This is the start of an old story I had been working on a while ago. Let me know if I should keep going and of course fix up this admittedly messy start. Any feedback and discussion would be greatly appreciated thank you.
“Guess it takes all kinds” The man’s easy drawl spoke of Fall or Davy’s World. Who’s he talking to? Sam tensed himself, ready to fight or flee. There’s no one else in the bar anywhere near him, he’s talking to you. Samuel Jenkins placed his whiskey on the table, a small blob of liquid jumped over the edge of the glass.
“To do what?” Sam focused his attention on the glass in front of him.
“To run a fightin’ force, of course, it’s what your best at” Now Sam rotated his head to the man and studied him, dressed casually but out of place here on Shonghua, dark, dark blue eyes almost black with thin brown hair kept short.
“Who told you that?” Sam asked him calmly but inside his mind was in torment, memories he couldn’t drink away bubbling to the surface.
The man reached under the table, Sam’s heart skipped a beat, and he pulled out a simple folder about an inch thick, stuffed full of papers. He opened it and put his finger on the page. “Samuel Jenkins, born 2974 on,” his eyebrows raised “Eden, you’re a long way from home, boy, enlisted in the Sol Alliance Marine Corp, saw action on Dawn, saw action there myself, other side though, volunteered for the IDL, placed in the Xeno-Defense Directorate and served on Canton and following that transfer to Counter-Proliferation and… Hel, exemplary service record, captained an infantry company on Hel and then resigned.” He looked up at Sam “Need I continue?”
“You’re from Fall, what do you want from me I’ve probably killed some of your relatives” Sam glared at the man and hefted his whiskey and poured it down his throat.
The man’s drawl disappeared as he switched languages from English to Neo Latin “I’m here on behalf of the Interstellar Defense League” he spoke Neo Latin like the college professor he’d learned it from.
Sam smiled, stood slowly and picked up his empty glass. Without warning he turned and hurled the glass at the man. Glass exploded over the man’s face, slashing his face beyond recognition. Three other bar tenants leapt up and restrained him but he was done. “I resigned for a reason you fucking bastard”.
A handful of decades ago, man had its first meeting with intelligent life. The long civil war that tore the Terran Imperium asunder had left human space divided in a manner reminiscent of the ancient Greek city-states. Individual solar systems generally formed their own governments and militaries. Ever-shifting blocs of alliances constantly changed the balance of power and influence. Eventually, three main powers emerged from the chaos; the Sol Alliance, its power lying in the incredible population and industry of the home system, the Colonial union, a federation of four core worlds and the last remnants of the true Imperial family, backed by the inhuman Imperial Guard. Other systems and nations tended to swap allegiance to one of these groups several times a decade. Into such a delicate political situation a fourth party emerged; the Interstellar Development Corporation. Based on the industrialized world of New Seattle, this company ruthlessly extorted from younger worlds that lacked the industry for their own ships. Fortunately, this system prevented the kind of genocidal war which the houses of the Imperium had waged two centuries previously but it strangled young colonies and slowly began to grind advancement and exploration to a halt.
External threats were not even considered. In 2958, a Chinese-ethnic world named Bao Xu violated its trade agreement with the Sol Alliance; this prompted the largest military buildup since the end of the Imperial wars. The massive Jovian foundries, Eden and Helios among them, began to churn out the instruments of war. In the country-sized slums that covered North America and Europe, millions began to enlist. Phobos and Deimos became home to an army with a population larger than many colony worlds. In mid-2959, the final training operation was begun, an all-arms orbital assault on Mars. As the assault waves fell towards the arid, red planet the trap was sprung. Colonial Union ships made a micro-jump from the Kuiper Belt into Martian orbit after months of waiting. They were hopelessly outnumbered but the jump so close to the planet put the Alliance’s planetary assault craft in between them and the more-deadly frigates and battle cruisers. This granted them an extra 2.326 seconds to turn their Medusa emitters, the one true military innovation in centuries, on to the drop pods screaming through the thin Martian atmosphere. Ironically, for a weapon considered one of the cruelest ever created it caused no physical harm on its victims. In the myth, it was the sight of Medusa’s shocking gaze that killed men. Aptly, the Medusa weapon interfered with mammalian sense of sight. It generated bewildering images which the brain could not interpret. Trying desperately to explain the brain filled in the noise with the strongest, most deeply-ingrained images in the subconscious. The soldiers on the drop pods were suddenly bombarded with suppressed images of childhood rape, nightmares and mutilated siblings. Some killed themselves instantly, others reached the ground unable to remember the mission and some killed each other thinking their forgotten crimes were visible to all. Images of soldiers with their own eyeballs intentionally removed spread at the speed of light out from Mars to Mercury and the Kuiper Belt. Many species that taste blood go into a feeding frenzy where anything that bleeds is devoured in seconds. That would not be enough to describe what happened next.
