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 More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.

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Gideon Shaw
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Posts : 1041
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Age : 47
Location : Magee House

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Concept: The Kicker of Asses
Race/Origin: Hybrid (Fae/Dragon)

PostSubject: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Sat Sep 29, 2012 2:39 am

101

Delia Sheehy took a moment to marvel at the diversity of students in her class. Canada had always been a nation of diverse peoples who had freely mixed with one another, but with the arrival of the Exsule Fleet in late 2012 non-humans had become a part of that mix. As she stood on the steps of the Royal Ontario Museum, Ms. Sheehy did a head count of her students and marveled, again, at their diversity. Fair skinned Anglos giggled with dark skinned African immigrants. A First Nations boy was shyly holding hands with an Asian girl. Mixed among their human schoolmates were three Kraken children and seven Ergrahthah.

The Kraken were the more non-human of the two extraterrestrial species who’d arrived as part of the Exsule Fleet. In physical form, they appeared to be a land-dwelling species of octopus. Their bodies were roughly dome-shaped, covered in a hard shell. From beneath the shell extended ten tentacle-like limbs. Four of those tentacles were thick and stubby, ending in a spade-like pad similar to a squid’s paddles. Four of the remaining tentacles were slender and ended in starfish-shaped hands. The remaining two tentacles were smaller and more slender than the four bigger “arms”, but followed much the same form. While the four arm-tentacles were used for most everyday tasks, the smaller hand-tentacles were for fine and delicate operations.

The squid-like appearance of the Kraken was enhanced by their faces. Found at the front of their bodies, the Kraken face was composed of two large, saucer-like eyes and a parrot-like beak. On either side of the beak were a pair of disk-shaped organs that functioned like speakers on a stereo. Eight bowl-like organs, evenly spaced around the circumference of their bodies, acted as ears. Another speaker-like organ was located on the back of the body above a puckered, sphincter-like orifice that served no observable function, but was rumored to be equivalent to a belly button on a human.

The Kraken had excellent vision, but they relied heavily on echolocation to find their way around. Sheehy had to smile as her three Kraken charges twirled to and fro taking everything in. They didn’t have heads or necks, and so to see everything they had to turn their entire bodies around. Their native language was impossible for humans to recreate without the assistance of a synthesizer and a really good set of speakers. However, as a species, the Kraken had an incredible facility with learning new languages. Her Kraken students had already mastered English and French and were rapidly learning Cantonese, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Next, Sheehy accounted for her seven Ergrahthah students. Their species was shockingly human-like in appearance. Nobody would mistake an Ergrahthah for a human, but the similarity of form and appearance was so close that the debate still raged after twenty years of contact as to how two intelligent species from two different parts of the galaxy could look so much alike.

The Ergrahthah were erect bipeds, the same as humans, two legs, two arms, a torso, and a head. The general shape and placement of skeletal and muscle structures were nearly identical to the human norm. Even their faces closely resembled that of Humanity. As striking as the similarities were, the differences were even more shocking. As a species, the Ergrahthah were covered in a fine, velvety fur that ranged in color from a light tan to a deep, rich, brown, marked with either black stripes or spots. Their eyes were jewel-like with a vertical, cat-like pupil, and their ears were equally cat-like, triangular and independently mobile. The Ergrahthah face had a slightly muzzle-like appearance.

Ms. Sheehy had noticed that some of the Ergrahthah, the girls, had what could be described as a mane, a long sheet of hair growing from a wide stripe along the center of the skull, starting at where a human hairline would have begun and ending just at the base of the skull. The girls’ manes were typically long and luxurious, a shade or two darker than their body fur. Some of the boys had manes, too, significantly shorter and narrower, almost like a mohawk haircut, but just as many boys didn’t have any mane at all, looking almost bald for all that they were covered in fur.

Unlike the Kraken, who went mostly nude throughout life, the Ergrahthah clothed themselves, mainly for modesty. Even on a cool October day like this, they wore shorts, short-sleeved shirts, and sandals. Ms. Sheehy had heard that in warmer, more tropical climates, the local Ergrahthah settlers wore even less. She could only imagine how they would dress as the terraforming of Venus neared completion, and the bulk of their people would begin settling there as their new home world.

She felt a little tingle of sadness at that thought. The reason that both the Kraken and the Ergrahthah were with the Exsule Fleet was because both species had lost their original home worlds to a rapacious invader called the Ro-chaq. The story often reminded her of what Humanity had suffered during World War 2 when the Nazis had sought to exterminate the Jews. Ms. Sheehy gave herself a little shake and looked around at the other teachers and classes. Hers was not the only one with integrated students. Three other teachers had more non-human students than she did. Additionally, they had brought along some of the Special Needs classes. The Headmaster had felt that by combining mainstream students and Special Needs into one large group, both groups would benefit greatly from the experience.

“Ms. Sheehy?” one of the Ergrahthah boys called out raising his hand.

“Yes, Brill?” Ms. Sheehy acknowledged the student.

Brill pointed up at the glass pyramid that seemed to be sprouting from the gray stone of the old ROM building. “Did the Makers build that?”

Ms. Sheehy smiled, a gesture that both humans and Ergrahthah shared. “No, Brill, that was designed and built by humans, but I can understand why you’d think that. It does look kind of like a Maker construct, doesn’t it?”

The Kraken and the Ergrahthah weren’t the only members of the Exsule Fleet. The “senior” member of their alliance was a species that called itself “the Makers.” No Maker children attended St. Paul’s College Academy, but from what Sheehy had heard on TV, the Makers didn’t have any children in the traditional sense. To all intents and purposes, they were a species of sentient computer programs that downloaded themselves into various types of “avatar” bodies, including some incredibly human-like forms, which they used to interact with Humanity. The Makers were aptly named because they had built the great Arks, which had saved the refugees of the Kraken and Ergrahthah home worlds.

“Teachers!” Headmaster Peterson called out. “Begin moving your students toward the main entrance at this time, please. We have a schedule to maintain.”

“Form a line, kids,” Ms. Sheehy called out to her class.

“Excuse me, Delia,” said one of the other teachers, a woman in charge of a class two grades below her own. “Would you mind if Johnny here went with his big sister? I think he’ll cry any minute.”

“Oh, sure,” Ms. Sheehy replied. “Uh, who’s his sister?”

“Boolie!” the little boy called out.

Boolie was one of the Ergrahthah children, a girl with the prettiest russet fur and green eyes. The girl joined them and took the little human boy’s hand. “It’s okay, Johnny. I can look after him, Ms. Sheehy. Please?”

“Uh, sure,” Ms. Sheehy said, forcing herself not to ask the obvious question.

Boolie answered on her own. “He’s my foster brother. His parents are Legionnaires, like my Ohbah.”

“Well, alright, then,” Ms. Sheehy said with a chuckle. “I’d like to hear more about this later. It sounds fascinating.”

“Not really,” Boolie sighed with a little shrug.

“I wanna see dinosaurs!” Johnny declared.

Boolie laughed and squeezed the boy’s hand. “Sure thing, Johnny, but we’ve got to follow the tour. Now, don’t let go of my hand, okay?”

“Okay!” Johnny said with a happy grin. “I love you, Boolie.”

“I love you, too, little brother,” Boolie said with a grin.

“That is the most precious thing,” the other teacher declared. “Who ever heard of interspecies foster care?”

“I suppose a happy home is a happy home,” Ms. Sheehy surmised. “I’ll get him back to you at the end of day.”

“Send his sister with him, if you want. She’s a helpful little thing.”

“Best student in my class,” Ms. Sheehy said proudly.

The students began walking into the museum lobby. As they passed through the door, they were hit by a gust of moist air. Ms. Sheehy glanced up and saw a blower of some kind. She’d seen the type of device used before to create a wall of air to keep air conditioning in at places like department stores or other public venues with a lot of constantly opening and closing doors. She supposed such an arrangement was even more important for a museum.

The Royal Ontario Museum, the ROM to its fans, was a museum of natural history that displayed more than just art. It contained dioramas of stuffed animals, both modern and prehistoric, displays of foreign and ancient cultures, mummies, suits of armor, all sorts of interesting things. Each class from St. Paul’s College Academy was assigned their very own docent to conduct the tour. Ms. Sheehy was rather pleased to find that their guide was a handsome young man, an assistant curator from the Anthropology department.

The guided tour began at 10am. Their guide, Paulo, showed them through the museum, telling the children wonderful stories about each exhibit. He kept everything short, promising the children that after lunch, they would be able to come back and revisit anything that they wanted to explore in more detail. By noon, the children were becoming hungry and restless. So, Paulo took them to the Romkids Lunchroom, a special area set aside for school tours where the children could eat the lunches that they’d brought with them. St. Paul’s, though, had ordered a catered meal, to be served to the children there. Their parents paid a lot of money for the best education and best learning conditions available, and they did get their money’s worth, even on a school field trip.

“How are you enjoying the tour, Johnny?” Ms. Sheehy asked the young boy who’d joined her class.

“The dinos are cool, but the samurai was cooler!” he exclaimed around a mouthful of egg salad sandwich.

Boolie rolled her eyes. “Johnny, manners.”

The boy swallowed. “Sorry. I am very grateful to you for letting me stay with Boolie. Thank you.”

Ms. Sheehy smiled. “My, what a young gentleman.”

“Mama says good manners are the beginning of civilization,” Boolie replied.

After lunch, the children scattered throughout the museum. Headmaster Peterson told the teachers to roam, as well, to officially keep an eye on the kids, but for them to also relax and enjoy the ROM. Ms. Sheehy found herself in an exhibit of Japanese artifacts. She saw Boolie and Johnny looking at a display of a suit of samurai armor. With them was a Kraken child that she didn’t recognize, although it was often difficult for a human to tell one Kraken from another. As she approached, she realized that the children were chatting to one another in some language other than English.

The Kraken whirled on its tentacle legs to face her. “Oh! Hello, Instructor Ms. Sheehy!”

“Uh, hi,” Ms. Sheehy replied.

“I am elder sibling to one called Ruby Dancer Light-Thoughts in your class. My sibling has much good to say concerning your caring and instruction, Ms. Sheehy. I am called Quickstep Mosh Light-Thoughts,” the Kraken said, dipping into what could have been either a curtsey or a bow.

“Mosh, for somebody without lips, you sure do know how to kiss up,” Boolie giggled.

“Like my sire, I wish to be diplomatic attache or even ambassador one day,” Mosh declared. “The giving of compliments, especially those which are well deserved, is a skill I must develop.”

“Last week he wanted to be a singer,” Boolie said.

“Mayhaps, I shall. One day. When I am no longer Ambassador to Canada. Or Australia. I think Australia is fascinating,” Mosh said. “Or maybe this Japan place. I find their carapaces to be most fascinating.”

Ms. Sheehy fleetingly wondered if Kraken children suffered from ADHD.

Then, other concerns took hold. She felt suddenly nauseous and dizzy. Her vision blurred for just a second. When she blinked, she realized that all three children were on the floor, eyes staring, unseeing, into space. She couldn’t stop the scream.

_________________
Ragnar Lothbrok wrote:
Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.


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Gideon Shaw
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Character sheet
Concept: The Kicker of Asses
Race/Origin: Hybrid (Fae/Dragon)

PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:53 pm

102

“No! The pallet of Onagers goes to the Hector!” Centurion Colton Payne bellowed at the enlisted Legionnaires preparing loads of weapons for transshipment to troops in the Ares Frontier.

“Pro Terra, Centurion!” the corporal in charge of the detail shouted. The young man personally manhandled the loader bearing the pallet around, pointing toward the correct loading bay.

“Outstanding, Legionnaires!” Payne shouted back. He pressed his thumb to the display on his tablet, signing off on that item on his checklist.

Doing weapons inventory wasn’t Payne’s usual kind of assignment. He was a Myrmidon, one of the Terran Legion’s cybernetically enhanced super commandos. His usual assignment involved locating the enemy and causing massive amounts of chaos and mayhem, but here he was supervising a platoon of depot jockeys in Station Liberty’s armory. Payne didn’t mind. For him, logistical duty like this was pretty close to a vacation.

“Sergeant Charmchi!” Payne bellowed.

“Yes, sir!” the swarthy Persian noncom bellowed back from the armory office.

“Are the munitions for the Onagers ready for transshipment?” Payne asked.

Charmchi consulted a screen in the office. “Yes, sir!”

“Then, where are they, Sergeant?” Payne asked.

“Ah... Ah! Still waiting for Corporal Diaz to move them, sir. I’ll get him right on it!” Charmchi promised.

“Personally, Sergeant,” Payne suggested in a tone of voice that sounded more like an order.

Charmchi saluted and trotted off to see to the job. Payne allowed himself a small smile. The depot jockeys were doing a good job, and not because they were terrified of the Myrmidon in temporary command. Their regular lieutenant would be returning the following day. By then, Payne would have the weapons and munitions earmarked for his Myrmidon troops in the Ares Frontier on the way, and he could finally take a well-deserved and long overdue leave.

The Persian sergeant returned in a minute with Spanish corporal and his team of Kraken Legionnaires. The capering gait of the land squids always amused Payne. Even when they were in a hurry to move heavy objects, Kraken looked like they were dancing. Back when Payne had enlisted, the Terran Legion had been an all-human force, mercenaries recruited by the Exsule Fleet for their war effort against the Ro-chaq. Now, the potential recruit just had to be a citizen of one of Earth’s many nations, and with a few glaring exceptions, almost every nation on Earth had granted citizenship to any Kraken or Ergrahthah that had wanted it. An entire generation of both species had now been born on Earth.

As the terraforming of both Venus and Mars neared completion, the Exsule Fleet High Command wanted to establish two more Legions on the same pattern as the Terran Legion. Payne figured he’d wind up on Mars pretty soon to begin training the first recruits to the Martian Legion. People, human, Kraken, and Ergrahthah, had been living on Mars for the last twelve years. In the next few months, the first of the Ergrahthah settlers would be landing on Venus, which was getting a name change to Cytherea. The name was actually an alternative form of the name “Venus”, but it had the added destiny of being similar to a word in Bistuti, the Ergrahthah equivalent of Latin. The Bistuti word “Sy’therra” meant “Garden of the Goddess.”

Payne’s Ergrahthah friends couldn’t stop talking about having a new home world, especially one with such an auspicious name. The Kraken were still looking for a world that they could claim as their new home world. They had no intention of claiming Mars for their own. It was too different from the world that they’d lost. The rumor mill had it that the Kraken Legislature was eyeing one of the worlds in the Ares Frontier. The Makers had already offered to terraform it for them.

“Centurion, the pallets are accounted for. The load is ready for transshipment,” Sergeant Charmchi reported.

Payne nodded and moved over to the collection of palletted equipment and supplies. He made a show of visually inspecting everything, but the truth was that his Q-dar implant and his Quantum Parallel Co-Processor implant had already counted and verified that everything was correct. Payne pressed his thumb to the bottom line of the tablet, signifying that the shipment was correct.

“Hoorah, ladies and gentlemen,” Payne declared. “Job well done. Sergeant, be so good as to turn this over to the shipping platoon.”

“Yes, sir!” Charmchi replied with a precise salute and a big grin.

Payne mentally composed an email and sent it off while returning the salute. The shipping platoon would be ready to load the shipment onto one of Hector’s shuttles. Then, it would be on its way to the Ares Frontier. He returned to the armory office to find Staff Sergeant Zabala checking in for his shift.

“Good afternoon, Staff Sergeant,” Payne said.

“Good morning, Centurion,” Zabala replied.

“Point of view disagreement?” Payne chuckled.

“Get your shipment together?” Zabala asked.

“I did. Sergeant Charmchi’s men did an outstanding job. I’ve already filed a glowing performance review,” Payne said.

“Must be nice having a super computer for a brain,” Zabala snorted.

“It does have its perks,” Payne agreed. “Well, your LT will be back from his leave tomorrow, and my leave is gonna start.”

“How long has it been, sir?” Zabala asked.

“I haven’t set foot on Earth in six years. Hell, this station is the closest I’ve been to home in three years,” Payne sighed. Then, he snorted. “Shucks, six years ago, I was only on the ground long enough to fight in the Battle of New York, and then, I was off to Titan to dig out the Ro-chaq who’d gotten dug in there.”

“You’re probably looking forward to getting home, then, I bet,” Zabala said.

“Yep,” Payne nodded. “Of course, most everybody I knew from back then is either dead or they’ve grown up so much I won’t recognize them.”

“You’re an original Myrmidon, aren’t you, sir?” Zabala guessed.

“Training class number one,” Payne confirmed.

“You’re getting close to retirement, then, aren’t you?” Zabala asked.

“Got no reason to retire, Staff Sergeant,” Payne sighed. “No wife, no kids, my family’s gotten on fine without me. All I got is the Legion and my brothers and sisters in arms.”

“Yeah, sounds like you really need a vacation, then, sir,” Zabala said with a smile. He came to attention and saluted. “Centurion Payne, I relieve you, sir!”

Payne came to attention and returned the salute. “Staff Sergeant Zabala, I stand relieved. Command is yours. Pro Terra Pugnamus.”

“Hoorah, sir,” Zabala responded. “Go. Relax. Maybe you’ll meet a nice girl,” Zabala added with a wink and a grin.

“Thank you, Staff Sergeant. Have a boring watch,” Payne replied.

“It always is, sir,” Zabala said.

Payne shook hands with the noncom, and left the armory.

* * * * *

Station Liberty, once known as Space Station Zero One, was an asteroid, one of three, that the Makers had towed into Earth orbit upon their arrival in the Solar System. The asteroids had been hollowed out, filled with an atmosphere, and set to spinning to simulate gravity. Much of the station’s business was conducted in a warren of chambers carved into the “hull” of the station, but within the hollow, curved, inner surface of the station a city had been built complete with extensive parks. By looking up, a resident of the station could see the far side of the city above his or her head, but they would also see the transparent tube around which the station spun. That tube was the main docking bay for the shuttles that came to the station. Structures like supporting spines or ribs extended from the tube to the inner surface of the station.

The Legion Armory was located at the base of one of these spines. Payne watched for a moment as the shipment he’d been overseeing was lifted, under guard by the shipping platoon, from the armory up to the shuttle dock at the far end of the spine. He trusted the Legionnaires to do their duty and get that shipment where it was supposed to go. For a fleeting moment, Payne wished that he was shipping out with the supplies. At least when he was in action, he didn’t have time to think.

He turned away from the armory and headed into the town that had grown up on the inner surface of Liberty. His quarters were located in an apartment block set aside for Legion personnel. The “neighborhood” was incredibly normal for all that it was located inside a hollow asteroid in geostationary orbit above North America. Across from the apartment complex was a school with adjacent park and playground. School was out for the day. So, children filled the park, playing on the equipment there, throwing balls, engaging in impromptu games of soccer and basketball. Payne even saw a few playing with an American-style football. Payne sighed heavily. He’d been doing that a lot lately, but only because he’d had so much time to think. To remember. He shook himself and went up to his quarters.

The Bachelor Officers Quarters apartment was a simple affair, one bedroom, one bath, a kitchen, and a common room, all arranged in a box. Payne sent a signal from his QPCP implant to the door to open at his approach. He didn’t even consciously think about it anymore, all the little things that he did with his suite of neural implants. Once through the door, the flat screen TV in the common room flipped from the Boomerang cartoon network to Fox News, the auto-kettle began brewing a pot of tea, and the butler-bot activated. The robotic housekeeper began taking food out of the fridge, getting Payne’s supper heated and set out for him.

“Hello, Alfred,” Payne said to the bot.

“Good evening, Master Colton,” the butler-bot responded.

The machine was a human-built construct. The arrival of the Makers had seen a renaissance in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. Human bots couldn’t really compete with Maker designs, but the Makers had heavily invested in the field of robotics for reasons of their own. Bots like Alfred were the result. Alfred was humanoid in shape, painted and styled to look like a cartoon caricature of a butler. A butler with four arms and rolling casters for feet.

A whining brought Payne’s attention to the common room.

“You’ve been watching cartoons all day, dog,” Payne said. “Daddy needs to see the news.”

The creature that rolled off the couch looked nothing like a dog, though. It more closely resembled some now-extinct species of prehistoric long-legged weasel or some kind of hairy, proto-mammalian dinosaur. It definitely was not of the Earth because it had eight legs. The beast’s body was covered in a thick, hairy hide, a deep black in color relieved by stripes of white. Its underbelly was white with spots of black. Its body was long, nearly six feet, not including its stubby, semi-rigid tail. The eight legs were clustered together in sets of two, four at the front, four in the rear. Each set of two legs on either side moved in unison, acting like a single leg.

The head of the creature was stubby, block-like, with a wide muzzle filled with overlapping, sharply pointed teeth. A pinkish nose was set above the mouth. A stripe of white ran from the nose to just between the eyes, which were large and a golden brown, and forward-facing. Behind the eyes were a pair of small, round ears, tipped with white tufts of hair.

“Mah-woof,” the creature barked. Its tail started wagging back and forth, and it started prancing in place.

“Woola, sit,” Payne ordered.

The creature dropped to its back haunches.

“Present arms.”

The creature raised up on its haunches and waved both pairs of fore limbs at Payne.

“Gimme twelve,” Payne said holding out his right hand.

The creature dropped one of its six-toed paws into Payne’s hand, lowering the other paw on top of that one.

“Good boy, Woola,” Payne praised, ruffling the creature’s ears.

“Mah-ruff!” Woola barked.

Payne laughed. “I suppose we should take you outside for walkies, shouldn’t I, boy?”

Woola wiggled his entire back side, but didn’t move any further.

“Master Colton, supper will be prepared and ready to serve in thirty minutes,” Alfred the butler-bot reported.

“Get your leash,” Payne told the alien dog-beast.

Woola rushed into the bedroom. Payne had acquired the animal as a pup on a planet called Ares, from which the Ares Frontier got its name. Ares was a world that the Makers had terraformed to nearly Earth-like perfection thousands of years in the past. They had seeded the world with life forms that mostly came from Earth, but a few had been introduced from alien biomes. These creatures had been genetically altered, tweaked to make them compatible with the ecology they were being introduced into.

The sleipnir canid was one of those species. The first Legionnaires to arrive on Ares had dubbed all the eight-legged mammals as “sleipnir” after the mythical horse of Odin. Sleipnir mammals had effectively replaced several familiar Earth species in Ares’ ecology. Sleipnir canids had replaced wolves as the top pack predator, and, by extension, domesticated sleipnir canids had replaced dogs as the first animal to be tamed by the humans that had been transplanted to that world.

Payne had lobbied hard that the domestic sleipnir canids be named “calots,” after the Martian hounds of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. However, he seemed to be the only one who liked the name. The more clinical “canid” became the favored term. He’d had his final say, though, when he’d adopted a sleipnir canid and named it “Woola” after John Carter’s faithful calot.

Woola came trotting back into the common room with his leash in his mouth. The “leash” was actually a strand of rope about as thick as Payne’s wrist and thirty feet in length. One end was braided into a noose-like collar that Payne slipped around Woola’s neck.

“No parties while I’m gone Alfred,” Payne called over his shoulder.

“I shall endeavor to get over my disappointment, Master Colton,” Alfred responded.

Payne had programmed the butler-bot with snarky comebacks. To him, it made the machine seem more... human. Alfred wasn’t self-aware. It wasn’t even heuristic. It just did what it was programmed to do. Not as good as a living, sentient companion, but it also lacked any emotional attachment beyond what Payne invested in it. As he took Woola down to the park, Payne made a mental note to make an appointment with a counselor. He was beginning to think that he might need a little professional help.

“Woola!” several children shouted excitedly as Payne arrived with his large pet.

“He’s been cooped up inside all day, watching cartoons. Think you guys can work out his excess nervous energy?” Payne asked as he slipped the collar off.

“Yes, sir!”

“Then, have at it, Legionnaires,” Payne said with a officer-ly nod.

While the kids took charge of Woola, playing chasing-fetching games, Payne joined some of the parents at the fence that surrounded the park.

“Never thought I’d see the day when I would not only be living full-time on a space station but watching my kids play with the neighbor’s alien monster dog,” Commander Aldegonda De Cloet said. The Dutch Legionnaire was a tall, good-looking woman, with golden blond hair and beautiful blue eyes. She smiled winsomely at Payne.

“Yes, ma’am,” Payne nodded.

“We’re off duty, you know. You can call me ‘Alde’,” De Cloet said.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am,” Payne said.

“There you go again, hiding behind your Texan manners. Did you know that your accent gets thicker when you’re nervous?” De Cloet said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Payne said, but he smiled. “How’s Mr. De Cloet?”

“The last I heard from him, he’s enjoying his young new wife very much,” De Cloet replied with a barely concealed moue of distaste.

“You’re better off, ma’am. Man too stupid to realize how good he had it, don’t deserve you, ma’am,” Payne said.

De Cloet grinned. “I feel like an old woman every time you ‘ma’am’ me.”

“Not my intention, young lady,” Payne replied.

“Better,” De Cloet approved. She turned to watch as her children, a boy and a girl just as blond as their mother, clambered up onto Woola’s back. The sleipnir canid was very patient. Then, with surprising grace, Woola pranced around the playground with his two riders laughing and cheering.

“On Ares, they actually breed some sleipnir canids up to the size of a horse and mount light cavalry on them,” Payne said. “Those are some of the craziest soldiers I’ve ever met. Make Myrmidons seem calm and rational in comparison.”

“Ha! No one is as crazy as one of you Myrmidons,” De Cloet laughed.

“Hang out with an Arean Dragoon some time,” Payne suggested. “Think 19th Century light cavalrymen with the swagger of a Top Gun fighter jock.”

His implants alerted him that he had an incoming call. From Earth. “Uh, excuse me. I have to take a call.”

Payne turned away and appeared to be staring off into space. A window appeared in his field of vision with the phoenix logo of the Terran Legion. Then, the image was replaced with the face of Payne’s mentor, Tribune Miles Monroe, Commanding Officer of the Myrmidons.

“Sir,” Payne acknowledged.

“Have you seen the news?” Monroe demanded. He was a stocky man, broad shouldered, broad-faced, bulldog-like in appearance and build.

“No, sir. I just got off duty, and I took Woola out to play before supper,” Payne responded. “Miles, sir, what’s wrong?”

