FROM THE STARS, WITH HATE
By Nick Lauriston
Vishnu Mhasalkar was fifteen years old on 4 March 2035. He lived on the planet Clausura, meaning “lock,” “castle,” or “fort” in his civilization’s ancient, rarely spoken language. He rolled over on his bunk; restlessness gripped him again. He had joined his unit of Bellators, meaning “warrior” or “soldier” in that same tongue, barely a year before; a year after joining the Hostis Orior Army. Orior, meaning “one who has been risen up” or just “chosen one,” was his race. While Hostis translated to “faithful;” thus distinguishing his civilization from that of the Liber Orior, the rebellious minority that had betrayed them hundreds of years before.
This was Vishnu’s home planet, but this backwater outpost was not his home city. He rose from his bunk, groaning in frustration as he walked to the latrine for the third time this night. He stepped out into the moonlight; the pale glow reflected off his black scales as he strode his six-foot-three-inch form over the gravel patch between his billet and the locker rooms. He walked in, depressed the light button; and nothing happened.
“Come on,” he groaned.
He decided he didn’t need the light as he walked out behind the building and relieved himself in the shadow of the roof overhang. Vishnu took a moment to look up at the stars; many were visible despite the light from the city to the north. He looked over the airfield at the skyline. It was not a massive city, not a bustling metropolis; but it was significant enough to provide a beautiful view back-dropped by the snowcapped mountains beyond.
This planet, this fortress, was quickly becoming the crown jewel of the empire; over ten years Shiva the Glorious had turned this rock into a bustling economic oasis. On the opposite hemisphere from where Vishnu stood, the capital city of Aurea hosted four spaceports around its periphery; each one, large enough to house a Legion of Bellators and all their support craft. From a tactical standpoint, this was an oversight; in an age where nuclear weapons could be delivered through wormholes, where they could appear in the sky and detonate over their targets seconds later, a fixed location where massive troop formations would be housed only provided an easy target. Vishnu had no worries such as that. However, this planet was a secret to his people’s enemies: the Rebel Oriors and their allies, the Homines. That was the heart of their betrayal.
The Liber Orior, upon declaring full independence, had left in their ships in a fruitless effort to locate Earth. Earth, a mythical place filled with enemies of his people, populated by a debauched race of creatures, backward and immoral in every conceivable way. By denying Rego, the god of the Hostis, and by turning to the Homines’ god, the Liber Orior had denied their very purpose, that was to purge the Earth. Luckily, for the Hostis, the Liber Orior had never made it to Earth, instead, they were contacted by the first generation of the Hominum Fleet. The alliance between them was unstable at times, neither race fully trusting the other, despite their shared ideology. Vishnu reminded himself that, despite their seemingly insignificant numbers, the Homines were more skilled and cunning at the art of war than either the Liber or Hostis Orior; despite the ample experience the split race had gained while fighting each other. The way the Homines fought was simple: brutal, ruthless, and decisive.
Vishnu finished relieving himself and looked over at the dome-shaped cover for an anti-ship railgun battery. The magnificent machine would protect him in the event the Homines executed a raid here.
He started back to his billet as the sirens began their wailing.
What the hell? Vishnu thought as he looked around at the flashing lights over the door of every billet in the compound.
“Air raid!” he shouted in realization as he sprinted the remaining distance to his bunk and the equipment locker beside it.
The rest of his Platoon were already throwing on their kits as he entered.
“Hurry up!” his Platoon Optio, Lieutenant, shouted as he entered.
“Yes, sir!” Vishnu replied as he threw open his locker and began throwing on his camouflage uniform, body armor, helmet, backpack, ammunition magazine carrier, and then his rifle before he sprinted out the door and followed the mob as they stampeded to the perimeter.
He knew he had seconds: seconds to run, seconds to breath, seconds to live before hellfire would rain down upon them. If he did not make the perimeter, the bunker, and the fighting positions beyond it, he would be killed like so many others in raids such as this. Vishnu passed the last billet, the last latrine, and the last structure before the bunker came into view. He didn’t have enough time.
