Tola glanced at his watch. According to his reports, every seven seconds another innocent died. And every two minutes and fifty-six seconds the Earth Alliance lost another stronghold.
No pressure, right?
Pulling his hood over his blond hair, Tola exhaled slowly, watching his breath dissipate into the night air. Once he was sure no Varrcaran soldiers were nearby, he retrieved the grappling gun from his utility belt. Aiming at a two-story roof, Tola fired an adhesive dart, launching a ten meter cable to the building’s apex. With the push of a button he retracted the cable, pulling him to the top of the roof.
Just remember, Tola thought, it’s only trillions of lives that are riding on this.
He cast his gaze across the rooftop. Mounted beside a door leading down into the building was a security pad. Tola smiled. Grabbing a screwdriver from one of the pockets in his belt, he snuck over to the door and loosened the screws in the pad. With steady hands, Tola removed the plastic cover from the security device. Blue and red wires spilled out. Clamping two with his smartphone, Tola glanced up at the star-filled sky. A Varrcaran dreadnought orbited the planet—a silent warning that the smallest mistake would mean capture or death. Tola took a deep breath and ran his hand across the keyboard. In moments he had full access to the network computer. A sly smile pulled at the corner of his mouth.
And they said I was too young for this.
Scrolling through the files, he found a video from one of the security cameras dated two days ago. Three Varcarran soldiers had escorted a man in a lab coat across town to a small building the size of an outhouse. They disappeared inside, and Tola fast-forwarded the feed to see that they didn’t come out for eight hours.
That’s got to lead to some sort of underground bunker.
Firing his grappling gun at the wall, Tola hooked the cable to the harness around his waist and rappelled down the building. In a few short blocks he joined the wave of pedestrians. The trick to sneaking through town was simply blending in—no one would look twice at a factory worker walking home. Meandering toward the small building from the security feed, Tola nonchalantly activated his sonar mapper. To his surprise, no underground structures displayed on the sensors.
Odd. I know this is where the scientist entered. . . .
Crossing to the other side of the building, Tola double-checked the sensors, but the reading was consistent. For a moment he wished he could call in for backup, but the notion was gone just as quickly as it came. He had been hired by the Alliance military, but he did not answer to their regulations. His methods were a bit too unorthodox for their liking, but he usually got results.
As he made his way toward a different part of the village, a deafening roar suddenly engulfed the night. Tola covered his ears just as a missile hit the ground a mere fifteen meters from his position. The blast leveled three buildings and hurtled him away from the village in a cloud of dust and smoke.
It took a few seconds for Tola to regain control of his senses. Rubbing the sand from his eyes, he glanced up and followed the missile’s contrail until it disappeared into the night sky.
What was that!? An orbital strike?
A second missile was already inbound. His ears ringing, Tola hauled himself to his feet and darted behind a nearby boulder to protect himself from the shrapnel thrown by the explosion.
Gradually the ringing in his ears cleared, replaced by screams of terror.
Tola peeked up from his hiding spot, his heart hammering at what he saw: Two craters lay where the center of the village had just been. Males and females of various species were scattered in every direction like ants.
Off in the distance, Tola saw the soft glow of two thrusters darting across the sky. A sickening feeling formed within the pit of his stomach as he strained to see through the blowing sand.
Varrcaran landing pods! Scores of soldiers were headed for the planet’s surface.
But why? The Regime already controls this world. There’s no reason to attack.
A chill ran down his spine. There was a reason.
They found out why I’m here. . . .
The pods flew low over the village remains, rocketing past Tola’s position and touching down at the top of a dune, fewer than a hundred meters away. The hatch doors lowered, and several ranks of soldiers marched out with the emblem of Varrcara branded across their armor.
Tola broke into a dead sprint. If he didn’t move now, all was lost. Both for himself and for the Earth Alliance.
Terrik Orden knelt at a ridge overlooking the village of Nabareth, surveying the scene from afar. The technology in his helmet augmented his vision and hearing beyond normal means, but so far nothing of interest had drawn his attention.
The scanner in his visor transmitted data to and from the galactic bounty database, automatically identifying certain individuals caught in his gaze. Right now he was tracking a fugitive by the name of Dubion Milnoff, an alien who had betrayed Alliance secrets when he’d signed up with the Varrcaran Regime. Unfortunately, Dubion had hidden his tracks well thus far.
