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Incoming (standard:science fiction, 15493 words) [1/6] show all parts
Author: James J MartinUpdated: Jan 19 2005Views/Reads: 3472/2369Part vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
New added chapters. Science Fiction soon becoming epic,more characters, action, suspense, political intrigue, its all here and more.
 



Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

The non-com at the scope said as he traced his finger along the route. 
The sensor officer nodded and turned to the captain. 

"Sir. Permission to launch sensor drones along that course." The admiral
and the captain both looked at the screen and nodded. The captain 
looked at his superior. 

"Well, Ted. Its your call." He said quietly.  The admiral puffed on his
cigar thoughtfully before responding. Finally, he spoke. 

"John, its your ship, you say the word. I'm just along for the ride."
The captain nodded and grinned before turning to the officer of the 
deck. He motioned with his finger.  The OOD nodded and reached to an 
overhead console and flipped the safety covers on the launch keys. 
After he had flipped all the covers and turned all the keys to the 
yellow stops. 

"Ready to launch sir." The captain looked back at the sensor screen.
"Make it so Mr. Powell." The OOD reached down onto the workstation 
before him and turned the key.  Outside, on the hull, tiny sensor 
drones, whose only purpose was to chart, record and send back all data, 
shot away from the cruiser. 

"Mr. Powell, send the word to all ships. All stop, repeat, all stop."
The captain said as he watched the sensor scope in front of him. "Aye 
aye, sir." Powell said as he tapped the commo officer on the shoulder 
who immediately began sending the burst transmission. 

The tiny drones shot through the asteroids, some attaching themselves to
the rocks and sending back data while others went to stationary 
positions and began sweeping the small corridor.  The forward frigates 
went to all stop and began receiving and decoding the drone data before 
sending it back to the flagship. 

On Broder Prime Operations Control, the same data was received and
cataloged by the duty officers. A large bull of a man with short cut 
hair graying at the temples, walked down the aisle between operators. 
Although a general officer in the Broderian Forces, he was dressed in 
his duty uniform, tan pants bloused into high black boots, a wide 
leather belt with a matching short sleeve tan shirt and an abbreviated 
set of decorations on his left breast. Above his right pocket, the name 
tape read BECKETT.  The ops center lighting was subdued at all times so 
that the large screen display, showing the locations and conditions of 
all the fleet vessels could be easily identified.  Beckett stopped and 
picked up the duty log, initialed the proper place and moved on to 
check with his team this evening. Per Broderian Forces regulations, a 
general officer had to be present whenever the fleet was moving into a 
potential combat situation. A quick reaction force of no less than ten 
fast attack destroyers and other combat support craft were on standby, 
again per regulations, a react force was to be approximately two times 
larger than any expeditionary operation. The general officer on duty 
could ultimately mobilize as large a force as he deemed necessary to 
counter any threat before getting senate approval. The officer had to 
notify the senate within 48hours if a planet wide alert was called.  In 
this case, all general officers were called to the ops center and all 
ships were put on system wide alert. In effect, the Broder system could 
be locked down and access denied to any non-Broderian ship.  Today 
though, Beckett's only concern was to ensure the safety of the 
expeditionary fleet and of course, one admiral. "Captain, what do you 
have?" Beckett asked as he walked up to the young officer. The captain 
appeared nervous as he looked at the large wall display. 

"General, it looks like we found where and how the raiders have been
entering our system." He fidgeted with his hand held controller before 
he was able to zoom into the correct section of the map. The map grid 
enlarged and highlighted until it filled half the screen. "You can see 
the sensor drones deployed along the access corridor and fully charted 
the area." He punched a few more buttons until the far end of the field 
was visible. 

"Here, sir. There's the end of the field.  The drones have divided the
other system into grids and charted possible sectors of habitation. 
From the information we are still downloading, there is a large 
planetary system consisting of seven plants so far."  He manipulated 
the controller again, but hit the wrong button causing the image to 
fade. He nervously punched buttons while the general grinned. 

"Captain. Relax." He said as he took the controller from the officer.
"Biehn is it?" He put his hand on the other officer's shoulder, 
fatherly like. "Captain Beihn, is this your first fleet deployment?" 
The other officer nodded nervously before answering.  "Yes sir General 
Beckett." The younger man was now sweating profusely. "Captain, relax. 
Take some deep breaths. Think of this as a training exercise. You'll do 
fine." He said as he patted the younger man on the shoulder before 
moving off.  The captain took back his controller, took a deep breath 
and reset the correct sequence to return the display to normal. He 
walked back to his desk, sat and relaxed as he took a sip of water to 
calm down. He wasn't nervous to be here, it was the excitement that 
came with the fact there might actually be contact. Back on the 
Archangel, Admiral Greerson was conferring with Captain Winslow. 

"John, what's the latest on the drones?" Greerson asked.  The captain
shuffled some reports before replying. 

"Ted. You and I go way back.  All the way to the academy." He said
before looking up. "I don't like it. It's too easy.  These reports are 
from last weeks sensor sweep. They don't report anything like this." He 
handed the reports to the admiral. Greerson casually fingered through 
them before putting them aside. 

"I agree. I've seen these reports as well." He puffed on his cigar
before continuing, "We've been dumping waste rock and old ship hulls in 
this field for decades. Its no wonder that the raiders have been using 
it to hide and most likely refit some of their ships." He paused to 
puff some more on his cigar. "There's so much junk and waste rock its 
been blocking our scans." He looked over at the other man. " What do 
you have in mind?" he asked as he blew smoke rings at the overhead 
ventilator. 

"I recommend that we move a dropship to standby, and make ready a full
complement of Raptors as well as a flight of Talons for support." He 
sat back to watch the admiral's reactions.  A wide grin slowly crossed 
his face. 

"I agree. One can't be too careful. Move a second flight of Talons to
standby and pass the word to the Raptor pilots that they should be 
ready to launch." The admiral added.  Winslow smiled, stood and moved 
to the wall intercom. 

"Mr. Powell, execute Alpha One. Repeat Alpha One." He said before
shutting it off and turning back to Greerson. "One can't be too 
careful."  He smiled as he sat back down. 

Greerson smiled, "You old son of a bitch. You already had that planned
but just wanted to run it by me."  He sat back in his chair, "Damn. I'd 
almost forgotten how you operate." He chuckled softly as he sat back 
further in the high backed chair. 

In the launch bay of the cruiser, a heavily armed platoon moved into
positions before boarding the dropship.  Led by a lieutenant, with 
senior non-coms in charge of the squads, they boarded the heavily 
armored dropship and took positions. The large clamshell loading doors 
sealed shut behind the troopers as they took their seats. The dull 
black, modular armor they all wore, making no noise as they secured 
their primary weapons and prepared for launch. Each trooper's armor was 
identical, save for the medical personnel, which had a small red cross 
on the left bicep. Each trooper was outfitted with a tailored set of 
armor that required them to submit to a laser measuring system.  Once 
they were sized, they were required to perform basic functions and 
positions so that the computer could record the movements and adjust 
the armor accordingly. This was the top of the line Broderian modular 
armor, able to withstand intense cold, heat, laser fire, point blank 
plasma discharge and allow the trooper to survive in any environment 
for up to thirty days as long the suit still maintained integrity. The 
matching helmet, with polarization visor that could go from opaque to 
crystal clear, had a built in heads up display, communication gear, and 
drinking tube, locked onto the neck of the suit and allowed for 
operation underwater, in a vacuum, or in a toxic atmosphere.  
Integrated into the suit were various sensors that monitored vital 
signs, adrenaline level, suit integrity, ammunition type, target 
density, and various other sensors that monitored a myriad of 
subsystems such as the amount of ammunition left, perspiration level, 
and signal strength from command. Each suit also had a built-in sidearm 
holster on the thigh module. A positioning system was also built in so 
that officers could direct their movements in the field and medical 
personnel could locate them in case of injury or, worse case scenario, 
graves registration could recover the soldier.  The soldier's personal 
weapon was a Webley MA8000 PDW; The Webley Personal Defense Weapon 
fired from a large fifty round magazine, a caseless cartridge for 
conflict in an atmosphere or a phased plasma needle beam for 
non-atmospheric operations. The needle beam could be used in an 
atmosphere but only as a last resort due to the catastrophic damage it 
could inflict.  The heavy weapons team carried rapid fire Webley R1200 
rail guns, capable of firing a projectile that could penetrate ship 
hulls, armored vehicles and fortified positions.  The medical team 
carried a smaller version of the MA8000 and most of their gear 
consisted of collapsible 'coffins', which an injured soldier was put 
into and immediately placed in stasis while microscopic nano bots were 
injected to speed along his recovery.  The dropship, a troop carrier, 
could also support ground operations with its devastating array of 
weaponry, guided and unguided missiles, phased array plasma disruptors, 
and smart bombs. 

Elsewhere in the huge cruiser, the hanger bay was a flurry of activity. 
Raptor and Talon pilots ran last minute checks and pre flight 
procedures as armaments were checked and secured.  The Raptor, a small 
'snub nose' one- man fighter, was extremely fast and nimble in and out 
of atmosphere.  Sporting a sleek look and needle thin nose, it could 
zip almost undetected through sensor screens and lay waste to any 
capital ship.  The Talon, a two-man interceptor/atmospheric, all 
weather, fighter/bomber, was the workhorse of the Broderian Aviation 
Forces.  This larger craft had retractable wings that could extend when 
on a planet to provide lift or stay retracted while in space.  Heavily 
armed with stand off weaponry and fire and forget missiles, the Talon 
was the best multi-mission combat support craft that was ever produced. 


