Book: Pest Control

Pest Control

Book of the Guardian

Pest Control – Part Two

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2015 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Table of Contents

Copyright Page



Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14 - Horath (Forth Day)

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

About the Author

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


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This work is dedicated to all of our brothers and sisters, parents and children that have served in the armed services - past, present, and future. Without whom we would not have our many freedoms.

Chapter 10

“It’s good to see you again, John,” Chloe said as she pulled him into a hug.

John returned the hug, and then introduced the newcomers to his two companions.

“So who took over after I left?” John asked.

“No one officially,” Major William ‘Will’ Curran said. “Chloe is the leader, she always was when you weren’t around so nothing has really changed.” He paused to gather his thoughts. “I appreciate all of you accompanying me on my Last Mission. I’m sure Holly would be pleased too.”

John put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Will, we’ve all been friends longer than we can remember. It’s the least we can do for you and Holly.”

Will nodded.

Major Alice Joslin cleared her throat. “So what’s the situation down here? Do you know what’s first?”

“I’m going to go grab two people that we know have some knowledge about what the Lizards are up too. Just so you know, those people are Gloria’s parents,” John replied.

“I’m not happy about it, but I understand it needs to be done,” Gloria said. “If they have information, and it does look like they do, then they need to tell you.”

“Does your father eat lunch at home?” Major Carl Holland asked.

“No, he and mother eat at the diner so people can approach them if they need to,” Gloria said. “He tries to keep himself available to the people.”

“Sounds like he’s a good man, stuck in a bad situation,” Will said.

“Is he still working on the fire?” John asked.

“That’s right! Now I remember! Both of them are out there today, they got the fire under control yesterday, and they were going to send some of the equipment back today. Mom was going with him, to serve coffee and lunch to the fire fighters,” Gloria said. “That would be a good place to grab them.”

“It’s only a couple of klicks down the road,” John said.

All Marines wear a special watch that has multiple uses, John used one of those uses now as he directed his implants to display a holographic map of the area for the small team.

Chloe nodded. “Let’s go get them. We can jog there in about five minutes.”

John chuckled. “Concealed side arms only. Remember, we’re supposed to remain a secret. We don’t want our presence discovered by the Lizards. Acquire the targets and wait for them to be alone. Stay in contact with each other for coordination. Get them to their vehicle and return here. All team members will then return, and we’ll question the couple. Questions?”

When none said anything, John and the four other Marines, got their weapons and set off. Mary and Gloria returned to the barge. They wanted to make sure that they were out of the way once the small group returned.

“So, what’s the deal with John and Major Diamond?” Gloria asked. “The tabloids claim that they’ve been in love since they met. Carl Holland and Alice Joslin, are called the second longest surviving relationship.”

Mary smiled, and nodded. “Yeah, there is something there that needs to be resolved.” She went on to tell Gloria about the conversation she and Chloe had that morning.

While the two girls were talking, John and the team arrived at the entrance to the preserve. He found them together, talking during a lull in the traffic. John had the team fan out and surround the area, while he approached the couple.

“Constable? How are you today?” John said getting the man’s attention.

“John!” Bailey said turning around and seeing the man. “I’m good, say, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Lisa. Lisa, this is John Ashland, that friend of Gloria’s that she was talking about.”

Something that looked a lot like fear crossed her face briefly as she realized who he was. When she smiled and extended her hand, the fear was gone like it had never been there.

“Mr. Ashland! It’s good to finally meet you. Gloria talks about you all the time,” she said.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Mrs. Saint. She has spoken well of both of you as well. She loves you both very much,” John replied. “I’m sorry to bother you, while you’re both busy here, but there is a problem with Gloria, and she would like to see the both of you.”

“I thought she was at home, sick?” Bailey asked.

“She was playing hooky today, so she could spend some time with Mary and me. But we got to talking about our families, and stuff, and she got really upset. She asked me if I could come over here and ask you two to come to my place to help calm her down.”

“How did she get that upset?” Bailey asked.

“I’m not exactly sure, I was hoping that one of you might have an idea. All I do know is that she asked for the both of you, so here I am,” John explained.

“Uh, I think I know what the problem might be, let’s go over to John’s house, and take care of our daughter,” Lisa said knowingly.

“I’m needed here. I can’t just take off unless it’s really important!” Bailey said.

“This is important, and it shouldn’t take very long; if she is asking for both of us, we had better both be there, or she won’t calm down,” Lisa said. “Just let control know you have a personal emergency you need to take care of, and you’ll be back in an hour.”

Bailey nodded acceptance. “Okay, we’ll head over to your place as soon as I’m covered here. Thanks for coming to get us, John. You’re a good man.”

“Okay, see you there. Lisa, is there anything I can do for her until you get there?” John asked.

“Do you have any muscle relaxants, or pain relievers?” She said with a small smile.

“Yeah, I do, but... Oh! I think I’m beginning to understand. I’ll get that going for you, see you both soon!” John said. “I uh, don’t have anything else for that...”

Bailey looked lost, but Lisa knew what he was talking about. “She should have that with her, if not, then I’m sure Mary has something. Don’t worry, she’ll be okay until we get there.”

“Okay, I’ll head back then,” John replied. “Thanks for understanding.” Via his implants, John issued orders, knowing that his team had been listening to the conversation. “Will, shadow the cruiser back to the house. Everyone else, return to base and stay hidden.”

Everyone acknowledged their orders and moved to carry them out. John excused himself and headed back to his house, while the Saint’s walked over to Bailey’s patrol unit.

As soon as he was out of site, John broke into a run, and made it back to his house at the same time as the rest of the team.

“John, the Saint’s went back into town, and stopped at a pharmacy. Only the woman went inside,” Will said over the comm.

“Understandable considering the excuse I used to get them here. Looks like you get some exercise today,” John replied.

Will snorted. “I haven’t even broken a sweat yet.”

“Once they get here, how do you want to handle this?” Chloe asked.

“Alice looks like Gloria from the back. We’ll put her in a room upstairs facing away from the door. Carl and Chloe will wait in the room across the hall. Once both of them are in the room, Carl and Chloe will exit the room, cutting off their retreat. We’ll then subdue and question them.”

“Simple,” Chloe said.

“On the surface, you know as well as I do that no plan survives contact with the enemy,” John replied. “Let’s try to do this as painlessly as possible. I don’t want to hurt these folks if we can help it.”

“In that case, we should get Gloria in a chair in the room, and threaten to harm her. That should make them talk,” Chloe said. As John was about to veto the idea, Chloe held up her hand. “I don’t mean actually hurt her, just threaten too.”

He sighed, then nodded. “Ask her, but make damn sure she knows what’s going on. I won’t do it, unless she’s willing.”

Chloe nodded, and ran for the barge to talk to Gloria and Mary.

“They are leaving the Pharmacy,” Will reported. “It looks like they are heading your way.”

“Got it, we’ll be ready,” John replied. “Hustle up Chloe, our guests are on their way.”

John felt her acknowledge the message, but she didn’t reply. He assumed because she was explaining things to Gloria.

John showed Alice to her spot and she took her position. Carl nodded, and opened the door to the room across the hall. “You know, I always hated this part of our job.”

John nodded. “Me too, especially when humans are involved. However, we have a job to do, and this is the about the only lead we have.”

Carl nodded bumped fists with John and closed the door.

John returned downstairs to wait for his ‘guests’.

He heard a noise behind him as he saw the Constable’s cruiser pull into the lane. Turning, he saw Gloria and Chloe running upstairs. “Hurry up! You’re cutting it close, they just pulled in!”

“We’ll be ready!” Chloe said.

John watched them pull to a stop in front of the steps to his door. In the trees behind them, he caught a glimpse of Will as he circled around to get behind the equipment shed.

Bailey and Lisa got out of the hover-car and walked up the steps to where John was waiting. “Sorry it took so long, we decided to make a pit stop for supplies,” Lisa said holding up a bag from the pharmacy.

John smiled and nodded. “She’s upstairs in a room. Mary took her up there to lie down, from what she tells me the sedative is helping.”

John held the door for his guests, and he directed them to the stairs. As they reached the top, John said. “It’s the first door on the right; Lisa, she should be inside.”

John had set it up so both elder Saint’s made it into the room before they realized Gloria was not on the bed, instead it appeared she was tied to a chair in the corner. Her eye shadow and mascara had been running to make it look like she had been crying, and it looked for all the world like she had been going through interrogation. She had the shocker bands used in the procedure around her ankles, wrists, and neck.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Bailey asked, angrily. “Release her immediately!”

“I don’t think so, Constable,” John said. “Both of you need to sit down, now.”

Bailey turned around and began drawing his stunner when he froze. He saw John and Carl both standing there with pulser pistols trained on him.

“John, what the hell is going on here?”

“We need some information from you and your wife, Constable. Please, have a seat,” John replied.

“You’re a Marine, aren’t you?” Lisa asked as she took a seat in the indicated chair.

John nodded. “Major John Aster, Temporal Guard.”

“Holy shit! You’re supposed to be dead!” Bailey replied. “How come no one has recognized you?”

“Why didn’t you, Constable?” John replied. “That is, after all, part of your job.”

“You don’t really look like the images we have of John Aster... er, you,” Bailey replied.

“Bailey, now that we know the truth, we have to tell him!” Lisa said, pleadingly.

“No! There’s a lot more at stake here than just us! Now be quiet!” Bailey ordered her.

Chloe touched a control on the device she was holding, and Gloria screamed.

“Stop! What are you doing to her?” Bailey asked.

“It’s called Electro-Induction treatment. Normally, it’s used to stimulate the nerves of a newly enhanced Marine if they are having difficulties controlling their limbs. In normal humans though, it works very well for interrogation,” Chloe replied. “I’m Major Chlodine Diamond, Temporal Guards.”

“Bailey and Lisa Saint, on behalf of His Majesty, King Marcus Candlewood, you are hereby remanded for questioning. You are ordered to tell the truth to the best of your ability and knowledge. Imparting a lie or intentionally misleading information is punishable by life-long incarceration or death, as is the choice offered to you. Do you understand the current situation, and do you understand the consequences of your actions here?” John asked.

Lisa looked defeated, but Bailey still looked defiant. “You do not have jurisdiction here, nor do you have the right to detain a citizen without probable cause. We also have the right of representation,” Bailey said.

“...Unless ordered by the crown in cases of treason or immediate, covert threats against the state or the society it is sworn to protect,” Will intoned as he too, entered the room. “You can quote all the laws you wish, Constable, but I should remind you, we helped write them. Sir, we do not believe you nor your wife and daughter are anything more than pawns in all of this. We simply need information in order to continue our current mission. If it is proven that you are being forced into the position you are currently in, it is likely no charges will be brought against you.”

Marcus materialized in the remaining chair, and spoke. “What Major Curran has told you is correct.” Once everyone saw he was there, and wearing the formal robes of his office, everyone knelt, including John. Gloria, of course, didn’t.

“You’re Majesty! What are you doing here?” Bailey asked. He had turned a sickly pale when he saw the King.

“Please rise. Classified article six-cee of the judicial code mandates the King be present during questioning of this type. I am here in my capacity as the King, as well as your advocate. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but your safety and well-being is my primary duty, regardless of your guilt or innocence. It is my duty to ensure the Guards do not exceed their mandate in pursuing their mission.” Mark replied. “If you were not a member of this Kingdom, I would not be here.”

“We understand your Majesty,” Both Bailey and Lisa replied.

“Mr. and Mrs. Saint, I implore you to tell these Marines the absolute truth in all matters pertaining to this situation. The more forthcoming you are, the easier it will be to determine your innocence here. I am required by law to inform you that there are six other councilors that are witness to these proceedings, as well as the fact that it is being recorded for later analysis. Major Aster, please proceed.”

“As you command, Highness.” John said, and turned back to the couple. “Constable Saint, please begin with your grandfather, and how he arrived here on this planet.”

“I suppose, that would be the best place to begin,” Bailey sighed. “After all, it was he and his friends that got us into this mess. You see, when the ship he was on was reported lost to pirates, it wasn’t pirates; it was the Tammerain.

“I never really understood most of what the old bastard was telling us about what they did to them, but I got enough to know it wasn’t nice. The long and the short of it was that they were sent here to act as support for a forward Tammerain base. What was passed down to me, and has been reinforced almost every time I see the slimy bastards, is that they will destroy the entire planet, without warning, if we don’t do as told.

“They suspect you to be a Marine, because one of their scouts never returned from a mission to the surface. I was ordered to kill you tonight and bring them your body or Gloria would take your place,” Bailey finished.

“How do they make contact with you?” John asked.

“There is a network of caves under the town, mostly flooded. There are a lot of hidden access tunnels into some of the houses and businesses. They get their supplies from Roberton’s Basement. Messages are sent to the Postmaster using the Royal Postal Service, and he handles the delivery to them.

“I handle their security in the case something happens,” Bailey replied.

“Something like me?” John asked.

Bailey only nodded. “I don’t know for certain they can destroy the planet like they said, but even if it’s only Johnstown, I still had to do as they said. I couldn’t let anything happen to all these people!”

“An admirable sentiment, Constable. The Lizards here are using a pulsed tachyon communications array to send information back. Where is it? Something that large and the power needed should be very easy to find.” John asked.

“The transmitter is on the Hammer. I’m not sure how they get it to the transmitter, but it can only happen when the Hammer is in the sky,” Bailey replied.

“The postal service would be too slow for some of the information they would need. Do you know how they get emergency communications?” Mark asked.

Bailey sighed again. “They call us. Or, more specifically, they call Lisa.” He glanced at his wife.

“All communications into and out of any official government facility is always recorded and monitored. So they needed a private person to call in emergencies. That’s me. They gave me a device that I attach to the vidphone when they call. It records the communication, and alerts the lizards that it’s been used. I just take it to the basement, and hand it over,” Lisa explained. “There usually is a Lizard waiting for me by the time I get there.”

“I already checked the underwater base, and it’s dead and flooded. Where is the real base located?” John asked.

“I honestly don’t know its exact location. However, it has to be close by because of how quickly they respond when we have to call them, or Lisa has a message for them,” Bailey replied.

“The lizards refer to the tunnels as the maze. I was taught their language in the event I need to understand a message without the device,” Lisa replied. “I also know the base itself is in a place that cannot be scanned, wherever that could be.”

“Who else is on this?” Does anyone else suspect that I’m a Marine?” John asked.

“Most of the village elders are part of it. As to who knows you’re a Marine, I don’t know. Lisa and I were the only ones there when they gave me the orders about you,” Bailey replied. “They also gave me a toxin to put in your food tonight. I don’t know what it is.”

“It would have to be something pretty damn powerful to kill an enhanced Marine,” Chloe said. “It would have to act fast enough to make sure John didn’t kill you once he knew he was poisoned.”

Lisa nodded. “Yes, it would. I’ve been afraid to even touch the stuff.”

“Get a sample of it to Mary as quickly as possible, for analysis,” Mark replied. “As for the Saint’s, I do not see how they could have avoided the situation they now find themselves in.”

“With respect your Majesty, they could have called for help.” Chloe said.

“Really?” Mark asked. “Put yourself in their place Major. Who could they call? Who could they pass a message to that they knew was safe to tell? That transport that was captured had nine thousand other people on it. All of which were repatriated to this planet. So you tell me, who could they call that wouldn’t raise suspicion?”

Chloe was quiet as she thought it through. “All outbound comms have to go through the main comm center in Threshold. If they tried to go through official channels, those people could be spies as well.”

“There are very few tourists to this part of the lake, and even if a message was passed to one of them, it would be caught when they left the planet, unless it was verbal, in which case the tourist would most likely panic, or think you were nuts,” Carl said.

“Okay, so Bailey, Lisa and Gloria are innocent in this,” John said. “The question is, what do we do next, the Lizards are expecting Bailey to produce a body tonight, and I won’t allow anyone to harm Gloria.”

Lisa looked at him sharply. “Except you that is!”

Chapter 11

“No, Mama.” Gloria said as she stood up and removed the devices on her. “It tickled, but it wasn’t painful.”

“What? You were in on this?” Bailey asked, hurt.

“Daddy, I knew you had something to do with this and had information John and the others would need. I also knew you wouldn’t tell them willingly. Yes, I played along and tricked you out of it, but it had to be done. What you don’t know is that we are going to be destroyed anyway. The Tammerain are getting ready to invade the Kingdom again.”

Once again Bailey paled. “Is that true?” He looked at the King.

Mark nodded. “Yes, unfortunately, it is. It is also a secret. The last thing we need is for people to panic. In fact, the mission that the Guards are on is to stop that invasion. Considering their position, if they do invade, Bethel’s Anvil will be one of the first planets hit.”

“So, send our fleets out here! Show them it would be a bad idea to invade right now!” Bailey said.

“Rest assured, Constable, there is a large enough force in your sector to defend your planet. However, as soon as I sent them out there, the Tammerain shifted their position, closer to you. They knew about our fleet movements before they even dropped out of hyperspace.

“We are working to plug the leaks from this end, but we also need to shut down their network if we want to have a hope of stopping them this time,” Mark said. “Also, the existence of the Marines on your planet is also classified.”

Bailey nodded. “If John doesn’t want anyone to know he’s still a Marine, then that’s his business. I support soldier’s rights.”

“That’s good to know,” Mark said.

“...and something we appreciate,” Alice said, smiling.

“John, when we first met, at the fire, I could tell there was something special about you. I also immediately liked you. For me, that’s not something I normally do,” Bailey said. “If you can get our asses out of this, I’d be proud to call you friend, if you’d allow it.”

