A very, rough and mostly unedited prologue or first chapter. It includes a previous work.
Devin crawled over to the base of the window, pulling the small periscope from his leg pocket. With the periscope he looked out the window without revealing himself.
“Nothing out there but wreckage and smoke” he said to no one in particular.
He glanced over that the scrambler on its short tripod. A couple flashing lights on its bottom side said it was keeping sensors and things from picking him out amongst the ruins of the building he was in. His rifle nearby with its own life detecting scope also rendered nothing more than a magnifying glass thanks to enemy scramblers. Of course that’s how they wanted it, no complicated technology making things to easy.
“Check in” a slightly scrambled voice over his radio ordered him, he glanced over his gear, on his wrist his pressed a button that let his squad leader know he was good.
A few minutes later that same voice told him food was coming. With his periscope he took another look around outside, switching though a couple different scanning modes, most of them looked like some nightclub with strobes and flashes and all sorts of interference. He heard someone coming down the hall; his hand went down to his sidearm instinctively. The enemy often infiltrated Imperial lines making off with prisoners; or worse, just decapitated heads.
The light on his wrist flashed, friendly, “so who is delivering lunch today?” he asked.
“Yates” She said as she peaked around the corner, dropping down to her knee and elbows she crawled in the room. In each hand she held brown plastic package, “You get Ravioli or grilled chicken, and you’re my last stop”
“Oh, awesome, ravioli then please,” he said sarcastically. he reached out and took the package from her as she crawled up and sat next to him, “and you started cookin' them already” he tore it open and began eating.
She was eating too, something that smelled remotely like fish but wasn’t as good as his ravioli. Yates was new, a replacement, conscripted from some farm world. She had talked too much when she first arrived; but he hadn't really listened. Yates was adjusting her helmet, her brown hair shoulder length around her round face and brown eyes.
She interrupted his thought, “You haven’t been sleeping well, I can see it. Doc wants you to go down and see him.” She had her hair bound again and her helmet back on.
“And who’s going to take over here” he said looking at her; not believing they'd trust her alone up here.
“I am” she smiled back, “I’m not a bad shot, and they’re going to send Sparky up here soon anyway.”
He sighed; “Yea I guess; here’s the periscope” he started crawling towards the door to the hallway. Glancing back he saw she was looking around through the scope,
“Just keep your head down those brutes are good shots” once in the hallway he worked down to the basement where the doc had set up shop.
The building they were defending was made mostly of concrete; it had been a dorm of some sort, a hundred or so identical rooms in five stories. The basement had been a recreation room, and stacks of metal and polymer chairs sat covered in dust down at the far end.
Two others were sleeping down there when he Devin arrived, and doc was playing some game on his medical tablet.
“Didn’t you get demoted once for unauthorized software on that?” he said as he walked up and glanced over Doc’s shoulder at the game.
“Nnnnyea, sorta, kinda, not that I stayed demoted for long,” doc said finishing his last move before pausing the game and looking up at Devin, “War, I realize your caught up on what happened to your sister, but you need to get some sleep.” The Doc motioned towards a small inflated sleeping pad, “get comfy, I’m putting you to sleep for a few hours.” He was digging through his aid bag for something.
“You know I try doc,” he dropped his load bearing equipment, but kept his body armor on, always more comfortable in it, “but I see my sister when do.”
“And that’s why I’m giving you a sleep-derm. Squad leader says we aren’t going anywhere for a while and your vitals are all stressed out.”
Devin shrugged, he was laying on his back now adjusting his helmet as a makeshift pillow. The doc flung a little packet at him which he examined for a moment and then tore open. The doc had an injector pen and was walking over to one of the other sleeping soldiers, Devin heard the pop and hiss of the injection across the room. He slapped the derm on his neck and closed his eyes feeling the sleep overtaking him.
“Sparks, Sparky! Wake up cup-cake!” the doc’s voice faded into sleep.
Going to Add something here
Darkness, complete darkness but a faint humming. No feeling though, nothing. What is going on? How can I be here?
