan-”

Easly began to slam back forth, quickly, a measured beat, blood flying everywhere.

Leo could only watch helplessly, his weapons rendered useless, as he felt the presences of Smith, Rickson, Sarah, and Smith behind him, a hand clutching at his shoulder, urging him to get out of there, the Tyrax was escaping…

“I wouldn’t have been a failure, the cast-out relic of a botched dream. I wouldn’t been relegated the status of ‘Deinonj killer’ or ‘secret fucking agent’.

The ship began to shake. Violently. Fire exploded downward from an overhead powerline. Boxes crumbled down. They had dropped out of the slipstream and were taking heavy fire. Overhead, he could see the body of Easly drop to the floor, battered and broken as Halcyon reached him. Easly struggled to a sitting position, meekly going for his shoulder pistols.

Halcyon decked him. Easly was sent spinning to the floor, floor highlighted in the chaotic flashing of the ship’s lighting system as more unseen attacks from an unknown aggressor battered the Alt Vertraut.

Hauling Easly up by his hair, Halcyon left the bloodied man in a sitting up on his knees before delivering a vicious roundhouse to his ‘brother’s’ face, almost cracking Easly’s neck.

“No, we decided to give the project one more time and threw fucking Drax out there as an attempt to recreate a situation for psionic powers. Another chance to save the universe… at least Drax had some useful powers to begin with, but healing isn’t exactly something that can defeat the Ark now, is it hatfucker? Is it?”

Halcyon brought a foot down on Easly’s stomach, and he folded around the blow, blood flying from his mouth, the goblets seen intermittently through the anarchy of the cargo bay.

Even through the hellish beating he had received, Easly turned the reflexive convulsion into some attempt, be it feeble to fight back. Grabbing and twisting Halcyon’s foot, he actually managed to bring the man down.

Rolling on the floor, Halcyon easily separated from Easly’s sluggish attempt to get into a grappling chokehold and brought his foot far back before swinging it forward, catching Easly’s floor-oriented face right on the top of his foot and send ing Easly crashing in a massive arc backwards.

Lifting Easly up with a broad, slashing motion, Halcyon pushed outward, sending Easly flying away, towards the door, sending him skipping across the floor. Easly was now some twenty meters away from the helpless group, unable to transverse the distance to the exit with the galaxy’s most pissed psion standing in the way.

“And right here, the royal failure, the disappointment that was Jak Easly, his story comes to an end. To little, too late, huh, ‘bro’?”

Bringing both his hands up, Halcyon easily withdrew a massive cargo bin off its mountings. It was good eight feet cubed, and its content sloshed loudly, even over the racket in the bay, indicating Superheavy contents. Halcyon let it revolve a couple times before casting it at the prone figure lying, broken at the opposite side of the room like a bowling ball, charging down a hapless pin.

The box rocketed through the air. Easly, lying on his belly, was spun to face the crate head-on, looking through blood-caked eyes up at impending doom.

“My friends,” announced Halcyon to the knot of his enemies standing behind him. “Behold, the end of the great, late Jak Easly.”

The crate stopped in midair. Just halted. On a dime.

Though they all could see the form lying down, the crate only a meter above and away from killing him.

Though the expression on his face matched the shock and surprise of those around him, if not surpassed it by a great margin, all could see the outstretched hand, flowing with orange energy, held up as if to fend off the charging crate.

“No fucking way,” breathed Smith.
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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Mobius 1
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Re: Arc: Apocalypse

Post by Mobius 1 » Wed May 21, 2008 12:04 am

Chapter 13: Total Extinction

Section I: Brothers

Halcyon’s eyes literally burned. As in, psionic flames flickered from the sockets. With the blink of an eye, he had crossed the cargo bay and had his hand against Easly’s throat, and then he was gone.

They appeared in the empty security station on Zrmahk, bodies littering the floors, the room scattered with inspecting personnel, and yet more security.

Easly frowned at the hand at his throat, blood seeping from his nose down onto the glove. He kneed Halcyon in the balls, before delivering a knifehand into Halcyon’s throat. Halcyon flinched back and blinked away, and it was only the hair-breadth of contact that pulled Easly with him.

They appeared in Easly’s apartment on Mars, the small room having since been occupied by some new administrative lieutenant. But, right now, it was dead. Following up his a roundhouse to Halcyon’s head, Easly misjudged the distance as stumbled as Halcyon came up underneath the blow, swinging him like a bat into a flatscreen. Easly prepared himself for the blow, but was surprised when found himself falling into a soft bed- the bed of the apartment adjacent to his.

He had blinked through the wall.

He heard a snarl and Halcyon appeared behind him, driving a fist into his kidneys, and suddenly they were in the armory of the ISN Reclaimer, only the ship was floating, dead in space, over New Wales, it’s crew dead. A blue corpse floated past Easly’s eye, the boot thumping on his head as he nearly gagged, but then his cybernetic’s internal oxygen supply kicked in, with the life support forcefield bubbling over him. Halcyon gagged, and Easly pushed off him, but Halcyon caught onto his foot, tugging him back-

Easly reflexively brought them to the center of Zrmahk City, and he felt Halcyon sag against him, he spun, a pistol he had snatched from the armory pointing at his brother’s face, but the psion had his guard up faster than expected. The pistol reverted to dust in his hands, and Easly barely got a hand over himself in a measure of a protective bubble of psionic energy before he was batted into a skyscraper, on the fifth floor- familiar memories came back to him and Halcyon appeared above him, he rolled out the way to barely avoid the boot coming down to crush his face. The blow crushed the carpet floor as if it was made of tin, but Easly had rolled into Halcyon, and his attacker sprawled over him. Rolling quickly, he had a knee pressed against Halcyon’s neck, but the psion was nothing below him, and he suddenly felt a heavy blow hit the back of his head. He fell to the ground, blinking into the reactor room of the Vertraut, but his assailant was there again, this time with the gun he had disassembled only second before, the barrel huge and black in Easly’s eyes, he could see the slug at the end of the chamber. Reaching out, he obliterated the bullet with his mind. From the corner of the room, Adamson’s dropped biorifle swept into his hand, and he used it as a club against Halcyon’s chin, but the blow never landed.

He felt a boot plant itself in the back of his knee, and he fell, but he aimed the rifle and pulled the trigger- the green energy was swept aside like rain water- they were suddenly on New California, in the remnants of the underground bunker that had formed the core of Halcyon’s resistance on the planet under Ark occupation. It had been turned into a memorial for those who had fought the oppressors, a family screamed as the two men appeared out of thin air- Easly blinked behind them and gathered them in a bear hug as Halcyon began firing his reloaded pistol, the bullets flying everywhere, Easly barely caught the snarl when his foe realized where they were, the irony so sweet-

They appeared on the top deck of a New Cal skyscraper, Easly pushing them away from him, he met Halcyon halfway, in the air between the ground and the eternal sky, fists flying-

This was wrong. He was learning too fast. He had seen the years it had taken Halcyon to fully master his skills. Now he could easily move objects, taking them apart at the molecular level, and blink across galactic distances- this was all wrong.

He was being manipulated.

He dove into his mind and instantly sought out the link between him and his brother, chugging down it like a missile, too quick for Halcyon to anticipate- he caught surface thoughts before he doubled over, puking his guts out some thousand meters in the air, falling like a rock as Halcyon viciously shut the link down like the trap it was-

-And suddenly they were above a black hole. The life support kicked in and Easly realized Halcyon was telekinetically holding in air around him-

They were surrounded by Ark ships. Not only that, but human ones. They were oddly, enough, not trying to kill each other. Out of the corner of his eye, Easly saw an armada of millions flashed out of a slipstream, bearing Frok’tar colors.

Halcyon smiled as the realization hit Easly, that Easly’s worst fears had come true, before he blinked within inches and smalled his head down on Easly’s, part vicious headbutt, part mindmeld.

He took Easly apart, piece-by-piece, mentally disassembling the man’s psyche, destroying his mind as though it were a fragile tower of wood blocks. The last thing Easly saw was the sterile white floor, one that belong to the bridge of an Ark capital ship-

By then, Jak Easly had no mind left. He was, by mental definitions, as dead as could be.

* * *

The Tyrax swept into the bridge of his flagship, Zero Hour, glancing about it as he mentally reviewed the wound in his chest, the one where the fool Trego had ripped out his psionic suppressor, leaving a gaping hole in the center of his torso armor, over his figurative heart. Fortunately, his blocker was still intact, and that was what mattered. He had detected anomalies in the minds of his brother, making it a wise move not to resume the uplink.

The quick glance at the bridge’s massive, photo-realistic, to-scale holographic tac-map showed him his assembled armada, his hammer with which he would smash any opposition to his uprising. The reinforcements from the Frok’tar Alliance loyal to the Ark’s dominant political party had only just arrived, swelling his ranks by a considerable margin. They were holding station over the Kaeleron Singularity, a trap by FTL standards, a perfect a theatrical place to make a crushing blow to any loyalist factions arrayed against him.

With five more long strides, he descended into a vacant crew pit confront the source the blankness of the stations. Halcyon stood, a boot planet on the chest a broken body below him, massaging a bruise on his neck. If he gave any notice of the absence of the overriding psionic haze that was supposed to be emanating from the cyborg, he gave no outward sign.

“It’s done,” he said, speaking into a comlink. “A complete success. Given Easly as a dangerous opponent, I couldn’t draw out any fight with him, but the mental leak worked perfectly. The information I slowly fed him was quickly assimilated and used against me. He bounded across the galaxy several times; he even managed to exoport a whole family on New Cal. –Yes, New California. Given Easly’s allegiances, we can’t let him live, in fact, I just wiped his mind, shut him down. As far as we’re concerned he’s a vegetable. Even if he did revert, he would be back before his powers surfaced, with no possible triggers. No, we can still use Drax. He’s not too far gone. Maybe we can still draw out anything beyond those useless healing powers.”

The Tyrax looked down at Easly’s body, the heartbeat barely noticeable; proceeding at a snail’s pace. Another insect vanquished. He hoped this time it was for good. He raised a foot, placing it above the man’s head, poised to crush it like a fruit.

Halcyon cut the connection and waved the Tyrax off. “Too messy. Get your cameras ready, I’d like to dump his body into the black hole. Something theatric to discourage any opposition.”

“An excellent idea,” concurred the cyborg. An aide arrived, handing the Tyrax a small black box- the new disruptor, meant for quick activation. The Tyrax reached for it.

Halcyon crouched, picking the limp Easly up by the collar. “What’s wrong, bro? No witty final one-liner? No gut-funny pun? It’s over, bro. No more jokes.”

The knifehand to the neck sent them both reeling backwards, reeling straight above the event horizon of the black hole. All around them, nothing seemed to be moving.

Total as the mindwipe had been, Easly still had a non-psionic part of his consciousness- something Halcyon couldn’t touch- his cybernetic memory banks. When the clean slate was provided, they hit a harsh restart on Easly’s brain, haphazardly reloading his memory back into the fleshy counterpart. It had taken but a minute, but it had taken its toll. A reboot, if you will.

Gleeming, the disruptor in Easly’s hand caused Halcyon to double over as Easly dialed it to all but the highest level. The air trapped around Halcyon through shear reflex allowed a medium for the words to travel.

“No jokes, bro,” Easly snarled as he placed his boots against Halcyon’s chest and kicked.

Halcyon spagettified beyond Easly’s view as Easly hit the beacon on his belt. Behind his back, several million kilometers off, the ISN loyalist fleet beamed into view. Easly felt cool glove take his arm as a suited psion came up behind him, and then they were on the deck of the Brute Hope, where Easly promptly collapsed out of the psion’s arms and into unconsciousness.

Section II: Countdown

Easly awoke to the pounding of alert sirens. Above he saw Drax’s weary eyes, and the face of some man he did not know. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Alt Vertraut coupling with docking clamps far to his right.

“You made it,” said the stranger, his eyes relieved. He held out his hand. Easly weakly shook it, and was hauled to his feet by the man. “Elliot,” the man said, nodding. “The message you left us a couple months ago didn’t make much sense, but at this point, we didn’t have much to go on. However, with coup by Deckard on Mars, and the lightning message from Reitman, we were able to piece together the puzzle. One of our combat psions managed to pull you out of the teeth of the black hole before you joined your brother in the void. You’re damn lucky to be alive. Had the beacon not worked, you would’ve been pasta.”

Drax smiled. “The Vertraut caught up only a half our ago, they sent me on express to heal your wounds and those in the medbays, which, I must say, are pretty much overflowing. I was ordered by the Grand Admiral herself to take break lest I tire out and be unable to handle any more. But I’m proud to say I handled the critical cases. And, after your beating at the hands of our “brother”, you qualified fully.”

“This man’s got quite a gift,” added Elliot. “It isn’t often we find a healer of his skill. We received reports of your brief duel with Halcyon- and it begs the question- did he wipe you?”

“Yes,” replied Easly, rubbing his temples. “My cybernetics aren’t capable of copying down psionic skill. Halcyon got me, as he intended. A spit from the grave, as it were.” He frowned. “Shouldn’t we be at, you, know, war?”

An average man in a jumpsuit sidled up- it was clear he was on his way to a fighter bay, some hundred meters down hangar. “Colonel Tama Hideoshi. Can’t say I’ve had the honor of meeting the famous Easly myself. Breckenridge told me to give you a sitrep.”

Easly surmised the man. His eyes were sharp, his grip strong. Easly had heard of Hideoshi, and was impressed to meet the man- a legend just as much as him, the leader of the counterpart Rex squadron- the ISAF’s heavy bombers. He knew what he was talking about.

Hideoshi drew a small tac-map from his belt, tossing it to the floor. A small holo flickered up into existence between them, showing the rotating black hole and the surrounding factions.

“As to your first question, the reason we’re not currently in full combat is the Tyrax called for a twenty-four-hour truce before the battle began, with fifty-fifty holdings pre-battle. Bastard apparently thinks he has enough forces to sit around and wait for our guys to show up. In part, he’s got it right- the longer we wait, the more defect to his side. He’s got Deckard’s personal ONI detachment, some nasty shit on it’s own, plus the ten times more massive rogue fleets, the Fifth, Twenty-Ninth, and Hundred Teen series. Add to that those two faced Frok’tar fraks and he’s on very strong footing.”

Nodding, Easly asked, “Did we have any loyalist factions offering truces for the defeat of mutual enemy?”

The good Colonel smiled at Easly’s wording. “Good thing. Kehksol, the Ark high executive, was with us right off the bat. We’ve got so much techin the past two hours it’s not even believable. The Teleporters are absolutely amazing. The Ark engineers are a thing to be seen, as well- they’re already installed completely over the Hope[/I and the major Spartan-classes-”

“Hot damn,” breathed Easly. He had no idea.

“Plus the integration network, so we can go cross to Ark loyalist ships and vice versa. This dude means business. Add into that preliminaries for a post-war peace and possible alliance, and we’re looking pretty good right now.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s all political,” said Elliot, waving his hand. “Kehksol could easily crush us after the battle, if we won, if he wanted to. He’s rubbing the sweet spot.”

“Could be,” frowned Drax. “But at this point, he’s given too much away- the teleporters? Give me a break. That alone is a millennia or two of technological development given away. You don’t put out that big a bait if you’re only bluffing. Kehksol plays high stakes, but nothing that big. He’s too smart for that. He know’s the population’s got war-weariness, and with the major hawk factions in the Conclave leaving with the Tyrax, he won’t be able to support offing us after this battle, should we win.”

Hideoshi and Easly merely nodded, and Hideoshi started again. “We’ve also got word the Frok’tar Corporate Security Leagues not influence by the Ark infiltration is less than twenty minutes off. And- big surprise- we’ve got one more ally, totally unexpected.”

“The Scorpia.”

Easly cocked his head, taken aback. “I was aware they’ve been rebuilding some measure of a polity in some godforsaken corner of the galaxy, but I didn’t think they could do anything much in the way of adding to the battle, let alone allying with us.”

Shrugging, Hideoshi grimaced. “It seems some Ark exploratory leagues had been hitting them hard over the past few centuries over the past couple centuries. Those mantis dudes breed like rabbits, and they’ve bounced back harder than anyone could’ve anticipated each time. Even better, they’re technological up-to-date. It seems the Frok’tar have been trading with them for a good century, goodwill tech updates like they did with us. Add to this that the Tyrax led one such crusade against a hive, and it was on in the Scorps minds. Woe be to any foe standing in their way. It’s ironic, that they’re the only faction not split by the coup.”

“That it is,” nodded Easly, just before he was nearly floored by a running hug from Rickson, followed by Sarah.

“A wonderful breakdown in military discipline,” he muttered under his breath, smiling all the way. “I didn’t know I was missed.”

Reitman nodded as he approached with the rest of Team Phi-Psi. Trego split off immediately, intercepted by a large detachment of high ranks and many stars, who escorted him to a bridge teleporter faster than you could say strategic mind. “When Halcyon got you by the throat and leapt halfway across the galaxy, he thought you were toast, mate. Add to that a video of you feet above a black hole’s horizon, and hot damn.”

Bateau clasped hands with Easly and nodded. “Good to have you back, sir.” He stepped back and saluted cleanly and Ian edged over and grudgingly did the same. “Pasted Halcyon damn fine, if I do say so myself.”

* * *

Trego entered the bustling bridge of the Brute Hope like a conqueror returned from his subjugations. The massive two story bridge buried deep in what could barely be called the dreadnaught’s bridge tower, a cylindrical room with a large gravlift interconnecting the two ring-shaped decks. Standing on the top floor, gazing into the obligatory massive holograph tac-map, Grand Admiral Mccorl nodded stiffly to the Nahktar Warmaster, brushing a strand of auburn hair out her eyes as she fiddled with a military chatter.

