Horde Battle Fleet
Unknown Star System
12 May 2017
Fighters patrolled the skies while ground forces secured the vast battlefield. Though the fighting had been over for several days, fires continued to burn in places especially among the larger wrecks of warships and heavy armored units. Shocktroopers stood everywhere scanning to area for enemies long gone.
Through the chaos of searching troopers and humanoid beings sifting through wreckage for clues about what they faced strode the imposing General Rongar. He just completed his tour of the giant pyramid, and aimlessly wandered the battlefield observing the work. Whatever resources it took, General Rongar was determined to discover the exact nature of what destroyed Commander Zarin and his entire force.
A nervous lizard-like creature with a constantly twitching tail reluctantly approached the general. "General Rongar?"
Rongar turned his head and regarded the tiny creature coolly. "You have a report?"
The lizard-man only came to the man's waist in height, and it had to crane its neck back to see the general's face. Hissing, the creature replied, "Yesss, sssir. We have recovered many memory coresss from the robotsss, but it will take time to sssee what'sss on them."
"Make that your priority. I want to see what we are up against," Rongar ordered then turned away ending the conversation.
A shocktrooper approached from the direction of the downed destroyer at the southern end of the battlefield. It was the most intact of all the wreckage little the war zone. "My Lord. We have completed a thorough search of the destroyer wreckage."
"The ship was definitely shot down by some kind of focused anti-proton energy weapon. After the crash there appears to have been a massive electromagnetic pulse surge throughout all systems and robots."
Rongar stared at the damage warship, thoughtful. "What else?"
The shocktrooper paused as if organizing its data. "Your suspicions of salvage taken from the wreck, has been confirmed. Though the EM pulse, or whatever it was, wiped out all memory cores from the destroyer's computer down to all the robots there is evidence that several troopers, Shocktroopers, and battle drones were removed." The robot held out an electronic data pad for the general's inspection.
Rongar accepted the pad and dismissed the shocktrooper. A dozen troopers, shocktroopers, and drones had been taken as salvage. There had been a small amount of Etherium alloy on board the downed destroyer, which was no longer present in its small storage holds. Tons of armor plate, weapons, power cells, and various pieces of equipment also turned up missing.
Captain Majourny is doing her homework. In a few months these Earthers will have dozens of ways of killing our ships, troops, and armor units. The massive amount of weapons and equipment taken will allow them to further their programs to reverse engineer our technology for their own production. They will likely even improve upon it, Rongar thought as he wandered the field. None of this really tells me what we're up against. Eternia is power, to be sure. It took out two, maybe even three of Zarin's warships. Standard plasma warheads took out many of the tanks and artillery units. Probably delivered with surface-to-surface rockets. But what could do this kind of damage to the rest? Some new weapon our spies don't know about?
"What were you here to find, captain?" Rongar said to himself. "What was so important that you risked your ship and the lives of your crew to travel into uncharted space to recover? I'm on a steep learning curve here. Horde Prime is not forthcoming with information but I can tell he's worried. Worried? No. More like terrified." He turned to regard the pyramid half hidden in towering trees from his present position. "What could possibly have been hidden here that could terrify a creature as big and as magically powerful as Horde Prime?"
Arlington National Cemetery
United States, Earth
19 May 2017
Gunshots shattered the gloomy, overcast skies. Sorceress jumped as the piercing crack caught her off guard. She watched as the Honor Guard smoothly snapped back the bolts on their rifles to chamber the next round. On command, the line of seven smartly dressed Air Force enlisted men and women snapped their second volley, then the third to complete the twenty-one gun salute to fallen heroes. Misting drizzle picked up as Taps made its slow, mournful way through the gathering of family, friends, relatives, and co-workers.
General Hammond stood at rigid attention crisply saluting the row of eight coffins. The umbrella clutched in his left hand kept the rain off the both of them, but was more for her benefit. To the general's right stood Colonel Jonathon Markson, Captain Hohiro Takamora, Army Sergeant Jake Rockwell, and Air Force Staff Sergeant Adrian Cobretti. All of them resplendent in their dress uniforms, saluting crisply, and holding back their grief by a thin margin.
When the bugle fell silent and the folding of the flags began, Sorceress took a moment to wipe the tears running down her cheeks. This wasn't her planet. She wasn't born here, yet wondered what she was doing standing in this cemetery wearing a plain black dress with matching boots, and her headdress spell-cast to resemble the long red tresses she had not seen in uncounted years. The answer was simple: she was human. This planet, these people, her friends, adopted her as if she had been born of this world and those eight people being honored today had given their lives so that their comrades, who included her, might live. The remaining formality of handing out the folded flags to surviving family and relatives passed in a faze for Sorceress and her companions. When it was finally complete, the was a brief time of offering condolences to the wives, sisters, cousins, children too young to understand, and two husbands all left the daunting task of carrying on.
