Friday, February 5, 2016

Chapter Three

Chapter Three 
   SHIHAN SAT SILENTLY behind the desk in his sparsely decorated of office. He listened intently as Ensign Waters stood in front and reported how they had lost contact with Commander Hafs in their escape. Shihan regretted not being able to make amends with Hafs, but it had been his incompetence that had caused his demotion. Shihan held out hope that Hafs would turn up later, but the odds were not in his favor. 
   "Ensign Waters, you’ve done well leading your squad back to safety,” Shihan said as he stood up behind his desk. “I need someone to command this squad. Do you want the job?” 
   "Yes, sir!” Waters said as he snapped a salute. 
   Shihan returned the salute, then spoke out, “Computer, note the field promotion of Ensign Waters effective immediately to the rank of commander and place him in charge of Delta Team 28, authorization Shihan Kahn, 14 Omega,” Shihan said. 
   "Noted, Elder Kahn,” the female computer voice responded after a series of chimes sounded. 
   "Commander Waters, you and your squad should take the next 48 hours off. Get some rest; I’ll need you back very soon for a final assault.” 
  Waters looked troubled. “Excuse me, Elder, but shouldn’t we send a search party out to rescue Commander Hafs?” 
  Shihan looked sadly at the new commander and shook his head. Shihan flicked his fingers over his desk and pulled up the holographic map of the area. It was covered with several dozen MARCs, hundreds of MARs, and thousands of ground troops. 
   "As you can see, the area is lost,” Shihan replied. “We have a new weapon that’ll change the tide of this invasion. That’s all I can say, commander. Go get some rest, that’s an order. Dismissed.” 
   “Aye, sir,” Waters replied as he saluted and left the of office still with the troubled look on his face. 
  Shihan sighed deeply. He hoped that the Guardians would be strong enough for the mission. He had pushed them hard over the last month and was surprised that they were so strong. They had bonded to the Crystal Skulls in a way that nobody had expected. In many ways, they were closer to their husbands now than at any time in the past. While they had surrendered their life force into the Crystal Skulls to power the Pyraportal one final time, they could still communicate with them through the skull itself. The emotional and mental bond was more meaningful in many ways. They still miss each other, but at least they are together on some level, Shihan thought. 
   They had found many new talents because of the Crystal Skulls that would come in handy during the battles to come. However, Shihan was leery of the Anti-Grav Suits. The Guardians had become nearly invincible in the Anti-Grav Suits, and it was dangerous for most humans to become so powerful. Power corrupts, so they’ll need to be watched carefully, Shihan thought to himself as he sighed again. 
    Shihan looked up as the door chimed. “Enter.” 
   Elder Salvatore entered with a chubby man with curly dark hair. “May the Light shine through you, Elder Kahn,” Salvatore greeted Shihan. “May I present to you one of our most promising young scientists, Pressler Anias.”
   Pressler was a well-groomed man, and he had a smile that lit up his whole face. His blue eyes twinkled behind the wire-framed glasses on his chubby face. He’d refused to take the eye treatments that would have fixed his bad vision and instead opted for the old fashioned wire-framed glasses like many of the commoners had done back on the colony. Shihan extended his hand to Pressler. 
   "May the Light shine through you both. Well met, Pressler. What may I do for you?” Shihan asked. 
   "Go ahead, Pressler,” Elder Salvatore said with a kind gesture. 
