Overpowered

“Black Spectrum’s training style must have improved.” Teknight grumbled, soaring through the sky dodging gunfire and energy blasts from the cybernetically-enhanced soldier. Building up the energy charge destined for the blasters, the hero shot back down with gauntlets glowing brightly. The first shot blazed incandescent, and following behind the light got the drop on Lieutenant Glay.

So concerned with blasting back the shot fired at him, he didn’t see the suit drop down from behind. With fists roaring with power a single punch sent him hurtling back. The pursuit after Simon was cut short. Skidding along the ground, the soldier’s feet lashed back. The massive boots collided with the shielding around Teknight’s head, jolting the hero back.

Simon rolled to his feet and darted back, striking with solid blows from his armoured fists, knees, and the ends of his cybernetic arms. It only took a moment for Teknight to get their bearings, then the pair were brawling against the backdrop of the Eighth Creek Nuclear Power Plant.

“Not much you can do up close, Teknight!” He chuckled, snaring the wrists of both arms with his hands as the arms of his OGRE suit began a flurry of beatdowns on his foe.

A single thought shifted the configuration of the Teknight suit’s shields, then both were consumed in the sphere of blue fire scorching out like a supernova.

 

The sound of gunfire made Sophie flinch in her hiding place. Something had been shot, she wasn’t sure what, but peeking out let her see the soldiers in their sleek uniforms fiddling with some device. The amber lights above the arms started to flash as the system reactivated.

“Hurry up.” One of the soldiers said, his accent a little thick. “The suits give us some protection, but we shouldn’t risk overexposure.”

All in a row, the remaining rods started their descent into their protective shielding units. The apparent leader of the team tapped something on the device he was carrying. “Two of you per rod, and I want four of you on guard.”

The building shook suddenly as an explosion detonated outside. Sophie grabbed on tight to avoid falling out of cover. Even a few of the soldiers stumbled.

“Make that six of you on guard.” The order came.

 

“Simon, do you require air support?” The pilot of the Black Spectrum ship’s soft voice sounded in his mind.

Picking himself up from where he had been flung back, Simon Glay dusted himself down. “No. Land behind the plant and change the route out for the men, Ciel.”

“Moving in now. Take care.” The message ended with a feeling of warmth and encouragement sweeping over him. Grinning under his helmet, he whipped one of the glue grenades from his belt and loaded it into his rifle’s launcher. A blast of power from where Teknight had landed slammed against one of his cybernetic arms, sending warning messages scrolling along his visor. But tracking the trajectory back was easy. With a pull of the trigger, the grenade sailed over to burst over the hero.

Simon’s free hand worked quickly, loading and firing another, then his third and final one for luck. He spared Teknight a quick glance, the suited superhero straining against the viscous goo, before bolting for the power plant.

“Glay to strike team, get as many rods as you can now. We’re leaving before our enemy’s reinforcements arrive.” He sent the order over his command network.

“Lieutenant, we were asked to clear out the-“

Simon quickly cut his subordinate off. “Some is better than none. Double time.” The power readings his suit was picking up from behind told him without needing to look that it wouldn’t take Teknight long to burn through the special ordinance.

 

“You heard the Lieutenant! Double time, let’s clear out!” Sophie heard the order issued.

“Sergeant? What about the motorized cart there?” A young man called out. “We could use it to get more.”

“Check it out.”

Pushing herself back into cover as far as she could as she heard the footsteps approaching, every nerve in her body felt chilled with fear.

“It’s got a key in it, Sergeant!” The younger soldier stated, heading to the seat. From what Sophie could see of it, it reminded her of those ride-on mowers her dad was always talking about getting.

As the soldier looked around to back the cart up, it was almost like their eyes met through their helmets. The man tilted his head quizzically at the shadow he saw. His entire body tensed up. Yelling in shock, his finger squeezed the trigger to send a hail of bullets her way. The sound was awful, loud as it clattered against the cover she was cringing against. Something warm flooded through her after a brief, sharp sting. A gloved hand patted her abdomen, coming up glistening with red.

“Contact, contact!” The soldier called, trying to free his legs from the cart he sat on. The next thing he saw was a burst of blue, his mouth filling with the taste of metal and his body arching back like he’d been hit by lightning as radiation burned its way through him.

Every warning light and siren in the room went off as Sophie staggered out from her hiding place, her stomach leaking ionizing rays and blood in equal measure. The last words she recognized was the Sergeant screaming for his troops to evacuate as her knees gave way and her legs collapsed.

 

OGRE Lieutenant Simon Glay, 2nd Order, bolted towards his subordinate. The tactical overlay on his command network display showed one two dead soldiers, one rapidly approaching that state, and another soon likely to go that way. Eight were on the ship, leaving just him and the Sergeant in there.

“What happened?” He asked as he hauled the junior officer clear.

“Sanders… shot someone who was hiding, Lieutenant.” The Sergeant gasped, struggling to find their footing as they made their escape. “Next thing every warning is going off and the others are dropping like lead sacks.”

Procuring a syringe from his belt, Simon drove it into the drug administration port on the man’s thigh. “Get to the ship and finish the mission. I have something important to attend to.” He ordered, tapping into the command network to force the Sergeant into following the order. Some Black Spectrum officers relied heavily on that function. Simon knew when and where to use it.

Sending his thoughts out, his mind touched against Ciel’s. A flurry of information was quickly exchanged, thoughts coloured by feelings and feelings clarified by thoughts. With everything that needed to be conferred done, Simon pushed the Sergeant onwards and ran back towards where he last left Teknight.

 

With a full burn of the suit’s thrusters, Teknight was free and rocketing towards the power plant. There had been a brief warning message about Sophie’s condition before the signal had been interrupted, and a sick feeling had settled into the hero’s stomach.

“I’d proceed with caution, Teknight.” Simon stated as he came into view in the main hall. “Your comrade is injured, and has taken out three… ah, four of my men.”

“Then get out of my way!” Teknight’s modulated voice roared.

The Lieutenant simply lifted his arms. “I will, and shall even offer you my assistance in treating them. This suit is capable of some medical functionality that could stabilize the patient. You also get to stop this place from becoming even more of an environmental hazard.”

Landing to avoid overheating the thrusters, the hero looked at the soldier. “And what do you get in return?”

“Four lead-lined coffins and a ship to fly my fallen comrades back home with.”

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The Sixth Form

Bleeding, bruised, but not yet broken. She slumped against the wall of the elevator as it slid up the building, dripping a mix of blood and sweat onto the floor as she tried to get what little rest she could. The doors would open soon, and the man who murdered her family would be only a few rooms away surrounded by his elite cadre of warriors.

