The Story

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Empires background story as written by DonMegel and old storyline from Empires homepage from 2006.

Storyline

During the Kolntus-Emin War, both sides fought mercilessly over ownership of their ancestral empire. Each side believed that they were the rightful heir to its legacy. It did not matter what answers it held to their hazy past or to what mysterious culture and technology had been buried when the earth had swallowed it into the ground. Since the days of the Faction Wars, their blinding anger towards each other had grown beyond any simple emotion. It was even embodied in their physical structures by the conflicting ideologies of genetic manipulation versus nanomechanical integration, and now, it had culminated into a furious war never before seen on the continents of the world, spurred on by the discovery of the buried capital of the ancient empire.

The events leading to the war were set into motion upon the uncovering of their ancestors' ancient city which was once the heart of their ancient empire. The Brenodi had initially discovered the ruins and were unwilling to share their discovery with the Jekotians. A fierce stand off began with both sides forming battle lines near the ruins from which to launch their initial attacks. In such a tense face off, the most minor of mistakes could initiate war. In this case, however, they managed to hold their ground until the earth began to tremble. Once the quakes began, every single soldier’s mind leapt to the same exact conclusion, that the end times had arrived once again as experienced in the final days of the ancient empire. The Jekotians could no longer retain their anger, and their military, with its rows of tank and formations of troops, struck out into the entrenched Brenodi. They fought with such ferocity that the Brenodi were initially overwhelmed. The Brenodi regrouped and launched a retaliatory strike which stalled the Jekotian war machine.

Although the battle had slowed and evolved into a stalemate, the seismic activity increased and began threatening major population centers on every continent. A realization that the end was inevitable swept over the Jekotians, and they initiated battles across the entire world in an attempt to ensure that their centuries old enemy, the Brenodi, were destroyed along with them. They even unfurled their stockpile of obsolete nuclear weapons and attempted to strike at the Brenodi even though they knew it was futile. As they arced through the sky and began gliding down to their targets, they were destroyed by the Brenodi's aging defensive missile systems. They were indeed still fully functional and recently upgraded even though they had not been in service for many years since forming the previous war's stalemate, and it should be noted that this stalemate was directly responsible for initiating the current era of the genetic arms race. The Jekotians had beckoned their own destruction, and it was finally approaching. Their military still continued to fight and deeply gouge the Brenodi forces, but their military could do nothing to prevent the quakes from finally reaching into the heart of the Jekotian civilization. Their capital crumbled, and its once breathtaking skyline was reduced to rubble. The core of their government was in ruins and the body of political power decapitated.

Their military was still intact, however, now only burning on the fumes of hate. The Brenodi, possibly in a display of regret, offered a ceasefire, and the struggling civilian population, which had no political elements remaining, begrudgingly accepted it. The military regrettably withdrew its forces from all major campaigns. With an end to all major fighting, the weakened Jekotians attempted to regroup. The Brenodi continued their research efforts into the ancient city, and they extended their hand once again with a proposal that they could end the destructive seismic activity. The Jekotians warily waited as the quakes died out. They could only accept this as a sign that possibly the Brenodi truly wished to end their conflict, and they began a series of conferences to discuss the future of their war ravaged continents. The Brenodi eventually offered aid and pledged support to help the Jekotians rebuild their capital, and the Jekotians in return offered to help do whatever they could to repair the much lesser damage that had been done to the Brenodi.

Still heavily damaged by the destruction of their capital, the Jekotians were not in a position to respond negatively to the actions the Brenodi carried out next. The Brenodi built up an overwhelming campaign of propaganda based around the ancient empire’s ruins. They created a feverish excitement over the excavation of the ruins and harkened society to consider how great they were when they were one nation, one empire, with an advanced cultural and technological level that no other civilization could even dare to compare themselves with. Finally, once it was gauged that public opinion had been swayed by the propaganda, the Brenodi proposed a treaty to unite the weakened Jekotians and much stronger Brenodi into a New Empire, a continuation of the ancient civilization their ancestors had created before they were split into the two warring nations of the present. The Jekotians no longer had the will power and strength to oppose any retaliatory action from the Brenodi if they declined. Thus, they only had one available option and accepted the treaty.

The first initial years of the New Empire were promising. The Jekotian capital was being rebuilt, and aid to its citizens was increasing now that they were no longer considered Jekotian citizens but rather citizens of the New Empire. However, many disputes were unfolding due to the separate physical characteristics of each race. The Jekotians were heavily genetically modified, but the Brenodi were modified using nonorganic means. Instead, they had become dependent on nanomachines to survive and enhance themselves, and this was reflected in their society. Jekotian citizens could not function in Brenodi society, and Brenodi law even made it illegal to be in highly populated areas without nanomachines. One popular excuse was that of the nanomachines use as a means of identifying negative behavior and alerting government officials before the host is able to commit any crimical actions. Also, leading up to the Kolntus-Emin War, the Brenodi became fearful of the Jekotians’ early genetic manipulation efforts with warranted concerns that it would lead to outbreaks of artificial viruses and bacteria which had occurred before, and this fear, which continued to remain popular even after the creation of the New Empire, further fueled the general consensus against complete integration. With the formation of the new government, the Brenodia had the advantage of political experience in this new nation and were quick to attain the roles of power which left the Jekotians without any means of government representation. Not only did this encourage bitterness among the Jekotians but also severly limited their ability to peacefully influence government decisions to a position not entirely in favor of the Brenodi.

It was becoming clear that the Jekotians were the have-nots of this new nation, and social disorder grew among them. The Brenodi were initially able to continue to use the propaganda of the rebirth of their ancestral empire to keep the Jekotians in check. However, the remnants of the once powerful Jekotian military were still breeding their undying hate for the Brenodia and began forming insurgent cells throughout the new nation. They slowly began to inflict damage upon the internal structure of the New Empire, and the Brenodi were quick to take notice. The Brenodi initiated a series of crack downs on the insurgents, and within a short time frame, all major leaders of the insurgency were executed. The ordinary citizens continued the insurgency and kept it alive even though it could not sustain the momentum it possessed before the retaliation.

Today, there are still many problems facing the New Empire. The Jekotians are continually repressed by the Brenodi from political power in the government to quality of living in the designated areas they are allowed to inhabit. The Jekotians are unable to fight back diplomatically due to their little representation in the government. Therefore, they continue their insurgency to fight back violently although it has been contained to a much smaller degree compared to its original ferocity. The internal physical differences between the two races still acts as the main catalyst to fuel their opposition, and the New Empire will never unite until this is eliminated. It’s also questionable that if the physical differences are eliminated that it will also eliminate the centuries of hate between the two races that almost wiped them both out. There is hope as rumors supposedly hold that the President of the New Empire has been heavily funding a program to manipulate the genetic structure of the Jekotians and allow them to accept nanomachines into their system. However, it’s questionable if the Jekotians would be receptive to such a program or only use it to further fuel their dwindling insurgency.

New speculation has also begun surfacing that the Northern Faction and the other remnants of the Jekotian Empire have found new sources of personnel and equipment to aid in their struggle to win back their independence. Although unimaginable, could they have found sympathy within the Brenodi population or is it something that has been overlooked? When asked to comment on the topic, the Brenodi's Head of Local Affairs brushed it off as nothing more than an attempt by the Northern Faction to gain political footing and strike a deal before they are eventually cornered and brought to justice. One can only hope the rumors are unfounded as reports continue to mount that the Brenodi military are facing more and more open confrontations from the insurgent group, perhaps signifying the initiation of a last ditch campaign born out of desperation or the beginning of something larger...


Chapter 1

I should have ran…every fiber within my exhausted being cried out in one unified cord of terror to run as if my eternal soul depended on it, as if somehow distance or the mere act of attempting to achieve distance, would spare me from what ever unknown evil that lie in wait. It made little sense, as so much during that time did. Time itself was cast into doubt as what seemed like hours painfully crept by my ridged frame. Minutes, surely only minutes, had fled from the amount of time I had yet to remain on the earth, hours could not have passed into the unobtainable oblivion of eternity, the destined resting place of our bodies wouldn’t be that far, couldn’t be that far. I realized my watch held the answer that my mind was lazily wrestling with yet by my side my arm remained anchored, the unseen tether of dread refusing to allow even the smallest movement. But why? My body had tasted battle on two prior occasions; my squad mates had proven their worth to their nation, to each other, to me. Our cause was just, our destinies paved by the hand of fate, none could be changed, none averted. These thoughts had provided treasured comfort while nestled tightly within the blood soaked mud of battlefields past but here- no longer. Once pleasantly reassuring, fate now had turned on us, mocking us as her helpless pawns, mere toys of her own creation and fancy. How could fate be so cruel?

The mammoth bird containing our tiny lives shuttered on the invisible waves of airborne currents, a jolt unnoticed by those accustomed to its frequency. With out form, the event mingled with what could only be described as thoughts inhabiting my surreal mind. Nothing seemed to fit, nothing formed around logic or emotion, all was a single great, undulating mass of source less fear. My stomach lurched upwards as our steel eagle plummeted towards the earth below, we could see the next patch of unremarkable earth selected to make an attempt on our lives. It would succeed; the singular thought arose from the milky soup of my brain with startling clarity. This small town nestled so frighteningly deep within a sea of jagged rocks, would consume the lives of all who entered it. We would die here and we knew it.

The flickering flames danced lightly within her deep green eyes as she studied my unshaven face. I knew she was there, her presence filled the room, penetrating me to my very soul. Her warmth, her joy, her youthful exuberance, everything about her sang out life, love and the miracle that was our relationship. I wouldn’t let her know that I knew, at least not by outward appearances. She knew that I knew, and I knew that she knew that I knew, but that changed nothing. I simply sat, eyes fixed on the tattered book held so lightly within my resting hands. I had long since stopped reading the age-old tale told within its cover, yet I continued the ruse, refused to acknowledge her presence. She smiled, I could see her out of the corners of my tired eyes, she knew the game too. Slowly she made her way around the plush chair that held me, towards its rear. To see her move was to see the perfection only God could produce. Every line, every curve, every bend flowed seamlessly into one momentous work of art fit to be had by no man for none could possible deserve to have her. Yet there I sat, lazily playing a lovers game in our little home. What had I done? What words, deeds, sacrifices had I undertaken in order to warrant such a woman? My thoughts of amazement and unworthiness faded from hand as her bare arms found their way around my neck. Almost at once my nostrils filled with the perfumed scent of her mocha colored skin, her unrealistically soft skin. I could feel it rubbing by my neck as her long, graceful arms continued on their trek for the intrusive book. I couldn’t fight it any more and a smile found its way onto my previously impassive face. She couldn’t see it of course but she knew it was there, she knew me, she knew us. I lowered the book, dropped my head ever so slightly as to take in as much of her outstretched, victorious hands as possible. “Maria…”

“Sergeant?”

