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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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Mar 1, 2018
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On the Crossroads of Past and Future

y4mKQl1EtD2PInF4jTpkomH_dEgAQN8MUWZmhyzE4mAckGz8yegLP6l6MbMd-yALGBd-M4xp514pQSuwE_HtyJOCyxQKBxoiiu4bV2psTMSDQZwCjMQs5zf1Q5R7h78CSVjf_sqCmIkP394u_R5X1M1FpIQc2ijegnnQnXIed-xMKxxx04e_3TclxC3DLagwKlE

December 12, 2081
Berlin, Germany, United Nations of Earth



The Tiergarten was jam-packed with tens of thousands of people. It was a wide-open public park that occupied the space between the Reichstag and UN Headquarters. These two buildings made up the core of a government that ruled over not just Earth, but the entire solar system and over a hundred of the surrounding star systems.

Naturally, when the time came for that government to select a new leader, vast crowds of citizens and visitors would show up in the capitol city to witness the great day. Here in the park were far more than just Humans. Lionlike Levakians and their cubs scampered around in the grass. Reptilian Kelt stretched themselves out in the sun while Micore androids stood guard nearby, making sure the little reptiles weren’t accidentally stepped on. Partogans would have been mistaken for Humans if not for their silver hair and purple eyes. Muscular and toughened Assurians flexed their muscles to impress one another while they waited for the main event to begin.

And that event was being covered by news reporters from all over the Galaxy. At the front steps of the UN capital building, a veritable wall of lifeforms with cameras and microphones focused their attention on two groups of people who were climbing the steps of the Reichstag. A Levakian producer touched his earpiece, tapped his Assurian camera operator on the shoulder, then gave the go signal to the Partogan correspondent, who launched into her report:

“We’re here in Berlin, capitol of the United Nations of Earth, where the next round of the Secretary General selection is about to begin. Coming our way now is the current leader of the UN, Secretary General Pascal Etienne, who is running for his third term. He is being escorted by two of his closest advisors, the husband-and-wife team of Doctor Emmanuel Espinosa and Scarlett Freeman, who was recently appointed Director of the Internal Security Office, which is the premier spy agency on Earth.”

Secretary-General Etienne knew the way up the Reichstag steps, and his seemingly casual movement allowed the casual observer to forget that he was quite noticeably blind. Doctor Espinosa occasionally brushed the Secretary-General's hand with his own, stopping the UN leader from going astray. Pascal Etienne was a man in his late seventies, with short white hair and deep sunken eyes that were permanently clouded over. His companions were much younger. Doctor Espinosa was a handsome man with wavy blonde hair, while Scarlett Freeman possessed straight black hair and vivid blue eyes.

“Mister Secretary General!” The reporter cried out. “How do you feel about your chances today? Do you think you’ll get five more years?”

“Very confident!” The UN leader replied in a French accent. “Humanity is far better off now than it was ten years ago. I will make sure our rise to greatness continues into the new decade!”

The Secretary General and his entourage vanished into the Reichstag. Meanwhile, a second group of people coming up the stairway caught the reporter’s attention.

“Now here’s the man of the hour.” the reporter said. “The man who is challenging the incumbent Secretary General: former Stormbreaker, veteran of the War in Heaven, the last man to see Jericho alive... Captain Blake Robinson!”

The old war veteran was not alone. A large group of friends and family surrounded Blake as he went up the stairs, moving without any kind of assistance. He wore a heavy leather jacket adorned with Second Hyperspace War-era mission patches, as did his wife, a Japanese woman with vivid blue eyes, nearly identical to Scarlett’s. Blake’s children and grandchildren surrounded him, as did his closest allies and political supporters. The reporter waved to get his attention:

“Captain Robinson!” She shouted. “Do you think you can unseat the Secretary General?”

“Absolutely.” Blake replied with a smile, “But we won’t know for sure until it happens.”

Inside the Reichstag, both the Secretary General and his challenger moved to the second floor where they came upon the chambers of the UN Security Council. Here, the leaders of fifteen nations were gathered for yet another round of debate and voting on a single topic: Who will be the next leader of Earth?

Secretary General Etienne and Blake both went around the room, shaking hands and greeting the world leaders. Their families and supporters milled about, chatting and conversing with others for about ten minutes before the President of the Security Council gaveled the meeting into session.

“This tradition has been part of the United Nations since 1945.” The President began. “It is the duty of the Security Council to select a single candidate for Secretary General and pass them along to the General Assembly, who elects the leader of our government. Today, there are two remaining candidates. Incumbent Secretary General Pascal Etienne, who seeks a third five-year term, and retired AFUNE Captain Blake Robinson, who aims to unseat him. Each member-state will be allowed two minutes to speak. Once all fifteen members of the council have said their piece, we shall call the question. At this time, the President recognizes the Taoiseach of Ireland for two minutes.”

One by one, the world leaders began to speak about the merits and accomplishments of the two men who sought to assume leadership over the UN. While they spoke, Blake’s oldest child, a fully grown woman with luxurious hair and alluring eyes, leaned over and began moving her hands rapidly in front of her chest.

A few world leaders did a double-take before they realized Himawari was using Sign Language to communicate. Blake was so well-versed with this means of talking that his hands and face expressed themselves almost reflexively. While the Security Council began to argue and debate, Blake and his daughter held a silent conversation:

“I feel sick.” Himawari signed to her father. “I’m nervous. I’m scared.”

“That’s normal.” Blake replied silently. “It’s perfectly normal to be afraid.”

“But you know you’re going to win.” She replied.

“No, I don’t.” Blake smiled a little. “These things are never certain.”

“So what will you do if you lose?”

“I’ll shake Etienne’s hand.” Blake answered.

“Why?” Himawari asked. “I thought he was your opponent. Doesn’t he hate you?”

“He probably does,” Blake admitted. He was so accustomed to signing that his arms weren’t tired yet. “But we treat one another with respect, so our relationship never really gets that bad.”

“I don’t think I could ever shake hands with a man who beat me in an election.” Himawari confessed voicelessly. “I’d probably cry and smack him. I’m a sore loser and I know it. What about you?”

“I used to be a sore loser.” Blake replied to his daughter. “But then I had a chat with my dad...”



June 26, 2006
Camp David, Maryland, United States of America



It was a little less than five months before the Soviet Union invaded Japan. My dad was in his second year as President of the United States and he was already neck deep in the second crisis of his Administration. My dad’s Vice President was being impeached by Congress, and the trial was taking up all of his time. Dad just couldn’t deal with any of my antics at the time, so he insisted my sister and I spend the summer on vacation at Camp David, the official countryside retreat of American Presidents.

We weren’t alone out there. Secret Service Agent Kathleen Walsh was released from the hospital just a few weeks before. The doctor told us she still had a twenty-two caliber bullet lodged in her left lung, and once she fully recovered, Agent Walsh would carry the bullet in her body for the rest of her life. She couldn’t run or do anything that made her heart race, at least for a few months.

Naturally, Jackie and I decided to take it easy on Walsh for a while. We stayed inside one of the vacation homes built by President Ronald Reagan and played a lot of videogames. We’d play so much that our eyes would hurt by the time the sun went down, but Agent Walsh was deeply grateful for the reprieve. Not having to chase around either of the First Children was exactly the break Walsh needed.

About four days before my thirteenth birthday, my girlfriend came to visit. Back then, Chihiro Tachibana used a different name. She called herself Princess Asami of Chiyako. Both she and her siblings showed up for a visit, partially because tensions between Japan and the USSR were at an all-time high, and partly because my dad wanted to draw public attention to the US-Japanese alliance instead of the impeachment trial. News reporters waited at the entrance to Camp David and took a lot of pictures when I ran out to greet Asami. We hadn’t seen one another in months, and by then, I was getting really frightened every time I heard about the escalating conflict between Japan and the Soviet Union.

Asami’s older sister, Akeno, and my little sister, Jackie, decided to spend the day in another part of the house watching Disney movies. Akio, the middle child and only boy, wasn’t much of an indoor kind of person. In fact, by this point, Akio was already planning out his military career. He knew full-well that Japan was about to get into a fight, and by mid-2006, Akio was already starting to talk and walk like a soldier. Somebody was training him. So when Akio found out that Camp David was technically a military base, he went out in search of soldiers to talk shop with.

Asami and I? We played video games. We plugged in a Japanese gaming console she brought from home and set about exploring a handful of games that only existed in Asami’s home country. I was amazed repeatedly, having never stopped to consider that video games in Asia could be different than here in America. Towards the end of the day, Asami pulled from her bag a military strategy game, the title was World War Three.

“Oh, a game about the future?” I asked.

“Kinda.” Asami replied. “Everybody back home is really scared about getting into a world war, so we made a game out of it.”

She slid the disk into the console’s drive and the screen lit up. A map of the world appeared and a deep male voice said:

“Choose your nation!”

Asami and I each picked up a controller.

“Wait a minute.” I said. “We’re going to be playing against each other?”

“Yeah!” Asami said. “What? You scared of losing to a girl?”

“I don’t lose to girls.” I replied through gritted teeth and then selected the United States.

Asami stuck her tongue out at me and then selected Japan. I remember feeling incredibly determined. Now keep in mind that the only people in the room were myself, Asami, and Agent Walsh, who was barely awake, sprawled on the couch. I’ll admit, I was determined to beat Asami because I was scared of losing to her. Of course, I only say this with about fifty years of hindsight.

The game started. Asami and I were put in control of the military forces of our respective countries. Flitting our fingers over the controllers, we maneuvered our armies, navies, and air forces into battle against each other. Walsh even looked up to watch as I directed a force of American warships across the Pacific, only to meet a wall of Japanese bombers and get sunk!

“Hey!” I shouted. “That’s not fair!”

“Who said war is fair?” Asami snarked. Then she launched ballistic missiles from a submarine along the West Coast. All three of my navy bases in California vanished before Japanese soldiers landed on the shore and started marching East.

“No!” I shouted as Asami continued to wreck my armies. “What’s wrong with you!?”

Finally, a unit of Japanese infantry reached my capitol. The red and white flag of the rising sun rose above the city of Washington, and the announcer’s voice declared:

“Game over! The USA has been destroyed! Japan rules the world!”

I lost my temper. I’m not proud to admit it.

I threw my controller across the room and stormed out, shouting:

“That was stupid, this is stupid!”

Behind me, I could hear Asami starting to cry while Agent Walsh yelled:

“Quit yer givin’ out and apologize to the little lass, Robinson!”

But I was gone. Out the building and down the road, I power walked down the hiking trail, trying and failing to calm down. I’d just lost a one-versus-one match to a girl, and I felt really embarrassed. Finally, I sat down on a bench next to a statue of George H. W. Bush. He had one leg crossed over the other and looked like he was frozen in a friendly greeting.

I huddled up next to the metal cast of Bush and drew my knees up to cry. I was already starting to regret making Asami cry.

“Yeah,” I said to myself. “But did she really win fair and square?”

A voice directly behind me made itself known.

“She probably did.”

I jumped. Somehow, my Dad made it all the way here without getting my attention. President Robinson looked very tired and worn out. I remember a streak of grey hair along the left side of his head. The President sat down at the bench with me and sighed.

“Agent Walsh told me the whole thing.” My dad began. “She’s making the Princess a mug of hot cider right now. I think you hurt her feelings.”

“How?” I grumbled. “She won, didn’t she? But there’s no way I could’ve lost. She probably cheated, too. I’ll bet she cheated.”

“Now hold on a moment.” Dad said. “How do you know she cheated?”

“Well, she… uh… um.” I stammered, drawing a total blank. “Uh… I guess… uh….”

“So if she didn’t cheat, then she won fair and square.” Dad replied. “Did you congratulate her?”

I felt my face and the back of my neck getting very hot.

“Wait, was I supposed to?” I was mumbling now. The feeling of shame was starting to creep up my spine, and I didn’t want to confront it.

“Well, no.” Dad said. “But it is the honorable thing to do. If someone wins without cheating, it’s an accomplishment to be celebrated. Congratulate whoever beat you. It’ll make you look good, no matter how badly you lost. That’s what President White did when I beat him in the election.”

“Wait, he actually congratulated you?” I said. “Even though you beat him and took his job!?”

“He sure did.” Dad answered. “And now, here in a day or two, I’ll have to congratulate my new political opponents for scoring a point on me.”

“Huh?”

Dad put his head in his hands.

“My people in Congress say Vice President MacDonald is going to be convicted at the impeachment trial tomorrow. At some point, I’ll have to meet with Senators Obama and McCain and admit they were right all along. But if I can be graceful in defeat, it might just work to our advantage in the long run.”

Dad put a hand on my shoulder.

“Try being a graceful loser sometime, Blake. Tell Asami she played well. Ask her to tell you how she won, then invite her to do something that doesn’t involve competition. Maybe she wants to watch TV with you or something.”

Dad patted me on the back, stood up, and put his coat back on.

“Listen, son.” He said. “There’s one lesson videogames teach kids that I absolutely hate. It’s that if you lose even once, all is lost and you might as well start over. That’s just plain ridiculous. If you lose a fight, Blake, there’s always the next one. If you lose a battle, the war isn’t over until you lay down your arms. One loss isn’t the end of the world, Blake. Don’t dwell on it longer than you need to.”

He gave me a hug so tight I felt the air squeezing out of my lungs.

