Disclaimers: See Part One

My thanks to those of you who have emailed me about the story so far, the comments help to keep the muse moving. Finals are upon me, so expect at least a week delay before part 7 gets posted. Thanks to Diva for being a great Beta reader, and keeping my grammar mistakes in check. Comments, and suggestions, are very welcome at: Adarkbow@yahoo.com

Chapter Seventeen

"How long are you here for?"

Julie and God were sitting on the porch of the red-bricked house, enjoying the nice summer evening. A wooden slat table sat between them, perched upon which were the two beers that they had been drinking. It was a warm night, and Julie picked up her beer just to trace the condensation on the outside of the bottle as she they talked. She liked Katya. The sniper scared her, but after Australia, it was good to know that God was on their side.

"My Sword of troops should be here soon enough. We were doing low G training on the Moon and I got an early shuttle back here to see what you were up to."

Katya smiled and pointed towards the two-meter long, silver, hard case resting on the deck next to her.

"Besides, I had to pick up my new baby."

Julie looked over in confusion at the sniper's words.

"What do you mean, Sword?"

The sniper smirked back at her and slouched a bit further in her chair, taking a healthy swig of her beer before answering.

"You haven't heard yet? We've been having the devil's own time trying to integrate all of these different armed forces personnel. Everybody wants us to use their own organizational structures. Anyway, it was getting bad enough that Guardian Command got involved, and I understand that Emie called together most of the senior level commanders and told them exactly what she thought of this nonsense. So, now, its been decided that it'll just be easier to use the Tiri organization structures."

That hadn't been something that Julie had heard about, and she took a sip of her own beer before asking, her attention on the fireflies that were dancing about in the center of the oval.

"What sort of structure?"

Katya laughed, and then emptied her bottle.

"They really have this whole Knight thing going on, you do realize that right? Honor, Wisdom, and Strength as their motto for the Guardians, and they take that deadly serious. Anyway, like I was saying, we've adopted the original Tiri organization. One Dagger is composed of ten personnel. One Sword, has ten Daggers, and a Lance, is made up of ten Swords."

It made a sort of sense to her, but Katya was glad she was going to be dealing with Fleet personnel more than Marines. She'd almost literally grown up with the concept of a squad, company, and battalion, and learning a new one was just going to be weird. Julie glanced at the sniper next to her, and then down at her own Guardian Trainee's uniform. Well, just a different kind of weird than her life normally was these days.

"Right, and your baby?"

Katya turned her head and smiled slowly towards her, and Julie was reminded of nothing so much as a wolf that had discovered the joy of hunting prey.

"Take a look at this."

Katya set aside the now empty beer bottle and pulled around the rather heavy looking silver case. Pressing her thumb to the scanner set into the cover, she waited for the lock mechanism to recognize her thumbprint, and unlock the case. Julie sat up and leaned over to get a look at what was inside as Katya flipped open the lid and waved at the contents with the air of a showman.

"This is the VP-303 Plasma carbine. Range in atmosphere is three kilometers, give or take a few meters depending on air density. It has the stopping power of a Light Antitank Weapon, and is completely man-portable. The power cell is only good for three rounds, unfortunately, which, along with its small overheating problem, is why its not exactly standard equipment."

The sleek, deadly shape in the case could be nothing other than a weapon. Julie bent forward to get a better view and nodded. She'd read about the Plasma Carbine series, but hadn't seen any before. The Sergeant Major had said that not many had been produced, and hadn't been able to secure one for a demonstration for the Trainee's.

"Do I even want to know how you got your hands on this?"

Katya laughed and pulled the heavy weapon from its case, setting up the front mounted bipod and attaching the rather large scope.

"I'm God."

"Uh huh, sure you are. Careful you don't put a hole through anything, God."

Katya just grinned as she took out one of the three power cells, which were in the case, and screwed it into the socket located in the butt of the rifle.

"Here, come take a look at the scope. It has thermal imaging, as well as low light, and times sixty magnification. Like this, that's it. This knob controls magnification, and this switch toggles you between thermal, low light, and regular vision."

Crouching by the railing, her shoulder pressed snug against the impressively large weapon, Julie had to admit that she almost understood God's fascination with big guns. The optics were something else though, and she zoomed in, while engaging the low light, and could pick out details on the New Base, nearly two kilometers away.

"Wow. Nice set up. Does Weston know about your gun obsession?"

Julie grinned in answer to the snort behind her, as she slowly scanned the area on the New Base, enjoying being able to zoom in and out on objects.

"Weston is driving me insane. I swear, the man is petrified of actually showing any feelings. I had to nearly pin him to the wall to get a kiss, do you know that?"

The grin faded as Julie grumbled.

"Yeah, I can believe it. I think it's a family trait. I still haven't gotten a kiss from Emie. I swear, if I don't get to kiss her soon, someone is going to die a very messy death."

Whatever Katya's answer was to her statement, Julie would never find out. She had switched over to thermal enhancement and was looking at the guard post at the edge of the New Base, and the one leading into the Old Base area.

"Hey, Katya, take a look at this?"

Standing up she let the sniper slide into position, and pick up the rifle.

"Take a look at the guard posts, under thermal enhancement. Why are there those red splotches all over the floor of the posts?"

Thinking it had something to do with a quirk in the guns imaging system, or maybe that the posts had some sort of heating system in them that was on for some reason or other in the balmy night. Julie picked up her bottle of beer and emptied the last few mouthfuls as Katya searched for what Julie had seen.

"Oh crap."

"What? Did I break your new toy?"

