"Machines wrecking man"
The Skyscreamer began to descend as it prepared to dock with the oceanic behemoth called the Mobile Battle Fortress Kuntafa; the magnificent yet wholly intimidating city-sized embodiment of all that was war, floating in the dead and sickly dark Pacific Ocean. The fighting fortress did not float alone, it was surrounded by a huge fleet of accompanying warships. No land was visible anywhere in the horizon, but the further away the dark, ink-like water was from them, the redder it appeared to be as the sky's reflection on it became more prominent. The ocean in the horizon looked only slightly more purple than a sea of fresh ink and blood.
As the Skyscreamer continued its final approach, Captain Eagle Eye Jimmo could not help but wonder how the lone survivor of the legendary Motherless Squad was holding up in the back. This was not the first time he had brought only the colonel back from such a deep penetration mission, far from it, but of the colonel's previous squads, the Motherless had so far survived the longest. Jimmo was actually going to miss some of them, especially good ol’ Knowledge Gun Damage.
Claiming to be Terrania's best fighter pilot, Eagle Eye was one of the state's most confident and skilled soldiers and aside from his own commanding officer, the ever-noble Commander Habes, his inspiration came primarily from the man he now transported back to the fleet. The same man almost all of Terrania looked up to, if not worshipped. The descendant of Terrania's greatest bloodline; the colonel Jon-Azon.
The captain found the colonel's rescue missions to be among the most important and honorable missions, as without his rescues, Terrania would forever lose their Azon and all that he might bring to them.
Still, Eagle Eye found that he was often plagued by shaming thoughts that usually implied the colonel was somehow responsible for the deaths of his entire teams. Jimmo just could not help but wonder how many times one man could continue to be the sole survivor of teams comprised of some of the most experienced warriors Terrania had to offer.
"We're almost home, sir," he said, more to break the excruciating silence than to comfort the unusually distant and brooding legend. He could not see the colonel shoot chemicals into his own veins. He could not see the colonel lean back and close his eyes. He could not see the colonel try to escape the reality of this world.
Cleared to dock, the Skyscreamer Advanced Transport and Tactical Fighter warplane descended toward the docking tunnel that opened for it on Kuntafa. Its cargo was the now self-medicated man with the information that would, with absolution, change the course of the world before the sun would rise again.
"My Grandfather may have been more Rock star than scientist, but he was more genius than Rock star." - Henry Carter, United States Senator
Sergeant Twombles the Clown had never dressed like a clown in his life, nor did he find himself particularly funny, but that was what people called him, and he was good-natured about it. As far as he knew, he did not even look funny. He always felt about as average looking as a person could be: simple short black hair, dark brown eyes, deceptively thin and an 'ever-so-slightly' long face. He was a Kuntafa Guard who, like the Terrania Guard, were among the state's most deadly at hand-to-hand combat, an art rarely taught, used or even needed in Terrania anymore. Twombles could probably inflict serious pain onto just about anyone if he desired, but had never felt the need, even with the damn nickname.
The Clown was glad his fleet duty was almost complete. He longed to be back in Terrania with the Domers, but the admiral almost never visited it and as long as the Clown was one of the man's personal guard, neither did he.
However, word was spreading among the elite circles that Terachi the Imperator would soon be visiting the main city in an unscheduled visit and Twombles was extremely excited. He would be reunited with her, and he could not ask for more. Even though they had been seeing each other secretly in violation of Terranian law, he was certain the Sanice Council of Matrimony, or the SCoM as it was often called, would grant them official recognition when the time came.
Twombles was heading to the battle fortress' brig where he had been summoned to rendezvous with the admiral before their journey to the ocean's depths, when he saw a group of hardened soldiers walk down the hallway toward him. It took him a second to recognize them. They were the ever elusive, always mysterious Paladin Knights.
They were a self-governing group recruited entirely from the Guard class of soldiers that chose to use their combat abilities in the war rather than as peace and order keeping forces in the crumbling nation. They were used very sparingly and only in the highest priority combat missions. Their conviction was without peer. From their success rates in some of the most trying battles, they had generated the unofficial slogan 'First to fight, last to die'.
