The Starwing journals
    Volume 6
    Infinity Minus One
 Before reading this, you might want to check out the index, it contains information
on the species that inhabit the galaxy, as well as some other important stuff.

Chapter Listing
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |
| 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 |

Chapter 1: Introductions
                                                13/2/484/25 (a year ago)
      My boots hardly made a sound as I walked down the brightly lit corridor. The time, eleven hundred hours, the place, Verash military
headquarters, Vera prime. I knocked on the door marked “Gen. Gray” and straightened my uniform, my breath came rather unsteadily; I heard
general Gray croak, “You may enter.” I opened the door and marched inside, halting exactly twenty-four inches in front of the desk, “Lieutenant
first class Starwing reporting as ordered sir.” My salute was as crisp as the creases in my uniform; a month of leave hadn’t hurt my military
bearing a bit. “As you were, take a seat.” I sat down and waited to hear what he was going to say next. He puffed his throat in and out a couple of
times,“ Before I continue, let me take a look at your dossier.” He tapped quickly on a holographic keypad and looked intently at the projected
screen in front of him.

Species: Verash
Type: Fox
Name: Fox Tiberius Starwing
Rank: Lieutenant 1st class
Age: 20
Height (from tips of ears): 6’4”
Weight: 152 lbs

Notes: As you might expect with a Starwing, Fox is an outstanding fighter pilot, one of the best. Graduated the academy with the highest honors.
Shows outstanding leadership potential, enough to lead an elite squad. He is Trustworthy and able to handle the great stress of battle despite his
young age.
      There was silence as he stroked his chin thoughtfully; He scanned another few documents, then slowly faced me, his large frog eyes
boring into mine. “Your records are impressive Fox, and I have decided to promote you early. With this promotion comes greater responsibility,
and a new squad…An elite squad.” I could hardly contain my excitement as he handed me a data stick, “That stick has all their dossiers on it, as
well as some other information. You are officially relieved of command of squad K three thirty-four and are now commander of the newly
commissioned V two twenty-fifth Special Forces unit.” He stood and I followed his cue, I watched him remove my three silver lieutenants stripes
and put on the four gold ones of a corporal second class. He shook my hand and then pulled out a small, arrowhead shaped patch. “This designates
you as the leader of an elite squad.” I looked at it, the stylized figure of an ‘E’ was emblazoned over a shield, beneath it was a crossed sword and
assault rifle, a star indicated that I was the leader. “Sir…I don’t know what to say…Am I even ready for this?” He clapped me on my shoulder
“Your records indicate you are, good luck out there corporal. I would recommend looking at those dossiers when you get back. Oh, and you got a
whole new barracks to yourself, well until your squad arrives. You are dismissed” I stepped out in a daze, and almost crashed into a huge armored
figure. I apologized and stepped around him, “Holy Toledo! That guy must have been almost eight feet tall!!” I thought.
      As I walked out to my new barracks I shook my head in amazement. “Well Fox, you’ve only been in the military two years and look at you,
you’re a corporal, and leading an elite squad.” I put my thumb on a small panel at the door and grinned as it flashed “Access granted” I stepped in
and took a deep breath before raising my hands above my head and shouting “YEEE-HAAAA!” I did an aerial over to the computer near my rack
and slapped the data stick in. After it had hummed for a moment, I pulled the dossiers up. The first image that met my eyes was of a Tiger type,
carrying a huge gun. I put a stick of gum in my mouth and scanned downward:

Species: Verash                                              Species: Verash
Type: Tiger                                                Type: Falcon
Name: Tiger “Bruno” Steel                    Name: Talon “Hawkeye” Kestrel
Rank: Lieutenant 2nd class                         Rank: Lieutenant 1st class
Age: 24                                                      Age: 22
Height: 6’11”                                      Height: 6’2”
Weight: 213 lbs.                                         Weight: 136 lbs
Notes: Heavy weapons specialist,             Notes: Using his sniper pistol he
       Rather thickheaded. An                              Can drop targets at a
        Outstanding all around                                  Mile without a scope.
        Fighter.                                                        His rifle has an effective
                                                                          Range of five miles.
Species: Verash                                      Species: Verash
Type: Weasel                                      Type: Raccoon
Name: Mike “Sawbones” Fix               Name: Richard “Slick” Bandito
Rank: Lieutenant 1st class                           Rank: Lieutenant 2nd class
Age: 23                                              Age: 20
Height: 7’ 2” (due to long neck)           Height: 5’ 7”
Weight: 192 lbs                                  Weight: 130 lbs
Notes: A superb medic,                              Notes: Utility guy extraordinaire,
          As well as a good fighter.                             Also a skilled thief and pick
          A master of 21st Millennium                         pocket. Very intelligent, wide
          Jiu-jitsu.                                                       Knowledge spectrum.
          “Looks good so far,” I thought to myself, “lemme check out the last two. Oh boy, I sure hope they approved my request.”
Species: Verash
Type: Fox (Female)
Name: Vicenzia Callisti Kitray
Rank: Corporal 2nd class
Age: 20
Height (from tips of ears): 6’1”
Weight: 139 lbs
Notes: Part of your old squad Fox,
           I got your request, and approved
           It. Good luck with your engagement
           Plans. –General Gray
          When I read this I grinned from ear to ear and tried to find a word to express my excitement, “RIGHTEOUS!!!” After a second I laughed,
“Man! That’s an old one! Let me see here…16th millennium!” My eyes dropped to the last entry.
Species: Human
Type: N/A
Name: Miles Gladius
Rank: Lieutenant 1st class
Age: 32
Height: 7’ 10”
Weight: 376 lbs
Notes: Easily distinguished by his
           Unmatched stature and custom
           Armor. Very wise and battle experienced
           Do not question his advice.
I looked at his picture and recognized the armored guy that I had bumped into outside the general’s office. “Miles Gladius…hmm, for some
reason this guy looks familiar.” I thought, but I couldn’t figure out where I had seen him before. “Still, it looks like he could do some serious
damage.” I studied the two swords that were strapped to his back. After I had reviewed the rest of the documents I stowed my gear away and
examined the rest of the barracks. When that was done I took off my beloved camo vest and hung it on the uniform holder, then flopped onto my
bunk and waited until everyone showed up.
      I was reading some information on the four great Mythphec swords, when the door opened and the room was darkened for a moment as the
huge figure of Miles blocked the light; Richard, and Mike were following him. I rolled to my feet and walked over to the near giant. Some
remembrance stirred in my mind, and yet I still couldn’t place it. “Miles Gladius…I am honored to have you as part of this squad.” He offered me
his huge hand and we shook, “Well, you must be Fox Starwing, the ace fighter pilot that I’ve heard about.” “Well either that or it was my father,
Vyker Starwing. He can take me to school when it comes to flying. But hey, when you’ve done it as long as he has, you can’t help but kick butt.”
Mike and Richard both stepped forward and saluted me. “Glad to meet you guys, I hope our friendship grows quickly.” Richard chuckled, “Oh
don’t worry sir, I think we’ll get along just fine.” As his grin widened I remembered what was said in his dossier and clapped my hand to my thigh.
But it was too late; he roared with laughter and produced my wallet. I snickered and crammed it back into my pocket. “Gee corporal, you took that
well, you should see how some other people react.” His voice changed and he strutted about, “Whaaaat! You little upstart! Drop and give me
twenty!” By this time I was laughing outright and managed to choke, “Now that was the best impersonation of Major Gutmann I have ever seen!”
      As we continued to talk, the door opened and Vicenzia stepped in; after not seeing her for a month she seemed more beautiful than ever,
and a gasp nearly escaped my lips. I stood up just a little bit straighter, “Vixy, am I ever glad to see you…I noticed your promotion when I looked
through your files, good work.” A smile tiptoed across her face, “Well Fox, together again…when I talked to the general he said impressive
things about you. I’m glad that I am still under your careful leadership.” Under my fur I could feel myself turning red, “Thanks…well hey, when I
first saw you in that Enfec detention facility I swore that I wasn’t gonna let you out of my sight.” She put her hand on her hip, “I’m that good
looking?” “HECK YEAuHHUUMMPPHH >choke< hrrruummpphh…uhhumm” Miles looked at me “Come on, spit it out Fox.” I blew my wad of
chewing gum into a trash capsule and flashed one of my killer grins. Vixy knew exactly what I meant to say, she shook her head and said
laughingly, “Still the same Fox I knew back in the old three-three-four.” Richard looked at me with knowing eyes and asked half sarcastically,
“Wow! Are you gonna propose or something?” I glared at him and thought to myself, “How in the name of Shartoth did he find out about that?!!”
Not wanting to blow my cover, I changed the subject, “Hey! Where the heck is Tiger.” Mike rolled his eyes, “I’ve worked with him before, unless
his C.O. is behind him the whole way, he’s generally late.” At precisely that moment, the door burst open and Tiger swaggered in. “HOWDY
FOX!” I sized him up; a bazooka was slung over his shoulder, along with a retrieval cannon. He was holding another huge gun in his hands. I
pointed, “What is that thing, I’ve never seen a bigger gun in my life.” He brandished it, “This is an immolator, I call it my toaster. It was originally
designed to take out soft skinned vehicles and light tanks, but I found that it positively erases foot soldiers. Generally there are only melted guns
and ashes left.” He added in an undertone, “With the increasing hostilities of the Subcon I decided to test it on one of them. It works, that’s all I
need to say.”
      “All right, now that everyone is here, let’s do some formal introductions. My name is Fox Starwing, and I have the privilege of leading this
squad. A few of my skills include demolitions, bypassing security systems, moving as silently as a ghost, and proficiency with this.” I drew my
thunderstaff and whirled it through the air. After demonstrating several difficult moves, I put it back, “ And I’m one of the best starfighter pilots in
the galaxy.” I motioned to Mike and he spoke up, “Well, my name is Mike Fix, and I’m a medic, I patch you guys up when you get shot. I know my
assault rifle inside and out, and I can administer a shot in under a second…Fox, I’ll demonstrate on you.” I stepped up to him and watched in
amazement as his arm became a blur. A split second later an empty syringe dropped to the floor. “Hey what the heck was in that thing,
adrenaline?” “No, it was a neuro-stim shot, it makes your mind sharp, and gives you a boost in energy. Also I must demonstrate something else.
Fox, punch me as hard as you can.” I remembered about the Judo and so I thought, “Hehe, I’ll distract with a quick kick to the shin...” As my leg
shot out, his boot hooked it and brought it up into his hands. He twisted my foot and pushed backwards, I corkscrewed through the air and landed
on my back with a crash. I groaned and stood up, “I didn’t ask you to start the judo lessons just yet.” He laughed, “Don’t worry, with my teaching
it’ll only take a year and you’ll be almost as good as I am…I’m through, you wanna go Richard.” Richard looked around, “My name is Richard
Bandito, I’m the utility guy. If any of you need something in the field, odds are I’ve got several of it in my backpack;” he tapped a normal
camouflage pack. “Also, if any of you ever need something that’s really hard to get, I can almost always get it for you in less than twenty-four
hours. One of my hobbies is negotiation, and people tell me I’m pretty good. I fight with an assault rifle and this.” He opened up his backpack and
took out several tubes. He then proceeded to lock them together and attach a magazine of rockets. “A collapsible rocket launcher! Brilliant!”
Tiger exclaimed. I scratched my head, “How the heck did that thing fit into your backpack? And you say you have more stuff in there?!” “That’s my
secret, and nobody has ever found out, not even my good friend Mike,” the tall weasel just shrugged his shoulders. I nodded towards the falcon in
the corner, “My name is Talon Kestrel, and I’m the sniper. My rifle has infra-vision, thermal, sonic, and brainwave imaging, and I can shoot a fly
off a wall at five hundred meters…with my pistol. Here hand me that cup from over there.” He filled the cup with water and held it at arms length.
His breathing became undetectable. I looked at the water in the cup and folded my arms, there were no ripples on its surface. I nodded “ Not bad,
you’ll fit in just perfectly.” Talon held it still for a couple of seconds longer than let his breath out. “I like performing sixty-caliber brain surgery
on Subcon warlords as they eat breakfast… I’m through, who’s next.” Tiger stepped forward, “Eegghh, My name is Tiger Steel, and I’m the heavy
weapons guy. If all of you were standing just a little bit closer, I could kill you all with one shot from my immolator… I’d rather use my bare
hands instead of a pistol, and I like large booms. I do my job well…I remember the time that my squad was pinned down by three Enfec tanks.
Since I was the only guy with a bazooka, I jumped out of cover and opened fire. Before they had hit me once, I had managed to blast two of them.
The third one retreated, and so I charged after it, I finally got it too. And then there was the time that …” I cleared my throat, “Uuuhh Tiger, Tell us
some other time, we still got two more people to go.” He looked like I had just ordered him to use a pistol, “Well if the corporal insists.”
Vicenzia spoke up, “I’m Vicenzia Kitray; you can call me Vixy. I was part of Fox’s old squad, and I’m tougher than I look. Fox basically chose my
primary weapon for me when he had this thunderstaff made as a gift.” She took out a staff that was exactly like mine, but slightly thinner, and spun
it so fast that it almost disappeared. “ I do a lot of what Fox does, but you’ll learn more about me as time goes on… Miles.” Miles put his helmet
on a bunk and began, “My name is Miles Gladius, My role in this squad is a tactical advisor, and jack of all trades. I can split Subcon down the
middle with my sword, and can break open blast doors with my bare hands and armor augmentation.” Tiger’s mouth dropped open and he made a
strangling noise. Miles looked at me and said quietly, “I have known Fox’s father for a long time.” It all clicked in my mind, “YOU! Now I
remember, you were the tall guy that always wore armor, even when you came over to our house. I saw you and dad talking together often when I
was younger, I don’t know why I didn’t recognize you outside the generals office.” He smiled, “I do, you had just been promoted, and assigned a
new squad, you’re mind was on other things. Besides, I got new armor.” I shook his hand vigorously, “It’s good to see you again Miles, I’m glad
that I am in command of so great a warrior.” He chuckled, “you’ve grown into quite a young man yourself, Fox.”
      We spent the rest of the day setting up the barracks, talking about our past assignments and sharing old war stories. “You guys can choose
your bunks, the only favor I ask is that you keep your bunk and personal space inspection ready. I hate a messy barracks, and believe me we have
some real trash heaps on this base. Vixy, your room is through that door over there.” Miles looked dubiously at his energy bunk and then turned to
me, “I don’t think that I’ll fit, maybe I should just sleep in the corner.” “Nahhh, I’ll get somebody to bring in a bigger one. Do you sleep with your
armor on, or off?” “On, well most of the time. The only time I take it off is for the occasional shower, and for parades where you must wear the
dress uniform.” I nodded, “Ok, I’ll have to get a really, really big one.”
      After everyone was done putting their gear away, we went to the chow hall for dinner. Miles took entire trays of food to our table, and
made them disappear with astonishing rapidity. “Holy smokes Miles, you’re gonna be the terror of the chow hall, and the death of the chefs.” He
emptied a bowl of stew in one sip. “Hey, when you’re as big as me, and work as hard as I do, you need a lot of nourishment.” He finished his meal
before we did, then went to the dessert area. Tiger was behind him, and came back grumbling with an empty cone in his hands, “That Miles guy is a
real piece of work, he just emptied the ice cream machine.”
      We went to the firing range afterward so I could get an idea of how we stood marksmanship wise. Talon cleaned our clocks, and it was a tie
for second between Miles, Vixy and I. Tiger couldn’t compete with us because of how his weapons blew things up. What he did on the Anti-tank
range was quite impressive though. Richard and Mike didn’t shoot as well as us, but Mike took his assault rifle apart and put it back together in
thirty seconds, with his eyes closed. One particular aspect of their rifles intrigued me, “How can you empty four magazines that fast and not have
your barrel got so hot that it deforms?” “Well, since we were both from the same squad, and then got transferred here, our old commander got us
a going away gift. Our barrels are made of solid octainium, second toughest metal known. We can theoretically fire at least ten magazines in rapid
succession before the heated barrel starts to melt other parts in the gun.” “Interesting, I really like how after you empty a mag or two, smoke just
pours from those vents on the side.” He grinned and whispered “Me too!” They both knew how to use the grenade launchers on their rifles very
well, better than anyone I had seen recently.
      As we walked back towards our barracks, I thought of how effective we would be in combat. “I think that we are gonna kick some tail when
we get deployed. This squad is going to go far.” Miles nodded his head, “We’ve got a good leader, and skilled members. I heartily agree.” The rest
of the evening passed quickly as we talked long into the night, and finally went to sleep.


                        Chapter 2: The Shadow of War
                                                22/4/485/25(the present)
I grinned as I remembered that day, the day that I had been given command of my squad. Not much has changed since then, our friendships have
grown considerably, and we have become much more deadly. We have had several high profile assignments in the past several months, and I have
been promoted to Corporal 1st class. About two months ago, Vixy and I were formally engaged. Richard knew about it only minutes after I
proposed; I still haven’t figured out how he finds out stuff so fast.
      A really cool thing that happened between then and now was my gaining the ability to breath fire. I know what you’re thinking; you probably
think that I am some kind of strange mutant or a super hero. I’m not, I wanted a weapon that I could keep with me at all times and not actually look
like I was armed. So I went to the Nee’ek, the last word in bioengineering in this universe. After paying them a large sum of money, they made
several organs for me that produced two liquids; when the liquids mix, and make contact with oxygen, it takes a split second for them to
spontaneously combust (it takes a split second so that the flames don’t burn my muzzle). These organs were placed inside my body with holding
chambers and some small tubes. If you were to look inside my mouth, and I were to manually open up the tubes, you would see two small holes in
the back of my throat. When I want to breathe fire, all I do is think about it like you would think to tense your muscles. The holding chambers and
tubes work in unison to spray the liquids quite powerfully, giving the fire a range of about five to seven meters. Vixy can breath ice in the same
      Before I continue, a word about the stardate system. The first number is the day of the month; there are no names for the months, they are
just numbered. The second is the month; the third is the year of the age, which is a millennium. The final one shows what age it is; in this case it is
the twenty-fifth age/millennium.
      The cruiser we are aboard entered the warp just three hours ago; it’s destination, the Verash home planet of Vera Prime. My squad and I are
part of the army that is being sent to take back our planet from the Subcon, and as you might expect many people are nervous. I have faced the
Subcon before so I am not as nervous, but when you are up against a couple hundred thousand even I have some butterflies. I really wish that I was
providing air cover; I make those Subcon anti-aircraft gunners look terrible when I am flying. When it comes to fighting them on solid ground, I
may be way more graceful, but they study war from the age of three. Their kindergarten is centered on fighting with wooden bludgeons and stun
blasters. This toughens them up and identifies the leaders early. To me their big disadvantages are large size, and slow reflexes. Their advantages
are many though, they are very strong, unbelievably tough, and have huge guns, plus the fact that more than half their economy is centered on war.
They have to be the most well equipped army in the universe. Fortunately, their technology is not as high as some other races, and they like to use
clubs as melee weapons.
      We should arrive in one and a half days. Then we run the Subcon blockade, blow some of their ships up and land our troops on Bald Top, a
small mountain about two hundred miles from the capital city. Then they will try to drive us away, but we should have time to set up our defenses
and prepare.
      Earlier in the afternoon, I went down to the armory and chose the suits of armor my squad would wear. Usually I don’t like to wear armor
because it restricts mobility and dexterity, which are two of my key strengths, but I figured that it would be better to have more protection. I
chose six suits of Mk-8 combat skin. This kind is one of the newest models, and has some unique features. The helmet doesn’t actually cover
your face; it is a crescent of metal that rises about an inch from your head. When you wear it, it looks like the smooth crest of a Kyna bird.
Instead of protecting you by a layer of metal, it projects a clear force field “bubble” around your head that protects it. It latches on to the collar
ring of the armor for power. The helmet actually has a neural link connected to the armor, which has fibers of sherisium running through it. This
means that as you think to move your arms or legs, the neural link will pick up your brain waves and move the armor in unison with you by using
the sherisium as “muscles.” I tried one on and noticed that when I activated the power it became like it wasn’t there, and actually increased my
strength a little. Another cool feature on these new models is the active camouflage. There are photoreceptors on the armor that pick up the color
of the ground and your surroundings, and then alter the suit’s color to hide you in any environment. This is the first suit of armor that I feel like I
can fight in; my squad and I put them on and got familiar with their operation over the next few hours.
      I do not like the position of our cabin. It is right near the hull, and if it were breached, we would be the first ones to be killed. It does
provide a spectacular view of the warp tunnel though. I trust our gunners and shield operators to let nothing get through. I’m dead tired from all
the activity of the last few days, and so I ordered everyone to turn in a little earlier than normal. As I lay on my bunk, I heard Miles humming “Old
Soldiers Never Die” one of his favorite songs. A smile crept across my face as I was listening, and I dropped off.
                The cycling of the action on a gun wakened me, and my instincts took over. In one smooth move I rolled off my bunk and dropped to
the floor, drew my alien energy carbine and aimed it at the sound. Miles sat against the wall with his gun cleaning kit laid out around him and was
busy polishing his enormous pistols. I sighed, stood up and folded the stock on the carbine back under the barrel. “Miles, you gotta be careful
when you do things like that, I might have taken a shot at you.” Miles looked at me, “don’t worry about that, I’m in my armor.” I showed him my
carbine, neatly folded, and he said, “ Hmmm, that might have gotten through.” I awakened my squad and banged on the wall to Vixy’s room. There
was a crash and loud cursing, and my eyebrows shot up. Miles raised his gaze from his pistol, glanced at me and said quietly, “Fox, that’s the
wrong wall.” I thought for a second and replied, “Yeah, you’re right, she would never use language like that.” I went over to the other wall and
tapped on it softly. No reply, so I banged harder, still no reply. I was contemplating using my boot when there was knock at the door, I opened it
and she stepped in. I looked at my wrist computer and said, “My alarm hasn’t even gone off yet, how is it that you’re ready?” She glanced through
the window at the blue warp tunnel that was racing buy, “Today I decided I was going to bang on your wall and wake you up, so I got up a little
early, but for some reason you got the jump on me again.” I grinned and chuckled a little. “Eegghh, your getting silly Fox, that’s what a woman will
do to you” Tiger said. “Well if you could get a ‘woman’ you might get a little silly yourself” I shot back. “Whaaaat! Me? Silly?! NEVER!” he
roared emphatically. I just nodded and decided to drop the subject. Tiger’s still thick headed as ever, so he generally wins arguments; he never was
a guy to use logic, just really big guns. I rubbed the crystal ring on my index finger and remembered what everyone’s faces looked like when I told
them that Vixy and I had been engaged. Maybe when everything cools down with the Subcon I can start thinking about the wedding.
      I bellowed at my squad to turn off their energy bunks and then did an informal inspection. Because we are an elite squad, we can wear
whatever we think is best. I wear my BDU pants and a combat vest with my camo vest over it. Everybody seemed to be squared away so we
trooped down to the mess hall. Miles eats like an Atlan rock lizard, about three times the rest of us, so when the chefs see him they make a large
serving up special. We sat down at a table and began to eat, a few minutes later a golden eagle came over to our table. It was Major Gutman, my
C.O. “ Corporal Starwing, the briefing is at thirteen hundred in room 2B-5.” I stood, snapped a salute, and tried to say “yes sir” but the food in my
mouth got in the way. He brushed off the crumbs that I had puffed onto his uniform and gave me the evil eye, “Swallow, then say it.” I gulped and
said “yes sir” he returned the salute and walked away. I sat down and looked at Miles “You know, sometimes he’s a little harsh, but generally he’s
a pretty nice guy, and he takes military discipline seriously. I’m glad I’m under him and not captain Holt.” Tiger made a gagging noise and Miles
mumbled his approval through a mouthful of biscuit. We finished our meal rapidly and Miles thanked the chefs.
      We took some time to practice at the target range after we had eaten. Talon used his pistol and began drilling his target’s head full of
holes. Tiger went to the “heavy weapons” section and blasted away with all he had, blowing up several simulated tanks in the first couple of
minutes. Miles used both his pistols, and I tell you they sound like cannons when they go off. He thoroughly enjoys the boom and hefty kick
delivered by them. Since Vixy and I use the same primary weapons (double Mythphec thunderstaff) and those weapons are a bit different from
most, we have to set up the holo targets to sense different kinds of hits. Her staff is a little thinner and lighter than mine and so is able to be
wielded a little bit quicker. Its only disadvantage is that it does less damage, but the faster speed makes up for it.
      For several hours there were clickings from Talon’s silenced pistol, large booms from Miles’s, and explosions and laughter from Tiger’s
position. Our staffs have a kind of crackle and then a peal of thunder. Richard and Mike both have fully automatic select fire weapons and they
thoroughly ventilated many targets. We all racked up our scores and as usual Talon won. “If our military was made up of guys all trained like you,
the Subcon wouldn’t have a chance,” I said. He grinned, “Yeah, but just remember, snipers can be defeated by hiding from them, the military needs
people like you to go in and actually take ground.” I nodded,“ Lets go get a quick lunch before heading to the briefing.”
      I always make it a point to be at briefings and other important things fifteen minutes early. So we sat in our seats and talked about the great
shots we had made until the room started to fill. General Brandock came in and roared his greeting. He is a lion type, and the only guy who has a
voice gruffer than his is Miles in a bad mood. Then he pointed to a map and began. “If we are going to manage a complete take back of our planet,
we must secure a strong initial position. That is why we have chosen Bald Top as our first point of insertion. There will be sixty thousand troops
in the first landing, and another sixty thousand should follow after the first dropships are cleared. Tanks will accompany the second landing, and it
should be about this time that the Subcon attack. Because of the rather difficult task of taking down at least two, maybe four regiments of Subcon
(a regiment is 30,000 troops), all our elite squads will be part of the first landing. We will put troops down all over the planet, but this will be our
primary strike force because it is so close to the capital city.” So this was it, I thought, all we got to do is wipe out about 100,000 Subcon and
hold Bald Top. Miles looked at me and said, “Fox, this is going to be more dangerous than anything we have done before.” I leaned over and
whispered, “That’s why I got the suits of armor, and besides, we have you. You’ve got to be as good as a couple thousand Subcon.” “I’m not
invincible, Fox, and the odds are against us. We will have time to set up defenses though, and that should give us the advantage.” General Brandock
said that the ship would be emerging from the warp at about 0300 tomorrow, which will have us making planetfall at about 1200.
      Vixy used the time after the briefing to buy her crossbow. She has been looking at different manufacturers by way of the galactic link in
her SLC-50 (star link computer), and she bought the best model available. These tek-bows fire their arrows or bolts at speeds many times the
speed of sound, they generally make a laser like noise and the arrow lights up as it tears through the air. Vixy wanted a silent one to use for covert
ops, so she ordered the best. The teleport technology we have is incredible, she just set her SLC to receive mode, then checked the package and
cleared it through. The crossbow holds bolts in the stock, and feeds them up when you cock the string. It has a scope with night-vision, thermal
imaging, brainwave imaging, and several other modes. She also ordered a case of poisoned bolts that are so deadly they can kill a Subcon in
seconds. There is a small sabot that protects the user from the envenomed tip until it is fired.
      I spent the afternoon resting and discussing plans with Miles and my squad. Several other squad leaders came and asked Miles some
questions because they know that he is one of the most battle experienced beings on the ship. At dinner there was an eerie silence in the mess
hall. People knew that some would not eat at the mess hall again. Miles gave me some advice, “Use terrain to your advantage, and always try to
hold the upper ground. When you’re melee fighting, keep your head about you and use your reflexes to their utmost. Focus on the things at hand,
Focus on parrying every single attack thrown at you, and when your opponent is off balance, press in for the kill and don’t stop until they fall.
When you’re at long range, keep your head down and trigger pulled. You’ve survived thus far, and if you do what you’ve been doing, you ought to
walk out of this one as well. Think, don’t feel.”
      As I lay on my bunk, I remembered Miles’ words and wrote them down here for future reference. Before racking out, I looked each of my
squad mates in the eye and said “It is going to be an honor to fight with you tomorrow.” There was silence as they each shook my hand and headed
off to bed. I pulled Vixy aside and repeated Miles’ instructions to her. She nodded, straightened her shoulders and walked out of our room. As the
door slid shut with a click, I looked at Miles and said “I sure hope we don’t lose anyone tomorrow.” He nodded grimly and said “Tomorrow has
enough worries of it’s own, let it worry about itself. Get some sleep, Corporal.”

