If Station Gamma’s hangar was just ten meters larger, the engineers may have been able to do their jobs without constantly bumping into each other.
Cranes lifted fighters and shuttles to upper levels for repairs, and bundles of ammunition into small transport chutes. Engineers pushed past one another, jogging to collect parts and receive orders. Some stood at computers with wires hooked into vehicles, taping away on a keyboard and running diagnostics to ensure everything was working as intended.
The loud hissing and buzzing of machinery was music to their ears. A symphony of power drills and hammers pressed against metal. Sparks flew as steel was welded en masse, creating chassis and wings for fighters.
Nicole watched as engineers pushed carts filled to the brim with assorted parts and wiring. She could’ve named all of them years ago, but the knowledge had since escaped her. Naming parts wasn’t her job, and she had long left a cockpit.
Those engineers she had her eyes trained on were fixing up a damaged fighter, paint-chipped, and scarred in a recent incident. A new pilot wanted to show off during landing, ending in the plane’s underbelly skidding across the landing strip. Nicole had reprimanded the man, forcing him to help the engineers fix the long line of skid marks he made. She wondered if waiting a week to fix his plane was a punishment that the engineering crew devised.
Up top, she saw a lift begin to arrive. There was a stripe of clear glass that extended up a section of the hangar’s east wall. It showed whenever lifts were arriving to get engineers ready for a quick set-up.
Once the lift planted itself in the hangar’s ground floor, two familiar men walked out. Edgar Cantrell and Howard Carpenter began a long walk towards her, laughing about something. The two lieutenants shot her a smile before Edgar went back to talking.
“Another lovely morning to go out and look for nothing.” The tanned lieutenant said once he was within earshot of his captain. To an extent, Edgar was right. Reconnaissance usually consisted of a skirmish once or twice every other month. Usually.
“Not this time,” Nicole said. On a nearby crate, she had left the details for this mission. She pulled out a small piece of paper, photographs of a nearby asteroid field that was thought to be abandoned. “Radar’s picked up some unusual activity near this field. Could be Axis.”
“It’s not one of our outcrops?” Howard said.
“We don’t have any outcrops in this sector. We use that field for pilot training.” Edgar replied. “However, putting something this close to Union territory is incredibly risky on the Axis’ part. How’d they even slip past the front lines?”
“Scouts slip through the cracks all the time,” Nicole said. “Though, they’re usually dealt with before getting this deep into Union territory."
“Think that means they’re desperate for supplies?” Edgar asked.
“Well, if they’re smart, they won’t do it again after this,” Nicole said. “Five minutes until launch, suit up you two.”
Edgar and Howard ran off to go get their suits. They were black, like their uniforms with more armor. Padded enough to decrease damage from a kinetic shot, but it would still hurt. Large helmets sported a tinted visor to make sure their field of view was not obscured in any way. Two engineers came up behind, securing oxygen tanks on their backs
“Ma’am.” A female engineer’s voice said over Nicole’s radio. “You’re clear for pre-launch procedure.”
Nicole closed her eyes, concentrating on her breathing. It was almost rhymical. With every inhale, she cleared her mind of all outside thoughts. On every exhale, she focused on one word in her mind. Form.
She had done this probably close to a thousand times, but it still took a certain amount of skill. A second of letting her mind wander would force her to restart the entire process. She only thought of a single word.
Red, glowing clouds began to rise from her uniform’s, spreading down to her arms, legs, and torso. An army of trillions of nanites, no bigger than a grain of sand each, enveloped her body, covering her torso to toe in a red mist.
The mist began to harden once it enveloped her body, arms, and legs. It became darker in color and began to take shape, becoming a crimson armor with black highlights and indents all around. Nicole felt it solidify around her limbs, gently cushioning her body. Her back felt weighted as the final bit of her uniform, her propulsion system, finished forming.
