B-Sides and Outtakes–Armageddon Dawn Part VII

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.”

“Done.  When?”

“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.”

Connelly nodded.

“I need every unit you have in the Colorado area.”

 

Atchinson Kansas

1530 Local

 

“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.

 

Colorado

1620 Local

 

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.

“Engage lance!”

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.

B-Sides and Outtakes: Armageddon Dawn Part VI

Chapter 3

 

Pacific Ocean

1200 Kansas Time

 

The first hostile alien vessel to enter Earth’s atmosphere, a Griffin-class assault lander, penetrated the atmosphere at a point two hundred miles to the west of the International Date Line.  As a result, the official Day the Earth ended would be 26 June, 2011.  Hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, the lead vessel was quickly joined by its three consorts, the large arrowhead-shaped vessels’ bows burning bright enough to lighten up the pre-dawn sky.  A full five miles long, two miles deep, and half mile wide, the Griffins were so named because they doubled as both an aerial combatant and a fearsome indirect fire support apparatus.  Normally, a size of Earth received the gentle attentions of ten such vessels, but Kwirh’s violent counterattack had seen to it that reinforcements would be a little bit longer in coming.

The collective sonic boom from their passage made many Christians who heard it, those few who were still thinking of religion at that moment, to think of the book of Revelation and the sounding of the final trumpet.  To those who were able to look up into the sky, the four bright fiery trails seemed to signify the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the beginning of the end.  Across the Pacific, that largest of Earth’s oceans, men and women began to fall to their knees and pray, beseeching their gods for deliverance.

All four ships were detecting a single bright strobe, the source of the signal that had so impudently insulted their sovereign Lord and God of their existence, Emperor Krognar.  In the three trail vessels, a thousand each Orionan shock troopers in their brilliantly scarlet power armor waited, nestled in the drop chutes that led vertically through the vessel’s keels.  They did not care of numbers—the fact that this planet had not raised its shields the instant their fleet came into system or fired any defensive weapons at their incoming vessels indicated that it was technologically stagnant, its population literally easy meat.

Many of their leaders, those that had survived the numerous cauldrons of nameless battles across the stars against the TEC found themselves sickened with disgust that a race from such a backwards planet had managed to give them a handful of bitter defeats.  While King Pyhrrus of Greece was unknown to them, the term Pyhrric Victory would have easily described at least another dozen of the occasions where they had faced the tasty, two-legged beings from this world beneath them.  No matter, according to the life scans busily scrolling across their screens, there would soon be enough food to wash away the foul taste of bile that rose past their two tongues.  In many cases, their faces broke into feral grins, their vaguely feline features and four-inch teeth making them look like evil Cheshire Cats.  If, of course, the Cheshire Cat had had orange-tinged scales, not fur, been fifteen feet tall, had a pair of long, curled horns, and walked on two legs with cloven hooves.

Aboard the fourth vessel, only five hundred larger suits awaited in their drop chutes.  Overall black, a black that had been described as so dark it seemed to swallow one’s soul, nevermind all the surrounding light, the power armor had scarlet shoulder armor attachments, the extra bulk making them look like malicious interstellar linebackers.  These Orionans were all that remained of the Praetorian Guard, Argnor’s personal bodyguards that had failed in their mission.  Krognar, upon hearing of his son’s death, had forbade the Praetorians from committing suicide, the traditional Orionan response to failure.  Instead, he had decreed that the Praetorians would be allowed to end their lives once they had brought to account the Human responsible, a man who’s location continued to strobe near the center of the continent continuing its journey to darkness and the point where the final arks of humanity would lift off towards safety.

As the four ships continued down, down to around fifty thousand feet above the tranquil Pacific waters below, they slowed then almost stopped, detecting their first population center of over a million sentient beings.  Continuing to twenty thousand feet, the four ships continued their descent towards the islands of Hawaii, slowing even further as they reached the thicker air at lower altitude.  It was at that point the hulls of the vessels seemed to come alive, fragmenting in what appeared to be a sudden disintegration.  If any human had been present to lay eyes on the event, he or she might have cried out in exultation, thinking deliverance was at hand.

Those cries would have quickly turned to dismay as the fragments, flat flying wings nicknamed Boomerangs due to their distinctive shape, scurried away from their mother ships.  The Orionans, while disdaining to use fighters in the depth of space, were quite aware of the devastating effect airpower had within an atmosphere.  While far from sophisticated machines, the Boomerangs made up for their lesser technology with a truly devastating forward firepower and a truly robust level of armor.  Leveling off, the one hundred and twenty ‘Rangs headed off like a swarm of bats, arrowing straight towards the Hawaiian Island Chain.

Realizing the entry vector of the assault ships, General Connelly had ordered the evacuation vessels at the various Hawaii base complexes to immediately cease loading and retreat to the U.S. mainland.  He had only been forced to repeat his order twice, the second time threatening to kill the offending captains himself.  With tears in their eyes, screaming their impotent fury at Connelly through their data links, the five men and four women had complied, leaving thousands of trained military individuals to their fates.  Of the nine, four would commit suicide in the following years, still hearing the cries of those pitiful few they left behind in their ears.

Realizing that their last hope for getting off planet had left, scurrying off at high speed low over the Pacific, many of the remaining personnel resolved to defend their families.  The Griffins were closing far too quickly to have a hope of attempting to sail any ships from Pearl Harbor, but there were the roughly two hundred serviceable Navy, Marine, and Air Force combat aircraft stationed in the Hawaiian Islands.  As the Orionan fighters accelerated away from the Griffins, their pilots sighted the approaching human aircraft and howled their joy at opening the hunt.

Due to the limited introduction of retrofits by the United States Armed Forces as well as the basic level of Orionan technology, the mismatch was not as great as it could have been.  Instead of a modern jet fighter engaging a biplane, it was more a case of a 21st Century warplane engaging the early, much more primitive models flown at the closing stages of World War II.  While the Orionans had yet to develop an effective atmospheric laser, the devastating combination of rail guns, anti-matter missiles, and short-range plasma cannon was more than enough to stack the deck in their favor.

The fight took all of 45-minutes, broadcast live to the world.  Only slightly better than a massacre, it left the major cities of Hawaii in flames and all military power in the state broken.  For the Orionans, it cost twelve ‘Rangs.  Given that all the humans in Hawaii were now the property of the bypassing Griffins, it was a small price to prey.  Hawaii would continue to be a tourist mecca, except when these tourists returned it would be to gorge themselves on human flesh.

 

Fort Riley

1245 Local

 

Eric could hear the cries of shock and dismay from where he sat, his armor open so he could enjoy the breeze as it blew around him.  He could hear the buzz of the bees as they went about their business, and the rattle of small arms fire and the occasional boom of a main gun in the direction of Manhattan as the Reservists and Guard went about theirs.  Well, at least it was quick for most everyone around Pearl Harbor, he thought grimly.

Now wouldn’t it be ironic if we had some 50’s sci-fi movie shit go down and we find out the Orionans are allergic to bees or something? he thought.  We like evacuate the planet, come back, and find everyone we’re leaving behind alive, well, and really, really pissed off because we left them to face a bunch of psychopathic walking cat lizards?  Oh wait, let’s not forget rabidly carnivorous, and with an acquired taste for Human flesh.

            Someone nudged him in the back, causing him to jump and startle several nearby bees.  Looking up, shading his eyes, he saw Jack standing above him.  The man held two cups in his hands, extending one towards Eric.  In complete shock, Eric saw the logo familiar to anyone who had lived in the Puget Sound area for more than twenty-four hours.

“Holy shit!” Eric shouted, causing several nearby people to turn and look from where the last of the orderly queues were heading into the rear of the evacuation vessels.  One mother covered her child’s ears and favored Eric with a glare, a move so quaint it caused Eric to break out into laughter.  Stopping, he took a deep pull of the latte, savoring the Hazelnut.

“Okay, laughing at a woman who’s probably just left her entire home behind is probably not the smartest thing you ever did,” Jack said, seeing the woman staring hard at Eric as if memorizing his face.  “I think when we get to Barren someone’s going to get the ass-kicking of their life.”

“Right,” Eric scoffed.  “Hey, my name’s Eric!  Eric Walthers, Star Colonel, one each!” he turned and shouted to the woman.

Eric!” Jack said.  “Get a freakin’ grip.”  Eric turned and looked at Jack, a smile on his face.

“Oh yeah, get a grip my hovertank friend says.  You just don’t get it, do you?” Eric asked.  “This is it.  This is the last freakin’ cup of Starbucks I’ll ever have.  I’ll never see DisneyWorld again.  Never go for a midnight swim in the Pacific, as incredibly stupid as doing that is.  Nope, not Star Colonel Walthers, the most wanted man in the Universe—he just keeps getting the schlong!”

Jack was about to open his mouth, then closed it.  Pondering for a moment, he thought of a different tack.

“What do you think the Reservists are going to think when they see these ships lift off?” Jack asked, the small arms fire at the main gates picking up again.  General Connelly had made the call not to inform the men that they were to be abandoned, realizing that it was absolutely critical that the gates to the post be held to the last possible moment.  Eric found himself stunned once more at the utter cold-bloodedness of his commander, but there was a reason he had been tapped to lead the TEC and it hadn’t been his sparkling personality.

Bet POTUS is regretting that decision right now, Eric thought.  If not, he will be really, really soon.  While Colorado Springs wasn’t a major population center, it was probably pretty high on the Orionan target list thanks to NORAD.  Only the nearby presence of Denver would probably delay the inevitable.  The Orionans’ tremendous appetite for fine dining, which they considered the Humans, usually colored their decisions.

“I’ll be sure to ask them,” Eric replied sarcastically.  He saw Karin striding up behind Jack and nodded towards her as he drank the last of his latte, trying to make the movement seem casual.

“You haven’t told Karin yet, have you?” Jack asked quietly, not seeing the signal or realizing the Dominionite woman was right behind him.  Eric winced, mentally wishing that his friend knew when to shut up.

“Told Karin what?” the Dominionite asked, her features calm and imperturbable as always.  She held a bundle of dandelions in her hand, the yellow flowers strangely quaint for a woman decked out in her armor.

“Who gave you the flowers?” Eric joked, attempting to change the subject.  “Point him out so I can go kick his ass.”

“Your feeble attempts at distraction never work with your own females, what makes you think it would work with me?” Karin asked flatly.  “Tell me what?”

“I asked you a question first,” Eric replied.  Dominionites hated it when Humans were utterly illogical, almost to the point of homicidal rage.  Given that a completely irate Dominionite was going to be the end result any way one sliced it, Eric figured he might as well go for broke.

Karin took a deep breath, her eyes starting to deepen in hue, then suddenly caught herself.

“I have been watching a great deal of human interaction today, Eric,” Karin said, her voice approaching the Dominionite standard for humor.  “While I have always thought your race bizarre despite individuals being completely, as you say, loveable, I never realized the complete range of your species emotions and communication techniques until this morning.  From your sheepishness when I admitted we coupled, and quite enjoyably, last night to the strange female child that handed me these flowers ‘because I looked sad’, I have seen much.”

Eric realized he was screwed.  Dominionites were not happy unless they had someone in what his old wrestling coach had called the “old hucklebuck”, completely helpless and in a world of hurt.  If Karin was happy, that meant the hammer was coming down.

“So, I recognize your tactic for what it is, an attempt to make me upset so that you may avoid telling me whatever it is you have neglected to tell me.  I laud your efforts.”

Eric looked over to find Jack, and found much to his surprise that his friend had disappeared from beside him.  Typical, he thought.

“General Connelly has asked me to be the last pilot off Earth,” Eric said quietly.  “I was going to wait until your mecha was stowed, then tell you.”  Better to tell you a half truth than a whole lie, he thought to himself.

Karin turned towards him, her eyes literally flashing so brightly it looked like summer lightning.  In times of extreme emotions, Dominionites generated a minor static electricity field throughout their body, manifested in their eyes and at the tips of their limbs.  Touching one at such a time was like grabbing onto an old joy buzzer, slightly tingly and very surprising.  Needless to say, it made cross-species relationships rather interesting, and more than once Eric had been glad he didn’t have a pacemaker or undiagnosed heart murmur.

Okay, not the time to think about sex, he thought, Karin’s hands balled into fists.

“If I had told you the information that I was about to share with you,” Karin spat out, “I would think that you would be staying behind to die with your former love.”

“What?!” Eric asked, shocked.

“The woman who still owns a part of your heart, no matter how much you try to fight it,” Karin said, her voice low and angry.  “The one you refuse to find so that you can finally end your relationship in your mind.”

Eric was shocked once more.  His face obviously showed it because Karin favored him with a slight mocking look, the equivalent of a full sneer with humans.

“What, you didn’t think after one of your years of marriage that I would not know you so well, Eric Walthers of Topeka?  For the first year you were with the Confederation you thought of little else, even telling my uncle that you wished you had never been flying the day we came to your world,” Karin thundered.  Eric started backing up, a mistake as it caused Karin to cover the distance between them in two steps.

“Oh, I hated you, and what I considered your pathetic whining.  You killed my bethrothed, albeit through is own arrogance and stupidity, and you had the audacity to complain about unrequited love?  You have no idea how often you flirted with the Dark One while in the middle of your self-pity.”

“Karin, you know I did not intend to kill Qatran,” Eric stammered, never having seen his wife so angry.  “The collision…”

“Do you really think, after six years, that I still have feelings for him?  He was arrogant, the marriage was arranged, and you would never have rammed his fighter on purpose—until today you were never so determined to die.  But can you say the same about this Jessica person?”

“She’s as good as dead, honey,” Eric replied, starting to wave Karin’s concern away.  Karin reached out and snatched his hand, her eyes locking with his.

“I will not allow you to take the easy route out, Eric,” Karin snapped.  “You wish to allow the Dark One to choose what woman you shall spend your life with because you lack the courage to do so yourself.  This is cowardly, and I have never known you to be a coward.”

“What difference does it make?” Eric asked.  “General Connelly…”

“Put out very strict rules regarding who could be taken.  I have done the work you would not,” Karin said fiercely.  “Her DNA is of a superior strand.”

“How do you…?” Eric asked, his eyes suddenly widening.

“Foolish Human, you of all people should realize how bad I am when truly determined,” Karin replied, her voice low and primal.  “You will have to decide, not Death.  I will go get her myself if I have to.”

“What?!  Are you insane, the entire Orionan Fleet is getting ready to begin bombarding this planet, the world is such complete chaos they are having to shoot down people at the gates to this post, and you are talking to me about going to find an individual?!”

Karin’s comment was interrupted by the sound of a couple hundred screams from the direction of the Potemkin, four hundred yards to their south.  Simultaneously, Eric heard the screech of his communications speakers and realized that the last of the civilians had been loaded.  Karin released him, her look clearly telling him that their conversation was not over.  As he sprung for his armor, he saw Jack sprinting towards him from the Wizard of Oz, cycling his helmet back as he came.  Eric finished slipping on his suit and cycling his helmet on just as his friend reached him.

What he saw was not good by half.  Thank you, Murphy, may I please have another? Eric thought, the weight of the world suddenly heavy on his shoulders.  The Potemkin, one of the first vessels loaded with over two thousand family members, had just suffered a critical powerplant failure.  The vessel wasn’t going anywhere for at least three hours.  In three hours, the Orionans would be over the Earth’s horizon and able to engage the vessel as the attempted to take off.  While fighting one Griffin was a fair fight for the evacuation ship, four was far from it.

“Olivia, General Connelly, priority line, right fuckin’ now!” Eric barked to his suit.

“Swear word count now at…” his mother’s voice, recorded from the Birthday CD she had made for his 15th Birthday, started to chide him.  Eric had been trying to improve his temper and command presence as befitting his promotion to Commander of 1st Brigade.  As several of his now subordinate leaders had pointed out, Colonels and above didn’t swear every other word—it started to make people believe the situation was worse than it actually was.