But the others in the building had been elites too. On the ground floor she assumed the First Form, Prowling Tiger. She kept to the shadows after knocking the lights out, striking with fierce yet efficient blows to her enemy’s vitals.

In the ambush on the first floor, she switched to the Second Form, Swinging Monkey. With agility she sprang, struck, swung and slapped the guards. Try as she might, she could not avoid all their blows. The blocking she was forced into hadn’t left her arms aching yet, though.

Solo Wolf, the Third Form, served her well as she hunted through the dense forest of desks and cubicles in the office spaces. Her hands went for the necks and her feet lashed out at the haunches to fell her foes. Near the unsecured elevator block, a line of defense had been drawn up.

The Fourth Form, Rolling Rhino, took as much of a toll on her body as it did on her opponents. She breathed hard by the time she got into the elevator with lacerations marking her bare arms. Her cheongsam provided little protection from the strikes of her enemy’s fists, and one of her ribs was throbbing with pain.

By the time the elevator doors had opened on the top floor, she had focused her will and settled her breathing. She stepped out and into position in her husband’s proudest creation, the Fifth Form: Resplendent Pheasant. The quick flashes of movements from her bloodied arms distracted from the lashes of her feet. Just when the boldly approaching warriors shifted their focus, her hands pecked out in sharp motions, striking the eyes and other tender parts.

The closer she got to the penthouse room, the more she had to shift through the Five Forms. They hadn’t expected her to get this far, and she wasn’t expecting to leave. Every ounce of will, shred of spirit and pulse of life in her body she channeled towards her goal.

When she opened the door and came face-to-face with Bao the Butcher, her vision was blurred in one eye. Her scalp ached from where a lucky grab had pulled at her braid. There was a tremble in her right knee from a powerful kick to the patella, and it took all she had to stand up straight from the dull ache in her stomach.

“Your father could not beat me. Your husband fell to my fists. Your brother was blinded and broken at my hands. And your son?” Bao the Butcher laughed. “All the books in the world did not hold the knowledge to protect him.”

She bowed her head, grief washing over her. The weight of it threatened to drive her to her knees. Sensing her weakness Bao charged forwards at the tired, battered housewife with his index and middle finger leading the way. Puncturing Python, the only form Bao trained in. Deadly in speed, vicious in power, and murderous in intent. The Five Forms had no counter to it.

Turning the grief to fuel, she burned through the lot in two simple actions near-instantaneous in their execution. The strike was caught by one clawed hand. In a flash of pain she felt the bones rupturing from her palm down to her elbow. That was just one arm. The other struck out, the fist blooming into an open palm that struck Bao’s chest with tremendous force. The windows in the penthouse shattered as she roared defiantly.

Bao the Butcher dropped first, his left ventricle ruptured from the single blow.

She remained on her feet, a palm outstretched and a clawed hand reaching out from close to her chest. In death, Lihua stood as the Mourning Dragon, the Sixth Form.

Antiquities

“Fixer, I’m going to have some trouble fighting these.” Jena sent the message to the Shuck as she crawled into cover. She could hear the ancient machines stomping towards her and wondered how much their owner was fearful of the pricey museum pieces being destroyed.

“Those weapons they carry are rather fearsome, but they shouldn’t prove too much trouble.” Even with that said, the Shuck was pulling back after noticing the missile launchers mounted on the shoulder of each mech.

“Not so much that. I’ve been studying these thing lately. Destroying one rubs me the wrong way.” The cyborg laughed, thankful that she was able to shut off the pain signals coming from her damaged foot. The exoframe itself was fine, but the force of the shot had done a number on the joint within the armoured foot.

“-That’s- what’s troubling you!?”

Rolling to her feet, Jena limped alongside a crate as audio visualization software worked to triangulate the sounds of the old Servitors moving and give her a heads up. “I’ve gained an appreciation for them. That white one with the blue edging? It’s a Nottingham Systems Yeoman D!” She grinned. “It’s got to be at least eight-hundred years old and it’s walking about like it’s fresh off a production line.”

Her exoframe’s computer warned her about the IR targeting sweep flickering out from the Yeoman. “It’s trying to lock onto me, that means the missiles must be working replicas. Well, that or the pilot’s an idiot.”

“I’ve had to pull back anyway, Jena. Huang needs some more medical attention.”

“I’ll be okay. Give him my best.” Jena shut up and concentrated on the two looking for her. The Yeoman was heading off to her south. The other Servitor, a slightly newer Matsumoto Manufacturing model, was rooted in position and rotating its middle section to look for her. The Hayashi B96 wasn’t carrying a railgun like the Yeoman, but it was carrying a multi-barrelled autocannon.

Checking that the Yeoman was still moving the other way, Jena waited for her chance. As it turned away, she pushed off and started flying for its back. “Please don’t blow up.” She muttered in prayer as she ascended before darting down, fingers aiming for the bridge between the back of the Servitor and the power plant on its back. Prying into it, she leveraged her feet on the back of the machine’s head to forcibly separate the two parts. Vicious arcs leapt across the gap as they separated, scorching the surfaces to leave it as black as the paint job. The Hayashi B96 stopped dead. The pilot would have to blow the hatch with the explosive bolts to get out.

Her suit flagged up the IR targeting sweep again. Flying up and around she saw the launch ports on the shoulder mounted missile launchers open. Smoke streamed from the back of the Yeoman as it started to unleash its salvo. Rolling and darting about in evasive maneouvers, Jena headed to the back of the house as missiles streaked after her. They were faster, but she could bank and turn on a dime. Detonations flashed behind her as missiles collided into each other or struck the building. Her fingers crossed at the latter, hoping the Shuck’s team wouldn’t come to harm.

Coming around from the building, Jena saw the twitch of the Yeoman’s arm. She swerved and span out as the launched projectile slammed into her left forearm. Her suit screamed warnings at her. Her body was throwing up error messages. Her left arm was… well, her left arm wasn’t doing anything. The last thing she saw was the ground coming for her before she blacked out.

 

Akintola and Durand’s efforts with the computer systems had killed the lighting in the house and forced all the doors open. Switching to augmented vision mode, the intelligence team skulked through the dark corridors and taking out any resistance they encountered as they headed for the shelter in the basement level.

Handler had holstered her pistols and switched to a pair of thether blades. They were the paired knives and tether bracelets she had given Jena before the liberation of Central City from the Volsta, and while she didn’t have the cyborg’s artificial strength and accuracy, she had trained extensively with them from her youth. Through the pitch black she stalked, relying on her enhanced vision.