                                      Chapter 3: First Blood
      There was a tremendous crash and my eyes flew open. The ship gave a lurch like something had hit it and all of us besides Miles were
thrown out of our bunks and into a corner. Miles was standing and toppled over like a tree, I wondered how long he had been up and if he really
needed sleep at all. Richard’s voice came weakly from the bottom of the pile, “If I’m not already flat enough, would you have Miles jump on us
and make me flatter.” I apologized and got off the pile, Tiger was groaning loudly about a “broken back” and I glared at him with my, “If your back
was broken you wouldn’t be able to move.” He carefully got up and stopped complaining. Vixy burst in; clad in full armor, the ends of her staff
glowing slightly with St. Elmo’s fire. “I think that we’re being boarded!” Then she looked around and saw Richard still lying on the ground
groaning, “Oh, I guess you already know.” There was another lurch and only Vixy and I stayed on our feet (we have superb reflexes and balance).
There was a groaning and cracking noise, and my mouth dropped open in horror. A small crack began to travel horizontally across half our wall.
Then it gaped open and I felt the vacuum of space begin to tug at my body. I sucked in my breath and grabbed for something to hold onto when
there was a kind of a buzz and electric whooshing sound and a blue, transparent force field covered the crack. We all let out our breaths and Miles
said, “Now I remember, I should have told you guys but I forgot. The captain told me that this ship is equipped with breach seal, we didn’t have to
worry.” Everybody else stood up shakily and we told Miles to remember next time.
      We heard the voice of General Brandock come through the intercom “Attention all troops, we have been boarded. For those on level one,
move to hanger 1A-3. If you are on level two go to hanger 2B-1…” “That’s us!” I said. We hastily donned our armor, and I snugged my rocket
pack down until it was tight on the shoulder plates. Wow! I didn’t think that it would fit over the armor. My X-14 rocket pack uses a neural link in
a special helmet to control it when I am not wearing armor, but because this armor has a neural link, it interfaces quite nicely. This helmet does
have a HUD, but it’s not designed for flying. Miles put his helmet on and I heard the clicks of his armor sealing. The squad moved out into the
main corridor and looked at one off the many holo-displays. “See, they’re already fighting in the hanger.” Miles said. He looked closer, “The
Subcon have two personal tanks in there and about a hundred troops, this isn’t gonna be easy.” We decided to go to the hanger, and once inside,
split up. With help from the hundred twenty-five troops already in there we could cover the Subcon from three sides. We sprinted down the
hallway and slid to a stop outside the hanger.
      The doors to the hanger were already open and we could hear the banking of heavy Subcon guns, and the quick, controlled bursts of Verash
assault rifles. I looked and saw that the Subcon were facing perpendicular to us and were pinning down the seventy-five or so troops that were still
fighting. Our troops were behind some crates and fighters that were close to the left hand wall.
      Vixy, Talon, and Tiger went to the left while Miles, Richard, and I went to the right. Mike went to help some wounded soldiers who were
lying in a corner. As we turned to the left and followed the right-hand wall, Richard dove behind some crates and began to take those familiar
tubes out of his backpack. I could almost see Miles grin inside his helmet. We began to sneak through the fighters, some of them blown up, some
just flipped. We were about in the middle up against the wall when the Subcon commander spotted us. He barked a quick command, and I
translated it for Miles. “There’s two more, both rear elements take them down.” Miles rested his pistols on the fuselage of the ship we were
behind and growled, “Then let’s give em a hot one.” “Yes! They only think Miles and I came in,” I thought to myself, “the rest of the guys might be
able to do a surprise attack.” I felt the sweet slap of the muzzle blast as Miles took two careful shots, one Subcon took a graze to the shoulder, but
the other one was not as lucky. The explosive shell hit his chest squarely and there was a reddish-brown puff; He crumpled to the ground. “Nice
shot!” I said as I put the stock of my energy carbine against my shoulder and clicked the charge button (it’s the single most powerful ranged
weapon I have). My steel gray eyes sighted down the smooth, reflective surface of the top of the carbine. After three seconds a small green light
came on and I squeezed the trigger, a large greenish-white bolt of energy leapt from the barrel and took off a Subcon’s arm, armor and all. He
looked at the stump of his shoulder where green sparks were still shooting out, and then picked up his gun from off the ground with his good hand
and continued to advance. I didn’t bother charging this time, I pulled the trigger and held it down; It recoiled against my shoulder about twelve
times a second. Fully automatic fire with this weapon is truly awesome; in three seconds about thirty-five bolts had burnt off the Subcon’s front
armor, and turned his face into blackened carbon. He collapsed heavily with almost no head to speak of.
      Most of the Subcon shots were missing, but one glanced off of Miles’ shoulder plate, and another rippled my fur as the energy field
around my head deflected it. They weren’t doing much to us at range so they charged, hoping to push the fighter back against the wall and crush us.
I took this lull as an opportunity to ignite my rocket pack and shoot twenty feet into the air. Miles was ready and instead of waiting for them to
push him, he actually pushed them back and then flipped the fighter onto them, trapping half of them underneath it. I was about to cheer but my
rocket pack for the first and last time, failed. I fell twenty feet to the floor, but broke my fall with my arms and rolled. I used the tremendous
momentum I had gained to complete my roll and do an aerial over a startled Subcon’s head. Before he had time to turn around, the handle of my
throwing knife was sticking out of the back of his neck; Miles shouted “smooth move, Fox!” I didn’t have time to retrieve my knife before three
Subcon had decided to get up close and personal.
      As I drew my staff, I heard a puff and whoosh, and then an enormous bang. Miles described the scenes following because I was embroiled
in melee combat. One of the Subcon’s personal tanks had been hit in the thinner rear armor by one of Richard’s rockets and was blown to pieces.
A second puff and whoosh, and the second tank burst into flames. The commander yelled for some of his troops to take down the rocket launcher,
and Miles began to fear for Richard’s life. Talon had got a good position though and began picking off those who ventured too close to Richard.
As those were taken down, he began to shoot at anything that crossed his sights. So the commander bellowed to his men to take out the sniper.
They turned and raced towards Talon, but then there was a hissing as Tiger popped out from hiding and opened up with his immolator. There was a
roar, then a blast and a fireball that climbed fifty feet into the air; ashes and melted guns fell to the floor. He shouted taunts at the Subcon and kept
      As all this was going on, I had my hands full. The first Subcon readied his heat rod and attempted to stab me through the chest. Miles’
words were ringing in my ears “focus on parrying every single attack thrown at you, and when they are off balance, press the attack until they fall.”
I blocked the blow and at the same time smacked one in the shins, he grunted and limped a little but continued to fight. There was a crunch and a
sharp pain as one of them stepped on my tail to hold me still. I gave a yelp, turned around as far as I could, and stabbed downwards with my staff;
he leapt off with a grunt and stamped his foot on the ground a couple of times. I was moving constantly, blocking, deflecting, rolling, flipping, and
when I could, directing my counter-attacks against the biggest Subcon of the group.
      Miles drew his sword and gave a great war cry. In one blow, he swept the Subcon that were trapped beneath the fighter headless and turned
towards me. He battled his way across the hanger, taking huge swings at the Subcon foolish enough to stand in his way. One was cut completely in
half down the middle, several had their heads lopped off, and even more had appendages removed before they were run through. As Miles got
closer I gave a shout and spun my staff, hitting the guy in front of me with a hurricane of blows and pushing him back. I pushed him off balance
with the ferocity of my attack and when I had beaten his guard down, I brought my staff down on his unprotected head. There was a flash, and he
convulsed and fell dead. “ No time to celebrate now,” I thought, and whirled around to face the other two. One of them attempted to grab me and
was immediately sorry for his efforts. I back flipped, and as his arms closed around nothing, I rammed my staff into his stomach armor. His
breath exploded from his lungs at the strike, and I could see arcing and sparks as electricity flowed into him. Generally Subcon aren’t knocked out
by my staff’s stunning charge. Enfec fall like flies, but Subcon are a lot tougher. This one must have been weak though, because his eyes rolled
back and he fell in a heap at my feet. “ I’ll finish him later” I thought, as I looked at my last antagonist. There was a yell and a hurtling, gray object
hit him. He stumbled back, and Vixy attacked with blinding speed. She had also used her rocket pack, which is the exact same model as mine, and
had landed with her feet on the Subcon’s head before flipping and landing lightly in front of him. She gave a battle cry and final finishing blow,
then turned to me, “ is that one dead?” She asked, pointing at the stunned Subcon at my feet. I used the graviton activator that I had implanted into
my hand and pulled my knife back to me. (The knife and my staff have gravitons in their grips, so I can pull them to me from several hundred feet
away.) I stuck it in him and said, “ He is now.”
      The Subcon were realizing that they were going to die, and so they banded together into one group with the commander in the middle. They
were being attacked from three sides and so the remainder fell quickly. The commander saw that I was in charge of at least some of the defenders
and so he picked me for his own personal target. He had a huge spiked mace as his melee weapon, and I saw that if he hit me, even once, he would
finish me. Now, I am extremely good at dodging, and can do flips with ease, so I put my skills to use. He came at me swinging, and I deflected
some with my staff and evaded others by moving. I knew that if I hit him enough, even light hits, eventually the electricity would do its work, and
he would die. So as I was blocking and dodging, I began to meld attacks to the blocks, so that when I blocked with one end of my staff, the other
end would strike him. This went on for a while, and I must have hurt him because he gave a great roar, and pushed me backwards. I went with it and
ended up a couple yards from him. He bellowed and bore down on me, his mace raised above his head, ready to crush me with one blow. This is
exactly what I wanted him to do; I took my energy carbine, which I had charged when I put it away, and blasted him. He was in no condition to
dodge it, and so he took it to the chest. He gave a yell of pain and went completely berserk, it was all I could do to keep backing up and blocking
as he furiously attacked me. At the end of about thirty seconds, he collapsed to the floor, and lay there, still swinging violently and cursing. I went
up to him and swung my staff down onto his head, there was a crunch and crackle of electricity; he shuddered, and then lay still. I looked over and
watched Miles cleave a great two-handed stroke that took off the heads of the last three.
      The hanger was a mess, many fighters had been blown to pieces as the tanks tried to blast people behind them. There was Subcon blood all
over, and the walls were covered in dents that bullets had made. I shook my head as I looked at the devastation and at the dead and wounded
Verash; I said my next words slowly and vehemently, “ Ahh Shartoth!” Miles walked over to me, wiping his great sword of the reddish-brown
blood; and said, “the cleanup crew is gonna have a tough time with this.” Because in battle I always charge my energy carbine before I holster it, I
allowed the charge to evaporate, and collapsed my staff. My knife was covered in blood so I wiped it clean and sheathed it. Vixy came over,
collapsed her staff and took her helmet off. “ I’m glad that at least I got to surprise them. Man, that was one sweet move when you fell out of the
sky and flipped over that one’s head.” I carefully unlatched my helmet and took it off. “ My rocket pack failed, that was why I fell. When I hit the
ground I saw a Subcon facing me and decided to get behind him so I could knife him, besides I had to bleed off some more energy before I could
come to a stop… I think that I’ll have to get my rocket repaired. Fortunately I asked the guy who built it for me to make it use readily accessible
      Tiger swaggered out from behind a stack of crates, “ Man, I must have gotten at least four with one shot!” He was fine, and so was only
everyone else in the squad. Talon began looking at the dead Subcon and counting the ones with a mysterious third eye. “That brings my total to
eighty-seven. I got sixteen today!” He said gleefully. Miles looked at us and said gravely, “Do not glory in war and bloodshed, just remember that
we are only doing this because we have to, look at how many we lost.” Mike came up, wiping some medical instruments “they got ninety-two of
ours. Our defensive positions prevented them from completely overrunning us.” Tiger’s face dropped and he swore. The intercom crackled to life
in the hanger and an emotionless voice said that all the Subcon on the ship had been wiped out. Total Subcon casualties: 1,300. Total Verash
casualties: 987. Miles took his helmet off and looked down, “ You can bet that the elite squads like us helped keep that number as low as it is.
Usually Subcon inflict more casualties than they receive.” I nodded. “We should probably try to get some more sleep before we make planetfall.
You guys can go, I need to have my rocket pack repaired.”
      Vixy came with me, and we headed for the nearest armory. The repair technician on duty took a look at my rocket and said that a short in
the energy flow control module had triggered a safety shutdown to prevent a possible explosion. He said that with the new parts they were
installing it wouldn’t happen again. As I stood around waiting, I saw some chairs and slumped into one with a groan. That number was constantly
going through my mind, 987, 987, 987. I put my head in my hands and thought, “that’s a pretty big number, and yet tomorrow we could lose fifty
times as many or more. Why am I doing this?” There was a sliding noise as Vixy sat down in a chair opposite me and I realized that I had thought
my last thought out loud. She looked at me and said, “Fox, our freedom and our people must be fought for. If we just let the Subcon take our
planets, they would wipe us all out. There are some things that are worth fighting, and dying for.” I looked up into her deep turquoise eyes and
said, “Tomorrow any one of us, or all of us could die. This is the first time that I have actually thought that I might die, and I’m a little scared. I
keep thinking of those guys in the hanger, they ate with us last night, but now they’re gone.” She leaned over and squeezed my hand, “Just
remember what Miles told you, and we should be alright.” I sat back and thought about what I had made it through already.
      There was silence for a while, and the technician came out and quietly put my X-14 on a table. I went over and put my hand on one of its
engine nacelles. “Even the greatest Starwing turned and ran with his tail between his legs once or twice, that’s another reason I got this thing
made.” I looked at her and said, “if it happened to mine, you might want to get yours looked at too.” She took it off and handed it to the technician
who opened it up and did some quick checks. He adjusted a few things and said that it was a possibility that it might fail. I told him to replace the
part and bill the squad for it. After a few minutes, the replacement was done and we walked back to our cabins slowly. Before we went into our
rooms I put my finger under her muzzle and lifted her eyes to meet mine. “Please be careful… if I were to lose you…” She looked at the crystal
ring on her index finger, “don’t worry Fox… I gave you my word that I would marry you, and I intend to keep it.”
      After she had stepped inside her cabin I stood outside mine leaning against the door, and thought, “This is the first time I wish there was no
such thing as war. Before it was a contest, a game, but here on a large scale…” I left the thought unfinished and opened the door. Miles was
congratulating Mike on his bravery. I come to find out that Mike had protected a group of wounded by gunning down four Subcon as they had tried
to get close and finish them off. I filled out an award application right there and sent it to my C.O. After a time there was a beep on the holo
communicator in our room. I leaned over and pushed the “receive” button, General Brandock himself appeared. “I want to congratulate you and
your squad on your skill and bravery. I just got this application saying something about a medic who wasted a bunch of Subcon as they tried to
attack a group of wounded he was attending to.” Mike seemed to have lost his speech and stood there stammering. “Yeah, that was my medic all
right,” I laughed. General Brandock asked Mike to come to his quarters immediately. Mike went out with a kind of dazed look, and as soon as the
door was closed, we all burst out laughing. “Boy you would think that he never talked to a general before!” Tiger said. “Yeah,” laughed Richard,
“When he stepped out it looked like HE had taken too much anesthetic.” We were still chuckling a few moments later when there was a bang on
the wall. I dialed in Vixy’s room number and she said to knock it off, she was trying to sleep and couldn’t with us making such a racket. I
apologized and heard Tiger mumble something about soundproofing and paper-thin walls. A couple minutes later, Mike walked back in with
something in his hand. He opened it and we saw that he had been awarded the silver star. In every battle there is one silver star and two gold stars
given out for acts of bravery. The silver one is higher (the gold ones are brass, not gold), and it had inscribed on it “Mike Fix, for exceptional
bravery.” We all clapped him on the back and did some congratulating and then activated our energy bunks. As we lay down I could see the space
battle raging outside our window. The repair robots had sealed up the breach in our wall, so we didn’t have to worry about that any more.
Surprisingly it didn’t take me long to drop back off.
          I awoke to a banging on the wall and muffled laughter. I should have known she was gonna do that. I groaned and rolled off my bunk groggily.
Miles was already awake and was standing at the window; now I know why some people don’t think that he’s human. I walked over beside him and
stared out at the large Subcon blockade. Miles continued to look and said, “We’ve been doing quite well in the space battle, let’s hope we do as
well on the ground.” There was a crick in my tail so I snapped it back and forth a couple of times until it popped, I have got to remember to try and
keep it off the ground in battle. I woke my guys up and reminded them that the mess hall was closed, “you’re going to have to eat some of your
rations, we should get a restock when we make planetfall.” Tiger sat on the floor and popped open a class B ration capsule, then there was a
knock, and I let Vixy in. She was grinning from ear to ear, “Ha! I got you back!” “Look, why don’t we just drop this whole thing; then we’ll both be
able to sleep in” I grumbled.
      We all sat down against the walls and began to eat the meal of our choice. I picked up the light blue crystal that was lying on the desk and
said to Miles “We still don’t know what this thing does.” “Patience Fox, the Mythphec guys who looked at it said that it probably does
something.” I dropped it into a pocket and continued to eat.
      After the ‘meal’ I told everyone that we should probably get into our armor. Vixy said that she had something for me and so I waited as she
got it. She walked back in and said that she had purchased it a while ago and was waiting for a good time to present it. She held up a pair of plain
black boots, and I gasped, “Wooaah, a Mythphec body suit.” “After what you said yesterday about being afraid of dying, I decided to give it to you
today. Put it on, put it on!” I stepped into our wardroom, changed out of my normal stuff and put the boots on. I put my fingertips on several
hidden pads on the boots and then stood up. There was a hissing and my body was covered in a black suit. These things have got to be one of the
best forms of personal protection available. What it does is after you activate it, billions of tiny dense-weave, thermoplas fibers shoot up your
body and stop at your neck. These fibers take impact (say from a bullet) and spread it over a large area, stopping the bullet from penetrating. Heat
and energy from a laser gun is dissipated into the billions of fibers and has no noticeable effect. If the suit is punctured or cut, you take it off and
it repairs itself in about six hours. I stepped out; the matt black ‘skin’ rippled as I flexed my muscles (I’m pretty strong, but not massively bulky.)
several people whistled. Then Vixy said “If you wear this under your Mk-8 armor, it will provide some serious protection. I know that mine works
superbly.” I looked over at her and said softly, “thanks, this layer of protection could make the difference in the battles ahead.” she grinned and
replied, “Hey, it’s the least I could do for a guy who has gotten me some pretty nifty stuff.” She patted the rocket pack that was on her back and I
nodded. Everyone put on their armor, and we decided to just sit and wait. I remembered to take the crystal out of my BDU pocket and put it inside
a pouch that was on the armor. That crystal is very mysterious, I got it the same place I got my energy carbine. So far the only things that we have
found out is that it is absolutely indestructible, and it violently moves away from energy sources that are directly applied to it (shooting it with a
laser for example). The story of how I got the stuff was pretty interesting.