“I’ll see you on Friday, alright.” Dad finished. “I won’t miss my son becoming a teenager for the world.”



After a while, I went back to the vacation house. Jackie, Akeno, Akio, and Asami were all there, drinking some hot cider. Agent Walsh had an extra mug ready for me when I arrived, which actually made me feel even worse than before. When she saw me come in the dining room, Asami folded her arms and turned away from me, pouting. So I pushed my mug towards her and said:

“I wanna say sorry.”

“Hmph.” Asami grumbled.

“Look,” I went on. “You… you did win fair and square. So I just wanted to say… uh… you know… congrats. You played well.”

Asami gave me the smallest side-eye and mumbled:

“Played alright yourself. You want some cider?”



December 12, 2081
Berlin, Germany, United Nations of Earth



Himawari payed attention to her father’s story. All the while, the leaders of Humankind continued to debate.

“Captain Robinson travelled the Galaxy in his youth.” Said the President of France. “He made inroads with many of the alien species out there. Those connections can be put to good use advancing our diplomatic agenda.”

“I respectfully disagree.” Argued the Premier of China. “Secretary General Etienne’s military expansion program already serves this purpose. Our world has great diplomatic weight because of our firepower, not how many friends one soldier made during a war almost fifty years ago.”

Himawari nudged her father and signed.

“You and mom must have been really cute kids.”

“Chihiro was cute. I wasn’t.” Blake replied with a chuckle. “I’m very happy you take after her.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got your brain.” Himawari teased. “And your spaceship.”

“Hopefully…” Blake sighed. “…I won’t need the Ark Angel after today. Let’s find out what the Security Council says.”

The President of Hawaii had stood up.

“My friends, I think we’ve heard enough.” He said. “The Republic of Hawaii moves to conduct a straw poll to determine the level of support for each candidate before we move forward.”

“Understood.” Replied the Security Council President.

Excited chatter ran all around the room as world leaders and spectators alike gossiped excitedly about the upcoming decision. Secretary General Etienne stepped away from his advisors and approached Blake. Himawari and her mother, Chihiro Tachibana, both gave the UN leader a disapproving look, but they allowed him to speak with the Robinson patriarch.

Secretary General Etienne extended one hand towards Blake and said:

“I am glad that you are my opponent.” He said. “You, a veteran of the War in Heaven, understand better than anyone else what kind of world we are leaving behind. We stand now upon the crossroads of past and future. I hope we can work together to reconcile the two rather than pitting them against one another.”

“As do I.” Blake responded.

Meanwhile, the proceedings were going ahead. The President of the Security Council said:

“The Republic of Hawaii has moved to conduct a straw poll on the two remaining candidates, Blake Robinson and Pascal Etienne. In accordance with Article 97 of the United Nations charter, the straw poll will be conducted via secret ballot. Permanent members of the Security Council will vote on red paper, rotating members on white paper. All other details of the ballot shall be kept secret. Members of the Security Council, come with me.”

All fifteen members of the UN Security Council stood up and left the room. As they passed through the exit, each world leader took two slips of paper from the President. Chihiro hugged one of her grandchildren tightly, betraying how nervous she felt. Meanwhile, two of Blake’s supporters broke from his group and walked over toward Etienne’s advisors. Forty-five years ago, these two women were Stormbreakers. Like Blake and Chihiro, the couple had multiple war-era mission patches adorning their jackets.

Sophie Ackermann and her wife, Sophia, both introduced themselves to Doctor Espinosa.

“So your wife got the ISO job.” Sophie began. “Aren’t you worried she’ll become married to the job?”

Director Freeman wrapped her arms around her husband’s arm and smiled.

“Scar’s been devoted to the intelligence service for her entire adult life.” Doctor Espinosa said. “If anything, she’s cheating on the spy agency with me.”

“Don’t say that too loudly now, honey.” Scarlett added with a noticeably fake giggle.

“That’s right.” Sophia said, “If your man gets voted out of office today, you’ll have more time to look after your kid. What’s her name again? Inez? I haven’t seen her in about… oh, I dunno… six years or something like that.”

A dark look flashed across Scarlett’s face for the shortest possible moment. Doctor Espinosa missed it, but both of the former Stormbreakers noticed.

“Oh, Nezzie’s not the sort of child to follow her parents to work.” Scarlett replied in a dismissive tone. “She’s seventeen years old now. She’s starting her own life.”

Keeping their faces passive, Sophie and Sophia restated their well-wishes before moving away. Around the same moment, the far doors swung open. The Security Council was returning.

The fifteen members of the council took their seats once more, while Blake and Secretary General Etienne rejoined their respective supporters. The moment of truth was here. The President of the Security Council held up two slips of paper.

“I have the results of today’s straw poll.” He began. “Like always, I asked this question: Would you encourage or discourage this person from seeking the office of Secretary General?

The President held up one slip of paper.

“Secretary General Etienne, among the rotating members, you revived five ‘Encourage’ votes and five ‘Discourage’ votes. Amongst the Permanent Five, you received four ‘Encourage’ votes. The United States of America chose to abstain.”

A smattering of applause went up around the room. Chihiro did the math in her head and whispered to her husband:

“He got nine out of fifteen votes. I wonder which of the rotating members voted against Etienne?”

“Secret ballot.” Blake said with a shrug. “We’ll never know.”

The applause died down, and then the President spoke again.

“Next, we conducted a straw poll to gauge the level of support for the challenger, Blake Robinson. Here are the results.”

Sophie, Sophia, and the little group of Blake’s supporters all clasped hands and held their breath. The President of the Security Council unfolded his paper and read aloud:

“Captain Robinson, you received ten ‘Encourage’ votes from the rotating members.”

Chihiro cheered aloud as Blake’s supporters erupted into celebration. Blake had already surpassed Etienne’s vote count! After a moment, the hubbub died down and the President was able to continue.

“You also received three ‘Encourage’ votes and one ‘discourage’ vote from the Permanent Five. Again, the United States did not vote.”

Once again, Blake’s family and supporters broke out in cheers, but Blake himself did not join in. An unpleasant look took over his face, as though he realized some dark truth that escaped the others.

“I’ll address the Permanent Five.” Blake raised his voice just enough to draw everybody’s attention. “One of you has cast a vote against me, so I’ll just come out and ask now. Is one of the Permanent members planning to Veto my candidacy?”

A pregnant silence filled the room. Blake’s family and supporters looked back and forth between him and the Security Council, their smiles fading. A satisfied grin was spreading over Scarlett Freeman’s face. Finally, the President of the Russian Federation stood up.

“Moscow has no interest in continuing to entertain the possibility of a Robinson Administration. My colleagues have agreed to use Russia’s Veto against any resolution recommending Captain Robinson to the General Assembly.”

For almost a whole minute, the Security Council chamber was filled with shocked silence. It seemed as though everyone needed a moment to process what had just happened. Finally, Himawari signed what everyone else was thinking.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”

When it became clear that Russia had just destroyed any chance Blake had at becoming Secretary General, an uproar commenced immediately. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom cursed out the Russian President with every word in the English language while Sophie and Sophia directed their fury toward the President of the Security Council. Just when it seemed like the meeting was going to devolve into complete chaos, Blake Robinson raised his voice:

“Wait a moment!”

Everybody looked at him. Moving deliberately, Blake crossed the distance between himself and Pascal Etienne, and then offered his hand.

“I can see when I’ve been beaten, Secretary General. Congratulations on your re-election.”

The whole time, Blake kept his voice calm and level. One of Blake’s grandchildren tried to raise an objection, but Chihiro grabbed the teenager and held them steady. Secretary General Etienne grasped Blake’s hand and shook it kindly.

“It was a race well run.” Etienne replied. “You are a credit to the Human race, Captain Robinson.”

“Thank you, sir.”



As Blake Robinson and his family left UN Headquarters in defeat, Scarlett Freeman watched them go from an upper floor window of the Reichstag. In her hand, the UN Spymaster held a tablet computer, and the screen showed a materials list for something called “Operation Prometheus.”

Scarlett heard the door close gently behind her and looked around. Four ISO agents, dressed in black business suits and sunglasses, stood side by side, awaiting new orders.

“He knows something.” Scarlett said to them. “I want the entire Robinson family under observation. Tap their comms, stakeout every building associated with them, place a tracking device on the Ark Angel, and put a tail on the oldest daughter, Himawari. Don’t underestimate her. She’s deaf, not dumb.”

“Yes, Director.” The agents replied, then left the room in silence.

Scarlett turned to look out the window again. She spotted the war-era spaceplane Ark Angel coming in to land at Berlin-Tegel Airport. Soon enough, it would pick up the Robinson family and they would be gone, presumably back to Hawaii.

Scarlett tapped her foot in mild annoyance. She knew that Blake had something on her. He must have shown herculean levels of self-restraint by choosing not to act against Scarlett today. She just didn’t know what it was or how much he knew, but Scarlett resolved to find out everything and then take serious action against Blake and the Robinson family before they got a second chance to strike her down.


y4m3H0hw6D1bEWMDbpv_9A0kbnUvRPHAzXPmA-UC455EgN_32NcrybxtTcJo81qlXtVYoN_9MdJC-vu23mZLvi4NGbfi4-CdH3_8Xl02fRiIJ6-bx1_I0ik8JKyGCC_D8BhXYeOp6LP9pZ7PZhmhfokZyGdHt17Hsg796WP4D1lsD11O_AA1fATgdWxj6V1H_i1

TO BE CONCLUDED...

======

Hello all, Macavity116 here.

I hope everyone's new year is off to a good start. I have been participating in a COVID response mission with the US military since mid-December. My time on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic won't be ending anytime soon, but there is a spark of good news to share. I am still writing, and I fully intend to complete the Stormbreaker Spinoff Series.

I am currently writing three new stories set in the Stormbreakers Universe: My Father's War, All Our Sins Remembered, and The Last Heroes. Owing to the fact that I have little to no time to write these days, it will be a long time before any of them are ready. But they will be ready.

I'm planning to start posting My Father's War at the beginning of March, shortly after I'm released from active duty. But until then, I have a special gift for you, the readers. Goddamnit, Uncle Sam. :mad:

At the very bottom of this post you will find three spoiler buttons. Each contains one chapter from each of the upcoming stories. Please enjoy these sneak peeks at my future stories, and know that I'm very much looking forward to my true return to the forums.

I will return,
Macavity116




Chapter 10
Climb Mount Narodnaya

“There is no morality in warfare. There never was. During those six years in Japan, I killed men, women, and children alike. I didn’t want to, it just happened. That’s war. It is blind and senseless violence without meaning or purpose.”

-Alexei Volobyov, XCOM soldier, 2015 to 2049


======

In my first book, The Stormbreakers, I complained about how history seems to have forgotten the finer details of the story surrounding Jericho and her companions. This forgetfulness extends multiple generations back in time, and the greatest victim of this collective memory lapse is in my opinion, one of the most important people in my generation.

Kotori Sato has been reduced to a footnote in history. A trivia question, something for students to regurgitate on some exam and then quickly forget about. The mother of Humanity’s Savior has been so effectively forgotten that when I stopped random people on the street to ask, no single person could tell me what Kotori Sato looked like or what kind of person she was. She was simply Jericho’s mother and nothing else.

To say I am offended is an understatement. I hope, in the second act of this book, to restore some knowledge of Kotori and the fully fleshed out person she was before becoming a one-dimensional bit of encyclopedia knowledge. Not just because she was a personal friend of mine for a few years in my youth, and not just because her role in the founding of the Stormbreakers has been forgotten.

Out of the six men and women who would go on to found the Stormbreakers, Kotori was the first to see action. She wasn’t a soldier at the time. When it happened, she wasn’t even old enough to drink or vote or get married. But nonetheless, she was the first member of our team to experience war.

Kotori was there, in the snow-covered fields of Hokkaido, when everything broke down. When the Soviets and Japanese were left with no further options. She witnessed the opening moments of My Father’s War. Now, using a combination of declassified documents and testimonials from people who were there, I can re-create the events of that fateful day…



December 9, 2006
Nishinosato Junior High School, Sapporo, Hokkaido Island, Japan



Like the vast majority of thirteen year olds in the year 2006, Kotori Sato was not paying attention in class. She was doodling in her notebook, crafting with care an image she’d spent the better part of the day working on. Every once in a while, she’d look up to snatch a furtive glance at her two best friends.

Chihiro Iwasaki was a scrawny kid with long dark hair. Secluded in a corner seat at the back of the classroom, Chihiro kept her bangs over her eyes, so that nobody could notice her checking out cute boys instead of following the teacher’s lecture. Kotori’s other friend, Asuna Tachibana, was seated directly in front of her.

If there were two people who could look less like one another, it was these two. Kotori was, if my sources are accurate, quite the stereotypical “girly girl” who modeled her appearance after tv stars and fashion icons. Kotori wore plenty of makeup and spent a lot of time and effort to make her hair look pretty. Then there was Asuna; everything about her screamed “tomboy.” Asuna kept her messy brown hair cut short, wore athletic clothing, and always seemed to have at least one cut or scrape on her hands. Like her friends, Asuna was also failing to pay any heed to the teacher’s mind-numbing drone. She had her flip-phone underneath the desk, and was surreptitiously sending messages whenever the teacher turned his back.

