Two men sat in a dark room. “How imminent is the threat?” one asked. “It will be here whether we prepare or not. It’s time to begin.” the other replied. “Quite exciting isn’t it? My arrangements are in order. What about yours?” the first inquired. “Of course. Don’t lose track of the purpose.” the second reprimanded, “There is no second draft. It’s all or nothing. We are treading the finest line that has ever been walked.” “Even so, you can’t argue that you won’t find some entertainment in this. At least, in its infancy.” the first argued. “Perhaps I will. I just don’t want you to get carried away.” “I have my fun but have I ever dissatisfied your expectations?” “You’ve come uncomfortably close.” “Nonsense! I have always delivered. Besides you are only half of the whole. None of this would be possible without complete cooperation.” “This is true. I cannot deny that we have achieved unprecedented greatness in the past but we must always be cautious. Pride is our downfall my collaborator.” “Collaborator!” the first exclaimed in dismay, “How about ‘friend’? Would that be too arduous?” “Friend is not a professional term. With the game we are about to play we may never have friends again, but a surplus of enemies.” “That’s a pleasant thought. For the record I think this is a brilliant idea. How we came up with it I may never know. And the mere fact that you approve of this at all rattles my very intelligence.” “It is uncharacteristic of me in every sense. I would never consider it if the circumstances were different. However, currently the possibilities outway the risk.” “Shall we make contact then?” “Yes time is of the essence. Phase one begins now.”
Chapter 1: Dark Angels
Elana walked over to the fireplace where the others had placed wood gathered from outside. With little effort she caused the bundle to burn with a bright flame bringing warmth and life to the cabin. The guys cheered and clapped from the couch. Elana rolled her eyes. She could do much more than that but they liked to embarrass her with over kill praise when she performed simple tasks. “You all better watch it! I doubt any of you could start a fire without blowing this place up.” Elana said.
Although it was spring, winters effects had not yet entirely subsided and the nights still tended to be chilly. “Where did the boss go?” asked Fez while looking back and forth at the others on the couch. “He’s keeping to himself upstairs. Has been for a couple of hours.” Elana replied. “Hey! Where do you think you’re going Junior? Get your little robotic butt back in here.” Bludge exclaimed, a very tall and heavily built man with dark skin. The young boy paused half way into Bludge’s room. Looking upset he turned to face those sitting on the couch. “I just wanted to see your armor!” he protested. “What for? You’ve seen it a dozen times?” Bludge asked. “Yeah but always when we’re busy! I never get a good look at it.” Pip said. “No, I know there’s something else. What are you trying to do with it?” Bludge demanded. “Can I borrow your shoulder plate to go sledding? Please! I’ll bring it right back.” Pip begged. “What the? Boy you’d scratch it all up with the rocks and how dark it is out there.” Bludge said.” “No I wouldn’t! You said that an angry mama noldor couldn’t even make a dent in it.” Pip relented. Bludge paused, “Alright, you got me there. I did say that. But you’re going to go out there and get yourself hurt before our next mission. Then I’ll get blamed for it. I have half a mind to let you do it though. Then we can send you home to your mommy and I won’t have to put up with you anymore.” Bludge said. Fez snickered while Elana shook her head in disapproval. “Go for it Pip. It’s fine.” Elana said. “Really? Thanks Lane!” Pip managed, starring with dreamy eyes. “Ah, Lane serious?”, Bludge protested “You can’t just let the kid have whatever he wants.” Pip dashed out the door with the shoulder plate before he could be told otherwise. “Let him have some fun. We’ve all been working hard. Besides, he’s been in much more dangerous situations than sledding. You’ve got to start treating him like he’s a real member of the team because he is now.” Elana said. “Barley, you know that kid’s not ready yet. His brain’s too big for his head! Just because he can make little gadgets doesn’t mean he’s ready to go into battle. He has no idea how to defend himself.” Bludge complained. “Well maybe you should give him some pointers Mr. Iron wall.” Elana countered. “Vectell come to the window. I’ve gotta a prank we can pull on him.” Fez said. Reluctantly Vectell got up and made his way over. The two men stood in front of a window while Fez explained his plan in a whisper with a grin on his face. Shenzen, as silent as usual, slipped away, presumably to the bathroom. Elana laid across the couch on the opposite end as Bludge. “So what’s he doing up there?” Bludge inquired. “I couldn’t tell you. But, I have heard pacing.” Elana reported. “Are you kidding me! Don’t tell me we’re ditching paradise already.” Bludge griped. “It’s not looking good.” Elana said. Suddenly Fez burst into laughter from across the room. Vectell on the other hand had only the faintest smile. They both were peering through the window. Bludge looked over already amused, “What did you do to him?” “While he was going down the hill I had Vectell make you appear at the bottom with your shield out. He panicked and ate it before he got to you” Fez explained choking back laughter. Bludge threw back his head chuckling. “Typical.” Elana said, “Although I am surprised you conceded Vectell.” Vectell looked embarrassed for a moment and then shrugged. “You’ve gotta practice Jenzu between jobs right?” Vectell said. The comment earned him a “Yeah” and high five from Fez. Pip burst through the door covered in snow. “Hey! No fair, I wasn’t ready for that!” Pip said to Vectell accusingly. “You must always be ready. An enemy will not give you time to prepare.” Vectell counseled.