She held out her right hand. What started as a small glowing ball of mist became a gripped handle in her palm, followed by a hilt and a thin, curved blade. When it had fully formed, the sword was nearly as tall as she was and completely weightless. A small group of exhaust holes along the blade’s dull side would help her swing in zero gravity. On the bottom of its handle read the swords name. Kindler.
Edgar walked over, handing Nicole a hair tie. Inside her suit, she was a head taller than her squadmates, despite being the shortest among them in normal uniform. She tied her hair back in a bun and placed her hand on the back of her neck, moving it gently over her head to bottom of her chin. A trail of mist followed her fingers, hardening, and becoming her helmet.
Whenever she put her helmet on, the moments of darkness before her cameras kicked in were terrifying. Being in complete blackness for only a few seconds made her think that her suit failed. However, once her visual system booted, she saw everything clear as day. Even though the helmet had only two black slits on the exterior, small screens on the top of her HUD provided views from the sides and behind. Edgar gave her a pat on the back and nudged her forward.
The entire west wall of Station Gamma’s hangar was set aside for launch pads. Large steel doors numbered one through thirty in red paint led into the launch rooms themselves. Tools for emergency launch and repair were laid out between each door. Nicole walked towards door number three, her lucky number.
The interiors were small, square rooms. A glass booth sat to Nicole’s left, filled with a myriad of valves and controls. Two engineers manned them from the inside.
On the ground lay a square pad placed between two small tracks. Nicole walked onto the pad, and two clamps sprung out from its side. They wrapped around her ankles, securing her in place.
A loud alert siren blared, and the entrance behind her slammed shut.
“Begin depressurization.” She heard an engineer say over her radio. The room was quickly sucked of all air as Nicole’s oxygen tank kicked in.
“Comms check.” Howard’s voice said.
“Comms are good.” The red-clad captain replied. “Thruster check.”
Like her subordinates, Nicole’s suit had a system of wires wrapping around her back, leading into a red fuel canister. Below the canister was a circular thruster, her main source of momentum. Smaller, more precise thrusters were placed all around her suit for flips and turns in zero gravity.
A small burst of flame spouted from the back of her suit, just a second later than it usually did. Nicole had been with this suit long enough to know its responsiveness. Although, once she did it again, it activated immediately.
“Thrusters normal, captain.” The engineer said. “Weapons check.”
Nicole flicked a small switch on Kindler’s handle, and a small group of flames shot from the blade, her arm pulled downward by the force.
“Ready for launch.” An engineer said on Nicole’s radio. “Good hunting, Legionaries.”
Knees bent, back straight and head forward. Nicole repeated the familiar mantra from her training days. She had done it so many times that muscle memory kicked in whenever a launch happened, but it made her feel safer.
The door in front of Nicole opened, leading directly into space.
A familiar force hit Nicole’s back, and soon the pad was traveling at blistering speeds out of the hangar. She had done this a thousand times, but it still startled her every time. The launch bay passed Nicole by in seconds, the steel tunnel blurring as she was forced out into space. Her thrusters kicked in, and her ankles were released. She leaped off the pad, diving headfirst and down.
Howard and Edgar launched seconds after, joining up on her sides as the three flew towards their marked objective. A small, green radar appeared on the upper left of her view.
The objective, marked with a blue point on the radar, was close. The outcrop would get into view the closer they got, but all they saw was empty space ahead and Station Gamma behind them.
“We couldn’t at least get a shuttle there?” Edgar said. “Not even halfway?”
“Merrow didn’t think it was worth the fuel. I asked yesterday.” Nicole said. “Said we were short this month, most of the fuel went to Station Kappa and they need it more than us. Emergency flights only, at least for now.”
“We haven’t had an attack in a year. She’s on the front lines.” Howard said. “Makes sense.”
“Still,” Edgar said “No armor? If they have artillery, we’re screwed.”
“Why would they have artillery? It’s a mine, not a carrier.” Howard said.
“To knock three unprepared Legionaries out of the sky.” The lieutenant retorted. “We should always assume they’re more than ready for us.”