A voice, a woman’s voice but where is it from. It’s from everywhere. What’s wrong with my body, where is my body!
“You don’t have one,” a pause, “not yet.”
What? How can this be? Who are you? Where am I? What’s happening?!
“Now stay calm, you’ve regained consciousness a little early”
What do you mean? Why can’t I see, I don’t feel right, I don’t feel anything. How can this be?
“It’s because right now, you’re just a brain, do you remember the last thing that happened?”
I don’t. Silence, it’s so quiet, so numb.
It’s getting warmer.
“Well, you woke early; we’re growing your new nerve connections.”
How can you… New nerves? I remember now, I thought I was dead. His sword…
“Oh well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
But how could he not! He got Hardy, and I shot him but…
“Now, now, it’s true he probably did mean in, but you’re going to start feeling tingly.”
A man’s voice, “Well that’s not going to help her”
Who are you? That tingling, like…
She could feel her neck, then her back. It spread, tingling slightly at first. Then overpowering, her whole body; her body had a spasm, violent. She was in water, warm water now. She couldn’t stop. Splashing underwater. The tingling began to go away, she was calming down. Her mouth was open, she closed it.
Her eyes, she opened them, a softly lighted lab.
I’m not breathing, where am I again. There’s someone standing on the edge of the pool, a blur, but dark hair long. Her features obscured by the water though. Hands!
Someone lifted her up. She could hear the splashing. She gasped, at least she thought she did. As she broke the water’s surface she thrashed in the grasp of the strange man.
“Oi, Now calm down, lady” His grip was firm; he had her under the armpits. Holding her half out of the water, she couldn’t gain a footing. She gave up and hung their limp. The short woman with dark hair was standing at the edge of the pool, holding a large grey towel.
The man carried her towards the edge of the pool, sloshing through the water effortlessly. For a second she had imagined him taller, but he was holding her up higher than him. He was bald, his face strangely angular, artificial. When she was standing on the edge of the pool, the woman handed her the towel, and she realized she was naked. Embarrassed she covered herself with it. The man released her and she stumbled away from the two strangers.
“Who are you?” She said, looking around frantically.
“I’m Dr. Elanor Foy, and that’s my assistant Xavier” She motioned to him as he climbed out of the pool. He was bald, his face oddly angular. She thought him naked at first but, his skin was different. He was hairless and smooth, his body shaped as though very muscular, but obviously artificial; lines where different segments of artificial flesh met.
She looked back to the one who called herself a doctor. A short woman, black thin framed glasses, a pointy nose; long brown hair, she was wearing a light grey uniform, an insignia Mar Sara!
“But, you guys killed me!” She blurted out, stumbling back towards the wall more.
Xavier walked over to a small cart, grabbed another towel was drying himself off. “Right, but we saved your life too, do you have a name?” He glanced at the doctor and then back at her. Doctor Foy was holding a tablet computer now, hitting some keys.
“My names Elizabeth, but you guys killed me…” Holding the towel around herself with one hand her other hand traced the line from shoulder to stomach where the sword had cleaved through. She had expected a scar, pain, but there was nothing.
Doctor Foy answered this time “Well, I…” and she drew it out a little, “didn’t kill you. You are on the M.S.S. Fearless a battle cruiser. One of our medics saved your brain and now we’ve got you in this shiny new cybernetic body.” She kept typing away on the tablet. “You woke up a bit early for some reason though.”
She finished up what she was typing, taping out the last few keys, exaggerating the last punch.
“Normally you don’t have to experience all that.”
Elizabeth’s concerns were elsewhere however; “How do you mean, took my brain? Like cut it off…” she paused; Mar Sarian medics took the heads? “You mean your head-takers are medics?” Propaganda always said that the Mar Sarians always took the heads as trophies, not to save lives.