Dawn, first interstellar colony of man, so named as it was considered the dawn of a new age for the human race became a planet-wide Stalingrad. Exquisite memorials to the future prosperity of humanity were annihilated as the soldiers of the Alliance embraced their serpent beast in the name of revenge. Orbiting satellites and asteroid bases were crashed into the surface, creating tsunamis and dust clouds that decimated both sides. The orgy of violence and destruction consumed the Sol system too. Age-old superstitions reemerged as enraged citizens looked dementedly for a scapegoat. A Holocaust once more beset God’s chosen people. The forgotten crimes against the Armenians and the Africans repeated themselves too. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Dawn was abandoned by both sides to the horrific, sky-blotting ash. Had the war continued the combined might of the remaining Union worlds; Fall, Aurora and Iroquois may very well ravished the home system but desperate times can lead to interesting alliances.
An IDC scout ship had recently identified a new asset on the barely habitable world of New Delos. With an extreme axial tilt and a complex gravitational system in place, a large swath of the plant was permanently bombarded by the harsh heat and radiation pumped out from the world’s sun. The lack of light on the other side of the planet had turned much of the rest of the world into an equally barren, arid landscape. However, a thin sliver of life existed. From orbit, a thin yet vibrant red line can be seen, occasionally broken by brilliant blue pools. The radiant reds and oranges of the world’s fauna made for an inspiring sight when surrounded by the seas of beige and darkness that enveloped them. Here the survivors of the Imperial Guard’s purification of Delos had fled. In the fiercely competitive biosphere of the planet, where space and energy were scarce, organisms had developed incredible resilience and adaptability. A particular vine-analogue species had attracted both the refugees and the IDC. Its fibrous make-up could support incredible loads, and its evolution on a world so contested made it cheap to grow on softer worlds. As soon as the IDC began to turn a profit from New Delos, all courier jumps suddenly ceased. As other small colonies began to go dark, the shape of the threat soon became clear.
The first Broodlings encountered looked like Satan’s own hounds. Standing about four feet tall on four sinewy legs, with a long narrow skull their every feature screamed predator. All over their ochre bodies veins and muscle popped out, granted them a starved, haunting look. About halfway along the sleek torso two tentacle-like appendages slid out. These nightmarish limbs acted as hands for the Brood. The incredible strength of these muscles was comparable to the human tongue but on a scale of five feet long. More impressive than the brute force they were capable of was the incredible dexterity by which Broodlings could change the shape of the tentacles to form bludgeons, gripping instruments and even foul mockeries of human hands. This enemy was not a hard one for propagandists to demonise. As the canine Brood flooded the edges of human space, a variety of sizes and forms began to reveal themselves. Some were almost larval creatures with smaller, yet more developed tentacles and stunted legs. These squealing monstrosities hated light and could be found operating the long, sinister ships that transported other forms. Massive forms with facial horns protruding from their skulls were used as biological tanks with weaponry mounted on their backs. It was this enemy that brought humanity together to form the Interstellar Defence League. The IDL prepared for its first real stand on the world of Canton, against a foe it knew nothing about.