[“Handler, they’re on the move from the shelter.”] Akintola reported thanks to the little present of software she left in their system. [“Our instigator is heading for the western transport bay with guards. The shareholder’s going for the hangar, seems like she’s alone.”]

Using her tactical command interface, Handler divided her forces. Akintola, Lopez, Solokov and Gibbams would go for the transport bay. Durand was with her for the hangar. The five sent their confirmation signals back to her at the order.

[“Good luck.”] She added before sprinting off with Simone just behind her.

[“I wonder how Jena’s doing?”] Simone said over commslink, the message directed just at the officer. Both stumbled as a series of explosions rocked the building.

Handler pressed on. [“Stay focused, Agent. We need to capture one of them alive, and given the numbers, I think we’ve a better chance of that.”]

As they made their way towards the hangar, both saw Jena’s vital signal notification box in-vision change from green to orange.

[“I’ll handle the target, you-“]

[“Stay. Focused. Agent.”] Handler insisted, her jaw clenched and back tense. The emergency lighting was starting to come back online despite all of Akintola’s efforts to keep it timed out longer. As they entered into the hangar, the two came face to face with Priya Arnold, share broker and collector of military antiquities. Her hair was covered by a headscarf of gold and blue which looked a little out of place considering she was in an older style of military padded armour.

Simone was rolling out of the way as Priya raised some form of handgun, smoke puffing from it as a slug was launched her way. Their target then parried one of Handler’s thrown knives with her sword. As Handler’s blade retracted, Priya fired another shot.

Durand gasped as the pellet punched through her shipsuit into her shoulder. Several crude swears spilled from her lips as she recovered her weapon with her left hand. By that point, Handler had closed the distance and was in close combat.

Neither woman spoke at first as they squared off, trading feints and parries as they probed their opponents defenses. Priya blocked a series of swipes with her sword and followed up with an elbow to Handler’s stomach.

“Not bad, but you can’t beat me one on one!” She exulted, lining up her sword to thrust.

She screamed as a burst of energy particles tore into her leg, toppling over and dropping her sword as she clutched the limb in agony.

“Not a bad shot with my left hand.” Simone said, holstering her weapon. She climbed a little unsteadily to her feet.

Handler was already tying Ms Arnold’s wrists together with heavy duty zip tags. “Try to stay seated, Agent.” Her eyes were already scanning the hangar. An old military jeep from some past conflict was parked nearby. Placing a jammer into the ports on the back of Priya’s neck to stop her from triggering any traps, Handler headed for it and found the keys in the ignition.

[“Handler to Fixer, I have a prisoner to secure, and Durand’s been shot. We need extraction.”]

 

Commander Romanov was flying fast towards the compound, but she wasn’t alone. Behind her flew ships belonging to the Galactic Enforcement Organization, the police force of the Galactic Federation. A rapid response medivac unit accompanied them. She could see one disabled Servitor already, its power source torn from it and the hatch blown to allow the pilot to escape. Another was firing off rounds from its main weapon at the air, a slight distortion showing the Shuck trying to land while under fire.

[“Romanov to GEO Unit One, I’ll deal with that. Breach the compound and meet up with the GFIA team inside.”] She called to the units following before veering off after the mech.

Getting weapons on the exoframe active had proved troublesome. The Herne’s computer was in a reboot phase and was unable to issue the authorization commands to the pair of suits. Hers had a feature that wasn’t locked, however. As IR targeting lines turned in the direction of reinforcements, the chance to use it presented itself.

Missiles streamed out of the shoulder units. Reaching out with her mind, bolsted by the psi boosters in her exoframe’s helmet, the Commander clenched her fists and stopped them mid flight. Sweat started to trickle down her face as she grit her teeth and twisted the missiles back in the direction they were launched. With a shove of her hands they hurtled back to blast the mech to pieces.

She let out a gasp as she disengaged the psi boosters. Her tongue flicked just under her nose.

“No nosebleeds this time.” Treshka sighed with relief. [“Commander Romanov to the crew of the IXV Shuck. GEO are entering the compound to assist, transmitting their ident codes to you. Make yourself known to them. We have medical assistance here too. Please report.”]

The Shuck was landing on an open pad, a jeep driving out to meet it. Zooming in, she could see Handler behind the wheel, someone trussed up in the back, and a bleeding Agent Durand keeping a gun pointed at their prisoner. With a push of her feet she flew down to meet them.

“Jena’s injured somewhere.” Was the first thing out of Handler’s mouth.

“I’ll find her. See to your wounded, and your prisoner.” Treshka promised, taking to the air. A quick sweep found the transponder in Jena’s exoframe. Heading in that direction there was a massive disturbance in the sand, but no sign of the suit.

“Sergeant Foster?” Treshka called on landing right over the transponder position. “Sergeant Foster, respond.”

The ground underneath shuddered. Stepping back, Commander Romanov didn’t even need to activate the boosters. Gathering her will she parted the sand with ease to reveal a submerged suit caked with sand and dust.

“Commander… Sergeant Foster reporting. I feel like hell.” Jena spluttered and coughed over comms, her voice thick and groggy. The soldier’s helmet opened, Jena spitting and gagging from nausea.

A preliminary medical scan revealed nothing to stop her being moved. Treshka easily lifted the woman up to carry towards the ship. “If you’re going to throw up, fine. Just don’t get it on the suit, Sergeant.”

Extra Muscle

Commander Romanov’s idea of training sometimes got a little odd. Flying over the dunes outside Asrat City? Jena could understand that. Gymnastics to get used to moving in an exoframe? That made sense. The soldier from Farringdon III thought that Treshka had other motivations for helping the Asrati Brewering Union set up for their festival. The pair easily unloaded kegs and casks by the pallet load from the various transport ships that had pulled into the festival ground.

“You need to learn how to use the extra muscle, Sergeant.” Treshka explained, carefully lowering several trays. “If you don’t you can do serious injury to someone, or damage to something important.”

“Like… Golden Asra Ale?” Jena joked, reading the label on one of the shipments she was carrying to a table.

“Well, it’s fine if you break that. The acronym’s ‘GAA’ because that’s the sound you make after swallowing.” Treshka’s laugh boomed through the commslink.

“Will your husband be bringing anything here?” She asked as she went for several pallets of glasses to drop off.

“Of course, and we’ll unload that last. Work up a real thirst before having some of the good stuff. Hunger’s the best sauce, Sergeant, and thirst’s the best pairing suggestion.”

Even with all the lifting and moving they were doing, with the exoframe doing the heavy lifting and the sealed environment keeping her cool, there were worse ways to spend an afternoon. Well, probably.