Julie glanced at the rather impressive looking scope in worry at that. She really didn't want to break any toys that God was fond of.

"I can try and fix it, we learned how to find the problems in unfamiliar equipment during the first training session using our gifts."

"No no, that's not it. Shit, what are you, some sort of trouble magnet? Damn it, that's blood that you saw in those guard posts."

Swiveling slightly, Katya took a look towards the road leading from the New Base into the Old and cursed again. Switching to low light, she zoomed in on the first car, and her lips tightened into a thin line at the armed and armored people she spotted inside.

"I've got some sort of convoy headed this way, and there are armed people inside of those cars. Can you sound the alarm from here and warn people?"

"Yes, but none of us are armed. We were supposed to have side arms, but production is behind."

As she spoke, Julie was moving towards the door, and flung it open, hurrying inside.

"Up! Get up! We've got problems."

She kicked Marcus's foot as she passed the couch, and grabbed the phone. Both Mary and Harry were staring at her as if she had lost her mind, but she didn't have time to explain. Wordlessly she pointed towards the porch as she closed her eyes and focused upon her task. It wasn't particularly difficult, but it was going to require her to be focused. What she was attempting was not as simple as accessing a computer network directly, instead she focused on the phone signal. Allowing herself to trace it back to its origin, and make the proper connections to access the base's newly upgraded computer systems. Once there, threaded along the tenuous connection of the phone, she activated the base's alarm systems, worried when she spotted only a few Marines on duty through the base sensor net. She did not dare stay where she was; if anything happened to the telephone wires, she would be cut off from her body.

Julie pulled out as soon as she could, and grimaced at the nearly instantaneous headache that was waiting for her as she returned to her own body. Pulling out fast was not the most pleasant of experiences, and even though she was a lot better than she could have ever thought she would be, she felt drained from the experience. There was no time though, and she headed outside as the alarms blared to life all across the base. Massive floodlights, often used while groups were doing training or playing at night on the oval, came to life and lit the area.

All three of her roommates were already outside, clustered around Katya as she followed the convoy onto the Old Base, still not entirely certain of who they were.

"Here they come, they just passed the Old Base guard post, got waved right through by the guy inside. Here comes one of the marine patrols, trying to wave them down. Crap."

There was no mistaking the flashes from across the Oval as explosive darts found their targets. Even without the benefit of the scope, all four of them could see the two Marine guards try to wave down the lead cars and get cut down by fire from inside. The fire continued a second later as two Guardian Trainee's stepped out of their house on the other side of the Oval, and were cut down on the porch.

Mary's eyes were wide, and she was pointing.

"Oh God. That was Janek and Claudia I think."

"Well, that answers my question about if they are the good or the bad guys. Rock and roll."

Flicking off the safety, Katya took careful aim across the oval, which was nearly point blank range for the weapon in her hands.

"Mary and Marcus, go grab everyone you can and get them away from the Oval if you can. Harry, you still have that cellular phone of yours? Good."

Julie paused as God fired her first shot. The plasma carbine was a devastating weapon. The baby brother of the rifle that was mounted over the right shoulder of Powered armor suits, it created a ball of plasma inside of its main chamber, and packaged it into a magnetic containment bottle before hurtling the entire thing out its muzzle. All four of them stared in amazement as the glowing white ball tinged with blue arced across the open Oval and slammed into the first car. The carbine had first been developed as a possible anti-armor system for troops in unpowered armor. Its weight, coupled with the relatively low fire rate, overheating problem, and the fact that it went through power cells like nothing else, had sidelined its development.

On impact, the magnetic bottle ruptured, and the plasma inside exploded. The effect was impressive, to say the least. The shot had hit exactly where God had been aiming, despite the car having been moving, and the center of the car simply disappeared in an all too familiar electric blue cloud of a plasma explosion. Having felt the heat from one of those already, Julie could only hope that the men inside of that car suffered before dying. They had killed at least two Guardian Trainee's, and probably at least a few Marines'.

"Harry, call the command center. Tell them what's going on. Hopefully someone will be alive down there. Mary, Marcus, move it!"

This was, she reflected, probably the first combat any of her housemates had ever been involved in, and her command snapped them out of the surprised shock they were in and got them moving.

Julie crouched down next to God and picked up both of the surprisingly heavy power cells, even as God tracked towards the second car. The convoy had stopped, Julie counted six cars in total, not counting the one in flames now, and people were flinging themselves out of the cars to get under cover. There was a three-second cycle time on the Plasma Carbine, and Julie waited anxiously for that eternity before God let loose her second shot. She blew apart the rear car, which a few of the enemy had been trying to turn around and pull away with, trapping the remaining vehicles between the two flaming wrecks, at least for the moment.

"Come on, we gotta go."

Heaving herself to her feet, Julie was a step behind the sniper, carrying the two spare cells, as they ran off the porch, not a moment too soon as fire riddled the area where they had just been. The explosive darts turning the wooden porch into shredded pieces of debris in mere moments as more and more of the enemy opened fire from their cover at where the sniper had been.



"Sergeant Major, we're starting our decent. North Star sends her compliments, and congratulations on sorting out the evacuation data with Major Sims."

The Sergeant Major looked up from the data pad in his hand and nodded his understanding to the copilot. Turning off the pad, he stuffed it into the duffle strapped down at his feet and glanced around the drop ship that he had caught an early ride back with. Torrson, along with the actual six-man crew of the drop ship, each wore Fleet unpowered armor, which doubled as pressure suits. The rest of the hold was taken up with the ten suits of armor that formed a Dagger of powered armor.