Samuel Jenkins found himself doing that inimitable, aimless stumble of a drunken man with nowhere to go who had just been kicked out of the bar. A cold, dry wind blew down the barely visible cobblestone road. Despite the limited light and his own inhibited state, Sam could still make out the quaint, wooden cottages that surrounded him. Except for the handful of dim street lights and the odd Neon sign showing English and Mandarin characters the scene was the same as one might see a thousand years ago in old China he thought dizzily. Then his thoughts came into clear, ferocious focus as he thought how history could so easily have been distorted and hidden since that time. A wave of nausea crashed over him and suddenly sweat oozed out of him. A thick blob rose out of his stomach. His hands hit the rough, freezing cobblestones as he doubled over. Twice his stomach jerked violently, expelling its poisonous contents. As he tasted the acidic flavour of bile and felt thin fluid wash over his hands Sam began to cry. The alcohol stopped any clear memories from breaking through but the raw emotions slipped past. The ever-present shame and helplessness bursting out violently like the vomit before it. Just let the Brood and the Flyers finish us already. We deserve nothing less than what’s coming for us. The IDL can bully humanity’s disparate factions into one body as much as it likes but it won’t change a thing. We’ve sinned beyond the point of forgiveness. Giggling cut through his dark thoughts. Somewhere from behind him to his right it flowed through the air, driving away the crushing silence that had once existed. Thin trails of bile still hanging from his lips, Samuel turned his head. Some distance away in a dull umbrella of light emanating from a street lamp a young couple were kissing and tickling each other. Both were Caucasians, one a tall, muscular boy with dark brown hair dressed in a loose singlet and shorts. The other, a girl with dirty blonde hair going halfway down her back, as is common on Shonghua, however with similar loose, minimalistic garments to her partner, not accepted on the conservative world. They span around each other playfully, the girl using both her hands to stroke his stomach, clearly enjoying the definition. Suddenly, the boy grabbed at her breasts mischievously. A squeal erupted from her lips and she put on a stern, disapproving face. Together they burst once again into laughter, her girlish giggle mixing with the awkward laugh of a teenage boy with an erection. Their wild movements brought them into the light of a street light just ahead of Sam on the opposite side of the road. Silence once again fell over the streets. The couple held each other tightly, not moving. From his shadowed position, Sam could just make out the boy’s soft whispers into her ear through the veil of her matted hair.
“I Love you.”
A rapid smile spread across her lips, and her tight grip became steel “I Love you too.”
The whole scene was ridiculous, a cliché-ridden situation that would one day be forgotten by both of them. They’ll be fools, get married, and slowly learn to despise each other like the rest of the human race. They mean it though, in this moment they are utterly, painfully and pathetically sincere. Tears welled up again in Sam not because of the pain and hate but for the beauty of this moment and the shame of being privy to it. No other person should have been allowed to see this, this raw display of true emotion. In all its absurdity and childishness, this moment here has a power to it as real as anything. Desperate, choked sobs escaped Sam’s throat.
“Oh my god, someone’s been watching us, Why is he on the ground like that?” Sam heard the girl say
“Probably just some drunken bum, don’t worry he won’t tell anyone” her Partner replied “Are you okay?” he projected louder, at Sam.
Two sets of footsteps moved closer to him. Sam kept his face to the ground, hiding his tears and shame. A hand pressed gently on his back, rousing him.
“Are you okay?”
Thinly, is voice coming out an awful croak “Yes” he paused “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to…” his voice trailed off.
A feminine voice now “It’s okay” then more agitated “You won’t tell will you?”
Sam lifted his head now and felt his lips move involuntarily into a slight, sad smile “No”
He could just make out their faces in the dark; the girl had ridge of freckles splashed across her nose and bright, green eyes, the boy had an angular face blue eyes filled with suspicion at the drunken mess before him. This feeling caused another wave of tears to begin to trickle forth, Sam fought them back.
The freckled girl spoke next “Do you have someplace to stay?”