Twombles recognized their leader, Major Brett of Mosquainne, the commanding Falco Paladin; feared, reviled and honored. The major stopped and signaled to the others to keep going. "I'll catch up," he said to them calmly.
"Major Brett." Twombles saluted.
"Sergeant of Clarra, it's been some time."
"Yes, sir." A deep curiosity began to eat away at the Clown who had seen the deployment of an unusually large group of units in the past hour alone. While they had mostly been airborne units, seeing the Paladin Knights finally heading out was too much for him to ignore. "I must say," he began. "I'm really surprised to see your knights being deployed. Seems like something big is going on out there."
"Something big is always going on out there, Serge, and as has always been the way, when the Imperator calls, we answer."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll be hearing about this one soon enough."
The major was physically one of the most athletic men Twombles had ever met. A former Terrania Guard himself, Brett's hazel eyes carried a softness that seemed to be at odds with his scarred, almost rock-like exterior. Paladins generally carried the presence of warriors twice their actual size. Brett had a soothing voice that echoed an inner peace few in Terrania could possibly have - likely a result of being a Believer. Like Colonel Jon-Azon, the controversial Major Brett was much smaller in person than his legend would suggest, but many Terranians still felt privileged if not intimidated when meeting him.
"Still a Guard, I see," the major continued.
"Serves me well."
"But do you serve the people well?"
Twombles found himself unsure how to respond to the unexpected question. "I do my part. Someone has to protect the Imperator."
"I know you, Sergeant. I've seen your abilities. You could make an important difference in the field. Don't under estimate the importance of example."
"I could die, too, Major. I'm not ready to do that just yet."
The major smiled. "You found something in this life you want to live for? That's great,” he placed his hand on his own chest, over his heart. "I have too, but it requires everything I am, including my life. That's why I must go."
"I don't understand, sir."
"I'm sure you don't, but I hope you will soon. Unfortunately, time doesn't allow me to explain." The major pointed to the ceiling, implying the outside world. "You know us."
"First to fight." Twombles nodded.
The major smiled again and began to walk away before suddenly stopping in his tracks. "Er, Sergeant? Are you familiar with a child from Clarra named Leon?"
"Actually yes, sir. Indirectly."
"Please, if you see him, tell him... Tell him to get it over with and make a stand. Tell him time's running out."
Twombles simply smiled back. A smile that showed just how little he actually did know. How could he know what the Paladin Believer meant about time 'running out'? How could he know how quickly all their time was actually reaching its end?
"Understandably, on the onset of government implemented Varentra nanotechnology experiments, protestors would find another opportunity to perform. Their annoying antics, I presume, will quickly and effortlessly be quelled by the government." - Caleb Adamson, Scientist, from ‘Nezuro’
Most of the people seated in MBF Kuntafa’s dimly lit War Room had come prepared to have what was sure to be the most important discussion of their lives. The infighting between Terrania’s science, military and sanice divisions had hit a fever pitch over the last several months and talk had begun about a possible succession of the fleet from the nation. Such an act by the 'Fleeters' would render the entire city defenseless and would likely decay the fleet itself from within, not to mention shift the balance of power to the Tamion states. Going into the meeting, everyone knew it was up to one man to declare a decisive solution to what was looking more than ever to be the fall of the planet's last remaining military superpower, but they never did get the chance to finish the discussion.
They had barely started getting to the important issues when they were interrupted by an emergency debriefing from Colonel Jon-Azon. He had just completed his high priority reconnaissance mission based on a New Tamion report and was informing them of the impending and absolute danger he'd survived to tell. Most of the people seated in the room had come prepared to have what was sure to be the most important discussion of their lives; the preservation of Terranian unity, but the meeting’s importance had just intensified to such a degree that it could very well be their last. They didn't even notice the man was high on drugs.