I blinked away the world of warmth and bliss that I had traded for the soup of mired death in which I now stood. I glanced about to take in the surroundings I had apparently been moving within for some time, albeit in a state of mechanical rote operation. Before me stood a rather perplexed young Private, no more than seventeen, of my squad. Long strands from his worn and tattered gray uniform blew about in the frigid north wind that constantly raked across our newest home. He was covered, as were we all I soon realized, in the thick, black mud that sheltered the many jagged rocks that made up the countryside. Perhaps it had rained, I couldn’t tell, nor did feel particularly interested in finding out. At my feet the dull metallic sheen of military equipment glittered from within its newly applied covering of mud and grime. It occurred to me how lonely and pathetic the small mountain of detpacks looked nestled so firmly within the sticky goo. How strange was it that each tiny green box with its smattering of letters, its collection of scratches and dents, held within it the destructive power only man seemed to be willing to harness. Our massive transport had departed along with a dozen or so replicas of itself, each of which having left a small legacy of men and machines. For a moment I smiled and laughed at the thought of machines giving birth to machines; procreation via lifeless creations of death. The cynical spark must have found an external outlet for the puzzled stare upon the private’s face began to slide into an uneasy box of fear. A soldier’s only hope in any conflict is competent leadership. To be found under the command of a person who portrays less than sane qualities was undesirable to say the least. Shaking my head I attempted to dislodge the tattered web of half thoughts and full fears. The boy was in my squad, I was his Sergeant, he was my responsibility.

“Ever have a hangover, Mayfield?”

I didn’t really want to know, I didn’t even really know what it had to do with anything that was or would be happening. It was merely a simple attempt to remove some of the fears I had apparently fostered during my random words and spontaneous laughter. It worked, he laughed, the temporary assurance of a bloody end removed from his already weighted shoulders.

What a blessing it must have been, to be so naive, so stupid, so ignorant of the situation that our little band had found its self in. Our deployment had not been anticipated, we where the leftovers, the reserves, the last puddles in the bottom of an already small barrel. A bloody end was not a possibility, it was an assurance.

From the depths of my tangled brain emerged, in a series of steps, the required information to complete the task at hand. One by one the small blocks of death journeyed, by way of our squad’s gloved hands, into their final rested places among the holes and rocks previously prepared. Four similar squads found themselves in matching positions all along the geographic bottleneck chosen to hold our mired defense. Hours faded in and bled out of reality as brick after brick of high explosives where laid, their collective mass forming a structure of death whose sole purpose was the ending of life. At once the surreal blend of grays parted to reveal an equally surreal series of symbols on my HUD. The appearance of such characters in and of its self was nothing remarkable; the small device had become an extension of my eye, as it had to every other soldier serving beneath our disillusioned flag. What managed to break even through my drowning consciousness was the content. Without hesitation I dropped the last of the detpacks and rallied my tired squad. We had all discarded our cumbersome helmets, the design of which tires ones sanity, and sported only the detachable, HUD contained, goggles. Each man, as well as the one woman in our crew, wore instead a covering of local soil and homegrown blood. Hours of toil within a sea of jagged clefts had torn and punctured, gouged and sliced through much of what had been tough skin and uniforms. Blood bathed wounds, however, failed to remain open for long as the sticky, almost oily, composition of the local soil was quick to find its way in, the geological contents triggering every manner of pain and discomfort. Yet none cried out, none complained or requested break. They where soldiers, servants of a lost cause dedicated to a dead nation. I really couldn’t understand it, being disillusioned as I was, how it was that they carried on. Did they not know the forces that we would soon face? The sheer might and power of the Imperial legions? We, they, I had all faced them before and with success but for how long? Hoards immense enough to boggle the mind remained; victory was not even a hope let alone a possibility. Yet, they carried on, heads high, teeth clinched against the pain. The trip to the re-supply bunker was a swift one, as much as could be expected considering the surroundings. Within moments our equipment was returned in exchange for a chorus of engineering bags. Accustomed to frequent changes in purpose we gathered our new gear and made our way towards the newly erected mountain of steel that housed our vehicles. The mammoth of a structure rang out with the metallic cries of the tortured demons of man’s ingenuity. Steel grinded against steel in an unholy dance of perverse creation, men conjuring vile instruments of war. As the dark shadow of this most insidious place enveloped our bodies our destination came into view. The large off road vehicle boasted countless dents and scratches despite its recent birth date. Northern Faction methods for mechanical engineering at no time produced polished, glossy products but rather the tooth and nail goods of speed and efficiency. It was of little matter in any case; the truck would find plenty to soil its image in short order.

Large tuffs of putrid goo found wings at the aid of our rapidly spinning tires as our squad sped down the rocky slope towards the pot marked field below. Our sister squads had cleared a path suitable for such an excursion only an hour prior and would likewise remove it after our singular task had been accomplished. As the ridged Jeep carved new troughs through the uneven ground the distant surroundings began to come into focus. Directly below us lay an open field populated by a horrific forest of jagged minerals, a hellish realm that was to hold our trap and, the commander hoped, our prey. Hugging the rim of the “open” canyon dwelt an iron curtain of glassy black mountains, their reflective exterior somehow devoid of earth. Therein rippled a seemingly endless lake of fire, reflections from the sky above mirroring the very depths of hell itself. I couldn’t really say why it was the heavens boiled with the vibrant reds and oranges that now ignited the inferno of color enveloping my mind. Perhaps it was God, His magnificent plea for a cessation of hostilities before His ground was bathed in blood and death. Perhaps it really was hell, the gates of fiery damnation burst wide in order to receive the torrent of souls that where soon to enter. As the steaming thermal vent grew larger, necessity forced theology aside and we slowed to an abrupt halt.

Almost on cue a metallic disc materialized by hand of the unseen commander hundreds of yards to our rear. I moved with rote procession, my numb hands retrieving the bulky nano dispenser from its crowded dwelling place to my rear. Scarcely a moment passed before hoards of ingenious devices, each evading sight by virtue of tiny size, erupted from the dispenser and attacked the construction disc before them. Rearranging their surroundings at the atomic level the army of nano machines brought form to the design concocted at a different time and place for a purpose no doubt less sinister than it was now being employed. My eyes began to trace the developing lines of creation forming before me. Slowly one line met another; clean edges intersected the faint blue glow of edges yet to be seen. Sparks began to pepper the show of lights as individual groups of microscopic machines shorted out and vaporized into the thinning air around them. I smiled. There before my eyes an army lived and died, moved and constructed at my bidding. None of them knew why they did what they did, understood the circumstances of their bondage and fate. Each, like their more massive creators, simply moved from point to point, obeying the unseen forces that drove them.

Shauna shifted her lightweight to my right, her emitter spewing forth its own legions of machines. I hadn’t delegated who would assist with the refinery and who would erect the perimeter defenses. My eyes drifted away from the sparkling struggle before me and located the other half of my team who had, as I discovered, began their own orchestra of light further ahead. Within minutes our artificial minions had nearly completed their subatomic construction and fulfilled their master’s bidding. Disengaging the warm nano emitter I slid it once again into the crowded pack residing on my back. The refinery hummed and groaned as it extracted and processed the un-harnessed energy of the earth below. Shauna sighed as the fiery globe above drifted below the curtains of rock in the distance.

“Did we really need…” Her words drifted slowly away with the stiff wind that had begun to blow across the rocky plain. I simply stared, looked on in slight bewilderment as she stood, eyes locked to my rear. I cant say why I didn’t turn, perhaps I knew what sight would greet me, perhaps countless hours in the mind numbing ooze of base preparation had dulled my wits, perhaps I didn’t want to acknowledge the fate I knew had arrived. The blood was warm, I remember, the spray that had burst forth from Henderson painting the back of my neck. I hadn’t heard the shot from the distant scout, who could with the groan of the refinery so near. They say in certain situations thoughts, unable to cope with the barbaric events at hand, fade and are replaced by pure instinct. I suppose its true as I remember little of climbing into our vehicle and speeding away from our butchered comrade. As we neared the primary line eerie stillness enveloped our senses. Such a polar experience, hell fire and serene stillness, seemed to squeeze buried emotions from my gutted heart and pry thoughts once more into the forefront of existence.

Kirkpatrick tossed his blood soaked bags to the trampled ground and retrieved the long menacing form of an assault rifle. I proceeded likewise as the ground shuttered and buckled under the sudden preemptive artillery fire arching out from unseen Imperial guns. Bushels of light and fire began to fill the rocky crags below, each blast inching closer towards the position of their commander’s desire. The sharp clap of metal striking metal echoed from my rifle as the chamber welcomed a new round. My heart began its epic quest to spread the adrenalin to each muscle soon to face the fury and hate of man. My teeth clenched as my bloody figures loosened the safety on my rifle. Silently I let sleep depravity lower the lids of my eyes for but a moment as I pleaded for favors from God.

“Here they come…”

Chapter 2

-- 5 days prior

High Commander Patterson leaned over his large wooden table, the weight of a world gone mad and a hopeless cause forcing a sigh from his lungs. Maps, deployment reports, satellite photos, news papers, pens, and every other sort of implement of command and strategy lay cluttered atop the heavy table who had bore the weight of war on more than one occasion. Residing in the former Strategic Wing of the Jekotian Office of War the darkened pot marked document platform bore witness to the planning and execution of countless offensives and defensive actions through out decades of Jekotian rule. Along the left side you could still see the crimson stains left by the last Jekotian High Commander who refused to bow to his Imperial conquerors.

“Commander, could you please say again?”

