Chapter 6: A Flame beneath A STEEL SKY

"Agitated by Death's delay"


Bishop Lee, the 'Comrade', was a New Tamian Over-world commando and Lantrow the 'Character', a Terranian. As usual, they were arguing in their shared prison cell aboard the MBF Kuntafa. The towering Bishop Lee was not quite sure what Lantrow was going on about this time, but he always secretly enjoyed watching the excitable Terranian flail his hands around when he was worked up about something.

"Friend, I don't think your commanders would be too happy to see you this way."

"Locked up here with you?" Lantrow snarled sarcastically.

"You and I have known each other a long time. I've always thought you disliked me."

"Feelings are not an issue."

"Of course. How foolish I was." Bishop Lee smiled. He always seemed to be on the verge of breaking out into song or some such act of cheerfulness.

The muscular New Tamian climbed off the bed he was laying on and walked toward the cell door wearing nothing but his underwear. His Chinese features were distinct.

Lantrow saw it as an opportunity and jumped on to the sole bed in the cell, mentally claiming it as his own. "And how about putting some clothes on, Comrade? You were sweating all over the damn bed."

Bishop Lee, who was very much the silent type, had become quite good at saying just the right word at the right moment to keep Lantrow going for hours. Lantrow's Terranian upbringing forced him to see the Tamion soldier as slower and naturally forced him to over explain everything he was thinking.

"Lanny, I know why they call me the Comrade, by why do they call you the Character?"

"Don't call me ‘Lanny’, I'm Captain Lantrow."

The New Tamian nodded. Fair enough. "I was stuck up there on the continents for a long time, friend. Years in what you still call the dark sectors. I found light there. Lots of life."

"Yes, maybe, but it’s that knowledge with your sensibilities that makes you a danger to Terrania's interests. And I really think you should put your clothes back on."

"If you really believed that, you wouldn't be in here with me."

"You don't know me, Tamian. Don't presume to."

"You just want to fight for something you truly believe in, but you don't." He stared into his cellmate’s eyes and saw the shock he was trying to hide. "I may not know you, Captain Lanny, but I have an idea about Terranians."

"In principal, it should be something I should fight for as a Terranian, but the truth is I think it would be foolish to risk the wellbeing of a model soldier such as myself at a time of crisis in a fight over having to see your almost naked ass."

Lee surprised Lantrow by releasing a powerful and hearty laugh. "Terranian, I'm talking about why you're here locked up with me,” he managed to say after calming down; completely ignoring the man’s clothing request. "You're only in here because even as a freedom loving Terranian, you continue to think you should be." The Comrade became just as animated as his colleague was earlier. "You know your man who said 'Terranians never need to be told what to do'? It was a lie, eh? Or you would not be in this cell here with me. And more, you people would never even need these prison cells."

"I'm here because of some dark sector woman you claim exists and desire, but haven't seen or heard from in 10 years. I put myself on the line for you." Lantrow said smugly. Bishop Lee spun around and smiled at him. That fucking smile, Lantrow thought. "Believe me; I'll never make that mistake again."

"You know that man from long ago, who said, 'I know not with what World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones?'"

"You're talking about Adamson."

"No, the other one." Bishop Lee gestured with his hand to urge Lantrow's memory on. These sporadic acts of extroversion always caught Lantrow off guard.

"Einstein?" Lantrow tried again.

"Yes." Lee smiled as he began to lose himself in a memory. "He was kind of right, but the sticks they've got up there? They cut through armor and their stones are still as hard as ours."

"Then there's nothing out there worth Terrania or the PCAS’ involvement. We pledged our forces to the support of a United Pacific continent, if the United States still do exist as you say, they can't be any use to us if they're divided. The brass will never agree to utilize more of our resources to unite squabbling Americans."

Bishop Lee turned back to look out of their cell. "'I've looked into the eyes of civilization and seen what it wanted to be, whether it ever will or shall again.'"

"Now you're quoting Tolmeer?"

"Lauren's still up there, friend. People still live."

They suddenly heard Sgt. Twombles yell, "Salute the Imperator!" in the background.

Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and stood at attention. Accompanied by Twombles and a few guards, the always-determined looking Admiral Terachi entered the room with his ingrained military discipline and marched straight to them.

"Admiral, sir!" The men saluted.

Terachi immediately addressed Bishop Lee who was both apprehensive and awed to be in the man's presence. "May I begin by offering my sincerest apologies for the way we're treating you,” he said. "It seems we rescued you at an extremely sensitive time and that time has become much more critical."

"Admiral, it is important you let me make contact with New Tamion. Your actions risk straining our relationships beyond any recoverable point. New Tamion will not be forgiving if they were to discover."

