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Moving Right Along

Monday is here and so is my time to regal you with other worldly tales of galactic intrigue and the coming invasion. Remember friends, war is hell and no battle plan survives contact with the enemy….

TWENTY-EIGHT

Tense Meetings

General Joneth Pierce was the first to step out of the hover jeep, even before it stopped moving. Dressed in all his finery, Pierce stood out like a sore thumb compared to the abused armor and equipment of the Helscape garrison. Combat weary units lined the main road into the fort. They’d been beaten and berated for the past two years, but there was still that sense of pride shining through their eyes. Pierce watched them all, at least the ones he managed to make eye contact with. Some flinched away, though most met him with the cold, hard stares of front line combat troopers. At least the soldiers are ready, he thought.

“Sir, on behalf of my garrison and staff, I welcome you to Fort Evans,” Russell said, offering his sharpest salute.

Returning the salute, Pierce regarded his older subordinate with a disgruntled stare. If the man was as good at leading troops in combat as he was at saluting, then maybe I wouldn’t need to be here right now, Pierce laughed to himself.

“I don’t think I need to say that I have no desire to be here, Colonel. There is a bigger war being fought that has need of every available soldier,” Pierce replied with a snake-tongued smile. “Don’t let that get you down, though. It’s not your fault that we’re here anymore than it is mine.”

“If you say so, sir….”

Pierced squared on him. “I do say so. My division is here to end this debacle and turn Helscape into a forward staging base for the coming campaign against the Xemps. We’ll have this affair settled in a matter of weeks. Now, I trust everything has been arranged as far as billeting is concerned?”

Russell swallowed his rage the way his mother had taught him long ago. “Yes, sir. The base has been prepared. Additional supplies have been flown in ahead of your advance party.”

“Good. My reconnaissance elements will be deploying in the morning to the forward staging areas. I have no intention of letting my troopers get fat and lazy while sitting on their asses back here when they could be on the front defeating the enemy. Wars aren’t fought by waiting for them to come to you, and I damned sure didn’t get promoted by letting them get the better of me either. I trust you can understand that, Colonel.”

He could have, maybe about ten years ago. Russell’s time on Helscape had proved to have more challenges than any other assignment the Imperium deigned give him over the course of his career.

“Yes, sir. My adjutant will oversee your billeting while the general staff is being briefed. Regrettably, I have other matters to attend to,” Russell answered. It was taking everything he had to keep from going off.

Pierce was the kind of man Russell couldn’t stand. He was pompous and overbearing, and his soldiers loved him all the same. Russell got the feeling that he’d grown up more spoiled than disciplined, everything delivered to him on a silver platter. He was everything men like Russell weren’t and that made them too distant to be able to get along.

A tall colonel in more suitable attire stepped from the arriving hover jeep. He wore his uniform in desert fashion, complete with a full ration of ammunition. His scales were a deep purple that shimmered in a chameleon-like appearance with the shifting suns. He was a Drazian, one of the most fearsome fighters in Imperium-controlled space. Russell knew the species well and wished he’d been assigned several when they’d first made planet fall.

The dragonoid walked towards Pierce with the grace of a stalking warrior. His thick muscles rippled under his tunic’s light fabric. Twin rows of tiny, extremely sharp teeth lined both upper and lower jaws. Fingers and toes ended with long, wicked claws, and he had a short tail used for snapping attackers away.

Pierce returned his salute and told Russell, “This is Colonel Gladak, my adjutant. Anything you require from me you can go through him.”

“Colonel,” Russell acknowledged without showing much interest. He’d be damned if he let Pierce and his callous attitudes get the better of him. “Major Gregorson here will show you to where your units will begin setting up.”

Gladak let out a hissing sound from the base of his throat. “The sooner the better. We have a lot of tired troopers coming in.”

Gregorson and Gladak walked off so they could go about their business, leaving an old man and a disillusioned youth alone in a sea of soldiers.

“An aide will be here shortly to escort you where you need to go. Now, General, I have a meeting with the city council concerning last week’s events.”

Pierce dismissed the man with a casual wave of his hand. Russell felt his hand curl into a fist despite himself and stalked off. The division commander stood and watched as the first of his artillery battalions rolled by under a blanket of dust and the heavy roar of their engines. It did him good to see the eagerness on their faces, the new troopers most of all. The seasoned soldiers wore that rugged determination to balance the crews out. They were the ones Pierce was depending on. From where Russell stood, he could only see future ghosts and grieving widows.

 

As usual with things of great importance, the general officers took entirely too much time to get organized and arrive for Russell’s liking. Glancing down at his watch only managed to cause a frown. Twenty minutes since the first man entered, a rather robust major with a good sense of humor, men were still trickling into the conference room. Armed guards flanked the walls in the odd event of attack.

