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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Action/Adventure · #1983131
An epic tale of heroes and villains, love and hate, and the many faces of mankind.
        “Go now! All units attack!” She shouted over the radio and her tank lurched forward with the others. The Imperials outnumbered them but the odds were even now that they’d split their forces. More than that, they’d badly exposed themselves to a surprise attack by cutting in to avoid the minefield. Shannon’s tanks let loose on them and began knocking them out of action one by one. They desperately tried to fight back and knocked out several of her tanks with great skill. But then James shifted his guns to fire on them from behind. That was the final straw, their infantry suffering heavy casualties, and many of their tanks burning under the hot African sun, the Imperials beat a hasty retreat.
         James ran over to Shannon as soon as he spotted her. “We stopped them! They won’t be getting into Egypt any time soon now!”
        “Yes!” She yelled excitedly. “We taught them a lesson this time. This will certainly be a nasty surprise for Victor, won’t it, James?” She asked, smiling and giving him a high-five.
        “Oh, I don’t think he’ll be happy about it at all.” James said, smiling back. Suddenly, he realized she’d called him James instead of specs for the first time. A battle was an odd way to accomplish his goal, but at least he had her happy and maybe they really could be friends.

         Little did they know, the Empire couldn’t afford to worry about Africa any longer, it had a bigger project; the largest invasion in history. Nearly twenty million Imperial soldiers and tens of thousands of tanks and planes on thousands of ships and aircraft carriers swarmed forth to conquer Europe. On one side, the people of Europe hoped and prayed for strength to meet the coming hurricane of terror. While across the sea, the War Lords had other ideas.

         Victor looked out into the crowd. Tens of thousands of the Empire's most loyal citizens and highest officials had filled the stadium nearly to the breaking point. They had converted an old football stadium into the greatest rally of the War Lords in the history of the world. The crowd cheered as another speaker came to the conclusion of his address. Victor was up next and received the greatest cheer yet as he stood up to the podium.
         "People of the Empire." He began. "We are at the very crossroads of history. We have been presented with an opportunity to unite the entire planet under OUR rule, under OUR law, a chance to unite humanity once and for all!"
        Applause broke out from the crowd and he was forced to wait for it to die down before he could continue.
        "But this will be a long and terrible struggle, for there are those who oppose us. Who are they?" He demanded.
        Hisses, boos, and screams of rage filled the stadium as the people shouted, "The Republic! The Light Keepers! Rebels! Traitors!"
        "Yes," Victor answered them, "these elements are all combining to thwart our work here. Plotting to destroy what we have done. Will we let them?" He yelled.
        "No!" The crowd screamed with a single voice.
        "We will make them feel the full might of our Empire. Our armies will crush their soldiers and flatten their cities and they shall never rise again!" He thundered, his voice filling the stadium through a series of microphones as he screamed at the top of his lungs. "So without a moment to waste I give you his majesty himself, your Supreme Leader!" He finished, applauding with the crowd. His left eye twitched slightly as his colleague approached the podium.
         The Supreme Leader waved his arm like a scythe, the cheers stopped almost immediately, and he began.
        "Our Empire is already the greatest in history, and still greater it shall become. We will not rest until our enemies are completely destroyed." His voice rasped from beneath his cloak.
        Applause broke out once more and the Supreme Leader calmly waited for it to subside. Some of their more enthusiastic followers would rise from their seats and salute him, or cry out ‘Hail the War Lords!’ or make some other show of loyalty.
        "Our enemies are forsaken, by every power and authority on this planet, from the Heavens down to each and every one of you! We shall carry out the sentence that has been passed on them, death! Say it with me! Death! Death! Death!" He boomed, his voice at last taking form and becoming powerful and authoritative.
        Victor jumped to his feet and pumped his fist into the air as he shouted it. Soon the entire crowd then joined in the chant. The hatred in the arena had finally swelled to the boiling point. They were ready. Their time had come.

         Victor watched from the bridge of the fleet’s flagship as landing craft beached near Lisbon, the capital of Portugal and the westernmost point of mainland Europe the Empire could invade. His stomach gave a lurch, he hated ships, and they’d never gotten along with him. Scattered machine gun fire erupted when his troops landed. But he could see from here there were far too many of them, and the craft carrying his tanks were about to hit the beach as well. When that happened it would be all over.
        “The beach is ours. Repeat, the beach is ours.” A voice reported over the radio.
        “Excellent. Get me to shore, now.” Victor commanded, all too happy to be off the ship.
         When he reached the beach, a jeep drove up to him with Christopher already in it. They sped toward the city at high speed, their tanks and infantry barely ahead of them. Within minutes they had reached the city center. A messenger ran up to the jeep and saluted.
        “My Lord, the city is nearly ours. There is no significant enemy resistance.”
        Victor grimaced. “They aren’t fighting us here because they know they can’t resist us where we come with our greatest strength. They’re going to try to wear us down until their own defenses are much stronger.”
        “So what do we do, my Lord?” Christopher asked.
        “We’ll just have to surprise them. Won’t we?” Victor answered him, smiling a thin, bloodless smile. “Onward.” He ordered the driver. The jeep continued to speed forward as millions of Imperials disembarked to invade and subjugate Europe.