Up at the front of the classroom, Nazako Sawano continued his history lesson. Mr. Sawano is certainly among one of the luckiest Humans to have ever lived. He survived all of the great wars and disasters of the past fifty years and lived long enough to see the War in Heaven, which he also survived. Most of this account comes from him. He tells us that roughly halfway through his presentation on the history of feudal Japan, he looked back at the class and spotted Kotori, Chihiro, and Asuna slacking off. Mr. Sawano had already disciplined Chihiro and Asuna earlier in the day, and when he looked back, these two students saw him, stopped what they were doing and made some attempt to pretend they were paying attention. Kotori did not. She continued sketching in her book. The teacher decided to make an example of her.

He crossed the room in a stealthy way, continuing to read aloud from the textbook while rapidly closing the distance between himself and Kotori, who was seated near the center of the room. Several students snickered and giggled when they realized what was about to happen. Asuna turned her head to one side and whispered:

“Tori-chan! Look out!”

Too late. Mr. Sawano grabbed Kotori’s notebook in one hand and raised it high into the air while the girl let out a frustrated groan.

“Welcome back to Earth, Miss Sato.” Sawano said. “While you were gone, we were discussing the 1904 war with Russia. Did any of that reach you?”

He raised Kotori’s notebook higher and showed it to the class. On the page, Kotori had drawn three American-style superheroes. Each character bore a striking resemblance to herself, Asuna, and Chihiro. Underneath the image was a caption that read:


“Go! Storm Riders! Go!”

“I suppose not.” Sawano grumbled. “Well, Miss Sato, I hope you’re not going anywhere over Christmas vacation, because I expect from you a ten-thousand word essay about the 1904 War with Russia, delivered to my desk on the first day of class after the new year. That should keep you busy.”



An hour later, classes let out for lunch. The number of students at this school who lived beyond 2036 can be counted on just one hand, so verifiable first-hand accounts are few and far in between, but I do have an accurate picture of what came next.

Grumbling and complaining about Mr. Sawano, Kotori and her friends went off to have lunch on their own. Witnesses said they were gossiping about some boy Chihiro Iwasaki took a liking to. About halfway through the lunch hour, the trio arrived in the art classroom, where several other students were spending their free time. Kotori pinned up her drawing on an easel and the trio set to work completing it. Asuna gave the two-dimensional copies of herself and her friends a set of flowing capes to improve their superhero costumes.

“Your hair is so long, Iwasaki, you don’t need a cape.” Asuna teased.

“Oh, yeah? Well… uh… well…” Chihiro trailed off as she failed to think of a clever comeback.

“Hey Asuna,” Kotori said as she grabbed more colored pencils. “Isn’t your dad, like, a cop or something? Wouldn’t he get weirded out if he found out you were a superhero?”

“You watch way too much TV.” Asuna laughed. “My dad’s cool. And speaking of TV, did you see that news story about the Princess? She just got back from America last night.”

Chihiro swooned.

“If I could date a rich American, I’d be so happy.”

“Why?” Asuna said. “’Cause he’d shower you with gifts or because you’d get to move into a house that’s not close enough for the Russians to spit on?”

All three girls fell silent at the reminder of how close their country was to the brink of war. None of them wanted to think about it, but soon, they would have no choice. Kotori tried to break the uncomfortable silence by saying:

“You won’t catch me dead dating an American. I heard that Blake kid doesn’t even speak our language! Even after the Princess spent, like, two years learning English! What a dolt!”

Chihiro, Asuna, and Kotori spent the rest of their lunch break completing their indulgent self-portrait and badmouthing me. I wouldn’t have cared. I was on the other side of the planet at the time and it’s quite true that I wouldn’t have understood a word of their conversation anyway.

Sometime around one in the afternoon. Kotori and her friends started making their way towards their next class. They were just rounding a hall corner when a commotion started to run through the school like an electric charge. Students began flocking towards any window that faced north while repeating the rumor that a hot-air balloon had crashed on school grounds. Curiosity got the better of the trio, and they started to make their way towards a window.

“A hot-air balloon?” Kotori repeated. “Who flies one in the middle of winter?”

“Doesn’t make any sense.” Asuna added. “There’s, like, two feet of snow outside. How’d they even take off?”

Now, as far as I can tell, there was only about six inches of snow on the ground in Sapporo that day. I got this number not from any Japanese source, but a Russian one. The Soviet Red Army preserved most of their records from this event.

Finally, Kotori and her friends crammed themselves into a classroom with a window large enough to give them a good view of the football pitch located just north of the school. There was already some sixty or seventy children in the room, so the trio had to push and elbow their way into a good viewing position. It would have been apparent right away why the rumor was of a “hot air balloon.” Huge sheets of canvas were billowing in the wind as they came to rest on the frozen ground. Men wearing heavy coats and carrying lots of equipment on their backs gathered around, calling to one another in a language Kotori would not have recognized.

Meanwhile, one of the gymnasium doors opened. The school principal and the guidance counselor advanced onto the football pitch at a fast clip. The principal waved his arms and tried to get the attention of the men on the field. One of the men who landed on the grounds of Nishinosato Junior High School that day was Alexei Volobyov. During the Battle for Earth, he fought alongside me and is now one of the most celebrated soldiers in the United Nations Army. But on December 9th, 2006, he was quite possibly the first soldier of the Soviet Red Army to set foot on the Japanese home islands.

He was also the first Soviet soldier to kill someone.

Alexei told me that he was frightened of the principal. He was certain that an authority figure like this man would be armed with some kind of weapon. So, when Alexei’s commanding officer told him to open fire, he did not hesitate.

Kotori and her friends had never heard gunfire before in their lives. Sure, they’d heard the fake noises you may know from movies and television, but any war veteran, myself included, can tell you that no amount of fiction can ever prepare you for the real thing. The sound of it cracked and snapped through the air and made the ears of all who heard it throb. Kotori screamed and covered her eyes as both the principal and guidance counselor collapsed to the ground, unmoving.

Chaos reigned in the school. Teachers tried to guide the students toward the far exits, but children fled in whatever direction came to mind. Doors slammed open, windows were smashed, and youngsters fled to the four corners of the compass. Plenty of them, quite without meaning to, ran directly into the arms of the invading Soviet troops. Fortunately, these men did not have the stomach for shooting children that day. Alexei said that came much later in the war.

Kotori, Chihiro, and Asuna fled together. They ran out of the school and into the snow, racing towards the main road that connected the school to the rest of town. High above, they could see dozens, if not hundreds of parachutes descending towards the earth. Each one carried a man armed with a rifle. The girls screamed in panic and started running towards east, towards downtown Sapporo, but they didn’t get very far before a black and white car with flashing red lights pulled up alongside them and rolled its window down.

Asuna’s father was in the driver’s seat of the police car.

“Get in!” He yelled. “Now!”

Chihiro, Kotori, and Asuna all flung themselves into the police car as quickly as they could and Mr. Tachibana floored it. They careened away from the school at high speed while behind them, Alexei stood in front the school entrance with a Soviet political officer and a government-appointed photographer. They posed him for a photograph, and by the next morning, the image of a Soviet soldier brandishing his nation’s flag on Japanese soil would galvanize the entire world into action.


Chapter 5
Stream of Consciousness

November 9, 2062
Honolulu, Oahu Island, Republic of Hawaii



Darkness.

Silence.

There was nothing to smell.

Nothing to taste.

Nothing to feel.

The physical universe was extinguished. Akira was floating in an empty void.

In those first few moments, Akira’s mind was filled with so many stray thoughts and memories that she perceived the mental chaos as actual noise. This did not help her acclimate to this new environment. It also didn’t help that she wasn’t stationary. After the first few minutes, Akira slowly drifted to one side and her arm bumped into the side of the isolation tank.

If anything, this caused Akira to start feeling the instinct to panic. Unable to perceive even the warm saltwater she was floating on, Akira reached out for any kind of stimulus to bring her back to reality. She could feel the smallest, dullest stinging sensation on her face, marking the spot where her father had struck her over a month ago. Her knees ached, and Akira thought she could feel her lungs inflate and deflate in rhythm.

Once the urge to panic died away, Akira started to think. She was alone in a sensory deprivation chamber. Somehow, according to her mother and that strange scientist, this was supposed to be some kind of test. What was it he’d said?

“This simple test will determine if you have the Gift.”

Okay, Akira thought to herself. This was all well and good, but nobody had told her what she was supposed to be doing. The only thing her mother said was:

Stay in the tank until you’re ready to come out.”

Akira’s mind now had something to focus on. The mental noise lessened. She reorganized her thoughts as she’d done hundreds of times before. Akira knew that she would have to do something in here… but what?

She thought back on her history. The most famous Gifted people in history had all done incredible things with their minds. Ignatius Petoskey turned back an angry mob with just a wave of his hand. Cory Tucker brought a notorious crime boss to his knees with a simple stare. Akira’s own mother could stop bullets in their path… and then there was Jericho. The girl who killed a god, who saved all of Humankind… only to leave the world a shattered, irradiated, barely livable hellscape.

What would I do with the Gift?

Akira thought about the way her mother described the Gift… the ability to do fantastic things using only willpower. Well, Akira was a pretty willful person. Teachers and cops alike could attest to that. She could twist minds, warp reality, reshape the universe, perhaps.

If.

None of this mattered if Akira didn’t have the Gift.

But she did have it, didn’t she? She’d knocked over the grandfather clock, didn’t she? Alex, James, and Josiah were nowhere near the thing when it toppled, and didn’t that guy say that telekinesis was part of the Gift? Yeah! Akira felt confidence beginning to well up inside her. She must have the Gift, she’d moved something with her mind… but…

Her mother’s voice flitted through her memory…

“The Gift always starts with mind reading, it’s not normal to skip straight to telekinesis. Moving objects takes practice.”

Akira felt herself deflating.

Was her Gift abnormal? Was she going to end up like one of those victims of the Old Regime? Burned out and exhausted after just a few months? The sense of fear caused Akira’s heart to race, and in this silent place, each beat sounded like a gunshot.

Now, subsumed by fear, something finally happened to Akira. She could see something… but could she? Everybody in this facility told her that she would lose all of her senses in here, yet Akira was faintly aware of something on the outer peripheries of her vision. Waves, or perhaps ripples, silently moved away from the darkest corners where Akira could just barely see them.

Now the tiniest, most infinitesimal points of light were starting to appear. At least, Akira thought they were lights. By now, she had completely forgotten the many warnings about visual or auditory hallucinations. If anyone had asked in that moment, Akira would have answered, without hesitation, that she was drifting alone in a silent galaxy.

Akira saw herself, as though her soul had somehow left her body and was staring down at it from on high. Suspended in infinite creation, Akira could appreciate every inch of herself, and found her mind going down an old familiar path:

“I’m a product of my parents, and their parents before them.”

Akira could see through time as though it was a series of mirrors reflecting a different part of the history that made up her body. The history and actions of her forebears fell into place like building blocks, showing exactly how Akira was forged from her family’s past.

She saw the Irish immigrants who made up the paternal side of her father’s bloodline. They starved as a blight wiped out their homeland’s crops, ultimately fleeing to better lands. Blake’s maternal blood came from the French resistance fighters, who fought from the shadows in a desperate battle to save their homeland.

Akira’s mother, Chihiro, came from a family that underwent great strife and change in the past two centuries. Akira’s Great-Great-Grandfather stood before an audience of defeated and downtrodden Japanese people, and as American soldiers looked on, declared that he was in fact, not a living god. While Chihiro hailed from royalty on her father’s side, her mother was born into a family that lost everything in a war that happened over a hundred years ago. Elevated from poverty to wealth by a single marriage, Chihiro’s mother was no stranger to rapid changes of fortune.

Akira desperately wanted to know the exact circumstances, decisions, and random occurrences in the lives of these people had caused her to be here. Akira struggled against authority figures regularly. Could this be some aspect of her French ancestors? She was intelligent and quick witted, traits shared with her grandfather, who once ruled America.

Akira’s mind seemed to be going down dozens of different paths at once, all starting from a common point but rapidly shooting away from each other. It was like she was racing up the trunk of a tree, only to split apart and travel to different branches. Just before her stream of consciousness broke up into countless little tributaries, Akira caught herself.

I’m getting off track. She told herself. I need to focus.

Summoning up her willpower, Akira refocused her thoughts on a single question, one that she could direct all of her mind upon…

How did I get here?

She didn’t mean How did I get from my house to a sensory deprivation chamber? No, Akira wanted to know exactly how the world she lived in got to be the way it is now. Why were the fields fallow? Why was the sky permanently cloudy? Why was all of the water foul? Why were her neighbors dying so quickly? And above all, What happened to make things so bad?

Focus.

Akira repeated her question again and again in her mind.

Focus.

Akira held perfectly still and locked her gaze upon a single nondescript point in the darkness.

Focus.

Akira’s mind, body, and soul were now acing in perfect lock-step, channeling all of her energy through some metaphorical lens. A point of dull purple light appeared in front of Akira. It was like the single star she’d seen on the one and only night of her life when the cloud cover broke and the cosmos beyond became visible, if only for a moment. She tried to reach out and seize the little light, but her body would not obey.

Akira wanted that light, to take it and hold it in the palm of her hand. It was right there, but her arms and legs seemed to be paralyzed. Frustrated, Akira tried to speak to the light, to command it to come closer, but her mouth did not move and instead, the command echoed and changed about inside her head like a loud noise in a small room.