“Warmaster,” she said curtly. “It certainly is odd having you this bridge, not for an execution, but for joint-command.”

“Diplomatic as always, Grand Admiral,” reposted Trego, hiding a smirk with a sweeping bow. “I won’t defend any of my heinous previous actions, only to point out that a strict focus on the here and now will be our true savior, cooperatively.”

Mccorl’s eyes twinkled. “Indeed. We have your former flagship standing by. Fully restored and crewed by your old company.”

Trego was seriously happy. “You didn’t scrap it for intelligence after New California? For that, you have my genuine gratitude, madam. I am in your debt. However, for right now, it would be prudent for a solid strategic plan set down her and now. Specifically, the Ark. I see it has not arrived yet-”

The Tac-Map was empty of massive homicidal death planetoids the size of Mars.

“True,” replied Mccorl. “However, from what I’ve gathered, a vessel of that size simply cannot arrive under the overriding control of a single flag.”

“You are correct, Admiral. If and when it makes an appearance, fighting will reign both above and within the beast. I had solid intelligence that, barring the obvious combat and looking as simple geography, the Tyrax holds the majority of the ship, the majority of the important areas- such as fire control, engineering, and life support. But most importantly, he maintains control of the entirety of the Conclave. Do not take this as support- those who support his actions, those hawks in our formerly unified government will be with him. Those who don’t, who, more importantly, can’t make up there minds just as of yet are being imprisoned. If we could free them and get them under loyalist control, both geographically and politically, then we could add a massive tide of reinforcements to our ranks, one that could ultimately turn the tide of battle.”

“Incredible points, Warmaster. It seems that when an appearance is made, the Conclave shall be the overriding factor. I suggest a surgical extraction team, someone who can fight their way into the Ark and gain access to the Conclave hall-”

“-Where they could then activate a translocator beacon, where upon our more advanced information trafficking ships could remove them instantly onto a flagship. A solid plan, Admira-”

“Sirs!” shouted a Lieutenant down below. “The Tyrax is deploying Valkryies around the black hole itself! It seems they’re planting something above the singularity, in the center of the capship ring formation!”

“Damn,” muttered Trego. “The Trego has forced our hand. He has cut short our time for preparation, and so must he fall into battle. Ready your fighters, Grand Admiral, as no amount of capital ships will break that gauntlet. The Tyrax is planting an Annihilation bomb. If he doesn’t win, or win in time- he’ll blow us all to paradise and everything within lightyears, every direction.”

“Contact!” screamed the Lieutenant. “Coming in from slipstream, and it’s a big mother… it’s- it’s the Ark, sirs.”

Section III: I Could Have Been Your Daddy

Food and drinks were taken in at speed, weapons renewed, and armor donned. Debriefings were swift and seemed to only serve as fact confirmations to those handling the meetings. Drax had returned to the medbay, his hands soon to be as full as could be. Reitman, however, had refused to leave, insisting he was the ‘only intel man worth a damn on the deck right now, and he needed to be the one to brief his men’. There was in reality no argument, as a shortage among handlers swiftly reinstated him deep in the bowels of an ISN loyalist electronics vessel. A hologram of him stood at ease, surveying them at length before speaking. Pride sparkled in his eyes.

Reitman’s holograph turned towards Bateau. “Lieutenant Colonel, Trego has informed me that the Tyrax is holding the Conclave hostage aboard the Ark. It seems he kept the news of his betrayal cut off from them and whisked them onto the Ark under the pretenses of a power grab- from Kehksol. If we can get to the Conclave and convince them the Tyrax is plotting to overthrow the Ark for his own purposes, we can receive a massive amount of reinforcement, possibly enough from a majority of the Conclave to offset the advantage the sudden appearance of the Ark has given the rebels.

“Unfortunately, the Tyrax has established a guard of Carnage Marines loyal to Deckard in the Atrium leading to the Conclave chambers, the only way in. They’re lead by Adamson, so I’ll need you to lead in a counter-force of Carnage Marines to neutralize the rebels and storm the Conclave. Once inside, you’ll activate a translocator beacon that will be supplied. The only way to rescue the Conclave is to hack through the anti-translocation nets surrounding the Chamber, so that means the beacon. Once it’s activated, we’ll move you and the Conclave to a cruiser that has infiltrated the Ark’s internal fleet bays and movement network. From there, we’ll translocate you to the Nightfall, Trego’s flagship. Understood?”

“How many men will I have with me?”

“I believe, let me see, it’s your old squad from the 45th Battalion. Good luck. The translocator is set up to bring you to them.”

Bateau simply nodded, moving off to the far corner of the Ark troopship to the translocator platform, set up to rendezvous him with his squad on the ISN Remnant.

“Dusk. Longbow.” Reitman’s holograph shifted slightly to regard to two remaining Storm Commandos. “Admiral Mccorl requested you specifically. The Brute Hope is going to experience massive boarder waves, and the ship’s onboard troop compliment is close to being overwhelmed. Mccorl and the rest of the loyal ISN admiral have convened aboard the bridge to direct the battle. The Open Truth, the sister ship of the Hope, isn’t due to arrive for another three hours, so we need you to defend the bridge until the other vessel arrives and the Admiralty can transfer to a suitable command vessel. Until then, we need to hold onto the Hope’s superior command facilities as long as we can. Expect massive waves of allied rebel forces, and several high-level intrusions by the crack heroes of each faction. You’ll have platoon of DART troopers to assist you in the defense, but that’s quite literally all we can spare at the moment. I cannot stress enough how tightly stretched our Marines are. Mccorl is counting on you.”

“With respect, sir,” voiced Sarah, “What has become of the other Storm Commandos? The other four squads?”

Reitman appeared to check a screen below him at his Operator’s console. He looked up, frowning. “Checking with Virgil over the Hope- I’m quite sorry… But you’re the only ones left. …The others were killed in engagements off of New Wales and New Cal. You’re it.”

Brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, she slung her rifle and glanced over at Smith, who nodded, steeling his gaze. “After all this, we’re being split up. Certainly ironic, isn’t it?”

Easly smirked silently, repressing the fact that his hand-built super soldier program had failed, but they had failed in the line of duty. Internalization was the basis of his character, otherwise the horrific acts and fact he had done and learned over the years would have driven him over the edge long ago.

“Wait- I’m receiving a critical alert!” barked Reitman over the hologram, his eyes widening. A cluster of cruisers has taken up position right on the edge of the gravitational radius of the singularity! They’re- they’re deploying an Annihilation bomb!”

Rickson swore. “Fuck. It’s the Tyrax’s ace in the hole.”

Nodding, Easly concurred. “If he can’t pull off a victory here or we pull in the Conclave, he’ll jump out and detonate the thing. He’ll wipe out everything with a lightyear.”

“I agree. Jak, in light of the new information, I’m creating a mission reroute for you and the Lieutenant. We’ve amassed our fighter forces for one final shot at both the Ark and, right now, the Annihilation bomb. Attack the bomb first, it’ll be destructible at this point- it’s completely safe until detonation. Once you clear out the cruiser and the surrounding enemy starfighters, proceed to infiltrate the Ark through its fleet bays. However, you cannot commence upon your siege of the planetoid until Bateau exfiltrates the Conclave, so time your attacks carefully.”

Motioning towards the translocator that Smith and Sarah were waiting to enter, Easly inquired, “Lennart, where’re we being zapped to? The fleet carrier?”

Shaking his head, Lennart gestured down with his hands. “Actually, Major Marshal, we’ve wheeled out your ships into the hangar. They’re two decks down, both yours and the Lieutenant’s ships. Just off the production line, the final model of the Arrowhead series, the X-3, and the Suhkoi bomber for Megan. It’ll take too long to relocate you and launch, we need the fighters there now. May honor guide you, Marshal.”

Easly moved stand, but glanced back down at the hologram. “Mr. Reitman. Am I to assume you’ll be my AWACs during the assault? That was, after all, your specialty with ONI before you retired. I’d be honored if you acted as our contact. Truly Honored.”

“That was my next answer, Jak. However, you can pay me back by using my callsign from here on out.”

His cybernetic smirk widening into a grin, Easly asked, “And that would be?”

Reitman bobbed his head towards the large hanger below decks. “Siegetank. Now get your asses moving- but be warned. We’ve received reports that Deckard has taken to the battle in some form. He was a former pilot before he joined intel, so be careful. He was one of the best.”

* * *

The COM clicked across the allied Loyalist fleet vessels, keyed in to every soldier, sailor, pilot, technician, and captain. Grand Admiral Mccorl’s voice echoed across FLEETCOM.

“Soldiers of the Interplanetary Space Navy, Ark Expansionary Fleet, and Frok’tar Corporate Security Forces, I have but few words to say to you…”

* * *

“He have, arrayed before us, the most dangerous enemy we have ever faced. Be you Nahktar, human, or any other species, you have met perils over your life. But this moment is the most perilous. For now, and forever. He is insidious. Cool words worm inside your mind, offering promises of peace. All you need to seize that goal is to take up arms with him. To throw off the yokes of millennia of dogma. But I tell you now, this foe’s ‘offer’ is nothing but dust and echoes. You are his means to his end. Do not be that blunt instrument.”

Easly looked up as the loudspeakers boomed to words across the hangar, one of dozens on the Hope buzzing with activity. He felt at home. It been months since he a rode into battle on his trusted Arrowhead. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rickson conversing with Hideoshi as she was accepted into the brackets of the squadron.

Picking his helmet off the wing of his fight, he gazed into it before setting it back down. Popping the hatch on his plane, he pulled the armory cart over and dropped his own ace-in-the-hole on the armrest. It was so huge, it was almost too long for the tiny cockpit.

Behind him, he sensed movement, and he turned to see his old squadron. The Raptors. They were bandaged, but still in their flightsuits. But their ranks were thin. A twang of guilt and sadness touched his heart, and he saluted them.

Each of them saluted back.

“I’d be honored to have each of you fly with me one more time,” he said, nodding.

“This honor is ours,” responded Captain Blake, a thin smile touching his lips.

“Who was it?” Easly voiced the unspoken question.

Blake grimaced. “We were feet from taking our the entirety of the fleet with Eliza when Mitchell started mowing us down left and right. It wasn’t til three days later we learned he had been affiliated with the coup. Elliot, that man you met earlier, came in with second squad and saved our lives.”

“Kara?” asked Easly quietly, referring to the other XO in the squad.

Lieutenant Korrigan grimaced. “First one out. Shot in the back.”

Easly ground his teeth. Of his crack squadron, his pride and joy, only four of them stood before him now, each bearing some wound of their own.

He sighed. “Heaven or hell… let’s rock.”

* * *

“This man, this Tyrax, has burned worlds. And not at some higher command, but upon glee. He is a monster. He will give you no quarter. Should you expect the same from him?”

Bateau gazed upon his combat suit, a boyish grin playing across his face. Behind him, a thin Major stepped up. “Major Baylor, sir. I was assigned as your XO for this op.”

Baylor turned. “Haven’t seen you since Septimus, man. How are ya?”

“Damn fine, sir. Ready to go kick some traitor ass. ‘Give no quarter’, and the like. Do the Carnage Marine thing and spew epic one-liners while I’m doing it.”

“I like your style, Leatherneck. So, let’s do the briefing.”

Bateau kicked an elevator button and in five seconds the platform dropped, arraying the massive thirty-four suits before him, all six meters tall, all ready to kill.

“Gentlemen,” Bateau’s voice boomed. “By now, you have no need to be informed of the definition of the word “suicide mission”. Hell, running around in the twenty-sixth century equivalent of plate armor, you must have the word defined to you on a daily basis!”

A resounding “Hooah!” came up from his men.

“Damn right,” nodded Bateau. “Here’s fine details. Our target- the Ark. I’ve already hit this beast once or twice before, and let me tell you, it’s a tough nut to crack. But I’m sure all you ladies’ men could do it a heartbeat. We’ll be dropping in the Carnage Marine well, am I right, men!”

“Feet first, sir!”

“Damn right,” said Bateau again. “Individual capsules across a kilometer area. We penetrate through a hangar. This unfortunately, is a mission bent on time. So, no, we can’t make our title stick on the way to the objective. This isn’t a slaughter everything mission. This is extraction, ladies, but there’ll be plenty of ass to kick right outside the hotel room. You see, the Tyrax painted up the Conclave like the biggest bang-for-your-buck whore in the Milky Way. We’re heading in there to go get her and take her to our place, but first we have to deal with the gangbangers outside. And these asswipes, my friends, could have been your daddy. They will eat you for breakfast and shit you out as a diamond by dinner. We do not need a clean victory, men! We need to hit this conclave hard and fast, punching through those traitorous suits like a needle. Only one man need get through with the translocation beacon, but they need to have the Conclave’s hall clear of our foes before you trigger it and you’re sucked away to home plate. There will be blood, gentlemen, but I will make myself clear. The longer you stay outside, trying to be a hero, the larger chance you have of biting it. The larger chance you have of the not reaching the Conclave. The larger chance you have of not getting the reinforcements and winning this battle.

“The larger chance of not getting home to see your wives and children. Be smart, gentlemen! Dismissed!”

* * *

“There is simply no way I can speak to each of you at once. All I can do is give the traditional warrior’s farewell. Honor be onto you.”

“Fortune light your way,” intoned Trego.

“Victory pave your road.”

“Good luck, gentlemen. Command out.”

Ian slapped the bolt on his rifle and gave Sarah a significant look. This was it.

They stood in the Admiral’s hangar, just a kilometer away from the bridge, surrounded by portable AA turrets and the newly-arrived elite Navy counterboarding unit, the DARTs. They were currently receiving their weapons from an armor dolly wheeling around the room.

A petit brunette came over and saluted the pair, who stood in a corner, quietly talking. “Sirs. Captain Vance wanted you to know that he would be one deck up, tending the autocannons if you needed him.

Sarah shook her head. “Not at the moment, Corporal…”

“Pryce, ma’am. Corporal Valerie Pryce. Delta Squad.”

Ian frowned. “I knew your dad- the Lieutenant Colonel?”

Pryce’s eyes sobered. “You’re Captain Smith. You were with him on Guardian.”

“Aye. Never met a braver soul. I don’t thin kthey told you he took out an entire column of tanks, took them with him? Covered our retreat, he did. Saved billions of lives. You should be proud.”

Pryce was about to respond when the call came in over the com- “Look alive, soldiers! Weapons free, as we’ve got a pair of enemy Spartans moving up on the Hope’s left flank! Nuclear FAEBs are inbound! Valerie threw on her helmet and charged back behind the DART bulwarks, her shotgun bouncing against her back. The blast door on the hangar slammed shut with a massive thud. Returning Ian’s earlier look, Sarah starting climbing the ladder that lined the edge of the blast door, leading up the catwalk that ran the length of the top of the gate. Following, Ian nodded down at the DARTs hunkering in the portable bunkers before mounting the catwalk and prone.

Above them, they heard the chattering of the autocannons, and the whine of fighters as they departed. This wasn’t going to be good.

* * *

In a wide circular formation, twelve monstrous Valkryie cruisers were arrayed around the Annihilation Bomb, each quartet of huge organo-metallic weapons tentacles waving in the occasional flashes of the nukes going off all around them. As Easly watched, three of the super dreadnaughts coalesced their tentacles around the rear body of the squid-like vessel, a blinding glow building within the folds. Keying his comm, Easly barely had to time to yell out a single syllable of warning, a call to break, when the tentacles splayed and four huge beams of destructive energy blasted forth from the beaks of the ships, obliterating all in their paths.

So huge were the central weapons, that they preceded all other forces in the field of directed, weaponized death. These were Ultimate Autolasers, and they stood as a vanguard over the bomb.

The right-most beam cut straight at Easly’s formation, and he swore over the comm, pulling hard up, rolling madly as the massive, world-consuming beam blew under his tiny fighter, blinding all else from view. Such was the luminosity of the destruction that even with the combined maximum polarizations of his canopy, EVA helmet, and cybernetic systems, his neural net still had to intervene and disconnect his eyesight briefly to prevent himself from being forever blinded.

Easly felt the great hand shake his fighter like a puny tin can, and he knew he could only hold on until the ride was over, forever pushing forward. Looking at his squadron data, he saw green markers flash red and drop off his listing, in massive chunks, only to be filled by reinforcements. This was not so much a first wave as one contiguous stream, only ending when the fighters around the Valkryies were destroyed and their point defense disabled. Only then would the bombers with the CSKs come in.

“Hug the edge of the beams!” Easly yelled. “As long as you stay out of the maximum damage range, you’ll be okay! They’re totally contained, so they’re also your greatest cover! Follow them straight to emitters, we can’t take any more shots like that, they’ll slaughter our fleets like sheep! Lay bare the path to the bomb!”

* * *
The Ark is the singular most massive mobile warmachine in the galaxy. Though it had once been a habitat for the Nahktar race as a replacement for their long-gone homeworld, it was now a moving fortress world, aimed at taking on the galaxy at large and winning. And upon its appearance, it had made itself the largest target on the battlefield, bar none. True to Trego’s word, it was in true contest, with new warriors diving into the already chaotic fray aboard the ship.

Bateau’s Carnage Marines were one such group.

The massive single-man ingress pods fell like meteors, a center ECM missile standing guardian over their formation, lasers simply bending away under the cover of a literal forward shield of energy, and missiles went haywire went they got within ten kilometers of the platoon, flipping away, and purposely detonating against any fighter squadron trying to paste the mechs.