“Yes” Sam lied.
The girl reached into her pockets and pulled out a few round, black shapes. The boy put his hand over hers.
“Don’t Katya; he’ll just spend it on liquor or worse”
The girl pulled away defiantly and Sam croaked “A train ticket, that’s all I want”
The couple looked at each other and finally the girl dropped the coins with a clatter onto the tumultuous road.
“Thank you, good luck to you both”
Hand in hand, once more the couple began to move away. The boy stopped and turned around. “You’re really okay?”
Sam felt the smile spreading virally across his face “I’m getting there”
Sam’s disheveled appearance and vomit-tinged stench did little to stop the crowd pressing against him. The great din of machinery, Mandarin and English pounded in his head, making Sam wince. As the crush from the recently arrived train began to dissipate, Sam began to study the cavernous train station. Behind him lay four rows of alternating tracks and concrete islands jutting out from the rest of the station. The tracks continued through tunnels to the left, rushing out from the coastal capital city of Dalian. A variety of vendors and kiosks filled the busy station, the bright colors of signs and wares stabbing at his eyes. Past them, Sam could make out a plethora of vehicles and pedestrians moving about on the streets. Above, monolithic displays showed the train schedule in the smooth lines of Mandarin and the simplistic characters of English and Neo Latin. In discrete corners and the shadows of brilliantly-colored advertisements lay subtle surveillance cameras, violating the innocence of the whole scene. Sam began his slow, hangover-induced walk to the busy streets. The burning grew in his retina as the brilliant light of the outside expanded in his vision. Like the previous night, cold, dry air flowed around him. The people and buildings around him were a strange fusion of Eastern and Western. Large, reflective skyscrapers and people in plan suits mixed fluidly with oriental buildings and traditional Chinese garments. In the lower levels, an endless rainbow of small carts displaying their varied merchandise lined either side of the street. Four-wheeled electric vehicles ranging from sleek, stylized toys to battered delivery vans cut through the middle along the smooth, paved road. Above Sam, similar roads formed an aerial maze between the modern skyscrapers that interrupted the traditional beauty of the oriental-style buildings. The flood of people around Sam simultaneously projected disgust and pity at his wretched form. He smirked to himself at the way they tried not to stare in the way that so many do around the poor and disabled. Unlike others of his appearance, Sam was walking purposefully towards his goal. Unease spread among those near him, at this bum with a focused air who politely moved through the crowd, never bumping or pushing. Instinctive mistrust of the unknown, such an integral part of the human condition, had led to so much pain in the past.
“Excuse us, sirs, ma’am.” Sam heard the polite Mandarin murmur slice through the busy air.
Heavier boots hit against the pavement, a dull thud against the clicking of heels and squeaking of cheap runners. The bodies once tightly packed near Sam began to dissipate slightly. He slowed his pace, taking long, deep breaths. Surely the Dalian police have better things to do with their time than look at a suspicious wino. A strong hand planted itself halfway up his back. A commanding voice spoke.
“Stop there, sir, we’d like to ask you a few questions” Sam turned his head to study the police officer and his partner behind him; a Caucasian and an Asian man behind him, both in their late thirties. The orange stripes running along their shoulder blades stood out from the smooth black covering over the rest of their bodies. Belts around their waists held the sleek lines of the tools of their trade. Eyeing these, Sam nodded his consent and allowed himself to be pulled down into a narrow side alley. In one of those fascinating domino-effect group movements; the crowd split and allowed our triplet through. The previously mute Asian officer spoke first, him and his partner standing at a polite distance but clearly keeping Sam up against the alley wall. Garbage cluttered the already thin alley, obscuring it from the outside.