Later, Akira would not be able to explain how she did it, but this is what happened: Akira turned her mind, much as one would turn a mirror to reflect light. Akira’s willpower, which up until was issuing forth in all directions, finally concentrated upon that distant purple light. Once again, Akira commanded that distant light to come to her. At once, the light grew bigger and brighter, like a speeding car barreling towards a person on a highway. Akira tensed herself, ready for what came next, but then-

The sensory deprivation chamber opened with a great whoosh!

Light, sound, and smells bombarded Akira to the point she was nearly overwhelmed! Voices clapped in her ears like thunder and she jammed her eyes shut because even the diameter light blared forth like the sun!

“Wonderful!” Chihiro cried. “I… I’m speechless!”

“We must schedule a follow-up appointment immediately.” Said Cory Tucker. “You may also want to contact your husband, Corporal Tachibana.”

“What happened?” Akira choked, coughing up a little water. “What’s going on?”

Chihiro wrapped a towel around her daughter, smiled warmly, and aid:

“Open your palm, Akira. Before you burn your hand.”

For the first time, Akira became aware of the fact that there was something very hot clenched in her left hand. She looked down, and nearly had a heart attack.

Little purple arcs zapped like lightning up and down her arm, while shafts of brilliant light escaped between her clenched fingers. It was like Akira caught a falling star and now had it in her grasp. She raised her hand to chest height and opened her fingers.

A magnificent orb of purple light hung in the air an inch above Akira's palm, swirling and rushing as though Akira had captured a psionic storm and imprisoned it inside of the little sphere.

“Congratulations are in order, Tachibana.” Said Cory. “Your daughter is most certainly Gifted.”


Chapter 2
The Girl and the Letter

March 1, 2086
Detroit, Michigan



When Inez returned to her apartment building, she noticed something that seemed to be off right away. An unmarked boxtruck was parked across the street from the building. A city police officer was standing in front of it, talking into his cell phone and looking very confused.

Paying the strange sight no mind, Inez took the stairwell two at a time. Arriving on her floor, Inez spotted two people standing outside of her apartment door.

The first person was the middle-aged black man who had been Inez’ neighbor for years. Based on the text message she received earlier, Inez assumed that this was Lawrence Ridge. He kept his back to the wall and looked left to right, looking very nervous. But the individual standing next to him caught Inez’ gaze and held it.

At first, Inez felt the instinct to say “Aww.”

The person standing directly in front of Inez’ apartment door was a young girl, probably about ten or eleven years old. She wore a heavy winter jacket, its green and black colors complimented her eyes, which were a similar shade of light green. The girl seemed to be even more nervous than Lawrence Ridge. She looked from side to side, her hands trembling with unease. There was a slip of yellow paper clenched tightly in her fist.

“Uh, hi Mister Ridge.” Inez blurted out, unsure how to address a man she hadn’t spoken to before. “I’m guessing this is what you called me about?”

Lawrence nodded, then seeing how the girl was trembling, put a hand on her shoulder.

“She showed up about an hour ago.” He said. “Knocked on every door in the building looking for you by name. Do you know her?”

The strange girl looked up at Inez.

“Are you Inez Espinosa?” She asked.

Inez hesitated. She had no idea who this person was, and couldn’t remember if any of her coworkers at Binary Fusion had children who might have learned her name. So, because she was feeling suspicious, Inez responded with a question:

“Why are you trying to find me?”

The mysterious girl immediately stuck out her hand and offered the crumpled slip of paper to her.

“The Professor said I had to give this to you. He said everything depends on you getting it.”

Inez took a step back and put one hand into her purse, searching for her stun baton.

“What professor?” She asked quickly.

The girl tilted her head and bit her tongue.

“I can’t pronounce his first name, but he’s got the same last name as you. Espinosa. Actually, he’s got blonde hair just like you too. Are you related?”

Inez’ hand fell out of her purse in shock. She felt her mouth go dry as the realization hit her.

“You mean Professor Emanuel Espinosa… my dad!?”

The strange girl jumped with recognition and smiled.

“Yeah!” she said. “That’s him!”

Inez looked back and forth between Lawrence and the strange girl. Then she pointed to her apartment door.

“Maybe you should come inside.”

In the apartment, Inez didn’t do more than drop her purse on the kitchen counter. Lawrence closed the door behind him and stood near it. The strange girl didn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. She plopped down on the loveseat with a satisfied “Aahh.”

“So, what’s your name and where’d you come from?” Inez asked while she took the slip of paper from the stranger.

The young girl brushed her long black hair out of her eyes and looked up.

“M-my name’s Cassandra.” She said. “I’m from Bannack.”

“Where the hell is Bannack?” Lawrence sounded quite puzzled.

“Uuuhhhh….” Cassandra let out a long drone as she tried to think of an answer, but drew a blank instead. Meanwhile, Inez held up the piece of paper for Lawrence to see.

“I’m guessing it’s from here.” Inez pointed and Lawrence leaned in for a better look.

Cassandra had handed over an envelope. Inez knew that before the days of Hyperlines, people communicated with letters like this one. The only sealed enveloped Inez had seen before today was in a museum. People just didn’t use paper letters anymore.

Written in the center of the envelope were the words that made up something called a “return address.” Inez remembered that from the museum.


“Professor Emanuel Espinosa, PhD
Fort Weaver Military Research Facility
Bannack, Montana (UN Control Zone)”

Cassandra and Lawrence fell silent as Inez slid the envelope open and read the letter aloud:

“To my beloved daughter, Inez,

There is no doubt in my mind that you will feel some great anger at my willful neglect towards you. You are owed a heartfelt apology and a detailed explanation about our absence. Unfortunately, time is against us. Please know that I regret my actions, deeply and wholly. I have done wrong by you and have now lost my chance to seek or earn your forgiveness.

A great disaster is unfolding around me, and soon it will envelop you as well. I realize that you probably feel no compulsion to do anything I request, but I must make said request nonetheless. I ask you to read this letter in its entirety before deciding what to do.

The girl who delivered this letter to you is named Cassandra. She was at the very center of the disaster I’ve mentioned, she has witnessed terrible things and terrible things have been done to her. She needs to be kept safe, and until recently, I was providing for her safety. However, this is no longer possible. Enemies are coming for me, they seek to take Cassandra.

Inez, my daughter, I beg you… please take charge of Cassandra. Care for her and keep her safe until I can come to retrieve her. By the time this letter reaches you, I will already be on my way, so you will not have to wait long.

DO NOT talk to her about what she witnessed. DO NOT do anything to make her think she is being threatened, kidnapped, or held hostage. Most importantly of all, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES allow anyone to take Cassandra from you, ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE FROM THE UNITED NATIONS GOVERNMENT.

While there are many people who could be a danger to you, there are a select few you can trust. Should you ever feel in danger, seek out a man named Lawrence Ridge and give him the codeword Wolverines. If you do this, he will take you to Robert Lansing, a longtime friend and ally of mine.

I beg you to do this, and I swear I will give you a full explanation of my transgressions against you when I return. You do not need to forgive me, I know I’ve done nothing to earn it. But please, do not vent your fury at me upon the child. Cassandra is innocent and a victim. Help me save her, please.

Always your father,

Professor Emanuel Luis Espinosa Peres
Director, UN Science Directorate, Physics Division


Inez looked up at Cassandra. The little girl gave her a weak smile. Lawrence furrowed his brow in deep thought, no doubt he was wondering if he should act on the codeword Inez had just read out loud.

“So,” Inez started to say. “My dad wanted-”

But before she could say another word, there were three loud knocks on the door. Bam! Bam! Bam! Inez, Cassandra, and Lawrence all jumped with surprise.

“You expecting someone?” Lawrence asked.

“No.” Inez replied. “Did you call the cops?”

“No.”

A voice came through the door. It spoke like a man who was all-business.

“Excuse me, we’re searching for a missing student from Greenfield-Union Elementary School. Answers to the name Cassandra, about ten years old. We have search authorization from the city police, and we’re going to force the door if no one answers. I say again, we’re going to force the door!”

Inez swore.

“What the hell did I just get into!?” she gasped.

“A little bit of my world, I guess.” Lawrence grumbled as he pulled up his sweater and retrieved an object hidden in his waistband.

“What do you mean your worl-HOLY JERICHO, IS THAT A GUN!?”

Lawrence shot an angry look at Inez, as though trying to tell her to shut up. But it was far too late. On the other side of the door, the man’s voice yelled:

“Gun! Gun! Gun!”

And then two loud cracks rent the air! The middle section of the door blew apart with incredible violence. Then Lawrence raised a Gauss pistol and fired five times in rapid succession, tearing what remained of the door to bits. Gunfire passed through the little room in both directions as Inez and Cassandra held their hands to their ears and screamed in terror. Somehow, Cassandra’s scream echoed painfully off the walls and ceiling, and a moment later, all of the lights went out, plunging the apartment into darkness!

“Good enough for me!” Lawrence’s voice called out from the dark.

A moment later, Inez felt a big hand close on her wrist. She was being pulled from the room in a very forceful way. A clatter of footsteps and crying behind her suggested that Cassandra was going through something identical. Towed through the darkness behind Lawrence, Inez heard the voice of the man who had fired his gun through the door:

“I’m hit! Suspect in motion with an accomplice. Send backup!”

“Don’t stop, go!” Lawrence yelled.

Suddenly, Inez, Cassandra, and Lawrence were out in the street. The dying light of the late-winter sun was just starting to vanish behind the buildings, and street lamps were just starting to light up.

“Nezzie, you got a car?” Lawrence asked.

“No, I don’t.” Inez said, then she added, “And don’t call me Nezzie!”

“Mine’s over here.” Lawrence began tugging both Inez and Cassandra behind him. “Get in the back and we’ll head for Lansing’s place in Alpena.”

“Alpena!?” Inez gasped. “But that’s like, really far up north! We might as well be going to the Upper Peninsula!”

Manhandling the two young women rather roughly, Lawrence threw his new companions into the backseats of a large heavy-duty pickup truck.

“Don’t give me any ideas.” Lawrence snapped as he clambered into the driver’s seat. “If it means keeping you alive until the Prof gets back, I’ll take you up to Sault Sainte Marie and we’ll cross the Blue Line!”

Without another word, Lawrence fired up his truck and pushed it into gear. Inez and Cassandra screamed as the truck mounted the curb, taking the most direct path out of the parking lot possible. As the apartment complex was left behind at high speed, a man wearing a black business suit and sunglasses ran into the street, holding a small camera in one hand and a cell phone in the other. The rear passenger window was down, so Inez could just barely hear the man’s voice over the hum of the truck’s electric engine:

“Silver electric truck with an open bed, license plate number is six-three-zero-nine-zero-one!”

Lawrence floored the accelerator, and in mere minutes, he, Inez, and Cassandra left the City of Detroit very far behind. Underneath the light of the final full moon of winter, the truck carrying the three fugitives vanished into the wilderness of northern Michigan.
 
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HistoryDude

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So, Scarlett's up to no good? Also, is she being paranoid, or does Blake actually have something against her?
 

Macavity116

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So, Scarlett's up to no good? Also, is she being paranoid, or does Blake actually have something against her?

Scarlett is most certainly up to no good, and her paranoia is justified. She must have done something, or is planning to do something very serious to warrant not one, not two, but FOUR ex-Stormbreakers dragging themselves out of retirement.
 

HistoryDude

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Scarlett is most certainly up to no good, and her paranoia is justified. She must have done something, or is planning to do something very serious to warrant not one, not two, but FOUR ex-Stormbreakers dragging themselves out of retirement.

Hmm. I wonder if her deeds are related to Akira. Her daughter? Working with Akira's kid?
 

Macavity116

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Hmm. I wonder if her deeds are related to Akira. Her daughter? Working with Akira's kid?

You're on the doorstep of the 3 most frightening questions in the Stormbreakers Universe: "Who are the children of the Paradox? How many are there? And where are they?"
 

generalis Julius Caesar

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Well, I can say two things happily. A, I have no idea what in the world is happening. B, great writing so far!
Somehow I haven't read the Stormbreaker Trilogy yet. Guess that is going on the page and a half reading list.
 

Macavity116

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Well, I can say two things happily. A, I have no idea what in the world is happening. B, great writing so far!
Somehow I haven't read the Stormbreaker Trilogy yet. Guess that is going on the page and a half reading list.

Don't worry, it's not your fault. I pretty much threw the reader headfirst into the Stormbreakers Universe without much preparation this time. ;) Every AAR or Fanfiction I've ever posted to this site is part of the Stormbreaker Trilogy, so I can understand if confusion arises after a while. It's probably like a person who has never watched Star Wars deciding to start with Attack of the Clones.



This story takes place 45 years after the events of The Stormbreakers and five years before its upcoming sequel/continuation The Last Heroes. I used it to announce/tease the upcoming installments because this short story contains elements from all three of the upcoming stories:

  1. My Father's War: The flashback scene takes place during the aftermath of the Assassination attempt on President JD Robinson. (Blake's father)
  2. All Our Sins Remembered: Scarlett Freeman declares Himawari Robinson to be "Deaf, not dumb." This mantra is repeated several times in this story.
  3. The Last Heroes: Main protagonist Inez Espinosa is mentioned by Sophie Ackermann and revealed to have already been abandoned by her parents.
 
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volksmarschall

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Excellent start Mac. Looking forward to this!