Following tradition, Bateau’s pod was the first to pound into the city-like surface of the Ark. Gas vented, and the door was hit off with such force that a lesser laser bank crumpled upon impact. Hefting a gigantic multi-shot nuclear missile launcher over the shoulder of his suit, Bateau targeted a monstrous autolaser turret to his left. If the thing fired, background radiation alone would wipe is squad from existence. The launcher kicked in his massive hands, and two missiles spiraled out from the cell, striking in the weakly armored underbelly of the twenty-meter focusing barrels, blowing them off in an almighty flash of light.

More pods fell around him, Carnage Marines exiting in ways that the only possible verb that should be used here is busting out and kicking ass.

The explosion tossed Bateau a good hundred meters as a fighter came low, strafing the ground underneath him with great globs of plasma. Landing nimbly on his feet, the damage only superficial scorches, Bateau grinned as he saw Baylor leap in the air, snag the wing of the Juet’lak, and rip the ship in half, pilot and all.

Bateau spun back to face the autolaser and began emptying his launcher into the base of the turret. Wolf squad joined in, blasting at the base until all that existed was a crater leading into the bowels of the vessel, while Tiger squad provided defensive overwatch.

Deploying a robotic drone in front of him into the service corridor below them, Bateau shouted “Clear!” when the picture below showed no contacts. Tossing his empty missile cell away, he deployed the two autocannons out of their wrist housings. They snapped forward on either side of each of his hands as he dropped down into the shaft, arms extended in either direction.

Nothing tried to eat his face, so he moved south, taking point for a short period as his platoon dropped in, one-by-one behind him.

Checking his map and initiating the sequential waypoint software, Bateau hit the encrypted intercom with his old platoon. “Gents, remember the old Brute Hope marathon? From stem to stern of the vessel, the Navy’s best on-duty workout. Well, the Ark has seen fit to throw together their won version, complete with giant four-meter lizards of homicidal doom. Wolf squad, you’ve got point. Try to stay away from the battle skirmishes, and if we do cut through, try not to paste anyone on our side. I know that’s hard for us leathernecks, but suck it up. Move out, Marines!”

* * *
Section 4: Descent

There were twenty four of them. Bulky and heavily armed, they never the less represented the air of extreme agility and prowess. Red stripes painted their pauldrons, marking them as Bloodhounds. Even among the elite Carnage Marines, there were preeminent shock troops. At the front stood the blood red suit, twelve feet tall, mechanical fingers flexing, stood what could only be one man.

Bateau’s squad skidded to a stop as they rounded the corner and sighted the assembled opposing forces. The expected ambush and onslaught of fire not falling upon them as expected, they held their ground with a silent comm call from the Lieutenant Colonel, weapons raised.

The atrium that stretched between them was marked by a singular feature- a massive chasm, easily a hundred meters across. It had been, until recently, spanned by a wide and gargantuan bridge. However, Bateau only saw the sparking stumps at either edge of the chasm, stumps that had once been connected. The symbolism of the pit, Bateau supposed, was seemingly enhanced by the destruction of the pit, the removal of the Conclave beyond the doors the Bloodhounds guarded from allegiances that were wove around them. With no cover and outnumbered nearly two to one, Bateau knew he’d need a miracle to cross the abyss and defeat the Bloodhounds to gain entrance to the Conclave.

Staying where they were, Bateau’s squad did not advance, preferring instead to lurk just past the edge of the hallway, so as to provide a quick retreat and singular cover in this vast, open area.

The lead Carnage suit on the opposite side raised its hand, a lone metal digit pointing at Bateau. An unmistakable voice blared forth from the speakers mounted on the unit’s “head”, bellowing and echoing in the vast atrium.

“Lieutenant Colonel, I give you one chance to turn your men around. They can still survive this. Stay away from here, and retreat to the furthest edge of this galaxy. But I can assure you, with all the bullets on my back, that you’ll never get past me and my men. Go home.”

Adamson’s words reverberated through the halls, but they were empty syllables. The flavor of this battle was unmistakable, the context final. To ask either side to step down would be insanity. Bateau did not need to glance from side to side to see that none of his squad wavered under the superior show of force and longing promises of mercy.

To which Bateau responded:

“Scott, you taught me everything I know about this suit. You brought me into this fraternity, and to see my very mentor gunning to kill me, well… I believe you heard my answer when I killed you last.”

Assuming the fighting stance, guns raised, shoulder, hip, and knee launchers extended and active, he added. “I give you an offer myself. Stand down. Lay down your arms. Because, it’d be a shame if I had to paint your brains across the walls one final time. So there, you have your answer. Get the fuck out of my way.”

“So be it,” muttered Adamson, and the ripple spread through the ranks of the traitorous Carnage Marines behind him, and they all flipped forth their weapons, barrels rolling and extending. Missile cells folded into view, and energy torches hissed on knuckle plates. And with that, they charged.

* * *
Part two was much more challenging.

A thousand combined autolaser beams scythed out from the massive hulls of the dreadnaughts, sweeping through the void, catching any ships foolish enough to stand in their way. Tinny explosions lit up around the ships as yet more of the fighters were destroyed. However, the closer the survivors came, the easier it was to dodge the beams, such as they could identify the individual banks. The final tests came in form of the rebel fighter defense nets. It was so tempting to break off into the extremely personal dueling art of dogfighting, but gargantuan MIRVs fired by the bombers scattered the squadron before dogfighting range could be achieved. As the rears of Ark dreadnaughts passed, the true trap was sprung. Naught a meter could be traveled without a deadly attack seeking out your fight. The space inside the defensive ring had clearly been meant as a no-mans land, and it showed.

Avalon!” came Hideoshi’s voice. “We’ve got the asses of these ‘naughts covered! But a squadron of Switchblades and Arrowheads over the bomb is slicing us into eensy teensy bits- your Raptors have got to clear them!

“Copy that, Rex lead,” intoned Easly, spiraling hard to the left, sidelining his fight some thousand kilometers to avoid a nuke, scanning the shitstorm visually, but his sensors filtered them out first- a mixed squadron of Arrowhead Microfighters and Switchblades, whirling around the spider-like superbomb, smashing and blasting and slicing anything that got too close.

Easly keyed the squadron com. “You heard the man, Raptors. Final boss time. Let’s take these Reps down.”

Unlocking his missile launcher, Easly fired a packet of dummy micromissiles at the lead Arrowhead, allowing the fighter to simply accelerate past the supposed threat, before dropping right into the path of the ship with an impossible backflip, spitfire cannons blazing. The bolts lanced the cockpit of the ship, easily overpowering the shields and scything straight through the pilot. Going haywire, the fighter peeled off before exploding seconds later.

“Shit!” Easly yelled as a Switchblade sliced at him from under him- he barely managed to thruster his ship vertical, missing the razor wings by inches- while simultaneous launching a pair of staggered missiles. The Switchblade pilot had planned that, assuming the failure of the surprise slash, he’d be flying belly to belly with the enemy pilot. But Easly stayed motionless relative to the Switchblade, the missiles catching the optimistic pilot in the ass. The first cut through the ship’s seemingly obligatory shields, the second chugging up the only weak point on the Switchblade’s incredible armor- straight up the tail pipe. The missile cut through the interior of the fighter on sheer inertia before hitting the canopy and detonating.

Easly’s missile warning flared, and he spun his fighter in place with his thrusters before heading into the path of the missile. The silver rod charged forward at him, but he ducked underneath it at the last second, and, before it’s proximity fuse could detonate it, Blake disabled the sensor with a sniper-precise laser shot. The offending pilot cut across Easly’s field of vision, Sato’s cannons lighting up its rear- the ship spun with thrusters, traveling backwards, Sato juked, too late- a missile cut him out of the sky, vaporizing with ship.

Roaring, Easly went full-bore with his cannons, following the pilot’s tail like a hound from hell.

Colonel!” SiegeTank’s voice squawked. “We’ve just finished analyzing the structure of bomb, that’s to Kehksol’s intel. The only way you deactivate the thing is to cut through the armor covering the AI casing and precision-strike the AI itself. You can’t just nuke away the bomb itself, and any force strong enough to expose the bomb is simply to brutish to avoid igniting the bomb with it!

The gods had to have a sense of humor.

What was that, Colonel?

He must have spoken it aloud. “The gods have a sense of humor, man. Have the Rexes on station for a shot on the bomb. I’ll waypoint the specific sweet spot. But timing is everything, SiegeTank. This could be our only chance.”

Copy that, Raptor Lead. Relaying the message now.

Easly had caught the enemy pilot’s attention by now. Keying his comm on Raptor freq, he called. “Raptors Two, Four, at my signal, fire a full clip of missiles over the top of the bombs. No questions.”

Green acknowledgement lights burned.

Easly easily saw the Switchblade’s next move, but he mercifully allowed the pilot to execute it. With a cut of speed, Easly’s fight shot past the Ark fighter, who was burning full reverse thrusters. The motion put the pilot firmly on Easly’s tail. Plasma bolts cut his rear shield in half before he could concentrate full power on his ass, leading the pilot right too the bomb, on a collision course.

From his field of the view, the bomb looked like a white starfish, flat rectangular strips slowly curving up and away from the disc-like center. According to SiegeTank’s update, the AI was in the vertex of the fourth and fifth arms, a space Easly could barely pass through. But that was his target, and even if he crashed, the Ark pilot would walk straight into the trap…

Spinning his fight ninety degrees on its fore-to-aft axis, he hit the turbo on his engines, hoping the reach his target ASAP, cutting short the time he had to juke minutely to futilely avoid the plasma on his astern.

“Checkmake, asshole,” he growled as he shot through the miniature gap in the meeting strips, millimeters from the armor covering the AI. The Switchblade, however, was much wider that the Arrowhead, and just as horribly not maneuverable on minute course changes and super-high speeds. The molecule-thin wing cut through the meter of armor covering the bomb like butter, laying free a mere three inches of the sensor AI’s matrix core to the outside.

Easly was now easy prey to the enemy starfighter, just as he cried “Mark!” over the squadron freq. Twin fireballs lanced the Switchblade’s shields, quickly followed by three more pairs that drowned the vessel in a cataclysmic atomic holocaust that left only a burning skeleton hulk soaring on pure inertial out of the sideswipe surprise attack.

Wheeling his fight around for a view, Easly keyed the Rex frequency. “Take the shot!” he called, throwing up the waypoint with his cybernetic implant as quick as he possibly could, that is, in the span of nanoseconds.

Two tiny low-yield precision micromissiles were fired at complementary angles to each other, both aiming for the same target. Hideoshi and Rickson keyed green lights, and Easly tracked the pencil EMPs into the scratch on the bomb. A brief blue flight flickered, and, five seconds later, Easly let out the breath he had not known he had been holding when the universe did not end in his face.

Easly!” the comm howled sharply. “A new bogey just dropped in from a Valkyrie!”

* * *

Things were going very badly for the Brute Hope. Like the Ark, it represented a symbol, but this symbol didn’t work so well when it was under attack by three concentrated forces, all purposely gunning for the flagship. It’s cruiser escort had been blown to the winds by serious Valkyrie pounding, and it was only through sheer luck- actually a combination of engineering genius and tactical brilliance that the ship was able to take on four of the supermassive ships at once. That was not to say, however, that the flagship’s point defense was just as adequate. Nuclear wide-are bombs easily pasted any surface autocannons once inside the shields, and boarding parties worked akin to Mongol hoardes.

To the credit of the DART troopers in the Admirality Hangar, the only ground they had given had been the hangar itself. From the hallway outside within their portable bunkers, they rained hell upon the boarders. Few reached serious defensive positions, and most were felled by a half-ton of lead before they could reach cover. The AM role of Sarah’s rifle kept any ship from providing overwatch, and the cramped corners prevented heavy weapons, lest commanders on the ground be sacrificed. A troopship sat burning over a significant portion of the hangar, crumpled from the impact with the deck, its nose actually poking through the floor. Sarah easily picked off any external weapons of dropships before they could be brought to bear.

She grinned mirthlessly as she dug another clip out of a massive sack nailed a bulkhead on her right. She had pilfered the ship’s entire supply of rare ramjet bullets, and she could continue for at least three more hours at the pace she was holding.

That was, until, the rebels gave up of saving those on the who were on the ground. Heavy weapons pounded onto the nose of the bunkers, and a few more minutes of the bombardment would break the gates.

That was, until those stranded in between the starships and the defenders broke into the side armory of the hangar bay and started charging the bunker with dead-man explosives and hoverbikes. Needless to say, ammo was wearing thin.

That was, until one of the hoverbikes got through. The left bunker went up in a fireball, with the port wall of the surviving bunker caving in under the impact. Ian and two other DART troopers were thrown into the far wall, Ian flinched one was impaled by a flying shard of metal, another hit inches from his head while splinters threw a million tiny cuts on his visor. Under the cover of the fracture, a troopship had edged its rear through the atmospheric forcefield, past a jaggedly torn blast doors and had discharged an entire platoon of Carnage Marines.

The mech came up firing, and two men, thrown near the hangar-facing gunport of bunker, disoriented from the blast, dancing gruesomely as they caught the majority of the lead.

Rolling under the rapidly firing sniper rifle, Ian glanced about for his rifle. It was nowhere to be found. He couldn’t concentrate. Nearby, Valerie Pryce saw him, slapped him to awareness, and tossed him a rifle from one of the corpses lying on the deck. Ian caught it, gave out a primal growl, and rotated the barrel to pound down any of those asshole Carnage Marines. He saw four collapse in the blink of an eye as Sarah emptied her magazine into the fireteam, which nearly exploded under her strict shooting.

Checking the chamber, he yanked on the trigger, the buzz-saw on the machine gun filling the room. He saw on Carnage Marine turtle behind it’s arm mounted shield, easily deflecting the onslaught. The Carnage Marines were falling, but there were simply too many off them. The defenders were falling too fast, and as Ian watch another platoon filled in behind the advancing defensive phalanx of the mechs.

Behind his ear, Ian heard a soft hiss. Spinning as his clip went dry, he saw massive beast, clad in silvery armor, a vicious sharks head gazing down upon him, each of the four powerful arms hold what could only be a gauss needler, the titantic tail sporting a wicked barb at its tip. Not only that, but this alien was flanked by forty more of its kind, more still charging down the corridor.

“Ape,” the Scorpia Marshal hissed, his voice breathy in the unfamiliar atmosphere. “Move your hide. We shall crush these hive-stompers.”

Reinforcements. Ian was so relieved he almost forgot to feed a new belt into his machine gun. “You have our thanks-” Ian’s eyes widened when he recognized the rank from his briefing several hours ago on allied ranks and military tactics- the Scorpia before him was a Hive Prince, a Final Marshal. “We are in your debt, your sovereignty.”

Unblinking eyes took in Ian’s bloodied armor and gave the Scorpia approximation of a nod. “Your hive queen wishes you to return to the bridge. She claims the hive-stompers are marching, soon, on your central nest.”

Shit. The other hangar, on the opposite side of the tower, had been overrun, and boarders were moving quickly to seize the command center. Mccorl needed them and the DARTs to aim in the defense.

Remembering his briefing, Ian twisted his left arm to touch the shoulder pauldron on the same side, uncomfortably replicating the Scorpia’s honor salute. “We are in your debt, Final Marshal.” Turning to the DARTs, he yelled, “Troopers! We’re leaving. The Prince, here, is taking over for us! We’re falling back to the bridge!”

Sarah nodded fiercely, ripping her ammo bag harshly off the wall, slinging her rifle, and drawing a small SMG from a hip holster, taking point down the hallway.

Ian covered the retreat, firing at the expanding Carnage Marine formation as Scorpia piled in around him. Explosions hammered the bunker, fireballs were everywhere-

Ian went dry and turned to leave. Before he exited through the rear, he caught the Prince by the arm. “The bunker won’t stand long!” he yelled over the carnage behind him. “You’ll have to fall back!”

The Scorpia pulled its head back, its sharklike jaws articulating wordlessly. “Armor? You think we are sacrificing ourselves. Ape, we do not need armor.”

With an almighty detonation, the starboard wall of bunker disintegrated in a wall of flame. The Prince pushed Ian down the corridor shouting, “Go! We shall show these apes what the Scorpia have learned over the past fifty revolutions!”

Ian ran, turning his head over his shoulder to see the Prince flicked his tail firmly over his shoulder. A mech in the background fell backwards, its top third literally melting under the ejected acid. Numerous needlers hissed, and more suits fell, orange spikes sticking out of their chests.

Holy crap.

He ran in earnest now.

Section 5: All In

The sheer outburst of fire going either way was unimaginable. For Bateau alone, his massive shoulder-mounted miniature autolaser cannon boomed silently, delivering a massive 100mm beam into the depths of enemy formation. It was personally aimed at Adamson, who had dodged it lithely, merely sidestepping the blast, which pounded uselessly against the massive blast doors that protected the Conclave. Twin gatling guns mounted on either wrist spun and barked, fifty-caliber bullets pinging off of the assembled armors of the Bloodhounds. Rocks burst forth from cell mounted on the outside of either upper arm, tracing lazy contrails into formation, sending exoskeletons flying, scorched, but essentially unharmed, in all directions. Do to the lighter nature of Bateau’s infiltration mechs, they easily sidestepped the larger munitions directed their way by Adamson’s men. Thundering forth, Bateau none the less saw a pair of Carnage Marines, flanking either side off him, simply exploding as autolasers took them in the chest, hurling their fiery remains backwards.