The back wall had been devoted to a battle board. The majority of it had been turned into a detailed map of everything west of the Angril River. Captain Menzel stood behind a podium just off to the side of the map, patiently waiting to begin the briefing. He watched with a casual disinterest, wondering if they knew they were mere puppets in a greater play. An earlier transmission from General Gulluette kept playing over in his mind, despite the briefing he was about to give.

The mission is proceeding ahead of schedule. Eliminate Fint,” the message had said. Menzel was a capable man, certainly possessing the skills required for such treachery, but he doubted a man like Leggis Fint would be easily taken. His mind turned over with how he was going to accomplish his task.

A nod from Russell, and the lights dimmed. Taking the hint, the remaining commanders took their seats, and Menzel stepped on stage.

“Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Captain Menzel, post intel officer. This,” he paused until the Wastelands were lit up, “is the most inhospitable piece of land the Imperium has ever had the privilege of fighting for. However, due to its strategic location in the Disputed Territories, it is also the perfect place for a staging ground in our war against the Xempsarillian’s. The regional government has already said that, if we plan on using Trusgar, we have to help them deal with their Berserker problem. The Wastelands are just shy of six hundred million square miles and all of it desert. As you can see, there are various mountainous regions scattered throughout, but the majority is all sand. In effect, there is no high ground to seize and definitely no place to conceal troop movements, which is going to be the biggest problem you will face. That and the fact that there’s an estimated third of a million Berserkers out there.”

“Love the odds,” a robust major remarked with a scowl.

Menzel offered a curt smile and continued, “They tend to fight in small squad-sized elements and have a deep intelligence. We believe they’re controlled much the same as conventional forces in modern combat. They strike quickly with little or no warning and leave once the job is finished. The death toll has been staggering, but recent events lead us to believe that they are drawing back in response to something to come. They could quite possibly be preparing for an attack on their Hive by your forces.”

Russell let out a distinguished sigh and quietly excused himself from the room without being seen. The briefings went on long into the evening hours. Pierce’s men were intent on absorbing as much information as possible on their foe, so at least they had that going for him.

As for himself, Russell had no desire to go up against hundreds of thousands of Berserkers. There was an eerie feeling over the whole thing. The pinkish haze cast off by the twin gas giants was dull compared to the violent crimson from this morning. Could it be that the very planet knew of the impending disaster?

Soldiers greeted him with smiles and small talk on his rounds through the compound, making Russell feel like he was a youthful commander again. He wondered how many of them he’d never see again. Russell had been fighting to keep his troops out of the battle since its inception, but command was intent on taking them along to show the locals how good they’d been for Helscape. It was a foolish ploy at best, but he was just a colonel. One reinforced company of heavy infantry was being ordered to deploy with the division, making Russell’s fight a partial success. It was the best he could do under such heavy odds. The skies swirled over in a rapture of blue, black and red. The night wind blew a fresh scent across the dunes, and, for the first time, Russell noticed how the desert had such a brilliant emptiness to it. It was almost like the fingers of the Gods had come to this place.

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Can You Believe….

It’s already been 27 weeks since I decided to start posting this book? We’re getting there. Thanks for sticking around. This week I wanted to say to the ‘internet’ that I don’t need any help in deciding what I should be mad about. I’m a grown man capable of making personal decisions. Thank you, but no.

Here is this week’s ditty- Enjoy. Oh and PSA- I might suspend this story for the rest of the month as it is October and I feel like I should put out a little horror to get us in the mood.

TWENTY-SEVEN

A Dread Calm

Artur Russell knew he was losing control. The last week had blinked by before he knew it, dropping Pierce’s impending arrival right in his lap. The suns were barely up, and his garrison was already lining up to receive the General. Military police had spent most of the night fending off large civilian crowds protesting the way the war was being run. Tensions everywhere were rising, and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. Add the recent Berserker attack in Minion’s housing districts, and he was barely able to control his own base. Gray hairs were springing up faster than he could pluck them, and the lines around his eyes had doubled. He hadn’t slept much since the attack, and there seemed little opportunity for it in the near future.

Russell slid from his covers and showered and dressed hours before the dawn. He smiled when he realized he was whistling an old tune his mother had taught him and his brother long ago. He, in turn, had taught it to his children with the hopes of them doing the same when they grew up. His heart clutched at the thought of his children. Thade was already twenty and about to follow in his father’s footsteps in the Academy. Jocen was entering her teens and was more like her mother. Russell closed his eyes in fond remembrance. All he really wanted to do was go home. His real home, not some new post the Imperium decided was right for him. How much had he missed by not being there for them? The years went by so slow, and he often wondered if they still remembered him. Some days, he felt as if he was never going to see them again.

