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Date: Feb 4, 900 A.C.
The noises produced by the factory were enormous. There was a continuous clanking of metal feet, and the hissing of welders was never ending. The whirring of drills, automatic screwdrivers, and fans also permeated the factory. The start-stop sound of the assembly line conveyor belts also added to the din while the flushing sound of hydraulic oil being pumped into hydraulic tubes went on unceasing.
Imperetor Malvolent walked up and down the assembly lines, hunched over with his white, gnarled hands behind his loosely cloaked back. He smiled grimly as the continuous line of mechs rose from the end of the assembly line and were handed their weapons. A mech was made about every second, and this had been going on for three days now.
‘The great advantage about using robots,’ Imperetor Malvolent soliloquized as he entered the code that allowed him access to the internal structures of the factory. ‘Is that they do not need food, require very little maintenance, and work nonstop.
‘In the past three days, 259 200 mechs have been made. 194 400 of these are MBMs, 32 400 of these are Subservice Mechs, 16 200 are Captains, and the remaining 16 200 are Elite Mechs. Quite a handy army, in addition to the one that I already have.’
After a brief inspection to make sure the factories were running at max output, Imperetor Malvolent disappeared and appeared in the factory that made his GI 85 T-swoops.
The two mechs that superintended the operations were not the least bit flustered as they saluted and escorted the Imperetor through the factory.
After checking to make sure everything was at full functionality and nothing needed repairs, the Imperetor turned to head to the factory that made his spacecruisers.
These too he inspected and the inspection was such that when he exited, he said to himself almost gleefully. “My revenge is coming.”
After Richard became a Defen in Savantone’s bunk room, he was told by that sage man that he still had to go through the formal ceremony of presentation where he would publicly proclaim that he was now a Defen.
Presentation was the ceremony where he would be publicly presented the enerblade of his previous choosing by the one who had trained him.
Now, the matter of choosing his enerblade was a serious one, and Richard looked upon it as a daunting task. He had had some training in that area, and having fenced before, considered himself a fair hand at handling a weapon such as the enerblade. Savantone had also trained him in the absorbing of laser bolts though there was not much to train as the core of the enerblade did most of the work.
Savantone brought from some unknown storage a great many enerblades. All were shiny and new. Some were a metallic silver, others were a machined black. There were curved ones, straight ones, ones with ridges, ones with none. There were some that had rubber grips, and others with metal grips. Yet though Richard tried many, none of them seemed to suit.
He could hold them and all, and he could even handle them the way he had been taught to do so, but there was something missing. Something that he could not place but yet knew was not there. Savantone had been observing him closely, and after Richard had gone through each and every one of the enerblades and was about to choose one, the old man said.
“Do not choose one that does not suit, I think I may have the one that you seek.” So saying, the aged man got up from the floor where he had been sitting and hobbled back into the storage room from which he had come.
When he came out it was with an enerblade unlike that which Richard had previously seen. Its handle was a smooth black, and its grip was a ridged, metal grip. The pommel was a squat cross and around the emitter it had small curved blades, not sharp ones, but circular ones that went around it, a bit like large washers.
“It is an older one,” Savantone said, “But I think it will suit your purposes.”
Richard took it from Savantone’s hands almost reverently. It fit perfectly in the palm of his hand, and after tossing it up and catching it a couple of times, he activated it. The blade was a beautiful black, one which he had never seen before. The enerblade too was lighter than most of the previous ones. This, Savantone said, was because it was not equipped with the energy blasters that the other ones had on their tips.
“It’s great.” Richard said with a grin. “There’s none in the universe that could suit me better.”
“Also, you must choose a new name, for it is best your enemies don’t know your real name.”
“What sort of name should I choose?”
“Most Defen choose a name that is similar to their real name but not so close as to allow connection.”
After thinking for awhile, Richard said, “What about Rich? Rich Hom?”
“Hmm, a little obvious, but it will do if you’re satisfied with it.
“Now to get you the clothes of a Defen.”
“I think I’d prefer the ones I’ve got on,” Richard said, looking at the tattered robe Savantone wore.
“No, you must sell your clothes, I’ll get you a couple of suits. You are– what size?
“Or perhaps you’d best come with me and we’ll get you suited up.”
So saying, Savantone brought Richard to a clothes maker and ordered two robes, one brown the other black; five loose, plain white shirts; five pairs of pants to match; and a hooded cloak. Richard had to admit, after putting on one of the shirts and pants that it was a lot more comfortable and lighter than his stiff uniform had been.
“The robe will by given to you at your presentation,” Savantone told him. “It is one of the finest I’ve seen. Waterproof too. Mine’s too well ventilated to be waterproof, even if it did have the waterproofing.”