“If they have artillery, I’ll draw its fire and the two of you destroy it.” Nicole put an end to the bickering. “Simple.” An artillery placement would fall with enough concentrated firepower from them both.
“Heads up!” Edgar said. They were getting close now. The asteroid field was in full view of the three.
“Howard, anything?” Nicole asked.
“So far I see---,” He stopped mid-sentence. “Wait, on the horizon! Small fighter formation, dead ahead!”
Rising out from behind the asteroid came two small ships. They were fast, but Nicole had faced similar ships. Low firepower, paper-thin armor, but they were faster than she was at full throttle.
The three Legionaries scattered, letting the ships pass by them. Nicole turned, arcing her body to the side, and flew forward. One ship was coming in for another pass right in front of her. Perfect.
She pulled her sword to one side and jolted her body to the left, just inches from being hit by the fighter. Her blade slammed into the right side, sending steel chunks floating her direction. The impact marked by a large red gash across the ship.
“These aren’t well equipped,” Nicole said. “Still, don’t let your guard down. The two of you get the outcrops, leave offense to me.”
Edgar and Howard dove, flying from outcrop to outcrop. Small domed structures drilled into the rocks’ surfaces. She watched as rounds penetrated the structures, sending shards of glass floating.
Nicole was absent-mindedly watching her squadmates when a second fighter was coming back around. It fired and missed, kinetic shots zipping past her. She maneuvered upward, and out of the fighter’s way. Below her, the fighter passed, trying to match her altitude on its next flyby.
She moved farther upward, raising her sword high above her head, and activating its thrusters the moment her target was directly below. The captain somersaulted downward, propelled by momentum, and slammed directly into the fighter’s cockpit. Her impact had crushed the pilot, she saw blue liquid stain the cockpit’s cracked surface. Android blood.
More ships were on the horizon, but the mining stations appeared to be in disarray. Edgar and Howard were now flying back, six enemy fighters in tow.
“Everything appears to be automated,” Edgar said. “If there were any miners here, they’re gone now.”
The distant squadron scattered, gaining speed. The two black-clad Legionaries stopped and began firing as the ships passed by. Small, bright blasts of yellow lit up against the inky backdrop.
Nicole rushed forward, putting her thrusters at full for one large burn and letting momentum do most of the work. More rounds flew by her, zooming past her body, but she still pressed forward. Before she could make contact, the fighters scattered.
They’re afraid. Nicole thought.
Edgar and Howard were back to back, firing off at the separated fighters. Nicole saw two of the six fighters’ engines stop, being filled with bullet holes.
The captain launched herself forward once more, regrouping with her squadmates and diving below the fighters. The lieutenants pointed their rifles upwards and began to fire, obliterating one fighter.
“Three more,” Nicole said. She flew up, forcing two ships to separate from each other.
To her left, Nicole realized one fighter wasn’t moving as quickly. All it took was one strong burn for Nicole to grab the rear fin. Her body dangled just above the engines, now burning at full force to try and shake her off. She plunged her sword right above the ship’s thrusters and hopped off, watching it slowly come to a halt. Howard fired, leaving the ship full of holes.
The last two fighters were approaching from the left. Nicole used the dead ship to obscure herself, hoping she could get behind the last two. Only one flew overhead. She watched Edgar make short work of the ship, landing a few well-placed shots into the cockpit. The scouting ship’s engines ceased to work, moving forward forever like the rest of its squad.
“Is that all of them?” Edgar said. “There should’ve been another.”
Nicole looked out to find that the other fighter had disappeared. She searched around, scanning the radar for any trace of it, before seeing a red blip on the very edge.
“Stay here in case any backup arrives. I'm on him,” Nicole said, speeding towards the blip. He was a good distance away, but Nicole could catch up. She could begin to see blue trails from the ship’s engine, but still not in range.