Admiral Terachi was beginning to get frustrated by how little progress they had made. He hated sitting in the War Room with Bran and having conversations of ego and intellect, especially when the stakes were so high. He hated sitting in silence even more and now that they had heard the news, it seemed to be all they were doing - sitting in silence. Every second that passed was a second they would never get back, but still no one said anything. Nobody had any idea what to say. Anything that would be said would have a direct influence on the outcome of the day and according to the information they had received, the day would end either with the continued existence of life on Earth, or not. Even Bran the Meredin, seemed to be without a smartass comment. Everyone just seemed to stare at each other in silence.
Terachi looked at the colonel, the hardened warrior and former battlefield ally who had to be ordered to sit down to deliver his report. He was a man who had inherited a title, a responsibility beyond what should rightfully be asked of any man, even one as likely to fulfill it as he was. Many in Terrania believed that somehow, the Azon bloodline would lead them to salvation, no doubt perpetuated by that bitch of a sanice, Meredin, the admiral often thought to himself. It was a belief Terachi had long since believed was a serious mistake.
Besides the actions of the great General Westmark, the Azon line may have been the most instrumental in acquiring Terrania's current position as the world's most powerful nation-state after the Metal Rain. Still, to worship them as anything more than superior soldiers was dangerous and something the admiral had worked very hard to change about his nation in his own lifetime. With this confirmation of the New Tamion report, it was beginning to look like that lifetime was coming to its conclusion.
"So that's it then? We only have 17 hours to stop this?" Lital, the commander in chief finally spoke. Lital was slightly larger than the average Terranian soldier. The commander had proven himself a competent leader by surviving many of the Terra-Actual excursions that he had led throughout a successful career in the Terranian Battle Forces. He was intelligent and insightful with an excellent ability to communicate ideas to both the military and the science departments. He was no slouch at fulfilling the needs of the sanice either.
Terachi always considered him a throwback to the age of the Green & Blue, when the world required diplomats and politicians to communicate the desires and intentions of nations among themselves, a time when death in war would only come from others that also spoke, bled, died and essentially were just as capable of defeat as any other man. A time when the only enemy that could exist, ate, slept and had emotions.
The commander's chief of staff was the next to speak, "That doesn't include however much time we're going to need to implement whatever plan we come up with."
Nicely put, Bran, the admiral sarcastically thought to himself. "He's actually right. Some of you are unaware, but we'd already mobilized our Terra-Actual armored battalions based on the unverified New Tamion intelligence."
"I thought that was a rumor. I thought the whole purpose of the colonel's mission was to verify the information so we could make that decision." General Fearson exclaimed, obviously offended at being kept in the dark on the largest Over-world mobilization based on none Terranian intelligence.
"Look," Terachi ignored him to avoid the confrontation for the sake of humanity. "We need to stop the redundancy and actually come up with a plan right now." It was definitely not a time to be trying to present an image of desperation, so he said it with confident force.
"I agree,” Bran added.
Terachi was convinced that almost everything Bran said was an attempt to prove his worth as the only higher cabinet member who had never served his time in the Over-world. He was the man most responsible for translating all relevant external world intelligence into a concise understandable language for the commander in chief and that did give him an important function. Terachi just wished that was all he actually did. The way he saw it, Bran's brain kept him off the battlefield, but that did not mean in anyway that he knew the field.
"What are our options?" Lital decided to ask.
"I hate to be the one that has to say this, but we really only have time for one thing right now," Terachi had served his own time in the Over-world and his body carried the evidence proudly. Most notable were his missing right eye and left arm. Both were easily replaceable within Terranian law and technology, but Terachi would never allow it. He refused to have any synthetic body parts. He wanted to remain one hundred percent human; at one point, he had claimed that using body synthetics would be betraying the very cause of their fight. Terachi decided to spare them having to ask what he meant by 'one thing'. "We have to make our stand."
"Make our stand?" Bran inquired.
That he wore glasses, was bad enough for Terachi, but Bran's rather small, unimposing physic and habit of referencing nonmilitary decisions of past only made it worse. His careful articulation could only mean that he spent too much time worrying about how he was speaking rather than what he meant and his questioning of Terachi's military expertise told him he should have had the damn chief of staff 'adjusted' a long time ago.