Cheers!
 

Macavity116

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Excellent start Mac. Looking forward to this!

Cheers!

Many thanks, as always. I guess you can call this short story a prelude to The Last Heroes. Once my involuntary hiatus is over, I hope to resume the same level of epic space opera storytelling I was doing last year. :)
 
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HistoryDude

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I just realized something.

Paradox is a time traveler. She could've had kids at any point in the timeline... which means that her descendants could number in the trillions.
 

Macavity116

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I just realized something.

Paradox is a time traveler. She could've had kids at any point in the timeline... which means that her descendants could number in the trillions.

From one terrifying possibility a million sequels were born. Now I can keep writing this story until I'm an old man! :D

But in all seriousness, I think I should use the great superpower bestowed upon authors to allay your fears. Ahem:

======

WORD OF GOD
(TV Tropes link)

"Throughout her life, the number of children Akira Robinson gave birth to never grew larger than single digits. All of these descendants lived during the 116th Cycle."

- Macavity116, January 19, 2021
 

HistoryDude

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Still not precise enough. Even if she only gave birth to one kid in, like, 1000 AD, her descendants could still number among the majority of Earth's denizens in the 2000s.

Actually, that's true of all of Akira's companions, too.

Also, given that Akira's psionic and she now has no companions, which means that she needs to have more people to do her bidding, so here's some Fridge Horror. How are we sure that she didn't force people to have sex with her to get kids?

I still need to make that TVTropes page. I'll try to get it done this month.
 

Macavity116

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Also, given that Akira's psionic and she now has no companions, which means that she needs to have more people to do her bidding, so here's some Fridge Horror. How are we sure that she didn't force people to have sex with her to get kids?

Welcome to my mind.

I think I mentioned this back in The Stormbreakers, but I am constantly being tempted to take this story into darker and darker places. (The deleted scenes alone should be evidence enough) Little moments of Fridge Horror like you mentioned above have crossed my mind many times; and every once in a while they make it into the final cut. Look no further than the very dark implications for the women enslaved by Whetu’s army in The Legend of Whetu Kealoha. (There is a long, dark, and messed up list of ways for the Snowskins to go extinct; and they were long gone by the time Faith in Chaos happened.)

So the idea of Akira using her powers to become a seductress (or much worse) is quite reasonable, while also nightmare-inducing. I've had that idea myself, just with different perpetrators. (Yukiko Takahashi and Duane Gardner come to mind) It also raises the question of what kind of mother she would be.

Anyone who wants that question answered will love The Last Heroes.
 

HistoryDude

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I just realized something else. Jericho destroyed all Psionic energy...

Except, as we now know, she didn't. So... what happened to the Shroud-Beings? Are they destroyed? Trapped in the Shroud due to lack of people to make deals with? Still present?

Actually, why didn't Paradox have a psionic insulator on hand for herself? Even if she didn't expect psionic energy to be destroyed, she had to have known that there are ways to preserve it, and she generally plans for as much as she can, so... why didn't she? Or did she?
 

Macavity116

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what happened to the Shroud-Beings? Are they destroyed? Trapped in the Shroud due to lack of people to make deals with? Still present?

The Shroud-Beings are dead, and its due entirely to Jericho's efforts to destroy the Gift. For a few crucial seconds after the Trinity fired its Psychic Hypersiphon for the last time, there simply wasn't enough Psi-energy in the Universe to sustain the existence of the Shroud-Beings. By the time the Universe returned to a state where they could survive, they had already ceased to exist.


Actually, why didn't Paradox have a psionic insulator on hand for herself? Even if she didn't expect psionic energy to be destroyed, she had to have known that there are ways to preserve it, and she generally plans for as much as she can, so... why didn't she? Or did she?

Because Blake wasn't there to witness and chronicle those final moments, we have no way to know whether Akira had some kind of insulator on her person when the Trinity exploded. For that matter, we still don't know how she survived. (Same goes for Jericho and Mira)

Just like her father and grandfather before her, Akira does make contingency plans for the contingency plans, but as you'll see in The Last Heroes, the destruction of the Gift has seriously limited Akira's options... but that doesn't mean she's down for the count. There might still be a way for Akira to get her "Perfect Future" without time travel or the Gift... she may just have to abandon subtlety and go for pure brute force. :)
 

Macavity116

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Hello all, Macavity116 here.

I bring news about my next story, My Father’s War.

For those who either don’t know or have forgotten, I’ve been working a COVID mission with the US Army National Guard for the past several months. From the outset, I intended to start posting my next story online as soon as the Army released me from active duty. It is infinitely easier to run these stories from home than it is from anywhere else. Well, a man once said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and those words have been proven true yet again.

The leadership in my chain of command has just made it clear to us that barring special or unusual circumstances, nobody is going home for the foreseeable future. As you can imagine, I am not looking forward to spending all of my free time cooped up in a hotel room in a strange city where I don’t know anyone for months on end.

So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to change my plans a little. I’m am still going to start My Father’s War and run the story as planned. I will post first chapter on the off-topic forums on Monday, March 1st. However, there has been a last second change in the plan; and this change exists only because I want to have some fun with this story while I’m basically locked up. (Remember, writing and posting this series is just something I do for fun. As always, I have no real expectations for this series.)

Unlike my last three stories, My Father’s War is very plot-heavy and has significantly fewer action scenes than say, The Stormbreakers or Faith in Chaos. I know that longtime readers may not remember the days of After Everything when my stories were 99% plot and 1% action, but that’s where My Father’s War is going. So, I’m going to do something to keep this new story just as fun as the others:

Do you remember Faith in Chaos? How the cast of protagonists would reply to reader comments? Well dust off your tolerance for poorly-done roleplay because in-character comment replies are coming back! If you leave a comment or question underneath a new chapter of My Father’s War, there’s a chance you’ll receive a reply from one of the characters in the Stormbreaker Universe. This time there will be four characters replying to comments. Two are main protagonists of My Father’s War and two are minor characters from The Last Heroes. I’ll devote a whole post in My Father’s War to explain how it’s going to work when the time comes.

Oh, one last thing. I did double-check the forum rules to see if I could get away with posting My Father’s War in the Stellaris AAR section. (after all, it is a direct prequel to The Stormbreakers – A Stellaris Story) Sadly, I don’t think I can. So, the new story will be appearing in the Off-Topic forums. When it goes live, I’ll leave a link here so you can go directly to My Father’s War.

Hope to see you there!

y4mQ17Q5O5Sqmu3UwMI1xTO9cXdeHqwskgtisHjfmBxr3S2HhBoz77Z1qom3xmXqDWbGBqedaYt0YbYYXQQja-sgsfYncccmCCbzYi_iMpEH-aSk77VTmiUJFOpQfrgdzz2y_kO4rg7nK2f17-KcpIMvJ5dbt4pki8RxacZEIEiC8a_lpRKoqNHYArEGcgKpEYm


Coming Soon!​
 

Macavity116

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Announcing the next entry in the expanded Stormbreaker Universe!

In My Father's War, Blake Robinson and his family re-examine the story of how the Stormbreakers were founded, using new information that has only just been discovered... information that could rewrite the history books! Click the link below to visit my new story on the Off-Topic forums:

My Father's War

Official Prequel of:

THE STORMBREAKERS
A Stellaris Story
 

Macavity116

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Proxima Centauri Central News
"News for Humans, by Humans."

April 15, 2084

NEMESIS: REMATCH OF THE CENTURY
Written by Olaf Christophsen, Galactic politics correspondent

The former Stormbreaker known as Blake Robinson has secured the pledges of 97 Human nations to vote against the re-election of UN Secretary-General Pascal Etienne on December 1, 2086, constituting a simple majority of the UN General Assembly, effectively shutting the leader of Mankind out of a fourth term and forcing a rematch between these two bitter political rivals.

Word leaked out of the Reichstag early this morning and soon spread across UN space that the re-election of Humanity's leader, which is normally a ceremonial rubber-stamp event, has been turned into a true contest with real stakes for the second time in a row. However, this new challenge seems to have more weight behind it due to the defection of multiple crucial Security Council nations from Secretary-General Etienne's column, including India, Ukraine, and perhaps the most critical blow of all, the SecGen's home country of France.

Although Secretary-General Etienne's current term of office does not end for another year and a half, his political machine is already whirring to life as he prepares to defend his office once more from a man who is quickly shaping up to be his true
nemesis. Blake Robinson, operating from his home in Hawaii, has been very vocal in his opposition to Etienne's policies for the past decade, and has stated his own intentions to rebuild Humanity's friendships with our wartime allies, such as the Partogans, Levakians, and Assurians. Blake has pledged to fully investigate the reports of abuses and transgressions within the Internal Security Office. He has also pledged to reopen the investigations into the assassination of Japanese Ambassador Akaya Ogawa and to bring her killers to justice.

Secretary-General Etienne, for his part, has promised a continuation of his "Sol Invictus" agenda and flatly denied accusations of wrongdoing within the ISO. He also stated that there is no need to reinvestigate the death of Ambassador Ogawa, as there is "nothing more to learn." Mr. Etienne furthermore re-stated the need for Earth to become self-sufficient and abandon its ties to extraterrestrial powers who would seek to exploit us in the same way as the Old Regime.

In accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council will select a single candidate for the Office of Secretary-General and recommend them to the General Assembly, who has the final authority to determine who actually holds the office. With a year and a half until the next election day, there is plenty of time for Secretary-General Etienne to pick apart the Robinson Coalition in the General Assembly. Due to how narrow their control of the body is, our leader needs to bring only one country back to his own side in order to secure a fourth 5-year term as Humanity's leader.


Hello all, long time no see!

I've been hanging around on the OT Forums, writing and posting My Father's War, a prequel to The Stormbreakers - A Stellaris Story. But when I saw that Nemesis finally released, I just had to come back here and celebrate a little with this short story from the Stormbreaker Universe. Hopefully I'll get a chance to try the expansion for myself soon, and who knows... maybe I'll make my way back to the Stellaris AAR forums with another story to tell. Maybe soon. ;)
 
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Well, that's interesting...
 

Macavity116

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The Last Heroes – A Stellaris Story
Overture – Third Movement

May 2, 2084
Pearl City High School, Oahu Island, Hawaii, United Nations of Earth



Being a tropical island, the transition from Spring to Summer took a different shape for Oahu. The air seemed to feel heavier, and it drove more and more people toward the beaches. Vanians took to decorating their rooftop homes with brilliant colors in preparation for festivals, while cruise liners, both ocean and space-traveling, arrived at Honolulu to drop off adventurous tourists.

There was one person who desperately wanted to enjoy the warm weather and brilliant sun, but they just couldn’t. Seventeen-year-old Varian Robinson was neck deep in work. Today was Tuesday, only the second day of the weeklong final exams at Pearl City High School.

For the Freshman, Sophomores, and Juniors, final exams would happen at the end of the month, but for the Seniors, the young men and women who were about to graduate, the hammer fell just under a month early, and the timing was most inconvenient. Varian was distracted by other events, and he was having trouble focusing on his work.

… Or was it “she was having trouble focusing on her work?”

The curious thing about Varian Robinson is that she (or perhaps he) had a body type that was uncommon, yet well-known among the Galaxy’s population of Humanoids: Varian was androgynous, meaning that their physical appearance wasn’t wholly male or female, but rather a solution of both. It was nearly impossible to figure out if Varian was a boy or girl simply by looking. To make things even more confusing for the casual observer, Varian him- (or her-) -self was almost never in the mood to answer the inevitable question, leaving that particular aspect of their life a total mystery.

This afternoon, Varian was in the middle of the history final. To their annoyance, the exam consisted of three essay questions, and each essay was expected to be several pages long. The essay prompts were as follows:

  • In January 2066, with his very first act as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Pascal Etienne issued a blanket pardon for all Humans who fought against the United Nations during the War in Heaven, including Konstantine Volikov, Ivan Kuznetsov, Elena Dragunova, Geist, and Duane Gardner. Explain why this happened.
  • The UN Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission placed many members of the collaborationist ADVENT regime on trial for their crimes against Humanity during the Second Hyperspace War. Name five of the alien warlords, their crimes, and what sentence they received from the GTRC.
  • Explain in detail how the ADVENT Army was reformed into the modern-day UN Armed Forces, with particular emphasis on the restoration of Human military culture and the expulsion of alien members.
Varian felt as though his (or her) head was going to split open after the first two questions, and took a quick break to look up at the wall clock. Almost an hour left. Looking back down at the paper, Varian tried to focus, but their mind wandered. It was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon. Any moment now, Varian’s grandfather was going to give a statement on live TV.

There was some kind of diplomatic incident going on between Earth and Aoraki right now. Two or three times a day, there were new developments on a scandalous story: a Human spy was caught and killed on Aoraki. Why Earth was spying on its only ally in the Galaxy was a mystery to Varian, one their thoughts kept drifting back to. Shaking her (or his) head to clear it of conspiracy theories, Varian returned to work.



Finally, at four o’clock, the torment was over. Leaving another exam behind, Varian joined the crush of students trying to escape from the school. Out on the front lawn, students milled about, waiting for a bus to come and take them back into Pearl City. The school itself was located outside of town. Varian stood out on the sidewalk in front of the building, looking up at the sky. Several young men spotted Varian and called out:

“Hey! The stars only come out at night, moron!”