Once the two women in black armour had finished helping the brewers set up, they went to assist the Asrat City Academy Restaurant with their mobile diner. Natasha was guiding trainee chefs, and Zircon was whipping the serving staff into order with the drill instructor programming he made use of when Jena was a cadet.

It was still easy to tell them apart, even in armour. Treshka towered even more than she usually did under all the plates and parts of an exoframe, and stood wider too.

“Thanks for the help, Commander.” Natasha said as she helped set up several tables under parasols. “And thanks to your husband for the bottles he sent ahead. We’ve paired them with some great meals that will really compliment each other, and I’ve made sure to set a course aside for the both of you.”

After stretching, Treshka popped the faceplate on her helmet open so she could speak normally. “Once Simeon’s set up, let us know when you’re ready and we’ll drop by.”

“Do you think she’ll be able to come?” The chef asked quietly, glancing to where Jena was assisting Zircon with stacks of chairs. The crew of the Shuck had been busy making progress with their investigation. As such, Handler had been absent for the past two weekends and Jena was missing her.

“Not sure, but it would be nice if they could.” Treshka replied. A beep from her suit distracted her. “That’ll be the husband coming in now.” She said, sliding her helmet into place.

 

The crowds were larger than Jena expected. She was stood near the Romanov’s stall, watching people sample various brews Simeon had brought with him. Treshka had warned her that drinking while in an exoframe wasn’t a great idea due to the neural interface the suits used. This was apparently a ‘Do As I Say, Not As I Do’ warning as the Commander’s helmet was off and her armour-clad hand was wrapped around the handle of a massive mug.

“Why don’t you just fly back to your apartment and get your change of clothes? Our shuttle is here, so you could just fly back and change inside it.” Treshka suggested, froth from the head on her drink coating her top lip. Her tongue flicked out to remove it.

“Can’t I just-“ She gestured to how the Commander was drinking.

“Let a newly-made Sergeant drink while in an exoframe? The Admiral would wring my neck.” She grinned apologetically.

“All right. I’ll be back soon.”

“Careful with that take off, Sergeant.”

As careful as she was, she still started a few of the more inebriated festival goers as the flight jets on her exoframe lit up. She was half-way back to her apartment when her comms systems started to wildly flash.

“Sergeant Foster, this is a priority one. Sergeant Foster, this is a priority one.” The IXV Shuck’s computer sounded in her mind.

“Sergeant Foster responding.”

“Jena?” It was Simone’s voice. “We need emergency assistance, get anyone you can. Huang’s been shot and we’re pinned down.”

The soldier was already relaying the comms feed to her Commander. “Where are you? I’m raising help now, and I’m in my exoframe currently in flight.”

Map data started to flood in to her field of vision. The Shuck was near a private residence complex twenty miles out of Asrat City. Visual data from the ship showed a large force of combat droids, some soldiers in private infantry armour and some active weapons platforms.

Jena was banking towards that direction and raising flightspeed to maximum before she even thought about it. “Data received. I’m en route and-“ The exoframe’s weapon systems were disabled for acclimatization to the suit. It would take a while to reactivate them. “I’m combat capable.” It wasn’t all a lie. She still had the speed, strength and armour to fall back on.

“I need to go and help the others. I’m sending mission data up to this point. Take care.” Simone said, signing off.

Her navigation systems plotted her ETA in just under ten minutes. Gritting her teeth in frustration, Jena locked the system into autoflight and started to pour over the additional information to get up to speed.

The crew’s investigation into the attempted theft of the Axar lead them through various departments in ASC, the Asrat Ship Consortium, to a shareholder and collector of military antiquities. The Shuck’s information gathering on this woman revealed several encoded messages to another collector who was willing to trade rare, early-generation Servitors for an opportunity to get their hands on one of the finest machines to come out of Ural II’s Engratek Servitronics fabrication facilities: The Axar.

A meeting between the shareholder and the instigator of the attempted theft was going down today, and the crew had aimed to take both in. Then everything had gone wrong.

In-vision, a message popped up in a dialogue box. [Mobilizing now and trying to get you some weapons. Don’t do anything stupid. Cmdr T. R.]

Jena sent her ident to the Shuck’s computer, along with a request to bring up active tactical data and positioning. One by one crew data started to line up in her vision. Huang’s vitals were weak but stable, a cross symbol indicating he was receiving some form of medical care. He was on the ship with Fixer, so that indicated just who was giving the care. Solokov and Lopez were in the complex, the others were trying to hold their position against a vastly superior force.

As she shot over one of the large dunes seperating her and the complex, she caught sight of the scene. The GFIA team were keeping low and moving under cover, picking off droids and soldiers when they could. Four floating weapons platforms had been deployed, their armaments enough to give the classified vessel some trouble it if tried to assist them.

“Sergeant Foster to the crew of the Shuck,” Jena sent the message as she targeted the nearest with all her performance limiters disengaged, “I’m coming in hot.”

 

Handler looked up in time just to see a black dart collide with one of the weapons platforms. Debris showered everywhere as the fist of the exoframe slammed into the hull and sent it careening into the squad of combat droids on the ground. Then the exoframe swooped down and snagged a cargo crate, hurling it towards another weapon platform.

“Head for the complex.” She gave the order to Akintola, Durand, and Gibbams. “We’ve a mission to do.”

Agent Simone Durand saw the worry in the eyes of her boss before they started towards the access they had secured.

‘Don’t do anything stupid, Jena.’ The agent thought as they crawled with the scream and flash of weapons fire roaring above them.

 

The small arms fire from the combat droids and soldiers wasn’t much of a concern. The energy shielding pulsing through her armour was absorbing the worst. After taking two weapons platforms out, the other two had designated her a prime target and dodging the heavy particle cannons on those was leaving her with precious little time to destroy them. Jena’s cybernetic enhancements made dealing with the g-forces as she evaded manageable but even they had their limits.

Sticking close to the ground, she spread her arms and barreled through a line of combat droids, spinning at the end to fling the ones she had hold of into the crowds. “Fixer? Jena here, if Huang’s fit to be left, can you get to the bridge and take out these remaining platforms? I’ll draw their fire as best I can!” She requested.

“On my way to the bridge now. Be careful out there, your stress levels are going through the roof.” Fixer replied.

Jena felt her stomach lurch as she rolled clear of a blast that scorched the tarmac of the loading bay. Bolting forwards she snatched a pair of soldiers up and hurled them at the platforms. With the main housing unit behind her, she hoped the platforms would have programming to prevent damage to the premises.