Adjusting the polished belt buckle on his dress trousers, Russell eased into his jacket, smoothing the front down. His two dozen ribbons of assorted colors and numerous badges were a proud representation of a distinguished career, and for it all, he wished none had been necessary. A little piece of him died with each award. There was no telling the extent of his personal suffering brought about through various conflicts and campaigns. There was that little girl on Arolbas. She was the cutest thing, right up until she pulled the pin on a thermal grenade. His best friend from the academy had saved his life from a mortar round on Genden III, only to lose his own in the process. Instead of the pride associated with such a display, he felt only exhaustion.

The stares and gasps from the soldiers he passed lifted his spirits some. Most of them wouldn’t stay in long enough to gain his fortunes. The common trooper was intent on doing his time and going home. His salutes were returned with textbook flawlessness, sharp and crisp. Rumors spread that he was losing it because he was too old to command a line unit. Let them make their own minds up on events long past. He’d earned some of these ribbons well before half of the garrison was even born. Suddenly proud and determined, Artur Russell strode across the compound’s main parade field and into the chow hall.

A new company of troopers was just sitting down to their trays of food when the call to attention sang out. Men, women and aliens snapped to before Russell was able to tell them to carry on. He was met with smiles and an overall joyful atmosphere. The majority vote said they’d all be going home soon and reassigned after that. Some of them were dressed to go out on patrol. Those were the ones who sat off to themselves, tight lipped and brooding. No one wanted to risk getting killed before the biggest invasion since the Berfulgo War nearly five years past and half a galaxy away.

Russell filled his cup with a dark liquid the cooks claimed was coffee and found a seat in the middle of a group of new privates. They smiled and offered greetings, as was befitting military customs and courtesies, but it still wasn’t enough to cover the resentment coming off of some of the older troopers. He was the one responsible for sending many of their friends off to their deaths. No one knew this better than Russell. He’d spent more time at night writing letters to troopers’ mothers than at any point in his career.

“You’re not eating this morning, sir?” asked a gaunt-faced female.

He smiled at her. “No. Today is a big day, too big for me to eat.”

“Too big to eat?” chimed another trooper, failing to see what was so important that it needed to be faced with an empty stomach.

The privates shared curious looks and laughed amongst themselves.

“Believe it or not, but there are still times when my stomach tightens and excitement courses through me, like I don’t know whether to be afraid or happy.”

He hoped the lie was believable enough.

“Sir, are we going to be able to go home when this is all finished?” a hard-faced corporal asked.

Russell knew the man. He was one of the ones who’d made planet fall with the first detachment. Now, the man was bucking for sergeant and ready to leave.

Swallowing hard and hoping it went unnoticed; Russell cocked his head and replied, “I can’t think of any reason why we should stay. Can you?”

“No sir.”

“Then we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and pray for the best, won’t we?” Slapping the nearest trooper on the shoulder, he rose and made ready to leave. “Enjoy your day, troopers.”

“Yes, sir,” the managed in unison.

Each of them was more than eager to begin this offensive and give the Berserkers what they’d been forced to take. One way or another, the Imperium garrison on Helscape was going home.

 

“Good morning Sergeant,” Lal-owk said with a toothy grin.

Snake Eyes managed to nod, wiping his eyes from the glaring sunlight. The morning came much too fast for his liking. Making things worse was the fact that his platoon was assigned motor pool guard for the next week. Snake looked the primate up and down, amazed at how the man stayed so motivated. Most of the troopers were so drunk the APC stunk of alcohol. Ardn Kelg and Seli T’lain were fast asleep atop a pile of rucksacks. Xill and Klausky were already deep into a card game. Amazing, am I the only one who values a good night’s sleep around here? Throwing down his hand, Klausky rattled off a string of curses and began shuffling again. Xill broke out in a deep, rumbling laugh.

“You need to watch this one, kid,” Snake Eyes offered. “You’re not the first one he’s hustled out of a pay check.”

Klausky’s face reddened. “Damn it.”

“Morning, Chief. Sleep good?” Xill asked. He did his best to keep a straight face, and the question alone was enough to let Snake know that none of the platoon suspected what they were about last night.

“As good as can be expected with this bunch of rogues around. Anything interesting happen this morning?”

“Nope. The Colonel came by for a little while but didn’t say much. Guess he’s getting pretty wound up about this invasion. Can’t really say as I blame him, though.”

“Yeah, well, I imagine a whole string of surprises is heading our way.”

Snake Eyes stared off into the desert where a large cloud of dust was steadily growing and moving closer. The roar of hundreds of engines drifted to them, and the anxiety he was feeling went to a new level. The 76th Assault Division had come at last to the Wastelands.