“Gee, I feel left out!” Chloe teased.

“Damn Chloe, what are you complaining about, everyone’s your friend!” Mark teased.

Chloe nodded. “That’s true, they are. I just haven’t met a person I didn’t like yet.”

“What about that greasy little spice trader that was smuggling contraband we mistook for a slaver?” Alice asked. “I know she sure wanted to be your friend!”

“Uhg, okay, that’s one I don’t count as a friend.” Chloe said. “So if you think she was nasty, why did you keep her number?”

Alice snorted. “Hey, you never know when you might need a contact in shady places!”

“Yeah, and we all know what shady place she wanted to go!” Carl said, getting in on the teasing.

“Enough guys, we have a problem and need a solution,” John said.

“Sometimes the simplest solution is the best,” Mark replied. “If the Lizards are expecting a body, let’s make sure they get one.” He grinned evilly. “Shut down your enhancements, and allow them to move you to their base. Chloe and the others will track you, and once you are in the base, you wake up and do what you do best.”

“You want me to take on an entire base alone and naked?” John asked.

“Well, if all goes well, you wouldn’t be alone for long. In fact, one of the others would have to reactivate your enhancements, and guard you while you came back online,” Mark explained. “Carl, Alice and Chloe could shadow you through the tunnels, and drag an extra equipment pack with them. Once you get to where you’re going, they will reactivate you, and stand guard while you come back online, and suit up.

“The rest of the Marines you brought along will make their way to the base and assist you. Then you guys shut them down with extreme prejudice,” Mark explained.

“What if they do have the ability to destroy the planet?” Chloe asked. “We would have to be pretty damn fast to shut that down before they trigger it.”

“They won’t. In all of known space, and that includes the territory of the Tammerain, there are only six planets capable of supporting the Lizards. Bethel’s Anvil is one of them. The Lizards would never knowingly destroy one of those planets, even to keep it out of our hands. They would be loath to detonate anything bigger that would damage the planet irreversibly. The Tammerain lack our ability to terraform worlds,” Mark explained. “Our analyists believe that the Lizards have a religious bias against it, even if their allies did have the tech.”

“That makes no sense, you told me this planet had to be terraformed, didn’t you?” John asked.

“I did, but in this case, we weren’t making a lifeless planet support life, but repairing a world damaged by fighting. When you won this world from them, John, they still could have taken it. In fact, from everything we know about that battle, it is a fight you should have lost. The Lizards saw all the damage and lost the will to fight. In their eyes, the planet had been killed in the battle.” He shrugged. “I’m sure they were just as happy as we were about the restoration of the world.”

“So you’re basing this plan on your belief that they won’t destroy the planet because they believe it’s some kind of sacred relic?” Bailey asked.

“Not a relic, to them it’s a manifestation of their deity. They see humans inhabiting a world they can live on as sacrilege. They won’t hesitate to kill every human on the planet, but they won’t do it if it will harm the planet,” Mark replied. “To them, it’s better to let the humans have the planet, so they can come back and take it, than to destroy it to deny it to us.”

“So that rules out explosives, but what about chemical agents? If I remember correctly, the Lizards were pretty good at devising toxins and such,” Will said.

“That is still a possibility, but again, if the toxin would harm the planet in anyway, they won’t use it. That limits their options by quite a bit,” Mark explained.

“So what do you want us to do?” Bailey asked.

“You will have dinner tonight, just like you planned. John will go with you, and shut down after dinner. You will then move him to the basement and summon the Lizards to get the body. The team will take care of the rest,” Mark said.

“I know I’m not knowledgeable about such things, but what if they don’t take John back to their base, maybe just drag him out into the middle of the lake and drop him in the abyss?” Lisa asked.

“When a soldier dies, the enhancements immediately cremate the body. The fact that they want you to bring them the body, means that they believe that their toxin will either not actually kill him, or that it will prevent the cremation of the body, and they can analyze it to see what we did to enhance him to begin with,” Mark explained. “We should know more once Mary gets a chance to check out the toxin they gave you. Speaking of Mary, where is she?” Mark asked.

“She said she had something she wanted to take a look at, and she would be out on the barge if we needed her,” Gloria replied.

“Ahh, she must have gotten the data packet I had sent to her,” Mark replied.

“You know, Mark, I’ve been thinking about that location you asked us about. It’s going to need a lot of room, and have its own small star port for emergency patients. It’ll have to be far enough from Threshold not to interfere with that star port. After all this is over, why don’t I ‘sell’ this place to you, and retire to the barge. Then you can use the land for the project. However, I would like to maintain a small part of the property,” John said.

“That would certainly make a lot of sense, considering what’s going to be built there. Which part would you like to keep?” Mark asked.

“There is a small bay between the home lagoon and the preserve. The locals like to use it every weekend to blow off steam. I’d like to keep that, and some of the land surrounding it,” John said.

“Party Cove?” Gloria asked, looking at John.

Grinning, he nodded. “We can’t just let tradition die.”

“There’s a story here I’d like to hear sometime,” Mark said. “We’ll work out the details after this mission is over. Gloria, would you mind going home with your parents to bring that toxin back for Mary?”

Gloria nodded. “Sure, I can do that, Mark. Are you going to call me later?”

Mark was smiling when he nodded. “Of course I am! Will, would you go along to protect them?”

“Uhm Highness, Mary doesn’t carry a lab around in her pocket,” John said. “There won’t be much she can do with the stuff.”

Mark nodded. “I understand that, John. But she is the best qualified to deal with it at this point. I just hope that, even with her lack of a lab, she can tell us something about it.”

“Forgive me, Highness, but if we are still going to do dinner, I need to get home so I can start cooking,” Lisa said, wondering what the deal was with her daughter and the King.

“You’re right, I keep forgetting the time differences,” Mark said. “Good luck everyone. We’ll be here for intel support when you launch. I’ll see you then.” With a wink at Gloria, Mark faded out.

“Gloria, what’s the deal with you and the King?” Lisa asked.

“We’re friends, Mom. These people are all my friends,” the girl replied. “Come on, let’s get home, I’ll tell you all about it while we’re gone.”

Lisa nodded. “John, do you have any food allergies I should know about?”

John grinned. “No Ma’am, I’m enhanced, remember?”

“That’s going to be really hard to get used to,” Lisa said. “I just don’t see you as a Marine, you’re not all big and bulky like the holos showed you.”

“There’s a reason for it, and I’ll explain it over dinner, if that’s okay?” John replied.

Lisa brightened up at the prospect. “I’d like that, thank you.”

Bailey stood, “Well, if we’re going to pull this off, we need to get prepared.”

“Could you be at our place in about two hours, John?” Lisa asked.

John nodded. “I’ll be there, and ready. Would you like me to bring anything, a wine perhaps?”

When Lisa looked curious why John felt he needed to bring something, John replied. “It’s an old Earth custom. Before the fall, a dinner guest was expected to bring the wine for dinner.”

“That’s right, you actually remember Earth don’t you?” Lisa asked.

John nodded. “It’s too bad the planet is so far inside Tammerain space, it was a beautiful place I would like to see again someday.”

“Lisa, if you keep asking him questions, we will still be here talking until the Lizards overrun the town looking for us!” Bailey said.

Lisa looked embarrassed, but John gave her a hug. “Don’t worry, we’ll all have plenty of time to talk once this is over. You can ask me anything you want to then.”

“Just don’t get yourself killed, John,” Lisa said.

With that, Bailey led his family out of the house to his cruiser, and they left for home.

The small team, and the leader of the ‘kids’ all met in the dining area of the barge. They used the dinner table as a planning desk, and the Barge’s holographic suite was used to display the plans as they were made and modified on the fly.

One of the first things to be changed was who would actually be ‘dying’ and going to the base. One of the ‘younger’ Marines that looked a lot like John was summoned and selected for that part of the mission. John had vetoed the suggestion until Mary over-ruled him.

“John, simply put, you won’t survive the extended down time along with being under water. There have been several upgrades to the enhancement systems that require the newer controller. Gunnery Sergeant Skarsgaard has those upgrades. He’ll survive, you won’t. He’s going, you’re not.”

“She’s got you there, Boss,” Chloe said grinning at him.

“None of the Guard does. However, not only do any of you have the needed upgrades, to the Lizards, you’re infamous. They would identify any of you on sight,” Mary added. “I swear you lot are paranoid about getting upgrades.”

John didn’t have much to argue about when she told him that. Not that he minded risking his life, but if he died for real, then the mission would fail, and to John, that would be worse than death.

“Okay, so Gunny gets to take the nap, and the rest of us will shadow him to the Lizard base. We’ll use the control suite here on the Barge as our command center. Since there are so few of us, Mary will man the Command Center,” John said.

“What?” Mary said, surprised. “I don’t even know where it’s at!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you everything you’ll need to know. When Gloria gets back, she can act as your pilot,” John said, grinning at her.

“I won’t be required to use any of the weapons systems will I?” Mary asked.

“You’ll have control of them, but we can give that job to Gloria. She’ll have control as well,” John replied.

Chapter 12

When John and Gunny Skarsgaard left for the Saints, Mary, Gloria and a barge loaded with armored Marines headed out onto the lake. Earlier scans had shown some of the tunnels under the town, and now the team used that information and moved to where the system of tunnels opened out into the lake, near the old, underwater Lizard base.

Both Gloria and Mary were concerned about the amount of weight the barge would be required to carry. John just chuckled, and took them below to show them the hidden parts of the boat. To say they were amazed and surprised would be an understatement. At first, Gloria wanted to know where this deck came from since the Barge didn’t draw that much water.

John explained it to her, and showed her to the cockpit. After Jon showed her all the navigation and weapons controls, he left the women in the lower part of the barge to get used to the systems. Chloe would stay with them to the jump-off point in case the two women had questions. While they were in route to the jump-off point for the Marines, Mary used the powerful computers in the barge to analyze the poison the Lizards gave Lisa. What she found was surprising, and gave her an idea to help the Temporal Guard live normal lives. However, for the time being, John and the Marine sergeant needed to know what effect the potion would have on a Marine.

“How do you want to handle this, Major?” Bailey asked.

“I’m still the John you met earlier, Bailey. You don’t have to change the way you treat me just because you know who I am now,” John said.

Bailey nodded. “I will when you’re not on duty. I have too much respect for you and your team to do otherwise.”

Lisa nodded her agreement. “It would be insulting not to address you as Major when you’re on the clock. It’ll be hard enough not to do it when you’re off duty.”

John nodded his acceptance, and Gunny Skarsgaard just grinned. “You’re a Legend, Sir. You gotta live with it.”

“You’re not too far from being one yourself, Gunny, so I’d watch what I said were I you!” John replied, grinning.

“As you say, Sir,” Gunny replied, but he was still smiling.

John shook his head as he turned back to the Saints. “Let’s just have dinner, like you planned. With any luck, Mary will have that toxin analyzed, and we’ll know how to act when the time comes.”

“Okay, Gunny, I did make enough to feed you as well, are you hungry?” Lisa asked.

“That would be welcome Ma’am, Thank you,” Gunny replied.

“It’s Lisa, Gunny. No need to be so formal.”

Gunny grinned. “Yes Ma’am.”

Lisa rolled her eyes, and Bailey chuckled.

“You men go ahead and take seats, I’ll bring everything out,” Lisa said.

“Can I give you a hand?” John asked.

“Thank you, Major, but no, I’ve got it,” Lisa said, smiling at him.

The men took seats while Lisa brought the meal to the table. The men waited until Lisa could join them before beginning the meal.

Shortly after they began eating, Mary called with information about the toxin.

“John, the stuff that the Lizards gave Lisa isn’t actually a poison. It’s more of an enhancement suppressor than anything else. It’s designed to simply shut you down without damaging you or your enhancements at all. It’s actually pretty ingenious considering they don’t know anything about how the enhancements work,” she explained.

“So how do I react then, Doctor?” Gunny asked.

“Just like we outlined earlier. Simply shut down, you don’t have to go as deep as we had feared, since the Lizards will not expect you to be dead,” Mary explained.

“Mary, what effect, if any, would this toxin have on a normal human?” John asked.

“Well, considering the way this works, it would either kill them outright, or put them in a deep coma. There would be considerable brain damage to the unenhanced brain. The toxin would be trying to attack connections that aren’t there,” Mary explained. “Either way, the person it was used on would be toast.”

“How about catatonia?” John asked.

“Yes, that could be one of the manifestations, why?” she asked.

“I was thinking if Gunny put himself on a temporary lockdown he would still be able to see and hear what was going on, but he would emulate being catatonic. It sucks to be like that, but it could be useful in this situation,” John said.

“Let me run it past my computer and see what effect it could have on him to be under lockdown for that long,” Mary said.

“Okay, but try to hurry, we’re almost finished,” John said.

“Just a couple of minutes,” Mary said. John could hear her typing in the background.

“Well,” Lisa said, “At least now I know that I wasn’t actually going to kill you.”

“True,” John said. “But, it’s clear that they want to capture one of us alive.”

Gunny nodded. “Which means that they want to take us apart and see what makes us tick.”

Bailey shuddered. “I think I’d have preferred death.”

John could only agree with him. “Lisa, please don’t think we blame you or Bailey for any of this. You were doing it because you thought you didn’t have a choice. I don’t like the fact that they would use you like this, but I certainly don’t blame you.”

Gunny nodded. “If for some reason, this goes bad for me, I don’t want either of you to feel bad, or think you are responsible for it. You’re not, you are doing as we have asked you. If this is my last mission, it will be the Lizards that caused it, not either of you,” he grinned. “If it’s not my time, then I would like to come back for another dinner, this was excellent.”

Lisa smiled at him. “You’re welcome here any time, Gunny. You know, I think I remember a recipe my grandmother taught me for Lutefisk. I’ll try to make some up for you.”

“I haven’t had Lutefisk since I left my home on Asgard. My mother used to make it all the time for us. That would be really nice of you, Mrs. Saint,” Gunny said, smiling. John tried not to chuckle, he knew for a fact that Gunny Skarsgaard hated Lutefisk and couldn’t even stand the smell.

“John, Gunny, If Gunny stays in that mode for more than an hour, he could suffer a stroke. If he’s in water that’s too deep or under a lot of pressure, he would risk Nitrogen Narcosis or possibly Decompression Sickness. Both are something the enhancements would correct on the fly if they were active,” Mary said. “Gunny, no matter what, placing your enhancements in lockdown in this situation is going to be dangerous. I would suggest, that if possible, while they are moving you back to their base, reactivate to a level that can maintain your health, then go back under when you get to where you’re going. I’ll try to monitor you from here, and if possible, I’ll help you along.”

“I appreciate that Doctor. I’m starting to wish we could keep you with us for other missions as well!” Gunny replied.

“Nope, I’m a healer, not a fighter. But you have brought up something that might be considered by command. Having an extra Marine, trained in enhancements might be a good thing,” Mary replied.

“Well, I hate to put an end to it, but I think it’s time to get this show on the road. Mary, is the barge in position?” John asked.

“Gloria says we’re just now arriving, and she’s setting the barge to hold position. Chloe already went upstairs to get the other Marines ready to go,” Mary replied. “Be careful, both of you.”

“Will do, Doctor. Stand by for enhancement lockdown,” Gunny said. He looked up at John with a half grin. “I really hate this part.” He leaned back, and seemed to sag as he shut down his enhancements.

“I know it’s really uncomfortable, Gunny. With luck, this won’t last long,” John said as he turned to Bailey. “Okay, now, you either need to drag him downstairs, or go running down there worried that he isn’t dead, but catatonic. They should come up and take him for you. In fact, that might be the better way to go.

“I’ll go suit up, and be ready to go.” John turned to Gunny. “I’ll never be more than a couple of minutes away. In aeternum fideles, Gunny.”

Bailey headed for the stairs down to his basement, and John left the house. He had brought his armor with him, but left it in the mule. He armored up and got ready to move. It was Party time.

Chapter 13

“Tracking systems are active, John,” Mary said once he activated his suit. “Gunny is doing great so far.”

“Do you have a lock on him?” John asked.

“Affirmative, two vectors - from your suit as well as from the barge. Just stay close to him, and we should be good,” Mary said.

“Understood. Chloe, time for you and the kids to get wet,” John ordered.

“Actually, we’re almost at the cave opening. We have both of you on our scanners. Mary has the barge using ambient noise to help map the cave system. We should have a good map very soon,” Chloe replied.

“Just remember, this water scatters subspace so the further away we get from the barge, the more shitty the signal will get,” John replied.

“I’m using one of the robotic subs to follow the team. It’ll be the relay back to the barge, and I’m having it plant repeaters as it goes, just in case,” Gloria said.

“Good thinking,” John said.

“Actually, this is kinda fun,” Gloria said. “It sure is a major change from what I normally do.”

“Well, I hate to spoil it for you, but the fun is only beginning. Okay troops, Gunny’s on the move. Go!” John ordered, and ran back into the Saint residence.

“Master! He didn’t die!” Bailey said, panicked. “He’s in a catatonic state, but he isn’t dead!”

“That isss good, we did not wantsss him dead. Bring himsss to me now,” the Lizard ordered.

“He is too heavy for me to carry alone, Master. I could drag him I suppose...” Bailey began, but the Lizard stopped him. “We antisssipateted thisss.” It waved and two other lizards climbed out of the pool. “Take thesssse to the person. They will carry himsss.”