"Captain on the bridge." The OOD announced as Winslow and Greerson
entered the Combat Information Center. 

"Sir, launch bay reports aircraft ready." The OOD said as he approached
Winslow.  Greerson grinned and looked back at the large sensor display 
on the wall of the CIC. 

"Very well Mr. Powell. You may launch when ready." Winslow replied. 
Powell turned and spoke into his lightweight headset. "Launch, launch, 
launch." He said.   Below decks, the Raptors shot out of their launch 
tubes and formed a phalanx around the cruisers, as the Talons broke 
into two separate groups, one group moving ahead and forming around the 
two most forward frigates. 

"Sir, confirmation on launch. All aircraft in the green." Powell
reported before turning back and monitoring the displays.  Winslow 
looked at Greerson, who had watched everything with a twinkle in his 
eye and grin on his face.  He made a small go ahead gesture to Winslow 
who grinned back before looking away. 

"Mr. Powell, inform the McAfee that they are to move ahead on one
quarter speed, yellow alert and full sensor sweep. Inform all pilots 
that weapons are tight." Powell nodded as he relayed the instructions. 

The McAfee and her sister ship, Paladin moved ahead with their
protective screening force of Talons.  Slowly the two smaller vessels 
moved through the field, guided by the input of the drones until 
Paladin emerged first due to the staggered formation they had 
undertaken.  McAfee took station off the portside of Paladin and 
launched another spread of sensor drones.  Once clear of the field, the 
Talons moved to a wider dispersal and locked onto the drones input 
channel.  The electronics officer, sitting behind the pilot, used his 
sensors to sweep the area around the ships and provide some early 
warning.  Talon 81, at the furthest point of the deployment, reported a 
sensor hit to the starboard quarter. The EO in the rear seat locked 
down the signal and relayed it back to the frigates.  The drones 
deployed to that area, soon had the source of the signal located and 
plotted. 

"Looks like another ship." The sensor officer on the McAfee reported. 
The commanding officer, a very senior captain, leaned over the 
operators shoulder and viewed the image as well.  He turned to his 
executive officer. 

"Mr. Reichel, inform Archangel we have found a vessel and are
investigating. Paladin is holding position." 

"Very well sir." The XO complied. The McAfee moved off at half speed,
its sensors sweeping all around as half the Talons reformed around it.  
Minutes passed slowly as the frigate moved closer to the sensor target. 
 As the McAfee reached to within a few klicks of the other vessel, it 
became apparent that it was disabled and adrift.  A flight of four 
Talons approached the vessel and quickly scanned it. 

"Sir, Talon 85 reports that there are life signs aboard that vessel.
Main engines are out, no sign of any external weapons, appears to be 
disabled and heavily damaged." XO reported. The captain, nodded, his 
face grim. 

"Inform the admiral we have a contact with life signs. Make ready a
security detail and assemble a medical team. Have the ChEng prepare a 
repair party." He said as he absorbed the information. " Hail the 
vessel, let them know our intentions." He added before sitting in his 
command chair to review the preliminary report. 

"Sir, verbal communication only, they don't have visual capability." XO
reported a few minutes later. 

"Unknown vessel, unknown vessel, this the Broderian Forces vessel,
McAfee. Do you require assistance?" 

Static filled the speaker before a voice replied. 

"McAfee? We are so glad you are here. This is the Algearian scientific
research vessel, Gunthar.  We need assistance. We were attacked by..."  
Static cut off the last words. "Have some wounded and need to stabilize 
our drift...."  Static  "...assist...needed...parts...low power..." The 
signal was lost to garbled words and static. 

"Gunthar, Gunthar, say again, say again." The commo officer tried
repeatedly. 

"XO, work on cleaning that up. Have the Talons sweep the area. Sensors
to long-range. Inform Paladin that there are possible hostiles in the 
vicinity. Defcon Yellow Three, Mr. Reichel." He ordered as he watched 
the large display.  "I want a security detail with the medical team. 
Stand by the repair party." 

"Aye, aye sir." XO responded as he relayed the instructions through his
headset.  A dropship was prepped as the security detail, a full 
platoon, heavily armed, boarded the ship after the medical team, and 
secured their equipment. 

"Sir, sec and med team report ready to go."  The captain nodded. 

"Launch. Advise Gunthar that we are sending a rescue team to them." He
added. 

"Aye sir." The XO turned to the Commo officer who had been steadily
trying to re-establish contact. 

The McAfee moved to within a half klick of the other vessel. The small
dropship looped around the vessel until it moved towards one of the 
external hatches. Holding position, it extended a docking collar and 
attached itself to the Algearian vessel. 

"Sir. Dropship has made contact. They are holding position awaiting your
orders." Reichel reported. 

Captain Ryan sat in his command chair, one hand rubbing his chin. The XO
turned to him. Ryan sat back in his chair. 

"Inform the Algerians that we are preparing to enter their ship. A
medical team will assist them with the injured. Patch me through on a 
secure channel to the security detail."  He said as he pondered the 
events transpiring. 

"Secure line established Captain." 

"Very well." The information on the security detail flashed on the
Captain's monitor. 

Onboard the dropship, the security team was verifying the seal to the
other ship before proceeding any further. The platoon leader, 
Lieutenant Waters, a fresh faced, yet experienced officer, received the 
message from the McAfee's captain. 

"Waters? Ryan here. How's it look?" The captain asked. Waters turned and
looked at his entry team. 

"Sir, we are ready to open the inner door. Entry team is prepped and
medical team is standing by." He reported. 

"Very well. Weapons tight. Have your men sweep as much of the vessel
with their sensors and suit cameras as possible. Be discrete.  Nothing 
overt. This is a first contact situation." 

"Understood sir. My men will be on their best behavior." He turned to
the entry team and gave them the go ahead signal. 

"Opening the inner door now sir.  I'll keep my channel open." Waters
reported as he moved forward and followed the entry team into the 
Algearian vessel. The two forward soldiers moved silently and peeled 
off to each side of the open portal, taking up covering positions. The 
rear two moved across the corridor and did the same. The sensor team 
began sweeping the interior of the vessel. Two squads and half the 
medical team moved into the ship and secured the area around the 
dropship hatch. Waters tapped one of the soldiers and pointed to the 
hatch. The soldier nodded and took up a guard position by the hatchway. 
 Waters motioned ahead and the group spread out as much as possible as 
they moved along the passageway, weapons ready.  The second squad, led 
by a senior sergeant, moved aft to check out the engineering spaces. 
The medical team, split into two smaller sections with one section in 
the middle of Water's group. One of the soldiers in the rear of each 
section  would linger behind at intersecting passageways and place a 
locater/directional beacon so that they could find their way back. The 
medics were sweeping the ship with their life sign scanners as they 
walked.  The interior had seen some damage from the unknown attackers. 
Support beams had collapsed as well as wiring and other internal 
systems were exposed. 

"Sir looks like they had a bit of trouble here. Some minor internal
damage. We're moving to the bridge now." Waters paused as they stopped 
at another intersection. "Appears to be fluidics and minimal 
circuitry." Waters nodded to another soldier as he passed. "No sign of 
crew yet." He said as he moved up to the front of the group. The group 
made their way to a sealed bulkhead. The soldiers took up flanking and 
covering positions as the entry team went to work on the door. 

"Sir we are at the bridge. Inform them that we are outside." Waters
reported. 

The entry team had opened the access panel next to the door and was
connecting a portable override unit to the circuit board. The 
technician tried a sequence of commands before the access panel sparked 
and went dark. He pulled his connections from the panel and shook his 
head at his partner. His partner unslung the small pack he had carried 
and began assembling a small cutting torch. He switched on the torch 
and applied the blue flame to the edges of the bulkhead. The 
plasma-cutting torch melted the seal as he moved slowly along the edges 
of the door. The other tech assembled a set of large grab bars and 
attached them to the bulkhead door. He next assembled a small tripod 
and anchored it to the deck plates. Once the cutting was done, the tech 
put the torch away and connected a set of small cables to the grab bars 
and ran them back to the tripod. He looked at Waters, who gave him the 
nod. The soldiers moved back to give the entry team room. The first 
tech turned the switch on the tripod.  The cables went taut and slowly 
the heavy door pivoted out of its frame.  It moved slowly in a groan of 
metal, until finally it slid free of its frame and hit the deck plates 
with a resounding boom.  Two soldiers moved forward and swept the area 
as the medical team rushed in. Waters directed the rear guard to secure 
the hatchway as he entered behind the medics.  Inside the bridge area, 
most of the lighting was out and several control panels were dead or 
sparking. Some overhead beams had collapsed making the area much 
smaller. Waters passed by a dead Algearian, still sitting at his 
console, an overhead beam lying across him. His men moved forward as 
they played their lights around the darkened command deck. 

"Sir we have gained entry to the bridge. Severe damage. One dead so
far." Waters reported. 

"Sir! Over here! We got a live one!" One of the forward troopers called
out. Waters rushed forward as well as one of the medics.  Two troopers 
were covering a cowering man, hunched back under a non-functional 
console. He was obviously scared.  Wearing a soiled once gray jumpsuit, 
he was holding his hands up to shield himself from the soldier's suit 
lights. One of the medics moved forward and began scanning the man.  
The man began speaking incoherently, babbling, trying to make sense of 
what was happening. The medic leaned towards him, helmet visor still 
opaque. The man frantically scrambled deeper under the console. The 
medic leaned back before realizing that his visor was the problem. He 
adjusted the level of tint until the exterior surface was clear.  The 
frightened man quit scrambling and watched in open-eyed awe as a face 
appeared where before there was only a mirrored reflection. The medic 
grinned at him and extended his hand. The man took his hand and allowed 
himself to be pulled out from under the console. A second medic 
approached, saw what had happened and immediately changed his own visor 
settings as well. 

