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Chapter 2

July 24, 2409 AD

U.S.S. Sienna Madira III

Thgreeth Abandoned Outpost Planet Deep in Expanse

700 light-years from the Sol System

Saturday, 6:37 A.M. Eastern Time

“I know, dear, but it seems to me that she only has focus and a taste for vengeance, violence, and if my sources are correct, sex with clones.” General Alexander Moore was frustrated and in fear for his daughter. Since the loss of the one man she’d loved in the battle for Thgreeth she had turned dark, very dark. Deanna was no longer his straitlaced princess, or even a hard-as-nails-by-the-book U.S. Marine. No, she was in a much darker place. She had cut herself off from almost all humans except for DeathRay, whom Alexander was also concerned for.

The only intimate contact she appeared to be having was with the emotionless AI-driven clones. The only thing she truly cared for any longer seemed to be killing the aliens. She was doing everything she could to make herself, at least in appearance, become a demon of alien death. Alexander didn’t like it. He couldn’t even look into his little girl’s eyes any longer since now they glowed red, like the fire from the implants she had gotten. She had become almost disturbing to look at. He knew that was the point she was trying to make. She had every intent to become the devil incarnate to the Chiata, but by damn, she was still his little princess he’d swung from his arms and protected and had taken to Disney World all those years ago. Hell, he doubted they’d let her in looking the way she did these days.

“Alexander, there is no need in you to spy on her love life. It’s probably against some law, since she is an adult,” his wife scolded him. “Besides, I seem to recall a certain U.S. Marine major going through some very dark times at a similar point in his life.”

“I never kept tally of my kills with tattoos and clone sex conquests!” Alexander harrumphed. “It isn’t her. Not my princess. Hell, not even my Marine!”

“All we can do is be there for her when she needs us, Alexander. She’ll come back to us someday and we need to be there for her when she does,” Sehera Moore said and looked her husband in the eyes, and Alexander could tell that she was worried and sad for her daughter’s current state of being.

“I know. I know.” Alexander hugged her to him. “It just . . . it breaks my heart.”

“Mine too,” Sehera whispered softly. “Tattoos can be removed. And someday she’ll find love again. But now, we just need to make certain she stays with us.”

“In this war,” Alexander frowned. “There are just no certainties to anything. I just wish we could convince her to retire and move home. We can do this out here.”

“That will never happen,” Sehera said through a thin smile. “There’s just too much of her father in her.”

“Hmmph. And her mother, I think.”

“General Moore, XO here.” The intercom in their private quarters came to life, startling them both. Alexander raised an eyebrow to his wife and then smirked.

“Never a dull moment,” Sehera added.

“Go ahead, XO. Moore here,” he said.

“General, Admiral Walker just returned from her mission. Sir, we’ve got another megaship in our fleet.” The XO sounded excited.

“Great news Firestorm. Tell Admiral Walker I want a debriefing as soon as she gets her team in order. I want to know about that system.”

“Yes sir. She has already QMTed over. She is waiting in your ready room.”

“Understood, XO. Tell her I’ll be there in a few minutes. In the meantime, make her comfortable.”

“Absolutely, General.” Firestorm almost chuckled. “But I can’t say that I’ve ever seen the admiral ‘comfortable,’ sir.”

“Do your best, Sally.” Alexander laughed and closed the channel. “I think she’s right. Fullback hasn’t looked comfortable since we played football against each other a million years ago. I’d better go.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m going on an expedition with Dr. Hughes and some of the warrant officers into the ruins today. There’s plenty down there to keep me busy and out of trouble,” Sehera told him.

“Well, do that. Stay out of trouble.” He kissed her on the forehead and looked into her eyes. He could see the concern there too. He knew she was just as worried about Dee as he was. “She’ll be all right. That’s the only way I can see it. But I don’t have to like what she’s doing to get there.”

“She’ll be alright.” Sehera nodded in agreement. “Only way I see it too.”

“I have to say sir, the new FM-14Xs would have made this mission easier,” Admiral Walker grunted. “Why do we keep waiting for them?”

“You’ll wait no longer, Sharon. I got word from Madira while you were away that the new fleet of fighters is complete and ready for delivery to all of the super ships. When DeathRay gets back, we’ll have the Bringers of Hell give lessons to all the mecha jocks before our next wave of raids.”

“That’s great news, Alexander.” Fullback paused uncomfortably. “How is the Penzington’s new captain holding up?”