Reaching the sides of the gorge, the two sides leapt high in the air, crash-tackling each other forty meters off the ground. Adamson and Bateau met midair, and razor-quick jab from Bateau severed the massive armor of his enemy before the Agent of the Tyrax could bring about his massive chain knucklers. The limbs clattered around the mass below the two men, falling into the bottomless pit below them. Their opposing momentums canceling each other out, the two suits dropped like a rock, punching and kicking and shooting the possible. Falling past the top of the chasm, they separated, bounding off opposite walls. This time Adamson’s superior mass took over as he drop-kicked Bateau out of the air, landing horizontally on the far wall with Bateau’s suit below him. Buckling under the weight, Bateau felt his ribcage smash, blood spraying across the cockpit, then reform, ribs tracing back as he wrapped knees around the torso of Adamson’s mech, throwing him off and down the pit. Careening off several walls and dropping a hundred meters, Adamson began to bound back up, chasing Bateau, who was moving up and out of the rift. Rockets raced the heels of Bateau as he rolled over and out of the pit, coming face to face with a Bloodhound. Jamming his fist outward, he fired point-blank into the suit’s chest, cutting through it and liquefying the pilot within. Grabbing the suddenly limp suit, Bateau swung it around and used it as a club on the merging Adamson.

Adamson, unfazed, snatched the suit out of Bateau’s hands and returned the favor, batting the Marine back across the room, back towards the entrance. Spinning in midair and skidding backwards, a thunderstorm of sparks licking his boot actuators as he finally came to a rest against the far wall. Bracing himself, he fired the full charge of the autolaser again. Adamson ran into the blast, backflipping forward over the beam, spinning over it like he was an Olympic gymnast and not a man in a ten-ton suit of power armor. Rockets fired from his wrist launchers, a automatic barrage that Bateau dived under and came forward with a massive uppercut, meeting Adamson halfway as the man landed, off-balance. The mechanical punch was laced with explosive lead launched from Bateau’s wrist guns, cutting through the chest carapace on the red suit and riddling the body within. Physically lifted off his feet by the blow, Adamson swore and fired a rocket beneath him, clearing Bateau backwards and furthering the recoil into a blackflip. Though the blood splattered the cockpit, the wounds literally healed themselves as the bullets passed through; the entry wounds a pink new skin before the exit wounds even created themselves.

Landing lightly on his actuators, Adamson fired his own autolaser, driving Bateau back, back into the hallway where the remaining squadmates, a mere five, had retreated. Oddly enough, the smile that touched Bateau’s lip bizarrely was malicious, and he gave a silent comm order for his men to fall another fifty meters back, right before Adamson’s men rounded the corridor, thinking they were successful in chasing the broken enemy towards a full rout, instead tripped the twelve plasma claymores Bateau had ringed around the corridor before making contact with the Bloodhounds. Thin, superintense tongues of flame leapt forth from the concave mines, flaying way the red-striped armor in huge rivulets of literally red metal. Singular headshots put the men inside out their misery. However, the trap only netted seven of the Bloodhounds, leaving the remaining six to duck out of the trap and bounce rockets off the walls. The reflected shots were initially slagged into melted heaps by the mines, but when the mines were neutralized, the blows became deadly, a quartet of missiles dismembering a Carnage Marine who moved to fire at those Bloodhounds ducking around the corridor.

Deflecting their own rockets back, Bateau’s men pressed forward, hugging the ceiling and diving into the unprepared Bloodhounds with a trio of concussive shockwaves which parted the immediate melee.

At this point, there was no question of fighting the Bloodhounds, they simply had to punch through to the Conclave. Together, Bateau’s unit became a whole, fighting as one truly deadly scythe that parted their enemy as though they were curtains of wheat.

A Bloodhound whirled, his autolaser charging. A smattering of shells caused the shoulder-mounted cannon to explode, taking two other Bloodhounds with it.

Adamson came for Bateau, personally, with a rocket-assisted punched to the face. Bateau took the blow on his arm shield and batted the off-balanced foe across the room when the impact faded. Baylor rolled over Bateau’s back and punched forward, though his hand came two meters short of the chest of the Bloodhound before him, the three-meter energy spear did not, cleaving the suit in two.

The Bloodhounds recovered more quickly than expected. Two of his men went down on his right, rockets pulping their reddish remnants across Bateau’s torso carapace, their bodies falling. Punching out hard at the offending attackers, Bateau crushed one instantly with his shield, the other was mashed into the ceiling by four rockets exploding under his feet, the armor raining down in tiny bits. Beside him, Adamson’s autolaser burned, blowing a car-sized hole in the pelvis of another loyalist.

Bateau and Baylor leapt high in the air as they reached the gorge, emptying their rockets into the blast doors shielding the Conclave, the mighty door buckled just enough to admit a single man-

-The two Carnage Marines hit the deck, rolling like five-ton bowling bowls, spinning mid-flip and firing at the pursuing traitors with full bore, sliding backwards across the floor on their asses, sparks flying everywhere, rockets exploding all around them- they hit both sides of the blast door like mirror images, bouncing gracefully to their feet.

Bateau glared at Baylor over the helmet cam, even as he tossed his comrade the translocator beacon. Baylor caught the small cylinder device deftly in one hand, his face girm over the cam.

“Take it, and get the Conclave off this rock!” Bateau shouted. “That’s an order- I’ll hold these puppies back!”

Baylor hesitated for a second, then nod harshly, scarcely squeezing through the crater in the blast doors. Bateau spun as heard indistinct yelling from the room beyond, then the overriding white flash of a successful translocation. He gazed at his foes.

Adamson stood at the far end of the chamber, motionless. Near the gorge one more Bloodhound stood. One final foe stood not ten meters from Bateau himself, his guns trained on the loyalist. They had realized they had failed in their ultimate mission and here waiting for orders from Adamson.

“So what now, Leo?” asked Adamson, gesturing, arms spreading over the twisted mangle of exosuit and body parts around him. What could be described as aterial spray painted the walls in random splurts, huge craters were everywhere. “I can’t die. You can’t die. What now?”

“We all die,” spat Leo, charging.

* * *

Easly saw, quite clearly, on the other side of the battlefield, above the black hole, a starfighter rise above Annihilation superbomb. A sharply down-pointed nose, a cockpit set far back on the fuselage, with six wings making the appearance heavenly, the two middle wings swept forward, the other four at diagonal corners and bearing long, sleek weapons pods.

“Rickson,” said Easly over his comm. “Do you know who they patterned my dogfighting skills after? The one true master of the art. The commissioner of the Dius Donum project.”

A voice came in over the radio. Though electronically masked, it was cultured and calculating; it sent chills through their bones.

“Jak? I was wondering when you’d come. It seems we’ve reached the climax of our little tale.”

“Indeed,” agreed Easly to the unknown pilot, the true mastermind of this sordid affair.

The fighter, a menacing jet black with ferocious red stripes, rolled in space, its pointed nose slotting apart into no less than four daggers, at diagonal sides like the four wings, each tipped with a crackling muzzle. At the center of the newly opened space, the flowered petals of the nose was a glowing bulb, which seemed to be drawing in energy like a drain, green spheres flying towards it until-

“Break!” yelled Easly into his comm, and his squadron separated instantly, right as the unknown fighter discharged its deadly weapon, a bluish-purple beam quaking through the space they had occupied only moments previous, literally ripping apart space time, reddish electricity crackling down its length. A Frok’tar ship, the allegiance of which would never be known, the size of a small city, was caught in the path of the lightspeed beam, and was scythed in two as the pilot pulled his nose up, and consequentially, the beam. The capital ship folded under the attack, exploding moments later. The Ultimate Autolaser had spoken.

Easly wheeled his X-3 Arrowhead around to face the pilot head-on, right as the beam dissipated.

“It’s going to be you and me,” he pronounced into his mike, hitting the throttle up and opening up with his spitfire energy cannons.

The pilot closed the distance instantly, his flowered fighter looking deadly as it barrel rolled the entire way, its middle wings opening up as well, creating a cylindric wall of energy. When the two beams slowly traced their path to become a full circle- they were less than two meters from closing when Easly pulled his plane up an out of the head-on dive. Bolts passed within meters of hitting, and for a second, they were cockpit-cockpit, and their eyes met. The pilot was wearing a standard ONI combat suit with no helmet, much like Easly. His ragged black hair slicked back, scars ran down his face, his green eyes piercing Easly. And then they were past, pulling in wide turns towards each other again.

Missiles streaked in between and all around them as the rest of the battle took hold, a massive set of bolts from an autolaser turret somewhere streaked in front of the enemy pilot, he literally charged through the hull-cracking blast without so much as a scratch.

“Oh, shit,” breathed Easly.

And then they met again, both pulling up, going belly-to-belly, rolling around each other, trying to drop back to get the engine shot. They shot along the length of a weapons deck on a Spartan-class dreadnaught, covering the distance in seconds, passing the island bridge along the halfway point in a blur and were past the engines, breaking away as the bogey triggered his ultimate autolaser again, the beam sweeping within feet of the Arrowhead, cutting a good hunk from the dreadnaught as Easly hugged the hull around it, heading for the enemy’s tail. The chief saw this and spun in place, going backwards now, right as the charge on his beam ran out, inches was blasting Easly out of the sky. They both opened up with their plasma cannons, Bolts streaking all around them, both lighting up each other’s shields as bolts connected… Easly was at 80 percent… 70….

The enemy craft came up and hugged the inside circumference of a Frok’tar battle ring, they both spun along the inside passing hangars and point-defense, weaving in and out of sensor protrusions, the hairpin maneuvering preventing meaningful hits.

And then Easly’s squadron caught up, missiles lighting up the massive battle, only adding to the confusion as the space in front of, or in this case, behind Adamson exploded, they were leading him.

A hook-shaped Frok’tar drone passed within inches of Easly’s canopy and he lost the bogey momentarily in the confusion of the explosions, he saw an Ark Switchblade in front of him and he fired a missile, not even bothering to aim in, he was too close- the torpedo gutted the ship from stem to stern, and Easly flew through the wreckage, rolling to the right instantly, wildly, as the enemy pilot spammed rockets at him. They came within inches again as the bogey failed his pass, the villain spun his unique fighter around on a needlepoint at lit up Easly’s rear- Easly barely had time to transfer full power to the rear shields when the orange flame washed over him. He pulled up and then dropped, going nose-down on the top of the craft’s canopy in less than a nanosecond- he fired two of his missiles, they connected- he could see the pilot spinning away, unharmed.

He could see Rickson approaching in a T-Wing, screaming in, aiming at the bogey. She released a unguided bomb- meant for ground targets, but its trajectory and momentum sideswiped the enemy craft, flames wrapping the ship, it spun again, and instinctively fired his fully charged fighter-mounted ultimate autolaser- blowing off Rickson’s engines and wings, sending her spinning off into the side of an Ark destroyer, exploding- Easly did not see if she had ejected in time- there was no time for himself to look, the villain was all over him, the beam clipping a wing, taking off inches as Easly spun on a dime and charged the bogey, firing precisely, coldly, straight for the cockpit. All the bolts connected, but none penetrated. Bolts splashed across impenetrable shields as Easly shot over his target.

He knew he could do no harm to the fighter with his shipboard weapons- he had to lead him to somewhere where he could a bit more damage-

Missile alert.

Two high, dropping in on his port side, two hundred kilometers- one hundred- fifty.

Easly yanked his fighter into a dizzying dive, as the ship’s inertial compensators tried to match such insane speed with wrenching maneuvers- the battlefield was a blur- fighters zooming past, autolaser broadsides. He hugged the hull of two passing ships, who were beating the hell out of each other, he passed between two barrels of a massive dual autolaser turret right as they fired, the missiles, unable to slip in between the space, their sensors blown by the close-proximity shots, the overload of information, they ditched into the hull feet from the turrets, blowing its right from its mountings. Easly was past the two ships, and he could see the battlefield with startling clarity, if only for seconds as the enemy pilot pursued him.

* * *


Hundred. Thousands. Millions. Billions of ships exchanged fire, of no less than six flags and several allegiances. Circular Frok’tar ships exchanged fire with their own brothers, as they teamed with certain Ark ships for the first time, Deckard’s humans fought side-by-side with the Tyrax’s legions, triple-teaming the Brute Hope, who stood at one corner of the battle, taking on no less than seven ships of equal size- And then he could see the Ark itself- it was a disturbing meld of purple and black, some seven thousand miles in diameter, a small planet. He knew Bateau, Smith, and Sarah were on there, he knew the entire thing was contested on millions of decks as the thing took boarders from all corners, a mini-civil war inside the ship, far bigger that any surfacer-based war. He could imagine the massive capital ships wheeling around inside its depths- yes, capital ships; the enormous size of the Ark guaranteed deep docks and vast open spaces. He’d only seen the Ark on three occasions, but its stature gave even Easly awe, it dwarfed anything on the battlefield. Well, he need not wonder any longer, as Trego’s voice came in over the FLEETCOMM:

“Attention- -ll allied- forc- …-yrax’s seized control of the Ar-… …All able- … -bodied fighters, bombers, shi- -nything! Dive- descend upon the Ark!-”

And then SiegeTank’s voice cut across Trego’s: “Easly! We’ve finished analysis of the unknown craft! Model: XR-25 Caliburn, recently stolen from joint ISAF-Frok’tar development; mounting a planetoid-level autolaser capable of destroying an capital ship and nearly impenetrable shields capable of surviving anything less than a direct supernuke detonation. Oh, and Easly- the pilot’s Deckard. It seems he’s taken a personal hand in the proceedings! We’ve learned he’s controlling the activation of the bomb! He’ll detonate it less than fifteen minutes! If you kill him, the bomb will be rendered useless. Go! ....Go, take down Deckard! You’re the only one who can stop him. Operative of Avalon, I pray for your success!"

Easly came in for a super-wide turn, blasting towards the Ark. Its weapons did not target him, and its shields flickered in and out, Easly knew this section of the massive planetoid was under siege, it filled his view until all he could see was massive cityscape, and suddenly, its point defense began targeting him- he could only juke, roll, masterfully dodging all fire directed his way as Deckard, yes, it was Deckard, the bastard who was behind this all, everything- the man behind his own creation, the true master of dogfighting, the one who sold out the human race, that Deckard, dropped in behind him and activated his Ultimate Autolaser.

Easly turned his seemingly epileptic maneuvers into a full-out rolling pull-out, dodging the swiping beam as it cut a massive furrow on the surface of the rough Ark surface, explosions following in its wake. Up ahead, he saw an absolutely massive hangar bay, easily fifty miles across… No less than two-ships were half-in, half-out of the bay, firing at each other and the superstructure around them ,great booming explosions a ring of blazing flame, a halo surrounding them, through which Easly dived, his Arrowhead plunging into the depths of hell, the last Ark stronghold he desired conquered. Deckard followed, on his table, his fiery sword emanating from the tip of his Caliburn demolishing one of the ships- it was line of sight, and pointed wherever the nose was pointing.

Easly saw, all around him, his squadron following him, valiantly blowing away any Ark fighter that made a pass at him, some traveling backwards, firing uselessly at Deckard, even as he systematically picked them off, even as Easly watch, an orange string of energy bolts blew away the starboard engine on one of his wingmates, it spiraled into a far wall.

The cavernous bay was absolutely huge, hundreds of miles inside, he saw massive Ark ships still docked, some burning as the war overtook them, other untouched. Words could not describe just how absolute the carnage was, Easly witness hundreds of dogfights, small destroyers contorting in the space, a dogfight of theirs own with other capital ships, even small, suited figures with jetpacks and plasma rifles and rocket launchers, zipping in and out- one bounced off of Easly’s cockpit, flying off into space, splattered by the impact.

And the Easly saw the very end of the bay- huge blast doors for massive inter-Ark vessel highways, and teeny doors leading to corridors. The infrastructure of hundreds of ships docks stretched throughout the bay, and Easly entered this jungle, the Raptors all around him, they were invading by force, the leaders of the charge. Girders the size of skyscrapers, hollow and structured were on all sides, repair drones, some with masses dwarfing cities sweeping past, trying dumbly to repair the ravages of the still ongoing war all around them. Levels began to meld in now, open decks, twenty meters high, Easly entered a middle one, sweeping through the maze as its walls tightened, he entered through a titanic amphitheater and suddenly, like a noose, he entered a hallway, yes, a fucking hallway, barely ten meters square. He saw tanks below him, firing high and low, soldiers of all species firing with various small arms as the fighter swept over their head, an unknown numbers of fighters being pursued by a seraphic angel, holy light, a sword of demonic destruction cutting down everything around it.

And then it suddenly dropped- it looked like they were heading to a dead-end, but the hallway merely met a section where it lowered thirty meters, the two tracks below connected by a massive cargo elevator, which was slowly raising, cutting off their path to below, that deck that was slowly being denied from their eyes- Easly shot in first, rolling madly, with meters to spared, several fighters followed, but two didn’t make it, crashing into the elevator and the blank wall. Deckard merely blew it all up, his Ultimate Autolaser easily cutting a hole for which he then sent missile through, bursting into the lower corridor.

The hallway began to twist, taking short, double right angle turns, with hallways running parallel, they were even sharing the center wall, but at this speed, the sidesteps were tantamount to suicide. Massive thruster pulls accomplished this task, each of the comrades defending Easly a good portion of the pilot he was, they kept pace as they plunged deeper into the Ark- they shot through open spaces, hundreds of kilometers across in the matter of seconds, massive capital ship highways that ringed the interior of the Ark. And then they were back in the maze, plummeting towards the core of the Ark, with some vain hope of destroying the massive zero-point reactor, the fabled super reactor, that produced limitless energy. They knew they could not destroy the reactor itself directly, the sought a containment system, one powered by a small antimatter reactor, in the hopes of disabling it and causing the ZPE reactor to go critical, taking the Ark with it. They had no idea if they could escape the serpentine depths of the planetoid before the reactor exploded, but if they died in the attempt, there could be no higher honor…

Easly saw, approaching head-on, a squadron of feared Switchblade fighters, their wings cutting across the circumference of the hall, throwing up flames, easily partly the grade-a metal like it was butter. Half of Easly’s vanguard closed in, in front of him, firing upon the oncoming squadron with extremely strong, extremely contained directional micronukes- they flew forward, spiraling towards their targets as the distance close, the heroes pinned on both sides…

Like plasma torches on steroids, the torpedoes ignited in place, firing huge gouts of nuclear flame at the oncoming Switchblades, melting into oblivion- and just like that, all they were scattered atoms across which the deadly chase cut, spreading their ashes haphazardly, the feared fighters no match for the true demon that hung close to their tails, picking off their numbers, regardless of their untold skill, their endless training- one by one, Easly’s noble friends were snatched by the jaws of death wielded by Deckard, cremated alive, this close to the end of the war, the end of everything, the Apocalypse.

