West Point, NY
1330 Central Time
“Oh look, it’s the great General Connelly, gracing us with his presence,” General Michael Wallace slurred through the video screen from the Pentagon. Behind him, General Connelly could see scenes of debauchery occurring that would have made a Roman blush. At least Michael, an old West Point classmate of his, was still in uniform at he Universal Command Console, a video device installed in the Pentagon’s war room just the previous year.
“Michael, I need your help,” General Connelly said, letting his suit modulate his voice so that it was somewhat more suggestive.
“Oh no, Adam, that mind-control shit won’t work through the damn video monitor,” Michael slurred. “We made sure of that real special, just for you. So, try again!”
General Connelly inhaled, then exhaled.
“Michael, I’ve got units on the ground in Kansas getting ready to come to grips with these bastards,” General Connelly said, trying to put a positive spin on things. “I need assets.”
“Oh, you mean you can’t get one of your great arks to help them out? I mean, save the best and the brightest, screw the rest, right?!” Michael’s eyes suddenly cleared up, the man reaching a moment of utter lucidity. “Even men who have been with you for the last thirty-five years.”
“Michael, you knew. You knew everything the aliens had given us, and you let that stupid son-of-a-bitch screw over the country and the world.”
“Well as sure as there’s a pretty redhead captain underneath this table,” Michael said, a fierce grin on his face, “I’m not going to lift a finger to help someone who’s going to leave me to rot. Oh no, actually, leave me to be eaten.”
“Dammit Michael, people are going to die,” Connelly replied. “We have lost here, but you can help make it less of a loss.”
“Oh, and just why would I want to do that?” Michael asked. “I mean, I’m figuring we can keep doing everything that we’re doing here until either we run out of supplies or I start hearing alien footsteps upstairs.”
“And then what, Michael?” Connelly asked. “You going to try and negotiate with them?”
“No, actually I’m going to take this .45 right here on the table,” Michael said, reaching for the pistol. “Then I’m going to shoot old Samantha here in the head, then myself.”
“Hey!” a muffled voice said from underneath the table. A head of long red hair popped into view, a quite stunning captain in a state of relative undress struggling to stand up. “No one said anything about shooting me in the head,” she slurred. “You’ll mess up my makeup.”
Oh my God, Connelly thought. Perhaps there’s a reason our race is about to be nearly exterminated. He thought of several of the older members of the TEC, men and women of the World War II generation. He suddenly found himself wishing that the Dominionites had come sixty years earlier. He played his last card.
“Michael…” he started.
“Oh, this oughtta be good. Are you going to talk to me about Mom, Apple Pie, and how I need to save the flower of America youth?” Michael asked. “Well, guess what, I’ve got the flower right here, don’t I Samantha?” With that, Michael kissed the woman who looked a full ten years younger than his youngest daughter.
“I can make it quick,” Connelly said shortly.
“Huh?” Michael asked, suitably distracted by Samantha’s wandering hands.
“I said I can make it quick, you bastard,” Connelly said. Not that it’ll be any quicker than a whole shitload of other people.
“Oh? And how is Wünderkinder Connelly going to make it quick?” Michael asked, holding Samantha off for a second.
“I’ll blow you off the face of the planet,” Connelly said. “You shoot yourself with that .45, especially in your condition, you’re going to screw it up. Orionans will eat you with half your jaw missing as well as completely whole.”
For a moment, Connelly didn’t think he had reached the other man. Samantha leaned back in for a kiss, obscuring his view as she moved suggestively onto Michael’s lap. Connelly found himself wanting to head for the shower and wash himself off just for seeing what was going on.
“How’s dying instantly sound to you, baby?” Michael asked, stopping Samantha from moving. Samantha looked at him with a pout, then nodded her head. Connelly averted his eyes as she got off his lap, then turned back to face the man he had once called a close friend.
“I hope you burn in Hell for what you’ve done, Adam,” Michael said somberly. “You’ve got a deal. I don’t want to feel a thing.”
“I don’t care, you bastard. I don’t ever want to talk to you again after you tell me what you want me to do.”
“I need every unit you have in the Colorado area.”
“Mommy, will Jesus be mad at me for lying to you about drinking my milk?” Pauline Banner asked, the five-year old’s eyes starting to droop.
Jessica Erin Banner, nee Fowler, felt her heart lurch, the butterflies of fear and loathing flying up from her stomach again. She felt her control on her emotions slipping, the fingernails of her mind starting to scratch down the cliff face of insanity with the enormity of what she and her husband had just done.