"Appears humanoid." He said as he swept his scanner over the man. "Some
minor differences, increased heart rate, adrenaline levels. To be 
expected." He said over the intersuit commo. Waters walked up and 
noticed the medic's visor. He adjusted his as well before turning to 
the man. 

"Have you tried talking to him?" he asked. 

"No sir. Not yet." The first medic was doing a more thorough scan of the
man's vital signs. 

"He's calming down now. It seems that once he saw our faces, his
respiration and heart rate decreased from the high levels they were at. 
Strange." The medic started to elaborate but stopped to make a notes 
for his suit recorder. 

"Try communicating with him." Waters ordered. 

The first medic turned on his exterior suit intercom. 

"Hello. We are friends. What is your name?" he said slowly.  The man
looked at him. The voice must have sounded somewhat metallic, or 
possibly robotic. He looked around at the gathered soldiers, who had 
stopped and were watching the process. Waters followed the man's gaze 
and ordered his men to secure the area and spread out to find more 
survivors. The man looked at Waters as if he had heard him. 

"I am Basha of Algearia. You must be the Broderians that the Second
Captain was talking to." He looked at the medics and Waters. "I am the 
First Science Officer of this vessel." He looked around at the damage. 
"Or rather, what's left of it."  His entire demeanor seemed to change. 
He stood a little straighter and brushed at his jumpsuit as if to wipe 
the stains from it. 

"Where is the rest of your crew?" Waters asked. Basha turned to him.
"You must be an officer as well. Always with the questions." He smiled 
broadly. "I knew it by the way you ordered your men about." He smiled 
and flashed incredibly white teeth. "The crew, those of us that 
survived the attack, are in hiding." His faced seemed to sadden. "Some 
are mourning the loss of their shipmates while others are trying to 
make peace with the almighty Maker." He nodded knowingly, his eyes 
downcast. "I had no where else to go, so I remained here on the 
bridge." He said softly. 

"Can you take us to where your crew is?" Waters asked. Basha's face
seemed to light up as he lifted his head up and smiled again. 

"Of course!" He exclaimed as he pushed past the two medics and strode
purposefully out of the damaged bridge.  Waters thought about what 
Basha had said. 'First Science Officer?' 'Second Captain?' Those ranks 
seemed a little odd, but if it was functional, it must work for the 
Algearians. Waters switched commo channels and instructed six troopers 
to stay with him and the rest to break off in groups of two and search 
for survivors.  As he followed Basha through the ship, the two medics 
and his troopers in tow, he noticed that many areas of the ship seemed 
empty and unused.  At one particular intersection, Basha stopped to get 
his bearings and Waters was able to use his helmet camera to record the 
thick level of dust the lay over the deck plates down one corridor.  As 
the small group went deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship, 
Waters grew increasingly more wary. He directed his troopers to spread 
apart and check the locator beacons that they had dropped along their 
journey.  Finally, Basha stopped at a large hatch.  He spun around. 

"We are here my new friends." He turned back around and began working
the handle to open the hatch.  One medic did a quick scan. 

"Sir. I get multiple readings from behind that door. Some are strange,
but definitely life signs. Lots of them. At least twenty." The medic 
put his scanner down as Basha pulled the large hatch open, with a 
squeal of unoiled metal, and strained to push it back against the 
bulkhead.  Waters thought about what the medic had said.  Given the 
size of this ship, that number seemed very small. Granted there was 
damage to the ship, but no loss of external structural integrity. Where 
was the rest of the crew?  He looked into the darkened hatchway that 
seemed to beckon him. 

CHAPTER TWO 

Inside the Broder Prime Operations Center, General Beckett was reviewing
the information regarding the Algearian race. 

"Captain Biehn? Is this all we have on these people?" he asked to the
younger officer standing by the desk. 

"Yes sir. That's it. Pretty thin intel. The Thelsians gathered this.
They aren't known for their thoroughness."  The senior officer looked 
at the thin file on his desk. 

"I'll say. There's only four pages in here. We practically know nothing
about them. First contact with an unknown race,' humanoid', no 
kidding." He said gruffly as he shuffled the papers back into the file. 


"Take this worthless trash back where you found it." He said as he
handed the folder back to Biehn. He sat back as the captain left the 
office.  He ran his hand through his short hair before reaching for the 
telecom unit.  He rapidly punched in the code and waited as a secure 
connection was made. 

"Fleet Operations, Major Johnson speaking." The man said as the
connection was made. 

"This is General Beckett, Operations Duty Officer. Get me Admiral Kirby
and Lieutenant General Lee straight away." He ordered the major. 

"Aye, aye sir." The major replied. Beckett sat in silence thinking over
his next move. An expeditionary force, diplomatic envoy, little to no 
intelligence, unknown hostiles. What to do? He pondered as the 
connection was made. 

His telecom unit beeped and displayed a split screen showing both
officers. 

"Bill, Andy, we have a situation. The expeditionary force has a first
contact. We have little usable intel on them. They reported to one of 
our frigates that they were attacked by unknown forces." He paused to 
let the information sink in. "I'm moving the react force to just 
outside the field and sending the cruisers to the other side. Andy, I 
need your special ops boys to be ready to deploy.  Bill, I need your 
input here at Ops Control."  Both men nodded and acknowledged before 
signing off.  Admiral Kirby's staff was informed of his movement and a 
hover shuttle was dispatched to his location.  On the far side of 
Broder Prime, Lieutenant General Lee's compound was abuzz with 
activity.  The Special Operations units were made up of all branches of 
the Broderian Forces.  Naval units, aviation units, ground troops, and 
specialized medical and stealth units.  These were the best of the 
best. The true elite of all the forces.  These troopers could 
infiltrate, train, fly and proficiently use all the weapons in the 
Broderian arsenal. 

"Get me a secure line to Major Hunter on Haley." Lee ordered his commo
officer. Lee, a tall man, with chiseled features, ice blue eyes and 
short raven hair, paced the floor as he waited for the connection to be 
made. His boots, highly polished black, made no noise as he moved. His 
uniform was starched and creased per regulations. Everything about him 
read elite. 

"Sir, secure line established." The commo officer stated.  Lee walked
over to the console, sat and put on a headset. 

"Major, General Lee. How's the training coming?" he asked.  At the other
end, Major James Hunter was on guard immediately. No general officer 
would ever call to ask how the training was going. Something was 
happening. 

"Fine sir." Was all he replied.  Best to keep your answers short when
talking to a general. 

"Major, we have a situation that's right up your alley." Lee paused.
"Our expeditionary force has made a first contact that we have no 
usable intel on. I'm downloading all we have to date to your commo 
officer now. There's a dropship coming to pick you up. Should be there 
in a few hours. There will be some 'specialists' on board to brief you 
and your men.  The dropship will take you to the field where you will 
follow the instructions I'm including.  Any questions?" Lee asked.  The 
other man was silent for a few minutes. 

"No sir." Hunter responded. 

"Very well. Lee out." Lee cut the connection and removed his headset. 

Hunter stared at the telecom screen for a few seconds thinking about the
upcoming mission.   Strange.  He turned and went back outside to brief 
his men. 

The react force left Broder Prime and moved at flank speed to a position
just a few klicks behind the expeditionary force. Once communications 
was established, they formed a wedge and took control of the troop 
ships as the cruisers and remaining frigates entered the asteroid 
field.  Once through, the cruisers launched drones and spread out with 
one cruiser, the Hackworth, and two frigates, the Questor, and the 
Griffin, to secure the entrance to the field.  Archangel moved to 
within two klicks of the McAfee and launched a wide spread of drones 
deeper into the system. 

"Sir, we have confirmation of a planetary system consisting of twelve
planets." The Archangel sensor officer reported. The OOD walked over to 
the sensor console and watched as the drones charted the perimeter of 
the new system. 

"Very well. Report and chart anything that could be a potential hazard,
or inhabited." The OOD ordered before he walked away. 

Captain Winslow was in his ready room with Admiral Greerson discussing
the newest reports when the desk telecom unit buzzed. "Yes." Winslow 
said.  The face on the unit belonged to the leader of the diplomatic 
envoy, senior senator Carson. 

"Captain, I understand that we have made contact with a new race.  Why
wasn't I informed earlier?" Carson demanded.  Winslow shook his head. 

"Senator, this is an unknown race. We were ascertaining the potential
danger and proceeding cautiously." Winslow explained. Greerson chuckled 
quietly from across the desk as he fished out a cigar. 

"Captain, I find that a miserable excuse. These people asked for help
from the beginning and you purposely left me in the dark." The senator 
vented. Winslow was about to reply when the General Quarters siren 
began wailing throughout the ship. Winslow gratefully cut the 
transmission and entered the bridge followed by Greerson.  The bridge 
lighting had gone to combat red automatically when GQ was sounded. 

"Mr. Powell. What is the situation?" he barked as he sat in his command
chair and viewed the screen display. 

"Talon 83 and Talon 85 have an unknown contact on an intercept course
with us. Sensors read it as a large ship, approximately the size of one 
of our destroyers. They are attempting a covert intercept as we speak." 
Powell reported. 

"Where did  it come from? Why didn't we detect something that big
before." Winslow asked. 

"Unknown sir. Could be it was using one of the planets or moons to
shield itself until now." Powell explained.  Winslow made a fist as he 
viewed the report on his screen. Damn. 

"All ships. Defense Condition One." He ordered. Turning to Greerson,
"Open a channel to the unknown Mr. Powell." He turned back to the OOD. 