Terrik frowned. Looks like I’ll have to take a more direct approach.
Tapping one of the buttons on his computerized gauntlet, Terrik activated the jet pack built into his crimson-and-white armor and flew to the bottom of the canyon. Without a word he marched into town. A few of the locals saw his approach and darted inside. Ignoring them, he continued his methodical search for the man he was after, eager to collect his bounty and be off this miserable planet.
A man exiting the administration building raised a red flag in his visor, marking the target for him. Officially he was supposed to rattle off a prepared speech of the crimes Dubion had committed and blah, blah, blah, but Terrik never bothered—it only gave the fugitives a better chance to escape.
He raised the weapon in his hand and fired, shooting off a thick bola to ensnare his target. Dubion didn’t even get the chance to react before he was face first in the dirt, tied up and ready to be taken back. Terrik had full authorization to kill this target, but the bounty was worth more alive.
A loud war cry pierced the otherwise silent night. Terrik turned to see an alien male with a longsword charging toward him at full speed.
No bounties on this one, Terrik recognized. Probably just a friend of Dubion’s.
Since the ruthless acquisition of plasma arms, citizens of this sector had come to rely on old fashioned melee weapons to defend themselves. Terrik, himself, had one built into his armor, and had fought against them on multiple occasions. It was clear that this bumbling idiot posed no threat. Telegraphing his movements, the man brought his blade down in a heavy two-handed slash aimed for Terrik’s chest.
Crossing his arms in front of him like an X, Terrik caught the longsword in the curved blades lining his gauntlets. In one swift motion he yanked his arms apart, cleanly breaking the sword. A look of surprise crossed the man’s face just as Terrik’s fist smashed into his skull, knocking the alien out cold.
He swept his gaze around the street. “Any other heroes?” he asked aloud.
No one moved to stop him.
A second later his sensors detected incoming fire. Terrik wheeled around just as a missile crashed down into the center of the village, detonating on impact. The blast hurled Terrik backward, flinging him into the side of a building. His armor ablated the worst of the impact, but he still felt the air knocked from his lungs. He turned his gaze skyward to see drop pods hurtling toward the town.
What are they after? he wondered. This lowlife criminal isn’t enough to warrant a capital ship in orbit, let alone a full platoon of soldiers.
And then Terrik saw him.
It was an alien: a massive scarlet-colored sentient of the Latoroth species. Over two meters tall and heavily muscled, the hulking brute picked himself up and caught Terrik’s gaze. With a snarl he retrieved the whip at his side and activated the electrical currents running the length of the weapon.
Terrik’s visor recognized him immediately, attaching the name DEXTANIC to his profile, more commonly referred to as simply DEX. The database had on record that he was a Biomancer. Biomancers were the result of botched experiments to genetically enhance individuals, an attempt at creating super soldiers. Of the two thousand original test subjects, three hundred thirty-eight had survived the process, gifting them with heightened physical attributes and special powers. But most who survived were left with shattered minds, pushed past the brink of insanity. These Biomancers had joined together, dubbing themselves the Coalition, and becoming the third and final faction of Galactic War I. Since then the Coalition had replicated the experiment a handful of times, turning ordinary citizens into powerful weapons. Biomancers had earned the highest price of any individuals wanted by the Alliance and the Varrcaran Regime. An estimated forty had been slain during the war—six of them by Terrik’s own hand.
Pain spiked in his forehead, and he felt his anger rise. It was clear the Regime was after Dex, and Terrik knew they’d kill anyone they had to to accomplish that mission. The smart choice was to get clear.
But Terrik couldn’t refuse the opportunity to put another Biomancer down permanently. He had lost four of his clan brothers to the Coalition, and very nearly his own life. Left for dead, the only thing that had saved him was the regenerative nanotech chip in his head. For the honor of his clan he had sworn to kill any Biomancers who crossed his path again.
Rising to his feet, Terrik retrieved the plasma assault rifle at his side. He had no intention of using nonlethal tactics against a Biomancer. This wasn’t business anymore; it was personal.
Another missile exploded behind Dex, but neither warrior seemed to notice. Amid the panicked citizens and destruction, their eyes were locked solely on each other.