                                    Chapter 4: Memories
      It happened about two months ago. I was doing a military training exercise with Miles and my squad on Nexus V, when what looked like a
meteor, trailing fire, flew low over the planet. Miles and I were separate from the rest of the squad and we felt ourselves pulled, and in a split
second there was a bending in the time space continuum. Everything stretched into infinity and slowly came back into focus. We found ourselves
fifty feet above a river on some different planet. The water looked VERY cold, so I ignited my rocket pack and flew to the bank. Miles fell in with
an enormous splash and I could see bubbles as he swam towards me. He stepped out of the water, dripping, and we looked around. We were in a
valley that had a river going through it and had mountains rising tens of thousands of feet all around us. It seemed like the planet was in the middle
of a nebula, because there was some kind of bluish-purple gas in the upper atmosphere, it kind of looked like an aurora from Vera Prime. It was
nighttime, and the starlight filtering through the gas in the upper cloud layers made a truly awesome sight as it reflected off the water. Miles said
that his sensors were picking up things moving towards us so I drew both my MA-7C combat shotguns and swiveled my ears back and forth, trying
to hear sounds of something coming. Miles told me that we should probably wait until fired upon before trying to shoot anything.
      There was a kind of humming, and what looked like a large platform zoomed over us, and stopped. It looked like a large, extra wide
surfboard that had engines on the bottom and handles on the top for the riders to hang on to. It had a gap down the middle though, that split it until
about twenty feet from the back. It was perfectly rounded; I couldn’t find a single corner or edge. The thing slowly lowered to the ground and
some of the coolest aliens I had ever seen stepped off of it. They looked to be about eight and a half feet tall, humanoid, and very well
proportioned. Their heads were what really grabbed my attention though. Their necks, instead of attaching to the middle of the head, like humans,
were attached to the back of the head, and so their heads were almost horse-shaped. There were fins, one on either side that started near their
mouths, and gradually got bigger until they reached the back of the head, where they reversed, made a point, and rejoined the head, kind of like the
wings on a delta wing starfighter. They had helmets on that looked like they were only a millimeter or two thick, and covered their entire head.
Their helmets and armor was made of a sort of dark, reflective, metal that seemed to change color slightly depending on where you looked at it.
They had some very advanced looking weapons pointed at us, and what I guessed to be the commander stepped forward. He spoke in a tongue that
was altogether foreign to me, and to Miles. So we communicated the old fashioned way, with hand gestures. They took us to some kind of
research facility high in the mountains, and we were both put into a room where a large scanning bar made a complete circle around us. They also
put our weapons into a scanner, and by the looks of things; they had never seen beings like us before. After some more tests, they put us back
onto their flying platform and began to take us someplace. While we were en route, I had a good look at their weapons. They seemed to be some
kind of energy gun that had a stock that folded under the main body. The top of the main body was made of the same metal as their armor, and the
underside grip area was dark, metallic silver. I wanted one of these guns, and so I made signs to one of my guards. I gave him my shotguns, and he
pointed them into the air and fired. The recoil, flash and boom seemed to impress him, because he kept blasting away. I gave him all my shotgun
shells and pointed at his gun. He gave it to me and I saw that it had one button on the side of the main body. He showed me how to charge and
discharge it, as well as showing that it didn’t need ammo. I saw that Miles had also done a trade and had got one of the carbines as well. Later, I
bought it from him and gave it to Vixy so that she could have a powerful long-range weapon.
      The aliens took us to a city and treated us like honored guests. The sight of the city took my breath away; as we were flying in I could see
the glow from it reaching thousands of feet into the sky. Their building architecture was different from anything I had ever seen before. Sharp
spires jutted thousands of feet into the air, it all looked very impressive. Before we went out to explore the city the next morning, they gave
Miles a small pod. There was a screen, and buttons on it; they showed him how to use it, and he concluded that it was a very powerful sensor. They
gave me a light blue crystal, about six inches long and an inch and a half in diameter. Because they couldn’t talk to me, they couldn’t tell me what
it did, big bummer. After we had spent a half a week there, we were just walking around one day when there was a blinding light and that same
pulling, bending, stretching sensation. When everything came into focus again, we found ourselves back on Nexus V, watching a meteor fly into
the distance. We looked at each other, and then I looked at my wrist computer. About thirty seconds had gone buy since we were pulled in… I
still haven’t figured out what the crystal does.
      I didn’t realize that I had been reminiscing for so long until Tiger waved his hand in front of my face and said, “What are you thinking of
Corporal? You’ve got a kind of vacant look in your eyes.” I rubbed my thumb along the smooth, hard surface of the top of my carbine, “I was just
thinking about how I got this carbine, and trying to figure out what my crystal does.” I pulled it out and held it up to the light; it flickered for a
moment, and then went clear again. The intercom to our room came on and General Brandock growled, “ All troops for the first landing, get to
your landing craft, you will be departing this ship in about forty-five minutes.” I flipped the crystal into the air and let it drop into a pouch, then
formed up my squad, and we marched to hanger 2B-1. We could still see some of the marks in the floor where the Subcon tanks had hit it. Several
of the fighters had been removed for repairs, and even more were stripped of their good parts, and then carefully stowed away until they could be
remade. Miles went over towards the right hand wall and looked around for a moment. “ Hey guys, take a look! This is where my sword dug into
the deck plating when I swept those guys under the fighter headless!” After looking at it for a moment longer he came back over and we boarded
the dropship. The troop compartment has several light autocannon gun positions, and because we were the first ones there, we took those seats.
The pilot was warming the ship up, so I sat down and turned the gun on. The armor made a remote interface, and I got an outside view on my HUD
through a camera on the turret. I gripped the controls and swiveled the gun around, checking to make sure everything was functioning. The rest of
my squad sat down and powered up their guns; then we did a radio check. Everything was working one hundred percent, so we waited for the rest
of the troops to show up.

                                         Chapter 5: Planetfall
      Soon the ship was crowded with soldiers, many of whom were doing last minute weapons checks, putting on helmets, or getting each other
pumped up for the coming battle. They all strapped in, and the pilot’s voice came through the intercom, “We have some recent orbital videos of
Bald Top, and it looks like there is a small Subcon scouting force on the summit. Gunners, I will try to fly a pattern so that you can blast them all
before we touch down, the last thing we need is a hot LZ.” We felt a small swaying as the ship lifted from the hanger bay floor. I looked over at
Miles and gulped, “This is it.” He nodded and didn’t say a word.
      There was a roar, and we shot out of the hanger like we were catapulted or something; dang, these things are pretty quick. The pilot blasted
rock and roll from the ship’s intercom speakers and I could see that the troops absolutely loved it. I pointed my guns downward, and I could see
the green surface of the planet below us. How many times have I flown an approach just like this one and not realized how beautiful this planet is.
I was just sitting there staring when Miles said, “Hey, look sharp, I think a couple of fighters are coming towards us.” I looked behind us and saw
them, “Yeah, those are Subcon fighters alright, it looks like they’re the light class though.” As I spoke I targeted one of them and waited. It only
took them twenty seconds to reach us and I gave the command to fire on my mark. I let the fighters get into range and then waited, they opened
fire on us and the pilot began evasive maneuvers. When they were just about to pull off to go around for another pass, I yelled “Fire!” then
squeezed the trigger carefully and felt the ship shake as we all blasted away. I watched my stream of fire merge with the oncoming fighter and
pour into it. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a split second, I saw a piece pop off the right wing. I adjusted my aim and saw
lasers fly through the canopy. There was a bright fireball and tiny pieces of Subcon fighter pelted our shield. “WHOOOHOOHOO!” I shouted and
watched another fighter careen out of control and plunge toward the planet below as Richard’s lasers connected. The last guy got around for
another pass, and this time he concentrated fire on the gun turrets. I saw my view go white for a moment and then go blank with static, “He’s going
over us! Vixy, Tiger, take him down!” I shouted. Vixy was watching carefully and let go a single shot; it must have taken out the engine because the
glow disappeared from his tailpipe and he didn’t turn around. Tiger groaned, “Haayy, I had that one, he was mine.” Vixy grinned and said “well then
how come I didn’t see any shots from your position hunh?” “Well… I… uhhh…” he stammered. Talon spoke up, “she just has faster reflexes,
      My secondary camera came online and I could see the atmosphere begin to change the color outside the ship from black to light blue. I
fired some shots off just to make sure my guns were still working, and then looked down to try and spot Bald Top. The pilot marked it on the
tactical map he had up front, and I saw a small red light blink on top of one of the hills. I watched as it slowly got closer.
      We were about a thousand feet above the summit when the Subcon beneath us opened fire with small arms. Then a rocket whizzed by the
cockpit and the pilot shouted, “ Whoa! They got heavy stuff, I’m dropping down so you guys can wipe them out.” The floor fell out from beneath
me and I hung from my harness for a couple of seconds as we shot down to about a hundred feet. “Eliminate em.” The pilot said crisply. We
blasted away and saw Subcon blown to pieces, or disappear completely in a reddish puff. Tiger was itching to really hose something, and so he
held his trigger down and swept his fire back and forth over a line of Subcon. A row of craters and a lot of reddish-brown stuff was all that was
left. “ I love this gun!” he roared enthusiastically.
      We soon had the landing zone cleared and the pilot slowly lowered his craft to the ground. We disembarked from the dropship and secured
the area. One of the troops stared at the carnage we had inflicted then looked at me and said, “Wow! You guys are pretty darn good!” “That’s why
we’re called an elite squad.” I replied. As I walked past the gun that Tiger had used, I noticed that waves of heat were rising from the muzzle and
barrel. I called him over, “Man! How many shots did you fire in that last volley?” He thought for a moment, “I think I fired five, maybe six
hundred. I sure hope the barrels don’t need to be replaced, they got pretty hot.” I put my hand near one of them and quickly moved it away, “Yow!
These kind that fire exploding lasers do get kinda warm.”
      A supply ship that had followed us began to unload some basic equipment, and my squad set up our barracks. Basically you take six poles
and drive them into the ground, then you flip switches on each pole and an energy field makes a kind of building. If you’re on the inside you can
change the opacity of the field to make it transmit light, block light, or make it clear.
      One of the first big things that was set up was a jamming array, we didn’t want the Subcon to know how many troops we had landed, or
where we were. After about an hour or so of working we saw that the first dropships were clearing out, and we could see the second ones moving
into position. Miles had a huge grin on as he took his helmet off and looked up at the second dropships, “Here come the tanks!”
      We were given orders to start digging trenches and begin fortifying our position. As I started to dig I looked around and noticed some
large artillery cannons being set up. “The Subcon are gonna get a warm one, that’s for sure,” I thought. After about thirty minutes, we had one of
the best made defensive positions of them all. Miles had helped us design it so that only a direct hit with an artillery shell could do any damage.
Then he took off what appeared to be a metal backpack and began to unfold it. Richard walked up to him and commented “Even I don’t know how
you get a field piece into such a small package.” He finished setting it up and began to range it in.
      It was about this time that a scout came tearing into camp on his grav-cycle and said that a Subcon attack force was only ten miles away.
This was broadcasted to all the troops and a hush fell as everyone peered into the distance. Miles put his helmet back on and Talon picked up his
sniper rifle. He looked through the scope, “Oh man! There must be about seventy to eighty-thousand down there.” He panned across a large cloud
of dust in the distance; then he dropped his rifle and let out his breath. There was a murmuring among the troops as they saw the enemy force. I
listened carefully for a moment, and my ears caught the most terrifying sound that was ever heard on this planet; the clashing of Subcon shields,
mixed with their war chant. Across ten long miles, I could still hear it, and my spine tingled; the chant was both terrifying and beautiful at the
same time. Miles was listening as well and he looked at us. “They’re coming, and they’re coming fast.”
      We all jumped as the first artillery piece fired, and then we looked at each other and tried to see who would jump when the second one
fired. I was so high-strung that I jumped, and Tiger said sarcastically “Now really, we can’t have a gun-shy corporal as our leader can we?” We
stepped into our trench and Talon loaded one of his special long-range cartridges. The artillery barrage increased until it made one continuous
roar. Talon gave us the report that the shells were doing some pretty hefty damage, but then he shifted his aim to the left and cursed, “They got a
ton of tanks down there. How the heck are we gonna stop those?” “General Brandock is probably thinking about that right now!” I said into my
comm. The barrage of fire continued, and we all began to check our weapons for the fifth time. Generally I’m not this nervous, but the sight of all
those Subcon was awesome. Shoot, I wish I had my fighter; I could do some serious damage, and perhaps drive them back into the city.
      The Subcon must have really been hauling tail because they were within five miles after only thirty minutes. The din of battle increased as
some lighter artillery opened fire. Miles began firing with his field piece and then there was a tremendous boom as Talon took a shot (he had
taken the liberty of removing his silencer). He excitedly described what he saw, “oh, oh, YES! One of the guys in the front just toppled over! I
must have got him in the gut! The others around him are looking kinda worried! … Crap, no head shot.” He didn’t have time to fire again though,
because one of those cool LACV-45 treaded combat transports roared up behind us. The driver said that several of the elite squads were going to
do something about the tanks, and that we were one of them. We mounted up in the transport and tore off in a cloud of dust. I looked at the MFD
(multi function display) in front of me and flipped a switch to activate the command circuit. I saw that General Brandock was shouting orders. He
finished and turned back to the camera, “This goes to all the elite squads that are doing something about those tanks. You’re going to drive around
to the side of the enemy lines and start to use heavy weapons on the thinner rear armor of the tanks.” I looked back into the cargo hold and
noticed several large packages, and a lot of jamming gear. There were probably four or five transports following us and we made a wide route
around the Subcon lines. We came up to a ridge, and stopped. We disembarked and set up the jamming gear first; then we got out the packages,
which contained some of the best anti-tank weapons in the starforce. You don’t even have to expose yourself with this kind. It uses a complicated
sensor array, and different things that even I don’t know much about, to bounce radar beams off the ionosphere. You get a full color,
computerized image of your target, plus all the guidance information needed. We set these up right under the lip of the ridge, and I got the honor
of taking the first shot. I put the cross hairs right on the hatch of the lead tank, and squeezed the trigger. What looked like a large, glowing green
laser bolt flew from the muzzle. Then the glow disappeared and it began to drop. I kept the cross hairs centered on the hatch. There was a
collective holding of breath, and then the shell fell through the hatch and blew the tank apart. There was a round of applause, and the leader of the
squad next me said “nice one! First shot kills are tough,”
      Then, pandemonium broke loose in the lines of Subcon tanks as everyone began to fire as fast as they could. As soon as the magazine on
mine was empty, Mike, who was acting as a loader, replaced it. He was kept quite busy running back and forth between other squad members,
replacing the huge magazines, and reloading spent ones. We had been there about an hour and had blown up quite a number of tanks when a
lookout who was watching over the ridge said, “uh oh…Hey, hey guys, some APCs just dropped off a load of Subcon on the rise opposite us.” The
captain in charge gave some rapid orders “ Cease fire! We’ll concentrate on these troops until we have things under control.” We all clambered to
the top of the ridge and looked across at the Subcon. Talon observed them with a practiced eye, “they’re about a hundred meters away and there
are twenty-nine of them, they must have lost one in the artillery barrage. They’ve stuck their shields into the ground, it’s not gonna be easy to kill
em.” The APC’s started spraying lasbolts at us and we ducked back under the ridgeline. Mike was standing by an open crate of shells when a badly
aimed Subcon rocket whizzed over our heads and blew up about a fifty meters behind us. He put two and two together and quickly put the shells
back into our transport, before joining us at the ridge. I looked at the shields, and wondered if my energy carbine would penetrate. I charged it,
then popped up and took a shot. I watched the bolt hit a shield and blow it into several large pieces. Woohoo! This thing is powerful! Talon put a
bullet into the head of the guy that was open and said “You should have seen that guys expression when his ‘invincible shield’ blew up! I’ve never
seen a Subcon look so surprised in my life!” Vixy was on my left so I proposed a plan, “I’ll fire first and shatter a shield, you take the guy out
that’s behind it before they can get another shield planted.” We put this plan into operation and soon we were making the number of Subcon
      Miles was blasting away with his pistols, but then I heard a loud smack and he toppled over. I stood up and raced over to him, he sat up and
pulled something from his helmet that was lodged above his visor. “A Subcon sniper’s bullet, I’m gonna take him down” He growled. I began to
run back to my position and was almost there when I was knocked off balance by the muzzle blast from Talon’s rifle. “Miles is a little late!” he
chuckled. Dang, that muzzle blast feels like one of Tigers wallops to the chest. The Subcon had a couple rocket launchers and they were doing
their job well. I watched one sail into another squad’s position, and saw the fireball. Through my helmet’s communicator I could here frantic calls
of “Ah frack! We’ve lost three! We’ve lost three! For heavens sake someone take down those dang rocket launchers!” Unfortunately they were
behind the rise, firing over it, and so we couldn’t do a thing about it.
      I watched with bated breath as a smoke trail leveled right at me, and then rapidly grew bigger. I rolled to my left and the missile landed
fifteen feet behind me. Shrapnel cut into my armor and tail, and I grunted as a larger chunk sliced into my thigh. I looked over and saw Mike; a
large portion of the side of his chest plate had been blown off. He was holding his side and groaning, blood poured through his fingers. “Great” I
thought, “Our medic gets wounded, and now he can’t help us.” Miles stopped shooting and applied a medpack; he stopped the bleeding and
bandaged the wound, then returned to the firing line. Mike began to doctor himself and after resting, he crawled over to help the wounded in the
squad next to us.
      As we continued firing, a tense voice came through my headset from the front lines, “Hey you guys, the tanks are really doing some
damage, it would be helpful if you could…” There was a loud blast, then static for a second, and the transmission cut off. The captain had heard it
too, and he ordered three of his men to go back down and start shooting at the tanks again. We had killed ten, maybe twelve Subcon, and their
rocket launchers were still firing, when Talon said that he could see some observers peeping over the hill. There were three tremendous booms
from his rifle, and then he said, “Now there are no observers, Hah! that should cut down their accuracy.” The rockets became almost ineffective,
but the troops pulled their shields out of the ground, and advanced on us. They had closed to fifty meters and the captain gulped, “Boys, get your
melee weapons ready.” Vixy and I didn’t charge our carbines any more, we just swept our fire back and forth and took down a few. We were in a
pretty bad spot though, Subcon rapidly approaching, rockets still flying around blowing things up, and to make it all worse, the APCs leapt over
the hill and came barreling at us, shooting wildly. You might call it their full court press. I looked at Vixy and said, “This might be the end.” She
glared in defiance at the approaching Subcon and I saw her expression harden, “Not this time,” she breathed fiercely. She drew her staff with a
flourish, and I drew mine; we brandished them, and then waited.
      The captain had just ordered a retreat back to the LACV’s when there was a whistling roar, and two Verash heavy fighters dropped out of
the sky. I saw them level at the Subcon APCs and heard the distinct sound of large pulse lasers firing. I watched the lasers pour into the APCs and
after a second or two they blew up in two large fireballs. The fighters turned in tight formation and strafed the remaining Subcon troops. After
two more passes, nothing moved out there and we all threw our guns up and danced around, cheering. The pilots waggled their wings and then flew
towards the front line. It was only then that we saw the cruiser that had entered the atmosphere and was pounding away at the ground with all it had.
The captain listened to something that was being radioed to him and looked up smiling. “The space battle has been going superbly well; well
enough to spare a cruiser to help us here on the ground. I was just told that the Subcon are beating a hasty retreat towards the forest, and that is
where our next operation will take place.”
      I took my helmet off and gathered my squad together. It was 1300 when the battle started; it was now 1700, the battle seemed to last for
days while we were fighting, but now it seemed that only a few minutes had gone buy. Miles was looking at the dent in his helmet and muttering
something nasty about Subcon in general. Mike came up and said that he didn’t think that his wound was life threatening. I looked at it “ you still
ought to get it checked out when we get back to base.” He agreed and said that he should probably fix me up. I looked down and saw that the leg
piece of my armor had been stained red. I sucked in my breath with a hiss as I yanked the chunk of shrapnel from the wound; blood began to drip
out. After Mike had “doctored” me sufficiently, we walked back to the transports and headed back to base. As we were driving I looked to the west
and noticed that there were some large puffy clouds in the distance. Miles noticed as well “Those look like they might generate some heavy
weather later on.”
      When we got back to base it looked completely different from how we had left it. Burning tanks, craters, bodies, and blood was
everywhere. Our barracks had suffered a direct hit, luckily it doesn’t take much to set them up, but we’ll have to get a new one. General Brandock
was standing on a burnt out tank and began to debrief the army that was assembled in front of him. “If you’re wounded, you shouldn’t be here, get
medical attention.” My squad stayed put, but several thousand normal soldiers dropped out. “This fight will have an effect on the rest of the war,
because we won here, the Subcon are probably a little worried, and our morale is high. We actually drove the Subcon back, we showed them that
the Verash starforce is not weak, but is a force to be reckoned with. We lost about 57,000, but we estimate the Subcon lost around 60,000. This
is the first victory of the war, and it will not be the last. We will continue to fight until every Subcon is either driven from the planet, or is hunted
down and killed.” There was a roar from the troops and then we dispersed. I went to the makeshift armory and got a replacement leg piece for my
armor, and a chest plate for Mike. I knew that we would be going after the Subcon shortly, and I wanted to be ready. After a while I headed to the
briefing area and joined up with my squad. The briefing officer told us that we would be attacking the Subcon in the forest. There would be about
ten thousand of us engaging the Subcon directly, and ten thousand coming in behind. “If this works as planned, we will catch them unprepared,
sandwich them, and wipe them out.” I looked at Miles and asked, “Do you think it’ll work?” “If the flanking force can reach us before we are all
killed, and the Subcon don’t detect them, I think that it may be a rout.”