"Channel open sir. We are broadcasting on all frequencies.  No
response." Powell observed. 

"Have the Clancy move into a blocking position and Decoursey to our
starboard flank. Weapons tight unless fired upon." Winslow ordered.  
Talon 83 and 85 were moving to a position just behind and the right of 
the unknown when a power surge coursed through Talon 83's computer 
systems. 

"85, we were just spiked. My sensors are bent. You have the intercept."
83's pilot reported as his rear seater was resetting his equipment. 

"Copy 83. 85 moving into intercept lead." Talon 85 applied thrust and
moved ahead. 

"Archangel, Talon 83. We were just spiked. Most of our systems are in
reset. Talon 85 has the lead." The intercept pilot reported. 

"Copy 83. Report any change in status." The Archangel TAO responded. He
sent the information to Powell's screen as well as the captain's. 

"Mr. Powell. Any response?" Winslow asked.  Powell looked at his display
before replying. 

"Negative sir." He replied. "One of our Talon's was spiked, nothing
serious. Could have been a high power sensor sweep." Winslow thought 
about that information. Greerson put his head closer to Winslow. "John, 
I don't buy that. Talon's are shielded for just that reason. That's a 
little nudge for 'get away from me'." Winslow nodded approval. 

"Mr. Powell, tell the Talons to pull back a little. Lets see what our
'friend' will do next." Winslow ordered.  Just then, a voice came 
through the speaker. 

"Military vessel, this is the Newson warship Azriel. State your
intentions with the Algearian vessel." 

"Azriel, this is the Archangel, our intentions are to assist them. They
have wounded onboard as well as heavy damage." The commo officer 
reported. 

"Archangel that is insufficient reason.  The Algearian vessel is adrift,
according to our law, we claim right of precedent and it is to be 
destroyed before it becomes a hazard." The Azriel responded. 

"Azriel, this is the captain of the Archangel. We have a rescue and
repair party on board the Algearian vessel at this time. They are 
effecting repairs and evacuating the critical injured." Winslow paused. 
"We had no way of knowing your laws. This is our first contact with 
your race." He added in hope for understanding. 

"Our race? You think we are Algearian?!" The voice asked bitterly. "You
have insulted us with your insolence! We shall destroy the Algearian 
vessel. Leave now! You have been warned!" The communications cut off. 

"Sir! Power surge on board the Newson vessel. Weapon systems coming on
line!" Powell reported.  Winslow pounded his fist on the arm of his 
command chair. Damn. Damn. 

"Mr. Powell. Fire a flash torpedo across her bow. Try to warn her off." 
Powell reached over and punched a button. Outside, a large torpedo shot 
out and raced towards the alien vessel.  It arced over the top of the 
other ship and detonated harmlessly with a concussive force and bright 
flash.  The Newson vessel continued on its course, shrugging off the 
light show. 

Powell turned to Winslow. "Mr. Powell, status on the rescue party?" 
Powell tapped a message onto his keyboard. "Sir, McAfee reports at 
least another hour to transfer the wounded and repair the ship enough 
to make headway."  Winslow shook his head grimly. 

"All ships, concentrate fire on the Newson vessel's weapons and engines.
Disable her until we find a diplomatic solution to all this." Winslow 
commanded. Powell turned and punched a series of buttons on his console 
that took control of the nearby ships weapon systems. The Archangel 
combat computer would now control the targeting and firing of all the 
ships. 

"Sir, all systems on line. Newson vessel is within target range of the
Algearian vessel." Powell reported. 

"Try them one more time Mr. Powell." Winslow ordered.  The commo officer
attempted to reestablish contact. 

"No good sir. They're jamming us." Powell reported.  Winslow put his
head down and shook it slowly. Lifting his head back up, "Fire when 
ready, Mr. Powell." He commanded.  Powell reached to a covered switch, 
flipped the safety cover off and pressed the button.  A swarm of 
missiles and plasma fire shot out of the Broderian vessels and 
contacted the Newson warship.  Heavy explosions from the missiles and 
pieces of hull shielding blasted off from the plasma beams as the 
Newson vessel shook and convulsed under the onslaught.  The weapon 
systems were the hardest hit.  In the first few seconds, all the weapon 
ports were destroyed, immediately followed by the propulsion systems.  
After the massive fusillade, the Newson vessel began a slow spin, aft 
end first.  Winslow watched the attack.  Powell turned to look at him. 

"Cease fire Mr. Powell. They aren't going anywhere." Winslow observed. 
The Newson ship was being tracked by all the weapons of the Broderian 
force as it continued its slow spin. 

"Archangel, Archangel."  Static. "You have destroyed our weapons. We are
adrift." Static. "Why?  We will never be melded.  You have sealed our 
fate. Do you claim right of precedent?" The Newson asked. 

Winslow looked at Greerson with a  quizzical look. Before he could ask
the question that was on everyone's mind, Powell interrupted. 

"Power surge! Unknown type. Emanating from the Newson vessel. All
communications has been severed." Powell almost yelled out. 

"All ships standby for evasive maneuvers!" Winslow yelled out. 

Abruptly, the darkness of space grew as bright as the sun as the Newson
vessel exploded.  The shockwave was enough to send Talon 83 and 85 end 
over end and rattle and shake the heavy cruisers.  The Newson vessel 
simply ceased to exist save for a large metallic cloud that slowly 
dispersed. 

"What the hell!" Winslow demanded as various warning horns and buzzers
sounded on the bridge. "Mr. Powell, damage control!" he ordered.  The 
rattling and shaking ceased as the shock wave passed and dissipated. 

"Some minor circuitry damage. Nothing more." Powell reported 

"What's the status on our intercept craft?" Winslow asked. Powell typed
on his console. 

"Clancy has some minor damage. Decoursey has lost long-range sensors.
They are working on it now." Powell reported.  "No contact with Talon 
83 or 85 at this time." He looked over at Winslow " They were the 
closest to the Newson vessel." Powell added. Winslow absorbed the 
information before issuing orders. 

"Launch search and rescue with fighter escort. All remaining Raptors
launch and form a phalanx around the fleet. Set a patrol of Talons for 
deep scan and send them further into the system. No more surprises Mr. 
Powell." Winslow sat back in his command chair. "Have Intel review the 
last few minutes of the Newson transmission and record the energy 
surge. I want a thorough report by 1700hrs." 

"Aye aye sir." Powell responded before turning back to his console and
making the necessary adjustments. 

In the launch bays of the fleet, Raptor and Talon pilots were preparing
their ships. A search and rescue dropship launched, the frigates spread 
out and began a hard scan of the surrounding space.  Fighter pilots 
were edgy and almost jumpy. 

On the Algearian vessel, all contact was lost with the entry team. 

CHAPTER THREE 

Major Hunter was reviewing the most recent intelligence about the new
system as the two 'specialists' continued the briefing.  The dropship's 
troops compartment was cramped with all his unit's equipment as well as 
the 'specialists' briefing materials. Hunter looked up from his file 
and gazed around at his team.  A little top heavy on senior NCO's, but 
a well experienced group. The 'specialists' were going on about how a 
first contact was to be handled carefully, politely, and with the 
utmost discretion. Like there was any other way? Hunter thought to 
himself.  The trip to the fleet would take another four hours at this 
speed. At least he could get some sleep. Long ago he had developed the 
ability  to sleep with both eyes open during long boring briefings, as 
most soldiers will do, which is exactly what he was doing now. 

Lieutenant Waters had just motioned two troopers inside the open
hatchway when his inter team commo buzzed. He glanced at his HUD to see 
who it was. 

"Sergeant Wilkes, what's your status?" Waters asked.   Wilkes, the
senior noncom of the unit, had taken command of the other half of the 
platoon in Water's absence. 

"Sir, we are outside what appears to be the engineering spaces. It's
sealed up tight. No way to gain access unless we use breaching 
charges." Wilkes reported. Waters was watching the two troopers wave 
their light around the interior of the compartment as he responded. 

"Very well Sergeant. Continue your sweep forward. Notify me of any more
survivors. Waters out." He motioned the medics forward into the 
darkened compartment as he followed Basha inside.  He waved his own 
light around the area and was amazed to see moisture seepage running 
down the walls. Ahead, he could see the troopers had tossed out light 
sticks to illuminate as much of the room as possible. He switched his 
visor setting to thermal and looked around the room.  The ambient 
temperature was low enough allowing him a good look at his 
surroundings.  A maze of ducts and pipes flowed out of the walls and 
deck all the way to the overhead.  Around the base of the pipes, he 
took note of the blankets and empty ration cartons scattered about. 
Unindentifiable garbage and 'other' piles of junk were scattered about. 
 Waters was glad that his suit was sealed as he realized what some of 
the garbage was.  He looked away and continued towards his men. 

"Sorenson, where are those life signs?" He asked the senior medic.
Sorenson, the medic who had examined Basha, waved his scanner around 
the compartment before replying. 

"Unknown sir. Way too much back scatter in here to lock down the
signal." He reported. 

"Do what you can. We're too bunched up in here." Waters switched
channels to address the other troopers. "Paxton, watch those corners. 
Spread the men out more. Morrison, throw out more light sticks.  Rice, 
watch our new 'friend' very close." Waters ordered as he  continued his 
thermal scan.  Rice, and his fire team buddy, Valdez, moved up to be on 
both sides of Basha as they moved through the compartment. 

Sergeant Wilkes and the rest of the platoon continued moving forward
until they reached a large, four-way intersection. He formed a 
defensive perimeter as he checked his position in relation to the 
dropship and Waters. Looking down the corridors, he took note of the 
thick, boot top dust that coated the decking. 