Ignoring them, Varian kept her (or his) eyes on the northwestern horizon. With a great big roar, a spaceplane soared over the school, heading for the airport at Pearl Harbor. When it was just overhead, the spaceplane tipped its right wing toward the ground, an aviator’s way of saying hello. The words “JSDF ARK ANGEL” were painted on the underside of the left wing, while the words “UNITED NATIONS OF EARTH” appeared on the opposite side. All of the ship’s war-era markings and weapons were gone, showing that she truly was a civilian vessel now.

One of the boys who called out to Varian watched the Ark Angel swoop out of sight.

“Come back!” the boy shouted to the spaceplane. “You left your xeno-loving freak down here!”

He pointed to Varian, causing many of the surrounding students to snigger and giggle. Another boy gave Varian a nasty look.

“You know, Robinson, I saw really big bird in a pet shop last weekend.” The boy taunted. “Maybe it’s a Vanian. Have you kissed one of those yet? I’ll bet the cashier will cut you a nice deal for it!”

He laughed at his own joke. Rolling their eyes, Varian said:

“If all men on Earth are like you, Kevin, the species is gonna die out in a real hurry.”

Kevin puffed out his chest, offended and looking ready to pick a fight.

“I’m a Human! A real one!” Kevin declared while receiving cheers of approval from the crowd. “I’m a real man! I don’t sell out my own people to protect xenos like your gramps, and I don’t fuck aliens like your whore mom!”

Varian snapped.

“SHUT UP!” He (or she) screamed and then flew at Kevin.



Ten minutes later, both students, battered and bruised, were sitting outside of the principal’s office. Phone calls were made and parents were on the way. Kevin’s family arrived first. When they saw Varian, they took one look at him, (or her) and then both Kevin’s mother and father raised their hands to make very rude gestures.

“Xeno-fucker.” Kevin’s father spat at Varian.

“Race traitor.” His mother added.

Kevin and his family retreated down the hallway and were gone. Varian put their head in the hands and let out a silent scream of anger and frustration. The only solace they could take in this situation was that it was almost over. One more week and then Varian would never have to return to this school again. Varian pulled a tablet computer from her (or his) backpack and started reading a mystery novel while they waited.

Varian loved a good mystery. It was like going on a scavenger hunt to collect puzzle pieces, and then figuring out just how those pieces went together. He (or she) loved the thrill of realizing they were on the right track, and that things were starting to make sense.

Varian had life figured out. (as much as a teenager could, anyway) They wanted to become a private investigator. That way, they could get to do something fun and interesting for a living: seeking out answers, finding things or people that were missing, and getting to the bottom of a real brain-twister. Last year, Varian got a thrill from helping Grandpa Blake put together the mystery of Akira Robinson and write a book about it. Varian hoped she (or he) might be able to solve a mystery on their own someday.

Footsteps were approaching down the hallway. Varian felt their heart sink, determined not to look up just yet. His (or her) mother was normally kind and loving, but was fully capable of being a stern and strong-willed parent when the situation called for it. Varian remained immersed in the book until a male voice spoke just in front of them.

“Excuse me, are you Varian Robinson?”

Caught off-guard, Varian looked up. Standing in the middle of the hallway was a Human man wearing a black business suit, a dark-colored tie, and sunglasses. He looked like the stereotypical “secret agent” Varian had seen in so many movies and tv shows.

“Uh, sure.” Varian replied cautiously. “What? Kevin’s family charging me with assault or something?”

“No.” The strange man replied. “Please read this carefully. Your immediate and discrete response is required.”

The man produced an envelope from his inside pocket. The only writing on it was Varian’s own name. Confused, Varian extended a hand and took the envelope. Right away, the man relinquished the envelope and started to walk away. Alarmed, Varian got up from his (or her) seat and tried to follow but the strange man outpaced them and was out the front door in a moment.

“Wait!” Varian called after him. “What’s going on!?”

The man ignored Varian, climbed into the driver’s seat of a black electric car, and then drove away. Puzzled and now somewhat alarmed, Varian looked down at the envelope again.

Immediate response? Discretion? What’s happening here?

Just then, it started to dawn on Varian that she (or he) had been thrown headfirst into a very real mystery, just like in some books they’d read as a child. This could turn out to be something really cool! But just as they were starting to get excited about the idea, a hand clasped around their shoulder.

Looking around, Varian found themself face-to-face with their own mother.

Time had been kind to Himawari Robinson, who was almost fifty years old. She was so beautiful that she turned the heads of nearly everyone in the area. She stared at Varian with grey eyes, a trait shared by all who had been born with the Gift but lost it later on. Himawari scowled at her oldest child. She was in such a foul mood that when she started communicating in sign language, she only used one hand:

“What happened this time?”



May 3, 2084
Hysperia Heights, New Levakia, Eloafrarvis Star System, The Great Wastelands



Not every city in the Galaxy is some epic metropolis filled with wealth, opulence, and advanced technology. Sometimes colonization doesn’t go to plan.

New Levakia was one such planet. Once, it was the core of a deeply ambitious 100-year project to build a new capitol for the Levakian Confederation, but that country was now defunct, having become part of the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth. The massive construction project on the planet was abandoned, and soon the half-built city of Hysperia Heights fell to ruin. The relic world became a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Mercenary camps dotted the surface while pirate bases lurked in orbit. New Levakia was, on the whole, a terrible place to live.

It was also a gold mine for a certain kind of people.

Every once in a while, a fleet of bounty hunters would enter the system. It was part of a carefully-negotiated coordinated effort, orchestrated by the Corporacy, an Earth-based megacorporation. These occasional battles at New Levakia would see a systematic purge of criminals who used the world as a hiding place, scattering their like into the Great Wastelands for another few years. One such event had just concluded, and in the barely-functional Hall of Justice, right at the core of Hysperia Heights, one of those bounty hunters came to collect her pay.

Corder may have entered the room unnoticed, but soon enough all eyes were on her. Humans, Assurians, Partogans, and Levakians couldn’t take their gaze off her orange striped fur, fluffy pointed ears, or her alluring yellow eyes. Corder was wearing Elerium-powered battle armor and armed with an array of laser weapons, but her outfit could not hide her distinctive shape.

This individual was a Hybrid.

Specifically, she was half Human and Half Levakian. While her body was generally Human-shaped, Corder’s face, ears, lower legs, paws, and tail were distinctly feline. Corder prowled up the steps to the Hall of Justice carrying a rucksack on her back. In the main lobby, court officials stood behind Gauss-proof plastic and did business with bounty hunters. One such individual recognized Corder and waved her over to his stall. The Levakian clerk winced at the sight of the bag Corder was lugging.

“Oh, old friend. Didn’t I tell you we don’t need the whole body?” He said. “As long as you bring a small body part, we can ID them with DNA. You could have gotten your pay from just a finger.”

“Trust me, Kirin. I know.” Corder grunted. “I just have a lot of parts for you to ID.”

And then Corder turned out the contents of her bag, causing a justifiable level of alarm and panic in all who saw exactly WHAT was deposited on the floor.

“All from that pirate base behind the western gorge.” Corder said as casually as if she’d done nothing more than place a coin on the desk. “I’d like my money in Partogan Dirams, please. I’ve got a hot date with an Assurian coming up.”



Leaving the Hall of Justice behind her, Corder paid no attention to the many HAZMAT teams racing towards the building as she counted her money again. She was trying to figure out exactly what she could buy for two thousand Dirams. Her starship could do with an overhaul. Then again, this kind of money could by half a dozen laser rifles, and Corder’s personal arsenal wasn’t as big as she’d like it to be. Then again, two thousand big ones could buy a really good quality Partogan at the slave markets on Assuria. The last one hadn’t lasted very long.

Corder was so lost in thought that she bumped headlong into a Human wearing a black business suit on the side of the street.

“Hey bum! Watch where you’re going!” Corder snarled.

The Human adjusted his sunglasses and looked down at the Hybrid. She flattened her ears and showed her teeth.

“Excuse me ma’am, are you Corder Leang?”

“Who are you!?” Corder demanded. “And how the hell do you know my Human name!?”

The man did not answer. Instead. He offered a simple envelope with one hand. When Corder took it, the Human turned and walked away, ignoring Corder’s many demands to come back and answer her questions.



May 4, 2084
Asalele Graveyard, Qurus Star System, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth



In orbit around the bluish star named Qurus, there is an extremely dense field of debris, swirling and roiling about in a chaotic mass. Over one-hundred-fifty years ago, this place was a thriving planet named Asalele. Now all that remained of the world and its inhabitants was a burned-out stellar corpse.

Travelling along the same orbital path as the ruins of Asalele was the wreckage of a very large spacecraft. The Planet-Killer Felnas had been left here to rot for the past century, eternally accompanying the world it destroyed. For the longest time, no one wanted to do anything with the wrecked weapons platform. It was a permanent scar in the history of two species, and neither wanted anything to do with it.

But those attitudes changed after the Second Hyperspace War. The entire Galaxy was devastated, and the reconstruction efforts would take a further half-century to bring life back to normal after the conflict. The demand for construction materials was intense, and it gave birth to a whole new industry: shipbreaking.

Industrious young people from all over the Galaxy realized they could salvage the wreckage of starships and re-use them material elsewhere. Small-time operations that predated the war suddenly grew into massive corporations. Amateurs became powerfully wealthy, and soon the reclamation of old hulks became the best way to make money among the stars.

One such Megacorporation laid claim to the wreck of the Felnas, and now a small army of workers were carving up the Planet-Killer. A veritable swarm of shuttlecraft buzzed between the wreck and a Mothership-class vessel nearby. Amidst this crowd, one particular shuttle landed in the Mothership’s bay and a young Partogan man stepped out.

Maui Ririnui always worked alone. He did have social skills and could be an amiable person as necessary, but for the most part he avoided the distraction of conversation. It took him away from thinking. In almost robotic fashion, Maui unloaded a number of computer cores he’d cut out of the very heart of the Felnas. All the while, he was lost in thought.

Finally, Maui’s cargo was offloaded from the shuttle and processed by the corporate crew of the Mothership. For his haul, Maui was paid handsomely, and he clocked out for the day. Like the rest of the team who worked here, Maui had his own private quarters in another section of the Mothership. Making a note of where he parked his shuttle, Maui left the hangar.

As he walked through the many crowded corridors leading through the Mothership’s interior, Maui reached into his pocket and produced a glasses case. He didn’t normally wear glasses. Physical fitness seemed to be a dominant trait in the Ririnui family, which was appropriate, seeing how one of Maui’s ancestors was the famed Nya Ririnui, who supposedly ascended the Holy Mountain on a daily basis.

The glasses Maui donned had thick rims and arms, containing the tiniest of computers. A heads-up-display appeared inside the lenses, calibrated to Maui’s eye movements. Using this piece of advanced eyewear, Maui was able to resume a personal passion project as he walked.

A set of detailed schematics appeared in front of Maui’s eyes, just transparent enough for him to walk along without running into anyone or anything. Maui was very confident that he was looking at the original design plans of the Felnas, and more specifically, the Central Computer that controlled the Wrath Cannon, the very weapon that destroyed the world of Asalele.

Maui began picking the computer apart. (virtually) He examined each component in turn, making notes about how it was manufactured, how it functioned, and how it interacted with the other parts.

Maui loved to reverse-engineer and study computer technology, and a historically significant device like the Felnas’ Wrath Cannon computer was too good an opportunity to pass up. If Maui could have his way, he would stay awake for the next dozen hours picking apart the instrument of Asalele’s demise. But... he did not get his way.

As Maui passed by one of the many cafeterias that served Shipbreakers like himself, a Human man wearing a black business suit and sunglasses stepped into the hall, blocked Maui’s way, and held up a hand.

“Excuse me, sir.” The Human said. “Are you Maui Ririnui?”

Maui stopped walking, but he did not stop his virtual work.

“Sure.” He said, not looking at the Human. “What do you want?”

The man extended a hand. Maui looked down to see that the Human was offering a simple envelope. As soon as Maui grabbed it, the Human turned and walked away at a brisk pace.

Maui raised an eyebrow, which caused his smart glasses to open up an investigation program of his own design. Maui held the envelope in the light and allowed his device to scan it.



May 5, 2084
Wasolo, The Heartland, Assuria, People’s Republic of Assuria



For the fifteenth time since the end of the Second Hyperspace War, the Assurian civilization descended into civil war. The never-ending conflict between those who sought to restore the monarchy and those who sought to restore democracy flared up yet again as the most unstable nation in the Galaxy continued to be... well... unstable. As usual, the two sides were being heavily supported by foreign backers. The Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth was supporting the Monarchist cause with shipments of money, food, weapons, and ammunition, The Republic of Kelta supported the Democrats, sending shipments of their own with nearly the same contents. Both nations had been supporting the combatant factions for more than a century at this point.

Aoraki and Kelta have been allies for almost two hundred years, yet the countless wars in Assuria had become just minor bumps in their relationship.

Once again, the skies of the Assurian Heartland filled with wreckage as starships flying the same purple and blue flag started blowing each other to bits. On the ground, whole cities went up in flames as the Monarchists attempted to deliver a final knockout blow to their foes.

The closest thing Assuria has to a Capitol City these days is Wasolo. It’s not a true city, but rather a small town that sprang up around Camp Wasalo, a military base that serves as the primary headquarters of the Democratic Faction. This time, the fighting had restarted when Monarchist fighters staged a daring assault on Wasolo. They invaded and occupied the nearest hilltop, set up artillery pieces on the summit, and then proceeded to mercilessly shell the city from a distance.