 

Inside the luxury house and facilities, the fight carried on. Solokov and Lopez were in their stealth frames with the camo projectors switched into shielding mode as their rifles tore through the lines of defense. Gibbams and Handler provided further cover with their weapons as Akintola and Durand worked on accessing the computer systems.

All six of them flinched as the building shook, the lights dipping and fixtures rattling away.

“Handler?” Durand called from her position, most of her mind working to subvert the security systems.

“What, Agent?” Came the reply as Handler’s pistol took out a droid.

Another explosion rocked the building.

“The good news is the weapons platforms are all down.” Simone said in an upbeat tone of voice.

“What’s the bad news?”

 

The remaining human soldiers had retreated back into the complex. With the amount of cargo units dotting the loading bays, Jena had put them to work as weapons to smash the remaining combat droids. Some times she threw them. Some times she slammed the long boxes of metal like a hammer. And at other times she just held one in front of her and flew it into a wall to grind her foes to scrap.

Her exoframe’s shielding system was taxed and in recovery mode. Repair systems were working on fixing the damage the battle had caused. With the Shuck now able to provide fire support without getting blown out of the sky, all she had to do was rejoin the others inside.

Her breath exploded out of her as a massive round slammed into the armour of her suit. Gasping for air, she lifted her head to see what had just hit her.

A hangar door had rolled up. From the dark within a pair of Servitors stepped forwards. She knew what they were before her exoframe’s on-board computer could access the archives to confirm their type.

When it came to extra muscle, the enemy went old school. They were relics from an Earth long gone. They couldn’t fly. They could barely jump. A round from a railgun clipped her foot and sent her spinning away, damage warnings flashing on her ankle from the force of the impact.

There was lots of things the old mechs couldn’t do.

They could still fight, though.

 

The Bigger They Are

Jena hurled herself behind one of the storage crates as The Axar’s huge fist slammed into where she was just stood. The Servitor was soon swinging to where she had gone for cover, and on her hands and knees she scrambled away as it sent storage units flying. Hauling herself to her feet, the cyborg sprinted towards one of the gantries and leapt up. The entire hanging structure shook as The Axar threw a crate at it, knocking her off her feet again. Each footstep filled the hangar with sound as it neared. It had hold of one end and was starting to pull. Jumping back onto the floor, she heard the support cables snap.

With a quick dash she slid between the legs of the mech. One small note of comfort was that the weapons array on its back was not yet firing at her. Whether the hacker lacked the skill or ability to control the array of support units mounted there or being in the Herne was somehow preventing it, she didn’t care.

“You can do nothing against me, soldier. You could die now as recompense for your earlier act and save yourself the effort.” The hacker’s voice boomed through the broadcast speakers.

She opted to hide in a recess rather than talk back. She needed a plan. She needed weapons. She needed a Servitor. She needed back up. She needed anything as opposed to what she had, which was nothing.

Ducking down, she crawled along one of the access paths for cleaning units to take in the lay of the land. The Axar stood in the centre of the hangar, turning around as it tried to spot her. A cargo ship had locked its docking channel into the airlock to receive the massive Servitor. Tossed and upturned containers littered the room, components and parts spilling out of some. Cutting The Axar off from the docked ship was the first priority, her primary mission.

[“Zircon, can you access the hangar’s systems and shut off the docking channel?”] She sent the message to her comrade on the outside of the room.

[“I can attempt to, if they are working through the autocrew. Are they loading it now?”] His voice sounded in her mind.

Boxes collided with the walls as the servitor started hurling more about, trying to rattle her and drive her into the open.

[“The infiltration team’s hacker gained access to it. It’s currently trying to kill me. So… sooner the better.”]

 

Admiral Roland had an intense look on her face, the communications ports installed on her wrist spliced into one of the cable lengths they had hauled out from an access port. “It sounds like you three had an eventful evening before you even boarded the ship.”

Natasha made an affirmative sound, her arms aching from the effort to stop the cable retracting back to its channel. She had given Zaha the rundown of Ensign Foster’s situation as they browsed the ship’s schematic and specification guides to find the right subsystem. “And now… phew, now she’s out there doing the only thing she thinks she can do.”

“Keep it steady, I’m nearly done. I’d rather not have my wrist interfaces torn out.” Zaha encouraged her. “I’ll have words with her and look into getting her some help.”

Gritting her teeth, the chef felt her hands going numb as she kept the cable taut. “I’m trying but…”

“This is the ISV Herne. The ship has recognized Admiral Zaha Nanako Roland’s Command Authority.” The ship’s computer chimed in a soft, feminine voice. “All temporary access permissions have been rescinded. Please note, the ISV Herne has not completed its service. Please note, there are irregularities in the autocrew command system. Please note, you have not undergone your mandated relaxation time, Admiral.”

Zaha ejected the spliced ports from her wrists and pulled her hands back. “You can let go, now.”

The cable whizzed back into the channel.

“Admiral, this is Ensign Zircon Herne. We have a situation.” Zircon’s clipped accent came from the bridge’s comms channel.

 

Even as she rolled clear of a swipe from one of The Axar’s claws, she knew something was up with it. She’d seen Treskha pilot it, and it moved quicker then than it was now. While still fast, its swings were lumbering, unwieldy. Even she could pilot a Servitor better. The only time she moved like that in one was when-

A scream was torn from her lips as a crate cover skittered across her back. Groaning in agony, she managed to drop into one of the runoff channels for when the machine was washed. She could feel hot, slick liquid against her as she eased along the floor. She was bleeding. It wasn’t the fluids from her artificial limbs, it was the supply for her remaining biological components. Rolling onto her front, she made for one of the recesses as quickly as she was able to. Maybe she could give her body some time to recover, let the nanomachines coursing through her blood do their job.

“Stop messing around, Heko, and get the merchandise on board!” A broadcast from the pilot of the getaway vehicle called. She sounded annoyed.

Jena could see The Axar examining the lid of the crate that struck her, her blood smearing one side.

“It won’t be long now. She’s wounded.” Its head tracked along the runoff channel, then looking up to her hiding spot. “You’re done for, soldier!”

A ripple of energy shot from the hangar doors to strike the Servitor’s head, followed by another, and another, and another. While its thick armour plating was withstanding the blasts, it still turned to face the threat.

The earlier interrupted thought hit her again. Her Servitor only moved that slowly if she was using manual controls. The Axar was designed to be piloted by those with psychic talent, so maybe it would only take full immersion controls from a psychic. It wasn’t much, but it was an edge. And with it distracted, it gave her a chance to deal with the primary mission.