This was the first time Richard had heard Savantone joke and he felt unsure as to whether he should laugh or keep the same stolid face that he normally carried around with him. This thinking about feelings brought to his mind the death of his family and he instantly felt guilty for enjoying himself so much when his family had just died. This then brought on a pang of sadness and Richard remained quiet the rest of the way back.
The truth of the matter was that Richard had been so busy in the past four weeks, for four weeks it had been, that he had not had the time to think about the deaths that had taken place around him. But now that the excitement of getting his enerblade and becoming a Defen had worn off, he felt the pain greatly.
Savantone took his silence as a matter of course, thinking that Richard was perhaps overwhelmed with the responsibility he was entailing in becoming a Defen. Savantone knew too of the death of Richard’s family, and it is possible that the he thought about that, but Richard never found out.
Either way, Savantone said to Richard, “You’d better go to your room and rest yourself a little before the ceremony. It is in three hours so you have plenty of time to rest.”
Commander Grennet had by this time lowered himself from underneath the docking platform onto the ground below, and he now took cover behind a rock, trying to avoid the constant stream of hot sparks that flew down from above.
He knew soon that they would gather enough men to dare to come down. If he had had a couple of IC’s he might have been able to frighten them off, but even if he did do that, it would not have been long before they sent back to that dreaded planet he had come from to call Draconian Vengance.
The Commander heard grappling hooks attaching to the side of the docking platform and posing himself behind the rock, he grit his teeth and braced himself for the worst.
Richard awoke at the sound of a com knocking on his door. Getting up and straightening his new clothes as best as he could, Richard walked over to the door. He had to take a few seconds to compose himself before he could open the door, for he had cried himself to sleep, and he still felt a little unnerved.
But when he opened the door to face the saluting com, the latter could see nothing unusual about the new Defen, and led him through a series of corridors. It was not long before he arrived at the presentation area, and Richard entered the backstage where he was told to wait until called up.
Savantone was just making his opening speech, and, as it was short and precise, there was only a short interval before a stage hand motioned the flustered Richard to go onstage.
Richard was in a daze, and he accepted the enerblade with thanks, buckling it on to his belt unconsciously. He put his arms robotically into the sleeves of the robe and recited blindly the speech which he had memorized before. Richard recalled later on that there had been a deafening applause, but at that time, he saw and heard none of it; he was too dazed to do so.
It was only when he had returned to his room that he fully realized what had happened, and he put his hand to his hip to feel the cylindrical handle of his enerblade. Then he felt both a wave of responsibility and joy flow over him as he realized that his dream had come true, and he would be able to head back to Darthamoor and free his people.
Now it happened that when Commander Grennet sent out his urgent message that he required help, there was a small trader flying within range of the Fifth network. This trader relayed the signal to a patrolling D-cruiser which in turn relayed it to the ACC which, upon receiving the message, relayed it to the Defen Assembly, as this kind of mission was more suited to them.
The Assembly received this news with consternation, for Commander Grennet was probably the most experienced if not the best commander in the line, and it would be a great blow to lose him. Besides, he was also a leading figure among the men, and if anything happened to him, all morale would be lost. With this in mind, the Defen Assembly was determined to choose Defen who could do the job.
There was one problem. Due to the recent threatening events, most of the other Defen were away trying to keep the peace, and Savantone was not able to leave as he had some more students to train.
“Who can we send?” Savantone asked gravely, looking at the faces of the Assembly members who had not been sent out on missions.
A Defen, E An Por, spoke up:
“My pupil, General Elle can go. She has just completed her training. She has been taught and has mastered twenty of the thirty-five enerblade arts. Including the fifth art: Repaarte; Collosum: the eleventh art; the fifteenth art: Yestrr; and more.
“She has had field experience– having commanded a battalion in the Hiron War. Also, she has some diplomatic experience. In fact, I have her learning from a senator right now.”
“That is good,” Savantone said. “But a mission of this importance and danger calls for more than a single Defen. Are there any others that we should send?”
“What about those two new knights?” A respected Knight who went by the name of Joh Probationor spoke. “Are they not ready for field service? There is no better teacher than the real face of war.”
“I disagree, General Probationor,” Savantone said calmly. “There are better teachers than war. However, what you say is true. The two do need some field experience as a Defen. Field experience they have already, but experience as a Defen is something else entirely.
“This will also give General Elle a taste of what it will be like to educate a new Defen. She will be able to impart some of her experience to the two boys. Still, it pains me to be forced to send out unripe youth into the midst of battle.”