         “Victor is moving far faster than we could have anticipated.” Dart said.
        “Dart’s right.” Rose added. “It’s only the end of August and already Portugal, Spain, and France are gone.” She finished forlornly.
        “Not to mention Imperial soldiers have sprung up in Italy and Germany.” Albert chimed in. “If they link up with the main army, it’s all over for anyone fighting for us in Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the Low countries.” He concluded, his focus shifting toward the center of Europe.
        “Not everything is that bad, we can still form a line in Poland.” Macy suggested, pointing to its safer location further from the invading Imperial armies.
        “I agree.” Hank added, quickly. “And we still hold the United Kingdom. We can continue to supply it through the Scandinavian countries in the far north. They’re too far for even the Empire to reach.” He concluded, trying to put a better spin on things.
        “Don’t forget Switzerland has held out as well, as an independent nation ruled by both genders jointly.” Erik began, making a mental note to look into how they might be able to use that later. “But enough of our crash course in geography. We need to formulate a plan. Macy, you had a good idea with Poland. Head there and try to patch together an army. Rose, Dart, I need both of you to help me get our people out who are in the most danger of being cut off. Hank, Albert, Jamie, I want you to go to Scandinavia and make sure everything is shored up there. We can’t afford to lose the U.K. and those countries, and I’ve got reports about a lot of Imperial naval activity in the region. Everyone good?"
        “Excellent." Erik said, after they'd all accepted their missions. "We’ll be stretched a lot less thin when Shannon and James get back and when we have this sorted out. For now, let’s focus on the jobs we have at hand. Good luck everyone.”

         “I’m beginning to think this was pointless.” Albert said, shivering on the Norwegian coast. “The Empire would have to be suicidal to attack anywhere along here.”
        “Don’t be so sure.” Jamie replied. “They’ve already taken Denmark.” That positioned them all too close to the countries they were trying to defend now.
        “Yeah, but it’s already connected to Germany, it was easy to get to. All this is a tougher nut to crack.” He retorted.
It was just the two of them were in Norway. Hank was in Sweden keeping an eye on Denmark. A messenger trudged up to them in the cold and handed them a message.
        “What’s it say?” Jamie asked, brushing up against Albert as she tried to read the letter while standing on her tiptoes. She was frustrated by how much taller than her he was, which just made him laugh, and she had to wait for him to read it off to her.
        “Hank reports that a large Imperial fleet left Denmark last night. Their destination is uncertain. All units are to be on alert.” He finished.
        “How pointless is it now?” Jamie asked, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow at him.
        “Shut up.” Albert said, rubbing his arms to keep warm. He just hoped he was right and that the Empire wouldn’t attack, no matter what his confidence level was. He decided to change the subject.
        “So tell me more about you. We’ve all been so busy fighting together but we haven’t really gotten to know one another. Know what I mean?” He asked her.
        “You’re right.” Jamie replied, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “Well, I don’t know how much there is to tell actually. I grew up in Toronto, lived there my whole life. Just me and my parents. My father was a businessman, my mom stayed at home. Nothing special had ever happened to me before this.” She finished cheerfully, staring out at the sea. “What about you?” She asked him, turning her attention on him.
        Albert bit his lip, he wasn’t counting on her asking about him too. “I was born in Seattle, but my mother and I moved around a lot. Never knew my father.” He said weakly. “Saw a lot of places, met a lot of people, but like you said, nothing special before this.”
        “I’m sorry.” Jamie said, her brown eyes softening at his story.
        “About what?” Albert asked, perplexed.
        “It must have been hard growing up constantly on the move.” She replied.
        “Oh, that. Well, it got me ready for this.” He said, smiling.
        That got a laugh out of Jamie and Albert relaxed as the conversation shifted away from his family.
        “And it helped me develop my good looks, sharp wits, and good sense of humor.” He added, giving her a sly look.
        That only earned him a roll of her eyes and they laughed again. The pair continued to talk by the seaside as the day drew on. They’d been trying to find a way to ease their nerves and had finally found a way to do it.

         Hank looked out from Stockholm. If the Empire tried to seize the Swedish capital, he was well prepared. Ships, guns, and troops on the beaches and in the harbor awaited any Imperial assault. The hours ticked away as they all nervously waited for the Empire to appear.
        His mind wandered back to his past. He knew the others were trying to get to know each other so they could be a better team, a stronger group, but it was tough for him to open up like that. He just didn’t think he’d have anything in common with any of them. An orphan from Kansas City? Who in this group would be able to relate, to understand?  He doubted anyone could. He continued to look at over the city, not exactly happy but relaxed on his own. Then a messenger came sprinting toward his position.
        “What is it?” Hank demanded, not liking the urgent look on the boy’s face at all.
        “Finland has fallen!” The boy gasped.
        “What!? How?” Hank demanded, his heart pounding.
        “Imperials already in the country revealed themselves. They attacked our defenses from behind and cleared the way for the Imperial Navy. It’s landing troops and tanks all over the Finnish coast. If we don’t get everyone out of Norway and Sweden now, they’ll all be lost!” The boy finished.
        “Oh, no.” Hank muttered as he turned and sprinted back into their headquarters. He had to get the word out to Albert and Jamie. They had a disaster on their hands now.
         