Upstairs Arco paced back and forth head tilted up. A blue aura glowed around both ears. A voice emanated through the aura, “I am aware you’re the first choice of everyone in the Western Sphere. Flawless by every account. But I warn you. This situation is beyond anything you’ve ever faced. If you were to accept it it would surely push you to your limit.” “Dark Angels don’t tolerate threats. If this is a threat you will be eradicated” Arco said in a solemn tone. “I do not threaten you but offer prudence. You would be going up against a formidable opponent. Unlike any other you’ve encountered.” “If you’re telling the truth what kind of compensation would you offer?” Arco demanded. “I’m a wealthy man Mr. Vane. I can offer ten times the payment you’ve received from any previous engagement. And that’s just for starters. I understand you’re currently unable to stay in one place for too long. I could offer a permanent refuge on a set of islands complete with your own air transports. Any weapons, vehicles, tech, or specialists you need I could accommodate.” Mr. Abreo said. “Could you assemble an army if we were to need it?” Arco questioned. The request clearly threw Mr. Abreo off guard. He paused for a moment. “Yes, I suppose if that was your desire it could be accomplished.” Mr. Abreo remarked slowly. “Lend us this army now and we will accept your terms.” Arco spoke firmly. “Ah, clever, however, I cannot lend that kind of assistance in this undertaking. Mr. Vane you must understand, being a man of my reputation I cannot afford to leave any trace of association or connection with you or the operation. It’s not a matter of trust but of self preservation. Rest assured if you are to accept this responsibility and succeed you and your members will be rewarded beyond all hope and imagination. If you are to fail, all accords are void. I never knew you and you have your reward. Do you understand?” Mr. Abreo prompted. “Perfectly.” Arco replied. “Do we have a deal then?” Mr. Abreo asked with interest. “No. You can keep your filthy wealth.” Arco said with indignation. He cut communication and slowly closed his eyes.
Downstairs the room was a buzz. Pip was entertaining the crowd with what his magnetic legs could do. Sticking perpendicular to the wall where studs were hidden within. A little clumsy but effective to a fault. Even Shenzen and Vectell had drinks and made quiet conversation. With a small sound the room became hushed and very still. The group listened intently as slow footsteps descended the stairs. Every one made a firm resonant sound against the wood as Arco approached with no apparent urgency. He came to the bottom, hands held behind his back meeting the curious stares. “Well don’t stop on my account.” Arco said raising his arms and peering with narrow eyes. No one spoke but glanced at each other before Pip spoke up. “Are we moving?” he said with a hint of anxiety. Arco smiled walking closer. “Oh, Pip. You and your wild imagination. I’m quite fond of it you know. No. You’ve worked hard. All of you. It’s time to relax and lay low for a while.” Arco replied casually. Pip lit up with excitement but the others appeared unconvinced. “Any news?” Elana pressed. “It’s nothing to worry about. An extensive offer but surely a trap. Something too good to be true. I refused.” Arco said. There was a pause again. “Well you’ve gotta tell us more than that.” Bludge pleaded. Arco looked at Bludge knowingly, “I was speaking with Mr. Abreo. He was trying to recruit us.” “Wait did you just say Abreo?” Bludge said with wide eyes. “Yes Farling Abreo. Quite unusual isn’t it? He wanted us to fight a battle he claimed was out of our league. A temptation to be sure.” Arco said in a certain voice that sounded like he was analyzing the situation. “Abreo must be desperate to come to us. Why would he risk it with how famous he is?” Fez asked. “Exactly. It’s some kind of trick. I wasn’t sure of his motives but I’m convinced they’re not in our best interest.” Arco said. “Did he say anything about the reward?” Bludge inquired expectantly. Arco proceeded to tell them of Mr. Abreo’s grand promises. “No way!” Pip said with