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Unity - the continuation

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  • Unity - the continuation

    OK, here's the continuation of Unity. It's not all HTML-formatted, but I really can't be bothered - if anyone wants the full, properly-formatted version then please email me (
    The first part of the story can be found here -
    Updates will be posted as and when I write them. Comments please in the comments thread.

    Corazon Santiago smiled, but there was no humour in the expression. Behind that hard exterior and ice-black eyes lay a steely resolve to ensure the survival of her people on Planet whatever the cost.
    And to that end, her eyes were turned towards the empire of the Cybernetic Consciousness.
    At this moment in time, the Consciousness represented the greatest threat to Spartan sovereignty. Aki Zeta-5 was quite clearly bent on setting herself up as the only legitimate authority on Planet. She had swept to power as Planetary Governor with a landslide victory, gaining over eighty percent of the vote, with Santiago left trailing behind with less than twenty percent.
    Since that time Aki had reinforced the UN Charter, a document which Santiago saw as worse than worthless, and instituted a Global Trade Pact, an agreement from which the Spartans benefited least out of all the factions. The Pact had been opposed only by Santiago and Sister Miriam Godwinson of the Lord’s Believers, with the Free Drones abstaining from the vote.

    Santiago’s hatred of the Consciousness had first taken root when they had exterminated the Human Hive. The few reports that had filtered out to Spartan operatives before the Hive fell spoke of the incredible technological advances made by the Consciousness. While the best weaponry available to the Spartan troops was the newly developed missile launcher, Consciousness troops were reputedly armed with fusion lasers, super-powerful armaments which could burn their way through Spartan silksteel armour within seconds.
    Now it had become apparent that the Cyborgs were emerging as the most powerful faction on Planet. While not strong enough to single-handedly take on all the other factions combined, Cyborg military might was certainly more than a match for Santiago’s troops.
    Santiago turned all these things over in her mind as she walked alone along a deserted corridor in the far reaches of Sparta Command. Did she dare to openly declare war against the Consciousness? She knew that Aki Zeta-5 had the backing of many of the other factions, including the powerful Data Angels and the UN Peacekeepers, but would any of the other factions actually help Aki Zeta-5 repulse an offensive?
    Slowly, her cold smile broadened as she realised the simple answer.
    What is easier to deal with than a united enemy? A united enemy whose every movement you already know...

    * * * * *

    Rachelle Alpha-Four sighed in contentment as the hot water cascaded over her. She had just spent a long, hard day teaching the rudiments of Centauri Meditation to prospective Data Angel Empathi, and right now this shower was everything she needed.
    In the next room over, she could sense Deanna Nu-Eight preparing for the sleep cycle, and on the other side she could feel the comforting presence of their bodyguard, Iain Rho-Seven, as he settled down for the night.
    Safe in the knowledge that both her fellow Cyborgs were near her, she deactivated the shower, dried herself thoroughly and donned her long, flowing white gown which she always wore in diplomatic missions.
    Not feeling like sleep just yet, Rachelle walked over to the window and looked out at the incredible vista. The Sprawl had not yet lived up to its name, and the surrounding areas of Planet were reasonably unspoilt.
    The soft light of Alpha Centauri B washed over the landscape, causing the xenofields to burn with a subdued red fire. In the distance, the lights of Data DeCentral lit the horizon with a muted glow, and the carpet of forest waved gently in the breeze.
    She closed her eyes and opened her mind to Planet, as her Empath tutors had taught her, and also to the Consciousness. The pulsing background thrum of Planet’s massive neural net was echoed by the collective heartbeat of the living Consciousness.
    Softly, Rachelle began to sing, a song of empathy with Planet that she had learned from her Empath tutors.

    "The xenofields stretch far, my love,
    So far I cannot cross
    The mind worms lie in wait for me
    Upon the soft green moss
    And so, because I cannot pass
    I lift my voice and sing
    Imploring Planet, in her strength
    Her influence to bring
    The xenofields part as a sea
    Before my staff of hope
    The mind worms shy away, my love
    I walk on down the slope
    Until at last I take your hand
    And meet your eyes with mine
    And we will be together, love
    Both now and for all time"