“Olivia, now!” Eric said desperately.

A moment later, General Connelly’s visage appeared in mid-air in front of Eric.  The screams and cries from the Potemkin were growing louder, then suddenly ceased as her captain got on the intercom.

“Sir, we have a problem,” Eric said, then quickly recounted his issue.  Connelly looked as if Eric had struck him, seemingly aging five years in a matter of seconds.  I wonder when the last time he slept was, Eric thought to himself.

“Star Colonel, you need to leave the vessel,” Connelly said tiredly.  “Get the other four out of there.”

“What?!  Sir, I will not…”

“Dammit Eric, it’s only two thousand people.  We are talking the deaths of billions in a matter of hours.  The Heart of Orion just folded out of system with half of the Orionan Fleet.  You know what that means, don’t you?”

Eric felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his stomach.  He physically staggered, then looked up at both Jack and Karin.  Their faces were similarly shocked, Jack’s a total and complete pale.

“We killed Krognar, and now whomever was next in line of succession…” Eric began.

“Is preparing to take possession of this planet, yes.  It will be a blood orgy the likes of which the world has never seen, and what remains of the Orionan Fleet is closing with you as we speak.”

Eric closed his eyes, suddenly absolutely aware of every smell and sensation around him.  It would be the last time he felt Earth’s gravity beneath his feet, saw the rolling green plains of Kansas in front of him.  The Orionan Prophecy had come to pass—Earth had caused the fall of the House of Krognar.  The remainder of the Prophecy, however, spoke of the blue green planet being swallowed in a tremendous orgy of flame, its ashes to be scattered to the solar winds.  The Orionans were big into prophecies, almost as big as they were into eating.  The new Emperor had probably sent away all but those who were most in his favor, the better to dine on the delicacy that was mankind.

Time to run as if the Devil himself was behind me, Eric thought, then stopped.  No, I’m tired of running.

“Sir, if we leave these people, we’re not better than our former leaders,” Eric said firmly.  “First Brigade will buy ourselves time.”

General Connelly’s face colored as if he was going to override Eric, then he stopped.  Sighing heavily, seeing the determination on Eric’s face, he nodded.

“Sir, I’ll need additional elements,” Eric said, doing the calculations in his head.

“No,” Connelly replied.  “You want to play Jim Bowie, I’m going to play Sam Houston.  You fight with what you have there with you, at Riley.  Uplink me your plan.”

“Why?  So you can talk about how brave I was at my eulogy?” Eric asked bitterly.  “Or so you know which way no to run.”

Connelly’s face was set in stone as he looked into Eric’s eyes.

“I will ignore those last remarks and chalk them up to stress, Star Colonel.  Do you have the package?”

“Yes, I have your damn package, it’s aboard Nikita,” Eric replied, referring to his mecha’s nickname.

“Good.  I am rerouting the Hawaiian ships to your location.  Get the rest of the ships out of there, now.”

“Wilco,” Eric said, not quick enough to catch Connelly as he disappeared.

“Karin, I need Commander Wallaby here now,” Eric said, turning to his wife.  Karin nodded, heading towards the Shangri-La.  Jack looked at him, shaking his head.

“Eric, this is insane,” he said darkly.  “You, especially you, cannot be risked in combat right now.”

Eric looked back toward the Potemkin, its hatches opening to allow people to file out from its sides.

“I’m not leaving anyone here, Jack.  Go see to your men.”

“Dammit, I don’t feel like getting blown to smithereens because you’ve got a hero complex,” Jack said, not moving.  Eric turned to look at him.

“Jack, Amy’s on that boat,” Eric replied.  “You want to leave her here?  You want to tell Jason that you left his freakin wife to die?

“Fuck you, Eric,” Jack said fiercely, tears in his eyes.  With that, he turned to go get his battalion ready.

B-Sides and Outtakes “Armageddon Dawn”–Part V


Things are tracking along nicely with the end of the world.  By this point if you’re dropping in with no background, strongly suggest you start back here .  Welcome all TOPCON and Time Eddy visitors–hope that you enjoy your visit!

Fort Riley, Kansas

 1000 Local (1100 Eastern)

 

Putting off their characteristic whine, the last of Jason’s fourteen M-9 Powells settled down off of their hoverfans, the thirty-ton tanks’ bulk raising a puff of dust as it settled down heavily onto the Kansas dirt.  Jason turned away from the settling tank back towards main post, now able to hear the rhythmic rumbling of a battalion’s worth of M-1A2SEP main battle moving up from the motorpools to the south.

So hard to believe a force so powerful for this planet is the equivalent of horse and lance for the stars, Jason thought to himself.  There was a low whine coming from the east, gradually building to a crescendo.  Although I think this is about to be reinforced, he thought.

With a flash, the rises to the east of Fort Riley suddenly became alive with movement as the 6th Shock Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Mecha Division, Terran Expeditionary Corps, crested the intervening terrain in a charge that took Jason’s breath away.  Moving at over one hundred miles an hour, seventy-five hovertanks weighing in excess of seventy tons apiece hurtled over the terrain towards Fort Riley.  At a silent signal, all seventy-five hovertanks suddenly came to a dead stop.  At another signal, the vehicles transformed into bipedal mecha, their main guns becoming the end of their left arm, the missile launchers usually mounted abreast their turrets swiveling to flank the “head” of their cockpit.

“Danger, inbound unidentified…” Jack’s helmet indicator began to intone, the Powell’s internal sensors detecting airborne targets via satellite feed.

The rest of the warning was drowned out by the ear-splitting roar of engines, as over a hundred aircraft thundered overhead from east to west, flying a perfect Vs upon Vs formation.  The aircraft, all hailing from the 5th Mecha Dragoons, came in various shapes and sizes.  The two most numerous ones were the Sparrowhawk, a mecha that resembled a tailless cranked delta-wing when in fighter mode, and the Kestrel, fighters that bore a marked resemblance to the American F-15 Eagle yet with swept wings.  Like their hovertank brethren, the aircraft stopped on a dime without signal, the exhaust of their retro-thrusters visible in the humid Kansas air, then transformed into hovering two-legged war machines that sat at altitude, their engines suddenly silent as they hung on repulsors.

“Sir, let me just state how utterly amazing a moment this is,” his gunner, and longtime Japanimation fan Sergeant Clark Blackwell said.  Turning, Jason could see the man standing with tears in his eyes, staring reverentially up at the now descending mecha like they were descending Playboy bunnies.

Too bad he doesn’t know what I do, which is those things are the only thing that can stand on the same battlefield as our soon to be opponents, Jason thought.  Which means that it’s a good thing we’re just here for crowd control, and will be on those damn evacuation ships in a jiffy.

            As Jason watched, one of the former hovertanks strode towards him.  Beside him, Blackwell was almost beside himself in joy, seeing the war machine start to get closer.  The mecha stood just over twenty feet tall and twelve feet wide, the seventy tons moving forward with a measured stride.  While all mecha could move forward using repulsorlifts and thrusters, both of those systems took about twice the energy as simply utilizing the “musculature circuitry”, yet another good enough translation, in the legs.  Unless a mecha had to be somewhere very, very quickly during a fight, it made more sense to divert power to the weaponry systems and shielding, especially in the face of an Orionan ground assault.

The particular mecha in question was a Grizzly, or so Jason’s mind suddenly told him in a flash of cognition that made him a little dizzy.  Jack said the mind flash takes a little bit getting used to, he thought.  Colored in all black with a gold trim, a roaring stylized lion’s visage in the center of the cockpit canopy, the Grizzly was the command mecha for the “Golden Lions”, the 6th Battalion’s nickname bestowed upon them by their first commander, the late Lieutenant Colonel Ajax McCarthy .  One of two hovertank types in the CCDF, the Grizzly like its namesake was designed for close-in battles with the Orionan Horde.  Just over the horizon, near the turnoff for Manhattan proper, were the Woomera fire-support hovertanks of the 7th Battalion, the “Horsemen”.

As Jason watched, the canopy cleared from its opaque mode to reveal a single figure at the vehicle’s controls, obviously female by the contours of the battle armor.  Jason suddenly felt a gust of wind and looked behind and up, watching as the command mecha for the fighters, a Phoenix, descended from above his head and landed just expertly beside the other mecha as it stopped twenty yards short of Jason and Blackwell’s position.  The two massive plasma rifles that constituted the Phoenix’s main armament were retracted to their normal positions, the barrels pointed vertically into the sky behind each of the mecha’s shoulders.  Man, looks like the Japanimation folks got something right, Jason thought, not knowing that the Phoenix pilot had been the guiding force behind the prototype for the mecha.

“Okay, next to that whole threesome fantasy with Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, I’m pretty much at a ten,” Blackwell breathed.  Jason turned and looked at the man, shaking his head.

“Okay Sergeant Blackwell, I’m going to have Top sedate you if you keep making comments like that,” Jason said.  Blackwell looked over at him, and Jason realized he could’ve told the man he would shoot him in both his kneecaps and he wouldn’t have cared.  The short, stocky African-American was in rapture, his brown eyes wider than dinner plates.

“Mecha.  Women mecha pilots.  Multiple types of mecha.  Sir, all we need now is some princess that needs rescuing and we are in Blackwell Heaven,” the NCO breathed.  Jason suddenly found himself thinking of Elvis groupies back in the Sixties, fully expecting Blackwell to scream and faint in a moment.  He turned to say something when the situation suddenly changed.

“You humans and your damsel in distress fantasies,” the walking hovertank boomed from hidden speakers, causing everyone within earshot to jump.  “Any female who finds herself in such a situation lacks the intelligence to be good breeding stock—why would you want to share your bloodline with hers?”

The voice coming from the mecha was obviously feminine, and imperious to boot.  With a hiss, the canopy opened, whipping from left to right as one complete unit.  With an almost feline grace, it’s pilot jumped out, dropping to the ground from a heigh that would have broken most humans’ legs, if not killed them outright.  The pilot hit with only a slight flexing of knees, then started striding over to where Jason and Blackwell were standing..

“Holy shit,” Blackwell said as the woman got closer.  She was easily six feet tall if not more, with broad, muscular hips that met at a narrow, waspy waist.  This waist then broadened back out as it moved up to her full chest and broad shoulders, the entire package moving without the gangly awkwardness of many tall women.  Reaching up, the woman touched the sides of her armor, the helmet portion flipping back then sliding into the back portion of the suit between her shoulders.  The face revealed was a deep, rich chocolate brown in complexion, the features soft and narrow.  If not for the completely sapphire blue eyes, the pilot would look like a beautiful human woman, stunning enough to be a supermodel.

“Okay, I’m going to go see Top now,” Blackwell breathed, captivated by the woman’s beauty.

“Might be a plan,” Jason observed quietly, set back himself.  He had once watched a documentary on ancient Egyptian queens like Cleopatra and Nefertiti that had described their beauty as being without description.  At the time he had scoffed, refusing to believe any woman could be that beautiful—a comment that had gotten a bucket of ice dumped on him and sent his chances of marital relations dropping so low they made Hell seem like Mount Everest.  While Kathy had eventually forgiven him after much flowers and chocolate, he had quietly continued to believe such descriptions were a bit excessive.

Yeah, well, looks like one learns something every day, he thought as the woman walked up to him.

“Jason, close your mouth, you’re drooling,” Jack said as he suddenly came up behind him.  Turning to the female pilot, his face grew hard and he brought his arm across his chest in a form of salute.

“Star Colonel Tobarakh, welcome to Earth,” Jack intoned, his voice low and dignified.  The pilot returned the salute, ending it with a short bow of her head.  Her features softening somewhat, which is to say they downgraded from polite glaciality to cold, she extended her hand towards Jason.

“Greetings Jason Mitchell of Fort Riley,” the pilot said.  “My name is Karin Tobarakh of Adjibouti, the planet of Dominion.”

Jason took the pro-offered hand, suddenly surprised by the strength of Karin’s grip and the nascent strength he felt behind it.  Sweet Jesus, she could crush my hand if she wanted to, he thought.  Jason had once shaken hands with a professional bodybuilder, four time winner of the World’s Strongest Man contest.  At the time he had believed that he would never shake hands with another person as powerful.  Obviously I was wrong about that one.

“Sir,” Jack said, saluting as the pilot of the figher mecha came up beside the woman and dropped his visor.  Jason was shocked to see the features of a human, the man returning the salute.

“Jack, you can stop that shit at anytime,” Eric replied, his voice weary.  Turning, he extended his hand and shook Jason’s.  “Star Colonel Eric Walthers, formerly of Topeka, Kansas.”

Jason sighed in relief, not realizing he had been holding his breath.

“Yeah, I know, it’s good to see a freakin’ human,” Eric said.  “No offense, honey,” he said quickly to the woman.  Karin raised one of her narrow eyebrows at Eric, the ghost of a smile crossing her face for the first time.

“I do not recall you complaining about me being a non-human when we coupled last night, Eric Walthers of Earth.”

There was an extremely awkward silence amongst the four individuals, Eric’s skin blushing as much as someone his shade could.  Karin looked at all three men, then shook her head.

“You humans are such prudes,” she said in her native tongue, utterly beguiling Jason.

“Dear, it’s not polite to discuss what happens between husband and wife in mixed company, especially when you have just met,” Eric replied softly in the same language.  Jason continued to look back and forth between the two of them, the flow of sounds utterly astounding him.  In a perverse reversal of the usual order of things, the family members and non-combatants being loaded on the ships had been the first in line for translator chips.  Space was unforgiving of mistakes, and all it took was someone not understanding that they were about to open a hatch to kill a shipful of people.

“This man finds me desirable, and I did not need a sensor array to tell that had I but offered his subordinate would have coupled with me right here.  Do you not want them to know that you have, and can continue to have, me?  Is our coupling not pleasing to you?”

“You know, I don’t think I need a translator to realize someone’s stepped in deep shit,” Jason said bemusedly.  Jack snickered, turning away to hide his grin.

“You have a mate, Jason of…Jason?” Karin asked, forcing herself to remember Human custom with names.

“Yes, yes he does,” Jack said quietly.  Jason turned and looked at him, then back at Karin.

“Yes, my wife, Amy,” Jason said.  There was a flash of recognition in Karin’s eyes, and she looked quickly back and forth between Jason and Jack.  Before she could say something potentially embarrassing, Jack held up his hand.

“Yes, my ex-girlfriend,” Jack said.  “And yes, I know on your world this would be cause for a blood match to the death.  There’s more than it would take to explain, Karin, let’s just leave it at that.”

“After the idiocy of your most prominent world leaders, nothing surprises me anymore,” Karin said with a shrug.  “My father provided them with various more efficient power sources, cures for diseases, and weapons technology that was several generations ahead of where you would have been normally at this time.”

“General Connelly has taken care of that problem,” Eric replied fiercely, his eyes lit with barely contained fury.

“I am afraid that their being consumed alive isn’t quite going to cut it,” Jason said, his voice heavy.  The enormity of what was going to happen had just started to sink in for him, and he hated himself for being incredibly glad that his and his entire immediate family’s seats on the last ships out of Dodge were guaranteed.  Although I’d love to see Mom’s face when the Tectal showed up at her doorstep, Jason thought with a grin.  The Tectal were the scouts of the CCDF, tall, elfin featured creatures with generally willowy builds and almost human eyes.  While no one could confirm it, according to Jack, most of the humans were reasonably certain the Tectals had been using Earth as a vacation spot off and on for several millennia.  Jason broke out of his reverie to see Jack staring at him.

“Thinking about Lucy when the Tectal shows up at the door?” Jack asked with a big grin.  Lucy Mitchell was enough of a Middle Earth fan that she had camped out for two days waiting on the first movie to be released.

“You know, Dad’s been dead for two years,” Jason observed.  “I think the poor bastard will be lucky if she doesn’t jump his bones right there in the living room.”