   "Uh, okay. I guess,” Pressler started nervously. “I’ve developed an organic-based nanotechnology that I recommend be tested. It should help our soldiers heal faster and make them much stronger. Our tests indicate that it could prolong life beyond our current limitations. Would you like to see our test results?” Pressler said as he produced a hexagonal-shaped storage crystal. 
   "Sure.” Shihan nodded as he took the crystal and placed it into the slot on his desk. The holographic projection showed a young man dressed in dark blue shorts and no shirt. He was a fine athlete with lean muscles that rippled under his taut skin. He picked up a knife and sliced his left arm. Within seconds the blood stopped and a pink scar formed where the cut had been. 
    "Impressive, is it not?” Pressler said with a smile as Shihan leaned forward in obvious interest. “The next demo is a little more gruesome.” 
   Shihan watched as the man placed his hand down on a table and used the knife to cut his small finger off. He pulled the two pieces of the finger apart to prove that it was not an illusion, then, before the blood stopped, he placed the two pieces back together and held them tight as a med-tech injected a thick-blue substance into the finger. After a couple of minutes, he flexed his hands; the finger had rejoined itself. 
  "In this demo it did take a full day for the bones to fully reconnect, but it did return to normal,” Pressler said with a proud look on his face. “I’ve also created a spray foam for emergency use on those not taking the supplements.” 
   "Impressive,” Shihan replied. “How long does it take for this to be effective on your subject?” 
   "Preliminary tests indicate that the supplements are 100-percent effective in as little as 10-12 hours,” Pressler said with a smile. “The topical sprays and injections are effective immediately.” 
   "No side effects?” 
   "Pain levels are greatly reduced, but no adverse effects that we have been able to identify at this time.” 
   "Good,” Shihan replied. “I want this deployed to all the troops immediately.” 
   "Whoa, wait a second,” Pressler said as he shook his head. The jowls in his chubby face shook like a bowl of jelly. “We don’t have that much produced at this time. We’re hoping for a couple of subjects as a test-case basis only. And we need a couple of months to set up the test parameters ...” 
   "I’ve got a better idea,” Shihan said. “You have 24 hours to produce enough for 14 test subjects. We need it for a battle in 72 hours or we may lose the entire northern hemisphere. We’re seriously up against the wall, so it’s time to make this happen now.” 
   "Well, I don’t know,” Pressler said nervously. “This is not how we normally work ...” 
   Elder Salvatore winked at Shihan and placed his hand on Pressler’s shoulder, “When the need is great sometimes we must make sacrifices. Consider this a field test and let’s move forward with all speed.” 
   "But there is so much that could go wrong ...” Pressler objected. 
   "Pressler, we trust that the Light will guide us all through this. Your timing is perfect and solves a great many problems that would very likely have ended catastrophically for us,” Shihan replied. “I trust you. We trust you, so show some faith in us.” 
   "This is almost like talking to Elder Danshe,” Pressler commented. “Very well, Elder Kahn. I’ll do my best.” 
   Shihan smiled and said, “Please, call me Shihan. I have a feeling we’re going to be working together for a long time. I also want you to be added to the 14 test cases. It wouldn’t do to have one of our most promising scientists experience any accidents. G`Alad spies are everywhere and can cause many problems.” 
   Elder Salvatore smiled and said, “Well, you have a lot of work to do Pressler. Maybe we should be going?” 
   "Oh, yes,” Pressler answered with a nervous laugh as he blushed.
   "Good day and May the Light Shine through you.” Shihan responded as he placed his hands in the shape of a triangle.

