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July 24, 2409 AD

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington, Virginia

Earth, the Sol System

Saturday, 6:30 A.M. Eastern Time

“You ready to go, boss?” The artificial intelligence implanted clone in a full shielded armor suit with the markings of a First Lieutenant Armored Environment-suit Marine stood behind her with his helmet in the off position stowed over his right shoulder. The insignia on his left chest identified him as a fighter mecha pilot. The patch on his shoulder displayed a black demon figure wielding a pitchfork or trident that was firing a blue beam that zigzagged from left to right. The clone was tall, dark, and handsome in a weird robotic and nonemotional way. When she looked into his eyes she didn’t see any love or hate, just programmed loyalty, which was most certainly what her grandmother had intended when she had made him, most likely for her. He was a very young clone but with a very smart AI loaded into it. For the moment, she ignored him.

The rain fell softly over her closely cropped dark hair and the drops ran down her face mixing with tears and dripping into a puddle beneath her. She briefly reflected on how the ripples in the puddle as the drops splashed into it looked surprisingly like a teleport gate’s event horizon. She ran her tattooed fingers across her forehead and then through her hair slinging water from her face and pushing her long dark uneven bangs back.

Her mother had not been very happy with her when she had shaved the sides of her head in stripes and up the back leaving only about five-centimeters standing up on top with ten to twelve centimeter bangs. Her father had hated it when she started getting the tattoos, especially the ones on her face and up the front and back of her neck. He hated that she’d had her eyeballs implanted with quantum sensors so that they glowed a blaze red when those were activated. If he only knew where all the tats were he’d have really been frustrated. The Marines hadn’t had haircut or tattoo regulations or requirements for centuries and as far as she was concerned, she didn’t give a damn. She was her own grown woman who had been through the trials and tribulations of harrowing combat. She had loved and lost. For now, she was the embodiment of death in a space fighter. If she wanted a freaky haircut, fireball eyes, and glowing tattoos up her crotch it was her business.

It hadn’t taken her but about a year and a half to go from “Ms. Clean The Marine Former First Child callsign Apple1” who hadn’t fallen far from the tree of her father to “Major Moore Than You Wanna Fuck With callsign Phoenix.” In fact, most of her former counterparts and squadron mates called her “Major Moore Than You Wanna Fuck With” in whispers behind her back. Dee wasn’t certain if it was because she was isolating herself from her past and her emotions and most of her former friends and colleagues thought she was too much to deal with, or, if it was because she was so singularly focused on killing the enemy aliens that her former colleagues were growing fearful of her and knew not to fuck with her. Either way, she didn’t care.

The rest of the human fleet had started to talk about her behind her back too, of that she was sure. Her father had warned her that the talk could make her “unpromotable”. They also talked about the alien drone beetle that crawled around on her body as her pet. The alien Mru of the Thgreeth had given it to her to, at the time, save her life, study for weaponization uses against the Chiata, and use to her designs in such endeavors. It had helped repair her body when human technology couldn’t remove a piece of Chiata metal from her spine. Mru had told her that it could help her in her conflict with the attacking alien horde.

She wasn’t certain about how one alien robot bug could help against an attack wave of hundreds of billions but she kept it with her just the same. All in all, the beetle did pretty much anything she asked of it and that scared the living hell out of most people. She hadn’t really used it to harm anyone, yet. She wasn’t quite sure it would actually harm a person even if she told it to. It might disable them to protect her, though. She wasn’t sure of that either. She had done her best to start a couple of barroom brawls just to find out, but she was too proficient at fighting herself to need much help. A year and a half of sparring with her Navy SEAL lover had seen to that—and having been raised by Alexander and Sehera Moore hadn’t hurt either.

As far as she knew the bug was harmless unless you were a Chiata, but Dee wasn’t telling everyone that little bit of information. And, she had yet to have to tell it to attack anyone for her. The alien Chiata-eating robot beetle gave her power that people had to both fear and respect. Being “unpromotable” didn’t really bother her either. Once upon a time she had lived the fairy tale that she would be the greatest U.S. Marine mecha pilot that history ever recorded and that Marines throughout time would sing the praises of Deana Moore, but she no longer believed in such fairy tales. Not since the love, the prince from her tale, had been killed by the alien monsters.