“That’s precisely what she means miss,” Xavier had a long white lab coat on now, and he walked over to a beat up red container sitting in a plastic tub near the edge of the pool, “and this is what it came in. No souvenirs though, we had to melt your skull off to get your brain out clean.” He motioned towards the pool, the still water slightly tinted with blood. “Xavier, no need to get into the details,” doctor Foy looked at Elizabeth, “anyway, plenty of time to tell you about your new life” She moved a plastic tub from the bottom shelf of the cart, “here is a new uniform, we’ll let you get changed in some privacy, I’ve got three more installations to do today.”
Doctor Foy walked out of the room, stifling a yawn on the way, the door slid open for her. Xavior followed her out but stopped at the doorway, and turned “There’ll be a security officer out here waiting for you, no one’s going to hurt you here. You can take your time, but eventually they’ll come in here for you. Have a nice day miss.” He gave a slight bow and was out of the room, the door sliding shut behind him.
She stood there silently for a while. Looking around: at the pool; the case in which her head was delivered; various robotic arms coming out of the ceiling hung over the pool. A mirror was behind her. She dropped the towel, and examined this new body she had been given. Feminine, athletic, but not real; it was missing all the things a natural body had. Freckles, navel, and body hair everything was smooth, blank. Only the faint lines where sections of artificial flesh met were there. But her face, though she was bald as well, her face was exactly like her old one, a scar was gone though, her blue eyes sharp cheekbones, strong jaw. She opened her mouth, perfect teeth, her tongue looked fake though.
She had the uniform on now, it was tan, desert fatigues, Terran Imperial pattern for sure. Brass pips, lieutenant’s rank.
As she ran her hands down the uniform straightening the occasional wrinkle, she let herself consider her new body. I look nice, I think they took off a few pounds. She felt her smooth skull, perfectly shaped, and felt the nails of her hand on the artificial flesh.
“Well,” she sighed “there must be a catch; they can’t give this stuff away for free…”
A man’s voice surprised her, “There’s always a catch!”
Devin felt a sting on his neck, his senses rushing back.
“Get your stuff on, we’re under attack!” Doc had his Aid bag and was rushing up the stairs to the main level. Devin didn’t waste much time, there was a reason he never took his armor off. He was on the main floor moments later. Yates was on the support weapon, another soldier was firing his rifile in short bursts nearby. He moved up behind Yates, looking over her shoulder, he saw her score some solid hits on one of those armored Mar Sarians. Sparks flew and the armored figure was thrown to the ground, but Devin saw it recover and get out of site. Those bastards are so tough!
“Nice shooting!” He yelled as he took a position next to her. He fired a few bursts at a muzzle flash in a window across the way. That armored figure from earlier popped up from his new hiding spot, looked like he was throwing a grenade. Yates and Devin weren’t going to let him throw it though. Devin was pretty sure he saw the figure’s arm fly off in a shower of sparks and blood as he fell back behind cover.
“Displace!” Yates had the main part of the weapon off its stand, and it was clear she expected Devin to help her move to the secondary position. He grabbed it and the ammunition and followed her over to a different spot. As if to vindicate her decision to move a rocket leapt from a window across the way and blew open their old position.
There wasn’t much time to talk, orders came over the com and they responded. Target that building, cover this area, shoot that guy. So far they had been lucky, but Devin had this feeling it wouldn’t last. The damn Mar Sarian’s cyborgs and powered armor were so tough.
“How we doing on ammo?” Devin said at a pause in the fighting, Yates checked the current container, but Devin sensed hopelessness in her actions. “You know we’ve only gotten like three of those brutes and they’ve gotten 7 of us…” Her voice trailed off. He didn’t say anything more about the ammo, he knew they had plenty, not sure how to cheer her up. He listened to the com for a while. The squad leader was re organizing his sectors of fire, moving men around. A new platoon of re-enforcements was moving in, command knew how the cyborgs outclassed the normal soldiery and couldn’t afford to let this building fall.
“You hear that? They say we’ve got armor coming too, Marauders probably.” Devin had tried to get into a marauder unit when he joined Imperial Army years ago, but in their wisdom they had decided infantry was a better place for him. His sister had gone off and become an officer, be he had no such aspirations.