"Corporal Loe. Take a squad and recon that corridor." He ordered as he
motioned down the passageway to the right." Corporal Axtell. Take 
second squad down this one. I'll take the rest of the squad down the 
other one." He glanced at the chrono setting on his HUD. "Meet back 
here in 20mikes." He said as the squads spilt and moved down their 
assigned corridors. Wilkes squad lingered a few seconds as a 
directional beacon was set at the intersection.  The squad moved along 
the corridor, stirring up the heavy dust, that hung in the air at waist 
level, making it almost impossible to see the deck plates.  The fine 
dust coated the troopers boots up to their thighs as they moved along 
the deserted corridor. 

"Sir! McAfee reports telemetry signals lost with the entry team!" The
TAO announced to Captain Winslow. The captain started and turned from 
his conversation with Greerson. Now what? Greerson watched as Winslow 
typed on his screen. 

"Ryan, Winslow here, what's the status with your entry team? We just
lost telemetry." 

"Yes, we just confirmed that ourselves. We still have contact with the
dropship, but not the entry team. The Algearian ship had a power spike 
a few seconds ago, then no signal." Ryan paused as a new information 
flashed on his screen. "Wait, we just reestablished contact with 
Waters. He says he has over twenty survivors. They appear to have been 
living in the maintenance spaces of the ship." Ryan scanned down the 
page. "He states the ship is large enough to accommodate several 
hundred crewman. I'll pass on his full report when he gets back. Ryan 
out." Winslow looked back at Greerson, shaking his head. 

"What have we gotten ourselves into?" Greerson just puffed on the cigar
in the corner of his mouth. 

Waters guided the survivors with Basha leading, towards the dropship.
They were a ragged bunch. Most were almost emaciated from the lack of 
food and very pale from little to no light. The clothing they wore was 
torn and frayed, mostly patched together by hand. His mind recorded 
these facts as his suits sensors and cameras recorded their condition  
as well as the ship's interior  . How could these people have gotten to 
this state?  This ship was large enough to feed them and, according to 
Sergeant Wilkes, there were living accommodations for hundreds of 
crewmembers. Yet, they seemed afraid of the ship systems. Even if the 
primary systems went off line, the secondary systems were more than 
enough to survive with, let alone make repairs.  This entire situation 
was extremely unusual. 

"Mr. Reichel, make ready the repair party. When Lieutenant Waters
disengages from the Gunthar, launch the repair party and salvage team. 
I want a full scan team with them as well. All the survivors are to be 
quarantined. Full decon for the entry team." Ryan ordered. Reichel 
confirmed the orders and passed the information on. 

Waters reached the dropship with the survivors as Sergeant Wilkes was
approaching from the aft end of the Algearian vessel.  Wilkes reached 
up and ejected the micro disc from his suit recorder and handed it to 
Waters. 

"Sir, this is my report." Waters acknowledged and tucked the disc away
in a pouch as the survivors were escorted onboard. The medics did a 
preliminary medical scan and shook their heads at  the readings, 
conferring on a side channel. 

"Sergeant, take first squad and wait here for the repair party. You can
show them around and make sure they don't get lost." Waters ordered. 

"Aye aye sir." Wilkes responded as he snapped out a salute. Waters
returned the salute and entered the dropship. The docking collar doors 
sealed and the dropship released. It backed off a few meters before 
turning within its own length and thrusting back to the McAfee.  The 
repair dropship, launched as soon as confirmation was received, passed 
the other dropship on its way to the Gunthar. 

Wilkes turned away and motioned for his squad to spread out and clear
some room for the techies who were on their way. 

"Mr. Powell, secure from General Quarters." Winslow ordered as he
reviewed his command screen.  The bridge lighting returned to normal. 

"Captain, dropship returning to McAfee. Medical team standing by."
Powell reported. He reached up and held his earpiece tighter. "Sir. 
Security reports that Senator Carson and a number of his party have 
requested a dropship to convey them to the McAfee." He paused and 
listened. "They want  to officially greet the Algearians." Powel said 
as he spun his chair to face Winslow. 

"I'll take care of that." Greerson stated, chewing on his cigar and
leaving the bridge. Winslow nodded knowingly. Having seen the admiral's 
wrath a few times in the past, it was not going to be a pleasant 
experience for Senator Carson. 

"Mr. Powell, inform Operations Control of our status." Winslow ordered
as he turned his attention back to his screen. A few moments of silence 
as the bridge crew went back to their duty. "Captain, Paladin reports 
that they have found the crew of Talon 83 and 85. Both ships heavily 
damaged but no injuries.  Search and Rescue has them in a tractor and 
are bringing them in." Powell noted.  Winslow nodded as he continued to 
review the preliminary report from Waters. 

Greerson made his way below deck to the dropship hanger bay.  As he
entered the bay, several crewmembers were performing maintenance on the 
nearby ships while in the distance; a small tug was moving a fully 
prepped dropship to the standby area.  He rounded the tip of a Raptor, 
his hand sliding along the pointed nose as he remembered his earlier 
career as a talented fighter pilot. Drawing closer to the standby 
launch area, he noticed a small group of personnel crowded around one 
of the many prepped dropships.  He recognized the form of Senator 
Carson, tall, with prematurely white hair, and a long, , flowing, 
purple robe that identified his status within the senate. Surrounding 
the senator were his various aides and assistants as well as some of 
Archangel's internal security troops. He walked up to the group and 
remained unnoticed as he stood behind the senate party and watched.  He 
listened as the senator demanded, cajoled and threatened the IS troops. 
His aides did their best to push through them and onto the ship.  
Finally, he spoke in his command voice. 

"SENATOR CARSON!" immediately all talking and yelling ceased. Some of
the aides in the rear of the group cringed and slunk to one side as the 
tall, rail thin senator turned to face Greerson. Although taller than 
Greerson, Carson was nowhere near the mass of the admiral. 

"Admiral Greerson, how nice to see you again." Carson dripped sarcasm.
"Now if you'll use that authority of yours and order these men aside, I 
shall properly greet the Algearian delegation." Carson contemptuously 
requested.  Greerson put his hands on his hips and chewed his cigar 
before responding. 

"No senator, I won't." Greerson took the cigar out his mouth. "You and
your party will return to quarters and remain there until we sort this 
mess out." He said flatly using his cigar to emphasize his point. 
Carson visibly reared back as if he were struck. His face turned red 
and leaned over the admiral to begin a tirade but was cut off. 

"Senator, if anything but a 'yes' comes out of your mouth, I'll secure
you in the brig and ship you and your stooges out of here so fast, your 
head will spin." Greerson put the cigar back in his mouth, "Now about 
face and get out of my launch bay." Turning to the young officer in 
charge of the IS detail. "Lieutenant  Bates, get some 'special' help," 
he emphasized, " and see to it that the senator and his party are 
'escorted' back to their quarters and remain there for the duration of 
this operation."  The younger officer beamed. 

"YES Sir!" he replied as the admiral snapped out a hasty salute, turned
on his heel and left the launch bay. 

CHAPTER FOUR 

"Bill, I don't know what to make of it." Beckett said to Admiral William
'Bill' Kirby.  "The entire operation is on standby while we look into 
this Newson race." 

"I understand." Kirby said. "This is a flashpoint situation." Kirby
paged through the files in front of him. "We have no option but to 
proceed with extreme caution and view them as a hostile." He shook his 
head. "I don't like it, you don't like it, but what choice have they 
given us?" he opened the file to the last page. "'Right of Precedent?' 
And what do suppose that's all about?" He ran his finger down to the 
last paragraph. "Ship detonated, just after a statement of 'melding'." 
He closed the file with a flourish. "Now that's going to give the Intel 
boys a headache." He leaned back in his chair. 

"What little intel we had was from the Thelsians. Next to useless."
Beckett almost spat out. "I've sent for the Thelsian Ambassador. 
Knowing them, its not a matter of urgency." Beckett slammed his fist 
onto the conference room table. "Damnit!" he stood and walked to the 
clear wall and looked at the Ops Center below him. Kirby stood and 
walked to the refreshment bar at the end of the room. 

"Roger, this could be what we've been looking for." Kirby quietly said
as he took a sip of his steaming beverage. Beckett turned and looked at 
him. 

"What are you saying?" He asked incredulously. Kirby walked over and sat
back down, motioning with his hand for Beckett to return to his seat. 

"What I'm saying is this could be the opportunity that we have been
waiting for. The Sirius Project." He said flatly as he set his mug 
down.  Beckett looked at him in silence. 

"You can't be serious." He said as he looked into the other man's eyes,
fully knowing the answer. 

"You know I am. Preparations have already begun." Kirby replied. "You
said yourself that the intel was next to useless, and the Newson should 
be categorized as hostile." He paused, "What better time to test it 
then right now? It's a perfect scenario. Unknown hostiles, unknown 
system, fleet in jeopardy."  He stopped as he took a sip. 

"Wait, wait. The fleet is not in jeopardy. They had minimal damage. The
Newson vessel was not even considered a category one hostile. There are 
diplomatic concerns as well." Beckett countered. "We charted the 
unknown system. There are inhabited planets. We can't in good 
conscience unleash the Sirius Project." 

Kirby thought about this for few seconds, eyeing the man across from
him.  He saw the inner turmoil on the other's face. Calmly taking 
another sip, he set his cup down and removed a separate file from his 
case. He opened it and placed it front of the other man. "I don't want 
to pull rank on you Roger, but I will if I have to." He turned the file 
around so Beckett could read it. "This is full authorization according 
to Broderian regulations FM12-5-99, section 4.28, outlining the rules 
of engagement regarding a hostile encounter. Please note the amendment 
at the bottom where it states that the senior officer can and is 
authorized to use any and all means to secure, control, pacify or 
eradicate the threat." He extended a stylus to Beckett. "Sign at the 
bottom transferring command over to me,  and we can start the ball 
rolling." 

