AUTHOR JOEL BABBITT

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Prologue

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Author Joel Babbitt

Marik Corporation’s seaport operations on the Glass Sea were situated in the deepest of the three natural harbors on Taysom Island, which was a long string of an island just off the east coast of the western continent.  Most people guessed that Marik’s son and lead entrepreneur had chosen this idyllic island for its beautiful palm trees and beaches.  Yet, while those were attractive additional features, Marik’s son had chosen Taysom Island for its more practical assets, chief among them its three natural harbors, one of which was deep enough to accommodate a class five freighter.  It was also in that sweet spot; it was remote enough to avoid too much government oversight yet close enough to the industrial complexes of First Landing City that goods and services could reach it easily enough.  But for more specialized or perhaps more discreet tasks, its key asset was that the plateau near the central harbor area of the island was flat and provided a solid enough foundation to build a freight-worthy spaceport without requiring extensive modification to accommodate the small space freighters that Marik Corp’s business start-up units favored.

The fact that Taysom Island lay on the balmy, calm central Glass Sea that connected the two great continents on the world of Camallay was clearly a strategic win as well, for while the western continent held the Camallay Unity Government (CUG), five provincial governments, and hundreds of smaller corporations, contracts with which collectively formed the core of Marik’s revenue stream on the planet, there was a lot of new growth and abundant natural resources in the colonies on the eastern continent that had provided a handful of big paydays in the recent past.  And only corporations with the ability to set up large operations like that on Taysom Island could reach the remote eastern colonies and take advantage of the rare mineral and animal resources those colonies owned, corporations like Marik’s Corp, their chief competitor Stellar Corp, and very few others.

It would have been easy enough to just land space freighters on the eastern continent, as Marik did for the all-too-rare bilandrium ore shipment, but that was a very costly way to do business.  After all, the vast majority of what the eastern colonies needed was produced on the western continent, and trundling through the algae fields of the Glass Sea and on up into the North Sea in a massive cargo ship was far more economical. 

Cost is king, as they say in the business.

                                                                           *  *  *  *  *

Hauberker Mon-Shay, or Sergeant Hobbs as the humans called him, didn’t have a mind for business strategy, or really anything that required much higher thinking.  No, he was a simple being, a yazri and therefore a warrior by birth, but in his case by choice as well.  He was really only good for two things; dominating the primitive warriors of his people and killing his employer’s enemies, both of which he did with implacable determination. 

What was important to Hobbs at the moment, however, was that someone had sunk the one deep-water ship that his employer had on Camallay; the class five sea freighter MCS Venture. 

Sunk was such a calm word; blown it out of the water fit the event better.  The MCS Venture had been struck so suddenly and so violently that the only transmission they had received was a chirp from the ship’s sub-control matrix with a request to deploy damage control bots to quench a flash-fire in the engine room.  The location beacons on the ship had even been shattered when whatever it was impacted the ship, making Port Operations’ job of locating the snippet of satellite video from the sinking of the ship that much harder. 

In the end, the MCS Venture had gone down with all hands, so sudden and so violent was its demise.  There had been nothing left to save, no sizable debris field, and though they had deployed drones up into the area to search for survivors, not even bodies had been found.  Whoever had done this sudden act of violence had attacked without provocation, without detection, and without mercy.

This Sergeant Hobbs understood, for this was the way of the warrior—and he was nothing if not a warrior.  Even before he had come to serve the humans, Hauberker had soared on the skin-flap wings that extended from arm and wrist down both of his sides to his legs and ankles on his home world of Ya, dreaming of bringing death in battle to his enemies.  For the past several standard cycles, he had realized his dreams as he served the humans, who called him and his kin flying monkeys after a wingless, addled race of brutes from their home world.  He’d grown muscular in their service as he’d served on heavier worlds where his wings were useless.

As the small shuttle landed on Camallay and he stood up to grab his bags, Hobbs could feel that this world was small, perhaps not much larger than his home world of Ya, and he smiled knowing that he would soon be flying again.  Grabbing his heavy kit from the floor, he waited for the door to open, hoping to see tall trees, green grass, and natural beasts again.  What greeted him instead was a blast of hot air that blew the hair back from his face and body and billowed his wings out behind him.  A broad tarmac covered the land in all directions, yielding to huddles of makeshift housing and offices made out of shipping cubes left at the tarmac’s edge.  His goggles instantly darkened to protect his sensitive eyes from the glaring sun.  The heat of the steam from the clusters of nano-thrusters quickly died, but the hot wind was not theirs.  No, to Sergeant Hobbs it appeared he had been sent to a desert island, and he grimaced at his poor fortune.