"I'm sure you understand what I think you're implying, Admiral."
One of Terachi's biggest problems with Bran was the inexperienced man's habit of overstepping his area of expertise and advising the commander on matters involving military strategy, no doubt a product of intellectual overconfidence. Knowing history never meant you knew the future. Terachi truly believed that Bran needed to be shot at least once before even being allowed to think of the military at all.
Sitting stoically next to the admiral was none other than the human wrecking machine - or better yet, the machines wrecking man - Colonel Jon-Azon. Distinguished by his all white hair, perpetually agitated facial appearance, blue eyes and a bruise the shape of a hand across his black-like shiny coal and aged beyond its time, obsidian face. Honored slightly more than he was feared, he was in many respects a king to the people and one of the few Commander Lital liked to think he would find he was related to if he bothered to research it.
Commander Lital leaned in toward Terachi as he always did when he found himself considering what he had once thought inconsiderable. "With what you're suggesting, if we're victorious against the enemy, we shall be utterly ruined."
Bran recognized the paraphrasing of King Pyrrhus of Epirus' comment after his historic battle against the Roman Empire. He did not want to appear to be trying to outsmart the commander so he kept quiet about it.
"You are of course aware that would mean ending our ability to launch any further resistance even if we were to succeed? It would effectively be the end of our war." Lital gauged the room's reactions. They seemed to be in his favor.
Terachi nodded and Bran couldn't believe it.
"Admiral, what you're suggesting..." Bran spoke. "We don't even have enough rankers for it."
Before Terachi could respond, the colonel did, "Maybe not just rankers..."
Terachi again found himself not knowing what to say. This Azon hardly ever spoke. Of all Terrania's past Azon's, he was considered the most reserved and enigmatic one, so much so that it seemed every Terranian had formed their own unique opinion of what kind of person the man was. Even though Terachi thought he knew this Azon who served his surface duty beyond what was required by the military and had thus become a 'Jon', the man he thought he knew and had served with would never have implied what he now seemed to be implying. Were things really that desperate? The others were just as speechless. Surely, he was not suggesting what they thought he was suggesting? Surely, he had a better plan in mind than the end of Terrania?
Sanice Mosquainne, the standing head of the Sanice Council, vocally made her disapproval known. "The sanice cannot and will not approve of such an action by our battle forces."
"You think we're going to give you a choice?" Terachi snapped. "Let's not forget you exist only to keep the gene pool clean."
"Okay, that's enough." Lital calmly raised his hand.
"We are Terrania, remember that. I'd advise you speak with more respect, tyrant." She was not intimidated.
"You're a Believer. A disgrace to Terrania, even for a sanice. Try to get in the way of what needs to be done and I’ll kill you myself."
"Admiral!" Lital warned sternly.
"Would have been nice to have had some more dispensable units right about now, don't you think?" Dr. Pow smugly remarked, enjoying the tension. Feeding off it.
Terachi could not help but smile to himself. What a bitch. It was just like Dr. Pow, the tall and deceptively attractive yet incredibly hardboiled head of the Science Department to use such a moment to stick one to the military, even as the world was coming to its end. She would have made a fine soldier, Terachi thought, if she could ever get used to the idea that humanity's importance went beyond scientific exploration and into things more important. Unexplainable, sure, but more important. And that's not faith, it's fact he would think. She was one of the few who actually saw the war as a potential to further humanity's universal greatness and she wanted to exploit it through science.
"17 hours, that's all we have left," the colonel justified, ignoring the doctor without looking anyone else in the eyes. His voice, as always, was close to a barely understandable mumble, but they all understood him. They all looked to Supreme Commander Lital for acknowledgement.
"This is an announcement we should make on the ground and we were heading there anyway. Sanice Mosquainne, I'm sorry, but I see no alternative." Commander Lital nodded, approving what everyone in the room knew to be the last large-scale military operation on Earth.