Her engine screamed as she put it into high gear, a high whine gaining in pitch as Nicole moved faster. She was halfway to the blip now, but that still wasn’t enough. At this rate, he was going to escape.
Nicole cut the engines for a split second, before turning them back on at full thrust. A maneuver like that would’ve never worked in an atmosphere. She was propelled even farther forward, combined with the momentum from cutting the thrust. She had never gone this fast before, worrying about how to stop herself would be saved for later.
She could clearly see the back of her target’s engine. If she could’ve thrown her sword and hit, he was done for. Another few seconds and Nicole would have no problem destroying the ship.
The captain was almost there, holding her sword out in front of her like a lance. She could see every detail of the fighter’s engines. So close now. Nicole gritted her jaw, hoping that the fighter would overload his engines and make this easier.
Instead, Nicole heard a sputter, followed by a force that slingshotted her past the fighter. She arced right, trying to get back in range, but it was futile.
“Shit!” She screamed, still being tossed forward by momentum. The engine had busted, she overloaded it. She watched as the red blip escaped from her view, then her radar. She finally came to a halt bending backward and blasting the space in front with her smaller thrusters.
“Nicole!” Howard’s voice shouted. “Are you alright!?”
“I almost had him.” She said.
“I think you’ve got bigger problems. The engineers are gonna kill you.” Edgar said. Her suit fixed itself in small instances, like punctures. But a full-blown system failure would require days, even weeks of repair by an especially delicate hand.
She saw on her radar that Howard was already on his way over, Edgar following soon after.
Faust was panicking. His hunter seemed to have ceased the chase. Oddly enough, it had been thrown off course. By what, he didn’t care.
His breathing was rapid and heavy, his hands shook. He gripped the controls of his ship tightly, thinking that the red figure would come back if he stopped moving for a split second.
The only survivor of a mission to ensure a mining station was still working. It was supposed to be two days, there and back. It had turned into a complete massacre, and he was the only one that had survived.
The screams of his comrades were never going to leave his mind. The things he had heard over his radio were going to remain in his head for the rest of time. Being pursued by that thing would be the source of his nightmares. What even was it? It was humanoid in appearance, but it moved with the blistering speed and enough power to stop a capital ship. It wasn’t even using ranged weapons, just a sword.
He tried to get himself under control, as he needed to call for an evacuation. During the escape, his ship had burned most of its fuel. He was now going through his reserves. There was no way he was getting home with that. He wasn’t equipped for this; he was just a Spector. A scout, nothing more.
Faust pushed a button in his ship with one jittering finger. He cleared his throat, trying to sound as stoic as possible. “This is Spector Faustus Agrippa, the last remaining scout sent to Zeta Outcrop. Requesting immediate evac home.”
No response, just static.
"This is the last remaining scout sent to Zeta Outcrop. I am broadcasting my location and need immediate evac home.” He sounded a bit more desperate than he intended. Tears fell from his face.
He cut the engines and drifted, looking around at the empty environment. If nobody responded now, nobody would even know that he was gone.
Suddenly, his radio crackled to life.
“Spector Agrippa, we are currently en-route. Stay where you are.” A male voice said.
Faust sat back in his chair. It was worn, with patches of cushion missing to reveal the stuffing underneath. It didn’t make for an ideal comfort situation, but that’s not what the ship was meant for.
He waited, biding his time by thinking about what he could have done differently, but every scenario ended the same. How could you beat something with inhuman strength? He had never seen anything like that before, nothing was ever mentioned about flying people with five-foot-long swords in any briefing. What other kinds of tech did the Union have that he didn’t know about?
He knew that they had some sort of hierarchy system in their military, but the Axis’ knowledge on that was limited, just like everything else. That red soldier must have been one of the tops, if not the top soldier they had. Still, that begged the question of why use such an overwhelming force on a group of scouts? The obvious was to make sure there were no survivors. In that respect, the elite soldier had failed.