A hair-covered figure in light, airy clothes with black goggles came up from the closest huddle of buildings.  The display in Hauberker’s goggles showed his name as “Priest.”  He was yazri, and behind him was a skimmer with an open door and a cargo area for gear.  Priest grinned widely as he approached the dour bug-war veteran who would be his new boss and the two yazri warriors grasped hands.

“I am Go-Yi,” Priest yelled over the reducing hiss of the nano-thrusters.  “I am your assistant team leader.”

Sergeant Hobbs drug his bags off the passenger floor of the small shuttle.  Everything was so much lighter here than it had been on Shattersphere where he’d just served.  Despite his armor plates hanging off one shoulder in an awkward bundle and his blaster rifle banging against his side, Hobbs carried that and his two large gear bags to the skimmer easily.  Priest looked at him expectantly.  Hobbs had brought a pallet full of gear provided by their employer, Marik Corp, for their operations on Camallay, so he pointed Priest toward that.

The hiss of the large array of deep-space rated nano-thrusters finally died as Hobbs reached the skimmer and threw the gear into the back seat, while behind him Priest led the repulsor pallet to the back of the skimmer.  In a few quick moments they were on the dirty, sand-covered lanes of the shipping facility that had grown up around what passed as a spaceport, though in truth it was little more than a shuttle pad.

“The humans call me Sergeant Hobbs, though my name is Hauberker Mon-Shay,” Hauberker said, giving his full clan name.  The two yazri spoke Standard because they were from different clans and so they understood only little of each other’s yazri dialect.

“I am Priest, and I come from the clans near the great spaceports.”

“There is the stink of human on you,” Hobbs accused his new subordinate.

Priest shrugged.  “Yes, perhaps,” he admitted.  “But I think it is because of that that these humans have lent me their quadcopter to go look at the place where their ship was sunk.”

“Have you found anything useful where the Venture was sunk?” Sergeant Hobbs growled, his feral muttering a stark contrast to Priest’s more refined pronunciation, though Priest was used to dealing with yazri who had not been raised among the Humans.

“No, nothing that the jawrippers didn’t already have their way with,” Priest answered.  There had been parts of bodies, but which of the four crew members they belonged to was anyone’s guess, and he could not bring them back with him.

Hobbs just grunted and looked out the window, his allocation of words already spent for now.  Along the path toward the bridgehead, where the rest of the yazri team Port Operations had hired had made a temporary home, vegetation grew in bunches of thick-bladed grass that poked out of the heavy white sand in random intervals.  It seemed quiet enough to Sergeant Hobbs, but then so had Shattersphere in the beginning before the new bug invasion had begun with unrelenting fury…  Hobbs’ eyes narrowed as he subconsciously checked the power clip in the handle of his Mk-12 blaster pistol.

                                                                            *  *  *  *  *

Grim-faced, terse, and dour; that described Gunner.  As the two yazri unloaded the skimmer at their quarters near the bridge gate he scowled at Sergeant Hobbs, which was greeting enough from one taciturn brother to another.  He was well muscled, his body-hair the color of darkest night, and he was never without his goggles, even in the cool shadows of their living chambers.  He had scars from his fights before the levy, and precious metal rings through his wing-edges under his fiber-armor that showed the honors he had won in battle back on Ya.  In spite of himself, however, when he saw the heavy conc-gun on the pallet Gunner smiled a passionate, unsettling smile.  Indeed, there was something hidden just beneath the surface there, and Hobbs could only guess at his true nature.

The young one, Soar by name, was fresh from Ya and had not fought in the bug wars.  His smile came easy and he was submissive and deferent to Sergeant Hobbs, who was his new team sergeant.  He had been on this planet only a few weeks; the culture shock and longing for Ya were still fresh enough in him, but Hobbs was sure that before long he would find consolation in the hunt.  And hunting was why Marik’s people had brought these warriors to Camallay.

Near the narrow spit of land where the bridge met the island two Human guards stood awaiting the arrival of a skimmer that was crossing the bridge, their heavy plating and dark clothing looking uncomfortable in the sun.  Sergeant Hobbs stretched his muscles as he watched them.  The gear had all been stowed, except for the conc-gun which Gunner was still checking out, and he was taking a few moments to drink a liter of water from his pack.  It wasn’t yet midday, but already the heat had become unbearable. 