Drawing to the End

What a disappointing world we live in, sometimes. There’s nothing like waking up to find the horror of foreign battlefields being recreated at home. My thoughts and prayers go out to every caught in the disgusting business in Las Vegas last night.

Here is this week’s chapter. I hope you enjoy and forget a little about the rest of the world while you read.

TWENTY-SIX

Gage

An erupting volcano far to the west sent shocks wave after wave through the trembling ground. The effects stretched for leagues, both across the ash-laden plains and deep into the belly of the world. Giant, winged beasts soared through the toxic air in search of frightened animals fleeing the rushing tide of lava before it drained into the massive Lava Lake at the center of the continent island. Lizards much larger than houses went blundering across the plains, virtually impervious to the goings on.

High above, the skies were embattled with a clash of different shades of red and black. Here, the sun was no more than an unheard of dream. Further north, towards the Northern Ocean and the settlements beyond, the sky won back its natural blue haze, for there was no volcanic activity so close to the frozen Northlands. There was nothing so close to the Seven Hells as was Furnace Island.

Caught between the sands of the Wastelands and the green river valleys of the east, the island was a world forgotten by most — perhaps time most of all. Legends and dreams walked the blackened ash sand aplenty, leaving nothing for the imagination. The southern population was close to three thousand, none of whom could be considered upstanding citizens in any form of society. Thieves and murderers flocked there as well as men who just wanted to be forgotten. Massive pirate ships built from the strongest metals hovered over the expanse of the Lava Sea, often fighting and clashing with each other. Enemies were a quick thing to come by here, and a hard thing to ignore.

The island stretched for hundreds of leagues, though most of the cities were either in the far southern tip or lodged in the mountain crags to the north. The northerners had a goodly amount of sea trade going with a few of the Northlander cities, but the constant threat of invasion served as a reminder of the bitter times they lived in. No one was safe on either side.

A hundred leagues north of the port town of Redemption stood an old man in a lonely house. It was the humblest of homes, as void of decoration as it was of color. The walls were of a smooth lava stone that helped cool the house during the day and nights. Each room had a rounded dome, the size signifying the important of the house. A single tower rose high above the land on the west side, placed as if to watch over the growing darkness in the western world. Windows of glass reinforced by the wizard’s spell kept his home illuminated, though there were times enough when it proved a distraction for him.

The nearest town, Kratchen by name, was more than a day’s ride east, and no one ever ventured so far out as to annoy him these days. Long ago, travelers had come in flocks to seek his sage advice. Those days were but a memory now. It had been years since the last time a man had come seeking his counsel. Now it was just him and his Kordite assistant. They kept to themselves, hardly seeing fit to interfere with the weight of the island.

Gage was a very old man, but what was age to a wizard? He’d been here for countless centuries and could not go home. Once, back on his own planet, he’d had a longer name and was full of hopes and dreams. Since then, he’d abandoned humanity and their killing ways. Even their supplies were contracted out to them, delivered once a cycle in exchange for minor services usually involving medicinal help for the sick and elderly. They often went out into the volcanic fields to find various artifacts and things deemed important to his research. Aside from that, they sat and waited until the time approached when his services would be required on a grander scale. Then, and only then, would his mission be complete, his failure redeemed. Then he could go home.

Four hundred years was more than any one being deserved to spend on this perpetual nightmare of a planet, but his exile was coming to an end. He felt it in his bones. He and the others had come here seeking to turn Helscape into a cultural refuge and economic center the galaxy could respect. The others were gone now, dead in some fashion or another. Their designs had crumpled in failure, leaving him to deal with the misery of so much wrong.

Klaa, the aging Kordite, made his way from the aromatic kitchens to the laboratory tower just past the sun’s zenith. The tower was Gage’s one sacred place where he came to find peace with himself. The squat Kordite nimbly made his way up the twisting stairs, knocking once before entering. They’d known each other for eighty plus years, and Klaa was the one being Gage could honestly call a friend. The aged wizard looked up from his charts, his face drawn and weathered.

Flexing his eye stalks, Klaa telepathically said, the food is prepared.

Laughing to himself, Gage lurched to his feet and stared out the window, more intent on what was out there than on filling his stomach. A thin ray of sunlight broke through the ashen barrier, landing within the wizard’s sanctum. It was enough to bring a tear to his eye, so rare was the occasion. Klaa missed none of the translation as he stood next to his friend’s side.

He was studying the wall charts when the realization came to him. A frown crossed his face.

It’s about to begin, isn’t it?

Gage smiled as he placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Yes. Come the dawn, I will head for the ferry and go to Redemption. The messenger will be sent from there.”

It hardly seems possible after so long.