"Terrania alienated itself from its Western allies when it began to move toward forming our Pacific alliance, as did you from yours. When that happened, it was understood that with our histories, the only way our alliance would work is if we abandoned the histories passed down to us. It was understood that you would no longer see us as Americans and we would also ignore the Chinese and Russian blood your heart, thanks to us, still pumps. As a soldier on a PCAS mission under our command, you still have not yet been released from duty. That won't happen until you understand the nature of your intel's impact on everything we've been trying to do. Do you understand, Commander?" 

"I'm grateful to Terrania for the rescue after so long, but I have learned some things over those years. Things I have seen in the people that are more important to them than the wars they're fighting."

"Things you think are worth involving Terrania?"

Lee locked eyes with the Character, knowing how much Lantrow was hoping he would not say what he wanted to say.

The Admiral noticed. Terachi signaled to Twombles to leave them alone. Twombles signaled to his men to follow him out of the room. He couldn't wait to finally head down to the city.

Terachi looked as if he was about to confess something, taking a deep breath and staring at the ground before talking. "Lantrow, you were one of my own. My most promising. Seeing you in there is of extreme disappointment to me. Is it worth the bullet you took for him?"

"I still am Terranian. I am yours, sir." Lantrow yelled at attention. "I acted only to preserve New Tamion's asset to the Terranian cause, sir."

"And what asset is that?"

"His experience with the surface world horde culture, sir. I believed that any future excursions into the Over-world's dark sectors would be greatly assisted by his knowledge if the continent is still as populated as he claims, sir."

Terachi leaned toward Lantrow. "So you think we'd kill a Tamian ranker to preserve sensitive Terranian intel?"

"If we believed it was worth dying for, sir."

Terachi seemed to freeze like a living statue, betraying no sign of approval or otherwise for what seemed like an eternity for the prisoners.

"I have no issues with the legality of my imprisonment, but the imprisonment of your own soldier seems unjust to me." Bishop Lee decided to break the silence. Lantrow was stunned.

After a few more moments, the admiral moved. "Now that we're in agreement, understand this, Tamian. My only concern with what goes on with the PCAS or the rest of the planet for that matter is how it would affect Terrania. So let's keep these Over-world ideologies of yours from infecting our survival." Terachi nodded to both of the prisoners and suddenly exited the room. He had a shuttle to catch.

The prisoners remained speechless.


"Terrania's mythological Valkyrie squads are essentially interlopers in warfare's domain and, if they existed, would generally be as much a threat to any winning side as they would be to the losing." - Sanice Mosquainne of Verna, Head of the Sanice Council



Young Leon always found it interesting how although he almost never trusted Captain Jimmo not to be planning some kind of prank on him, he considered Jimmo to be one of his closest friends from the Rochelle class. Jimmo spent a lot of time with Major Cammy who in turn spent time with the one girl he was trying to avoid. Still, Leon was honored to be able to maintain the company of such respected rankers. They always seemed to have great advice for him. Through Jimmo, he had even been getting to know the Fleeter some people called Clown, a Clarra just like him. The Clown spent a lot of time with Mona who in turn also spent a lot of time with the same girl Leon always tried to avoid.

An important convoy of Fleeters had just arrived bringing with it Twombles and Jimmo. By the commotion in the city, the young Leon could tell there were some important people onboard. Something big was about to happen.

After meeting with his soldier friends, the rankers offered to take him out for some ice cream, but something about the way they acted made Leon feel uncomfortable. It was just that every time he could remember Twombles and Jimmo having that look in their eyes, something was up their sleeves and Leon was once again going to find himself becoming a punch line. He was never sure why, maybe because he was still just a child and not yet a ranker, or maybe because they just had no respect for him. It was also possible that maybe they were just in a celebratory mood, after all, the Eagle Eye had just returned from another dangerous Over-world rescue of the Motherless Squad and Twombles, with his natural talent for combat and strong military backing had somehow managed to avoid being drafted into it once again. Innocent or not, they still had that look. Leon felt something was up.

"What if I don't feel like ice cream?” he had asked.

"Don't be ridiculous, Leon,” Jimmo had responded.

Whatever, Leon thought to himself, as long as we don't bump into Vanny. He was unsure how to deal with the feelings he had developed for the girl who had beaten him in their last Battle Union. She was so gracious and feminine, but when the classes came together for the annual fighting tournament and he stepped into the ring against her, he suffered the most humiliating defeat of his life. It gave him some comfort that Vanny kept the company of some of Terrania's most renowned fighters herself, like Lt. Major Cammy of Rochelle, but the fact that his best efforts did not allow him to beat a girl much smaller than he was in such an important contest was something that always ate at him. He could not stop thinking about it. He could not stop thinking about her.

