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My fingers are sore
“Asta, it is not safe for you to be out in the city right now. You know there have been rumors of an attempt on your life.”

“If I stay cooped up in this palace one more day, I am going to start having people flogged.” Asta’s voice was one filled with annoyance.

“What if we arrange for you to have a picnic on the grounds?”

“Drake, I want to go out and see something besides this damn palace. I don’t care if we tour the sewers! At least it will be different. I have been locked down for almost a year. Make it happen!”

I grumbled to myself. My team was ready for anything, but why invite disaster? Asta wanted to go out and do some shopping, and she was going to make my life hell if I didn’t make it happen. I activated my implant bob and contacted Pralla. “The lady is a donkey. We have orders to make it happen. Do you think the emperor would get pissed if I tied her up and stuffed her in a closet?”

“I wouldn’t say it was a good career choice. We will pull in Gold unit to assist. They have been getting lazy with no crown prince to cover.”

“What about you, providing a full regiment of men to carry her packages? She has not been shopping in over a year.”

Prall laughed. “I don’t think so. Tell her we want a full itinerary and travel plan. That should give us another day to prepare.”

“No chance there. She provided those when I walked in this morning.”

“Take Gold unit and Silver One unit. I will put stingers in the air to prevent air traffic. Make sure she wears the body shield.”

“Are we really going to do this?”

“We don’t really have a choice, Drake. I will gather the others. We will put top four on this one.”

It took about two hours to plan things out. We would send out Gold to secure the first location. Then when Silver arrived on site, Gold would move to the next location. This way, hopefully, no one would know where we were headed fast enough to move into place ahead of us.

The first place we hit was a shoe store on the west side of town. Inside the store, Pralla, myself and the two other marshal-ranked men surrounded Asta. Five soldiers were just inside the door to carry her purchases back to the palace. There were also twenty other PG members in the store and twenty additional around the outside.

The remaining sixty men in Silver One were scattered on the street outside.

Every five minutes I would give the command, “Count off!”, over the bob. The men would then count off from one to one hundred, one at a time. Each one of them, waited for the one before him to sound off.

On the fourth cycle through the count off, number eight did not sound.

“Number eight, report.” I waited a few seconds. “All PG, assume alert status. Failure in count off. Nearest one to eight’s position verify his status.”

“This is number twenty one, eight is no longer…” His message had stopped mid-broadcast.

“All units, we are now on high alert status.” I moved over to Asta. “Your majesty, we need to get you out of here.” I pulled my rail pistol off my hip and offered it to her. “Like I showed you earlier -- aim and squeeze.” Then I turned to look at Pralla. “I have point, ma’am.”

“I will stay on the package. Get us to the limo, Drake.”

I moved to the front of the building and looked out the door. That look before I exited saved my life. I managed to dive just before the rocket impacted on the sidewalk outside.

Glass went everywhere as I dove behind the shelf behind me. I recovered from my roll to look back and check on Asta’s status. She was sitting on the floor with Pralla over the top of her. Even from my location I could tell it was bad. Pralla had a shard of glass sticking out of her back. The other two commanders were just as badly wounded.

I got up and ran towards Asta. “We have to leave now!”

She shook herself out of her confusion and started to rise. I dove to cover her. I had heard the clicks just before the rifles started to fire. I went down hard as a round creased my back from my hip to my shoulder. Asta was once again on the floor with a body on top of her.

I rolled us behind a shelf and pulled Pralla’s rail pistol with me. Once Asta was under cover, I popped up and opened fire on the five men with rifles. They went down hard and fast.

I yanked Asta to her feet and pushed the button on her body shield. She would have some protection from random fire, but she would not be able to shoot back now. We headed for what remained of the front of the store. I heard the gunfire and turned to see a lone Black and Grey uniform covering us.

It was a tough-looking blond woman. Her name was Angel. “Angel, we are switching plans. The vehicle is compromised.”

Angel nodded and switched her field of fire. We would have to fight our way back to the palace. I bent down and picked up one of the field rifles the men carried. As far as I knew at this point, Silver One was completely gone. It had one member left; Angel.

We moved up until we were right behind Angel. “We have to fight to primary. By now they have the emperor in a warren. Clear and move.”

Angel broke cover and moved at a run across the street. She fired at several targets, then made cover again. Next, I moved out with Asta in tow. Angel kept us covered.