amazement. “Boss I know you’re the boss but don’t you think something like this is at least worth looking into?” Bludge said looking as amazed as Pip. “That does sound pretty great.” Elana piped in thoughtfully. “No more running.” Shenzen added. “What kind of battle?” Fez asked with curiosity. Arco sighed seeing that none of them were ready to dismiss the topic. “According to Mr. Abreo there is a top priority prisoner currently held captive in a stronghold called Surestone. It’s in a confidential location secured by the Western Sphere’s military.” Arco said. “You mean a base we’ve never heard of?” Pip asked. “Yes. Supposedly it is not public knowledge. The prisoner is charged with serious crimes against the Western Sphere. Mr. Abreo claims these charges are false and that the prisoner is a superlative man who was framed.” Arco said. “So why does Abreo care about busting this guy out so bad? He doesn’t exactly have a charitable reputation.” Fez wondered aloud. “Mr. Abreo said he is a dear friend and close ally. In short he is both a good person and a crucial asset to Mr. Abreo.” Arco said. “That doesn’t sound too bad. We’ve invaded Western Sphere bases before and we’re already wanted. What gives you the hunch that this is a trick boss?” Bludge asked in an innocent tone. “Something is off about the way Mr. Abreo described the situation. He said that those guarding the stronghold are not ordinary Western Sphere soldiers. Apparently they’re the elite. Unlike anything we’ve ever seen. They wield considerable Jenzu talent. It seems far-fetched to me. Why would the Western Sphere keep their best men huddled around a prison in the middle of nowhere. At least that’s the picture I got from what Mr. Abreo was describing.” Arco said. Fez paused thoughtfully, “Boss you know I respect your judgement but don’t you think it’s possible you’re overthinking this? The Western Sphere has been building up it’s Jenzu presence in recent years. There might be more valuable and dangerous prisoners in there than just this guy.” “Maybe they’re building it for us.” Shenzen said. The comment brought some light laughter. “Boss you know we don’t go down easy. We’ve had some bad missions but there’s never been anything we couldn’t conquer with some time and planning. This could be our greatest gig ever!” Bludge said with enthusiasm. Arco seemed to consider the ideas. Vectell walked over and stood by Arco. “Come on everyone I’m with the boss. I have never known him to be wrong. He’s the most qualified and skilled strategist among us. If he feels uncertain I trust him.” Vectell said firmly. “Thank you Vectell. Truly. But they’re right.” Arco said. Everyone appeared stunned, Vectell most of all. “I might be wrong. The Dark Angels is not a dictatorship. It’s a friendship. You all know I do not hold this position to usurp power. I may be the angels head but what good is the head without the arms, legs, and torso. Or the wings. After this discussion I’m not entirely sure of my hasty decision. Especially when I neglected to consult my party. Since there are strong opinions I propose we vote on the matter. I will not participate in the vote because I’m still unsure. Is this satisfactory to everyone?” Arco asked. After glancing at each other there were some nods in the affirmative. “All those who think it wise to reject this mission please raise your hand.” Arco declared. Vectell raised his hand. The others contemplated the decision. Shenzen looked as if he was going to raise his hand but did nothing. “All those in favor of accepting it please raise your hand.” Arco said. Everyone raised their hand except Vectell and Shenzen. Shenzen appeared torn on the decision even though his vote would not sway the majority. “Come on Shenzen, join team private islands!” Bludge encouraged. Reluctantly Shenzen gave a half smile and raised his hand. “That’s what I’m talking about!” Bludge said cheerily. “It’s settled then.” Arco said. After making a precise gesture with his right hand a blue aura glowed around both sides of Arco’s head. “Yes Mr. Abreo It’s me again. My apologies, we have changed our minds. The Dark Angels would like to accept your offer.”