Beckett looked at him and then the file. Finally with a slight tremor in
his hand he accepted the stylus and signed. He set the stylus down as 
Kirby took the file back. 

"That wasn't so bad now was it?" Kirby tucked the file away. "Don't
worry Roger. I'll keep you onboard as my adjutant. After all, you 
started the game, I'm just finishing it." Kirby stood and retrieved his 
case.  "Take a few days off. Use some of that leave." He turned as he 
reached the door. "Two days from now, and we proceed." He turned and 
briskly left the conference room, leaving Beckett to wonder what he had 
just done. 

"Paladin reports ready to launch survey team." Powell reported to
Winslow. 

"Very well. Launch Mr. Powell." Winslow ordered as he reviewed the
information on his screen. 

Onboard Paladin, two dropships and four Talons streaked away towards the
nearest planet.  Inside the dropships were engineers, two full platoons 
in each, technicians, engineers and tons of equipment. Their job was to 
land on the planet and establish an outpost for monitoring the rest of 
the system and eventually a small resupply base. 

"78, do you copy that signal?" the pilot of Talon 75 asked.  His EO was
scanning the dense belt of junk that surrounded the planet along its 
equator. 

"75, copy all." Was the response, as he adjusted his angle and
calculated an egress point through the debris field. 

"Intel and drone reports that the best landing zones are along the
center of the planet. Something to do with the weather patterns. Too 
bad about all this garbage." 75's pilot said to his EO. 

"I'm getting some energy fluctuations from that group to starboard.
Radiation emanations from those old satellites." The EO announced as he 
locked his scanners onto that quadrant.  "It looks like comsats and 
stage boosters. Haven't seen stage boosters since the academy." He 
said. 

The two fighters swept over the field as they made their approach. The
dead satellites floating in orbit, not noticing.  As the small group 
made its way deeper into the atmosphere, there were discernible cities 
and roads.  The group broke through the dense cloud cover and into the 
rain as they flew low over one of the cities. 

"Looks deserted. Been that way for a long time." The EO reported. "No
life signs. No activity. Nothing." He said as the dead city passed by 
under them.  Finding the pre-designated landing zone, the dropships 
flared and settled onto their three point landing gear inside the 
clearing as the Talons circled overhead, scanning the area and 
providing any needed support.  The clearing was devoid of sound, save 
for the slight ticking as the heat shields cooled on the dropships.  A 
slight whir of motors as the clamshell doors opened on the first ship, 
accompanied by a light muddy squish sound as the loading ramp came to 
rest on the damp soil.  Two troop carriers rolled down the ramp, the 
first one, its large lug tires spraying wet earth as it went to speed 
and rolled around the perimeter of the clearing before stopping between 
the two ships. The latter carrier moving a short distance away and 
extending its antenna to broadcast and scan the area.  The troop 
carriers, heavily armored, were low slung, six wheel vehicles, capable 
of carrying two platoons each, they could move at great speeds over 
rough terrain and through water. Inside, the troops were seated in high 
back chairs that had a floating suspension so they remained comfortable 
when the vehicle moved.  The big, wide, lug tires were almost two 
meters tall and provided incredible traction. Powered by a small plasma 
generator, for its size, it moved nimbly.  On the roof were a varied 
set of antenna; sensor dishes and drone launch ports as well as a four 
barreled rail gun.  Designed to withstand an intense combat 
environment, each vehicle was also equipped with an emergency locator; 
reactive armor, anti-spall curtains and overpressure blow out panels. 

The first troop carrier spun its six wheels and left the clearing in a
spray of mud and sod as it roared off towards the dead city.  The 
second dropship dropped its loading ramp and disgorged an odd looking 
vehicle. Smaller than the troop carriers, yet no less nimble, it moved 
around the clearing and periodically stopped and launched a sensor into 
the ground.  Inside this vehicle, two technicians were reviewing the 
sensor logs. 

"Looks good. Solid rock at six meters. No insect life or wildlife.
That's a little strange." They drove a little further. "Here's a good 
spot." The vehicle stopped with a  slight rocking motion. " Prepare to 
launch orbital sensor package." Outside, outrigger arms deployed and 
stabilized the vehicle. A launch tube extended from the roof. 

"Standby." The senior technician said. On the roof, the tube locked into
a slight angle and slowly traversed before stopping and sending a 
signal inside to the two men. 

"Launch ready." The other tech announced. The senior tech reached over
and flipped up a covered switch and inserted a key. 

"On my mark. Three. Two. One. Launch." He said as he turned the key.  On
the roof, a small rocket roared out of the launch tube and shot away at 
incredible speed before reaching orbit and deploying six small sensor 
satellites that thrusted into a geo-synchronise orbit around the 
planet. 

"Satellites coming into orbit. Looking good. And we have a lock." The
senior tech announced. He swiveled his chair around. 

"Notify the fleet that we are in business." 

The second tech sent an encrypted transmission to the fleet.  A third
and fourth troop carrier emerged from the second dropship with the 
fourth one pulling a four wheeled trailer behind. The second carrier 
retracted its sensor mast and roared off after the first carrier as the 
last two carriers dropped their troop ramps and emptied out their 
contents.  One squad from each carrier moved to the trailer and began 
unloading it. The remaining squads formed up and moved out to recon the 
clearing and surrounding foliage.  Once the squads reached the foliage, 
the sensors on their armor began analyzing the brush and changing the 
exterior color of the armor to match the foliage. The deeper the 
troopers moved into the brush, the more their armor changed to match.  
Each trooper could see the other on his HUD but to the naked eye, they 
had all but disappeared. 

The other two squads began setting up temporary habitats that would
become their home.  The small engineering group had unloaded the 
portable landing strips and was using their tugs to pull them into 
position. Due to the soft soil and constant wet ground from all the 
rain, they had to ram support beams six meters into the rock and 
elevate the pads above the ground. 

A few klicks away, the first two carriers were roaring down the old road
towards the dead city,  their tires throwing up small fountains of 
water while on each rooftop, a small sensor dish rotated to keep a lock 
on at least three of the new orbiting satellites.  Moving in a 
staggered formation, they avoided rocks and fallen trees with ease.  
Coming to a small hill, both carriers stopped just below the crest of 
the hill. The first carrier extended its sensor mast and began a slow 
sweep of the city below them. The second carrier began scanning the 
surrounding area.  Finally, the mast retracted and both carriers moved 
in a bounding over watch pattern to the massive city that spread out in 
front of them. 

Back at the landing zone, the recon squads returned and looked at the
transformed landing area.  Six landing pads were now assembled in a 
star like pattern, with elevated taxiways connecting them. The portable 
habitats were assembled and on elevated platforms as well.  As the 
troopers approached, they locked in the camouflage pattern to the 
armor's central memory so as to recall it when needed.  The remaining 
two squads were setting the perimeter sensors and sentry posts.  All 
the squads returned to the central habitat as landing crews were 
directing the dropships and Talons to the landing pads.  The entire 
outpost was in the pattern of a hub with the landing pads forming the 
center and everything branching off from there.  The engineers were 
pouring ballisticrete around the perimeter after drilling down to the 
rock.  Ballisticrete was a hardened wall that would protect the outpost 
from attack and keep some of the elements at bay.  The rain was now 
coming down harder and the sky was becoming more overcast, as the 
troopers sat down for their first meal on the new world. 

Several klicks away, the two troop carriers had stopped at an
intersection within the vast city. Sensors were recording the 
surrounding area, as the troopers inside were briefed. 

"Lieutenant Hanson, take third platoon to the north and set up an OP/LP
by that collapsed tower." Captain Davidson ordered. "Lieutenant 
Johnson, take second platoon west and do the same at that small 
warehouse." He commanded over the inter vehicle radio. Davidson watched 
the monitors as the sensors panned the darkened streets and buildings.  
"Lieutenant Vaughn, your platoon will provide area security. Lieutenant 
Brown, establish a secure perimeter around that parking structure." He 
directed.  Rotating his chair to face the three surveillance 
technicians that were squeezed into the remaining space of the troop 
carrier. 

"You three can set up your GSS on the top level of the structure." He
said to the men. They nodded and began to discuss the set up amongst 
themselves as the captain rotated back to the monitors. He motioned to 
the driver to proceed. 

Outside, the second carrier lingered as the troopers exited and
dispersed, before moving off behind the command carrier.  At the 
entrance to the parking structure, the troop ramp dropped and the 
soldiers ran out forming a defensive perimeter. The ramp closed and the 
big vehicle moved inside and made its way to the top level.  Once 
there, the techs exited and began setting up the Ground Surveillance 
Sensor. The APC then moved down one level and shut down.  Captain 
Davidson exited and looked around.  The low walls were minimal 
protection from the rain as the wind was driving it inside the 
structure with ever growing gusts.  The techs were having some 
difficulty in assembling the equipment with the wind growing stronger, 
but finally managed to elevate the sensor dish and lock down the 
components before retreating out of the elements. They made their way 
down to the APC where one squad had already begun inflating the 
shelters.  Captain Davidson was doing a radio check with the landing 
zone outpost, now designated Alpha Base, as the last shelter was 
inflated and locked down.   The three techs set up the monitoring 
equipment inside one of the hardened shelters and ran a systems check. 

"Perimeter secure sir." Lt. Brown reported in.  Davidson acknowledged. 