The tunnel narrowed to a mere five meters, and the remainder of the fighters were forced to pass Deckard, swinging under the belly of the Caliburn. Some received point-defense laser shots in their afterburners, fewer survived. Soon it was only Deckard and Easly, one on one, the duel.


* * *

Section 6: No Fighting the War Room

Sarah’s rifle cracked in vast smoke of the bridge of the Brute Hope. A kilometer down the wide defense corridor, a trio of Frok’tar soldiers, all aliens of a type not known to her, fell onto their face, felled at once by that single shot.

That was five. Reaching down, she hit the magazine release, dropping it with a clang to the cold metal deck below her. Reaching into the ammo satchel slung around her shoulder, she retrieved another magazine and carefully fed it into her sniper rifle, slapping the action and feeding the first ramjet bullet into place.

It had been like this for the past hour. With the Brute Hope’s lighter point defense vaporized by wide area-effect bombing runs, troops allied with Deckard and the Tyrax had been roving throughout the ship. It had only been a matter of time before they organized a tri-attack on the bridge. The fleet guard around the ISN flagship had been broken and every ship of every loyalty was equally diffused, acting as no stopper from the wave of dropships. With the ship’s onboard troop compliment spread out in anti-boarding, counterboarding, and one massive ground engagement near the autolaser control line reactors, the Grand Admiral and her command group of admirals and captains overseeing the tattered ISN fleet were left with only an obligatory defense. In this case, it was Dusk, Longbow, and a squad of elite Navy DART troops. Specialists in the art of boarding and anti-boarding combat, the two Storm Commandos knew they could hold their own. Ian nodded to Valerie as she passed by, toting ammo canisters into the central bunker set over the inactive gravity lift in the center of the room.

Fortunately, the fleet’s AI, Virgil, had been able to shut down all but two points of axis to the bridge, massive vehicular defense and service corridors that could only be blocked off by titanic blast doors. Power had been cut to the bridge in all sections except the communications, sensors, and Virgil’s core, so they hadn’t been able to seal off the corridor.

Aha.

No less than three hundred contacts had materialized at either end of the corridors, a quarter klick out. So they had figured out the Hope’s translocation system. Great. That meant quicker reinforcements, but fortunately, those two platforms were the closest to the bridge, the quarter kilometer acting as a solid buffer. With the corridors leading up to the vast bridge at twenty-degree angles, the final natural advantage was leavened towards the defenders- height. It was ninety meters the assembled group of Nahktars, ONI Minutemen, and Frok’tar combat dolls would have to ascend, down which they’d meet withering fire.

With the Admirals engaged in directing the fleets, the two Storm Commandos had been given joint command of the defense. As such, they watched quietly as the assembled masses approached towards the common goal of the loyalist bridge. The enemy forces had had the foresight to set up several portable shield generators in front of them, the arcs overlapping to create a veritable wall of impenetrable energy.

Smith snorted as the group passed over the two-hundred meters mark, and depressed the detonator on the thumb pad of his gauntlet.

Down range, the odd-number discs decloaked themselves and sprung into the air with a short burst of compressed gasses. The energy shields, having already passed unknowingly over the burrowed mines, only served to compound the blasts as the two-hundred meter line detonated at chest level in a dazzling flash of plasma. Bodies shifted and personal overshields collapsed, leaving the troops at the mercy of their own armor as Smith hit the detonator again.

Dazed, the enemy could do nothing as the even-numbers mines sprang up and exploded into a haze of acid-drenched metal slivers, which easily cut through armor and flesh. The dispersed nature of the mines assured an excellent coverage of lethality, and body parts, mangled or otherwise littered the floor when the dust cleared.

Immediately the defenders saw their mistake. Their attention focused on the advancing parties, they did not see the sprawling set-up behind the suicide wave. Hundreds of troops, tanks, high-hovering combat platforms, and- in the far back of each procession, a jet-black Tyrax exoskeleton.

* * *

Twisting and turning, the tunnel became a snake, rolling up and down and even spiraling as Easly flipped his Arrowhead with the guiding hand of a true master, tossing bow over stern so we was now facing the Caliburn, traveling backwards in the tunnel. All piloting became intuitive with his rear cameras as he opened up his Spitfire cannons on the enemy pilot, ripping through the space between them, the drops and rises and corners of the cable cutting off his outgoing barrage every other second as the XR-25 responded with his own barrage, although it was infinitely more deadly. A small oval dropped over the nose of the Ultimate Autolaser and it was refracted into each of the nose segments, bringing-

One beam-

The tunnel became even more twisted, narrowing so that the X-3’s longer wing was scraping the far wall, and would do so if Easly kept the fighter’s central axis aligned with the tunnel’s central axis- if he edged away from the wall, this would get a lot more difficult…

Two beams-

Easly saw it and threw his fighter into a roll as the two beams passed on his left and right sides, spinning along the axis as the beam passed with inches of either side….

Three beams-

He saw the third beam heading for his cockpit and he yanked his fighter up, it skimmed the top side as one beam went through the curve above the cockpit while the other two crisscrossed underneath him. On his received layout of the Ark, he saw his blinking ID very close to the containment reactor, but he saw the path was blocked, a solid dead end except for the 90-degree tunnel below it that opened up directly into the reactor’s chamber, a choke point for high-speed entries-

Four beams-

Easly rolled around the circumference of the cable backwards at a zillion miles an hour as the last beam ignited- he had no way of getting past the speed trap and not getting toasted by the beams-

And then the tunnel bucked, bunny-hopping its way to the speed trap- Easly could see the dead end…

Twelve more turrets slotted open on, a pair on each of the six wings, sliding to face Easly. He started to shout in protest, and chucked his fight into the true test, he started to spin, off-axis in the bunny hops, his hands flying over the controls, adding maneuvering jets at extreme moments, flipping his fighter over and rolling and juking to avoid-

Five-

Six-

Seven-

Eight beams-

His shout became an all-out yell of exhilaration as the final mile of the bunny hops hit, the beams scything in all directions, he- was- going- to- die-

Ninetenelevetwelvethirteenfourteenfifteen-

Sixteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen—

Easly activated his last missile and aimed for the patch of ceiling right before the dead-end, he had no compulsion to try to blast away the wall, it was too thick. He calculated his turning, the paths of the lasers all in a second, throwing what was left of his shields full-on for his nose, leaving his stern exposed to the death beams-

He fired the missile, throwing all reverse on his engines and pulling his fighter’s nose up so that he stopped for a moment, frozen in mid-air, nose point straight up at the ceiling, inches from the dead-end-

The missile touched the roof right as the laser ceased their random motion and converged on Easly’s microfighter, coming in at all sides, sixteen points on the shrinking circle, he could see Deckard’s Caliburn through the cockpit as his belly scraped the trap-

“Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!”

Easly yelled as the missile exploded, blowing his fighter straight down with the blast as the autolasers closed above his head, catching nothing but a concussive blastwave that pushed Easly’s screaming warplane into the lower part of the tunnel- he caught a brief glimpse of the glorious chamber as the flipped his fighter’s nose, pulling as hard as he could on his control, pushing the fighter’s nose down so it flopped over, nose pointing out into the chamber to which Easly full-throttled into, the wall behind him, exploding to reveal Robert Deckard and his XR-25 Caliburn, sixteen beams spreading out-

“It ends here,” Easly growled over his comm as he spun his fighter to face the villain, charging him head-on.

* * *

Aboard the bridge of the Nightfall, Trego swore. The source of the missiles had been traced back to the Zero Hour itself. As the loyalist flagship chugged ever closer to the black hole, the Nahktar Warmaster saw the Tyrax’s flagship slowly orbiting the accretion disk, autolasers reaching across to the other edge of the disk and broadsiding the Nightfall.

“Sir!” shouted the Nahktar above him, seating in a floating sensor console. “Orders?”

Trego cut his hand hard at the image of the Zero Hour across the void. “Get us caught in the vortex. Same rotation as the Zero Hour, Praetor. Pressurize all starboard hangar bays, hold until my mark.”

“Sir?”

“Do it if you wish to see another day, Praetor,” hissed Trego, his hands behind his back.

“As you command.”

Trego felt the deck shudder as his massive flagship accelerated forward, spinning to present a gun-filled flank to the Tyrax. Autolasers answered the Zero Hour’s challenge, diffusing against the shields of the sister Valkyrie dreadnaught.

He laughed. This would be glorious.

The rotation around the black hole sped their orbital speed faster, the revolutions shorter every time, as autolaser licked each ship’s flank, the shields gradually dying- not to the barrage, but the black hole itself, literally sucking the energies away like they were mere curtains. With a shrill cry, the shields of the Nightfall gave way under the radiation, and autolasers began to gouge the hull of the vessel.

“Sir…”

Trego held up a fist. “Hold, Praetor. Slipstream physics dictate that even the streams themselves haze into soup when they near a singularity. At this point, we should be able to jump anywhere within several hundred thousand kilometers of the void. Oversight Krius!. Plot an FTL course a quarter-revolution ahead of the Zero Hour’s path. There should be no need to search for slipstreams, you’ll get a positive, I assure you.”

The Oversight hunched over her console, then bobbed her head after a few seconds. “Done, sir.”

“Divert all power to the slipstream capacitors and the central ultima AL line. Now!”

The bridge light flickered as the two massive ships inched even closer to the Kaeleron singularity, their shields both fully dissipated now, both carving into the other’s hull-

“Now! Jump to the coordinates, Oversight!”

Space twisted and their stomachs collectively lurched as the Nightfall reappared-

A mere kilometer astern of the Zero Hour!

They had jumped across the black hole.

“Speed have you, Praetor, depressurize the hangars!”

“Aye, Warmaster! It is done!”

The Nightfall lurched suddenly and violently to the left, putting further distance between the dangerously close Zero Hour and the black hole. But, at this range, there was a more immediate effect- the two ships spun to form a straight aiming at the black hole, with the Nightfall on the outside! The two ships faced each other, bow to fore- with only one difference: The Ultimate Autolaser on the Nightfall was fully charged. The Zero Hour, pouring full power into its broadsides, didn’t even have it online.

“Smite the Tyrax! Throw him down!”

The weapons officer gave the order to the targeting crew, and the ship’s lights flickered yet again as the massive globs of energy gathered at the beak of the squid-like Valkyrie dreadnaught, forming a massive ball, growing larger until-

-The beam cut straight into opposite lens of the Zero Hour, easily slicing straight down the spine of the massive ship, shuddered once, fires burning its length, falling back into the grip of the singularity.

Trego sighed. “Swing us around, Praetor. Jump back into formation. And get that Conclave in here! More reinforcements are arriving by the second, and at this rate, our destruction of their flagship will not have mattered. Without them, all is lost.”

* * *

Deckard rolled his plane off to one side and came swinging around the interior of the reactor- it was huge. Of epic proportions, at least a couple miles wide, with two crackling beams of lightning stretching down from floor and ceiling emitters. The stalactite and stalagmite were encased in heavy-duty energy shield, containing the pure matter/antimatter reaction that action as the core of the spherical reactor.

They both came in fast, hugging the walls of reactor, battle resumed. Easly cut his way across the gray metal like a shark as autolaser beams bedeviled him from all sides, in front of him, from the side, chasing him from the rear as Deckard slid in from the right, his fighter lit with an enthralling glow from his emitters. Though each of the beams was a at a significantly lowered power level, it was still enough to gouge deep furrows in the metal as they closed in on their target.

“Come,” challenged Deckard over the comm "And nought might armour avail you; for Caliburn will cleave out your soul with your blood! You cannot hope to win, Easly! Your race is run! We broke every law of war in creating you, and your purpose has been served. It. Is. Done

Easly swung his fighter around, nosing off of the wall of the reactor and doing a hard circuit of the sphere, going up and behind Deckard, who yanked his Caliburn in a flip, and they passed each other a silver flash of light, literally bouncing off each other’s belly armor.

His eyes jerked open. That shouldn’t have happened- that meant Deckard’s seemingly impenetrable shields were down, and all he had were the standard flight armor. He must have deactivated them to provide power for his plethora of sweeping beams.

The Arrowhead’s missile lock warnings shrilled, and Easly whirled to see no less than six missiles streaking away from the Caliburn. Fine.

He threw his fighter into a hard dive as the missiles closed into his tail, and they followed his downward arc, shuddering under the supertight maneuvers. One by one, they arced off as Easly hugged the opposite wall, cockpit to bulkhead, exploding against the wall. One. Two. Three. Four.

Easly fell down to the well off the reactor, near the stalagmite coupling, and powered there, seemingly quivering, as the missiles floored down toward him, slotting into full detonation mode.

He shot off the mark, right as the missiles entered the killzone, too fast to follow- crashing into the coupling as Easly soared up into the vast sphere, untouched.

“You’re wrong, Deckard,” declared Easly over the comm as he primed his weapons, redirecting all energy from the burnt shields to the cannons, tripling their output.

This was it. They both spun on a dime and shot towards each other, their cockpit rotating to face, their weapons full-on.

Blue torrents of pulse fire erupted from Easly twin Spitfire cannons, flying past Deckard, closing in on him as he brought his sights down.

The purple beams rotated around the Arrowhead in a conic pattern, before reversing and closing in, clearly about to form one single beam to as to gut Easly from stem to stern.

“There’s only one rule in war.”

Easly turned his flght on edge, pulling up and away from the final game of chicken, right at the thinning beams-

He popped his canopy. Cold vacuum clutched his body, though protected in his vac suit, he felt the weightlessness take his body, and only his gee-webbing held him in the craft. Taking one hand from his controls, he passed in between the two closing beams, five inches from his visor, the highly focused beam not frying Easly with the radiation, flying one handed, with no cockpit.

He passed Deckard’s craft, the canopy sliding underneath him, the mastermind’s face a mix of utter fury and complete incredulity as they both stopped instantly, turning left to face each other, cockpit to cockpit, at a mere distance of twenty feet.

Easly spoke as he reached his left arm across his body and grabbing the long tube that had been situated against his right side during the entirety of the dogfight, grabbing it, and pulling it around to point at Deckard who, looked straight up, realization dawning instantly on his face.

“Survive.”

Easly fired the nuclear missile launcher. It silently puffed across the distance between the two craft effortlessly, puncturing the cockpit of the Caliburn and impaling Robert Deckard through the chest, the three-inch cylinder puncturing the right side of his torso splattering blood across the vacuumed cockpit. However, he was still alive to see Easly turn on tail and afterburning away from the motionless superfight.

Looking down, he touched two fingers to his chest. When they came up sticky with blood.

All of his efforts to save the human race…

He tried to scream when he made out the beeping emanating from the tube protruding from his chest, which quickened to a shrill whine, but one of his lungs were nonexistent, and the other was flooded with blood. He could only look down in horror as the nuclear bomb exploded right in his face.

* * *
“Smith!” the voice cut across the cavern as Ian ziplined down into the carnage on the lower deck, just ouside the DART bulwark. Spinning, he saw a dark-haired ONI agent holding a pair of gauss machine pistols. Ian vaguely recognized the man as a foe face din years past- Jones. Ducking behind a stack of corpses, he swore as the Agent began firing, and the rifle exploded in his grip, it’s barrel hit by a slug. His weapon ripped from his hands, Smith stood angrily.

“What a joy. I have my own personal psychotic ONI agent gunning for my downfall. Easly would be so proud,” remarked Dusk dryly as he caught the shotgun while running, throwing a quick nod to the charging DART Agent who had given him the gun. With one hand, he shucked the barrel, dropped to one knee, feeling the magnetically propelled slugs whiz over his forehead. Holding the shotgun with two hands, he pointed it at Jones’ chest and pulled the trigger. The chest armor protected from lethal damage, but the plate deformed and buckled under the acid-laced buckshot, and Jones’ body was flung away like a ragdoll.

A twin set of booms filled Smith’s ears and he was suddenly surrounded by the two Tyraxes. They drew themselves to their full, impressive, terrifying height and slashed out playingly with electro-whips.

The blue-eyed model spoke: “Ah, Dusk, what an honor it is to finally fight you. Rest assured you will not live past this day-”

While the second model, simultaneously intoned: “Smith, Ian Tiberous. Callsign Dusk. Service Number 4004-5518-23XX. Rank: Senior Captain. Status: Imminent
Termination-”

“Like hell,” growled Dusk, rolling backwards as the two whips passed within inches of his helmet. Twin rockets flaired from opposite launchers, and he turned the roll into a backwards somersault, landing on his hands and collapsing behind the cover of a bulkhead as the two rockets exploded underneath him.

With a crack from above him, Dusk saw the foremost Tyrax’s shoulder deform under a puffing impact, and it took a begrudging step impact under the force of the scramjet bullet, it’s poly-mimetic outer armor shell sloughing around the wound, its left arm momentarily offline, twitching uselessly at its side. But knowing the hellish reboot times the Tyraxes sported, he spun onto his back and began firing slugs into the point of impact, preventing the regeneration.