"Lucky you caught a ride back with us, eh?"

The young Sergeant sitting next to his suit of armor grinned over at the Sergeant Major. The man, no kid, couldn't be older than twenty, and the Sergeant Major was dismally certain that he was the oldest man onboard the drop ship. By the Maker, the Sergeant probably wasn't old enough to shave every day, at least not as far as Sergeant Major Torsson was concerned.

"Ya, really lucky."

The young Sergeant continued to grin, apparently missing the sarcasm in the older man's tone as the drop ship hit the edges of the atmosphere and began its descent. Gone were the days of waiting for hours in orbit for a clear window through the human sensor nets, thank the Maker. Hopefully gone, were the days of him going down in shuttles as well. Not that he didn't trust those contraptions, but he felt more than a bit safer taking a drop ship. Now these were true and tested Tiri ships, not like the shuttle that had landed him in the middle of Quebec.

It actually was a stroke of luck that he had managed to catch an early ride back. He wasn't officially due back to PAFB for another day, but he wasn't going to give the recruits that much of a vacation from his presence. Someone needed to make certain they didn't mess up, and learned how to one day, maybe, become Guardians. This Dagger, part of the First Lance, which was a Lance of Jump Troops, was on its way down to PAFB to begin more training groundside after spending time doing low level gravity training on the Moon. There were nine other Daggers, but a SNAFU up at Luna with the drop ships meant only this one Dagger would be making the trip Earth side today. The other nine, after the Fleet dogs got there act together, would be transported tomorrow.

Thankfully he was saved the effort of coming up with some sort of answer for the terribly earnest Sergeant by the copilot once more leaning back out of the cockpit and speaking over the ship's intercom.

"Sir, PAFB just had a general alarm tripped. We're getting some confusing reports about intruders on the base."

That got the Sergeant Major's attention and he scowled.

"How long until we land?"

"Fifteen minutes, Sir."

"Push it to the limit, we need to get down there. Sergeant, get your men ready, I'm going to drop you over the Oval. We'll secure the base from there."

The Sergeant had the reactions of the very young, and was already ordering his men to suit up and perform pre-drop checks, as they plummeted through the atmosphere towards the landing area. The Sergeant Major could hear the worried mutterings of the pilots as they pushed the descent of the drop ship to maximum. They had a right to be worried, pushing the envelope was not a great idea on something this large, and Torrson could tell first-hand how dangerous it could be. Still, if anything happened to the Guardian Trainees, it would be a serious blow to the Fleet's build up.



Emily was stretched out on the small bed that she kept in the back of the second part of her ready room. As predicted, she was having problems sleeping, and had tossed and turned for most of the past three hours. Finally she had managed to slip into a doze-like state, and was fitfully dreaming. Her dreams, whatever they were, were dark and full of fire and death. When the soft chime of a Com signal broke into her rest, she was almost glad to get up.

By the time the Com signal chimed a second time she was in the room that served as her office and tasting her link with her ship self. There had been the usual amount of communications traffic during the last few hours, a few urgent ones, including one just a moment earlier. Primary systems were all in acceptable levels, as were the secondary and back up systems, hull integrity was good, and sensors had not detected any more fighting on the ground below.


Suppressing a yawn she glared at the face of her Provost, stopping her impulse to tease him as she recognized the look on Angwar's face.

"What's happened?"

"We've just received an alert that PAFB has intruders, and shots have been fired. We got a scan from a passing shuttle, and there was an explosion near the trainee houses."

Tugging on the jacket top of her uniform she refused to think about the sudden clench of fear that clutched at her gut. If she stopped to think about Julie, she would hesitate, and she didn't dare do that.

"Alert the rapid reaction teams, and get them moving. We'll move into a geo-synchronous orbit over the base, and drop our own Marines. Is there anything closer than us?"

"A drop ship is on descent towards the base with a Dagger of jump troops from Luna. They're ETA is fifteen minutes. Sergeant Major Torrson is onboard and has taken command."

Emily nodded and headed for the armored hatch out to the bridge, which slid open as she approached it. Angwar was at his station, and looked up from the now empty Com screen in front of him, and stood as he spotted her.

"Tell Engineering that we'll be moving. I'll alert the other Guardians that they're on their own as far as keeping an eye on the situation below us goes."

"Yes, Ma'am."

Settling herself into the crash couch, she closed her eyes as she melded more completely with her ship self. Please Julie, don't do anything stupid and keep yourself safe.


"Yes, First Guardian?"

"Prep my suit of powered armor."

She craned her neck around the edge of the couch and glared at him, watching the objection die on his lips.

"I'm not going to wait up here to find out what's going on. I'll bring the honor guard, but I'm going down there."

Everyone else on the command deck studiously avoided looking anywhere near her direction, recognizing that tone of voice. Her Provost was a smart man and he gave a small nod as he turned back to his work. He would doubtlessly have her drop last, but she didn't care, as long as she wasn't up here... what was that very accurate human saying, oh yes, twiddling her thumbs. Julie was down there, and she had a lot to say to the other woman, and she was going to be damned if she didn't manage to say it this time without interruptions.



Chapter EighteenÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ

"That's Major Castigar."

Julie whispered to Katya and let the sniper take back her plasma carbine. The two of them had found cover two houses over from Julie's house, which had been riddled with return fire after the snipers last shot. They had two full power cells left, and one shot remaining from the power cell in the carbine, which gave them seven shots to play with. Against at least two dozen soldiers who were slowly working their way from house to house across the Oval from them. Thank god they had sounded the alarms and at least most of the trainees had gotten out. Although the occasional muffled yell of pain, almost always silenced halfway through, gave testimony to the fact that at least some of the trainees had not acted quickly enough.