The railgun battery began firing then, slapping rounds into the air with blinding flashes of light as the weapon attempted, futility, to kill the reconnaissance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) that were receiving targeting information from the Hominum “Pathfinder” teams that had to be on the planet’s surface already. Hopefully, this outpost would only attract the attention of the attack aircraft and their precision munitions; not the massive cruisers that might answer the single railgun with a pair of 50 Kt nuclear warheads.
Just twenty more meters until he reached the drainage ditch that cut across the field separating the barracks and the bunker. He could see it now, if he could not make it to the bunker, there was the ditch. The sirens changed then, the rhythmic wail turned into a solid scream as it signaled to all present that the enemy ships that had jumped into orbit a few seconds before were now firing their lasers, missiles, and railguns down upon the ants on the ground.
He screamed bloody murder as he dove into the ditch, was stepped on by countless numbers of his comrades, and the thunder started.
The railgun rounds detonated fifty feet in the air and began immolating the ground with molten metal and shrapnel; churning the bunkers and Bellators into smoldering hamburger.
He recalled the words of the Guardian: “We will fight you with the fury of a Banshee. We will hunt you with a terrible vengeance. We will burn and tear down your cities like Hurricanes of Fire. We will appear as a Hammer in the Sky; crushing your civilization with the weight of a thousand stars.”
The enemy made a point to broadcast that recorded message over the radio on all his military’s frequencies during a battle; effectively jamming communications and striking fear into the hearts of all who heard it. When he first heard the transmission, it struck him how calm the voice sounded, how eloquently the Hominum called the “Guardian” enunciated the Hostis language.
The bombardment continued as it always did; Vishnu remembered from his training how the Homines initiated their raids using the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) side-effect of a nuclear detonation to fry any electronic devices in orbit. They would then repeat the process on any spaceports on the surface, all the while their fighter craft would nuke the missile silos and their defenses, and then the railguns would pound the surface forces. It was a theme; they seemed to know exactly where the Hostis nukes, Laser Weapons Systems (LaWS) defenses, and anti-ship railguns were located at the onset of a battle, even the ones buried in the mountains.
The railgun munitions continued to slam the barracks compound to powder and ash as Vishnu screamed; he could hear and feel the explosions as the ground shook, despite the fact that he was now buried underneath at least five of his comrades and another layer of turned up soil and depleted uranium. And then it stopped, all at once it stopped; it was silent.
“Thank you, Rego.” he breathed, invoking the name of his deity.
He forced himself to push up through the bodies and dirt to the surface. He looked to the north, the city lights were darkened, the barracks were obliterated into a crater a mile in diameter; extending from a point two hundred meters away from him to the edge of the airstrip. He turned around, back towards the bunker, and found nothing there.
“No. No. No,” he whimpered as he looked upon another crater of similar size to the other, occupying the space once inhabited by the bunker and the extensive tunnel system beneath it.
A series of thunderous cracks emanated from the sky to the west.
“Here they come,” Vishnu said as he dug the rest of the way out and began running to the east towards the township that bordered the garrison.
SMC-26A Perseus “Horseman-1-1” Ganymede Station: Hominum Home System
“Any word, Sarn’t?” Specialist Francesco “Fresco” Pierno, an Italian-American from San Diego, California, asked through his Fire-Team’s radio net.
“That’s a negative, whoever you are. You need to identify yourself when transmitting, over.” His Fire-Team Leader, Sergeant Greg Kaneonuskatew (referred to as “Sarn’t Kan” by those who earned his respect), an almost pure-blood Navajo replied in a voice that showed just how bored he was with the situation.
“It’s Fresco, Sarn’t,” Fresco replied.
“Yeah, I figured,” Kan replied.
Fresco broke squelch (clicked the transmit button on his radio) twice to say, “Roger that,” before he continued to hum the tune of a Metallica song that was stuck in his head.