Yates was focused on no man’s land, scanning for targets. Devin was sure this was just the like the calm in the eye of a storm. Standard tactics, he figured, they’d exchange fire and the Brutes would try and pin down Imperial positions, part of the reason they had to move so much, and then they’d launch a blitz and try to take everyone out in a brutal sweep. Problem was it usually worked.
Devin stepped back from the gun position, glancing around the room. This was the lobby of the dorm; the engineers had stacked rubble and sandbags and fortified the windows barred up the doors. He moved to the back wall where a door and windows looked out over a small courtyard. He saw several large blood stains, on the ground, reminding him of what happened when as they arrived two days earlier.
His platoon was moving to occupy this dorm. By chance his Sister’s unit was also on planet and had taken the building hours before. She led an engineer unit, one of the best supposedly, they had driven out some Mar Sarien Regulars, flesh and blood troops. Not the bloody cyborgs they were fighting now. Having set up gun positions and fortifications they were waiting to be relieved by a line unit. He was coming off a few days rest moving back to the front line. He hadn’t known she was on planet, messages were so censored between units, no one really knew anything.
His squad leader had passed him the info; they were marching up an alleyway towards that courtyard and he saw her meeting with several of her people out there. He was pretty excited considering, but his excitement was crushed as those bastards pulled one of the magic tricks on them.
As he remembered it in his nightmares it had been almost in slow motion. Two shots from the rooftop, a body falling. She had looked up as three armored figures, cyborgs, dropped from above. One of her men sliced clean in half by one, she had moved quickly, smashed the tablet computer over its head and that seemed to stun it. Her pistol drawn she fired twice, but it moved faster than her, spinning out of the first shot, the second glanced off his arm as his sword cut deep through her shoulder and into her stomach.
She had been the last one standing of the imperials in that courtyard. With them dispatched they focused their fire on Devin’s approaching platoon. Several fell around him, while he stood locked in terror as he watch that massacre in the courtyard. Sparky had pulled him to cover else he might have died in that alleyway.
Devin’s unit retook the building shortly after, for him the only memory of the action that remained was his sisters devastated headless body there lying lifeless…
“Devin!” Yates yelled back at him, “Devin! Snap out of it, you see our heavy support yet. I got a real bad feeling…” He turned shook his head. “No, nothing yet.” Devin was walking back towards where Yates was when thunder and light threw him to the ground. Gunfire erupted from the enemy positions across the street, three heavy caliber shots hit Yates position, but only one did any damage. It struck the support gun she was using splintering it and throwing her onto her back. He scrambled over to her, she had bits of shrapnel all over her face and chest, but no mortal wound. He punched his radio “Main guns down!” he said as he pulled Yates body away from the gun position, she had her hands over her face; there was blood.
On his radio someone was saying something but they were cut short. He was moving back up to a firing position, suddenly he felt very alone. How had it been just him and Yates here? Footsteps, heavy ones. The doors burst open metal and wood splintering; one of the cyborgs had used himself as a battering ram. That sword! It was the one who killed his sister. From the hip he fired, at this range even the brutes amour couldn’t hold up; it he hit him in the forearm sparks and blood flew as he severed the limb. To Devin’s terror though the cyborg wouldn’t be stopped, though it lost a hand it didn’t seem to faze him. Devin felt three lightning strikes of pain and fell back. The cyborg moved out of the door way, and shot two more Imperials coming from a hallway near the back.
More cyborgs entered, one of them had a backpack with several head sized pods. Most of them kept moving through into the hallways and stairways he heard gunshots and screams. The one who had come in first had retrieved his sword and severed hand and seemed to be talking with the one with the backpack. They seemed to make little growling noises as they talked, and Devin found that strange.
“You…” Devin couldn’t speak anymore, he couldn’t make himself breath; the shots had devastated his body. The one removed a pod from his backpack and kneeled beside Devin. And they take my head too, bastards. He clasped it around Devin’s head leaving him in darkness. A new pain in neck replaced the pain in his body, and the darkness and silence became absolute.