    As she finished the song, she closed the link and began to turn away from the window, but suddenly something caught her eye. Was she mistaken? A tiny flash of light, no more than a white pinpoint in the deep red of the xenofungus, flared for a second and then was gone.
    Unsure as to whether or not her imagination was playing tricks on her, she turned away from the window again...
    ...and almost fell as an explosion rocked the base to its foundations. A second one hit a few seconds after, and again she stumbled, just managing to catch herself on the corner of a table.
    She struggled to the door and hit the ‘open’ button, and the door swished open into a nightmare of running citizens, screaming children and yelling soldiers. Voices surrounded her, hemming her in on all sides. She could catch only a few words - ‘Spartans’ and ‘attack’ were the only two that stood out.
    Instinct took over, and she reopened her mind to the Consciousness, intending to apprise them of the situation...and came up against a blank wall. All she could feel was the confusion and panic in the minds of Iain and Deanna, with the jumbled emotions of the other shells in the base coming through faint and indistinct.
    They must’ve taken out the uplink node...
    For the duration of their stay in The Sprawl, an uplink node had been set up in order to facilitate their interfacing with the Consciousness as a whole.
    If the Spartans have hit it, I can’t interface, nor can I communicate. How will Aki Zeta-5 know what’s going on?
    Of course, there would be a ‘blind spot’ in the Consciousness, but such failures were not uncommon - an uplink node failure had, in the early days, cut Pi Complex off for over a week. Consciousness operatives were likely to ignore this failure as a minor glitch in the network.
    It was time for a backup plan. She extricated Deanna and Iain from their rooms and headed off with them towards the main dome of The Sprawl.
    As they made their way gingerly toward the hub of operations, further explosions rocked the base, although by now they were become more sporadic, with greater intervals between then.
    The Data Angel defenders must be rallying, thought Rachelle as she picked her way through the rubble of a ruined corridor. They don’t stand a chance against a Spartan assault - they are poorly trained and nowhere near as well equipped as Santiago’s troops.
    Why is Santiago doing this?
    queried Deanna Nu-Eight. It is completely illogical - she stands to gain so little and lose so much from attacking this one Data Angel outpost.
    She must have a reason,
    Iain broke in. Santiago doesn’t just do things randomly. There is always method to her madness - she is cold and calculating behind all the macho posturing. We must find out what she intends to gain.
    They ran on through the wreckage...

    In the nerve centre of The Sprawl, Governor Lianor Tian ran a hurried hand through her tousled hair and turned to her communications officer.
    "Rel, any advance on getting through to Data DeCentral yet?"
    Lieutenant Dmitri Rellen paused in his key-tapping long enough to answer:
    "No luck, Gov. They must have comm jammers - can’t get a word out of Central."
    "Then it looks like we’re on our own..."
    Tian set her jaw as her gaze swept over the tactical scanners. The Spartan troops outnumbered her own by at least three to one, with no hope of reinforcements from Data DeCentral. The situation looked bleak, but while there was still a shred of hope...
    She spun round in her chair as three Cyborgs entered the room. For a second, her tired brain failed her, but then her memory made a tentative identification - the Empath who had been teaching her citizens how to meditate, the diplomatic envoy who had worked hard to improve relations between the Data Angels and the Consciousness, and their bodyguard.
    All three were covered in dirt and dust, but their faces were calm and serene despite the battle raging not far away. The Empath - Rachelle Alpha-Four, Lianor’s memory reminded her - stepped forward.
    "Governor, how goes the day?"
    With a few key presses, Lianor brought up a tactical display. Data Angel troops were represented by purple dots, with Spartans represented in red for ‘threat’.
    Data Angel pinpoints were being extinguished all over the base. The Spartans were quite clearly winning the battle.
    Rachelle spoke again.
    "Governor, if you remember, we brought with us four fusion laser rifles as a gift to help you defend your city. Perhaps the time has come. With your permission, we would like to use them to help repulse the Spartan onslaught."
    "Be my guest! We need all the help we can get!"
    Rachelle turned to Dmitri, greeting him with a dazzling smile.
    "Lieutenant, since we have four rifles and there are only three of us, would you care to accompany us and operate the fourth?"
    Dmitri cast a quick glance at his Governor and, upon receiving a nod from her, relinquished his chair, stepped towards Rachelle, and gripped her hand.
    "Of course. We must all do everything we can."