Bailey nodded, and went back upstairs. The two lizards looked around to make sure it wasn’t a trap, and one of them picked up the body and threw it over its shoulder. It went back down the stairs with the other one following with its weapon at the ready.

“There are othersss at this personssss homesss. Who are they?” the main lizard asked Bailey when they got back to the basement. The two lizards, the one carrying Gunny and the guard, both jumped back into the pool, and were gone. Bailey knew that John was now on his way.

“I don’t know, Master. I knew Gloria and Mary were with him at his home, but I don’t know anything about any others. Do you want me to look around and see what I can find out?” Bailey asked.

“Missssssing perssssson invesssstigation you will do. Find out then, report to me,” the Lizard ordered. “Call when you know ssssomething.”

Bailey bowed, “As you order, Master.” But he was talking to empty air, the Lizard had already left.

Just as Bailey turned around, John came down the stairs. Bailey held up his hand to stop him, and John crouched, weapon ready. He immediately began searching the area for Lizards.

Bailey walked up to him, and whispered next to his helmet. “The main lizard just left, seconds ago. I stopped you in case it was still close enough to see you.”

John nodded his understanding, and gently patted Bailey on the arm. He opened the visor. “Take Lisa and go someplace else. We don’t want them coming back here if one gets past us.”

Bailey nodded. “Good luck, Major.”

“Thanks, you too.” John winked at him. “Now scoot, I gotta get moving.”

Bailey nodded and ran upstairs. John closed his visor ran down the rest of the stairs and dove into the pool.

Once in the water, John had to use enhanced vision because the tunnel was completely dark. His heads up display showed that Gunny was about a hundred and fifty yards ahead, and moving away. John, aware of the warning given him by Bailey, took off after him, but kept his eyes open for the one that should be only a few yards ahead of him.

This configuration of the armor was set up for underwater work. The back unit had small thrusters in it that could move a Marine at a good speed for a reasonable amount of time. The mapping data being built by the computers in the barge was being sent to his suit and it updated every few seconds. In that way, he could see how far back the rest of his team was.

“Try to pick up the pace a bit, Chloe, from the looks of it, you’re still quite a ways back,” John said.

“Looks that way to me too, we’re trying to step it up,” Chloe said.

“Well, hurry up, or I won’t save any playmates for you!” John said.

“You better, or you get no nookie for a week!” Chloe teased.

“Heh, right! Like you could go that long!” Carl replied making everyone laugh.

“Okay folks, let’s get serious,” John replied. “Besides, we’re leaving Gunny out of all the good jokes.” It was John’s way of calling his people back to the task at hand, and reminding them they had a man in jeopardy.

“Right,” Chloe said. “Control, we’re going to outrun the ROV. Don’t panic, but follow along as best you can.”

“Understood, Major,” Chloe said. “I’ll catch up eventually.”

“Or you’ll run out of line for the bot. This cave is a friggin’ maze!” Alice said.

John’s suit warned him that he had caught up to the Lizard that Bailey had warned him about. He painted its outline on the visor of the helmet, and John asked for a virtual reality display. As the mode changed to VR, John saw the lizard clearly less than ten feet in front of him.

John was surprised that the Lizard hadn’t noticed him yet, since he knew they could see much better than humans in low light, and detect currents in the water. However, it looked like the lizard either wasn’t worried about checking behind him, or it was leading John into a trap.

“I’ve caught up to the tailing lizard. Everyone be on their toes, they might know we’re coming,” John said.

“Did you kill it?” Chloe asked.

“No, not yet. But I’m close enough that it should know I’m here,” John said.

“Understood, weapons hot kids. No, go to the left, Anders!” Chloe ordered.

“Aye Ma’am,” the Marine replied.

“Pick it up everyone! We’re gonna be late to the party!” Chloe said.

“Water pressure is getting close to maximum for Gunny, John. He reactivated for a short time after they got him in the water, but he just shut down again. He can’t handle prolonged exposure at this level,” Mary said.

“Let’s just hope they’re close to their base. Let me know immediately if the levels change drastically, or he gets in real trouble,” John said.

“Will do,” she replied.

He quickly checked the outside water pressure and noticed that it was too high for a normal human to tolerate for long, but well within the parameters for a Marine, and not even a concern for the armored suit.

Pulling his knife, he reached forward, grabbed the Lizard’s ankle and pulled it back to him. As he pulled the larger beast closer to him, he cut the hamstrings so it couldn’t swim effectively, and caused it considerable pain.

The Lizard screamed in pain, and spun around, reaching for its weapon. John slashed at the hand going for the weapon but it was just out of reach. The Lizard caught his knife arm with its other hand while it drew its weapon and tried to point it at John. It was a projectile type of weapon that was useless at a distance under water, but up close, it had enough velocity to breach his armor.

John caught the arm with the weapon in his powered gauntlet, and fought the lizard to keep it pointed away from him.

It was a stand-off that John could not afford to spend any time on. Gunny was getting further away with every passing second, so he needed to end this fight quickly.

Getting an idea he quickly issued a series of voice commands to his suit, and then ran the program. The suit quickly rolled in a complete circle. The sudden move broke the lizards grip on John’s arm, and sliced the lizard’s neck using the suits motion to drive the knife.

The Lizard dropped the weapon and tried to grab its throat as the water got murky from the dark blood getting mixed into it. John made certain of the kill by driving the long knife deep into the side, and up through the hard vertebrae into its heart. He let the lizard sink to the bottom of the tunnel, and shot forward to try to catch up to the two pulling Gunny along.

According to his data, both his team and him were catching up. He just hoped they would get Gunny into the base before he expired from the pressure.

Gunny’s signal disappeared from his screen suddenly, and he was just about to call Mary when she called him.

“He’s in the base, John. Not a moment too soon either. I show you as twenty seconds behind him. Is that right?” Mary asked.

“Yeah, that looks right. Can you still track him in the base?” John asked.

“Not exactly, I’m still getting data from his controller, but I’m having trouble pinpointing its location,” Mary said.

“Well, we have the point where we lost it, so we’ll go there, and hopefully, reacquire it once we get inside. The clock is now running on this, people. They are going to start cutting on him very soon, and we need to get in there,” John ordered.

“Copy that, Boss,” Chloe said.

Less than a minute later, John was looking at the door to the base, and the two armed guards floating beside it.

“I’m going to need assistance getting in the door,” John said. “I’m at the entrance, there are two guards armed with those weapons they like.”

“We’re on our way, we should be there in under a minute,” Chloe replied.

“John,” Gloria said. “I’m starting to get some odd readings from the drone. I’m still following the team, but this cave system is returning some odd noise readings.”

“Can you be a little more specific, Gloria?” John replied.

There was a pause, and Mary answered.

“John, this is really odd. The drone is echoing the acoustic readings from the team back to the computers here. From what I’m seeing, it looks like you guys are swimming through a huge mansion. Like there are rooms all around them.”

“You mean like there are caverns surrounding the tunnel?” John asked.

“No, this isn’t that large, and the signals are really weak since the only source is the ambient noises you guys are making, which isn’t much. This reads as structures – underground buildings,” Mary explained. “You are shallow enough that we might be picking up people’s basements in town. You’re directly under it.”

“Yeah, that could be it, or we’ve wandered into the real base, and this tunnel is really a hallway. Which means...” Chloe interrupted him.

“...we could be ambushed at any fuckin’ minute!” Chloe replied.

Chapter 14 - Horath (Forth Day)

"High Lord, Mid-Lord Snasshss did not return with the retrieval team, and is overdue. We are detecting unusual noises in the main corridor. Could this be the attack you anticipated?” a kneeling lizard asked.

“It very well could be. What is the status of the squads?” Before him three holographic screens appeared to give him the report.

“Sensors show a barge over the entrance to the corridor. There is a cable leading into the opening, indicating that a drone of some kind has been deployed. Your readings are the scanning equipment it is using. Send a team out to destroy the drone, but they are not to let it detect them. Return the drone to our lab.” The High Lord ordered. “What is the status of our prize?”

“It has only just arrived, and is undergoing a decontamination sequence before we begin our analysis. We should be ready to begin in a few minutes,” the small lizard asked. “High Lord, we are not really set up for this. The equipment is here, but we are little more than communications technicians. We could easily miss something important. Mid-Lord Snasshss is the only one of us with any training in this area.”

“What of Mid-Lord Hasshkiss?” the High Lord asked.

The small being bobbed its head. “He is standing by to begin the analysis, but his expertise is in the mechanical not the biological. You orders will be followed to the best of our abilities, High Lord, however, our abilities may not be what are needed in this situation.”

“I understand, Grahssk. I will consult command on this. Delay the examination until I have received word on the disposition of the captive. If he is in danger of regaining consciousness, place him in stasis.”

The small being, Grahssk bowed low to the being. “As you command, my Lord.” It then stood and left to carry out its orders.

The High Lord of Communications, sighed to itself, and began composing a report to its superiors. It knew that capturing a Marine – alive – had been a priority since the last war with the humans. It also knew that it would be ordered to return the soldier to command for proper analysis. However, it did not know what priority the task would be given. At least they had the only soldier that could stop them in their custody.

Mark took form behind Mary in the command module. He did warn the two women he was coming this time, so they wouldn’t be surprised. “Have you gotten any more readings on the rooms you discovered, Gloria?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Not really, Mary asked the computer to start mapping what it could of these anomalies as well. Mark, if this whole thing is occupied, it would have to be huge.”

Mark nodded. “I know, and that’s what has us all worried right now. However, there simply can’t be that many troops here. There is no way the Tammerain could support a large garrison this deep in our territory.” He turned to Mary. “Doctor, could you please patch me into the comm system? I need to speak to John.”

“At once Your Majesty,” Mary replied, winking at him.

“Smart ass,” he replied, grinning at her.

“You’re on, Mark.”

“John, this is Mark. From the sound of things, I’m tempted to order the evacuation of the town until we can discover the extent of this complex. What’s your take on the situation?”

“Do we have the capability to do that?” John asked.

“I can activate the planetary garrison in Threshold to cordon off the area, and we can move the people out. We have an emergency shelter in Longshore that we can use for the time being,” Mark replied.

“If you can think up a believable reason to evacuate, then I would certainly do it. If we don’t have to worry about collateral damage, it would be a whole lot easier,” John replied.

“Okay, I’ll take care of it,” Mark replied. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Just help Mary and Gloria, they’re doing great, but this isn’t what they’ve been trained for,” John replied.

“Will-do. Mark out.” He turned to Gloria, who was sitting in the pilot’s chair. “I need you to do something for me,” he smiled.

“Anything,” Gloria said, then blushed.

He smiled. “I need you to access the right hand control board.”

“Uh, John told me to stay away from that since it was the weapons control board,” Gloria replied, worriedly.

“Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it,” Mark explained.

“Sire, I don’t mean to argue with you, but I cannot be a party to the use of weapons,” Mary replied.

“Don’t worry, Mary. I wouldn’t do that to you. No, we’re going to create the reason to evacuate the town,” Mark said.

“By blowing it up?” Gloria asked.

Mark chuckled. “No, we are going to create a situation that looks like the power unit for the crashed satellite, that no one ever found, is about to go critical, and is leaking lethal radiation. None of which is true of course, but it will appear to be.”

“Oh!” Gloria said. “I can do that.”

“So can I. Thank you for respecting my oath, Mark,” Mary replied.

“You’re my friend, Mary. I’d never intentionally violate your wishes or make you violate your oaths as a doctor,” Mark replied. He then turned back to Gloria and had her program a missile for what they needed.

“Missile ready, do I need to let our guards know we’re about to launch?” Gloria asked.

“That might be a good idea,” Mark nodded. “Launch when they’re clear.”

“Missile away,” Gloria said.

“Good, I’m already getting the local garrison activated, to cordon off the area, and evacuate the locals. This should work out pretty well,” Mark said.

“Drone cable has been cut! Drone is now in autonomous mode!” Mary said. “Mark, someone had to have cut the line. It was armored against things like sharp rocks and snags.”

“Better let John know they may be onto him,” Mark replied nodding.

John was just about to attack the two guards when the rest of the team caught up to him. He was starting to get worried about what might be happening to the Gunny.

“John, it’s Mary. Someone just cut the line to the drone. Mark says they may be on to you.”

“I don’t think so. If they were, we’d be up to our helmets in Lizards by now. They detected the drone, but not us. Now that the drone is gone, they’ll find us... if we give them the chance,” John replied. “Let’s take out these two, and get in there before something unfortunate happens to Gunny. Once we do this, we push ahead, because they’ll know we’re here.”

The weapons the marines used underwater created a ‘tunnel’ of supercavitated bubbles through water, opening a passage not filled with water for the laser to fire through. Of course it all happened so quickly, the target didn’t have a chance to react to the weapon firing. The two guards were dead before they even knew the Marines were there.

However, the base immediately knew they were there, since the energy from the weapons was detected, and alarms began sounding in the base.

John cycled the lock into the area where Gunny was taken, and the door opened.

“Mary, you might lose us in here, but Private Solms is setting a repeater just outside the door. It looks like this is some kind of moon pool entrance, so we will leave the door open,” John called.

“Understood. Be careful in there,” Mary replied.

John signaled for teams of three since that’s all the moon pool could accommodate at one time. Chloe and two other Marines moved into position, and John gave them the go signal. As soon as they entered the pool, three more Marines got into position.

“Clear and set, no opposition at this point,” Chloe called. “Advancing to the inner door, and holding.”

“What’s it look like, Chloe?” John asked.

“Like a small supply point. The inner door is double wide, and there are a few crates stacked around the room. Plenty of cover, move on in – we got the door covered,” she replied.

Acting on her information, John motioned to the rest of the team, and moved into position himself. The team quickly moved into the small bay, and John surveyed the area.

“Solms, Walenski, back into the pool and cover that door. Make sure nothing comes up behind us.” The two Marines nodded and jumped back into the water.

John motioned for Chloe to open the door and move ahead. “Carter, since you’ve got Gunny’s armor, stay with the second group. Once we find him, help him get suited up. He might be kinda groggy for a few minutes. Mary, can you still track us?”

“For now, although the signal is weak. The comms seem to be good though,” she replied.

“Good, do you still have Gunny?” John asked.

“Yes, but the signal hasn’t improved,” Mary replied.

“Try to send the wake up signal. I know you don’t think it’ll get through, but please try anyway. What direction do we need to move?” John asked.

“Northeast, about sixty feet, I think. Like I said before, I can’t pinpoint it,” Mary said.

“Understood, great work,” John replied, knowing Chloe could hear the directions as well.

“Contact!” Chloe called. Enemy front and rear!”

John turned to the door just as Chloe and her two companions jumped back through the door. Firing their weapons at unseen enemies in both directions in what looked to be a hallway.

John tossed a small device called a tattler out through the door, so it landed roughly in the middle of the hallway. His helmet visor darkened and switched the view to that of the small camera he just tossed into the combat zone. He looked north, and saw the corridor ‘T’ about twenty feet up. Lizards were using both sides of the intersection as cover.

Turning around, John saw the corridor continue off to the south and into darkness, but the lizards had opened doors into the hallway and were firing from them. They weren’t grouped up like the ones at the intersection to the north.

“Pop a frosty to the north, we’ll put up a blocker for the south,” John ordered.

The devices the team was using were all designed for anti-ship boarding parties to use. However, they worked very well for base assaults like this one as well, since it was the same type of battlefield. A frosty was a liquid nitrogen grenade. Basically, it couldn’t harm battle-steel bulkheads, but any organic matter in the blast area was immediately frozen. It was a very nasty weapon.

The blocker, was a small, portable, self-contained shield generator. What it did was seal a corridor or tunnel with a force field. There was nothing fancy to it. It was simply a portable wall. Neither side could shoot through it, nor could they move past it. It would stay in place until the power unit expired, or it was shut off.

They had more gadgets they could use, some of them more destructive than others, but until they located Gunny Skarsgaard, and got him into his armor, John didn’t want to use them.

“Blocker in place!”

“Throwing the snowball!” Chloe said as she boldly stepped out in the hallway and threw the grenade. Even twenty feet away, the temperature dropped a few degrees when it detonated. The team advanced to the intersection in a combat rush, Chloe and her group leading the way. As he passed it, John picked up the tattler and returned it to the pouch he carried it in.

Behind them, the lizards began pouring energy and projectiles into the shield covering the hall. They even threw a gas grenade hoping to penetrate the shield with a gas, but nothing worked.

The shield emitter was powerful enough to take a couple hits from a heavy mount, ship based laser cannon before overloading. Projectile weapons had no hope at all of weakening it. Not even gas would get through. It completely isolated the hallway. It’s too bad it didn’t work underwater.

“Boss, we have a door on the right ten feet down the right hall. The left hall ends in another set of double doors, like on the bay we just left,” Chloe reported.

“Team one, move up to the right and secure the door, but don’t open it yet. Team two, slap a lock on those double doors, and move back to the intersection,” John ordered. “How much further does the hallway go Chloe?”

“Another fifty or so feet there is a turn to the left, there are two doors on the left, one more on the right, about ten feet from the turn,” she reported. “Noise coming from the turn, we’re going to have company very soon, and there is no cover here.”

“Team Four, advance to the corner and secure it. Team Three back them up. Team One, as soon as Team Four gets to the corner, get into the room. Neutralize all enemy present secure Gunny Skarsgaard. Carter, go with Team One,” John ordered.