"Can we stop them?"

God was grim as she studied the cautious movements across the Oval and the group that were starting to flank around to try and take care of the sniper.

"No, but we can slow them down. When I fire, we'll have to move quickly. Soon as I shoot, we run around behind this house, cross the back lawn, and set up next door for another shot, got it?"

"Got it."

"Crap, Castigar just went around behind one of the houses, I don't have a shot at him. Hmmm.... But these three are a bit too close together. I'll take them out. You ready?"

Julie hefted the two power cells, each of which weighed at least fifteen pounds, and nodded, even though Katya couldn't see her, since the sniper was still studying her intended targets.

"Yes. Do it."

Once again, Julie was glad that God was on their side. Katya's shot arced across the open ground of the Oval, and to the rows of houses on the other side. Three of the intruders were just a bit too close together, taking cover by a cement wall. The plasma bolt exploded almost perfectly between them, killing two instantly, and riddling the third with shrapnel. The only reason the third was alive at all was due to the unpowered armor that he wore, which had offered some protection at least. He might have been alive, but he wasn't going to be doing anything. A chunk of cement, the size of Julie's hand, had sliced through the back of his calves. Which effectively hamstrung him, crippling him and stranding him where he dropped unless one of the other intruders stopped to help him.

Julie and God didn't see any of it though. The second they had fired, both were up and running back around the house that they had taken up position next to. This time they didn't get away entirely unscathed, for whoever the intruders were, they were not stupid. Four of them had set up positions, scanning the other side of the Oval for the telltale flash of light from the muzzle of the plasma carbine as it fired. The moment they spotted it, they opened fire with the pulse rifles that each had been equipped with, spraying the area where the flash had come from. It was medium range for a pulse rifle and the lawn where they had just been exploded as a dozens of explosive darts hit it. Dirt and bits of lawn sprayed around them as they lunged behind the stone foundation of the house.

Dirt was not the only thing that had sprayed them though, and Katya collapsed as she tried to put weight on her right leg, groaning. Julie was next to her in an instant, worriedly taking in Katya's thigh where a piece of shrapnel had gone straight through her flesh. She was bleeding a lot, so Julie took off the jacket of her uniform, quickly wrapping the entire thing around the wound. Katya gave a small, strangled cry of pain as she tightened the crude pressure bandage around the bleeding wound, trying not to think about the amount of blood that was spurting from that injury.

"We have to move, can you walk if I help you?"

"Don't have any choice, come on, just get me to the next spot, with the carbine."

Using the large weapon as a walking staff, and her arm draped over Julie's shoulder, the two of them lurched towards the firing position that God had picked out for them.

Katya half slid, half collapsed into the spot that she had picked out, along with her weapon, as Julie crouched and began unscrewing the old power cell, to replace it with a new one. Julie swore softly as the floodlights, which had so far illuminated the entire Oval, were targeted and blown out. Assuming that the intruders had low light vision enhancement of some sort, they had just gained a large edge over the trainees still trying to get out of the area.

"Just once, I want to come up against a stupid enemy."

Katya chuckled without humor as she propped up her leg behind her, ignoring the blood, which was seeping out of the crude bandage, pulsing with each beat of her heart. She knew what that meant; the shrapnel had hit an artery, probably her femoral artery, which meant she was in the process of bleeding out.

Pressing the butt of the rifle snug to her shoulder after Julie had finished screwing in the second power cell, God switched the scope to low light mode and hunted for some good targets, even as she spoke.

"Julie, when I take this shot, grab the Carbine, and go down a few houses to take another shot. Keep going as long as you can, you'll have five more shots that you can take."

Julie's eyes narrowed at that. She had already done the leaving a friend behind thing, and she wasn't about to do it again. Not here, not ever if she could help it. She didn't care if Katya was injured, she'd carry the sniper if she had to.

"I don't think so, Katya."

God must have settled on a target, because she became as still as the cement foundation that they were crouched next to; barely breathing as far as Julie could tell. Still, she was breathing enough to whisper harshly.

"That shrapnel cut an artery, Julie. It's only a matter of time before I bleed out now. So leave me here. I'll get their attention, and you blow them away. Got it?"

"Go to hell, God. I'm not leaving you anywhere. What do you think I'd be able to tell Weston? Sorry, but she said leave her behind, so I did?"

That got a bit of a reaction, and Julie was glad to see the edge of Katya's lips curl up in a slight smile.

"Come on, who's going to keep these Windstars in check if you aren't there with me?"

"Fine, but we'll have to move quick. I think I can take out two of those snipers they set up."

The way Katya said the word sniper, showed what she thought of the ones who were trying to hunt her from the other side of the Oval. It wasn't quite a sneer, but it was darn close. Julie grabbed a hold of the back of Katya's shirt and nodded in the sudden darkness, as the last of the floodlights was hit.

"I'm set."

The moment she fired, Julie hauled the sniper upright and backwards, dragging her back around the foundation of the house as another hail of explosive darts chewed up the ground where they had just been. This time though, Katya grabbed Julie's hand before she started to drag her towards the other firing position, having a hard time speaking through the pain from her leg.

"Don't. They sent two men up that way to cut us off, we'll have to go back the way we just came."

Grimly, Julie tightened the make shift bandage around her friend's leg, doing her best to at least slow the blood flow and trying not to think about why her hands were so quickly covered in a warm, wet, sticky fluid. There were, she guessed, some advantages to having to work by little light now. It was, she realized, not as dark as she had first thought. The lights of the nearby city of Plattsburgh, and the quarter moon, gave just enough light to see things in shades of gray and black.