    Quickly, they carried the lasers to the rooftops. On the way, Deanna fitted Dmitri with a portable fusion reactor to power his rifle, and he returned the favour by providing the three of them with rebreathers and Data Angel quicklinks.
    "These quicklinks are tuned to a frequency above the range of the Spartan comm jammers. Unfortunately, they do not have the power required to contact Data DeCentral, and we cannot tune the rest of our communications equipment to this frequency, but they should suffice to keep the four of us in contact if we get separated."

    Finally, they reached the gently sloping roofs of The Sprawl. Below them, the battle raged, lit by the muted half-light of Alpha Centauri B. Spartan rovers raced in at Data Angel defenders, taking a few shots and then speeding away again.
    The four of them quickly double-checked their rifles, then flung themselves flat on the rooftop to avoid a stray gatling laser bolt from one of the Spartan speeders. Despite the Spartans having access to missile launchers, some of Santiago’s troops were still using the older gatling lasers and particle impactors.

    Eventually, they were all ready. As an afterthought, Rachelle threw Dmitri a slim silver package, topped by a red activation stud. He looked at her quizzically, obviously wondering what on Chiron it was.
    "It’s a Probability Sheath. They’re only in the experimental stage, but they give 50% better defence than anything the Spartans have. They could absorb the energy from one missile every minute and still leave you without a scratch. It draws its power from the fusion reactor on your back - just jack it in and power it up."
    Dmitri quickly clipped the power cable into the reactor and pressed the activation stud, with the three Cyborgs following suit. Faint silver coronas shimmered to life around the four of them, encasing them all in high-power defensive shielding.
    As one, the three Cyborgs raised their weapons, sighted on a target, and fired.
    For a second there was the faint hum of the rifles charging, and then three bursts of scintillating blue energy poured forth, homing in on their targets as though guided by some invisible hand.
    One hit a Spartan soldier in the head, leaving the body to tumble slowly to the ground. Another seared through the armour of a missile rover, leaving the smoking husk to smoulder gently in Planet’s oxygen-poor atmosphere.
    The third struck a Spartan on the chest, fusing his armour - and the man behind it - into a bubbling, hissing chunk.
    Dmitri levelled his own weapon and fired into the thickest concentration of Spartan troops, wounding several as the burst hit a rover, which exploded in a cloud of shrapnel.
    "Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown . . . reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency" - Walt Whitman

  • #2
    Another short addition - sorry I haven't written much, but I'm going to do a lot more this coming weekend, so watch out for it!

    The ensuing burst of flame was reflected by a single pinpoint of silver in the half-light - a pinpoint which triggered a memory in Rachelle’s mind. Producing a pair of binoculars, she quickly scanned the area, revealing a Data Angel sensor array, still untouched by the ravages of the Spartan troops.
    This is turn gave Rachelle an idea. She activated her quicklink, and set it to scan for and lock onto the carrier frequency used by the station to send out its scan pulses.
    Within two seconds, her link found the frequency and locked on. Rachelle then retuned her personal uplink frequency to match the sensor station’s, closed her eyes, and sent her consciousness out along the link.
    It was a big risk to take, especially since the link was very tenuous, but she made it without incident. She quickly downloaded the sensor data, intending to quicklink it back to the Command Centre at The Sprawl, then switched to her primary objective - drain the station’s energy coils and use the power to boost a comm signal through the Spartan jamming and contact Data DeCentral, the closest Data Angel base.
    Stage one went easily enough, although it seemed to take forever for the protesting power coils to discharge their energy into the transmission matrix. Eventually the transfer completed, and she stretched out into the matrix...

    From here, the Spartan jamming was like a blizzard, a storm without end. She had to be the bright light which shone through the tempest to the calm on the other side...
    Fashioning a link from here was one of the hardest things she had ever done, but finally Data DeCentral responded.

    The voice was insistent. She couldn’t just ignore it this time, as she had done before. She tapped her keypad, giving the speaker an open channel.
    "Communications here. We have an incoming transmission from a Cyborg claiming to be from The Sprawl, which she says is under heavy attack. She said something about every second counting."
    Instantly, Datatech Sinder Roze was on full alert.
    "Put her through."
    Static obliterated the picture on her viewscreen, but she tapped a few keys and eventually managed to tune it out. The voice on the other end was insistent, but with the veneer of calm she had heard in so many other Cyborg voices. Her face, while calm, appeared...unreal, as though the user was merely projecting the image of a face...
    "Datatech Sinder Roze," she said, "my apologies for not approaching you through the proper channels, but this is a matter of international emergency. The Sprawl is under attack from Spartan troops who have deployed a communications jammer to blanket all transmissions. Luckily I managed to circumvent their jamming using a nearby sensor station.
    It is imperative that you send reinforcements at once. I do not wish to impugn your more-than-competent defenders, but I fear they will soon be overwhelmed if not reinforced.
    Please, Datatech, I beg you to act soon. We..."
    Her eyes flickered for a second, and then the face of the Cyborg disappeared, to be replaced by static...