“Tune into the news, keyword: Toronto,” Monroe ordered.

A second window appeared in Payne’s point of view, the newsfeed from Fox News. The image showed the outside of the Royal Ontario Museum. Payne had always wanted to visit the place. Now, though, he could see emergency vehicles gathered, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances. Lots of ambulances.

“... overwhelmed. Nearby municipalities are sending emergency response teams. We’ve just received word that the Exsule are dropping an Emergency Disaster Response Unit from Liberty Station, since so many of the victims are non-human. For those of you just tuning in: a possible terrorist attack has taken place at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. We’ve been told that there have been casualties, mostly children, dozens of dead. We don’t have an accurate count right...”

Payne muted the feed. “What’s going on, boss?”

“I want you on that EDR shuttle, Colt. You can actually get there before anybody from Camp Sturgis can arrive,” Monroe said.

“Woola! Heel!” Payne bellowed to his pet. He turned to De Cloet. “Big emergency, Alde. I’ve got to go. Now.”

Before the Commander could respond, Payne had already spun on his heel, running for the nearest spine up to the docking tube. Woola gently shook off his riders and bounded after his master. Payne sent a coded message to Alfred to pack up the apartment and have his belongings shipped to Camp Sturgis. Once that was done, he inserted a virus into Alfred’s personality program that would reset the bot back to factory standards. Whoever stayed in that apartment next didn’t need a snarky bot unless they wanted one.

“Moving now, sir,” Payne reported.

“Woola on your heels?” Monroe chuckled.

“He’s a faithful doggy, sir,” Payne replied. “And I’m not leaving him on this station by himself. What’s the real word, sir?”

“Nobody’s taking credit. So far. Casualties are extensive, but all the dead are children, human and non-human,” Monroe said. “The real reason we’re getting involved is because many of those children were Exsule diplomatic and military dependants.”

“What are you not telling me, Miles?” Payne growled.

“Colt... It’s... The school that was there was St. Paul’s Academy College,” Monroe said.

“That’s where Erik and Kat’s son goes...” Payne stopped mid-run. “Oh, God...”

“They haven’t released the names of any of the kids, but...” Monroe nodded. “Yeah, that’s where little Johnny is enrolled.”

Payne shook himself and resumed his rapid movement to the elevator. He bullied his way aboard a lift that was about to leave, almost physically ejecting a couple of people to make room for himself and Woola. Legion personnel knew to give a moving Myrmidon a wide berth, and they grabbed any civilians who protested and explained the facts to them.

“Wait, Johnny was staying with the Thanes,” Payne said. He squeezed his eyes shut. Rax Thane was one of Payne’s Myrmidons, one of the first Ergrahthah to volunteer for the program. He was also one of Payne’s closest and dearest friends.

“Yeah, their kid goes there, too,” Monroe confirmed.

“Who did it?” Payne growled.

“I don’t know. That’s what I want you on the ground to find out,” Monroe said. “Diplomatic Corps is smoothing the way for you to join the official investigation.”

“And when I find them?” Payne growled.

“I want you to do what you do best,” Monroe replied.

_________________
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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Thu Oct 11, 2012 11:31 pm

103

The scene at the ROM was one of contained chaos. When the initial first responders to arrive began to complain of the same symptoms, headaches and blurry vision, as the survivors, Hazmat was called in, and a perimeter was thrown up around the building. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Toronto Police Service cooperated in establishing that perimeter, going so far as to evacuate nearby businesses, the University of Toronto, and the Legislative Assembly and other government buildings. Queens Park and Bloor Street were both shut down to all but emergency vehicles. The EDR Unit shuttle from Station Liberty had set down on the playing field in Varsity Stadium. A field hospital was set up in Philosophers Walk and the quad area between the stadium and Trinity College. The Public Health Agency of Canada had declared a general quarantine of the ROM until the source of the attack could be determined.

A Legion medic with the EDR Unit had figured out that the blowers above the entrances to the ROM were the source of the contagion. With the blowers disabled no more of the emergency responders came down with the mysterious illness that had stricken the staff and visitors to the ROM. However, the Hazmat people recommended to the police investigators that it would be safer for their people to practice at least minimal precautions to prevent infections. So, heavier-than-normal latex gloves, hazardous material coveralls, and respirator masks were issued to everybody who went into the museum.

Detective Constable Lynn Tucker was one of the first police officers to be allowed into the museum. She was one of dozens of officers and crime scene technicians who come to investigate this tragedy. The paramedics and rescue personnel had been given instructions to leave the dead where they lay so that the police could investigate. Tucker had been a detective for five years. Her partner, Al Piero, had fifteen years on the job, and between the two of them, they’d never seen anything as horrific as a museum full of dead children.

“That’s just...” Al sighed, unable to finish his thought as he pointed at a tableau in the Japan exhibit.

An Ergrahthah girl was clutching to a small human boy, as though trying to protect him. Beside them was a Kraken child, its tentacles splayed around its body. All three looked like marionettes that had fallen after their strings had been cut. All three were also staring lifelessly into space. The Ergrahthah and human children had easily recognizable looks of shock and pain on their faces.

Tucker swallowed the bile in the back of her throat, forcing herself to remain professional, detached. She knelt down and began snapping pictures with her digital camera. As she snapped each picture, the camera’s internal wi-fi connection transmitted the files to a central collection point in a command vehicle outside. The images were being ran through facial recognition software in an effort to identify the victims.

“You got ice water in your veins, Tuck,” Piero scoffed, turning away from the tableau.

“No, Al, I’ve just got my emotions under control,” Tucker replied as she stood up and faced her partner. “Hey, I’m the one with the lady parts. If I can handle this, so can you, big guy.”

“You don’t have kids,” Piero replied.

“No, but I’ve got a brother and sister. Cousins,” Tucker said. “Why don’t you take a break. Call your kids and tell ‘em you love them. I’ll finish up in here.”

“Thanks, Tuck,” Piero nodded.

Tucker went back to taking photographs. Detectives usually didn’t do that sort of thing, but the crime scene unit was spread extremely thin at the moment. She stopped for a moment and looked at the children.

“Who are you?” she asked. “Who did this to you?”

No response forthcoming, Tucker moved on to the next exhibit and began to photograph the next cluster of victims. After an hour, she’d filled the camera’s internal memory. So, she headed out, back to the police command center outside. Beneath the tent a Kraken wearing a white garment with a red cross on it that reminded Tucker of a horse rug was waiting to examine the investigators as they came out of the museum.

“I need to scan you,” the Kraken said to her, holding up a medical scanner in one of his many hands. “Please sit there.” Another hand pointed to a folding chair.

Tucker placed her camera on a folding table where a technician in hazmat gear was running the wand of something that looked like a Geiger counter over the equipment being brought out of the museum. Then, she settled into the indicated chair.

“Are you feeling any discomfort?” the Kraken asked.

“No more that usual for somebody pointing a... whatever that thing is at me,” Tucker replied.

The Kraken made a deep thrumming noise, their version of a laugh or chuckle. “But no headache, no blurry vision, no general sense of pain or of a malaise?”

“Uh, no. Malaise?”

“Yes, it seems that some of the survivors and now the initial first responders are having an overwhelming sense of depression that is to be expected, but not so rapidly and not cycling with an overwhelming sense of euphoria moments later,” the Kraken said.

“Definitely not feeling euphoria,” Tucker replied. “So, what did this? Do you know yet?”

“There is a theory, but I am not at liberty to say,” the Kraken said. “You may rest easy, young lady. I am giving you a clean bill of health. No infection.”

“Yay,” Tucker scoffed.

“Should symptoms occur, young lady, come to me or one of the other Legion medics immediately,” the Kraken said. He lowered his voice. “Please.”

Tucker frowned. “Uh, okay.”

The Kraken performed an awkward looking bow that also served as a nod. Then, he turned and snapped at another crime scene investigator to have a seat and be examined.

Tucker started to head back for her camera when the door of the command truck popped open. Her immediate supervisor, Detective Sergeant Luka Gaal stuck his head out. “Tucker! Get over here.”

Gaal led her to the back of the big truck to a small table around which sat several ranking officers, including Inspector Morven Evangelista, Gaal’s boss and the Service’s official liaison to the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team. Seated next to her was Inspector Rainier Langlais, head of the same Integrated National Security Enforcement Team that Evangelista was on. Gaal stood off to one side with his arms crossed over his chest. Tucker stood in front of the table, feeling like she’d been called on the carpet for some reason.

“Detective Constable Tucker,” Inspector Evangelista said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I have an assignment for you, Tucker,” Evangelista said. “We’re forming a special investigative task force, and you’re being transferred from the Homicide Squad.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Tucker said gravely.

“Don’t thank me. Because so many of the victims of this horrendous tragedy were related to Exsule diplomats, they’re demanding that they be allowed a hand in the investigation. In point of fact, they dispatched a Terran Legion officer with the EDR Unit to be their investigative representative. Inspector Langlais and I have discussed this, and we don’t need a Legionnaire loose cannon running around Toronto unsupervised. If what happened in New York six years ago is any indication, we don’t need that kind of mayhem here in Toronto,” Evangelista said.

“So, I’m being brought onto the task force to babysit the Legionnaire?” Tucker summarized.

“More or less,” Evangelista admitted. “Tucker... Lynn, I wouldn’t be asking you to do this if it weren’t important. I don’t want to insult our Exsule allies by assigning a uniformed officer as a ‘guide’, but I also don’t want him wandering around, on his own, ruining our investigation. If we’re lucky, he’ll be an asset to the investigation, not a hindrance. That’s where you come in. You can pursue your own leads, reporting back to me, but I want a tight leash on the Legionnaire. Clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. I understand you’ll find him outside. His name is Payne. Find him and get a handle on the situation. Quickly,” Evangelista ordered.

“On it, ma’am,” Tucker replied.

“See to it,” Evangelista waved a dismissal.

Tucker turned and left, followed by Gaal.

“Sorry about that, kiddo,” Gaal said once they were outside.

“Job’s the job,” Tucker sighed. “Look, Luka, I don’t care about the politics. I’m gonna find out who killed these kids and why.”

“I know you will,” Gaal said with a fond smile. “So does Morven. She used to be partners with your mom, back in the day. She really wants you to work the case, but she’s got pressure on her from the RCMP and the CSIS and Lord knows who else.” Gaal pointed toward the stadium. “The Legion personnel are generally gathering over there.”

Tucker nodded. As she turned to follow her boss’s directions, she noticed that the Kraken medic was talking to a tall human dressed in a black and gray camouflaged Terran Legion uniform. The Legion personnel who’d come down with the EDR Unit were either dressed in medical white or midnight blue, not camouflage of any kind.

“Excuse me,” she said joining them. “I’m told that the Exsule sent a Legion officer to join the investigation, a man named Payne?”

“That would be me, ma’am,” the tall human replied with a definite Southern drawl. “And you would be?”

Tucker took a moment to examine the man before answering. He was tall, alright, over six feet, broad shoulders, and a narrow waist. His close-cropped hair was dark brown, almost black, and his eyes were a piercing shade of blue. He currently had a rather hard set to his mouth, but she could tell that he had laugh lines around his eyes. Frowning like that didn’t suit him, she decided.

“I’m Detective Constable Lynn Tucker, uh, Mr. Payne. I’ve been assigned to be your... liaison.”

“Babysitter.”

“Yes. Pretty much.”

“I’m too old for a babysitter,” Payne said. “On the other hand, I wouldn’t want me running around your city without adult supervision, either. Centurion Colton Payne, ma’am. Friends call me ‘Colt’.”

The Legionnaire offered his hand. Tucker took it. The hand she shook was calloused, but not too rough, and his grip was strong but not crushing.

“So, Centurion, uh, well, there’s no way to ask this nicely that I can think of. What is your investigative background?” Tucker said.

“Does thousands of hours of Law & Order reruns count?”

“Please tell me that’s your idea of a joke,” Tucker sighed.

Payne shrugged. “Not really. Oh, wait, I have been working in military intelligence for the last several years. Does that count?”

“Are you always such a snarky jack ass?” Tucker sighed.

“Pretty much. Yes,” Payne nodded. “Kind of my default setting. Sorry. Where shall we start, Detective? Would a tour of the crime scene be in order?”

“I suppose that can’t hurt,” Tucker replied. “I heard that a Legionnaire figured out that the air blowers above the door were the source of whatever the contagion is. Would you know if the disabled blowers have been turned over to us for forensic examination?”

“I can check,” Payne replied. He cocked his head to one side and appeared to be staring into space.

“Uh, hello?” Tucker called out.

“He is using an internal communications implant,” the Kraken medic supplied. “I am Doctor George Seventy-seven, by the way.”

“All but two of the blowers are being transferred to the custody of the Toronto Police Service at this time,” Payne said. “We’re keeping those two for our own techs to examine.”

“That evidence is ours,” Tucker growled.

“Have your boss take it up with my boss, but our forensic technology is, literally, out of this world,” Payne replied. “Shall we?”

He turned without waiting to see if Tucker would follow and began to make his way toward the museum.

“George, I want those tests done yesterday,” Payne tossed over his shoulder.

“I can’t bend the laws of time!” the Kraken retorted. “No matter how much I want to,” he added so softly that Tucker almost missed it.

“Uh, thanks, Doctor,” Tucker said hastily as she chased after the long-legged Payne. She was barely five-foot-four, and most of the Legionnaire’s six foot plus height seemed to be legs. “Hey, wait up!”

Payne slowed enough for her to catch up. Tucker was slipping her heavy gloves and mask back on as they approached the door. “Hazmat team won’t let you in without protection,” she told Payne.

She watched in amazement as a viscous black material flowed up from under his uniform collar and out of the cuffs of his sleeves to cover his head and hands. The material formed a complete head and hand covering including a transparent visor in front of Payne’s face.

“We call it ‘Thick Skin’. Kind of acts as an emergency space suit. I was just on a space station a few hours ago,” Payne said.

“Doesn’t it... I don’t know, doesn’t it kinda creep you out?” Tucker asked. “I mean the way it just... slithers out like that?”

“It did at first, but I got used to it, and it’s fully under my control, slaved to my will through my implants,” Payne replied.

“You’ve got more implants than an average Legionnaire, don’t you?” Tucker guessed.

“Of course. I’m a Myrmidon,” Payne said.

He held the door open for Tucker.

“Uh, thanks,” Tucker said absent mindedly as they walked into the museum.

Payne stood in the lobby for a moment. He spread his arms out, fingers splayed, and spun around in place two or three times. Then, he set off at a trot.

“Hey! What was that? What are you doing?” Tucker demanded.

“Active Q-dar pulse,” Payne replied. “It’s unidirectional, unlike the passive Q-dar, but I get better range and a clearer picture. Well, within about five hundred meters.”

“What’s ‘Q-dar’?” Tucker asked as she followed Payne’s unerring path through the museum to the Japan exhibit.

“Quantum Resonance Imaging. Don’t ask me to explain it because I don’t understand how it works. I just know that it works like a combination of sonar and radar, but in some kind of weird quantum physics way,” Payne said.

He stopped in front of the case displaying a samurai’s armor. The three children that Tucker had photographed earlier still lay where they had fallen, the Ergrahthah girl holding the human boy protectively. As Tucker watched Payne fell to his knees. He seemed to sag in on himself.

“Do... do you know them?” Tucker asked.

Payne nodded. “The... The Kraken child is Mosh Light-Thought.”

“As in the Exsule Consul to Toronto?” Tucker said.

“Yes, and the, uh, ‘nephew’ of the Ambassador to Canada,” Payne replied. “He’s got a younger sibling about the age of these two. The girl is Boolie Thane. The boy is John Fraser.”

“Diplomatic dependants?” Tucker prompted.

“Uh, no, Legion. Johnny’s parents are, uh, Myrmidons. They’re on ops in the Ares Frontier right now. Boolie’s ohbah is Rax Thane. He was a Rytellan Aerospace Infantry captain who transferred to the Terran Legion when his family settled here on Earth. First Ergrahthah Myrmidon. I’ve known these kids since they were born,” Payne said. He reached out and brushed some hair out of the boy’s face. “Hell, Johnny here was named for me. My middle name is John.”

“Are you okay?” Tucker asked.

“Not really, Detective,” Payne replied with a harsh chuckle. “I’m their zhaxhye nah. It’s, uh, from Rytellan, Rax’s native culture. It means ‘honorary uncle’. Kinda like a godfather, but with actual responsibilities. You know, to guide and teach them, protect them when their parents can’t...”

“Do you need a moment, Centurion?” Tucker asked.

Payne stood up. “No.” He turned to face Tucker. She could see tears streaking his face. “The body is a shell. That which made these children special individuals is gone now. If you need me to make an official identification, I can do that. I can do the same for any of the children who were Exsule dependants.”

Tucker nodded. “Alright, but would you prefer to do it by pictures? Might be less, uh, painful for you.”

“No,” Payne said. “It wouldn’t.”

_________________
Ragnar Lothbrok wrote:
Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.


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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Mon Oct 22, 2012 2:04 pm

104

Payne rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. He calculated that he’d been awake for almost thirty-six hours. The QPCP would allow him to shut down part of his brain so that it could dream, which would prevent many of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, but his physical body needed rest, too. And food, fuel for the machine.

“Was that your stomach?” Tucker asked.

“I skipped supper,” Payne replied. He pointed to a child, a young human girl. “According to the school’s online yearbook, that is Emily Osmund, not an Exsule dependant. The boy next to her is Peter Paul Phillips. His parents work in the consulate, trade attaches. Nice people, but they’re overly fond of alliteration.”

“Okay, that’s the last one,” Tucker said, signing off on the form loaded onto the tablet she’d been making notes with.

Payne sighed as he watched the detective work. She was a tiny thing, slender, almost elfin. Long black hair was currently pulled back into a pony tail. Payne figured she was some kind of mixed heritage, Anglo and Asian. He really liked her eyes. They were a greenish-brownish hazel.

“How long has it been since you ate? I know you said you skipped supper, but I don’t know what time zone you’re on,” Tucker said.

“Uh, dang... It’s been almost fifteen hours. I suppose it’s time to break my fast,” Payne said with a snort.

“Come on. Sun’s up soon. There’s a Tim Hortons that we didn’t evacuate nearby,” Tucker said.

“Seriously?” Payne chuckled.

“Hey, mere mortals run on caffeine and sugar,” Tucker said. “Besides, the manager and some of her employees volunteered to stay. I hear Public Health actually stationed a medic on premises to make sure that they’re not affected.”

“As long as none of them walked into the museum today, they should be fine,” Payne said. He tapped his head as the two of them made their way out of the ROM. “Just got an initial report from our techs. It’s not a poison. It’s weaponized nano-tech.”

“That’s really not good, is it?” Tucker said.

Payne shook his head. “No, it isn’t. Nano bots can be extremely beneficial. I’ve got a colony inside my body that enhances my immunological system. Heck, Thick Skin is essentially made of interlocking nano bots. It keeps my body temperature constant, cleans up sweat, dead skin, other bodily wastes, even recycles my air supply. On the other hand, you can program them to tear up what they’d been designed to repair. Kinda like using a surgeon’s scalpel to slit a throat.”

“So, is this some kind of Maker weapon, then?” Tucker asked.

Payne shook his head. “No, the Makers won’t build weapons. The closest that they’ll come is people like me, but my enhancements are what they define as ‘defensive’.”

“Defensive?” Tucker repeated.

“Increased structural integrity to bones and muscles make Myrmidons more resistant to damage. Med nanny colonies increase our ability to recover from damage. Nanowire neural network lets us think and react at computer speeds, to better get out of the way of something that would damage us. Miniature Artificial Graviton Generators give us the ability to reduce our apparent mass, which also enhances our agility, and they give us the ability to generate ‘tractor’ fields for better grip when we’re running or climbing. Once again to let us avoid danger,” Payne said.

“Of course,” he continued, “enhance strength means I can punch a hole through somebody’s head. The nanowire implant makes me faster and more accurate on the draw than any gunslinger in history or the movies, and the maggie system can be used to repulse as well as tractor, which I’ve used to throw rocks with the force of a heavy caliber bullet. Even the Thick Skin, which is meant to protect us from the environment around us, can be used as a weapon.”

Payne held up his hand. The fingers merged and extended into a sharply pointed triangular blade. “Technically, this is a multi-tool feature. It can be a wrench, a hammer, a screwdriver, just about anything I can imagine and program into the Thick Skin. Knives are tools for cutting, after all.” The blade morphed back into a hand.

“So, your point is that even tools can become weapons,” Tucker said.

“Yes, ma’am. Technically speaking, weapons are just tools. It’s entirely possible to kill somebody with your bare hands. Tools make the work we choose to do easier, more possible. You’re a homicide cop, right? How many times have you seen victims who weren’t shot, but stabbed with a kitchen knife, bludgeoned with a handy lamp, poisoned with antifreeze?”

“I get your point,” Tucker said.

They’d arrived at the hazmat tent, where Tucker turned in her safety gear. An Ergrahthah Legion tech was with the hazmat team. The furry alien held up a scanner, waved it over both their bodies, and nodded to them that they were clean.

“So, how do you defend against weaponized nano bots?” Tucker asked.

“Defensive nannies,” Payne replied, his Thick Skin retracting back under his collar. “I wouldn’t have been affected by this attack because my med nannies would have attacked the foreign nanites before they could have carried out their attack program.”

“That the only defense?” Tucker asked.

“No, if you have the right equipment, you could hack the attack nannies’ program, deactivate them. Problem with that, though, is that you’d spend valuable time trying to find the right frequency to interface with the attack nannies, assuming there was one. Otherwise, they might be on a timer or pre-programmed attack pattern. If they’re not hardened, an EMP could kill them. If they are hardened, you could kill ‘em with a general electrical charge or a neutron pulse, but in both of those cases, you’d kill the hostage,” Payne said.

“I think you just scared me worse,” Tucker said.

“Scared is good, but I think there might be some good news,” Payne said. “Nanotechnology is still a new science for us humans. Our foray into molecular robotics is still... rudimentary. Human science couldn’t produce something this advanced. Kraken science could, though, and Maker science definitely could, but in both cases the industrial capacity to mass produce anything is either limited or tightly controlled for the war effort or the terraforming efforts. So, I don’t think our mystery terrorist has access to a great deal of this materiel.”

“Terrorist?”

“What would you call somebody who kills children?”

“Monster.”

“Point.”

As the two of them got to Bloor Street, a large shadow detached itself from Varsity Stadium and bounded toward them.

Tucker reached for her gun. “What the hell?”

Payne caught her wrist, easily forcing her hand down. “Easy, Detective. I’d take it as a kindness if you didn’t shoot my dog. Besides, that piddly little forty would just irritate Woola.”

Woola stopped in front of them, sat up on his haunches, which put his face in line with Tucker’s, and extended the paws on his right pair of forelegs. “Mah-woof?”

“He wants to shake hands. Be friends,” Payne explained.

This is a dog?” Tucker asked.

Woola’s long, purple tongue lolled out of his mouth in a stupid doggy grin.

“Seems pretty dog-like to me,” Payne said. “Okay, so he’s an alien dog-like thing, but he’s my alien dog-like thing, and he’s really friendly.”

Tucker holstered her Glock 27. Then, she reached out with her right hand and grasped one of Woola’s paws. “Uh, nice to meet you?”

“Mah-woof!” Woola replied, his stubby tail wagging vigorously.

“How smart is he?” Tucker asked.

“Uh, well, sleipnir canids fall somewhere between smarter than wolves, dumber than primates. Think along the lines of a border collie with actual problem solving capability,” Payne said. “Woola, heel.”

The monstrous alien dog circled around behind Payne and Tucker, settling in on Payne’s open right side. Payne rested his hand on Woola’s skull, between the canid’s ears. He gave Woola a good ear scratch.

“Where did you find him?” Tucker asked.

“Ares. They fill the same ecological niche as wolves and dogs. Domestic canids have even evolved the same people-pleasing natures as Terran dogs,” Payne said as they resumed their walk toward the donut shop.

“You know, pets aren’t allowed in restaurants,” Tucker said.

“He’s a service animal,” Payne replied. “And seriously, would you argue with him if he wanted to come inside with us?”

“I might call Animal Control,” Tucker said. “And an ERT tactical team.”

Payne actually laughed.

The only patrons in the donut shop were police and other first responders. The place smelled of baked goods and coffee. Payne’s stomach rumbled again. He ordered a couple dozen donuts, four breakfast sandwiches, a pot of Earl Grey tea, a large bowl of water for Woola, and asked Tucker if she wanted anything.

“You’re that hungry?” Tucker chuckled.

Payne shrugged. “Half the sandwiches are for Woola. I figured you and I could split the donuts. That is, if you eat donuts?”

Tucker laughed. “As much of a cliche as it is, yes, I am a cop who eats donuts. And drinks coffee.”

“Add a pot of coffee to that,” Payne instructed the clerk. He paid for the whole order with a Visa.

“I’m surprised. I thought you space soldier guys used ‘credits’ and paid with shiny little coins made of plastic,” Tucker teased.

“Somebody has been watching a lot of old sci-fi shows from the 70s and 80s,” Payne snorted as they sat down at a table in the back of the dining room.

“My dad was a big fan of the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers series,” Tucker said. “He thought it was a treat to dust off the DVDs and make us watch the old episodes together as a family.”

“Must’ve been a treat if you remember it fondly,” Payne suggested.

“I suppose it was, but the treat was spending time with Daddy, not cheesy crap TV,” Tucker replied.

“Then, it wasn’t cheesy crap TV,” Payne said.

The food and drinks he’d ordered was brought over to their table. The Tim Hortons staff was going out of their way to be helpful. Payne unwrapped two of the breakfast sandwiches and placed them on the floor in front of Woola. The canid was squatting on his haunches. Woola licked his chops with his long, purple tongue, but the alien animal didn’t immediately dive into the food.

“Woola, time to say grace,” Payne said.

The canid sat back up on his haunches, held his fore paws together in front of his body, and lowered his muzzle without breaking eye contact with his person.

“Good food, good meat, thank ya, Lord, let’s eat. Amen,” Payne said.

“Mah-rarf,” Woola barked.

“Okay, best table manners, boy,” Payne said.

“That is one well trained animal,” Tucker chuckled as she watched Woola use his long, prehensile tongue to snag one of the sandwiches into his maw whole.