The rocket from the other Tyrax impact only a few meters away, tossing him across the room. However, he gained control of his tumble-midair and landed, cat-like, just in time to roll out of the way as an opportunistic Carnage Marine stitched fifty-millimeter shells at him, the stream came within inches before it averted suddenly and violent, the combat shell outpouring the deadly fire hit point-blank by an RPG. A razor-quick glance saw the combat shell topple over, burning flesh leaking out of the smoking hole in its underarm.

He needed something more heavy-duty. The shottie was okay for blasting away the grunts and baselines, but anything wearing serious armor or over four meters in height needed a serious dose of rocket to the face. Throwing a glimpsing look at Sarah, who was perched up on the retracted grav lift to the second level, a partial nod of thanks and partial request was mutually understood. The Jackhammer launcher tossed down to him glinted in the air, and he caught it easily. He may not be able to heft them in pairs around like Bateau and his Carnage Marine implants, but he could easily handle this one. However, remembering the fight back on Zrmahk, he had the feeling he’d need something with a bit heavier warhead.

Micronukes on the tips,” radioed Sarah, her voice coming directly over his neural com. “Ten foot radius, so containment and aftereffects are a non-issue. Be careful

Noting the tone of concern in her voice, Smith hefted the launcher and fired off a rocket at a second quad of Carnage Marines moving up from the far ramp. The first one was blasted off his booted, dead on impact, but the others simply turtled behind their arm-shields, responding with a hail of bullets- before they were cut off by the secondary detonation of the warhead. Nuclear fire enveloped those at the rear of the formation, winking out as quickly as it had blossomed into existence and leaving nothing behind. Simply ducking behind the bulkhead to avoid the remainder of their outgoing fire, Dusk heard an extended overhead crack of the sniper rifle once again, and he realized it was in fact three shots fired in close succession. A vidlink opened in the corner of his HUD, showing a pair of suits toppling, the third taking a step back and exposing its backpack reactor to the extreme armor-piercing shell. The shot was perfect, a tiny nick of the magnetic containment fields on the fusion reactor and the entire powerplant spun out of control, enveloping the entirety of the surviving squadron with it.

Throwing himself out of cover, Smith saw the backs of the Tyraxes as they advanced upon the central defensive cluster the DARTs had set up, missiles and lasers strobing the fiery battlefield. Ducking onto one knee, he took a bead on the nearest Tyrax and fired the two remaining shots. Streaking off into the air, Dusk watched as the Tyrax spun to confront this threat, lasers sizzling, catching one of the guided missiles, but the other one juked, avoiding the laser for a second, allowing it a grazing hit- the projectile shot in slow-motion past the Tyrax, not releasing its payload, and Dusk nearly cried out in frustration as he realized the laser had merely disabled the proximity sensor and guidance network, a calculated move. Without maneuvering, it would slam into the bulwarks of the entrenched DARTs and split them like a dam!

Speaking from above, the XM rifle detonated the rocket prematurely; a one-in-a-million shot that activated the missile when it was only five feet past the cyborg, blowing the cyborg to what would have been kingdom come, hand it not leapt straight upward, the explosion merely helping its ascent as it dug claws on all four limbs into the ceiling, digging in and ripping the floor out from under those below him. He was greeting by a half-ton holoterminal that smacked him down to the floor like a brick, but Ian’s eyes went wide when he saw Sarah fall with the Tyrax, trying desperately to hold onto the jagged tears in the deck, but to no avail- she plummeted to the level below, landing meters from the Tyrax. She rose before the Tyrax could respond, emptying her rifle in the cyborg’s face. The Tyrax merely twitched, gave a snarl, and flicked a blade into its hand, swiping it into her side, the ten-inch thorn cutting through her light armor.

Ian nearly froze in shock.

The Tyrax began to speak, “Grissom-McDonnell, Sarah. Callsign Longbow. Service Numeber 4004-2238-60XX. Rank: Senior Captain. Status Imminent Termination-”

No!!” shouted Ian, bounding forward, but he couldn’t fire for fear of hitting Sarah-

Sarah ground her teeth and reached for her belt, pulling free a grenade. Popping the pin, she prepared to toss it into the hole she had blown in the side of the Tyrax’s cranium-

Withdrawing its knife, the Tyrax grabbed Sarah around the waist, blood splashing across its hands from the open wound in Sarah’s side, tossing her into the air. When Sarah reached the apex of her climb, when she was at face-level with the cyborg, the Tyrax drew back its fist and speared her through the gut.

No.

The fist punched all the way through her body, imbedding itself in the wall behind the body-

Sarah went bone-white, blood splattering all over the floor some two meters below her feet.

“Fuck no,” hissed Ian, galvanized forward. Seeing this, the Tyrax rotated, withdrawing his arm from the wall and throwing Sarah’s limp body at Ian with such force that he few backwards a good three meters.

Sarah- she was absolutely gone.

There was no way.

And then, with a colossal quake, the walls exploded around him.

Ian fell to his knees besides Sarah’s body, totally oblivious to the battle around him-

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blinking hologram representing the twin forward pylons of the Brute Hope, attacked to the rear engine back and bridge tower- massive, fifty-kilometer claws that mounted a good third of the dreadnaught’s mass each-

One was missing entirely.

The Brute Hope was going down.

Slowly standing, Ian noticed the fighting around him had stopped. The Carnage Marines were hugging the circumference of the bridge, guns trained but their fire withheld. The DART troopers, or what was left of them, we staring, slackjawed at Ian. And then he realized why.

As he crouched in no man’s land, the two Tyraxes began prowling around him like orbiting sharks. Theywere gradually spiraling in towards their prey, and Ian felt ice clench his stomach. He was next.

Cradling Sarah’s head in his lap, he raised his shotgun across his chest and shucked it; the empty shell clattering on the deck punctuating the silence. The meaning was clear. Touch her, and you die.

Virgil’s voice suddenly buzzed over his cybernetics, directly into his brain. “Smith? Damn, I thought this thing had stopped working. Good. We got rammed, and they took a good third of our boat with it. Even worse, that shearing ripped so many essential power lines that I’d only give the Hope twenty minutes. So, whatever you’re planning, do it quick.”

Ian nodded silently, quickly snatching up Sarah’s rifle in his other hand and holding each gun, tracking each Tyrax oppositely. The sniper rifle was extremely heavy, more so than expected, and he could barely hold it up. It was amazing she could have toted this gun around twenty-four seven.

The Tyraxes were only five meters away, still circling. The spell had yet to be broken. He’d just have to go ahead and break it for them.

On a two-count, he fired the shotgun into the exposed knee joint of the wounded Tyrax, bringing it down on the joint like a sack of bricks. As though it were choreographed, hefell backward onto his shoulders as a pair of razor whips flew over his chest, coming within inches of his body. He was never the quickest, or the strongest, or the most daring of his friends. But this was his moment to shine, his do-or-die instant.

Dropping the empty magazine from the sniper rifle after an undetectable millisecond of fumbling, he ripped the last clip from Sarah’s chest harness and slapped it home, jacking the bolt in one continuous motion as he slid his hand to the forward grip. Rolling onto his right side, he fired from the hip, using the laser dot to guide him.

One slug tore the whip from its mount of sane Tyrax. Continuing his roll, he brought he laser dot down on the weaker cyborg, not on the whip, but resting on the massive crater gouged in the side of its skull, the one Sarah had shot not a minute before, so close to slaying the attacker before the tables were turned.

Ian pulled the trigger rapidly, trying with all his might to keep the recoil from sending his laser dot flying between shots as the slugs punched through the final figurative mile of armor, blowing the Tyrax’s brains across the deck. Hissing, the body flew to the floor-

-One more roll brought his rifle to bear on the final cyborg, he stared down the barrel of a missile launcher, his mind raced as he brought the dot down on the wrist itself as he and the Tyrax fired simultaneously. The scramjet bullet easily reached its target before the explosive had even left the barrel- the blow tossed the aim wide- the missiles flew into the surrounding walls, butchering countless enemy troops.

Climbing to his feet, Ian nodded over at the DARTs, who slid two large satchels of plastique across the floor like bowlers- Ian let the rifle fall and concurrently kicked the shotgun straight up into his hands- like a sheet shooter, he pumped the barrel again and again, tracking the satchels as the DARTs opened back up at the explosives, which were sliding across the deck at the major clusters of rebels- Ian stood his ground as the bullets started flying past him-

The two satchels caught, scattering rebels across the bridge, body parts falling slowly.

Now,” thought Ian over his neural lace to the murky presence of Virgil on the net, “Would be a good time to pull out, south hallway being empty as it is.”

DARTs doubled their outgoing fire, capitalizing on the chaos as the Admiral zip-lined down into the bunker, one of them toting Virgil’s cubic core matrix under an arm.

Defenders began to fall left and right as their scattered opponents began to coalesce into order. Ian sprinted over to the bunker, providing cover fire as he dropped his shotgun and was tossed a submachine gun; placing his body in front of those of the Admirals- this was going to be messy. DARTs ran backwards towards the opposite blast doors, hurdling over bodies, reaching the gates and ducking behind cover to lay down swathing fields of safety fire-

Virgil’s voice cut in over the frenetic chatter of guns. “Smith, I’ve been working on this door for the last hour, and I think I can finally get it to close. There’s an elevator about two hundred meters down-hall, but if I’m to close these doors, they need to close now.”

Ian crossed the threshold into the hallway, firing from the hip. His spine went cold. “We still have about twenty men on the other side.” Admiral Mccorl sprinted past him as he changed clips, firing his pistol determinately.

“It’s now or never, Ian. Another platoon of Nahktar commandos just translocation in the north hall. It’s a devil’s bargain-”

Ian reached out a hand to help Pryce into the ramp, his eyes went wide as the fireteam behind her were cut in half by fifty-cals.

“God save me,” he whispered. “Do it,” he said to Virgil.

Ian spun away from the doors as they slammed shut behind him, leaving ten doomed men trapped in with a hundred fuming foes.

God help him.

Section 7: Phoenix Rising

Only one hundred bullets remained in his entire supply, shared between two cannons. There was no way he could shoot his way out-

He lunged forward, and the nearest Bloodhound reacted with him- the Carnage Marine deflected Bateau’s arm shield, rapidly brining his wrist rockets to bear- Bateau grabbed the wrist of the upcoming attack with his free hand, crushing the joint with his actuators, not even flinching as the two rockets fired into the ceiling, raining molten metal upon their heads-

Bringing his arm shield back around, Bateau cuffed the off-balance Carnage Marine upsides the head. Quickly wrapping the arm around the neck of the suit, he swung the suit around as the next Bloodhound opened fire. The shield and the suit in front of him easily absorbed or deflected the onslaught, and Bateau began to sprint forward-

-The closer Bloodhound leapt up to meet him, and Bateau threw the burning hulk that was formerly the man’s comrade as hard as he could at the flying mech. The mass slammed into the suit head-on, sending the Marine spinning down into the ravine. Bateau spun to check on Adamson, and doubled over as the Agent tackled him around the waist. Struggling, the two fell into the ravine. Spinning off of Adamson, Bateau triggered his autocannons, firing into the back of the Bloodhound below him, catching the suit at the onboard fusion reactor. His ammunition drained visibly on his HUD as the Bloodhound caught fire, exploding a second later- Adamson and Bateau fell through the fireball seconds later, flame momentarily blocking their vision.

Bateau angled himself towards the nearest wall, digging his shoulder pauldron into the steel, gouging deep into the bulkhead, throwing up molten metal in all directions as he suddenly pushed off, slamming Adamson in the side. The two crashed hard into the opposing wall, cratering the metal for twenty meters before skipping off forcibly. Drawing back his shield, Adamson sliced down. Bateau grunted as the slab of metal cut across his gut, opening up a line of fire- intestines flopped over the slab as it withdrew, covered in red from a wound that now no longer existed-

He backhanded Adamson’s helmet off, shattering the helm into a million pieces- Adamson’s face grinned down at him, covered his a million cuts, three-inch metal shards making his face look like a pin-cushion-

Adamson grinned and kneed Bateau across the face, almost breaking his neck as he tore a hunk of helmet in return. Barking a laugh, he drew his head back and slammed his forehead into Bateau’s. Metal shards ejected like nails from the super-healing wounds, flying forward and implanting themselves in Leo’s face. Recoiling as though from an electric shock, Bateau tried to push off from Adamson but failed weakly as his rival grabbed him by the neck, dropping back and digging his left hand into the wall, looking down at Bateau as they lurched to a halt, dangling over the bottomless abyss.

“Do you understand the meaning of futility, Leo?” shouted Adamson over the howling wind. Metal splinters clinked down into the void as Bateau’s wounds expelled them, leaving only rapidly sealing gashes. “Your skull is so thick, I’ll repeat it again for you.”

Bateau glanced desperately about. If Adamson simply let him go, impact with the eventual floor below would liquefy him instantly. His rockets were gone, his shield crumpled, and only one bullet left in his autocannon.

One bullet.

On his splintered HUD, he barely made out a flickering IFF approaching at an extremely rapid speed from below them. A tiny light could be made out in the darkness.

Adamson spoke slowly, as though speaking to someone particularly daft. “You. Cannot. Kill Me.”

Bateau grimaced. “Oh, yeah? I can’t, sure. But a starfighter can.”

“What-”

Without thinking, Leo raised his arm and fired his final bullet with unerring accuracy. The single sang true, slamming through the fingers of Adamson’s suit, the fingers behing the only things holding them to the wall. They fell a good ten meters before Leo dug his feet into the wall, facing outwards. Slithering his hands in along Adamson’s single hand-choke, he slapped the grip away as he placed both hands of the man’s shoulders, forcing him away and out into the open air of the shaft. Time passed in slow motion as Bateau forced his head back as far away as he could Adamson’s body- they fell, and when they forwards a line outward, perpendicular from the wall, the light below them formulated itself as a flaming, literally flaming, Arrowhead, ascending a million times faster than their snail’s pace pendulum fall.

The nose of the struck Adamson dead center, and Leo let go a millisecond before his arms were jellied by the ripping of the suit from his hands. A blink later, Adamson was gone, the fighter burning away above him, the only remnant of his existence a nasty burning odor in the air reminiscent of boiled flesh.

It was thirty seconds before Easly doubled back, floating down to offer his friend a wing to hold onto. “You know, I don’t really like it when you tossed Carnage Marines onto my windshield,” he remarked over the fighter’s speakers.

“You just can’t plan these things in advance,” shrugged Bateau. “My EV suit is toast, but you have other plans?”

“Yup. First things first. Did you extract the Conclave.”

“Baylor did it. They’re on the Nightfall as we speak.”

Easly arced his fighter up and in the room, traveling quickly down the tiny corridors at a couple hundred kilometers an hour towards the general direction of some hangar. “Epic. I dropped a nuke into Deckard’s face back in the central reactor, so this place’ll be going up any minute. Better the Ark not exist than any one side hold onto it. I’ve already given the full order to pull out, and onto a smattering of denial squads are still onboard, though they’re egressing as we speak. I’m taking us to a hangar to grab a troopship.”

“Say again?”

Trego’s voice cut in over the comm. “The Brute Hope was just rammed by a rebel dreadnaught. Things aren’t going well over there, and our defense net is rapidly breaking down. We simply can’t evac the Admirals on the Hope. They’re on their own. We’ve already got our hands full with the Valkryies still over the singularity, their fire lanes have wiped out a good half our forces. Evacuation of critical vessels is already at a standstill and with the Hope deep in enemy territory, it’s FUBAR.”

“With respect, Trego- no, sir,” growled Easly. “We’re currently moving to steal a troopship for egress. The Hope is currently between us and the Nightfall. I realize the flagship’s translocation net is fucked up, but the Admirals need to be pulled out. Sarah and Ian need to be pulled out. We can’t simply drop them to the wolves, sir.”

There was a soft silence as Easly emerged into a burning hangar, a line of gradually less damaged dropships sitting in their neat row. As Bateau watched, a gaggle of small Terinas whipped into the one closest to the door, just as the ship rose wobbly off the ground. Ignoring the microfighter, if turns uneasily and fled through the atmo-shield, ion engines on full burn.

“Fine,” Trego finally hissed as Easly dropped his fighter callously onto the deck. “It’s on your head, Easly. But be warned- we’ve received reports of at least two Tyraxes on the Hope before all communications stopped, and we know for a fact our main man escaped when I slew the Zero Hour.”

The canopy popped off with a clang, flying high into the ceiling as Easly emerged, sweeping his MX across the empty hangar. “We’ll bring them back, Trego. Easly out.”

Tossing Easly onto the shoulder of his mech, Bateau easily bounded over the closest undamaged troopship, gazing up the lowering bridge ramp as he rapidly dismounted his mech. “These babies got off Zrmahk. It’ll do for us. It’s work.

Easly sprinted up the ramp. “Hell, yes. It had better.”

Section 8: Showdown With The Tyrax: Finale

Virgil spoke quickly, his matrix cube bouncing on the strap across Valerie’s chest. “The nearest active hangar with a docked transport in Bay XL-2332; that is, the Raptors’ bay. If we follow the service shafts, we should be able to get there. Records show a DART detachment made a last stand about three kilometers down tower of the bridge. We should be able to find a working car there, since its seventeen klicks to the hangar.”

The massive lift ground down the shaft, with explosions ripping through the walls above them, showering them with shrapnel and body parts. Including Ian, only six people had survived the assault on the bridge- Corporal Pryce and three senior Admirals. Five other DARTs had forcibly volunteered to act as a rear guard at the end of the hall above them, above the objections of Mccorl, knowing that when the enemy broke through, they’d be cut down where they stood.