    Rachelle snapped back to her body and suppressed a scream. She had been halfway through her speech to Datatech Roze when the sensor station’s proximity warning had begun to shrill. Within a split-second, she had opened her awareness and found the cause of the warning - a Spartan missile headed straight for the station. She had quickly severed the connection and had transferred back across the link to her own body.
    Only a second after she had left, the sensor station erupted in an incandescent flare.
    Deanna cast her a quick worried glance in between firing rapid shots at any Spartan who showed his or her head.
    Is something wrong? she sent. Rachelle was quick to reassure her.
    No - in fact, everything is perfect. I just managed to contact Data Angel Command - reinforcements should be on their way very soon.
    Deanna nodded, then was forced to duck as a searing burst of gatling laser energy passed by close overhead. She turned back to her rifle, firing with cool precision and hitting nearly every target at which she aimed.
    Suddenly Rachelle spotted a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. A small, lithe Spartan figure slipped from cover behind a rover, dashing across to take up another position behind an ancient tree.
    She sighted, and when the figure sprinted forward again she blew his head clean off, leaving the headless body to crumple into the mud. As it fell, she thought she caught a glimpse...
    Yes. He was wearing plasma steel armour and carrying a probe operative’s typical equipment.
    Opening the quicklink, she shot a probe alert down to the command centre and warned her companions to be on the lookout.
    This must be the reason behind Santiago’s attack, she sent. She must want some kind of information. But why a Data Angel base? Surely they would be the best defended against probe teams...

    Down in the command centre, Governor Lianor Tian was having severe problems. She relinquished her keypad for a second, yelling to a Talent in the corridor:
    "Round up every single datajack you can find and get them in here right now! Tell them we’re facing an enemy probe team incursion into our datalinks!"
    Last edited by Clear Skies; July 4, 2001, 15:34.
    "Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown . . . reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency" - Walt Whitman


    • #3
      She quickly turned her attention back to the screen in front of her. Three red infiltration points already burned, marking the efforts of the Spartan probe teams to hack into The Sprawl’s extensive data nodes.
      Lianor threw up firewalls and encryptions with the speed which had made her a legend amongst coders throughout the Data Angel empire. As fast as the Spartans broke a code, another algorithm was there to replace it.
      It couldn’t last forever, though. The red points were multiplying as more and more operatives penetrated the physical defences of the base and set to work to penetrate the digital defences. First one, then two, then three new points lit up on Lianor’s screen, and she swore as she struggled to keep them under control. Until she got some help, she’d never be able to even contain them all, never mind eliminate them...
      Luckily, at that moment a gaggle of datajacks entered the room, seating themselves silently at terminals around the room and working swiftly to prevent the theft of any valuable data.
      "Block their access to the technology datafiles at all costs," Lianor reminded them. "If they get their hands on any of our techs we’re done for."
      The ‘jacks acknowledged her with a series of tight nods. They all knew their survival was on the line - if the Spartan probes could scan the base’s defences, they could pinpoint the slightest weaknesses and relay that information back to the attacking troops.
      Suddenly alarms began to shrill. Screens flickered throughout the room as techs and ‘jacks alike desperately tried to prevent the Spartans from accessing their technology store.
      They succeeded, and reciprocation algorithms used the team’s own equipment against them, isolating their position and relaying it to security forces who took only seconds to eliminate the teams.
      However, one team survived, and managed to hack into geographical databases...
      "Code Red!" yelled Tian, her composure completely wrecked. "They’ve infiltrated... Geographical! They have our maps! Find them at all costs!"