"Very well. Cycle your men through the chow line and settle in for the
night." He paused as one of the techs handed him a preliminary report. 
He quickly read it. 

"According to this, nothing is here." He looked out at the rain and wind
swept night. "I can't shake the feeling that we aren't alone." 

Vaughn jogged up just then. 

"Sir." He saluted. "Sensor link established. Area secure." He reported. 

"Very well Lieutenant." Davidson returned the salute. "Preliminary
reports tell us we're alone out here." He said as he handed the report 
over and  turned to look out at the night. "I just don't buy that." He 
turned back to the younger officer. 

"Roger that sir. My men are ready and able.  Duty and Honor." He said as
he saluted the Captain. 

"Duty and Honor." Davidson replied as he returned the salute. Vaughn
spun on his heel and double-timed back to his men.  Davidson watched as 
he left. Was I ever that young? He asked himself before returning to 
the command shelter and reviewing the constant stream of reports 
generated by the GSS. 

Major Hunter's dropship was traveling through the debris field and into
the new system when the information update was downloaded to his 
monitor.  He quickly read it and then went back over the high points. 
Algearian survivors on the McAfee. Recon teams on the nearest planet. 
An Alpha Base established, No sign of hostiles. Deep scan patrol still 
out. At the end of the transmission was an amendment to his existing 
orders but sent by Admiral Kirby. He was to take control of the 
recon/survey operations on the newly classified planet of UNL-465, and 
await further instructions.  One of the troops ships was to deploy to 
the planet and begin construction of a forward base. As the initial 
reports stated, no life was found.  Hunter sat back and closed his 
eyes. Highly unusual. No mention of diplomatic intentions. To just 
claim a dead planet without attempting to communicate with anyone else 
in the system was unorthodox, yet within regulations. Hunter realized 
that this was a 'gray' area within the Broderian SOP. Technically a 
dead planet was claimed by occupation. But to do so this early, without 
all the sensor sweeps completed, was very irregular.  He raised his arm 
and looked at his wrist chrono. Another three hours to planetfall.  He 
set the alarm to wake him in two and a half hours and promptly went 
back to sleep. 

On the newly classified planet of UNL-465, the troopers within the city
were scanning the area as the rain and wind increased.  The wind 
whistled through the parking structure with such force that the heavy 
APC rocked slightly.  Within the hardened shelters, the troopers 'off 
duty' attempted to relax by laying in their bunks or cleaning their 
equipment. Each time a strong gust would blow, they would look up at 
the sides of the shelter half expecting it to be bowing inward. 

"Captain Davidson?" Lieutenant Johnson called via the inter platoon
radio. 

"Go ahead Johnson." 

"Sir. OP established. Sensor uplink in progress." He paused. " How long
will this weather hold before dawn." 

Davidson consulted the latest report from the GSS and the orbiting
satellites. 

"Johnson, this is daytime." Silence from the radio. 

"Aye, aye sir. I'll pass the word to the men. Johnson out."  Davidson
moved over to the bunk in his shelter, removed his helmet and put a 
portable commo headset on before laying down on his bunk and trying to 
get some rest. 

Outside, the sky was a dark overcast and the rain continued. Small
streams formed on the deserted streets and flowed into low areas making 
lakes and rivers that covered some streets and flowed over the curbing 
and into the lower level of the buildings. 

Inside the small, deserted warehouse that Lieutenant Johnson and his
platoon had been assigned to, it was almost dry. Being elevated above 
street level to allow for the height of the freight haulers, the 
streams formed by the downpour swept past them.  His men had cleared 
most of the garbage away and tied their sensor system into the main 
system at the parking structure.  Inside the center hardened shelter, 
Johnson and his senior NCO were reviewing the sensor logs. 

"Sir, I'm trying to filter out the clutter caused by the wind moving all
this trash around." First Sergeant Miller said as he fiddled with the 
resolution. 

"With all this loose stuff banging around in the wind, it's going to be
difficult to detect any real movement." 

Johnson looked back at the latest report in his hand before speaking. 

"Sergeant, you may have something there. But this latest report states
that  this place is dead, nothing is moving but us." 

He tossed the report onto the top of the sensor console as he watched
Miller continue his adjustments. 

"Sir, with all due respect, someone or something built these cities.
They've been empty for a long time, but someone's been here." 

He reached down and produced a micro disk from a utility pocket. 

"Corporal Carruthers recorded this as we were clearing an area for our
shelters." 

He handed the disc to Johnson. 

"What's on it?" he asked, turning the disc over in his hand. 

"Lets download it and find out. Sir." He added as almost and
afterthought. 

Johnson inserted the disc into the reader on the sensor console.  After
a few jerky pans, the picture stabilized into even sweeps of the 
interior of the warehouse. 

"He was in the back section clearing the area for any potential
hostiles, when he saw this." 

Miller reached up and froze the picture. 

"See. In this corner, appears to be a makeshift shelf. Pan down to here,
it's a sleeping area." Miller sped the frames up until he froze the 
picture again. 

"There. Right there. You can make out empty ration cartons." Miller
highlighted the frame and enhanced it.  The frame enlarged to fill the 
entire screen. 

"Can't make out the writing, but look, its still fresh." On the screen,
an armored glove reached out and picked up the container. Liquid poured 
out as the container was tilted. 

"That's not rain water, sir. That's fresh enough that the sensors
recorded it as only opened within the first hour that we entered the 
city." Miller observed.  He punched up a scan of the contents. 

"It's a protein based substance. Much like our emergency rations.  Scan
states its something like roast gurken in a honey sauce." Miller read 
off the printout. 

"Outstanding." Johnson proclaimed. "Has anyone else found more evidence
of habitation?" 

"Negative sir. I have first  and second squads out moving building to
building in a two-block radius. Third squad is on the roof scanning 
with thermal. Fourth squad is rummaging through the rest of the 
building. Everyone else is on downtime." 

"Excellent work Sergeant. Inform me of anything they might find. I'll go
and prepare a report and await their findings." 

Johnson got up and left the sensor shelter and made his way to his
shelter. He secured the door and pulled his portable data transmitter. 
He quickly typed out an initial report but didn't send it until he had 
all the details. Closing out the report, he shut down the transmitter 
and lay down on his bunk. With all the excitement of finding a new 
race, he doubted he would be able to get any rest. 

What passed for daybreak, a lessening rain storm and lighter gray clouds
replacing the dark, black, were present when Davidson emerged from his 
shelter, helmet back in place but face shield raised. He walked over to 
the scan shelter and entered. The three techs had taken turns through 
the night monitoring the city and sending updates to the Alpha base. 

Harrison, the tech on duty this morning, looked up as Davidson entered. 

"Anything new?" 

"Nothing Captain. Same old story. Negative movement." 

The tech went back to his work as Davidson picked up the sensor log for
the night.  He initialed it, turned and left. Walking around the area, 
he greeted several of the troopers having breakfast or performing 
maintenance on equipment. He walked over to the low wall of the 
structure and looked out at the expanse of the city, trying to picture 
it in its prime. 

"Captain!" Lieutenant Vaughn called out as he approached. Davidson
turned. 

"Lieutenant?" 

"Lieutenant Johnson reports that the city isn't as empty as previously
stated." Vaughn spit out. 

Davidson was silent for a moment. Vaughn handed him the report. Davidson
quickly scanned it before looking up, nodding his head. He reached up 
and moved the boom mike closer to his mouth. 

"Lieutenant Johnson?" he called. 

"Sir." 

"I understand you have evidence to the contrary that we have
habitation." 

"Roger that sir. Ration cartons and fresh food." 

"Ok. Lieutenant. Proceed with caution and keep me informed of everything
you find. Davidson out." 

He turned to Vaughn. 

"Relay everything to Alpha Base and the fleet." He glanced at his wrist
chrono. "We have  48hrs, then the Dodd will move into orbit and start 
offloading troops and supplies."  He looked around, "Get the boys 
going. We'll be scouting for landing zones today." Davidson snapped out 
a salute. Vaughn returned it, spun on his heel and moved off to 
assembly the squads. 

Davidson located Lieutenant Brown's platoon, which had taken a position
at the entrance of the parking structure. Brown had two troopers with 
him, standing behind one of the massive support columns. 

"Sergeant Connor, check on the men at the rear before relieving Sergeant
Anderson." The sergeant saluted and moved off. Brown turned to the 
other man. 

"Sergeant Webb, put two men in that large building across the way. I
want it secured and an OP set up before lunch." Webb saluted and jogged 
off as Davidson approached. 

"Lieutenant Brown." Brown spun and snapped a salute off. 

"Sir." 

Davidson returned the salute. "How did your men handle the night?" he
asked. 

"Not bad sir. Some grumbles. Nothing unexpected." Brown reported. 

Davidson nodded, as he looked around.  "Good dispersal. Excellent
cover." 

"Thank you sir." Both men walked to just inside the entrance and looked
out at the rushing current of water flowing by the entrance ramp. 

"Sir, you figure that this weather is a side effect of what happened
here?" 

"I don't know Lieutenant." Davidson turned. "I plan to find out. I'll be
going back to Alpha base while Lieutenant Vaughn and two of his squads 
scout for landing zones." 

Davidson and Brown turned back and walked up the ramp and over to the
second APC parked in the center of the garage. 

"Dale,  as the senior officer, that leaves you in charge out here." 

"Roger that sir." Brown said with a small smirk 

"Carry on Lieutenant Brown." Davidson snapped a salute before walking
back up to his command vehicle. 

Sensor logs reported no movement, yet evidence of fresh food present.
Davidson thought about that as he walked.  After a quick breakfast and 
equally fast briefing, Davidson returned to his command APC for the 
trip to Alpha Base while Vaughn and two squads from first platoon 
climbed into the other APC to begin their recon. 