“DeathRay is singularly focused as, well, is his crew.” He thought of his daughter again.

“Yes. Tales of their exploits and derring-dos are starting to permeate the fleet. Even the clones are starting to talk about them,” Admiral Walker noted. Alexander wasn’t sure if by “them” she meant DeathRay and Phoenix or Boland’s entire attack group. “They are becoming almost iconic. If I thought the aliens cared for spying on us I’d be concerned about the Penzington’s crew.”

“We’ve gotten no indication of singular targeting of specific personnel or assets. Although, it would be nice if there were a boogeyman that spooked the aliens.” Moore thought about that for a second. Maybe that is what Dee was shooting for. “But, we’ve made it a point not to let any aliens escape our raids, so they should have zero knowledge of whom and how. Assuming we were successful in hunting them all down. Who knows? There are always so damned many of them in each of the systems we raid, I’m not so sure we can get all of them.”

“You can never kill all the fire ants in a hill. Somehow, they pop up a few meters away later on.”

“Yeah, and these damned Chiata are infesting the galaxy out here far worse than any fire ants,” Moore agreed.

“Perhaps we should let a few escape?” Walker replied with a raised eyebrow. “With pictures and intel.”

“Perhaps. Let’s think on that.” Moore sat down in his chair and spun to look out the big window in the ready room. The view from there was almost as good as the view from his personal quarters or even the big bubble dome of the bridge. “Those aliens that built the ruins, the Thgreeth, they had all that technology and still ran from the Chiata. Dee’s report said they were afraid of the numbers game. You’d think they could have wiped out the blur bastards, but they ran instead. We only have a double handful of super ships with the BBDs and the Buckley weapon. I doubt we’d put fear into them.”

“Alexander, from what I’ve gathered from listening to Madira and that alien friend of hers, Copernicus, no Chiata system has ever been retaken. We’ve taken over a dozen now in just over two years. The Chiata have lost communications with them. That has to have percolated to the top of their ‘what the fuck’ list.”

“I guess it would mine too. What do you suggest, Sharon?” Alexander turned and looked her in the eye. To do so he had to look up at her. The woman was a big beautiful ebony amazon of a woman that was more muscle than anything else. She had a body that would have made any fullback in the NFL jealous and most forwards in the NBA dread having to post up on. “You don’t think it’s too early to leak our secret raids somehow? I mean, we still only have a dozen super ships and only one of them presently equipped with the new fighters.”

“I’d bet they are already leaked whether any survivors escaped or not,” Sharon replied. “Think about it. If we suddenly lost contact with several outposts, we’d get suspicious. We’d send forward recon. We’d send probes. Hell, you’d go yourself.”

“Yes, true. But, the Chiata must have hundreds of thousands or more outposts. This might just be a grain of sand on the beach to them or a flea bite on a camel’s ass.”

“That makes it even more significant. Out of hundreds of thousands, they’ve never lost one. Now all the sudden they’ve lost several. Now there is a demon out there in the dark that they know nothing about. There’s a demon out there for the Chiata to fear in the night that keeps sneaking deep in their territory at random systems and killing all of the inhabitants. And, from recent images from the Penzington, I can think of a perfect personification of that demon. Recall how spooked we were the first time we saw the Chiata? Well just maybe it’s their turn to be scared shitless of us.” She paused and looked him in the eyes. Alexander was sure she was making sure he saw the magnitude of her statement. He did. It wasn’t lost on him who Fullback was implying to be the demon that would drive fear into the hearts of the Chiata at night. But at the same time, he liked being able to zip in and take a system and all the while keeping the Chiata guessing about what had happened.

“I get it, Sharon. And, you’re right. They probably are getting worked up. We would be. They might even be thinking of response strategies, but that seems almost arrogant to think that, to my mind. They outgun us by sheer numbers alone to the point that we couldn’t stop a full-on advancing attack wave of them.” He exhaled and looked up at the ceiling as if for inspiration. He wasn’t sure what he thought about his little girl becoming a demon, but there might not be anything he could do to stop it. In fact, he was probably too late on that one. “Alright, I hadn’t thought of this. I should have. Were it me in their shoes, I’d up the timetable for invasion. I’d want to press the advantage of numbers that I knew I still had.”

“That is exactly what I’d do,” Sharon agreed. “I suspect a shit storm is coming. And soon. We’ve got to speed up our preparations.”


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