“Yes Sir!” Carter replied, and ran up to where team one was hugging the corridor. Team four was running with her, and they made it to the corner before any enemy could get to that point. However, they immediately engaged someone out of sight around the corner.

“Team Four in position. Enemy contact confirmed. Roughly a squad in size. We got this,” the team leader called to John.

“Understood. Team One, go!” John ordered.

Down the hall, Chloe and her team opened the door and rushed into the room, weapons ready. John motioned for his team to move up and cover them and Team Four.

He could hear Team One’s weapons firing. But it ended quickly. “Room secure, it is a medical room, but no Gunny,” Chloe said.

“Fuck. Try the next door down on the right,” John ordered. “Mary, he wasn’t in the room you thought, Care to try again?”

“Give me a sec, John. I’ve lost all of your signals, but not the comms. I’m trying to use the repeaters as a scanner array, I might be able to use that to locate his signal,” Mary replied, but her signal was static filled.

“Okay, we’re going to clear the adjoining rooms until then,” John ordered, and motioned for his team to hit the first door on the left.

Since it had sent out the request for information as a priority, the being was expecting an immediate reply to its inquiry. As expected, that reply was ordering him to place the Marine in stasis and transport him back for extended analysis. He had just noted that this mission had a higher priority than his original mission of relaying messages. Even if it meant exposing the base, he was to ensure the Marine was returned to Imperial Command at all costs. He was just about to call for its second to prepare the human for shipment when every alarm in the base began going off.

It got off its throne, and ran for the base control chamber. When it arrived, it discovered a flurry of activity. It also noticed that its second, may Gihya protect it, had already given the necessary orders to get their meager soldiers to where they would be needed.

During a short lull it pulled the smaller being over and told it of the orders from Imperial Command.

“Massster, I think our time here issss over anyway. If the Marines are assaulting ussss, then they know we are here. Hiding issss no longer an option,” the small being said.

“Agreed, give the orders for abandoning the base, our mission now is to return our prize to Command,” the leader said.

“What of our departure orders?” the small being asked.

“I do not believe we have an option. I will bleed for the death of this world, but our Commanders do not feel that pain. The sin will be mine alone.”

The small being shook its head. “With respect, I have to disagree with you Master. We will all share the death as our own, may Gihya forgive us. We will not let you carry this burden alone.”

The large leader of the base saw that all the technicians present were nodding in agreement, and felt pride in his people. “Thank you. Let us ready ourselves to go home. Issue the departure instructions. Tell our soldiers they will need to hold off the Humans until we are ready to depart.”

“As you order, Master.” The small being bowed and turning, began issuing orders.

The large being sat at its own console and activated the terminal there. It brought up the control systems command matrix, and input its special code. A simple menu appeared for him, and he selected ‘Base Evacuation’. As it went through the procedure required of it for leaving the base, he paused at the last command.

The Saurian, as a race, had grieved when they had believed this planet killed during the war. Murdered by the ravages of the Tammerain Empire’s need to exterminate the humans. When it was discovered that the humans had been able to revive the dying world there had been a long and joyous celebration on the homeworld.

Now, he was about to trigger a device that would destroy this world. It knew that there would be no saving it this time, since there would be nothing left to save. The planet itself would be gone.

Humans were little more than a plague on the worlds they infested that much was true. However, they had been clever enough to save this world when the Saurian had believed it lost. His second believed he was enabling the destruction device, and he knew he would, but perhaps if he gave them just a little time, perhaps those same clever humans could save the world again.

It quickly set the timer on the device, and enabled it. If Gihya wished this part of herself removed, then she would see to it, if not, then she would guide the humans so they could save her once again. If punishment would be handed out for failing this part of the mission, then it would not be shared with its underlings. If the price for keeping this planet alive was for it to give up its life, then so be it. It locked the terminal, making sure the unlock code was left in plain sight, and looked up at its second. The smaller being was the only one left in the room as all the rest had already left for the shuttles.

“We are finished here. May Gihya forgive us,” it said as it rose.

“Ssso sssay we all,” the second replied. “We musssst hurry, Masssster. The Marinessss are moving quickly.”

“What of the captured Marine?” the larger being asked.

“We are having difficultiesss getting it to the shuttlessss, Master. The Hoomansss are blocking the only remaining pathsssss.” The smaller being explained. “I have ordered our remaining troopssss to clear the waysss. Sssseveral of our techssss have taken up weaponssss and are helping themsss.”

The Commander nodded its head, and flicked out its tongue while it thought. “That is good, No one is to get on the shuttles until we have secured the chamber in one of them. That is our only remaining task.”

Chapter 15

“Gloria, call the guards down here, please,” Mark asked.

Gloria nodded. And Mary looked at him. “What do you have up your sleeve?”

“We’re going down there, we need to get a better data link to the team, and the sensors built into this sub are far better than those of the suits or the ROV,” Mark said.

“I don’t know how to pilot a submarine, Mark,” Gloria asked.

“It’s not that different than piloting the barge, Gloria, the lever next to the throttle is your depth. Forward to go down, and back to go up, detachment and recovery are handled by the computer. You can easily do this,” Mark explained, smiling at her.

“Mary, we will have the weapons systems active, but will only use them for defensive purposes. That should not violate your oaths,” Mark replied.

“No it won’t, but just so you know, we are getting very close to the line here. I’m not very comfortable with that,” Mary said.

“Everyone here, is very aware of your feelings on the matter, my dear. Even if we do decide to take offensive action, we know that you will object strongly to it. Any such action will go on record as strongly opposed by you, and that you will not be considered a party to that action,” Mark replied. “There is precedent. You will not be held accountable for it.”

The two guards they had watching from the upper decks climbed down into the sub then, and moved to the rear so as to stay out of the way.

Mark nodded to them. “Swap out your weapons and packs for underwater combat. Once we get in position, I’ll want you two outside in case we do get attacked.”

Both men nodded, and bobbed their heads. “At once Highness.”

Mark turned back to Gloria. “Okay Gloria, let’s do this.” He walked the woman through the release procedures, and how to drive the sub to where they wanted it. Once they entered the tunnels a few yards, the data feeds almost immediately cleared back up enough for Mary to accurately track the team, as well as Gunny Skaarsgard.

“John, we have a positive lock on all of you. Gunny is in a stasis module twenty meters to your front. He cannot be reactivated until the stasis is broken,” Mark called.

“Understood. We are encountering heavy, but disorganized resistance. I don’t think all these Lizards are fighters,” John replied.

“That should make this easy for you then,” Mark said grinning.

“Yeah, now that we know where Gunny is, we can do something about it. Mary, we’re going to have a few wounded soon,” John said.

“I’m surprised no one has gotten wounded already. But, aside from that, why do you say that?” Mary asked.

Instead of answering her, John simply began issuing orders to his teams.

John saw that the tracking information on his visor suddenly clear up, and he saw that the minisub had been detached from the barge and moved into the tunnels. He wasn’t happy about it, but he could see the need.

“What is that crazy bitch doing?” Chloe asked just before Mark called John with the new information. He did hear Chloe’s question, but he also knew she would figure it out. She was a smart woman. “Okay folks, now we know where our missing brother is, it’s time we did something about it. Full combat rush, teams leap-frog in sequence. Secure the stasis module, and eliminate all hostiles with extreme prejudice. It’s time to show these Lizards why the Marines are feared.”

“Hoo-Rah!” everyone replied.

“Team One, ready?” John asked.

“And eager, sir!” Chloe replied. “And may I add, about fuckin’ time!”

“Stow it!” John replied, but it was clear he was smiling when he said it. “Go!”

While teams two and three fired continuously at the enemy positions, team one ran down the hall towards them. As soon as they stopped and began firing, John sent the next team that ran past the first, and closer to the enemy. They actually ran right up to the first of the defending lizards and shot them at point blank range. Five Lizards were killed, but one of Johns troops fell to the floor, the woman’s leg was missing from mid-thigh down. She screamed in pain for a second until the armor drugged her and began first aid measures.

The lizards were so shocked by the violence and sheer ferocity of the rush, that some of them broke and ran back into the darkness as the third team of Marines began running towards them. The laser fire was so intense that parts of the hallway were beginning to glow from the heat. Team Three used the Lizard’s panic against them, and cut down the retreating beings without hesitation. It was little more than a slaughter, but it had to be done. In a matter of minutes, all of the lizards were down, and most were dead. The fighting had stopped.

The last remaining Lizard, the largest one, which told John it was the commander, was sitting, propped up against a wall as it waited for its death. John walked up to it, and removed his helmet. On seeing his face, the Being’s eyes got large.

“You! You are dead!” it said in rough English.

“It was a ruse, High Lord. May I know your name, honored enemy?” John asked showing the Lizard respect as was the way of the Lizards.

The Lizard coughed up green blood as it tried to laugh. “Not warrior caste, Lord Major. No respect is needed.”

John shook his head. “You fought as a Warrior, and die as one. That is the reason for the respect, High Lord. Your caste is not an issue here.”

“Hisskess, Lord Major. Thank you for the honor you grant me,” the being said. “You do not seem to be the demon I was told you are, though you fought like one. For that, I will give you something in return.” It paused as it coughed up more blood and its breathing got worse. “You have three of your hours to save her again. I did what I could to save her, may she forgive me for my actions.”

John looked confused. “What are you speaking of, High Lord?”

“Planet killer. My orders are to murder this world.” It coughed again. “Time set for three hours, so you could stop it.”

John suddenly realized what the being was talking about, and his pulse quickened. “Thank you for this gift, High Lord. I am certain Gihya will forgive you, and welcome you home. I regret I will not be able to return you to her at your home. Will the abyss suffice?”

The being nodded, but was coughing. Finally it replied. “That will be fine, Lord Major. My fate and hers will be the same. What is the human term? Good Lust?”

“It is ‘Good Luck’, High Lord. May Gihya guide you, and welcome you home,” John replied knowing its time was short.

“And you, Lord Major.” It could no longer hold its head up, and it slowly slumped to the floor as it died.

“Chloe! We have class nine problem on a timer!” John called.

Mark had Gloria move the sub up to the moon pool, and had the two Marine guards help with recovering the wounded so Mary could look them over, and treat them as well as she could under the circumstances.

Her guards had just helped her out of the moon pool, when John came running back.

“Mary! Do what you can to stabilize these guys, get them on the sub, and get your ass back to the flyer!” he turned to the two guards. “Do either of you have a pilots rating yet?”

“We both do, Major,” one of them replied.

“Outstanding. Get the wounded, Mary and Gloria back to the Flyer, load them up, and get the hell off this planet,” He touched his communicator before Mary could protest.

“Mark, the Lizards do have a destruct device, and it has been activated. We have three hours before it detonates. Can we get anyone off this rock before then?”

“Not really, John. I’ll get the fleet moving, but we’re talking days at least until they are on station. What’s wrong? I thought you had them under control?” Mark replied.

“There is a demolition device, and it has been activated. The head lizard told me about it, and also said he gave me three hours to try to save the planet again. He didn’t get the chance to tell me where it is, or how to deactivate it, but at least he told me it was there. I’m sending Gloria, Mary and the wounded back to the flyer with orders to get the hell out of here,” John said. “The rest of us will try to stop the bomb.”

“So much for Intel’s theory about the Lizards not destroying planets!” I’ll do what I can, but I can tell you right now, there is no way in hell we’ll get everyone off planet in time.” Mark said. “Hang on a sec, John.”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Mary asked in the lull. “I’m not going anywhere without you and Chloe!”

“Wrong, you are leaving with the wounded. They need you, and since I have the opportunity and the ability to get you and Gloria out of here, you’re going. That is all there is to it. If I have to, I will order the Marines to restrain you. So what’s it going to be?” John said giving the young woman a very serious look.

“You’re a bastard, you know that?” Mary said with tears in her eyes.

“I’ve been told that before. Look, I understand why you want to stay, but I need you to go someplace safe, and set up an aid and refugee station. We need someplace to send the people we do get off this planet, and they are going to need someone to tell them that everything’s going to be alright. I need that person to be you, understand?”

“At least send Chloe with me?” Mary asked.

“I can’t she’s the tech expert. I need her to defuse this monster when we find it. Mary, I love you too, but the bottom line here is that I don’t have time to argue this with you. This is the way it has to be. Please, just go with these Marines, and do what I’ve asked of you?” John said.

She grabbed the open neck of his armor and tried to pull him down for a kiss, but since his augmentation was still on, she basically climbed him, and kissed him passionately.

“John, we’ve got other issues. From all appearances, the invasion has begun. The Tammerain battle fleet hasn’t jumped yet, but they are on the move. From all indications, they are heading right for you,” Mark finally replied. “I’m ordering a full mobilization of the sector. I will also be placing the rest of our forces on high alert. Once those Tammerain ships cross the border, we’ll be at war again.”

“Lovely, do you have an ETA on them?” John asked.

“Not until they jump, if they jump in the next hour or so, you’ll looking at less than two days until they drop out of hyperspace, then another day to get to Bethel from the outer system. So at the least, you have three days,” Mark replied. “Our fleet will be there in four and a half. So the longer those enemy ships stay in real space, the better off we’ll be.”

“Well, we know that they won’t be getting any messages from here! All the Lizards are dead, and I sure as hell don’t plan on sending them anything!” John replied. He looked to Mary and the two Marines that were waiting for her. “Mary, please get moving. Get with Mark to figure out where to set up that refugee center, then get there, now please.”

“If you get dead again, I’ll kick your ass!” Mary replied. She turned then, and pointed to one of the wounded. “Take her first, I want to make sure the others can handle this.”

“Understood Doc,” one of the Marines said as they replaced the woman’s helmet prior to moving her.

“Mark, the fleet is your issue, I need to go find a big fuckin’ bomb before it destroys this planet,” John replied.

“Understood, Second Fleet is jumping to hyperspace as we speak. I’m redirecting the Sixth and Ninth Fleets to your sector. I’ve also issued a general alert,” Mark replied. “You take care of that, and I’ll do what I can on this end.”

“So much for retirement!” Alice mumbled over the team command channel. “Fuckin’ Tammerain!”

“John, I need you in the command center,” Chloe replied. “Marker set.”

“On my way,” John replied. He caressed Mary’s arm, then turned and ran back into the base.

Chapter 16

Due to the importance of the ‘package’ that the fleeing Saurians carried, the Tammerain Admiralty ordered three cruisers to jump to the Bethel system to escort the package and the techs back to their space. As a contingency, the rest of the fleet had orders to move forward, but not to cross the border.

Acting on those orders, three cruisers jumped to the Bethel system, while the rest of the fleet headed toward the border of Terran space at sub-light speed. They would remain in sub-light for twenty-four hours, then jump to the border themselves. Unknown to them, the Saurians had already been killed, and a Terran fleet was on the way to greet them.

It was not the intent of the Tammerain commanders to start the war yet, which is why the fleet was to hold position before crossing the border. However, by sending the three cruisers to Bethel, they directly violated the armistice between the two Empires. The hope was that the cruisers could accomplish their mission before they were discovered, and return safely to Tammerain space.

The Tammerain were gearing up to resume hostilities with the Human race, but their plan wasn’t quite ready yet. In the last war, the Humans had been greatly outnumbered, but proved to be an incredibly resilient race. The Tammerain saw Humans as a virus on the universe, parasitically bleeding worlds of all their resources and killing the planet before moving on to the next and doing it all over again.

This time, the Tammerain plan was to build their forces to vastly superior numbers, and place them strategically in order to make quick strikes of overwhelming force and drive the smaller race before them until they were dead.

The Tammerain did have, what they felt were far superior numbers; numbers of ships as well as ground forces, but had not yet reached their goal according to the plan. However, if the Humans discovered the cruisers, and pressed for war, the Tammerain felt they had some nasty surprises in store. However, the Tammerain knew the forces of the Humans were weak, and would do everything they could to avoid such a war – even overlooking those three cruisers if they were discovered.

Whatever risk they had to run would be worth it to discover what the Humans had done to their Marines in order for them to fight so well. The information had the highest priority for the Tammerain Command, and they would risk everything to gain that knowledge.

When John arrived in the Command Center, he found Chloe and Alice intent on one of the consoles.

“What did you two find?” he asked stopping next to them.

“This is the main command console, I think. That snake left the control program running, but I have no idea how to input the code – if this is really the shutdown code, Chloe replied holding up what looked like a piece of paper.

“So what’s the issue, you know how to read Saurian don’t you?” John asked.

Chloe shook her head and frowned. “No, neither of us have that module onboard. We were hoping you did since you live here,” Chloe asked.

“Have you done anything yet?” he asked as they switched places letting John at the terminal.

“No, I didn’t want to take the chance there was a failed attempt failsafe device,” Chloe said.

John nodded. “Good plan. The Saurian language is kinda tricky. Instead of upper and lower case, they have three - low, mid, and upper. There are three keys for each set instead of the shift key we are used to.”

“Damn good thing I didn’t try then, I had no idea,” Chloe replied.

“Yeah, but the problem is with the device itself. We need to locate it and make damn sure it shuts off, as well as can’t be reactivated once it is,” John said. “I’ll work on this, you two go help look for it.”

Alice nodded, and ran out of the room. Chloe put her hand on his shoulder, initiating a private channel. “Mary, and the others?”

“On their way back to the Flyer to get the hell out of here,” John said. “I sent two of the kids back with them as a guard and pilot.”

“Thank you, she’s a sweet girl,” Chloe said and followed Alice.

John watched her go, and wondered once again about the female animal. You’d think after five thousand years, he would have at least started to figure them out.