An unimposing metal box nestled on the edge of the unorganized table burped forth a myriad of static bathed words. “Corridor 173 in the 23rd bisection is now reporting full readiness. 93% of our forces have successfully migrated to the fall back position.”

Patterson shook his head, “Thank you Commander, alert me when contact is made” The little box clicked off without notice as the High Commander turned his gaze again to the colorful map that had conquered the majority of the table’s real-estate. Upon succession the over all offensive plan had spun a series of steps designed to keep the Empire off balance and, with time, envelope it within wave after wave of Northern citizens. Phase 3 had called for tentative defensive perimeters to be held miles ahead of more concrete fall back positions to the rear. These positions were expected to fall in series before holding firm at the rear defensive parameter which would be a basis for future assaults as well as a stop gap for the resurgent Jekotian's while new forces were raised. Imperial forces had, however, concentrated their forces in the south and with brutal efficacy had blown through the southern lines and slammed into the half finished secondary defensive lines.

The Southern Province along with the provinces of Taisho, Burisho and Hokkaido had cried out in unison for reserve forces stationed in the Northern province, the spiritual home of the Jekotian military and the area from which the Northern Faction had sprung forth. Only the ancient capital province of Jekotian itself had managed to tentatively hold its forward, disposable defensive position amidst fierce Imperial onslaughts. Within days the bulk of Northern Faction armor and what could mustered of her limited offensive air power had been deployed in an effort to prevent the catastrophic failure of these “impenetrable” lines. Nearly three months of hellish fighting took place before the major Brenodi offensive stalled and Northern Faction forces were able to stabilize and reclaim small portions of lost territory. Surprise airborne assaults had even managed to gain footholds in the formally Jekotian provinces of Karolin and Brok, both across stormy Imperial straits. The islands within immediately pledged their allegiance to the Northern cause.

For another month an eerie calm had settled across the war torn planet as each side considered their next move. The beach heads in the south had expanded to the extent that their supply lines would allow, the ancient fortifications and mountainous terrain of the Northern provinces remained as formidable as ever while raw steel and flesh protected the more fragile underbelly that surrounded Koln pass and lead up to Paradise City. Throughout the new Northern Faction Empire High Commanders debated about what move to next make. Hardliners in the North Insisted on poring veteran forces into the beach heads to the south while commander from the traditional Jekotian elites lobbied for a thrust through Koln pass and onto the capitol of the Ancient global Empire whose discovery had been the precursor of Jekotian downfall. Patterson, who managed to acquire a position on High Commander Pewter’s staff, advocated a third, less popular view; restraint.

For decades Imperial forces had systematically dismantled Jekotian infrastructure and industry in an effort to further subjugate and eventually annihilate their formal rivals. To such an extent was this “de-civilization” effort, engineers had to be imported from the neutral Southern Continent in order to erect simple bridge crossings and road ways. Had the defeated Jekotian forces not had the foresight to cache vast arsenals of weapons and equipment under Northern Provincial soil any notion of insurrection would have been fanatical folly. These forces, while substantial and suitable for the time being, would soon have to be reinforced. An industrial support network was required and time needed to be allocated for its completion.

It was this time that Patterson knew the Northern Faction had little of. The Imperial Legions who had thrown themselves at Factional defenses so brutally had been merely rapid response forces sent in advance whilst full Legions were mobilized and deployed. A renewed Imperial assault was expected within days but, due to limited foreign intelligence, the location of such a strike was unknown.

“Where the hell are you Brandy?” Patterson said using the ancient slang for the Brenodi.

Commander Watkins smiled, “You know Brandy, she’ll pop in when you least expect her.”

High Commander Patterson shook his head. The two men had grown up together in the outskirts of Ronan, the future Northern Faction capitol then but a crowded decomposing heap of a city likened more to a concentration camp used to hoard and control Jekotian irritations. It was there the men learned war first hand during the bloody Pension revolts and took part in the fourth, fifth and sixth protests. Youth, school, war and, after his sister recent marriage, even family bound the men. It was only by political happenstance that Patterson was elevated to High Commander over his comrade whom he quickly appointed to his own staff. “That’s just it, we expect her”

“Where?”

Patterson motioned his scarred hand towards the two beachheads in the south and then to the are near Koln pass where the majority of the fighting had taken place.

Watkins sat for a moment puffing on his short cigarette as he often did in deep thought. He had always been a greater strategist than his superior but nowhere near the statesmen. “What about here?” He finally uttered amidst puffs, his own hand hanging over the Northern front. “Why not here?”

The High Commander’s face twisted into a look of aggravation from the obviously rhetorical question. Laced by sharp volcanic mountains from eruptions millennia passed, bathed in sticky, perpetually muddy oil like soil and permeated by defenses that had been erected for hundreds of years the northern frontier had long impaled invading armies on her glassy spires. During the Great War that had witnessed and end to Jekotian glory the area had been the last to fall and still sported the countless graves from the final conflict. The Northern front was virtually impenetrable. “That’s not funny, she would never even be able-” The High Commander paused as the arrogance of his words set in. She always pops in when…pops in where you least expect her…

Patterson slammed his empty hand onto the call button linking him with a lieutenant two doors down in the communications office. “Get me the High Commander, we need to talk…”

Chapter 3

“I would sooner marry a hoarse.”

“With such an attitude you may have to”

“She looks like a hoarse, have you seen her nose? We could live beneath it and not get wet when it rained.”

“Her family is well connected, her father is regent of Westphalia.”

Borodin sighed; his mother had acquired no less than a dozen potential wives for him since his sixteenth birthday, half of those since his appointment to the officer corps. Each boasted some sort of political, social or economic advantage, daughters of senators, wealthy businessmen, High commanders, all paraded before him like meat. Their bland, two dimensional personalities, spoiled natures and political ambitions disgusted the rising officer who had resolutely denied each and in turn earning the wrath of his well meaning mother. Her latest attempt to boost the family’s prestige had yielded quite a catch. At 21 the daughter of the Regent of Westphalia, the girl was among the most sought after in Bren, the Brenodian capitol, but aside from her power and prestige was the same as the others. Borodin had grown tired of the game.

“Father is a senator, Maria is on the Imperial Board of Health as a head physician and I am about to graduate first in my class as an Imperial Guardsmen. Are we not enough prestige on our own?”

Borodin’s mother flashed the same charming smile seen by politicians and businessmen alike across countless parties and social events. “Our prominence is exactly the reason for these arrangements. It’s expected. What would the common people say about their role models if we didn’t constantly work to better ourselves? Not to mention the other senators…”

“Look at this”

Borodin almost dashed to his younger brother, grateful to be given any reason to withdraw from his delusional mother. Borodin’s younger brother had long ago fallen in love with technology and had easily won an appointment to the Brenodian Institute for Higher Learning’s technological institute, one of the top two schools in the Empire. He would doubtlessly find his way to the theoretical physics department to develop his interstellar drive system, a pointless dream held over from their youths. Why would anyone wish to go to the stars?

“ Our forces have broken through to the north,” He explained, pointing to the glowing story on the information tablet, “the guerrillas are falling back.”

Borodin looked over the state approved article and the interactive map of the battlefield relaying harrowing stories of Imperial victories all across the line. He read the free southern press and knew the situation was not nearly as cut and dry but it was a step in the right direction. “It will be hard moving through these passes” he replied pointing out the long, jagged mountains of the ancestral Northern Faction homeland, “We’re hoping to knock them off balance, open up a weakness further down the line”

Samuel frowned, he was not nearly as military inclined as his older brother and failed to understand his pessimism. “Your just angry that you wont be able to get in on the action before the insurrection is put down.”

Borodin grabbed a piece of fruit from the table and returned again to aid his mother with the guest list for his commencement ceremonies. “I wouldn’t be so sure” he replied between bites, “I hear the Jekotians have found their lost navy in Brok. They may be more of a thorn than the Ministry of information is willing to admit.”

Samuel scoffed as he got up, his own hunger for fruit aroused by his brother’s muffled words. “Those ships are over four decades old at the youngest” he said picking through the fruit bowl, “We’ll have make new fish homes out of them within the month.”

Borodin let the conversation die with that. He knew the countless islands in the Imperial straits would be ideal for the Northern Faction’s hit and run tactics. Even naval novices would have little trouble in making use of the long retired massive weapons on those rusting hulks in such close quarters environments. By the time the Imperial Navy mobilized and steamed around the world to the straits the Faction positions would be well prepared and waiting. His brother however, with his supreme faith in the strength of the Empire and reliance on state controlled media for information, would fail to understand.

Borodin’s mother saw her chance, “Now about this girl…”

Chapter 4

I fail to see how anyone unfortunate enough to be on the unfriendly side of that hellish sound could do anything to rid their mind of its maddening scream. Its as if a thousand wailing banshees had been captured and collectively lashed within a rolling thundercloud of steel. To hear it was to shutter and be forced to chase from your mind any number of demons demanding that you flee, forsaking your honor, your nation, your comrades, anything and everything to be free of that other worldly groan of a moving mountain of steel. It’s far too coincidental that a machine designed to dispense death would foster such a terrifying sound as it approached. It had to be part of the overall design, an extension of some sick engineer’s mind as an attempt to discourage an attack by unarmored infantry.

I smiled.

The explosion tore through the approaching tank like tinfoil in the wind, the anti tank mine beneath is formally frightening treads lifting the Imperial medium tank a full four feet into the air. I pressed myself a bit harder against the sharp glassy rock I had come to love as shrapnel whistled by. Not wanting to loose the shock of an unexpected blast I swung around, the heat of the near by flaming tank searing my blood soaked eyebrows. With a kiss of flame my rifle sent a pair of stunned riflemen to explain their lives to God. Around me my squad mates, both new and old, replicated my actions with similar speed, efficacy, and coolness. Within 30 seconds it was over. The Empire was short one more platoon and a medley of light armor.

“Make it quick,” I ordered the scavengers already searching their victims for trinkets and, more importantly, food and ammunition. “Brandy will have more on the way.”