They could kick her out of the military if they wanted to and it would no longer bother her, as she had let go of her fairy tale ending even if her parents had not. Deanna was in a good bargaining position as humanity, at least the people briefed and in the know about the pending invasion, needed that bug and the bug was hers. In fact, the thing seemed to respond only to her. So, the military couldn’t get rid of her if they really wanted to or tried. Besides, her father probably wouldn’t let them and nobody crossed paths with her father. Nobody, not even her.

Even if they were to manage to kick her out, they still couldn’t stop her from avenging the deaths of her loved ones, friends, and family. It still wouldn’t stop her from killing Chiata. She would always find a way to kill the alien bastards until such time as there were no more of them left to kill. If she had to, she’d get her historically blood-drenched and bloodthirsty grandmother to fix her up with a ship and an army, which is almost what the present case was anyway much to her father’s chagrin.

“Squidboy, you see this one.” She pointed at her chest as she pulled her uniform top down almost below her breasts. The alien robot beetle scurried up to her left shoulder skittering atop the tugged at fabric. A green and red stripe with a fanged dragon twisted about it was tattooed there and glowing slightly like the hues from armor shields when hit by plasma fire. The tail of the dragon twisted down and encircled her breast. The soft green and red glowing tattoo was very visible in the gray dim cloudy day. The green and red phosphorescence lit the drops of rain up as they splashed into the puddles around her reminding her of the red and green blurs of death, the Chiata, which needed killing. That had been the entire point. All of her tattoos had a glowing red and green blur element to them just to remind her of the path of destruction she was taking to the aliens. The Hell she was bringing to them.

“Took out a megaship porcusnail with nothing but my mecha squad. We barrel-assed through a breach in the hull all the way to the power unit for the blue beams of death from Hell. I did a full throttle Fokker’s Feint inside a thirty-meter-wide corridor as I ripped through deck plates and all. I was damned near spinning on my mecha’s head, upside down and backwards, with a goddamned alien mecha tendril protruding through my left thigh and white hot shards of plasma spraying from every nook and cranny of the cockpit. It was some real shit, and you’d have loved it.” Dee paused and wiped tears and rain from her eyes again.

“Just as they were firing I ripped the motherfucking power couplings loose and shoved a green blur up its ass. Skippy here skittered inside the computer systems and did something, I’m not sure exactly what but between the blue beam conduit sputtering and choking and backfiring and whatever he did it caused quite a fireworks show. The shields on the Chiata’s suit created a feedback pulse into the conduit and the ship started blowing up all around us. Damn blurs were gone so fast they didn’t know what hit ’em. Damned alien tendril in my thigh exploded. That hurt. Lost an eye in the process too. Oh and my mecha pretty much exploded around me. My new wingman over there dragged me out in what was left of his. Docs printed me a new leg with no problem. Had to wear a fucking patch for three days before my new eyeball adjusted to my retina. That shit hurt worse than the leg. That’s why I got this blue one across my left eye here where the wound was. I wish I could show you the one I got down there at the top of my new leg.” Deanna Moore laughed. “Squidboy, you probably wouldn’t think I’m so pretty anymore, ha ha. Mom hated I cut my hair the way I did. Hell, I could fit in with the bangers and college kids at New Tharsis U. But, I dunno, Davy, I like it. It, well, uh, for now, this is me.” Deanna wiped at the tears in her eyes again as she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a puddle beneath her. She certainly was unrecognizable from just a year and half prior before she had lost him. It seemed like years.

“I, uh, I miss you sooooo much, Davy. God—why did you have to go now?” Deanna cried. She ached from all that she was. Her very being, her soul, cried deeply. She had never loved anything or anyone so much, and then to have it torn away from her by the damned Chiata was more devastating than anybody should be forced to deal with. “So much,” she whispered and leaned her head against his cross, full flow of tears pouring down across the tattoos on her face.

“Ma’am, we only have seven minutes,” the clone reminded her in the monotone voice that was disturbingly typical of the clones. “The admiral is going to be pissed if we hold him up again.”

“I’m not leaving until he does.” Deanna threw a thumb over her shoulder just as a white flash of light glinted against the raindrops making them appear as if they had stopped briefly in midair. The common sizzle of bacon sound followed. “Oh, well, I guess that’s our cue. And Azazel, if you’re going to say someone is going to be pissed, you should at least attempt to put some inflection in your tone of voice. Otherwise, it just sounds creepy.”

“Roger that,” the clone responded with no more or less inflection. It still sounded creepy.