He turned back to the task at hand, and began working out the complex code to turn off the device. He would have had the powerful computers aboard the barge/minisub help him, but it was out of range now, and he couldn’t contact it.

“John?” William called.

“What’s up Will?” John replied.

“We found the device, at least the part of it we can reach. Chloe is on her way, but from what I can tell it’s a simple thing, but scary as hell,” Will said. “I don’t read snake, but my sensors are telling me that this console controls a containment field. I also got a warning about the presence of exotic matter.”

“Send me a visual!” John said feeling sick to his stomach.

Will complied, and for a moment, he could see through Will’s eyes. He was looking at a control console. “This is the console in question. You see anything?”

“Yeah, and you were right, it’s a field containment control unit. That readout in the upper center indicates the stability of the exotic matter pile.”

“Whatever that means, there is also this.” The view shifted to what looked like a shielded access door to a shaft of some kind. “I don’t know how far down it goes, since it’s shielded, but it would have to be at least through the mantle of the planet. Unshielded exotic matter in a planetary core? They’d have trouble finding dust particles of this planet.” The vision stopped then, but before it cut off, he saw Chloe arrive.

“Chloe here, I’m on station. Will’s right boss. This firecracker could destabilize the whole damn system.”

“Okay, we need to get that out of there, somehow. I’m ready to shut it down from up here, but before I do that, I’m going to share my Saurian language module with you two. So find a nice place to sit for a minute,” John said.

“Can’t you just come down here after you’re done there? This shit never seems to go very well,” Chloe commented.

“I hate to agree with her bitching, John, but Chloe is correct. The last time we tried to do that, Alice had to go in for controller service, and Holly was sick for a month,” William said, as always he was the pragmatic member of their group.

“Okay, you guys are right. I think once this is over, we all need to let Mary do those upgrades she was talking about,” John said frustrated with the situation.

“As long as we’re not at war again,” Chloe said. “Don’t forget we have a duty to perform for a friend.”

“Thank you,” William said softly.

“Alice! I have a job for you and that smart assed husband of yours,” John called.

“Alice is here with me, whatcha got, Bossman?” Carl replied.

“We need comms. Take the kids, and figure out a way to make it happen,” John hit the equivalent of the ‘enter’ button for the command while he spoke. “I just shut down the timer, and I’ll be on my way down to the bomb. Let me know when you got it rigged.” As he stood, he looked at one of the two marines that had been with Chloe and Alice during the search that had remained behind when they left.

“Is Carter still with Gunny?” John asked.

They both nodded, but the one on the left spoke up. “He’s coming around, and she’s helping him with his armor, Sir.”

“Great, have them report here once they get him back online. Until then, I want the two of you to stay here. Look around, and see what you can learn from this stuff. Don’t touch anything, but record all your observations for the techs,” John ordered. “When Gunny gets here, he’s in charge.”

“Understood Sir!” they said in unison. John grinned at them, and ran from the room, once again, he had a guide indicator in his vision so he could find where he was going.

In what the computer told him was the lowest room of the complex, he found Chloe and Will, and four other Marines inspecting the equipment in the room; at least they had learned to keep their hands to themselves and not mess with shit they didn’t understand.

John stepped up to the console that William had shown him and began to translate the readings he was seeing. “Okay, from what I’m seeing, the package was designed to be lowered into position and detonated. When it was activated, the package began to be lowered. According to the reading on the console, the bomb was only a third of the way down the shaft,” John said. At that depth it was too shallow to vaporize the planet, but it would still cause enough damage to consider the planet dead.

“I don’t see any controls to bring it back up, or to remove it from the shaft,” John replied.

“Wonderful!” Chloe said. “Do you have any good news?”

“Uh, the exotic matter is still stable, and it isn’t moving anymore?” John said reasonably.

“Do we know how much exotic matter we’re talking about?” William asked.

“It wouldn’t matter, really. Even a gram of the stuff would be enough,” Chloe replied. “You keep telling me it’s stable, but exotic matter, by its very nature is unstable. Containment fields can only hold it for a given amount of time.”

“I understand that, Chloe, but I’m only telling you what the console is telling me. Maybe the snakes have a way of stabilizing exotic matter that we don’t?” John said. “Either way, we need to talk to the eggheads back at command before we try to do anything else. If we fuck with this, it might be the last thing we ever do.”

“Yeah, us and a few hundred million innocent civilians on the surface that have no idea what’s going on,” Chloe replied.

“Well, Mark is supposed to be evacuating the planet, so we can only hope that we have bought the time to complete it,” John said. He reached up and touched a series of buttons on the console.

“Wait!” Chloe said, taking a step toward him.

“Relax Chloe, I was only setting the control so only this terminal can access it. That way, a Tammerain ship can’t jump in system and set it off,” John explained. “Damn you’re jumpy!”

“Look, if I’m going to die, I want there to be enough left of me so my ashes can be spread over Earth,” Chloe replied.

“You don’t want much!” William said. “At least I chose a planet that we can still get too.”

Chloe shrugged. “When I retire for good, I want to go home.”

“That’s not unreasonable,” John said, looking at her fondly. “I’d be willing to take you there.”

“Yeah, because you know it would be a one way trip!” William said. “The Tammerain would make sure you’d be staying there with her.”

John shrugged. “It’s irrelevant really, it’s not something that’s going to be happening anytime soon, I hope.”

Chloe smiled. “I love you too, John.”

William sighed. “Okay, so what’s our action here? Obviously we can’t leave this simply hanging there waiting to drop.”

“I don’t plan to leave it there. I’m waiting for Carl and Alice to get comms back for us,” John explained. “Maybe we can do something about it once we get the R and D folks on the line. Somehow I think the Royal Explosive Ordinance Disposal folks would be a little out of their element here.”

“Gee, ya think?” Chloe responded, ever the smart ass.

“John, we sent the kids back to collect all the relays Gloria dropped, and we’re resetting them. We’re running them up through one of the closer basements to the surface. We should be back in touch shortly,” Alice reported.

“Great work!” John answered. “We really need that connection. There’s a problem down here that requires more brain power than we have.”

“Ah, you need your boots retied? I thought Chloe was with you?” Alice said.

“Smart ass, just set up the relay and leave the insults to Chloe. She knows me better,” John said.

“Comm relay check, tango-golf-zero-four to Command, copy?” Carl said over the channel.

“Solid Copy, tango-golf.  Relay good. Stand by for network restore.” Came the reply. Then, a moment later. “Tango-golf command network on-line. Resume normal functions.”

“John?” Mark’s voice was heard.

“Mark, good to hear you. We have a problem. We got the timer stopped, but the device itself is still dangerous. We need some heavy thinkers on this,” John continued by filling him in on the situation.

“The town above you has been evacuated. Leave guards on the device, and in the control center, and return to the surface. We’re sending specialists to take over the project,” Mark explained but Chloe interrupted him.

“What ‘project’? Highness, this is exotic matter, hanging over a hole that goes all the way to the core! When the exotic matter finally erodes the stasis field, it’s going down, and this planet becomes the home of the Dodo bird!”

“What’s a Dodo bird?” Mark asked. “Never mind. The Tammerain have a method of keeping exotic matter in a safe and controlled stasis field. It’s the main reason their ships are more powerful than ours. If we can understand how they do it, we could finally be on par with them. We can’t lose this opportunity!” Mark replied.

“What about the people living here Highness? We can’t have them return to the surface while this could fail and kill them.” William asked.

“No, they will be temporarily relocated to another planet while the research is going on. This is not a long term project, guys. We’re talking a month at the most, two if you want to count travel and construction time.”

“Compliance, Majesty,” John replied, formally.

Mark sighed. “Look, I know you don’t like this decision, but we really need this. I have all the ships I could commandeer on the way to get those folks off the planet. I won’t release them until we get them all home either, so rest assured that I do intend for them to go home. Now, how is Gunny Skarsgaard?”

“Recovered, and back on line. Highness,” Gunny replied himself.

“Good to hear Gunny, Great work,” Mark said.

“How long will we need to remain on guard here, Mark?” John asked.

“The Flyer will be returning in two days. I had them jump to Vesta 3, and begin making arrangements for the refugees. Vesta is a very small colony world. It’s still in the invasion corridor, but it was the closest we could find, and we thought that would be more important for now,” Mark explained. By the time the Flyer returns, the fleet should be dropping out of hyperspace. The Marines can relieve you then.”

“How are our kids doing?” John asked.

“All of them made the trip to Vesta, and are in their medical facility there. Mary called it almost medieval, but they are doing well enough. Corporal Curran is being fitted with a virtual leg while hers is regrown.

“The rest of the kids are off line for the time being while the enhancements repair the damage. So, all of them will be making a full recovery.” Mark replied. “Since the evacuation orders went out, there have been a few problems, but we’re handling them.”

“Didn’t you just issue those orders?” Chloe asked.

“About an hour ago, as soon as John told me about the device. Why?” Mark asked.

“Nothing, I just thought that the evacuation order couldn’t have been that old, and was wondering what kind of issues you could be having already. I was wrong.” Chloe said.

“Time flies when you’re underground,” Mark said. “Set your guards, and go get some rest, that’s an order.”

“Yes Sire, is the minisub back at the farm?” John asked.

“I had Gloria hook back up with the barge since it would be faster, it’s in station keeping mode in your lagoon,” Mark replied.

“Okay, I’ll contact it when I get to the surface and have it come to the Marina,” John said. “You heard the man, everyone. Gunny, set up a guard rotation, everyone else, rendezvous by the Glass Bay Marina ramp.”

“Yes Sir!” Gunny Skarsgaard replied.

Chapter 17

Waiting. The one thing every soldier throughout history has had to do in abundance, and that no soldier has ever enjoyed. Waiting for orders, waiting for information, waiting for the rest of the unit. Waiting for the universe to go insane again.

John had always felt that the Tammerain had agreed to the armistice far too easily. He felt that they had agreed in order to buy themselves the time they felt they needed to annihilate the human race once and for all. When he had shared that thought in a report to command, he was quietly asked to keep that opinion to himself.

He could understand the reason for that order, but it left him wondering if command had agreed with him or not. Then three hundred years later, John was sent to a remote system on the opposite side of the realm from the border with the Tammerain. What he found there restored his faith in his superiors.

Admiral Gains brought him into the Admiral’s office and sat him down. “Major, you submitted a report stating your concerns about the armistice with the Tammerain. This system is the result of that report,” the man said as he brought up a hologram of the system.

“This is the core of project ‘Gotterdammerung’. Our purpose here is to build warships, weapons and the materials we will need to counter the might of the Tammerain.

“Currently, there are two fully staffed fleets of ships, whose sole duty is to keep themselves up to date with advances in technology, while maintain combat readiness. Three more fleets are currently under construction, and the next one will be finished in another year.

“On the fifth planet, there is a fuel cell processing facility that is gathering and compressing fuel cells in massive quantities and placed in stasis. On the fourth planet, we have factories building Mecha; war machines that looked like walking tanks, and performed mostly the same function. They also built a variety of fighters, and ground force weapons.

“The third planet is devoted to nothing but research, and testing is handled on the second planet. You are sitting in the center of the most closely guarded secret our military has at this moment,” the man finished.

John nodded his understanding. “It’s truly amazing, Admiral, but why am I here? My orders only told me to report here, not what I was supposed to do.”

“You were brought here on the orders of his Majesty, and by my request,” the man said. “I was the one that had to ask you to keep quiet about your thoughts on the armistice. I agreed with you completely, but I couldn’t say that. I petitioned the crown for an audience with the King, and presented your report. This system is the result. I felt, and His Majesty agreed, that you, of all people, should know we took your report to heart.

“As members of the Temporal Guard, you and your team are the most experienced of our soldiers. As such, your thoughts and instincts are as valuable to us as a spy report or any other intel we could receive. That was the reason all of you were required for the guard detail at the signing ceremony. We needed you there to assess the situation. You did exactly as we hoped you would do, and every member of your team independently supported your instincts.

“We have only bought ourselves time, not a true peace yet. This system, and all of its secrets, are the insurance against that day. We pray it’ll never come, but we will be ready,” Gains explained.

Since that tour of Project Gotterdammerung all those centuries ago, John had never thought about that system. He knew his ship, the Flyer, had been built there. It was very advanced when compared to the rest of the ships in service, but most of its systems were still unknown to anyone, even the ‘younger’ Marines they always brought with them.

However, he considered what Mark had told him about readying their forces. He knew that that isolated and lonely system would be an orchestrated chaos of activity right now. Admiral Gains was still in charge there, and he was a good man.

It had been two days, and he and Chloe stood, watching the Flyer descend from the sky to land in the water at the end of the pier. It was the only place in the area with enough room for the ship.

As soon as the gangway had touched the pier, Mary came running down it and all but tackled John.

“Hey! I thought you were staying on Vesta?” John asked. “Where it’s safe.”

Mary released John, and hugged Chloe just as tight. “Nope, RMS Serenity arrived yesterday morning and took all my patients. I was going crazy just sitting there, so I stowed away on the ship to come back.” RMS stood for Royal Medical Service. Serenity was one of the battleship sized, flying hospitals built exclusively for the Medical Service. It has top of the line defenses, but not a single offensive weapon.

“The point was to make sure you were safe, Mary,” Chloe said. “It most certainly isn’t safe here at the moment.”

“What did you guys find? Obviously the bomb didn’t go off, since your still here,” Mary asked.

“I thought Mark would have kept you in the loop,” John asked.

“Well, he told Gloria, but I was a little busy until just before we left Vesta,” Mary explained.

“The bomb timer has been shut down, but the device itself is still there. Because of the type of device it is, it could very easily still detonate and vaporize the planet with little or no warning,” Chloe replied.

“So, what’s next?” Mary asked.

John pointed to a bright looking star near the curvature of Bethel. “We need to go up there, and check out that part of the installation. It’s probably fully automated, but we still need to check it out,” John explained. “As soon as the Marines from the Twenty-Third get here, we’ll load up the kids, and head up there.”

“Skarsgaard to Aster, Major, you on?” he heard over his comm.

“I can’t be ‘off’, Gunny. What’s up?” John asked.

“I don’t read ‘snake’, so I’m not sure of what this says, but I think we might have a problem. From what we can tell, three Tammerain ships just dropped out of hyperspace at the edge of the system, and are making their way towards Bethel. They have very low energy signatures, but the scope down here picked them up. Probably a function of their version of the IFF.” Gunny then shot him an image of the scope with the three targets on it.

“Damn, two battle cruisers and one assault cruiser. It’s a fuckin’ scout party,” John said. “Thanks Gunny, I think I better call the boss.”

“I thought Chloe was with you?” Skarsgaard replied.

“Everyone’s a fuckin’ comedian!” John replied. “Thanks Gunny, good work.”

“Skarsgaard out.”

“What’s going on?” Mary asked since she couldn’t hear what the Gunny had told John.

“Come on, we have a problem, and we need to talk to Mark,” John said and led the two ladies back into the ship.

“John, I’ll go talk to the Flyer, maybe I can get her to find them, so we have data to give him,” Chloe said.

John nodded. “I’ll be in the briefing room.”

Chloe nodded and turned into the control center across the hall from the small briefing room.

John sent an inquiry to Mark, and was connected immediately. Mark’s hologram appeared sitting in one of the chairs at the small table. He looked tired, and haggard.

“You’ve looked better,” John said.

“Gee, thanks, I love you too,” Mark said sarcastically. “I’ve been trying to deal with the Tammerain ambassador, as well as riding herd on the military situation. I assume you’re not calling just to see how I’m holding up?”

“Not really, no. Three Tammerain cruisers have crossed the border and are making their way to Bethel. The Flyer hasn’t detected them yet, but the control center in the Lizard base shows them as heading in system. It could be they are here as a recovery team for the base crew, or they could be a scouting party for the fleet.” John said. “Chloe’s talking to the Flyer right now to see if she can tag them with our own scanning suite.”

“Fuckin’ Tammerain!” Mark said, swearing. “We have a probe in position to monitor that fleet closest to you. They are starting to spread out, which means they’re getting ready to jump. The good thing is that our fleet will be dropping out of h-space in a couple of hours. Those cruisers are toast, I want to send a clear message to those assholes that we won’t be played with anymore. If it crosses the border without permission, it won’t be coming back.” Mark tuned away for a moment. “Get me Admiral Surry on the Gladiator. Add her in here when you have her.”

“So, you should be getting relieved in about three hours,” Mark said. “Are you going to head for the Hammer, or do you want the fleet to take care of that?”

“No, we’ll take care of the Hammer. It’s what we do after all.” John said. “I guess I’m not retired anymore.”

Mark actually smiled tiredly at that. “Well, not at the moment, no. But it did give me a solution for the soldiers like you that can’t be downgraded.”

“Oh?” John asked.

“Before I make it a law, I’ll send you all the details so you can go over it, and tell me what you think. Since, for now, the only ones affected are the Temporal Guard, I’ll leave it to you to bang out the issues with it. When you do, keep in mind that this will apply to any future Marines that may have the same problem,” Mark said.

Chloe entered the room. “Got them, the signal was so weak that Flyer thought it was just background noise, but once I told her what to look for she found them.” She tapped on a holographic keyboard on the table, and a hologram appeared showing the three ships in relation to Bethel, and Bethel’s Anvil.

The timing was perfect because another person took form at the table, and bowed to the King. “Majesty, to what do I owe the honor?” Her British accent was a surprise to John. He hadn’t heard an accent that strong in hundreds of years.