The Imperial hammer had slammed into the Northern Faction’s most brutal, harsh and unforgiving frontier and shattered the hastily erected defenses. Our makeshift lines held for but a fortnight before giving way to what seemed like an endless stream of steel and flesh. Never before nor since had I ever witnessed a greater waste of life and resources, never before had death on such a scale soiled the land. Our positions had been hastily erected but, as countless Jekotians had known through out history, where sound in their locations. By the third day the mountains of Imperial armor shredded on the field of battle had risen so large, aircraft were forced to blast clear a path so that the offensive could continue. Men took cover behind fortifications made of their own fallen comrades and slipped in the rivers of blood leading from their stinking mounds.

The order to withdraw stood out in my mind. Our new commander, the old one having played catch with a stray artillery shell, spoke over our com just as my bayonet sliced through the neck of my twelfth opponent in as many minutes. I remember smiling and thinking how odd it was to have an easy dozen. I suppose who I had been had long ago died, the remaining creature of war delighting in the kind of peculiar oddities that only combat can produce.

“Sergeant”

I turned to catch the identification papers Shauna had tossed me, examining them with mild interest. “An engineer?” I asked unimpressed, “What is this?”

Shauna had proven nearly suicidal in her willingness to stand and fight in the face of Imperial hatred, her uniform and body boasting the wounds as evidence. I’m sure she would have been considered attractive had the winds of war not swept her aside. At 5’6 she was slender, well built, young but her eyes sported an almost perverse darkness, something older than their recent exile in the underbelly of hell. I found out later why that was. “They’re all engineers” she explained, her back already turned to get a better grip on the box of Imperial ammunition, “you cut the only two gunmen in the bunch.”

I looked around our newest conquest, examining each of the mutilated corpses. As she said, many of them bore the utilitarian Imperial engineers uniform, often with a small SMG or nano-dispencer shattered beside them. Our ambush had claimed at least 15 engineers in a group only 17 strong and with light armored escort. I was again met with a familiar unnerving feeling of impending doom, the recipient of some sort of wrath from God. There were a dozen more pregnable assault points to the south and yet brandy forced her way through here?

I shouldered my long rifle and climbed down the jagged slope to our jeep, or what was left of it after nearly a week of fighting, and to its battered transmitter. “Encode priority two message to Command…” I knew brandy had more in mind for our jagged prison than a mere breakout point; engineers don’t travel in herds. As I look back I suppose I should have known what lay ahead, knew the path I would be forced to walk, known the horrors that lie in wait at the hands of devilish Imperial minions. Had blessed had been the sweet bliss of naiveness.

Chapter 5

“We hail these patriots as the future of this great land. For just as it was millennia past so shall our planet again be ruled by a single, global Empire of peace, where none have need nor bear the burden of sorrows. It is for this purpose we commission these new young men and women as officers in our grand Imperial Legions. We send them forth not as soldiers of war but as ambassadors of our civilized way of life to the rebellious barbarians in the Jekotian provinces. With strength and virtue our righteous forces will sweep away the…”

Borodin began to block out the rhetoric emanating from the podium far to his front-left. It had been nearly forty-five minutes since he and his 300 fellow graduates had marched in columns onto the parade grounds on which they were to be officially welcomed as officers in the Imperial Legions. Surrounding the manicured fields thousands of adoring citizens, relatives, friends and politicians roared and cheered for their newest heroes and champions. Reaching at least fifty feet into the air on all sides the human filled bleachers looked more like screaming tidal waves of grays and blues than a celebratory crowd of onlookers.

Borodin didn’t flinch nor would he for hours were he required to do so. Basic infantry training had instilled a killer instinct, a strength and skill ingrained by the best a global Empire could offer. This barley prepared him for the riggers of officer training which dragged on for an additional four months and opened his eyes to tactics, strategy, command, demolitions, economics, languages, culture society, anything and everything an Imperial officer might need to not only take a swath of land but to keep and administer it in the name of the Empire. So extensive was the non-military portion of officer training many rising youth opted for the Academy rather than post higher education.

“How often have we extended our hands to our less fortunate neighbors? How long have we poured valuable resources into the wastelands of the Jekotian provinces in a desperate attempt to tame their savage ways? How many of their poor and sick have been fed and cured by Imperial generosity? Our mercy has bordered on the divine in nature but sadly, just as loving parents must discipline unruly children for their own good, so too must we smack the hands of this pubescent Northern Faction…”

Within his mind Borodin snickered, Pubescent indeed, I’ve lost three friends this week alone Those enterprising youth vying for free education were finding their careless use of the military for schooling rather than as a vessel for serving the nation had become a thorn in their sides as war drug out with the resilient Northern forces. How many had been impaled on those jagged plains in the northern offensive? As the Southern Press had speculated the major push in the north had gained but a few hundred kilometers before slowing to a halt in the face of redundant defensive positions, impassible terrain and what appeared to be countless waves of Jekotian militia.

This in and of itself was a good sign. Imperial forces had hit so hard and so fast the rebels had found it difficult to field properly trained regulars and were forced instead to arm willing citizens and sent them to the front. Now would be the time to break through near Koln pass, or, Borodin reasoned, begin an island hopping campaign from the south. He had learned only days earlier that most of the Imperial air forces had been roused from storage and would soon be available for deployment, augmented within months by fresh models from the resurrected defense industry.

“You’re sons and daughters have gone now, for no longer are they your own but rather belong to each and every one of us. Each man our son, each woman our daughter. It falls to us to continue their education, to defend them from evil, to steer them in their growth, to feed them when they are hungry and to clothe them when they are cold. Our global family is united…”

The words again faded in and out, Borodin had practiced “safe learning” since he was old enough to read, his father had seen to that. With a senator for a father Borodin himself had been smiled upon and blessed with the rank of Lt. Commander, no less than two squads under his command and a seat at his Commanders table for advisement; a necessary part of any military/political fast track. Sadly Borodin’s first commander was one of great fame, just not the good kind. Having once held the rank of High Commander, Commander Snyder had been demoted early in the war for loosing four entire provinces to the newly violent Jekotians, along with their garrisons, five commanders in all. It was this foothold that gave the Northern Faction the momentum it needed to retake most of the Jekotians former Empire before rapid response forces brought them to a standstill.

Commander Snyder along with another four commanders under High Commander Samson were being deployed in the south to push back the Faction’s beachheads, perhaps in preparation for an island hopping campaign. Snyder, no doubt, hoped to regain some of his former prominence on the field of battle, out shining his peers and again advancing through the ranks. As one of his advisers, and perhaps the most skilled among them, it fell to Borodin to make that dream a reality.

“And so” the spec on the podium announced, “we bow to these blessed officers of justice. How fortunate they are to be given the opportunity to serve in the fields rather than being relegated to the fields and factories like the rest of us.” A wave of light laughter. “My fellow officers,” He concluded, “Welcome to the family, I solute you!”

Thunderous applause again filled the arena as the hundreds of new officers cheered and tossed their caps into the open sky above. Borodin remained still, allowing only a satisfied, confident smile to creep across his face. Lets get to work.

Chapter 6

“Damn-it!”

The small data pad flew threw the air for but a moment before smashing into the cold steel of the office wall, its multicolored insides showering the house plant below with debris. The High Commander was displeased.

“How long must I be haunted by these animals?” He raged on, waving his arms about and pacing around his rather large contemporary desk. “I refuse to believe that refugees from a forgotten era can stand before the most powerful military force this planet has ever known!”

Commander Nichols stood a little straighter; tensing her muscles in response to her superior’s fury. She had learned only an hour prior about the Jekotian break through in the south, three cities falling like dominoes before the resurgent rebel hoards in the same amount of days. What remained of the garrison that had held the factionalists at bay had routed further south in hopes of meeting up with advanced elements of the mobile Brenodi airborne divisions sent to push the Jekotians into the sea. Sadly all they had encountered was Commander Snyder’s forces who found it better to skip around the enemy rather than engage them. In the far north the Brenodi forces remained stalled after advancing only a few dozen miles and in the center, near the Ancient Imperial Capitol, Brenodi forces had actually began to loose ground. It had not been a good week.

“What the hell is Snyder doing anyway?” The older man roared, “His men are fighters not track stars!”

Nichols swallowed hard before offering what she hoped would be consoling information. “His fellow Commanders” she offered with strength, “have established a defensive line to Snyder’s rear and readied a landing behind the Jekotian lines.” She paused. “The Northern Faction will be trapped” She concluded with pride.

High Commander Marion glared at his naive subordinate, “In light of our adversary’s latest accomplishments” he said slowly from between gritted teeth, his lumbering frame leaning over his now disarrayed desk. “I would not be as hasty to declare victory.”

“We have a larger problem High Commander.” Came a steely voice, its smooth, calculated patience sharply contrasting the rough exasperated rants of Marion. The smaller man had remained standing off to the side through out his comrades fit of anger, his mouth shut, his body ridged, save for a single coin he absently flipped over and over in one of his hands. Nichols couldn’t make out its year or value, not that it was particularly important at the moment.

Marion let some of his frustration out in a long sigh before taking a seat behind his desk. He sat a moment, his eyes locked on some point amongst the pure white surface of his glossy desk. He seemed at once transformed from rage to listless uncomfortable defeat. Another moment passed in silence before he finally asked the question he obviously knew the answer to. “What might that be?”

Nichols noticed her superior’s curt tone. She had seen the smaller man in his office before, normally before or after her commanding officer descended into a foul disposition. Although he bore no uniform she could tell the man had some amount of control over Marion, and further more the High Commander despised and loathed it.

“The southern press” the man answered, leaning against the wall closest to him, “Has been feeding the populace what has really been happening in the conquered provinces during our…” He paused as if searching for the right term for the Imperial occupation, “‘stay’. Public opinion is beginning to shift and with our recent setbacks in the south and center, pressure may begin to build to come to peace with our foes.”

Nichols noticed the man didn’t mention the stalled front in the North but thought it prudent to remain quiet in his presence.

“I could divert divisions to clear the southern continent” Marion offered half heartedly, “It wouldn’t take long.”

The man shook his head, the coin still rotating within his gloved hand, “That would…displease a number of my superiors. Such a move would be seen as naked aggression on our part not to mention the loss in trade revenue. No, no, an invasion would not do.”

Marion shook his head and swiveled his chair about to face his “guest.” “That could be said about any action taken against the south” He retorted, “and we can’t jam their broadcasts.”