“Why don’t you ask him here in a little bit, huh Pumpkin?” she heard herself answer, brushing her curly blonde hair away from her face.
“How will we find you and Daddy in heaven, Mommy?” Pauline continued, desperately fighting off sleep now. I’m glad I didn’t give her more, Jessica thought, a tear starting to roll down her cheek. Her brother, Jeffrey, was already drifted off, having little or no chance against the narcotic laced bottle of formula. Looking over at the towel-headed toddler, his blonde hair a mess upon his head, thumb securely locked in his mouth, she almost leaped up screaming from beside Pauline’s bed.
No, dammit, no, she thought. If I’m going to murder my children I’ll be damned if I’m not going to sit here and spend every last moment I can with them.
“Where’s Daddy, Mommy?” Pauline asked, fighting sleep.
“Daddy’s right here,” her husband, Arie Banner said, his face flush from having run into the house from outside. Fighting down his own emotions, he rushed over to Jeffrey’s crib, lifting the toddler out and hugging him to his chest. Visibly relieved, the man sat down next to Jessica and Pauline, wrapping his arms around them both.
“Honey, remember that song we always sing in Sunday School?” Arie said, realizing that Pauline was going to fight the drugs her mother had put in her porridge every step of the way. C’mon honey, you need to go to sleep, he thought. Don’t fight it.
“J…Jesus Loves Me?” Pauline asked, sounding like a record being played far too slow.
“Yes,” Jessica said, just stopping from sobbing out the answer. “Why don’t you sing it for us?”
“Jesus…loves me…this…I…” Pauline started, then went unconscious. Checking her eyes, Jessica realized that her daughter would never sing for her again. Looking down at the child’s light brown complexion and long, unruly black hair, she suddenly couldn’t hold back the emotions anymore. Her body wracked with sobs, she watched as her daughter’s breathing slowed, then stopped for the last time. Arie squeezed her hard, his tears falling on her shoulder as he began to weep also.
“It was for the best,” he said. “She’s with her father now, and soon you and I will be with them again.”
There was a long, painful silence as the two of them sat with the bodies of their children. It had been Arie’s idea after hearing General Connelly’s broadcast. A devout Protestant, Arie believed that suicide was a sin, with eternal damnation as its reward. Murder, however, was forgivable, far more so than leaving his wife and children to be killed by monsters.
Jessica had met Arie at a religious retreat three weeks before she had gone out to visit Eric in Washington. The two of them had become fast friends, the Dutchman being quick with a joke or witty comment throughout the retreat. A brilliant architect, the Arie was a self-made millionaire that had designed buildings in Europe, Asia, and South America. Four weeks later, when the Air Force chaplain and two officers had shown up at her parents’ house in the middle of her bridal shower, Arie had been the first person there to comfort her. Not two weeks later, she had found out that she was pregnant with Eric’s child, a traumatic event in and of itself. Arie had been her rock through it all, and after a long courtship the two had been wed in a quiet ceremony in Wichita.
Now, six years later, as she stared down at the cold bodies of her children with Armageddon at hand, she wondered if she even believed in God anymore.
“We have to bury them,” Arie said. “Quickly, before those monsters get here.”
Jessica nodded numbly, scooping up her daughter. She would have started kindergarten next year, she thought. Pauline had shown all indications of being tall, like both her parents. Now she would never be anything.
There was the sound of thunder in the distance, and Jessica looked out the window at a bright, clear sky.
What is going on? she thought.
It was inarguably the largest dogfight to ever take place over North America. Outside of World War II, it was the largest dogfight to take place in the entire world. A special medal, forged out of precious metals and rare gems, would be struck by the Confederation government to commemorate the day. The few that survived it would wear it would pride, it entitling the wearer to the finest drink in any establishment on Barren.
Like most battles, it would have its share of mythology. The number of Orionan fighters present would grow as time went on and the few participants exited stage left. The courage and bravery of the NORAD fighters, private planes and, in a couple of bizarre cases, large airliners present would grow with the telling and retelling of the story. Like a macabre morality tale whose lesson was unclear, the Walther’s Last Stand would become so famous that it would eclipse all other tales of bravery that occurred on that day, making it impossible for historians to tell the myth from the reality.
“Dammit!” Eric muttered, watching as two more Sparrowhawks exploded under a hail of rail gun slugs from the plodding Griffins. The war machines were moving at a stately fifty miles per hour, the better to give their gunners a stable platform from which to fire. Humanity had entered the fray with over five hundred aircraft counting his mecha. Less than seventy-five, counting the fifty remaining mecha, were still present.