“Well, in truth, the time is not yet upon us. I sense they have much to accomplish before they begin the trek to us. But they will be coming soon. Begin preparing them a place to stay. I have much to do. Time has fled so fast, we’ll be hard pressed to be ready by the time they arrive.”

Will you be eating up here?

“No, my friend. I shall be down shortly.”

I am looking forward to seeing your homeworld.

The emotions in Gage threatened to burst. “As am I. As am I.”

***

The sun was shining. Clouds filled the sky in lazy patterns. A faint breeze was just enough to keep it cool. Birds lined the treetops, merrily singing to one another, and a family of rabbits emerged from their warren to feed. Nathan smiled as he noticed the excitement on his daughter’s face. Her small fingers grasped and pointed towards the rabbits as the big male gingerly crept forward to take the carrot chunk from her. The rabbit winked and bounded off, only to be replaced by another. Nathan couldn’t remember ever feeling so fulfilled. Evelyn, his loving wife of ten years, crept up behind them, covering his eyes as she nibbled the side of his neck with passionate kisses. He smiled as her arms circled around him, filling him with her warmth.

“You’re lucky we’re not alone right now, Mr. Detective,” she whispered in a smooth, seductive voice. Her hand trailed down his belly, inside his pants until she grasped hold of him.

Forcing himself to remain silent, his own hand reached behind him and moved up the length of her thigh until brushing against her. Evelyn moaned in his ear.

“No panties. I like that.”

“I’m full of surprises today, baby,” she replied, pressing her exposed breasts against his back. “But this is all you get until we get home.”

“Spoilsport.” He pouted.

Lightning struck a nearby tree, and it exploded in a storm of electrically charged slivers. The skies darkened before he could blink, followed closely by a heavy hailstorm.

“We have to get out of this!” he hollered above the roar.

But Evelyn couldn’t hear him. She lay on her back, her shirt ripped apart. She writhed, being caressed by something invisible. Her arms and legs were pinned to the ground, and her skirt was up around her waist. She moaned and shook from the unseen forces manipulating her and began to change before his eyes. Her face became deformed with lengthened fangs and facial hair, and her skin grew covered with scales and fur. Spikes grew from the ends of her nipples, and she howled from the pleasure and pain. The tail growing behind her was long and sharp, swishing with fury. Crawling on all fours, she moved towards him, her long, forked tongue tasting the air. Nathan reeled in horror. She had become a Berserker!

“You fool,” the monster hissed. “You thought to keep us from entering your world by staying on Helscape. Look now and despair, for we have become your world!”

Nathan ran for his life, outdistancing the monster with no clear route. The grass and trees fast wilted and died, turning the landscape a bitter sand Wasteland. He collapsed, able to run no more. He was exhausted and had only one bullet. There was no question in his mind what that single shot was for. Evelyn’s tongue snaked around him, crushing the air from his lungs. The smell of her made him vomit, and she snarled. Evelyn twisted his body around to face her, staring deep into his frightened eyes.

“Forgive me,” he whispered to her as the barrel of his pistol leveled at her heart. The shot struck with enough force to shatter the Berserker.

Nathan screamed himself awake, rolling from the bed. Bruised and afraid, he turned on the lamp and began to weep.

Fresh off the Presses

Pleased to announce my latest creation…enjoy and PLEASE- let me know what you think. I may write it, but that means nothing if you all don’t enjoy it.

COVER FINAL.jpg

Writing a book can be the hardest task an aspiring author will undertake, or it can be the fullest, most rewarding experience. The choice is yours. From creating worlds to building a strong set of characters, so much goes into the writing of a good fiction book that the author becomes inundated with details. The wall builds up until finishing a work of quality fiction seems impossible. Take heart! You are not alone.
With So…You Want to Write a Book?, award winning and bestselling military fantasy author Christian Warren Freed takes future authors on the wild ride of experiences that have landed him success. He details his failures, mixing comedy with despair and hope, and the growing list of his successes for the reader. There is no worse feeling that that of being alone on a long journey. New and future authors stand to learn much from So…You Want to Write a Book?

A New Dawn

As some of you have heard, my publisher and I parted ways back in March. They just weren’t cutting it for me and we both agreed to part ways. One of the reasons for my discontent was the way they handled what I believe to be my best storyline so far. As you can see by the covers, there was no justice done and you can’t tell they are part of a series. What should have appealed to sci-fi and fantasy fans was buried under the rug and left to rot. I received an email today from a new publisher who has agreed to contract my series. This is great news and a bolstering of confidence on my end. In the meantime, I have noticed a very successful series with the same title: Sleeping Gods- and was forced to make a course correction. I now name these books the Forgotten Gods. Books 1-3 should be republished before the end of the year and I have recently completed the first draft of book 4. Book 5 is slated to begin soon, but I have another project to do first. Patience is the key word here. With a little patience we can conquer the world.