After drifting for what felt like hours, Faust saw a ship come out of nowhere and begin to approach. Once near, it wrapped a mechanical clamp around his ship, winching him closer. He saw the Axis’ insignia, two clashing swords surrounded by the leaves of a tree on either side. He was in safe hands, but he would be coming back home in defeat and shame.
Once the ship had completely locked Faust in, it warped. Faust moved halfway across the galaxy in a matter of seconds.
From what he had heard, there were already a few mining stations placed around Union territory, but they had all been destroyed. This was the last remaining one.
The towing ship came out of warp. Faust saw his home standing before him. A domed top stood above long, pillar-like structures reaching hundreds of meters downward. Antioch, the largest and most densely populated of all Axis cities.
Faust moved downward, still being dragged along by the towing ship. He saw ships move in and out of Antioch’s many hangars before settling in one to land. It was crowded, Faust had to get out fast to make room for any oncoming vessels.
Antioch’s hangars were smaller than average, but it made up for that in sheer number. A large stairwell with landings wrapped around the hangar, going up three levels. Faust walked upwards and toward the exit door. Once out, he searched for the nearest officer to report his findings, spotting a gray-haired man in the hangar’s exit hallway talking with another android.
“Sir!” Faust said, standing to attention. “Faustus Agrippa of the 41st Spectors, reporting.”
The officer looked back at Faust, eyeing the Spector, before dismissing the other android. "Spector, I don't believe we've met. In fact, I don't think you're under my command. Who is your commanding officer, son?"
“Centurion Julian Silanus, sir,” Faust responded. "I'd like you to pass a report onto him, if that's alright."
The officer squinted his eyes. “Well, what do you have to report, Spector?”
“Outcrop Zeta was lost, sir.”
“I recall there being more sent out to Outcrop Zeta.” The officer raised an eyebrow.
Faust’s eyes darted to the floor. “They…all fought bravely until the end, sir.”
“I see.” The gray-haired man said. He gave an indifferent sigh. “Then the 41st is defunct. Thank you for your service, Spector.”
The man began to walk towards the hangar. Faust quickly stopped him. “Wha—wait! That’s it?”
“I’m not sure what you would like me to do. You are more than welcome to join another squad if they haven’t filled up already. If not, you’ll just have to wait for one to open. In the meantime—.”
Faust didn’t hear the next words the man said. His mouth was moving, but his words were just warbled noises.
That was it. No condolences or sympathy. Thank you for your service. Now, move on.
“Spector Agrippa?” The officer said, interrupting Faust’s train of thought.
“…yes, sir?” Faust said, still trying to get his bearings.
“Is that clear?”
Faust saluted, and the officer did a half-nod with his head, dismissing Faust. He wanted to run out but kept a brisk pace to the nearest exit. Everything was hitting him at once. He was never going to see the people who he called brothers in arms for the past year ever again. Command would simply give him a metaphorical pat on the back. He wanted to scream at all the officers on board, even though it wasn’t their fault.
The least that officer could have done was show some sympathy. But that was asking far too much.
Out of sight to any of his superiors, he ran to the nearest bathroom and ran into a stall. Faust knelt, dry heaving over a toilet. Androids couldn’t vomit, but he was left with the precursory feeling.
He sat and heaved on the verge of tears for a while. It was pathetic, a soldier sitting on a bathroom floor crying and heaving into a toilet. If any officers were around, they would’ve slapped him.
“Damn it all!” He said to himself, his throat raspy and course. Eventually, he shakily picked himself back up and splashed a bit of water in his face, moving back out to one of Antioch’s hub areas. A small, plaza-like area away from military zones. Android and human civilians strolled around, some with partners or whole families.
He sat down on a nearby bench and thought. Reflecting on everything up to this point. He was still alive, but why? He had just fled when the situation seemed hopeless, but everyone else fought to the bitter end. Cowards were supposed to die; heroes were the ones who lived.
They deserved a memorial, but they weren’t high ranks. They were cannon fodder, and he was the fodder who lived.