Now that their age group's graduation Battle Union was only a few days away, the thoughts became more troublesome. They would no longer be children and officially become rankers. He was going to have to find a female partner to take to the union and try as he might to think of others; only one face seemed to occupy his mind.

"Hey, Leon." Twombles interrupted his thoughts. "I saw Major Brett earlier today."

The name was immediately familiar to Leon, but he could not place a face to it.

"Paul's a bad influence, Leon,” Jimmo suddenly added.

"Paul?" Leon finally remembered that Brett was his real name. "Why?"

"He's a Believer, Leon. Just be careful." Twombles continued.

"But I don't understand. Paul's always tried to help me."

"Teaching you to believe in things that don't exist won't help you. His teachings don't conform with Terrania's, and we're of Clarra. Remember that, too."

"I thought it was okay to believe in the God, now." Leon was confused.

"That's just because there aren't enough Guards left to enforce the Lex Fannia." Twombles sounded rather disappointed. "He's good, but we need to focus on more tangible things."

"Is that why you joined the Guard instead of the Battle Force?" Leon asked innocently, unaware that the question unsettled the Clown. They took several more steps before Leon continued. "To focus on things you could always see?"

"There." Pointed out Twombles suddenly as the boys turned a corner. He seemed almost relieved not to have to answer the question. "We're here."

Sure enough, there was the ice cream vendor, but like an impenetrable fortress around it, Vanny, Mona and Cammy giggled while enjoying their frozen treats.

"Oh, forget this,” the boys heard Leon proclaim.

"What are you afraid of, Leon?" Jimmo said as he grabbed the young Clarra's arm, preventing him from turning away.

"Twombles!" The pretty, fair-skinned Mona called out. "Where have you guys been? We've been waiting."

I knew it, thought Leon. A setup! He felt he had no choice now but to hold his breath and walk the plank. It felt like a lifetime ago since he had last talked to Vanny. For the past year, their relationship had existed as nothing more than the gossip of children, and in that soap opera, Leon was the loser.

 As they approached the vicinity of the girls, Leon began to realize he had never really appreciated the craftsmanship that went into the making of the roads. Now is a good time to start. His eyes studied it intensely and never left it. He absorbed every detail. When the boys stopped walking, he noticed that the petite feet pointing right at him really complimented the road’s artisanship.

He could hear Jimmo and Twombles converse with Mona and Cammy. How they did it, he could not begin to imagine, but resigned himself into believing that one day it would be easy for him too, once he became a ranker like them. He had always dreamt of becoming a Jom or a Jon. He sometimes even fantasized about being a living hero like Colonel Jon-Azon, but he knew such things were unlikely. Especially for one as terrible in combat as he was.

"Are you okay, Leon?" Vanny's voice was like music and he could not sing back. "You look like you're lost in the dark."

Funny, I forgot I told her about that. "Yea,” he managed to glance up at her long enough to say, "I just want some ice cream." I just want some ice-cream? He felt worse than usual. This was definitely a bad situation.

She over dramatically stepped out of his way. Idiot, he thought to himself. He was about to say something else in an effort to recover and not appear like a fool when they were all interrupted by the approaching Sanice Rochelle Meredin.

The sanice had an elegant grace in her movements, each step exemplifying divinity in nature, and an inner beauty that shone despite her easygoing attitude toward physical beatification. Her flowing white dress, typical sanice attire, did a fair but not complete job of hiding her womanly fit and curvaceous body. A rock hard soldier who was all woman. Her presence commanded respect and most could not look directly in her eyes. Some believed she might actually be a direct descendant of the Sanice Meredin and not just a predecessor.

The rankers immediately saluted her. The children bowed. All were curious about the mysterious folder she still held close to her seemingly delicate frame.

"You know," she began after noticing the students of Clarra with her own. They looked so similar, and yet they were not. "There are some who feel the classes of Rochelle and Clarra are too exclusive." She glanced at the awkward Leon, and then smiled at Vanny. As two young celebrities of sorts, they would understand.

"My Sanice," Mona exclaimed, "Twombles and I are going to the Union together."

Terrania's most popular couple, Cammy and Jimmo, shared an affectionate smile at each other. Leon was just embarrassed. He was not ready for the tension he was feeling as the couples made their announcements. He just stood there having no one, and neither did Vanny and there she was, silent. Right there. He could not look at her and wondered what she must have been thinking. Maybe he was the coward he was always afraid he would grow up to be.