The retaliation was swift and brutal. Over two thousand Democratic fighters gathered outside the town and then charged straight up the hillside, guns blazing. Now there was smoke billowing from the hilltop. In desperation, the Monarchists had lowered their cannons and attempted to fire directly down the slope at the oncoming Democrats. Then they were overwhelmed by the furious survivors.

As the fighting died down, one man set his rotary plasma cannon against a tree and sat down to take a break. Smoking a cigarette made of Partogan Harakeke, he felt the weight of the world starting to ease off his shoulders.

Kingi was a strange-looking fellow. Most of the time, it is fairly easy to spot a person who is a Hybrid of two species. Kingi is an exception to this rule. At first glance, his dark leather-like hide, subdued cranial ridges, and silvery hair would make the casual observer think he was an Assurian man in his late middle ages. This would be incorrect, and it was surprisingly easy to learn the truth.

An alien news crew, attempting to document the conflict, spotted Kingi leaning against the tree and made their way to him. A Levakian kept the camera mounted on his shoulder while two Vanians, one a producer and one the reporter, approached.

“Pardon me.” Said the reporter. “I’m Nirmal from Outer Limb News 15. Can I ask who you are and what you’ve done here today?”

Kingi flicked his cigarette away and replied curtly.

“I’m Kingi, son of Eraka Mihaka, who is a Partogan from New Levakia. I fought the Monarchists. Now they’re dead, so I’m waiting for the next fight.”

The reporter looked back at his producer, who silently egged him on.

“We were hoping to ask... why? Why fight at all, seeing as how little good the last fourteen wars did for this planet?”

Kingi paused before answering.

“I don’t give a damn who wins or loses.” he finally replied. “I just wanna give my friends some peace.”

Taking whatever lead he could, the reporter pressed on.

“It’s still very noble to fight for one’s friends.” Nirmal said. “May I ask where they are now?”

“Dead.” Kingi replied bluntly. “All of ‘em.”

Nirmal’s beak fell open. Kingi stared right into the camera and added;

“Once I find those bastards who killed everyone who ever mattered to me, and I kill them in return, sure. Then I'll stop fighting. Then I’ll rest. This?”

Kingi patted the tree.

“I’m just catching my breath now, ‘cause I found a few of those bastards today and sent’em to Hawaiki myself. I’ll get moving soon enough, start looking for the rest.”

The news crew looked at Kingi in stunned silence for a short moment, then Nirmal the reporter dared to ask:

“The rest? How many more people are you planning to kill?”

Kingi lit up another Harakeke cigarette.

“Two. Just two.”



As the news crew packed up and left the scene, Kingi was left alone with his own thoughts. It was all well and good that he knew exactly who his final marks were and where they could be found, but getting there was going to be troublesome. Kingi quietly wished he knew someone who could help him.

“Excuse me sir, are you Kingi, son of Eraka Mihaka?”

Kingi whipped around, reaching for his sidearm instinctively. Standing a little way down the hill, next to a splintered tree, was a Human man wearing a black business suit and sunglasses. There was an envelope in his hand.

“Who wants to know?” Kingi replied, keeping one hand on his plasma pistol.

The Human did not flinch.

“I have a message for him, from an individual on Earth who requires an immediate response.”

Earth, you say?

Kingi’s suspicions were aroused immediately. A message from a person on the very planet he needed to visit, right when Kingi actually needed to go there? No, something strange was going on. Kingi took the envelope cautiously and was surprised to see that the man who delivered it turned and left without another word.



May 6, 2084
Embassy of the Republic of Kelta, Berlin, Germany, United Nations of Earth



Ninu Dokunle could see the finish line... metaphorically, of course.

He was sitting in a conference room in the Kelt Embassy, and there were only three other people in the room with him: the President of Kelta, a Human interpreter, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations of Earth. They were in the middle of a high-profile negotiation. The two Heads of State were just as different from one another as their nations.

President Kessick was an example of a Kelt in their prime, and he made Ninu feel a little shame about his own physical build. On average, a Kelt stood roughly two feet tall. These reptilian people had special pads on their hands and feet that allowed them to climb almost any surface, and tails that could detach in a life-threatening emergency. On Earth, lizards tended to be very small. In fact, by this point, the Kelt people were the largest lizards ever encountered by Humans.

Across the table, Secretary-General Pascal Etienne was most definitely not an example of Human health. His eyes were sunken and clouded over. All of the papers in front of him contained raised bumps instead of written words, so that Humanity’s blind leader could keep pace with everyone else.

The two rulers did not share a language in common, and this was where Ninu and his Human counterpart came into play. He was an interpreter. Secretary General Etienne would talk directly to President Kessick, and then the interpreters would convert the words into something their respective leaders could understand. Ninu was sworn to secrecy about this meeting, owing to the sensitive topic at hand. Thus, he was quite happy to realize that President Kessick was coming around to a final agreement with the Human leader.

“All Kelt warships will withdraw to a position fifteen lightyears north of Abassyd.” Ninu translated.

“And all Human warships shall respect Kelta’s claim to Tenhauser Gate and the exclusive rights that come with it.” Etienne replied through his interpreter. “I hope this dispute will not go further than those directly affected by it.”

“Likewise.” President Kessick answered. “I would hate for something as simple as a border dispute to poison the strong relationship between our peoples.”

Standing up, Secretary General Etienne finished with,

“Thank you for your cooperation, Mister President.”



Once the meeting was over, the Humans were escorted out of the Embassy and President Kessick complimented Ninu in front of the Kelt political staff.

“Well done in there, Dokunle. I’m confident you have a future in diplomatic service. Keep practicing those language skills of yours.”

“Thank you, sir.” Ninu could barely contain his excitement.

All in all, Ninu was having a very good day. As the sun started setting, he left the Embassy and started walking back to his apartment in the Eastern part of Berlin. This section of the city was relatively new. East Berlin was bulldozed and rebuilt from the ground up by the ADVENT Coalition during the Second Hyperspace War, and it was now a hypermodern city, replete with skyscrapers, holographic ads on the sidewalks, and electric vehicles on the streets. Ninu loved exploring this place so much that he never took the same route home twice. There was always something to see!

Ninu wandered aimlessly for about an hour before finally turning for home. He was somewhere near the center of Neukölln when he spotted a Human male wearing a black business suit and sunglasses crossing the street and coming towards him. Ninu blinked several times and stepped aside, assuming the man wanted to walk past him. To Ninu’s great alarm, the Human corrected course and intercepted him anyway.

“Excuse me sir, are you Ninu Dokunle?”

Ninu had never been stopped in the street like this before, and was too frightened to speak. This Human was big, almost a full four feet taller than the little lizard. When Ninu hesitated, the man said:

“Nothing to fear, sir. I just want to deliver a message.”

The man reached into his pocket and produced a small envelope. It was sized specifically for Kelt, and just the right shape to fit in the pocket of Ninu’s coat.

“If you are the Kelt named Dokunle, then please read this message carefully.” The man said. “It is very important.”

“Oh, uh... okay then.”

Ninu cautiously took the envelope. At the last moment, he thought of a question to ask, but the strange man was already leaving. He crossed the street, got in a car, and drove away.



May 7, 2084
Gardner City, Terra Nova, Alpha Centauri Star System, United Nations of Earth



“Ladies and gentlemen! Are you ready for a XENO FIGHT!?”

The audience screamed itself hoarse. There were so many people crammed inside of the Konstantine Volikov Memorial Stadium that the noise of the crowd threatened to raise the roof! On the floor of the fighting ring, the master of ceremonies prepared to introduce the two fighters.

“In the right corner: back home on Earth, we’d call him the king of the beasts. You hear his roar and you’ll be runnin’ for the priests! You see those claws or teeth, then you’ll be six feet underneath this ferocious furious feral feline, it’s Tumblebrutus!”

A fully grown Levakian male thundered into the fighting ring, roaring loudly and snarling, teeth bared. The crowd cheered and clapped.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” They chanted.

The MC carried on.

“In the left corner, we thought his kind died out millions of years ago, but this one’s just been waiting for a worthy foe! He’s four hundred pounds of violence and pain, he’ll use your blood to paint the terrain! It’s Cetla!”

Screams began to mix in with the cheers as a huge reptilian alien stomped into view. Even a well-travelled Galactic adventurer would fail to identify Cetla at first glance, owing to the fact that no member of his species had ever been this far away from home.

Cetla was a Micore.

Notoriously xenophobic, the people of Micanawn never interacted with the Galaxy at large, preferring to delegate the tasks of interstellar diplomacy, trade, and warfare to a vast army of droids. Cetla was an exception to that rule. Like the rest of his people, Cetla was a massive herbivorous reptile, with big flat teeth, defensive spikes on his tail, and natural armor plating on his torso, arms and legs.

The audience refused to wait any longer. Fifty thousand Humans had paid good money to see two freakish aliens beat the living daylights out of one another, and they were going to get their money’s worth of a show.

The referee waited until the MC got clear of the stage. The two fighters approached one another, and then the ref gave the signal.

Cetla and Tumblebrutus launched into one another to roars of approval from the crowd. Claws and teeth gnashed viciously as the Levakian’s claws made contact with Cetla’s natural armor. Sparks hit the floor just before Cetla brought one scaly fist to bear against Tumblebrutus. The lion reeled backwards, hit the ropes, and rebounded into the ring. Cetla could take a hit though. In fact, he could take several.

Tumblebrutus battered and struck at every inch of the Micore fighter he could reach, and Cetla curled forward defensively, absorbing the first few blows before turning sharply to strike with his tail. Cetla’s tail spikes connected with the Levakian’s body and Tumblebrutus once again leapt away! Cetla kept turning to face toward his opponent, who decided to use his nimbleness to his advantage.

The Levakian began to circle Cetla, forcing him to continuously turn and reset his footing. The audience seemed to enjoy the momentary standoff, but their patience wore thin. Soon Humans were chanting:

“Go! Go! Go!”

Cetla moved first, lunging towards Tumblebrutus, who leapt out of the way with time to spare. Missing his target, the Micore fell forward, hit the floor, and within a moment, Tumblebrutus was on top of him, sinking his claws and teeth into anything soft! Cetla roared, reached over his own head and grabbed Tumblebrutus by the mane. Then he rolled over, using his own immense body weight to pin Tumblebrutus to the floor. The lion snarled and sank his teeth into Cetla’s arm, but it was no good. The referee got down on his knees next to the fighters and started slamming his palm into the floor rhythmically.

“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six!”

The audience joined in, making the countdown ear-splittingly loud.

“Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”

The fight was over. Cetla got off his vanquished opponent and raised his arms in triumph, soaking in the adulation of the crowd.



One floor below the fighting ring, Cetla was being seen to by a group of Kelt medics after the fight. To say they were struggling was an understatement. Cetla requested their aid specifically because they were reptiles like him, but he stood almost seven feet tall, meaning the tallest medic only came up to the bottom of his knee.

The massive fighter was doing everything he could to help the medical team. He lay on his belly and allowed them to make use of his own personal first aid kit, which actually had the right kind of gauze and bandages to deal with the many punctures the Levakian left in his hide. Finally, the medics finished their work and told Cetla that he needed to rest for several days and keep travel to a minimum. Then they left the room, leaving Cetla to rest. He curled up next to the space heater, installed specifically for him a few days ago.

Cetla grew warm and soon felt very relaxed. He checked the wall clock and saw that he had about half an hour before his agent arrived to discuss Cetla’s next fight. Just enough time to take a nap...

Knock. Knock.

Well, that was quick. Cetla let out a great yawn and stood up. Someone was gently rapping their knuckles against the dressing room door. Looking at the clock, Cetla realized that his agent was early. Grumbling, he crossed the room and pulled the door open.

Cetla’s agent was not there.

Instead, standing in the hallway was a tall Human wearing a black business suit and sunglasses.

“Excuse me sir.” The man said. “Are you Cetla Shu’naan?”

Cetla grunted and nodded at the same time.

“Sure. Is there something I can help you with? I guess I’ve got time since my agent’s late.”

The man held out an envelope.

“You may want to ask your agent to put your next fight on hold.” the Human said. “This message requires an immediate response.”



May 8, 2084
Jericho Station, Alpha Centauri Star System, United Nations of Earth



There are two border crossings from the Hiigaran Empire into the United Nations of Earth.

Gliese Outpost is an insignificant hunk of metal in deep space used by almost no one.

Jericho Station, by contrast, is one of the biggest and busiest transportation hubs in the Galaxy. The deep space installation contained a shipyard, trade center, a deep space comms relay, and even a full-scale resort, complete with hotel, casino, and low-gravity amusement parks.

In the Jericho Station Hotel, conference room number fifteen went unused most of the day, but hotel staff new full well that it was reserved by someone who had paid an inordinate amount of money to use it for a meeting. Most of the money, a huge payment of UN Credits, had gone towards purchasing the silence of hotel staff. No record of the reservation would exist, and no employee would ever remember the name of the person who engaged the hotel’s services.

Around mid-afternoon, a public transportation shuttle dropped off Varian Robinson and Cetla. They were travelling together by coincidence, and had no idea they were both going to the same destination until they passed through the hotel entrance together.