“Okay, that’s something most normal folks don’t think about their mother,” Eric said in shock.

“Look, I walked in on my parents when I was ten,” Jason said.  “They figured the cat was out of the bag at that point.  Made them happy—someone they could tell to take my brothers for a ‘long walk’ when Dad got back from the field.”

Jack whipped his head around in shock.

“So that’s why you were always coming by to get me so we could go to the park when our parents were stationed at Fort Lewis!”

“Uh, dude, it’s no big deal—how do you think they got Sarah?  Look’s like Dad got what he paid for with the vasectomy,” Jason said, alluding to the fact military personnel were given free medical care.

There discussion was broken up by the sound of several mecha powering up their weapons, then standing down.  All of htem looked up as far overhead, several contrails indicated the path of a squadron of positively outclassed F-15 Eagles.

“Why do military pilots continue to fly when they are assured of evacuation?  Did not General Connelly advise this planet of their impending doom just one hour ago?”

“Yes,” Eric said heavily.  “Some men are refusing to obey his orders, and are going to defend their families, their homes.”

“They would have more chance of stopping a comet or flying through a star,” Karin said flatly.  “They will be killed like…like flies against a windshield.”  Karin smiled, turning to Eric.  “A good use of your quaint sayings, yes?”

“Yeah, except those flies are our people,” Jason said heavily.  “And that windshield is heading for our planet.”

“You humans are technologically backwards, but you do not lack for courage,” Karin said, her voice touching on sadness.  “It is unfortunate that your leadership was so poor.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not like the average person knew.  There’s a reason they had everyone report to Area 51 prior to shipping out for Barren,” Eric said bitterly.  “Some of us involuntarily.”

“Speaking of your involuntary expulsion to somewhere over the rainbow, have you gotten in contact with Jesse?”  Jack asked, suddenly remembering the picture that Eric carried in his wallet.  Eric gave a short snort.

“What would be the point?” Eric asked, his voice melancholy.  “We were all reported dead, remember?  I even got to read my own obituary and the eulogy delivered by my best friend.  Dumb bastard still owes me the $500 I loaned him for his engagement ring.”

“I suppose you’re going to collect once we get to Barren?”

“No, I’m not.  He collided with a Saudi Tornado over Riyadh,” Eric said quietly.

“Why do you not contact her, Eric?” Karin asked.

The low warbling sound of the post tornado siren sounded off in the distance, cutting off the conversation.  Almost at the same time, there was the sound of several weapons being powered up all around them, the mecha moving to give each other space to align their weapons down I-70 towards the west.  Jason looked as the mecha brought their weapons to bear, then turned back just in time to see Jack, Eric, and Karin all cycle their helmets back over their head, the clear faceshields snapping into place.  All three of them had the same look of intense concentration on their face, speaking rapidly into their microphones.

“Jason, REDCON-1!” Jack snapped, a tinge of fear in his voice.  “Get your soldiers mounted up and back to the evacuation ships, now!”

“What?!  We don’t even have all the family members aboard the vessels yet!”

“Get moving, dammit!  You guys cannot stand in this fight!”

Jason cursed at his friend, then ran back towards A-66, his fourteen M-9s already spooling up.  Thank God Hitchcock is naturally paranoid, Jason thought.  Hopping up on his tank’s front skirt, he felt the Powell shift and lift off the ground.  Sliding into his commander’s station, he plugged up his CVC.

“Okay Apache Five, what’s up?” he asked.

“Sir, I have no clue but Hammer 6 just told us to go to REDCON-1,” Hitchcock replied.  The battalion commander was a huge sci-fi buff, and since the Powell was a hovertank the new battalion nickname had been too good to pass up.  Colonel Donovan had drawn the line at adding the full nickname, citing copyright laws.

“Funny, that’s the second time I’ve heard that.  What’s up?”

“It looks like someone kicked off the aliens’ plans early, because apparently all Hell is breaking loose out in space.”

 

C.C.D.F.S. Huntress

Luna Orbit

1025 Kansas Time

 

“Sir, the enemy is advancing!”

“In the immortal words of Star Colonel Walthers, ‘No shit, really’?!” Kwirh growled.  “Could I get a coherent report?”

“The enemy fleet is beginning to collapse towards Terra, Star Admiral,” Star Colonel Anastasia “Ice Princess” Zdhanov, Third Fleet’s intelligence chief, intoned from her station.  A former Russian spy, Ana was the stereotypical Russian female of that profession-tall, brunette, and beautiful.  The last often distracted men from realizing that she had one of the highest IQs ever recorded, usually to someone’s great dismay when she sank a knife in their exposed back.  Next to Eric, she had been one of the quickest to grasp the nuances and intricacies of space combat and intergalactic warfare.  She had found a niche on Kwirh’s Dominionite dominated staff, accepted quickly due to her cold-blooded military mind and amazing ability to analyze enemy actions.

“I must say, that plan worked all too well,” Kwirh rumbled.

“What exactly did Star Colonel Walthers say in his message?” Ana asked.  She had been sleeping when the message had been beamed utilizing usual Orionan protocols.

“He stated that Argnor had begged for his life before he killed him, then described the great joy he found in shoving his energy lance into his loins.  Finally, he stated how the Crown Prince’s meat was so tainted, his fighting skills so poor, that it had not even been worth consuming, which was why left it for the Tauran crows to feast upon it.”

“So basically insulting all three of the Orionans’ tenets of bravery, fighting skill, and purity of body.  Yep, we’re fighing to the death today,” Ana said, swiveling back around to look at her screen.  She self-consciously pulled her skirt down, brushing her bangs from in front of her eyes.  Had she been on one of the human-crewed vessels, the movement would have distracted every male on the bridge and probably led to a collision with a solid planetary body.  On the bridge of the Huntress, it led to every member of the bridge tightening down their restraints and doublechecking their environmental suits.  If the Ice Princess was nervous, things were very bad.

“Sir, the Illustrious reports all fighters deployed, requesting further orders.”

“Tell her and the rest of the carriers to get the hell out of here after launching their fighters,” Kwirh responded.  Thank God we finished retrofitting hyperdrives on all of the small craft last month during the Mourning Lull, Kwirh thought.  The Orionans had taken six months to bury Argnor, holding a festival of bloodsports, feasting, and combats to determine who would now succeed Krognar.  Given the reports of the intensive combats, it was amazing that any of the Orionan nobility had survived to make the journey to Earth.  There had been no reports on whom had won the right of succession, the news that the Orionans were beginning their general offensive with an attack on Earth superseding all other news.

Illustrious acknowledges and wishes us Godspeed.”

“You humans are so quaint with both your naming conventions and your wishes for good luck,” Kwirh said to Ana, shaking his head.  “Especially with your continued clinging to theology.”

“We have evidence of our God’s works,” Ana said stiffly.  A strictly practicing Eastern Orthodox, she found the Dominionites logical disdain for God disturbing, one of the few downsides to being on the Huntress’s bridge.

“Where is your God now, Ana?” Kwirh asked.

“Almost all religions have a portion of their main tome that deals with the final battle between Good and Evil on Earth,” Ana replied.  “Krognar’s visage is close enough to the common perception of Satan that an argument could be made this is the Day of Judgment, and the Orionans are God’s punishment for our sins.”

“Fighters making contact.”

“Well, if this is so, then I hope your God decides to make himself manifest in our favor, and soon.”

“We will see,” Ana replied quietly.

 

Depictions of fanciful space combat were as numerous as there were sentient cultures.  While the swirling, whirling dogfights that were a staple of atmospheric warfare were almost impossible in space due to the crushing influences of inertia at just barely sublight speeds, Confederation inertial dampeners had made things far more closer than they had been ten thousand years ago the last time that the Orionans and CCDF had met.  Given the crushing advantage in size and numbers enjoyed by the Orionans, it was only their overwhelming advantage in fighters and technology that allowed the CCDF to contest space against the Orionan Fleet.

For their part, the Orionans had tried various ways to counter this advantage, everything from converting vessels up to cruiser size into massive flak batteries to simply filling the mass drivers aboard their vessels with debris and flinging this like a massive shotgun towards the swarm of CCDF fighters.  So far, nothing had consistently worked, especially against the heavily Earth-influenced Third Fleet.  It was just accepted that the CCDF small craft were going to get their licks in, but that eventually enough Orionan capital ships would push through as to make things a costly proposition.  As Ana regularly pointed out, the Orionans would have made marvelous Russians.

So it was far above Earth, as CCDF pilots flung themselves as the advancing Orionan Fleet with a tremendous fervor.  There were numerous examples of bravery that would go undocumented, with a great proportion of these being conducted by the beings whose blue green planet lay at the 3rd Fleet’s back.  In the end, the ferocity of the attack turned back a full third of the Orionan Fleet, several destroyers and even a few cruisers exploding from the stinging attentions of the attacking fighters.

But there was only so much the attack aircraft could do.  As the range closed, the CCDF battleline began engaging at long range with energy weapons, their superior technology giving the CCDF a full four minutes of uninterrupted fire as the Orionans passed the system’s asteroid belt.  With a tremendous explosion, a Gorgon-class battleship was the first capital ship to be destroyed on either side, its foolish captain having underestimated the amount of time it would take to close into Orionan weapons range.  With the majority of its power going to weapons instead of shields, the battleship’s hull was suddenly penetrated by a particle projector, the explosion taking a pair of escorting vessels along with it.

Then the Orionans were in extreme range, and the air between the two fleets suddenly came alive with mass driver slugs, plasma bolts, and anti-matter missiles.  On their side, the CCDF vessels began vectoring at an angle, employing the standard fleet tactic of cutting across the Orionan noses as they exchanged fire, culling a portion of the Orionan Fleet away on their way out of system.

The problem with standard tactics were that an opponent eventually caught on to them.  While Argnor had been the true guiding light for a renaissance of Orionan tactics, his changes had not died with him.  To the utter horror of several Third Fleet captains, the far side of the Orionan Fleet curled away from Earth and hurtled towards the rear of the Third Fleet, sloughing from in front of the nine Emperor-class battleships, so named because they were the flagships of the eight greatest noble houses of the Orionan Empire.  Only two of them, the Emperor’s own ship and that of the heir, were fully equipped with the massive laser that ran the length of the vessels’ keel.  This was a fortunate fact for the CCDF, as the Orionans also moved from in front of the vessels, a departure from usual practice where everything possible was done to protect the Emperor and the Crown Prince.

A moment later, it became blazingly obvious why the way had been cleared from in front of the two battleships.  The massive lasers from both ships fired, the azure bolts stabbing out towards the approaching Third Fleet.  Fortunately warships moved with a lot more agility than planets, and the human captains of the targeted ships had watched enough anime to know what it meant when lesser vessels cleared a path in front of flagships.

With panicked transmissions starting to come from his companion ships, it was at that moment Kwirh demonstrated why he was widely celebrated as the greatest of the CCDF Admirals.  Seeing a golden opportunity to end the war at a stroke, he barked his orders.  Utilizing their superior maneuverability gained by virtue of their smaller mass, and in quite a few cases the helpful hand of gravity, the Third Fleet reversed course and charged right down the throat of the onrushing Orionans, straight towards the advancing Empires.

It was brilliant and suicidal at the same time.  By charging into the Orionan Fleet, Kwirh limited the arcs of fire of most of the Orionan battleline while simultaneously putting the Emperor at risk.  Like a novice chess player suddenly confronted with a looming checkmate, the Orionan Fleet panicked.  Desperate to protect their Emperor, all order and formation disappeared.

It was at that moment that Kwirh played his hole card.  Raising on a massive plume of Lunar dust at the outer edges of the Orionan Fleet, the Fifth Squadron of the still forming Fourth Fleet rose from the light side of Earth’s moon.  Kwirh had slowly infiltrated the ships within the comings and goings of evacuation vessels and resupply ships, their transponders squawking false identity codes as they passed through the Third Fleet.  The security had not been for the sake of the Orionans, as there were no spies amongst the CCDF.  Instead, Kwirh had determined to stiffen his own fleet with the surprise, a move that seemed almost prescient given the current circumstances.

Under Admiral Arvid Thorsen, the Fifth Squadron was composed almost entirely of the oldest Terran exiles.  A former Norse Viking that had been saved from his shipwrecked vessel by the Dominionites over two millennia before, Arvid was one of the oldest Terran exiles.  Having sailed into battle under Eric the Red, been resurrected in what he considered to be Valhalla, and done battle amongst the stars for the previous millennia, Arvid had never truly shaken the trappings of his barbarian past.  Even now, his seat was covered with the furs of the wild bears of Barren, killed at close range with his traditional sword.

Thorsen’s flagship, the Eviscerator, was the newest of the Emasculator-class battleships.  Accompanied by her two slightly older sisters and six Victory class battlecruisers, the Eviscerator quickly closed in mortal combat with the nearest Emperor battleship.  With the Emasculators the CCDF had broken from its usual tradition of smaller, more maneuverable vessels.  While nowhere near the same bulk as an Emperor, the Emasculators were one and a half times larger than the Revenge-class, the next nearest CCDF battleship.  Most of that additional weight went to armament, as demonstrated with great violence to the Orionan Fleet.

While many beings would have attempted to continue their path and attempt to end the war, it was quickly apparent that the CCDF could attempt to kill Krognar or run, but not both.  As the Orionan Fleet reeled from the sudden assault, with the evacuation ships starting to lift off from Earth’s dark side, the call was made.

 

The Huntress shuddered, the impact whipping down her length.

“Shields down to forty-five percent, hull breach decks seven, eight, and nine!”

“Dammit, what was that?” Kwirh growled, turning to look at his sensors operator.

“Sir, we were engaged by the main laser of an Emperor-class battleship, the Star of Argnor from her identification code.  It was a glancing blow.”

“Remind me to strangle the Chief of Intelligence when I see her next,” Ana muttered.

Kwirh was about to retort when there was a massive explosion twenty miles off their port bow.  Looking, he recognized the bow section of the battleship Revenge tumbling crazily away from the blast.

“That was the main laser from the Heart of Orion,” the sensor operator said, his face as pale as a Dominionite’s ever got.  “She was hit dead on.”

“Do we have a clear line to that bastard yet?” Kwirh asked, seeing the Huntress’s viewports start to roll as she was brought around.

“Sir, we cannot…”

“I asked a question, damn you!” Kwirh roared.

“No…yes!” the sensor operator replied, as the battleship Emasculator blasted a pair of Orionan heavy cruisers out of the way.  The CCDF capital ship looked like she had been grabbed by a great beast and had pieces torn from her, flames clearly showing through her viewports.

“Ramming…” Kwirh began.  He did not get to finish as Emasculator, obviously seeing his plan, chose to steal his thunder.  Nimbly avoiding one of her Orionan counterparts, the CCDF battleship hurtled towards Krognar’s flagship.

“Sir, recommend that unless we are going to follow, we go with your original order and get the hell out of here,” Ana said.  “I’m willing to die, but I want it to have a purpose.”

The advancing Orionan Fleet had been thrown into disarray, and would take at least three or four hours to reform.  Looking at the threat display, Kwirh could see four assault ships arrowing for Earth, having made it through the cordon of the charging Fifth Squadron.

“Computer, losses?” Kwirh asked, even as Huntress’s main batteries flayed an Orionan destroyer starting a missile run.

“Twenty-five percent,” the computer replied.  “If we do not disengage the fleet in the next five minutes, the losses will be at least double.  The Orionans are beginning to recover.”

Looking up, Kwirh watched the last minutes of the CCDF battleship.  While the Heart of Orion’s shields had stopped the smaller ship’s charge cold, they had been sufficiently weakened to allow four of Emasculator’s heavy missiles to shoot through to arrow into the ship’s massive hull.  The Emperor’s life threatened, the Orionan Fleet was collapsing back towards the Huntress’s position.  The Emasculator erupted in a silent explosion, her fusion engines venting their fury in an explosion that took a pair of destroyers with her.