The man smiled as if a child had just pointed out that the sky was blue. “If” he began, still looking at the worn coin in his hands, “we can not stop the news; we must change it so that it is favorable to us. We must make the people see these Jekotians as the subhuman devils they are. We must…distract them while giving the media something we don’t mind them reporting on.”

Nichols saw a genuinely puzzled look spread across Marion’s face. A military man of much renown, Marion could maneuver divisions like a master strategiest but he was anything but a politician nor a political expert. Clearly the man had lost him. “What did you have in mind?”

The man stilled the coin and looked up at his host, the genuine smile broadening across his darkened face. “I’m going to need one of your prisoners…”

Chapter 7

“I still think we should have gotten the yellow one”

“Nonsense” The woman replied stroking the purring animal clutched tightly within her loving arms. “The black and white one needed us, can’t you tell?”

The young man leaned low to gaze into the cats dancing blue eyes and puffy face. He would be a long haired cat, the store owner had explained, like the big Persians in the movies. Martin had tried to point out that Persian cats weren’t black and white but Sarah wouldn’t have it. It was her cat any way. What did he know? He was just her fiancé.

“Well he does look kinda under fed”

Sarah leaned around to smack the small man to her side. They had known one another all their lives, went to high school and collage together, even shared the same office. All their friends said it was only a matter of time until something “Clicked”. Now that it had she could think of nothing she was more thankful for. The wedding couldn’t come soon enough.

“Oh common” Martin squeaked out between fits of laughter, his arms failing about in a mock attempt to block her. “I was only kidding.”

Battling back and forth the two young lovers playfully exchanged slaps and smiles, their lively eyes expressing every bit of the love they shared. The woes of the world hadn’t reached them here, hadn’t so much as touched the city of Pandria. Sure, they watched the news about the war but they were far from the lines and besides, what did it matter? They had each other, they had a future and now they had a cat. All was well and right with the world. At least, that’s what their last living thoughts told them.

The explosion shattered windows in a 6-block radius and could be heard 5 miles out, the insanely powerful force of war tearing a wide swatch through the peaceful downtown streets. In a flash the bus was gone followed promptly by 2 near by brick structures, which, constructed nearly half a century earlier, could not withstand the fiery blast.

It was probably overkill the policemen thought as he poked his head over a pre-selected hiding place. A device 10 times as small would have destroyed the bus, killing all aboard. But that, of course, wouldn’t create the desired effect, incite the cries and outrage that had been requested. Besides, Jekotians weren’t subtle in their work and if the investigators, indeed the populace where to believe this had been a hate crime certain measures had to be taken.

The evidence of Northern Faction involvement would be unmistakable to say the least; the body of a Factional soldier caught in the blast, Jekotian propaganda and even additional bombs at tourist locations. He had been preparing the spot for almost a week, observing the traffic, measuring the distances, calculating the effects. Still, Michel sighed.

It would all be very neat and proper, more than enough evidence, enough material to convict and enrage the populace as a whole. That wasn’t it. It was them. Dozens of innocent civilians carelessly going about their lives in peaceful bliss had just been snubbed out, torn from the land of the living and plunged into a world which they could do nothing about.

The ends justify the means.

He had heard it a million times over, it was the only way they could explain all that was done, all that was inflicted in the name of peace. Yet somehow, as flames devoured storefronts and illuminated the brisk, clear night air, they seamed hollow, cynical and cold.

Was it really worth it? Michel thought as he emerged from behind the conceit pillar and straitened his freshly pressed policeman’s uniform. These people had nothing to do with anything…now they're gone…

Sirens intruded on his thoughts, interrupting his journey towards his nearby squad car. The attack had, thanks to efforts by Northern double agents over the past few weeks, been an expected one, pointing towards millions of resurgent Jekotian citizens as the root of all evil. The plan had worked…flawlessly.

“It’s not over yet” His words where heavy and laced with sorrow. The destruction of the historic city block had not been his first nor the dozens killed. 6 years in the service made sure death was a traveling partner and pain was a friend. It was just that lately he had begun to question the sanity of it all…whether or not it was really worth it.

Michel shook his head, rubbed his dirtied face- he had to look, after all, like he’d been near an explosion- and began waving at the first fire engine barreling down the road. He had a long night ahead of him.

Chapter 8

Thick clouds of smoke and ash seemed to rain down bits of earth, steel and flesh as fire leaps up from fresh craters scattered around the battered defensive line. What had begun as a sunny, cloudless day had been quickly enveloped within an ever expanding fog of war and death. Tattered remains of the once peaceful meadow now blanketed smoldering craters, flaming chunks of steel and concrete barriers, even the dead lie secure within layers of rich dark soil and root entangled grass. The air itself seemed to buzz and spit rays of angry lead in every direction as the Northern Faction columns inched their way forward, bobbing in and out of artillery formed hills and craters. Sound had little meaning within this man made manifestation of hell. Men deprived of limbs screaming for aid, steel bursting from fires within, concrete crumbling against countless impacts from projectiles of every sort, hell surly could not compile a more deafening, more hectic nor terrible commotion.

Borodin sat crouched behind a steel girder, his gloved hands keeping a helmet firmly atop his head, the strap having been lost hours earlier amidst hand to hand combat. Despite the myriad of sounds competing for the Lt. Commander’s attention he heard only the steady rhythmic thump of his heart, the slow rush of air into his lungs, the measured flow of the same out into the dusty air a moment later. Behind closed eyes images of a home 3,000 miles away filled the darkness, lost friends and distant family inhabiting each comforting vista. Beyond the large houses of the upper class suburbs dwelt a darker but ever present awareness of the young man’s situation and environment. An entire squad securing the left flank had been annihilated and in turn allowed the current flood of Jekotian assailants within firing range. A last minute regrouping had proved futile and Borodin now found himself on the verge of being overrun.

His first assignment had been less than ideal. Commander Pewter’s unit, in which Borodin had the misfortune of serving, had been deployed immediately as a stop gap to the expanding Factional forces in the south while a more developed Imperial force was readied. Expected to be little more than a speed bump for the charging Northern forces, Pewter’s men had been clamored together and inserted via airdrop without heavy armor support. Not wishing to become one of the “honored dead,” Pewter attempted to lead his assailants on a chase into the more easily defendable valleys but soon found them unwilling to play games. Eventually a lack of time and space had driven the small detachment to plant itself between the deploying Imperial forces and their would be assassins. That had been two weeks ago.

The dark reality that existed beyond the safe confines of home startled Borodin with its sudden stillness. Rather than being showered with pieces of his disintegrating shelter the young officer opened his eyes to find that, although the roar of war still raged else ware, the constant hail of machine gun fire had ceased. Borodin knew what came next.

“Shit” He muttered as he leaps across the cluttered pillbox in an effort to find a radio. “Report!” He bellowed to no one in particular as he shuffled debris around hoping to unearth his desired treasure. The replies were weak, but prompt.

“Twelve dead,” the newly promoted Sergeant explained while searching through the rubble for treasure of his own. “16 wounded five serious.”

“4rth Legion” Borodin said having found the battered long range radio and seeming to ignore the information he had a moment ago requested. “This is firebase echo. We are being over run, repeat, over-" his words trailed off as bullets sprang from the sergeant’s gun on their way into an approaching Northern Faction soldier. His act of defiance was met by a withering volley from beyond the confines of the pot marked bunker. “Request immediate redirect of artillery,” Borodin continued as his shelter once again began to come apart around him. “Priority 2. My coordinates. Fire for effect!”

A pause. “Lt. Commander” a static bathed voice finally responded, “please confirm, fire on your location?” But Borodin had since discarded the small box, its usefulness in his current situation at an end. Finding a Imperial assault rifle more suitable to the task at hand Borodin unleashed a few rounds into a foreign face that had appeared in the forward view port. The faces look of shock and terror erupted into a shower of blood and bone just before falling out of sight. Borodin, however, had already turned his attention to a similar face, this time connected to a uniformed body, that had rounded the corner and now rushed through the door way, its own weapon spitting fire as it came. Finding his weapon empty after another two rounds the young officer leapt at the man, swinging the composite stock of his rifle in a wide arch to gain speed and force. Caught unaware, he had obviously been concentrating on something else in the room, the soldier received both shots followed by the blunt club, the latter buckling his knees and sending his towering frame to the floor.

In a sadly familiar fashion the earth began to tremble under the impact of dozens of steel projectiles each flung from nearly two miles away. Realizing his order had been executed, Borodin dove into an unoccupied corner, his now free hands pulling his latest victim atop him for added cover. All around the tiny fortification explosions assaulted anything unlucky enough to be nearby. Brilliant plumes of fire and earth erupted from formerly sound earth, the force from which vaporizing or dismembering man and machine. Amidst this latest onslaught of death from above Borodin noticed a warm sensation beginning on his chest and gently running down his side. Chancing a glimpse he realized he was saturated with blood and, more importantly, it wasn’t his. With mild embarrassment the officer discovered that in the confusion he had neglected to ensure his human shield was, in fact, dead. Slowly he released the leather chest plate that held the man in place and grasped instead the unshaven, long haired head that hung loosely just above it. Now more attentive Borodin noticed a slow, raspy breath entering and exiting a mouth soupy with blood and spit. For a moment he reflected on how similar this man’s breathing was in relation to his own and wondered if he too was chasing images of his home, his family and friends. Setting this aside Borodin jerked his arms in opposite directions, fracturing the older man’s vertebrae and severing the spinal cord causing instant death. Content with the now still figure he once again positioned the fleshy shield in such a way as to protect the most vital parts of his body.