There was a moment of silence. It was as if they were waiting for him to break it. It was as if they were all in on it. He felt that his time to die had just arrived and was beginning to get agitated by death's delay. He could feel their piercing eyes. It was definitely time to formulate an escape plan. Let’s see, he thought for a second, maybe I can quickly knock her out, make a run for it and hope she forgets?

"Well, that's good, Mona,” Rochelle finally spoke. "But you too have to remember you haven't officially been cleared by the council yet. I will continue on my way now, as you were."

As the sanice smiled and released them, Leon made a mental note to get revenge on the guys for putting him in this awkward situation. After all, it was never awkward between Twombles and Mona; they were perfect together and had already been illegally seeing each other with Sanice Clarra and Rochelle's blessing. And Jimmo? Well, he and Major Cammy were the closest to a celebrity couple Terrania had. It was no secret that the state eagerly awaited the offspring of two such gifted warriors.

"Oh, and Captain Jimmo," Rochelle spun around. "You did well up there. Thank you, but you are to report directly to Admiral Terachi, immediately."

"Always for you, my Sanice,” he replied, looking over at Twombles to see if he knew anything about the unusual summoning.

Leon noticed Twombles and Cammy momentarily glance at each other as well, but play it off as if they hadn't. He never felt that it was his place to mention it, but he had begun to notice an unspoken, almost hidden relationship between Cammy and Twombles, and restrained tension between the Clown and the Eagle Eye. Leon knew Mona noticed it too, but could only guess what she was thinking.

In any case, the captain of the Birds of Prey had just arrived back to the city and could not seem to imagine what was so important as to already require his immediate expertise. Twombles coldly shrugged his shoulders at Major Cammy's mate official as if to say Nope, I don't know either.

"Alright, I guess I have to get going,” Jimmo said. "You coming?” he asked Cammy who in turn turned to Vanny.

"Want to come with us?” she asked.

To Leon's horror and complete surprise, Vanny looked directly at him expectantly. He looked up at the city that was by any standard, an architectural marvel. Home to over three million people, including those from the satellite towns that formed the Pacific Sea Lab Union, it was also one of the largest of the known domed cities that still littered the dark depths of the that ocean. Along with the few coastal military bases and the Tamion Alliance, they were all that remained of the Pacific Conference of Allied States. As far as these cities were concerned, they represented all that was left of humanity; 6 million people underwater and on fortified Terra-Actual bases in Asia and America. There was no standardized travel between the territories so foreign cities tended to exist almost as myth in the minds of citizens.

Any time there was news to be reported about the other cities, Commander Lital would speak through the mega speakers that hung from the ceiling around the city's perimeter. Although it wasn't often that the speakers would be used, a person could always tell when there was about to be an announcement by the initial brief warning alarm, followed by a moment of intensely loud static noise everyone knew could be fixed but no one ever bothered to.

It had never been a welcome experience for Leon, until this moment when the alarm suddenly interrupted the electrifying silence and pierced everyone's ears. 

The commander in chief's voice had never sounded so pleasant to Leon until he actually started paying attention and heard what sounded more like an announcement of the end of the world than anything else. It didn't take too long before Leon realized from the commander's speech that he was right the first time; his time to die had arrived.


"We were still trying to find our identity as a nation when Metal Rain happened. Nothing really changed for us; we'll always keep looking, except that now we're going to have to do it in the hellish fires of the Over-world." - Lital Bisentaynion, Supreme Commander of the PCAS Battle Forces



In all the years Bran had known Lital, he had never seen the man look as frail as he did approaching the microphone. Understandable, he thought as he adjusted his glasses. He's the one who has to tell everyone that all life may soon be extinct. He nodded to the commander, signaling that he was now on the air. It had been quite some time since the military's high council had visited the mostly sanice run city, it was extraordinarily unfortunate that this last visit had to be under such circumstances.

"Great people of Terrania," began Lital. His heart raced a lot faster than it normally did when he spoke to the nation. "It is my solemn duty to deliver to you terrible news of the utmost urgency."

Terrible news? Bran felt it almost humorous just how terrible the news actually was. Seriously, how does anyone tell the world that in less than sixteen hours, their seemingly unstoppable enemy will detonate two Earth-Shaker bombs they had drilled into the planet which are each capable of turning it into little more than an asteroid field between Mars and Venice? How do you tell them that they do not have the resources to stop them unless every man, woman and child on the planet over the age of twelve is recruited and sent into battle within the next few hours, and even then, that success is highly unlikely? Bran wasn't sure, but he admired the commander even more for the free lesson he was now witnessing. Lital was a powerful speaker and it was never as prevalent as it was right now, when he and the other leaders of the Pacific Conference told their people that they would succeed against the impossible odds, or life would simply cease to exist in the face of oblivion. 



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