“Right,” muttered Ian, slapping a new clip into his rifle, one of two he had left. Taking his pistols out of his holsters, he passed them to the Admirals. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re making a forced exit of this boat. Since the Ark own it, we’re gunning our way out. We need speed and space, so that means a Nanta. I’ve got the wheel, and all you need to do is keep your head down and shoot anything that moves. Sound paradoxical, I know, but I’m a bit new to this hero business myself. Likely, we’ll have serious pursuit, so make every shot count. We’re not exactly rolling in ammo here. Virgil, you’ll guide me to the hangar?”

The spoke flashed green. “Perfectly.”

“Excellent.” The lift ground beneath them, slowing to a half, thrity feet above the bottom of the shaft- right before it gave out with an almighty clang, free-falling the remaining distance and dumping them out onto the carnage-strewn floor in a heep. A flaming tank sat nearby, its treads shredded and its crew missing their limbs.

Behind them, at the top of the shaft, they heard a ghastly roar.

Struggling to his feet, Ian swore. “Sonuvabitch is a cat. He’s got nine lives.” Grabbing Vice Admiral Pryce by the scruff of the neck, he hauled the man to his feet, throwing him forward to the mangled blast door and beyond. The deck shook beneath their feet, and Ian didn’t know if it was the disintegration of the ship or the predator behind them. It just spoke one word to him: run.

They emerged into a graveyard of corpses, both human, Nahktar, and vehicular. The room must’ve been some kilometer square, a tattered former engineering bay before a contingent of DART trooper had laid down their lives preventing secondary access to the computer banks. Spying an overturned Nanta AFV some fifty meters away, Dusk threw a waypoint on the jeep and charged with the group, right as a massive shape hit the bottom of the elevator shaft behind them, red eyes glowing, a comparatively tiny assault rifle in one hand, spraying at the fleeing humans. Bullets tracked up the side of a crashed gunship as Ian spun, firing from the hip, throwing up sparks around the emerging Tyrax, who walked through the fire, uncaring. Repositioning the rifle against his shoulder, Ian reaimed and placed two shots into the upturned grenade crate three meters way from the charging Tyrax. The incendiary rounds triggered the explosives, tossing the Tyrax across the bay.

Valerie hit the Nanta like a running back, placing a shoulder into the side of the car and yelling, flipping the jeep in one blow. The three Admirals piled into the midbay, firing wildly at a platoon of Minutemen that plowed into the hangar, presumably on the Tyrax’s orders. Clambering up into the rear-mounted missile turret, the DART trooper slapped the action and began firing rounds at the ONI soldiers, who spun out of the bay, untouched. Ian spun back to the Nanta and took a running slide, gliding underneath the Nanta on the blood-slicked floor to the opposite side, to the driver’s side, where he sprung up to slam himself behind the wheel, kicking down on the gas pedal like it was the skull of an enemy.

Nine Minutes.

Fireballs pillared into the sky around them as the wheels spun for a mere second, eternity, until they caught purchase and shot the jeep off the mark like a catapult. A tank flipping through the air behind them, smashing down mere meters in front of the car, Ian swore and spun hard of the wheel, baring flipping around the obstacle, broadsiding the straight into the side of the backtracking Minutemen AFV, jolting the two cars at two hundred klicks an hour. The driver’s eyes bulged, his legs crushed by the hood of Ian’s Nanta, the passenger struggled to bring his rifle to bear across his dying driver’s body, and the men in the back were already taking beads when Ian blew out the windshield of his car and blasted them all to hell, from left to right, their bodies convulsing under the red ruptures of blood.

The ONI AFV peeled off, crashing into a wall with a massive explosion, and the Nanta flew out of the room into a massive hallway, equally lined with wreckage, both living and dead. Virgil’s voice, his voice emanating from where his box was wedged underneath a seat, could barely be heard. “This hallway continues on for ten klicks, but it falls down ten meters every klick, like a giant staircase-- watch-”

“-Out!!” screamed Mccorl as a massive vehicle slammed through the bare-boned, plasma scorched wall behind them, a cockpit mounted between two forward-sweeping pylons, in which sat the Tyrax, his eyes gleaming-

“Shit!!” yelled Valerie, swinging her turret round at the bogey behind her, losing rocket after rocket, peppering the antigrav pylons with all her force. The Ark ship flipped, barrel-rolling through the air as it lost its balance, and Ian saw the Tyrax draw from under his arm another rifle, the strap whipping through the air, the one hand extending, the gun burping-

“Down!” he commanded as the car hit the first step, soaring through the air, the bullets missing their target, going wide-

The Tyrax’s APC hit the ledge upside down, his rifle still firing, exploding out glass on the Nanta, Ian screamed as two bullets punctured his arm, the car swerved, Valerie hit the underbelly on the hovercraft, flipping it high over their heads. For a second, the Tyrax was meters above them, the two vehicles facing each other top-to-top, the occupants each firing madly at each other-

Before the Tyrax’s hovercraft slammed down in front of them, traveling backwards at two hundred and fifty kilometers an hour, momentarily grinding on the floor before the antigravs kicked back in. Instead of peeling off, Ian slammed down hard on his accelerator, hitting the ramplike cockpit of the hovercraft at speed, mounting it, crushing the occupant, and traveling over the center piece before slamming down in front of the vehicle, Valerie pumping rockets into the exhaust port of the Tyrax’s ride. One of the drive pylons exploded, fireballs rippling down its length, turning it into a flickering skeleton before in broke off, dumping the right side of the mangled cockpit on its side, spinning the hovercraft around-

The out-of-control ship wailed around, slapping the Nanta’s rear, slapping it high, which was lucky, as the flying rear bumper blocked the next volley of shots from the remainder of the Tyrax’s magazine. Swearing, the cyborg ducked down into his smashed cockpit as the rear of the Nanta touched down and rockets flew by his head, reloading at bullets stitched the headrest.

Eight Minutes

They were on the fifth stair when the ground gave way beneath them , rolling away and out from under them. Several klicks down hall, Ian saw the massive beam of an autolaser slice through the hull in front of them, charging the air twenty degrees higher before thery were dumped-

“Hold on!!” shouted Ian, gripping the steering wheel for all it was worth as they fell a hundred meters down into a massive, and I mean massive- deep harbor, full of half-built starships and never-crewed dreadnaughts. Fighters zipped throughout superstructures, and the black of space flickered some ten klicks away from behind emergency forcefields.

They landed, hard, on the spine of a Vortex-class, , right as a massive explosion ripped through the right wing of the ship, upending it in its moorings, sending it tipping at its docking- Ian fought hard to keep speed, lest they be dropped into the abyss-

Twenty meters above them, the massive APC fell, the remaining left pylon having no trouble holding the hull of the ship, the cockpit’s left side grinding on the hundred-meter armor. The interchange began again-

“Out!” yelled Admiral Greer, shortly followed by Mccorl. Ian threw magazines back at them from his dwindling supply bag, he heard the slapping of actions behind his head and the report of the gunshots inches from his head, barely audible as a starfighter squadron flew within a hundred meters of them-

Ian began weaving through the aft of the dreadnaught, in between monstrous outcroppings at that were the heavy turrets, hundred-meters shadows cast by the empty focusing barrels as they absorbed the bullets from their pursuer.

Six Minutes

One of the fighters above them caught an automatic defense missile from a still active network, the sound was deafening as it crashed into a turret above them, wiping out the hull, and they plunged into the underbelly of the ship, only briefly speeding through the ship’s empty rear hangar before they were off, with kilometers below them, wheels spinning hopelessly in the air, flying, screaming, aiming for a tiny dock coupling in the far wall, the Tyrax’s APC soaring behind them.

This was it, Ian knew, as he reached for the rifle- Sarah’s rifle, her only remaining effect, spinning in his seat, lodging himself against the windshield mount, shoving the rifle hard against his shoulder, staring down the almost-alien sights, ignoring the wildly moving displays, the ammo counters telling him direly he only had one shot left, but went for the target tracking. From his friendship with Sarah he knew he needed a lock-on for the scramjet to employ its limited tracking.

His heart was beating like a typewriter, but he forcibly calmed it as they fell through the empty air, explosions ripping through the hull all around them, fighters winging past, wreckage falling- a massive Spartan dreadnaught falling vertically behind him, down to the open gap in the ship, out in the vortex, the black hole clearly visible.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

The soul of the Tyrax is patience.

He settled his sights on the Tyrax’s head.

No.

That wouldn’t kill it.

Barely keeping track with the plummeting enemy, he repositioned the sights on the fusion reactor of the APC, the cooling coils.

Breathe in. Out.

One-two count, the reticule flashed red, and kept blinking, he knew he had the shot, and he pulled the trigger for all he was worth-

The gun kicked hard in his hands, he nearly lost control of it as the pain from the wounds in his arm surged over him, but he saw, high above him, the APC spark-

He had missed!

No he hadn’t.

The hovercraft caught, first a tiny rupture, then a massive fireball, consuming everything within twenty meters, wreckage pelted them, and Ian let out a whoop, pumping a fist in the air, before collapsing back into his seat, seconds before the Nanta crashed down onto the tiny outcropping platform of the docking couple, explosions blowing out the suspension, but the scrapper of a car held in there, chugging forward of the mark like a prize runner, quickly regaining speed. The impact was stunning, knocking the breath out of them moreso than any gut punch, but they regained their wits and quickly reloaded their guns.

Just as they entered another battlefield. But this one was active.

They sped through pillars and ramps, jagged outcroppings and rubble-filled holes as every alien, freak, and robot with a grudge took potshots at them.

And then, suddenly, everything went to hell. An odd statement, since it implied everything wasn’t already the epitome of chaos anyway.

The ceiling caved in, sending a Frok’tar defensive bunker flying in every direction, felled by the cannons of a tank- one that emerged now, the barrels red-hot, treads spinning at hyperfast speeds. There was no doubt as to its occupant.

“A cat,” shouted Valerie, spinning her turret round to face the threat. “He’s got more lives that a cat! He must’ve bailed out before his APC went up!!”

The tank’s cannons boomed again, creating a mile-deep crater in front of them, one Ian just barely managed to skirt.

“How much time!” he screamed at the box to his right.

“Four and a half minutes!” came the reply. “We’re almost there! Ian, listen- I think I’ve figured out how to kill this guy. In fact, I know, amigo.”

“Tell us!” shouted Ian, hitting hard on the gas to speed under a falling structural beam, one the pursuing tank easily ground over.

“It all comes back to the Raptor’s hangar! When he stowed aboard and hacked into our net, I was all over him. Hit him with so many viruses that a doctor would cry when looking at his code. Unfortunately, he pulled out too fast for the real kickers to begin their code rot. All of this errant behavior from our friend has been because of these viruses- any mistake he’s made, anything. And it’s been shared over the Tyrax network between the exoskeletons- the way they were talking earlier, that was the virus finally effecting their reasoning procedures. However, this sabotage will be for naught if we can’t get the virus access to his central code- and that’s got some serious firewalls on it!”

Ian followed along, barely, as he struggled to weave his way through the mayhem of the disintegrating ship, a massive battle where everybody would love his scalp, and a seemingly invulnerable (im)mortal foe gunning for his six. Mccorl leaned in as she slapped her last, final, singular clip into her gun. “What do we have to do get to this guy’s heart?!”

“Get me within a meter of his chest!” shouted Virgil. “At that close a proximity, I can crack his firewalls in ten seconds! You’ve just got three and a half minutes to do it and get out!”

“Got it,” nodded Ian, pulling the Grand Admiral up beside the wheel. “Once I let go just push hard on the gas and keep the car within jumping distance!”

“What-”

Ian swept the car into neutral, taking his foot off the gas and swinging the wheel around a quarter turned, pulling hard on the brake.

The response was instantaneous. Under extreme threat of tipping, the rear swung around like a baseball bat, throwing the bumper of the car straight in the maw of the odd-looking tank, inside the range of all but the occupant’s own weapons. Hitting reverse, he threw Mccorl’s hands on the wheel and grabbed both his rifle and Virgil’s casing, clambering through the open windshield, onto the hood of the Nanta. Behind him, Valerie’s launcher boomed, and the armor buckled over the driver’s compartment.

Taking a huge breath, Ian leaped.

He just barely managed it, landing on the edge of the cockpit and wobbling in midair before regaining his balance and jamming down on his rifle’s trigger, firing one-handedly into the canopy. It broke away easily and he saw the Tyrax, scorched but alive, convulsing under his fire. Even then, a metal hand reached up towards his throat-

“Five more seconds!” yelled Virgil. “I’m almost there!”

Ian’s clip went dry and, out of desperation, with no time to reload, he slammed the stock down into the Tyrax’s metallic face- the rifle only broke in half under the impact, yelling, he punched down with Virgil’s matrix, backhanding the Tyrax for all he was forth- he felt the cold metal clasp around his throat, the red-hot tip of a barrel burn into his gut. The first bullet slammed into him, jolting him a foot into the air as it nearly missed his spine.

But no more came. There was one equally huge convulsion from the Tyrax as the slap came down on his head, one that signaled the fall of his firewalls, he began to convulse in earnest, his rifle clattering away as the viruses took hold of his system.

The gut shot clouded his mind, and he fell backwards, his mind indistinctly expecting to be sucked under the treads of the now out-of-control tank as he hit the deck, his one final sacrifice-

Warm gloves grasped him under the shoulders and he barely turned his head to see the Nanta had spun, tail end again facing the tank. He saw Valerie’s face above his, upside-down, and he realized she was stretched out from the rear turret of the Nanta, Admiral Greer holding her legs. Ian’s own legs bounced once or twice on the deck, vague impacts that he knew in the rear of his mind shattered his ankles, but then he was yanked into the troop bay of Nanta, bleeding on the floor.

He barely heard her voice- “You did it, sir! You killed the Tyrax! You vanquished him!” He scarcely noticed the tank peeling off, exploding against a wall. Bullets whizzed overhead and lasers burned, but he was happy.

Two minutes.

* * *

Section 9: Homecoming

Easly flew like a maniac, weaving through the chaos in his troopship, as nukes detonated all around him. Bateau shouted out behind him, as he controlled the several turrets on the bucket and was raining hell left and right with them.

“I’ve been in contact with Virgil!” shouted Easly. “He got off a second message about ten seconds ago. Ian handed the Tyrax his ass, and this time’s it’s for good. Virgil said he was transmitting through the Tyrax’s exoskeleton before the message got cut off. He said to pick them up at the Raptor’s bay.”

“Homecoming?” grinned Bateau. “It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has,” replied Easly grimly. “There she is!”

As they crested the bow of a burning ship hulk, diving under strobing lasers and missiles, they saw the Brute Hope- or what remained of her. The ship’s front left pylon had been blown off, which represented a third of the ship’s mass, utterly obliterated. The rest of the ship was flickering, fires raged the hull as they were vented into the vacuum of space, and enemy ships buzzed around the once-proud vessel like flies over a carcass. It seemed that humanity’s mightiest ship had been declared a complete nonentity.

Out of the massive bulk, Easly knew by heart where his hangar was. The right side of the massive rear tower, three quarters of the way down. Easily buzzing past any pursuit, he finally received the radio beacon of the approaching Nanta. “Raptor Wheel, this is the Homecoming Brigade. We’re here to get you off this rock before it explodes. How much time is left?”

“Oh, thank god, Jak,” Mccorl’s voice came in over speakers. “We’ve got badly wounded on board, but the worse news is that there’s two minutes on the clock. It’s gonna be tight.”

“We’re landing now, ma’am. We’ll have the ramp ready.”

“Hurry, soldier. Raptor Wheel out.”

Easily saw the hangar clearly now, and he swung the craft around, scanning the bay for any hostiles. Nothing. Empty as a rock, only a single burning carcass of a VT-6 still docked in the clamps. Lowering the landing gear, Easly saw the Nanta buzz into massive bay, its occupant bloodied, guns up and scanning.

That was when the missile took them in the rear exhaust, blowing off their port engine.

Easly’s eyes went wide when the ship lurched, some fifty meters off the deck in the cavernous hangar. Sweeping his eyes over the flashing red panels, he instantly surmised any heroic control-fighting as a lost cause. This ship was going down, but he still had several options for egress. But only if he got off this boat first.

Hauling himself out of his chair, he yanked Bateau to his feet, pulling his pistol out of its holster. Standing back, he fired a slug into the button for the ejection seat. The bucket seat rocketed upwards, the ceiling hatch blowing out above it. The seat only traveled twenty meters before crumpling against the ceiling like a tin can, exploding into a million pieces. Grabbing the back of Bateau’s dual shoulder rig with his other hand, Easly shouted “Be ready- someone beat us to the hangar!”

With that, he took a giant step forward, placing himself under the open ceiling hatch, seeing the roof fall away from him as the ship plummeted. Crouching, he launched himself up, out of the hatch, leaping six meters straight up, his pistol sights sweeping the deck of the bay-

The plasma bolts cut across his spine like knives, exploding out of his chest and taking off one of his arms before they hit Bateau in the face, spinning the pair away from each other. They fell some ten meters before smacking into the deck like a pair of ragdolls, not moving.

Preceded by a trio of elite Nahktar soldiers, the Tyrax suddenly appeared out of thin air behind the VT-6, flames licking his body as he casually dropped onto the deck, the plasma pistol in his talons smoking.

“Checkmate,” he grinned, as the massive troopship slammed into the deck behind him like a meteor.

Section 10: Apocalypse

The rocket-wielding soldier quickly reaimed his launcher at the side of the Nanta. Ian’s eyes went wide, and he scrambled to the far side of the Nanta, as did everyone else, as the rocket streaked out, smacking the side of the AFV and flipping it through the air, spilling it’s occupants amongst the shattered wreckage of the troopship.