                                    Chapter 6: Counter Attack
      As we stepped aboard the medium assault transport I noticed that Mike was holding his side. “ You gonna be ok?” I asked, “ I think so, it’s
just a little stiff and sore. It’s only a deep flesh wound, but those kind hurt pretty bad.” I agreed and we strapped ourselves in. We were going to be
part of the “head on” assault group, which meant that if the reserves didn’t come in time we’d all be killed. We lifted off and took a five-minute
flight to the edge of the forest. There were thirty-four ships all skimming the treetops in formation. It was a majestic sight as the large V of ships
all turned at once and then slowly lowered to the ground. A small recon team was already there, “ They’re set up about a mile and a half in; and it
looks like their line stretches for about a mile.” “They’re three men deep all the way down.” Miles said as he looked at his alien sensor.
      The detachment moved into the forest and we carefully began to pick our way through the trees. The trees on this planet are almost always
more than two feet in diameter, and some get up to six feet thick. We were spread out in a line almost a mile long as well, and Talon kept a sharp
eye out ahead of us. He was the first one to see the enemy and motioned for us to get behind cover, we all peeked out from behind our trees and
looked where he was pointing. Sure enough, a line of Subcon shields stretched off into the forest until the foliage obscured them. The
commander’s voice came through my helmet and he said to wait until everyone was in position to open fire. Miles began to cut two notches into
his tree and I looked at him quizzically, “ one to look out of and the other to shoot through” he whispered. I saw the wisdom in this and began to
cut some myself. There was silence, broken only by the sound of insects; then the command “ Open fire!” and all hell broke loose. The sound was
deafening, our entire line opened up at almost the same instant and then after a second or two the Subcon returned fire.  I chose to use my energy
carbine because I remembered what it did to the Subcon shields when we were on that anti-tank mission a little while ago. My first shot flew
centimeters above a shield and took off the top half of a Subcon’s head; the second one blew up one of the shields. Before I had time to finish
him off, the guy in back of the one I had just exposed had handed his shield up and blocked the hole. I said to Vixy over the comm. “ Lets do the
same thing that we did last time, I’ll take out a shield, then you shoot the guy behind it.” This time there weren’t only thirty though, and it seemed
like we weren’t doing anything. As I was looking out to take another shot, I saw the Subcon that was opposite me aim carefully and fire. Then it
seemed like everything slowed down and I could see the lasbolt coming straight for my head. I pulled back behind the tree and the glowing shell
blew some slivers out of the eyehole I had cut as it went by. I looked over at Miles and noticed that he was firing very slowly, and his muzzle
flashes were lasting a long time. But even as I watched he sped up and then looked over at me, “ Doggonit! Fire your weapon corporal! Don’t just
stand there gaping!” I didn’t really have time to think about what had just happened until later, in the heat of battle I just shrugged it off.
      The tree I was behind was being slowly blasted away as the Subcon fired ceaselessly. There were explosions going off in various places as
hand grenades detonated, and there was the smell of ionized air as Subcon lasbolts tore through it. In battle your mind doesn’t really focus on
trivial things though, and so I hardly noticed anything but me, my weapon, and my target. I was so concentrated that I didn’t hear the creaking and
groaning of the tree as it began to topple over. “Look out!” Vixy shouted and I dove out of the way just in time as the tree hit the ground with a
crash. I crawled behind it and used the notches I had cut to continue firing.
      We were suffering many casualties; and when the Subcon saw this, they pulled up their shields and began to advance on us. They were
about a hundred meters in front of us and marching steadily. “If they get to thirty meters, they’re probably going to charge.” Richard said
worriedly. We redoubled our efforts to stop them, but they kept coming, “How many of these guys are there?!” I thought.
      When they had closed to fifty meters, I spoke into my headset, “ Squad, get close to me and prepare for melee combat. Miles you take left,
Talon, hide and keep using your pistol; Tiger you take right. Vixy, your with me.” “What’ll we do?” asked Richard and Mike, “We stink at melee!”
“Play dead” I replied. “WHAT!” they both yelled, “Play dead, or BE dead, it’s your choice” I shouted. They looked at each other, then keeled over
realistically and didn’t move for quite a while. All of us were behind the felled tree and we drew our melee weapons, “Don’t give up a single inch
of ground.” I growled. The Subcon had put away their guns and drawn their clubs; their shields are sharpened on the bottom and top and have large
spikes sticking out of the front so they’re weapons too. We stood up from behind the tree and brandished our weapons in their direction. Vixy and
I cast lightning bolts at them until they prepared to charge. When they had closed to thirty meters, they raised a tremendous bellow and raced
forward at top speed. The rest of the troops around us began a tactical retreat, but we held our ground. “Hmm, their probably gonna try and
steamroll us” I thought. Vixy and I put our feet on the log and prepared to jump over their heads. Miles had his great sword over his shoulder, like
a baseball bat, and he was eyeing the Subcon narrowly. Talon had disappeared and Tiger was holding his rocket launcher like a club. The Subcon
charged up to us, and right past us. Vixy and I flipped over their heads and managed to stab two of them as we competed our flips. Miles stood his
ground, and at the last second there was a loud swoosh and he cut in half the two that were about to run him down. Most of the Subcon kept
running past, but a dozen or so stopped to deal with us. Vixy and I were back to back, spinning our staffs and dealing death. Miles was standing
atop the tree trunk and carefully aiming blows at Subcon necks.
      After several minutes, Vixy and I had gotten separated and I wondered how the rest of the squad was doing. I looked over and watched with
horror as a Subcon brought his club down on Tiger’s head, there was a crack and he fell over with blood pouring from a large gash in his forehead.
He got to his knees and I saw the Subcon raise his club with a triumphant grin. Another Subcon that came up behind me grabbed my attention, I
aimed a quick backwards stab at him and he fell over with a crash. “Must have been wounded,” I thought.
      I noticed another Subcon coming towards us. He had many gold rings and even had a golden collar, “This does not look good” I though. I
saw Vixy get knocked over by one of her attackers, and then begin rolling around as the Subcon attempted to chop her in half. As soon as I had a
free moment I drew my carbine and aimed a shot at him, he blocked it with his shield but was then stunned as it shattered into millions of tiny
shards. Vixy swung her staff in a vicious arc that connected with the Subcon’s head; he collapsed soundlessly, and she leapt to her feet. This was
the first time I had seen her engaged so fiercely in close combat mode, and it almost made me jump when she turned towards me. Her needlelike
teeth were bared and her lips were curled back in a snarl that would have made even an Enfec torture master back off. The commander with all the
gold rings had turned towards me and was glaring at me, “how come all the tough guys have to always pick me” I thought, “It’s probably because
they want to deal with the weaker guys first. I hope I don’t surprise him too bad.”
      I saw a wounded Verash attempt to sit up; he was holding his shoulder where a large hole had been blown through it, and was calling weakly
for a medic. The Subcon commander walked over to where he was and taunted him. The Subcon raised his shield above his head and I turned away.
After a second, I looked again and saw that the Verash had been cut in half, and was lying in a pool of blood. My rage began to build, and I felt a
surge of adrenaline pump through my veins, this act of cruelty was not going to go unpunished. I spoke coldly into my comm., “I’m gonna kill that
dirty son of a Nagaoa…and I’m gonna do it alone, I don’t want any of you guys interfering.” My squad was too busy to reply but I knew that they
got the message. I slowly advanced on the commander and put my staff into a defensive position. I knew that this was going to be one of the
toughest fights I had ever fought, and I didn’t want to be knocked out early. I circled him warily and controlled the urge to attack outright. He
swung his shield and I ducked under it, then he drew back his fist. As I saw it coming towards me, it slowed until it seemed like he was punching
through molasses. I back flipped as I felt it begin to touch my nose, and as I was upside down and facing backwards I saw another Subcon behind
me. I landed standing on his shoulders and flipped my knife into the air, then stabbed downward with all my strength. It disappeared up to the hand
guard into his head and he shuddered. He reached up as he was dying and swung me against a tree, my armor saved me from being killed outright,
but the wind was knocked out of me. I leapt to my feet with a grunt and because everything was still moving slowly, I knocked the commanders
shield upward and stabbed into his chest plate. He recoiled and knocked the staff away, then he looked at me and spoke these words, “you are a
strong warrior, young Verash.” I assumed he was referring to the flip onto his comrade’s head. I grit my teeth and said “your not half bad
yourself.”  As things were beginning to come back to normal speed I saw his knee come up and I leapt backwards; he followed up with a downward
slash of his shield. I deflected it carefully and then spun my staff against him in the move I call a hurricane attack. He kept his shield stuck in the
ground, but jumped behind it and blocked every single blow. He brought it up out of the ground and charged forward, hoping to skewer me with
the spikes on the front. I rolled to the side and swung my staff against his back; never have I seen a Subcon react so quickly as this one did. He did
a shoulder roll, and then spun around with his shield aimed outward. There was no way I could block it, and I stifled a cry as it cut a deep gash into
my chest plate, blood began to seep from the crack. He gave a backhanded blow with his fist and I was knocked off my feet, I could taste blood in
my mouth. I hit the ground and bounced back up with a quick upward strike that caught him between the legs. His knees buckled and he crouched
behind his shield as he recovered from the blow. I leapt back and drew my energy carbine, then fired at his shield. This shield must have had
aurdium lacing in it because it absorbed the shot, I gasped and realized that this was going to be even tougher than I had first thought. He got up
and we circled each other again, I pulled my knife back to me and held it downwards. I swung my staff in a downward slash, and when he blocked
it, I stabbed him in the chest with my knife. It bit deep, and as I withdrew it, blood gushed from the cut. He grunted and swept my feet out from
under me, then raised his shield to finish me off. At the last second I rolled to my right, and swung my staff against his shins. I was on my feet
before he had gotten his shield out of the ground, so I slid a small switch on my staff that loaded a shockwave. Generally the way you use a
shockwave is by stabbing the ground, then the electricity and shock damages targets in a hundred foot diameter, and throws them around. But I
stabbed him directly instead. He was blasted backwards ten feet and his armor was blown off, but instead of falling flat, he rolled over and was on
his feet almost as fast as I would have been. Lightning arced around his body for a few moments and seemed to disorient him.
      The image of the Verash that he had killed came back into my mind and I began to see red. I gave a scream of anger and desperation, and
charged at him; I dropped my knife and knocked his shield away with a powerful sideways swing of my staff. I put all my anger and hatred into a
final hurricane attack, each blow struck home, and made blood spatter the leaves around us. I drove him against a tree and put so much force into
my next strikes that my vision went blurry. I gave his shield several tremendous downward blows, and I saw his eyes widen as I beat his guard
down. His neck was exposed, so I gave a roar and drove my staff through it. He slowly fell to the ground holding his throat; a final dying gasp
escaped from his lungs and he lay still. “Yeah I’m good, and you just died finding out how good” I spat. I was breathing hard and glaring at his
body, but then I realized that a battle was still going on around me. I remembered Tiger and turned quickly to see him and the Subcon that almost
killed him rolling on the ground. Tiger finally got on top of him and grabbed his neck with one hand; he brought his rocket launcher down on the
Subcon’s head repeatedly until it lay still. He stood up, his normally fierce expression made terrifying by the gash in his head and blood all over
his face. He gave a great bellow and unlimbered his retrieval cannon. The large slugs that it fired slammed into the backs of the Subcon that were
fighting our troops and threw down several in the first volley.
      One Subcon made the mistake of stepping on Mike. I saw his hand flash up and a large syringe thumped the Subcon in the leg. After a
moment the Subcon began to look at his club with a kind of dazed expression, and then he lay down and went to sleep. Mike gave him a dose of
something a little more deadly and the Subcon’s breathing stopped. “ That must have been one huge dose of anesthetic to take down a Subcon in
that short a time,” I thought. All at once I noticed that Richard wasn’t on the ground any more, I looked around frantically and thought, “Oh No…”
Then there was a banzai yell and he fell out of a tree nearby. He landed squarely on a Subcon and put his assault rifle to its head. He pulled the
trigger and lasers began to cut through his opponent’s helmet, the Subcon acted quickly and threw him onto the ground. As he rolled to his feet
the deadly rifle came on target again, but this time there was no sustained burst. Instead a glowing energy grenade shot from the launcher that was
above the barrel and blew the Subcon’s upper torso into reddish-brown chunks. Miles finished off his sixth target, and yelled, “things are not
looking good, our guys are being wiped out! I don’t know how much longer we can hold out.”
      I heard a kind of whooshing and whirled around; ten Subcon jump pack troops had dropped in behind us. Instead of coming in close, they
took out their guns and started to open fire. I was spun around as a one of their shots clipped my shoulder plate. There wasn’t much cover in my
vicinity and I knew that in a few seconds it would be all over. A cool, calm voice came through my headset, “This is flanking element three…Hit
the deck.” When you here a command like that, you don’t even think, you just do it. There was a great battle cry and I saw a wave of Verash troops
come into view behind the Subcon and cut them down with a hail of assault rifle fire. “YEEEHHAAAHHH!” I screamed; the flanking elements had
come through at last! We lay flat and let them race by us; the carnage they were inflicting was terrible. The Subcon were sandwiched between our
two lines and were being cut down like grass. My squad opened fire with everyone else; we grinned at each other as we held our triggers down.
We were just about to advance when a large number of dropships darkened the sky overhead. The Subcon went into a defensive mode and waited
as the dropships descended. I ordered my squad to advance and we ran forward as the Subcon jumped into their ships. They rose into the air and
flew off towards the city; a deathly silence fell on the battlefield.
      We looked at each other and at the destruction around us, then we began to hoot and holler and clap each other on the back. Tiger
staggered up holding his head “uuungghh! They broke through the force field on my helmet, but they couldn’t break my skull. I’ve got a shplitting
headache!” He slurred. I felt a dull aching in my shoulder and on my chest. I knew that my chest had been sliced, but the shoulder, that was new. I
looked and noticed that there was a hole in the edge of the armor plate, and a deep lasbolt wound in my shoulder. Adrenaline is truly great stuff,
but when it wears off, you want a medic handy. “Mike, I need some painkiller here.” He stood up from where he was laying and put a syringe an
inch from my chest. There are no needles any more, the syringes teleport the stuff right into you. I flexed a little bit and the pain decreased, Vixy
walked up “ Wow Fox! That was pretty impressive taking on the commander alone…” She grabbed my muzzle and yanked it so that it was inches
from hers. “OW! What the!!!” “And it was absolutely stupid! What the heck were you thinking!?” she asked, her eyes flashing fire. “Come on,
we’re engaged, the last thing I need you to do is get killed! And you always tell me to be careful!” She let go of me and I rubbed my jaw, “I saw
him kill a wounded soldier in cold blood. He chopped him in half; the guy couldn’t even defend himself. That got my blood boiling, and I wanted
to take him down alone. I guess I didn’t really think about the danger. ” I noticed that her left arm hung limp at her side, “What happened to you?” “
The guy that knocked me over broke my arm with his shield…it needed sharpening.” We joined up with the rest of our forces and trudged back to
the waiting dropships. I noticed that the nice puffy clouds that I had seen earlier were rapidly becoming towering thunderheads that glared
ominously at us. “Hmm, that could be to our advantage, or it might be a royal pain in the butt.” I thought.
      The medical ships were just landing as we took off, and I knew that if they found any wounded, they would probably live. There was a
squirrel type sitting opposite me and I saw tears in his eyes as he stared at his assault rifle. He looked up at me and spoke in a choked voice, “I’ve
never hurt anyone before… This was my first mission. I saw guys get blown up out there, ours and theirs…War is terrible” He became silent, and
I sighed heavily. “ Killing someone for the first time, even an enemy, is always tough.” I said, “ I cried the first time I made a kill, and I felt pretty
sick, but I try not to think of that any more. Soon you’ll be hardened, and you won’t smile a whole lot, but that’s the price we must pay for our
      I remembered my first fight, that was back when our primary enemies were the Enfec. About three hundred of us were taking back a town
that they had raided. The din of the battle was tremendous; there were staccato bursts of our assault rifles, the bang of hand grenades, the screams
of the wounded, and the terrifying whistle of Enfec daisy cutter artillery shells. I was hardly even aware of what I was doing at the beginning, but
gradually the numbness wore off and I fought like a cornered animal. Lieutenant Terry, The one person who had kept me sane during basic
training, was leading our platoon. He was the type of leader who could ask his men to die, and they respected him so much that they would do it.
He loved his “boys” though, and would never ask us to do anything without stepping to the front and leading us himself.
      We had managed to find cover in a forward position and were popping in and out, taking potshots at anything that moved. Then the
lieutenant got hit. He didn’t scream, he just groaned and fell to the ground. I dodged over to him and rolled him upright, then dragged him behind a
wall. He was still breathing, so I pulled out a medpack; then his eyes opened and he pushed it away. “Nothing… You can do…can…save
me…Now.” His breathing increased in speed. “No! How can this be happening!” I took his hand and held on to it hard. A smile crept across the
young wolf’s muzzle as he recognized me, “Starwing? …Fox, You were my best…my best soldier…through basic…and all the field exercises…”
He now struggled for breath as blood flowed out from around an evil looking shard that had punctured his gut. “If…If the general will allow
it…Take charge of my platoon…You show…great leadership…” He feebly ripped off the platoon leader patch that was on his breast pocket and
clapped it into my sweaty palm. I lowered my head and squeezed his hand even tighter as I felt the life ebb out of him like a slowly retreating tide.
Just when I thought he was dead he opened his eyes one last time and said in a clear voice, “You will become a… a great warrior
Fox…I…Unngghh.” His head rolled to the side and I started to weep, the tears dripping on my assault rifle with soft plinks, or disappearing with a
hiss as they hit the hot barrel. I gently closed his eyes and then stood up, I saluted him “Sir, You were the greatest soldier that I have ever known. I
would have followed you to the very gates of hell.” My lips trembled as I turned towards the enemy; the grief had turned to wrath. There was an
unnatural steadiness in my aim as I leveled my assault rifle and emptied clip after clip into the Enfec positions. When ‘Heat Wrning’ flashed in
the rifle’s HUD, I threw it down and took up the lieutenant’s gun. Then the Enfec advanced on our position. By now the squad had seen that their
leader was dead, and we fought with a courage born of desperation and rage. Our crossfire ripped up the Enfec as they ran towards us and the
bodies of our foes soon littered the ground. Then the close up work began, I used everything I had to fight with; the butt of lieutenant Terry’s gun,
my knife, and even my bare hands. More than one Enfec fell with its head nearly torn off. When the battle was over I carried the body of our
beloved commander back to camp, I felt like I had been wrung of everything I had.
      Things faded back to the present, the dropship, the squirrel, my squad, the battle we had just fought, and the men we had lost. I looked at my
knife, I had wiped it on the grass but it still had some dark stains on its blue tinged surface. “You can’t think of your enemy as something living
and breathing, you’ve got to think of them as targets.” I remembered the look of terror on that soldiers face as the Subcon commander raised his
shield. There was a slight ringing and click as I slid my knife into its sheath; I clenched my teeth. “Every last one of them is gonna pay, and it will
be the ultimate price” I hissed.
      We touched down near our camp and walked over to the debriefing area. An officer stepped up onto the platform, “You all did quite well
out there. The casualty reports aren’t in yet but I do know that our fighters took down a number of those dropships as they left. These attacks have
given the Subcon more than just a sting, we took down at least fifteen percent of their forces, and we still have troops landing all over the planet.
The space battle is still going superbly, their ancient battlewagons are no match for our ships… AM I RIGHT?!”  We all shouted “HOOYAH!” at
the top of our lungs. “ If you keep that spirit up, we will only get more and more confident, and they will begin to lose heart. Keep your eye on
those artillery cannons over there, I hear we’ve got something special planned tonight.” Somebody raised his hand and asked “But sir, there’s a
shield over the city, our shells would bounce right off.” “The higher ups are working on that right now, that’s what those funny looking
contraptions over there are for.” He pointed to some very advanced looking platforms that had several dishes and antennas sticking out of them.
“You leave it to the general’s brain, and our elite squads brawn.” I rolled my eyes and told Miles “The day isn’t over yet.” As soon as the debrief
was over, I headed to the medical section with my squad and had myself looked over. Medical technology is something to behold nowadays. As
long as your living, they can generally keep you that way, and even if you’ve lost limbs, the Nee’ek can make new ones. They gave Vixy a kind of a
brace that had re-growth accelerators in it and told her that in a few hours her arm would be as good as new. They took my armor off, applied
some ointment and then put synthskin over the wounds. I told them that we would probably be in combat later on, so they decided to put us all
onto healing beds. Healing beds are the magnum opus of Verash medical technology. It feels like you’re floating in warm water, but actually there
is a beam that slowly goes around your entire body and heals just about everything. In a half an hour, you couldn’t tell if we had been wounded or
not. There is a slight tingling and light feeling that makes you feel refreshed and ready to go. We went to the armory to get some new armor
plates, and Miles picked up about a dozen armor shards. Armor Shards are small devices that replace damaged armor plates. To use them you
click them into where the damaged piece was, and they unfold and expand into the exact shape of the old piece. In the field, having a few of those
things is invaluable. As we were paying, I saw a small sign advertising the PHC-68, a new heavy pistol. I had wanted a pistol for quite some time
and so I said, “That does it, I’m ordering two of those things.” I stepped outside and dialed in a number on my wrist computer. I talked with a
salesman and then set the computer to receive mode. After a confirmation check, a small beam illuminated a circle on the ground and the two
pistols and their holsters materialized in front of me. “Thanks a lot.” I said and clicked the computer back into watch mode. I strapped the pistols
to my ankles, and practiced drawing them quickly. The weight was heavy enough, but not too heavy, and the size was perfect. I walked over to the
makeshift range and slapped in two energy clips, there was a soft hum that ascended past my hearing range, and I flipped the safeties off. They had
decent kick and a great, big bore sound. Being laser pistols, they’re not as loud as guns that fire bullets or shells, but they’re still loud enough to
hurt your ears. I was getting damage readings that were pretty high, high enough to penetrate an armored Subcon. “Heh, these things are pretty
darn good.” I spun them on my fingers and holstered them. Miles came running up and said, “Just like you thought, we are going out tonight. They
said something about scouting, but we’ll find out more at the briefing.” “Just another day in the life of an elite soldier.” I chuckled sarcastically.

                          Chapter 7: Reconnaissance and Questions
      By this time a construction team had made a briefing tent, so we headed in that direction. We stepped in and I noticed that it was only my
squad and captain Corg’s squad in the room. “How has your squad been doing out there?” I asked, “We did pretty well, I haven’t lost anybody yet,
but Vickerson is still in pretty bad shape. How bout you?” “Ehh we’ve been in some pretty hot spots, but we’ve got Miles with us, and all of us are
pretty darn good. All we’ve had is some deep flesh wounds, and a broken arm.” Corg is a superb example of how to lead an elite squad. When he
gives orders, they are followed to the letter. Not only because of his commanding presence, but also because his men respect him so much. He
comes very close to lieutenant Terry, and I am always glad when he commands both his squad and mine, like it seems he will do tonight.
      The briefing officer stepped in at that moment and we gave him our full attention. “This is going to be a small, and most likely non-combat
mission. All we’re asking you to do is take two LACV-45’s and get some information on the city. The only problem I think you’ll have is the
weather, which might turn nasty.” I heard a roaring outside and then the steady hum of the transports’ turbine engines. “You’re vehicles are waiting
outside, get moving and good luck.” We stood up and walked outside to the waiting transports. “Dang, I wish I had one of these things for myself,”
I said. “Why would you want one of those?” Vixy asked, “you’ve already got a Z-3000, and that’s way faster than almost anything out there.”
Z-3000’s are kind of like large grav-cycles but instead of laying down forward you are reclined at a sixty-degree angle. They have a fully enclosed
cockpit, and are capable of carrying weapons. Top speed is around four hundred miles per hour, but I got a pluton boost bottle installed so
theoretically I could break the sound barrier. I’m thinking of putting two railguns on mine, and that would mean serious destructive capability.
“Well it’s just because they are ‘military transports’, can carry passengers, and have the capability to dish out, and take some serious damage.” I
said. The turret had been removed from captain Corg’s and a small dish stuck out in its place. “Jamming equipment by the looks of it,” I thought.
      Soon we were thundering down off the mountain at ninety miles per hour and heading for a hill that was a scant twenty miles outside the
city. The ride is silky smooth in these things, even when you go over rocky terrain. After an hour or so we came to a river, and the driver plunged
right into it. Small cups rose from the treads and we held a speed of around sixty miles per hour. When we reached the other shore, the driver
advanced slowly because we didn’t know if any Subcon would see the plume of dust we would raise if we went any faster. After twenty more
minutes of careful driving, we stopped and disembarked. Our transport carried the sensing equipment while the other one carried jamming
equipment. We deployed some camouflage over the transports and began to set up the sensors. It was twilight and a fresh breeze blew the grass
around us in long waves. The sky to our west was blackened by thunderheads and by my calculations they would be here in around fifteen minutes.
Miles activated the first sensor and a topographical image of the city sprang into view. “How do they do it?!” Tiger asked in amazement, “Probably
some kind of sensing ray is bounced off the upper atmosphere and we get a picture, I’m no expert though, you should probably talk to one of the
technicians back at base.”
      Talon was eying the hill that we were next to dubiously, “I don’t like the way we are positioned. If some one were on that hill he’d be able
to see everything we are doing.” Captain Corg ordered everyone to camouflage the sensing equipment and try to stand still. “Hey corporal, come
over here and take a look at this.” Miles said. I walked over slowly and looked at the monitor on the sensor. “There are trucks moving back and
forth on this road, and they seem to go over to this area here, but it’s all blacked out.” “Hmm, the Subcon are probably jamming that area, I’ll see
if I can use one of the other sensors to get a picture.”  I went over to a different one and turned it to sense the infrared spectrum. For a second or
two I saw the building, but then it blacked out again. “Miles, I just got a picture of that building, but it blacked out again.” All the sensors were in
use for about a minute longer when Miles frowned and turned some dials on his, and then turned it off. “I can’t see a thing any more, they’ve
blacked out the entire city.” Mine faded out at that second and soon nobody could see anything. We were beginning to move quickly to pack
things up when Talon made a kind of a, “Hssst!” sound and we stopped. “Five Subcon scouts just crested that hill, everybody carefully lay down,
and then don’t move.” I slowly lowered myself into a prone position and looked up at the hill. Talon was looking through the scope on his rifle,
and I said quietly, “You probably shouldn’t shoot, it would just let them know that we’re here; and even if you did get them all, the Subcon
commanders would soon find out and it would be all over their battle-net.” He sighed and removed his finger from the trigger guard. “They’re just
looking around, and by their expressions they don’t seem to see us.” He whispered. My fur rippled as a gust of wind blew and I looked up for a
moment, the thunderheads towered tens of thousands of feet above us. Soon large drops of water began to splash around us and then it seemed
like the sky fell. Huge torrents of rain came down and we could hardly see a hundred feet around. It seemed that once every five seconds there
was a blinding blue flash and then thunder that sounded like the crash of artillery.
      “This is our chance! Get the equipment stowed as fast as possible and then lets beat it.” Bellowed Corg. The ground was rapidly turning to
mud, but in a half a minute, we were on our way out. The drivers were using infra-vision to see through the rain; it sounded like we were driving
through a hailstorm. I looked back at Miles and asked, “What do you think they were jamming that area for?” “Well they obviously wanted to keep
something a dead secret.” “ I saw it for a second or two, let me upload the pictures into your MFD.” I pulled the data stick out of a compartment
and plugged it into a slot in the control panel. I looked at my MFD and zoomed in on one area. “It looks like some kind of storage vat… And that
would explain the trucks going in and out. Did you see where the trucks were coming from?” “Yeah, pan to the west… see, they were coming in
and out of the west city gate, that’s as far as I scanned.” “This doesn’t bode well for us Miles. I have no clue what they could be bringing to that
storage vat that would be secret enough to keep it jammed at all times. There may be an underlying motive in their attack on this planet that we
could never have thought of.” “I don’t like it either Fox, but all we can do is wait. I have a feeling that they detected us scanning them, and that’s
why they turned all their jammers on.” There was silence for a while and I leaned back in my seat.
      A few blissful moments of blackness later, Vixy’s hand on my shoulder woke me up. I shook my head back and forth and wiped my eyes.
“Hunh?? Was I asleep? Oh sorry about that, I guess I’m more tired than I think.” “ Hey we’re all tired Fox,” she said sympathetically “ but the night
is still young, and I have a feeling that we’re going to have another assignment.”  “ Oh heck, when are we going to get some rest,” I thought. “
…Hey, when was the last time we ate?” “Breakfast.” Miles replied. I pulled out a class B ration capsule and twisted the lid. After five seconds I
popped it open and the smell of hot stew filled the cabin. After a few whiffs, the rest of the squad followed suit and we were soon all eating. “Hey,
you want some?” I said and held a capsule out to the driver, “Nahh, I ate dinner only two hours ago, I’m still pretty full.” “Yup, that’s what these
rations are good at, fillin you up.” Said Tiger. We were done eating before we got back to camp but when we disembarked I was still feeling pretty
tired. As we walked to the debriefing tent I carefully pulled out a small crystal flask from a pouch and unscrewed the lid. “Ahhh, Mythpec crystal
cordial, nothing more refreshing in the universe.” I said, and took a small sip. I could feel it go all the way into my feet, and an energy came into
me that made me want to run a couple of miles and then do the obstacle course. I passed it around and said, “Don’t worry if you finish it off, when
I went to Mythpha before this all started, I got a couple of flasks, it’s truly great stuff.”
      After the debrief was over General Brandock came into the room and told us to be on alert, because we were going to strike quickly. “We
don’t want to wait until morning. The last thing the Subcon would expect would be an infiltration on the first day of hostilities. We have acquired a
few cloaking packs from the Nebuzaridan and want to put them to use. Lets just say that before the night is done, artillery shells will be falling on
the capital city.” We walked over to our barracks and stood out side the door talking. As we were discussing what would happen my ears picked up
a noise in the distance. “Do you hear that?” I asked, Vixy pricked her ears and said, “Yeah, what is it?” Nobody else could hear it so I kept
listening. “Oh no… It sounds like fighters, at least two or three.” I knew that we had anti-aircraft defenses set up, but I didn’t know how ready they
were, and they weren’t firing. The sound was rapidly growing louder and I accessed the command circuit through my wrist computer. I was about
to sound the red alert when I thought that I recognized something about the sounds. “Hey! That’s my father’s fighter!” There was a tremendous
sonic boom and a twinkle of fire from his engines as he flew overhead.” There were probably five or six other pilots with him and I saw them
settle down on a landing pad about a half a mile from our barracks. “Come on!” I said, and ignited my rocket pack. Six G’s of acceleration is
always fun, and a little painful. I stopped buy the makeshift mess hall on my way and picked up a six-pack of cold ones. Vixy was flying formation
inches from my side as we flew the half-mile to the landing pad in a couple of seconds.
      As we reduced power and landed, I noticed that one of the fighters was missing some panels and it looked like the engine had blown
something. They were still in their cockpits performing a post-flight when we got there. After a minute or two my father popped open his canopy
and jumped lightly to the ground. There were more silver hairs on his muzzle than the last time I had seen him, I went up to him and slapped a beer
into his hand as I shook it. “Well son, I heard about what was going on down here and decided to get the old squadron together for one last fight.
What’s this… oh, heh, I don’t have a bottle opener.” “Here, hold it that way.”  I said. He pointed it away from himself and I blew the cap off with a
well-aimed pistol shot. “ Nicely done.” he said, then he took a swig and gave a sigh of contentment.  I walked over to the fighter with the blown
engine and then laughed out loud. “Grampa, you’re still into hot-rodding aren’t you!” “Weeell it really wasn’t the engines fault. I took some flak
over the city and decided to get out, so I pushed the throttle forward and activated my ‘upgrades’. There was an enormous bang and the ‘engine
fire’ light came on so I had to shut the whole thing down. The flak must have jostled something loose.” “That’s grandpa,” I thought, “Always trying
to make things go faster. After a while though they always seem to overheat or blow up.” The entire squadron had gathered around him, and they
were looking at the damage. Then they all turned and eyed him “Well.” One of them said. Grandpa fidgeted and shuffled around uncomfortably for
a second. “Come on, come on.” Vyker prodded. “I’m the biggest idiot in the squadron!” grandpa shouted. Everyone cheered and clapped him on
the back. I gave him a cold one and he took the cap off with his teeth. As I passed the rest of the beers out, I asked my father “What the heck was
that all about?” “Well, when someone royally fubars something, or is shot, he has to be the ‘biggest idiot in the squadron’ for a day or two.” We
laughed and began to talk about his flight in.
      Vixy joined our conversation and after a few moments the rest of my squad came racing up. “Ah, Miles, I trust you’re taking good care of
my son. Right now you’re like a second father to him.” Miles nodded,“ I’m doing my best Vyker. So far the worst that has happened has been
some deep flesh wounds, nothing serious.” “Good, keep it up.”
      I remembered what had been said at the briefing “ Dad, tonight I think that we are going to take down the shields surrounding the city. After
that happens you might just be able to make an attack.” “ I don’t know Fox… Hmmm… Well nighttime would be the best time to do it I guess. We
come loaded for bear, all our pylons are filled with something, and I even got some special tak-nukes.” “Just remember that as soon as the shields
are down, artillery will begin bombarding the city as well, so they probably won’t be able to handle everything at once” I pointed out. “We’ll do
it.” He said and then gathered the squadron around and began to plan with them how the attack would proceed. Then he slapped his head and came
over to me, “I almost forgot, when you have some free time I have been working on something and need you to do some final touches on it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked “you’ll just have to wait and see!” he said teasingly. “I can give you one hint though, it’s a replacement for our house.
After the Subcon blew it up in the invasion, I knew that we would need a different place to live.” “Arghh! I hate waiting for surprises.” I groaned.
He walked back to the map that he had laid out and continued planning.