“Told you he was smart,” Payne said. “Despite the claws and teeth, they’re actually omnivores. I mean, they prefer meat, but, like bears, they’ll eat berries and roots, even grass and leaves to supplement their diet.”

Payne took a big bite of his own sandwich and sighed happily. Tucker smiled at him as she took a donut, broke it in half, and dipped one end into her coffee. It was a dainty action, and Payne found it charming. He stopped himself from frowning at the thought.

“Something the matter?” Tucker asked.

“Oh, uh, no, just... I haven’t stopped since the second I found out that this had happened. I went straight from taking Woola to the park to the EDR shuttle. I’m wearing the same uniform I was wearing yesterday morning, and I didn’t bring anything with me, other than Woola and what’s on my belt,” Payne said. He opened a comms connection to Camp Sturgis’ mainframe while he spoke and sent an inquiry.

“Well, I’m sure we can make some kind of arrangements for you,” Tucker offered.

“Already working on that,” Payne said. He blushed slightly. “Sorry. I’m multi-tasking. I can actually talk to you and do about half a dozen other things at the same time. Well, as long as they’re all mental. I’ve sent an inquiry to my base about my personal kit; I’m monitoring the police band and all the local news feeds; I’ve got a comm channel dedicated to overseeing the EDR Unit, since I’m technically in command right now, and I’m running a database search for work orders at the ROM to repair or install those blowers.”

“Wow,” Tucker said. “That sounds... chaotic.”

“It is, but I’ve been doing similar things for close to fifteen years now,” Payne replied.

“That long?” Tucker said.

Payne shrugged. “I was recruited directly to the Myrmidons. Between Reset and Upgrade, you don’t have to be physically perfect for the job, just psychologically and emotionally capable. As long as you’re capable of thinking and acting, the Makers will make you physically capable.”

“That sounds... I don’t know. I think it’s interesting, cool even, but I think it’s also terrifying. I mean, they can take anybody and turn them into a weapon,” Tucker said.

Payne nodded. “Which is why they choose a specific type of person to be a Myrmidon. You’d be surprised how thorough that psychological evaluation can be. They don’t just give you a test. They interview you. Personally. While you’re inside of a box filled with every scanner imaginable, at your most vulnerable.

“I wasn’t chosen because I’m good at mayhem. I came into that after I was trained. No, I was chosen because I could improvise.” Payne smiled fondly at the memory. “My interviewer noted that I had brought a gun with me. I informed her that if I laid my hands on anything in the room, I could turn it into a weapon.”

“That’s a scary skill,” Tucker said.

Payne shrugged. “I don’t actually do that. I prefer more constructive pursuits. I like raising animals, building stuff, playing music, writing stories...” He shrugged again. “Just because you’re good a breaking things doesn’t mean you have to like it or only do that one thing.”

“I get the feeling, though, that you do like the breaking stuff part of your job,” Tucker teased.

“Well, I do take a certain amount of satisfaction from a job well done,” Payne chuckled.

Tucker’s phone buzzed on her belt. She unclipped the device and stared at the text on the screen. Then, she blew air through her lips in a combination raspberry and sigh. “Well, the first briefing for the joint task force has been scheduled for this afternoon.”

“To give the lab time to work on the evidence, to make official notifications, and to give investigators like yourself a chance to rest?” Payne asked.

Tucker nodded. “Something like that.”

“Oddly enough, I don’t seem to have gotten any notification of this joint briefing,” Payne mused as he mentally browsed his message queue. “Not even as Commander of the Emergency Disaster Response Unit. Ah, my Medical Officer has been summoned, though.”

“Maybe it’s just an oversight?” Tucker suggested.

“No, it’s an intentional slight, but I’m not insulted,” Payne said with a smile. “Since I’ll be showing up anyway.”

“Of course, you will,” Tucker snorted. “You’re the expert in mayhem, correct? And showing up uninvited will cause mayhem, won’t it?”

“You are an astute liaison, Detective Tucker,” Payne chuckled.

“Do you know where to go?” Tucker asked.

Payne smiled. “Of course, I’ve got George’s invite in my message queue. He forwarded it to me because he’s too busy to talk to a bunch of micro-managing bureaucrats with political agendas, and that’s a direct quote from his attached response.”

“The Kraken doctor, that’s who you’re talking about, right?” Tucker said.

“Yeah, George is a eunuch squid, um, a permanently infertile adult male. They’re kind of the philosopher-slash-scientist-slash-leader caste of Kraken culture. Since they’re not periodically insane like their fertile male counterparts, eunuchs can actually get some work done, and ole George loves to stay busy,” Payne said. “He’s also kind of cranky, grouchy, and irritable when forced to deal with idiots against his will, which is why I’ll be taking his place as Mission Commander of the EDR Unit.”

“He seemed nice to me,” Tucker said.

“I think he liked you,” Payne replied. “George is a surprisingly good judge of human character. Now, Detective, may I impose upon you for a little bit longer? I need a ride to Billy Bishop airport.”

Tucker frowned. “Why there?” Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport was one of two airports serving greater Toronto, and it was the smaller of the two.

“There’s a shuttle coming in from Camp Sturgis, and it’ll be carrying my kit,” Payne replied.

“Okay, but why that airport?” Tucker asked.

“It’s closer than Toronto Pearson, and there’s an EDR drop shuttle sitting in Varsity Stadium right now so they can’t land there,” Payne chuckled.

“So, they’re sending a shuttle with your personal gear on it,” Tucker said as she stood up from the table.

“Actually, it’s the regular shuttle from Sturgis to the Exsule Consulate here in Toronto. They also run a daily shuttle to Washington, L.A., and Mexico City,” Payne explained as he joined her. “Diplomatic dispatches for the various consulates and the embassy here in North America. I’m just taking advantage of it so I can change out of this uniform, which has got to be starting to smell by now.”

“You can’t tell?” Tucker asked.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” Payne shrugged.

“Well, we’ve got a bit of a walk to get to my car,” Tucker replied as she began tapping out a text message on her phone. “Just letting my boss know what I’m up to. Do you have a place to stay?”

Payne nodded. “Yes, but if you wouldn’t mind...?”

“Sure, part of the babysitting, I mean, liaison’s job is driving you here and there,” Tucker chuckled.

“I do take it as a kindness,” Payne replied. “Woola, heel.”

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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Tue Oct 30, 2012 9:57 pm

105

Colt had gotten a short nap in Detective Tucker’s car, a 2020 Toyota Ronin. The Ronin was a mid-size SUV with an electric motor. Toyota had been one of the first companies to utilize Exsule technology transfers in wholesale manufacturing, and the Ronin was the result of that partnership. Technically, the Ronin was really just an up-sized Prius, but it was all-electric, not a hybrid, and it was as fast and as powerful as any fossil fuel-burning light truck.

Woola had curled up in the cargo compartment, and Colt had reclined the passenger seat, pulling his uniform cap down over his eyes. Tucker was kind enough to let him take his little nap, which was still rather short, even considering daytime traffic through downtown Toronto. The city had always been a major metropolis, Canada’s largest and most prosperous city, but after the Battle of New York had thoroughly and completely devastated the city of New York, Toronto’s economy had boom as major corporations had moved there (or down to Boston, another town to profit from New York’s untimely demise).

Tucker had driven them west on Bloor before turning south on Bathurst. The neighborhoods they passed through had changed a lot in just the last five years. The area along Bathurst, between Alexandra Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park, had become known as Krakentown. Like neighboring Chinatown, Krakentown was an ethnic neighborhood, only with non-human residents. Despite the nickname, most of the residences and businesses in the area were owned by Ergrahthah, but both Kraken and Ergrahthah heavily outnumbered humans in that area.

Colt sat up as they reached Billy Bishop TCA. Tucker had just started to reach over and shake him awake. “How...?”

“Internal alarm. I set it to wake me up when we got to the airport,” Colt replied.

“So, your alarm has GPS?” Tucker chuckled.

“Actually, it’s kinda handy in my usual business,” Colt replied. “Uh, do you mind puppy-sitting Woola?”

“First, he ain’t a puppy, and, second, no, I don’t mind,” Tucker replied with a sigh. “All part of the full service duty of a Toronto Police liaison officer.”

“Trust me, Detective, if I have anything to say about it, we’ll be in the thick of this investigation,” Colt chuckled as he got out of the SUV.

“Well, I guess I’ll just take a nap myself while I wait for you to get back. Ferry’s over there,” Tucker said pointing.

“Woola, best behavior. Listen, if he gets... rambunctious, just let him out and play fetch with him. If you don’t have a ball, a tire iron will work fine,” Colt suggested before closing the door and striding off toward the ferry.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport was located on a small island across a narrow channel of Lake Ontario from the city. The ferry ride was actually kind of pleasant, a refreshing breeze blew in Colt’s face. After so much time on the station or on ships in transit, Colt had almost forgotten how good a natural breeze felt. He glanced down at the water. His impromptu research on Toronto on the drop shuttle down from Liberty had indicated that Lake Ontario had once been one of the most polluted bodies of water in North America. Now, after years of clean up efforts, and not a little judicious use of Maker nanotech, Ontario was so clean you could just about drink the water without getting sick. At least people could go swimming again without fear of infections. Colt inhaled deeply. Even the air seemed relatively clean for an urban setting.

The ferry docked. Colt made the short walk to the main terminal. The regular shuttle flight from Camp Sturgis would arrive in about ten to fifteen minutes at the private flight terminal. Colt arrived at the private arrivals terminal in time to see the Legion aircraft come in for a landing. The private aircraft area had a couple of fancy business jets, a Citation XIX, a Gulfstream G66, but most of the planes parked on the tarmac were single-engine prop jobs by Piper, Cessna, and Beechcraft. The Legion shuttle looked nothing like any of those aircraft.

Where the business jets were sleek and fast looking, the shuttle was a flying brick. Compared to the prop-driven planes, it was a really big brick. The shuttle, an Albatross-class Atmospheric Transport, was vaguely aerodynamic in an almost backwards-looking, boxy sort of way. The main fuselage was a solid block. A cockpit deck thrust forward like an ogre’s bulbous nose. Extending from either side of the fuselage were four short wings, each tipped with a massive, blocky engine nacelle. A tail boom extended from the rear of the fuselage flaring into a tail rudder and ailerons.

Such an ungainly-looking beast should not have ever made it off the ground, but within the nacelles were antigravity field generators and artificial graviton repulsor thrusters. Along with a secondary antigrav field generator mounted in the main fuselage, the four wing tip-mounted devices could make the albatross float, and the repulsors gave it the thrust of a military-grade fighter jet. The Albatross was a shocking agile aircraft, too. Colt had seen moderately talented pilots land one and take off again from a spot no bigger than a city bus. Somehow, the transports like the Albatross had gotten the nickname “hopper”. Colt theorized that it was from how they were used to “hop around” the battlefield or to “hop” from landing zone to landing zone. A buddy of his had suggested that “hopper” rhymed with “dropper,” the Legion slang term for a transatmospheric transport, especially an assault shuttle.

Aside from its unearthly appearance, the Albatross had one other distinguishing characteristic that set it aside from every other aircraft at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport: it was armed. A hundred megawatt Fulmen laser and a 15mm Ballista Autocannon were mounted in a turret together under the cockpit nose, and the four stubby wings each held a pod of nine Verutum hyper-velocity missiles. By Legion standards, that was practically unarmed.

Once on the ground, an aft ramp lowered and port and starboard personnel hatches opened for passengers to disembark. The Legion shuttle was a no-frills ride. Passengers had to carry their own luggage, whatever there was of it. The folks coming out of the passenger hatches wore a mixture of civilian outfits ranging from expensive business suits to young men and women wearing blue jeans and sporting Terran Legion sweatshirts or light jackets. Colt recognized young Legionnaires on their first leave home after Basic and Advanced Training. In a matter of a few weeks those kids would be shipping out, most of them to the front lines in the Ares Frontier.

The aft ramp was where the hopper’s cargo was unloaded. Those personnel were all dressed in Legion Armored Combat Utilities, the everyday work uniform of their organization. The standard ACU differed from Colt’s own only in color. The Myrmidons wore black, to set them apart, and thereby create an image and mystique of elite-ness, of dangerousness. That subtle psychological choice was just another part of the Myrmidon’s arsenal. The standard Legion uniform color was referred to as “the Scarlet & Gold,” but it was more like maroon and khaki, mostly khaki. Field ACUs came in a variety of digital camouflage patterns, but the “garrison utilities” were khaki with maroon accents and a maroon cover, usually a beret with the Legion Phoenix badge or a khaki field cap.

Another feature of the standard uniform of the Terran Legion was that every man and woman in uniform was armed. They each wore a belt from which hung a variety of devices, both benign and dangerous. Jokingly referred to as a “utility belt”, the Legionnaire’s belt carried a standard issue sidearm, the Pugio, a combat knife, a Maker tech multi-tool, a compact yet surprisingly well supplied first aid kit, and at least two extra reloads for the Pugio. Other things got added to the utility belt as the Legionnaire personalized his kit. Colton kept an earbud comms unit, a stun gun the size of a pair of AA batteries, a ballpoint pen, and a compact roll of duct tape on his belt.

Among the ACU-clad flight crew, one man stood out because he was dressed in a Scarlet & Gold Service Dress Uniform. The Legion’s workaday dress uniform was a classic military service dress uniform, essentially a business suit with the addition of “military” accessories like rank insignia, rows of ribbons detailing medals and awards, and special embroidery or braids. The maroon beret was standard with the Scarlet & Gold SDU. The suit was khaki, the pants legs tucked into and bloused out over low, highly polished boots. A maroon stripe ran down the outside of each leg with black diagonal hash marks that indicated years in service. The shirt was white with a maroon tie, and the rank insignia on the sleeves was also done in maroon. The Myrmidon SDU was identical except, of course, that it was all black, with a gray shirt and accents. It also lacked the years in service hash marks.

The man clad in the Scarlet & Gold SDU had a large duffel bag slung across his back. In his left hand he was carrying a large metallic briefcase, and with his right hand he was toting a garment bag tossed over his shoulder. He was a tall, dark-skinned man, just under six feet, and well built. He moved with a graceful economy of motion, like a shark, and he was definitely the big fish coming off that aircraft because everyone of the crewmen saluted. The man just nodded acknowledgment of the courtesy since his hands were obviously full. When one of the enlisted men moved to help, the man would politely refuse.

Colt watched the officer with all the luggage make his way across the tarmac to the terminal. When he reached the door, Colt was waiting for him, holding it open.

“I’d salute, sir...” the man said with an obvious English accent.

“But you got full hands, Sticks,” Colt chuckled, reaching for the garment bag.

The other man laughed back and grabbed Colt in a one-armed, back-slapping hug. “Good to see you, Cowboy!”

“I can’t believe it’s been four years, brother,” Colt agreed as they moved into the terminal and over to a mostly vacant seating area. Commuters flowed past them. The civilians were openly curious about the two Legionnaires, especially the one in the black uniform of a Myrmidon, but the Legionnaires in the crowd studiously ignored the two of them, some even encouraging the would-be gawkers to move along.

“Not since we cleared that rat’s next out on Titan,” Amadi “Sticks” Chibueze agreed. He unslung the duffel from his shoulder and handed it to Colton. “Here. This is yours. So is the garment bag.”

“Really?” Colt said with a frown as he accepted his kit bag.

“Achilles thought you should have a, and I’m quoting, ‘damn good suit for dealing with them damn Canuck bureaucrats,’ unquote,” Amadi chuckled. “I checked. It’s Armani.”

Colt frowned as he mentally accessed the website of his Earth-based bank. “Ah, and the Old Man even made me pay for it. The stingy bastard. For that price, it’d better damn well be bulletproof.”

Amadi frowned and snorted. “Do you seriously think Miles would send you out into the jungle without body armor?”

Colt felt mollified about the cost of the suit. “So, what’s that?” he asked pointing at the briefcase.

“Diplomatic pouch,” Amadi replied.

“I always thought those would be more... you know, ‘pouch-like’,” Colt grinned. “And what about you, brother? Why are you wearing a Johnny Nobody suit?”

“Well, Centurion Amadi Chibueze is currently on the ENS Hector headed out to the Ares Frontier. Captain...” Amadi glanced down at his name tag. “Bloody hell. ‘Nemo’? Really?”

“Well, it is Latin for ‘nobody’,” Colt laughed. “Come on. We should go make sure Woola hasn’t gotten frisky with my ride.”

“I was wondering where you’d left that eight-legged menace to footwear,” Amadi grumbled.

“Amadi, he only chewed up one of your boots.”

“I was bloody wearing it at the time, you git!”

* * * * *

“Oh, come on! He was just a puppy!” Colt said as they approached Detective Tucker’s Ronin.

“Puppy? Puppy! He was already fifty kilos. Puppies are not the size of full grown dogs,” Amadi retorted.

“Aw, he was just showing you he loved you,” Colt laughed. “And you’ve got to admit that you love him, too.”

“Not under torture would I ever admit to such a thing,” Amadi groused, but he smiled when he saw the big alien canid.

Tucker leaned against the hood of her car with Woola sitting in front of her. She was casually tossing a tennis ball up into the air and catching it with the same hand. Woola’s whole head followed the motion of the ball, his body twitching to move, to run, to catch the ball, his tail wagging vigorously, but Woola was well trained. He wouldn’t move without an express command.

“Good boy, big ugly dog,” Tucker said as she casually flicked the tennis ball away. “Fetch!”

Woola barked once before bounding off and catching the ball in his mouth. Then, the sleipnir canid came trotting proudly back and delicately dropped the ball into Tucker’s waiting hand.

“My old Lab would have left the ball slimy with slobber,” Tucker said as Colt approached. “I don’t understand how.”

“Nobody does, yet,” Colt admitted. “Not that canid enthusiasts like myself haven’t been trying to figure it out since we played with our first alien dog.”

“Mah-woof!” Woola barked in greeting to Amadi.

“These are new shoes, beast. Stay clear,” Amadi warned the alien dog.

Woola cocked his big head to one side, ears perked. Then, his tongue lolled out between his teeth in a very grin-like expression.

“Who’s your friend?” Tucker asked.

“Him? He’s Nobody,” Colt replied.

“That’s not very nice,” Tucker said. Then, she squinted at the name tag on Amadi’s breast. “Oh. Uh, nice literary reference there, Payne, but just because his name is ‘Nemo’ doesn’t mean that it’s Latin.”

“Actually, it is,” Amadi replied.

“And that’s captain’s insignia, right?” Tucker said. “Jiminy Christmas! ‘Captain Nemo?’ Tell me that’s not your real name.”

Amadi grinned. “No, it isn’t.”

“You see, Tucker, Nobody here isn’t here. He doesn’t exist. You never met him. He doesn’t exist,” Colt said. “Now, could you give me and my imaginary friend here a ride to the Exsule Consulate?”

“Sure, why not? I mean, I’m already driving around with an eight-legged circus lion that thinks it’s a dog. What’s an imaginary friend thrown into the mix?” Tucker said with a roll of the eyes.

“Detective Tucker got stuck with babysitting duty,” Colt explained. “I think she’d rather be investigating.”

“Has she figured out that babysitting you means she will be investigating?” Amadi asked.

“I think so, but it’s still sticking in her craw that she got put on babysitting duty in the first place,” Colt said.

She does not like being talked about in front of her face like she isn’t even there,” Tucker growled. “Now, Payne, get your big assed self, your big assed alien dog, and your almost as big assed imaginary friend into the car.”

“Oh, darling, you’re a snarky one,” Amadi declared. “I like snarky.”

Woola went back into the cargo compartment. The luggage, and Amadi, went into the back seat. Tucker got them out on Gardner Expressway going west toward Don Valley Parkway. The Exsule Consulate General was located on the Don River near Bennington Heights. It was a silvery needle-like tower that rose into the air high enough that it had actually altered the Toronto skyline. With traffic, they were looking at nearly an hour drive.

“So, Captain Nemo, you’re a Myrmidon, too,” Tucker said.

“Now, what gives you that impression, love?” Amadi replied with a lovely smile.

“Well, you came in on the shuttle from Camp Sturgis, the Earthbound headquarters of the Myrmidons,” Tucker said.

“Yes, but a lot of regular Legionnaires are stationed there, too. We still use it as our elite ground warfare training school,” Amadi pointed out.

“Given, but you’re also traveling under a false flag,” Tucker said.

“I prefer the term ‘incognito’,” Amadi chuckled.

“Either way, you’re using a fake ID to travel, and according to my little brother who may possibly be the biggest Terran Legion fanboy currently on Earth, the Myrmidons aren’t just the Legion’s elite special forces. You guys are their intelligence gatherers and analysts, too. The advanced scouts. Derek says Myrmidons were on Ares a full two or three years before the first Legion regiment landed,” Tucker continued.

“All true,” Amadi nodded.

“Then, there’s the dog,” Tucker said, tilting her head back slightly toward the rear of her vehicle. “Before you got in the car, his attention was pretty much undivided on Payne here. Now, he’s wagging his head between the two of you.”

“Actually, I think he’s looking at you. You played fetch with him, after all,” Amadi said.

“Yeah, maybe, but you’re still somebody familiar to him. To me that indicates that you’ve known him for a long time, and you’ve got an easy way about how you interact with Payne. You two have been friends for a long time,” Tucker said.

Colt snorted a small chuckle. “Yeah, Captain Nobody there is one of my bestest best friends.”

“Colt!” Amadi exclaimed.

“Oh, she’s got you figured out, and the longer you deny it, the more evidence she’s gonna gather,” Colt chuckled.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not be a Myrmidon, and since I am not officially in this vehicle and we are not officially having this conversation, I really don’t see the point in this conversation,” Amadi said.

“Fair enough. Assuming, hypothetically, that you’re a Myrmidon, are you also actually a captain?” Tucker asked.

“Yes, I actually am a captain,” Amadi said with a slight frown of confusion.

“I thought all Myrmidon officers were ‘centurions’. Like Payne,” Tucker said.

“It’s a title, not an actual rank,” Colt replied. “Since we Myrmidons are, as you pointed out, more than just glorified commandos, our other duties often put us in a position where we have to give orders to men and women who would, technically, outrank us or be far outside of our chain of command. So, from the lowliest ensign to the loftiest colonel, all Myrmidon commissioned officers are called ‘centurion’ and all of our enlisted are called ‘spear’.”

“Really?” Tucker said. “So, what’s your rank, Payne?”

Colt cleared his throat and looked out the window. He mumbled something.

“I didn’t catch that,” Tucker said.

“Colton Payne is a major,” Amadi supplied.

“Oh. My. God,” Tucker scoffed. “Major Payne?

“Yeah, that’s why I never introduce myself by my proper rank,” Colt sighed.

Tucker called him “Major Payne” for the rest of the ride to the Consulate.

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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Fri Nov 09, 2012 6:38 pm

106

Inspectors Evangelista and Langlais were only mildly surprised to find Centurion Payne sitting in the conference room. They had not requested his presence when they had set up the briefing, but neither of them labored under the illusion that he wouldn’t find a way to be present. Evangelista personally hoped the man would be helpful, that he would keep quiet and, more importantly, keep out of the way. She wondered where Detective Tucker was, though. As if on cue, Tucker came in the door, spotted Payne, and glared at him. Then, she noticed Inspector Evangelista and unconsciously came to attention and nodded to her superior.

“Did you lose something, Lynn?” Evangelista asked, not unkindly.

“No, ma’am, but he seems so eager to be here that he found alternate means of transportation,” Tucker said. She looked around the room. “I just wonder what he did with the dog.”

“Dog?” Evangelista said.

“Oh, uh, yes, ma’am. It appears that Centurion Payne likes to travel with an alien pet, an Aresian sleipnir canid,” Tucker explained. At the blank looks she continued, “Uh, it’s like a dog only with eight legs and about the size of a small horse.”

“I don’t think that’s funny, Detective,” Inspector Langlais snorted.

Tucker shook her head. She retrieved her smart phone from a pocket and pulled up a picture she’d snapped of Woola. “It’s real. I looked it up on the internet. There’s an entire classification of eight-legged mammals on Ares, none of which are related to one another except for the extra four legs.”

“Well, you’re certainly getting an education in extraterrestrial fauna on this assignment,” Evangelista observed. “Just stick close to him. I really don’t want him running around unsupervised.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Tucker replied before turning and stalking over to join Payne.

He wasn’t dressed in a uniform any longer. Instead, he wore a black business suit with a gray shirt and a maroon tie. He was smiling when she sat down next to him. “I thought you might have been getting bored running me around. So, I borrowed a car from the Consulate.”

“You are supposed to be under my supervision, Major Payne,” Tucker grumbled.

“Actually, my name comes from Old English and means ‘villager’ or ‘rustic’. It can also mean ‘heathen’, but it’s just a homophone for the word that means ‘to hurt’,” Payne lectured.

“Are you intentionally being a know-it-all?” Tucker asked.

“I’ve got a computer implanted in my brain that not only has a vast internal database, but it also links me to the internet, literally, at a thought. I can’t help being a know-it-all because I kinda do. Know it all, I mean,” Payne sighed. “Gosh, it’s a burden being me.”

Tucker fought the urge to smile and lost. “It really must be. I mean, a burden to be you, that is.”

“Sometimes, I just can’t bear up under the pressure. So, I’ll be somebody else for awhile, but I always find me, and then, I have to drag me back, usually kicking and screaming like an angry toddler. It’s a chore, let me tell you,” Payne said.

“You wouldn’t happen to be under psychiatric care by any chance, would you?” Tucker asked with a grin that wrinkled her nose.

“As a matter of fact, the Legion offers rather extensive psychiatric health benefits to which I’ve been mandatorily sentenced from time to time, and your nose wrinkles up in the cutest way when you smile,” Payne said.

Tucker frowned. “That sounded suspiciously like you just tried to flirt with me.”

Payne smiled and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Old habit.”

“Flirting is an old habit of yours?” Tucker asked.

“Sort of. When I used to do it, though, back in the day, nobody ever really took me seriously. I have to be more careful about it nowadays because people now take me seriously,” Payne said.

“Why wouldn’t they take you seriously before?”

“Before Reset I was...” Payne paused. “May I see your phone?”