He wiped a few tears from his eyes when he turned to see an android staring. Publicly crying was going to garner some attention.
She was fair-skinned, with shoulder-length red hair. She stared into Faust with clear, nearly turquoise eyes. Not in a judging or malicious way, but with an empathetic and understanding gaze. She flashed Faust a light smile and began to walk over.
“Excuse me.” She said, her voice soft. “Are you alright?”
"To be honest,” Faust said. “Not really. But I’ll be fine.”
The android frowned slightly. “May I sit with you?”
Faust scooted to the left, and the woman seated herself. She had a uniform, a soldier just like Faust. However, he didn’t recognize what kind of soldier. The two sat in silence before the woman introduced herself. “I’m Marciana, just call me Marcie.”
She outstretched her hand and Faust shook it. “Faustus. Faust is fine.”
“Faust,” She said, cracking a smile soon after. “It’s a nice name.”
“Thank you,” Faust said.
The two sat in silence for a little longer, before Marcie scooted a bit closer to Faust. She was being incredibly friendly to someone she met not even fifteen minutes ago. Faust didn’t mind, being around someone was what he needed right now.
“Are you feeling any better?” She asked.
“That’s good,” Marcie said. “You know, I find that problems work themselves out a little faster if you tell someone about it.”
Faust wanted to ask why she had any right to ask him. She wasn’t a friend of his, just someone who struck up a conversation at the wrong time. It seemed she just wanted to help, but why him?
“It’s a long story,” Faust said. “You probably don’t want to hear it.”
“I have nowhere to be,” Marcie said with a smile.
Faust pursed his lips. “Ah…” He slumped on the bench a little. “This is a lot harder than I thought…”
“Take your time,” Marcie said.
Why are you being so understanding? Faust thought to himself. She had no reason to wait around while Faust found the right words, but she sat there with a smile of warm empathy on her face.
“I’m a Spector. My entire squadron and then some were just wiped out, and I am the only survivor.” Faust said, clenching his fists. He didn’t want to go back into detail, nor waste Marcie’s time by doing so.
The android went pale. Her eyes were wide with shock, and her mouth was slightly agape as Faust told her.
“I’m really sorry.” She said, her voice shaking. “That…sounds horrible.”
Faust stared at the woman for a moment, carefully watching her expression, before shifting his perspective forward. From the softening of her expression to the expression of her eyes, she seemed to care. A random android cared more than an officer.
“Nothing for you to apologize about, but thank you.”
“I—,” Marcie shut her mouth, clenching her jaw.
“I don’t know what that’s like,” Marcie said. “I can only imagine it would feel terrible.”
“Like a pain you can’t even imagine.”
“You said you’re a scout, right?” She asked.
“I was one.”
“I am too, but I was never assigned to any squadron. I’m part of a reserves team, you see. Although, we’re loosely organized, and I don’t know anyone on the team that well. They’ve never even needed to call upon us.”
Faust had never heard of such a thing. Although, she had no reason to lie to him, and her uniform supported her claim.
“I know this may be sudden, but I feel like we’re both in dire need of a shakeup in life,” Marcie said. “Have you ever thought about becoming a Discens? Like a full-fledged combatant?”
“I’d be lying if I said I never had. But scouts can only become Discens if they--,"
"Have another to be their squadmate.” Marcie finished his sentence. “I know. So…?” Her voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry, what?” Faust said, letting out a nervous chuckle. “Look, I just met you, can you see how this is a little much? Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but why are you doing this?”
“Because if I can help another and help myself at the same time, I see that as a win,” Marcie said. “Tonight, meet me back here around ten. I’ll show you a little secret of mine.”
“Great, then I’ll see you later!” Marcie interrupted Faust, getting up and practically skipping away from the bench. Faust was left with his mouth ajar, watching the red-haired android disappear from view.
Do I have anything to lose? Faust thought, shaking his head.