“Do you have any ID on you, sir?” The constant politeness and adherence to social norms had transplanted itself from old China to her colonies. Sam ruffled through his stained and tattered pants; producing an IDL serviceman card. Both officers stiffened at the sight. The Asian officer reached forward and lightly slipped the card out of Sam’s hand. He spoke to his partner, who was gazing intently at Sam “Ex-Captain Samuel Jenkins, born a Sol Alliance citizen on Eden in 2974, serial number…”
“That will do.” Cut in the hard-eyed man to his right. The polite distance between Sam and the man disappeared in an instant. Flexible, spider-silk fibers of the man’s uniform pressed against Sam’s chest. Warm breath, thick with the stench of cheap, fried food blasted his face. Rough stubble decorated the officer’s chin. “IDL, huh?” The man looked down at his hands.
Pain exploded in Sam’s stomach as the man’s fist drove into his abdomen. Next to him, the other officer grabbed Sam’s hunched over form and lifted him, pulling sharply on greasy hair. Two more punches slammed into him, leaving him breathless. Warm blood began to flow freely from his mouth, the distinctive taste filling Sam’s senses. He dropped, now unhindered both either officer. There on his hands and knees, the rough pavement digging into him, his assailant moved next to his ear.
“What brings you here, boy? You’re a goddamn spy, aren’t you? A fucking League bitch.” Ribs cracked as a steel-capped boot cut into him from the other side. His hands gave way and he tasted broken gravel amongst the blood. A heavy knee dug into his spine from above. The same voice, now behind him spoke again “You fuckers think you can get whatever, don’t you?”
Through the screaming pain erupting all over him, Sam fought out a response “I…left….the…ID…arghhh!!” Agony shot through him, as the knife slid into his thigh. Wordless screams continued to erupt from Sam as the blade twisted and turned. Finally, a syllable flew from his bleeding mouth “Fuck!” The blade slid out with another explosion of pain and screaming.
“You think I believe that, you little fuck?!” The knee rose from his back, and just above the sensations coming from his leg and stomach, Sam felt the man straddle him and bring his head to Sam’s ear again. A firm hand pressed his face into the abrasive gravel. “A good cover story, the shitheads in the government either trust you or are too afraid to touch you” A bark of a laugh shot into Sam’s ear. “They are too fucking scared to do anything about the ex-IDL captain skulking around here for the past few years but us two here; we’ve got nothing to lose” The man’s weight shifted lower, pressing on the incredible agony of his thigh. Another groan slipped out of Sam’s mouth. Nothing but hate and disgust filled the officer’s words “When you monsters torched Canton and the other worlds there was rioting here. Thousands died; our wives, our brothers all of them dead” He spat the last word and a deluge splattered onto Sam’s right cheek. “My beautiful little girl, sixteen years old killed herself when she saw the pile of bodies with her mother’s bullet-ridden body on top. I wish you could see all the things you people did, so you can learn to hate yourself just like we hate you but that would spare us the pleasure of killing you”
All of the man’s weight lifted off him but the greater weight of the shame began to push down on him. The memories of Hel, Canton and Dawn returned. Sam saw the ash choking school children on Dawn as his platoon tried to evacuate them. He remembered looking to the sky, safe in his mask, as the dark brown cloud blotted out the sun. Memories of Canton next swept over him; the initial meat-grinder campaign against the innumerable Brood, League holdouts being bombarded by friendly artillery as they were overrun. Salty tears mixed with the tangy blood in his mouth as he saw the final act. Watching from orbit, he witnessed the nuclear fires consuming the surviving Brood and humans. He focused on the pain invading his battered body rather than see Hel again. The good in humanity he had seen last night was forgotten as this avalanche of emotion and pain crashed into him. A new weight of the other officer pressed against him now.
Warm, moist air blew around Sam’s ear. “You ready to pay for all those fucking corpses?” Lying there, as blood flowed out of him and the hate from the officers seeped in, he waited for his life to flash before his eyes. It didn’t; there was nothing. If this was what death is, just emptiness, if there is no god or afterlife then so be it. It’s preferable to the curse of being self-aware. Firm hands pulled his head up out of the biting gravel. A long, sharp object pressed itself to the soft vulnerability that was his throat. It was already moist from its incision into his thigh.