“Uh, sure. Why?” Tucker asked as she got her smart phone back out of her pocket.

Payne accepted the device as he said, “Because I don’t carry a phone anymore, not since I got one implanted in my head.”

“That explains why it’s so big,” Tucker teased.

“Yeah,” Payne snorted.

Tucker’s phone lit up in his hand. Then, her photo album opened up, and a new picture downloaded into it. Payne handed the phone back. Tucker looked at the new photo, which showed a smiling man. He was middle aged judging by the wrinkles around his eyes and the gray in his hair, dressed in jeans and a Western-style shirt that was stretch taut by his stomach. Tucker expanded the picture for a better look at the face.

“Oh, my god, this is you!” she exclaimed.

Payne nodded. “I weighed three hundred twenty pounds, had a thyroid condition, and I was recently diagnosed with diabetes when that picture was taken. I also had two bad knees, chronic arthritis, flat feet, I was near sighted, hard of hearing in one ear, and I suffered from a plethora of allergies. In other words, I was a jolly fat guy who suffered in silence while putting others at ease with humorous flirtation.”

“And now you look like you stepped out of a recruiting poster,” Tucker said.

“I prefer to think ‘out of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad’, but you’ve got the basic idea down,” Payne chuckled. He tapped a fingertip against the picture on the screen. “When I think about myself, though, this guy is usually who I see myself as in my mind’s eye. There are times when I do something as simple as stand up, and it takes me by surprise that it didn’t hurt.”

“And your friend, Captain Nobody, whom I’ve never met?” Tucker asked.

“Was in my recruitment squad. Little Johnny’s dad was my roommate, and his mom was our neighbor. We were all in the same training squad together, and they all knew me when I looked like that. Of course, when I knew them, they were a guy with cerebral palsy, a one-armed schizophrenic, and a paraplegic tom boy,” Payne said.

Tucker frowned. “That’s... an odd assortment of people.”

“We were the poster children for Reset. Nowadays, anybody with a cool million or who’s willing to serve in the Legion or the Exsule Navy for ten years can have the procedure done,” Payne said. “Do you know what we Myrmidons call Camp Sturgis?”

Tucker shook her head.

“We call it ‘The Island of Misfit Toys’. That’s what a Myrmidon really is, after all: a misfit toy that’s been repaired and upgraded, but on the inside, it’s still a misfit toy,” Payne said.

Inspector Langlais called the meeting to order and had the RCMP’s head of forensics brief everyone on what the crime scene units had discovered. The police scientist’s presentation was shockingly brief.

“Much of the evidence is beyond our capability to analyze,” the forensics expert concluded.

“Then, I suppose we should ask our Exsule liaison for a report on what their experts have concluded,” Langlais said with barely contained distaste.

Payne smiled and stood. He moved to the podium at the front of the room, where the forensic scientist had given his brief presentation. The wall behind the podium was a series of flat screen display panels. As Payne took his place, the panels came to life, under the direct control of his implants.

“As we’re all aware, this attack was carried out using weaponized nanotech.” An image of something that looked like an octopus made of colored soap bubbles appeared on the screens behind Payne. “The basic nano bot form is one commonly used in medical applications. This type of bot usually floats or swims through your blood stream, acting like a white blood cell. By itself, it’s dumber than a sack of hammers, but in a swarm...” The image switched to an animated cloud swirling through a cartoon human body. “They can share processing power in the form of a limited hive intelligence. However, without an external control computer, even a swarm this size can’t think for itself.”

One of the detectives raised his hand. “Uh, I was under the impression that the, uh, you know, the Mechs, that that’s what they really look like,” the man stammered.

“Yeah, I’ve seen that rumor on the internet before, too, but it’s also mostly true,” Payne said. “However, Maker nanotech is orders of magnitude more advanced than this weapon. The Kraken can already build robots this small and sophisticated. The Ergrahthah can’t, and, theoretically, neither can we. The Kraken still aboard the Exsule Nation Arks have severely limited production capacity, and that’s tightly regulated for the war effort.

“Now, as I said, theoretically we humans can’t make nanotech this sophisticated, but quantum resonance scans of the recovered nanotech indicates that it was, indeed, constructed here, on Earth. As a matter of fact, we think the materials used came from North America, but we also found trace signatures that trace back to China and Australia. Innocuous materials could be gathered anywhere, really, transported to a random location, loaded into a nano-assembler, and voila, we got nanotech,” Payne said.

The image on the screen changed again, this time to a schematic of a human body. “Our cyber tech guys got into the nanotech weapons’ programming. As I said, a swarm this size, without external control, has limited processing power, and the program controlling these bots is ruthlessly straightforward.

“First, it spends time mapping the victim’s circulatory system to determine species and the location of the brain. Once in the brain, the second priority is activated, which is to sample certain hormonal levels to determine whether the host body is pre- or post-adolescent. With the host’s relative age determined, the attack program initiated. In adults, the nano bots located those parts of the brain that control our emotional highs and lows as well as the visual cortex. The point of that attack is to incapacitate or inconvenience the victim.

“In the case of pre-adolescents, the attack program is more... lethal. In the human brain, the Ergrahthah brain, and the Kraken brain are similar structures that control autonomic functions. We call it the medulla oblongata. It controls your breathing, your heartbeat, your digestion, all that good stuff that happens without you thinking about it happening. These little bastards cluster together in the medulla oblongata and at a pre-arranged time, they shred that organ into pieces.”

Payne paused, not to let his point sink in, but because he couldn’t talk for several seconds. He was gripping the sides of the podium top in his hands, his knuckles turning white. When he forced himself to let go, he’d crushed the metal into finger-shaped dents.

“In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, be on the lookout for somebody with an extremely high tech, possibly alien, manufacturing device. You’ll find copies of all our technical reports on your personal computers and tablets. Thank you.”

The rest of the briefing consisted of Langlais reminding everyone of proper procedure, what to say if questioned by the media, and making assignments. Then, he dismissed everyone.

“I noticed a distinct lack of assignment for Tucker and myself,” Payne said to Evangelista, catching her at the door before she could leave.

“That was more Langlais’ idea than my own,” Evangelista replied. “I would have given you a simple place holding assignment to keep you out of our hair and out of trouble, but he thought it would be better just to leave you drifting.”

“His bad idea works for me,” Payne said with a chuckle. “I have an idea where to start looking.”

“Look, I’m serious about this. Don’t go running around my city, tearing it up like your kind did in New York,” Evangelista growled.

“New York was a lost cause before we got there,” Payne replied with an even tone and a small, sad smile. “I lost somebody very important to me there. Now, do you want to accuse me of eating babies, or do you want to know what my idea is because I didn’t hear Langlais assign anyone to investigate this tangent.”

“Okay, Payne, let’s hear it,” Evangelista said.

“The blowers. Not just who installed them, but where they came from, where they were manufactured. Those blowers couldn’t have been modified with that nano bot dispersal system. It was built to spec. Check out the files I downloaded to your tablets and computers,” Payne said.

Evangelista tapped on the screen of her tablet. She skimmed the file. Then, she blinked a couple of times. “Alright, but, Payne, Tucker is in charge. You have no arrest or investigative authority, do you understand? Should you break any of Canada’s laws, I fully expect Detective Constable Tucker to arrest you. Are we clear?”

Payne nodded. “Certainly. Whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable.”

“Somehow, I’m not reassured,” Evangelista said. Then, she nodded to Tucker and left.

“Somehow, I think she’s right,” Tucker said. “You have no intention of listening to me, do you?”

“I intend to listen to everything you tell me, Detective Tucker, but I think we both know that I’m used to being the boss,” Payne chuckled. “Come on. Let’s get to work. I want to visit the physical plant facilities for the museum. Find out where those blowers came from.”

“You already know, though, don’t you?” Tucker said as she followed Payne out into the hall.

“Let’s just say that you need to find out where the physical plant acquired those blowers. Proper procedure and all that,” Payne said.

Tucker shook her head. “Why don’t we just skip the middle man for now?”

“Detective Tucker! How so very off-the-book of you!” Payne chuckled.

“You hacked the ROM’s records, didn’t you?” Tucker said as they got into an elevator.

Payne shook his head. “No, I didn’t. Nobody did anything of the sort. That would be illegal, possibly even immoral.”

“Okay... I won’t ask. By the way, what did you do with Woola?” Tucker asked.

“Well, he’s back at the Consulate, and I’m not sure what to do with him. I can’t exactly keep a low profile with an Aresian jraakoskiilo nipping at my heels, can’t I?” Payne chuckled.

Tucker raised an eyebrow and stared at him until he explained.

“That’s what the local Aresians call them, ‘jraakoskiilo’. It means ‘dragon dog’. Everything we classified as ‘sleipnir’, they’ve decided are actually ‘jraakofiedra’, or ‘dragon spawn’,” Payne explained. “That’s how their mythology explained the existence of mammals with twice as many limbs as any other mammals on the planet. Dragons mated with ordinary animals and created the dragon spawn.”

“That’s kind of... fascinating, actually,” Tucker admitted. “Not necessarily germane to the conversation, but interesting nonetheless.”

“The jraakofiedra species are very few in numbers, but each of those species has been highly successful within Ares’ biosphere. They’re either bigger, faster, or smarter than their four-limbed counterparts. Sometimes all three, like the canids, but they also tend to fill specific niches when domesticated. Jraakoskiilos like Woola are bred for war or to be guardians. They make fantastic pets, loving, loyal, and above all, patient, but the typical family dog can’t kill a man in a single swat. They also can’t sit in your lap, which is where our old friend, Canis lupus familiaris, has cornered the market on Ares. And as rat dogs. Basically, they were rat dogs, because there are not domestic cats, and then they got adopted as lap dogs,” Payne said. “Among other things.”

“Other things?”

“Well, even here on Earth, certain breeds of dogs are kept for their hair, which is harvested, like wool, and used to make cloth. High born Aresian ladies keep these long haired yappy dogs, kinda like a cross between a shih tzu and yorkie, which they comb constantly. They collect the hair and turn it into this silky fabric. It’s amazing,” Payne said.

“Careful, you might have to turn in your men’s club card,” Tucker teased.

“Funny,” Payne snorted.

“So, what are you planning on doing with Woola?” Tucker prompted.

“Well, I need to find a babysitter, pardon the expression. See, Woola needs plenty of interaction, or he gets bored and things start going into his mouth. I can usually distract him for a few hours with cartoons or Bollywood musicals. He likes all the colors and movement, but he needs to be played with, walked, and fed,” Payne said. “Um, I hate to ask, but you wouldn’t happen to know somebody who wouldn’t mind watching him for me, would you? I’d be willing to pay.”

Tucker shook her head. “The crazy thing is that I actually know somebody who’d be perfect for the job. We can talk about it while we’re on the way to... Where is it that we need to go?”

“Uh, a place called Martin’s Heating and Air Services,” Payne replied.

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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:18 pm

107

“Carson Wells?”

A medium-sized man with an athletic figure and a blinding white teeth turned and greeted the beautiful woman calling his name with his signature grin. “That would be me. How can I help you?”

“Detective Constable Lynn Tucker, TPS. This is Mr. Payne. I need to ask you a few questions about a lot of air blowers that were shipped to the ROM this week.”

“Does this have to do with the attack on the museum yesterday?” Wells asked.

“Yes. It does,” Payne said. “Lot number 7725695-dash-Alpha-X-ray-Juliet-slash-Charlie-654412.”

“Uh...” Wells blinked.

“If you need to look it up, please feel free,” Payne said.

Wells moved over to the computer behind the service counter. He tapped a few keys. “Uh, what was that lot number again?”

Payne rattled it off again.

“Yeah, here we go... That’s a set of Agana Industries Environmental Control Air Curtains.”

“Who ordered those blowers?” Tucker asked.

“Uh, says the Royal Ontario Museum,” Wells replied. He frowned. “Invoice, though, says it wasn’t them that paid for it. Was something called the Erra Education Fund.”

Payne frowned slightly. “How is that spelled?”

“Uh, two ‘R’s’,” Wells replied.

“Did you have anything to do with the manufacturing of those particular systems?” Payne asked.

Wells snorted. “Not really. I’m strictly retail and installation.”

“Did you choose that model?” Payne asked.

“No, that’s the client’s choice,” Wells replied.

“And this ‘Agana Industries’? Is that a well know supplier of air conditioning systems?” Payne pressed.

“Actually, I’ve never heard of them before. I mean, there’s Amana, but whoever heard of ‘Agana’ before? Not me. That’s a fact,” Wells said. “I mean what is an ‘Agana’ anyway?”

“A city in Guam. It’s also a name of Chamoru origin. They’re indigenous to the Mariana Islands, which is where Guam is located,” Payne replied, absent mindedly. “I think we’re done here, Detective Tucker.”

“If you think of anything, give us a call,” Tucker told Wells as she handed him a business card.

Then, she was running to catch up to Payne. The Centurion had stopped outside of Martin’s Heating and Air Conditioning and appeared to be staring off into thin air. He was waving his fingers through the air, muttering to himself in a language that Tucker didn’t recognize. Suddenly, he switched to English.

“Track that, Amadi. Thanks.”

Then, he was speaking what Tucker knew was Mandarin, but he was speaking it too quickly for her to keep up. All she caught was, “Thanks, Nin. Pro Terra.”

He blinked twice in rapid succession and focused his blue-eyed gaze on Tucker.

“What’s going on?” Tucker asked.

“Coordinating an impromptu cyber Fist,” Payne replied.

“A what now?”

“Acronym that is supposed to stand for Fast Infantry Strike Team, but really, we just wanted to use the word ‘fist’ and created the acronym to fit it,” Payne replied with a slight smile. “Myrmidons are organized differently from the regular Legion. They have fire teams, squads, platoons, companies, and so forth. We have fists and phalanxes.”

“So, then, I take it that a cyber Fist is something computer related,” Tucker said.

Payne nodded. “I’ve got Amadi here in Toronto tracking the in-country shipping movements of those Agana Air Curtains; Nin is running down the Agana Industries corporation, and Shexie is up on Liberty researching this Erra Education Fund.”

“What’s got you worked up?” Tucker asked.

“The names. ‘Agana’ means ‘blood’, and ‘Erra’ with two ‘R’s’ is the name of the Mesopotamian god of plague,” Payne replied.

“That’s kind of creepy,” Tucker said, “and it could also be entirely coincidental.”

Payne’s fingers twitched. “True enough,” he muttered.

“Okay, what’s up with your fingers?” Tucker demanded.

Payne started and looked at his hands. Then, he smiled sheepishly. “Um, sorry. Virtual keyboard. The finger movements are an unintentional bleed-over. Uh, sort of a nervous tick, if you will. I can virtually type without the finger twitching, but I have to make a conscious decision.”

“So, what you’re saying is that your implants don’t make you perfect like you’d like everybody to think,” Tucker said with an impish grin.

“Far from it. I’m a better soldier, possibly a better person, but I’m still human, and if there’s one things we humans are good at, it’s ruining perfection,” Payne said with a sigh. “Now comes the part that I hate. Waiting.”

“Welcome to the reality of police work,” Tucker declared. “It’s a lot of hurry up and wait.”

“Same thing in intelligence work, to be honest,” Payne said. He smiled. “At least I have a fully stocked entertainment center in my head.”

“Oh, just rub it in, why don’t you?” Tucker snorted as she fished her car keys from her jacket pocket. “Let’s get you back to the Consulate. Or do you need to go pick up the car you borrowed?”

“No, a diplomatic flunky was sent to fetch it,” Payne replied. “Actually, with the AI built into that car, it could have driven itself home, but that might have freaked a few people out.”

“Well, I kinda freaked out the first time I saw somebody asleep at the wheel, and the car was driving itself. Then, I remember this TV show my dad made us watch, about a talking robot car,” Tucker said.

“Knight Rider?”

“Yeah, that’s it!”

“I think me and your dad would get along fine if locked in a room with a TV,” Payne chuckled. Then, he frowned. “I’m getting a download of a report from one of your fellow detectives, uh, Simmons...”

“He and his partner were assigned to look into the work crew that installed the blowers,” Tucker reminded him.

“Yeah, and... Well, that’s not good. They’re all dead,” Payne replied

“Ouch. Somebody is covering their tracks,” Tucker winced.

“Uh-oh. News media are flaring,” Payne said. “Get in the car and turn the radio on.”

Tucker got in and switched the radio on. Then, the digital tuner took on a life of its own, zipping across stations to land on a news channel. “Are you doing that?”

“Yes,” Payne replied. “Listen.”

“This just in,” the news reader was announcing. “An email has found its way to every major news outlet in Toronto and, apparently, across the world, claiming credit for the attack yesterday at the Royal Ontario Museum by a group calling itself Our Earth. They further claim that the attacks will continue until all non-humans are evicted from the planet. More later as this story develops.”

Payne clicked the radio off. Then, his fingers started flickering again. “I’m downloading whatever intel we have on this ‘Our Earth’ organization.”

“You’ve heard of them? I haven’t,” Tucker said.

“Me, neither, to be honest, but the Legion makes it a point to track terrorist groups that espouse anti-Exsule philosophies, and... we got nothing,” Payne said with a frown. “That’s odd.” Then, he was babbling in that language that Tucker didn’t understand. He glanced over at her. “Uh, sorry. Shexie prefers Rytellahk. Anyhow, I got her looking into any other references to ‘Our Earth’.”

“‘Shexie’, huh?” Tucker said with a raised eyebrow.

“Um, well, it’s kind of the Zog equivalent of ‘Jane’,” Payne said. “And ‘Zog’ is one of the surviving Ergrahthah nation-groups. They’re kinda like the Indians, colonized by Rytella, had Rytellahk replace Tonzel, their native tongue, as the dominant language, and Rytella culture became their unifying culture as well, and like India and Great Britain, they were largely autonomous from the foreign conqueror by the time the Ro-chaq showed up and started ruining everybody’s day.”

“Thank you for that entirely useless, yet interesting, thumbnail sketch of an alien society,” Tucker snorted.

“Sorry. At any rate, Shexie is in charge of monitoring communications on Earth for Legion Intelligence,” Payne said.

“Is she a Myrmidon?” Tucker asked.

Payne shook his head. “No. Not exactly. She has all the neural implants and peripherals, and she’s an absolute multi-tasking genius, but... Shexie was one of the first Ergrahthah to volunteer for Reset and Upgrade.” He paused for a moment, as if searching for the right words.

“Okay, here’s the thing: it’s not exactly a state secret that the Makers have been watching the human species for a long time. I mean, most anybody who wants can buy a book or read the stories on the internet that it was the Makers who transplanted humans around the galaxy, pretty much to preserve our species. So, what’s not as widely known is that the Makers have watched our species, literally, for close to forty thousand years, and they’ve mostly observed us by walking among us in human form avatars,” Payne said.

“Everybody knows about the human-form avatars by now,” Tucker said. “I remember all the conspiracy buffs screaming about alien invaders hiding among us. We discussed it a lot in Social Studies class in high school.”

“Yeah, okay, but to make those avatars, the Makers made detailed scans of the human genome, a mapping project that they actually spent four or five generations working on. They know our bodies better than we do. The Ergrahthah, on the other hand, they don’t know as well. So...”

“There were complications,” Tucker surmised.

“Yes. Shexie was one of those failures in Reset, even though Upgrade went fine, so to speak,” Payne said. “She was, by Ergrahthah standards, horribly scarred.”

“What’s that mean?”

“She’s lost all her fur. The Reset was mistakenly still calibrated to a human standard. Shexie could pass for one of us now, a beautiful bald woman with weird cat eyes, but to her people, it’s a full body scar. So, she spends all her time aboard Liberty, watching the world’s communications networks, phone, radio, internet, tracking trends that might predict danger to non-humans that have emigrated to Earth,” Payne said.

“Can’t the Makers fix what they did wrong to her?” Tucker asked.

Payne nodded. “They can. Now. Fourteen years later. When I say one of the first, I mean, she was one of the first three Ergrahthah to go into the Reset capsule.” Payne shrugged. “When the Makers offered to make it right, Shexie refused. She’s gotten used to her scars. And I think she likes what she does.” He smiled. “Frankly, she’s a horrible gossip and a worse flirt than I am.”

“That’s hard to believe,” Tucker chuckled. She started the car and put it into gear.

“Thank you, by the way, for recommending a babysitter for Woola. Are you sure your sister won’t mind watching him?” Payne said.

“You’re welcome, and I’m pretty positive she’ll enjoy the challenge since she’s a biology major with plans on entering veterinary science. UT actually has one of the best xenobiology departments in North America,” Tucker said.

“I would think she’d be more interested in the University of Alberta, then, or maybe Texas A&M. Both of those schools have large research farms of Grrel species that have been imported to Earth, or am I hearing the pride of one’s own alma mater in your voice?” Payne asked with a chuckle.

“A little,” Tucker admitted. “Leigh has actually applied to both of those schools for her post graduate work.”

“You sound proud of your little sister,” Payne observed.

“I am. My little brother, too. Mom wasn’t exactly the classic Asian ‘tiger mom’, but she really has emphasized the importance of education to us, and we’ve toed that line,” Tucker said. “So, I actually graduated from high school at sixteen, had my bachelor’s by nineteen, and my law degree by twenty-three.”

“You’re a lawyer, too?” Payne exclaimed.

“Yep. Finished my last year of law school while I was doing my first year of police training. My second year of work was like a vacation for me,” Tucker said.

“Criminal law?” Payne asked.

“No. Business law,” Tucker replied. “It’s actually come in handy before when I worked organized crime. You know, these days, most professional criminal organizations operate in and around the law as often as they do on the outside.”

“I am aware,” Payne replied with a wistful smile. “I’ve got some in-laws who’re... Well, to be blunt, they’re white collar criminals who’ve gone legit.”

“That sounds like an interesting story,” Tucker laughed.

“I thought so, too, at first, but it’s really kind of boring. Grandfather saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and decided to divest his family of their more illegal activities. They moved into the perfectly legal fields of sports and entertainment representation, where they found that the family’s old school criminal mind set actually worked in their favor. From there, they diversified into technology and so forth. By the time the grandkids my age and younger come along, the family is completely legal and actually engaging in all kinds of proper business practices,” Payne said.

“In-laws?” Tucker prompted.

Payne smiled. “Yes. Not blood relations. My wife’s family.”

“Oh. You’re married?” Tucker said, suddenly feeling oddly conflicted.

“Not anymore. I’m a widower,” Payne said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Tucker replied.

Payne shrugged. “It’s been... five years. She, uh... she was killed in action at the Battle of New York.”

“She was Legion?” Tucker asked.

Payne nodded. “A fellow Myrmidon. I fell in love with her the day we met, waiting for our interviews at the Denver recruitment center. She was smart, funny, and more than a little snarky. You kind of remind me of her, that way. Her name was Athena Martinez, and she was a science teacher at a performing arts school in Los Angeles. Reset only made her as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside.

“She was in command of the second Fist in my Phalanx when we dropped on New York. Took a direct hit from a Ro-chaq plasma cannon. Our armor is good. Real good, but even it can’t hold up against a weapon designed to shoot down warships. She died instantly. The gunnery crew on that cannon... Well, let’s just say that they had just enough time to make peace with their heathen gods and leave it at that...”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up a painful memory for you,” Tucker said.

“No worries,” Payne said. “I... don’t feel the pain as bad as I used to.”

“Counseling?”

Payne nodded. “My chaplain.”

“Not psychological counseling?” Tucker asked with a frown.

“Yes, it was psychological counseling. With my religious counselor who also happens to be a fully licensed psychologist. Chaplain Rogers married us. Did our premarital counseling. Consoled us when we lost men and women in battle. He helped me get through a lot of it. Faith, Detective Tucker, is a powerful thing,” Payne said.

“I’m a little surprised, actually,” Tucker replied. “I didn’t really expect anybody who works with aliens to be... you know, religious.”

Payne laughed. “Wow, are you in for a shocker, then. My father was a Marine rifleman who came home from Vietnam, got ordained as a Methodist minister, and started pastoring a Baptist church. Dad kind of loved the irony of that. Eventually, he started a non-denominational church out of an old honky-tonk.

“My grandfather, also a Marine, was one of Dad’s deacons. My mom was the music leader. Her father was another deacon, who also happened to own the building that our church met in. Grandaddy Crawford owned the most popular bar in town. You see, I had a very non-traditional religious upbringing, but my Dad was a very by-the-Bible kind of preacher. He gave us kids a strong example of what faith could accomplish and what faith can heal.”

“Your church was in a bar?” Tucker giggled.

“Yep, we jokingly called it the First Baptist Bar and Grill of Tucker, Texas. I mean, it was really the Tucker Community Church, but that’s what we all called it. Even Dad. So, it wasn’t hard for me to get along with my wife’s lapsed Catholic, ex-criminal family. Daddy didn’t raise me to be a Pharisee. My wife, she saw that, and she became a Christian, too. So, when she died, I know that she went to Heaven. That, Detective, gives me great comfort.”

“Okay, Payne. I can see that,” Tucker said.

“What about you?” Payne asked. “Do your consider yourself ‘religious’?”

“Spiritual maybe. Mom grew up in a mix of Catholic, Lutheran, and Buddhist philosophies. Dad is Episcopalian, but, honestly, we only go to church on Easter and Christmas,” Tucker replied.

“Well, it’s a start,” Payne chuckled. “Perhaps you might want to increase your frequency of services to more than every six months. I hear weekly worship can be quite pleasant and beneficial to one’s soul.”

“You don’t plan on preaching to my family, do you?” Tucker asked.

“First, I’m not a preacher, and, second, other than your sister, when would I have the opportunity to proselytize them?” Payne said.

“Well, uh, you see, this happens to be the one day a week that my family always gets together for a meal together. I figured that I’d invite you and Woola so that you could meet Leigh,” Tucker said.

“That would be lovely,” Payne said. “Am I overdressed? I feel overdressed.”

“That’s an Armani suit, dude,” Tucker scoffed.

“Exactly. I feel overdressed,” Payne grumbled.

“My dad has a closet full of those and Hugo Boss and Perry Ellis and I don’t know who all else. If nothing, you’ll fit in fine with him,” Tucker chuckled.

“Okay, but I’m changing into civvies at the earliest opportunity.”