         “Dammit!” Erik swore. “It’s all over in Scandinavia. Our people didn’t even fight. Everyone got out or surrendered.” He said gloomily. “How are we supposed to win if we can’t even hold onto our most defensible possessions?”
        “We can still win this!” Rose said, trying to calm him. She didn’t envy Erik’s position at all. He was only twenty, his birthday had come and gone and he’d insisted there was too much to do for them to celebrate it, and he had to train them, develop strategy, and run the Republic. “Don’t give up hope.” She added, trying to console and encourage him.
        “But now Britain is cut off from supplies. What if we lose her as well?” Erik asked.
        “There’s still a way.” Dart suggested. “It’s a dangerous route past nations the Empire now controls but we can still send ships through North Sea from Russia. Anything that gets through is better than nothing.”
        “Alright, send out the orders.” Erik replied, sighing and doing his best to calm himself down. “You guys are right. I can’t give up yet. There is too much at stake. Besides, Macy is doing a good job with the Polish defenses and James and Shannon will be here any hour now.” Dart and Rose left Erik to his thoughts and went to do more damage control.

         “Things continue to progress positively, my Lord.” Christopher began, reading through several reports so that Victor simply didn’t have time for. “The forces we diverted from North Africa have succeeded in taking their targets. With Malta, we seal the Republic from a crucial base in the western Mediterranean in the heart of territory we control. With Crete, we drive a knife at territories they control and provide another route to invade the Balkans.”
      “Very good, Captain.” Victor said, focused entirely on the map of Europe laid out before them.
      The Republic was wearing him down but he was doing a good job of absorbing the continent. Switzerland and the U.K. still held out, the Polish line was strong for now, and the Balkans, a group of nations in southeastern Europe, was still under Republic control. But they were his next target.
      “Order the armies positioned near the Balkans to begin their movement. We must have those nations before we can take Poland and then invade Russia.” Victor concluded.
      “Yes, sir.” Christopher replied, already beginning to draw up the necessary orders. The next battle in the struggle for Europe was about to begin.

         Alvin had been assigned to an armored unit that was rapidly pressing into the Balkans. Enemy resistance had been light, they’d already moved through all the countries that had constituted the old Yugoslavia and had crossed the border into Greece. Athens was their final objective in this sector.
        “How much longer to Athens?” He asked the tank’s driver.
        The boy scanned a chart and said, “No more than ten kilometers, sir.”
        “Good. We should reach the city by nightfall in that case.” Alvin said.
         The column continued to race toward Athens when a flash and a boom announced the presence of the enemy. A truck full of soldiers veered off of the road and crashed into the hillside. Their own tanks turned on the gun that had fired on them and began blasting away at it. A direct hit silenced it but then enemy infantry opened fire. The narrowness of the road made it hard for the Imperials to bring their full might to bear on their foes. The tanks crawled to a halt and their infantry was unable to move forward without them.
        “We’re stuck!” Alvin shouted to his driver. The boy just nodded back to him, there was no use shouting back the same acknowledgement two or three times to be heard over the roar of the guns and engines.
        “What do we do, sir?” His gunner asked.
        “Just keep firing. This will get straightened out somehow.” He replied.
        His tank lurched as it hurled another shell at the Republic infantry in the hills around them. Then the rumble of aircraft could be heard in the distance. Imperial fighters swooped down and strafed the hills again and again. At long last the enemy infantry were silenced.
        “Let’s get moving, now!” Alvin ordered.
        His tank leapt forward and rolled over the rise in the road the enemy had been firing at them from. Others followed and they were soon able to see Athens in the distance. 