It took every ounce of will to stand, the wound on her back sending pain shooting through her as she moved. She still had her knife. Her pistol had recovered a couple of shots. With her teeth sinking into her lower lip she bolted for the cargo ship, her long strides carrying her up the length of channel connecting the Herne and the hold of the vessel. With grit alone she forced herself through the ship, her hands clenching her weapons. Determination kept her from stumbling. Pride kept her from crying out. She could feel the slick sheen of sweat on her skin as she breached the cockpit. The pilot turned just in time to meet her end from a round to the chest.

 

Treshka Romanov charged out of the small transport ship Shay had picked her up in, her pace unmatched as she ran for The Axar’s hangar. She had not wasted time by dressing. Her feet were bare and her body was clad in a little white number she knew her husband loved. She didn’t care about the amount of skin she showed. Her first duty was to her Admiral. Her joint second duty was the Herne and The Axar, and both were in peril.

A pile of buckled metal boxes littered the length of corridor in front of the bay doors. On her naked soles she skidded past and burst into the hangar. Ensign Foster was there, staring up at The Axar as it hefted an arm up, ready to crush her with.

Treshka growled as she gathered her will, one of the spaghetti straps on her outfit snapping as her muscles bunched under it.

 

Jena readied herself for the blow. She was laying on the ground, her pistol raised and her eyes defiant as she stared into the stylized face of her Commander’s machine. Her previous two shots did nothing to it, she only had one left and it wouldn’t be enough for what Heko did.

The arm swung down. As much as she wanted to flinch, she kept her gaze on the eyes of the Servitor. She’d face death the way she wanted, fighting till the end.

The blow never came. The arm’s movement had been arrested mid-strike. It started to kneel, part of its chest plate unlatching. She could see in as the opening parted, the hacker scrambling in his seat.trying to shut the doors.

Maybe one shot would be enough after all.

The Axar’s cockpit spat Heko out. As he fell the distance from the cockpit to the floor, Jena took her shot. As the body crumbled in front of her she started to drag herself closer. One shot wasn’t enough. She discarded her pistol and went for her knife.

“That’s about enough of that, Ensign.” Romanov said, snatching the knife from her trembling hand with ease before she could strike. “He’s dead. We don’t desecrate the dead.”

“He’s dead.” The words came thick from her throat.

“Yeah, I just said he was.” Treshka’s pale eyes peered down, studying her from head to feet. “You need some medical attention if you’re repeating the obvious.”

Jena shook her head, eyes now fixed on the mess of boxes Treskha had passed. “Zircon, he’s…” The world faded to black as she slumped down, head clunking against the floor.

 

[“Zaha? The infiltrators have been neutralized and The Axar secured. Foster’s alive. Out cold and bleeding, but she’ll live.”] Treskha sent the message up to the bridge.

[“And Zircon?”] The Admiral responded with.

She nudged some of the piled boxes with her bare foot. She wouldn’t be able to do much with Jena in her arms. [“Offline. Looks like the thief threw a goods cart at it.”]

There was a long pause before the reply came. [“And our thief?”]

Treshka snorted. [“Dead, unfortunately. Foster shot him before I could get to him, I managed to stop her from carving up the remains.”]

[“Get her to the nearest medical facility and patch her up as best you can. I’ll send what manpower we have to assist. ASC are scrambling their ships to meet us up here.”]

Commander Romanov started for the nearest medbay. “Come along Ensign, I need to stop you from bleeding all over my lingerie.”

Volsta’s Dagger

Zircon had taken care of the launch. The android’s direct interface with the combat servitor the pair were in easily allowed him to bring it out from the bay and into the space around the Herne. Removed from the influence of the ship’s gravity drive, Jena Foster felt the effects of zero G for the first time. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, though that might have been in part due to the sight displayed in her in-vision display.

She had been briefed about the odd sensor readings the Herne had picked up as it journeyed to the star sector. All of them had, the message relayed from the Admiral through their commslinks. What they hadn’t expected was the sudden turbulence necessitating dropping from warp encapsulation early.

The reason for it became apparent on exiting. What had been reported as three Volsta battlecruisers was clearly not. It dwarfed the Herne in length, a chimera of captured Galactic Federation ships and Volsta vessels. Dropships had been hastily converted into a fleet of support units, backing the mass of hulls with their weapons and shields. The snarling mass of energy at the front of the ship was the more pressing issue.

Light of every colour crackled and tore at reality, flecked with streaks of brilliant white and thick veins of purest black. Whatever the ship was, it was trying to go into warp. The wave of distortion was struggling to expand. Parts of it enveloped further up the length of the ship as other sections snapped back to reveal the pointed tip. The engines on it were at full thrust as it tried to break through into warpspace.

“ISV Herne to all units.” Came the voice of Operations Officer Medenia. “Get into formation while we analyze the situation.”

“Given the situation, I will take us to our formation point.” Zircon’s voice sounded from above her in their servitor’s cockpit. “I will transfer control of weapons systems to you.”

“Got it.” Jena nodded. It was probably the best she wasn’t flying. From the control readouts alone to perform a full stop the idea of flying one in combat was beyond her. Slipping into full control mode, she felt her arms go slack before the weight of the servitor’s limbs registered in her mind.

 

“They’ve cobbled their warp encapsulator technology together with more modern types.” Shay was saying, pointing out details on a zoomed-in view of the massive structure. “This section of hull is from a Trilobyte-class freighter unit. And look at this section here,” the engineer gestured towards a slender length running towards the engine block on the back. “That’s a Hermes-class Jumpship.”

“They can clearly see us.” Admiral Roland had a look of bafflement on her face. “They’ve not even got us targeted. Saekal, how’re your calculations going?”

“If, and that is a pretty big if, that thing can get into warp, they’re on a direct course for Farringdon Three.” The Lathusian navigation officer replied, his purple-skinned hands dancing across his keyboards as he worked with the figures the sensors gave him.

“All the weapons ports on the hulls have been retrofitted to divert power to their shields and warp encapsulators.” Shay brought up some examples on the viewscreen. “Even if they got to Farringdon Three, they’d only have the dropships.”

Commander Treshka Romanov had been silent, staring at the screen with her pale eyes. When realization hit, all seven foot two of her tensed up. That tensing was what drew Admiral Roland’s attention to her second-in-command.

The bellowed swear from the Commander was what brought the attention of everyone else on the bridge to her.

“Medenia, send Alpha through Delta to attack now!” She roared. “That thing doesn’t need weapons if they ram it into the planet!”