“Alas, it cannot be helped,” E An said softly. Of all the Defen, not even Savantone could surpass the pained expression on his face. “Call Ian Ling, General Elle, and Rich Hom in.”
Richard was surprised to receive orders to go to the Assembly, and still more surprised when he saw his brother there. He would have called out to him had not another person entered; a stranger. This was General Elle.
Tall, dominating, with her hair tied into a stiff braid, General Elle was the perfect figure of command. Her clothes were crisp, her hair was crisp, even her face seemed crisp, if that was possible. She stood before the Assembly calmly but respectfully, with both hands behind her back, coolly examining the scene. Yet though her presence was domineering, there was a sense of humility about her, as she surveyed her former teachers.
“General Elle,” Savantone said. “I can only suppose that you have heard rumors that Commander Grennet is alive. Well, I am here to tell you that those rumors are true.”
Richard’s heart skipped a beat, and he would have given a leap of joy had he not been in the presence of his superiors. However, Savantone’s next words instantly caused him to sober up.
“Commander Grennet is stuck on a planet previously unknown, but which Galactic intelligence has determined to be part of network called the Fifth Network. Apparently it is ruled over by a crime lord who goes by the name of Zee Turncoat.”
Elle raised an eyebrow, questioning.
“The name is odd, yes,” Savantone said. “But what I am here to tell you is that we are assigning you the mission of rescuing Commander Grennet. You will fly there in a Guardship which has the location of the Fifth Network programmed into its navigational computer. You, General Elle, will be in command. Rich Hom and Ian Ling, will be following you. You will be giving them some extra combat training. However, your priority is a quick in, then a quick out. Do not, at any cost, engage the enemy.”
“Yes, Advisor Kay, it will be done immediately,” General Elle said, giving a small bow, then she exited the Assembly room, followed closely by Richard and his brother.
The three walked to the hanger in an uncomfortable silence. Ivan’s normal loquaciousness was temporarily dampened by General Elle’s presence, and Richard was meditating on this new development. He was quite excited at the idea of field service, but also quite worried. Would he do well? What if he failed? Or made a mistake? This was not training anymore. Decisions that he made could cost lives, and he was not sure that he was ready for such responsibility. But he had been given no chance to back out, not that he would have, but doubt was a hard thing to suppress.
Half an hour after being summoned in front of the Assembly, they were flying off into space. General Elle had a substantial knowledge of how to pilot a spaceship, and so they had not taken a pilot. Once she was sure the course was set, she sent the ship into Machspace.
She turned around in the pilot’s swivel chair to face the two boys. “How about we begin with some introductions.” General Elle said. “We have a half an hour journey ahead of us and we may as well make as much use of the time as we can.
“I am General Elle, recently made General by the Assembly. I have been a Knight for two years now, and spent the customary eighteen years in training. I am now twenty four. I have mastered twenty of the thirty-five enerblade arts and am now working on Glassan and Freedhein.”
“Well,” Richard began tentatively. “I’m Rich Hom, newly knighted Defen. I’ve been training for four weeks. I am now twenty. I have mastered none of the enerblade arts but am working on Parlech and Vrackk. I also have lots of experience commanding troops.”
General Elle face was one of pure surprise. “Only four weeks? There must be something especially special about you that would cause them to knight you in four weeks. What about you, Ian?”
“Well, I am still training, I have not been knighted yet, and I also have not mastered any of the enerblade arts. I am fifteen years old. I have had some battle experience and have fought some mechs.”
“There is a lot more to battle experience than fighting mechs.” Elle said. “But it appears like you’ll get plenty on this one. I’m surprised at the Assembly’s sending out such young people as you, but then, their forces are stretched thin.”
“You are only four years older than me.” Richard observed evenly.
“Yes, but I have the ages of experience that comes from having begun training from the age of four. But, I believe we have some time for some enerblade warm up practice. Who’s in for it?”
Both boys said they were, so Elle led them into the troop bay of the Guardship.
“Okay,” Elle said. “Ian can go first, then you Rich.”
Ian removed from his cloak a training blade, basically an enerblade core, with no blade, so though it would deflect the blows of an enerblade and absorb blaster bolts, it had virtually no cutting power. Elle drew out her enerblade, and ignited it. The blade was a vibrant magenta, and it cast a beautiful soft glow on the cabin walls.
Ian quickly assumed a fighting stance. Elle did likewise. Ian went for a quick low feint followed by a high cut, but the movement of his eyes had betrayed his intentions, and Elle’s blade met his as sparks flew. Then, before Ian knew what had happened, he felt his legs sweep out from under him, got the vague sense that Elle had spun around, and then he found her blade at his throat.