The grown of shattered steel amidst explosions of fire and death lasted for another 30 seconds before finally ending in silence, or as close as was possible upon a battlefield. Tossing the still warm body from his side, Borodin quickly gathered his gear and reloaded his weapon. “All squads, rendezvous 100 yards east of bunker 611B. Jeremy, Pop the weasel” Leaning down to collect the longer range radio he had discarded earlier he heard his own words coming across an active com unit to his rear. Turning in confusion, Imperial squad communicators relayed information via ear piece, he found the newly promoted Sergeant slumped against the far wall; his midsection severed allowing any number of fleshy bits to spill forth. Taking a moment to return the earpiece to its former owner’s ear, Borodin gently brushed his hand over his comrade’s empty eyes, bringing the eyelids to a close. “Victory and Glory, my friend” He whispered, reciting a portion of the Imperial Legionary’s creed, “Victory and Glory…”

Outside the Lt. Commander met with his subordinates, each in varied states of disrepair, and proceeded to quickly, yet cautiously, weave their way in and out of the smoldering craters on their way to the rendezvous. Nearly a minute passed before, with relief, the small party found a much larger crater rung by steel beams bent wildly in all directions, the result of an Imperial bunker who had too long enjoyed the company of a Northern Faction 2000 pound aerial bomb.

The rebels have their aircraft in play Borodin thought with disdain as a single Brenodi soldier hurried to catch up with his comrades, Where the hell are our fighters?

Not willing to dwell on matters that he could do nothing about the Lt. Commander instead set up his remaining men in a defensive circle, arranged proper distribution of ammunition and connected those who needed immediate medical attention with those who were able to give it. His artillery call had forced the Jekotians to withdraw for the moment but the gain was temporary and had cost his men dearly. Out of the 27 soldiers across three squads only these battered eleven remained. Ten if you didn’t count-

“That’s a bit of a jog”

Borodin addressed the man who had just spilled over the edge of the crater with out looking up, his hands, and attention, directed to what would have to pass as a bandage being placed on a badly wounded Corporal. “Did you have any problems?”

The man shook his head as he discarded his mangled helmet in favor of a mangled canteen. “No Sir, the detpacks had been placed in position hours ago.” The man paused to draw a few gulps of stale water before continuing. “I only had to rig the sequence and key in the right frequencies.”

Content with the reduced flow of blood seeping from his patients wound, Borodin nodded in appreciation to the man and exchanged the now empty med kit, all of his engineers had long since died in the line of duty, for a long range field radio. “Thank you Jeremy,” He offered as he dialed in the desired frequency, “I believe the boys have cleared a place for your mortar near the back.”

An unspoken demand for silence suddenly befell the unfortunate band of brothers as figures appeared once more near the now abandoned pill boxes. Slowly the figures bobbed in and out of the numerous craters that radiated out from battered concrete epicenters, their shapes denoted by an occasional shaft of light emanating from what appeared to be a weapon. The reflection from the rifle’s scope faded from view as the soldiers slid to a halt, their entire bodies becoming opaque revealing what lied beyond them.

Scouts

Borodin knew it wouldn’t be long. “4rth Legion” He whispered leaning over the small box, “Fire base Echo. I need priority 5 artillery on pre-“

“Borodin?” A voice from within the box asked, interrupting the Lt. Commander. “I’m glad to hear your not-“

“Shut the hell up and listen” He spat in response, adrenalin, hunger, fatigue and a bit of fear squeezing emotion form his words. “I need priority 5 artillery on previously established coordinates. On my mark only. Fire for effect.”

A pause. “Confirmed, battery awaiting your command”

The young officer lowered the receiver as he peered over the makeshift fortification. He knew the voice within the box belonged to a friend of his from the Academy who lacked Borodin’s political connections and thus held a lower rank. The man was, nevertheless, a skilled and accomplished soldier and even surpassed Borodin in hand to hand combat and weaponry. He would have to make a point to smooth things out after this was over.

A few dozen yards behind the now still, and thus invisible, scouts dozens of other figures began to emerge, again disappearing momentarily within tiny canyons of dirt before reemerging a few yards closer. Unlike their processors, these figures boasted varied shapes and sizes with weapons ranging from the nearly indistinguishable to the large and unruly.

The Lt. Commander remained motionless as he counted the two dozen or so soldiers approaching his former position, making a note of each class, its composition, their formations and apparent moral. How quickly did they move? Where they alert? Where they well fed and groomed? Anything could be a potential advantage in the days and weeks to come Borodin would take all he could get.

“Standby” He whispered into the still present receiver. Silently he calculated the amount of time it would take for a shell to leave its home a mile or two to his rear, reach the apex of its trajectory and finally end its life as a new crater before his eyes. To this he added the current speed of his prey along with the response time of the artillery officers, the 4rth Legions being excellent even by Imperial standards.

After what seemed an eternity of watching a hoard of enemy soldiers creep ever so cautiously into their impending doom, the group at last formed groups around two of the remaining bunkers, no doubt intending to utilize them in some coming offensive. Content with their position Borodin gave the order.

Another moment passed as distant cannons ejected five rounds amidst plumes of scarlet flame. Hearing the whistle of incoming steel rain the Northern soldiers dove into their newly acquired shelters, each no doubt greatly relived to have been in such close proximity to sturdy places of refuge within an otherwise open, and thus artillery friendly, field. Half a heart beat passed before the whistle of falling shells exploded into thunderous reports of Imperial accuracy and power. Although far fewer in number than the barrage that had rescued Borodin’s men earlier, these shells none the less evicted large portions of earth, flinging them high in the air before gravity once again pulled them down.

As the dust and dirt began to settle one could see that only two of the shells targets now lay dead or dying in the new craters, the others having darted fortuitously into the nearby fortifications. Borodin smiled as he removed the transmitter from his pocket, pleased to see his plan playing out in reality as it had so well in his mind. In the time it took to depress an electronic trigger a series of high yield demolitions packs, placed strategically within each remaining bunker, unleashed their destructive power in unison. Twenty-two soldiers of the former Jekotian Empire vaporized within a flash of blinding light and searing flame.

Borodin took a deep breath, letting the vibrations from the deafening roar shake loose some of the stiffness sleep deprivation had inflicted upon him. Replacements for his battered men would soon arrive from 4th Legion along with engineers to repair the barely standing pillboxes that would once again be his home. Letting the breath out in a weary sigh Borodin turned to his relived but equally exhausted men. “Alright fellas, back into the bunkers…”

Chapter 9

Softly the gentle sways and dips of classical notes hundreds of years old filled and caressed the eloquent meeting hall; the hushed muffle of men and women heading for their seats drowning beneath each wordless rhythm and beat. Scoplin would have been proud, would have beamed to see his piece played in such a manner and in such a setting so long after its conception and even his death. Greatness, however, was timeless as the music and its newest setting proved.

The immense walls that now refracted the priceless sonnet where nowhere near as old but where, debatably, just as great. Composed mainly of imported marble, priceless metals, woods and tapestries the meeting hall rose up and around in the kind of unrestrained splendor not gazed upon since the Global Emperors, yet even they would have had to stop and gasp at the beauty and power the place emanated.

Stretching out for several hundred yards the Imperial Senate meeting hall boasted dozens of marble columns topped with etched gold and carved fittings. Hand woven fabrics depicting scenes from through out the history of the Brenodi people hung from ceiling to white marble floor; their length reaching 50 feet or more in many places. Overhead, dangling beneath paintings of stars and the heavens large enough to cover a football field, circular chandeliers, 20 feet in diameter, bathed all below in a soft, soothing, golden light. On the floor- also decorated with etched stone- rare mahogany, cherry and Oak formed the required 600 chairs, benches, tables and desks that enabled 500 men and women to form laws, debate issues and forge the path an entire planet would take.

Every inch was designed to breed elegance, illustrate power and instill incredible awe. A task which the architects had completed flawlessly.

“Good evening Sir”

The tall, gray haired senator laughed and shook his counterparts worn hand. His mouth stretched into a wide, genuine smile, revealing dozens of pristine white teeth made smooth by decades of use. Broad shoulders supported well-built, yet loose arms which matched perfectly the remainder of the former soldier’s stocky frame. His eyes struck out with a piercing blue/gray stare that seamed to defuse tense situations and instill trust and loyalty. If the entire culture and history of the Brenodi peoples could be rolled and embodied into a single man it would be the retried Master Sergeant Terin A. Burrows.

“Call me Terin,” The Senator demanded light heartily, “All my friends do.”

“And who would those be?”

Letting out a hearty chuckle the old veteran firmly grasped the newcomer’s hand. “You have a point John, but you know me, never willing to let the new guys float around unattended.”

John Higgins returned the friendly smile and laugh; “More like you want them on your side…”

Terin nodded, “Got me again, you know me all to well.”

The youngest of the trio simply looked on in amazement, staring with confusion and bewilderment. At a baby-like 28, Montgomery Wilkins was the newest of the massive congressional delegation chosen to lead the sprawling Empire. He had missed prior sessions due to an illness and was finding his first experience with fellow lawmakers overwhelming to say the least.

“Just remember to watch out for this guy,” John went on, continuing the muse, “He’ll rob you blind-“

“Oh John,” Terin interrupted, seeing the young man’s uncertain face. “Your gonna scare the poor boy to death. This is his first day.”

Senator Higgins burst once more into friendly laughs, “All the more reason to warn him,” he said walking off, “All the more reason…”

Terin shook his head and turned once more to his confused colleague. “Don’t mind us; we’re old, sour goats with nothing better to do than torture squirts like you.”

Montgomery stumbled forward as his elder slapped him hard on the shoulder, “Common Monty, we have laws to make.”

Together the two men wandered through out the gargantuan meeting place, shaking hands and making friends (Or at least the political equivalent). After residing on the Imperial senate for nearly three decades, Terin Burrows had made many friends and few enemies and decided to introduce them all to his newest acquaintance. Hours passed by filled with big smiles and bad jokes, the joyful soldier reveling in his self assumed task of breaking in the new recruits. Finally, as all good things do, the foray ended and the mass of people took their respective seats; junior members towards the back, veterans at the front. It might not have been the most sensible arrangement but it worked.

Slowly silence fell over the cavernous main chamber as the first of a string of speakers made his way to the lavishly adorned podium, a small package of notes in hand. Reaching his sought after position the older man stretched his arms and arranged the pad before him. For effect another moment of wordless quiet passed before Terin began.

“Good morning gentlemen and ladies,” Burrows said, confidence in his voice, command projecting his presence. “At least, I think its still morning,”

Thunderous roars of political laughing filled the room. It wasn’t that the words where really that amusing, on the contrary it was the kind of joke used so often by their kind as to elect a kind of despair. It was, instead, the man who spoke them. Few disliked such a generous, hearty soul. In fact he was among the most liked, influential members the Brenodi had to offer.