                  Chapter 8: Infiltration and Demolition
      We walked back to our barracks and I mused over what he could have been making that I needed to finish. At 2240 we headed to the
briefing tent, and I reminded everyone that fifteen minutes early is on time. As we were waiting, I remembered the slowing down of time in the
fight with the Subcon commander. I told Miles about it and he thought for a few moments. The same idea popped into our minds at the same
instant, “ The crystal!” we both exclaimed. I pulled it out and held it up to the light, “ Wait until the Mythphec here about this! It doesn’t seem to
be able to be activated manually though, when I’m in a tight spot or my life is in danger, then it activates.” Miles looked at it “ let’s give it a try
then.” In a split second he had whipped one of his pistols out and was pointing it at me. Nothing happened. He checked the chamber and loaded a
shell, “Now we’ll see if it works.” He put the pistol back and I looked at him like he had gone nuts. As he snapped it back up everything slowed
down. I saw his finger tighten on the trigger and I leapt into the air. As I flipped over his head, the flash lit up the tent a split second before the
boom reached my ears. No bullet came from the barrel though and I surmised that he had loaded a blank. Before the empty shell casing had hit the
ground, I was behind him with my knife to his throat. He slowly turned around with a look of wonder in his eyes, “Fox… That was absolutely
unbelievable… You may become one of the greatest warriors of all time with an ability like that.” I looked at him,“ Maybe we’ll both go down in
history, two of the great warriors of old, maybe songs will be written about our squad.” The briefing officer burst into the room and glared at us “
Whose firing?!?!” he bellowed. Miles showed him his smoking pistol, “ It was a blank sir.” “ Hmmm… Don’t let it happen again.” He stepped back
into the planning room and Miles looked at me, “…Oops.”
      Five other elite squads trickled in as the briefing drew closer. At 2300 exactly the briefing officer stepped into the room. “ Well, it’s good
to see you all… Anyway this is going to be the first real offensive. We want this to be quiet though, so no heavy weapons, if you have silencing
options, use them.” Tiger gave a groan of disappointment. “ We want that shield removed tonight so that we can begin the softening bombardment.
There is only one shield generator but many false buildings, that’s why we need so many of you. We are going to do a remote controlled
insertion, because the transports that carry you in are gonna get blasted for sure. You will use your cloak packs to get in undetected, and hopefully
disappear after the job is done. These cloak packs are fairly small so you only get ten minutes on a full charge. But when turned off, they recharge
at the same rate as they discharge. So you will move for ten minutes, hide for ten minutes then move again, you get the general idea. Also, to
prevent friendly fire incidents you will be able to see wire frame images of each other on your HUD. Now, the Subcon sensor network would be
able to find you even if you were cloaked, so we have had several long-range corridor jammers set up that will make sure you are not detected,
that’s what those things out front are. These new jammers allow us to jam a long corridor instead of a broad field. I have uploaded the mission
maps into your HUDs so you can review them on your way. Good luck out there, it’s gonna be dangerous as heck. Your ships are at pad 3.”
      As we were walking, I ran through the plan in my mind: move through four miles of Subcon infested rubble, get into a high security
building, plant the explosives in the innermost room, and get out. “My gosh, it’s almost suicide!” I exclaimed. Miles was looking straight ahead.
“Hey, remember we have the ability to disappear. They won’t know what hit them.” As we boarded our dropship, I looked and saw that there was no
pilot in the cockpit.“ I don’t trust those remote control systems. I mean, what happens if we get jammed and they lose signal.” Miles sighed and
tapped me on the head. “ You get up in the cockpit and fly us in yourself… Boy are you a genius” He chuckled. The rest of the squad stood up and
held on to the handles that hung from the ceiling, I went into the cockpit. We were going to jump from the ship as it got close to the ground. It
would touch down and some diabolical device would blow it up so it would seem that the Subcon fire had done it’s job and we had all died. As we
took off, I saw that my father’s entire squadron lifted off and began to follow us. “ After you get through, we’re gonna cause some mayhem.”
Vyker’s voice came through the ship’s comm., “ and besides, you might need some help.” I grinned as I looked at his face on the screen…“Thanks
      We knew that we had reached the city when the ship started rocking from all the flack bursting around it. I joined the squad in the troop
compartment and waited several agonizing moments as flack dropped our shields rapidly. Miles gave a battle cry as the side doors opened; we
activated our cloak packs and jumped out. We tumbled on the ground and kneeled, covering our heads. The dropship touched down and the rear
door started to open, then we were blasted onto our faces as it erupted in an enormous fireball. As soon as the larger pieces had stopped falling,
we began to move towards our objective.
      We were picking our way through twisted wreckage and pieces of blasted starship. “ Man, this is where the starport used to be… Look
over there, that was pad thirty-five where I used to land.” As we walked I came upon something that made me stop in my tracks. A small bench,
blackened, but not damaged otherwise. My mind flashed back, I remembered how beautiful everything used to be, and my rage began build. The
fountain in the concourse, the trees surrounding the landing pads, everything was blackened desolation now. “ They’re gonna pay… They’ve
destroyed one of the most beautiful places in the galaxy.” I said softly. “ I hate them…I HATE THEM ALL!” My voice rose to a near scream, and
I saw Vixy’s wire frame head whip towards me. “Vengeance will be had Fox” Miles said quietly, “There is no need to go ballistic.” My breathing
slowed down and I shook my head. “Sorry guys, generally I don’t get very angry. But this used to be my second home, and many memories were
made here. Whenever I was away from our house, I would be at this starport. When I was younger, I would stand on this bench and watch all the
ships come and go. When I was fourteen, every morning I would come out here and take lessons from my dad on how to fly a fighter. This place
meant a lot to me.” I could see the wire frame figure of Miles walk over to me, “ I also have had experiences like this, there is nothing new under
the sun. Control your anger, and when you have controlled it, use it… Hey! We shouldn’t be standing here jawing all night, we got a job to do!” I
pushed the memories away and gave the order to move out.
      After we had walked for a few minutes there was a kind of giggle, “ Wow, these cloaking packs work superbly,” Richard said. “ When we
get back remind me to take mine apart so I can see how it works.” “ These aren’t ours Richard, and they’re so complicated I wouldn’t even pop the
cover off mine.” Mike whispered. I groaned “ Guys, you don’t have to whisper, these things cloak your voice, remember.”
      After nine and a half minutes we hid under a piece of starship and let our packs recharge. As we began our trek once more, Tiger sniffed
the air, “Eegghh, I smell fossil fuel exhaust.” “Whew! What the heck uses trichlorazine anymore?” I queried, “Subcon warbikes” Miles answered.
My ears soon picked up a roaring in the distance. “Sounds like a large group, and they probably got wind of our crash… I bet they’re looking for
us.” “Hee hee! They won’t find us though,” laughed Richard. As we crested a small rise I dropped to the ground. “Fox, your invisible” Miles said. I
had seen a long line of Subcon warbikes just sitting there. “Oh, right…Sorry”
      The bikes were sitting so close to one another that there was no way we could move through without being detected. “Ahh Shartoth! They
probably got wind of our cloaking devices too,” Tiger cursed. “ Talon spun his pistol on the end of his finger, “Might a ‘distraction’ be in order,
Sir?” I grinned, “Yes… That might do. Shoot the gas tank on one of those bikes, with any luck we’ll be able to slip through the hole it blows in the
line.” We ran forward until we were only a hundred feet or so in front of them. Talon dropped to one knee and took careful aim. “ My trigger is a
detonator, let’s push the button and make them go…boom.” There was no sound, no laser streak, no nothing except for a large explosion in front
of us. “MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!!” I yelled, and we sprinted towards the line. Miles was the first to squeeze through and I swear he brushed
shoulders with a Subcon mechanic. I went through next and then Vixy dove and rolled between the legs of another one as he stepped into the path.
As Richard walked through I saw him thumb his nose at the mechanic and swipe a wrench from his tool belt. We walked away quickly, but still as
quietly as wraiths.
      It had been almost eight minutes since we last recharged, so we stepped into a small bombed-out hut to rest. We hid ourselves as best we
could and waited. After about five minutes, I heard a small scrape outside the hut and whispered “CLOAK!” we all disappeared and exited the hut
in the fastest possible manner (diving out windows, making doors, etc.). I saw Vixy looking through the scope on her crossbow, “By the brainwave
readings, there are two Subcon in there looking at our tracks right now.” Talon stepped to a window and Vixy aimed through a different one. There
was no sound except the thud of falling bodies. Talon was about to holster his pistol when he gave a sharp exclamation and fired several shots.
“There was a third one that stepped in to see how his buddies were doing, I think I got him right before he could hit his comm. These guys were
loaded up, night vision, silenced pistols, camouflage…the works. I’d wager a stick of dynamite that the Subcon know we’re here.” I thought for a
second, “ We want to be as far away from this spot as possible when the next patrol comes buy, so lets move.” The rest of the trip went without
hitch, and we soon found ourselves looking at a building that was built at the bottom of a large crater. We wanted to go in with a full charge so we
found some cover and laid flat.
      “That spotlight makes me jittery,” Tiger grumbled “Can’t we do something about it corporal?” “Hmm, I guess we can… Talon, could you
please relieve us of that nuisance.” “With pleasure.” He said quietly. He cloaked and I saw him raise his wire frame rifle. I heard him hum a few
bars from an old suspense holovid, “My trigger is a light switch, let’s turn them…off” The spotlight spun crazily into the air as the operator
clutched his head and collapsed. “That’s taken care of, but I think that their cleanup crew is gonna have a hard time getting his brains off the wall.”
      After a few more minutes I gave a radio communication to the rest of the squads that we were in position and moving in. We moved down
the side of the crater without disturbing so much as a pebble. There were two heavily armored guards standing by the main entrance, I laughed
coldly and drew my knife. Vixy aimed her crossbow at one of their necks and I took up position behind the other one. There were a few breathless
seconds before we heard the go code, “Take back what is ours!” I gave a yell and plunged the knife into the neck of the guard. As I withdrew and
stabbed again, I saw the other one clutch at its throat, where a feathered bolt stuck several inches in. The guards fell quickly, and Tiger fired one
of his special “door duster” rockets at the entrance. The pieces of door that were blown inward killed two or three of the inner guards, who had no
idea we were coming. The rest of the inner guards fell quickly to huge swings of Miles’ invisible sword. We moved carefully inward, and passed a
piece of unique Subcon architecture, the passage split, not horizontally, but vertically. We chose the lower path and pushed on. There were
several inner guards that rushed past us to “Find out what had happened.” “I think they’re a little late,” Vixy laughed grimly.
      We finally made it to the door into the shield generator room, “Now we find out if we got one of the fakes, or the real one.” Miles said.
He put his shoulder to the door and gave a great bellow, it folded like cardboard and we sprinted into the room. It was huge, simply huge, probably
two hundred feet in diameter.
      The reactor sat in the middle, glowing slightly with pulses of energy. As we started to run to different points to plant the explosives, all the
other doors burst open and about thirty heavily armed Subcon rushed into the room. I looked at the time that my cloak pack had left and sucked in
my breath. 5…4…3… “OH FRACK!” We all became visible at the same time. The Subcon shouted and blasted away at us. We frantically threw
the explosives onto the wall and I gave the command to meet at the door opposite the one we came in. As we tore around towards the exit, I drew
my staff and cast lightning bolts at the Subcon blocking it. I shouted into my comm., “This is squad one, we are under fire, need extraction ASAP,
I repeat need extraction NOW.” We met at the door at almost the same time; Miles stabbed with his sword and skewered two Subcon like a shish
kabob. That opened up a path that we all charged through, I thought we were safely out of the room when there was a shout from behind me. I
turned and saw that a Subcon had tripped Tiger and was trying to finish him off. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I gave a battle cry as I
dashed back. I leapt over Tiger’s prostrate form and smashed downwards with my staff. There was a great crack as the Subcon blocked it with his
club. I grinned and stabbed forward, he gave a grunt as the crystalline tip connected. Rotating the staff, I smashed a blow into his club arm. He
reeled and then took a great swing at my head. I ducked just enough and then pressed forward with a hurricane attack. As the final spin came
around, there was a whistling as I spun it above my head and smashed it down on his skull. He dropped like a poled ox and I yelled for Tiger to get
up. Miles came racing back and swept up Tiger like a big orange and black football. We were dashing up the hallway to the surface when Vixy
called out “Turn around and activate your cloaking packs, I hear more coming down this hall.” We all turned around, and Miles squeezed to the
front. “I don’t think that we’re gonna make it out of here,” Mike yelled. We had about eight seconds left of cloak when we entered the main room.
Then there was a tremendous blast and several Subcon were crushed under pieces of falling ceiling. We looked up and saw that the dropship had
blown a hole in the roof and a gravity elevator’s energy beam had appeared at the other side of the room. We raced madly for it and had almost
made it when the Subcon opened fire, “Crap, visible again,” I thought. Several Subcon had made a ring around the beam in an effort to stop us.
Miles plowed through them and swung his sword in a huge circle. “COME ON!” He roared and we dove for the glowing circle on the ground.  As
every Subcon fired on that spot, we were jerked upward into the ship, and collapsed on the floor gasping. The ship lurched as Miles pushed a small
button on the remote detonator he was holding. The glow from the fireball tinged the ceiling orange and we all gave a collective sigh of relief.
      There was a louder, deeper groan and I asked if Miles or Tiger had just made a noise, “Nope.” As I leapt to my feet I yanked a pistol from
its holster and aimed at a Subcon that had gotten pulled up with us. He looked up at me and raised his own gun. I fired first and dark blood
spattered the deck plating, “Another one dead, that’s one closer to taking our planet back.” The lights in the ship flickered for a moment and I
realized that we weren’t out of the woods yet. I ran up to the cockpit and saw the pilot worriedly looking at various displays. I watched flack burst
outside with flashes like cameras and realized that we would all die unless something was done.

                     Chapter 9: “You’re the only ones left”
      In a split second I knew what to do. I yelled at the pilot. “I’m taking command, get out of that seat.” He hesitated for a moment “Are you
even a pilo…” I physically threw him from the seat and strapped myself in. “A yoke, great.” I thought. I rolled inverted, punched on emergency
power and threw the transport into a steep dive. The ground rushed up at terrifying speed and at the last second I rolled upright and leveled out.
Skimming the earth at several hundred miles per hour gave the anti-aircraft gunners very little time to shoot at us. The airspeed indicator was
steadily rising and I thought that things would start to go better when “missile warning” flashed in the HUD. I pulled the yoke all the way back, “
HANG ON!” I shouted as we flew vertically and then tilted inverted. The pilot was petrified as I completed the immulman and rolled upright. We
were now facing the missile, and then I realized that there were two of them. As they got closer I activated the ECM and plunged back towards the
ground. Confused, they flew above us and then turned around again. “Open up the cargo doors” came Miles’ commanding voice. I yanked a lever
all the way back and then held a straight course. I heard gunfire come from the cargo compartment and guessed that they were trying to shoot the
missiles. “Hold this thing still for a second.” Talon growled. I smoothed it out until it felt like we were flying on rails. I heard an explosion and
then a yell of consternation from Talon. “I shot one, and have to reload. Oh NO! It’s getting too clo…” there was a second louder explosion, the
ship rocked, and the missile warning light flickered off. “Who hit that one?!” I shouted. My father’s icy cool voice crackled through the comm., “I
did, pretty good shot hunh? I’m going to cover your exit and then drop a few surprises on those rats down there.”
      I kept jinking and sliding until I was positive that there was no more flack. My father peeled off and streaked towards the city, three
tac-nukes slung under his hull. “Boy those are gonna leave a mark,” I thought. I gave the seat back to the pilot and as he shook my hand he said
reverently, “Truly, that is the most amazing display of flying I have ever seen.” “Well I’m a Starwing, anything less and I’d have been dead long
ago.” When we got back, he carefully landed on pad three and Miles looked back towards the city, “It looks like we’re the first ones here, lets wait
around for the others.” After ten minutes, no other ships had come back. We looked at each other and nodded grimly, “The debriefing tent is
going to awfully quite tonight. Let’s get moving” My voice almost choked as I said the last sentence, but I managed to hide it as well as the
glistening in my eyes.
      We quietly took our seats at the front and waited as the officer got some reports. After a few minutes he stepped onto the platform “Well I
just got the word.” He spoke quietly “You’re the only ones left…” He let it sink in and I lowered my eyes. “You assaulted the real thing, and you
made it out. It seems that everyone else was shot down either on the way in or coming out.” I realized that my piloting skill had saved us all, and I
made a mental note to thank my dad for all the training he had given me in flying transports. “Before squad five had gone to their objective, they
checked on that mysterious storage vat. All they found were some large rods sticking out of the ground. It seems that the Subcon have moved it
via starship. We still don’t know what was in it, but we are working on it. Good work, you got the job done. Now go and get some rest, it looks
like you guys could really use it.”
      Before we headed back to our barracks Tiger groaned and asked if he could go to the medical section. “Sure, are you badly… OH MY
GOSH!” He had taken a shot right to the chest and I hadn’t even heard him grunt. He grimaced, “I used a medpeck to stop the bleeding, but it’s
really starting to hurt now.” “You had better move, you know how serious internal damage can be.” He walked away and Mike shook his head in
amazement, “When somebody takes a shot like that, they usually don’t keep standing. How the heck did he finish the mission with a hole that big
in him?” I looked at his retreating figure, “Well, why don’t you tell me doc? I just think that he has an incredible toughness, and an even greater
will to fight.” He came back after several minutes muttering nasty things about doctors. “It hurts more to get patched up than to get shot!” he
growled. Vixy put her hands on her hips “Well Lieutenant Steel, did you ask for anesthetic?” Tiger bulged his muscles and grunted, “No I didn’t. I
told them that I was tougher than that.” “See, if you’d just admit that it hurts, they’d do something about it.” Tiger rolled his eyes, “Gee Whiz Fox,
how do you put up with this woman?! That’s another reason I’m not going to fall for anyone, to much ‘good advice’…umm… Hey doc could you
give me a pain killer?” Mike looked at me with a long face, “ If she hadn’t said anything, you probably wouldn’t have asked me. Then you wouldn’t
have been able to get any sleep because of the roaring pain, and then in the morning you would have been a grouch…” He sighed “Sure I can give
you pain killer, but I think you should reconsider your statement about women, I think one might do you good.” Tiger looked like he was about to
explode “Well if the doc prescribes it…” I heard him trail off into mumbling, “whyoescrummyworybwaauummf” As we walked towards our
barracks I whispered into Mike’s ear, “Not only is he tough and a fighter, he’s also as stubborn as an Atlan sage.”
      The sky had cleared since the thunderstorms earlier in the day and we could see flickering lights as the space battle raged above us. Our
barracks had been reconstructed and we gladly tumbled into our energy hammocks. The constant rumble of the huge artillery guns didn’t stop us
from dropping off rapidly. Somewhere in the middle of the night I dreamed that I was flying through heavy turbulence and then I woke up. The
ground shook a little bit and I thought “a tremor? They’ve never had an earthquake here.” And then dropped back off again.