That Time Again

Is anyone else tired of being told what to be ‘angered’ about yet? Holy cow. It has gone beyond political to just plain sad. Anyway, you and I both know you have better things to do than listen to people whine about nothing. It’s that time again. We’re getting close to the end of book one. Close, but not yet. All hell is about to break loose.

TWENTY-FIVE

Spies and Plots

A faint wind trickled through the base, lonely and chill. The duty day was winding down, both suns steadily drifting across the horizon, and that meant liberty for the majority of the garrison. Snake Eyes stumbled from the mess tent lighting a fresh smoke and patting his overstuffed belly. The food left a lot to be desired — then again, it was army food — but they made sure to serve more than enough. What the cooks lacked in flavor they sure made up in quantity. It wasn’t the worst he’d eaten, not by far, but there was much room for improvement. Even the dried field rations tasted better.

The steady stream of smoke pushing through his nostrils burned and relaxed him all at once. Casually picking a piece of meat from his teeth, the sergeant ambled his way back to the barracks. The trip back, which was no more than about a hundred meters, took much longer than he anticipated. At least a dozen different troopers came up to him gossiping about the coming campaign, affectionately dubbed the Extinction Campaign by those participating. He smiled and shook a few hands, making small talk with those he cared for and politely brushed off the ones he didn’t.

Snake knew there’d be plenty of time in the coming days for the chit chat and rumors to circle around. It seemed the two things a soldier was good at were dreaming about the future and bitching about the present. Either way, Snake Eyes had little control. He flicked away the last pull of his smoke as he entered the barracks. The usual sights greeted him. Soldiers walking around in towels with the smells of fresh soap and cologne. This was a rare occasion for most of the line troops, and they had every intention of living it up.

“Hey, Sarge,” Seli T’lain cooed, “plan on getting drunk with us enlisted tonight?”

Snake smiled. “I wish I could, but I still have some work left to take care of before it’s my turn to drink.”

Half-smiling and half-frowning, she finished pulling the civilian shirt down over her chest and walked off in search of someone else to mess with. He forced his male urges down, quickly looking the opposite direction. Seli was an attractive woman with long shapely legs and an athletic body that made him drool. Even in a shirt and pants, she was simply mouthwatering. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a couple they would have made if she didn’t work for him. He almost laughed at the thought of having a blue child.

“Looks like Sarge isn’t the only one w’o can’t ‘ang,” Ardn Kelg growled in a teasing tone. His fur rippled from the force of his laughter. “Don’t worry about it, Xill. I’ll ‘ave a good s’are for you.”

Seli’s laugh was better than music. Snake scolded himself for acting like a schoolboy on his first date and began focusing on the task he had planned for tonight.

“Come on, let’s leave the old people alone,” Seli teased. “I, for one, don’t want to remember tonight come the morning.”

A rousing cheer erupted from the troopers, and she led them out the back door and down towards the gate. Snake unbuttoned his shirt and sighed. Instinct told him it would be much safer going with the rest of the platoon, but there were a great many things troubling him of a sudden. Nathan Bourne, the enigmatic Earth man who shouldn’t be here. Snake couldn’t say why, but he felt that Nathan had a much larger role to play than any of them expected. The Slayer, Kane, was equally troublesome. Men like that didn’t play well with others, prompting Snake to question why now. Logistics issues, replacements, new orders, and the natural turmoil that came with every large scale invasion plan all combined to fill his mind with far too much stress for a mere squad leader to handle effectively.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Xill asked.

“Is there a choice?”

The Crendaphidian shook his head. “I just hope they’re wrong about this.”

“Aside from making the last few years of our lives nothing more than sacrifice, I can’t imagine why,” Snake Eyes replied. “It’s hard to believe that we’re being sold out by our own command.”

“But to what purpose?”

He offered a thin smile. “If we find the answer to that one, I really don’t think we’ll be coming home tonight. Come on.”

Snake fell silent, wondering what he would do if he found out the Imperium was selling them all out for some greater purpose. He didn’t like the idea of snooping on his own people, especially the ones that outranked him, but his troops deserved the truth. A terrible war was coming, and chances were good that most of his friends were going to get killed. Snake Eyes wanted to make sure they were going to die for the right reasons.

 

A kyal yipped out in the deep night, answered quickly by the sharp howls of another, and then another. Doglike in form and extremely vicious, they were among the top of the Wastelands nightly predators. They seldom were known to approach settled areas, especially one of this size, but the casual traveler often met his match.

Climbing atop the last rise, Snake Eyes and Xill carefully watched for motion sensors or booby traps. If the Imperium was going through this much secrecy, they were sure to have rigged the site for intruders. The camp was a half a night’s ride on horseback from Fort Evans, just far enough to keep the Old Man in the dark. Whoever was in command sure didn’t want any intrusions.