Fresco had joined the United States Army to become an Airborne Ranger: upon completion of Airborne Training, and RASP (Ranger Assessment and Selection Program), he had expected to be assigned to one of the three Ranger Battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment. However, after graduating from those schools, he entered the year-long Orbital Drop Infantry Program (ODIP) held at an undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains. At least, he assumed it was in the Rockies, he had no idea. He had never been told. He had asked, but he had never been told. So, here he was, crammed into a Personnel Reentry Vehicle (PRV) in the cargo bay of an SMC-26A “Perseus” supersonic cargo air/spacecraft with the forty-five other members of his platoon.
“Can we get a fucking move on?” Fresco lamented as he strained against the straps holding him in place.
“Fresco, is that you shouting?” Sergeant Kaneonuskatew asked over the radio.
“Yes, Sarn’t! Motivated for this drop, Sarn’t!” Fresco replied in feigned motivation.
“Shut the fuck up,” Kan told him.
“Okay,” Fresco said without transmitting.
The aircraft started to rumble, and then to whine as the engines brought them up to speed.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” he whispered.
“Five minutes,” Kan told him.
Fresco broke squelch twice as a reply along with the other two members of their Fire-Team.
“You ready to kill some aliens, Fresco?” Specialist Josh Seong, a Korean-American from Manhattan asked.
“Bet on it, man. Third eye!”
“Death from the sky!” Seong completed their Regimental motto.
Brigadier General Justin “Overlord” Hollowhill came over the all-hands net at that moment, “All personnel, this is Overlord; the weather over the drop zone is clear with a five-knot wind from the north-east. Cruisers and carriers will initiate jumps in one minute. They will put accurate and devastating fire on the enemy, your job is to clean up. Come down hard and fast, good hunting, out.”
He’s never done that before. Fresco thought.
“Must be a big one this time, huh?” Seong asked.
“Considering the target? That’s a no-brainer, bro,” Fresco replied.
“Look alive,” Kan shut them up.
The engines picked up again as they pushed away from Ganymede Station and lined up behind and below the cruisers and carriers for the jump. He wished he could see, wished he could look out a window at the stars, the other craft, the planet he was about to raid.
Focus, he told himself.
“This is Ajax-6. Standby for Wormhole Jump. Jump in five… four… three… two… one… Jump!” their battalion commander came over the battalion net.
There was no noticeable difference between the space around Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, versus that around the planet designated Wolf-1061C, so the instant in which their spacecraft passed through the wormhole was unnoticeable. The pilot then started deploying flares and chaff and rolling to the left. The lack of gravity did not help Fresco’s bowels as his body was pressed up against the roof of his PRV by the G-forces put into play by the rotation of the massive craft.
The Perseus’s pilot came over the barely-audible intercom, “This is your pilot speaking, we will enter the atmosphere in thirty seconds, standby.”
Fresco pressed the button to light up the clock on his helmet visor’s HUD (Heads Up Display), and the timer’s digits glowed green on the transparent material. “00:02:21” It read. The aircraft shuddered slightly, and Fresco heard an alarm blaring.
Great. he thought as his HUD lit up automatically.
“Hello, Specialist Pierno; how are you feeling?” his suit’s onboard Artificial Intelligence System asked.
“I’m great, Gearbox, how about you?” he asked sarcastically.
Gearbox, so named by its user, was a sorry imitation of the Automated Command and Control Security Artificial Intelligence System (ACCSAIS, pronounced Access) that the Archangels used. The Archangels, a three-hundred-strong Joint Task Force comprised of U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force Special Operations Forces personnel, received the cutting edge of equipment, arms, and technology; the ODIs always seemed to get the hand-me-downs from that elite unit.
“Let’s go over your equipment, shall we?” the female voice asked.
“Let’s,” Fresco agreed.
“You are currently equipped with one suppressed HK416A5 carbine. Three-hundred and sixty rounds in ready magazines; seven-hundred and twenty rounds total. One Kimber Desert Warrior 1911. Sixty rounds in ready magazines; one-hundred and twenty rounds total. One M240L machine gun. One-thousand rounds on the first belt; three-thousand rounds total. One M3 MAAWS Recoilless Rifle. Eight ready rounds of HEAT, six HEDP rounds in reserve. Ten M67 fragmentation grenades in ready position, twenty total. Ten M18 smoke grenades in ready position, twenty total. Two M18A1 Claymore APERS mines in the ready position, four total. Would you like to go over the specifications of each of these weapons systems?” Gearbox asked.