      Lieutenant Jens Farren bent to his quicklink for a second, then looked up and shouted to his troops.
      "Spartans! We have what we came for! Now we leave!"
      Instantly a thousand shouts of dissension rose to meet his voice. He raised a megaphone to his lips and dialled it to maximum volume, then tried again.
      "Spartans! We have achieved our objective! This is no retreat, merely a tactical withdrawal on completion of mission!"
      Grudgingly, the troops began to retreat further and further from the base, leaving in their wake the scattered bodies of dead and dying soldiers.
      Suddenly, the air was filled with the whine of fusial thrust engines, and then the sky was full of fire...

      "They’re here!"
      Rachelle’s joyful cry echoed around the ravaged rooftops of The Sprawl.
      An entire squadron of chaos needlejets swooped low over the base, their chaos guns blazing, firing incandescent blue projectiles towards the Spartan lines. Every shot obliterated another section of the already decimated army.
      Spartans scattered before the onslaught like ants from a burning magnifying glass, desperately seeking cover behind trees, rovers, wreckage, anything big enough to afford even the tiniest scrap of protection.
      The Data Angel ‘jets mercilessly pummelled the Spartans, their chaos projectiles punching through even the best silksteel armour to incinerate the soldiers behind it.
      A sudden fusillade of fire burst from the main gate of the base as a party of Spartans fought their way free of the opposing Data Angel security forces and fled for the safety of the forest.
      Many of them didn’t make it, cut down by chaos darts or the Cyborg fusion rifles, but a few - perhaps ten - reached the sanctuary of the forest. A few seconds after their disappearance, there was the sound of fast scout rover engines revving up and fading into the distance.
      The last of the Spartan troops were now engaged in desperate running battles with the Data Angel defenders, who were now pouring out of the base and cutting down Spartans wherever they could be found. Precious few missile launchers and gatling lasers were left to the attackers - most of them were being forced to resort to shredder rifles and pistols.
      However, one commando was left with a missile launcher, and was even now firing wild shots at anyone who confronted him.
      Rachelle sighted down the barrel of her rifle at him, but at that very second he swivelled to face her, missile launcher at the ready.
      She spitted him on her targeting crosshairs and tensed her finger, but found herself unable to pull the trigger.
      He must be empathic - he’s trying to stop me from killing him...
      She fought to pull the trigger just a millimetre further, to fire the rifle...
      And, in adrenaline-induced slow motion, she saw him pull his trigger and send a missile screaming towards her.
      Then, as his face twisted into a contorted leer of hatred and loathing, she found her mind suddenly free, her hand no longer bound.
      Algorithms have always been designed for multitasking, and hers allowed her to do several hundred things at once.
      She only needed three.
      With the speed of a cobra striking, her finger tightened on the trigger of her rifle, sending a beam of shimmering blue light to impale the Spartan. At the same moment, she uplinked to her companions and shouted at them through the link.
      As soon as the shot had left the rifle, her muscles contracted, flinging her out of the path of the missile as it scythed through the air towards her.
      It was only as the missile streaked past her and exploded against the base’s main comm aerial that she realised her mistake. Whilst Deanna and Iain were already reacting to her warning, Dmitri, unlinked as he was to the Consciousness, was still lying on the roof, sighting along his rifle for a clear shot at one of the few remaining Spartan rovers.
      She screamed wordlessly at him, desperate to warn him of the danger. The explosion of the missile had severed the comm aerial from its linkage, and it was even now falling towards him, screaming as it sliced through the air.
      He looked upwards, his mouth opening in soundless surprise, and he threw himself sideways. Unfortunately, his reflexes were not algorithmically enhanced, and even as she flung herself forward to try and help him the aerial landed...
      His probability sheath took most of the initial impact, but she could see it begin to buckle and fade at the edges as its power began to wane. It was designed as an energy and impact absorber, not as a permanent repulsion field...
      Even as she scrabbled for purchase, trying to haul him out of there, she noticed one of the vanes had already pierced right through the sheath and through Dmitri’s body. Dark red blood stained the roof all around him, and his mouth opened and closed in silent screams of pain.
      Iain and Deanna joined her and between then they strained to lift the incredibly heavy aerial but they couldn’t move it more than a few centimetres, and when they tried Dmitri gasped in pain.
      Rachelle reached out to him with her mind, but recoiled at the touch. He was in intense agony, and his mind screamed relentlessly when she tried to contact him.
      Recalling her empathic lessons, she formed her mind into a comforting blanket and spread it over Dmitri’s tortured mind.
      She felt a faint, thankful pressure in return, and then the light that was Dmitri blazed up suddenly and was gone...
      Deanna and Iain leaned in closer, still trying to shift the aerial, but she stopped them.
      He’s gone...
      She turned to face out over the battlefield, her unseeing eyes sweeping over the smoking craters and burned-out husks that used to be people. Her eyes reached the horizon, and she stared out into the sunset.
      One word left her mouth.
      "Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown . . . reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency" - Walt Whitman


      • #4
        And the beat goes on...