On the Orionan side, there were no fighters remaining. As predicted, once Eric turned his transponder back on the fighters had been like sharks after a wounded whale. Unfortunately for the Orionans, this whale had had friends lurking in the wings and just waiting for them to get out of support range from the Griffins. The dead pilots over Hawaii had been avenged in spades.
That had left the Griffins, those spectacularly equipped engines of doom. Whereas the fighters had been heavily armed, the Griffins had carried more collective airborne firepower than an entire USAF fighter wing. What they had not counted on was nukes coming into play, which was all right because Eric had been unaware that nukes were in play until an F-16 with a 100kt bomb strapped to its belly had gone hurtling by him into the fray. There had been just enough time to call out warnings before a rail gun blotted the fighter out of the sky, tripping the deadman switch the ingenious pilot had rigged up.
One of the Griffins had been destroyed outright, the blast snapping it in half and sending it to Earth with debris and Orionans streaming out behind. Another Griffin had been so badly damaged it had headed down towards Denver, spewing out battle armor as it went. That particular event sucked for Denver, but it had given Eric a limited amount of hope that they just might get the last of the civilians out of Fort Riley. Looking at his watch, he realized that the time to disengage was rapidly drawing near.
“Colonel Walthers, they’re accelerating!” someone shouted.
“Crap!” Eric said, pulling up just out of range of the main batteries. It was true, the Griffins were picking up speed and turning to take an angle towards Fort Riley. Looking down at his combat display, he realized that he was almost out of railgun ammunition. His defensive computer was sounding a constant warning tone, indicating that he was low on shield power and needed to exit the battle to recharge. If he was that low on power, it meant that there was no chance he’d get an effective charge on most of his energy weapons.
“Jack, how much battle armor can you fight?!” he asked over the direct comlink. To his front, two Canadian CF-18s flamed out and fell out of the sky, their pilots ejecting.
“Eric, you know the answer to that one! I can’t fight the Praetorians without another battalion of tanks!”
Out of options, and now those people are going to be dead anyway, Eric thought. He realized that the Griffins were starting to pass six hundred miles per hour, and most of the conventional Human fighters were running out of fuel trying to catch them.
“Jack, listen to me—you know what happens if this mecha gets destroyed. Start falling back towards the ships!”
“Eric, what are you going to do?” Karin broke in from her mecha. Her Grizzly was located with the rear guard, ensuring no leakers flanked the 6th Shock.
“I’m going to ride the lightning,” he muttered, watching as another pair of conventional fighters fell out of the sky. “Computer, no power to shields, all to propulsion and energy lance.”
“Estimate a…” Olivia began.
“I said sound like my mother, not be her!” Eric shouted, shoving his throttles forward and climbing.
The shift of power was like goosing his mecha with an atomic blast. He shot upwards, gaining ten thousand feet with such quickness it would have made an ICBM envious. Rolling inverted, he arced his fighter down towards the rapidly advancing Griffin, choosing the right hand of the Orionan assault vessels.
Time to come to papa, he thought, passing double the speed of sound as he descended like a black streak out of the sky. The Griffin’s guns opened fire on his fast moving mecha, but he had chosen his arc for a reason. In space, the Griffin could easily roll to maintain heavy fire in any direction. In atmosphere, such a maneuver was dicey, to say the least. While it seemed as if every gun in the world was shooting at him, in reality the ship’s hull protected him from most its fire.
Not so from the lead Griffin. He felt a rail gun slug slam into his aircraft’s fuselage, the armor ablating back to disappear in his slipstream. Out of the corner of his eye he watched the lead Griffin start to turn to expose its entire broadside to him, causing his target to slow to avoid a collision.
“Oh shit…pull up Eric, pull up!” he dimly heard Jack say. Ignoring him, he looked at his indicator for the energy lance. A flashing 100% was in his field of view, then the Griffin was impossibly close, too close to pull out.
“Transform!” Eric said, his voice utterly calm.
No one had attempted what he was about to. Mecha that transformed in the middle of firefights tended to make wonderful targets, as they were unable to use any of their weaponry or shields. Eric had no need for either, but the sheer force of slipstream would have ripped anything but a Phoenix to shreds. Not that it was an easy move by any means for his mecha, the scream of tortured metal indicating that he would not be transforming back to fighter anytime soon. With a tortured whine, his repulsor’s kicked in, and that was when the g-forces nearly blacked him out.