   Pressler responded with a strange look, “Oh, uh, you too.” 

  Commander Apollon flew over the location of the last battle. For the last 12 hours, he had reviewed the video archives of the battle as he searched for answers to how they had lost so many MARs warriors. 

   “Set us down there,” Apollon said to the pilot as he pointed at the disabled MARC. Within seconds, the war shuttle landed on the soft ground. The war shuttle was over 40-meters long and shaped like a triangle. It was charcoal gray and had gun ports all around. Pulse cannons protruded from the bottom along either side of the single-rail gun that ran the length of the shuttle. The nuclear power plant at its center also generated a dense force field that repelled all energy weapons and was effective for a short time against conventional projectile weapons. It used a magnetic drive to create a gravitational eld around it. It was highly maneuverable as the gravitational field prevented the crew from feeling any “G-forces” during flight. This field also helped to block projectile weapons. 
   Apollon exited the war shuttle and was greeted by Field Commander Kosh who commanded the disabled MARC. 
  "Sir, Field Commander Kosh reports,” Kosh said as he hastily snapped a salute. His charcoal-gray uniform was tattered and charred. His red face was smudged with dirt, and he smelled of smoke. His shaved head had bandages wrapped around it. 
   Apollon took stock of the man. He clearly should have been recovering at the hospital, but he had stayed to supervise repairs and try to recover some honor after being defeated by a handful of MARs units. 
  "Field Commander Kosh,” Apollon answered and returned the salute with a kind smile. “Let’s nd someplace to sit and discuss this battle. After all, I can’t very well have one of my Field Commanders faint in front of the troops.” 
   "Thank you, sir. We have a Mobile Command Center set up this way,” Kosh gestured to a small gray building behind him. When they entered the building the door guard jumped up to attention. 
   "Room, 10-Hut!” cried the young woman in her charcoal-gray uniform. 
   "As you were!” shouted Commander Apollon. “I’ll be here all day, so go about your business. Field Commander Kosh, can you show me to the briefing room?” 
   "This way, Commander,” Kosh pointed to the far door at the end of the room. Eyes nervously followed Kosh and Apollon to the briefing room. The tension in the air was very high. Apollon was glad to see that they were cautious and not arrogant. They entered the windowless brie ng room and closed the door behind them. 
  "Kosh, what happened?” Apollon asked. “You had the main force on the run, 
then you were wiped out by a small task force?”
   "Commander, they changed tactics. But it’s much more than that.” Kosh answered as he took a moment to wipe his face with a wet towel, he pulled from a pouch in his uniform. “They were much faster than we were. Their reaction times have changed, dramatically. We could not react fast enough. I believe these 10 MARs were seriously upgraded. Nobody can react that fast. Also, their shields were much more effective.” 

   "I reviewed the ‘vids’, so I could see that. It also looked more like guerrilla warfare tactics. That means they’re getting desperate,” Apollon replied. 
   "Yeah, it was hit-and-run all the way around,” Kosh answered. “By the time we found the tunnels they had set off the tactical nuke and escaped. We tracked one back into the tunnel but lost him. The tunnel collapsed into a deep underground chasm when we fired on him.” 
   "Are you sure he didn’t escape?” 
   "Absolutely, sir. He was hit clean and fell uncontrolled as the ground gave way. We lost two MARs units in the process. Their transponders show they fell for over two clicks before impact. We found no life signs for our MARs warriors, so I doubt he survived. We sent another in to verify, and we’re still waiting for their report.” 
   "Very well, Field Commander,” Apollon said with a satisfied nod. “Your honesty has saved your life, at least for now. Admiral Ares was not impressed, but we may yet be able to sway his opinion.” 
   Kosh’s face became pale. “The admiral is here?” 
   "He’s in Hyperborea as we speak. He wants to oversee the final battles as we destroy the Balsarius once and for all,” Apollon said. “Now, if there is something significant that you can add we may all be better prepared for the end to this war.” 
   "Let me send more units to the search party,” Kosh suggested.
   "I think that’s wise. Make it happen now; I can wait to finish this.”
   Kosh pushed the com button and a female voice answered.
   "Ensign Klas, how can I help you, sir?” a young lady answered.
   "Ensign Klas, I want four more MARs warriors down into the chasm immediately. I want those units found now. And have them map the inside of the chasm.” 

   "Aye, sir.” 
   "Kosh out,” he said as he pushed the com button again. “The chasm opens up after a 50-meter drop, but I don’t think it’s safe to put any more in there until we get a better picture of the inside of the chasm. 

  Hafs felt pain everywhere. He was frustrated that it would end like this. I would love to have made Pressler and Elder Kahn sorry for how they treated me, Hafs thought as he coughed blood up. The metallic taste filled his mouth. 