        She turned, whipping round to face the speaker, who recoiled from the look of sheer venom which appeared upon her icy countenance.
        The speaker instantly dropped to one knee, bowed his head and shivered as he felt her gaze sweep over him, raking him like a hail of shredder bullets.
        " sincerest apologies, Colonel, for my presumption. Please forgive me."
        She felt a sudden blazing urge to kick him in the head, but she suppressed it.
        "Yes?" she snapped. "Make it quick."
        "The probe team sent to The Sprawl reports that they have what they came for, but they are under heavy attack. Should we send reinforcements?"
        She mused for a second, then her thin lips compressed into a determined line.
        "No. Our armies must remain hidden at all costs. There will be no reinforcements - either they get out alive, or they die there."

        By now, very few Spartans were left to oppose the Data Angel forces. A couple of rovers still fired spasmodically, but they were already damaged in several places, their reactors on the brink of shutdown.
        Three Angel needlejets roared overhead, their chaos guns blasting away at the last few pockets of Spartan resistance. Most of the remaining Spartans had scattered into the surrounding forest, closely pursued by Data Angel troops brandishing handheld particle impactors and gatling laser pistols.
        Suddenly, three needlejets shot out of the forest, engines whining as their pilots pushed them to the limit.
        The Angel ‘jets gave chase, but they were not designed for air-to-air interception, and couldn’t get a targeting lock on the enemy. Their shots went wide of the mark as the three planes soared towards the horizon.
        Then one of the pilots remembered the Cyborgs who had proved such staunch allies during the battle. His weaponry may not have been calibrated for dogfighting, but with their long-range, high-power rifles they might enjoy better luck.
        Quickly, he brought the plane about, then prepared for landing.

        By this time, all three Cyborgs had descended from the roof and, having given Governor Tian the news about Dmitri, went outside to survey the damage done by the Spartan attack.
        However, just as they left the base, a needlejet landed just across from the three of them and the pilot leapt out.
        "Ladies and gentleman," he began in the gallant style so favoured across Chiron, "might I borrow one of you and a rifle for a few minutes?"
        "Why?" asked Rachelle, instantly cautious.
        "We don’t have Interceptor capability, but with those rifles and your advanced targeting ability we might just be able to bring down those Spartans jets. We believe they may be carrying members of the probe team which stole our maps. Please, we must act quickly."
        "Very well," Rachelle answered coolly. "Lead the way."

        Bare minutes later, they were in hot pursuit of the Spartans, Rachelle riding in the cockpit with the Data angel pilot. Luckily, the Data Angel planes were faster and more manoeuvrable than the somewhat lumbering Spartan jets.
        Inside a few minutes, they were in range of the closest jet. The pilot opened the top hatch, and Rachelle climbed halfway up the access ladder until she could sight along her rifle.
        Something inside her exulted in the feeling. Chiron’s moist, fresh air played through her hair, making her long brown tresses spiral out behind her, at the mercy of the vagaries of the rushing wind.
        She lowered her rifle onto the body of the plane and centred the cross hairs on the closest Spartan jet. It jinked in and out of the targeting grid as the pilot tried to evade, but she managed to keep it in her sights.
        A part of her algorithm was already hard at work, cataloguing the pilot’s manoeuvres and checking for some sort of pattern. Finally it found one, and relayed the result to her consciousness. There were only so many directions in which to jink, after all. The pilot was choosing seemingly at random, but there was method in the madness, order amongst the chaos.
        She sighted again, and fired...
        One down, two to go.

        Jens Farren fumed as he saw one of his three escape needlejets spiral to the ground and explode, leaving behind it a thin trail of smoke from its damaged wing.
        "How can they be so accurate?" he asked the pilot. "According to our instruments they don’t even have AAA tracking - how are they managing this?"
        The pilot made no reply, concentrating as she was on her flying.