We leapfrogged across several intersections. At this rate we would make the palace in just twenty minutes. Then at the next intersection, when Angel broke cover, a hail of rounds came out of the buildings around us. I watched as Angel went down in the middle of the street.

I started to retreat when I heard a voice over the bob. “Move it, sir. I have you covered.” It was Angel. That blessed woman was still alive. I grabbed Asta’s hand and bolted across the intersection. Angel popped up and started to fire.

We made it to the other side and Angel fell down again. I could not stop for her. My only concern had to be Asta. “Angel, are you still with me?”

“Move your ass, sir.”

“I will be back for you.”

“If you get the fuck out of here, they will quit shooting at me. Now move it!”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, as I grabbed Asta’s hand and we continued up the street. About half way up, a car turned the far corner. It was a heavily armored limousine. I fired a single round into the window of the shop we were passing and pulled Asta inside.

Once inside, I looked at the sales people huddled in the corner. An idea came to me. “Your majesty, I have a plan. It is crazy as shit, but it just might work.”

“Tell me.”

“While I cover us, I need you to take off your clothes.”

A few minutes later I moved out the side door with Asta in tow. We were still under fire. The armored car followed me as I headed for the palace.

We made it about halfway there when another car cut us off. I had to pray my plan would work. I was going to die here, but at least Asta had a chance.

A man stepped out of one of the cars. I recognized him instantly. He was the leader of the Grand Duchess Daria’s forces. “You have led us a merry chase for years, Marshal.”

“The chase is not over,” I snarled.

“I am afraid it is. You are going to die here, right after I kill the Empress. Maybe they will give your corpse another medal. Your majesty, would you be so kind as to shut off your body shield, so my men don’t waste any ammo?”

The woman next to me raised her hand to her belt and hit the button. The body shield that blurred her features fell away. I could see the look in the man’s eye as his anger rose. Under the shield was one of the sales people from the shop.

“Damn you!”, the man screamed, as he leveled his gun at me. “I am going to turn you into a meat pie.”

As he took aim, his hand suddenly jerked to the side and his rail pistol spun off into the street. Angel came out of the alley next to him and continued to fire. The men jumped into their car and backed out at high speed.

I moved over to Angel as she sagged to the ground. “Did the Empress get to you?”

“Yes, sir, she was escorted out by Gold Unit in an armored car. I came looking for you.”

“Foolish! I was not worth risking your life.”

“You can fire me later, sir,” she said, as one of our armored cars pulled up.

“Get her to the base infirmary, now.”

When they drove her off, the rest of the troops formed up around us and escorted the salesgirl and myself to the palace.

When we arrived, the emperor was waiting for us. “Drake, did you get any clues as to who was behind this?”

“Did Asta make it back?”

“Yes. She is in the royal apartment.”

I nodded. “It was the Grand Duchess Daria, Robert. Angel shot the leader of her guard in the hand. We can use that to get the courts to order a truth beam scan.”

“That is not possible. The grand duchess and her headman have been here at the palace all day. I was in a closed meeting with them.”

I looked at Robert like he had grown a third eye. “It was him, Robert! I saw him plain as day. His right hand should have a hole in it.”

Robert led me to the meeting room. There, in plain sight, was the man that I had seen on the street. However, his hand was completely unmarked. I didn’t know how he did it. It just wasn’t possible to heal wounds that fast.

I went to the security room and reviewed the palace tapes. They clearly showed the grand duchess and her headman sitting in the meeting hall all day. He had never left. Not even to go to the bathroom.

I brooded over this for days. We had nothing other than three eyewitnesses to his presence. The physical evidence did not exist and the fact that his hand was whole ruined any chance of getting a court order. She was a duchess and that meant we could not accuse her without some evidence that would stick.

The salesperson from the store was rewarded for her courage. She would never have to work again for the rest of her life.

Angel recovered quickly. Her wounds had not been bad. She was now the only member of Silver One.

We rotated Silver Two into position and re-designated them. That left Angel without a unit.

I was sitting in the emperor’s office a few days later. “So Drake, who are you going to recommend for the High Marshal, Command marshal, and Lieutenant Marshal positions?”

I looked up at him. “Those would be the Grand Marshal’s choices… Robert, please don’t do this to me.”

Robert smiled as he looked out the window. “It is too late. I signed the order this morning”

“I just don’t feel right stepping into her position. Pralla was Grand Marshal.”

Robert looked at me. “Drake, I know you two were lovers. Hell, everybody within five kilometers, with ears, knew you two were lovers. She would want you to step up. She was planning on retiring soon, and she had already recommended you.”

