Chapter 12: Shadows of the Void Beckoning

"We will not be defeated"

 

Eagle Eye Jimmo stared at the wreckage of his subfly. It was one of the smaller ones, which probably was a major advantage for them, but it was still destroyed. No fire ate at it, just the sound of rain and wind beating against its smoking hull. He heard the distant explosions and was one of the few to recognize that it was just thunder, death's poser of a cousin, but he still could not help flinching. Poisonous rain poured down his unprotected face. He had never been so shaken in his life. The images kept playing in his mind: the torpedoes, the ocean current, breaking the oceans surface only to find a hovering City Hunter dropping 10 nuclear warhead equipped torpedoes every 5 minutes - all targeted at Terrania.

City Hunters were the enemy's largest and in many respects, greatest threat against life on Earth. There were not many of them, but there definitely were more than enough. They originally were Varentra designed UAN answers to Russia's Mikov class of mining shuttles and were roughly the size of some of the world's largest shopping malls. Missiles were not the machine's only weapons.

"Captain Eagle Eye, sir." The voice brought him out of his trance. It belonged to Rust. She was a good pilot. Loyal - to a point. Skilled. Too skilled for complete loyalty.

Jimmo felt his eyes begin to moisten. It wasn't skill that had brought them here, but he couldn't tell her that. She would just try to take over his squad. He watched as the last of the girls were loaded onto their shuttles. With all the damage his subfly had received, he knew they should already be dead and yet here they were, on land and only 3 miles from the Mao Chang underground base where the girls would be loaded into their Walkers. He had nearly sacrificed them to prove this outcome to himself. At least none of them died in the crash. He thought of Cammy. He had nearly sacrificed what they had.

Rust was watching. Jimmo wiped his eyes on his pilot's jacket and told himself he was wiping away the sickening rain. The downpour in this sector generally did not go above a level 3 hazard rating, not fatal but not safe enough to be played in; at least that's what Commander Habes had always advised him. Fuck it, he thought. He hated the helmets. Rust wasn't wearing hers either. They were too hard for this shit. She smiled at him, as if signaling to something behind him. She would have been a good mate. He turned to see their prepped and waiting fighter jets. It was time to retake the sky. He would not die in fear but in glory. Not die crying in the rain, but like the Jon Azon or Commander Habes. Jimmo would follow the lead of Terrania's true heroes.

****

"There's no point in calling our forces 'armed' when all our true forces always are. It’s an annoying redundancy the media should drop." - Brak Westmark, Secretary General of the Pacific Sea Lab Union, often said to be the inspiration behind the nickname 'Battle Nation'

 

****

Young Leon of Clarra could not believe they where still alive. Not only that, but also that things had become so calm and quiet. Their subfly had stopped moving. Presumably they had landed, but where? The colonel Jon Azon was the first to remove his safety restraints. Leon wondered if he should do the same. He really wanted to remove his, but decided to do whatever everyone else did first.

Leon’s Omega Dragoons were promptly ordered to secure their helmets tight and double-check their weapons. So much for the hope of breathing natural air. Are we here already? The boy from Clarra thought to himself as he examined the high-powered grapple attached to his armored, elbow length glove. There were so many such gadgets on his armor, which he could not even begin to understand when and how he would ever use. He wondered if Vanny was feeling the same way. He hoped she wasn't. His armor did look old to him, noticeably old. He stared at the sealed door as he fumbled with his pistol like everyone else seemed to be doing. He did not really know what he should be checking for, but he knew what he should be preparing for - the living nightmare on the other side of these walls.

He was surprised by how peaceful it all seemed. He expected to hear at least one explosion but heard nothing. Even from here, Leon could see the colonel examining his two oversized pistols. He recognized them from some of the stories he had heard. One was black with the name "Harbinger 1" engraved in chrome. The other was chrome colored with "Harbinger 2" engraved in black alloy. Supposedly the most devastating pair of hand guns ever created, they sounded like the most painful death a man could ever experience, or so the legend went. It was said that they sounded like a man crying 'why' when they were fired.

Then, there was the battle-axe known as Shattered Smile that the man carried on his back. The bladed side was made from Diamond Milk and covered in veins of titanium alloy that morphed into the axe's hammerhead. Leon wondered if he would even be able to lift that thing given the chance. 

Under orders, they all unrestrained themselves and followed Colonel Jon-Azon into the cargo bay where their turret-mounted Omega cycles waited.