                                    Chapter 10: Day Two
          The stillness of the dawn was shattered by the crash of the morning gun. As I carefully got out of the hammock I looked at Miles and saw
him sleeping soundly in a corner. “Even super soldiers have to rest sometimes,” I thought. As most of the rest of the squad tumbled out of bed I
went up to him and put a hand on one of his massive shoulder plates. He groaned and I saw his hand groping for his sword, “no… NO… DON’T!”
His eyes flew open and he looked at me, breathing hard. “Fox? …My gosh, I don’t usually have nightmares. That was terrible, we were fighting the
Subcon… and…and, I heard you scream, I turned and saw some shadowy Subcon figure grinning as he brought his shield down on you… Then you
woke me up… Oh I can’t get that scream out of my head.” He shivered, “It’s just a dream Miles, don’t worry about it.” He stood up and cracked
his knuckles; I looked over at Tiger’s bunk. “Still sleeping soundly, and snoring loud enough to wake the general from here.” Talon said, “Let me
see, if I fired a blank near his head, that might wake him up.” I walked over and motioned for him to put the gun down. “ Hey, remember that this
guy was shot up pretty bad last night, wake him up gently.” Talon rolled his eyes and then shook Tiger’s shoulder “Wake up dude, time to earn our
pay.” The snoring stopped and there was a groan, he sat up and rubbed his eyes, “Then lets go!” He stretched, “I wish you hadn’t have woken me up,
I was having a great dream. We were fighting the Subcon and just slaughtering them. Oh I can’t wait for today’s combat.” I looked at him in
amazement, “There are very few people who actually want to fight, and even fewer of those who revel in it. Tiger, you are truly one of the few.”
He reached for his Immolator and patted it affectionately, “Eegghh…but before I can fight, I need to eat. Have they set up a chow tent?” “I believe
they did, let’s move.” Vixy stepped out of her separate room and greeted me warmly. As we marched to the chow tent, a grin spread across my
face. “Yah know guys, it’s mornings like this that make me glad to be here with all of you.” We stopped at the end of the line into the tent and
stood around waiting. Miles turned sideways to look at something and bumped me into the guy in front of me. He turned around and I saw that it
was one of my former drill instructors. He looked at my armor and then at the rank insignia on my collar. “Well Starwing, you’ve surpassed me.
How the heck did you do it?” “Mostly being in the right place at the right time, saving the general’s life doesn’t hurt either.” I replied. “I saw you
grin out there, I take it you like your job?” “Truly, but I just like being with my squad.” He looked backwards and then stepped out of line to see
around Miles. He whistled, “ Heh, more like one particular member of your squad.” I glared at him “ That does it, I’m higher up than you are…
DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!” He groaned and hit the deck. “Not entirely untrue though.” I thought. The irony of him taking orders from me
made me chuckle, “As you were, I’ve always wanted to do that to a drill instructor, and I finally got the chance, thanks!”
      As we stepped into the crowded tent and got our trays, I heard a voice call out “Gladius… Is it gonna be the usual today?” Miles thundered
out, “Yes sir!” and there was silence for a moment. “I love it when I get that reaction!” he said. Fifteen minutes later we were all satisfied and
heading slowly towards the briefing tent. We were some of the first there and so we sat in our chairs and wondered when we could get some
really good food at a restaurant. “ If we get outta this war alive, I’m gonna by you all a round or two of beer.” Tiger rumbled. Miles laughed “Don’t
worry Tiger, I’m sure that you won’t be able to back out on your promise on the account of my death.”
      As the room filled to capacity, the briefing officer swaggered out onto the platform. “Good morning people, welcome to day two of the
battle… I hope your ready to go and kick some butt out there, because today, we move into the city and start taking ground.” There was
murmuring at this and Miles nodded, “Good plan, our generals have heads on their shoulders.” The officer continued “All, I repeat all of our elite
squads, are going to be in the thick of it today. We want to establish a controlled area right here.” He looked at a map and pointed to the southwest
corner of the city. “ We have broken up the city into square miles, by the end of today we want to have that first square mile firmly in our grasp.
This is gonna be our full court press, fighters, bombers, tanks, the works. The next few days are going to be a living hell for the Subcon; they have
never faced Verash this angry before. This has been the general overview, separate and meet with your tactical coordinators. You are now
dismissed… GO OUT THERE AND KILL THOSE SLIMEBAGS!” The T.C.’s were waiting outside. I looked around and then felt a tap on my
shoulder, I turned “Ah, Major Ferguson, so good to see you again.” “I’ve been watching your squad, Fox, and you guys are pretty good; good
enough to be sent to elite squad combat training. I’ve put in the word for you, and you should be getting a confirmation date soon.” I turned around
and grinned broadly, “ESCT!” I whispered. The Major continued, “Anyway, down to business. Today you’re going to be sitting on the wall, where
most elite squads are going to be, and your task will be to rain fire on the Subcon below. We will provide you with a small field piece, with the
number of field pieces on the wall the Subcon will hopefully be forced to retreat. The most important objective is to hold that wall at all costs, if
we hold it, we can then start to take ground…Oh I managed to get one of these for you.” He slapped a small, black, torpedo shaped device into my
hand, “If you get into a bad spot, designate your enemies with this and a few seconds later the fighter cover will lambaste that area. Good luck
corporal, it’s gonna be a real mess out there.” He punched my shoulder and walked off, “Yeah… A real mess.” I slipped the laser designator into a
pouch and closed my eyes. “ You all right?” Richard asked, “Yeah I’m all right… I don’t want any of you dying on me out there, is that
understood?” They all nodded their heads and I fixed my eyes on Vixy, She winked and gave me the thumbs-up. “Let’s get ready then.” We spent
the next half-hour cleaning guns, checking our armor, and generally pumping ourselves up. I managed to talk with my father and thank him for the
training he had given me. “Also, I have this laser designator here. I would feel much better if you came personally to give us support; I know that
you’re not accidentally going to blast us with some badly aimed gunfire.” I gave him the designators I.D. number and he keyed it into his ships
computer. “Don’t worry Fox, when you activate that thing, I’ll be there within five seconds. I also might be able to tell you about stuff that you
can’t see; remember, I’m always watching.” He wiggled his eyebrows and jumped back into his cockpit. I grinned and waved as he started the
      Back at the barracks there was the sound of actions cycling, energy magazines being slapped in, armor clicking together, the general
sounds of pre-battle bustle. Above it all I heard Miles’ voice clearly, “…Focus on the things at hand, focus on deflecting every single attack, and
when your opponent is off balance hit them until they fall.” “Preach it Miles!” I shouted as I stepped in, then I motioned for quiet, “ We’ve made it
this far alive, and by golly we’re gonna keep going. Acts of heroism are permitted…stupid acts of heroism are not. I will try and not do anything
dumb myself…Miles, you can do whatever you want, I trust you know when too much is too much. The enemy is on defense, which means they
will have prepared everything to maximize our casualties, KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN PEOPLE! That is all.” As we returned to our work, I got a
call on my wrist computer. I clicked receive and major Ferguson was projected in front of me. “Fox, I’ve got some news. I’m not sure that you can
know the details so all I can tell you is to be ready for secondary orders.” “Understood sir,” I replied and ended the transmission. The ‘call to
arms’ was sounded and we raced out and formed up. As we were standing there I gave a start, “Hey, the artillery isn’t firing any more!” General
Brandock stood before the army and answered my question, “ You may want to know why the artillery isn’t firing…I know that this will sound
strange, but a Subcon infiltration group snuck into our ammo dumps early this morning and blew them up. That was the rumble you may have felt
if you were up last night. We can’t resume firing until we get more shells, which should be coming sometime this afternoon. We did get several
thousand tons of explosive into the capital city before the mishap though, and that should make a difference today. I want to particularly
congratulate a group of pilots who flew in last night, and right after the shields were dropped, they bombed the heck out of several Subcon
positions. The more amazing fact is that they came back unscathed. This group is led by Vyker Starwing, a retired soldier himself,” a few older
veterans nodded their heads. “If you see him, tell him he did a great job out there. Now get to your transports, and go blow those bums to Hades
and back, we’re counting on you.” I gave the command to fall out and we double-timed it to the dropships.

      Chapter 11: The First Square Mile
      There were seven seats left in dropship three, so we took them. Miles looked towards the gunner positions and muttered “I sure hope those
gunners are good, the L.Z. isn’t going to be hot, it’s gonna be molten.” I was surprisingly calm as we rode the hundred-ninety miles to the target.
“Why should I be afraid?” I thought, “I have been trained well…and those Subcon can’t hit the broadside of a barn.” Tiger was grinning from ear to
ear and singing “blood on the risers” at the top of his lungs. Soon the entire dropship was singing and letting go all their fears, “GORY GORY
WHAT A HELUVA WAY TO DIE! GORY GORY WHAT A…” The pilot’s shout over the intercom cut us off, “HEY! HEY! QUIET DOWN
BACK THERE! We’re going to make one pass to clear any Subcon off of our landing zone, then we come back and you guys go to it. Oh, if
you’re afraid of heights, I wouldn’t look down from the wall.” There was a tremendous storm of firing as our gunners blasted away and the Subcon
returned fire. We circled back around and were jolted as the transport behind us dropped a bomb on the L.Z. There was a sickening plunge, then
we screeched to a halt and the door flew open. As I leapt out my heart nearly stopped. The panorama spread out before me would take more than a
thousand words to describe adequately. Five hundred feet beneath us a battle raged, our forces had taken a few hundred square feet and were
alternating between falling back and moving forward. The sound was incredible, without the noise dampening properties of the energy helmet I
would have been temporarily deaf in moments (It automatically dampens noise if it is too loud, but slightly amplifies quieter sounds). To the left
more dropships were landing and elite squads were spreading out along the wall. Tanks rumbled along, four abreast to our right and pushed the
Subcon troops back. In the sky, there were puffs of flack and fighters crisscrossed in deadly aerial duals.
      The transport that had dropped the bomb made another pass, this time dropping many metal cylinders. “Those are the field guns! Come
on!” We rolled one to our position and pulled the gun out from inside. Miles loaded the shells with rapid precision and Tiger fired. The rest of us
took out whatever we had and fired away at the enemy beneath us. Talon whooped, “Yee-HAA, I’ve never had a better sniping position in all my
life. One, two, three, POW! One, two, three POW!” Every four seconds his rifle sang its song of death. I fumbled in one of the pouches that I had,
and checked to make sure that the designator was ready to go. I made sure that the crystal was secure around my neck and then began the regular
pattern of charging and firing with my energy carbine.
      I looked over at our tanks and saw a bright orange flash under one of their treads. It lurched to a stop and the hatch opened. The crew
jumped out and dashed into the troop compartment of another. “Dang, they probably got the whole wall mined.” I thought. Miles had seen as well
“Be careful where you step guys, and Tiger, keep your mine sweeping equipment on.” “Wilco,” Tiger said. We had gone through half our shells
when I took another look at the tanks. I saw one go flying through the air and fall five hundred feet to the ground below. “Holy…” I didn’t finish
my sentence because another one bounced off the crenellations and fell down on the inside of the wall. “Our tanks are getting pulverized!” I
yelled, as another one flew into the air. “I have no clue what the heck is doing it though!” Miles stopped loading and we all looked, by this time all
our tanks had been thrown from the wall. Two Subcon tanks met our gaze; the strange thing about them was that they had no main guns. Then Miles
gasped, “Slicers! Look on the front, there, see that blade spinning?!” Sure enough, about three feet from the ground, a large circular disk with four
enormous teeth spun faster than a propeller. They accelerated and barreled towards us. “Yikes!” Richard yelled, “They’ll cut us all down!”
      I grabbed him, “NO WAY!” I yelled and fired my rocket pack. Vixy grabbed Mike and Miles took Tiger and Talon. As we shot into the air
Miles shouted above the roar “I never told you about my rocket pack did I?!” The enraged tanks sped by us and we dropped to the ground. The
other elite squads fired grappling spikes into the wall and jumped down about fifteen feet. When the tanks had roared past they pulled themselves
up and fired into the thinner rear armor. As we landed, Tiger saw a golden opportunity and screwed the two halves of his rocket launcher together.
He flipped out a small scope and a laser and kneeled down. There was a loud whoosh and the rocket made a large dent in the rear armor of one of
them. The tail gun opened up and most of us threw ourselves flat. Tiger stood still as the lasbolts flew around him and raised his bazooka once
more. Another whoosh and bang, this time the tail gun stopped firing. “Hah haah!” Tiger yelled, and fired a third shot. The driver’s compartment
was blown a hundred feet into the air; and the tank burned like a flamethrower. The second one received a royal pounding from several more tanks
that had been set down on the wall. The elite squads behind it swiveled their artillery guns and opened fire. “My gosh those things are tough!”
Tiger breathed. “Never have I had to use three rockets on the rear armor of a tank.” “Well look at that one.” Vixy said, “It’s still… No wait… I
think they got it.” Miles looked at the burning hulks of our tanks, hundreds of feet below us and sighed. “I sure hope they take those things out
early from now on.”
      As soon as we had run out of shells for our field piece, I reported via comm. To Major Ferguson. “Good job, you’re still alive. We have
almost got the square mile taken. We need you to go help the blockade on the ground, that square mile must be held to give our main tank force
time to deploy. Rock and roll team.” I looked at everyone and they gave me the conformation that they had the waypoint in their HUDs and had
gotten the transmission. I stepped to the inside edge of the wall and beckoned Vixy over. I told everyone to get off the wall by the fastest method
possible and meet on the ground. I looked over at Vixy, put my arms out, and closed my eyes. The air raced past me as I fell backwards, the ground
rushed up at a disconcerting rate but at the last second I gave the neural command and there was a blast, then a steady roar. I felt the solid thrust of
the rocket on my back and leveled out two feet from the ground. I pulled an immulman and watched everyone else drop to the ground on ropes.
Vixy was hovering beside me and I marveled at how well she had caught on to the whole rocket pack thing. “Are you a pilot or something? You
really know how to fly one of these things.” She laughed, “Flying has been a hobby of mine ever since I was twelve. Didn’t I tell you before?” I
flashed one of my killer grins, “No, you didn’t.” Then thought to myself “Wow, she’s looking better every day!”
      We grouped together and jogged through the rubble to our destination. As we ran Tiger puffed, “That was pretty good formation flying, do
you practice or something?” “No we don’t, it’s just that she’s a pilot too.” “Boy are you lucky Fox, It looks like you found the perfect match. A
pilot, a skilled fighter, and durn good looking too.” I chuckled, “The question is… Does she fly combat starships, or just civilian transports…Oh,
and keep your eyes to yourself hotshot!” “Don’t worry Fox, I’m a free man,” he retorted.
      When we neared our destination, lasbolts began to be a real problem. They weren’t aimed at us or anything; they were misses from the
front lines. As we were running I felt a tremendous blow to my gut. I stumbled and fell, “You all right?” Miles shouted. I looked down and saw that
the stomach piece had been blown from the armor, and the black Mythpec suit underneath glistened with sweat. ‘Yeah, I’m ok… Hand me one of
those armor shards.” I clicked it into place and watched it lock with the armor around it. “Amazing little devices!” Richard yelled.
      “Seeing what just happened, I think we should crawl from here,” Miles suggested; so we hit the dirt and crawled forward. There were some
shallow trenches that we rolled into and I asked the captain in charge how we might be of service. In the midst of the explosions going off around,
he sized us up, “ You look like you know what your doing, all I can say is to point your weapons that way and fire…and don’t retreat!” “Good call!”
I replied.
      We kneeled, put our guns on the dirt and started to blast away. Tiger just held his trigger down and swept his Immolator back and forth.
There was a line of fire that erupted downrange, “Bwaaahhahaaha!” he roared. “He always gets a kick out of that thing,” I thought, “I hope he’s
keeping a tally of how many he’s vaporized.” Miles was the epitome of coolness under fire, he snapped off pistol shots, exactly the same way he
did at the target range. There were some pretty close calls, and a few grazes, but no one was seriously hurt. I was beginning to think that we had
things under control when Miles pointed out some objects rapidly approaching, “More Slicers!”
      “SHARTOTH! Those things can move!” I saw them tearing through a column of troops who were frantically trying to get out of the way.
Those that didn’t were cut down like grass. In a split second I had whipped out my laser designator and was pointing it at the tanks. After a moment
my father’s voice, “Keep your heads down, I’m going in.” I looked upwards and saw the distinct delta shape screaming down, rending the skies
with its sonic boom. Within five seconds several rockets were streaking out of the heavens. The shock waves blew rocks and dirt against our
armor, but when I looked up the tanks were smoldering hulks. “Great job, it looks like you got all of them.” There was a crackle, “Yow! The flack
up here is intense! I’ll stay on station though, you might still need some help.” I watched him carefully dodge a missile, and then blast it as it
zoomed by. The captain looked like he had seen a ghost, “Th-Thanks corporal,” he said shakily, “we would have been massacred if those tanks had
reached us.” I brushed it off, “Thank my dad, he was the guy in the fighter.”