I looked at this man who held the weight of a galaxy on his shoulders. Then I slowly nodded. “I want Dane to be High Marshal, he has a good head on his shoulders and keeps his eye on the prize. Rancall will make a good Command Marshal. He has a fire for the job very few carry. Then I want Angel to take the Lieutenant Marshal position.”

Robert reached into a drawer in his desk. Then he tossed me a box with my new collar pins. Once I had them in place, he tossed me three more boxes. “Give them their pins and tell them to get busy. We need to rebuild a Silver Unit.”

“What did you do with the girl from the shop?”

“I gave her a title and royal stipend. She is now the Countess Lorelei DuMont.”

“I told her you would appreciate her help.”

“More than you know. I owe that young lady a life.”

“Give her some land and make her title more than an empty thing.”

“Where do you recommend?”

“I was thinking, Sial’nief could use a countess to help it.”

Robert smiled. “She would get rich as a church if I did that.”

“She deserves no less, Robert.”


I shifted my field of view with the binoculars. There was the palace I was looking for. It was just coming into view as the sun rose. Her personal guard had the place covered, but they were trapped inside. The Duchess’s forces had her surrounded. I could see my way in, though. We had to go back into the tunnels.

I retreated down into the house. Lizell was just coming up from the basement. “Lizell, we are going to move again. I have a friend here who might help. To get to them, we have to go back into the tunnels again.”

“I will get our gear packed right after breakfast.”

That was all she said about it. She did not even try to argue.

After breakfast, we moved into the streets. They could not keep the people locked up all the time. People had to move around and do things. We blended into the crowd and started to move towards the nearest access hatch.

I looked down the alley to see two men standing near the hatch. Lizell and I passed the alley and turned up the next street. “We need to get to that hatch.”

“I think I can get us there. Move to the far end of the alley. When they move out, get in and open the hatch,” Lizell said softly.

“What are you going to do?”

“I am going to act like you do and make it up as I go along.”

“Do not get caught.”

“Just have that hatch open when I get there.”

I moved into place at one end of the alley. Suddenly Lizell stepped out at the far end of the alley. “Hey, you assholes! Why don’t you go home and leave us alone”, she yelled at the top of her lungs.

I started cursing under my breath. Both of the men drew their weapons, but Lizell was gone and running off down the street. The men gave chase.

I moved rapidly up the alley and opened the hatch. Then I waited. I was just about to go after her when she turned into the end of the alley at a dead run. She did not stop to talk. She moved into the hatch and started to climb down. I climbed in afterward and shut the hatch. Then I spun the wheel and latched it.

“What did you do?”

“I led them off and ran a big circle around several blocks. The locals saw them chasing me and kept getting in their way,” she panted.

“We need to move away from the hatch. You can catch your breath then.”

We started to move out. We had not gone long when we saw the lights of a car ahead. I pulled her into one of the maintenance tunnels. “Stay quiet.”

She nodded as she tried to control her breathing. We waited until the car passed, and moved out again. Slowly, we made our way towards the destination I had in mind.

I was watching when another car passed ahead. It went on down another tunnel and left us alone. Then I smiled as the beeps started again. It was fifteen sets of two beeps.

We continued for a couple more hours, until I saw our destination ahead. I started taking extra care as we moved. This was the point where my plan could come apart. They had not placed guards down here, though. We found the ladder to the access hatch, and I started climbing up.

“Won’t it be guarded?”

“Probably,” I answered, as I unlatched and spun the wheel.

“Drake, I hope you know what you are doing.”

I cracked the hatch a little ways and looked out. There were ten men with rifles pointed at the hatch. “We are coming out. We are not a danger. I need to speak to the countess.”

One of the men stepped forward and spoke to me through the crack. “Put your weapons out the hatch first, then come out.”

“I am a Praetorian Guardsman. You can have my weapons when you take them from my cold dead hands.”

Then a female voice spoke from behind the man. “Drake, is that you?”

“Yes, your grace.”

“Get up here and tell me what the hell is going on.”

I opened the hatch the rest of the way. Then I climbed out and helped Lizell to exit. Once we were both on the surface, I shut and latched the hatch again.

I turned to the countess. “Hello, Lorelei. It is good to see you again.”

“I was told you retired. Have you brought the Space Rangers with you?” Lorelei said, as she ran into my arms.