She stood silently examining this stranger who entered the lab. He was walking slowly towards her, seemingly examining her as well. She got a feeling he wasn’t a cyborg, at least not completely. He held a broad smile on his face. He was definitely older, immaculately trimmed mustache and hair mostly grey, a grey that was matched by his eyes. They were artificial; she imagined he was examining her for flaws.
“Lieutenant Warlight, pleased to meet you!” Not quite yelling but his voice excited, he finished closing the distance hand outstretched so if to shake hands. She hesitated though, instead she snapped to attention and gave a crisp salute. This only seemed to make him smile bigger and he returned the salute. “Colonel Gerhard Maximilian Faust, at your service.”
“Well, now that we have the formalities out of the way,” a momentary pause, he looked her over again, “I believe we have a lot to talk about.” She stayed silent trying to get some sort of measure on him.
Undeterred, he motioned towards the door “Walk with me.”
They were in the hallway now, walking, she wondered how large the ship was.
“You’re probably, no, you are wondering why we would give you a second chance.” He said as they walked.
“You want information.”
“No, no, no,” he smiled again, “The Imperium hardly tell its line commanders anything we don’t already know.” He motioned for her to enter a lift. He followed. And the doors to the lift closed and it moved without input from him.
“So what sort of rumors do they spread about us these days?” He asked, hoping to stir her into talking more.
“Well, I know why you take heads now. I just didn’t think you’d let your trophies walk around.”
“Ha yes, trophies, but no you’re not just a prize to by shown off. Actually we hope to recruit you.”
“What?” She was surprised. Recruit me?
The doors to the lift opened and they were on a large observation deck. He walked out to the center, there were several people around the deck, some alone or in groups. He was walking towards the port side, off in the distance in space she could make out the gray shapes of the Imperial fleet. Specs of light rising and falling; these were transports running supplies to the surface and back. She followed him to where he stopped.
Starships were prohibited from entering battle near a planet’s atmosphere. Long ago the original Emperor had decreed that control of a planet would be decided by battle on the planet’s surface, not in space. So now these two fleets sat in orbit silently watching over the battle on the surface, neither side willing to break that ancient decree.
Though he seemed as though he would wait forever, she wanted an answer “But, you know we are at war right?
“Come now, There hasn’t been a war in a thousand years.” He looked at her, “These are merely disagreements. Your Emperor wants to expand, mine steps in to help those not strong enough to help themselves.”
“You know twelve hundred years ago, we all used to be on the same side. And all the universe was controlled by one man and his A.I.” He continued, “But when he died the universe split into all its little empires, and the Emperors old guard of cyborgs went out to the boarder space and founded the Empire I currently serve.”
“Well, that’s not quite how they teach it in the Imperium these days.” She interrupted, wondering where he was going with this.
“Well that’s the problem, so much for you to catch up on.” He turned to face her completely, “The matter of the fact is, when you’re trying to recruit a force to protect the human race you have to get the best. No matter where they come from.”
An attendant arrived with a tablet, Faust took it and handed it to her. “You really broke one of these over his head?”
“Um, over who's head?” she responded, hesitantly "The man who killed," she didn't finish.
He chuckled, “Everything you need to know is here, there is a officer near the door who will take you to get your hair, and to your quarters when you’re ready. But feel free to enjoy the view.”
She started skimming through the information as Colonel Faust walked off. There's allot to read here, an alien race from outside the universe? It outlined various programs, why the Mar Sarian Empire was settled where it was. Why they took the heads of enemy and friendly soldiers. An army of cyborgs to defend humanity against... something. "This is improbable." She kept reading though.
She paused and reread a section, "I'm going to a military academy now?"
Shimazu Kantaro, some would call him old fashioned. So what if he still carried a sword into battle. He was kneeling, a quick prayer to his ancestors. He stood, checked his pistol, a quick diagnostic of his powered armor. The results scrolling through the HUD built into his vision. He sword was out next, he examined the blade. A few niks needs a good sharpening. It was like the old Japanese Katana, but heavier, thicker, meant to be wielded by a cyborg, his strength several times that of a human.