“My topic today however,” He went on as the noise died down, “is of a much more serious nature.” Silence once again gripped the chamber, only the tiny ruffles of papers or occasional cough attempted to release its steely grip. They knew the subject on which he was to speak. “As many of you know attacks have been launched against residential districts of peace loving Brenodi cities by elements of the rebellious Jekotian rabble.”

A pause. The string of bombings over the past couple weeks seemed uncharacteristic of the Northern Faction but aside from rumors passed by former colleges still in the service he had nothing to go on and with the public growing more fearful speculation simply wasn’t enough. Granted, due to his popularity, Terin was hard to remove but it could be done. He hadn’t gotten this far by acting stupid.

“These terrorist acts,” He went on, “threaten to, if they go on unchecked, unravel every thread of progress made over the past 40 years. These unhappy few are not true to the honored foes I my self fought in the last ‘Great War.’ They are pathetic examples of a disillusioned group of dissenters determined to pervert our goals for peace and civilization in the lands of our former enemies. We are at war not only to put down an illegal uprising but for the sake of our children and theirs. Just as the Global Empire before us subjugated uncivilized tribes for their own good, so too must we in our benevolence—“

A fiery shot of lead tore through the speaker’s shoulder a split second ahead of its thunderous report. Immediately a misty shower of blood and bone plastered the leader of the assembly sitting just to the rear, the sharp fragments tearing holes in his flesh. Twisting around from the impact, Terin fell to the floor, his nearly severed arm bending back into a shattered mess on his blood soaked back.

In the blink of an eye the formally quiet hall erupted into blind panic. Screams and shouts filled the air and drowned out any call for sanity and reason. Nearly 1000 feet and hands quickly toppled desks and chairs, covering the floor and impairing frightened senators hastily trying to escape a terror unknown. The scene was, in every sense of the word, complete and total chaos.

Michel smiled and closed the lens cap of his steaming rifle. From his vantage point high in the cathedral like ceiling he could see it all, the tears, the shouts, the terrified faces searching for the source of this newest disaster. It wouldn’t take them long-- he noted, his smile growing larger—to discover the Northern Faction soldier to his right, incriminating rifle in hand.

The resulting story would be played out over the nightly news. Rebel marksmen tries to assassinate popular senator. Commits suicide after shot fails to carry out its lethal intent.

Taking a final look at the fear he had induced, Michel set the weapon in the body’s lifeless hand and crawled out of the long vent which had held him. A moment later he had secured the duct and began to straiten his pressed Imperial Guard uniform. He would, as an Imperial pilot, have quite a night ahead of him; what with the senators scrambling for a safe harbor.

Michel smirked, how little they all know.

Chapter 10

The fiery talons of my rage consumed the helpless figure before them. Quivering under the weight of such raw emotion I flung aside my hefty rifle, now seeming too simple, to cowardly for the deed I knew had to be done. Crossing the space between us within two steps I leapt upon the thing that called its self a man, my hands providing a conduit through which my unrestrained blood lust could flow into his broken and battered body. Blow after blow I raised my arms and fists to mount renewed attacks, each more vicious than those before. All I could see was her face, her smiling, jubilant face, the sparkle she got in her eye when I made her laugh, the joyful smile that seemed to give life to all those near by. My fists slammed down again and again and again, the dull thud of padded flesh soon giving way to a wet mesh of blood and fabric, still I continued on. Her skin was softer than the finest Bourbon silk and bore the same chocolate milky hue that had always begged to be touched on her mother. A muffled squish soon began to accompany each impact with tiny geysers of blood and fleshy debris launching out from the gruesome craters forming within the man. I soon realized my open mouth was producing a wail of anger and pain broken only by the need to take in air and expel unholy mixtures of spit, snot and formally airborne blood flying up from below. Again and again and again my fists flew down, now themselves sliced and bleeding from too many times striking metal and now exposed bone. In tortured unison the muscles within my arm proclaimed their fatigue with waves of pain that radiated through my back and up my spine but I didn’t care, the pain was immaterial, almost nonexistent, a problem for someone else, for him, for her. She used to love the grass. The sea of deep green blades reaching out to the life giving heavens fascinated her and she would run barefoot for hours, laughing and giggling without a care in the world. She would always prance about, lifting her foot and placing it in a new, undisturbed patch of grass before cackling with joy over the sensation. It was just soup now, my fists found only garbled soup beneath them, mangled flesh that failed to satisfy their master’s fury. I began grabbing and tearing at the remains, what had been a man had surly died by then, wishing to eradicate them from existence, as if somehow this man had been responsible and his dismissal would make the world right itself. Yet my arms began to give out, over come by fatigue, exhaustion, poor sleep, no food, I don’t know and at the time I didn’t care. I just knew I would need to augment my failing strength if the task was to be completed.

Wiping away bits of flesh and bone that had caked around my belt whilst my fists still bore strength I grabbed my knife. Oh how I longed for the hatchet of a scout but it had been months since I was anywhere near an armory and had only a simple field knife. I knew it would suffice. The jagged fountains of flesh and blood erupted once more as I repeatedly lashed the serrated steel up and down in a hacking motion that made more of a mess than it did further my goal. Had I retained my goggles perhaps my eyes would have remained clear of the muck that hindered them but my rage had discarded them sometime ago. One could not look on death through the protection of plastic and Kevlar. It had to be seen, it had to be felt, it had to be consumed and bathed in. How we were all fools, moving in and out dispensing life and death at the end of idiotic machines, fighting for men we didn’t know, dieing for an idea we had only heard about, sacrificing more than life, more than death. My blade went down once more but struck something and refused to return with my slippery hands. Breathing out chunks of what tasted like liquid iron I reached down to see what evil conspired to halt my mission. I remember laughing as my numb fingers wrapped around his backbone. It felt just like a Coronado Beast, like the ones I used to hunt, Maria loved the way I prepared them, so did little Karolina, she used to. My sick laughter began to fade into uncontrolled sobs as I attempted to dislodge the spinal column from the lower torso atop which I straddled. I pulled and pulled but it wouldn’t move; only swaying side to side jostling out the remnants of what had been in the ribcage above. “Let go you son ova BITCH!” but the slimy bones refused and even lashed out with anger of their own, slicing my rough chaliced hands with their fractured edges. “Damn you!” I remember crying, beginning to succumb to complete exhaustion, “Damn you you filthy mother f***in-sonova-bitc-!” My words began to melt together with the world around me. I was wet, from above it seemed, the rain had come but I couldn’t feel it. My head slowly dropped along with my shoulders and back. In one motion I lost all strength and fell to the side, landing with a sad splash in a watery puddle of remains. I rolled over to stare at the wispy grays of the weeping heavens. I could feel my heart turning to stone, cracking and exploding only to turn again to stone, over and over, the pain growing with each repetition.

They killed her. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t this man, or this company or even in this area. It didn’t matter that it happened a month ago or that in the brutalities of war such things happened. No, they killed her, they killed her, They…

My men said nothing. We had been in that hell for over two months, evading, moving, probing, making our way deeper and deeper into Imperial occupied land to find out what was going on, why they had stopped, why here, why now? Each discovery reported demanded more of us; each door opened revealing three more. The string of engineers, the drilling equipment, the heavy air traffic, the bulldozers, the explosions and now they find themselves trading blows with the Brenodi Sixth Infantry Division, the Senate’s very own elite guard. It was their radio equipment that let us send out reports this deep behind the lines. It was their equipment that let us get news from home, that let me get news from home.

I coughed as the rain water began to impair my breathing. Instantly I regretted my life saving action as death must surly be a sweet relief from the tortured hell of this life. Amidst swirls of red and gray a dark figure entered my view. I blinked a few times vainly attempting to focus my drenched eyes but could only make out a vague shape of a head, of a face. I shook my head. “She’s gone” was all I could get out but the figure said nothing, only remained posed over my pathetic frame. As I look back on it I know the sight of me, their Sergeant, in such dire straights could not have encouraged my men, must have filled them with fear and robbed them of hope. But, a finer group of men and women I have never before nor since met, and if they looked down on me for my actions, they never spoke of it.

The dark, helmetless head came a bit closer, nearly to the point of focus, before his attached hand found mine. I was still shaking, from the cold or the sorrow I can not say, but the rain had failed to remove all traces of my deed and blood still covered much of my body. Slowly he pried open my sliced hand and dropped something small, metallic and cold within before closing my fingers once more. “They killed her” I managed again as the face rose a bit.

“I know” he said after another few moments, “They killed her…”

Blinking away some of the fog that had enveloped my mind I brought my aching hand towards my head before lifting it up to see what had been deposited there. Slowly my fingers opened to reveal the silver insignia of the famed Brenodi Sixth Infantry Division, its polished shine diminished by its former owner’s blood and gore.

“They… I whispered, my eyes examining every inch of the dirty metal.

The head nodded in agreement, “Lets make them feel our pain sarge. Let’s make them see what they’ve done.”

Another moment passed as his words sank in before my hand closed tightly around my new prize. I sat up with renewed strength, from where it came I can not say, and padded the soldier on his leg in thanks. I looked then to my battered brethren who had been through so much and received so little. They deserved more. “We have work to do.”

Chapter 11

“That’s crazy”

“What? How?”

“He wouldn’t even stand a chance, no comparison what so ever.”

“You’re mad! He would be more than enough; his speed alone would bring victory.”

“How can he use his speed if time is frozen?”

“Because” Samuel interjected as he strode into the room, his arms filled with data pads and charts, “Hikarta’s speed is so great that he moves faster than time.”

The pair of engineers sat for a moment pondering their comrade’s point. Although graduates of prestigious science and technology centers for higher education the men often squabbled about the superiority of one fictional character, technology or event over another. Great Lizards verses Mammoth Birds, one alien against another or, as today, a couple of super heroes at odds. The arguments rarely concluded with either side admitting defeat and could drag on for hours if not properly interrupted as Samuel had done.

“I think we can begin” he said a moment later, not wishing the conversation to start anew.