         Sally peered forward from the ruins of a building somewhere in Odessa. The city was actually just over the border from the Balkan nations inside Russia. But the Empire had crossed into the country early to seize the critical port city. If they took it, they would cut off all the Republic’s remaining armies in the Balkans. Either way, the territories were lost to the Empire anyway but they had to save the armies that had been defending them. And more importantly, the battle had further worn down their armies and forced them to spend precious time with winter not far off.
         Sally fired at a group of Imperials who were trying to cross the street in front of her position. One of them fell, the rest made it to cover. An Imperial tank rolled down the street and fired at the building across from her. She ducked as rubble crashed into her hiding place as the building collapsed. A soldier on the ground floor below her fired a bazooka round at the tank. The tread blew off but the tank continued to fire. Its next shell landed squarely inside the ground floor of Sally’s building. She swore as she hopped out of the window to avoid being caught when the building collapsed. Bullets were naturally drawn to her while she was in the open and she had to dive into a crater in the middle of the street.
         The wounded enemy tank continued to blast away at anything that moved. Sally wasn’t even sure who else was in this area on her side or where they were. The Imperial infantry crept forward again, no one else fired on them. Sally, realizing she was now alone crawled out of the pit and into another nearby building. Once inside, she fled out the backdoor and further into the city. She finally bumped into a squad moving in the opposite direction.
        “What’s going on?” She asked, a hint of anger in her tone. Were they trying to desert when so many of their comrades were fighting and dying to hold off the enemy?
        “We’re telling everyone to get back to the harbor. We are going to make a final stand there. The rest of the city is toast.” The boy in charge told her.
        Sally relaxed and joined up with them. With her in tow, the group grimly continued its retreat towards the harbor.

         Alvin’s tank fired another round into the ancient city of Athens. Imperial fighters constantly flew over the city and shot up anything they could find. With word getting out that Odessa was falling in the north, everyone who realized they weren’t going to escape moved into Athens. The Republic was trying to hold the city as long as possible so it could delay the Empire to ferry more troops over into Turkey. Supreme General Voktor had issued orders to take Athens quickly and at any cost to prevent this from happening. And so they attacked the city with everything they had.
         “Keep moving.” Alvin ordered his driver.
        They were making good progress now. The tank rumbled down the historic street, tearing up the ancient stones as it moved along.
        “Enemy machine gun, one hundred yards left.” Alvin said to his gunner.
        “One behind those pillars?” The boy asked.
        “That’s him. High explosive round.” Alvin ordered, waiting to hear the round enter the chamber. When he did, he gave the command. “Fire!”
        The round sailed away and crashed into one of the pillars, it toppled over dragging down others with it and silencing the machine gun once and for all.
         A fighter plane streaked by overhead and unloaded into the nearby Parthenon. Other tanks continued to blast the city into ruins. A single Republic gun stationed in the old Acropolis continued to fire at them. An Imperial tank burned on the hillside leading up to it. Off to his left, Alvin saw a crew wheel their own gun into positions and begin firing at it. The Republic’s gunners responded and let out a small cheer when they disabled the Imperial weapon. Then an order sounded out over the radio.
      “All armored units, concentrate fire on the Acropolis, if it goes, the city is ours.”
      “You heard them. Fire at will.” Alvin ordered.
      A dozen Imperial tanks halted in the old marketplace and turned their guns on the Acropolis. They belched flame and shells in a steady order until the ancient building at last collapsed. The Republic’s gun stopped firing and calm descended on the city. Then, slowly but surely, the surviving enemy soldiers crept out of the rubble and their various hiding places, hands in the air or waving white sheets, rags, and anything else they could find.
        “Boys, Athens is ours.” Alvin said triumphantly as smoke rose in the air and scattered shooting continued to sound in the distance.
         
         Smoke poured into the sky all over Odessa. The harbor itself had become a nightmare: the Republic’s ships burned or jutted upward at perverse angles as they sank all across the harbor. Imperial fighters swarmed down and strafed the ships that still tried to escape. Things were no better in the city. The docks burned along with the ships. Aside from a few pockets of resistance, the entire city was in enemy hands.
         “Everyone get out of the city! I say again, out of the city!” An officer yelled running up the line.
Sally chambered another clip into her rifle and promptly emptied it at the enemy wave creeping toward them. She reached down to her belt to grab another one and swore. It was her last clip.
        “We’ve gotta get out of here. It’s no use.” The girl next to her said, getting up and creeping away after the officer.
        “What about everyone who needs to escape still?” Sally demanded after her.
        “They’re finished! Forget about it!” The girl said disappearing.
        A boy along the line of rubble they were using for cover was hit and slumped over. More and more of their few soldiers abandoned the line. Now the Imperials were nearly on top of them. Sally fired her last round and cursed again. She left the wall as well, making her way through more rubble northward.
         An Imperial tank smashed the barrier they had been holding and rolled after them. A round crushed the building across the street from Sally and it collapsed into a heap. The shockwave knocked Sally off her feet. She moaned when she got back up and a wave of gunfire pursued her as she ran for cover. Her head and heart pounded as she ducked into an alley. The tank fired again and more rubble strewed out into the street she had just gotten out of. The other soldiers she had been with had separated and were long gone. Sally followed their lead and slipped off to escape the city.