“Give that bastard our regards, let’s get the hell out of here,” Kwirh barked.  “Let General Connelly know he has company inbound, and that we are departing system.”

With a roar conducted through her hull, the Huntress disgorged her battery of twenty-six anti-matter missiles.  Each the size of a SLBM on Terra, the missiles had enough warhead power to split an unshielded planet in two.  Unfortunately, the Heart was very shielded, not to mention surrounded by a fleet that was willing to die to save their Emperor.  Four heavy cruisers and a pair of frigates made the ultimate sacrifice, putting their vessels in between the missiles and their intended target.  In the end, only two warheads passed through to explode against the flagship’s armor.  To the cheers of the bridge crew, the Heart lurched hard, spewing atmosphere and propulsion fuel as she turned away from the Huntress.

“That’ll teach them to try something new and leave the family jewels uncovered,” Ana muttered grimly.  Kwirh turned and looked at her.

“My translator must be reading incorrectly.  Did you just say family jewels?” Kwirh asked.  “Why do we care about jewelry at a time like this?”

Ana shook her head, looking out the viewport as the Huntress passed low over Luna, her passage stirring the space dust in the Sea of Tranquility.  Exhaling, she took one last look at Earth, receding behind them.  Turning to her sensors, she could see the first of the evacuation ships starting to take off from Earth’s darkside, away from the Orionan Fleet.  The four assault vessels continued to descend towards Earth, pursued by several remaining fighters.  There was a last furious exchange of fire, causing one of the assault vessels to begin spinning out of control and head towards the planet’s Southern Hemisphere at an angle that almost guaranteed it would hit the Earth as an uncontrollable mass, not a fully intact ship.  Realizing that there was little they could do inside the planet’s atmosphere in their space fighters, the last Third Fleet fighters pulled up and used Earth’s gravity to slingshot past the sun.  With several bright flashes, they were gone.

“Jump in five, four, three, two…”

With a bright flash, the Huntress entered hyperspace, the remainder of the Third Fleet jumping out with her.  Earth’s final hours had officially begun.

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part IV

If you haven’t been following the story–long story short, the crap has hit the fan for Humanity.  Angry aliens are coming to basically turn Earth into one big butcher shop.  You can pick up the first part of the story here.  This Part begins Chapter 2.  So, without further ado…

Chapter 2: Recriminations and Reckonings

 

Topeka, Kansas

0755 Local (0855 Eastern)

 

With a deep, throaty roar, the sleek looking fighter made another dizzying pass over Forbes Field, moving so fast it was almost a blur.  Its sonic boom rattled all the windows on the base and some of the surrounding communities.  If anyone had gotten a good glimpse of the aircraft, some would have thought the Combat Air Museum’s F-14 Tomcat had been brought out of storage and re-engined.  Others would have believed that the Museum’s hard-working curator had managed to somehow secure an F-15 Eagle from the Air Force, a feat nigh impossible given the USAF recalcitrant aircraft loan policy.  Still more would have thought they were seeing some futuristic prototype, as while the aircraft shared many of the Eagle and Tomcat’s physical characteristics, it’s lines were too smooth, its demonstrated agility as it suddenly stood on its tail and snap climbed for altitude all in one motion too great for both of those wonderful aircraft, the likely G-load so great it would have snapped either fuselage in half not to mention killing the pilot.  Not to mention neither of those aircraft had canards in lieu of tail surfaces, or sharply angled out tail fins like an F/A-18 Hornet.

All would have been wrong, and none would have thought the aircraft was the same Phoenix-class mecha that had been standing guard over the field just a few moments before.  As the aircraft rocketed upwards at near escape velocity, it’s pilot kicked the rudder controls again.  The fighter’s nose whipped sharply to the left, into a cartwheel, the big wing’s control surfaces biting on Earth’s thick atmosphere while its repulsor lifts provided the necessary physical thrust in opposition to Earth’s gravity.  While the surfaces were arguably not necessary, Confederation repulsors having more than enough power to make the turn itself, the Phoenix’s primary concept developer, one Eric Walthers, had pointed out that repulsors took energy, control surfaces less so.  While no Earth metal could have sustained the forces put upon it by the sharp turn the fighter had just undertook, the Phoenix hadn’t been built on Earth.  The energy savings in turn could be used for weapons, or for stronger shields, something always helpful when facing a charge of Orionan armor.

“Okay jackass, you’ve proved your point,” Jack’s comset crackled as he finished the dizzying turn.  “Now get back down here before someone wonders what in the hell you are driving and calls the Air Force.”

“Roger Sir,” Jack replied laconically.  Eric had not been aware that Jack had become fully proficient in the operation of his Phoenix, something the hovertanker had undertaken while Eric was on his honeymoon leave.  While odds had been good the Orionans would still have been so stunned by Argnor’s death, as the ranking remaining officer in the 1st Shock Brigade, Jack had thought it might be a good idea if he learned how to use the brigade commander’s mount, or at least that’s what he told himself.  In his heart, he truly knew he had been motivated to see how the other half lived, and the fact that Eric had been provided with a brand-spanking new Phoenix hadn’t made the decision that terrible.

There was the sound of a warning tone in his helmet, causing him to turn his eyes to the threat display mounted on the left side of the cockpit.  By the time his eyes reached the screen, the computer had analyzed the sensor paint and found it to be non-threatening, changing the tone in his ear.  Shaking his head, Jack keyed his microphone.

“It would appear that the best pilot the Confederation has ever known has put in an appearance,” he stated, deliberately goading Eric.  As the current leader atop the Confederation’s total kill board, Eric was justifiably considered the greatest pilot by many of the alien races that made up the Confederation.  However, among the humans, that topic was quite open for debate, as the current arrival had actually had a hand in destroying several warships, to include a pair of the incredibly tough Orionan battleships.

“Certainly better than anyone who would fly a piece of crap like that mutant,” Star Commodore Kevin Connelly stated snidely, using the derisive name for all mecha.  “Flying one of those things is like a man admitting he lets his wife strap on the ol’…”

“Aren’t you supposed to be running a vacuum or something?” Eric asked.  “Oh, no wait, I’m sorry, that’s supposed to be in a vacuum.  I thought there was some rule against you guys actually flying in atmosphere—something about accidents.”

Kevin growled over the net, biting his tongue.  The incident Eric was referring too involved the first time that Kevin had flown an advanced Confederation aircraft.  His translator chip had made an error in dialect while Kevin and his Dominionite instructor had been eight hundred feet over Barren’s Great Kalahari Glacier.  Eight hours later, after rescue crews had dug down to the plane, they had found Kevin and his instructor having an in-depth discussion on the evolution of Earth swear words and the differences in “English” versus “American”.  While it was an error that any pilot could have made, especially with the translator chip difficulties, the fact was that Kevin had been the first to do it, and he had cracked up a plane and caused an avalanche doing it.

“Commodore Avalanche, I have visual on your aircraft,” Jack said, switching allegiance quicker than a Balkan country during a World War.  He could see the silver Peregrine fighter, its flying wing configuration rather distinctive as Kevin placed it into a bank ten miles south of Forbes Field.

“At ease, Star Major!” Kevin barked, to the great amusement of Eric and apparently a couple others who had been monitoring the net.

“I take it Admiral Tobarakh sent you down with the latest telemetry?” Eric asked over the net.  His battle armor was not as advanced as General Connelly’s, the difference being that his actually had to fit inside a standard mecha cockpit.  That meant he could not conduct a live feed of the Huntress’s sensors without the Phoenix, and that might have been a tight fit within the Combat Air Museum Conference room.  While his briefing was not nearly as important, he still wanted to have decent bells and whistles for when he briefed Kansas’s governor and the gathered military commanders from its posts.  There had been some trouble chasing down some of the Reserve component commanders, but the Kansas State Troopers had gotten it done.  Sure, there were a couple of husbands that would have some explaining to do, especially the one found with his nineteen-year-old neighbor at a Junction City Motel, but Eric figured the end of the world would probably put off divorce proceedings.

Or maybe not depending on whom hubby likes better.

“Well, that and to read you in on the battle plan once you’re done scaring half of Kansas.  By the way, the first evacuation ships have entered hyperspace,” Kevin said.  “Let’s just say if I were you I wouldn’t go anywhere near Barren in the next few weeks.”

“Yeah, well, those folks should thank me, they’re the last ones who get a free trip without getting genetically checked,” Eric snapped.  “If they don’t like it, they can stay aboard and take their chances with the Orionans.”

“Hey, I understand, but just realize not everyone’s a freaking orphan, Eric,” Kevin replied.  “Some folks might have wanted to have a chance to say goodbye.”

“Look, get your ass down here and give me the data, we can have a morality lesson later, Hatcheman Six out,” Eric snapped, cutting his end of the transmission.

There was silence over the command net.  Nominally Eric and Kevin were peers, the rank of Star Commodore being invented to avoid the traditional confusion between a naval captain and a ground forces captain.  While according to Confederation rank conventions Eric was senior due to his higher number of kills, that was a Dominionite invention and didn’t hold much pull within the TEC.  Before the invention of mecha, both men had been in the same squadron, and their honors had been about even.

It was only after Eric had been given command of first a battalion, then his current brigade, that he had started to draw away.  Funny thing about ground combat with hundreds of Orionan battle armor, it tended to give a person a greater opportunity to score.  In the mind of most of the men and women who knew them both, Eric’s higher score didn’t matter, and the fact that he was pulling rank on Kevin at this moment would probably spark a few heated arguments, if not some fights, in various TEC barracks.  It was also completely out of character for Eric, who was usually rather focused and emotionless in tense situations.

That’s not a good sign, Jack thought to himself.  C’mon boss, we don’t need you to start losing it now.  He watched as Kevin’s fighter shot past him then stopped three hundred feet over the Forbes Field tarmac.  After hovering for a moment to lower his landing gear, Kevin brought the fighter straight down in a smooth, effortless landing.  As Jack brought his own craft in for a landing, he saw the Peregrine’s canopy pop open and Kevin hop out, helmet rotating back into his suit.  From the way he was striding, Jack had an idea that there was about to be one hell of a fight.

 

Kevin let the screen door slam shut behind him as he stormed into the aircraft hangar, fists balled and his eyes scanning for the source of his ire.  He saw Eric standing in the museum’s aviation art gallery, his hands resting on the guard rail as he looked over the museum’s primary display aircraft.  Kevin moved to the narrow metal staircase that spiraled up the east side of the gallery platform, taking the steps two at a time, his armored shoes ringing on the aluminum.

“Here’s your telemetry you son-of-a…” Kevin started, then stopped as Eric turned to look at him.  Kevin had never seen a person look as guilty as Eric did at that moment, as if he was carrying the shame of the entire world on his shoulders.

Holy shit, he looks bad.  Kevin had never seen the man so haggard since the early days after First Contact.  While most of the others had volunteered to go fight for the Confederation, Eric and his flight leader had been given the stark choice of leaving Earth or remaining in Area 51 the rest of their natural lives or until the government had gotten around to notifying the rest of the world what had occurred.  While Eric had desperately wanted to believe

 

Weather Mountain

1000 Local (0900 Central)

John Rutledge swam out of unconsciousness slowly and painfully, his head throbbing painfully.  Coming to, he found himself unable to move, affixed with some transparent putty to the wall.  He attempted to blink his eyes, than realized he had no control of any muscles but those in his eyes.  Swiveling these, he saw General Connelly and Conrad conversing near Prime Minister Yeldham.  The woman’s eyes and face were earnest as she said something, obviously a plea for mercy from General Connelly and Conrad to let her down.  Then, with a rush, POTUS could hear her words.

“I’ll do anything you men ask.  Anything,” she was saying desperately.  Connelly placed his hands on Conrad’s shoulder, then turned away.

“Madame Minister, I suggest you make your peace with whatever God you believe in,” Conrad said in his clipped British accent.

“Colonel Bradstock, I’ve seen your records, you are a decent man,” Yeldham said desperately, her chest heaving.  Her blue eyes were filling with tears, her face coloring.  “I have three children, and a husband.”

“I promise to grant them the same mercy I am giving you, Madame Minister,” Conrad said coldly.  “More mercy than my own mum, my brother and sisters, their children, and five billion other people on this planet will probably get.  Now make your peace with God and die with some freakin dignity.”

POTUS suddenly found himself gaining his capacity to speak.  Moving his tongue around his mouth, he looked up as General Connelly stood in front of him.  The General reached up with a flask, emptying some water in the President’s mouth.

“You just killed all of these men,” POTUS said breathlessly, looking at the bodies of the security detachments around the room.

“No, Mr. President, you and the other idiots gathered in this room killed these men,” Connelly said, gesturing at the other world leaders and their aides similarly trapped to the walls.  “I simply rendered them a more merciful killing than you will receive.”

Behind General Connelly, Yeldham stopped uttering her prayers, then looked up at Conrad.  Her mouth opened like she was about to say something, but never got a chance as the Englishman fired the rail gun mounted on the inside of his suit’s forearm.  The device’s slug killed the Prime Minister instantly, evacuating her skull.  Conrad sighed heavily, dropping his arm back to his side.

“Is that what you are going to do with all of us, you bastard?” General Reilly asked from beside POTUS.  “Shoot us in the head then cut our bodies down?  What, too cowardly to fight like real men, you’ve got to…”

Connelly punched General Reilly in the throat, the blow just hard enough to cut him off.  He followed it up with an augmented blow to the top of the head, causing the man to slump back into unconsciousness.  Looking over at him, he checked his vital signs and heaved a sight of relief to see he hadn’t killed the fellow officer by accident.

“I’m cutting her down,” Conrad said heavily.  “She was a good person, even if a bit misguided.”

“Carry on,” General Connelly replied, turning to face the President.

“Was Reilly right?  Is that what you intend to do to all of us?” POTUS asked solemnly.  To his utter shock, Connelly began laughing.  It was not a laugh of happiness, but more one of a man who was just barely holding on to his sanity.

“Mr. President, what Conrad did to Prime Minister Yeldham was a mercy,” Connelly said flatly.  “What will be done to you is justice.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You obviously have a short memory, or we wouldn’t be at this juncture,” General Connelly replied.  “Remember the part the Dominionites mentioned about the Orionans being a carnivorous race?”

The President suddenly felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

“Oh my God,” he said, his face becoming absolutely pale, his memory recalling the briefing given to him.  The Orionans were more accurately omnivores with an overdeveloped carnivorous side.  What made them such savage opponents and the scourge of the galaxy was the fact they took great pleasure in eating sentient beings.  That little fact echoed in the President’s mind, and he found himself fighting even harder to get free of his trappings.

“Give it up, Mr. President,” General Connelly said quietly.  “This is Dinotilian stasis silk, about thirty to forty times more powerful than steel, yet as flexible as rubber.”

“You bastard!” the President shouted.  General Connelly could tell he was becoming quite agitated and raised his fist.  A red beam of light flashed from Connelly’s suit, and suddenly the President felt his limbs go slack again as his muscles were turned into putty.  To his great terror, he suddenly realized that he could still see and hear everything around him.

“Orionan stunner ray,” Connelly said.  “Now, as I was saying, you are all enclosed in stasis silk.  I would be greatly surprised if any of you are able to break out, and even if you are it will more than likely be after the last evacuation vessels have departed this planet.”  Turning, Connelly looked around the room, realizing more of the world’s allegedly great leaders were starting to stir.  He would have to hurry up, or he would end up having to stun them all.  Downside of that is the sensation isn’t as great, he thought viciously.  Leaning forward, he put his mouth right up to the President’s ear.

“As I was saying, the Orionans take great pleasure in eating sentient beings,” Connelly whispered.  “What the Dominionites failed to mention is that the victim usually lives through the entire event, until their brain pan is crushed in their jaws.  It usually takes them a couple of victims to figure out how to keep a race alive for the longest.”  Reaching into his suit, Connelly pulled out a picture of a smiling young man, the spitting image of his father, and held it in front of the President.