 

From her cockpit, Jena had a good view as four wings of assorted ship classes descended into battle. Moving to surround the enemy structure, the AI onboard their mech registered the energy readings and assigned false colour to them for ease of viewing. Streams of energy lanced out to batter against the shields reinforced by the modified dropships.

The section of space above her lit up as the Herne fired its weapons all at once. The barrage scattered across the shields. As waves of energy skittered over them, they buckled enough to let fire from the fleet through. What little return fire the modified support units had been giving died off as they directed all power to the shields.

“What’s the falloff on our weapons, Zircon?” The cyborg asked. Before he could respond the servitor’s AI had brought up the rangefinder. Glancing to the guns they were carrying, each had a warning prompt saying the target was out of effective range.

“They do not have the power of the weapons on the Herne.” Zircon noted. “Combat servitors are designed for engaging at closer range and for smaller targets.”

“Thought as much.” Jena sighed. “I just feel a bit useless out here.”

 

It was rare for an Admiral to leave the bridge in a combat situation, but Zaha Roland had gone off in pursuit of her second-in-command. “I get that you feel useless in here, Commander, but-”

“With all due respect, Admiral,” Commander Romanov spoke as her powerful legs took her in long strides towards her hangar, “but nothing. If that thing establishes warp encapsulation, we’ll need to fight it in warpspace.” The hangar doors opened to reveal her custom-built servitor.

Most heavy-class servitors stopped at around thirty-five feet in height. The Axar was fifty. Instead of the standard Galactic Federation Grey, hers was white with red banding around the joints. The limbs were bulky and reinforced with even more armour plating. The rear of it was the special part. A large, thick disc was mounted in the middle of The Axar’s back. Along with the engines in the middle, the rim of the disc was made up with a tightly packed group of support units, ready to either swivel out or detach.

“Commander-” Zaha was cut off as her subordinate turned and fixed her with a glare.

“Know your place and get back to the bridge, Admiral.” She snarled. The Axar’s chest plate opened to reveal the cockpit that was just about large enough to fit the muscular Trogadek woman.”

Drawing herself up, Admiral Roland nodded and turned on her heels. “Fight well, Commander.” She called, steadying her sword with her hand as she returned to the bridge. The virtual presence she had left there was reporting everything back to her, but Romanov was right. She knew her place.

Closing her eyes, she directed her presence about the bridge even as she closed the distance to return to it. [“Medenia, assign Omega Wing to Romanov’s command.”] The first message went. [“Saekal, make sure we’re not in the path of the enemy vessel.”]

The bridge doors slid open and she spoke her next order aloud. “Shay, we may need a warp gate on very short notice.” Falling back into her seat, Zaha noted the damage done to the Volsta’s construct. It was a start, but it wasn’t enough.

 

Zircon had started moving to the next formation point a moment after the command had been issued from the Herne. Free to look about with the android piloting, she saw it was only the fighters and servitors coming into position, the larger ships were staying to support the flagship.

[“Ensign Foster.”] The Commander’s voice almost growled at her over comms. [“If we’re needed I won’t have time to coddle you, can you fly that unit competently?”]

[“Commander, I have taken flight duties while Ensign Foster is in command of weapons.”] The android spoke for her. [“We are combat capable.”]

The huge form of The Axar drifted into view and Jena found herself staring at the head of the machine. It was more ornate than any she had seen in person, given almost a feral cat motif, like the mountain beasts she had seen pictures of as a kid. They had gathered at the prow of the ship, the tower behind them and the array of weapon system emplacements beneath them.

[“Listen up.”] Romanov called to all of them. [“If we have to fight, we will be doing it in warpspace. There are risks, but stay close and keep the co-ordinates of the Herne’s warp gate noted and you should be fine.”]

Jena had heard stories about people being trapped in warpspace forever. She tried to push those tales out of her head.

[“Chief Engineer MacAllister has provided details on what to target.”] Data streamed into their in-vision displays, syncing up with the onboard AI ready to superimpose on the vessel.

A coordinated volley struck the enemy ship. In quick succession Alpha and Gamma Wings fired on the shields, then the Herne unleashed its barrage. With the shields waivering, Beta and Delta Wings broke through. Explosions shot through the structure and Jena breathed a sigh of relief.

The maelstrom of energy at the front of the structure tore open. With a sudden lurch the ship plunged into warpspace, leaving its support units behind to be torn apart by the fleet’s fire.

Treshka’s swearing could be heard across all channels. The engines on the back of The Axar sparked to life. [“Omega Wing, with me!”] She cried out, boosting towards the warp gate the Herne was opening.

Jena could feel their servitor’s hands tighten around the grips of the rifles as they plunged into the swirl of colour after the Commander.

 

“Omega Wing have gone through our warp gate.” Chief Engineer MacAllister reported. “The opening is stable, I’ll keep an eye on it though.” The Herne was not designed to act as a warp gate, though it could open small entrances into warpspace using some of its encapsulators.

“Alpha to Delta Wings are cleaning up the remaining support units.” Medenia said, the operations officer co-ordinating the efforts of the task force.

As Zaha was about to speak, the Herne’s computer received a communication and brought it up on the screen. The stern face of a Volsta Commandant was staring out with spittle flecking his lips.

“This strike will just be the first! Volsta’s Dagger will plunge into the heart of Farringdon Three. You may have taken it from us, but we will not let you have it! The rage and fury of the Volsta Empire will lash out and pierce every world you stole away from us! Pride is everything, the Volsta Empire stand proud!”

As the message flickered away, Zaha Roland cracked her knuckles. “Get a message out to all our forces. Include the data we have on the Dagger and warn them about this new tactic. Send evacuation orders to Central City, get them to disseminate the warning.” Her hands gripped and squeezed each other as she thought of the units going after the suicide vessel. She hoped her long-time friend wouldn’t do anything stupid.

 

It took Jena a while to get used to moving without directing where she was going. With her mind fully occupied on the servitor, it felt like she was being possessed as Zircon directed their motions as Omega Wing came alongside the ship. A squeeze of her right hand fired shots from the long-barrelled energy rifle in that arm, several bursts slamming into the warp emitter she had targeted. A squeeze of her left hand and the short barrelled rifle howled with activity, puncturing a power relay pipe running along part of the section she had been assigned to.

The fighters were at the back, emptying their energy reserves with volley after volley into the engines of their opponent. This left the servitors to concentrate on the smaller targets dotted along the hull.

She noted that The Axar was pushing ahead, the support units mounted on the back disc firing in staccato at different targets as she boosted along the length of the Volsta’s Dagger. The assault from the four wings of the task force had done some serious damage to the ship, but it was still in warp and still hurtling towards her homeworld. A shrugging motion from her shoulders set the missile launchers mounted there to work, streaking off towards her next set of targets.