“No, your grace. I am afraid we are on our own. I need a safe place for my charge to stay while I do battle.”

“Drake, my men and my house are yours. Let’s get inside before one of those men sees you.”

We headed into the house. Once we were inside, I made introductions. “Lorelei, your men need to stay here and protect you and Lizell. I will move out and do what I can until help arrives.”

“If you think I am going to stay here while you go out to fight, you are crazy,” Lizell said emphatically.

I took her chin in my hands and kissed her. “My love, I can fight better if I am not worried about your safety. I need to take these people down as fast as I can. Please stay here and stay safe.”

Lorelei stepped up to her at that point. “Trust me, Lizell, if anyone can get us out of this, it is Drake. He is a one man army and he will not stop until he has won.”

“Damn it, Drake! Those men want to kill you. They are not going to fight like gentlemen.”

“Neither will I.” I looked at the countess. “When I go back into the tunnels, I want your men to weld the hatch shut. I will walk in through the front gate next time. Keep safe.”

I disappeared back into the tunnels, leaving both women behind. Now it was time to break into a war footing. This was no longer a survival fight.

In my ear, the beeps started again. Twelve cycles of two beeps rang out.

I moved to another hatch a few miles away. Once there, I got started. I looked up and fired a rail round into the hatchway. It was at very low velocity, so all it did was ping off of it.

When the wheel started to spin, I stepped back into the shadows. They were coming in from bright daylight. They would be blind in the darkness.

They both got to the bottom of the ladder and looked to see who was down here. That was the last thing they did. My sword sung as the blade moved through the humid air. Then their heads slowly rolled forward and off their shoulders.

As the bodies fell, I moved up the ladder.

I closed the hatch and moved through the city above. I walked by an alley with my gun drawn. Two quick shots, and men died.

I came up to an intersection. The car in the center suddenly had no driver or passenger. Throwing spikes had sprouted from their ears.

I walked past a shop were two men were accosting the young woman behind the counter. A single shot from my rail pistol took both.

A pair of men on the other side of the street saw me and my weapons. They never managed to draw theirs. My rail pistol had shifted, and two more shots took their lives.

I sat on top of a building and my rifle chuffed. A man a half mile away suddenly doubled over. Then his partner fell as his head seemed to just explode.

I stood in a park as a car pulled up. When the men got out of the car, I was gone. They started to run to where I had been. They never made it. I stepped out from behind a tree and took ones head. The other died with my blade through his face from the return stroke.

By midnight I had taken care of a hundred men, two at a time. They were starting to react. They doubled up and put four men per team. They started watching from guarded positions. I had just killed four on a rooftop when the beeps in my head turned into twenty-four cycles of one beep. My smile was dark as I looked towards the starport.

I was running low on ammo and I knew things were going to get worse before they got better.

By four in the morning, I was proved right. They had started moving out in force. They were now in twenty-man units and I had to set traps for them. I collected as much ammo as I could, but I was out of throwing spikes and my semi-automatic pistols were empty. I was on my last battery for the rail gun and only had three, twenty-round clips left. I switched to tricking the men into separating and taking them with my swords.

This was not working. It took too long. I needed to move back to the Duchess’s palace and re-supply from my bags. I would have to figure out how to get through the guard at her house.

It took four more hours to get to the palace. What I found there set me on edge. The house was empty and the ladies were gone. There had been a battle here. I had left her to make her safe, and she had been taken.

Then I heard a sound I had been waiting for. The public address system activated. “Drake Daemon, we have the countess and Lizell. You have twenty-four hours to surrender yourself, and then we kill them. This is the only announcement we will make.”

I smiled to myself. They were now in the safest place I could imagine. The Grand Duchess would not harm them until I came in. She had made a huge tactical error. There was no chance of an over-zealous guard killing them now.

I went into the countess’s palace and started to remove my weapons. Then I started to gather weapons from the guards. Soon I was ready and I headed out. I felt naked without the swords on my back. I worked my way through the city again. I still killed any patrol I saw, but there were fewer of them now. They were withdrawing to the space port.

I came up with a plan. It was going to take split-second timing.


2016-06-22 01:58:52
Oh, the fun of a rediscovered work of art.

Anonymous readerReport 

2014-11-24 06:21:03
Likewise here.Time to retire for me.Enjoyable to read.I will continue on soon.

Anonymous readerReport 

2014-11-14 12:56:38
Enjoying the story so far......on to the next chapter.

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