“The Tammerain sent three cruisers to Bethel. It is unknown whether they are scouts or a simple retrieval team, but that’s irrelevant at this point. I want you to destroy them as quickly as possible,” Mark replied, smiling at the older woman. Naval officers did not have to be enhanced to serve, but it was recommended for them to be, since it improved their chances for survival if they got hit in combat. However, since they were not front line troops, it was not required for them. Admiral Surry was one of those not enhanced.

“I see, Major Aster, Major Diamond, may I assume that this is the plot?” she asked indicating the displayed hologram.

“Yes Admiral, I had to work on it, but we got the Flyer to find them,” Chloe replied.

“Very good! Could I impose on you to send a link to the Gladiator? We can remove that little problem from here,” the Admiral said, grinning. “We got new toys from Father Christmas last year.”

She turned her head and spoke to someone else. “Halsten, stand by for a data feed from the TG Flyer. Warm up three hyper-missiles, and let me know when you have a lock.”

“Hyper-missiles?” John asked looking at Mark.

“A breakthrough in tracking as well as hyperspace physics and miniaturization. They still require a Capitol class ship to launch them, but they should be a nasty surprise,” Mark replied.

Chloe was typing on her keyboard, and nodded to the Admiral. “All yours, Admiral.”

“Thank you Major, we’ll take care of this for you,” the woman winked. ‘Halsten’ must have replied to her, as she nodded. “Fire tubes seven through nine!”

She waited a moment, then echoed, “Missiles away, five minutes to impact.”

“What if they have their shields up?” John asked.

“Won’t matter. Downward translation takes place microseconds from impact. The missiles are still in flux on impact, and don’t actually detonate until they are inside the hull of the enemy vessel. The drawback is accuracy. The only reason we can be assured of a kill is because we are so close to n-space ourselves. If we tried to fire them on a target that was more than five lights out, the reentry vector drifts slightly. The further away, the more drift,” the Admiral explained. “Also since we are using real time data instead of our own sensors, the distance wouldn’t have mattered anyway.”

“In effect, once launched, the missiles are using Flyer’s guidance instead of the command ship that launched them, these are capable of targeting hand off. Right now, Flyer has the missiles. The only thing Gladiator can do is abort them,” Mark said.

“Nasty, but isn’t the data load on our computer systems an issue? Adding this couldn’t have helped that problem any,” Chloe asked. She was more in touch with the technical side of warfare than John was, and knew that combat data flows were beginning to become an issue since there was so much information shared among a fleet during combat. In war games, there had been several smaller destroyers that had simply locked up due to overload.

“Yes, in our current environment this would be a crippling addition. However, a new system has been developed that will resolve the issues. We simply haven’t had the time to get it installed in the entire fleet. In fact, if this little issue hadn’t flared up, I’d have ordered the Flyer to Xanadu for upgrades,” Mark said referring to the mysterious shipyards John had visited centuries ago. It’s exact location was still a secret, as well as much of went on there, but just like the ancient ‘Area 51’ from old Earth, Mark would never officially confirm its existence.

“So, it does exist!” Surry said, grinning.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Gladys!” Mark said quickly. The Admiral just leaned her head back and laughed.

“Admiral, once you break out, could you give me call? I need to get my kids loaded up and on to our next task as soon your Marines can relieve us,” John said.

“Certainly, Major. I’ll issue the order and get them loading now, that way there will be less of a delay once we’re in system. I show break out to be in sixty-five minutes. I’ll send the transport ahead to Bethel’s Anvil as soon as we’re clear of the jump,” the Admiral replied. “Thirty seconds to impact.”

“Thank you Ma’am, that would be a great help,” John said, respectfully.

“Anything you need, Major, just ask,” Surry replied, seriously. “To me, you’re pretty much one step below him.” She pointed to Mark.

“I’ll be sure to let Command know that!” Mark said grinning.

The woman winked at her King. “Majesty, I’m pretty sure they already know since that belief is pretty common.”

“Sheesh! The next thing you’re going to tell us is that we’re the real rulers of the Kingdom!” John replied.

“Now, there’s an idea!” Mark said.

“No fuckin’ way, Sire!” Chloe said, grinning.

Mark was laughing. “Gods! I could just see the faces of the Senate if I made that declaration!”

“How is the public responding to this emergency?” John asked.

Mark sighed. “Most of them don’t believe it, and I can’t really blame them. After all, it’s been so long since they were an issue. I’ve heard that some in the Senate think this is only a ploy that will allow me to implement some less popular changes they have been resisting. I’m of half a mind to make all decrees issued during a crisis of this nature temporary for the duration of the emergency.”

“That would make sense. They couldn’t really bitch then,” Chloe agreed. “Of course, they probably will anyway.”

“Probably, I think those guys just need something to bitch about,” Mark replied.

“Missile impact was one minute ago, Major, you should have confirmation any minute,” the Admiral mentioned.

Chloe had been watching the display, and nodded to the Admiral. “They were far enough out that the visuals will take a minute to get here. Ahh, there they are! Just a second,” Chloe said as she typed in commands to the computer.

“Confirmed two total destructions, Flyer still has one of the ships intact, but there are no detectable power readings,” Chloe said. “Looks like your eggheads will have something to look over, Boss.”

Mark nodded. “It’s always good to keep the mad scientists happy. Uh, present company exempted of course!” The last he said to Mary, who grinned at him.

“Shh! Mark! Don’t let these guys know my secret or they’ll never let me work on them!” Mary countered. “Which reminds me, Sire, none of these smart-asses have followed any sort of upgrade path for their enhancements. Have you?”

“Uh... That’s uh, classified Mary! Yeah, that’s it, it’s classified!” Mark replied.

“Which means he hasn’t, either,” the Admiral replied. “I don’t think we were introduced, Miss. I’m Admiral Gladys Surry.”

“Doctor Marebella St. Andres, Admiral. I’m John’s girlfriend,” Mary replied.

“Girlfriend?” the Admiral asked raising an eyebrow. “Did the Majors finally break up once and for all then?”

Mary shrugged. “I’m a civilian, Ma’am, so it’s an entirely platonic relationship, as for Chloe and John breaking up, no they haven’t. We haven’t had a chance to talk it all out, but for the time being, I’m her girlfriend too, at least intellectually.”

The Admiral nodded, “I apologize, I honestly didn’t mean to pry, the question just tumbled out.”

“You’ve been reading too many of those gossip rags, Gladys!” Mark said, teasing her.

The woman nodded. ”Probably, but a person has to have something to read on a long cruise!”

“Highness, would it be possible for me to get the tech sheets on those missiles? I’d like to get updated on the tech,” Chloe asked, changing the subject.

“Sorry, Chloe, not until you take the Flyer in for her upgrades. That information isn’t leaving the facility it was designed in,” Mark replied.

“Well folks, as much as I would love to stay here and chat, I can’t. You all have your orders, but if something comes up, don’t hesitate to give us a call,” Mark replied. “The Tammerain ambassador is finally calling me back.”

“Thanks, Mark. Try not to have too much fun!” John said, grinning at the man. Mark grinned back as his imaged rapidly faded out.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me Majors, Doctor, I should probably get back to the Gossip Rags his majesty mentioned,” the Admiral said. “See you in a couple of hours.”

After the three close friends wished the woman well, her image also rapidly faded.

“Chloe, could you pass the word for the kids to break camp and get ready to depart?” John asked. “Did Carl and Alice ever finish mapping the facility?”

“They finished mapping the local facility, yes, but there was evidence of a more substantive subterranean system here. Will is working with them on that,” Chloe replied.

“Really? Any idea how big?” John asked.

“After clearing a sealed tunnel, they found what Alice called a maglev station. It’s been sealed a long time, probably since the original battle here,” Chloe answered. “I know they were trying to get at least a general idea of its layout for a report to Command.”

“I bet the tunnel runs all the way to Threshold, I remember reading that it was built on the ruins of an old city because of the massive starport that had been there,” Mary offered.

John nodded. “Okay, tell them to finish up and report back to the ship, I want to get up to the Hammer as soon as our relief gets here. This place is my new home, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave that facility up there unchecked.”

“Where did the kids stick you for the trip to Vesta?” John asked Mary.

“You’re cabin of course, although, I guess its Chloe’s cabin now,” Mary said. “I didn’t get a chance to ask her, but I hope my staying there is okay with her.”

“I’m sure it is, she likes you,” John replied. “We do need to sit down and figure this out between us.”

“No need to for a while yet, like I told the Admiral, this is all just academic anyway no matter what we decide,” Mary explained. “I’m not going to be concerned about it yet. I only have a few ideas about how to safely accomplish what we need. I do have the computer now, but I’ll need a lab in order to perform the experiments and simulations before I’d even consider attempting anything. Besides, we will have to upgrade some of your systems.”

“Yes Dear,” John replied, grinning.

“Well, at least you’re learning fast.”

Chapter 18

While John and the team had been doing their thing in the base, Mary had been studying and outlining a few experiments she wanted to try when she got someplace she could work. When she got the idea of forwarding a request to the Royal Bio-Molecular Society. There had been a note in the data packet containing Johns records, letting her know that Doctor Manuel Halverez and his entire team would be available to her if she had any questions regarding John’s systems.

She wasn’t sure this would qualify, but she wrote a letter explaining her ideas, and included all the data she had been able to amass in her spare time. She explained that she didn’t have a lab or any facilities to research her ideas and asked if Dr. Halverez and his team could look into it. She sent the packet to Dr. Halverez just before the Flyer left for Bethel’s Hammer.

John had already briefed his teams, and they were armored up and ready as the ship came to rest on the surface of the airless world. Chloe stayed behind this time to run the command center from the conference room, and Mary was keeping her company.

The comm beeped and Chloe answered it. “What’s up, Jenny?”

“Major, I have an urgent comm request for Doctor St. Andres from Doctor Halverez at The Center,” the woman manning the bridge reported.

Chloe looked at a surprised Mary. “You have friends in high places, Sweetheart.”

“I sent him a suggestion from a couple of ideas I had, I didn’t expect him to call me!” Mary countered. “Uh, Sergeant, I’ll take the call in our quarters so I don’t interfere with Chloe.”

“Okay, Ma’am, I’ll put it through to your quarters,” the woman replied and closed the comm.

“I should be back in a few minutes, Chloe,” Mary told her friend.

“Heh, obviously, you’ve never spoken to Manny before! I’ll be lucky to see you by chow tonight!” Chloe replied. “He’s a good man, but very long-winded.”

Mary grinned as she left the room, taking her small computer with her in case she had to answer any questions.

It had taken a few orbits of the planet to locate the Lizard’s transmitter, and then it was only because of the slight temporal distortions created by the use of compressed tachyons. The whole facility was buried under the ruins of a large complex whose original use was lost in the mists of time. However it did serve as excellent camouflage for the transmitter complex. John and the teams would have to search for a way into it, or failing that, create one.

Once they knew where to look, it had been a simple matter to get a scan of the entire facility, and no life signs had been located. John hadn’t expected any, since it would have been difficult for them to support anyone up here without it being discovered.

At one point, a long time ago, there had probably been a team stationed here, because there were living quarters and such in the facility. However, unlike the base on Bethel’s Anvil, this small facility was exactly what it seemed to be, a small remote transmitter complex that had been abandoned a long time ago.

The equipment rooms had been sealed and filled with an inert gas, while the rest of the base had simply been depressurized. Thick dust covered everything not in one of the equipment rooms. Unlike the base on the planet, this facility had a more common type of power supply, and all the equipment was known to John and the rest of the Guards. After filming and recording everything they could think of for the analysts to go over, they shut down the power unit, destroyed the transmitter, and got back to their ship to see if Mark needed them anywhere else.

Being a prototype ship, the Flyer was equipped with most of the latest equipment and technology. As such, it was very hard for the enemy to detect. Therefore, Mark asked them to drop Mary off at the Vespa enclave, and proceed to the border directly in the path of the incoming fleet to monitor them, and to act as a targeting point for the missiles on the Gladiator and her escorts.

Not only did Mary not want to go to the Vespa enclave, when they got there, Gloria wanted to get on board too. John had to put his foot down, and order them both off the ship. Chloe made sure they did indeed get off, and hadn’t stowed away again. Mary tried to convince Chloe to let her come along.

“Dammit, Chloe, I don’t want you two to go off without me! What am I supposed to do if you don’t come back?” Mary said.

“Live out the remainder of your life knowing that we gave our lives to make sure you had one. Regardless of what develops between us, we both care about you, Mary. But the point of fact is that you have no business in what is coming. Neither John nor I would be able to do our jobs if we had to worry about you being with us. We have to be able to take risks; that’s just what we do. If you are with us, we won’t be able to because you might get hurt or worse,” Chloe said.

“I know that, it’s just I can’t... I’m terrified of you not coming back,” Mary said.

“So help us make sure we do. Stay here and keep us close to your heart. Besides, didn’t Manny want you to go back to The Center for those experiments you sent him?”

“Yeah, he wanted to send a transport for me, but I told him that I was too busy out here, and didn’t want to get that far away from you,” Mary said. “He said he understood completely. He seemed kinda sad about it, but he understood.”

“His mentor fell in love with one of us, and committed suicide when he was killed in action. Although not many of them kill themselves, a lot of our caregivers tend to develop feelings for us. When something happens to us, they don’t take it very well,” Chloe replied. “Most of us are old enough to know what it costs the doctors and nurses that care for us, and try to keep it from happening. But we still have a desire to let ourselves love you. Even though we know you are born, grow old and die in the blink of an eye for us.”

Mark’s hologram appeared beside Chloe in the hatch of the ship. “Ah, there you are. Mary, I am sending a fast scout to pick-up Gloria and her parents. Manny has filed a formal request to temporarily recall you to The Center regarding a, and I quote, ‘Revolutionary and fundamental breakthrough in the bio-chemical and molecular enhancement field. He has already signed off on the royal grant I was pushing on him for the new research center on Bethel’s Anvil. I would like to ask you to please come back to Centauri with the Saint’s. It’s only temporary since you will be taking over the new center on Bethel’s Anvil. Because of your new status in your field, I would normally just order you to come, but you’re my friend, so I thought I should ask first,” he grinned playfully.

Mary looked at him angrily. “Did John put you up to this?”

“Huh?” Mark said looking completely surprised. He hadn’t expected anger. “What are you talking about, I thought you wanted to come, but didn’t think you could. I was trying to set it up so we paid for the ride. I haven’t talked to John since yesterday.”

Mary closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry, Mark. John and Chloe want me away from here, and I want to go with them. We’re having a... discussion, about it right now.”

“Oh, I see. That makes sense then. Mary, they can’t legally take you with them, even if I ordered them to. Your suggestions to The Center have made you a National Medical Asset. By law, you have to be evacuated to the core worlds during a military emergency, unless exigent circumstances prevent that from occurring. Those circumstances simply don’t exist at the moment.” He shrugged. “I’m very sorry, Mary, but you have to come back here; our laws require it.”

“I thought our laws were set up to allow us to keep our freedoms?” Mary challenged.

“They are, but they are also balanced to provide for the greater good, which is why this law exists. If it helps, I will order John and Chloe to return here as soon as they can, depending on what the Tammerain decide to do,” Mark said. “Hon, you and the others are my friends, and I am willing to bend and even break a few laws to help you out, but this one I won’t. In this case, I happen to agree with it, and I’d bet my crown that your new friends do too.”

Mary squinted her eyes at him. “Okay, I’ll agree to come, but you have to grant me a two hour, private audience. You and I need to talk.”

“I think I can do that. There will have to be guards present, and I’d like for Gloria to be there too, but that’s not required,” Mark replied. “What do you have up your sleeve?”

“You’ll find out then. I’ll want Doctor Halverez there too. This’ll definitely blow a fuse for him!” Mary said.

“Okay, I’ve already sent the scout ship. It’s built on the same frame as the Flyer, but doesn’t have the modifications that the Marines needed. It also has a few other tricks that make it very fast. It’ll arrive in Vespa space in just under three days,” Mark said.

“Centauri to Vespa in three days!” Chloe asked, shocked. “How the hell did you pull that off?”

“Uh, it’s actually five days, and it left from Xanadu, not Centauri,” Mark said. “I can’t tell you how we did it, but before you ask, no, it can’t be applied to any of our armed ships.”

“You better add that to my reading list when we get back there,” Chloe said.

“Chloe, you do know that it’s impossible for you to keep abreast of everything don’t you?” Mark said.

“No I don’t, and I never will! You know me better than that!” Chloe replied. She turned and kissed Mary softly on the lips, then kissed a quiet Gloria on the cheek. “Go on, we need to lift. Don’t worry about us, Mary. There is a reason we are still alive and kicking after so many thousands of years. Trust us.”

“Call as often as you can,” Mary told her.

“We’ll keep in touch, Mary,” Chloe said.

Gloria smiled tenderly at Mark, who winked back at her. She took Mary’s hand and led her away. Chloe watched them for a moment, then closed the airlock. “Was it just me, or was Gloria unusually quiet?” Chloe asked.

“I shocked her to silence a couple of days ago, no one else knows about it yet, and for now, I want it to stay that way, okay?” Mark said. “I asked her and her parents to come to Centauri so I could officially ask her father’s permission to court her.”

“You did what?” Chloe asked completely shocked.

“Her parents don’t know either, so it’ll be a surprise for them too. But I really like her. She is a sweet girl. A bit young, but all of them are compared to us,” Mark said.