She extinguished the enerblade and helped him back to his feet. “A Defen can attack with more than just his blade. That was a Repaarte leg sweep.” she told him. “Your turn now Rich.”
Rich stepped into the place his brother had so lately occupied. He stood warily as he drew his own enerblade and ignited it. Black and purple flashed as the two blades danced a deadly dance of perfect synchrony. But Rich’s unskilled hands could not last long against the prowess of one who had devoted her entire life to such feats, and his blade was sent soaring from his hand into hers.
“A Collosum armbreaker.” Elle told him, as she handed his weapon back to him. “You should both learn and watch out for it. Used at the right time, in the right manner, with the right amount of force, it can be unstoppable.”
“Got it,” Richard said, as they returned to the cramped cabin.
Elle scanned the incoming data from the planet scan and found a clear area to land, just on the edge of a thick, dense swamp.
“This was the last known location of Commander Grennet; where he broadcasted from. Beyond that, we have no information.”
“It looks like there was a battle here,” Richard said, examining some of the scorch marks. He looked up to Elle for confirmation of this fact, but she was peering intently at their surroundings. Richard stopped examining the marks and turned to look around him as well, his hand falling unconsciously to the hilt of his enerblade.
“What is it?” he whispered to Elle, his voice low.
“Something isn’t right,” Elle whispered back. “I’ve felt something amiss since we landed.
“Draw your weapons!”
The three drew their weapons, igniting them. They stood back to back, prepared to face whatever might come out of the mist and damp that surrounded the edge of the clearing. They were not too soon, for hulking figures soon emerged from the dark recesses. Upon sighting the three humans, they flung their weapons up and began firing rapidly.
The three raised their weapons to block the oncoming onslaught, but it was not blaster bolts they faced, but sparks, and these they were incapable of blocking. They leapt back in shock, Richard and Elle, who took the brunt of it, letting out a few surprised yells as a hot spark touched bare skin.
“Change of plan,” Elle said. “Don’t use your enerblades to block.
The Elite Guards were taken completely by surprise when the three fugitives charged out, enerblades swinging. They stood no chance as the three dashed into their midst, ducking, cutting, weaving, swinging, forcing them to be unable to use their weapons lest they shoot some of their companions.
In no time, the squad was disassembled, and Richard was about to behead the final Elite Guard when Elle stopped him.
“We need this one,” she said. “For information.”
“You move,” Richard said, gesturing dangerously with the point of his lightsaber at the Elite Guard. “And I won’t hesitate to cut your head off.” He was still sore from the burns he had received from their Promwels.
“Where is Commander Grennet?” Elle asked.
“In the swamp,” the Elite Guard told her, gesturing vaguely behind it.
“But where–” Elle was interrupted by Richard’s blade flashing dangerously close to her face, as it went on its downward sweeping arc. A second later, the Elite Guard’s headless torso fell to the ground.
“He could have given us more information,” Elle said, exasperated. “When you’re in the field, you follow orders alright?”
“Yes General,” Richard said. This was the first time he had addressed her directly, and he had used her title instead of her name. She could tell he was not happy. Oh well, let him sulk. He would get over it eventually.
“The question is,” Elle said, voicing her thoughts. “How are we going to find the commander in this mess of swamp?”
“There’s no need,” a voice said from behind them. They swung around enerblades flaring. Commander Grennet stumbled into the clearing. Then, with great effort, he drew himself up and gave the stiff salute he had been trained to do. “Commander Grennet reporting for duty ma’am,” the astute commander said, nodding slightly to Richard and Ian.
Richard was about to step forward and stop the Commander from wasting his energy so, for he could see that the man was greatly worn out, but Elle, who knew the importance of such things to coms, stopped him. She saluted back, in a similar crisp manner.
“General Elle here. I’ll be glad to have you under my command. At ease commander.”
The Commander sagged slightly at this, and would have fallen had not Richard come to his rescue. Commander Grennet gave Richard a nod of thanks, then the four boarded the spaceship, and they flew from the surface of the swamp planet.
An hour later, three wounded Elite Guards reported back to their master.
“The commander escaped, sir,” one of them said, cringing at what he knew was to come next.
“Dhad ty oom ueat nhc eommandee rscapew?” Zee questioned, his voice rising in pitch. “Sow uilb lt ehrowt nt ohg erimalkiny!”
“What do you mean the commander escaped?” the translator intoned. “You will be thrown to the grimalkins.”
Then the holo-projector Zee held beeped. He nearly pressed the answer button, then he cancelled the incoming call. What would the Imperetor think of him now?