“No, thank you,” Fresco replied, he did not have time, he knew it; the AI’s only function pre-drop was to distract him and help him pass the time. Which is exactly what she did.
The AI’s projection on his screen disappeared, and he found himself looking at the timer projection counting down; “30… 29… 28… 27… 26… 25… 24… 23… 22… 21…” The craft began shuddering violently as they entered the atmosphere, “20… 19… 18… 17… 16… 15… 14… 13… 12… 11…” He could hear the whine of hydraulics as the cargo ramp lowered to the open position, “10… 9… 8… 7… 6…” The cargo parachute was released, and he could feel himself being pulled head-first towards the rear of the aircraft, “5… 4…” The parachute pulled hard on the rack holding the forty-six ODIs, “3… 2… 1…” He heard the air screaming about him as he tilted back for a moment and then began falling feet first. The pallet broke apart with a series of programmed explosive charges, sending the PRVs and the plastic holding them together scattering away from each other, spreading over the Drop Zone.
Fresco whooped with giddy joy as he felt himself accelerate through 80,000 feet and careen towards the ground.
The bullet-shaped PRV fired its rocket engine, driving him down to 30,000 feet before it ran out of fuel and the skin of the PRV began peeling off. A parachute mounted to the rocket itself deployed and tore the useless hunk of metal off the bullet and jerked him suddenly.
“Oh, straight to the balls!” he groaned as the altimeter projection on the inside of the PRV read 25,000 feet.
The air brakes deployed, slowing him down for an instant before, they too, were ripped from the hull and sent flying away. The PRV began to shake uncontrollably now; the uneven surface of the object sent it bucking and twirling at random as the passing air groped at its skin. The craft approached 20,000 feet when the screen before him flashed red three times, six times, nine times before it began counting down: “10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” The PRV broke down the middle like a seed pod and Fresco was naked to the air and elements, except for his Powered ODI suit. He saw a flash of light below and to his right; his visor zoomed in on the contact with a command twitch from his jaw, revealing a LaWS turret focusing in on him. He squeezed both his fist hard; triggering the air-breaks on his wingsuit and a streak of white light burned through the air directly under him and then disappeared.
That was close, he thought, tucking his arms to his side and diving forward at a forty-five-degree angle, performing a textbook “Delta Position” dive that forced his body to fall just as fast he flew forward over land.
He angled away from the laser for ten seconds before clutching his thumbs to his index fingers, triggering his first personal parachute. The chute yanked him to an upright position, held him there for five seconds, and then disconnected, allowing him to fall freely again. He keyed the navigation display button with his jaw and watched as the Drop Zone marker was projected on his HUD; 262 meters to his right and 10,953 feet below him. He turned himself to the right and dove down to the ground. He closed the distance faster than he expected and swung around to remain over the DZ. He waited until his HUD altimeter read 1,000 feet before he pulled his last parachute and drifted down to the surface of Wolf-1061C.
Feet and knees together. Knees bent, balls of the feet, roll on contact. He thought as the ground accelerated up at him.
He hit with a textbook parachute landing fall; rolling from the balls of his feet, up his legs, and rolling through his buttocks and back until his six-hundred-pound armored form came to rest in the grassy field 400 meters east of the village bordering the Hostis base. He pulled himself to his feet, disconnected his chute, and ripped off his wing-suit to gain access to his HK416A5 mounted on the magnetic holster on his back.
He had just gained control of his weapon when he heard, “Yo! Fresco!” from above.
He looked up to see Seong falling directly down on him.
“Fuck!” Fresco barked as he jumped and rolled out of the way, just in time to miss the line of blue armor-piercing tracer rounds arcing across the sky straight into Seong’s chest.
Fresco fired off ten quick rounds into the general direction of the enemy and bounded back to his friend.
“Sound off, man!” he shouted as he shook his shoulder.
Seong gurgled and spat blood inside his helmet, unable to form real words as blood filled his lungs. Another ODI flopped to the ground under a line of tracers; this time, however, the soldier came up with his M240L and placed accurate fire on the second-story window that the shooting had emanated from.