“I think you recognize my son, Captain Francis Jason Connelly, Mr. President?” he whispered fiercely.  “He was the fifth human being captured alive by the Orionans, by the Crown Prince whose death they are coming to avenge.  I received the holovideo four months later.”

POTUS could see tears forming in the other man’s eyes, rapidly blinked away.

“You know what it is to see your youngest son consumed by aliens, Mr. President?  To see them gnawing on his legs while he screams?  To watch as they make their way upwards, all while he is still alive?  No, of course not…but you will.”

The President widened his eyes, the only movement he was capable of.

“Oh, you actually thought when we took your DNA earlier that it was truly to ensure we were able to rescue your families and eliminate any false identifications?”  Connelly chuckled as he looked out the window.  There was the roar of jet engines as a flight of F-22C Raptors passed overhead in tight formation, part of the Combat Air Patrol assigned to cover the leader’s meeting.  Today those aircraft are kings of the sky.  Tomorrow they will fall like clay pigeons.

“Mr. President, entire family lines are going to be ended tomorrow once the Orionans land.  I wanted to ensure that those of the people most responsible were among them.  I am sure once Krognar realizes that you were the former leaders of this planet…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to have any DNA in common with you.  I’m sure a few of your fifth cousins are going to be quite surprised when they find themselves being placed back on shuttles for return back to this planet.”

Conrad came back in at that moment.

“General, we have control of all the world’s communications networks and broadcast stations.  We are are ready for you.”

“Has Eric finished his message to Krognar?”

“Yes, and it is being beamed to the Orionan Fleet as we speak.”

“Hopefully we can get them to jump early and Kwirh can give them a bloody nose.”

“If anyone can do it, Kwirh can.”

“All right, let’s go put the world on notice they’re all about to die and at least give them a chance to make peace with whatever God they believe in,” General Connelly sighed resignedly.  “Get me a direct link with Star Colonel Walthers.”

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part III

Part III continues.  If you’ve just started following this blog, Part I can be found here.

Weather Mountain, VA

0800 Local (0700 Central)

“Sir, they’re all here,” Star-Colonel Sir Conrad Bradstock, Knight of the Bath to Queen Elizabeth I, said quietly.  The Englishman was massive, especially when one considered the average height of men in the 16th Century, his original time.  His beard, a flaming red, was trimmed in a sharp-pointed goatee, while his head was shaven completely bald.  Cool, blue eyes stared out from a narrow face, eyes that had obviously seen far too much even before his vessel had been sunk while raiding the Spanish Main.  Bradstock and the ten surviving members of his crew had been plucked from the Caribbean for “research purposes” by the Confederation Science Directorate in 1585.  Like many of Earth’s expatriates, the overwhelming majority of whom had gotten in position to be abducted/saved due to their adventurous nature, his mind had been open enough to accept the existence of aliens and their technological marvels.

“Who was the last to arrive?” CINC-TEC and Hero of the Confederation, Star General Adam Baines Connelly, asked.  A tall, broad-shouldered man, Adam looked like someone who had definitely lived a long and eventful life.  Like many men who assumed flag rank in the United States Army, he had been a combat veteran, in his case four times over, getting to see Panama, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraqi Freedom.  Unlike the vast majority of his peers, Adam had never forgotten what it meant to be a young junior officer, and he had always been a champion for soldier’s rights.

The latter was a large part of the reason why he had had only had two stars despite his stirling record—Adam had never been one to go along just to get along, not when it meant young men and women might die.  With all three of his sons joining the military shortly after he had made flag rank, Adam had had first-hand knowledge of the anguished worrying parents faced.  The past six years had made him even more aware of those horrors.

“President Nazarofa just arrived from Moscow five minutes ago,” Conrad replied.  “Seems that he wanted to give Spetznaz time to get a special reaction force in place.”

“Did they link up with the Special Forces and Rangers that are already outside?”

“Yes, and it brings the forces outside to a grand total of five hundred and seventy-five special ops folks waiting for the signal to attack this facility and seize or kill all twenty of us.”

Adam shook his head.  Even after seeing first hand that TEC’s personal battle suits were immune to normal small arms fire, President John Rutledge was trying to double cross him.  Fortunately for the soldiers outside, Adam had no intentions of wasting a resource so precious as highly-trained and motivated elite troops, especially when the universe’s largest supply of humanity was about to take a huge hit.

That old saying about people being the most precious resource was never so true, Adam thought.

“Have any of our people been sighted yet?”

Conrad snorted.

“Sir, if the Orionans cannot spot the bloody Tectals ninety percent of the time, why would this batch of idiots have a chance?”

Looking at Conrad’s lips, Adam once more marveled at the translator chip’s ability to adapt to dialects, local accents, and quaint phrases.  He had once heard Conrad speak without the translator chip in, back in the early days when its constant low vibration against his inner ear had occasionally bothered him.  The Queen’s English had certainly changed over the years, and that old saying about American versus English only made things worse.  While his Chief of Staff could, with great effort, speak discernible American, he was far more comfortable speaking in his native, anachronistic English.

“I was hoping that they were at least in rudimentary battle suits by now.  We had started experimenting with that technology when I left!”

“Well, apparently that program got cut, according to the records you had me review.  Seems like your fair leaders didn’t quite take the threat seriously enough, they were more concerned with lining their own pockets.”

“Bastards,” General Connelly said fiercely.  He fought the desire to go two levels up and start blazing away with the plasma pistol that resided in his battlesuit’s internal hip holster.  My son and over a million other humans are dead, and for what? he asked himself.  So the idiots in the next room can have gotten themselves fat off of cheap power and miracle cure patents?

            “Sir, it won’t do any good to go up there and kill every single one of them,” Star Colonel Jack Halwac, “Black Knight Six”, muttered lowly.  Halwac was a former member of the Special Air Service hostage rescue team and Adam’s chief of Special Operations.  “It won’t bring any of our dead back, and it certainly won’t give the spooks time to finish hacking all of the military and civilian communications networks.”

Adam took a deep breath and got control of his emotions.

“We need to do something about him,” he said, gesturing towards the far corner where the unconscious Presidential Chief of Staff lay, “before we open the door,” Adam said.  He was glad that they had disabled the four hidden cameras located inside the small office they had commandeered for the conference with Kwirh and Eric.

President John Rutledge, the 44th or 45th man to hold the office, depending on how one counted, had demanded that at least one representative from his government be present during his communication with Kwirh.  Laughing at how the presence of American soldiers outside the command post made the man far braver than he had been three days before in the Lincoln bedroom, Adam had agreed.  Emad Mahoney, Ph.D., had not been aware of First Contact, having been selected by Rutledge as an attempt to create diversity in his cabinet.  In their limited interaction, Adam had actually found the former Yale professor to be very competent and professional—which was the only reason he was still breathing.

“I’ll stay with him,” Halwac said.  “That’ll keep me out of the room and able to coordinate things without distractions.”

“Good enough.  Keep feeding Conrad with the status—the minute we’ve got control of those command and civilian nets, we’re ending this circus.  Time’s awastin’.”

“Wilco,” Halwac replied, turning away from the door.  His suit’s holocamera began projecting a high-detail map of the area within six kilometers of Weather Mountain on the far wall, with TEC and Earth troop positions marked.  As Conrad and Adam turned towards the door, they could hear him starting to give commands and ask for updates from the TEC Special Ops forces grouped around the facility.

The two men opened the door and quickly slipped through it, their bulk preventing the two Secret Service men outside from getting a clear look in before they closed the door.

“Where’s Dr. Mahoney?” the younger of the two men asked, his hand subconsciously drifting towards the pistol at his waist.  Adam and Conrad both moved to clear each other’s arcs of fire, the movement smooth and unhurried.

“He is still inside monitoring our communication as President Rutledge asked,” Conrad snapped.  “Is there a problem?” he asked, his Enlish accent thickening with the rise of his anger.

“Yeah, we were told that he was to accompany you back to the main briefing room,” the younger agent said.  His hand was clearly on his weapon now, eyes defiantly meeting Conrad’s as he started stepping forward.

“I think the orders on how many men were allowed into that room were quite clear, Agent Dawson,” Adam said sharply to the older agent.  Thank God we’ve already hacked the Secret Service agent database, he thought to himself, his suit having presented the requisite image onto his retina.  While some officers, specifically Eric Walthers, had refused the insertion of the nanites that allowed him to seamlessly join with his suit, Adam had found the ability to have information overlain directly onto his eyeball quite helpful on numerous occasions.

Taken aback that Adam knew his name, Agent Dawson put a hand on his younger companion’s arms.

“Dan, ‘Silverfish’ was quite clear that we were not to interfere with these men in any way,” Dawson said, using the codename for Secret Service Director Donald Townshend.

‘Dan’ was clearly not happy about his partner’s decision, unaware just how close to a violent and sudden death he was.  Conrad had come from an era where killing men up close and personal with one’s bare hands was often a necessity.  Given the power that his battle suit gave him, and the generally foul mood he was in, he would have probably made Dan swallow the pistol if he had drawn it.  Proving his relative inexperience with dangerous men, the young agent gave Conrad a final glare before letting his hand drop off of his weapon.

“Follow us,” the young man snapped.

“Or?” Conrad asked, his blood definitely up.

“Colonel Bradstock,” Adam barked in reproach, then turned to Dawson.  “Lead on, gentlemen.”

It was a short trip to Weather Mountain’s main briefing room, an indoor ampitheatre that allowed the briefing of up to one hundred individuals in four separate blocks, with each block consisting of  plush seats arranged in five rows of five seats with a small table in front of them.  The doorway to the room opened just to the right of the main podium, with a second exit between the tops of the middle two rows.  As Adam and Conrad walked into the room, they could see that the room was packed with the core G-8 nations’ heads of state and their primary military staff.  The two Secret Service agents peeled off, making a beeline for Director Townshend.  Conrad split off from Adam, heading for the far corner of the room.

Taking a look around, Adam mentally counted security personnel, coming up with a count of twenty leaning in various states of readiness against the walls.  The largest contingent were the six Secret Service agents that stood alert and ready, their hands resting not-so-casually on their sidearms, their eyes locked on Adam as he walked up to the podium, followed by the four Russian Spetznaz members that stood with suspiciously bulky attaché cases at their feet.  After those men the honors were about even, the remaining six countries having one or two men apiece.

“General, we are all here,” President John Rutledge stated, his tone imperious.  Adam could see the man was trying to convey the impression that he was in charge of the situation, and not someone who owed his existence to the simple fact that he was momentarily more useful alive than dead.

I can just imagine the panic if the news had hit that some ‘alien’ had shown up in the White House and ripped the President limb from limb after subduing his Secret Service guards.  Adam had been inches away from crushing the man’s windpipe from sheer fury less than twenty-four hours before, and it was only how much harder it would have made his life that stopped him.  Now, as Rutledge spoke to him like he was some junior private, he felt his pulse quickening the color starting to rise to his face.

“Sir, the codes,” he heard Conrad murmur, the sound completely inaudible to everyone else in the room.  Looking across at the Englishman, he nodded, then turned to face the gathered group.  Purposefully delaying, he scanned the room, then focused back on Rutledge.  Utilizing his retina, he brought up an overlay that allowed him to scan the man’s pulse and brain activity, ensuring that he would be able to tell when POTUS was telling the truth.

We humans really missed the boat on nano-technology.

The Confederation, as per most governments that had been around forever, had done research on its various member races, as well as the lesser developed races that inhabited its sector of space.  There were several trends that it had found in the more advanced races, namely that most of them had avoided having a great worldwide war—it tended to kill off many great minds.  That Humanity had had two, and been on the brink of a third, was actually quite sad—apparently mankind had missed out on its great chance to cure many of its diseases when the European powers had lost their collective minds in 1914, then all but ended that chance when accounts were settled twenty years later.  When the smartest minds of a generation died screaming in some muddy field or blown to pieces in mid-air, it severely diluted the available talent pool.  Looking at the gathered group of men and a pair of women in front of him, Connelly could suddenly understand how these great disasters had happened.

Now because of these idiots a disaster of epic proportions is upon us.  Where did we go so  wrong?

Rutledge cleared his throat, causing Adam to turn and regard him with dead eyes.  As he watched, the man’s pulse began to increase, fear and anger both fighting to be released.  As far as Adam was concerned, the fact that Rutledge was now President of the United States (POTUS) had changed since he had left made no difference—he had renounced his old long before when he became a member of the Confederation Fleet.  The fact that Rutledge had basically lucked into the office didn’t help matters any.

A relatively unknown diplomat who had risen to Assistant Secretary of State, Rutledge had become acting Secretary of State in late 2005 after the sudden death of his predecessor in a helicopter crash.  After a bruising confirmation hearing, he had finally been confirmed as Secretary of State on September 5, 2006.  Six days later, with the deaths of the President and Vice President in New York, Senate and House majority leaders at the Flight 93 crash site, and President Pro Tem of the Senate at his home residence had placed him in the Oval Office through sheer good fortune.  If Rutledge had not come down with the measles two days after his confirmation hearing, he would have been with the President and Vice President in New York for the five-year anniversary ceremonies.  As it was, the Islamic Revolutionary Brigade had attacked Rutledge’s home in the mistaken belief that he was home instead of at the local hospital.

Thrust into the breach, President Rutledge had been firm and resolute in the days following the shattering attack on America.  Even as the fallout from New York’s warhead was still contaminating the Atlantic, he had mobilized all of America’s armed forces in invoked the NATO charter, demanding that the Alliance’s allies fulfill their agreements and mobilize themselves.  When the money trail led back to the Saudi Royal House, the retribution had been swift and terrible.  Like many wars, it had quickly spread, with most of the Middle East becoming embroiled on one side or the other.  In the end, both Holy Cities of Islam had been turned into rubble, Tel Aviv and Tehran had both been destroyed on the nuclear pyre, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had been absorbed by India.  The worldwide death toll had approached that of World War II, and a U.N.-overseen government oversaw the administration of a region that had formerly included the countries of Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, all of this had made it nearly impossible to release the information about what Rutledge had perceived as the far more distant threat of the Orionan Empire.  Or at least that was Rutledge’s justification according to the interrogation Adam had subjected him to the night before.  Of course, according to Rutledge, the fact that all the leaders in the room had become insanely rich off patents was sheer coincidence.  While his predecessor owned a portion of the blame for Earth’s current state, having had the First Contact information over a year, it was Rutledge who had made the bulk of the decisions of what information was released and when.  Adam fully intended to see him pay for that.

They will never know what opportunity they squandered, Adam thought, the time stretching out as he continued to stare harshly into Rutledge’s eyes.  Grudgingly, he began.

“I will assume that you have all read the provided briefing packets, so I will not pause to explain anything,” Adam said, his tone making it perfectly clear that he did not intend to answer questions.  “At this time, the CCDF Third Fleet is in Lunar orbit with six hundred and fifty-five combat vessels.  Of these, only sixty, twenty-five battleships, a single battlecruiser, and thirty-four carriers are considered capital vessels.”

“Excuse me, what is the difference between these ships?” Prime Minister Tonya Yeldham asked. A stunningly beautiful woman, Yeldham was the youngest Prime Minister in British history, her brains and ruthlessness matching her beauty.  She had only been in office for two years, and there had been some discussion on whether or not she should face the same fate as the remainder of the individuals in the room.  Star Colonel Halwac, who had known the woman through mutual friends, had argued most strenuously in her defense.

In the end, it had been Conrad who had made the most damning discovery. Having examined the world’s financial records, he had pointed out that Yeldham had made plenty of money by investing in the “breakthrough technologies” market.  While Conrad believed it was probably a case of realizing that her life was in real danger if she spoke up or spilled the beans, the fact remained that Yeldham had not taken a stand for the good of humanity.  That meant she shared the guilt of all those present.