“No way.” Varian said. “You’re going to Room 15, too?”

“Yes.” Cetla answered. “I received a letter from-”

A third voice cut him off.

“You got it from a creepy Human in a suit, right?”

Corder was leaning against the wall across from the door to Room 15. Her tail swished at the sight of the newcomers. Varian raised his (or her) eyebrow in confusion.

“Let me guess, the letter said not to go into the room until three o’clock, right?”

“So, they just copied the letter four times and shipped it to random folks all over the Galaxy?”

Maui Ririnui had just arrived.

Before anyone could say anything, the final two people arrived. Ninu was riding on Kingi’s shoulders, as the two had intercepted one another by chance on the way here. A wider conversation began as each person introduced themselves to one another. The six summoned individuals had almost nothing in common. They had been summoned to this place from all over he known Galaxy for reasons unknown. And the method was always the same, a hand-delivered letter bearing instructions to come to this very place.

“They all say the same thing.” Ninu commented as all six people compared their letters. “Come to Conference Room 15 at Jericho Station Hotel on the 8th of May, but do not enter until 3pm.”

“But why?” Corder wondered aloud. “What’s so significant about this place? Why is the time so specific?”

“And why do you smell like blood?” Kingi added, leaning towards Corder.

The feline Hybrid ignored him, but Ninu wanted to get even further off-topic

“While we’re asking uncomfortable questions, I’ve got one for the Human. Are you male or female? I can’t tell and it's driving me insane.”

Varian did not reply. He (or she) shot an unpleasant expression at Ninu before turning to focus on Maui.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get some answers.” Maui replied.

He was putting on his smart glasses again. Varian rolled her (or his) eyes.

“You know you can’t scan through hotel rooms, right?” Varian said. “They have defenses to protect people’s privacy.”

“Those defenses can be defeated.” Maui declared. “Hmm... the room is empty. No one inside. The room’s been rigged up for a holoconfrence. I see a Hyperwave Relay and a hologram interface.”

“Wait... a holoconfrence?” Ninu groaned. “You mean we could have done this stupid meeting from our homes!?”

“Someone’s trying to waste our time.” Cetla grumbled. “Or have a laugh at us.”

Maui put up a hand to silence the others.

“That Hyperwave Relay is active.” He said. “It’s connected to some remote location and the holocomm system is active. There’s someone on the other end, waiting for us to join the conference.”

Corder checked her wristwatch.

“It’s almost three.” she said.

“Good.” Kingi growled. “Just in time for my favorite show, the one with the answers.”

And without waiting for another word, Kingi strode forward and pushed the door open. Looking around at one another, perplexed, the five remaining people followed Kingi into the conference room. The door swung shut behind them.

The inside of Room 15 was exactly the same way as Maui had described it with one addition: in front of the Hyperwave Relay’s touchscreen, there were seven strips of tape on the floor. Cetla recognized them immediately.

“These are stage markers.” He said. “Like if we were filming something for television. We would each stand on a marker to make sure the camera could see everyone. This must be so whoever is on the other end can see us.”

“He’s right!” Varian gasped. “Look. Each strip has our names on it.”

Spaced around the room were seven markers, each one labeled with letters written in the Galactic Common, spelling out the names of seven people who were summoned to this place:

Kingi
Inez
Corder
Varian
Ninu
Maui
Cetla


As each moment went by with nothing happening, the common idea began to spread unspoken between the six people. They all moved to stand on top of the marker with their name on it. They faced the Hyperwave Relay, and then Maui said:

“Hello? We’re here!”

For a few moments, there was no more noise. Then the touchscreen flickered. The words “Please stand by” flashed for a moment and then vanished. Varian leaned forward, Ninu stood on tiptoe, and Corder narrowed her eyes.

Then the hologram emitters all around the room lit up. A shape formed in the center of the room, with the six people standing around it in a ring. It was the silhouette of a Humanoid figure. Despite being a hologram, the figure was very poorly lit, making it totally impossible to see any details beyond the general human-like shape of their head and body. For a moment, the silhouette just kind of hung there, between everyone. Then its head bobbed slightly as it spoke. A voice issued forth from the speakers and the silhouette addressed everyone in turn:

“Hello, Varian Robinson. Welcome, Ninu Dokunle. Honored greetings Kingi, son of Eraka Mihaka. Olá, Inez Espinosa. Kia ora, Maui Ririnui. Aloha, Corder Leang. Warmest light to you, Cetla Shu’naan. I thank all seven of you for answering my summons.”

“Who are you?” Ninu burst out. “Why have you called us here?”

Meanwhile, Varian was looking at the empty space labelled “Inez” with a confused expression.

The silhouette spoke again.

“It is neither safe nor wise for me to reveal myself to you at this time.” it said in a male humanoid voice. “Suffice to say that I am an individual with such power, wealth, and influence that my agents were able to hunt you down in the most distant corners of the Galaxy and bring you here in the span of seven Earth days.”

“You still haven’t told us why, though.” Kingi grumbled.

“Because after many months of research and analysis, I believe you are the best qualified people in the Galaxy to do what must be done.”

Corder looked around and sized everyone up.

“Well, it looks to me like you’re planning for a fight.” She said. “Three of us are pretty good muscle, and I’m guessing the other three are here for their brains. Just so you know, I’m not a cheap bounty hunter, I’ll bet these folks charge a heavy fee, too.”

“I’m not a bounty hunter.” Varian said. “And I don’t know what good I'd be in a fight. My gramps just taught me to use a gun last year. I’m not all that good yet.”

“Did I say you were muscle!?” Corder sniped.

The Silhouette spoke again.

“You have all been under my observation for some time. I believe your knowledge, skills and talents will suit this task perfectly, and given the nature of the threat we are faced with, I cannot afford to make mistakes when choosing members of the team.”

“A threat?” Ninu repeated. “So, you admit you are expecting us to fight someone!”

“That is correct.” The Silhouette confirmed. “I have come to offer you the chance to become the next generation of Stormbreakers.”

It was like all of the air was sucked out of the room. Every single person momentarily forgot to breathe, the shock and surprise tangible. Varian fell to her (or his) knees.

“St-s-Stormbreakers!?” they gasped. “Like my grandparents?”

The other five people did double-takes, looking at Varian with newfound awe and wonder.

“You’re related to the Stormbreakers!?” Maui gasped.

“You should have led with that.” Cetla remarked, sounding impressed.

“Wait a minute!” Ninu said. “If this boy is related to the Stormbreakers, why not contact us through them? Why the cloak and dagger?”

“The nature of this operation demands secrecy.” The Silhouette replied. “This new incarnation of the Stormbreakers will not be sanctioned nor will it be publicly supported by the United Nations of Earth. If you join, you will operate outside of the law as a secret unit.”

There was a moment of tense silence, and then Ninu spoke up.

“I’ve been party to enough secret negotiations in my time, sir. I can hear the inflections in your voice. So, I’m just going to come out and say it... you want us to fight someone... that’s obvious. But why do I get the feeling the threat you refer to is inside the United Nations?”

The Silhouette refused to speak. Silence seemed to confirm Ninu was on the right track. Varian, meanwhile, stood upright again.

“Well, I think I know why you picked me, then.” He (or she) said. “And if that’s the case, then I’m in.”

Corder laughed.

“That’s all well and good, Robinson. You’re just getting into the family business.” She said. “But the rest of us work for a living. Look, shadow guy, I’ll fight for anyone who’s got the coin. So, what are you gonna pay me for blowin’ the head off some Human politician?”

“Perhaps you should double-check your bank account.” Said the Silhouette. “I’ll wait.”

The others turned their gaze onto Corder as she pulled a tablet computer out of her pocket and powered it on. A moment later, Corder let out a shuddering gasp and fell to the floor just like Varian. Everybody raced over to look at Corder’s screen:

National Bank of Kelta
Personal account: Leang, Corder
Preferred currency setting: Dirams (Par/Lev Commonwealth)
Yesterday’s balance: 4,901.99 Dirams
Starship Refueling cost: 1,071.34 Dirams
Money Transfer from <REDACTED>: 1,000,000,000 Dirams
Today’s balance: 1,000,003,830.65 Dirams


It was more money than Corder had ever seen in her life. More money than she could ever know what to do with! She started hyperventilating, her tail swishing back and forth. The others looked up at the Silhouette, shocked beyond words.

“All seven of you may consider this a small down payment for your service to the Galaxy. You will be expected to serve in the role of Stormbreakers for a period of three years. You shall receive an annual salary of Fifteen billion UN Credits or the equivalent of your preferred local currency, and will be released from your duties at the end of that time; as we are confident that by then the threat will either be neutralized, or the actions of the Stormbreakers will be deemed irrelevant and we shall resort to other means to combat the enemy.”

Maui did a quick headcount.

“Uh, there’s only six of us in here.”

The Silhouette nodded its head in acknowledgement.

“Most unfortunate. But for now, you have the facts: There is a threat that warrants the secret re-activation and deployment of the Stormbreakers. You have been vetted and chosen for the role. If you accept the mission, you will be pressed into service as the new Stormbreakers for a period of three years and be compensated generously. Will you accept the mission?”

Varian stood up and moved to one side.

“I’m really sure I know what’s up now.” She (or he) said. “And I’m game. Who else?”

“I’m getting paid enough to buy the Galatron and you’ve got an insider lead?” Corder shrugged. “Sounds like an easy bounty. I’ll come along.”

Cetla was the next to join up.

“With this money, I’ll never have to do showfights again.” He said, “And neither of you look like you could hold your own in a fight. You need someone to watch your backs. And your fronts.”

Maui hesitated. He seemed to be considering all angles.

“Some of us have families, you know.” He said to the Silhouette. “If we’re going to be working out of the shadows, how do we know none of the blowback will hit my parents or siblings?”

“You’ve already seen my agents.” The Silhouette said. “Rest assured, your families will be under the best protection.”

With that, Maui joined the Stormbreakers.

“It seems clear to me that whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re fighting, it’s going down on Earth, or near it.” Kingi said. “I have personal business on Earth.”

“You are referring to the attack on the Levakian Mothership Mami Tamihana.”

“You’re damn right I am. I lost a lot of friends that day.”

The Silhouette nodded again.

“The two murderers you seek are already on our radar.” The Silhouette replied. “They are involved in this situation, but we don’t know how the attack on the Mami Tamihana is connected to the threat, if such a connection exists at all.”

“Then I’m in.” Kingi growled as he moved to stand beside Varian. “I don’t care about money, as long as I get to slit their throats.”

This left Ninu as the lone holdout.

“I... I think there’s been a horrible mistake.” he said. “Please don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s wonderful that new Stormbreakers are coming together to save us from some horrible enemy, but I clearly don’t belong here. I don’t know how to fight; I’ve never even held a gun! I... I’m just an interpreter.”

The five newly minted Stormbreakers looked over at the Silhouette.

“Ninu Dokunle, you were not chosen for your ability to fight or run or lift heavy things. You were chosen for your knowledge, talent, intuition, and your impressive ability to communicate. Not all of the original Stormbreakers were lifelong warriors.”

“Yeah,” Varian chimed in. “My Granny was a princess, she ended up riding right into hell with Jericho and came out alright in the end.”

Ninu hesitated longer than anyone else.

“I-I’ll have to send a letter of resignation to the President.” He murmured.

“It’s done.” Said the Silhouette. “You resigned this morning,”

“I need to contact my family.” He said. “Tell them I’m going away.”

“You did.” Replied the Silhouette. “Your family will be told you are being sworn to secrecy on a crucial government project.”

Corder’s jaw dropped.

“You can do all that!?” she gasped.

“Considering who and what we’re up against, we cannot afford to leave loose ends.” The Silhouette replied.

A sparkle of understanding lit up in Varian’s eyes.

“Oh, holy Jericho!” She (or he) said. “I know exactly what’s going on now. This just confirms everything!”

Ninu wasn’t done.

“My library!”

“Agents are being sent to catalogue everything. Your library will be reproduced perfectly in Stormbreaker HQ, right down to the notes scribbled in the margins in your copy of “The Legend of Whetu Kealoha.”

“My genealogy records?”

“Safe.”

“My pet?”

“Already aboard your ship, waiting for you with the utmost loyalty.”

“Jericho bless us all.” Maui breathed. “This is actually scary.”

But finally, at long last, Ninu was convinced.

“If... If I can be of any help.” He said cautiously, “And you did say this is a grave threat, didn’t you?”

The other five Stormbreakers all clasped hands in a kind of circular handshake, leaving room for Ninu to join in. The holographic Silhouette stepped through their ring and took up its position at their center once more.

“So, are we all official now?” Varian said. “Can we finally talk about this threat? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I know who it is.”

Everyone gathered around the Silhouette, and the shadowy figure nodded.

“Very well. This is the situation, and the true nature of the threat.”

Everybody leaned forward. Varian seemed to have gone a little pale, almost as though she (or he) was dreading the confirmation of their theory... and sure enough, the next words the Silhouette spoke struck fear into all six Stormbreakers, both confirming Varian’s worst fears and adding to them:

“The Paradox is alive. She has infiltrated the very highest levels of Earth’s government and seized direct control of several UN agencies. Your mission is to make war against Akira Robinson and her supporters. Dismantle the Paradox’s hold over Earth by any means possible, then seek out Akira herself and kill her.”


TO BE CONCLUDED...