Which was why, when she started to pull God back the way they had come, towards the house she had shared with her roommates, she spotted the hulking form coming up along the fence, behind the houses, towards them.

"Oh Christ, powered armor, Katya."

Katya did her best to roll over and bring up the heavy plasma carbine to aim at the approaching powered armor, but she had lost more blood than either her or Julie realized. She barely managed to get up onto one knee, before collapsing back against the cold cement foundation behind her, the world spinning in front of her eyes.

"I can't. Here, aim for the lower center, the power cells are located on the right side."

Her words sounded slurred, and Julie was worried her friend was going into shock. They had bigger, much bigger, problems at the moment though, and she heaved the heavy carbine upright. Pressing her cheek to the side, she peered through the scope at the suddenly well-seen powered armor suit four houses away from them. The suit was at an angle to her, scanning the area that they had been in. Far behind it, she could see what appeared to be two bodies lying near the fence, and she could only hope they were no one she knew.

This stupid thing must weigh at least twenty kilos, Julie thought as she braced herself and took aim at the bulge on the right side of the suit, which would contain the suit's power cells. It was a weak spot, and one that, if she could hit it, she would have a very good chance of knocking out the suit.

Remembering what she could of her basic training, she took aim and squeezed the trigger of the rifle. The recoil, for someone who had been training on pulse rifles, was surprising, and it kicked her backwards, sending her sprawling on her butt a good four feet from where she had been standing. Unfortunately, the suit chose that very moment to start to turn, and the plasma bolt hit the thing's right arm instead of the power cells. A plasma bolt was designed to punch through armor, and not even a powered armor suit could simply shrug off a direct hit. The bolt blew a nice large hole through the suit's dart Gatling gun, and spun it back around due to sheer momentum.

Cursing, Julie scrambled for the rifle, which had landed a few feet away. Wrenching the thing upright, not bothering to get up off the ground, she aimed it towards the powered armor that was turning around. She had absolutely no doubt that if she did not get it with this shot, that she and God were about to die. Even if the Gatling gun was damaged, the suit's plasma rifle made the one she was holding look like a little toy gun, not to even mention the grenades it mounted on its back.

She had only one shot at this, and she melded with the gun, adrenalin making everything move in a sort of slow motion. It was with crystal clarity that she saw the suit swing back towards her, its plasma rifle already lowered and charged. The plasma carbine in her hand would not fire for another second, while the barrel cooled, and she knew, without a doubt, that that second would cost them their lives. So, she overrode the lockout, and forced the gun to fire without having completely cooled.

The blast actually forced her butt a few inches deeper into the soft soil, but it fired. Two things happened at the same time. First, the plasma bolt fired, passing through the distance between the carbine and the powered armor in a blink of an eye. The bolt itself hit exactly where Julie had been aiming this time, and the power cells added to the explosion, blasting what was left of the powered armor through the fence to its left. The second thing that happened was that the carbine in Julie's hand went into overload, its innards fusing after the carbine, which were known to have problems with overheating on a good day, was forced to fire shots in quicker succession than it was supposed to.

Julie nearly ripped her mind from the now fused carbine, shoving it away from her as she crawled over towards the unconscious Katya and began dragging her away. In a few seconds the one remaining charge in the Carbine's power cell was going to go, and she didn't intend to be anywhere nearby when it did.



The drop ship was two kilometers in altitude over the Old Base, when the true reason for the ship's name became apparent. The bulky ship, with its prominent weapon turrets, box-like shape, stubby wings and elongated tail, was said to have the aerodynamics of a falling refrigerator. That was, as far as the Sergeant Major was concerned, a bit of an optimistic view. Under each of the ten suits of powered armor, was a hatch which would retract and, quite literally, drop the suits out of the ship when they were over the LZ.

Which was part of the reason that the crew of each drop ship, and any passengers, which was what the Sergeant Major was without his powered armor suit, wore Fleet armor or pressure suits, since the entire insides of the craft had to be depressurized before the drop. The other small problem with drop ships, was the fact that when the jump troops were dropped, the antigravity drives could not be used, for fear of turning the troops and their armor into mangled piles of scrap if they passed under the antigravity drives. Since no pilot in his sane mind wanted to stay over a hostile landing zone any longer than he had to, drop ships came down over an LZ as hard and as fast as they could, plasma engines cranked to the safety limit, and the troops were dropped as the craft passed over the intended drop zone.

Sergeant Major Torsson made bloody well sure his crash harness was tight when the red warning lights came on in the drop bay. Decompression at the speeds that the drop ship was going was not exactly a pleasant experience. The crew of the ship, fleet runts all of them, chuckled at the grunt that they managed to get out of the Sergeant Major as the cabin pressure dropped, and then the hatches under each of the jump troops opened. A moment later, each of the ten troops disappeared as they dropped.

The drop ship commenced a nice large loop back around towards the landing zone to provide air support for the jump troops after they had landed. Torsson had been through combat drops enough times to know what was happening below him. The ten suits would be dropping a kilometer straight down in free fall; each of the Marines in those suits would be praying that the small disposable antigravity drives would work when they needed them. Just a bit over a kilometer above the ground that would be rushing up to meet them, each marine would swivel in the air to align the heavy packs that they wore towards the ground in a move that was trained into them, and activate the disposable antigravity pack. It would kick like a mule, and Torsson knew that no matter how good the training, some would manage to bang their head or bite their lips on the way down.