   “Computer ... report damage and ... life stats,” Hafs gasped as he began to see dark spots ash before his eyes. 
   The computer flashed briefly, then replied with a great deal of static in its audio response. 
  "Power failing. Radiation levels dangerous. Hydraulics and communications inoperable. The transponder was jettisoned, which will severely hamper any rescue attempt. Medical assistant program inoperable, but health monitor systems still operable. The operator’s life signs are failing. Internal bleeding in multiple organs and punctured lung. Twelve vertebrae ruptured, severe nerve damage at L5, compound fracture of left femur, elevated heart rate due to loss of blood. Life expectancy at current rate of internal bleeding: less than five minutes.” 
   Hafs saw more dark spots form in the corner of his eyes. Shadows moved around him. My mind must be playing tricks on me. I have to think my way out of this, because I can’t count on anybody else but me. I have to live ... long enough ... revenge ... ” 
   A dark shadow stepped out from the shadows. Legion looked at the nearly lifeless body inside the robotic form that lay at the bottom of the chasm. The broken man coughed blood as his life quickly slipped away. Legion waited patiently to see what he was going to do in his last breaths and was happy to see him cling to his hate rather than cling to the Light. Legion could hear the heart slow down until the last beats became sporadic. Then Legion struck. 
  At the moment of death, people could be manipulated very easily if they turned to hate instead of the Light. Legion came forward and confronted the man just as his life force left his body. 
  "What drives thee? What doth thou have to live for?” Legion spoke up as the life force floated in the dark. 
  "What? Who’s there?” Hafs asked. 
   "We are someone who canst help thou get the revenge thou dost desire,” Legion answered as they looked deep inside the man’s mind and pulled a hated vision of Pressler Anias. There was another, but Legion could not pull the fuzzy vision forward much less see who it was. Highly blessed by the Light, this one must be. Find out more, we must. 
   Hafs saw Pressler suddenly beside him here in the darkness beside this shadow that talked to him. 
   "This is the one. He has betrayed us all,” Pressler said as he pointed to Hafs. 
   "Something’s not right ...” Hafs said. “I don’t remember him saying that." 
   "Is this one not the cause of thine undoing?” Legion asked. “Help makest thou great again, we can. Trust us, you must.”
   "Yes, he reported me to ... someone. Why can’t I remember?” Hafs asked. “Matters not. Trust us, and change the world, we shall,” Legion said as they offered a shadowy hand to Hafs.

   Hafs reached his hand forward and plunged into darkness. He felt as if something was ripped from him as he became a shell of what he was. He could feel himself in two places. He was here at the bottom of the cave, but he could also feel himself in a deep dark cage. He knew he was a prisoner, but he was also free. The pain subsided as he looked at the broken body that floated up from the MARs unit. The body began to mend and heal. Broken bones that were protruding from his leg and torso pushed themselves back in and the skin quickly grew back. The massive bruises on the torso dissipated and the blood stopped owing from the mouth and nose. Hafs felt himself drawn back to his body. There was a blinding white ash followed by a dark stain that gripped his heart. Then there was nothing but blackness. 

    Kosh hurried to the private office that Commander Apollon now occupied. Hope this helps, Kosh thought nervously. He knew of several Field Commanders who had not survived the admiral’s wrath. And right now, Kosh needed something that he could use to salvage this failure. The loss of a MARs warrior was bad enough, but in total they had lost 32 and were still trying to fix the MARC that had been disabled by only 10 enemy MARs units. They were mostly scientists and farmers, but the G`Alad was predominantly made up of the Warrior Guild of the Human Colonies. They were bred to be Warriors. To be defeated by farmers and scientists was a shameful way to be remembered. Kosh stopped at the office door and placed his hand on identification pad. It read his palm print and signaled to Commander Apollon that Kosh was at the door. 