        Rachelle’s algorithm cut in again, informing her of the likely movements of the next plane’s pilot. She fired a short fusillade of shots, but the pilot swung up onto his left wing, and the shots passed to left and right of the jet.
        She fired again, the brilliant azure beam emerging once again, racing to connect with its target...
        ...but again, the pilot managed to pull out of its path at the last second. This time he let the plane side-slip, then pulled a tight corkscrew and accelerated into a sharp dive.
        Luckily, the Data Angel pilot was no rookie either, and he followed the Spartan move-for-move, lining Rachelle up for the perfect shot.
        She squeezed the trigger...

        Farren swore in anger as another of his needlejets smashed itself to pieces on a rocky outcrop. Now only this last one was left.
        Quickly, he activated the plane’s communications systems, trying to access the Spartan comm network. They couldn’t be far from the relay beacon now...
        A flicker of response met his feverish calls, and he gently nursed the feeble lifeline, trying desperately to get enough of a signal to transmit the precious databurst.

        The Data Angel jet screamed in protest as its pilot shunted all available power to the engines, thrusting forward as he tried to close the gap between them and the one remaining Spartan jet.
        He cast a quick glance at his instrument panel, then yelled up to where Rachelle stood on the access ladder, preparing to try for a shot at the jet.
        "We can’t go on like this much longer! Fuel reserves are low - I’m going to have to turn back any minute!"
        "Just keep flying," Rachelle called back down to him. She steadied herself against the howling rush of wind that threatened to pluck her from the cockpit, and braced her rifle against the jet, readying herself for the shot that would bring down her last opponent.

        Finally, Farren’s efforts had borne fruit. The closest comm beacon had responded, and was ready to receive the databurst.
        He quickly linked the datacore holding the Data Angel maps into the plane’s comm system and triggered the burst.

        Rachelle nudged the rifle left, then up slightly as the Spartan pilot fought to keep from becoming a sitting target. Her finger tightened on the trigger, and she felt the rifle give a slight jump as the sapphire laser beam shot out to impale the jet.

        Transfer complete.
        A beatific smile spread over Lieutenant Jens Farren’s face as he realised that his mission had succeeded, and then brightness filled his eyes and there was nothing but fire...
        "Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown . . . reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency" - Walt Whitman