“Fresco?” the ODI shouted.
“Yeah. Captain?” Fresco asked.
He did not know this officer very well as he had only been assigned to their platoon a month before.
“Yeah. Shit,” Captain Sean McClintock took a knee next to Seong and opened up his left forearm-mounted vital-sign readout. “He’s dead, Private. Get back from him,” McClintock ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Fresco breathed in solemn disappointment, stepping back the required six feet.
McClintock unscrewed a dial on Seong’s forearm until it protruded a half inch, then he pressed it down. Seong’s suit began beeping as McClintock backed off from it. It continued as such for fifteen seconds until a wormhole enveloped it and he disappeared.
“Let’s go, Private!” McClintock called to him as he sprinted off towards the town with the other soldiers.
“Yes, sir,” Fresco replied.
They moved out one behind the other; McClintock taking point along the tree line to the right of the field. Both scanning the buildings to their front and left for targets as they advanced.
“Bastard!” a voice called from the trees on their right.
“Kirkland!” they replied in unison.
“Three guys coming out,” the voice said.
“Sarn’t Kan?” Fresco asked.
“Yeah, me, Winship, and Cuana,” Kan replied.
Specialist Toby Winship of Boise, Idaho, and Private First Class Montgomery Cuana of Pago Pago, American Samoa, were in different squads than Kan and Fresco.
“Good to see you, Sarn’t,” McClintock said as they fell in line behind him.
“You too, sir,” Kan replied, “Are you taking point, sir?” Kan’s tone indicated he was not thrilled with the Captain’s seemingly unnecessary bravado.
“Yes,” McClintock replied, not slowing his brisk pace. “Give me a wedge,” he ordered, and the three newcomers winged off to his left while Fresco remained at his right as they angled farther to the left, towards the first house.
McClintock started sprinting for a creek thirty meters ahead. He stopped at the edge of it, scanned the immediate area through the green IR (Infrared) night vision of his visor, and jumped down into the five-foot creek bed. The other four soldiers fell in on either side of him, scanning the buildings just over 400 meters away through sparse trees.
“Where the fuck is everybody?” Fresco whispered, mostly to himself.
As if in answer, a hail of green, blue, and red tracers erupted from the buildings at them.
“Fuck!” they all shouted as they ducked down into cover.
“Kan, push right and establish a base of fire with Fresco! Cuana, you’re with me!” McClintock screamed as he sprinted off at a low crouch to their left with the Samoan Private First Class doing his best to keep up.
“Pop smoke!” Kan shouted as he tossed one, then two, white smoke grenades into the field before them and to their right.
Fresco did the same and then followed his Team Leader to the right in a fast crouch as the others had moved.
They moved fifty meters before Kan stopped and shouted, “M240, free gun!”
Fresco nodded and replaced his carbine with his machine gun and waited for his Team Leader.
“Blackjack-1-6, Blackjack-1-1; in position, over,” Kan called over the platoon’s command net, he listened for a moment before turning to Fresco, “Roger that. Light ‘em up, Fresco!”
The two of them brought their M240L machine guns to bear simultaneously, identifying the sources of enemy fire and bursting accurate return fire on them. The IR lasers on their weapons illuminated the targets and Fresco could see for sure that he had killed three Hostis riflemen before the enemy noted their presence and shifted their fire towards them. They were receiving fire from three different houses before the “BOOM-WHAP,” “BOOM-WHAP” of two different 84mm M3 “Carl Gustav” MAAWS (Medium Anti-Amor Weapons System) recoilless rifles blasted holes into the front of one of the last three buildings, pacifying them immediately. A Hostis soldier sprinted out of the second building holding a rocket-launcher and dove to get to cover behind a pile of rubble. Fresco could see him shuffling around in the prone before he reared up to one knee and pointed his launcher back at McClintock and Cuana’s position. As if they were one being, Fresco and Kan took aim with their machine guns and spit five-round-bursts into the Hostis soldier’s torso, dropping him like a bag of lead bricks just as another volley of Gustav rounds reduced the would-be rocket-launcher house to rubble. From their position, Kan and Fresco could see three Hostis soldiers running out the back door of the last house. They both traversed their fire, catching two of the three soldiers out in the open before the last one ducked into an alley farther into the town.