“Shit!” Sam felt the mass above him twist, causing him to cry out again. The blade now ducked away slightly from his throat. A gradual roaring began to drive out all other sensations. Just above the incredible noise of the beating blades he heard panicked yells.
“Fuck! It’s gotta be IDL MPs. Slit his throat! N…” They cut off abruptly and the man above him toppled over, his weight once again pushing Sam to the rough earth. Indistinct yells reached his ears and hands began to probe and prod. With a sudden lust for vengeance the pain struck him. In his stomach the burning felt like his insides were boiling. The wound in his thigh radiated wave after wave of stabbing agony. Distantly, he experienced many hands lifting him up from the blood soaked alleyway and onto a smoother surface. He felt himself being pressed hard against this surface as wind blasted his body. All of this was dimly felt as his wounds continued to drive out all coherent thought. A strange sensation of movement caused his body to tense instinctively before numbness began to infiltrate his body. Time became fluid, stretching and shrinking constantly and radically. It was like a dog biting and squeezing its favorite rubber toy; or a rubber band being slowly stretched out before releasing its great tension. Things jumped and stopped at random. Occasionally a face or hand floated across his vision, sometimes covering it for days on end, sometimes zipping over in a blur. Disparate syllables and words echoed in the confines of his mind. Once or twice a phrase leapt outwards, his brain grabbing at meaning, at reason but just as quickly they retreated. He swam in this dim maze of confusion for an eternity, for a second, a day, a year.
“Your name?” There! Meaning! A question, a question asked of me. My name is…he drifted off again, back into confusion.
Suddenly his senses were assaulted. Glorious sunlight warmed his skin. Lovely greens and yellows and blues and reds flowed into his eyes. Soft bird calls jumped back and forth through the air. The somewhat stale air. Clean and pure air but stifled like it had been forever trapped; like the air back in Eden actually. Sam’s thoughts began to come together. Eden, what’s Eden? It’s where I was born, isn’t it? Where is it? Eden is in the Sol system, orbiting Jupiter, one of hundreds of orbital habitats. The answer shot into his conscious from some unknown place. It was his own voice but whatever it was it knew far more than he did. Is this Eden? Think, replied the other Sam, could this be Eden? Around him was a well-kept garden. Stretching out in front of him was three rows of beautiful flowers extending to a line of evergreen trees. Tracing the long branches with eyes, Sam could see a fabulous variety of birds nesting among the trees. Some of their calls were shrieks that stabbed at his ears, others heartfelt melodies that massaged them. Between each row of foliage there lay impossibly green grass. Above him was a ceiling, a ceiling? A ceiling painted as a gorgeous vista of a clear blue sky with occasional wisps of brilliantly white clouds. Sam turned, feeling grass tickle his bare feet. A gazebo stood before him, its color the same brilliant white of the clouds. Its caringly carved lines resembled exactly the one in the park in Eden that he had spent his 6th birthday in. This is Eden, it must be, but how did I get here? One moment I was…where was I? The other Sam stayed silent. Light sprinkles began to touch his body. As they began to build on his skin he brought his hand to his face for examination. The sprinkles were a dark brown. What are they? Now the voice spoke, ash it’s ash. You remember the ash, don’t you? Sam’s vision began to cloud; he lifted his eyes to the artificial sun. First its color changed; white, then a dirty yellow and then finally the same brown of the ash beginning to cover all he could see. Horrible shrieks enveloped his ears. He could just make out the birds scattering wildly as they began to choke. No! This never happened, not here, this was on Dawn! The bird shrieks mutated, changing pitch and key, into the soul-grabbing scream of dying children. Fibro-steel buildings replaced the line of trees marking the edge of the park chamber. Cracked concrete shot away from him, replacing the brown-tinged grass. The dirty, yellow-brown air was the only common thread between the beautiful park and the ruined city that now existed before him. Rubble and destroyed vehicles cluttered the streets. Turning again, he saw soldiers clad in mottled dark grey armor. Sealed helmets protected their lungs from the falling ash. Their weapons were scattered on the ground around them. Screaming