                                Chapter 12: Terror Incarnate
      After an hour or so of intense fighting, I received word that we had successfully allowed the tanks to land. “Let those tanks move on ahead,
they’ll crush any resistance.” I gave the high sign to my squad and spoke into the comm. “Great job, it looks like we might be through for the most
part.” As the tanks rumbled by and began to cut Subcon down like scythes I saw a small picture of Major Ferguson pop into my HUD. “Fox,
remember how I told you about those ‘secondary orders’? Well you got some. You and three other squads are going to assault the Subcon
command post for this sector. What the heck did you do to get this assignment, it’s suicide!” I thought back to my words about suicide last night,
“Well, we were one of six squads sent to neutralize the shield generator last night… We were the only ones who made it back. I don’t think that
this assignment is a punishment, I think that it’s the highest form of reward.” He looked at me dubiously, “I hear that a Subcon general might be
there, one of the really high ones. Those generals get their rank as much from fighting skill as brilliant tactics, be careful in there. A dropship will
pick you up once you destroy the computers inside the C.P., Good luck!” He disappeared and I glanced at my squad, they had heard the
transmission and looked back at me gravely. A dropship roared overhead, then turned around and landed fifty feet behind us. We leapt out of the
trench and sprinted towards it, when we were all aboard the pilot gunned the engines and we took off. “I’m gonna have to stop to pick up one more
squad,” he said, “So collect your thoughts and make your plan.” Tiger was glaring at the floor, “Some heroic speech Fox. Assaulting a command
post? He was right, its suicide.” I wasn’t in the mood for pessimism, “We’ve come through tougher assignments than this haven’t we? We’re
gonna make it through this one too. If someone is giving you a tough time, call for help, Miles should be able to give you a hand.”
      The pilot of this transport knew what he was doing, we hardly even felt any flack. As we neared the objective I asked Miles what the plan
should be, “I think that we should just get in there and keep moving. There will be a big firefight in the computer room for sure, but we should be
in and out fast enough to avoid serious injury. Then we get back to the dropship, it shouldn’t be too bad…Oh, stick together in there.” As we
touched down Miles took a deep breath and spoke into his comm., “I’ll take care of the door and lead the way in.” The outside guards had been
chopped up by fire from the transport and Miles ran up to the entrance. He loosened his sword in its scabbard and put his fingers into the chinks
on the door. There was a grinding noise as he pulled mightily; he gave a great roar and the door broke into two pieces that he threw to the ground.
Subcon lasbolts immediately flew from the hole and Miles leapt to the side. He unclipped a grenade from his belt and pulled the pin. Through my
comm. I could hear a whisper, “One thousand one…One thousand two.” The small black object flew into the building a split second before
detonating with a tremendous blast. “GO!” I shouted and sprinted into the building. Through the swirling smoke I saw several Subcon bringing
their rifles back to bear on us. My staff crackled with electricity as I drew it and it extended to full length. I chose the farthest target as mine and
charged at him, lightning bolts blasting him from the tips of my staff as I closed. He dropped his gun and took a large club from his belt. “This is
gonna be too easy,” I thought, “He doesn’t even have a shield.” My first blow connected solidly with his arm, and I followed up with two quick
blows to his knees. He stumbled and then tried to sweep my feet out from under me. I danced lightly over his foot and aimed a diagonal slash at
his body. He stepped backwards slightly and stabbed forward with club. It hit me squarely and I rolled backwards, trying to get my breath back. As
I came to my feet I decided to use my speed to its utmost. Flipping over his head and aiming several quick strikes at him made him disoriented
enough so that I could get a clear hurricane attack. I pushed him back towards Vixy, who had just finished off her target with a stab to the neck.
“VIXY! ARNOORA EAMIIR!” I shouted in Mythphec (We can both speak it fluently, but the Subcon have no clue what we’re saying); she whirled
and leapt at the Subcon I was beating back. My staff still whistled through the air, then she began a hurricane attack as well. He was sandwiched
between us, and taking a massive amount of damage. Finally I spun my staff high above my head and gave a tremendous blow. There was silence as
the Subcon collapsed to the floor, lightning circling his body. “I think that this one is pretty much dead, any more hostiles?” I queried. Miles
laughed his booming laugh, “That was over quickly, let’s keep moving.” As we stalked down the hallway that led inwards, I noticed a change in the
color of the metal around us. I stopped like I had smacked into an aurdium wall, there was a sense of evil that hit us all at the same time. We were
looking around nervously, fingering our weapons when Tiger gasped, “Blood! The hallway is covered in blood!” Miles looked closer “It’s Subcon
blood only, there’s no Verash blood here. It looks like something pretty nasty passed this way.” Never had I thought that I wouldn’t recognize
Subcon blood, but when the walls are plastered in it, the idea just doesn’t come to mind. Tiger’s voice quivered, “I don’t like this place
corporal…I say we get out of here. Never have I felt evil this strongly.” Miles bowed his head, then thundered out these words, “WHEN THE
AGIANST THEM DARKNESS CANNOT STAND!” I watched as he reached for the second sword that was strapped to his back. “None of you
have seen the real sword Gladius, the one that is named after me. This one that I am holding now is a duplication.” His grip closed around the
handle of the sword and he drew it with a great ringing. The sense of evil was removed, replaced with a sense of power and triumph. “ALL RIGHT
STAND AGAINST ME!” His voice echoed down the hallway. After a moment of silence he marched forward purposefully, his swords held in an
attack stance. We came to an incline in the tunnel, and Miles strode up it. As we came level with the raised floor, I saw seven black figures
standing fifty feet down the corridor. They slowly turned to face us, their eyes glowing red with malice. “By Garn! Those are the biggest Subcon
I’ve ever seen.” It was Richard who spoke, his eyes opened wide with fright. Mike gulped and seemed to loose control of his tongue,
“We’llhidebackhereandhelpanywounded.” Miles took a deep breath and then cut loose with a great war cry. We charged down the hall toward the
waiting Subcon. Miles was ahead of us by a good fifteen feet; I heard a great clash and there was a flurry of motion. Miles was thrown past us as if
he had been a feather. As he tumbled by, I managed to rip the huge anti tank mine off his back; I punched the ‘detonate on contact’ button and
hurled it at the Subcon. We dove flat and put our hands to our heads. The sound was louder than anything I had heard before, and we were blown
backwards a good thirty feet. I looked at my armor and noticed that the bottom half was blackened, and quite warm.
      We stood up shakily and I managed a nervous laugh, “Hehe, I don’t think that we’ll be seeing much of them again.” I looked at the smoke
billowing down the hall; five dark shapes emerged. “HOW IN THE NAME OF SHARTOTH DID THEY SURVIVE THAT?!” I shouted in
amazement. Miles was breathing heavily as he stood to his feet, “These are Khrana…Subcon super warriors…the reason they are black instead of
red is because they were dipped in molten octanium at birth.” I heard one of them speak in the harshest and most violent Subcon dialect I had
heard. “Arrgghh! The infidels have come! In the name of Dakthas… DESTROY THEM!” I looked at Miles questioningly, “Dakthas, that is the
name of their ‘god,’ it embodies everything evil. These warriors are too strong for just one of you to take on, gang up in groups of three or four.”
We shuddered as they gave a battle cry “ARRRGHHHHHHHHHHH!” Richard threw his assault rifle to his shoulder and pointed down the hall at
the sixth figure that had just stumbled into view. This Khrana had taken the brunt of the explosion and was bleeding heavily but still standing.
Richard’s unusually grim face was illuminated sporadically as he fired several careful bursts; then his finger pushed the “firing mode” button. In
the bottom left corner of the rifle’s HUD, ‘FUL AUTO’ replaced ‘3RD BRST’. He held the trigger down and emptied the two hundred round
energy clip in seven seconds. The Khrana toppled forward with a groaning roar; Richard retreated backwards and slapped a fresh clip into his
smoking gun, he yelled, “That’s one down, but I am NOT going toe-to-toe with those guys, it’s up to you now.”
      The battle began with a crash. I saw just how tough this was going to be when they drove us apart and took us one-on-one. The Khrana that
picked me had a hideously deformed face, but his speed and strength were immense. I swung my staff towards his head, and then watched in
amazement as he caught it between his hand and shield, then spun it out of my grasp. His punch nearly buckled my chest plate and I tumbled
backwards; but even as I rolled I reached out and pulled my staff back into my hand. As I regained my footing, I reached toward the sheath on my
hip and hurled my knife into his chest. He didn’t grunt or anything, he just pulled it out and spun it back at me. I activated the gravitons in the grip,
and caught it, then jammed it back into its sheath. His eyes widened, then narrowed to glowing red slits. I controlled the burst of energy that
adrenaline had brought and struck with precision and speed instead of great power. Every time I thought I would hit, the Khrana would somehow
turn it away, and counter attack so quickly that I could barely dodge it. My best combos were turned aside, but his attacks were so strong that
blocking was out of the question; deflection and dodging were my only options.
      Out of the corner of my eye I saw Vixy get smacked up against the wall and crumple to floor, my mind screamed “DEAD!” It took a second
to calm myself, “More likely knocked unconscious.” Her attacker turned to Miles, who was now holding two at bay. I attempted to sweep my
foe’s feet out from under him, but he jumped over the blow and then smashed me into the wall with his shield. I could feel the massive force that
he was exerting and I drew my energy carbine. As I tried to point it at him, he smashed it against the wall with his other hand and continued to try
and crush me. It didn’t seem to be working, so he drew back his shield to smash me again. I was stuck to the spikes that protruded from the shield
so I pushed off of them, and dropped smartly to the floor. The Khrana slammed his shield against empty wall. He must have hit some kind of
coolant pipe, because a fog spewed from the holes in the wall and filled the corridor. As I stood to my feet I heard Miles give a shout, and two
swords poked through the front of my attacker. He stumbled, gave a great roar and turned on Miles, who was then steadily beaten back. I heard
Miles’ voice, tinged with desperation, come through my comm., “HEELLPPP!” I aimed my energy carbine at the back of the wounded one and
unleashed a charged shot. The armor around the impact zone glowed green and I could see the Khrana’s black shell through the hole I had made.
Fully auto fire punched through the shell and began to hit the Khrana’s vitals; I charged one more shot and let it fly. He tumbled forward with a
hole the size of a beer keg in his middle. Miles took a great swing and cut off one of their heads in a geyser of dark blood, “five down, two to go!”
He gasped. Tiger was battling another one, swinging his Immolator in vicious arcs, and firing quick bursts at his assailant. As I watched, the
Khrana smashed the immolator against the wall; it flattened slightly and Tiger gasped, then yelled, “AARGGHH! I WILL UNSCREW YOUR
HEAD AND MAKE A NICE ONE DOWN YOUR NECK!” As if in slow motion I saw him throw his useless cannon aside and take out his missile
launcher. The Khrana gave him a punch that looked like it could have collapsed a building. Tiger fell backwards very ungracefully, and then sat up.
With a deft motion he screwed the two halves of the bazooka together, loaded a rocket and raised it to his shoulder. By now the Khrana was upon
him, its shield raised for a tremendous downward blow; Tiger held still for a second. As the shield came down, I saw a look of terror cross the
Khrana’s face; a split second later, it disappeared. His entire top half was blown into a dark, reddish-brown cloud as Tigers anti-vehicle rocket
slammed home. The legs collapsed and Tiger roared in defiance.
      “One left.” I thought and turned to help Miles. Nearby I saw another huge figure. My mind stripped gears for a moment, “THE SEVENTH
ONE!” and then everything slowed down, way down. “Crystals activated, “ I thought, “but nobody is around me.” Then through the fog, I saw the
seventh Khrana swing his shield downwards at a prostrate form on the ground. In a split second I realized who it was. My anguished scream cut
through all other sounds, “VIXYYY! NOOOOO!” Miles stiffened, and spun around faster than the eye could see, his sword extended outwards.
With a precision that showed he had planned and practiced the move before, he slammed the shield into the wall. He pivoted and smashed his hand
against the Khrana’s head and jerked it back, stretching its neck. His knees buckled slightly and he gave a cry as the other Khrana cut a huge gash
into his side.
      With a yell of hatred I lunged forward, my knife glittering in my hand. I drove it through the exposed neck completely, and the Khrana fell,
gurgling as blood flowed from his throat. As I withdrew the knife I saw a shadow fall across me, I leapt backwards and a shield cut through the air
inches in front of my muzzle. I realized my legs would be cut off and sucked in my breath. There was a loud clang, like someone had smashed a
frying pan, and the shield miraculously slammed down at my feet. As I looked up into the hideous, grinning face of the last Khrana, there were
three distinct splotching sounds; half his head disappeared with a reddish pink puff. As the body fell to the floor I noticed three holes in the other
half of his head, like a bowling ball.
      As things sped up I heard Talon’s tense voice, “Is that all of them?” Miles collapsed to the floor and breathed with a sigh of relief, “Yes,
that’s all of them. Thank goodness.” He held his side where a steady stream of blood was forming a pool on the floor, “Get the doc up here, I got
some pretty serious injuries. Tell him to hurry up, we’re on a tight schedule” I went over to the one that I had stabbed through the neck, as I glared
down at him his eyelids fluttered open. With a snarl I ground my boot into his eye and then licked the blood off my knife; I spat onto the body and
turned away, tears wetting the fur on my muzzle as I thought of what he had almost done. Miles was being tended to, so I called Talon over to one
of the dead bodies. He carefully picked his way over and stood, his smoking pistol held upright. “ Boy, you and your excellent shooting saved my
tail that time, I’ll see if I can’t make it up in the future.” He waved it away, “Don’t worry about it Fox, who wouldn’t save his friend…Heh! That
was some pretty good shooting wasn’t it, a perfect strike.” He looked up and saw the wet fur around my eyes “Gee, you all right?” I cleared my
mind and took a deep, shaky breath, “Yeah, I’m fine…” “No your not, look at those cuts.” He pointed to several long gashes in my armor. I held up
my hand, “Notice, no blood coming out of most of them. Remember, I’m wearing another layer of armor underneath. These Mythphec suits are
sweet…you know, I think that I’ll get a pain killer anyway, there are a few places that do hurt.”
      Miles was on his feet now, and was bending over one of the bodies, “These aren’t normal Khrana, take a look here.” He pointed to a blood
red N that was seemingly bolted onto their foreheads. “These were the sons of Necroth… You can thank your lucky stars that we made it through
this alive, because these are the best of the best…Terror incarnate” He thought for a moment “ I guess that that’s what all the blood back there in
the hallway was, these Khrana will kill even their own kind.” Tiger was holding his crushed immolator mournfully. “This is the best gun I’ve ever
used, and now it’s gone.” I walked over, “On your feet Tiger, we can get another one made when we get back to base. For now use your bazooka,
we’re on a tight timeline.” Mike walked over to Vixy and popped open a small vial which he then held under her nose. I stood by as he gave her a
neuro-stim injection and almost started to tear up again when she groaned and her eyes opened. I let out the breath that I had been holding for what
seemed like the last hour and gave Mike a pat on the shoulder, “Good job…could you give me a pain killer?” He administered one and walked
towards Tiger. I pulled Vixy to her feet and then held her tight for a moment. “You don’t know what almost happened…” As I let her go, she
looked at me like I had lost my mind, “What was that for!” “You came this close to being cut in half,” I held my fingers an inch apart, “this close.”
Her eyes widened as she comprehended. Miles put his massive hand on my shoulder and said quietly, “Fox, there will be time for that later,
remember we’ve only got about seven minutes left.” Vixy held my hand for a second longer, then I reluctantly turned away, “Alright people, lets
keep moving.” A scraping sound made me whirl. The Khrana that I had stabbed was getting to his feet. I gave a shout of rage, “HOW LONG DOES
IT TAKE YOU TO DIE!” I pointed at him, and the crystal ring on my index finger shot forth a thin, purple beam. It hit his good eye, just where I
had aimed, and he gave a roar of pain. I walked towards him and looked up at his mutilated face. I opened my mouth and a stream of fire shot forth
that engulfed his head. He crashed to floor, the flames still swirling. After several seconds the flames had died down enough to allow me to see
that most of his head had been turned to ash. I smiled coldly, then whirled and growled at my squad, “Let’s get the freakin’ heck out of here” As I
walked past, I turned to face them, “I don’t want any of you to speak of this place again…is that clear?” They looked at me with wide eyes, then
said quietly, “Crystal clear sir.”
      My comm. crackled to life and I heard the other four squads report heavy opposition near the control room. “ There’s something like a
bunker as you near the objective. We’re holding our own, but it would help if you could flank them, and flush them out with grenades.” “Wilco,” I
said coolly. We carefully picked our way down the hallway until we came to another door. I tried to open it but as I expected it was locked. I
popped the control panel open and rewired a few things; after a moment the door slid open with a hiss and we stepped inside. A large pillar sat in
the middle of the room, Subcon were inside of it firing through a slit. A lookout gave a shout and several turned their weapons toward us. “HERE!
Catch!” Tiger yelled and hurled a huge hand grenade of his own making through the slit. There was a muffled blast and dark blood formed a broad
line on walls. Squad two emerged from cover and walked over to us. “Starwing, is that you?” I recognized the voice immediately, “Yeah it’s me.”
Captain Corg stepped forward and we shook hands. “We’re still on a time limit captain, let’s move.” “Right, you guys got point.”
      In the next room there was another pillar, with more Subcon than the first. We knew we would have a fight on our hands when a rocket shot
past us and blew up at the end of the hall. We dove behind whatever cover we could find and I looked at Miles blankly. “Here is where a seriously
armored guy really comes in handy.” I knew he was grinning inside his helmet as he carefully got to his feet and scooped up a Subcon shield from
the floor. “You don’t poke so much as your nose out of cover until I get through with those guys, shouldn’t take more than a second.” He lowered
into a running stance and charged into the room, a second rocket missed him and blew up against the wall with roar. There was a tremendous crash
and I could hear his sword whistling through the air. I stiffened as a Subcon grenade bounced down the hall and landed at my feet, I kicked it as
hard as I could and then shielded my face. There was a loud, “WHUMP!” and pieces of shrapnel needled into my armor. I scraped most of them
off, “It’ll take more than a lousy frag grenade to kill ME you pathetic overgrown lizards.” I heard Miles shout the all clear and we rose from
hiding. As we walked into the room the first thing I noticed was the large hole in the side of the pillar. “What happened Miles, you use some kind
of demo charge.” “Nahhh, I just crashed through it.” He pointed to the mutilated bodies lying around him “ In this enclosed space, the split second
of confusion as I entered gave me enough time to make hay.” I noticed that most of the bodies had been completely cut in half. I grinned “Keep it
up Miles and you’ll soon be feared by the Subcon, if they ever get afraid.”
      The next phase would be the easiest in some ways, and the hardest in some ways. We had fifteen seconds to move to the various computers
that were in the center of the building, plant the explosives we were issued and then detonate them. Miles gave us each two of the special
demolition charges and we walked to the final door. I bypassed the security again and we got set. In one hand I held a demo charge, in the other my
energy carbine hummed quietly, its charge light glowing. I opened the door and we ran madly into a large room. Subcon fired from behind small
barriers that were positioned around a depressed area, but their lasbolts didn’t even scratch us. We leapt down a row of stairs into the depressed
area and I shouted, “COME ON! TEN SECONDS!” As I ran towards one of the computers, the operator stood up and attempted to draw his pistol,
but the farthest he got was a hand on the grip. The large greenish-white bolt that leapt from my carbine plowed into his chest, blowing dark blood
all over his keyboard and monitor. As I threw the small, black charge onto the computer, I yelled out “Seven seconds to go!” We completed our
circuit and dashed out the opposite way we had come in. I clicked the remote detonator and saw the hall light up. A split second later I heard the
tremendous boom, and was almost knocked off my feet as the shockwave passed down the corridor. Captain Corg ordered his men to the right and
yelled, “We’ll go out this way, see ya back at base Fox!” I gave the high sign and we kept running. As we neared the exit I looked back and shouted
to everyone, “We come in, wipe out the guards, manage to kill seven of those Khrana, blow all the computers up, and get out alive…Dang! We’re
      We sprinted into the dazzling sunlight and skidded to a halt. What must have been about two thousand Subcon were standing in a
semi-circle around us. My crystal slowed time to a near standstill; I threw my arms up as I saw an inescapable cloud of lasbolts blast from the
muzzles of their guns and fly towards us. There was a blinding light and we crashed to a metal floor.
      I jumped to my feet, a fresh surge of adrenaline flowing through me. Things came back to normal speed and I saw another elite squad
sitting in the transport we were in. “How the heck…What happened?!” Then I heard the pilot’s voice, “Those gravity tubes on other dropships are
too slow. They authorized us to use several of the new models, the ones with short-range teleporters.” I dropped to the floor and gave a sigh of
relief, “Guys, we made it.” We climbed into the open seats and almost all of us took a quick nap.
The opening of the cargo door woke us up, and we stepped out onto the now familiar surface of bald top. “I think that we should probably head to
the debriefing area, guys.” We walked over to the tent and slumped into the front row chairs.
      “Well, you guys did it again.” The briefing officer chuckled, “ You blew those things so quickly that the Subcon didn’t have time to transfer
any information. Most of the operational data for that sector has been wiped out.” He crimped an eyebrow at us, “You guys look trashed…get
some rest, but be ready, cause we might have another mission for you.”
      As we rose from our seats Miles gasped and held his side. “The next thing is to get medical attention, I’m hurt pretty bad.” He had managed
to hide his wounds, but they were taking a toll on him. As we trudged towards the medical tent, I played back in my mind what had happened
earlier, one part kept nagging me. I gave a deep sigh and halted everyone, “Guys, back there, when we were done fighting the Khrana, I let my
anger get the best of me. I shouldn’t have yelled at you…I’m sorry.” A grin crept across Tiger’s face, “Eegghh, don’t worry about it Fox, I get a
little steamed myself at times.” It was my turn to grin, “A little steamed hunh? You generally blow your top.” I turned to Miles, “I’m glad you
thought quick enough to stop the one that…that almost got Vixy. You didn’t even think about how you might get hurt, or even killed…Thanks.” He
proffered me his huge hand, “No problem, why do you think I joined this squad. If your wondering how I managed to do it so quickly, it was the
dream I had this morning. Sometimes you learn things from your dreams, I learned how to stop a downward slicing shield. It was your scream that
brought everything back like a bolt of lightning.” We continued walking and soon came to the medical tent; since all of us had some kind of
wound, everyone stepped in. Miles was the only one who got the healing bed though, and the rest of us sat and talked as he rested. The small
picture of Major Ferguson came back up in my HUD and I motioned everyone to be quiet. “Fox, after what you just did I managed to clear your
slate for the rest of the day. Your next mission will take place tomorrow morning. Get some rest, you look terrible.” I grinned, “Thanks, we will.”
I turned to the squad, “We got a clean slate for the rest of the day, I know what I’m doing. What are you guys’ plans?” they looked at each other
and said one word simultaneously, “SLEEP!” “You guys can go, I’ll tell Miles what’s up and then join you.” I walked over to Miles’ healing bed
and saw that he was asleep. I wrote a quick note and stuck it to his helmet, then left. Everyone but Richard was in their energy hammocks when I
got back, so I lay down in mine and dropped off in minutes.