“That is also in your information packet, as well as the packets of your staff,” Adam snapped.  “If your military leadership has failed to keep you informed, that is not my issue.”

Before Prime Minister Yeldham or anyone else could reply, Adam touched the wrist of his suit.  A hologram of the Sol system appeared in mid-air approximately five feet in front of him, from the sun itself to Pluto manifesting itself just a few inches in front of President Rutledge.  POTUS jumped backwards as a comet headed towards his eye, the tail turning to brush towards his nose as the holograms went into motion.  The gathered ships of the Third Fleet burst into life as brilliant blue dots, looking like a swarm of locusts near Luna and Earth.

“Arriving in system are the advanced waves of the Orionan Fleet, here at Pluto’s orbit.”  As Adam continued, several bright red dots appeared just a few feet in front of the President to the right of Pluto.  The dots continued to grow, as his suit fed in the live feed from the battlecruiser Huntress, flagship of the Third Fleet.  As they watched the red dots continued to grow, already clearly outnumbering the blue, with more appearing slowly but steadily as they spoke.

“At present the Orionan Fleet consists of twenty-nine battleships, to include six of their massive Emperor-class battleships.  For Prime Minister Yeldham and the rest of you who seem to think that this is just a bad B movie, I will show you the difference between those vessels and the Huntress, flagship of the Third Fleet.”

First appeared a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, still the largest warships on Earth by a large margin.  The vessel’s dimensions were flashed on the screen, along with its complement and aircraft capacity.  Adam gave a moment for the familiar ship to sink in, then with another touch of a button displayed the Huntress.  The Earth carrier was dwarfed, the Huntress more than six times her length, three times her width at the beam.  The battlecruiser’s weapon armaments scrolled by, with the yield of her numerous weapons being presented in terms, such as kiloton and Megaton, that each and every man and woman in the room could understand.

“With one salvo of her energy main battery, the Huntress expends more energy than the combined nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia combined,” Adam intoned flatly.  “With her advanced shielding, shooting the world’s current weapons at her would be like throwing spitballs at the side of a brick wall.”  He looked directly at General Joseph Reilly, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“That includes the prototype weapons being developed in Nevada or those issued in small numbers to America’s Armed Forces.”

There were several gasps of consternation at that revelation, as only Great Britain had been aware of the United States’ attempts to develop next generation weapons.  A few years before, Adam would have taken pleasure in dropping that particular turd in the punch bowl.  Now, however, as he watched looks of shock and anger cross everyone’s face except for Prime Minister Yeldham and Chairman Xian Qing Hsiao.  Looking at the Chinese Chairman, Adam realized that the man had known about the U.S. Deep Black projects.

Always knew the Chinese had us more penetrated than a two-dollar whore when a carrier comes to town.  No matter, makes this end game a whole lot easier.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please, let us be calm and set our differences aside in the face of this greater threat,” Rutledge said, staring daggers at Adam the whole time.

“While all of this is well and good, Connelly,” General Reilly snapped, “I don’t see how it affects us one bit.  That’s a friendly vessel, is it not?”

“Yes, it is, or at least it will remain so unless someone gets a brilliant idea like trying to appeal for mercy from the Orionans,” Adam said, once again looking directly at President Rutledge.  Unknown to POTUS, Adam had bugged the White House five ways to Sunday on his way to the Lincoln Bedroom.  One of the options that had been placed forward, especially in light of Adam’s obvious hostility, had been an attempt to kill Adam and then launch a salvo of the world’s nuclear missiles at the Third Fleet in an attempt to gain good faith with the Orionans.  Reilly had been the primary advocate of this plan, further demonstrating the lack of mental capacity and imagination in most modern flag officers.

You would think a major theater war would have leavened out some of the idiots, Adam thought.  But apparently they’re all still stuck at Corps and below while these idiots finish out their time.  No matter.

“But you are correct, General Reilly.  Here is the enemy’s flagship, the Emperor-class battleship, the Heart of Orion.”

Cued by his voice, Adam’s suit displayed a representation of an Emperor-class battleship compared to the Huntress.  There were several sharp intakes of breath and a couple of whimpers, as the Orionan flagship was clearly two times the size of the CCDF battlecruiser.  The statistics began scrolling in mid-air, starting with lesser weapons and their locations.  Adam continued talking.

“The presence of the Orion indicates Emperor Krognan himself has come to oversee the destruction of this planet.  You should all be familiar with Emperor Krognan from your packets.”

Provided you read them, which many of you obviously didn’t or you wouldn’t be so shocked by the information being presented.  If I had known that we needed to evacuate the planet, much less how little time we had to do it, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with you idiots.  

“General Connelly according to your reports this Emperor-class battleship is armed with what you termed an ‘extinction level event’-generating laser in the bow of the vessel,”  General Reilly stated, his tone clearly indicating that he had had a seemingly brilliant epiphany.

“Yes, it does,” Adam replied evenly.

“Okay, then pardon my asking, but why aren’t we all dead already?” Reilly asked.  “It would seem that it makes little sense to invade a planet when you can just blow it up with damn Death Star lasers from these ten battleships, once they all arrive?”

Adam looked at Reilly.  The man’s haughty voice and posture had finally broken through is last reserve of patience.

“Because, you fucking idiot, as I pointed out in that same report, there are only two battleships armed with the laser, one of which had its laser disabled at the Battle of Taurus IV.  Now, if you wish to continue asking stupid questions and wasting precious time, please, go ahead.”

Reilly stared daggers at Adam, getting ready to make a retort when the President waved him silent.  Reilly was a political animal, and Connelly had always hated men who used the uniform as a way to gain power and prestige.  While the man had ostensibly demonstrated great bravery in Desert Storm, Connelly knew that his Distinguished Flying Cross had more to do with his four-star father’s friends looking out for him than any particularly brave thing Reilly had done.

That’s all right, because we’ll be getting ready to see how brave you are in a little while, Adam thought.

“Five minutes,” Conrad muttered into his ear, nearly making him jump.  “They’ve used some of the technology Lihr gave them for encryption, it’s costing us a bit of time.  By the way, a live audio feed has been established to the commandos outside.  When the President says Rubicon, it’s a code word for them to start this dance.”

Adam waggled his fingers to let Conrad know he had heard him as he looked at Rutledge.

“What is their plan, General?” the President asked, his voice clearly indicating he didn’t care about Connelly and Reilly’s personal disdain for one another.  Adam changed the scale of the hologram, zooming in to Neptune’s orbit.  Earth appeared just in front of the podium, the Third Fleet arranged in its probably formation.  The Orionan Fleet in all of its glory advanced into view just in front of the President’s face, the vessels’ drives glowing like small dots of light.

“Once the Orionan Fleet is completely deployed, the assault will begin.  The bad news is, the Orionan Fleet won’t stand off at several thousand kilometers and attempt to pound the planet into slag.”

“How is that bad news?” POTUS asked, his eyes wide and nostrils flaring.

“Because it means every man, woman, and child still on this planet when the Orionans make planetfall, which they will do because we’re not sacrificing the Confederation’s best vessels for an indefensible ball of dust,” Adam sneered, “will serve as food for a blood feast the likes the Orionan Emperor has probably never seen.”

There were several sharp intakes of breaths and one half scream as the import of what Adam was saying sunk in.  He watched as Rutledge’s face went white with shock, and he suddenly realized just what the price of his duplicity was.

Yes you dumb bastard, come to grips with what I’ve known for the past three hours, Adam thought with white hot fury.  This is what your greed, ignorance, and incompetence hath wrought.

“Given the slow transition to the evacuation and the utter lack of available shipping, we estimate the final death toll will be in excess of five billion,” Adam continued, the tempo of his voice hammering the point home.  “Getting the billion people off the planet is going to take a Herculanean effort, as Admiral Tobarakh’s fleet is not equipped for planetary defense and the only way we are able to evacuate what we can is by relay trips to the nearest systems.”

There was stunned silence in the room as everyone realized that one in six people had been handed a death sentence.  Everything that they had ever known in their lives, the great cities of makind, all of its treasures, everything was about to be erased by a horde of aliens most of them had only become aware of in the last couple of years.  The Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, their own residences and loved ones—all gone.  Adam watched as all the emotions played across everyone’s faces and was surprised that none of them dropped dead of a sudden heart attack.  Turning back to Rutledge, he locked eyes with POTUS, making no effort to hide the emotions going through his mind.

Yes, you stupid bastard, you are most responsible for this, you and that idiot still probably circling the upper atmosphere.

“So this race of super aliens was unable to realize they just might need more shipping to evacuate six billion people?” Reilly asked.  “Maybe we are helping the wrong side.”

Adam looked at the man, utterly disgusted.

“They weren’t expecting a bunch of ignorant sons-a-bitches like you to sit on over two thousand years worth of advancement for the last five years, or turn it for your own personal profits,” Adam seethed.  He was about to say more when Rutledge interrupted him.

“Why…why aren’t the Orionans attempting to surround the entire planet and bag your fleet also?” POTUS finished, gesturing at the hologram in front of him.

“Sir, space ships are vulnerable for about two minutes when coming out of hyperspace,” Adam said, reigning in his tone in response to the actually semi-intelligent question.  “Also, coming out into the middle of a Solar System is a capability that’s still beyond the Orionans—they tend to get smacked by planets when they try it.  Finally, if the Orionan Fleet attempted to come out behind the fleet Admiral Tobarakh would probably clean their clocks for them, defeating them in detail.”

“So why doesn’t he do that now?” Reilly broke in.  Everyone in the room could hear the silent question on Tobarakh’s bravery in his voice.

“Because we can evacuate the planet or fight a fleet action, not both,” General Connelly replied as if explaining things to a child.  “If the Third Fleet moves out to start engaging, that leaves Earth undefended.  Unless there’s something I’ve missed, we don’t have enough forces to defend this planet should the Orionans get any elements past the Third Fleet and onto planet—hence the evacuation.”

“Why aren’t you people doing more to get other ships here?” POTUS asked, his voice starting to indicate his panic.

Just like a politician—looking for blame rather than realizing it’s his own damn fault, Adam thought.  His disgust at the state of the planet, i.e. only slightly from whence he had left, was overwhelming.  Adam had realized immediately that everyone responsible for what had happened had had to be removed.  Given the disaster that was about to befall his species, the solution that was starting to come into his mind was going to be poetic justice.

This is the longest five minutes in the world.

“Because there are is a large segment of the Confederation that has been against the inclusion of any Humans at all, much less with weapons, since Admiral Lihr exchanged his life to give us a fighting chance.  Those same species are not going to disrupt their own defensive efforts, economies, or lives to save a bunch of ignorant savages who were given what they worked thousands of years for on a platter.”

“Why not?” POTUS asked angrily.  “Six years was far too short a time to prepare the country, much less the world for interstellar warfare.”

Adam looked at POTUS in stunned amazement.  The man actually believes that, he thought.  Nevermind the fact that an entire corps of men and women from our planet were trained and combat capable within six months.  The performance of the Terran Expeditionary Corps had been a stunning surprise for the Confederation, even more so for the Orionans.  The Dominionite Battle Computers had predicted that the Corps would fail in its first three missions, with around twenty-five percent losses despite facing the second-tier units of the Orion Empire.  It had been half right, as the initial losses had been prohibitive.  But once Adam, Eric, and other members of the Corps had been given a say in the design process for their equipment, things had improved remarkably.

“Because idiotic statements like that seemingly validate that we are closer to our own evolution forebearers swinging in trees than those races that have been around since dinosaurs roamed this planet.”  Adam shut off the hologram and began looking around the room, meeting the eyes of every leader present.  His voice began to rise, aided by the suit’s electronics to become ever louder.

“Because in half a year roughly two million men and women learned to do what you have said was impossible in six.  Some of those men and women haven’t even seen inventions as rudimentary as indoor plumbing in their lives, but yet were able to grasp concepts that apparently were beyond the best and brightest men in this room.”

Adam’s voice was approaching the level of some construction tools, causing some people to begin reaching to cover their ears, his words piercing into their skulls.  He deliberately cut his volume, making everyone concentrate on his next statement.

“Finally, because most of the rest of the Confederation figures it will take the Orionan Horde six months to finish gnawing the last bit of sinew from the last human left alive on this world, and the war effort could really use that six months.”

There was a stunned silence as everyone contemplated exactly what Adam was saying.

“When will our evacuation ship be arriving?” Prime Minister Yeldham asked, her voice trembling.

It’s done.”

Sweet Jesus, could it have taken any longer?! Adam thought, allowing the tension to ratchet up in the room.  He looked up in Yolanda’s big blue eyes, and realized the woman knew.  While many of the men in the room were used to being powerful, and were arrogant enough to believe that nothing untoward could happen tot hem, Yolanda had first came to fame through the entertainment industry.  In pulling her file, Adam had seen just some of the bad things that had happened to her, both as a child and an adult.  For a brief moment he felt a pang of sympathy, right up until the point he remembered the violent deaths of some of the TEC’s first members.  His heart hardened, and his smile grew broader.

“There will be no evacuation ships for anyone in this room,” Adam said with barely contained relish.  “You have been weighed, measured, and found wanting.”

The room erupted into chaos, as the most powerful leaders in the world suddenly found themselves instantly converted into another category—victim.

Adam never heard the code word, and was never even sure it was given after his statement.  What he did see was Director Townshend starting to go for his service piece and the Russians’ attaché cases flying open, submachine guns and short-barreled automatic rifles in hand.  All of the action appeared to be in slow motion as his suit automatically injected him with pseudo-adrenaline and simultaneously raised his personal shield and armored helmet, the latter irising out and around his head.

“Black Knight Six, execute,” Adam barked, just as the Russians opened fire.

In the end, it was a very short fight.  General Connelly’s men had all been fighting literally larger and better enemies for the past six years, and they were interlinked with his combat suit’s sensors.  Even as the first rounds were spouting from the submachine guns, the dozen soldiers of the Rakkasans, his own personal guard contingent, were taking down the six men guarding the entrance to the room.  The men were vaporized where they stood, not even aware they were about to die as the Rakkasans seemingly appeared right in front of them.

Conrad put on a first hand demonstration on the overwhelming technology disadvantage Earth was now at.  The target of three of the Russians, their bullets crossing the intervening space in seconds, Conrad received twelve hits of various calibers, six of them instantly fatal if they had pierced his armor.  Of course, that would have required them achieving a speed ten times that of sound, the maximum kinetic rating on his personal shield, and then having sufficient energy to penetrate the suit itself.  When compared to rail guns, laser weapons, and anti-matter warheads, gunpowder proplled bullets were about as dangerous as a feather pillow.  The suit’s shield functioned exactly as advertised, absorbing the bullets’ energies and stopping them completely cold ten inches from Conrad’s face.  Conrad watched them stop and deform right in front of his eyes, the slugs dropping to the floor.

“Holy shit,” Townshend said, his expletive answered by the Russians just before the distinctive buzzzzzsnap! of a plasma bolts from the doorway turned the upper half their torsos into crimson steam with the dinstinctive.  Then suddenly the room was silent, as  fired a high-pitched sonic blaster wave into the room.  Specially modulated for the human brain, the sound wave knocked everyone in the room not encased in shielding as unconscious as if they had been hit with a giant tire iron.  In a pair of cases, the Prime Minister of Canada and a Secret Service agent blissfully passing instantaneously beyond the veil.  But for every other man and woman in the room, the device worked as Adam had planned it, knocking them into a deep and senseless slumber.

After making one last check to ensure the room was clear of opposition, Adam dropped his shield and helmet.  Turning, he looked at Halwac, who’s helmet remained upright, his eyes seemingly intently focused on the faceshield of his helmet.  Somewhere far off in the shelter, Adam heard the thud of several explosions, and knew that someone had found some heavy weaponry amongst the to use against the TEC forces.