Finally, it was time to leave. A black limo waited to take them to the airport for their flight to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. A short hop from there would bring them back to Cheyenne Mountain. Sorceress entered first with the others following protocol of entering the vehicle in ascending order and exiting in descending order at the airport. She had seen much of the outside world through the device called television, but it just didn't do actually seeing it justice. On the ride to their waiting flight, however, she was more interested in the impressive racks of ribbons each man wore on their dress coats. Though small, but noticeable in groups, those ribbons summed up a person's military career. A lifetime of service reduced to a few rows of colorful bands, but knowing what they meant could speak volumes.
The five men seated with Sorceress in the back on the plush limo collectively had enough ribbons on display to fill the careers of ten to fifteen people. Thankfully, none of them considered retiring any time soon.
Forty-five minutes after leaving the cemetery, the group was loaded on board a refurbished, and heavily upgraded, Boeing 747 flying west at thirty-five thousand feet. After reaching cruising altitude, and the pilot signaled it was safe the move around, Colonel Markson and Jake Rockwell made a B-line to the fully stocked bar. Jake set out six shot glasses, filled on with water for Sorceress, and Markson filled the remaining five with whatever the others preferred.
General Hammond held up his glass and the others followed suit. "To absent friends," he toasted. Everyone echoed his words then all six downed their drinks.
"Okay, who had the deck of cards?" Hohiro asked. Adrian absently launched a worn package through the air. The twirling box landed on a poker table someone had set up before their return.
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I've had all I can stand of looking respectable for one day," Colonel Markson grumbled. He unbuttoned his dress coat and began loosening the tie. Jake, Hohiro, Adrian, and even General Hammond agreed.
As they headed for the back of the jet where the dressing rooms and lavatories were located, Sorceress worked her magic. Arms at shoulder level and eyes closed in concentration, a pale glow surrounded Sorceress as her magic flowed. The glowing nimbus increased until it obscured the beautiful magic-user, then faded as quickly as it appeared. Sorceress changed her outfit from the black ankle-length dress to the same high-heeled black boots with a matching ankle-length black skirt and a lightweight gray turtleneck sweeter. She dropped her arms to her sides with a knowing grin gracing her lips. Curiously, the should-length red hair remained instead of the falcon headdress reappearing.
Markson snorted, "Show-off," and headed for the dressing rooms.
Everyone gathered at the poker table thirty minutes later with non-alcoholic drinks in hand. Normally, General Hammond did not accept the open invitation to join Colonel Markson's poker games, but made an exception this time, as did Sorceress. The colonel eyed her skeptically as he shuffled the cards.
Remembering something Jake once said, Sorceress replied lightly, "Take a picture, colonel, it'll last longer."
"While I'm glad you are sitting in with us, I have a…how shall I say it…um-"
"You think I may use my telepathic and empathic abilities to give me an unfair advantage in this…game," Sorceress said pointedly.
"Colonel, aside from a rather underhanded trip in the very first chess game Sorceress and I played two years ago, I have not won a game since," General Hammond pitched in. "While that alone makes your case, colonel, I have never known Sorceress to lie." He glanced at her before continuing. "Not tell the whole truth on occasion usually for our own protection, but she has never lied. So-"
Sorceress finished for the general, placing her right hand over her heart, "I pledge I will not use my abilities to garner an unfair advantage in this game. Fair enough?" Markson still looked a little unconvinced. "The magic is a part of me. I can not just turn it off."
"Good enough for me," Adrian replied.
"Me, too," Jake added.
Looking slightly mollified, Markson said, "Look, I don't mean to offend you. You've given us so much with the starship and the knowledge, and your commitment to our mission. It's just I don't understand this power of yours. Makes me nervous sometimes."
That was a difficult admission for him. One he would deny if it were repeated in public. Sorceress knew her magical abilities would make people nervous. On Eternia magic was normal in everyday life. Earth had long ago drifted away from the ways of magic in favor of technological advancement where her world integrated the two.
Sorceress nodded. "So, are you going to deal those, or just spend the entire flight shuffling?" That was her way of saying 'apology accepted.'
They got in three games before the 747 landed at Nellis Air Force Base. Sorceress won the first game and very nearly won the third. Not bad for her first time playing the game.