Both troopers were dressed in thin fabric jackets made especially for desert warfare. They had processing chips built into the linings to disable modern infrared vision by changing the heat signatures. If anyone was watching, they would appear as nothing more than some form of desert animal, which was either good or bad depending on how trigger happy the guards were.

Snake Eyes crested the ridge first, motioning Xill up slowly. Even with infrared goggles on, he saw more than he was expecting. Dozens of specially rigged shuttles filled the small valley. Maintenance crews were working on more throughout the fleet, transforming them into containment vehicles. Armed guards patrolled the ground, and every fifty meters there was a lookout tower with twin ion cannons mounted.

Feeling Xill grab his arm, Snake looked off in the direction his friend was pointing. He had to focus his goggles but was hardly surprised when the smallish form of Smythe Menzel came into view. The intelligence officer was making his rounds, checking the security of the perimeter and the progress of the mechanics. No one saluted him, for specific instructions had been issued against it. A salute would only point him out if anyone managed to penetrate the area.

Two small lights blinked on, guiding in a newly arriving shuttle. The pilots weren’t bothering with lights, leaving nothing to chance. Menzel watched as the bird came in, immediately setting off to brief the pilots.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Snake Eyes whispered. “Something bad is about to happen. We have to get back and tell somebody before it’s too late.”

“I agree, but who can we trust?”

***

“We have got to get back and tell somebody before it’s too late.”

 

Smythe Menzel fought back a growl. Motioning for Fint to turn off the recording, he began drumming his fingers on the table. There was little doubt that the spies were already gone, leaving him to accelerate his plans.

“How soon before General Pierce arrives?”

“He should be here within a few hours, sir.”

Leggis Fint sat off to the side, doing his best to avoid this confrontation and smiling at the same time.

Menzel cursed. “We don’t have time for that. We can expect a patrol here shortly after dawn. Issue the order to begin moving the shuttles to our northern base. Ensure the pilots follow the course up the river to avoid detection. Maintenance crews go with the shuttles; all other ground forces begin tearing down the base immediately. When Colonel Russell sends out his men, I don’t want any trace of us having been here.”

“Yes, sir.” People scattered to make things happen.

“Master Fint, I need your inside man to find out who spied on us tonight.”

“Why?” Fint snorted. “Won’t do you or him any good. By the time he manages to find out, they’ll already have searched the area and found nothing. Wasting his time like that will only blow his cover, and I need him in there for a while longer if my job is going to get accomplished.”

“Need I remind you that you work for me, mercenary?” Menzel snapped.

Leggis Fint drew his blaster on the man before they could react. “No, I don’t. You know who hired me and why. It would be a shame if your generals found out you were the reason I terminated my contract. I never asked to be a part of this little war. Your superiors decided to involve me, and now that I am I don’t plan on letting some little low ranking flunky position himself over me. Another outburst like this, and I may forget we’re on the same side. I’ll be in touch.”

Calmly holstering his sidearm, Leggis Fint strode from the tent with much on his mind. He’d disliked Menzel from the moment they’d met. Something about the man riled Fint’s nerves. He should have known that whoever Gulluette had working for him on the inside would be a snake. Leggis Fint walked away, deciding if it was time to break their agreement or not.

Menzel was furious. Instincts urged him to gun down the man, but that would have to wait. He had much to do before it all collapsed around him. Certain people needed to be warned. General Gulluette’s mercenaries were getting out of control. All could be lost at the whim of a rogue man who, by rights, should never have been hired. Smythe despised Fint for what he was and what he stood to gain. The man’s reconnaissance mission was becoming a liability, forcing Menzel to prepare alternate endings for them should General Gulluette not take action for himself. Gods knew that, if anyone found out about their private plot to take control of the Berserkers, and possibly the Imperium, there would be no safe place left in the entire universe.

He grabbed his orderly by the wrist and whispered, “One other thing. Prepare my shuttle. I have something to take care of tonight. When I come back, I don’t expect to see anything but the wind blowing loose sand across this valley.”

“It will be done sir.”

“Good. For your sake, I hope so.”

Almost forgot!

Track out is in full swing so I am shackled with my 8th grader for 3 weeks. Day one: trip to the NC zoo. Great experience since the majority of the animals are in huge areas and not confined to small spaces. Open plains for the herd animals. Even the lions have a massive pen. This is the largest walking zoo in the country- with over ten miles of trails. So you can see, I am a little tired this evening. Anywho- here is this week’s installment. Enjoy.