Brown  and Fourth Platoon watched as the APC's rolled out of the
structure and into the weather. 

CHAPTER FIVE 

Davidson rolled through the gates and into Alpha Base. Overnight, the
facility had expanded.  The engineers were extending the taxiways and 
adding more landing pads. Soldiers were finishing installing the 
sensors and sentry guns.  The APC pulled up to the main building  and 
Davidson got out through the side hatch before it pulled away and 
headed to the maintenance shelter.  He walked up the short flight of 
steps before opening the double doors.  Inside, engineers and soldiers 
were adding the final touches to the interior. Wiring and frame work 
was being man handled into place as he weaved between the workers to 
the Commo section. 

The Commo area was one of the first spaces finished so as to establish a
secure link to the fleet and all the survey teams. The sensor 
technicians were in one corner while the company's commo section had 
taken the rest of the room.  A young, fresh faced officer walked up to 
him as he entered the room. 

"Captain." Lieutenant Petrovich said as he saluted. 

"Lieutenant." Davidson replied as he returned the salute and accepted
the report that was handed to him. 

"Sir, Colonel McKnight is enroute with the battalion engineers. He's
also bringing in the rest of the company." Petrovich glanced at his 
wrist chrono, "The battalion will be the first unit deployed, followed 
by the division." He handed another report over, "Total time for the 
division to make planetfall, constitute, and redeploy, is twelve 
hours." 

Davidson nodded as he absorbed the reports and verbal update. He handed
the first report back to Petrovich. 

"Good job in getting this set up as quick as you did." He said as he
reviewed the second report, which showed the projected landing zones 
for all of Dodd's military cargo. The dispersal areas encompassed the 
entire planet, from the equator to the poles. Projections showed that 
the entire planet would be surveyed within a week.  Davidson walked 
over to his cubicle, Petrovich trailing.  Across the room, technicians 
were assembling the wall screen that would display  all the sensor 
information from the teams.  Petrovich put a finger up to his earpiece, 
listened, and acknowledged. 

"Colonel McKnight is on final right now. ETA 2minutes." 

Davidson leaned back in his chair, before standing up and moving to the
door.  Outside the room, the assembly teams had finished the sections 
all the way to the front doors and were putting the final additions on 
the walls and floors.  Davidson walked out the side door and into the 
rain.  The elevated walkway led to the central landing area, as he 
approached, he locked his faceplate down to protect the interior helmet 
systems from the spray of water as the dropship settled in on the pad.  
The dropship cut its thrusters and dropped the vehicle ramp as well as 
the troop ramp.  APC's roared off the pad to the staging area as troops 
disembarked and made their way to the assembly area.  Colonel McKnight 
led the men off the ship, before seeing Davidson and moving off to 
speak with him.  As he approached, Davidson came to attention and 
snapped off a smart salute. 

"Stand down, Tyler." McKnight said as he returned the salute and
extended his hand. Both men shook each other's hand before moving off 
to the operations building. 

"Any contact?" McKnight asked 

"Negative contact, so far. One of the platoons came across some fresh
rations." McKnight turned his head at that. 

"They're chasing it down now." Davidson continued.  McKnight was silent
as they entered the building. The short walk down the now completed 
hallway to Davidson's cubicle was silent broken only by the slight 
squeak sound their boots made.  Once the door was closed, McKnight 
removed his helmet and sat down. 

"Fresh rations?" he asked. Davidson handed over the report as he sat
down and removed his helmet as well. 

"Its all in here." He said as he sat back. "Protein based supplements,
but not ours." 

McKnight read the report in silence.  Finally, he sat back in his chair
and tossed the report onto the desk. 

"What are your observations of this planet so far?" McKnight asked as he
studied Davidson's expression. 

"So far, its wet. Rain doesn't let up. Increases at dusk, lessens at
dawn. You saw how we had to set up." Davidson paused before continuing. 
"Huge cities, all empty. Evidence of a technologically advanced 
civilization. A ring of old comsats, H/K birds and stage boosters. That 
tells me there was a major conflict, possibly even global." 

McKnight nodded. "Aye- firmative on that." He reached down and removed a
micro disc from a utility pocket. 

"This is what the intel boys could come up with so far." He handed the
disc to Davidson who inserted it into the desktop reader.  He paged 
through the information while McKnight lit up a thin cheroot.  Davidson 
sped read the high points and the end comments before sitting back, 
taking a deep breath and looking at McKnight. 

"You have got to be kidding." 

"Nope. That's their finding." McKnight said as he blew smoke rings.
"Kind of sets the entire scenario in a new light." 

"It still doesn't answer all the questions. Why only an equatorial
deployment on the sats?" 

McKnight blew more smoke before answering. "Apparently, that was the
major population zones. Less interference with the magnetic fields at 
the poles." He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "It gets 
better.  The survivors they moved to McAfee? Get this, the med scans 
shows that the average IQ is equal to a five to seven year old child." 

"No way." Davidson said incredulously. 

"Oh yes. The techies that are on board the ship now are trying to figure
out how they got there, made orbit, and kept the ship running." He 
leaned back and crossed his legs, "It's no coincidence that we landed 
on this planet. Not only was it the closest one to their ship, but the 
charts we've been able to decipher, show a point of origin."  McKnight 
blew a perfectly formed smoke ring. "Right here." He said as he pointed 
down to emphasize his statement. Davidson sat back in shock. 

"But the reports on the Newson encounter. Who damaged the Algearian
ship?" 

"Unknown.  Analysis of the Newson ship particles doesn't match the
damage on the Algearian ship. Different residue." 

"Then who?" 

"That's what we're here to find out." McKnight reached into a pouch and
produced another disc. 

"Primary objective. Establish a presence here; survey the planet for any
clue or sign of how the Algearians got to where we found them. 
Secondary objective. Find out what destroyed the civilization here." 
McKnight handed the disk over.  "There's a scientific and archeology 
team being sent in." he glanced at his wrist chrono, "They should be 
here by the time the Dodd has commenced operations." Davidson leaned 
further back in his chair. 

"There will be thirty one battalions landing on this planet. You've seen
the landing zones." McKnight continued. "It's a race to find out what 
happened here. Whatever it is, it might allow us to understand the 
Newson better. A tactical advantage over them." 

"Aye, aye sir." Was all Davidson could think of in way of reply. 

Outside, more dropships were landing on the pads and disgorging troops
and equipment.  The battalion engineering company moved outside the 
main gate and formed up into a two-column convoy before moving out 
towards the city.  APC's, sensor vehicles, maintenance vehicles, and 
various other troop carriers were moving to the motor pool area.  
Mechanics and technicians checked their equipment and made last minute 
adjustments. 

Bco/571st BN/Broder Forces Recon moved out to reinforce Aco who had
established the outpost in the city. 

Over the next 48 hours, the airspace grew increasingly crowded as the
battalion forward air controllers worked with the ground crews to 
organize the landings and takeoffs. Talons flew escort and CAP over 
Alpha Base as a steady flow of dropships and some intermediate freight 
transports moved from the fleet to the planet.  All over the planets 
surface, small outposts and carbon copies of Alpha base sprung up.  The 
Broder forces, although spread out, were efficient and expedient in 
their deployment.  Just under the time period allotted, they completed 
the task and were settling in for another long, dark, and rainy night. 

Colonel Travis McKnight watched and read all the status reports from the
days activities. Already the techs had determined the content of the 
equatorial sat belt. Some of the old H/K sats still had minimal power. 
A team was going to tractor one in and examine it on the way back to 
the fleet. That discovery had led to one of the main reasons that 
sensor sats couldn't be launched from space, that and coupled with the 
planet's natural minerals, shielded it from orbital scans. The surface 
weather prevented a thorough scan below the upper ionosphere; thereby 
preventing those needed adjustments, so one had to be on planet, adjust 
the sats, and launch. It was like a built in security system.  McKnight 
sat back after he shut down his screen. He rubbed the bridge of his 
nose before standing and moving off to his quarters. His tired mind was 
trying to analyze and formulate a reason for all this as he made his 
way down the hall and into his quarters.  He put his helmet on the 
small desk and almost collapsed onto his bunk, asleep before his head 
hit the pillow. 

Major Hunter surveyed the surrounding cityscape.  His team, working
under the guise of a survey and archeological team, had set up on the 
second floor of a large edifice.  The panoramic view from the large 
windows was almost breathtaking.  Lightning flashed in the distance, 
momentarily illuminating the dead city sprawl.  He turned from the 
floor to ceiling window and looked at the immense chamber they had set 
up in.  Outside the portable work lights, the room disappeared into 
inky blackness. His men had set up the hardened shelters in the center 
of light. He watched as they finished the last sensor receiving station 
assembly.  The two 'specialists' had returned to the Dodd after 
briefing them about the planet conditions. Further intel reports would 
be downloaded to them as they were received. They would get the hard 
data, not the finished reports. Working as a survey team, they could 
travel with anonymity amongst the other forces. Their primary objective 
was to find and secure the source; weapon, equipment or whatever had 
caused this great civilization to crumble.  Hunter reviewed the 
briefing in his mind as he walked to his shelter. Pretty vague. Do what 
ever it takes to secure the information. He thought about that line he 
had read and reread on the orders. Granted, his team had tackled some 
dirty assignments, but this one was different. In the past, there were 
no friendly forces in the AO. Now, there were thousands. It would take 
all of their training to accomplish this mission.  Hunter entered his 
shelter, sealed the door and lay on his bunk. 


   



This is part 1 of a total of 6 parts.
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