“Fuck!” Fresco barked, seeing where one of his rounds had kicked up dirt barely a foot behind the heel of the fleeing Hostis.
“Good shot…” Kan was cut off by a series of sonic booms followed by the ripping sound of 20mm cannon fire from a pair of SA/F-22B Super Raptor fighters ripping apart an enemy troop transport craft.
They watched as the larger craft dissolved into a mass of fire and metal just before it slammed into the side of a hill barely a mile to their north.
“Good to know we still own the sky,” Fresco opined.
“Rah,” Kan agreed.
“Captain, we’re moving up,” Kan called over the radio, and the two of them bounded the last 350 meters to the first smoldering building.
Vishnu peered around the corner of the building he was taking cover behind for an instant before ducking back, spotting a pair of Homines as they bounded across the street and through a home’s doorway. He stepped back from the wall and pointed his rifle at the corner, waited until he heard footsteps, and leaned out, taking aim with his rifle and laying into the second pair of Homines. He heard them shout obscenities and scream in pain, so he pulled a fragmentation grenade from his vest and chucked it around the corner and into the street. He had heard another pair of shouts before it detonated; he sprinted away down the street and into an alley, continuing for two blocks. He crossed a street into the front yard of a house before leaning up against the building and taking a knee. He heard a burst of gunfire to his north. He sprinted across the street and through an alley. He stopped at the other end of the alley, peering around to his left, where the gunfire had come from.
Seeing nothing, he stepped out under a tree and scanned around; just as the house across the street exploded with a hail of wood and stone, knocking him to the ground.
He jumped to his feet and bounded back to the alley where he laid in the prone and watched the house. A Hostis Bellator came sprinting from the house in a limping gallop before his legs were cut off at the knees by a pair of rapid shots from a suppressed rifle. The Bellator’s weapon went flying from his hands and skidded across the asphalt to the base of the tree in front of Vishnu. Vishnu hesitated, unsure if he should push into the open to help his brother, or wait for the enemy to appear. Before he made his decision, the wounded Bellator began crawling forward, only to stop as he heard the footsteps approach from behind him. He rolled over and produced a grenade, only to have it kicked from his hand by a massive Hominum before he could pull the pin. Standing at over six-feet-eight-inches tall in his Mark-One Reconnaissance Suit, the Guardian of Hominum stepped from the dust and stood over his prey.
He growled in the Orior tongue, “Bellator, where is the Destroyer?”
“Fuck you!” the Bellator spat back at him.
The Guardian bent down over the Bellator, peering into his eyes before reaching down and squeezing the remnants of his left knee with an armored paw. The Bellator let wail a scream that could break glass as he struggled against his tormentor.
“Rego! Rego help me!” the Bellator cried out as the Guardian released him.
“Please refrain from blasphemy in front of me, you heathen fuck.” the Guardian turned to his five Archangels, his Sniper hopped up on the roof of a building while the others set security around the interrogation.
Vishnu didn’t know how many Homines were part of this team; all he knew was that on the other side of this tree was a high-value enemy target. He pushed himself to his right, trying to get an angle to shoot, only to find the street empty, except for the bewildered-looking Bellator still laying on his back. Vishnu scanned over the street in both directions, failing to look directly above his head, before sprinting up to his fellow Bellator.
“Who are you?” the Bellator asked.
“Vishnu, where are your tourniquets?” Vishnu patted him down, looking for his medical kits.
“It doesn’t matter; you need to get this to the dig site.” the Bellator produced a square-centimeter block of clear crystal and handed it to him.
“What?” Vishnu asked, exasperated.
“You need to get that to Shiva, he’s at the dig site!” The Bellator groaned in pain.
“Shiva, Shiva is here?” Vishnu’s eyes went wide at the realization that the commanding general of the First Hostis Legion was on this planet.
“Yes, go, you fool, now!” the Bellator shoved him away.