children were being rushed by the soldiers to a low-slung armored vehicle a hopelessly large distance away. Sam saw them falling one by one, coughing up deep maroon blood as they did so. He sprinted towards them, desperate to save just one. The soldiers were gone now as were all of the fallen children save one. It was a girl from the long hair running half way down her back. She was face first in the tumultuous, broken pavement. Sam could still see the river of blood flowing from her mouth. He knelt before the girl’s corpse and slowly began to turn her over. He cried out with recognition. A line of freckles lay across her nose and bright, green eyes looked back into his. Broken memories of Shonghua returned, soaked in alcohol and piss. Her name was Katya, he had seen her there. This revelation came from Sam’s own mind; whatever the other voice was it kept its silence. The teenage face continued to stare blankly up at him, blood staining the left corner of her face. He gently placed her back on the street and pushed upwards off his right leg laboriously. Ash swallowed up her body and Sam saw it dissolve into the ground. Staggering backwards in shock, he suddenly found himself falling. Wind whipped his skin and his body panicked wildly. Nausea and disorientation disrupted his thoughts. It was dark still but the ugly taint of the ash was gone. Night had fallen and the sleek outline of clouds could be just seen in the starlight. Abruptly, his vision cut off and he felt himself being squeezed from all sides. The falling sensation was completely gone but still his mind reeled in confusion. The pressure all around him was intense and he tried desperately to shift his mass, screaming as he did so. He was wearing a helmet he realized, exactly like the one’s IDL soldiers wore. Without warning, light rushed his eyes and the pressure alleviated. Curved metal plates were arranged around him with viscous amber gel flowing over them; an IDL drop pod. The pressure had been the crash gel stopping his flesh from turning to a thick soup. Sam was in a small crater. Over the edges he could see low-slung shrubs with sharp, dull-yellow leaves. Only worlds with hot, blue suns had yellow flora. Worlds like Canton, now a burnt-out husk. The visions of Eden and Dawn had been that strange, convincing falsity of a dream. Free of their control now, he could see the inconsistencies that revealed their true nature. This, however, was far more real. The tight yet flexible armour around him felt all too familiar. Dry, cool air drifted into the helmet. Strong, almost stinging cinnamon smells came with the air. That same piercing smell in the air the night the IDL dropped on Canton. Distant thunderclaps boomed around him; aircraft and pods entering the atmosphere accompanied by a hail of life-gouging weaponry. No, it couldn’t be a dream; the whole scene was too perfect. Was it some cruel torment by his subconscious? His life flashing before his eyes as he bled out on Shonghua? No not quite, I’m weapon less and far from any other landings. His “last” landing on Canton had been bathed in fire and horror. Tungsten and Uranium rods had been launched first, the kinetic energy from their impacts enough to annihilate what remained of the cities. Dust tinged with that biting cinnamon smell had been thrown in great clouds to the air. Illuminated by night and thermal-vision, demonic canine figures had surged over the ground. Those were just the raiders and stragglers. It was in the mountains and underground that the Brood had made their real strongholds. Another shocking difference in this scene appeared to him as his military thinking and reflexes returned. No frightened chatter and tense commands bombarded his ears. As a captain he would be constantly in communication with his company sergeant and platoon leaders at least. Now he was here again the absence was frightening. No raspy orders from battalion, no nervous, terribly young mumbles from the fire control officer in orbit. He felt naked and alone. Abstractly, he was shocked at his own feelings towards the situation. Dropped into the hell that had helped to break him, he could think only of reporting to his commanding officer. With a new awareness he crawled to the edge of the crater and studied the scrubland. A long, shadowed form cut between two shrubs about ten metres from his crater. Sam could make hundreds of shifting legs pumping away in the dark. Suddenly there was a flurry of movement and the already barely visible shape fused with the ground below. Turning, a rocky hill driving up from the earth came into view. Its angular lines interrupted the dim light and yellow scrubland.