_________________
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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:33 pm

108

The Tucker family home was located a half hour west of Toronto in the suburb of Mississauga, in the high rent, lakefront neighborhood of Port Credit. Colt accessed a real estate broker’s website and calculated the value of the house and property as being around four to six million dollars. Even in Canadian dollars that was a lot of money. He glanced over at Lynn Tucker. She was studiously ignoring him as she maneuvered the Ronin up the drive.

“This is... nice,” Colt said.

Lynn sighed. “My dad is an importer. Started with Hawaiian coffee. That’s kind of how he met my mother. My grandfather is Dad’s business partner. Grandfather grows coffee. Dad sells it in high end markets throughout North America.”

“Considering the addiction most people throughout the modern world have to caffeine, I can see how that would be a profitable business venture,” Colt said. “I know that the guy who sells my CO his favorite kona beans is raking in millions of dollars a year. And so is the guy shipping it around the system.”

“Well, if it’s the actual beans, and not a blend, yes, he’s raking in millions, for sure,” Lynn agreed.

She parked the car in front of the garage, next to brand new Ford Fusilier. The open garage door revealed two vehicles already parked inside, a late model Mercedes sedan and a five-year-old Volvo SUV. Colt got out of the car and took a look at the Fusilier. It was a recent development, a hybrid truck/sports car that beckoned back to the El Camino. He snorted and shook his head.

“You don’t approve?” Lynn chuckled as she opened the back of her SUV so that Woola could jump out.

“I grew up in Texas, Detective Tucker. I drove a Ford pickup for most of my life. This thing ain’t a proper Ford pickup,” Colt declared.

“But it is the popular style with teenage boys these days,” Lynn replied.

As she was closing the back door of the Ronin, another Toyota, this one a Camry, pulled into the driveway behind them. A young woman got out who bore such a striking resemblance to Lynn Tucker, that Colt decided this must be Leigh Tucker, the younger sister. The two women embraced with big grins and happy giggles.

“Colt Payne, my sister, Leigh Tucker,” Lynn said.

“So, I assumed,” Colt chuckled. “Pleased to meet you, Ms. Tucker.”

“Call me ‘Leigh’ or it’s going to get confusing with all the Tuckers here,” Leigh laughed. “Oh, my gosh! Lynn wasn’t kidding. An eight-legged alien dog!”

Woola sat back on his haunches and held out the front right pair of legs. Leigh laughed and grabbed the uppermost paw.

“You certainly are a gentleman, aren’t you?” she said.

“Mah-ruff,” Woola agreed.

“Well, except for the extra set of limbs, and the extraordinary size, he acts just like a real dog,” Leigh said. “That’s fascinating.”

“So, you’re interested in xenobiology?” Colt asked.

Leigh nodded. “Grrellan biology mainly. I mean, with the terraforming of Venus into Cytherea, there’s gonna be an entire alien ecosystem to study.”

“What about the Ares Frontier?” Colt suggested.

“Too much of it’s really just transplanted Terran life forms, but there’s lovely animals like your friend here who might make that a worthwhile avenue of study,” Leigh said. “Is he housebroken?”

“Yes. He even knows how to use a people toilet,” Colt said.

“What does he eat?” Leigh asked.

“Donuts. Lots of donuts,” Lynn supplied. “We’d better head inside before Mom decides to come looking for us.”

“Sleipnir canids are omnivorous predators. He’ll eat big dog kibble, but I usually toss him a whole chicken or a ham because he gets... well, he gets snotty if he has to eat dog food too often,” Colt said.

“Got it, gushy food as opposed to crunchy food,” Leigh said.

“And he likes to play. So, if you really want to keep him for me, I hope you’re the active type because Woola likes to run and jump, and he really loves to play fetch,” Colt said. “But if you get tired, put him down in front of a TV playing either cartoons or bollywood movies.”

“Really?” Leigh exclaimed.

“Unlike real dogs, sleipnir canids can see in full color, possibly even a little ways into the infrared and ultraviolet ends of the spectrum. On the other hand, he prefers Bugs Bunny to Adventure Time,” Colt said.

The three humans and the big alien dog entered the foyer of the big house.

“Oh, my god! That’s an Aresian sleipnir dog!”

“Uh, Payne, this is my little brother, Derek, the Legion fanboy,” Lynn said.

A gangly teenage boy walked into the room, staring open-mouthed at Woola. The big canid settled back on his haunches and offered his right paws to the boy.

“Shake hands,” Leigh prompted.

“This is so cool!” Derek exclaimed as he grabbed one of Woola’s paws.

“Mah-whuff!”

“Holy cow! It really does sound like it’s half way between a ‘meow’ and a ‘bark’,” Derek exclaimed. “How old is he? It is a he, isn’t he?”

Colt laughed. “Yes, Woola is a ‘he’, and he’s seven years old. I’m Centurion Colton Payne.”

“Centurion!” Derek exclaimed. “A Myrmidon? A real Myrmidon?”

“Last I checked,” Colt replied.

Derek stuck out a hand. “Uh, Derek Tucker, sir! Really pleased to meet you!”

“Calm down, son, before you have an aneurysm,” Colt said. “I’m just a man. Just like you.”

Derek grinned. “Soon as I’m eighteen, I’m joining.”

“You might wanna slow down there, buddy. Don’t be in a rush. Go to college first, enjoy life a minute,” Colt said. “Trust me, you don’t have to be eighteen when you join.”

“Oh, right. Reset. It makes you eighteen again,” Derek said.

“Pretty much. So, go to school, make some friends, kiss a girl or two. You might discover something else that you’ll enjoy doing.” Colt waved a hand around at the beautiful house. “I get the feeling that your parents have plenty of resources to make all kinds of opportunities available to you. Make sure that you want to join the Legion because you want to serve, not because it’s all whiz-bang cool and stuff.”

Derek grinned. “You probably don’t work as a recruiter, do you?”

“Not hardly. I can’t lie to kids like that,” Colt chuckled.

“Well, as his mother, I thank you for not encouraging his enthusiasm,” Janet Tucker said as she came out of the dining room.

Colt could see where the daughters got their exotic good looks from. She was tiny, like her daughters, but when she shook his hand, Colt felt strength in her grip as well as callouses. Janet Tucker was no stranger to working with her hands.

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Tucker,” he said. “Colton Payne.”

“When my daughter called to say that she was bringing a coworker to dinner, I wasn’t expecting anyone as exotic as a Terran Legion Myrmidon,” Janet said. “And please call me ‘Janet’. ‘Mrs. Tucker’ is my mother-in-law.”

“Thank you, ma’am, and thank you for allowing me and Woola into your home,” Colt said.

“Please, don’t even fret about it,” Janet laughed. “I’m afraid that I cook far more food than even my teenage son here can eat. My goodness, that’s a huge animal!”

Woola did his paw-shaking routine, and Janet laughed in delight.

“How long did it take you to train him to do that?” she asked as she shook Woola’s upper pair of paws.

“About a week or two, actually. Sleipnir canids are really smart animals. Woola, these are our friends, understand?”

“Mah-ruff.”

“Best house manners.”

“Mah-woof.”

“Miss Leigh is gonna be looking after you while I’m working. Behave for her.”

“Mah-ruff, woof, mah-whuff.”

“Yes, I know she’s a pretty girl, but you’re still gonna behave.”

The Tuckers were staring at Colt. He winked.

“Gotcha.”

“Dude, that was awesome!” Derek declared.

Woola wagged his tail and let his long, purple tongue loll out of his mouth.

“He understands English pretty well, if you talk to him,” Colt explained, “but he can’t actually carry on a conversation. Leigh, if you’ll feed him tonight, he’ll start bonding with you, and you might want to change shoes. He likes to chew on people’s shoes. Um, usually while they’re wearing them. It’s... a canid thing.”

“Seriously?” Leigh exclaimed.

“Oh, yes,” Colt confirmed. “Woola once gnawed on a boot that my best friend, Amadi, was wearing. Amadi helped pick Woola out of the litter.”

A tall, gray-haired man came walking down the stairs. He was dressed in a white dress shirt and blue dress pants, but he wasn’t wearing a tie, and the top two or three buttons of the shirt were undone; the sleeves of the shirt were rolled up, and he was wearing house slippers instead of business shoes.

“What’s the comm- Holy cow! What is that?” Andrew Tucker exclaimed.

“Daddy, this is Centurion Colton Payne. We’re working on the ROM attack case together, and this is his Aresian sleipnir canid, Woola. Leigh is gonna be babysitting him while Payne and I work the case,” Lynn piped up immediately.

“Woola?” Andrew mused as he came down the stairs and extended his hand to Colt. “If I remember rightly, that was the name of John Carter’s calot in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series.”

“I am impressed, sir,” Colt replied as he shook the Tucker father’s hand. “Not many people these days get the reference.”

Andrew squinted as he looked up into Colt’s face. “You know, you bear a resemblance to Burroughs’ hero.”

Colt blushed slightly. “Thank you, sir. My grandfather would have been tickled to hear that. He was a huge fan of Burroughs’ work. If grandma hadn’t put her foot down, my father’s given name would have been John Carter Payne, but she was particular on the name ‘Colton’. So, they compromised on ‘Colton John’. Grandaddy, though, insisted that my daddy be called ‘John’, and he also insisted that I be named Junior if Daddy wouldn’t name me ‘Cartoris’.”

Andrew laughed. “Your grandfather sounds like a real character.”

“He was, sir. I miss him something powerful at times like this,” Colt admitted.

“Do I take it by your accent that you’re from the American Southwest? I’d guess either Texas or New Mexico... No, that’s too far west. Not quite western Louisiana. Eastern Texas?” Andrew said.

“Yes, sir. Very good deduction,” Colt nodded.

“I’m no Henry Higgins, but I do enjoy studying people’s accents. More of a hobby than a vocation, though. I import luxury goods, coffee and tea mostly,” Andrew said. “I understand that the Aresians don’t grow coffee...”

“Daddy,” Lyn warned.

“Andrew, you’ll have time to talk business or whatever after we eat. Derek looks ready to chew his own elbow off,” Janet added.

“Mom!” Derek exclaimed in embarrassment.

“Kid, moms are like that the world over and beyond,” Colt sighed. “I’m looking forward to this. To be honest, I haven’t had a home cooked meal prepared by human hands in... Jiminy Christmas, it’s been five years!”

“Who cooks for you, then?” Janet exclaimed.

“A, uh, butler-bot usually. I carry around a personality program that I upload to my assigned bot, and call him ‘Alfred’,” Colt chuckled. “The cafeterias the Legion provides are good, but not what I’d consider home cooking.”

“You have a domestic robot?” Derek gasped.

“Sort of. Whenever you’re stationed in Bachelor Officer Quarters, you’re assigned a robotic steward. Ensigns and lieutenants will share a single bot for the hall. Captains and majors will be assigned a bot to their quarters, and when you rise to the rank of commander and above, you are either assigned a permanent bot or given enough of an allowance to purchase one of your own choosing or to hire a living servant,” Colt said. “Right now, I’m without a bot, which is why I’m grateful to Leigh for agreeing to babysit Woola.”

“That sounds both convenient and dreadfully de-humanizing,” Janet said as she lead everyone into the dining room, which was huge, centered around a glass-topped table with six place settings.

“Which is why I always upload my ‘Alfred’ program to my assigned bot. My wife always teased me about wanting to be Batman since I named out butler-bot Alfred,” Colt chuckled.

“Oh, you’re married?” Janet said as she ushered Colt to one of the seats.

“Um, widower,” Colt replied.

“Mom,” Lynn said with a shake of the head.

“Abrupt subject change: do you have any allergies, Colt? I mean, food allergies. My menus tend to be eclectic,” Janet said.

“Not any more, ma’am,” Colt replied. “Between Reset and my colony of med-nannies, I can eat anything.”

“So, it’s true, then,” Andrew said. “This Reset process, it really fixes all physical and genetic deformities?”

Colt nodded. “Yes, sir. It does. I was a Type 1 diabetic. My wife was an epileptic. We were both chronically overweight, and had more allergies than you can shake a stick at. Post-Reset, well, this is the result.”

“I hear that the Makers will sell you a full Reset procedure for a million dollars,” Andrew said.

“Basic Reset, yes. That’s the starting point. Enhanced Reset, which improves as well as fixes, runs in the neighborhood of three million currently,” Colt said. “That doesn’t include the cost of space travel to and from one of the Exsule Arks, though.”

“If you can afford the million, the cost of the trip shouldn’t matter, should it?” Andrew chuckled. “Dig in, Colt. Help yourself.”

Janet hadn’t been kidding about the eclectic nature of her cooking. Fried rice sat on the table next to a traditional meatloaf and a green bean casserole. A green salad that combined elements of both Asian and American cuisine was passed around, followed by a mixed vegetable dish that Colt had never seen before. The Tuckers waited until everyone had their plates filled and began eating. Colt bowed his head and whispered a blessing.

He glanced up when he finished and noticed that Janet and Andrew were watching him. Derek was ignoring everything but the plate in front of him. Lynn was delicately plucking at the food on her plate, while Lynn was dividing her attention between feeding herself and sneaking bites to Woola.

“Old habit,” Colt murmured as he picked up his fork and started with a bit of the meatloaf.

“I’m just a little surprised that somebody who works for god-like aliens maintains any kind of religious habits,” Andrew said. “I’m curious.”

“That I haven’t turned my back on God and bowed down at the altar of Alien High Technology?” Colt chuckled. “I understand. I’ve seen it happen, you know, but if you spend time with any of the aliens, you’ll find that they have the same questions about life, death, and the universe that any human has ever asked. In point of fact, the Makers are probably the most religious people I’ve ever met, and I mean that in a good way, too.”

“Really?” Leigh exclaimed, perking up to the conversation.

“Yes, really. It’s kind of why they were sentenced to becoming living machines,” Colt said. “You see, the Makers weren’t always machines. They were biological creatures, not unlike ourselves, really, and their people wanted to explore space without endangering the lives of their people. So, they took a bunch of people and downloaded their consciousnesses into biomechanical matrices. The people that were chosen to be Makers were usually religious fundamentalists who’d opposed the downloading of the soul into a machine. Their punishment for speaking out against the ‘wisdom’ of the government.”

“That’s terrible!” Leigh exclaimed.

“It worked out for them, though, because the same people who enslaved them as machines and sent them out into space to explore, they all died in a planetary cataclysm. The Makers believe that God saved them for a great work, but at a price. The Makers can’t reproduce. They can create new programs, new AIs, but they lack that spark of creativity that makes a Maker a Maker,” Colt said. “Those programs aren’t... alive the way that a Maker is alive. That’s probably why they’re so fascinated with us. Our species is on the same path theirs was when they were recreated as living machines.”

“That is so cool,” Derek declared around a mouthful of meatloaf and fried rice.

“Derek, honey, I say this with the greatest of motherly love, but right now, the alien dog has better table manners than you,” Janet sighed.

Derek blushed. “Sorry, Mom.”

Woola padded over to Derek and placed his head in the boy’s lap.

“Behind the left ear. Give it a good, vigorous finger-rub,” Colt suggested. “You’ll have a friend for life.”

Woola sighed in pleasure as the boy gave him a good petting. Derek grinned happily and fed Woola a piece of meatloaf.

“It’s incredible,” Janet said as she watched. “Except for the size and the extra legs, he acts just like a dog.”

“Because, appearances aside, that’s what he is,” Colt said. “We’re not sure where the sleipnir species originally came from or if they’re some kind of mutation or the result of genetic engineering, but whatever species they’ve replaced, they even emulate in behavior. Sleipnir equines are huge, eight-legged horses. Sleipnir chiropterans are multi-winged bats. I’m telling you, if you are fascinated by alien biology, figuring out where the sleipnir came from could be a career filler.”

“Are you trying to recruit me?” Leigh laughed.

Colt smiled. “Not while your mother is listening, and certainly not while Ares is still contested real estate.”

“I was wondering, is ‘Ares’ what the natives call their world?” Andrew asked.

“Yes, it is, actually. You see, the Aresians know that they’re not native to their world. Their creation story goes along the lines that the god Ares came to their ancestors, the Spartan-led Greeks who died holding Thermopylae, and took their spirits to a new world where he gave them new bodies, provided them with new wives, and told them to conquer this world in his name,” Colt said.

“But it wasn’t really Ares, was it?” Derek asked staring.

Colt chuckled. “Well, the Maker who did it goes by that name, yes, but he’s less a god of war and more of a preservationist. He was one of the Makers assigned to watch Earth while the rest of them were running around terraforming Earth-like worlds in the stellar neighborhood. He watched the Spartans and the rest of the Greeks, and was moved by their sacrifice. So, before they all died, he seeded them with nanobots that sampled their DNA and made copies of their memories. So, the first Aresians were clones with implanted memories. All because Ares wanted to save those brave men, and couldn’t because he was forbidden from interfering directly in human affairs.”

“Sounds like he all kinds of interfered to me,” Lynn observed.

“Yep, but ‘after the fact’,” Colt chuckled. “He was also punished by being exiled to observe luminous lichen on Tartarus. Just him and his co-conspirator, Hephaestus. Needless to say, those two are as close as you can get to ‘warrior’ mentality Makers. Pretty much, they wouldn’t swat a fly, but they’re all over making fly swatters if you need one.”

“You know, most people who work for the Makers make out like they’re the most enlightened and benevolent beings in the universe, but you don’t seem to be that way,” Lynn observed.

“Because I work with them, not for them. I’ve made friends with many of them, and, yeah, they are enlightened and benevolent, but they’re also imperfect and silly and they worry about doing the right thing for the right reason,” Colt said with a shrug. “They’re just... people.”

“Who can travel faster than light and rebuild entire planets to suit certain specifications,” Derek said.

“True, but think about how godlike you’d appear to be to a Cro-Magnon man. Even with your mouth full of food,” Colt teased.

Derek sighed and rolled his eyes. “I’m a growing boy!”

“Who’s eating us out of house and home,” Andrew laughed as he reached over and gave his son a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.

“So, Colt, you’re from Texas, right?” Janet said to keep the conversation going.

“Yes, ma’am,” Colt nodded. “Tyler, Texas, right outside of Houston, on my Grandpa Sam’s ranch.”

“Were you a cowboy?” Leigh laughed.

“Yes,” Colt replied. “Not professionally, but I was the East Texas Junior Rodeo Association’s All Around Champion when I was eleven. That was right before the accident that broke both of my knees. Between recovering from that and my thyroid suddenly going insane, I never really competed in rodeo again, but I still rode as often as my parents would let me.”

“I thought you told me your father was a minister,” Lynn said.

“He was. To the day he passed,” Colt said with a small, wistful smile. “But three generations of Paynes all lived together on the Lightning P Ranch. Mama and Grandma would cook together; Grandpa and Dad would be in the den, watching football and arguing over who was the better team that year, and all us kids running around, doing chores, playing games, and just enjoying living on a ranch together. We were too happy and too blessed to realize just how poor we really were.

“Ranching is like farming. If you’re not running it as a corporate operation for a profit, you’re not really gonna make money doing it, but Grandpa and Daddy loved it, and we stayed fed, clothed, and pretty well sheltered. I got a decent education in a public school system, back when you could, and I realize that I’m just starting to run off at the mouth. Sorry.”

“Oh, don’t be!” Janet exclaimed. “It sounds lovely. I grew up on the Big Island, on a coffee plantation, and we had horses. I miss it sometimes, myself. Childhood was simple.”

“Not really, but that’s how we like to remember it,” Colt chuckled. “‘Good memories warm the heart in our old age’ is what my Grandpa Sam used to say.”

“Very true,” Andrew agreed. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and spoke to his wife. “Darling, dinner was as delicious as always. Derek, if there are any leftovers when you’re finished, why don’t you put them away and help your sisters with the dishes.”

“Can I help?” Colt asked.

“That’s a kind offer, but, no, family tradition,” Janet said with a smile.

“Yes, Dad pays for the food; Mom cooks the food, and we kids clean up,” Lynn explained. “It’s supposed to teach us to be appreciative for what we’ve gotten.”

“And it’ll allow me to monopolize our guest’s attention for a few minutes before Derek comes begging to show Colt his collection of Legion memorabilia,” Andrew added with a grin. “Shall we adjourn to the study, Colt?”

“Uh, sure. Woola, heel,” Colt said.

Andrew and Janet ushered Colt into a dark wood-paneled study across the hall from the dining room. Colt could hear the siblings laughing with one another as they cleared the table. Woola padded through the room sniffing delicately at everything. When Andrew waved Colt to one of the plushly upholstered wing back chairs in the room, Woola crouched onto the floor behind the chair and promptly fell asleep.

“A truly amazing animal,” Andrew declared as he made his way to the sideboard.

“I hope it’s not an imposition having him around,” Colt said.

“Not at all!” Janet declared as she settled into a chair across from Colt. “I’ll be telling this story to the ladies down at the club for weeks. I just can’t get over how enormous he is, though.”

“Yeah, they grow ‘em big on Ares,” Colt agreed.

“Speaking of,” Andrew began.

“Andrew,” Janet sighed.

“Would you care for a drink, Colt? I have a rather nice brandy that I’ve been saving for a special occasion,” Andrew offered.

“No, thank you, sir,” Colt said. “I’m not much of a drinker, but it’s your home. Don’t let my abstinence deter you from whatever makes you happy.”

“He won’t,” Janet snorted as Andrew brought her a drink and sat down in one of the other chairs.

“She makes me sound like a lush,” Andrew snorted. “I’m not. If you don’t mind my asking, your decision not to imbibe, is it religious?”

“No, sir,” Colt replied with a shake of the head. “More of a holdover from my diabetic days, but thanks to my implants, I can’t get drunk, and I don’t really enjoy the taste very much. So, I don’t really see much point in drinking.”

“My very argument for avoiding caffeine-free diet sodas,” Janet chuckled.

“Please don’t get me started on my diet cola rant,” Colt said with a mischievous smirk. “I don’t think any of us would have the time for it.”

“I’m curious about something, Colt, and if my question is out of line, please tell me,” Andrew said, “but... how old are you?”

“How old do I look?” Colt asked.

Andrew squinted his eyes. “Honestly, early twenties, but I keep revising that estimate up the longer that we talk.”

Colt nodded. “It does get confusing. I typically lie, tell people that I’m thirty-five because when they hear what my actual age is, they always get this shocked look, and then I can just feel them getting jealous.” He paused. “I turned sixty this year.”

“That’s my age,” Janet exclaimed. “Okay, now, I’m jealous.”

“And Reset, is it... difficult? Painful?” Andrew asked.

Colt shook his head. “No, they knock you out before they stick you in the capsule. Mainly because you’re about to be immersed in an oxygenated fluid, which feels an awful lot like drowning. Then, when you come out, you’re vomiting this stuff out for what feel like hours, but is really just a minute. Are you trying to ask me if you should do it or not?”

Andrew sipped his brandy and nodded. “I’m a very wealthy man, Colt, if you haven’t guessed that already. I was born with wealth, actually, but all that you see here I earned through my hard work. I’ve provided handsome trust funds for each of my children, and I’ve lived a good life, but...”

“But you feel dissatisfied?” Colt guessed.

“Sometimes,” Andrew admitted with a sigh. “Don’t get me wrong, I am a very fortunate man, and I know it, but now that I’m getting near the end of my life, I am beginning to wonder about the paths not taken, you know.”

“Yes, I do, and, then, along came friendly aliens who needed soldiers,” Colt chuckled. “Okay, I’ll be honest with you about Reset. It works. You’ll physically be about eighteen to twenty again, only in a body free from defects.

“Downside is that as soon as you’re Reset, you start aging again just like before. You get a second lifetime, but it’s not much longer than the one you had before that. The decision facing you, at that point, is do you accept that you’re still gonna die or do you start working toward buying another Reset in the future? It seems like you should be able to Reset every time your body hits that eighty year old mark, but the truth is, Reset has diminishing returns for successive treatments.

“A second treatment will rejuvenate you, but you’ll look middle aged. Say, early to mid-thirties. Now, you’re over a hundred at this point, but you’re looking at, at most, maybe another forty years. The third Reset will make you about twenty years younger, and a fourth treatment won’t work at all. So, you’re still mortal. Incredibly long-lived by that point, but still mortal.”

“Why the diminishing returns?” Andrew asked.

“Something to do with genetics, quantum signatures, and mathematics that I can’t even understand with my neural implants,” Colt replied.

“Would you do it again? Take the Reset?” Andrew asked.

“I don’t know, but it’s a moot point because I can’t be Reset again. I was given Enhanced Reset prior to Upgrade,” Colt replied. “Enhanced Reset basically throws all three iterations of Reset into you at once, which is why it’s three times as expensive, but one of the enhancements is that it tweaks that part of our genetic code that controls aging. I haven’t aged much in the last fifteen years since I was Reset, even when you figure in relativistic travel times between worlds, but I’m still only mortal. I can be killed, and I will grow old, and I will die one day.”

“Amazing,” Andrew said.

“But, Andrew, you’ve got to think about this, though,” Colt continued. “Most people can’t afford Reset. Reset is the biggest recruitment bonus in the history of voluntary military service. Poor slobs like me applied in droves. Half the people I went through Basic Training with are dead, killed in action. That’s the price I’ve paid for my ‘eternal youth’. You can afford to pay actual money and then live whatever life you choose, but what about your kids?

“You’ll outlive them. Well, the current three. You’ll be young and fertile again. You can start another family. In fact, you could raise them to adulthood, and then start on another family. Even with the Ro-chaq incursion five years ago, Earth didn’t lose that many people to casualties. So, where are you gonna put all those children that you’ll have?”

“I hadn’t considered that. I mean, I had a vasectomy,” Andrew said.

“Reset will reverse it,” Colt stated bluntly. “Menopause won’t have happened.”

“God, I’d hate to go through that again,” Janet grumbled.

“I had a chance to offer Reset to my parents, just a few years before my father passed away, and he turned me down. Told me he’d lived a long, full life, and that he wanted to meet Jesus in person at long last. I won’t be able to see my dad or my wife in heaven for a long time, Andrew. Another burden that I have to bear,” Colt said.

He shrugged. “If you want my advise, if you’re sure that you want to get Reset, I’d recommend Enhanced Reset, and I’d suggest that you volunteer to join one of the colonization efforts. Put your experience to good use on a new world where you can reinvent yourself as whatever you want to truly be.”