“Jack, anyone who’s still resisting can have their spaces filled by other people,” Adam said, intending to make Halwac’s job easier.  “We don’t have time to be nice about this, we’ve got the codes, let’s get the Hell out of here.”

Halwac nodded, issuing commands into his facemike.  There were several louder explosions, the entire Weather Mountain Complex shaking with them and dust falling from the ceiling.

“Of course, that doesn’t mean bring this whole place down on us, either,” Adam said drily.

“Wasn’t us,” Halwac replied, his face suddenly relaxing.  With a whir, his helmet irised back into the shoulders of his suit.  “People should really be careful about playing with rocket launchers around ammunition—backblast is a killer.”

Adam winced.  Since one of the first places Halwac had intended to seize was the armory, he could see what had happened in his mind’s eye.  Someone had probably attempted to use a rocket launcher from within the confines of the armory, either not realizing or recalling that a jet of superheated gas exited out the rear of most anti-tank weapons.  The resultant fire had ignited ammunition, and blown the person, the armory, and several other people to kingdom come.

“Losses?” Adam asked, sighing heavily.

“None,” Halwac replied.  “First Battalion is still battling the Rangers and Spetznaz outside, but they should be able to secure the facility momentarily.”

“Commo?”

“There was one short signal that we couldn’t jam, but after we put a rail gun through the commo room, that solved that problem.”

“Grand.  Any idea what it said?”

“No Sir, none.  But we have the codes, just waiting on your go signal.”

Adam looked at his watch.  Time was precious, but he wanted to make sure he struck the right tone with the broadcast he was about to make.  ‘Sorry folks, you’re all going to be lunch meat’, probably won’t do much good.

            “How long until the first batch of ships are loaded?”

“The latest will be Russia, and that should be complete in one hour and forty-five minutes.”

“Two hours, we go live and in color world.  Meeting with all brigade and above commanders in one hour and forty-five via holo-network.”

“Understood, Sir,” Conrad said, nodding to Halwac.

“Inform Admiral Tobarakh and request that he listen in,” Adam said wearily, running a hand over his close cropped hair.  “Until the meeting, tell all commanders they may interact with local officialdom at their own discretion.”

“Already done, Sir,” Conrad replied.

“Is that why you let those jokers get their shots off?” Adam asked.

“Actually, yes,” Conrad replied.  “Figured about the point you called General Reilly an idiot it was time to issue orders.  Speaking of which?”  Conrad gave a meaningful glance towards the slumped bodies littering the room.

“I thought of that while I was speaking.  Let me tell you my plan.”

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part II

Continuing on with Chapter 1…

 

Fort Riley, Kansas

0625 Local (0725 Eastern)

“Jack, what the fuck is going on?” Captain Jason Mitchell, CO of A/2-70th Armored Battalion (FCS), West Point Class of ’03, asked worriedly.  The two of them had been in the middle of a conversation when Jack had suddenly stopped and focused on the far corner of the room.  Over the next fifteen minutes, his oldest and best friend, recently back from the “dead”, had gone as pale as a sheet.

The two of them had come a long way from Mrs. Phipp’s Pre-School class, held at this very post.  A short, squat fireplug with dusty brown hair and soft brown eyes, Jason had been the Jeff to Jack’s Mutt for over a quarter of a century.  In all of those years, through High School jitters, pregnancy scares, and even a pair of operational deployments, Jason had never seen his friend look so simultaneously frightened and despondent as he did when he turned to meet his eyes.

Star Major Jackson ‘Jack’ Aaron Phelps, commander of the 6th Shock Battalion “Golden Lions”, was a tall, skinny man that had been described as a walking red-headed pipe cleaner on more than one occasion.  Just a tad over 6’ 6”, technically Jack should never have been an Armor officer, but he had slouched on the day that he was being measured for his commissioning physical at West Point.  It had helped his cause that he had been flirting with the nurse when she was writing down his measurements, continuing his reputation as a goofy ladies’ man with his friends.  That he and that same nurse, fortunately a civilian, had carried on a torrid love affair most of his Firstie year at the Point had cemented his status as a “male slut” in Jason’s eyes.  Of course, that relationship had come to an end when Jack had started dating Jason’s wife, a topic that the

That Jack’s inherent goofiness was seemingly nowhere to be found was  just one of the many changes Jason had realized in his friend.  The two of them had not really had a chance to talk in the past thirty minutes since Jason had arrived early at his office.  Amazingly, he had not turned into a gibbering idiot when he had realized who was sitting in all black armor shooting the shit with the charge of quarters.  Before Jason’s stunned look had really registered with the young sergeant, Jack had told him they should probably talk in Jason’s office about the upcoming alert.

Now, after getting less than specific answers to many pointed questions, he had just watched his friend conduct a conversation with an empty corner.  Jack looked at him like he had just asked the stupidest question in the world, like why air existed or something.  I’ll be goddamned if you get to come back from the dead and look at me like I’m an idiot, Jason thought, standing up from behind his desk, his face starting to turn a deep red.  His subordinates called the expression ‘nuclear release’, as it usually meant the verbal equivalent of an atomic bomb was about to spew from the commander’s mouth.

Realizing that Jason was about to go beserk, Jack held up his hand to stop his friend and started to “speak”.  The sounds that came from his mouth were utterly alien, a somber stream of unintelligible vowels, consonants, and humming sounds that seemed almost impossible for a normal human being.  Tears forming in Jack’s eyes, the expression on his face one of utter pain.  Frenziedely, he began gesturing with his hands, the sounds coming even faster, as if his mental control was starting to slip.  Jason ran around the table and grabbed his friend, his battle armor feeling cool and rough to the touch.

What the Hell is the matter with you?!” Jason shouted, shaking his friend.  Jack stopped, his face looking like someone who had just come out of a hypnotic trance.

Jason’s office door opened, causing him to turn as his executive officer, First Lieutenant Eugene Hitchcock poking his head around the corner.

“You okay Sir?” Hitchcock asked, his face in its usual scowl.  His eyes switched from his commander to Jack’s, clearly indicating that he still wasn’t buying that the man was absolutely trustworthy.  He had heard about the strange Major who had shown up in an armored suit that looked like a cross from Herbert and anime.  Hitchcock made no bones about not being an intellectual, having been a jock his entire life.  In High School had been one of the guys who always tripped the nerds in the hallway, barely passed his classes, and had sex with the captain of the cheerleading squad while she had been dating the town’s all conference quarterback.  Hitchcock’s head was perpetually shaved, his green eyes hard and squinty in his somewhat fleshy face.  His penchant for cruelty and exacting attention to detail made him easily the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the battalion, a man even the sergeant major did not cross.

Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s ignorance meant when confronted with something he didn’t understand, he had one setting—animosity.  The fact that this stranger in front of him was wearing something that appeared a whole level of technology more advanced than his M-9 Powell did not make him happy.  That the bastard apparently outranked him and had the identity to prove it had him positively upset.  That the CO, an officer that he did not particularly like but had come to respect over the past fourteen months had basically told him to go make himself busy while the adults talked had caused his office wall to spontaneously sprout some holes.  Nothing would have made him happier than storming into the room to find the CO being assaulted, giving him clear license to the crap out of this Phelps guy.  That this was his personal fantasy was clearly communicated in the glance he leveled Jack’s way, a look that any superior officer would have found highly belligerent.  Fortunately for Hitchcock, he did have control of his temper and made no attempt to attack Jack—even without the armor, he would have never known what hit him.  Six years of combat, Dominionite hand-to-hand training, and Jack’s knowledge that his world had hours, not days, to live would have made the fight short and pitiless.

“I’m good XO,” Jason said sharply, feeling the power in the suit as his friend tensed.  It was a subliminal feeling, but Jason suddenly realized that there was nothing in the office, if not the unit’s arms room, that could stop his friend when he was in the suit he wore.  “Major Phelps was apparently having a…uh…”

“Jason, you might as well tell him,” Jack said, this time in perfect English.  Looking at his friend, Jason could see that whatever psychotic episode had possessed him had quickly passed.  Indeed, Jack looked positively resolute, like the time he had been fought old Tom McClary, the school bully that had outweighed him by forty pounds.  Not surprisingly to those who knew him, Jack had won—insanity trumped mean-spiritedness nine out of ten times.

“I think it’s better if you do it,” Jason replied after a moment.  Although I’m not sure if he’s going to listen.

“Actually, you probably want to get all of your officers and NCOs, for I have even worse news,” Jack replied, his voice barely a whisper.  “Life as you know it is probably coming to an end in the next twenty-four to thirty hours.”

There was dead silence as Jason looked at his friend’s face.  One of the great advantages of having known someone their entire adult life was that you realized really quickly when they were completely and utterly serious.  More so than any time that morning, Jason realized his friend had changed.  As a man who had recently seen the elephant himself, he recognized a fellow veteran, and apparently one that was not exaggerating the danger they were all in.

“XO, go get the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants.”

“Sir?” Hitchcock asked, incredulous.

“I don’t think I fucking stuttered, XO!” Jason barked, his voice utter iron that drove Hitchcock out of the room murmuring apologies.

“What the hell happened to you just now?” Jason asked, looking at his friend with real concern.

“I slipped into Dominion and forgot you didn’t have a translator chip inserted behind your ear,” Jack replied simply.  Jason looked at him blankly, causing Jack to grown even more pale.

“My God, what have you people been doing the last six years?” he asked in utter despair.  General Connelly was right—this situation is very, very bad.

“Living our lives, wondering why my best friend sent an e-mail instead of calling to say that he had been asked to do something special, and that he’d be in touch in a few months,” Jason snapped.  “Getting told that same friend had died at an ‘undisclosed location’ forty-eight hours later, burying a casket full of sand, and comforting his ex-girlfriend, who just happens to be my wife now.  Fielding new tanks, then taking them to the desert to fight freakin’ World War III.  You?”

Jack seemed utterly unimpressed by Jason’s litany, the look on his face one of utter contempt.  ‘Pardon me why I shed a tear, you stupid bastard’, his face seemed to say.

Jason felt the color rising back up into his face, shocked at the utter lack of reaction his friend showed to the fact that three to four million Americans had been killed in broad daylight by a terrorist bomb.  The nuke, an old Russian one, had been placed aboard a container ship in a thoroughly shielded container.  It was still unknown how the weapon had made it through several checks, orbiting satellites that scanned for the distinctive radiation plume that all warheads gave off, and just plain old dumb luck for discovery.

However it had happened, at precisely 9:23 A.M., 11 September, 2006, the residents of New York City had joined the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as people who had first hand knowledge of what the center of star looked like.  Estimates of the bomb or bombs’ yield had ranged from three to five hundred kilotons.  The total of the dead would never be known, but they included several well-known celebrities, both of New York’s Senators, and most importantly the 44th President of the United States and his Vice President.  The most violent of the several attacks that would occur that day, the New York bombing had galvanized the nation in a matter that its predecessor hadn’t even come close to.  The ensuing war, while not eradicating Islam as some had advocated, had definitely eliminated its more radical elements.  That Jack was unimpressed at the horrors Jason and his fellow Americans had suffered was too much to take.

“What the hell is the matter with you?  I just told you that five million people were killed and you have no response?!” Jason asked, balling his fists.

Jack snorted, shaking his head at his friend.  In that instant, Jason felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.  His friends’ eyes were dead, a stunning example of a thousand yard stare if there ever were one.

“I have seen entire worlds die, Jason.  Been part of battles without name, on planets your great, great, great-grandchild’s grandchildren would not have ever reached if we had been left to our own devices,” Jack said flatly.  “Held the hand of aliens while they bled all over me, telling them the entire time that it would be okay, that my planet was preparing itself for war, and that no species carries out war like humanity.”

Jack turned away from his friend, looking out the window.  I have to get control of myself.  Jason didn’t know, no one did, he thought.  But most of them are going to die all the same.

“But yet I return home, to find out that my best friend and my girlfriend, the one woman whose face sustained me through so much, are married.  My life, everything I owned, gone—sold off through a lie.  Oh, and most importantly, my vaunted species so utterly unprepared for war it seems like I never left.”

Jason glared at his friend, bristling at his emphasis on the word girlfriend, like Amy and Jason had cheated on him or something.  Maybe if you had actually married her rather than just dated her for two years, I’d feel a bit more guilty.  While it now appeared quite fortunate that Jack’s notorious commitment phobia had kept Amy and him from going up the aisle, Jason had always thought it was an awfully crappy way to treat a wonderful woman.

“I’m sorry that we seem so unprepared, Jack,” Jason said with a sneer, his anger starting to bubble over.  “Glad to know we might as well basically lie down and wait for the anal probes.”

“A freakin’ anal probe would seem like heaven compared to what the Orions will do once they reach this planet,” Jack said, his voice matter-of-fact.

“Whoa!” First Sergeant Adam Panke said.  “I feel like I just walked in on the end of a very twisted conversation.  You want to start from the beginning?”  Like most tankers, Panke was a very large man.  While he still was within the Army body fat standards, it was often a close run thing.  Of course, Panke just happened to be one of the best NCOs, if not the best First Sergeant, in the 2/70th Armored Battalion, something that probably bought him a little bit of slack with the Command Sergeant Major.

“Delilah, estimate on how much longer until the Orion Fleet attacks?” Jason asked the computer within his suit.

“Thirty-one hours, twenty-two minutes, and thirty seconds using standard attack algorithms,” the speaker on Jack’s suit intoned in a sulty feminine voice.

“Dammit,” Jack breathed slightly.  “That means the entire freakin’ battlefleet is deploying.”

“Confirmed, all analysis indicates over ninety-eight percent of of the Orionan battlefleet will deploy, to include four, no five Emperor-class battleships,” Delilah replied.  “Over ninety-eight percent of the Orionan battlefleet is projected to be present.”

“Uh, is your suit seeing anyone?” the 1st Platoon Leader, 2nd Lieutenant Jim Mulryan, suddenly asked.  “Because if not, I’d like to take her out.”

“Prepare a mind flash, setting Humans,” Jack said, ignoring the comment.

“Wait a second,” Panke started.  “What in the Hell is a mind flash?  That ain’t like that flashy thing Will Smith uses in that movie…damn, what’s the name?”

“No,” Jack said sharply.  “As a matter of fact, it is the complete and total opposite.  When this is complete, you will know just about everything I know.”

“I’m not so sure about this,” Hitchcock said.  “I don’t want some damn alien playing around in my brain.”

Jack pinned him with a glare, the look so intense that Hitchcock actually felt a momentary pang of fear.  The wild intensity in the man’s gaze told him that he had just used up his one free opportunity to be stupid.

“You don’t have to be sure,” Jack snapped, his eyes never wavering.  “You can walk right out that door right now, Lieutenant, and the only thing you’ll be sure of is that you will definitely be dead in thirty-one hours.”

There was a stunned silence in the room, every man present sure that Jack was not bluffing.

“Well, with a ringing endorsement like that,” Panke said, “let’s go ahead and do this mind flash thing.”

“Mind flash, prepared,” Delilah said.

“Have you even seen the woman who made that recording?  Is she available?” Mulryan replied.

“Ever seen a Gorgon?  You know, Medusa?”

“They’re myths,” Mulryan said, his voice showing his doubt.

“They’re not a myth, and she’s one,” Jack replied, completely deadpan.

“You’re shitting me,” Mulryan said.

“No, but you’re about to find that out anyway,” Jack said.  “Gentlemen, as I said before, once this is complete you will know just about everything I know in about five minutes.  This means you are about to absorb about six years worth of information all at once.  Your emotions will be heightened, as will your reaction to certain stimuli.”

“How many people have these suits?” Mulryan asked, his face skeptical.

“All members of the TEC have these suits, and they record our experiences every time they are put on until the owners are killed or the suits upgraded.”

“So we will know everything you have known, everything you have done for the last six years?” Jason asked, the interest in his voice clear.