         The Supreme Leader walked slowly, deliberately, along a street in Paris. He was surrounded by a mass of generals, aides, and other staff members who were touring subjugated Europe. Thinking to himself, he realized this was the first time he’d been to Europe since, well, there were better times than then.
        “Now, the full might of our armies is prepared to be unleashed upon Russia and the remains of the Republic.” He announced as they passed by the Arc d’Triumph.
        A group of Imperial soldiers were frantically at work atop it, fixing an Imperial Eagle onto the top of it. Another was being placed onto the Eiffel Tower across the city. They would make sure the people of Europe knew who their new masters were.
        “Gentlemen, we stand on the very threshold of victory. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes of our predecessors. How goes the planning for the invasion?” He demanded.
        A general spoke up saying, “Everything is going well, your majesty. The plan calls for a swift, overwhelming strike centered on three targets. We take them and the war is finished.”
        “I shall wish to see these plans in detail and soon, general.” The Supreme Leader replied.
        “Of course, your majesty.” The general replied nodding his head.
        The Supreme Leader paused to watch a squad of soldiers put up notices in French listing the new laws the people would have to obey. Another group hustled along a pair of battered, bloodied boys, for what offense, the ruler of the Empire neither knew nor cared. He continued to walk along, everything was proceeding according to his will.

                                                 Chapter 7

         Across the globe, General Ichiro Han had spread the War to Asia as well. It now blazed around the world. He stood in the Japanese Imperial Palace and looked at a map of East Asia and the Pacific. He had been chosen by the War Lords to conquer this region and conquer it he would. His agents had seized control of Japan first, South Korea and the Philippines had followed shortly thereafter during the initial revolution. Having established them as bases, he’d conquered every other island of importance in the Pacific, leaving only Australia and New Zealand. His focus had then shifted to the several nations south of China that were collectively known as Southeast Asia, it took only a few weeks for them to fall. He turned his gaze to the sea lanes between Japan and China, and India and Australia.
         “Major, do you have the latest report concerning Phase Two?” He demanded.
        “It just arrived, sir.” He replied, handing it over.
        Han rapidly read it and nodded. The lines between Republic controlled India and its bases in Australia had been thoroughly clogged by his ships, planes, and submarines. They were sinking literally thousands of tons of Republic shipping. The lanes between Republic controlled China and his own country however, were just the opposite: wide open and prepared for his forces to cross. His plan called for his forces in South Korea to attack and push south, his forces in Southeast Asia to press northward, and his main army to attack the Chinese coast directly, overwhelming the Republic in an all-out assault.
        “Is our fleet prepared for the main attack?” He asked the aide.
        “Whenever you give the orders, sir.” The boy replied, nodding.
        “Then issue them, major. It is time for the main battle.” Han ordered. 
        The soldier saluted and went off to deliver the message as Han’s gaze swung toward the map again. He saw China and all of Asia before him. They were his for the taking.

         At Calais, France, the closest point on the coast of Europe to Britain, Victor looked across the English Channel to the one fighting obstacle between him and total domination in Europe. The Imperial Air Force had begun bombing attacks on Republic Air Force bases and cities there in order to soften it up for invasion. Victor looked at the map that displayed his squadrons going across and over the channel. But the Republic was holding fast and inflicting heavy casualties on his bomber crews.
        “Another week or two, sir,” Christopher remarked, “then their air force will buckle and we can invade.”
        “Captain, we don’t have a week or two.” Victor growled. “We have to be in Russia in a few days to begin the main offensive there. And we need these planes to come with us.”
        “Well,” the head of the Imperial Air Wing in France, a boy named Peter Lukhauf, interjected, “we could launch a major air attack now. We can break their defenses, invade, and be done with them before we have to report to Russia. England is not a large country, my Lord. It will not take long to overrun once our forces have landed.”
        Victor quietly considered the plan. At last he spoke. “Do it.”

         Light Keepers Albert Masons and Jamie Alicav had volunteered to go to England. They had to make sure it didn’t collapse under the sledgehammer blows the Empire was dealing it. It was simply too important to lose. They needed to ensure that the Empire would have the country in its rear tying down forces that would otherwise be loosed on Russia.
        The pair had done a good job so far as wave after wave of Imperial planes had been forced to turn back across the English Channel, and in far fewer numbers than they had come in. Jamie nervously eyed the massive map of the Channel that had been set up beneath a catwalk, allowing them to walk over it and better gauge the situation.  Once more, aids began to move up to the table and place markers on it, signifying the number and type of Imperial planes coming to try and sow death and destruction over England.
        This was no ordinary raid, however. They’d already scrambled their usual defensive squadrons, ordering them into the air, but still the Imperials came. Hundreds upon hundreds of fighters and bombers were being thrown into this attack. The Empire was going all in.
        “Order everything we’ve got into the skies.” Albert ordered. “If they break through with that we are finished.” He said grimly, and quietly so that only Jamie would hear him.
        Jamie wore an equally solemn expression as she stared at the massive force drawing nearer to them.
        “Albert, I’m scared.” She whispered, breathlessly.” I don’t know if we can stop them this time. Shouldn’t we start ordering people to get out of the country, just in case?”
        He shook his head. “No, that would only create a panic. We have to trust our pilots can stop them. Have a little faith, Jamie.” He said, smiling as much as he could manage.
        Jamie returned it until he wasn’t looking at her anymore and her face fell again. She looked at the map again as their aids ran out of markers to symbolize the Imperials before they had ceased to come. Jamie’s hands trembled until she felt Albert take one of them into his own and give it a reassuring squeeze. She was eternally grateful to him for that gesture and squeezed back, hoping for a miracle to turn back their foes.