[“This is Fighter Omega A7!”] Some excited chatter came over comms. [“The engine block has lost power.”]

[“Move to the front and change firing type configuration to pulse blasters.”] Treshka ordered. [“We need to slow it down.”]

Jena watched the fighters zoom past her. A massive object like the one they were fighting could do a lot of damage to planet even in warp. Weird things could happen in such situations and she’d rather not see the result on the planet she just left.

Suddenly she was spinning and felt her stomach lurch. Warnings were appearing in-vision about G-force stabilizers being unable to compensate as Zircon flew erratically. It took a moment for her to realize just why he was doing it. Chunks of the Dagger were falling away as its structure was compromised. She winced as a nearby servitor collided with a strip of hull and was sent reeling away.

[“This is A4, our pulse blasters are having minimal effects on target velocity!”]

The Axar’s engines flared as it zipped along to the front of the ship. [“I’m going to do something stupid.”] The Commander’s voice came through to the wing. [“If I die, haul my ass back to the Admiral.”]

 

Treshka Romanov’s teeth sank into her bottom lip as she readied herself. The Axar had turned to face the Dagger, and the body of the servitor had titled up to let all of the support units on her back take aim at the front of the ship. Interlocking her fingers, she rested her hands against her stomach and breathed deeply.

Some species in the universe had natural talents in the way of psychokinesis. The Maltie were gifted at it. Half of her own species had the considerable mental fortitude required for it. The other half, human, could access such powers with training and/or cybernetic enhancements. As a half-breed, she had benefited from both. She felt her eyes roll back and blood trickle from her nose as she tapped into the gift, and then channeled it through the psi-boosters that had been fitted to her mech. As her teeth dug into the soft flesh of her lip, Treshka set her shoulders. A little lift of her shoulder blades, a peculiar parting motion, and she felt the disc mounted to The Axar shift. Revolving on their mounts, the support units span to direct their psiwave emitters at the Volsta’s weapon.

A hoarse cry escaped her lips as the field began to form in front of her, a wave of projected force to try and halt the path of her enemy. Her mouth contorted as she spoke old Trogadek mantras to bolster the spirit even as her mind screamed with the exertion to manifest and manipulate such forces.

 

As Zircon worked flat out to dodge all the debris flying off Volsta’s Dagger, Jena could see fractures running along the length of the ship as whatever Commander Romanov was doing at the front took effect. A peculiar aura had surrounded the Commander and the Dagger on her combat overlay denoted by an odd symbol, and the fighter wing had backed off to rescue some of the damaged servitors that had been struck by loose objects.

Jena winced as the Dagger started to compact in on itself, the front crumpling as the back drove into the mass ahead of it. As their target slowed to a halt, the android and cyborg noted that The Axar was not stopping.

“Proceeding to recover the Commander.” Zircon’s voice came from above her.

Detaching her weapons to mount on points of their servitor’s legs, Ensign Foster readied the hands to make the grab. “Do you think she’s…?” She trailed off.

“I am accessing her medical status through her servitor.” He replied. “She appears to be unconscious.”

Flexing her fingers moved the digits of the servitor, she readied herself to grab hold of The Axar wherever possible as they made their rapid approach. The Commander wasn’t dead, but someone needed to haul her ass back as requested.

 

They were back on the Herne having been directed to the specialized hangar reserved for the massive mech. The Admiral had joined them once the airlocks shut, along with a medical team ready to receive the hero of the hour. They were just ready to get the scaffolding up to remove Treshka when the chestplate hissed open and the muscular woman tumbled out. Jena winced. The Commander had managed to roll with the fall and staggered to her feet to salute her Admiral. Then she was sinking into unconsciousness and the waiting arms of the medical team.

Zaha watched them cart her friend away before heading for the two Ensigns.

“Admiral Roland.” Zircon Herne saluted. “Thanks to the actions of Commander Romanov, Volsta’s Dagger has come to a stop in warpspace. It is severely damaged and debris is in the area around it. A clean-up crew is recommended.”

The Admiral nodded and looked to Jena. “You’re looking a little green.”

“Zircon had to do some fancy flying to avoid impact. I’ll be fine once my stomach settles, Admiral.”

“The support crew will move your servitor back to its bay. Get some rest.” Roland turned and headed off after the medical crew. She paused near the door, looking back to the pair. “Not all days in the military are as eventful as this.”

The android and cyborg nodded, watching her leave. After a moment, Zircon turned to her. “I have a recipe for a tea that can soothe upset stomachs in memory. Shall I prepare you a cup?”

Jena clasped his shoulder with her hand. “That sounds good about now. Maybe share the recipe too. I need to get in a lot of practice before I’m as good as you out there.”

 

Treshka was sitting up in bed and eating when the Admiral came back for another visit. The white linen of the medbay bed had pooled around her waist, and the sleeveless jacket she customarily wore had been taken away to clean the blood from it. A tray in front of her contained a large bowl of stew filled with assorted chunks of meat and chopped vegetables, and a large pitcher of brown liquid with a good foaming head had been placed besides it. The sheets contrasted with her peculiar skin tone, making the green tinge even more noticeable.

“See, I’m fine.” She said with a broad grin, lifting the pitcher in toast to the Admiral as she arrived.

“You were out cold for two hours. What possessed you to fall out of your servitor?” Zaha sighed, taking a seat near the bed. She rested her sword on her lap.

“A good Commander has to do the formalities when returning to the ship.” Treskha joked, spearing several chunks from her stew with a fork to pop in her mouth. She always had the decency to finish her mouthful before speaking. “I’ll be back on duty tomorrow morning.”

The Admiral considered her friend. “Have you considered taking some time off. You are owed a lot of shore leave.” Romanov’s face darkened, and Zaha quickly held up her hands. “I’m not ordering, it’s just a suggestion. I’m sure the husband and the kids would like you to visit them, and piloting that leviathan puts a lot of strain on you.”

“My place is here, Admiral.” Treshka stated after a gulp of good brown beer. “The Herne has three more years of active duty before it is due in for a full service. I’ll use my shore leave then.”

Zaha laughed softly, slumping back in her chair with a weary sigh. “What will I do with you, old friend?”

“Put me to work. The same as always.” Another gulp of beer, a mouthful of stew and a good chunk of bread followed before she spoke again. “Apologies for shouting at you earlier, too.” She added quietly.

“Nothing to apologize for. You were just putting me to work.” Zaha said, giving her second-in-command a smile. “The same as always.”