The large, plain table grumbled with a half dozen of the most intelligent men and women in the Empire, each excelling in a different field of study. Together these men and women had pioneered countless breakthroughs in many different areas and with war again on the agenda, weapons designs. Samuel had been granted temporary leave to propose an idea he had been mulling over that required this particular group’s skill set to bring to life. It was as much his political connections as his above average intelligence that had convinced the administrator of the Theoretical Physics Department to allow even this limited presentation.

“How’s your brother?” Asked one of the taller members as Samuel found resting places for his charts and pads. “I hear he’s won some medals or something”

Samuel ignored the apparent disregard for his desire to begin the unnerving chance of a life time that he would soon find himself in the midst of in order speak for a moment of his beloved older brother. Few topics interested him more. “I received a letter from him a couple days ago.” He replied with pride, “The rebels have been cut off from the sea and are surrounded.” A pause, “shouldn’t be long before he can come home on leave.”

“Actually” spoke up one of the female members, “I hear they are being supplied by air from the east and that the pocket is expanding to the south.”

Samuel frowned as murmurs from the table began to rise. His brother had said as much in his letter but the Information Ministry predicted victory within the month. Borodin, while a great man, was still just a Lt. Commander and didn’t have access to all the information of the Ministry that published the news. Surly the power and might of a just Empire would shortly triumph over a band of soulless rebels.

“Id be happy to answer any questions you may have about Borodin after my presentation” Samuel interjected after another few moments of discussion. “But let us now turn to the matter at hand.”

The table again quieted down amidst nods and the chirp of data pads. Samuel took a moment to look each in the eye, those who were not looking elsewhere in apparent boredom, took a deep breath, and began. “As you know this department has recently discovered a break through in theoretical physics-“

“Hardly theoretical now, don’t you think?” Interrupted a fatter member of the team, chuckles following close behind.

Samuel smiled half heartedly. This wasn’t going well. “Of course. You discovered a way to change the gravitational pull of atoms by bombarding them with Tesla waves. In this manor the perceived mass of an object can be altered in such a way as to manipulate the fabric of space/time.”

The tall man, a physicist Samuel remembered, let out a disgusted sigh. “Yes thank you son, we’ve already developed a weapon from this, being deployed as we speak. What’s your point?”

“I think,” he replied without intimidation, “that we can use this for something other than war.”

The members became still, each now adopting a more interested, attentive posture. Loyal subjects of the Empire that they were each had volunteered to work on weapons of war but at heart they still longed for real science, discovery and development. War only served to destroy, they wanted to create.

“What did you have in mind?”

Samuel looked back and forth for a moment, surprised by his audience’s sudden interest in what he had to say. “Well,” he sputtered attempting to regain control, “we can travel in space.” A pause. “Far faster than the speed of light.”

Several of the members suppressed the urge to laugh at the young, starry eyed dreamer who had obviously not given up on the fantasy of exploring the stars. With war a fact of life for much of recorded history there had been little official interest in the exploration of space. In fact the greatest advances in that field, a few satellites and a manned mission, had occurred in the decades since the Jekotian conquest. There was even debate about the value of such a program in the first place. What use are other planets and asteroids that take so long to travel to when this planet has all they need? Still, they intended to hear the boy out.

“Go on” The tall one said, his own smile hovering just below the surface.

Samuel obeyed. “If we can generate a sufficient gravitational field around a space craft then we can bend the fabric of space/time into a wave.” He hit a key activating the holographic projector hidden in the middle of the clean white table. Light and photons sprung forth and came together to paint a transparent, three dimensional schematic of what was being explained. Each major system and graph denoted with a different bright color. “This wave could then push a vessel far faster than light itself travels because the vessel is not actually moving but rather the space around it. Further more,” He went on tentatively, “the problem of time distortion, communications lag, energy requirements and mass/energy transmutation would all be solved since neither the craft nor anyone aboard are actually moving at all, just space around them.”

Silence enveloped the formally fidgeting scientists and engineers. It could take years simply to discover the dimensions of the gravitational bubble needed for such a drive system not to mention dozens of other developments without the least of which Samuels plan would be only so much hot air. But, but if it could work, if they could surmount those difficulties, if they could achieve the impossible, then the dream of school boys everywhere would be realized. Men could finally explore, colonize and exploit the vast uninhabited emptiness of space. It was the kind of project the team had been waiting for.

After another couple moments of thought filled silence the tall man, who must carry some manor of authority over his contemporaries, leaned forward, adopting a small, devilish grin. “Welcome aboard.”

Chapter 12

Smoke rose gingerly into the pale red sky amidst towers of rock and steel, subtle winds tearing its orderly columns into large disorganized plumes. Far beyond, to the east, the horizon broke into scores of massive, jagged cliffs and mountains, each themselves bathed in varying shades of smoke black, thick enough to blur the geography's sharp lines until one could not differentiate between ground and sky. The ominous myriad of smoke and rock circled the valleys of razor stone with the uneasy stillness of a hurricane’s eye and looked just as foreboding. High above the anorexic clouds a brilliant sun burned bright enough to pierce the heavy haze of mid day, filtering through the red sky before bouncing violently off thousands of reflective angles below. The reddish glow given to every reflective surface combined with the acid smell of burnt plastic, rubber and steel to present an overall image and feel that hell itself had regurgitate this place. But, such was Northern Badlands.

Logan glared across the broken plains. "I hate this place" At 52, Logan Boggs had lived a long and distinguished military life, rising through the ranks of the Imperial military before being accepted into the prestigious Brenodi Sixth Infantry Division. Displaying unfailing courage, ingenuity, unrivaled loyalty and, perhaps most importantly, ruthlessness, he was eventually given the rank of Colonel and command of the Senate's personal strike force; the Sixth. Over the course of his service he had committed and overseen countless infractions of laws, both Imperial and moral, at the bidding of the Senate and in the name of the greater good, but his latest assignment had begun to rub the colonel the wrong way.

"Sir?"

Logan spat on the cursed ground at his feet before turning to walk back into the converted armory. Camp 41, as the massive collection of buildings and construction equipment had been labeled, was now home to the entire Sixth Infantry division along with two supporting divisions, although only the Sixth was permitted within the classified central 12 acres. Before the stainless steel overhang of the armory blotted out the hellish sky above, Logan's eyes darted up to catch a glance at the immense structure that had arisen in the center of that classified zone, the reason for his temporary exile. Miserable fu*ker.

The scene within the tiny building was drastically different from the one outside but not much better. In accordance with the buildings new purpose all of the weaponry and supplies had been removed in favor of a few tables, lights and a single chair. The central lighting and climate control had been discarded ensuring a reign of darkness held at bay only by a bright light situated forward of the lone chair. Normally clean and semi sterile, the walls and floors of the armory stood thick with dirt, grime and filth tied together with a healthy smattering of blood and tissue. The relentless heat from the sun above grew three fold within the metal box, baking its occupants and stirring together dozens of odors into an unholy nauseating gas.

Logan took a deep breath, savoring the sweet aroma that had followed him through so much of his career before addressing the small chair's lone figure. "Feeling better?"

What was left of the man sat slumped over, his arms tied with wires that had long since cut into his flesh, bathing his hands and the floor in blood. Lacerations and gaping wounds fought for real-estate on his otherwise bruised and beaten body, only shards of a Northern Faction tunic and trousers evident in the sea of carnage and gore. Long strings of bloody spittle dangled from his open mouth and broken nose, tattered locks of what used to be blond hair lay matted in clumps obstructing open head wounds, his one remaining eye lay hidden beneath swelling and the remains of the other. Still, his lips slowly back and forth in a forced attempt to communicate.

Unable to hear the response, Logan motioned an attendant to draw closer. His ear near the soldiers head, the attendant listened for a moment before moving away, his face proclaiming disappointment.

"He said" the attendant offered once standing erect, "something rather unpleasant about your mother sir."

Behind the Imperial soldiers, the beaten little rebel bobbed up and down with bouts of strained, hoarse laughter, more blood and spittle flowing out into the puddle below him.

Logan's eyes slanted into an irritated squint as his jaw slid to the side for the same reason. Nearly a week of interrogation and all that was gained was false information and insults. Breaking this particular man would take more time than was allotted.

With a motion worn smooth by decades of use, Logan unholstered his side arm and allowed a pair of rounds to enter the prisoner’s head, a shower of brain matter blanketing the second interrogator as a result. "Toss him on the fence." he ordered, re holstering his smoking weapon and making his way outside, "Have Echo Division shift their search to the east. I want prisoners."

The now jobless interrogator’s nodded in submission as their superior exited their lair. The Sixth Infantry Division had been the elite of the Imperial army for generations. Since earning fame by standing firm in protection of the Senate against 12 opposing Jekotian divisions during a war past and, once more, keeping the invaders at bay for nearly a week till reinforcements could be raised, the Division had been in the service of the Senate, holding vital passes, destroying key targets, defending cities or landing on beaches, the Sixth's mere presence was enough to turn the tide of a battle. Yet, much to her Colonel’s dismay, the best the Empire had to offer was sitting in the Northern wastelands baby sitting construction crews and chasing shadows. Logan understood the importance of the project and its need for secrecy, but surly a lesser division such as Recon or the 86th could do the job. It seemed like such a waste especially in light of mounting losses in the south.

Sand and dust burst from the ground in hectic swirls after being evicted by the approaching transport craft. Ignoring the loud but otherwise pleasant, electric hum emanating from the aircrafts many ion engines, Logan began yelling into his com unit as he made his way to the opening hatch. "Status?!"

The response was quick. "Patrols in Gamma sector report taking fire from unknown number of assailants. Relief squads enrout-"

"Negative!" Logan barked jumping inside and motioning the pilot to lift off, "Pull them back and put priority one on that location for air strike."

"But colonel," the disembodied voice interjected, "Our men are-"

"Going to have to find some cover." Logan spat, "Blanket the area, let God sort them out." The squad was from Echo Division in any case, not really his concern. In the recent weeks rumors of a Northern Faction guerrilla force moving in Camp 41's direction had proved true, with the complete annihilation of an entire Sixth patrol followed by dozens of hit and run attacks, each inching closer to the bases secure center. Countless more subtle methods of stopping the unknown foe's advance had provided only a single prisoner, now dead, and little else...

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