                                       Chapter 13: Island Thunder
      Reveille woke us up, and I looked at my wrist computer. “Holy smokes, went to bed at sixteen hundred yesterday and slept until now. I
must have been more tired than I thought.” Everyone looked a lot better and Miles said that he was ready to go. “Let’s go form up outside and see
what our orders are.” Richard held up his hand and whispered something in my ear. I nodded and looked at him in amazement, “And it works!
Better than before?!” he smiled and walked up to Tiger, “I managed to fix your immolator during the night, and I re-bored one of the flow control
valves. This will result in a little more range and power, but you’ll run through ammo faster.” He carefully hefted the huge gun and laid it at Tigers
feet. Tiger looked like he had just seen a long lost friend and he scooped it up with one massive paw. He patted it and gave a low rumble; I
couldn’t believe what I was hearing, Tiger Steel was purring.  Then he looked at Richard, “You don’t know what this means to me…How the heck
did you do it??” Richard wiggled his eyebrows, “That’s my secret, and Miles’ I guess, he helped a little when I needed strength. I know that you do
best at your job when you have your favorite weapon, so why be without it?” Tiger grinned, then reached down and gave him a playful punch in the
shoulder, which tumbled him into a corner. He picked himself up with a chuckle, and we marched outside towards the formation area.
      As we stood at attention I heard the thunder of the long-range artillery and smiled “good, they’re firing again. I would hate to be a Subcon
at this particular time.” Major Guttman put us at ease and then called me forward. “Your next mission is going to be away from the city. We have a
situation brewing on one of the islands about a hundred miles off the shore. You’ll find out more at the briefing, but I think that it has something
to do with those mysterious containers that they jammed so effectively. Fall your squad out and head to the briefing area. Good luck.”
      The briefing tent was empty except for us, which is normal when it’s morning. After several minutes, four other elite squads came in and
took seats behind us. The briefing officer stepped out of his room and put a map up on the holo display. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days, but
his voice was still clear and commanding. “This is the largest island in a small chain that is exactly one hundred three miles off the shore. We
have constructed a small dock that is at the bottom of the cliffs near the city. You will go there, get on boats and move to the island. Your task is
simple, secure the island and find out what is in those containers that the Subcon keep hiding. Because this is a covert operation, you will be
equipped with Mk-56 hydro assault armor. These will allow the boats to remain safely hidden away from the island, but you will be able to get
ashore quickly. The people in the armory are expecting you, you are dismissed.” I stood up and thought to myself, “Hydro assault suits, not bad. I
hope that they work well on land.”
      When we stepped into the armory I took a look at the suits of armor and nodded my head. Tiger grinned, “Hey, those are like the Mk-8s
except ‘hydrodynamic,’ pretty spiffy.” I pointed to two nozzles that were on the back, “Water jets, these things are gonna be fast, and they don’t
look clumsy at all.” Several technicians came out and helped us remove our Mk-8 suits and put the others on. “Yer gonna have to leave your
rocket pack behind sir, I don’t think she’ll fit.” I took it off and handed it to him, “Take good care of it, that thing has saved my life more than
      They updated us on how to use the various features and showed us the new capabilities of the suits. There were no suits that were big
enough for Miles, so they gave him a personal hydro jet and told him to go deep so as not to disturb the surface with his ‘unhrydrodynamic’
armor. “The rest of you are going to have to move a little more slowly, he’s not going to go as fast as you can.” We looked absolutely cool in
these new suits, and they felt almost exactly like our old armor.
      We boarded the transport that would take us to the boats, and they told us that the docks were inside the cliffs, “So your gonna have to
swim the last little way, cause this dropship can’t” We skirted the city widely and then dropped down till we skimmed the surface of the ocean.
The pilot opened up the rear door and we dove into the water. We heard his voice crackle through the comm., “Allright, it’s about a seventy five
feet straight in front of you. You can’t miss the opening.” As I adjusted the depth control, I heard Mike whistle, “Man, these things rule. Here
watch.” There was a cloud of bubbles as he shot towards the cliff. We followed and within six seconds were inside the hole to the dock. As we
surfaced, one of the captains shouted, “Hey, over here. You’re Corporal Starwing right?” I nodded. “Good, you’re on my boat.” We clambered
aboard and he directed us to the very bottom floor of the ship. “That’s the hatch you’ll be exiting from,” he pointed to what looked like a large
porthole on the floor. He closed the door and we sat down. There was a hissing and we opened our mouths as the pressure increased slightly.
      It had been about five minutes when a low hum permeated the ship and we felt a slight rocking. “Here goes nothing.” I mumbled, and then
crashed into the wall as the boat accelerated to probably near a hundred miles per hour in six seconds. Tiger sat up and held his head, “Oww! Man,
does this old tub use rocket boosters or something?” Miles chuckled “probably something like that.” We sat around and made plans for a while
and then looked on as Richard pulled out his chessboard and challenged Tiger. They had made it half way through a game when our comms.
crackled to life, “All right, we’re approaching the drop off point, everyone get ready.” Richard packed up and we stood to stretch our muscles.
After about a minute, the voice came through again, “Alright, open the hatch and move out.” I carefully popped off several buckles and opened it
up. A cool, clear, disk of water met our eyes and Miles shook his head, “The water here is amazing, I think I can see the ocean floor.” I dove in and
found the nav mark on my HUD. We sank down to about a hundred feet and then moved towards the island at a good clip. The speedometer on my
HUD read forty miles per hour, and we hadn’t even pushed the water jets to their limit. “It’s just like using a slow speed rocket pack, except you
don’t die if something goes wrong.” The active camouflage turned the armor a mottled blue green, and Vixy commented that we looked just like a
couple of large, rather odd-looking fish. “Hopefully that’s what the Subcon guards will think if they see us in the water.” I replied.
      We made it to a hundred feet off shore in a short time and then waited as the other squads moved into position. I heard the voice of the
operation commander come through the headset, “All right, you’re in position. Remember to call in troop support if needed, and also we have
several fighter-bombers at high altitude. If there’s a problem, they can come in and offer some heavy firepower. Begin the operation.” We slowly
moved ashore and crawled up on the beach. “Heh, looks like nobodies home” Tiger muttered. The island was mostly jungle, and we faded into the
foliage like ghosts.
      About halfway to the objective we saw a small scouting party heading our way. “Everybody down, and use your silencers if you have to
shoot, remember, we’re not here.” “Why do we always have to go to this sector,” one of them said, “I at least want to guard the uhhh…shipments,
those guys get all the awards.” Their footsteps drew closer and I rolled into a bush. They were passing only twenty feet in front of me when one of
them gave a shout. There were several pings and I saw sparks fly from their radios, “Nice shots Talon!” Vixy raised herself to one knee and put a
feathered shaft through one of their necks. Talon took down two more and then shouted, “It’s up to you Fox!” Since I was the closest to them, I
leapt up and blasted away with both my pistols. Six seconds and fifteen shots later, the bodies crumpled to the ground, several smoking holes in
each of their chests. I spun the pistols and holstered them with a flourish. “That was good thinking Talon, taking out their radios before they could
report us. Again we are indebted to your marksmanship and foresight.” He smirked, “Hey, why do you think I’m called a ‘sniper’.”
      We were getting close when Tiger threw himself backwards and shouted “Don’t move!” He carefully got to his feet and reached for
something laying on the ground. His hands worked deftly for a minute and then he stood up, holding a disarmed mine. Richard’s eyes bugged at
the size of it and he gulped, “I think that they should have warned us about traps…Hehe, knock on plasteel.” I nodded and then whirled at a sudden
crash. “Oh heck! What the deuce happened now?” Vixy had managed to fall into a carefully hidden pit and was trying to scramble out. I was just
about to pull out some liquid rope when Miles shouted and pointed to something. “IT’S ANOTHER DOGGON SLICER!”
      It looked like a large lawn mower, cutting a huge swath through the jungle. We scattered as it roared closer and I realized that the pit must
have had some kind of sensor rigged in it. “Take out that slicer by whatever means possible!” I shouted. Miles, Tiger and Richard put their rocket
launchers together and began a regular process of running away and firing. The slicer stopped on top of the pit and I saw a group of Subcon jump
pack troops come bounding up to it. “HURRY!” I yelled and fired my energy carbine at the spinning blade. After a short struggle, I saw the jump
pack troops bound off, one of them carrying a hostage. “NO!” I charged around the slicer and tore after the retreating Subcon. I looked over my
shoulder and watched the slicer flip upside down, Miles’ huge armored form ran away at top speed and there was an enormous fireball.
      I slowed down and let everyone catch up, and then looked around. Silence settled over the jungle once more, there was no sound, and no
trace of the Subcon. Everything had happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think. “Guys, they got Vixy. I don’t know what they’re going to do
with her, but whatever it is it can’t be good. We can’t let them take her off this island, we’d never find her again.”
      Richard nodded, then got on his hands and knees. He looked at the ground intently and pointed ahead, “This way, follow me.” We ran as
hard as we could for a minute and then burst out into the sunlight. In front of us was a large landing platform, covered in trucks. The Subcon had a
fortified position and they opened fire on us as soon as we emerged from the undergrowth. “Find cover! We’ll be chopped up out here!” Miles
yelled. As the lasbolts sizzled around us, we raced onto the platform and dove behind a truck. Talon snuck underneath it and began to pop Subcon
heads like cheap balloons.  As Miles and I fired from behind the engine, I had a brilliant idea, “ Miles, cover me while I get into that truck over
there. I should be able to run over a lot of them before they know what’s happening.” He stepped into the open and blazed away with his two vulcan
cannons. I ran, leapt into the drivers seat, started the engine and looked up. A large subcon tank was slowly aiming at me. I threw myself out of the
cabin and ran behind another truck, a tremendous blast rattled my teeth. I heard Miles yell over the comm. “Fox, you’ve got to stop that tank. Get
into its blind spot, and then climb aboard; your energy carbine should be able to blow the hatch off.” A cold sweat broke out on my forehead, but I
knew that it was the only way.
      With a kamikaze yell I sprinted towards the tank. A lasbolt from the pintle mounted gun slammed into my leg and I stumbled forward,
almost falling. I looked down at my leg and inhaled sharply, adrenaline and shock had dampened the pain of a gaping wound in my thigh. Bright
blood poured down the armor and as I ran I carefully put a patch of bio-tape over the wound, then clicked an armor shard in place. Lasbolts still
zipped around until the gunner’s head disappeared in a pink puff; I gasped in relief “Thanks Talon.” Fortunately the tank wasn’t moving very fast
and I leapt onto its side. When I reached the top I drew my energy carbine and fired a shot at the hatch, which buckled, but didn’t break. I charged
it again and then for a split second was caught off guard as the hatch flew open and one of the drivers poked a pistol at me. I yanked the trigger;
releasing the large green bolt, and watched the body, now headless and shooting greenish sparks, slump down out of sight, “Chew on THAT!” I
snarled. With the carbine clipped safely back into its holster, I drew my knife. Without a sound I jumped into the tank and stabbed one of the
drivers in the back. The commander was ready though and his pistol shots burnt large holes into my armor, and one or two even punched through
the bodysuit. I grunted in pain and with a few quick backhanded strokes, I had eviscerated his throat and he fell back, blood soaking into his seat. I
grabbed the controls and swung the main gun around. There was a muffled blast as I pulled the trigger and watched with satisfaction as pieces of
Subcon went flying into the stratosphere. Mike radioed that they were making a break for the tank, and that Miles was already there. I jumped into
the drivers seat and watched Miles throw the dead commanders body out, then lower himself into the gunner’s position. “Open the back door,
Fox. It’s the center lever.” I yanked it and there was a hiss, then the sound of footsteps on the metal. “We’re in! Get the heck out of here!” I
gunned the engine and felt the tank leap in response. I chose the road to the left and drove down it at top speed. There were trucks all along this
road as well, so I just ran over them, or had Miles obliterate the bigger ones with the cannon. I looked at the main view screen in front of me and
saw some small dots in the distance. They were heading for a staging pad that had two of the mysterious storage vats on it. “Come on Fox, Move
it!” As we passed a road and a building to our right, a tank pulled out from behind it and aimed at us. We both fired at the same time, but their shell
only grooved the front armor of our tank. Theirs exploded and blew tiny pieces of metal all over. “Now this is how to use a tank,” Miles said. “I
wish I had my tank, we’d make those ‘huge Subcon behemoths’ run for cover.” I nodded and kept the throttle to its limit. As we neared the storage
vats I popped open the rear door and told Talon to go wreak havoc. As he jumped out, Miles swiveled the turret and blasted a truck that was trying
to make off with one the vats. It tumbled into the ocean that was now quite near by, and I told Richard to contact the base and get a salvage team
      Talon’s voice came over our comms. “I just saw them throw Vixy into that other vat, they stripped her down to her bodysuit and threw all
her equipment into one of those crates. SHOOT! Now a truck is coming that looks like a type to move those things.” Miles muttered something
under his breath and then looked at me, “Fox, I just noticed that we’re out of shells.” I slammed my fist down onto the control column and kept
going. “You never know, maybe the intimidation will make them stop.” Miles turned the turret to the right and yelled, “HOLY
SMOKES!…EVERYBODY, GET OUT NOW!!” I didn’t argue and leapt out onto the top of the tank. I saw the rest of the squad pour out of the
back, and look at what Miles had seen. An enormous Subcon tank, with two turrets, that had two barrels each was slowly coming towards us. As we
bolted for the jungle, there was a quadruple blast, and our tank exploded with a roar.
      I watched the truck pick up the storage vat and slowly pull away towards a landing pad. “TALON! SHOOT THE DRIVER!” We all tried to
stop the truck, but fate had it against us and it seemed that our shots weren’t doing anything. I saw a Subcon transport ship waiting on the landing
pad and knew what they were planning. I leapt up and ran harder than I ever have before, straight towards the landing pad. Everyone else fell behind
me as I ran faster and faster. The sound of the transport starting its engines reached my ears and I cleared the edge of the pad without breaking
stride. They finished loading the vat and the truck pulled away. Miles voice rang in my ears, “JUMP FOX! JUMP!” As the transport slowly lifted
from the ground, I made a flying leap and held on to its side. I drew my knife and stabbed it into the hull; pulling myself forwards, I held onto a
small intake and yanked my knife out of the hull. I repeated this process of stabbing and pulling, and slowly crawled forwards along the fuselage,
working my way towards the cockpit. I looked back, the island was getting smaller and smaller, and the ocean further and further away.
       As I hauled myself the last few feet, I drew my carbine and pointed it at the canopy. The pilot must have seen me because the craft
suddenly rolled to the right. I grabbed the handle of my knife with both hands and hung in space for a few moments. It then rolled to the left and I
saw one of the escort fighters line up for a strafing run. As the lasbolts flew towards me I jerked myself up a few feet and drew my knees to my
chin. The lasbolts pockmarked the hull around me with sizzling holes, but I was unharmed. As the pilot leveled out for a moment, I put the carbine
to the windshield and pulled the trigger. Glass flew around and I pulled myself halfway into the cockpit. The pilot’s lifeless body blocked me
from sitting down. So I pulled the release buckles and than taunted the copilot. He glared at me and rolled upside down. I held on to the straps and
watched the body tumble into the ocean, “Perfect.” I looked back at the copilot and saw him draw a pistol. I pointed my carbine at it and blew it
from his hands; he gave a roar of rage as it tumbled down towards the ocean.
      As he rolled upright I pulled my knife from the hull and dropped into the pilot’s seat. In the reflection of the shattered windshield, I saw
the copilots huge hands close around my neck. I pointed the carbine at one of his hands and pulled the trigger once. He gave a bellow of pain, and
held the blackened stump of his wrist. I pointed the carbine backwards and held the trigger down. After a few seconds, I clipped it onto my thigh
and turned the ship around. I noticed that this particular transport didn’t have shields, just a large amount of armor, and I prayed that it would hold
out long enough to get back to the island.
      I felt a small shake and saw one of the fighters blasting away at me. After checking for countermeasures, and seeing that there were none, I
thought that I was done for. Then a crazy idea formed in my head, it was risky, but I thought that it might work. “There’s only one catch,” I thought,
“Do those fighters have shields or not…only one way to find out!” I braced the yoke with my shin and stood up out of the cockpit. I yanked the
energy carbine from its sheath and leveled it at one of the approaching fighters. I squeezed the trigger and held my breath as the bolt flew towards
its target. It blasted through the canopy and the fighter fell in parabolic arc towards the water. “YEAH!” I shouted and shifted my aim to another
one. As he leveled out for another pass my crystal activated and I saw the lasbolts coming straight for my head. I ducked and they flew past with a
loud sizzling; I popped up and fired. In slow motion I saw the bolt connect with the canopy, and millions of tiny shards streamed out behind it. The
last one saw what had happened to his buddies, and so he dropped behind, and below, where I couldn’t see. As things sped up, I sat down and
strapped in; then started a steep power dive. “These Subcon never were known for their excellent fighter pilots, hopefully he won’t think of what
I’m trying to do until it’s too late.”  As the altimeter dropped like an elevator with a drunken bellboy, I began to count to myself. The Subcon
started to chew away at my tail, and I felt a bang out of engine number two. I yanked the “Fire” lever and chopped the throttle. The ship shook as
more of his lasbolts hit home, but I still kept diving. At the last second I hauled back on the yoke and started to pull level. The damaged engine,
and who knows what else didn’t give me enough power and control to come out correctly. I sucked in my breath and felt the ship skip off the
water. I pulled up and looked back at a large splash behind me. The splash turned a brilliant orange and a plume of water shot hundreds of feet into
the air. I exhaled slowly and climbed for altitude. “Miles, I got things under control, how are things going down there?” There was the crackling of
assault rifle fire as he spoke, “We called in the infantry and air support at the last second. There are still a couple of resistance pockets, but we’re
clearing those out now.” There was the whistling of his sword as it cut through the air, then a clang as he sliced through a Subcon. I settled back
into the uncomfortable sheet metal seat, and leveled out towards the small green splotch on the horizon. I looked at the various instruments
spread out around me and saw that engine one was leaking coolant and oil; the temperature was getting critical. I pulled the throttle back and
powered up engine two again. “I think that I might just barely make it.” I jockeyed the engines and squeezed every last second of life out of them.
      I was just beginning to be able to define individual trees when the engines stopped completely. There was a sickening plunge as I fought to
keep the ship steady. “Gotta get to the beach. Come on…Come on…” There was a loud hissing as the ship sliced the foam from the tops of the
waves. I pulled back on the yoke, then let it go and braced myself; a scream of tortured metal cut into the cockpit as the ship skidded on the sand,
then there was a bone jarring crash. I opened my eyes and gave a sigh of relief. I looked around and opened up the cargo bay door, the release
buckles came next and I stepped out of the shattered cockpit. “Miles, I’m on the northeast beach… I had to make a crash landing, but I’m ok.
Don’t know about Vixy yet.” He wasn’t even breathing hard when he replied, “A salvage team is on the way now, they’ve been tracking you for the
past several minutes. We’re almost finished with the Subcon defenders, they’ll be gone by the time you get back.”
      I drew a pistol, slammed a fresh clip in, and carefully moved around towards the back, I know that in Verash transports, there is almost
always a loadmaster, and I didn’t know if there was another Subcon back there. I dropped to the ground and poked my head around to see into the
cargo area, nothing. With a grunt, I got to my knees, and then froze as a large foot slammed down in front of me. My eyes traveled up a huge leg
and I found myself face to face with the loadmaster. He grinned and said in his native tongue, “Hah, and you call yourself an elite squad leader.”
The barrel of his pistol looked as big as a water main as he ordered me to drop my gun. As I stood up and raised my hands, my sharp ears picked
up a faint roaring in the distance. I decided to buy some time so I asked the Subcon in his own language, “Well, you got me. What are you going to
do?” “Take you back to base for questioning…and then shipment to the Subcon arena.” I shuddered at his last statement, but then laughed coldly,
“This island is now in the hands of the Verash starforce. Your base is probably nothing but a smoking crater.” He looked at my hands for a
moment and then gave a sadistic smile, “ Now where have I seen that ring before? Oh yes…I’ve got a great idea. How about me killing your fiancé
right in front of your eyes? If she’s still alive.” I looked past him and a smile crept across my face, “Somehow that doesn’t sound right. How about
the oncoming LACV killing YOU before my eyes?” right on cue the armored transport roared over a nearby dune, the Subcon turned and fired at
it futilely. I swept up my pistol and mumbled, “better yet, why don’t I kill you.” He stiffened as I plugged him in the back, then I dropped and
watched the minigun on the LACV blast away and rip his body to shreds.


                            Chapter 14: Answers, and More Questions
      I stood up, took my helmet off and attempted to clean some of the gore from my armor. The transport ground to a halt and two bear types
leapt out of the back. The bigger one walked over to me and introduced himself, “I’m sergeant Hune and this is sergeant Ross, I heard that there
might be someone in that storage container, is that true?” I gave him the affirmative and he winked at his buddy. The loud crackling of boron
cutters and their booming laughter soon echoed over the water. “Lift er off, real carefully…unnff.” They had cut a doorway in the side of the
container, and a light rod was tossed in. They peered into the cavernous interior, “OHMYGOSH!” They both recoiled from the opening and
stepped aside, talking in hushed voices. Vixy stepped out into the light and squinted at me, “Fox?…How did you…” After what the loadmaster had
said I was pretty worried, and when the salvage guys had reacted so violently I feared the worst. But when I saw her I gave a sigh of relief and
relaxed for the first time in several hours, “Thank goodness, are you all right, nothing broken.” “Well besides feeling like I was put in an ancient
Targonian tumble dryer, yeah. I guess that it was you doing all the rolling?” I thought back, “No, I was still working my way forward on the hull,
they were trying to get me off.” Her eyes widened in amazement, “YOU WERE ON THE HULL!!! ON THE OUTSIDE!” “Well yeah, what did you
expect me to do, try and shoot the blame thing down with you in it?” “Well no, but I didn’t expect you to do something that crazy.” I put my hands
on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, “Hey, we’re both alive. That’s what matters.” She nodded, then leaned forward and kissed me lightly.
For a moment I was speechless and I stared at the sky, then I exhaled slowly and looked at her, a roguish grin spread across my face,
“Woohoohoo! What was that for?!” She smiled, “For saving my life the second time…don’t expect it to happen again though. Remember we’re
saving em for the wedding day” I nodded and then groaned in half-fake disappointment, “Awww nuts!”
      She jerked her thumb towards the container, “Take a look in there, and you’ll see why those guys reacted like that. You’ll also find out why
the Subcon jammed that storage vat in the city, and probably why they started this war in the first place.” I stepped over to the opening and looked
in. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, but after that a large ingot of light blue, slightly glowing metal met my gaze. There was a slight ringing,
like a freshly drawn sword. I gasped and drew my knife, comparing the two left no doubt in my mind. “Aurdium! The hardest metal in the
universe!” One of the salvage guys came over and looked at both of us, “No one is to know of this, not even your squad mates. Is that clear?” We
both nodded and turned towards the interior of the island. As we were walking she shook her head, “My gosh, I’ve never seen so much aurdium in
my life, where the heck did they get it all?” I glanced at her, “You know as much as I do. They probably mined it from somewhere on this planet…
remember what you said earlier about it being the cause of the war? I think that you’re right.” She smiled “You’d be proud of me. I got three of
them in the struggle when they tried to grab me. This ‘breath of ice’ thingy works wonders. If you can manage to freeze their heads, they shatter
like china.” She looked at the crystal ring on her finger, “These rings are also quite powerful, and you said something about an enhanced healing
ability when you wear them…remarkable.” I looked over at her and whistled, “heh, nice outfit.” I saw a slight red creep under the fur on her
muzzle, “Do you think I would have gotten you a Mythphec body suit if I hadn’t done some product testing first? I’ve had this since the very first
day I enlisted, it was a parting gift from my mother. I’ve always worn it under everything, a hidden layer of armor.” I pulled my eyes away from her
lithe form and stared at the jungle, “Just because something protects you doesn’t mean that it looks bad; Mmm Mmm, those Mythphec…really
something else. Oh, Miles found your armor and equipment, he says that they’re in good condition.”
      We walked back into a scene of utter devastation, the Subcon buildings had been completely leveled, and there were burning tanks and
bodies everywhere. I saw Miles sitting on a log, cleaning one of his swords. “Hey, is Vixy’s stuff around?” “Yeah, it’s over there by that stump.”
She went over and began to don her armor. I looked at Miles and sat down next to him, “ You would not believe what happened out there Miles…”
“Chances are I’ve experienced it.” I leaned back and said philosophically, “She kissed me…she actually kissed me. After that my heart was
pounding so hard that I thought the salvage team could hear it…Holy smokes, what an amazing feeling.” He grunted and raised an eyebrow, then
continued to polish his sword. I just leaned back for a few more moments and remembered. Than I realized that I hadn’t been debriefed, “Shoot, I
forgot the debrief, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I jumped up and raced towards the commander’s C.P.
      I walked into his command post and reported. “Ahh, corporal Starwing, I’m glad you’re here. You guys really made hay out there, and I
heard something about you hitching a ride on one of their transports just to bring one of those containers back…Wow, I think you deserve some
kind of award for that little stunt.” I shook my head, “I don’t deserve an award sir. My fiancé was stuck in that container, that’s why I brought it
back. I don’t give a darn about that aurdium.” He looked at me narrowly, then nodded his head, “All right, but you still got that aurdium back.” “Sir,
where the heck did they get all that stuff? I think that they probably mined it from someplace on this planet, but where?” He closed the entrance to
the shelter and whispered, “This is something that I think you are entitled to know, but if you mention one word of this to anyone outside, the
military will be forced to kill you both.” He let this sink in before continuing, “You may have heard rumors about the ‘treasure of Vera’…well
they’re true, this planet’s core is made entirely of the purest aurdium that is known. The Subcon somehow found out about this and so they took
the planet. In the time it took us to mobilize the entire starforce, the Subcon had built several deep sea mining stations and began to ship aurdium
back to their home planet. We have located these mining facilities and are preparing to strike. You may be part of those attacks, seeing that you’re
already equipped for aquatic ops. So keep your ears open. For now there isn’t much you can do, and I would recommend racking out early. You
can go to the supply ship and grab a shelter pack to make a temporary barracks.” I saluted and walked out, my mind whirling with the information I
just heard. I sat down on a stump and tried to catalog my thoughts and clear my mind. After a few moments I stood up and went over to the supply
ship. An older dog type looked at me tiredly as he passed supplies to the troops crowding around. I raised my hand and shouted “Need a shelter
pack over here.” After a few moments a fancy looking backpack was tossed to me and I walked off. The squad had gathered near the command
post and I threw the shelter pack to the ground. “Hey, Richard…I’m not too familiar with these things, could you set it up?” He nodded quickly,
“better yet let me show you how to do it.” He tapped a few keys on the side and told me how they worked, “And when you select the size and
shape all you got to do is press this here and…Watch the beam.” A thick beam shot into the air, then widened out around us in the shape of a tent
and hardened. “Hehe, not bad. I like these things.” We stepped inside and threw our equipment on the floor, which was also was covered by the
energy field. Mike looked at my leg and grunted, not bad for an on the fly job, all I can do is replace the bio-tape and apply some healing
      We sat down in a circle and talked idly for a half hour, and then decided to go help the clean up efforts.

                               Chapter 15: The Price We Must Pay
      Fortunately there were a lot of troops on the island and the removal of rubble and bodies didn’t take long. Before we knew it there were
shelters and energy tents springing up all over; dinner was class B rations, which there seemed to be no shortage of and we all ate heartily. After
dinner I told everyone that they were free to do what they wanted, and I headed towards a nearby beach. The calm pounding of surf soon drowned
out the babble of camp and I sat down in the sand. As I looked out to sea, I thought of all the bloodshed and sorrow that was brought on by a simple
metal. I sighed and began to sketch the outline of my fighter in the sand. A rustling of leaves made me whirl, a pistol trained on the sound; Miles’
towering form came through a clump of trees. “You all right Fox? You generally don’t go off alone.” I kicked sand over my drawing, “I don’t know
Miles, this whole terrible war started over a lousy metal. I know that I’m mentally hardened, but when you almost lose the one that you love
most…it starts to take a toll. I haven’t told this to anyone, but I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m starting to crack.” Miles sat down with a sigh and
nodded, “I’ve been watching you carefully, and I have noticed a slight change…that’s why I followed you here. You’re anger is becoming slightly
less contained; remember anger can be a great tool, or it can be your worst enemy, control it, then use the strength it gives.” He looked out at the
gentle waves that were lapping against the shore, “I know the feeling, when you get fatigued, your resolve and will weaken. Right now you
probably wish you were out of here, maybe with your father, with Vixy, or maybe just flying.” I looked up and nodded silently, “Fox, there are
times when you just have to go through with things, remember in boot camp all the times you wanted to quit? Well, this involves a lot more
people, and a lot more important things than boot camp. You are fighting for the survival of your home planet, and ultimately these fights
determine the fate of the galaxy. The Subcon, if they got massive quantities of aurdium, could construct armor for thousands of warriors and
plating for their ships. They would be well nigh unstoppable, and would rampage through the galaxy, killing all who stand in their way. Because we
are fighting them, they didn’t get much aurdium; in a way we are fighting not only for this planet, but for the galaxy as a whole…does that cheer
you up a little?” I shrugged, “I guess.” He stood up and began to walk back towards the base, as he was leaving I said quietly, “Thanks.” He stopped
for a moment and then disappeared into the foliage.
      Alone with my thoughts once more, I let Miles’ words sink in and looked out across the water towards a crimson sunset, “Heh, even the
sun knows that blood was shed today…So much blood…” I stood up and walked slowly back to base, my resolve hardened once more. I didn’t
even bother to remove my armor when I stepped into the shelter; I just strung up an energy hammock and lay down. Soon I was deep in the arms of
death’s twin sister, sleep.
      There was blackness for a time, then a familiar scene flashed into my mind; the beach with the crashed transport, me standing confidently
with pistol drawn. The sky suddenly went black and thunderclouds roiled in the sky, wind blasted the trees around me and the surf thundered
against the shore. I turned and came face-to-face with the loadmaster, his body had been ripped to shreds by the minigun and yet he was still
standing, blood pouring from his flayed flesh onto the sand. My pistol vanished even as I aimed, and the Subcon laughed sadistically, “How about
we kill your fiancé right before your eyes?” His arms closed around my neck and he put me in a headlock where I was powerless to move. In front
of me I saw the golden Subcon commander walk towards a wounded soldier on the ground and taunt him. As he raised his shield into the air, a bolt
of lightning split the sky behind him. I watched with horror as he morphed into a Khrana, and his shield came down on a familiar form. As if it
were an echo, I heard a far away scream, “VIXYYY! NOOOOO!” and shuddered as the shield sliced through flesh and bone and drove itself into
the ground. I saw Vixy cut in half, lying in a spreading pool of blood, her eyes locked on mine in an expression of terror. The Khrana’s laughter
mingled with a long peal of thunder and he walked over to me. I struggled desperately, “NO! I killed all of you! You’re all dead! This isn’t
happening!” A flash of lightning illuminated the Khrana’s face, his two empty eye sockets oozed blood, and as the wind blew, pieces of his
charred face stripped off and floated away. His voice became deep and menacing, “No, Fox, we’re not dead, and you can’t kill us now. We will be
with you forever.” His laughter filled my head and the loadmaster threw me forward. I crashed to the ground and looked up. The barrel of the
Subcon’s gun aimed at my head “You’re finished.” there was a blast and sharp pain. Darkness…falling…falling…falling.
      I hit the floor with a crash and lay there unmoving. I covered my head and whimpered, “No…no…” I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and
looked up into Tiger’s face. They were all there, standing above me, and I felt Tiger’s arm to make sure he was there, “Hey man, you all right?” I
nearly sobbed, “Oh my gosh, it was all a dream…a dream.” I noticed that almost all of them were shaking and I wondered why they were all
standing over me. Talon answered my question, “I’ve never heard a more terrible scream in my life…What happened. You woke us all up…and
had us scared to death.” I got a grip on myself and took several long, shaky breaths, “It was just a bad dream. Nothing more.” Tiger glared at me, “It
must have been one heckuva dream to get that reaction out of you.” Miles nodded grimly, “It happens to me too, it’s a product of war and killing at
close range…and perhaps some other things.” He got down on one knee and looked into my eyes, a grin slowly spread across his face and he
shook his head, “You have a strong spirit Fox…don’t worry guys, he’ll be all right, even now the fear is fading.” I cleared my mind, got up and
rolled back into my hammock, Miles stood next to me and stayed there until I dropped back off into an uneasy sleep.
 To be continued... 
      The name Vicenzia used by permission of Foxmerc, thanks for the permission and for helping inspire my writing. If you want to e-mail your comments or
advice, please e-mail me at
      The characters and plot are copywrited. If you want to use them, e-mail me and I’ll probably let you.

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