The Tyrax began walking towards them.

Vice Admiral Pryce groaned, trying to reached a sitting position. The Tyrax placed the pistol against the back of his head and fired. Burning bits of skull and brain splattered the overturned wing of the crash.

Mccorl swore and reached for her pistol, despite the three pieces of metal sticking from her chest. It had barely entered her hand when her face deformed, ceasing to exist, the rear of her head the only thing remaining as the pistol discharged again. Her sidearm, to her ignorance, had been empty.

One minute.

Ian had been pitched farthest from the Tyrax, as struggling onto to place his back against the side wall of the hangar, close to the forcefield.

He heard Greer shout “No!!”, but it was cut off halfway.

Valerie struggled as one of the commandos hauled her up by the hair.

The Tyrax stared down at her. “My plans- foiled. But, rest assured, you will not live to see any day beyond your victory. I shall not allow it.”

Ian almost shouted when the pistol barked again, and Valerie’s headless corpse collapsed to the floor. She alone had survived beyond the destruction of her squad, a true soldier, a hero- only he executed feet from freedom. He knew he had no gun on him, and the pain in his gut was overriding.

“Smith,” came the rasp a couple meters to his right. Painfully rotating his head, he saw Easly- his other arm missing, completely drenched in his own blood, his leg sticking out at an odd angle, burns tracing up his face. “Think hard,” he said, reaching to his hip and sliding an MX pistol across the deck to Ian’s hand.

Ian thought.

He stopped and pondered.

At first he surveyed the futility of situation. He was extremely wounded, with no allies who weren’t dead or dying.

The Tyrax- he was invulnerable.

No, wait.

He thought.

He had to go back to the beginning.

The Tyrax had staged a coup against the galaxy at large. He had been planning it for years.

No, farther.

The Tyrax had started out as an Ark-built assassination cyborg. Since it was the first major success in cyborging, the Ark kept close tabs on the being’s activity- lest he rogue.

To pull off a coup of this magnitude, he had to take himself off the net. But those other Tyrax exoskeletons were still networked. His deniability. He could scheme without fear of discovery, yet still be on the grid in some way. Add in the virus, and the major intelligence in the Tyrax construct was well-advantaged in being off the net.

It had already been proven that the virus was now fully active on the Tyrax mainframe net. Exposure to the virus could instantly kill the exoskeleton.

That was it.

He had to reconnect the Tyrax to the mainframe.

But how?

He knew. When the Tyrax had fled the Vertraut, it had lost the psi blocker to Trego. Ian had seen the gaping hole in his chest. The sockets for external hardware. It would make sense for the network blocker to be near there too.

The Tyrax was slowly walking towards him, twisting through the wreckage calmly. “Mr. Smith. You’ve been a particular thorn in my sid-”

The head of the left-most Nahktar exploded. Ian saw, out of the corner of his eye, Bateau holding a carbine up, reaiming at the next soldier.

The rest of the soldiers reacted.

Ian saw Bateau wink at him at the rocket streaked toward him, tossing him into the far wall, minus a leg.

The Tyrax spun back to face Ian, eyes wide, widening still as he saw the pistol aimed straight-armed at his squad.

The right-most commando lost an eye.

Ian reaimed his pistol, pulling the trigger rapidly.

Another commando fell.

The Tyrax finally brought his pistol to bear as his last bodyguard died violently.

Ian’s gun found its final target, the crater in the torso, signifying this Tyrax as the final foe. He playing an awful gamble here, but he had nothing to lose, no time for a clever one-liner-

The plasma bolt took him in his shoulder, but he still placed the heart of the Tyrax in his sights.

He yanked the trigger.

The slug hit the Tyrax dead center, and he jolted back a meter on impact alone.

He stood there for a second, one that lasted into infinity-

Ian snarled and pulled himself to his knees, and with one final, baleful roar, he emptied the gun into the Tyrax.

There was a single twitch before the convulsions started.

The Tyrax fell.

Dead.

At last.

Bateau pulled himself up a moment later, his leg re-stitching itself as a he limped as fast as he could, Virgil battered matrix under his arm. “I hate to break the party, but we’ve got twenty seconds until the reactors on the Hope go critica-”

Ian tossed the pistol onto the floor with a glare at the metallic corpse and painfully grabbed Easly’s arm, helping the barely alive man to his feet, throwing the arm over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.

“Teleporter,” groaned Easly, pain lacing every word. “It worked once before, right…”

Bateau swung his gaze onto the body of the troopship. It was barely intact.

It was their only hope.

They threw themselves inside, limping.

Ten seconds.

Working their way into the actual troop bay, they saw the flickering green doorway on the far bulkhead, barely maintaining a connection to who knew where-

“Configuring the doorway-” muttered Virgil- “It’s go to the flagship, move!”

Bateau tossed the box through as he saw Ian collapse behind him

Five seconds.

Taking Easly by the scruff of the neck, he threw him through the door unceremoniously.

Two seconds.

Pulling Ian’s arm over his own neck, he hurtled towards the door, bounding-

-Fire licked his heels-

-He crashed, hard, onto the cool deck of the Nightfall’s medbay as the green haze behind him bulged, them shorted out at the Brute Hope ceased to exist some million of kilometers away, on the opposite edge of the battle.

Easly was already on a stretcher, crash nurses surrounding him as one more lift Ian with a gravgun, high onto a trauma bed.

Bateau let out the massive breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. Pushing away the attentions of several nurses, he limped over his two comrades. Easly was by far the worse off.

He looked up through blood-cake eyes at Bateau, the thinnest of smiles touching his face.

“-D-did we win?”

Bateau nodded slowly. “Yes, sir. We- we killed the Tyrax. It’s over.”

“g-Good. I didn’t want to leave w-without making sure I t-tied up loose ends…”

Bateau’s eyes widened, but Easly raised his remaining arm, the fingers working into a thumbs up. “Tell Ian he s-saved us all.”

“Get Drax in here!” Bateau screamed as a Nurse pushed him away, saying, “He’s on the Open Truth, sir, we can’t get him in time-”

Bateau frowned- “What to mean in tim-”

Easly’s smile never left his face as his final breath passed his lips. The EKG let out a mournful flatline that continued into infinity.

Feeling a heavy hand on his shoulder, Bateau spun to see Trego, standing tall behind him.

“Shouldn’t you be commanding the fleet? Mccorl’s dead, Trego.”

Trego’s face, already sober, took on a pained edge. “Kehksol managed to talk the Conclave over to our side. Their reinforcements just arrived from FTL thirty seconds ago- the rebels are cutting their loses and fleeing. Aside from scraps of resistance, we’ve won.”

Victory meant nothing to Bateau. Apart from Ian, all of his Storm squadmates had died. Sarah. Johnny. Jak.

Trego stepped forward, gently reaching down, and pushing a sheet over Easly’s body. “Rickson’s two wards down. We pulled her EV pod out of the wreckage above the black hole a couple hours ago. Seems she got hit when Deckard showed up. Even stable, but just barely.”

Bateau merely stood silently for a minute for two, his eyes downcast. Ian was quickly wheeled away to an emergency ward. Trego stood by for a minute or two, but was inevitably pulled away by Admirals seeking his expertise.

Nodding to himself, Leo finally marched off to go find Megan. He needed to see his friend, alive.

Life meant hope.

Epilogue

Twenty Years after the Battle of the Kaeleron Singularity

The rain pressed hard against his shoulder, slicking his hair against his forehead. Stopping at Sarah’s empty grave, he took the rifle leaning against the stone and carefully wiped the mud from the sniper rifle, sweeping off the dirt that congealed over the year.

To his left, down the row, he saw a tall man gazing down at what Ian had memorized to be Easly’s headstone. Under the umbrella, he saw the thick brace of brown hair and familiar black eyes. Carefully laying down the rifle, he stood and took off after the man, who was trudging away from the grave. Trotting forward, Ian caught up with him, pulling the holdout from his shoulder.

Ian placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, spinning him around and placing the gun against the base of the man’s jaw.

“This isn’t happening. Jak died on the Hope.”

The man looked thoughtfully down at gun pressed into his neck and slowly pressed it away. Stepping away, he began to walk off, pausing only briefly by the headstone of Sarah.

Ian raised his pistol. “You’re not real! Just get out of here!”

The man, his right hand brushing the top of the headstone, looked briefly over his shoulder at Smith. A wan smile touched his lips.

“What makes you think I’m Easly?”

And he blinked into nonexistence.

* * *
Two Months after the Battle of the Kaeleron Singularity

“We found one.”

“There were supposed to be two.”

“Obviously,” said Bateau, leaning back in his chair. “But Deckard had apparently let one loose on Mars before he departed to Kaeleron. Records show the clone was in his late teens, about two years into the accelerated aging, when Deckard gave him a data pack and released him. We’ve established a lockdown, but it appears this copy got offplanet before the battle had even finished.”

Trego frowned slightly, pacing in his temporary office. He (And Bateau, by extension) had been set up in an empty office complex on Mars, where Trego had been given virtually unlimited authority to ‘tie up the loose ends’. “Damn. And the other?”

Bateau’s smile provided a counterpoint. “He’s only nine, with a single dose of acceleration. He’s got quite a bit of training on him, but no indoctrination. The MRMC is performing a formal workup right now.”

Trego was impressed, and he sat down in his own chair, rough three times the size of the chair that Bateau sat on, as well as the human itself. “This is an incredibly lucky break, you realize? We all saw the potential Easly had, and Drax as well.” Drax had been sidelined into the Mars Regional Medical Center as an ER healer, segueing at a running start into a normal life. Normal, if you count being able to reattach limbs with the power of your mind normal. Bateau would have to keep an eye on him. “We need to keep this between us. Deckard, for all his faults, effectively proved that cloning psions is possible, at least with this stock. We need new agents for the inevitable future. You need new agents.”

“Huh?” Bateau blinked.

“The Provisional Government has ordered me to reestablish an intelligence service, and ASAP. Every second we waste is another twenty rebels through our fingers. Since we’re working from the ground up, I thought you’d like to see some familiar faces. But make no mistake, Leo, you’ll end up as the Director of the Cadre for Tactical Intelligence. That said, Major Kusanagi and Reitman are waiting for you in orbit.”

Bateau stood, sensing the close to their meeting. “And when I eventually start building my own special investigations team, I have thought of a name for it, or, really, them.”

“Aho?” said Trego, who was pulling up his computer.

Bateau stopped at the doorway. “I’m quite enamored with the term “Meisters”. How does that sound?”

“You’re asking my opinion, Colonel? I would check your hell, it seems to be chilly.”

“And screw you too, Trego,” said Bateau, grinning as he left for the elevator. Feeling a vibration in his pocket, he dug out his chatter and flipped it open, brushing his thumbprint briefly over the pad of the small device. “Talk to me.”

“Colonel, it’s Drax. I thought I’d drop you a line, we just finished the workup on the boy you found. He’s healthy, extraordinarily so. We literally couldn’t find anything wrong with him physically, not even when I gave it a look.” By that, he meant his powers. “The thing is, sir…”

Bateau entered the lift and left his stomach drop out and he descended a good two hundred stories. “Yes, Kieran?”

“He’s a blinker, sir.”

Two Weeks after the Battle of the Kaeleron Singularity

“We’ll still be uncovering bodies from the hulks for years, but they’ll all eventually be swallowed by the black hole. A single, large ceremony honoring those who are still out there would be the best course of action. What would we do if we actually uncovered them all in time? Bury them? Where? Or would we simply fire them into Kaeleron, which would ultimately be a more expensive version of what would happen naturally?

“May I remind you, we’ve still got rebels out there. When the Conclave came in, a good half of those vessels still intact fled rather than be destroyed or surrender. Deckard and the Tyrax weren’t fool, and they certainly didn’t expect to win in a single decisive battle, and neither should we. They probably set up dozen of fortress worlds to retreat behind, in all obscures corners of the galaxy. Never mind those groups- on both- sides, that refuse to accept peace and cooperation with their enemy.

“No, we need to refocus our forces onto the upcoming ordeal before them, those who won’t be involved in the Reconstruction effort. So, to do that, as first act as SupCom, I’m declaring this site a galactic historic battleground and holding a single, massive funeral for those who died during this conflict.”

Trego never blinked as he conferred with Bateau. His eyes were the coldest the Carnage Marine had ever seen them.

“We need to finish off the majority of the problem in our galaxy and consolidate, for I fear we have but a short span of time in which to prepare for the future.”

One Week after the Battle of the Kaeleron Singularity

Easly had but one wish: that his funeral be a quiet ceremony, without the massive honors he knew his friends would argue for him. He wanted the accolades and remembrance to go to more deserving souls, like the Grand Admiral all the way down to ground-pounders like Valerie Pryce. The people who assembled in the newly designated Avalon missile array on the Terror Cause weren’t more than fifteen, from his surviving friends in the 303rd- Bateau and Smith, to what remained of the beloved Raptor squadron- led by Major Blake, who had inherited command of the group. Trego stood silently in the background, as did Rickson, in a temporary wheelchair.

A single hallowed Bearclaw in the open breech of the launcher served as a makeshift coffin, one that Bateau spoke to, reading from a small black leather book.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”

There was a moment of silence as the breech hissed shut, and the missile was ejected from the dreadnaught, powering towards the tumultuous black hole in the distance.

“It’s not over, you know.”

It was a few minutes after the assembly was dismissed that Ian joined Bateau at the massive observation window, gazing quietly down at Kaeleron until the massive blast doors closed over the transparisteel window and the new ISN flagship taxied towards a slipstream to return to New Cal.

“I understand you’re not referring to the revolt?” Bateau queried pensively as he kept gazed as the holo-projection masking the blast doors, cameras upkeeping the illusion of an uncovered window. Subspace blurred to purple slipstream as the ship fell into the FTL highway.

Dusk shook his head wistfully. “Not at all. You’ve still got two more clones out there, and if Easly’s any indication, they’re going to be extremely high-end. I guessed they were still in training or growth, but I’d make it top priority to hunt down Deckard’s experiments. And that’s not to say he hasn’t created anything beyond the Four Horsemen.”

“I’ve put out some feelers, but we’re hitting Mars full force tomorrow. There’s a good chance the base was in some deep dark corner of the ONI complex.”

“There’s something beyond that that worries me,” Ian frowned.

“What would that be?” asked Bateau.

“Easly,” sighed Smith. “He was smiling when the coffin was closed.”

August 22nd, 2584- Seven and half years before the Battle of the Kaeleron Singularity

With a grunt, Halcyon smacked away Easly’s guard and stabbed forward, socking the tip of his bar into Easly’s chin.

Thrown off balance, Easly fell hard onto the floor. He could of sprung up and avoided the hypothetical next blow, but he realized it was a losing proposition. Rubbing his jaw, he took his brother’s offered hand and was hauled to his feet.

“Not bad, man. But with your reflexes, you could have simply let your legs drop out from under you, avoid the stab, and roll, sweeping me off my feet,” admonished Halcyon as he took his brother’s rebar and telekinetically tossed it into the can in the corner of the Proteus’s training dojo.

Easly shrugged, smiling. “I’ll get you one day, you know that?”

“You take me, Jak, you can take on the verse,” shot back Halcyon, as a couple of water jugs zipped over to him from their locker. Tossing one over to Easly, he uncapped his and took a massive swig from the canteen.

“Say, Seth. I’ve been thinking of organizing a new spec-ops unit. We’ve been getting hammered lately-”

“When aren’t we?” asked Halcyon grimly.

“-Well, yeah. But I’ve been studying the intel, and there’s been some massive openings we can exploit. Chinks in the armor, so to speak. The tiny stone to trip the giant.”

Halcyon gazed over the mouth of his jub. “And what are these metaphorical underdogs going to be?”

“I’ve been thinking of organizing people from every branch,” Easly said, wiping his mouth his wrist. “The best of the best, obviously, but with a sense of gall that would astonish God himself.”

“Suicide missions? Is that what you’re talking about? People who make the impossible possible?”

Easly nodded. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. People who snatch victories from the jaws of defeat. The assassination of the very highest, the sabotage of the pivotal comm array that organizes entire fleets. People who aren’t afraid to take on million-to-one odds, and so incredibly audacious that their ego doesn’t allow them to die.”

Halcyon was silent for a few moments. After a minute, he spoke up. “I’d say a there’s a storm coming, but these guys- they’re the storm itself.” His chatter rang, and he snapped it to his ear. “Shoot, man. I have to bug out, Deckard’s on the line. It seems we’ve got a lead on the Ark SupCom. You know these guy, these ‘Storm’ Commandos- they’re the perfect fit for this. I’ll talk to Devonshire for you.”

“Thanks, Seth. I owe you one.”

Seth clapped Easly on the back before walking off towards the lifts at the end of the corridor. “These guys could win us the war, Jak.”

Shaking his head, Easly said, “No, you’ll be the one to save us all, Seth. You’ll win it for us, I believe it.”

Total Extinction Will Be Continued:
Twenty Years Later
In TE: Overheat
Last edited by Mobius 1 on Tue May 27, 2008 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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Re: Arc: Apocalypse

Post by Mobius 1 » Wed May 21, 2008 12:09 am

Well, that was Apoc. It took me a full year to write, with two hundred and six pages at size twelve TNR, with 90,284 words. It was preceding by three fics- going backwards from Apoc- Phoenix Rising, the TE RPG (The Fifth Battle), and Liquid Phalanx. Cannonically, Apoc is the end of the original TE war plot, the twelve year war between the Ark and the ISA, with the formation of a galactic Union between the multiple polities.
SHADOW TEMPEST BLACK || STB2: MIDNIGHT PARADOX
The day our skys fe||, the heavens split to create new skies.

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