"Sir, we just got a sensor reading off of what looks to be plasma carbine fire down there. Looks like whoever's shooting overrode the safeties somehow... I just got a reading of what looks awfully like an overload explosion."

"Make sure the Dagger know what they might be facing. And get me a channel to wherever Lady Windstar is."

Still, he found himself wishing to be down there with them when they hit, probably under fire, if not the moment they landed, soon after they did. With a curse, he flipped on the Com system, knowing that he wasn't the only one who wanted to be down on that ground.




"Torsson, you make damn sure that no one starts shooting up the Guardian Trainee's you get that?"

Emily was strapping herself into her power armor, yelling into the Com unit that was being held up to her by a rather helpful ensign. Shoving her arm down into the right arm of the suit, she double-checked the Gatling guns servos as she kept an eye on the slightly fuzzy transmission from the Sergeant Major.

"Yes, Ma'am. We're commencing our swing back around to provide air support. They all have strict orders not to fire on anyone whom they can't ID."

"They better not, Torsson, or I'll make certain none of them set foot inside of a set of powered armor again. We're going to drop in..."

She glanced towards the cockpit, and the organized chaos around her, measuring the progress of the pre-launch checks going on throughout the ship with a practiced eye.

"Five minutes or so. Twenty minute descent, so we'll be your back up in just over twenty-five minutes. Make sure that Dagger knows they're going to have troops jumping in on them, I don't want any of them targeting us."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"And, Torsson?"


"Keep an eye on Julie for me until I get there?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

She smiled at the tone of the Sergeant Major's voice, and managed to return his salute before the ensign cut the signal so that she could seal her armor and get on with her own pressure checks. Switching on the Com unit inside of the suit, she switched it over to the Daggers Com channel.

"Lieutenant Lewis, make certain your men know that there will be friendly forces on the ground."

Lewis, one of the recently borrowed humans from the British armed forces, was two suits of armor over from her, doing his own equipment checks. The checks themselves would continue all the way down to the drop zone, keeping the marines occupied on the drop into what could still be a hostile landing zone by the time they got there. The Tiri had perfected the art of the combat drop over the years of conflict with the Bak'ra, and they had passed that knowledge onto the humans training to meet the coming threat.

"Yes, Ma'am."

He didn't sound particularly happy, and she didn't blame him. Five of his regular Dagger jump troops were going to have to stay behind to give up their places for her and her honor guard. She also knew she didn't particularly care if he was happy or not. The lack of drop ships was starting to become pronounced with all the training for the three Lances of Jump Troops, not the mention the fact that they were often used to transport a large amount of regular Marines. Still, there were simply too many things to build, and there was going to be more than one place where they simply had to skimp on equipment.

They were green; no doubts about that. Each unit was composed of soldiers from nearly every country on Earth, and more than a few civilian volunteers. Emily knew that none of the units could even begin to be called a cohesive fighting force yet, but that would come. As strange as it seemed to her, the very fact that each of the units was a mish mash of troops from many nations was actually helping. She had gotten more than one report of Fleet, Air Force, and Marine recruits who simply refused to give up as a matter of national pride. It was, she supposed, something that most Tiri couldn't understand, even after all this time on Earth. There had been a unified Tiri government, the Empire, for the last four generations.

Her drop ship was, as she expected, the last one to drop. The first nine had already dropped a few moments before, and if the drop ship she was in was a bit further back from the others than was customary, she paid no notice. The medical drop ship had even dropped before hers. Emily had no doubt that Angwar had pulled the two pilots aside, and had a quiet little discussion with them. Her Provost was not a very happy man, and she had simply brushed aside his further objections about her participation in this insanity, as he called it.

Emie did her best to think about anything but Julie injured or dying, laying in a pool of her own blood. Instead, she concentrated on finishing the pre-drop checks on her armor, feeling the gut wrenching fear transform into something else, something she could use to focus. Rage at whoever dared to injure those she cared about in such a way. Whoever was responsible for this, she was going to see him sent to hell on the next express ride.



Julie kept on dragging the limp sniper by her shoulders, as far away as she could from the crater that had once been a plasma carbine. She had no doubt that her little display had attracted nearly all of the attention from across the Oval, and she desperately tried to get Katya towards anything that even vaguely resembled shelter.

She made it as far as the back of the second of the red-bricked houses, when she ran out of room. She was still blinking in an attempt to clear her eyes of the after images from the explosion of the over loaded carbine, as she slumped down against the cool cement foundation. The grass, she noted absently in an oddly detached manner, was a bit long back here, and would have to be mowed soon. It was a surreal moment, her mind straying towards the length of the grass, even as she looked back and forth, seeing the troops closing in on her and the bleeding form next to her.

So this is how it ends, at least God is with me. The thought, for some reason made her smile, and she watched with a sense of near peace as the group of cautiously approaching intruders to her right spotted her and Katya. At least they're a lot more cautious after we blew away a few of them. Julie watched as the two figures in marine unpowered armor raised the pulse rifles to their shoulders, and took aim. Closing her eyes, she awaited the storm of explosive darts that she was certain would be hurtled towards her and her friend any second now. She clearly remembered thinking of Emie's eyes, and the peace she had felt disappeared, to be replaced by a soul deep sorrow. I'm sorry Emie, I wanted to kiss you so badly and tell you how I think I could be falling in love with you.

So it was, with more than a bit of surprise, that when she heard the unmistakable sound of explosive darts hitting their targets, followed by what sounded to be plasma rifle fire, that she realized she wasn't dead. There are, thankfully, few times in anyone's lifetime when you can open your eyes and be truly surprised that you're still alive. The reason she was alive became clear when she looked towards where the intruders had been.