“Mark, you can’t marry her! You can never consummate the marriage!” Chloe said.

Mark nodded. “I know that, Chloe. Neither you nor John can have sex with Mary, but that hasn’t stopped you from caring about her has it?”

“Well, no, but we don’t have to deal with the Senate, and all that crap. You will both have to deal with them over this.” Chloe explained. “How will the soldier’s rights folks react to you taking a normal human as a wife?”

Mark smiled like a shark. “That issue will be resolved before Gloria and I get married. Besides, I only want to court her, not marry her yet. We need to see if we can live together after all.”

“Has there been a development on that which we don’t know about yet?”

“Well, not yet, but there is about to be. Because of what’s going on out there, we have prepared a press release for later today. We are going to announce that John did not in fact die, but instead ‘retired’ to explore the effect of an enhanced soldier rejoining normal life. It’ll further go on to say that we were lucky in that the planet he chose as a home was so close to an area the Tammerain decided to act up in. We have since reactivated Major Aster, and he has resumed his duties as the Commander of the Temporal Guard. I will also be announcing a new ranking system that will give all of you the title of ‘Guardian’. The new rank is to denote that you are no longer part of the active military, but rather a type of a reserve unit,” Mark said. “Once the current crisis is over, the remaining Temporal Guard will be deactivated, and retired to a planet of their choice. They will retain the title of Guardian as a sign of respect for the service given to the Realm.

“There is currently a discussion going on in the Senate as to whether or not to allow the Guardians to expand past the remaining four of you, and if so, what do we use as requirements. The crown will continue to support all Guardians on a one hundred percent retirement pay and continue to administer to their unique health and upgrade needs.”

“I imagine that last part will meet with some opposition from the Ministry of Finance,” Chloe countered.

“Nope,” Mark shook his head. “Because, even if they weren’t made Guardians, we would still be paying them as standard Marines. Yes, there will be a pay raise, but nothing there will actually change except for the account the money comes from. Everyone knows all of you are comparatively rich, since none of you spend even a tenth of your current pay, and beyond standard subsistence and housing, the crown will not be covering any other expenses – at least, not from that account anyway. We will have other programs in place to handle things if you folks want a new house or something.”

“Hang on a second, Mark,” Chloe said, and thumbed the comm by the airlock. “We’re clear, John. You can take us out anytime.”

“Thanks, that couldn’t have been fun,” John replied.

“Well, I had some unexpected help. I’ll tell you about it when I get up there,” Chloe said. She turned back to Mark’s hologram. “Why don’t you call and visit with John and me later tonight. I’m sure he would like to talk to you about it as well.”

“I’d like that,” Mark nodded. “Depending on what the Tammerain ambassador does, I’ll call you later. Thanks a lot Chloe. It’s really nice to be able to just talk to people again.”

“What time’s that press release supposed to come out, so I can make sure we watch it?” Chloe asked.

“I’ll be giving an address around noon, here. That should be two hours from now, so...” Mark said.

“Dinner time for us. I’ll make sure we see it. Good luck in the shark pool!” Chloe said, referring to the reporters.

“Thanks! Talk to you later!” Mark said and faded out.

Chapter 19

Two hours later, as the Guard sat down to dinner, they tuned into RNN, a privately owned news network, to watch Mark’s speech.

“Chloe, did Mark say exactly what he was announcing tonight?” Carl asked.

“Not in so many words, I think he wanted it to be a surprise, which is why I didn’t tell you guys anything about it,” Chloe replied.

“He’s not going to canonize us is he?” William asked.

“I don’t think he can do that. He’s not even Catholic if I remember correctly,” Alice replied. “Maybe they finally resolved the soldier’s rights issues.”

The speculative discussions ended then as the announcer introduced the event.

The view on the screen switched to the podium in the pressroom at the Royal Palace on Centauri, just as the Royal Chamberlin introduced Mark.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press Corps, honored guests, it is my distinct honor and pleasure to introduce our King, Marcus Candlewood; long live the King!” He lowered himself to one knee, as did everyone else in the room according to custom.

“Please rise, everyone. We’ve got a lot to discuss this afternoon, and as usual, time is an issue, so I’ll get right to it. Please, try to hold your questions until I ask for them.” He touched the smart sheet he’d brought with him containing his speaking notes.

“There has been a long and, at times, hotly contested debate over the issue of our soldiers civil rights with regards to the general public. We are pleased to announce that we have reached a resolution on this subject.

“Effective as of this announcement, and pertaining to Marines ‘younger’ than a thousand years, a trial period of unrestricted planetary access for enhanced marines will be allowed on the planet on which they are stationed, as well as their ‘home’ planet, as long as they still have direct family living on that planet. For this proclamation, direct family is defined as parents, siblings, children or direct, clear descendants of the Marine in question.

“For Marines older than a thousand, all rights and freedoms of travel are restored. Civilian travel restrictions apply to Marines that are off-duty as well as certain planetary restrictions requiring off-duty Marines to wear their uniforms while visiting, so your identity can be known. Planet of residence for all Marines, regardless of age, will be the planet on which they are currently stationed.”

Mark paused for a moment. “It goes without saying that this decision has made a lot of your leaders very nervous. That is the reason for the requirement for Marines to wear their uniforms while visiting a planet they are not a resident of while off duty.

“All Marines are aware of interaction restrictions with non-enhanced civilians. Any and all violations of those restrictions will be dealt with very harshly, up to and including permanent enhancement deactivation without decommissioning. For those not familiar with what that means, it is a very horrible and painful death sentence for a Marine.

“Now, I do have a lot more to discuss with you, but I will take a couple of questions on this proclamation. Mister Foster, I believe you were first,” Mark said, pointing at a man a few rows back.

“Ted Foster, senior reporter, Faster Than Light News. Thank you, Majesty,” he said while he stood and bowed. “Highness, how does this new proclamation affect the Temporal Guard?”

Mark smiled and nodded to the man. “Thank you, Ted. I’m sure you all know how I feel about the Guard, I don’t think it would come as much of a surprise to know that the Guard have complete and unrestricted travel access anywhere in the realm. There is more of an explanation for this, but it is one of the things we haven’t discussed yet, so if it’s alright with you, I’ll finish answering this question in a little bit.”

“Of course, Highness, thank you,” the man said and took his seat again. In the hubbub that followed, Mark picked another reporter. “Ms. Gordon, you’re next.”

“Diane Gordon, Royal News Network. Thank you, Majesty.” The woman said bowing and standing. “I know it’s off topic, but there are a lot of rumors making their way in from the frontier worlds of a new Tammerain incursion into our space. Specifically, Bethel’s Anvil, and the surrounding area. Can you comment on this?”

Mark sighed. “I will comment on it yes, but that will be the last part of our discussion. For now, I will only say that the rumors are probably true. I can’t say that they are, because I don’t know what you’ve heard. Does anyone have any questions on the issue I just announced?” Mark asked, and pointed to a small man in the front. “Mr. Collins?”

“Hiram Collins, Trinity News Service. Thank you, Majesty.” Once he finished bowing, he glanced at his pad. “Have any special precautions been put in place for civil authorities to use in the event a Marine does misbehave while off base?”

“No, there haven’t. The reason is because of a recently declassified function of enhanced soldiers. When a soldier is enhanced, the computerized control unit implanted in them maintains a link with a command computer capable of deactivating that soldier. Basically, we can put them to sleep and keep them there as long as we need to. Before you ask, yes, I have the same command in my controller.” Mark replied reminding everyone that he was still enhanced as well.

“The control codes required to do this are among the most closely guarded information we have, for obvious reasons. So, all any authority needs to do is make a call and the soldier in question goes to sleep to await a retrieval team to collect them. Obviously, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but not much. Civilian authorities are not authorized to do anything more than guard the soldier until the retrieval team arrives. All soldiers are equipped with personal data recorders that monitor the soldier, and his immediate surroundings, even when inactive. That means that if anything is done to that deactivated soldier, there will be evidence of it.” Mark said and touched his notes again.

“Now, the next announcement I need to make will undoubtedly take you all by surprise, but we hope it will be in a good way. A little over a standard year ago, the crown announced the death of Major John Jacob Aster during his deactivation procedure. We are pleased to finally announce that Major Aster is still alive and well. We did let him retire to the planet of his choice, where he has been living as a normal citizen. We asked him to undertake this ‘mission’ as a means of aiding us in making our decision regarding the soldier’s rights issues.

“At his request, he does not wish the crown to say where he went, because he likes his life there, and doesn’t want anything to change the way his community sees him. Of course, just the announcement that he’s still alive will let most of them figure it out, but he said he’ll deal with that when the time comes. He also asked me to pass along to you, the members of the press, a request to not attempt to locate him, for the same reason. Despite still being fully enhanced, he would like to try to remain living as a normal citizen of our Kingdom. As your King, we ask that you please try to respect his wishes in this matter. I think he’s earned it, don’t you?

“Now, just because he’s considered a civilian now, he does still feel a duty to us and as such, is still the leader of the Temporal Guard, so you will be hearing from him again, and I will give you more information on that in a minute.” Mark said and searched out a certain gossip columnist in the gallery. “Yes, Edith, Major Diamond knew all about it, and is with him right now.” She grinned and bowed to him, amid the chuckles from the rest of the reporters.

“I’m sorry, but I see I’m starting to run a little long, so if you don’t mind, I’ll continue on and get all of this out to you before we run out of time,” Mark said. ”If there is any time left, I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as I can before I have to get back.”

He again touched his pad, and nodded. “Pending approval by the Parliament, there will be a change in the status of the unit known as the Temporal Guard. These special and very select individuals will become an inactive reserve unit of our military. What that means is that, like Major Aster, they will be allowed to pursue their own lives as they see fit while remaining fully enhanced. The reason for this is because of something discovered during Major Aster’s decommissioning procedure.

“Marines enhanced before the end of the ninth Tammerain offensive can no longer be decommissioned as promised. Our specialists at the Center here on Centauri Prime, as well as several other, independent biological/molecular medical research institutes have agreed that after Marines that have been enhanced for an extended period of time, they lose the ability to survive the reversal of the procedure. The bodies of those soldiers have adjusted to the enhancements to such a degree that they have become an inseparable part of the Marine’s physiology.

All enhanced Marines, as well as any other soldiers that are within three hundred years of the conclusion of the Ninth Offensive are hereby ordered to report to the center for decommissioning. For some of you, it may already be too late to undo what was done, but we will do our best to honor that promise. If you are an enhanced member of our armed forces, and are within that limit, you have a choice to make; accept immediate decommissioning, and try to become a civilian again, accept decommissioning, and continue your service in a non-combat role, or remain enhanced, and remain as part of our military until you decide to retire permanently.

“For those of you that are already past that deadline, you have our most profound apologies, and we can only say that if we had known sooner, we never would have let you get trapped like this. I should mention that this issue was also a factor in the decision to allow them soldier’s rights. It took almost losing Major Aster for us to understand exactly what has happened to you. All we can do is try to make the best out of a bad situation.

“Now, back to the Temporal Guard. They are currently on active duty and on a mission for the Realm. However once that issue has resolved itself, they will be ordered to return to Centauri where they will be knighted.” Mark grinned at the gasp that went through the room. “Don’t blame me, this was Senator Albright’s idea!” he said holding up his hands. “The will become Knights of the Realm and charged with the protection of our citizens. Any disputes brought to them and settled will be honored as if made by a magistrate. Any criminals arrested by them will be treated as federal prisoners unless handed over to local authorities by the Guardian.

“As I said earlier, this is still pending full approval by Parliament, but that’s what has been agreed so far. They will remain on the Royal payroll and all that, so nothing will really change for them as far who pays them, and how much. However, their duties will be added too with the exception of during wartime, or a Realm wide emergency such as the one we are experiencing right now.

“As I said earlier, I would address the Tammerain rumors later. Again, I have no idea what you’ve heard, but at least you got the location correct. There was a Saurian listening post hidden on the colony world of Bethel’s Anvil. The Temporal Guard, led by Major Aster, sacked the base and killed the enemy there.

“However, we have been aware of a larger Tammerain fleet assembled just out of sensor range from the border. When the Guard sacked the base of Bethel’s Anvil, that fleet began moving forward. Since that time, we have received reports of an empire wide mobilization of forces within the Tammerain Empire.

“Their ambassador has formally requested permission to withdraw from Centauri until ‘issues’ can be resolved between our realms. Because the ambassador has departed the capitol, that means that the Tammerain believe that these issues cannot be resolved diplomatically. Every indication we are getting from them is that they intend to go to war with us again,” Mark said and took a drink from his water glass.

“At this time I have ordered a kingdom-wide general state of readiness and have activated several reserve fleets. Our forces are moving forward to protect our frontier worlds, but will not cross the border with the Tammerain. If they want to start a war, they will. However, it will not be because we violated the agreement. We have made no demands of them, nor have we encroached on their holdings along the break line. There is no apparent reason for the timing of this, so all we can do is set our defenses to stop it.

“I’m sure you are all wondering why I waited to tell you this very important information until the last minute? The simply and true answer is because currently, nothing has officially happened with the exception of the ambassador returning to his nation. There is no need for any of us to panic, but we do need to prepare for what might be coming.

“I must apologize for condensing this so much, but time is very short. Quick questions only if you please?” Mark asked. “Miss Johannsson.”

“Arin Johannsson, Carson News. Thank you, Majesty,” the young woman said, preforming the protocols. “In light of the military emergency, are you still ordering the Marines that are close to mandatory retirement, if you will, to report to the Center? And if so, how will this affect our forces?”

“Yes, the soldiers that are close to the mandatory age are still ordered to report to The Center. There are already too many soldiers we can no longer keep our promises too, I will not let that number increase. As for how it will affect our forces, well, any decrease won’t be good, but ordering those who have given so much to give more is something I simply cannot do. I would hope that even in light of our recent discoveries with regard to the enhancement process, we would still have volunteers to serve in that capacity.

“If the Tammerain do follow through with this unprovoked attack, we will be facing the biggest threat to our existence since the first Terran assault on Earth five thousand years ago. Basic and advanced training for Marines takes two months. The enhancement procedure takes three months to complete. It takes another six months for a newly enhanced Marine to recover enough sanity to know whom to attack. That is when most of them are ‘fostered’ out to units. It can take up to two more years before a Marine is stable enough to not need constant supervision.

“That is the reason for the restrictions on Marines. It is also the biggest problem with them; it takes almost three years for one of our enhanced Marines to reach full potential. If the Tammerain do attack us and the absolute worst occurs, they can reach the core worlds in six months.

“In these times of peace, enhanced Marine recruitment has been falling off. Simply put, we just didn’t need them. Our current levels, minus those I ordered to report to The Center, are still a very viable force and are very much capable of defending us in inter-planetary war. We have sufficient Marines to handle ship to ship fighting and even a few planetary actions. But in order to effectively defend our worlds, we will need those Marines on the ground, not on their ships. To that end, the Ministry of Defense will soon be launching a number of new recruitment campaigns to try to rebuild our forces to a wartime level,” Mark finished. “Last question, Mister Gregg please, and Alex, why haven’t you gotten that issue fixed?”

“Alexander Gregg, Independent Information Alliance. Thank you, Majesty.” The man said, and leaned forward in a bow since he was in a hover-chair. “I’m told I’m a poor candidate for the procedure because of my age, so they put me on a waiting list. Thank you for asking, Sire.” The man smiled at the attention. “Sire, we have all heard about the major advances in starships and weapons technology. Are there any plans in place to allow us to field a non-enhanced force to fight on our behalf?”

Mark looked thoughtful for a moment because there were projects in the works to do exactly that, but a lot of those projects were highly classified.

“I can’t answer that as well as either of would like, Alex. How about this; yes there are projects out there to allow us to field front line troops without enhancing the soldiers. However, as yet, none of them are viable enough to attempt.

“Enhancement is expensive, intrusive, time consuming and very hard on the sanity of the soldier. It has long been a dream of several researchers to accomplish exactly what you’ve described. However, it all still boils down to requiring the alteration of the soldier in order to survive contact with the enemy. Remember, even our enhanced Marines have issues dealing with some of the races of the Empire. We do have a couple of promising experiments going, but even they are years from completion.” Mark said. He gave a sad smile to the crowd. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m afraid that’s all the time I can spare. We’ll do this again, soon. Thank you all for coming.” As Mark stepped down from the podium, the gallery again bowed, as he left the room.

As the talking head from the studio came back up on the monitor, Chloe muted it. “Well, that was certainly surprising!”

“I wonder exactly what being knighted will mean to us?” Carl asked. “I’m not sure I like the idea of having to deal with judicial crap. I’m a soldier; I shoot things!”

“Well, that would certainly resolve the issue!” Alice teased him.

John grinned at the banter. “Well, we aren’t knighted yet, and we do have a job to do. We’re going to be dropping out of hyper early tomorrow morning. Has anyone had any ideas on how to keep the Tammerain on their side of the border?”

“Hail them and ask them nicely to stop?” Alice said, innocently. Her comment got most of the Marines present to laugh.

“Somehow I don’t think that would work, Dear. However, I do appreciate your sense of propriety,” Carl replied, patting her hand.

John, looking thoughtful, smiled at them. “You know, that actually might not be a bad idea.”

William looked at John like he was insane. “I know you seem to be able to pull miracles out of hyperspace at the strangest times, John, but you can’t be serious!”