         Lieutenant Kelsey Rothfus steered her plane towards the English Channel. They’d been ordered into the air by an alarmed dispatcher who sounded even more panicked than he usually was when he sent the pilots up. The word was that the Republic had sent up every plane it had to meet nearly every plane the Empire had been able to mass. With those odds, they were outnumbered about five to one.
        “Keep in formation everybody, over.” Her squadron leader ordered.
        She adjusted course slightly and made sure she was in line. Then, peering forward through the clouds, she was able to see them. Dozens, no hundreds of Imperial planes coming straight at them. She had only seconds to react and it was formation be damned now. They were on their own. Bullets flew through the sky in an impossible number at impossible speeds. Planes exploded in midair, others went into long tailspins until crashing to Earth. Still other twisted and turned in desperate attempts to shake attackers on their tales.
         Kelsey positioned herself behind an Imperial bomber and mashed the firing trigger. The bomber’s gunner fired wildly at her but the bullets passed by her plane harmlessly. Her own rounds tore into the plane’s left engine and set it ablaze. By that time however, she had to dive to escape three Imperial fighters bearing down on her. One of her own planes closed on them and set one aflame, the other two broke from the pursuit and searched for easier pray. Kelsey waggled her plane’s wings in thanks and sped toward an Imperial fighter. The pilot veered into a reverse figure eight and evaded her fire. She only had one more burst left now. Good enough for one more engagement. Searching the sky all around her, she noticed many of her own comrades still in the sky. The Imperial ranks on the other hand, were thinning. Occasionally a voice cried out in panic over the radio but most of the time they simply called out downed targets. Kelsey swerved toward another bomber. It was most important to get them since they did the damage. She pressed the firing button for all it was worth emptying every bullet she had into the enemy craft. Something must have worked because it burst into a ball of magnificent flame and its remains sank toward the English countryside below them. Kelsey returned to base and went up and came back three more times before she was too exhausted and her plane was too damaged to go on, and still the battle continued.
         Both sides anxiously awaited reports from the hectic battle. If the Imperial planes broke through, it was all over, if they were driven off, it would be a huge victory for the Republic. Outside the Republic’s headquarters, an eerie silence at last covered the countryside. Inside, everyone’s eyes were locked on the Light Keepers as they read over the report that had jst been spit out of a nearby decoding machine. Albert looked at it and lifted his head slowly to take in the expressions of the others in the command center in London. His face brightened.
        “Our biggest win yet!” He said excitedly. “Out of a thousand Imperial planes, nearly half shot down or damaged!”
        The command center broke out into cheers. Jamie exhaled and clapped her hands together excitedly.
        “We did it!” She exclaimed.
        “We did! Free people will always prevail, no matter the odds!” Albert replied, making sure everyone in the command center could hear him too. Those pilots had saved England and helped two Light Keepers prove themselves against the Empire. The Republic owed them a great deal and the Empire had been dealt another unexpected defeat.

         “You have betrayed me!” Victor screamed at the commander no, former commander, of the Imperial Air Wing in France, in front of him.
        “But, but…” The boy stammered, trying to come up with some defense.
        “No!" Victor bellowed, “You assured me this would work! You lied! Get him out of my sight!”
        “What are we supposed to do with him?” Christopher inquired, as Victor's bodyguards dragged the frightened soldier away.
        “See to it he’s reassigned to something involving coastal defenses in Montana.” Victor hissed at him.
        Taking the hint, Christopher clammed up.  Victor had nearly two thousand planes when the battle for England began a few weeks ago. He had barely one thousand operational when it was over. One day he’d come back to finish the job, but it wouldn’t be today. For now, there were more pressing issues at hand.
        “Christopher, is our flight ready?” He demanded, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose in frustration. These Light Keepers and their Republic were severely taxing his patience.
        “It will be in less than half an hour, sir” Christopher reported, looking over the general’s itinerary.
        “Good, then we are on our way to the eastern front.” Victor said, with finality in his voice.