All that was left of them were small, smoking sacks of flesh, spread across the ground near where they had been. Blinking in surprise, she scrambled to her knees, and took a peek around the side of the building, laughing with sheer joy as she spotted the powered armor suits that were landing around the edge of the Oval.

"Katya, we're safe. The cavalry is here, don't you dare die on me now. Come on, stay with me, God. You're not allowed to go away; God can't die, don't you know that?"



By the time Emily landed, having dropped just shortly after the signal had come through that the Sergeant Major's Dagger was on the ground, it was over. She was just in time to watch as the last of the base was secured, and every marine that had been on duty was taken into custody until everyone's identity was sorted out.

The Sergeant Major himself had landed only a few short moments before she touched down. She popped her armor, stepping out of it to meet him near the center of the Oval, next to where the drop ship that he had been in had made a tight landing to support the troops on the ground, grimacing as she did so, having managed to bang the side of her head on the inside of the armor when her antigravity drive kicked on.

"Torsson, how bad is it?"

Wincing as she gingerly touched the bruised area, her eyes already scanning the area, which was being lit by the exterior floodlights from the Sergeant Major's drop ship.

"Ten dead trainees so far, and another fifteen wounded. The worst are being loaded into the medical drop ship and being lifted to Longbow for treatment. God just got sent off also, she had a pretty bad wound and lost a lot of blood."

At her narrowed eyes, the Sergeant Major quickly continued.

"The medics say she should be alright, but they needed to get her to Longbow. I understand that Prince Windstar is already on his way there to meet her."

That got a slight nod and she returned to scanning the edge of the Oval, finally spotting the familiar red head that she had been searching for. She only realized she had begun to jog towards Julie when she noticed that the Sergeant Major, and her Honor Guard, were keeping pace with her as she jogged.

"You and Major Sims round up everyone who even set foot on Karsina colony just before the evacuation. Screen them and then screen them again. I don't want this to ever happen again, you understand that, Torsson?"

"Yes, First Guardian."

She barely heard his answer; for Julie had spotted her and was waiting for her, with a half shocked smile near where the medics were checking out the last of the trainees.


With that little smile and the half wave she gave, Emily knew that she wasn't hurt; maybe a bit shocked, but she wasn't bleeding to death somewhere. Not caring that there was over a hundred Jump Troops crawling around the place, she reached the younger woman, pulled her into her arms and lifted her feet off the ground with the force of her hug.

"I thought you were going to stay out of trouble for a bit after Mars Base?"

Emily smiled as Julie clutched her and let out a strangled half laugh, half sob.

"I seem to have a talent, don't I?"

"We both do."

She lowered her voice, even as she slowly set Julie back down; not letting go of her face, but pulling back just enough so that she could see those brilliant green eyes. Which were looking back at her with a mixture of shock, desire, and something that Emily wasn't quite ready to name yet.

"I was worried I wouldn't get to tell you that..."

Emily trailed off, not certain what she wanted to say, but knowing she wanted to say something, anything. Her heart was beating so hard in her chest she was afraid she was going to pass out, and when Julie smiled in understanding and placed a finger on her lips, Emie couldn't resist the urge to kiss the perfectly shaped finger.

"I know, I was worried I wouldn't either."ÊÊÊÊ

And then there was nothing but each other, and the world around them didn't exist. She had wanted this for so long, that when their lips touched, Emily's knees nearly gave out from the sudden pleasure. The mouth under hers was yielding, warm, and so impossibly soft and sweet. With a groan, she went back for another, and another, not caring that her Honor Guard, still in their powered armor, were only a brief step away, and not noticing that they had formed a semi-circle around the two to give them at least some privacy.

Pulling away from those lips was the hardest thing she had ever done, and when Julie's tongue brushed across her lips as she did, Emily nearly picked her up and carried her away to ravish her right then and there. Still, she was First Guardian, and there were things to take care of. That and Julie was in shock, even if she didn't realize it yet. She had her kiss, and she was happy. The fact that there was the possibility of many more kisses to come made her even happier.

"Come on, you been checked out by the medics?"

Green eyes shown up at her, and Emily found herself smiling like an idiot, as Julie shook her head.

"No, they said you were on the way down, and I wanted to meet you before they did a check up on me."

"Lets get you checked out then, and we can see about settling things around here. Then we go take a long walk?"ÊÊÊ

Julie smiled and looked slightly surprised when the First Guardian took her hand and tugged her along with her towards where the medics were set up. She released Julie's hand once they had stepped out from between the Honor Guard, whom Emily made a mental note to be nicer to in thanks for the moment they had given her and Julie. Quietly, as they headed for the medics, Emily making certain that she was next to Julie incase the red head stumbled, she did her best to explain, having seen the surprise in Julie's eyes.

"We've had a long time to get over certain prejudices that humans still have, such as same sex relationships. No Tiri is going to care that we're umm... whatever we are, as long as it doesn't interfere with the command structure."

Julie nodded slowly, digesting that bit of news as a medic approached. Glancing towards her friend, she smiled hesitantly.

"It's going to be a bit harder for me, but can you stay with me while I get checked out?"

Emily nodded, already having known that her friend had grown up in a culture which didn't totally accept the relationship that they were developing; especially the armed forces.

"Of course."

"How are your roommates?"

Following Julie, and glaring at the medic who tried to stop her, Emily did her best to distract her friend while the doctors checked her out. Judging by the grateful look from green eyes that she got in return, Julie liked to be poked and prodded just as much as Emily did.