“Yes, to include the sensory input, i.e. all my pain, all my nausea, everything,” Jack replied solemnly.  “First Sergeant, you might want to send someone for a mop now.”

“Why is that?” Panke asked.

“We’ll likely need one by the time we’re done.”

“How long is this going to take?” Panke asked.

“We’ll be done by the time the mop and bucket get back here.”

Panke leaned out the door.

“Specialist Peters, go get a mop and bucket and bring it back here,” Panke said.  “Wait for me to open this door.”

“Roger Top!” Peters replied, after which Panke closed the door.

“All on you, Sir,” Panke replied.

“Delilah, start flash.”

The experience was roughly the same, but different for each of the officers.

 

Jason found himself sitting out in space, looking back at Earth through a transparent window.  Suddenly he saw a hand extending a picture and recognized it as Jack’s.  Looking closer, he saw it was a picture of Amy, six years earlier.  Surprised, Jason felt his heart catch as he looked at his wife’s bright green eyes and red hair.

“Yeah, she’s beautiful,” he heard Jack say, causing him to jump.  He started to try and turn his head to the right, where he heard his friend’s voice, and had an intense moment of discomfort as his view started to rotate to the left.  Feeling his mind slide into madness, he mentally closed his eyes and found that stopped the nausea while still playing the images in his mind.

“Sorry about that,” Jack said.  “Best if you just listen and let the images flow—about the third time you do a mind flash, you start being able to change your field of view independent of the memories being viewed.”

Jason started to reply, then found that speaking started to make him ill.

“I really wouldn’t try to talk right now—like I said, flashing’s a bit intense.  Just listen.”

The next few moments were a fast forward of the journey to the ice planet of Barren.  There were periods of weightlessness, Jason feeling Jack’s initial joy followed by a gradual tiring of the sensation.  Finally, gravity returned, albeit at a stronger rate than what he was used to.  He found himself wanting to ask for an explanation, but remembered his friend’s advice and kept his mouth shut.  That decision had just been made when he was confronted by a Dominionite explaining that in an attempt to replicate Earth’s gravity, the (unpronounceable name)’s artificial gravity and inertial dampeners had both failed, something that could have been quite bad at FTL speeds.  Then just as he had time to process that information, the ship was orbiting Barren with its four moons, one quite close, and its bright red star.

“Planet’s a little too far away from the star for the surface to be very habitable,” Jack said.  “Should’ve heard the Russian contingent…those jokers were going off!  You’d think the aliens had said Beria was actually alive and in charge of the place.”

Jason fought the urge to shake his head at his friend, not sure if the movement would make him violently ill.  Lavrenty Beria had been Stalin’s KGB head, a fact that only Jack and other history freaks would remember. 

However, once they realized that everyone lived underneath the ice crust in advanced cities, they calmed down.”  The view cut to the interior of one of the cities, the technology far in advance of anything seen on Earth.  Jason watched as the person’s eyes scanned over a wide city panaroma, the expanse bustling with people.  Or not, he realized with a start and a closer look.  Many of the “people” were bipedal aliens, everything from lizardlike humanoids to multi-legged insectoid aliens.  As he looked at each different type, he felt his mind categorizing each of them, many of them too numerous to name.

“This city is New Avalon, the largest on Barren, population five hundred million sentient beings, two hundred million of them human.”

“Two hundred million?!”

“Oh yeah, guess I should cover that.  Basically, the Confederation has cured just about every disease known to Man.  We’re relatively lucky, actually—there are diseases that evade even the most advanced medicines among many of these races.”

“Still, two hundred million humans in one city?  What the hell?!”

“Well, Barren is sorta like Switzerland in the Confederation.  Neutral terrain, neutral native populace that can’t go off planet.”

“Wait a second…”

“Yeah, let me go ahead and get to that part,” Jack said.  There was a sensation of displaced time, then suddenly Jason found himself in a large hall that was full of a great number of aliens.  A tall, distinguished alien in what was obviously a full dress uniform stood at the center of the hall, his back ramrod straight.  Dominionite, his mind echoed.  Star Admiral Lihr Tobarakh, to be exact.

Across the room, a solitary alien stood up.  A bright light fell upon the alien, and Jason got his first good look.  The alien’s skin was a light red, the color of a tropical sunset.  This color was offset by bright, almost glowing, yellow eyes, four of them set in a broad, protruding face.  The creature’s mouth opened, and Jason saw several rows of sharp teeth as it began to speak.  Its voice was a deep, ominous rumbling.  It’s two arms were quite animated, indicating the depth of its emotion. 

Lepscallions, the most hated bastards in the ConfederationDespite their fierce appearance, the fuckers can’t fight their way out of a wet paper sack,” Jack spat.  “This idiot is known as Rax.”

Star Admiral Tobarakh, you stand accused of violating the laws of this august body.  Specifically, you have communicated with a less advanced species for purposes of exploitation, introduced non-quarantined specimens into a controlled population, and violated the Charter of the Confederation.  How do you plead?”

            The Dominionite ignored the Lepscallion, turning away from the alien and looking into the darkened chamber.  The look on the Dominionite’s face was one of utter contempt, the alien’s blue eyes glaring like baleful embers.  As he finished rotating around the room, his lips parted in a snarl.

            “So it has come to this, that those races which run, skitter, and hide in the face of the Orionans deign to prosecute one of those who guarantee their safety?  That a Lepscallion, a member of a race so pitiful at warfare fully half of its systems have been conquered, its members filling the Orionan larders, stands as my accuser is a symbol of all that is wrong with your ‘enlightenment’.”

            The hall erupted with noise, cries of shock and anger in thousands of tongues rising in a babble that threatened chaos, enlightened species or no.  Suddenly there was a high, keening noise, the piercing sound causing Jason to whince in a pain comparable to a swift kick in the groin.

            “Oops, sorry, forgot to tell you that these folks don’t use gavels,” Jack said with a sheepish grin.  “It’s even worse when you’re present.”

            That much was obvious from the utter silence that followed the instrument and Lihr visibly staggering before regaining his composure.

            “Your insults are an indication of your guilt and lack of development, Lihr Tobarakh.  No matter, this body finds you guilty and sentences you to banishment on the planet of Barren.  Per banishment rules, you are to be stripped of all titles and allowed to live whatever days remain to you without the intervention of nanotechnology or advanced medicines.  These proceedings are closed,” Rax snapped.

            There was a chiming sound, causing Jack to look around at his surroundings.

            “Well, your men will be coming out of their own flashes in about five minutes, so I’d better speed this up.  Unfortunately for Rax, that was most definitely not the end of the proceedings.  The Dominionites have a Constitutional Monarchy, and the Tobarakh’s are royalty—let’s just say by the time all was said and done, the Lepscallions were lucky that they didn’t wake up to the Second Fleet bombarding their planet.  Basically the Dominionites told them if Lihr was stripped of all titles, the Dominion would leave the war and take the chance that the Orionans would take so much time to digest the rest of the Confederation, specifically the Lepscallions, that the Dominionites would be able to defeat them with Human help.”

            Jason took stock of his nausea and decided to risk speaking.

            “Would they have been right?”

            “Maybe, but given that the Second Fleet was the cutting edge of technology at that point, probably not.”

            “Second Fleet?” Jason choked out, then immediately resolved to quit talking.

            “Rough translation that I’ll cover very quick. Basically, the First Fleet was the scratch group of vessels that fought over the first ten years of the Second Orion War—mainly some smaller warships and armed merchant cruisers. It’s now an honorary thing, as the learning curve was a bit steep at the start of the war and not many of those guys are around.” 

Jason marveled at how matter of fact his friend was about death and dying, talking about the destruction of an entire fighting force like he was discussing the weather.

“The Second Fleet was the first one to actually be constructed around purpose built warships—most of those vessels now patrol quieter sectors against Orionan raiders and pirates, although after the general amnesty offered for all pirates there aren’t so many of the latter.  The Third Fleet was specially constructed and saved for a vital occasion, that being the Battle of Taurus IV, the Lepscallion Homeworld.  That was the first use of the full Terran Expeditionary Corps, as we Humans had chosen to be called.  Some of us had already fought, especially Star Colonel Walthers and his merry band.  The TEC would’ve held the planet if the Lepscallions could fight worth a damn.”

Suddenly Jason found himself plopped down on a fertile plain, in the middle of a terrible combat.  His first sensation was of terrible scream over the comlink, followed by a blurred object hurtling across  his field of view from right to left, and he felt palpable shock.  The field of view whipped to the right, a targeting reticle swimming into the center of his field of view.  The sight in front of him made his blood run cold, or at least whomever’s field of view he was looking through’s blood run cold.

Advancing at a rapid clip just over the horizon, approximately twenty-five miles away, was a line of dark dots that stretched across the entire field of view.  While too far away to clearly see their shapes, a helpful image was suddenly projected just below the targeting reticle, with PRAETORIAN BATTLE ARMOR scrolling underneath it.  The “Praetorian” was humanoid in shape, with two thick legs and two bulbous arms extending from its broad shoulders.  Facts and figures rapidly scrolled by, Jason catching that its armor was approximately ten meters in height, five meters across.  As the dots continued to close, the animated Praetorian’s right arm suddenly split down the middle, the hand flipping back along the upper half, then both halves sliding back above the elbow to reveal a long, glistening blade.  The field of view looked up just in time for the entire advancing line to sparkle, then suddenly all was blackness.

 

Jason frantically came to, his eyes wide with terror and his arms swinging wildly.  Jack grabbed him, grabbing his friend close.

“Shh, shh, the rest of them aren’t woke up yet,” Jack murmured, comforting his friend.  “Sorry, but I wanted you to understand what we’re up against.”

“What the hell happened?” Jason gasped, his face suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat.

“You died,” Jack replied, letting his friend go.  “That was the feed from my 1st Platoon Leader, Chester McPherson.”

“What were those things?!”

“What the readout said, Praetorian battle armor led into battle by the Crown Prince himself.”

“Sweet Jesus, what was the range?”

“Twenty-three point six miles, to be exact.”

“Oh God.”  Suddenly Jason understood how much things had gone to Hell.

“If it makes you feel any better, that was a lucky shot, fired by the Crown Prince himself.  About a five percent hit chance, and Chester hadn’t raised his shields yet or the rail gun wouldn’t’ have killed him.  Taurus IV was a rude shock for all of us.”

“Sweet Jesus.”  The Powell’s max effective range was eight kilometers, and that was with a HEAT round.  That video had given Jason the impression chemical energy rounds wouldn’t be much use against those monsters.

“How many aliens are in each of those…things?” Jason asked.

“Aliens?” Jack asked with a near maniacal titter.  “Jason, there’s only one alien.”

Jason’s response was interrupted by Delilah signaling the end of the remaining men’s mind flash.

“Your men are getting ready to wake up,” Jack said grimly.  “I wasn’t present in their mind flashes, so they saw some things you didn’t and vice versa.”

“Things like what?”

“Things like what the aliens look like in the armor.  I’ll get to that later for you.”

In the end, only two people were sick, Mulryan just making it to the window before he hurled, Hitchcock spewing all over his own front before his eyes fully focused.  The remainder of the men were clearly shaken, the hardest veterans among them sitting with eyes wide and mouths agape.  Jack showed his first signs of sympathy, remembering back to his first introduction to the harsh realities of interstellar warfare.

Nothing like realizing you really are on an insignificant ball of dust in the grand scheme of things to make you question everything you’ve known.

“I apologize gentlemen.  Usually mind flashes are done in smaller increments, but as you can see, there is little time.”

“My God, we are all dead,” Panke said, his voice hollow.

“Well, glad to know there is some truth to the Trojan War,” someone else muttered, following the comment with a short bark of laughter.  “Although I’m not so sure about being a Christian and the Bible now that I know Goliath was an alien.”

“There still remains no good reason why David’s stone should have pierced Goliath’s helmet, if that makes you feel any better,” Jack replied drily.

“Oh, yeah, makes me feel just great to know that there is a God when Satan himself is coming to kill us all,” Hitchcock replied softly, his face still white as a sheet.

“You and your families will be safe,” Jack replied.  “We are shifting first priority to the military posts and any veterans we can find.  As you can see, death from disease should be a thing of the past.”

“So you mean all these cures for diseases, like cancer and Alzheimers that the Center For Disease Control just ‘figured out’—they’ve all been a freakin’ plot?” Panke said, his voice low and menacing.  “My mother died of breast cancer three years ago, just a couple years before the ‘cure’ officially came out.  Our freakin’ leaders have had it the whole time?!”

“Before you go getting upset, General Connelly is Weather Mountain talking to the G-8 leaders as we speak.”

“Talking?  Fuck that, I hope the bastard is killing them all,” Jason said with vehemence, his eyes brimming over with tears.  “Janet’s in Baltimore.  There’s not a chance, is there?”

Jack thought quickly, then shook his head.  Janet was Jason’s younger sister, and suddenly he found himself having to shut thoughts of her out of his mind.  Constantly underfoot as a child, Janet had grown to a quite attractive and smart woman.  If not for Amy, and the fact she knew just how much of a dog I was…Jack forced himself to stop thinking about her.

“Given current evacuation loads and available vessels, Delilah estimates there will be over five billion dead,” Jack said simply, his eyes hard.  “Right now we’re just trying to save whomever we can.”

“So in other words, no,” Jason snapped.  “Bastard!”

“Jason, five billion people are going to die.  Five billion.  One in roughly six people will be alive in forty-eight hours.”

“My God,” someone sobbed, his sentiment echoed by several oaths as everyone else in the room did the math.  Suddenly the magnitude of their fate started to hit home.

“So who is the chooser of the slain?” Hitchcock asked mirthlessly.  “What’s the criteria for these Noah’s Arks?”

“Priority will be given to trained active military and their immediate families that share the same domicile,” Jack said heavily.  “Followed by women and children evaluated by DNA coding.”

“So only the best and the brightest, huh?” Hitchcock asked, his face a mask of anger.  “Guess that means everyone in my family but me is pretty much screwed.”

“I didn’t make this…”

“I know,” Hitchcock said wearily.  “What’s the plan?”

Mecha are already being dispatched to find men and women who have been identified through various DNA repositories throughout the world,” Jack replied.  “Unfortunately, that means things are going to rather heavily weighted towards the developed world.”

“Guess we’ve been screwing the Third World for the last two or three hundred years, why stop in the last few hours?” Jason asked bitterly.

Jack gave his friend a look, sighing.  Jason had been that rarest of individuals at West Point—an honest to God Liberal.  While not as rare as an African-American Klu Klux Klan member, it was in the same ballpark—with about the same social stigma among one’s peers.  While Jack had been judicious enough to realize his friend’s views had some merit, he still felt that many of them didn’t.  One of latter was the fact that the Third World’s plight was some great plot of the developed world.

Although after this colossal goat fuck, I’m not so sure.

“I’m fairly sure that the people responsible are going to be hating life soon,” Jack observed grimly.

“So who else knows everything besides us?” Jason asked.

“The entire military senior leadership of the state is on the way to Topeka as we speak.  For now, you need to activate your battalion’s alert tree, the brigade if you can trust them to keep things under their hat,” Jack replied.  “I don’t know who your senior officer back here is, but we need to start getting transportation set up to get everyone here on post.  Make sure the fucker understands that we don’t have enough time to draw up a damn PowerPoint decision brief, wargame this out, and everything else.  We need to get the ball rolling now.”

“What are you going to go do?” Jason asked.

“Figure out how we’re going to set up the damn evacuation from the airfield.  Go home and get your wife, Jason.  Amy’s a great woman, and she’s not going to take it very well that she’s going to have to leave her family.”

Once more the enormity of what was happening hit every man in the room.

“I hope it’s slow and painful,” Hitchcock seethed.  No man in the room needed to wonder what he was talking about.

“If you knew General Connelly, you’d understand that’s not going to be a problem.”