He came to just as his mecha impacted, slamming so hard into the decking that his head bounced around the canopy, causing him to bite a portion of his tongue. Blood filled his mouth, and he was forced to spit it out into the cockpit. Moving his arms in the control straps, he pressed up to his feet, feeling the Griffin shuddering underneath him. Turning, he found himself looking into the armored viewport at the Orionan captain and his bridge crew. The tall aliens were scrambling, several of them pointing at his mecha as he hovered in the slip stream.
“Power levels dropping. Power levels dropping,” Olivia sighed in his ear. He raised his mecha’s right arm, pointing the closed fist at the viewport.
“Lance ready!” Eric barked. Just above his mecha’s gripping hand, a small circular device swirled open. There was an unearthly purple glow, a field of condensed anti-matter swirling within its containment field. Realizing the danger, a crewman clawed for his sidearm, preparing to attempt to shoot Eric through the viewport. Behind him, it was déjà vu for those Praetorian gunners that could see him, his mecha in the exact same posture as when he had killed Argnor. Before any of them could fire, Eric gave his final command.
The energy lance was an experimental attempt to focus anti-matter and plasma in a combined beam. The first attempt had vaporized a continent on Dinotilia, a significant emotional event for a species with a hive mind. Once the shock and horror had been erased, the Dinotilians had managed to create a beam for ten milliseconds, long enough to cut two scientists and six sections of massive battleship armor in half. Eric’s lance was the fortieth attempt, and Argnor’s death had been its first operational use. Much like his current situation, desperation had eased his fears.
There was no armor that could withstand the lance. Limited by safety protocols to fifty meters in penetration, the lance shot from Eric’s arm through the bridge into the forward battle armor bay. Whipping his arm to the right and left, Eric used the full three seconds of lance power to utterly immolate the bridge and with it the attitude and altitude controls. With a whine, the Phoenix shut down, automatically sensing a ferrous metal and magnetizing itself to hang on.
Eric’s reply to Jack had been apt. As the Griffin descended from the heavens, he indeed found himself riding the lightning, a 225,000 metric ton bolt of it. Cursing at the top of his lungs, he did the quick mental math of how long it would take the vessel to fall from their 25,000 feet perch. He didn’t like the numbers, and they began to get worse as the Griffin accelerated towards the ground.
“Power reset. Computer reset. Analyzing battlespa…” Olivia started to say.
“Shut the Hell up, all power to thrusters!”
With a clunk, the Phoenix released itself. Eric had a horrible moment as he watched the length of the Griffin hurtle past him, projections a blur on either side of his mecha as he got clear. Wth a terrible clarity, he realized the ship was twisting, its hull swinging towards him like a bat as it tumbled and accelerated out of control. A startled Orionan gunner’s face was the last thing he saw as he managed to steer clear, his left arm being ripped off by the vessel’s extreme stern. The blow spun his fighter around, away from what he knew was coming next as he continued to fall. Spying a depression, he accelerated his mecha towards it.
“Opaque and get us down!” he screamed in terror, knowing he was a dead man.
Amazingly, the Griffin’s fusion bottles did not explode. Orionan safety protocols had always accounted for collisions with solid objects or other ships, and they performed as advertised in the current situation. The anti-matter warheads on the one thousand suits of battlearmor, however, did not.
Arie cocked the rifle, taking careful aim at the back of his wife’s head. Jessica was kneeling in her grave, having made her peace with Jesus and cleansed her soul. The contrails and explosions of the battle were clearly visible, the massive Griffins stark agains the sky thirty miles away. The nuclear explosion over Denver had occurred just as they were finishing putting the dirt in Pauline’s grave.
“Honey, I love you,” he sobbed. “Oh God, I can’t.”
“Think of the images Connelly showed all of us,” Jessica said quietly, not turning around. She knew her husband, and knew that he would never be able to shoot her as he looked into her eyes, no matter what the cost of his hesitation.
Arie took a deep breath, then brought the rifle up. An avid hunter, he knew exactly what the .30-.06 would do to his beautiful wife’s head. Reconsidering, he lowered the rifle, then started to take the slack out of the trigger. May God forgive me, he thought.
In the next instant, he got a chance to ask his Maker himself. The anti-matter warheads did not explode as one concerted blast, which was fortunate as they would have excavated a significant portion of Kansas and Colorado. What they did do is explode and fling debris for several dozen miles, to include the massive portion of armor that neatly cleaved Arie’s left side off on its way over Jessica’s head. The impact both spun Arie’s corpse and caused him to fire the rifle, the sound lost in the roar of the explosion.
The bullet slammed into Jessica’s back, snapping her lower spine. Hit hard, she pitched forward, stunned by the sound wave that passed overhead. The world went black.