 

TWENTY-FOUR

Planet Fall

The green lights blinked on, and a soft metallic hum began to vibrate the ground as the main gates of the Trusgar Imperium Spaceport groaned open. Commander Lynch and his staff rode out to the division encampment, eager to get this task over with. He’d had more than enough of Joneth Pierce and his warped mentality. Thinking only of the return to tranquil times and spending the rest of the day on the nearby beach, Lynch smiled.

Roughly two thousand tracked and wheeled vehicles awaited them in the nearest valley. The roar of engines shook the ground and rocked the trees back and forth. Close to fifteen thousand soldiers finished their last-minute preparations, moving in and among the winding columns. Company commanders gave the standard movement and safety briefing to the drivers and vehicle commanders. Despite the weeks onboard the Seventh Fleet’s ships, the atmosphere was jovial and light-hearted.

This machine, fused together from years of battle and forged in a brotherhood few outside of the military could understand, was set and determined to add another victory streamer to their colors. Pride reflected off their faces and uniforms. This was their day, and like so many others before, it was about to become a legend. Lynch had to admit that he’d never seen a finer fighting force. It was the attitude with which they carried themselves that set them apart. They moved and acted as if nothing in the universe was going to stop them. He wished he’d had such troops back when….

General Pierce had departed hours ago, not willing to wait for the rest of the division to land. His unique blend of confidence and brashness had earned him many titles over the years, but there always remained the deepest respect for his results. That Lynch and a great many others hated the man was no secret. Pierce would have it no other way.

Lynch nodded to the banner man, who immediately raised the colors of the Imperium and began waving them overhead. The first convoy commander saluted Lynch and held on as his vehicle kicked into gear and began the quest. Minion was not far off, and with it came the dark manner of Hells of the Wastelands.

Jumping from the hover jeep, Lynch placed his hands on his hips and watched as the first tank battalion rolled by, followed closely by howitzers and air defense units. Next came infantry, twenty to a truck. Their youthful faces offered him the best definition to war he could remember. It was young men and women giving their all for the troopers next to them. They did it without thanks, for the greatest reward came in living to see their friends another day.

Trusgar Imperium Spaceport had never seen this level of activity — not even when the Imperium had first dispatched forces to curb the Berserker problem in the attempts at establishing a staging area for its war with the Xempsarillian Empire. Hundreds of Helscape natives came out to watch this unprecedented event, curiously wondering if things across the river were as bad as this described. The regents hidden in the plateau city of Draken were saying nothing, only that this was an exercise agreed upon by both parties and would be mutually beneficial. The constant roar of engines was enough to keep the people’s minds from political decisions. They awed as the first recon elements boarded their slender fighting vehicles and sped away, long before General Pierce even made planet fall. It was a three-day ride to the Wastelands, but they were moving out like it was already near.

Commander Lynch called his staff together for a last-second meeting and called ahead to Fort Evans to ensure all was ready. Lynch had only been on station for six cycles, having been relieved from the front lines after an incident involving thirty-three friendly casualties. He had been reduced in rank and sent to this backwater world for his next tour of duty. It was safe to say his career was finished. There was no way he was going to get picked up for promotion again, not unless the entire command structure was wiped out. All he could do now, was sit and wait out his remaining time in service.

He met with Joneth Pierce shortly after midnight and came away entirely unimpressed with the man. He laughed to himself when Pierce told him the division had no intention of staying in Trusgar to ready itself. All preparations were to be made on the road, Pierce told him. The man went on with subtle hints at his personal dreams of glory and fame until Lynch was forced to excuse himself. Professional courtesy was the only thing keeping him from being disrespectful. If it weren’t for that…

On his way from his meeting with the pompous general, he was called back to the pads. An incoming shuttle was arriving from the Frontier with the latest batch of wounded and the ones fortunate enough to have completed their tour of duty in one piece. Their faces were gaunt and near ghostly, and each of them stared down the fresh faces of the newly arrived troopers. An eerie feeling stole over the place, leaving the shock troopers wondering what they were getting into.

Having seen as much as he cared to, Lynch went back to his quarters to rub up against the local girl he’d taken to and hopefully find a few hours of sleep.

 

Pierce stood on the edge of Trusgar’s perimeter, calmly watching the waves lap against the shore. Only one moon was out tonight, but it gave off more than enough light to calm Pierce’s nerves. Some men in his position would focus solely on the negative. After all, who wanted to be sent to a backwater world far enough from the front lines that, if you died, no one would remember your name? He knew this was his true calling. This offensive would be the culmination of a phenomenal rise through the ranks. Finally, once the ion dust and ash settled, Pierce would reach his destiny. Finally, after years of campaign and struggle, he would be in a position to command hundreds of thousands of young Imperium soldiers. He looked out across the Helscape oceans and saw his future beckoning him.