Vishnu looked down at him as he stood, incredulous at the instructions he was receiving.
Fifty meters away, lying in hedgerow down the street, the Guardian whispered, “Here, let me encourage you,” before loosing a 40mm HEDP round from his rifle-mounted grenade launcher into a house ten meters from where Vishnu stood.
Vishnu practically jumped out of his skin as the round blasted a hole in the residence before he sprinted down the street to the north where the massive excavation project was underway on the other side of town.
Major Marshall “Guardian” Allen stepped from the hedgerow with the rest of his six-man team and bounded forward, two at a time, to their original positions. Allen stood over the dying Bellator once again, cocking his armored head to one side as the white skull painted on his visor smiled down at the enemy.
He bent down to his ear before whispering, “Thank you for that.”
The Bellator croaked something unintelligible in response.
“Now, you and I are going to have a long talk sometime in the future, I would hate for you to bleed to death,” Allen said as he produced a pair of tourniquets and applied them to the Bellator’s legs.
“No!” he groaned as the Guardian’s Medic approached and injected his neck with morphine.
“Blackjack-one-six, this is Alamo-six; I pass ‘boxer.’ I say again, ‘boxer,’ over.” Allen cited his suit’s command interface, mounted on his left forearm, and pulled up the feed from an ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) orbiting overhead.
“Alamo-six, Blackjack-one-six; go ahead, over.” Captain Sean McClintock replied in his ear.
“Target is located at POI-Bravo, I say again; POI-Bravo. Standby for new RV, over.”
Vishnu coughed up a wad of spittle as he keeled over from a cramp in his stomach. He had been running flat-out for six miles, six miles of dodging between houses and jumping fences as he avoided contact with the enemy while struggling to stay oriented towards his destination. He came to the main street that cut from North to South through the town and took a knee next to a fence. He scanned over the night, the low-light sight on his rifle was barely adequate now that the moon had set below the horizon, leaving only the stars to provide ambient light. He made one last scan of the street in both directions before he stood up and sprinted across the open space. He heard a shout to his left before a stream of blue and green tracers, like those used by his Hostis brethren, began cutting the air at him.
Vishnu dove behind a wall before shouting, “Stop shooting, you fucking idiots! Stop fucking shooting!”
The hail of fire persisted without interruption. He crawled forward one hundred yards and then began sprinting again.
He proceeded two blocks forward before he stopped to catch his breath, wheezing and panting on one knee as he leaned up against the brick wall of an apartment complex. He felt in his pocket, confirmed the cube was still there and breathed a sigh of relief. He looked up suddenly as, less than a kilometer away, the floodlights surrounding the excavation site reactivated; illuminating the site and the surrounding area. Vishnu scanned around with his rifle, taking advantage of the increase in light, and found the immediate vicinity to be clear. He took a deep breath to resolve himself and sprinted off to his objective.
“Morning, gentlemen.” McClintock greeted the six Archangels as his platoon of ODIs set security around them.
“How’re things, Sean?” Allen asked his old friend.
“We took a couple casualties; we’re not going to be able to tell their families why, are we?” McClintock asked, a pained expression behind his visor.
Allen shook his head in solemn confirmation.
He looked over the ODIs, every last one was a menacing beast in their armor.
Good, he decided.
“The dig site shouldn’t have lights, man,” McClintock pointed out.
“Must’ve had spares stored in shielded bunkers,” Captain Juan De la Cruz, the Archangel Medic, opined as he checked the vitals of his prisoner/patient.
“Must’ve,” Allen agreed. “Your people ready to go, Sean?”
“Fuck yeah, let’s get this motherfucker,” Sean nodded and ordered his men to move out.
The fifty soldiers pushed forward towards the lights and their prey, the Destroyer.
The Destroyer, a beast bred for war; physically strong, cunning as a fox, relentless in his pursuit of death. He made this war personal all those years ago; from the ashes of Seoul, Republic of Korea, he had sown the seeds of hate in the heart of Humanity. Some twenty years before, interstellar war became a reality when, through human proxies, Hostis executed a series of terrorist attacks on Earth. Killing hundreds of thousands of people in less than a week of activity, the Hostis plan to incite nuclear war between the superpowers of Earth would have succeeded, if not for the actions of Marshall Allen and his Archangels. Allen had accomplished one aspect of his mission while failing tragically in another; though he prevented a nuclear holocaust, he could not save the love of his life. Today, he would know vengeance. Today, he was the sword of Justice.