_________________
Ragnar Lothbrok wrote:
Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.


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Gideon Shaw
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Posts : 1041
Join date : 2009-12-30
Age : 47
Location : Magee House

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Concept: The Kicker of Asses
Race/Origin: Hybrid (Fae/Dragon)

PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:26 pm

109

Colt borrowed the use of a guest room and changed out of his suit into street clothes. Jeans, a plaid shirt, and a long leather coat replaced the Armani suit. He sighed in pleasure. Other than his ACUs, he felt most comfortable in these kind of clothes. He came downstairs to find the Tuckers giving one another embraces and warm good-byes. He felt a momentary pang of jealousy and loss. Then, he quashed it, pushed his emotions and regrets aside. He had a job to do, he told himself. Then, he took a moment to enjoy the familial camaraderie of the Tucker family.

Woola sat patiently to one side, watching the Tuckers and wagging his tail. The alien dog’s attention went from one member of the Tucker family to another. He seemed to be spending most of his attention, though, on Leigh and Derek. Colt smiled and intruded into the moment.

“Andrew, Janet, thank you, again, for having me into your home,” Colt said.

“I have the feeling that we’ll be getting a nice return on the investment,” Andrew replied with a little nod toward Woola.

“So, should I pay you directly or can I trust that Leigh will give you your cut?” Colt asked with a wink and a smile.

“Hey! Standing right here!” Leigh protested.

“Okay, Leigh, final bit of instruction on the care and keeping of an Aresian war dog: he’s a war dog. That’s not just a breed name. That’s what he was bred for. Don’t sic him on anybody, not even jokingly, because Woola won’t stop until his target is deader than Elvis,” Colt said. “Now, the good news is that Woola’s battle commands are in Aresian. If he starts growling and acting like he’s about to jump on somebody, just say ‘stasi’, and he’ll stop. Say it for me.”

Stasi,” Leigh repeated.

“Just keep repeating that until you’ve got it memorized. Otherwise, he obeys typical dog commands in English. You know, ‘heel’, ‘sit up’, ‘roll over’,” Colt said. “You can also just talk to him. He’s almost as smart as a chimp, and he can figure out what you want him to do if you talk to him and show him enough.”

Colt turned to Woola. “As for you, big, ugly dog, mainaytii edo. Prostatiifshey oftii ta spiita.” Colt knelt and wrapped his arms around Woola’s neck. “Be a good boy for me, okay?”

“Mah-whuff,” Woola barked as he nuzzled Colt’s cheek and neck.

“Leigh, what’s the stop command?” Colt asked.

“Uh, stasi! Just like my cousin, Stacey,” Leigh said.

Colt smiled and nodded. “Nice mnemonic.”

“Come on, Payne. You gotta let him grow up sometime,” Lynn teased.

Colt thanked the Tuckers again and he and Lynn left.

Once in the car and on the road, Lynn glanced over at him and asked, “What did you say to Woola?”

“I told him to stay and protect the house. I feel bad for anybody who tries to break into your family’s house while Woola is there,” Colt said. “Don’t worry, though, he won’t go after the mailman or the neighbors. He can tell the difference between somebody who supposed to be there and somebody who isn’t. Like I said, he’s smart.”

“Freakishly so, if you ask me,” Lynn said.

“I think so, too,” Colt chuckled. He cocked his head to one side. “Hold on. Getting an incoming message file...”

“What is it?” Lynn asked.

“Okay, preliminary medical examiner’s report on the workmen who were killed. My medical officer, George, was called in to consult because it looks like they were taken out with the same weaponized nano-tech that was used in the ROM attack,” Colt said. He frowned. “George’s noted that the attack program was a little different. It was programmed for their specific DNA and... holy crap.”

“What?” Lynn demanded.

“It was command detonated. That means that somebody used some kind of transmitter to send the attack command to the nanites,” Colt said.

“So, what then? They used some kind of radio or something?” Lynn said.

“Or something,” Colt replied. “Nanites are too tiny to have much in the way of antennae to receive signals with. So, either the signal has to be really close or really powerful or something completely different. I control my nanites via localized subspace resonator, which interacts directly with their atomic structure, but I don’t think that’s the case with the weaponized nano-tech. Subspace resonance technology is way beyond what we’re dealing with.”

Lynn chuckled. “I’m sorry, but you sound like a bad episode of something on Showcase or the Space Channel.”

“There’s a reason for that,” Colt said with a smile. “Most of the jargon we use for Maker tech was made up by people who grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars.”

“Fair enough,” Lynn said. “Now, if the bad guys don’t have access to Maker tech, but something like Kraken tech, what would they need to send a signal to the nanites to activate the attack program?”

“The Kraken use a primitive, relatively speaking, form of subspace resonator for short range faster-than-light communications. The kind installed on their ships takes up a space about the size of this car, and can send and receive signals at a range of five to six light hours. Uh, that’s roughly the distance from the sun to Pluto,” Colt explained. “They have smaller versions for what you might call ‘ship-to-shore’ communications with landing forces. Those smaller units can be anywhere in size from, to continue the metaphor, about the size of your engine to slightly larger than your car radio, and the effective range of each is exponentially smaller.”

“How much smaller?”

“Uh, the big ones, the ones mounted on smaller ships like shuttles and fighters, can receive signals from the big ship-mounted transmitters, but can’t reply at more than seven or eight light-minutes. Around the distance from Earth to the sun. The ‘man-portable’ units have ranges in light-seconds, which really just makes them fancy radio at that point,” Colt said. He paused for half a second. “Well, still faster than radio. I mean, while you’re waiting for a radio signal to arrive from, say, the moon, a subspace resonator is already transmitting a return message. Makes a big difference in combat.”

“Are subspace resonance transceivers beyond human technological capabilities?” Lynn asked.

“Not entirely. The science is... Well, the guys down at NASA were playing with the idea as part of their alternate propulsion studies back when the Exsule fleet first arrived. So, we poor humans can get it, and with a little bit of fabricating help from our neighbors, we can build it,” Colt said. “It requires much the same kind of fabricating tech as the weaponized nanotech.”

“So, whatever alien fabrication tech our bad guys, let’s just call them ‘Our Earth’ until we know different, that same fabricator could, possibly, build them subspace radio units to command detonate their nanotech, right?” Lynn said.

“Yes. Theoretically,” Colt said. “Although...” He flicked a finger in the air. “Hey, George, have your crew take another look at that nanotech from the work crew. See if it’s got wi-fi connectivity.”

“Wi-fi?” Lynn repeated.

“It would be simpler than building a subspace transceiver unit,” Colt replied. “We need to find out if any of those workmen had wireless routers in their homes.”

“Give me the address, and we’ll head over,” Lynn said.

“Or I can just ping their addresses myself,” Colt said. “Four men were on that work crew, and... all four have wireless routers in their homes. Well, that’s a nasty bit of mal-ware.”

“What?”

“Somebody planted a nasty little computer virus into the routers’ firmware. I’ve isolated it. Amadi, take a look at this,” Colt said.

“And I’m out of the loop again,” Lynn sighed.

“I’m multi-tasking, and one of those tasks is paying attention to you,” Colt chuckled. He reached under his coat. Lynn saw that he was wearing his Legion-issue utility belt. He handed her a tiny device from a pouch on the belt. “Put this in your ear.”

“What is it?” she said, eyeing it suspiciously.

“Earbud comms tied to my personal communications net,” Colt replied. “You can hear both sides of my conversations, and it’ll even translate other languages into English for you.”

“Wow. Handy,” Lynn said as she stuck the comms into her right ear. “It’s wiggling!”

“Give it a second. It’s conforming to your ear canal,” Colt said. “You’ll almost forget that you’re wearing it.”

“Hello, Detective Tucker!” said a cheery voice with an English accent.

“Captain Nemo,” Lynn said.

“Might as well call me by my name, darling. I’m Amadi Chibueze.”

“Well, it’s nice to know that you’re not really a nobody,” Lynn chuckled.

“That’s what my girl tells me,” Amadi chuckled.

Colt snorted. “‘Girl’? Really?”

“You’re just jealous, mate,” Amadi teased. “Ah, I’ve got it. You’re right. This is a bit of nasty. Well, hello there, lovely... Colt, do you see this sequence?”

“That looks... familiar,” Colt muttered.

“Uh, I can’t see what you’re looking at,” Lynn pointed out.

“Amadi, isolate, scrub, and re-post that directly to HQ,” Colt ordered.

“On it,” Amadi replied. “Out.”

“Clear,” Colt sighed.

Lynn heard a little pop in her ear. “Hello?”

“I’ve terminated the comm link,” Colt said. “But keep the earbud in. You can use it to stay in contact with me. I can’t ignore it the way I would a phone call.”

“Well, that’s good to know,” Lynn chuckled. “So, what got you and Amadi so excited?”

“Less excited, more... upset,” Colt replied. “There was a segment of the code in that mal-ware that was... familiar.”

“Something you want to share?” Lynn prompted.

Colt shook his head. “It could be nothing. Hopefully, it is nothing. A bizarre coincidence.” He took a deep breath. “Where were you five years ago when the Ro-chaq invaded?”

Lynn paused in confusion by the sudden change in direction. “Uh, well, I was here. In Toronto.”

“Toronto was lucky, you know,” Colt said. “There’s a Great Lake and most of the state of New York between you and New York City, but some of the Ro-chaq drop ships still hit here, didn’t they?”

“Uh, yeah. I was in uniform still back then. I’d just qualified for the ETF, the, uh, Emergency Task Force,” Lynn said.

“Look at you, SWAT Girl,” Colt laughed. “Did you see any fighting?”

“Not really. The Forces did most of the fighting. There were a couple of drop ships that landed in or near Lake Simcoe, around a little town called Keswick,” Lynn said. “Mostly, we just made sure that people running away from Toronto didn’t stop to loot their neighbors on the way out of town.”

Colt nodded. “Well, the landing in Keswick wasn’t an isolated incident. Our intel shows that everywhere the Ro-chaq bombed or dropped in a division or two, they also dropped in isolated platoons within a few hundred miles of those locations. The general assumption among the armed forces of the world is that these were statistical anomalies, examples of gross incompetence among the enemy, and it sure would seem that way because most of those platoon-sized landings were wiped out.”

“Legion Intelligence has a different idea, though, don’t they?” Lynn guessed.

“That we do. See, in our years of fighting the Ro-chaq, we’ve realized that they’re not the blunt instrument that they pretend to be. They can be subtle. They can be devious, and they are alien in the way they think sometimes,” Colt said.

“I would think so. They being aliens, after all,” Lynn said.

“You’ve seen a Ro-chaq out of armor, haven’t you?” Colt frowned.

“Uh, yeah. Everybody’s seen those pictures. It’s still kind of a scandal, you know. The whole ‘alien menace is actually human’ thing,” Lynn said.

“They’re not human,” Colt growled. Then, he stopped, took a deep breath, and sighed heavily. “Yes, genetically speaking, they are a species of human, closely related to ourselves, but in their hearts and souls, they’re alien.”

“What are you getting at?” Lynn asked, softly.

“A theory that we’ve been floating around is that those outlier landings weren’t an accident. They were cover for the Ro-chaq to land agents, in the off-chance that they couldn’t win, agents who could set up networks to cause havoc here on Earth,” Colt said.

“Why?”

“Earth is vital to the war effort. It’s not just where the weapons and other materials of war are being built. It’s where the warriors who are fighting the war are operating from. Until the new Kraken homeworld can be established in the Ares Frontier, Earth is the bastion, the only hope of keeping the Ro-chaq from sweeping across the universe like a plague,” Colt said.

“The computer code. It’s Ro-chaq, isn’t it?” Lynn guessed.

Colt nodded. “That’s what I’m thinking. Ro-chaq technology is roughly equivalent to Kraken tech. Weaponized nano-tech is well within their capabilities. What if, along with that platoon of Ro-chaq soldiers that landed in Keswick, they dropped off a fabricator unit and a spymaster?”

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Gideon Shaw
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Concept: The Kicker of Asses
Race/Origin: Hybrid (Fae/Dragon)

PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Fri Nov 30, 2012 10:42 pm

110

“How could a Ro-chaq hide out among humans?” Lynn mused.

They’d driven in silence all the way back into Toronto. She’d stopped at a Starbucks, claiming the need of caffeine if they were to work into the night. Colt’s gang of cyber hackers had run down the location of the warehouse that the Agana Air Curtains had come from before being delivered to the ROM. So, Lynn and Colt had decided to stake the place out, see if anyone was still operating out of the site.

Upon arrival, Colt had produced a small box from his kit bag. The box had contained half a dozen clear spheres slightly larger than marbles. Colt rolled down his window, tossed the spheres out and rolled the window back up. Lynn hadn’t bothered to ask him what he was doing. She guessed that it was some kind of alien surveillance technology, but it could also just as easily be weird ice cubes for all that she knew. She also calculated that if he didn’t tell her, she wouldn’t have to lie to her superiors about it if it turned out that he’d just done something technically illegal.

“I mean, yes, they’re genetically human, but they don’t really look all that human, you know?” she continued as she sipped from her cup of coffee and stared at the warehouse, where absolutely nothing appeared to be happening.

“Yeah, the sloping, apelike forehead and that big, lantern jaw tend to be dead giveaways that they’re closer to Neanderthals than to Cro-Magnons, but that’s cosmetic. With a little plastic surgery, I’d look like one of them,” Colt pointed out.

“Sure, but I couldn’t pass for one of them,” Lynn said.

“Why? Because you’re such a tiny little thing?” Colt snickered. “You’ve seen pictures of their soldier caste. They breed them boys to be big. Contrary to what your kung fu master might have taught you, big guys tend to win more fights than little guys, especially when the big guy knows kung fu, too.”

“Dude, you’re just completely ruining my petite bad ass self image,” Lynn teased.

“I’m sure you are a bad ass, and I’m sure that you’re a smart fighter, choosing to shoot the big monster man rather than go toe to toe with him, right?” Colt said.

“Yeah, I suppose,” Lynn grumbled.

“However, you can go places without attracting attention that somebody like me can’t,” Colt said. “See, folks see me, the way I walk, the way I carry myself, and if those folks are trained to notice such things, they realize I’m a threat. You, can walk the same way, but those same schmucks will ignore the threat you represent because you’re tiny and pretty.”

“Aw, you think I’m pretty?” Lynn teased.

“You know you are,” Colt chuckled. “See, not all Ro-chaq are big ass soldier caste. There’s an artisan caste, a worker caste, a leadership caste, and what could be called a ‘spy’ caste.”

“They have and entire class of people who work as spies?” Lynn gaped.

“Yep. How they keep an eye on the conquered peoples,” Colt replied.

“Conquered peoples?”

“Yeah, not all Ro-chaq are Ro-chaq. Okay, let me put it this way. Imagine a world where, say, the Israelites got it into their heads that they weren’t just God’s chosen people, but his chosen conquerors. Then, they start pounding the crap out of their neighbors, slaughtering them down to the youngest, but they don’t kill the little kids. They keep the little kids and the young women of child-bearing age. The little kids are raised to be Janissaries, and their sisters are used like brood mares to bear more little chosen ones,” Colt said.

“Didn’t that actually happen in the Bible?” Lynn asked.

“Not exactly. The Israelites during the conquest of Canaan, after they escaped from Egypt, got their genocide on, but they weren’t as ruthless as the Ro-chaq, nor as efficient. See, the Israelites had a bad habit of disobeying God, and things would go bad for them after awhile. The Ro-chaq believed that their god had told them to conquer the world if they wanted to live, and that’s what they did. If they ran into an enemy that was smaller and weaker, they destroyed them utterly, down to the little kids and the slave breeders. If they ran into somebody of equivalent strength, they offered alliance, especially breeding alliances. If that didn’t work, they’d get sneaky, like Machiavellian sneaky.

“Before too long there wasn’t a power on their world that was more powerful than the Ro-chaq. Just the leadership caste, the descendants of the original Ro-chaq tribe, and a bunch of conquered castes, but here’s the thing: the Ro-chaq pretty freely bred with their conquered peoples. They all can claim a little of the same blood as the rulers. On the other hand, they’re all conquered peoples, and conquered peoples need to be kept in line. Hence, the caste of spies.

“They cull children from all castes, typically the orphaned, raise them in special schools, indoctrinate them to be loyal to the leadership. They are raised and fed on loyalty to the leaders above all things. That is their god, and they will do anything for that god. Spy on their neighbors. Kill their own family members. Undergo painful medical procedures to change their appearance and go live on an alien world, just waiting for the chance to destroy it for their precious leaders.”

“You’ve seen it happen before, haven’t you?” Lynn guessed.

“On Ares, after we established our forward base there and started striking into the Ro-chaq Corridor. Within a local year, the planet suddenly had terrorists popping up all over the place and the newspapers clamoring for the ouster of all off-worlders. The Ro-chaq had snuck in a team of their spies, surgically altered to appear like native Aresians. The spies figured out pretty quick who the most disgruntled bunch of people were on the planet, got in there, riled them up, started supplying them with money and weapons, and next thing we know, we’ve got suicide bombers walking into school houses and market places,” Colt said. “I suppose we were lucky that the Aresians haven’t developed their mass media past the telegraph yet, or it would have been a lot worse.”

“What did you do?” Lynn asked.

“Brought in counter-terrorism experts, isolated the dangerous populations, and killed or imprisoned them. Located the Ro-chaq spies. Exposed them publicly before letting the Leonine King personally execute them,” Colt replied.

“The what kind of king?” Lynn asked.

“Leonine. ‘Lion-like’. It’s the throne name of the most powerful monarch on the planet, the guy who basically rules the most powerful, most technologically advanced nation on Ares. He’s a good man, actually. He believes in rehabilitation of criminals, but he also believes that certain crimes require the ultimate punishment, and that as the man in charge, he should be the executioner. So, he gets out a thousand year old sword, and he personally thrusts it through the hearts of the condemned,” Colt said.

“Wow,” Lynn exclaimed.

“Like I said, he’s a good man,” Colt said.

“And he’s a friend of yours, isn’t he? Are you celebrity name dropping, Major Payne?” Lynn teased.

“Not exactly my friend, no. My CO is his friend, though, and I’ve had the honor to serve as his bodyguard on official state visits,” Colt replied. “Not that Miles needs to be protected.”

“You call your boss by his name?”

“Privately, yes,” Colt nodded. “He... Well, he reminds me of my Grandpa Sam. The two of them served together, and Miles is a connection to my grandfather. Sometimes, he even acts like I’m one of his grandchildren.” He chuckled. “And sometimes, I catch myself almost calling him ‘grandpa’ or ‘Uncle Miles’.”

“I’ve never had a boss who felt like family,” Lynn admitted. “It must be nice.”

“It can be. On the other hand, when you screw up, there’s extra guilt. The crunchy kind with bacon-flavored ranch dressing,” Colt said.

“Oh, the good stuff,” Lynn laughed. “God, I am so bored!”

“Well, I am trying to be informative and entertaining,” Colt huffed.

Lynn grinned. “You’re doing a very good job, but I really hate stakeouts.”

Colt sat up in his seat. “Movement.”

“Where?”

“Inside the building.”

“You can see through walls?”

“Yes, but not at this distance,” Colt replied. He held up the empty box that he’d dumped the spheres from earlier. “Reconnaissance drones.”

“I didn’t want to know that,” Lynn sighed. “But now that I do, what are you seeing?”

“Seems to be a single adult humanoid, male. Can’t tell much more beyond that. Q-dar is getting interference from something in the construction materials of the warehouse, which is odd,” Colt mused.

“How so?”

“Wood and drywall are mostly what those walls should be made of, but they’re fuzzy like they’ve been plated with something dense. Like lead,” Colt said.

“Lead blocks your q-dar?” Lynn chuckled. “Same weakness as Superman.”

“No, lead doesn’t block q-dar. It’s just harder to see through. To block an active q-dar scan completely, you’d have to use something really, really thick, like several feet of stone or metal,” Colt replied.

“Why didn’t you see him before?” Lynn asked.

“He hadn’t moved. There’s a lot of material in there that’s registering as ‘organic matter’. He just stepped of the middle of all those organics, and that’s when the drones spotted him,” Colt replied. “He’s moving toward the loading dock.”

“Wait a second. What’s the organic material?” Lynn said.

“Don’t know precisely. It registers as animal. Bone and meat, and it’s just kind of... hanging there. Like sides of beef in a refrigerator, and, oh, I’m retarded,” Colt groaned. “It’s an air conditioner warehouse. Why are there slabs of meat hanging in an air conditioner warehouse, Colt?”

“And what does that tell you?” Lynn asked.

“That whoever he is, he knows somebody with q-dar could be watching him. Hence, the lead on the walls, which could be either paint or a collection of those aprons from the dentist’s office, and the sides of meat. He’s camouflaging himself... Down!”

Colt grabbed Lynn’s shoulder and pulled her head down toward his lap as he laid down on top of her.

“What?” she protested.

“Shut up!” Colt ordered.

Lynn closed her mouth on reflex. Then, she got angry at herself. The reflex to obey had been drilled into her in training, and Colt had used the same firm, commanding tone as her instructors. Just as she was deciding whether or not to punch him in the gut to get him off her, Colt sat up.

“Sorry,” he said pointing out the window.

Lynn saw a dozen men on motorcycles rolling up to the warehouse. She wondered why it always surprised her to see outlaw bikers dressed in their stereotypical garb of leather and denim. She didn’t recognize the patch that these men were wearing on the backs of their jackets.

“Well, well, well,” Colt chuckled. “They’re a long way from home.”

“Who are they?” Lynn asked.

“Oh, uh, they’re the Kith, a one percenter club with ties to anti-Exsule groups all over the US,” Colt replied. “They’re actually a bunch of racist bullies who like terrorizing Latinos and black folk down around Texas and Louisiana.”

“Why are they here? In Toronto?” Lynn exclaimed.

“An excellent question, Detective,” Colt chuckled. “We need to duck again.”

Lynn sighed and laid down again with Colt covering her. “How are you doing that?”

“Stationed one of my drones directly above the car to watch our backs,” Colt replied. “Got one on each corner of the building, and another orbiting the neighborhood, but I think I’m gonna re-task that one.”

He sat up, allowing Lynn to see what was going on. A large door had been rolled open, and the Kith had ridden their bikes into the warehouse. Following behind them were a pair of dark SUVs. From further up the block, around a corner where their car couldn’t be seen from, came a quartet of high powered street bikes, each with a pair of riders.

“Some kind of meeting seems to be going down,” Lynn said. “Gee, might be nice to hear what’s going on...”

“Hence the re-tasking of the drone, which is hitching a ride into the building with the guys on the crotch rockets,” Colt replied.

He began to rummage in his kit bag again. From it he produced what appeared to be a tightly rolled piece of plastic sheeting. He snapped his wrist, unfurling the sheet, which lit up like a tablet computer. “Here, you can watch the feed from the drone on this tablet, and I’ll feed the audio to your earbud.”

Lynn felt a soft pop in her ear as the earbud comms activated.

“Shexie, I’m streaming live from a drone. Secure and verify the feed.”

“Aye-aye, Centurion,” replied a warm contralto voice with a strange accent. “Greetings, Detective Tucker. I am Shexie no Savvan in Whahl zed Shax.”

“Uh, pleased to meet you,” Lynn said.

“She must like you because I didn’t translate that,” Colt said.

“The detective does not have the advantage of a translator of her own. So, I am merely being polite, Colton,” Shexie huffed over the link. “Your stream is secured and verified. I am recording it into solid state memory aboard Liberty and simulcasting it to the Toronto Police Service and Royal Canadian Mounted Police mainframes. Is she as pretty as her picture in her file?”

“No,” Colt replied. “She’s prettier.”

“Um, thank you?” Lynn frowned.

“Should I be jealous?” Shexie asked.

“Absolutely,” Colt said.

“Excellent!” Shexie said with a throaty laugh.

“At least you still have me,” Amadi said, inserting himself into the link. “I’m half an hour out, Colt.”

“Low profile, Sticks,” Colt said.

“Like I don’t even exist, mate,” Amadi replied.

“Colton, I can identify the third group as being members of the Golden Dragon Society. Still working on the people in the SUV,” Shexie reported.

“Gold Dragon are Chinese triad,” Colt explained to Lynn.

“I am aware,” she snorted.

“Are you also aware that they’re a front for Chinese Military Intelligence?” Colt replied.

“No, I was not,” Lynn said.

“Nowadays, China is about as capitalistic as any North American or European country. They’re Communists in name only, but that’s so that an oligarchy of party leaders can run the corporation that is China, and the Chinese leadership really hates the Exsule because they can’t compete with us economically,” Colt explained. He smiled mischievously. “Actually, about half of the able-bodied recruits we get from mainland China are operatives of their Intelligence services. About a third of those guys eventually fess up after a couple weeks of Basic Training. The ones who don’t get washed out or channeled into non-essential duties.”

“The bulk of our Chinese recruits actually come from the poor and the physically and mentally disabled. Those that the Party consider ‘undesirable’,” Shexie added to the conversation. “Shame, really. Post-Reset those are our most loyal and effective recruits, insane Texans aside.”

“I’m not insane. My mother had me tested,” Colt chuckled. “Have you figured out who the guys in the SUVs are?”

“Facial recognition has tagged one of them as Adrian DuChamps,” Shexie replied.

Colt frowned. “DuChamps? Really?”

“Confirmed.”

“Who is Adrian DuChamps?” Lynn asked.

“A blighter,” Amadi said. “A blackguard, a festering boil upon the arse of the human species.”

“Amadi doesn’t like him,” Colt snorted.

“I got that impression. Why?” Lynn said.

“Adrian DuChamps is a mercenary in all the very worst connotations of that word, and this is the opinion of people who are, technically speaking, mercenaries themselves,” Colt said. “He’s a technological vulture. The group he works for, the Technical Applications Diversity Corporation, reverse engineers alien technology and sells it to whoever has the money to pay for it. The sad irony is that the Exsule founded TAD-C to disseminate tech transfers fairly, but greedy psychos like DuChamps got control of the company.”

“Amadi’s antipathy is somewhat more personal, though,” Shexie said. “He and DuChamps attended Oxford together.”