“Actually, I am,” John said, turning his smile on his longtime friend. “Think about it, Will. The Tammerain watched that news broadcast too. They know that we’re ‘on assignment’ for the crown. They also know that while the Guard are not only very bold and usually fight solo, they believe that there is always a fleet capable of pulling our asses out of the fire close by if we need it. We know that isn’t the case, but they believe it.

“If we drop out of hyper, and hail the incoming fleet, that will tell them a number of things. Firstly, that we know exactly where they are, and what they’re up to. They will see that as a bad omen for the opening gambit of the war, and that alone may cause them to stop,” John said before being interrupted by Captain Lowel of the Marines.

“Sir, I know you’ve made a study of Tammerain customs and language, but surely that wouldn’t be enough to stop the entire war, would it? Also, how would we, one tiny unit being in their path, be enough to give them even a moment’s pause?”

John nodded to him. “Normally, I’d be inclined to agree with you, Lowel. However, by and large, the Tammerain are a superstitious bunch. They put a lot of faith in omens and portents, and they believe their leaders actually talk to their deities. To them, the Temporal Guard are almost mythical demons because they believe we cannot be killed. But because of our history in combat, we are as feared in the Empire as we are praised and honored in the Realm.

“Also, like I said earlier, according to the Tammerain, we are never unsupported, but instead, the Realm holds their troops in reserve to let us work our evil magic upon our enemies. It’s all total bullshit, but they believe it. Even if our hail doesn’t stop the war, it will cause the Force Leader to drop out of hyper to speak with us. When they do, we will select, and lock on to four medium sized capitol class ships. Depending on how the discussion goes, we can have the fleet fire those new missiles and take out those ships.”

“Which they will see as more of our evil magic, and our reputation will grow exponentially. What if that still doesn’t stop them?” Lowel replied.

“Oh that will definitely put the fear into them. When five other ships mysteriously explode, I’d wager that fleet will jump all the way back to their home world to personally report their encounter. Best case is that their commanders will halt the rest of their forces until they can get an explanation from their leaders.” John took a drink of his beer. His enhancements wouldn’t let him get drunk, but he still liked the taste. The Tammerain Empire views the human race as a sickness upon the universe, and a direct affront to their gods. The complete annihilation of the human race was a task handed down to them by their gods, and was the main reason for the original attack back when we were still on Earth.

“Because of their failure, every ten standard years, every single clan leader in the Empire is sacrificed to appease their gods. They will never agree to a lasting peace with us, they can’t,” John finished.

“Sir, I’ve heard that the Empire’s size is close to incalculable, and that we have never faced more than ten percent of their entire military force. Is that true?” one of the Marines asked.

“Not exactly, Corporal. The Tammerain Empire has an agrarian culture that abhors violence and sees war as an unacceptable undertaking. The total size of the Empire is as you said, and we simply have no idea exactly how large it really is. As for our facing only a very small portion of their military, that is incorrect. Their military consists of only a miniscule fraction of their population because of the bias against making war,” John said.

“That doesn’t make any sense then, Sir. If they hate war, then shouldn’t they be searching for a way to co-exist with us?” another Marine asked.

“I never said it made sense, Private. However, remember I said that it was a divine commandment. Their Gods, through the Emperor or Empress and their aides, have ordered our deaths. Although it is one of the vilest acts they could undertake, they must do so,” John finished.

“So, that’s our plan then? Ask nicely?” William said, grinning.

“Yep, with a loaded gun hidden behind our backs in the case they say no,” John replied. “Chloe, could you speak to the Admiral and get this set up?”

“Sure thing, I’ll go call her now. If I don’t see ya, have a good evening everyone!” Chloe said to the room at large. She was ushered out of the room by a chorus of ‘You too’s’ and ‘Sleep well’s’.

Chapter 20

Vesta Colony Emergency Response Facility

Planet Vesta IV, Caravel System

Independent Kingdom of Terra

When Gloria and Mary returned to the room they were sharing after dinner, Gloria finally cornered Mary.

“Care to tell me what you want to talk to Mark about?”

“Actually, it’s about the enhancement process and stuff. Are you going to tell me why Mark asked you and your folks to go to Centauri?” Mary countered, making Gloria blush.

“Yeah, I was, but we can’t talk about it in public or around my folks,” Gloria replied. “Mark told them that he would like them to come for a visit since we were all going to meet there after everything settled down. They could consider it a vacation and see the sites.”

“Okay, so I take it that isn’t the real reason?” Mary asked.

“Uh, no, it isn’t.” Gloria bit her lower lip. “Mark wants to ask my parents’ permission to ‘court’ me, as he put it. I had to ask what that meant! I was so embarrassed when I found out that it means he wants my parents’ permission to begin dating me officially.”

“Mark wants to date you? That’s wonderful! I knew there was something going on between you two!” Mary said, hugging her friend.

Gloria smiled. “Yeah, there is definitely a spark there, but I don’t know...”

“What’s not to know? You like him, he likes you; what else do you need?” Mary asked.

“He’s the King, Mary! The supreme ruler of everything! It’ll be like dating the Goddess for crying out loud!” Gloria said. “I’m still having issues just talking to him! Not to mention the age difference. How are we going to find things to talk about?”

“Do you have any problems finding things to talk about now?” Mary asked?

“Well, no, not really, but we can only discuss current events for so long. He’ll never age or grow old. I will. How will that work in fifty years when I have grey hair, and he looks just like he does now?” Gloria asked.

“Sweetheart, that’s just one of the things the two of you will have to talk about. I’m in a relationship with two people that won’t age either, and we don’t even know what that relationship is yet! We can only follow our hearts. You like Mark, he likes you enough to want to spend more time with you and see if there is more there. Why not? Even if he doesn’t grow old, I have no doubt he will give you a very full and happy life,” Mary asked. “In the end, that’s all that really matters.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the reason I agreed to come when he asked. I think he knows that I’ll have a hard time adjusting to being in the spotlight. He’s taking precautions to make sure we don’t get mobbed when we get there,” Gloria replied.

A soft knock on the door interrupted the two women.

Baily opened the door and poked his head in. “His Majesty is giving a press conference, I thought you two might like to watch it.”

“Thanks, Mister Saint! We would!” Mary replied and moved over to the vid unit.

Baily closed the door and went back to his own quarters while the two women sat down to watch Mark talk to the press.

After the broadcast, the women muted the unit, and sat down to discuss what they’d learned.

TG Flyer

Deep Space, Asta Sector

Tammerain Border Zone

“Okay, we’re here,” John said. “Chloe, do you have a fix on the enemy fleet?”

“Yeah, they dropped out of hyper just on the far edge of the zone.” Chloe reported. “They’re moving forward doing full sensor sweeps. I think they’re looking for the intruder stations.”

Intruder stations were small automated facilities placed along various parts of the border. It was far too large to put the stations all the way along it, but there were a good number of them out there. It had been a long time since the last major incursion by the Tammerain. The Realm had been building and placing the stations in key areas. They were equipped with the latest scanning equipment, and were very sensitive, having the ability to look into hyperspace as well as to monitor normal space for light years in all directions.

There wasn’t a station in this area, the closest being more than five light years away, but it would have detected a fleet in hyperspace at that distance. If the fleet stayed in normal space, it would have taken about two years to cross the border, but they would not have been detected when they did it.

Which was the main reason there wasn’t a station out here, it was simply open space. Nothing of importance was within a reasonable sub-light transit range. As soon as anyone made a jump to hyperspace, the distant station would see it, and report the intruders.

The Tammerain had never found any of the stations, but they knew they were there. Royal Customs used the system to track and apprehend smugglers. The Royal Customs Service had even sent alerts to their Tammerain counterparts based on the reports of those stations. The Tammerain knew they were there, they just didn’t know where or exactly how they worked.

“Well, we can’t do anything until they actually violate the border, so I guess we wait,” John said. “Ask the Flyer to keep an eye on them, and let us know if they jump.”

Chloe smiled and nodded to him from her position on the bridge. John just relaxed in the comfortable pilot’s chair, and closed his eyes. When he heard Chloe typing furiously, he rolled his head to look at her. “Are you still trying to hack into Xanadu?”

“Yeah, Doctor Barret sent me a message letting me know they had recently upgraded data security. When I replied that I’d take a crack at it, he challenged me,” she explained.

“Uh, huh. You know what would happen if Royal Intelligence ever caught you, right?” John said, grinning.

“I reached an... agreement, with them over this. As long as I keep them up to date on my progress, they won’t charge me with attempted espionage, and I won’t pulse blast their hidden base on Prius II,” Chloe grinned.

“Why would RIS need a secret base?” John asked interested. “Dare I ask how you even found out about it?”

“I hacked their computer system and found the information. I was at a bar on Centauri when I overheard two computer geeks from RIS bragging about how their security was the best in the Realm. I just couldn’t let that stand unchallenged, so I hacked in and then told them about it. I discovered that base and used it as the proof that I had gotten in,” Chloe explained. “The base and its mission are classified, because they use it to train and prepare their operations people. They also have a special confinement and interrogation area there. After all, you can’t just put terrorists and enemy spies into a regular prison.”

“In other words, they use it to train spies, house enemy agents, and try to turn them,” John said. “It sounds a lot like a facility they had on old Earth call GitMo. Guantanamo Bay was a prison run by the military that was used for the interrogation of terrorists and spies. It was closed down because of rumors about the mistreatment of the prisoners.”

“That must have been before my time. Remember I was born at the Mars colony, after Earth had been mostly destroyed. Were the rumors true?” Chloe asked.

“No one knows for certain. That information was either purposely destroyed, or lost in the fight to save the planet. Either reason is viable, we lost a lot of history and information back then. Some of it was even restructured using the memories of those that had survived; myself included,” John answered. “I helped restore some of the topographical and agricultural history.”

“I don’t remember that, why didn’t you tell me?” Chloe asked.

“It was before your time, and it’s not like it’s the type of thing that comes up in casual conversation,” John said. “You never told me you hacked the intel dbase, it’s kinda like that.”

She nodded. “I guess you’re right, even after all this time, there are still things we don’t know about each other.”

“Eternity together would be boring if we did,” John said.

“You think we’re going to be together for eternity?” Chloe asked since they were alone on the bridge.

“Maybe, I don’t really know. I know I’m not unhappy or tired with living like Will is. If something happened to you or Mary, I might think about it, I just don’t know. I won’t until the time comes,” John replied.

“Still living on the ‘one-day-at-a-time’ clock, huh?” Chloe asked, smiling.

“Not really, maybe one year at a time, or maybe one lifetime at a time would be more accurate,” John said.

“We’ve never let ourselves fall in love with one of them before. Considering how short their lives are, do you think that’s wise?” Chloe asked. John knew she was referring to unenhanced humans in general, and Mary in particular.

“Well, I didn’t plan on it, that’s for sure. Honestly, I don’t understand how it happened either. I mean, we’ve known each other for less than a week. You’ve known her for even less time, do you understand how it happened? For that matter, she’s a female. In all the time we’ve been together, you’ve never even hinted that you like other girls,” John said.

“I don’t like other women, but there is something about Mary that just draws me to her. It’s not sexual, it’s more emotional. I know we can never be together sexually, and I’m fine with that, since that’s not what I’m attracted to with her. But calling her a best friend is not strong enough to cover this feeling I get being around her,” Chloe said.

“So... you’re not sexually attracted to her, but you consider her your girlfriend?” John asked.

“No, I’m not sexually attracted to her, I’m emotionally attracted to her. Confusing?” Chloe asked.

“No, not from you it isn’t. Maybe I should say, not to us, since I’m pretty much the same way. I do have a sexual attraction to her, but that’s just not it with her,” John shook his head. “I guess you explained it the best.”

“So, since we both have these feelings for her, what are we going to do about them?” Chloe asked.

“Love her for as long as she’s with us. Time doesn’t work the same way for them as it does for us. She could very well outgrow us, and decide to move on. We both know our time with her is limited, I plan to enjoy it as much as I can, while I can,” John said.

Chloe secured the bridge, locking the hatch to the rest of the ship. “John, Mark asked Gloria and her parents to go to Centauri so Mark could speak to her parents about courting Gloria. “I thought he was going to tell you about it the other night when we talked to him.”

John just sat there thinking about what she had just told him. “It did seem like he was asking some pretty pointed questions about us, and how we feel about Mary. But that’s all I thought it was, he just wanted to know more about our relationship with her.”

“Nope, he was trying to learn as much as he could because he wants to marry Gloria. Now, nothing was said about making her Queen, or even a Princess, so I don’t think he’s talked to anyone else in the government about this.”

John shook his head. “He can’t give her a title. It wouldn’t be acknowledged unless they could produce an heir, and they can’t.”

“Unless Mark has viable sperm cells left,” Chloe said.

John shook his head. “No, he doesn’t. Not after all this time. Even in cryo they degrade. Mine only lasted about three hundred years. Mark’s been enhanced far longer than that.”

“Well, it was a thought. I wonder if when his seed was used; does that make his offspring royalty?” Chloe said wondering out loud.

Further conversation was interrupted by the Flyer’s computer beeping urgently.

“What I told you about Mark is classified, John. Please don’t let him know I told you,” Chloe said as she unsealed the bridge. “The Tammerain fleet has crossed the border and is spreading out. They are either splitting up to maximize their scanners or they are preparing to jump.”

“Make contact with the Gladiator and ask her to stand by. Then pick four of the smaller ships, spread them out through the fleet. Try to give me an estimate of missile flight time,” John said as he began typing on his own console.

“Missile flight time will be one hundred and five seconds, just over a minute and a half. Gladiator is online and standing by. The Admiral wants me to tell you she has a limited number of those missiles, so we’re not to get too cocky,” Chloe replied.

John nodded, and held his finger up to his lips. He then spoke out loud, in the most common tongue of the Tammerain.

“I am Major John Jacob Aster of the Royal Temporal Guard. With respect, I would share words with the Force Leader. Now.”

“That did it, they appear to be holding position. Computer confirms they are inside the line, and we can fire on them,” Chloe staged whispered.

John muted the channel. “Good, just hold off for now, I’ll point at you when I want them to launch, until then, send me text messages. Depending on the race, just your presence on the bridge would be an insult to them.”

Chloe nodded, remembering John’s briefing about how some of the Tammerain viewed females. He unmuted the channel, and waited. Just as he was about to repeat the hail, he got a response.

“Temporal Guard Aster, it would seem news of your passage was premature.” An image of a large hair covered being took form on the monitor directly in front of him.

John bowed his head in acknowledgement. “As it would for you, Clan Leader Al-Jehereed. I am pleased to see it was incorrect. We request knowledge of your business here, as well as your intentions.”

“We have a new Jal-Haraad, and she has spoken of you and your people,” the being replied. “I am allowed to give you this information in the hopes you will pay heed.”

‘Jal-Haraad’ was the title of the leader of the Tammerain. It meant, literally, mouth of the divine.

John nodded. “I cannot speak to that until we have the knowledge, Clan Leader. I am certain you know this.”

“I do,” Jehereed agreed. “Your people are short lived and prolific. However, the Goddess has decided that you have learned how to better administer to her universe. Therefore, we are no longer required to make war on your people.”

“That is indeed good news, Clan Leader. Too many have passed the gates over this issue already. In this we can agree,” John said solicitously.

“Yes, this is indeed glad news. However, there is more. Your people have split your race into two without the Goddess to guide you. As a result, one of the races cannot be allowed to continue since she has need for them in the next world. We knew you would resist this, so we are coming to assist you in this holy purge.” Jehereed said.

John looked confused. “Forgive me, Clan Leader, but I do not understand what you mean. There has been no splitting of the race, we are all still one people.”

“The Jal-Haraad is wise, she knew you would not see it that way. You have created a new race of longer-lived beings whose sole purpose is to make war, and destroy. As you must know, such a race is abhorrent to her. We are here to assist you in the destruction of all of you that were not naturally created. Once that goal is accomplished, we will withdraw and leave you in peace.”

“You mean you are going to war with us again in order to destroy those that were created to prevent that?” John asked.

Jehereed shook his head. “No, you misunderstand her words. We are no longer to make war on humans as they are now our brothers and as such are part of the universal clan. Our task is to ensure the freedom of your people from the tyranny of your ‘enhanced’ soldiers and the facility and people that created them.”

John made himself look like he finally understood. “Forgive me, Clan Leader, I did misunderstand. I was under the impression that you were saying we actually had two separate races of humans. I can assure you that is not the case. I will admit that there are a few humans that choose to undergo alterations in order to protect the rest of our people, but that is only a temporary alteration. Once they have served a set amount of time, they are returned to their original condition.”

“Major Aster,” Jehereed said in perfect English. “What is your set amount of time? Our histories all have stories of you going back to the first war with your people. In fact, the very position you know hold is because you are still altered. That is what we are here to correct; that is the will of the Goddess.”

“So you are here to murder those of us that can no longer be unaltered?” John asked.

“That is only part of it, Major. We must also remove your current leader since he too is not a natural human. Your people are not free to control their own destiny as long as any of you are in power. You are no longer a tool for the protection of your people, but their oppressors.” Jehereed said. “Simply put Major, we are here to kill you.”

About the Author

Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.

Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.

He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.

Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.

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Ben Winston


Blue Space Publications, LLC.






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Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

by Ben Winston

Pollux Paradox

Tides of Mars

Tides of Mars (Omnibus)

Ascension – Book I

Conflict – Book II

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

*Neptune’s Massif – Book IV (Upcoming)

Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

*The Last Mission – Part Three (Upcoming)


Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

*Hard Wired – Episode IV (Upcoming)

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

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