In the middle of room, surrounded by the bikes was an incredibly intimidating, four barreled black tank. The colonel climbed on top of it as if burdened by a great weight and opened the hatch while everyone mounted his or her bikes. He climbed halfway in before stopping and turning to the children. They watched in silence as he eyed them with his cold blue eyes.

Even in the dimly lit room, Leon could feel the power of the man's stare. The Azon's presence definitely commanded fear and respect.

The sound of his own breathing within his helmet made Leon feel very uncomfortable. The silent, fast moving graphics and symbols displaying data on his helmet's visor were disorienting. All he could hear was the increasing volume and rate of his gasping, like a boy beginning to drown above water. The only thing he feared more than the dark was drowning.

"You all have been briefed," the colonel began to speak. "But the truth of the matter is that nothing could have prepared you for this fight," he paused lowering his head in thought. "Nothing, but the centuries of experience we as humans have had on this God forsaken planet."

Leon was surprised to hear the word "God" come out of the Colonel's mouth. Did It really exist after all? Did It forsake us? Maybe It thinks we abandoned It? He wondered about Paul and whether The God would save him from whatever lay beyond that bay door.

The subfly suddenly shook for a moment. A sound became audible as the room began to vibrate gently. Leon thought it sounded like the scream of a distant woman that gradually got louder and louder. It was joined by more and more screams. A gust of powerful wind swept across the floor from the bay door an Leon suddenly realized what was happening. His body started to become numb with fear. There were no women's scream, only Oblivion's warning.

The colonel continued, speaking louder and louder to be heard. "Omega Dragoons, the fate of mankind will be decided in less than five hours. You all have a part to play in that decision. We are out numbered and out gunned, so focus on the mission and not on your lives,” he paused again.

The door was almost fully opened; the furious wind was reaching a crescendo. Leon strained to get his first glimpse of the world above land. A world he had only heard about. A world he had grown to fear; Terra-Actual - the Over-world. His visor was getting hammered by tiny pellets of liquid from the world roaring behind the colonel. He had never seen rain.

"Stop the bombs, even if it means blowing them up before they reach their required depth," Jon-Azon continued. "We are humans and we will not be defeated. Not tonight. Not ever!" Jon-Azon surprised himself; he did not know he was capable of speaking that way. He did not know he was capable of feeling that way. "Remember what we die for, Omega Dragoons!"

The door was now completely open. 

Leon had never seen real mountains before, but in the blackness of the vortex before him, he could make out their distant shapes silhouetted against a burning horizon. And there above that foreboding mountain scope, was something he never believed he'd ever see... the sky. It was all black except for crooked lines of fiery red light that shone down like lava seeping through the cracks of charred rock and it was more spectacular than his wildest dreams had ever implied. A beautiful nightmare. Leon had never felt smaller.

Jon-Azon suddenly raised Harbinger 1 high into the air, "Raise your slug launchers!" His throaty voice made him sound more beast than man when he yelled. In unison, the Terra-Cavalry Omega Dragoons raised their guns and screamed. The room suddenly exploded with the sound of bike engines roaring to life. Gatling turrets started rotating as they were armed.

Leon was not so sure he would be able to control the vibrating machine he was straddling, not so much for its weight as it was the uncontrollable levels of adrenaline he was feeling. He could not stop twitching and it only got worse when he saw the colonel finally lower himself into his tank and seal the hatch. This is really happening! A voice suddenly spoke to him in his helmet; it was Colonel Jon-Azon.

"Okay Dragoons, follow your squad leaders. Stop the bombs."

The world seemed to pause as Leon waited for the colonel's next words. He suddenly became unaware of everything else, the wind and the pelting liquid, the rumbling of the tank, the engines and the darkness awaiting them. Just silence...

"Roll out!"

Reality suddenly caught up with Leon who awaited his turn as the Over-world swallowed all his fellow soldiers. The sound of engines was rapidly depleting as they entered the void. He wondered if he would ever see Vanny again. He wondered if they would ever spend another happy day together. That would be worth dying for.

Whatever it was that was injected into his blood system, he could feel it throughout his body. Maybe it really did make him invincible, but even if it didn't, he would not allow himself to die just yet. At that moment Leon's fear turned into something else, something he found himself welcoming as his life carried him into the darkness of the unknown.

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