"Harry got a bit of a shrapnel wound, and they're taking him to Longbow. Marcus and Mary are both fine, although Mary had a close call."

She paused as the doctor came over to check the scans that the young medic had preformed, and pronouncing Julie in one piece, and warning her to seek medical attention if she had any problems in the near future, no matter how small they might seem to her. Emily took her friend's hand once more, ignoring the raised eyebrow from the medic, and led her outside.

"Come on, let's get you out of here."

"How is she doing?"

Emily shrugged as she leaned back in her chair, fiddling with a data pad that had been on her desk.

"Sleeping. Training's been postponed for two days, while we sort out the security issues and such. How is God doing?"

Weston grinned at her from the communications console on the top of the desk. For once, she was using her actual quarters, two decks below where the command deck was located, near the center of the ship. The quarters were the most spacious onboard, and had to be since a Guardian would spend most of his or her life onboard their ship self. Her quarters were actually a suite of three rooms. The first was an office, where she had a larger desk, and several seats, along with a modified bookcase with actual Tiri books in it. To one side of the office was a dining and kitchen area that was large enough for her to host dinner parties for the senior officers, when needed. On the other side of her office, were her sleeping quarters and a surprisingly spacious bathroom. There were, she mused, a few perks to being a Guardian. One of which was you got some of the best accommodations in the fleet.

"She'll be alright, they said she lost a lot of blood and had to transfuse her a few times on the way over here. She should be up and about by tomorrow, and back on active duty by the end of the week."

Emily spun the pad on the desktop as she considered her older brother's words.

"You like her a lot don't you?"

The pause between her question and his answer was all she needed, and she lifted her eyes from spinning the pad to grin at Weston. Who scowled back at her and pointed a finger towards her.

"You like Julie a lot don't you?"

Emily scowled right back at them, and the two siblings glared at each other. Which lasted only a few moments before the corners of their lips turned upwards.

"We are in so much trouble. These human women are bad for our bachelor status."

Emily laughed and shook her head.

"Sorry, Weston, I don't think we have much of a choice about it."

Weston's soft snort carried well through the Com system, and Emily grinned back at him.

"What have you found out about these infiltrators?"

That question wiped the grin from her face and she sat up a bit straighter in her chair.

"You and father will get my official report come tomorrow morning. So far though, looks like the Bak'ra managed to insert infiltrators onto the surface of Karsina before we cleared the colony and evacuated. They had a neural net of sorts woven into their skin, which allowed them to fool the standard questioning systems. It seems that they somehow managed to forge medical checks, at least until one of them was re-certified as a doctor and was able to do the check ups for all of them."

Emily leaned forwards, frowning.

"We got lucky, Weston, it could have been a lot worse. Ten trainees dead; ten dead Guardians just like that. They were behind the attempt to blow Mars Base also, as well as that incident out at the shipyards, which Darrien handled. So far, we have about thirty confirmed Bak'ra infiltrators, and I suspect we'll find a few more after we're done screening anyone who was at Karsina. Until then, we'll make certain to tighten security as much as we can. How are things on the diplomatic front?"

Weston shrugged at that, casting a glance over his shoulder towards the hospital bed behind him, where Emily could see a sleeping Katya.

"Father and I managed to hold things together through the Pakistan/India conflict, and even got a bit more control over international matters. The UN is finally noticing that we're planning on putting them out of business, and Father is going to have a long talk with the UN Secretary General tomorrow. You would not believe how shaky things got for a while, and the US is still causing all sorts of problems. I think I'll be having a meeting with their president in two days or so. Don't forget the military reviews scheduled for three months from now."

Emily snorted, she wasn't about the forget that most of the major heads of state, along with the Emperor, and a good chunk of the surviving senate members would be touring the progress that the Tiri had made so far.

"Don't worry, I won't. I think I hear movement in the other room. I'll talk to you later, Weston. Give our best to Katya when she wakes up."

"Give my best to Julie. Take care, Emie."

With a fond smile, she nodded and shut off the Com system, rising and heading towards the bedroom. She dimmed the lights as she went, since she was due for a rest herself. Letting the doors slide shut behind her, she paused by the door to watch Julie in the dim lighting. The trainee had flat out refused to stay in guest quarters, much to Emily's delight, and had promptly crashed once Emily had pointed her towards the bed. Now she enjoyed a moment of being able to study her friend without being seen. Even in the dim lighting, she was able to admire the graceful curves of her friend.

Emie's appraisal was cut short when her friend twisted in the bed sheets, frowning as she whimpered. That must have been the noise she had heard in the other room, and Emily moved without thinking. Nightmares were no stranger to any of the survivors of the Evacuation, that was even more true for the handful of Guardians who still, in there hearts, believed that they had failed their people. It was a rare night indeed when she did not awake without having dreamed of the countless number of her fellow people she had not been able to save.

So it was that she knew exactly what her friend was going through, as she slipped into the bed next to her and slid her arms around Julie's small frame. The months of training had firmed the figure, which Emily soothed, but it was as warm and soft as she had dreamed. As soon as Emily's arms went around her, Julie twisted around until she was facing Emily and curled up close to the First Guardian; the tension in her frame ebbing away, along with the tension in her face, and Emily smiled in the near darkness as Julie slipped into a more restful sleep.

Tenderly, the First Guardian kissed the forehead of the woman who was coming to mean so much to her, and closed her own eyes. Together they slept, and for a time they each shielded the other from the demons that lurked in their minds, taking comfort from each other's presence.


To be continued...

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