         General Han watched as his fleet pounded away at the Chinese coast. Attacks were well underway up and down the country now. He was personally leading the attack here on Hong Kong. His battleships were leveling the huge business towers that had gone up around the city. He couldn’t allow them to be used as defenses against his men. He pressed a button and his voice went out over the fleet’s communications system.
        “All landing craft launch immediately.” He ordered.
        Hundreds of the crafts loaded with thousands of his soldiers bobbed toward the beaches. Overhead his fighters and bombers made a swift run to further soften the enemy defenses. Finally, the first craft began to touch down. Ichiro was worried about this part. His men could all too easily be slaughtered on the beaches. But no such thing happened, in fact, from where he was, it looked like they were advancing with remarkable ease. He yelled for an aide.
        “Yes, sir?” A boy called out, running over to him.
        “Prepare a transport for me. I’m going ashore now.” Han asserted.
        “But sir, it may not be…”
        “Now, lieutenant!” He hissed.
        The boy saluted and ran off. Within the hour, he was inside Hong Kong. The city was already under his troops’ full control. From all over China, reports flowed in of similar successes. Even Beijing had fallen with relative ease. The Chinese coast was his with barely a fight. Han had to admit he was genuinely surprised.
         “What now, general?” An aide asked him inside the HQ they had set up.
        “Order all units to press inland. They can’t stop us now.” He said.
        He was wrong. By nightfall, new reports were flowing in and the same aide approached him once more with an anxious look on his face.
        “General, I’m afraid I have bad news.” He reported.
        “What is it, major?” Ichiro demanded.
        “Our forces have been halted in the countryside west of the city.”
        “How did this happen? We were advancing with no resistance this morning!” He growled, furrowing his brow.
        “Sir, it appears the enemy kept their main defenses well away from the coast to better survive our initial assault. We’re receiving reports of the same thing happening all over China. As soon as our forces leave the cities they are cut to pieces.”
        Ichiro swore.
        “We can’t stop so soon. We’ll have to adapt our tactics, press them harder, and even take heavier losses if necessary. But I shall not be stopped or defeated. I will fulfill my destiny!” He roared, slamming his fist down onto the map of China spread out before him.

                                Chapter 8

         Alvin Smithers anxiously awaited the order to attack. Nearly ten thousand armored vehicles, an even number of planes, and some ten to fifteen million soldiers were waiting on a front stretching from the White Sea far in the north of Russia to the Black Sea far in the south. All were waiting for the order to crush the Republic and end the war by Christmas. At long last the attack command sounded out and the juggernaut rolled on. Republic resistance was stronger here but nowhere near strong enough and many of its armies surrendered en masse if surrounded. The first main objective was St. Petersburg in the north, the city protecting ports shipping supplies to England. Imperial soldiers led by General Carl Coffer attacked it nearly from the first day by invading northern Russia from Finland. More of his men also pushed towards the city from the south to surround it by linking up with the northern troops.
         The next objective, in the center, was Moscow, the Republic’s capital, which had to be captured at all costs. Victor himself would lead this assault and troops would be shifted from either of the other objectives to ensure its capture. The final objective in the south was Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. In the first month, General Fred Mensto pressed to the city outskirts and was poised to annihilate the Republic’s entire army defending the city.

         The drive plunged on and on. The Republic was forced to make a stand in the city of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The city was in the path of the central army on the road to Moscow. The Republic needed to hold the Imperials here long enough to organize the defenses in front of Moscow. As a result, Shannon and Hank had been dispatched to hold the city for as long as possible.
        “Keep moving!” Hank urged their soldiers. The army was feverishly digging trenches and foxholes to take cover in, or attempted to barricade the roads that led into the city. The tanks and artillery they could muster they concealed in bombed out buildings or under camouflage. Machine gun nests were set up wherever possible and snipers were waiting on every rooftop and in every window. It was a solid position.
         Shannon frowned and looked up at the sky, it was a dreary day, but not bad enough to deter the Imperial Air Force unfortunately. A siren began to wail in the distance as the heavy bombers rumbled toward them. There was no reason to order anyone to take cover, they were already doing so. Shannon dove into a foxhole nearest her with three other soldiers and they huddled together as the bombs crashed all around them. Shrapnel hissed above them as the bombs either found or missed their targets. Then the planes were gone but explosions continued all over their lines. That was artillery! Shannon jumped out of the foxhole to the horror of those with her and ran across to the main line where Hank was.
        “That’s artillery!” He yelled.
        She nodded. The Empire was close now. Then, almost as suddenly as it began, the barrage lifted and was replaced by a new rumbling noise. Tanks approached on the horizon with swarms of infantry in their mist.
        “Steady!” Shannon hissed at everyone in the line. They couldn’t afford to give away their positions too early.
        “Uhh, Shannon?” Hank said nervously as the enemy crept dangerously close, only a few hundred feet away now.
        “Fire!” She screamed at the top of her lungs. Imperial soldiers toppled over, whether killed or trying to take cover she didn’t know. Almost immediately a tank caught fire and another lost a tread and screeched to a halt. A bullet hit the dirt in front of Shannon and threw debris into her face. She coughed and rubbed at her eyes before growling and beginning to return fire. A boy next to her was hit and didn’t get back up. Her stomach did a lurch but she tried to focus only on the battle in front of her.
      “We’re giving it to them now!” Hank said triumphantly as the Imperials began to fall back in dismay.
        The field was littered with burning vehicles and bodies in black uniforms. The soldiers at the front began cheering, and at the same time, a messenger leapt down into the trench next to Shannon. She was shaking horrifically and was bleeding in several places but didn’t seem to notice it.
      “You must order a retreat!” She gasped.
        “Why the devil should we do that!?” Hank demanded of her. “We’re beating them!”
        “Victor Voktor! He’s sent two more armies around either side of the city! If we don’t get out we’ll be trapped!” She pleaded.
        “Oh no.” Was all Shannon managed to say, momentarily. “Everybody! Retreat now! We’re being surrounded! This is a trap!”
         Within minutes the message had run up and down the line and everyone was attempting to flee back through the streets of Minsk. Civilians ran for cover or attempted to escape as well, small children’s cries and those of the wounded clashed all over the city. Shooting behind them confirmed that the Imperials had resumed their attack.
An hour later, Shannon and Hank reached the other end of the city and knew that they had only minutes to get out. Imperial troops were now in the city and they had had to blast their way through them several times already to make it this far. When they were coming out of the last block of buildings, a cold, firm voice sounded off from their right.
      “Stop right there!”
      They spun around in terror and saw Victor and a large group of his men bounding towards them. He produced a pistol and began firing and his men followed suit. The soldiers with Shannon and Hank returned fire as they continued to move away from the city towards escape. Victor hissed in anger as they moved further and further away, he stopped running, took careful aim and squeezed off several shots in Shannon’s direction. She cried out and clutched at her leg as she fell to the ground. He barely had time to admire his work when Hank simply lifted Shannon off the ground and continued on at an even faster pace. Victor roared in fury and emptied the rest of his clip in a vain attempt to stop them. Then his men’s fire slackened off as well. Victor cursed. These Light Keepers truly were far braver and stronger than he had anticipated. They’d have to be dealt with properly soon. For now, however, Minsk was his. The drive toward Moscow would continue.