“Blighter made my already difficult life more difficult,” Amadi growled.

“TAD-C has been scrounging for Ro-chaq technology in recent years. They did a lot of the clean up after the incursion five years ago,” Colt added. “I think I need to get inside and get a closer, personal look at it.”

“Not without a warrant,” Lynn said.

“I don’t need a warrant,” Colt said as he opened the door and stepped out of the car.

“And I can’t let you do something illegal on my watch!” Lynn growled as she followed him out of the car.

“Those drones we’re spying on them with are pretty much the definition of ‘illegal surveillance’,” Colt pointed out as he went around to the back of Lynn’s Ronin and popped open the back hatch. He removed his jacket and tossed it into the cargo area.

“Your drones are skirting a gray area, but if you enter that building without a warrant, any evidence you find will be inadmissable. We won’t be able to get any kind of convictions,” Lynn snapped.

Colt’s smile chilled her. “Who said I was interested in any kind of convictions?”

“I can’t let you take the law into your own hands, Colt. You’re a good man, and I won’t let you do this,” Lynn said.

Colt chuckled as he grabbed his large duffel bag and unzipped it. “Lynn, you are a highly competent police officer, clever and honest and true, a credit to your oath to your department. On the other hand, you’re also a perfectly normal human being. Whereas I am a genetically and cybernetically enhanced super-soldier. Short of shooting me through one of my eyes, how do you think you could stop me?”

He felt the barrel of Lynn’s .40 caliber Glock touch his ear. “Stand. Down,” she growled.

“That was an impressive display of reflexes, Lynn, really,” Colt said.

Lynn’s fingers stung suddenly. She was staring at a suddenly empty hand. Her Glock was in Colt’s right hand, sticking to it like a magnet, the barrel still pointing toward his body. He flipped the weapon around, ejected the clip, and racked back the slide to eject the chambered round. Then, he caught both the clip and the lone bullet before they hit the ground.

“But my reflexes are a little faster,” Colt added as he offered her back her weapon.

Lynn silently took back her Glock, reloading it before placing it back in the holster on her belt. “That... was the most frightening and coolest thing I’ve ever seen. How did you do that?”

Colt showed her the palm of his hand. “Artificial graviton generator implants. Let’s me do the Jedi Force trick from about twenty feed away.”

“Okay. So, I can’t stop you,” Lynn sighed.

“Not really, but this is no longer a police investigation matter at this point. This is a military intelligence gathering mission now,” Colt said. He tipped his head toward the warehouse. “It became a Legion-specific mission the moment that the Kith, the Gold Dragons, and Adrian DuChamps all showed up for a clandestine meeting together. The sensors in my drones aren’t powerful enough for me to prove a Ro-chaq connection. So, I have to get closer so that my onboard sensor suite can do a more thorough job.”

As he spoke, Colt was pulling out pieces of equipment from the duffel bag. He began by strapping on articulated armor pads to his legs. Then, he strapped similar armor onto his arms. A heavy tactical vest was added last. He pulled a helmet out of the bag next, holding it up where Lynn could look at it.

“There’s a camera here,” he said pointing to a small spot on the front of the helmet. “You can see what I see with the tablet I gave you, and you can talk to me through the earbud.”

Lynn stared at him because his mouth hadn’t opened once as he pointed out the features on the helmet.

Colt tapped his head and said aloud, “integral comms. I don’t have to talk aloud.”

“Now, you tell me,” Lynn quipped.

“Funny,” Colt snorted as he strapped the helmet onto his head. Thick Skin flowed out from under his collar and covered his face and head under the helmet. It solidified into a blank, faceless shield.

He reached down to his belt and unfastened the sidearm holster he’d been wearing under his coat. He handed the weapon to Lynn. “Here, you might need this if things go sideways.”

“I have a gun,” Lynn said, patting the Glock at her side.

“Yes, and it is a fine weapon, but you’ve got fourteen rounds in that gun and thirteen rounds in the spare clip, and while the .40 Smith & Wesson is a fine round, you might need more... stopping power,” Colt said as he unclipped the spare magazine carrier from his belt and handed that to her.

“How is this a better weapon? These rounds look like .40s to me,” Lynn said.

“That, Detective Tucker, is a Terran Legion standard issue Pugio Mark V-Alpha chambered in 10mm Plasmatic,” Colt declared.

Lynn frowned at him with one raised eyebrow. “Let me see your face.”

The shield retracted, flowing away from Colt’s face like water.

“Now, explain,” she commanded.

Colt smiled. “Yes, ma’am. The difference between what you have and what I have given you is the propellant. Your bullets use good, old-fashioned smokeless gunpowder. Gunpowder has been doing the trick for hundreds of years, but it has reached a plateau in effective power. In order to get a bullet to move faster out of the barrel, you have to use more powder, which in turn means you have to make the shells bigger, and the bigger you make the shell, the fewer bullets that you can carry or that you can load into the gun.

These bullets don’t use gunpowder. They use an electrically-ignited liquid explosive. When the electric spark hits this chemical, it instantly goes from liquid to plasma, which is energized gas. Whole lot more explosive power than gunpowder. The plasmatic liquid propellant in these bullets will eject the slug from the barrel at three times the velocity of a regular bullet of the same size using a gunpowder charge. So, while your Glock will spit those .40s out with about five hundred foot-pounds of kinetic energy, the Pugio will throw the same size slug at fifteen hundred foot-pounds. In short, it goes boom much bigger and much faster. The Pugio Mk V-Alpha also carries eighteen rounds in the clip.” Colt finished by reaching into his duffel bag and pulling out another spare clip carrier with two loaded pistol magazines, which he handed to Lynn.

“You’ve now got ninety-one rounds of 10mm Plasmatic at your disposal,” he added.

“Overkill much?” Lynn snickered.

“No such thing as ‘overkill’. Just ‘open fire’ and ‘reloading’,” Colt said. “Maxim Number Thirty-seven.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later,” Colt waved a hand in front of his face. “Let me show you real quick how the Pugio works. Well, the basic function is just like your Glock.” He took the pistol, thumbed the magazine release, and showed her the clip. “The clip is also the battery for the electric firing pin. The charge is actually good for four hundred rounds before you have to recharge the clip.” He pointed to the rectangular device mounted under the frame, in front of the trigger guard. “This is the multi-sensor. It has micro-pulse q-dar, video with both IR and UV, a tactical light, and laser pointers. They feed information to this unit.” He pointed to the sight attached to the top. “See the red dot? Whatever you put that dot on is where the bullet will go. This readout shows you the charge on the clip’s battery pack and how many rounds you have remaining in the clip.” He fed the clip back into the butt of the gun. “Just rack the slide, and she’s ready to go. The safeties are all internal, just like your Glock. The gun won’t fire unless you take up slack on the trigger.”

“Wow. User friendly,” Lynn said. “What about you?”

Colt pulled a small cylinder off his belt. It was about the size of two “AA” batteries laid end to end, and he laid it against the back of his right hand. The Thick Skin wrapped around it and held it into place. “Wireless taser.” Reaching into his duffel, he produced a second wireless taser and mounted it to the back of his left hand.

“Non-lethal. Good,” Lynn said.

“Less-than-lethal,” Colt corrected. “I zap somebody with a bad heart, and I could kill them.”

“Good point,” Lynn said. “Dude, is that a blaster?”

Colt held up a double-barreled weapon that looked like something out of an old sci-fi action movie. “Gladius Modular Personal Defense Weapon. The primary chassis is based on the Kriss Vector submachine gun, but it’s been heavily modified to Legion specifications, which means that we’ve chambered it for the 11.5mm SpecOps Plasmatic round. The under-barrel mount can accept a number of different modular weapons ranging from a 12 gauge Metal Storm MAUL shotgun to a number of different directed energy weapons. In this case, I’ve attached a particle beam weapon.”

“So, the short answer would have been, ‘yes, Lynn, it’s a blaster’.”

“And ruin the opportunity to grunt like a caveman? To make myself feel better about my, er, ‘manhood’?” Colt snorted as he inserted a 35-round clip into the magazine well.

“To brag on your toy?”

“Alright. I’m gonna go do my stealth ninja thing,” Colt said as he stuffed magazines into pouches on his vest.

“Is there anything but armor and weapons in that bag?” Lynn asked.

“Clean underwear and a spare uniform,” Colt chuckled. “You stay here and watch that tablet.”

“So, I’m your backup?” Lynn said with an eye roll.

“Lynn, if it gets bad enough that you become Plan B, I want you to run away just as fast as you possibly can,” Colt said.

Amadi broke into the conversation over the comm link. “Mate, I’m almost there. Ten minutes out.”

“See? I’ve got backup coming,” Colt said with a wink.

“I’m coming with you,” Lynn insisted.

“You’ll just slow me down,” Colt said. “You can best help me by staying here and putting that big brain of yours to good use analyzing these people. You’ll probably catch something that I’d miss.”

“Thanks for trying to make me feel less useless. You know, when this is over, I am going to put you under arrest,” Lynn said.

“I’ll surrender myself to you, then,” Colt chuckled. The Thick Skin flowed back over his face forming a shield again. Then, he was gone.

Lynn stared at the space he’d just been occupying for a full second. Then, she retrieved the tablet, switching the view to Colt’s helmet cam. She couldn’t believe how fast he was moving. The view made a sudden blur that confused Lynn. She switched to the view from the drone orbiting above her car. She rolled the footage back a few seconds and watched as a dark blur that was Colt leapt over the fence around the warehouse like a sprinter jumping a hurdle.

“I see what you mean about slowing you down,” Lynn said.

“Sorry. Truth hurts,” Colt replied. “Shexie, I’m opening up with my full suite. Record and verify.”

“Info stream confirmed. Receiving full spectrum audio and video. Tagged and verified,” Shexie replied.

“Detective Tucker, I will be arriving at your location in a moment,” Amadi said. “I’m in full battle armor. I don’t want you to be startled.”

“Why would that startle me?” Lynn asked.

“With active camouflage on, he’s effectively invisible,” Colt replied. “This does appear to be some kind of meeting. Shexie, I think you need to get Achilles and Black Jack into the loop. Now.”

“We’re here,” a gruff voice said over the link. “We’re also reading in Canadian Forces high command.”

“You’re the boss, Achilles,” Colt replied.

“Sticks, what’s your twenty?” Achilles demanded.

“I’m standing next to Detective Tucker’s car,” Amadi replied.

Lynn turned and looked out the window. She saw nothing. Then, the shadows moved, and a man-shaped piece of shadow and darkness took a knee next to her car. The camouflage faded away for a second, revealing the armored Myrmidon. The suit looked something like Gothic plate armor to Lynn’s untrained eye, but before she could make more than a fleeting impression, the armor faded into effective invisibility again.

“Hold your position,” Achilles ordered. “Detective Tucker, I understand that you’re in our link.”

“Uh, yes, sir,” Lynn replied.

“Alright, do me a favor and just stay quiet unless you have something important to say, and even then, think twice,” Achilles growled.

“Okay...” Lynn said.

“Cowboy, hold your position. Do not move unless I release you,” Achilles said.

“Aye-aye, sir,” Colt replied.

“Good. Now, everybody, shut up and let me listen to what’s going on in there,” Achilles growled.

Lynn rolled down her window and pulled the earbud out. “Hey, Nemo!” she whispered.

“Yeah?” Amadi’s face appeared in mid air.

“Who’s this ‘Achilles’ guy?”

“Myrmidon Tribune Miles Monroe,” Amadi replied. “And before you ask, ‘Black Jack’ is Legate General Wesley Clarke, the Commandant of the Terran Legion. You are a mere mortal allowed into the councils of the gods.”

“Good to know. I think I’m just gonna sit here, quietly, and listen,” Lynn said putting the earbud back in.

“Smart girl,” Amadi agreed.

_________________
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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:07 pm

111

“Gentlemen, welcome.”

The speaker was the man who’d been hiding in the warehouse. He was the epitome of average: average height, average weight, and average looks; brown hair, brown eyes, and features and skin complexion that could have been from any number of possible ethnic backgrounds, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Latin American, or even Indian. This man could effortlessly slip into the middle of most any culture in the world and blend in with little, if any, effort. Even his voice had no perceptible accent to identify where the man originated from. He sounded North American, but so did every news anchor on every major network in Canada and the United States.

“I have no need of pleasantries.”

Adrian DuChamps, in contrast to his host, was anything but average or ordinary. He was tall, blond haired and blue eyed in a strikingly handsome Gallic way. He spoke with a cultured British accent, but Colt knew that was an affectation since DuChamps had been born in the slums of Marseilles, France.

“Yes, he has a point.”

Lim Cheng of the Golden Dragon Society spoke English with a slight bit of a British accent himself. According to his file, he’d been born and raised in Hong Kong and gone to university in England, but that was the “official” file. In reality, he was Lieutenant Colonel Fu Ning of the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Department of the General Staff Department, on loan to the Ministry of State Security. In short, he was a spy.

“Lookit all us’ins agreein’ on somethin’.”

According to the patch on the back of his vest, the spokesman for the Kith went by the handle “Mojo”. Mojo was a big man, almost seven feet tall, with long salt-and-pepper hair and an equally long beard. Leather and denim seemed to be the only fabrics the man was capable of clothing himself in. Mojo went sleeveless, even in this chilly climate, revealing thickly muscled arms adorned with numerous tattoos. He spoke in a slow, measured way, his Southern accent thickly slathered over every word that he uttered.

“Very well,” their host replied. “Let us begin, then, with the buy-in. I believe the sum to be two million euros in either precious metals or gems, yes?”

DuChamps snapped his fingers, and two of his men went to the back of one of his SUVs. They returned in moments bearing a small crate. DuChamps lifted the lid off the crate.

“I hope you find platinum ingots acceptable?”

“Most acceptable! Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Mister, um?” DuChamps waited.

“You may call me ‘Roman’.”

“Well, Mr. Roe-man,” Mojo said stepping forward and handing their host a small, black velvet bag. “I think y’all will find these here diamonds a tetch more, uh, portable than a crater silver bars.”

“Platinum, cretin, is more precious than gold,” DuChamps snarled.

“And diamonds is fer ever,” Mojo replied with a big, toothy grin.

“Agreed,” Lim Cheng said, also handing over a bag of diamonds to Roman.

“See, fancy boy? Even the chink agrees wid me,” Mojo chortled.

“Gentlemen, please control your mutual animosities until our business is concluded,” Roman sighed.

“As you say, Mr. Roman,” DuChamps said with a nod.

“We cool,” Mojo added.

Lim Cheng just nodded once.

“Excellent. Now, for the price of the buy-in, each of your organizations will receive a one kilogram sample of the nanotech virus,” Roman said.

“How much did y’all use on them alien kiddies?” Mojo demanded.

“A mere twenty grams,” Roman replied. “Single cubic centimeter of the nanotech virus is more than sufficient to infect several hundred people. The amount my organization used for the demonstration was... Well, I believe the term bandied about is ‘overkill’.” Roman smiled brightly.

“And where are these ‘samples’?” DuChamps demanded.

“Oh, here,” Roman replied. He waved a hand at a table where three urns sat together, each painted a different color. “The larger stockpile is also stored here for your convenience. Now, shall we begin the bidding at, say, three million euros?”

“What’s to stop us from killing you, taking the supply of nanotech virus, and just splitting the stockpile three ways?” DuChamps said with an evil glint in his eye.

“Well, I have an implant at the base of my skull, a ‘dead-man’ switch, if you will. Should I stop breathing, the implant signals the small explosive device under the table, which will shatter the urns, releasing the nanotech virus into the air. The virus in each urn is pre-programmed to target you, Mr. Mojo, and Mr. Cheng specifically, but it will also kill anyone who enters the room,” Roman replied.

“C’mon, fancy boy!” Mojo guffawed. “‘Fraid ya cain’t outbid a good ole boy like me? I’ll call yer bluff, Roe-man. Three mill.”

“I’m not here for the nanotech virus,” DuChamps declared. “I want the device the tech was manufactured with. How much for that, Mr. Roman?”

“I’m afraid that particular item isn’t up for auction, Mr. DuChamps,” Roman replied.

“I, too, would like to bid on the manufacturing device,” Lim Cheng declared. “My backers have a vast budget from which to bid, sir.”

“TAD-C is the world’s premiere alien tech research organization. Not even the Chinese can compete with our capabilities,” DuChamps growled.

“Lookie-here, I don’t really care ‘bout the way the weapons is made,” Mojo said. “I just want the weapons. I can re-sell ‘em fer ten times what I’m biddin’ today. So, how ‘bout it, Roe-man? I’ll go high as three point five, cash on the barrel head, right here, right now.”

“Mr. Cheng, no disrespect to your backers, but we both know that my company has the best chance of reverse engineering this technology and recreating it,” DuChamps said. “Perhaps we should consider a partnership? Surely between your financial resources and my own, not inconsiderable resources, we can make Mr. Roman an offer beyond his wildest dreams of avarice.”

“My dreams are my own,” Roman chuckled.

“I am authorized to promise as high as two billion euros,” Lim Cheng said. “Can you match that amount, DuChamps?”

“Easily,” DuChamps said with a grin, “and whatever technologies TAD-C develops, your backers will receive first chance at them, at a vastly discounted rate, of course.”

“Naturally,” Lim Cheng replied with a smile.

“Ah’ight, a man got to know his limitations, like ole Dirty Harry said,” Mojo proclaimed. “I cain’t compete with the money these two got to throw ‘round, an’ I surely do not have they’s techny-logical know-how, but what I do got is buyers lined up fer them nano-weapons. So, how ‘bout you fellers all get your bid’ness together, an’ then sell to me? I’ll retail the loot fer ya to a buncha fellers who just want to cause theyselves some mayhem.”

DuChamps smiled. “You’re not as stupid as you pretend to be, are you?”

Mojo shook his head. “Folk tend to underestimate a fella with a Southern drawl, ya know? Don’t matter that I got me a, whatyacallit, Masters of Business Administration from Yale.”

DuChamps laughed and actually slapped a friendly hand on the giant outlaw biker’s shoulder. “My friend, I think you and I can actually do business!”

“I am finding myself surprisingly inspired by this sudden outburst of cooperation amongst men that I had set up to compete with one another,” Roman said with a sigh. Then, he grinned. “Let us make this a four-way partnership, then.”

“Cowboy.” Achilles’ voice buzzed in Colt’s head.

“Yes, sir,” he replied silently.

“Give me a head count on hostiles,” Achilles ordered.

“Roman appears to be alone. Drones haven’t sussed out anybody else in the warehouse, yet. He seems to have set a limit on the number of bodyguards any of his buyers could bring. I count eight people per group including the leader. DuChamps’ people appear to be professional mercenaries. I’d guess ex-Special Forces types, either Spetsnaz or SAS. They’re armed with submachine guns and pistols. A couple of them have grenades.

“The Gold Dragons are packing pistols, small semi-automatics and machine pistols, and several of them also appear to have large knives or short swords. One of them, that tiny little girl near the back of the group, has a pair of nunchucks stashed in her back pocket. Bit of a stereotype, but...”

“But it’s still a deadly weapon,” Achilles added with a chuckle. “What about your outlaw biker buddies?”

“The Kith are probably the heaviest armed. They’re all packing big handguns, .45s or .44 Magnum revolvers, but a couple of them are hiding MAUL shotguns under their vests. I’m betting Mojo brought his best killers with him. I wouldn’t bet against them in a fair fight with DuChamps’ commandos or Cheng’s triad assassins,” Colt said.

“And Roman?” Achilles asked.

“Has a chip in his head that’ll activate and detonate his nano-weapons if he’s killed. Don’t think he really needs much else in the way of a weapon, boss,” Colt sighed.

“So, we’re gonna call it twenty-five potential hostiles,” Achilles mused. “I’ve got two Myrmidons, one in soft Lorica, one in Hephaestus armor... Sticks, what’s your drone load?”

“I’ve got two Badgers and a Batarang, sir,” Amadi replied.

“So, two ground combat drones and a flyer. Good choices,” Achilles said.

“Thank you, sir,” Amadi replied.

“Detective Tucker, are you armed?” Achilles asked.

“I can talk now?” Lynn grumbled.

Achilles chuckled. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve checked your record, young lady, and I find it very impressive. Now, please, are you armed?”

“I’ve got my service Glock, and Colt gave me his, uh, Pugio along with a lot of spare ammo for it,” Lynn said.

“Do you have any tactical gear? Body armor?” Achilles asked.

“Yeah, I’ve got a tactical vest.”

“Suit up, Detective. Much as I regret to do it, you’re being drafted. Canadian Forces have given us permission to breach. These weapons cannot be allowed to reach a wider distribution. Cowboy, I want Roman alive. Capturing him is your primary goal. Can you take him alive?”

“I’ve got two stunners with me. I think it’s doable,” Colt replied.

“Sticks, you’re on assault. Disable their vehicles, block their communications, take out as many of them as you have to,” Achilles directed. “Detective Tucker, you’re on clean-up. Any stragglers that get past Sticks are yours to deal with. The local and federal police are rolling tactical units, but we need to move now.”

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PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:44 am

112

Lynn stepped to the back of her SUV to retrieve her tactical vest. As she did, she realized that Amadi had been kneeling against the wall of a nearby building. When he stood up, it was like watching an ice sculpture move. Then, the active camouflage deactivated. The Armor of Hephaestus Powersuit looked like a high tech cross between a suit of full plate armor and one of those robotic mechas from those Japanese cartoons she’d gotten her little brother hooked on. It was black on black, no insignia, no discernable human features beyond the humanoid shape.

Mounted on either shoulder was an articulated armature, currently folded down, that were equipped with a pair of multi-barreled guns. Some kind of tubing, roughly the diameter of a 12-gauge shotgun barrel, was mounted in a cluster on the left forearm. An oval pod of some kind was mounted on the other forearm. If that weren’t enough weapons, Amadi had some kind of assault weapon that looked like the Gladius’ larger brother slung across his chest, a nasty looking machete-like knife sheathed on his thigh, and what looked like bandoleers and pouches of grenades or ammo strapped to other parts of his body.

She hadn’t noticed it before, but Amadi was also carrying a box about the size of a large steamer trunk attached to the back of his armor. The bottom of the box dropped open, releasing two metallic bundles that seemed to unfold as they fell, hitting the ground as four-legged robots. Each of the robots was a low, squat, almost dome-like shape that reminded Lynn of a badger, but these “robo-badgers” were the size of Rottweilers. The “face” of each robot appeared to consist of a cluster of weapon barrels on either side of a chainsaw blade. A third robot floated up from the top of the box, this one shaped like a boomerang or a flying wing aircraft. The flying wing robot had half a dozen miniature missiles mounted under its fuselage and a single gun barrel in the nose. With the three robots deployed, the box dropped off Amadi’s back.

“What are those things?” Lynn asked.

Amadi pointed at the two walking robots that had moved forward to flank him. “These are Badger Ground Combat Drones. They’re semi-autonomous, under the control of my QPCP implant. Effectively, they’re just mobile light machine guns.” He raised a finger to point at the flying wing. “That is a Chiroptera Aerial Reconnaissance and Support Drone, but we all call them ‘Batarangs’. It’s also under my control.”

Lynn finished strapping herself into her tactical vest. She placed the Pugio pistol Colt had given her into the integral holster, placing the spare magazines in one of the attached pouches. She had pepper spray, a flash-bang grenade, and a collapsible baton already loaded onto the vest, along with a pack of flex-cuffs and some latex gloves left over from a warrant service raid, which had been the last time she’d worn the vest.

“So, Amadi, how much firepower do you have there?” Lynn asked.

“Just on the armor? Two 6.5mm miniguns, a 12-gauge shotgun-slash-grenade launcher, a 1cm plasma cannon, a 30mm auto-mortar, and a Pilum MAWS. The Badgers give me two more miniguns and two more shotguns, and the Batarang has six high explosive rocket-grenades and a 10mm machine pistol,” Amadi replied.

“Holy crap! That’s... a lot,” Lynn gaped.

“It’s the one of me against the twenty or more of them. You’ll excuse me if I don’t feel guilty for being a walking tank,” Amadi chuckled.

“Sticks, if you’re done impressing Batgirl with the size of your arsenal, could you see your way to prepping an EMP strike on this building?” Colt asked over the link.

“Already got shockers and rockers loaded in the mortar,” Amadi replied.

“Wait! So, I’m ‘Batgirl’ now?” Lynn exclaimed.

“Until we come up with something better,” Colt chuckled. “I’m making my breach now, Sticks.”

“Roger that. Deploying drones. Batgirl, you hang back here and catch anything that gets past me,” Amadi instructed as he began to walk toward the warehouse. The Badgers took off at a run, each headed for a different corner of the building. The Batarang disappeared into the night somewhere above them.

Lynn sighed, took the Pugio out, checked the load, and waited for the action to start.

* * * * *

Colt had as complete a picture of the interior of the building as the tiny spy drones could give him. Wondrous as the little spheres were, though, they were terribly limited in what they were capable of doing. Each drone was essentially a q-dar emitter/receiver mated to an anti-graviton propellor and a power cell, all of it wrapped in a shell of active camouflage material. Q-dar operated in two modes: passive and active, much like sonar. In passive mode, the unit was an omni-directional receiver for the quantum “vibrations” of material objects. Some materials resonated “louder” than others and could “mask” the signatures of other objects. Active q-dar dealt with the problem of “quantum noise” by sending out a uni-directional pulse of some kind of unknown energy wave, and then registering the interaction between material objects and that wave.

The problem with both modes was one of power usage. Passive mode was relatively low drain on a battery. Active, on the other hand, used up power at a very high rate. So, the mini-drones only used their active mode on demand and only for a second at a time. In passive mode the mini-drones were good for two or three days of continuous use. In active scan mode that time on station dropped to a matter of hours, and Colt was leery of going full active with the drones, especially if he needed to detail them to track fleeing targets.

So, he was relying on his implanted sensors. He had a q-dar unit in each of his hands, two just above his eyes, one on the top of his head, four arranged in a cross pattern on the back of his head, and one in each of his feet. Colt had wondered about the ones in his feet at first, but that had been before he’d jumped out of a perfectly good aircraft for the first time and was able to “see” through his feet whether or not his landing zone was clear. Q-dar, though, wasn’t the only sensory enhancement that he had. Myrmidons could see in both infrared and ultraviolet light, as well as enhanced clarity at telescopic ranges. They could hear in the same sound range as dogs and bats and were quite capable of echolocation when the need arose. They could also hear more clearly and at greater range than normal. Colt could actually hear another person’s heartbeat when he focused and listened for it. The sense of smell wasn’t so much enhanced as refined, allowing them to distinguish more easily individual scents.