   "Enter,” Apollon replied as the chimes on the door sounded and the computer verified that Field Commander Kosh had arrived. 
   Kosh entered and snapped a salute to his superior officer. “Commander, we found the lost MARs warriors and one Balsarius MARs unit. There were no survivors, and we couldn’t find the Balsarius soldier. There was a lot of blood, but no bodies. We’re still searching, but we can’t find an exit down there anywhere. We identified nine other MARs units that escaped from connecting tunnels when the nuke went off. We mapped and cleared all those tunnels and found nothing.” 
   Apollon squinted at Kosh. “He couldn’t have just disappeared. Find him and we’ll nd others waiting to ambush us again.” 
   "We continue to search as we speak. We also identified big changes in the Balsarius wreckage. We’ll have our scientists analyze the wreckage, but it appears they improved the neuro interface. It looks like the MARs operator was encased in a stasis pod that fully integrated the operator with the MARs. Looks like they have a faster-than-thought capability in virtual reality.” 
   Apollon’s eyes perked up. “That’s significant. While you might survive, could you react fast enough to make any meaningful defense or attack?” 
   "Respectfully, no sir. That was in my initial report,” Kosh replied. “But their tactics were also greatly changed. It’s as though they have a real warrior making decisions now. Their attack was textbook-perfect.” 
   Apollon sighed, “Very well. Send the wreckage to Hyperborea for the scientists to study. Maybe they can reverse-engineer it and upgrade our units as well. We can’t afford to lose at this rate. You’ll join me as we report these findings to the admiral.” 
   "As you command,” Kosh said. “Should we finish our search first?” 
   "Our dear Admiral is not a very patient man,” Apollon said as he shook his head. “I don’t expect we’ll find anything else, anyway. Be ready to go within the hour.” 

   Shihan walked to the training center that the Guardians had created using the Anti-Grav Suits deep within the planetoid that had been turned into the space station they called Ark 1. It had been created to relocate millions of people from other human colonies. Now it served to protect the last human colony of Balsarius descent. Shihan walked into the training room and felt wave after wave of emotions hit him hard. Fear and despair were followed by hopelessness.     

  "Ladies, can you please dial it back for a minute?"
   Ana’ka looked surprised to see Shihan. “Oh, Shihan. Sorry about that, but we weren’t expecting you till later.” 
   "That’s okay. It’s just overwhelming when you all project at the same time."
   "That was just me,” MeNana replied with a blush.
  "Getting stronger, I see,” Shihan replied. “That’s good. Any other changes since you bonded with the Crystal Skulls?”

   Shea nodded excitedly. “I can manipulate some memories.”

  "I can push others to do what I want them to do,” Ana’ka added. “But I don’t like to do it. We can all talk to each other telepathically, but that’s about all we’ve noticed so far.” 

   "I’m late,” blurted out Josephine Itza, who promptly blushed at her outburst. 
   Shihan squinted at Josephine. She was the tallest of the Guardians and the most athletic. She had a beauty mark above her lips on the right side. The top layer of her long, curly, dark hair was sun-bleached a light brown. The large dimples in her round cheeks matched her cleft chin. 
  "What do you mean?” asked Shihan.
   "I mean I think I’m pregnant,” replied Josephine shyly.

   "Oh, don’t say that,” said Alana Akholay. She was short, barely taller than Ana’ka. She had an exotic look, with her brown, almond-shaped eyes and waist-long brown hair that owed behind her in the wind. She was even curvier than Ana’ka. If her figure didn’t make most women jealous, then her creamy, clear complexion would. “I thought that I just skipped mine because of all the work and stress. That could be it, right?” 

   All of them began to talk excitedly, as they had all experienced the same thing. Shihan sighed and shook his head and thought, I feel like I’m in a damn henhouse! After a couple of brief minutes, he tried to restore order. 
    "Okay, ladies, if you please? We’ll get the med-techs to check you out, but for now, get back to business. Pregnant or not, let’s focus. We need you to project emotions while you fight through the forms using the Anti-Grav Suits. Come here,” Shihan said as he walked over to the holo-desk and pulled up a map of the northern continent and the G`Alad settlement of Hyperborea. 
   "They’ve built up the forces on their southern border and overrun the temples at Bashar in Centrallia and the Mountain Fortress at Appalachia. They’ve attacked as far west as Plainston Fort. We were again forced to evacuate with heavy losses. They’re amassing for a final assault to take over the northern continent. We must draw the line here along the west coast or they’ll control the northern continent,” Shihan said to Guardians. 
   Ana’ka shrugged, “We’re only 13 women against MARs Warriors. We’re not even warriors. What can 13 pregnant women do against an army like this?” she asked as she pointed to the troops and artillery massing for the attack. 

   Shihan smiled, “You’re stronger than you know. This is what I want you to do ...”

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