        James rushed into the hospital, his eyes scanning the long corridors of bunks desperately. At last, he found who he was looking for and he ran over to Shannon.
        “Shannon! Are you alright?” He asked her as he ran over, panting for breath.
        “James! I’m fine…” She cut off and eyed him. “Did you run here?” She asked.
        “Err, no, I mean, well, I was concerned.” He finally managed to sputter out.
        “It’s fine, James.” She said, smiling at him. “I’m glad you came, no one else has yet. It’s only my ankle though, I’ll be back on my feet in no time.”
        James didn’t look much reassured. “What happened?” He asked her.
      “We were trying to escape Minsk." Shannon said, frowning. "But Victor caught us. It was him. He was trying to slow us down but Hank picked me up and kept running.”
      “That bastard.” James snarled under his breath.
      “What was that?” Shannon said, raising an eyebrow.
      “Uhh nothing.” He said quickly, before going on. “I’m just glad you’re alright, Shannon. You’ve been my best friend through all this, you know that?”
      “Really? But I’ve been so cold with everyone, including you…” She looked like he’d taken her completely by surprise again.
      “Shannon, that isn’t true at all. We’re all just trying to get used to all of this and we all need time to open up.”
      “Thank you for understanding, James. That means a lot to me. Things will be different from now on, I promise.” She finished with a smile.
      “Of course, Shannon, what are friends for?” He said, returning her smile.
      “I’d better get back though. We need everyone at the front. I’ll visit again as soon as I can.” He promised her.
      “Thank you, James. It was nice to see you again, really. And thank you for visiting.”
      “Any time, Shannon. I’ll see you around then!” He said with a wave as he turned to go.
        She bit her lip slightly as he began to walk away before suddenly calling out to him.
      “James!”
      He turned and met her gaze once more, waiting for her to speak again.
      “Be careful.”
      “I will. Get well soon, I need you out there.” He finished quickly, and with that he was gone.
      Shannon turned scarlet, he’d said I not we. Did…did James like her? Did she like him? Shannon’s mind churned restlessly like the world at war around her.

         Kelsey shivered looking at her fighter plane, and dozens of others, lined up on a runway outside Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine.  Imperial planes had stopped bombing England. The main action was here now, and the Republic needed every single experienced pilot it could get.
        She examined her new surroundings. It was November and a light layer of snow already coated the ground. The field itself had been hastily assembled. The control tower was makeshift, the barracks even more so, offering little protection against the cold. The planes needed constant servicing to keep them from breaking down. Other pilots huddled for warmth around oil drums set alight to create some kind of warmth.
        Kelsey knew things weren’t going well. The Imperial forces in the north had totally surrounded St. Petersburg. The rumor was that over a million of their soldiers were trapped in the city. The Battle of Minsk had been a disaster and the Empire had broken into a city called Smolensk which was only a short ways from Moscow. The battle here had started some time ago, and the Empire had tried to barrel its way into the city. They’d failed, then they tried encircling the city. That was next to impossible thanks to the river that ran right through the middle of town, blocking both the northern and southern approaches to the city. Kelsey had arrived during this calm in the storm.
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