Second Church Protectorate
“Eagle One to Eagle Base, over. I repeat, Eagle One to Eagle Base, over!” nothing, there was zero response. Captain Marius of the Eyotalian 326th Fighter Wing, ‘the Eagles’, cursed as he pounded his fist against his control panel. He had seen the destroyers implode under the vicious enemy barrage, and had heard the frantic transmissions from the cruiser as the boarders smashed their way through the final defences.
His wing had responded to his call, flying close to the automatic anti-aircraft systems of the cruiser, relying on their own friendly identification transponders to protect them. They had flown tip to tip, their autocannons blazing a metallic path of death in front of them. The enemy fighters had been unable to resist, yet the ploy had not been without casualties.
Two of their wing had been downed on the first pass by enemy missiles, another blown apart by the cruiser’s own defences. It was irrelevant now though, they had nowhere to land, the ship’s launch bays having been destroyed. Basically there were two choices, die here or try and link up with the ground forces, a slower yet no less certain death based upon the vast superiority of the enemy fleet.
Marius was leaning towards a more glorious and rapid end, here amongst the last remains of his companions. Not because he was the most heroic of men, rather the most practical. Signal strength was minimal and therefore he could not contact anyone on the planet, he had three Spitfire missiles remaining, his autocannons were less than half-full and his laser cannon was all but useless.
There was no certainty his men would feel the same way, but he had to at least give them the option. Drawing in a deep breath he reached to activate his transmitter, but was forestalled by an incoming message.
"This is Colonel Walters, seventh Lutheran calling all surviving Navy personnel. You are to disengage, I repeat, disengage from enemy contact. I am assuming overall control for this mission. You will lock on to the signal which is currently being transmitted from my temporary headquarters. Walters Out!”
Captain Marius looked curiously at his transmitter, he must have subconsciously flicked the switch to transmit after the message had finished. Cautiously he responded, “Marius here, can you verify? Over.”
“Captain, make your choice,” replied the voice flatly, “accept my invitation unconditionally or die out there. Out!”
This was more than strange, thought Marius, he had never given his rank, or had he?
Walters turned to face Krantu, “Don’t worry Leftenant, they’ll come.”
“My Lord, what use are a few fighter pilots,” asked the Leftenant, looking puzzled.
“I wasn’t talking about them,” grinned Walters, “however, every single person counts, or have you forgotten that?”
“No my Lord,” said Krantu, “I have not forgotten.”
“Good. Now what reports do we have of the enemy?” questioned the Colonel, changing the subject.
“Nothing as of yet, my Lord, all is quiet,” replied the Leftenant.
“That won’t last for much longer,” responded Walters, “believe me!”
Second Church Protectorate
Viker refused the smoke stick Alana waved enticingly under his nose, it held no interest for him. Ever since his chance encounter with the Colonel earlier, he had felt energised and in need of no other substitute.
He had tried to explain what had happened, but his squad mates had just laughed. Curiously enough the only one who had not derided him was Corporal Johns, instead the grizzled veteran had simply stared. His gaze had been free of contempt, it was instead watchful, in a stern yet accepting way. Any reverie was blown away by the screaming howl of the alarms, all across the base they erupted in a manic chorus.
Johns sprang to his feet, barking orders to the relaxed men and women, using his fists and feet where words seemed to have no effect. The enemy was coming and he had no time for stragglers and he was keen to make sure that they all understood this.
“You!” he snapped at Viker, “Get your weapon and stick with me!”
”Corporal?” asked Viker, his voice quavering slightly.
“That goes for all of you!” he roared, but Viker was sure the message had been especially meant for him.
Second Church Protectorate
Drop pods were launched ceaselessly from the enemy cruisers, fighter craft were spat carelessly into space in numbers too many to count and still Marius vacillated. Right now, they were out of the main fight, hanging motionless whilst he made up his mind. More men had found their way to him, their own units ripped apart by the fury of the previous engagement and looking for someone to take charge.
“Frak this!” he muttered to himself, and then over the general frequency, “Form up, boys, we’re going to join the party. You have my absolute permission to send as many of these frakkers back to whichever ugly witch created them. For the Prelate!”
Any response was drowned out by the roar of his engines as they thrust his fighter forwards. This was much better than waiting, and who knew, maybe this Colonel Walters had a plan?
Second Church Protectorate
Soldiers charged to and fro in a maelstrom of activity; vast amounts of ammunition were ferried to forward supply depots, armour took up its position and Guardsmen scurried to avoid their commanders’ wrath. Colonel Walters looked on, confidence in his men high. He knew that this scenario was being repeated in other areas, the Church units outside of his command reacting in their own way.
They, however, were of little concern to him at this moment, whatever part of the enemy forces they could tie up would only be a help, but was not counted in his own plan. His men needed to be blooded, to bond and find their true vocation. When the time was right he would be able to demonstrate to them exactly what was required of them and the rewards awaiting their loyalty.
No, all they needed was time, enough for Arn and Berbatov to get here. Once that happened they could deal with the Tauran forces and then their real mission could begin. As the first of the drop pods began to rain down, he smiled, his teeth bared in an animalistic pleasure. The Church Navy had left them here to die and his men would soon know that. Once they realised their predicament, they would turn to him for guidance and he would be ready.