Yet as Hobbs looked down at the bridge gate it wasn’t the heat he was noticing.  Something seemed wrong, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was yet.  The skimmer that was approaching the bridge gate was a piece of junk; he was surprised the hunk of plasteel still functioned.  It seemed to be driving erratically, and then suddenly it started speeding up as it approached the staggered plasticrete barriers.

“Incoming!” Hobbs yelled, drawing the Mk-12 from the holster on his chest as he ducked behind the trunk of the nearest palm tree. 

Instantly, Gunner dove for cover, the conc-gun going with him.  Inside the shelter, Hobbs could hear movement as well, though Soar just stood out in the sun unsure of what he should do.

“Get down!” Gunner growled at the young yazri, reaching up and pulling Soar down behind the water barrels with him.

Suddenly, the entire gate area shattered with the force of a thermal detonation.  Guards, barriers, shelters, trees, grass; all were blown to small shards and bits as flame shot outward in all directions, curling back on itself to create a massive ball of fire.  In a moment, all that was left of the bridge gate was a large divot in the road leading up to the bridgehead.

And yet, as the yazri began to recover from the shockwave and as bits of debris began landing all around the area, a large repulsor truck not a hundred meters behind the skimmer was accelerating to shoot through the gap as though the driver had been expecting the skimmer to blow up, carrying away the bridge’s security with it.  Another pair of trucks followed behind the first, each spaced precisely fifty meters behind the one in front of it.

Hobbs’ face turned from shock to a determined scowl; he wasn’t about to let that happen.

“Gunner!” he called in a sharp growl, pointing toward the first truck where a big black cargo box sat behind the green-colored plasteel cab.

“On it,” the veteran warrior replied tersely as he drug an energy pack out of a half-open impact bag.  There was a wild look in his eyes as he powered on the energy pack and tapped the linking code from the pack into the display of his new favorite weapon.  In a moment the conc-gun’s display showed a power link.  Gunner threw it onto his shoulder and began aiming even before the charge light showed green.

“Clear!” Gunner called, and all around him the other yazri dove for cover.  Drawing a bead on the massive lead target, Gunner held down the trigger.  A brilliant ball of light shot out of the front of the tube, almost lazily wending its way toward the green cab of the lead repulsor truck.  As the intense light landed almost casually on the road next to the truck, it erupted in a massive explosion.  The heavy repulsor truck’s green plasteel doors were blown off, its windows shattered and the hood flew away like paper in a stiff wind.  The truck kept coming, however, and for the first time the yazri could see that no one was driving the vehicle.

“It’s a bot!” Priest called.

“Adjusting for EMP,” Gunner growled as he switched a dial on the side of the conc-gun.

“Hurry up!” Soar jumped up and down, his tone bordering on panic.  “Blow it up!”  The excitement of the moment was more than Soar had ever experienced.

The lead repulsor truck switched directions suddenly, ceasing its trek down the narrow road in front of its companions to start climbing up the hill toward the yazri quarters at the top.

“Gunner…” Hobbs growled anxiously.  The rear two trucks seemed to ignore the lead truck’s deviation and continued calmly down the road.

“It’s almost charged,” Gunner called back, the wild look in his eyes tempered by the smallest hint of fear.

The lead truck was barely fifty meters away and closing fast.  Hobbs knew this wouldn’t be pretty.  “Get back!” he yelled at Priest and Soar before retreating behind the far side of their quarters.  “Blow it up, Gunner!!” he called urgently.

Suddenly, the distinct smell of ozone washed over them all as another intense ball of light lazily made its way toward the large black cargo box on the back of the truck.  From the other side of the quarters Hobbs could hear Gunner dropping the conc-gun and diving for cover… but he also heard the distinct sound of an Mk-12 firing repeatedly.

Looking up to yell at whoever had played the idiot and decided to attack the truck with a blaster pistol, Hobbs was immediately overcome by a massive explosion and accompanying shockwave emanating from the truck as it pre-emptively exploded before the EMP blast could disable it.  The last thing he remembered seeing before some piece of shrapnel ended his curiosity was Soar standing out in the open holding his Mk-12 in both hands, firing repeatedly, trying to stop the truck as flame engulfed him.