"C'mon guys," a whining voice came over the comlink "you're not going to make me lay out here much longer are you!"
Kantaro looked out from his hiding spot at the wrecked body of a cyborg, lying behind a slap of concrete out in no-man's land.
"I told you couldn't get that MG nest with a grenade." A woman's voice chimed in.
"Never send a boy..."
Kantaro interrupted her "We've had enough cliché's today, you have that MG lined up yet?"
Perturbed the woman responded, "Yea I got it lined up, you know a woman gunned you down right Spaz"
The cyborg laying behind cover squared, he was getting ready to make a dash for safety. "Nah, couldn't have been; can we get this attack moving?"
Kantaro gave a few orders and waited for affirmative responses. The plan was simple, they'd hit the building with ordinance, and he'd make the dash across no man's land. I figure fifteen seconds it'll take me. He'd breach the door, two others and the medic were going to follow him. They'd demo the building this time, third time's a charm right? Those imperials had a knack for having perfectly timed re-enforcements, he'd been in the building twice before today.
"Spaz, you get your wounded ass back here when that ordinance hits. We're knocking the building down this time."
Everyone in place, he waited as the timer on his HUD counted down, thirty seconds. Three seconds before the ordinance struck the target building, he leapt from his cover. It didn't take long for the imperials in the dorm to fire at him. But they didn't fire at him for long, a thirty foot sphere erupted into fire and sound, the shockwave silencing the defenders fire.
Behind him, he heard his own men open fire. Three shots struck the enemy MG nest; his enhanced vision showed him the gun explode. Spaz struggled up from his cover and was hurriedly limping back to safety. Kantaro was almost three quarters of the way there. Everything to plan so far. The enemy was completely suppressed. The last few strides, he saw the double doors that made the entrances, they had been bordered up. He jumped the last ten feet, his left foot struck the doors where they met in the middle, his body fallowed through with the forces of a train splintering wood and bending metal.
He was inside, a woman o the floor bleeding and squirming, hands on her face. Shit. Another soldier, too far away, he barely registered his sword hand being shot off. Reflexively Kantaro fired three shots, two in the chest one in the, shoulder.
"Right behind you!" A voice over his comlink, kantaro moved out of the doorway kneeled, two more enemy were coming. He shot them as they entered the room. Three cyborgs entered through the door he had burst through. They moved off, one going down the left hallway, the other went opposite.
"He got you good didn't he, " The medic nodded at the soldier casually at the soldier kantaro had shot.
"Yea, I guess." Kantaro retrieved his sword, the dismembered hand still holding it in an iron grip. "You might as well get that one's head, he might be worthy."
The medic watched Kantaro sheath his sword and tuck the dismembered hand away in a pouch.
"I'll get him," retrieving life-support pod from his back he kneeled next to the mortally wounded soldier, "It's another Warlight, wonder if he's related to the lieutenant from a few days ago."
Kantaro didn't answer though, he was looking out the back at the courtyard where he had ambushed that command squad. Maybe, she had been just as fast.
" Charges in place, ready to roll out." The two who had went right and left had completed their mission.
"Let's get out of here then, any movement on the upper floors?" He said as he walked back towards the door. "You ready medic?"
The Medic was scooping the female gunners squirming body up in his arms; the other soldiers headless body was lying where he had fallen. "Yea I'm ready."
The woman's voice again, "Yea it's all clear, we got 'em all."
The medic carefully worked his way out the door and started back towards their original position. Kantaro gave a last look to the room and moved out after him.
The charges blew with blasts larger than even the ordinance they used to launch their attack. The concrete dorm collapsed, a pile of stones, a grave for the imperials who died defending it. Kantaro watched the building fall while he listened to new orders coming in.
"Drop ship will be here in five. Command says the locals are going to surrender, Mar Sara is pulling out."
It seems that's out it always is. He thought to himself disappointed. But if it weren't for the "candidates" they always claimed out of these little conflicts it wouldn't be worth it. He turned at headed back towards where the drop ship would land.
Spaz piped in "Yesss, going home!"