Behind him he heard the excited growling of his K’ran bodyguard, they could feel it too. The link between them and Walters was strong and they could feel his rising excitement. Today they could kill again in the name of their Lord, their impatience to do so was palpable. Walters growled back, energy beginning to flow into him, and flexed his muscles. He was ready, let them come!
Viker clutched his laser rifle close to his chest, fear setting his nerves on edge. Drop pods had hit the earth close to his position and he knew it would be soon. He saw Alana’s mouth moving, but no sound issued forth. She was praying to the Great One of that he was sure, but whether it would do any good was another matter.
Johns stood nearby, one foot on top of the earthworks, staring out across the plain in front of them. Wind ruffled his shaggy hair and his face was lifted into the breeze. Viker could have sworn that he was sniffing the air, like some wild animal.
Unannounced, he turned, his eyes locking tight onto those of the young soldier’s. With a start, Viker for a moment saw them blazing an emerald green and winced at the physical impact of them. In His name, he thought, who or rather what is he?
The screeching of brakes announced the arrival of an aircar, Colonel Walters jumping down from the cabin. A low hum was heard across the lines, almost a purring of contentment, and Viker saw all of the veteran troopers staring at their commander, an almost religious fervour in their eyes. Leftenant Krantu and the two huge bodyguards were also there, their bodies tense with excitement.
The Colonel and his entourage carried no weapons, yet they did not look unarmed, instead they radiated a kind of cold and deadly violence, held in check, but soon to be released.
Stiv heard chanting and the beating of drums from out on the plain, a dark mass slowly moving forward. They were here, and he only hoped that he could stay the fear which coursed through his veins, long enough at least to do his duty.
There was a light touch on his arm and he swivelled around, finding the Colonel next to him.
“Do not worry, my son,” said Walters calmly, “I am with you!”
Captain Marius held his Wing under tight control; they could not afford to waste their valuable ammunition. Now his decision had been made, their only hope of survival was in reaching the Lutheran positions. Somehow he knew there would be support there, more ammunition perhaps, but at least a safe haven. He was determined to make every last round count, to maximise the destructive power of his fighters.
So with this in mind, the formation of fighters roared onwards, avoiding engagement with the enemy as instructed. The transponder signal drew them on, its bleep becoming a beacon of hope, or at least the promise of some kind of salvation.
“Walters,” muttered Marius to himself, “you had better be worth it!”
The semi-recognition of the Captain’s need reached Walters where he stood and he smiled. It was starting, now he would speak to the men here, would build their hunger for victory and with each chant of his name, with each pledge of loyalty, his strength would grow.
Uther felt his Lord’s summons and called to his battle brothers, Tor would remain here, in the pinnace, for now. The ex-Immortal checked his weapons one last time, as the others filed past him into the waiting shuttle. The craft had been kept hidden on board the pinnace, its design screaming Immortals to all.
No matter now, they were no longer Church Elite, they had a new brotherhood, a new Lord. Still, their role was the same, they would only carry it out in another’s name. One who held their total loyalty, who led them on the battlefield and imbued them with his strength. Unable to hold his eagerness in further, Uther raised his head and howled in joyous exultation, his brothers quickly joining in.
The stuttering roar of the anti-aircraft batteries announced the arrival of the enemy aircraft, strangely they had kept silent during the deployment of the drop pods, but now they opened up in their full splendour. Their targets appeared only to be the enemy fighters and bombers, they strictly avoided the more slow moving troop transports.
Marius and his men had no such compunction, their objective was to join up with Walters and anything that got in their way was a prime target. They had managed to maintain their identity relatively secret during their approach, their craft ignoring all hails and hugging the ground as they neared the Church-controlled positions. Finally though their disguise had been sprung and Marius had given the order to fire.
He watched as one of his precious Spitfire missiles swooped imperiously into the attack. All attempts to stop it failed and it finally tore its way through the belly of a slow-moving transport, splitting it open and sending its contents spewing downwards towards the hard ground below. He briefly saw tumbling bodies and equipment as he flashed past, another target in his sights.
The shuttle settled briefly to earth, disgorging its contents, before rising rapidly and tearing back in the direction it had just come from. Viker stared at the armoured men rushing forward, there had been no talk of Immortals here!
Amazingly he saw them kneel before Walters, their fists crashing against their chests. Then he recognised them as part of the crew of the pinnace, this was getting stranger by the minute. One of them carried a furled banner in his hands, which he ceremoniously held out to the Colonel. He saw Walters smile gently and nod, the armoured figure then firmly planting the shaft into the ground. The colours which unfolded were not those of the regiment, the design was the same but contained no Church numbering or prayers. A snarling beast head emerged, as the wind caught the cloth. It seemed alive, its emerald eyes reflecting in the sunlight.
As one, the armoured figures and all of the veterans knelt, then their howls rang out in a tremendous chorus. They appeared changed, bigger, more powerful and the Colonel almost god-like! What was happening?
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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