        • #5
          Aki Zeta-5’s impassive face betrayed barely a hint of emotion as she finished cycling through the psych reports on Colonel Corazon Santiago.
          She deactivated the viewscreen and turned back to the other three people in the room. Two were holographic representations, continuously updated isomorphic representations - one of Datatech Sinder Roze, the other of Commissioner Pravin Lal. The third was a flesh and blood woman, the lithe, shapely form of Lady Deirdre Skye.
          Lal’s hologram stepped forward, concern lining his dark brow.
          "She is highly dangerous, very powerful and possesses a volatile temper," he reminded Aki. "She has already attacked one of Datatech Roze’s bases, and is pressing me for what she calls ‘contributions to the cost of my faction’s continued existence’. Her last demand was for a hundred energy credits, a sum I can hardly afford. I managed to divert her attention, but she’ll be back soon..."
          Roze broke in.
          "With the assault on The Sprawl Santiago has practically declared Vendetta upon me. If it escalates into a massive war I don’t see how I can stand against her. We won this one battle but we can’t hope to win the war - her troops outnumber ours at least three to one."
          Aki turned to gaze at the map of Chiron which covered the holotable in front of her. By a stroke of luck, her engineers had managed, by working flat out around the clock, to complete the Command Nexus before Santiago, leaving hers obsolete and useless.
          From here Aki Zeta-5 could view every item of data held by the Consciousness and its allies on a wide range of subjects, from disposition of enemy forces to the security nexuses of other factions.
          Unfortunately, a small but vital section of the map was still greyed out. Topographical data was in place - the result of the Unity’s pre-Planetfall worldscan - but the Spartan lands were a mystery.
          "We need their maps," said Aki Zeta-5, half to herself.
          "What?" asked Lady Deirdre, startled out of her contemplation.
          "The Spartans have an advantage over us," said Aki, turning back to her confederates. "Despite all the Angels’ best efforts, they downloaded maps of all our territories and managed to send them via a communications relay seconds before one of my operatives shot down the plane in which they were travelling.
          This gives the Spartans the tactical advantage - they know where we are, but we do not know where they are. We must acquire data pertaining to the locations of their bases. Only then will our Empathi be able to penetrate their security nexus and inform us of their disposition of forces."
          The holograms of both Roze and Lal flickered for a second and vanished, leaving their respective faction emblems to hover in the air, an indication that they were currently engaged elsewhere but would return at the first opportunity.
          Lady Deirdre stepped closer, until she could speak to Aki Zeta-5 in a low voice.
          "Prime Function, Brother Lal has still not forgiven you for relocating the Empath Guild here to Alpha Prime."
          "It was necessary," Aki replied, her face half-turned away. "The negotiations were successfully completed - they received our assistance in the completion of the Temple of Ascetic Virtues long before Director Morgan could complete his attempt. In exchange for our labours, we were given the Empath Guild. It was an entirely fair and logical trade."
          Deirdre was about to say more, but the air shimmered and the holograms of the two faction leaders returned.
          Roze was the first to speak:
          "I have tried all channels of investigation, and I cannot find Spartan maps anywhere on our networks. However, there is a rumour that CEO Morgan has maps of Santiago’s territory."
          "Can you access them?" Aki was quick to jump at the chance.
          "They are hidden deep behind his firewalls. Commercial channels may be our only hope."
          Lal snorted. "Give him what we all know he craves above all things - currency! Just offer him energy and he’ll leap at the chance!"
          "I will open diplomatic negotiations immediately," Aki Zeta-5 assured him. "What are we to do about the impending Vendetta?"
          Once again, Lal produced his inimitable snort.
          "I do not see that it concerns me!"
          "How," asked Roze, straining visibly to restrain her emotions, "can such a war not affect you? If Santiago attacks our holdings, she will not stop there. Your lands border ours - her troops will simply sail on and pillage your cities too!"
          "Nonsense! The Peacekeepers have been and always will be neutral. We refuse to take sides against anyone!"
          Aki Zeta-5 turned to look out of the window across the lush green expanse of Chiron’s surface. When she next spoke, it was half to herself, and sounded as though the words came from far away.
          "Against these so-called ‘paramilitary survivalists’, unity is the only defence. We must stand together against this threat; only when we have eradicated it will we be truly safe again."
          She turned back to Lal, with sadness in her deep green eyes.
          "Those were the words of the British Prime Minister Elaine Lewis in an address to the United Nations. Unfortunately, they ignored her. Many chose to completely ignore the threat, others chose to deal with it in their own way."
          She turned away again, grief choking her voice.
          "My husband, in his role as chief Norwegian ambassador to Britain, was visiting her when the British wing of the Jade Falcons, the survivalist group of which Corazon Santiago was once a member, tried to assassinate her. He took the first bullet, and was...killed instantly. She lived, but the ensuing turmoil threw the British economy into recession and its government into anarchy."
          When she turned back to face Pravin Lal, tears were streaming freely down her face, but her voice was once again level and controlled.
          "Will you make the same mistake again? Will you let another survivalist faction destroy all which we have fought and toiled to achieve?"
          "It is none of my concern..." Lal began, and his face flushed as Aki interrupted him.
          "Santiago will make it your concern. If she were to conquer the Data Angels, why on earth should she stop there? You and I both know that once she tastes victory, she will want to taste it again and again. Your faction’s lands are closest to Datatech Roze’s - Santiago will see you as nothing more than another target."
          Lal opened his mouth to respond, but Aki cut him off yet again.
          "Furthermore, if you do not agree to declare Vendetta upon Santiago then you will be seen as aiding her by your continued indecision. We may have no choice but to cancel our Pact with you, and if you still refuse to take action against the Spartan threat, you may eventually force us to declare Vendetta upon you."
          Lal took a deep breath before responding. When his words finally came they were forced and full of barely-repressed anger.
          "Very well, Prime Function Aki Zeta-5. At your insistence I shall conduct vendetta against Colonel Corazon Santiago and her Spartan Federation. But be warned that I shall pull my forces out at the first sign you are not fully supporting me with your own troops!"
          Aki Zeta-5 inclined her head regally, instantly defusing the potentially volatile situation.
          "Of course, Commissioner Lal. Rest assured that you will enjoy our full support."
          Lal bowed in return, and then his hologram shimmered and disappeared.
          Last edited by Clear Skies; July 21, 2001, 06:25.
          "Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown . . . reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency" - Walt Whitman