Upon approaching the building, Colt had unleashed a barrage of active q-dar pulses on the structure, determining how well it was built and out of what. He’d viewed the place through his infrared and ultraviolet filters, searching for signs of an “invisible” early warning system, like motion detectors or laser trip wires. Finally, he’d chosen a service door on the side of the building as his point of entry. The extensive nature of his communications implants had allowed Colt to detect the electronic signature of an alarm system on the door. He’d wirelessly infiltrated the device and suppressed it.

“Sticks, rockers and shockers... now,” he ordered over the comm link.

“Rockers” were breaching rounds, designed to blow apart doors or punch holes in walls. The “shockers” were the electromagnetic pulse rounds. As Colt entered the building, the first of Amadi’s rocker rounds shattered the rolling door that the buyers’ vehicles had entered through. Then, the first shocker went off above the building, killing the power to the block.

“Cowboy, some of our hosts are insisting that you identify yourselves,” Achilles sighed over the comm link, “and that you offer them the chance to surrender.”

“I’m already in action, boss,” Colt replied as he raised the barrel of his Gladius, pointing it at one of DuChamps’ mercenaries, “but I’ll do what I can.”

“Do that,” Achilles grumbled. “But don’t be stupid.”

“Too late for that,” Colt chuckled. Then, loud enough to be heard through the layer of Thick Skin armor over his face, he shouted, “Lay down your weapons and surrender by order of the Canadian Government!”

The mercenary swung his stubby little submachine gun toward Colt, and Colt put three rounds into the man’s face. He let go of the forestock of the Gladius, pointed his left hand at DuChamps, and triggered the wireless taser with a mental command. A bolt of lightning leaped from the back of his hand, striking DuChamps somewhere around his mid-torso. DuChamps’ body seized up and toppled over. He’d be stunned for a few seconds.

Tactical lights snapped to life on the various weapons that DuChamps’ mercenaries had brought with them. The beams of light stabbed out in Colt’s general direction, but the Myrmidon was already moving. The buzz-saw chatter of Amadi’s shoulder mounted mini-guns announced his arrival at the loading dock door. Rounds from the 6.5mm machine guns were chewing up the tires and body work of DuChamps’ SUVs, the Kith’s Harley-Davidsons, and the Gold Dragons’ street bikes.

“Lay down your weapons and surrender by order of the Canadian Government!” blared from the flat speakers mounted in the chest plate of Amadi’s armor. The announcement repeated on a loop.

The man who called himself Roman reacted instantly, turning and fleeing toward the back of the warehouse. Colt was moving to intercept him when he noticed the large industrial refrigerator unit that was standing in the middle of the floor. The door of the fridge was swinging open on its own, pushed open by something coming out.

“Crap!” Colt swore when he saw the first thing to come charging out. “Hell hounds!”

“Say again, Cowboy,” Achilles ordered.

Colt raised his Gladius toward the first of the creatures coming out of the big industrial fridge. From nose to tail tip, it was about eight feet long, covered in red, reptilian scales. Each of its six limbs ended in three digits tipped with black claws. Its vulpine head was surmounted by six short, curved, sharp black horns, and its maw was filled with interlocking, needle-like black teeth. The creature ran on four of its six limbs, centaur-like, the first pair of limbs grasping an enormous automatic shotgun, which was currently pointed at Colt. He snapped a picture of the creature with the gun camera built into the Gladius’ multi-sensor unit, transmitted it to Achilles, and laid the crosshairs on the junction where the creature’s body bent up over the middle pair of limbs.

“Hrix,” Colt said as he triggered the particle beam module of the Gladius.

The high energy stream of particles sliced into the alien’s body at near the speed of light, cutting a tight five millimeter hole the length of its body, passing through the primary brain, the ancillary heart, the stomach and various bowels, and out through its stiff, club-like tail. The thermal bloom that accompanied the particles thoroughly cooked everything within a thirty centimeter radius of the beam, causing tissues to explode. The Hrix fell dead at Colt’s feet, looking like it had been hit by a Howitzer. The particle beam emitter clicked as it went into a cool-down cycle and the capacitors began to recharge for another shot in two to five seconds.

Colt didn’t have that much time. Two more of the centaur-like Hrix were bearing down on him, these firing their auto-shotguns. A mixture of solid slugs, flechette needles, and ball bearing-sized shot smashed into the spot that Colt was rapidly vacating. He dived behind a large crate marked to indicate that it contained an HVAC unit. Colt fervently prayed that the box wasn’t empty. Metallic twangs and thuds, as well as a lack of rounds actually hitting him, suggested that his cover was good for the moment.

He reached up, one-handed, relying on the feed from the Gladius’ multi-sensor to “see” for him, and opened fire on the two Hrix shock troopers. Their scales were like light body armor. A Hrix could easily shrug off traditional 9mm and .45 rounds. The 11.5mm Plasmatic was more like a .44 or .50 Magnum, and had a good chance of penetrating Hrix scale, but the trick was to hit them in a spot where that little bit of penetration would kill them. Once Hrix warriors started to berserk, only death would stop them.

The two Hrix had split up. They were trying to flank him. Colt spotted the closest one through the Gladius’ sight and stitched rounds across its flank. One of its legs gave, which reduced the creature to a wobbling limp, but didn’t slow it significantly enough. Colt swung around the corner of the crate, bringing his weapon to his shoulder. The ammo count swimming in his vision indicated less than a third of a magazine left. He placed the crosshairs on the Hrix’s chest, right between the forelegs, and held the trigger down. The ten 11.5mm rounds chewed into the armored scales, tearing into the flesh and penetrating into the Hrix’s most vulnerable organ: the primary brain.

Colt felt a weight slam into his back. The other Hrix had flanked him. Slugs and shot alike from the auto-shotgun threw him to the ground. Colt rolled with the impact, coming up facing the alien monster. The Hrix warrior’s maw was open, teeth extending in anticipation of a meal. The Hrix dropped the auto-shotgun, letting it fall back on a sling, as it reached for and drew out a wickedly curved short sword. It knew the Gladius’ clip was empty.

It didn’t know that the particle beam emitter had cycled. Colt cored it the same as he’d cored the first Hrix to come out of hiding. He could have sworn the alien looked disappointed as it fell over dead. Colt picked himself up and switched the empty magazine out for a fresh one. The particle beam weapon was good for another six shots before it would need an extended cool down cycle.

Roman was nowhere in sight. Colt snarled to himself and assessed the situation. Six more Hrix had come out of hiding, and were engaging Amadi. The buyers, the ones who weren’t dead, were abandoning the warehouse as quickly as they could.

“I’ve got these blighters,” Amadi declared. “Help Batgirl catch the crooks.”

Suiting words to action, Amadi incinerated two of the attacking Hrix with a blast from his plasma cannon, while his shoulder guns each engaged separate Hrix targets, and his Badger drones each attacked one of the remaining Hrix.

Colt ran past the fight out onto the street beyond. He spotted Lynn crouched behind her car, firing his Pugio at the various mercenaries, bikers, and gangsters who’d cleared out of the building. Colt had about enough of these idiots for one night. He whistled shrilly to get their attention.

“I have a megawatt output particle beam weapon, and if you idiots don’t surrender right now, I’m gonna just slice in half every damn thing in front of me!” Colt shouted. To make his point, he unleashed a short pulse beam that shattered a light pole. “NOW, I said!”

Toronto Police and RCMP ERT trucks began to arrive on scene along with a helicopter. The suddenly outnumbered bad guys began throwing down their weapons and raising their hands.

_________________
Ragnar Lothbrok wrote:
Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.


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Gideon Shaw
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Posts : 1041
Join date : 2009-12-30
Age : 47
Location : Magee House

Character sheet
Concept: The Kicker of Asses
Race/Origin: Hybrid (Fae/Dragon)

PostSubject: Re: More Scenes From the Archives of the Terran Legion.   Wed Dec 26, 2012 6:41 pm

113

Colt was happy to shuck off the various pieces of Lorica, as well as his Thick Skin, and bask in the cool night air for a moment. He leaned against Lynn Tucker’s Ronin, which hadn’t fared very well in the fire fight.

“What is that?” Lynn asked as she joined him and pointed at the basketball-sized blob forming in his hands.

“My Thick Skin,” Colt replied, bouncing the blob in his hands.

“It’s kind of... gross,” Lynn said with a little moue of distaste.

“Just a little,” Colt agreed. “Sorry about your car.”

“It’s insured. Well insured. Mom insisted if I was gonna use my personal vehicle for work that I should insure it, heavily. Hey, even in Canada we have crazies that will shoot at you,” Lynn chuckled. She handed Colt the Pugio. “Thanks for the loaner. Glad that I had it. One of those things came right at me. Shot it twice in the head, and that just seemed to annoy it.”

Colt laughed. “That’s because the Hrix, unlike us humans, don’t keep any important organs in their heads. Hell hounds keep their brains in their guts.”

“So that’s why it fell over when that biker gut shot it,” Lynn mused.

“Biker? Which one?” Colt asked.

“The skinny one, over there,” Lynn said pointing to where the ERT had arranged the prisoners.

Colt frowned. “I think I know him,” he said. As he stood up, he tossed the Thick Skin into the Ronin’s cargo compartment, where the blob rolled itself into his duffel.

“Ew,” Lynn half-gagged as she jumped up to follow Colt.

He had reached the biker and was squatting down in front of the man, a graying forty year old with numerous tattoos decorating his arms. Colt stared at the man’s face for several seconds. Then, he sighed. “Skeeter, what are you doing here?”

“Nothin’,” Skeeter replied, not looking at Colt.

“What would your Mama think of you hanging out with morons like this?” Colt said nodding toward Mojo, who had also survived the fight, if barely. One of the Hrix had trampled the big biker, slashing him repeatedly with its claws.

“Don’ say nothin’, Skeeter,” Mojo ordered, voice slurred by painkillers. “Naw widdout a lawyer.”

Skeeter glanced at Mojo, then up into Colt’s face. Suddenly, the biker’s expression changed, confusion and shock. “Mr. Colt?”

“Yeah, Skeeter, it’s me,” Colt chuckled.

“I’d hug yer neck, Mr. Colt, but...” Skeeter shrugged because his hands were bound behind his back.

“You know this fella?” Mojo growled.

“This here’s Mr. Colt, Mojo. He and my mama used to work together at the bookstore in Tyler. I went to his daddy’s church, and Mr. Colt was one of the children’s church leaders,” Skeeter said.

“He don’ look ole ‘nuff,” Mojo said.

“I’m with the Legion. Had Reset,” Colt said. “Say, Mojo, why don’t you rest a spell. Let me an’ Skeeter here catch up with one another?”

“You can’ make me,” Mojo grumbled.

“Mojo, I’d rather have just killed you. Don’t make me revisit that option, ‘kay?” Colt said with a cold smile. He reached down and helped Skeeter to his feet. “Hear tell that you took down one of the hell hounds.”

“Uh, yeah, well... It was gonna kill that cop lady, an’ she was just doin’ her job, ya know? Besides, she’s human, an’ that thing weren’t,” Skeeter replied. “Done like Daddy taught me when we was deer hunting and aimed for where I figured the heart was.”

“Yeah, that’s where they keep their brain,” Colt chuckled.

“That’s stupid,” Skeeter snorted.

“Listen, Skeet, what are you doing with a bunch of pricks like the Kith?” Colt asked.

“Well... I kinda got myself in some trouble, Mr. Colt. Jail kinda trouble. All I did was drive a car, but, you know, the law still calls that bein’ part of the crime, ya know?” Skeeter shrugged his skinny shoulders. “Met some o’ the Kith inside, an’ they took me in. Protected me, like, ya know? So, when I got out, I hooked up with Mojo. Took me on as a prospect. Just got patched in last month. You think Canadian jail’s better than Texan jail, Mr. Colt?”

“I kinda doubt any jail is all that good, Skeeter,” Colt sighed. “Maybe if you cooperate with the investigation, we can work something out for you.”

“I ain’t afraid of doin’ my time, Mr. Colt.” Skeeter sighed heavily. “Just glad Mama ain’t alive to see it, though. Or Pastor John for that matter. Only person I knowed who could guilt better than Mama.”

“Look, Skeeter, I want you to cooperate with the Toronto police when they question you. They’re gonna have to cede jurisdiction over to my people since there’s enemy aliens involved. Maybe we can get you into an Exsule rehab program, teach you some new skills,” Colt said.

“Mr. Colt, I don’t want nothin’ to do with them aliens, not even your friends. Look, I’ll cooperate ‘cause what was done to them kids was wrong, but I’m an Earth man, ya know? Got no hate fer yer people, but I ain’t got use fer ‘em either,” Skeeter declared.

Colt sighed. “Fair enough, Skeeter, but I’m still gonna check in on you, make sure you’re behaving.”

“No need fer that, Mr. Colt. You don’t owe me no kindness,” Skeeter said.

“For your Mama, Skeeter,” Colt said.

“No, sir, not even for her or Daddy. You a good man, Mr. Colt, but I don’t want your help, thank ya all the same,” Skeeter declared.

Colt shook his head. “Alright, Skeeter.”

A Toronto Police detective joined them. “Time to transport the prisoners downtown.”

“Good luck, Skeeter,” Colt said.

“Thank you, Mr. Colt. Same to you,” Skeeter said with a nod. Then, he grinned. “Hey, you look good, Mr. Colt. Mama mighta married you instead of Daddy if’n you’d looked like that back in the day.”

“Not a chance. She loved your daddy at first sight, kiddo,” Colt laughed.

The detective escorted Skeeter away to a waiting van.

“I introduced his parents to one another,” Colt said to Lynn who was standing nearby, quietly watching. “They were in Houston when the Ro-chaq bombed the city.”

“Um, what about your family?” Lynn asked.

“Mom and Dad passed about eight years ago, just before the Ro-chaq incursion. The rest of my family all relocated to Denver not long after I joined the Legion. I figured with that being the world HQ for the Legion, Denver would be one of the safest cities on the planet in case of an attack,” Colt replied.

“And you were right,” Lynn replied.

“I won’t let it go to my head,” Colt chuckled.

Amadi joined them, and Lynn jumped in surprise because she hadn’t heard the heavily armored soldier approaching them. The blank faceplate retracted. Amadi was frowning.

“Colt, did you do a head count of the hell hounds?” he asked.

Colt shook his head. “No. I took out three. You were engaged with six. That’s nine.”

“Yeah, well, have you noticed the one lying dead in the street over there?” Amadi said with a nod toward the alien body that was being draped with a large sheet.

“Crap,” Colton sighed.

“What?” Lynn asked.

“Hrix are obsessed with the numbers three and two, in that order. They always operate in groups no smaller than three,” Colt replied.

“Or in multiples of three, either groups of two or three trios,” Amadi added.

“So, their ‘packs’ number three, six, nine, twelve, one trio, two trios, three trios, four trios, six trios,” Colt said. “Notice how I skipped ‘five’?”

“Yeah? So?” Lynn said.

“Ten is a multiple of five. To the Hrix, five is a bad luck number. So...?” Colt prompted.

“So, if we have ten dead Hrix, we’re missing two of them,” Lynn surmised.

“Correct,” Amadi said, “but it gets worse. If we’ve got two Hrix on the loose, they’re likely a bond-mated pair, but we won’t know that until we check under that bugger’s hood.”

Colt was already striding over to the dead alien’s body, throwing the sheet aside and squatting down to examine its hindquarters.

“Hey! What’re you doing?” demanded the officer who’d just finished covering the Hrix warrior.

“Investigating,” Colt grunted as he took out his multi-tool. The block of memory metal took on the shape of a large screwdriver. Colt lifted the Hrix’s hindmost leg, inserted the screwdriver blade into an orifice, and pried it open.

“Oh, god, I think I’m gonna hurl,” the officer choked out, turning away.

Lynn squatted down next to Colt, while Amadi loomed above both of them.

“As fascinatingly disgusting as this exercise is, why are you poking the dead alien in what looks like his bung hole?” Lynn asked.

“Actually, this is a genital orifice,” Colt replied. “Amadi, could you hold his leg for me?”

“Sure thing, mate,” Amadi replied. “His arse is actually in the tip of his tail. They can actually spew urine and excrement out of like a fire hose. The biologists figure it’s some kind of defensive adaptation. You know, something bigger and badder is chasing me, lemme crap in its face while I run away.”

“You know who would be loving this conversation right now?” Lynn asked.

“Your sister, Leigh?” Colt guessed as he reached a hand into the orifice he’d pried open.

“Yeah, and just about anybody else but me,” Lynn gagged. “Ugh, dude, am I about to have to charge you with some kind of necrophilia crime?”

“I once helped a mare on our ranch deliver a colt, and I had my hand in her vagina up to my shoulder,” Colt replied. “This ain’t nothin’.”

He tugged out a squat tube with two openings in the end. Both openings were sealed shut, surgically sewn closed. Colt glanced back up at Amadi. “He’s definitely a eunuch.”

“This is gross, and I’m gonna regret asking, but I gotta know: what are you talking about?” Lynn asked.

“The Hrix are hermaphrodites. See the bigger opening? That’s the ovipositor, the egg-layer. They’ll drop these hard, slimy eggs by the dozens. Then, the other opening here? That’s the vas deferens. They’ll spew this jelly-like sperm onto the eggs to fertilize them. Three months later, baby Hrix pop out. The good news is that a Hrix can’t fertilize its own eggs. The better news is that most Hrix can’t fertilize other Hrix’s eggs either,” Colt explained.

“Unless they’re pair bonded,” Amadi added.

“Right, somehow, by pairing up with another Hrix, they kinda ‘activate’ their male reproductive half. The pair will each lay eggs in the same nest, and both will fertilize those eggs. More importantly for the pack, this pair can also fertilize all the other eggs, too. The Ro-chaq tightly control Hrix reproduction, breeding them like we breed prize show dogs or cattle. Most Hrix have their vas deferens sealed when they’re young, and they’re only unsealed when they prove to have traits that the Ro-chaq are looking to pass on. Then, they’re allowed to pair-bond.

“Every once in a while, a Hrix is born with some kind of defect. If it’s physical, they kill it and move on to the next pup. If it’s mental or genetic, but doesn’t affect performance, they ‘castrate’ it by sealing up both genital openings, basically creating a sub-class of eunuchs. A eunuch warrior is usually assigned to a bonded pair to fill out their battle trio, and he’ll sacrifice himself so that they can get away if a fight doesn’t look to be going their way,” Colt explained. He stuffed the dead Hrix’s genitals back into their orifice.

Lynn rubbed her eyes. “Lemme get a handle on this. First, I think we can assume that ‘Roman’ is probably a Ro-chaq spy. Am I wrong?”

“No,” Amadi said.

“I don’t think so,” Colt said. “And he was kinda clever with the name, too. ‘Ro-chaq’ means ‘the People who conquer all’. ‘Roman’ sounds a lot like ‘Ro’ah-mun’ which means ‘warrior of the People’.”

“Well, ‘chaq’ literally means ‘strong’ but with a definite connotation of strength through conquest of all the People’s enemies,” Amadi said.

“Thanks. Let’s save the language lessons for later,” Lynn grumbled. “Okay, the second assumption we can make is that Roman is loose somewhere in Toronto with dangerous aliens that can easily make more dangerous aliens. How fast could he rebuild his pack?”

“In three months, he’d have babies. Those babies would mature within a year, but he wouldn’t really have any way of training and indoctrinating them like what’s been done to their parents,” Colt said.

“On the other hand, Hrix are carnivorous by nature, and the warrior caste is especially aggressive,” Amadi said. “Not to mention the fact that these buggers have been bred for hyper aggression for several generations. Even untrained, he can starve them like pit bulls, and set them loose in populated areas. Strap a bomb of nano-virus to their necks like an evil Saint Bernard, and you’ve got a suicide bomber straight out of hell.”

“Swell. Yet another alien super weapon loose in my town. How many?” Lynn said.

“Worst case, assuming that he had all twelve of his pack laying a clutch of twelve eggs each for the last five years, uh, seven hundred twenty. Unfertilized Hrix eggs will keep for decades,” Colt said.

“We should check the rest of the bodies, though,” Amadi pointed out. “He could have had a pack full of eunuchs.”

“Let’s hope so,” Lynn said, standing up. “Better get started. I’m gonna have nightmares as it is.”

“Why do you think we call these guys ‘hell hounds’?” Colt asked. “You should see ‘em in hard armor, charging en masse like demonic cavalry. The Aresians call them ‘Kiintaaroi Tyemanii’.”

“‘Demon Centaurs’,” Amadi supplied.

“Fitting,” Lynn said as the three of them headed back toward the warehouse.

“Coolest thing I ever saw was a troop of Aresian heavy cavalry mounted on sleipnir equines charging into a pack of hell hounds. I mean, it was a bloody mess in the end, but those Aresian boys gave better than they got,” Colt said.

“They were lucky we’d upgraded their armor and uniforms to our standards,” Amadi said, “but you’re right. It was frakking brilliant to see it happen. Like Gandalf and the Rohirrim charging the into the Uruk-Hai at Helm’s Deep.”

“Hey, I saw that movie!” Lynn exclaimed.

“He’s talking about the book,” Colt said.

“No, I was talking about the movie,” Amadi said.

“Philistine,” Colt sighed.

“Book store nerd,” Amadi retorted good naturedly.

“Better put the bromance on hold for a minute. Looks like Inspector Langlais is putting in an appearance,” Lynn said.

“Game face, Sticks,” Colt said.

The faceplate of Amadi’s armor reassembled itself, leaving him once more without any identity. “Who is this cheerful chap?”

“Inspector Langlais of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Colt replied silently over their cybernetic comm link.

Lynn glanced between them. “Not fair. I still have to talk out loud.”

Colt winked. Then, he turned to face Langlais. “Good evening, Inspector.”

“Don’t ‘good evening’ me, Centurion Payne!” Langlais snarled. “I want you gone! Do you hear me? I want you out of Canada now. You’re on the next flight out of the country, and I don’t care where it’s going, as long as you’re on it.”

“That’s a terribly unfriendly thing to say, Inspector,” Colt replied.

“Excuse me, sir, but this raid was authorized by Canadian Forces commanders and the Prime Minister,” Lynn spoke up.

“Based on illegally obtained evidence provided by this hooligan!” Langlais shouted, stabbing a finger in the general direction of Colt’s face. A bit of spittle flew out of his mouth and splattered on Lynn’s cheek. “If I recall correctly, Officer Tucker, your job was to prevent him from engaging in just this kind of reckless cowboy activity that could endanger our chances of successfully prosecuting the culprits.”

“And she did try to stop me,” Colt said.

“I don’t want to hear anything from your pie hole!” Langlais snarled waving his finger in Colt’s face again.

“Inspector Langlais, I respectfully suggest that you take a deep breath, calm yourself down, and start behaving in a civilized manner,” Colt growled. “Otherwise, I might break that pointy finger of yours right off your hand.”

“Are you threatening me?” Langlais demanded, getting right into Colt’s face.

“I’m stating a fact. You’re being irrational right now. See, a rational man wouldn’t be trying to provoke me the way that you are,” Colt said.

Langlais chuckled and took a step back. “Is that what I’m doing?”

“Obviously,” Colt said. “You want me to respond to your baiting so that you can call in those Mountie ERT boys hiding over there behind that ambulance to ‘arrest’ me, but it’s also obvious to me that you ain’t in your right mind at the moment. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a man in powered armor at my back, packing twice as much firepower as those four, fine, polite, young men.”

The mini-guns swung up over Amadi’s shoulders, locking into place pointing at Langlais. The guns held on the inspector for a full second before returning back to their rest position.

“I know you’re thinking about your career advancement right now,” Colt continued. “I don’t really blame you. You wouldn’t be in the position that you’re in if you hadn’t worked hard to get there, but I need you to understand something, something vitally important. The moment, the very second that a Legion dependant died in that first attack, this case ceased to be criminal. It was a terrorist strike against the Exsule Alliance.”

“So what?” Langlais snapped.

“So, unlike yourself, the Prime Minister, the Governor General, and all those fine, polite gentlemen in charge of your military actually read the United Nations Interplanetary Military Alliance Treaty. Any terrorist attack against the Exsule is the sole jurisdiction of the Exsule Alliance for matters of investigation and prosecution. The investigative agency of the Exsule Alliance is the Terran Legion. The Legion’s policy on terrorists is that there won’t be any trials. Are you beginning to get even a hint of the picture that I’m painting you, Inspector Langlais?”

Langlais swallowed once. “How dare you!” He stepped forward again, raising his finger, prepared to give the Legion Myrmidon a stunning tongue lashing.

The Mountie inspector found himself on the tips of his toes, the front of his suit clutched in Colt’s right hand, his own right hand trapped in the crushing grip of Colt’s left hand. Amadi had stepped forward, his weapons swinging back up to ready position, aimed right at the ERT team that Langlais had brought along. The Mounties wisely raised their hands.

“I dare, sir, because I have orders,” Colt growled softly before setting Langlais gently back down. “I dare because I care about justice for my dead, and I don’t give a rat’s posterior about your ambitions.” Colt began straightening Langlais’ suit where his grip had rumpled it. He even went to far as to brush away imaginary lint. “Now, here’s another interesting tidbit of international jurisprudence for you stemming from the UNIMA Treaty: the presence of alien combatants, in this case Hrix warriors, makes this case the jurisdiction of UNIMATO, i.e. the military is now in charge, and until Colonel Nelson of the Canadian Army arrives on scene, I just happen to be the senior Allied military officer on site. Well, technically, I’ll still be the senior officer on scene, but I will politely defer command to the good Colonel, but until then I’m in charge. Hinder my mission again, Inspector, and I’ll kill you because I’ve used up too much time already dealing with your bull shit.”

Langlais spluttered.

Colt brushed past the man and walked into the warehouse to inspect the remaining Hrix bodies.

_________________
Ragnar Lothbrok wrote:
Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.


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