Deanna turned from him shaking her head and then dropped her head and closed her eyes with both hands against the cross at the head of Davy Rackman’s resting place. She said a brief prayer and then kissed her right hand and then touched it to the cross where Rackman’s name was etched. Dee allowed herself to cry for a few more seconds before making one last big sniffle.

“I think I will always miss you, Davy. And the hurt just doesn’t seem to stop. It hurts so much. Wish you could be here for this. I promise you that I’ll kill some more of them alien sonofabitches for you today. I absolutely fucking promise!” Deanna stood and blew one more kiss at the cross doing her best to turn the sorrow to hatred and anger. She blinked the water from her red glowing eyes and nodded at her guardian clone and wingman. She walked about fifteen paces and patted another cross where the admiral had been kneeling only moments before. “Miss you too, sis. I’ll take care of DeathRay for you. And I promise that I will kill some of the bastards for you as well.”

Deana stood straight and took in a deep breath. Rain splashed against her face as she looked up at the sky. There was just no way to explain to anyone how broken she felt. There was no way to explain to anyone just how alone she felt. To her, that was all that mattered. The thing that had broken her inside was the same thing that fueled the fire burning there. The Chiata had taken her loved ones. The Chiata had broken her inside and out. The Chiata were going to fucking die.

“Okay, Azazel, let’s go.” Deanna tapped the control on her wristband and flashed out from the cemetery. She could see him doing the same as the inside of a starship materialized around them. She stepped onto the armor deployer beside her new experimental FM-14X and the new shielded armored flightsuit technology custom-built itself around her in less than a second. Deanna liked the new armor and how easy it was to get on and off. She admired the big red serpent tongued demon with horns and hooves shooting blue beams from his fiery eyes and wielding a pitchfork like trident throwing fire that was painted on the tailfins of her mech. In a circle around the artwork read “Bringers of Hell” in a jagged and flaming font. Dee smiled inwardly and sneered outwardly as she activated the shields and deployed her helmet. The glow of red and green from her tattoos increased about her face and the new quantum sensor-based contacts she had had implanted in her eyes glowed red like fire. If there ever was a demon that the Chiata should fear, she was its embodiment.

The callsign “Phoenix” was written across the forehead of her helmet and on the front of her fighter. Surrounding the callsign were forty three red and green glowing Chiata skulls with a knife stuck through the top of each. There were thirteen on the other side.

The days of “Apple1” had died with Rackman. She was a demon from Hell reborn from her fiery ashes and a harbinger of death and destruction to the Chiata and anything else in her path. She was the commander of the Air Group, and as the CAG, she led the mecha jocks and set an example by being even more brazen and fearless than the clone pilots in her squadron.

Bree, got the ship warmed up? she thought to her artificial intelligence counterpart or AIC supercomputer mounted just behind her ear and in her brain. I just promised some old friends that I’d kill some aliens for them.

Roger that. Battle plans are loaded and the team is ready to deploy on Admiral Boland’s order. Bree replied.

Good. I’m sure DeathRay will be ready for us soon.

Phoenix took one hop with her jump boots pushing against the deckplates and she was tossed upward in an arc. She felt the free-fall briefly at the top of the arc and for a brief moment the memory of her father tossing her into the air as a child flashed through her mind and the feeling of being caught in his warm superhuman arms rushed over her. She had been so innocent and had felt so safe then. She spread her arms and held her legs tight looking like a floating flying armored cross above her fighter. But the universe had moved on, as did her trajectory. Gravity took hold and she straightened out and fell precisely in place in the seat of her mecha. That warm safe universe was long gone. Autoharnesses and hardpoints snapped to her and tugged her into her seat.

“Skippy, you better get in your box,” she said as the little alien robot beetle responded and crawled across her armored suit and into a compartment on her right leg.

Cycle the canopy. She thought. Icons for all the members of her squadron flashed green in her mind as each of her clone pilots brought their mecha online. She opened a channel on the pilot’s tac-net.

“Alright, remember the battle plan, keep your wingmen covered, and let’s force these porcupines and blurs into a bowl on the surface of the megaship if we can. Once we take out the ship’s autodestruct we start clearing the ship and giving support to the ground teams. But don’t let the tankheads and AEMs have all the fun. Remember the goal is not just to kill Chiata, it is to show them that they picked the wrong goddamned fight. It is to show them that we are the demons of their existence. We are the demons from whatever darkness they fear that will wipe them from existence and swallow their souls. We wipe every last one of them from existence. No Chiata leaves this system alive. We show them to our last breath and then some that WE ARE THE BRINGERS OF HELL!”

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