Today, the Guardian would kill Death.
Allen looked over the men behind him, stacking up on the airlock that led into the excavation site’s concrete enclosure. He caught McClintock looking at him from the other entrance one-hundred yards away, his ODIs were chomping at the bit to get this started.
“All callsigns, this is Guardian; I have control, standby. In five, four, three, two, one, execute! Execute! Execute!”
Upon the first “execute” the breachers detonated their C4 explosive charges, throwing the massive metal doors inward with the force of a semi-truck crashing through a brick wall. The Archangels and ODIs tossed flashbangs and M67 HE-Fragmentation grenades through the openings and then pushed forward into the fray.
The room was some five-hundred square feet with the roof extending some thirty feet above their heads. In the middle of the room, centered in the downward-sloping dirt, was a spire ten feet tall. Standing before the conical spire, the Destroyer was working at a console, typing furiously despite the hail of shrapnel and crashing noise that had assaulted his body just a moment before.
His twelve-foot frame radiated a combination of fear and desperation; apparently aware that his life was drawing near the end.
The dozen or so Bellators that surrounded him were cut down within a second of the breach; the commandos spared none of them, despite the overwhelming advantage.
Allen lined up on the Destroyer last of all, placing the red-dot of his Aimpoint sight in the center of his chest and squeezing off five rapid 7.62x51mm NATO rounds.
Vishnu’s legs spasmed uncontrollably. He had been struck twice through the spine with shrapnel and rifle fire, leaving him paralyzed as he lay on his chest. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Homines as they approached the spire, firing double-taps into the heads of his brethren as they passed over them.
“Help me!” Vishnu croaked in a whiny squeal mixed with pain and fear.
One of the Archangels, he had to be an Archangel since he was so tall, turned to him and bent down. The Hominem removed his helmet and placed a gloved hand on Vishnu’s forehead. His blue eyes stabbed through Vishnu like icepicks into a glacier.
“Your name?” the Archangel asked, empathy evident on his face and in his tone of voice.
“Vishnu,” the Bellator whimpered in reply.
“Are you afraid?” the Archangel asked, squinting his eyes at him.
Vishnu heard the Guardian shout something at this Archangel, causing the man to close his eyes in frustration and stand up.
“They’re enemy combatants, Kavinagh, act like it!” Allen told his long-time friend and assistant Heavy Weapons Specialist.
Captain Kevin “Prophet” Kavinagh turned to the Guardian, his eyes ablaze with rage, “Roger that!” he told him before drawing his 1911 .45 ACP pistol and taking aim at the mortally wounded Bellator.
Vishnu tried to cry out, tried to beg for mercy, tried to evoke sympathy from his enemy before the lights went out.
“Christe Eleison,” the Prophet whispered as he fired a single round into the right temple of the Bellator’s head and out the other side.
“Clear!” Sergeant First Class Cam “Crusader” Foley, the Archangel’s Master Breacher, declared first off and the rest of the commandos agreed with him with the same call.
The dust had barely settled when Allen approached the Destroyer, sucking wounds riddled his chest.
“Shiva, do you know who I am?” he asked in Latin.
“Yes,” Shiva gurgled in reply, blood welling up from his mouth.
“Tell me what this is,” the Guardian ordered, indicating the Spire.
Shiva smiled and said, “If the glory of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky; that would be like the Glory of the mighty one. I am become Death, the Shatterer of worlds.”
Allen stood up, drew his 1911 pistol, and shot the creature through the forehead.
“What is it?” McClintock asked, his Latin was rusty.
Allen turned to the spire, touching the spot where the cube had been inserted, “Megiddo.”
“What does that mean?” McClintock asked, annoyed at his friend.
“Armageddon. This is where it starts.” Allen turned to his friend and smiled, “This will lead us to Shiva’s boss.”