Writing: Operation Dragon Night (unfinished work) - Chapter 1

My second, still unsuccessful attempt for NaNoWriMo, written in November 2016. Kinda better than Saviors of Hakdok was, in my opinion at least. Enjoy!

People who could make it happen: DANKKrish, RazorShark, Poki, Ludnyk, Atis1.
Honorable mention goes to: Ákos Szoláth (in is priceless support at perfecting the helistation fight)

Chapter 1

The gloomy shadow of Union Fort covered the camp at the foot of the mountain; it felt like a gigantic defender, rather than a monstrous force for the folks down there. A protector from the past, yet equipped with the most recent high-tech surveillance system – "and a bunch of partially solar-powered laser cannons, just for the rule of cool", some camp inmates thought. They were all amazed even by the mere appearance of the centuries-old fort and hoped they could trade some advanced equipment from those who built up this incredibly rich and well-defended microstate.
"What is this place, anyway?", the question was asked in a tent on the edge of the camp.
The only response was some wondering blinks from a pair of dark purple eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"This is just strange.", the questioner, a tan-skinned male in dark green military suit responded. "A castle, or whatever, resembling verge cultures, built upon clay and rock and hard minerals, not even utilizing the power of steel or hengit. And still, the bastions, the moutain walls, even the interiors are equipped with the finest defense systems of whatever top-tier empires…"
He was then pointing into a huge silver building on the top of the mountain, surrounded by cream-brown colored walls with shaddy edges.
"That cannon, on the top of that huge building. I swear Future Empire was the only place I've ever seen something like that! Why? I mean, you built this amazing place upon ruins, isn't it? What's the point?"
"Oh, sir…", the other male was dabbing with his hand, accompanied by a gentle smile, and smooth avoidance of eye contact. "These are not ruins. The Fort itself is our heritage from the past. One of the few things remained here after the war." - he then stood up, looked out of the small window-like hole and continued. "Honestly, I'm never been into all those exalted definitions, but I was always told that the Fort is the symbol of the victory of humans above the Cloudan. When it was occupied again, that meant a fresh new start, and a victory."
"It sure was hell of a victory.", the other replied. "I've read about the historical documents, it's a miracle this place is even safe for humans at all."
"Absolutely. It is a strange place to live, yet we have nothing to hold upon."
"Yeah, I can understand I guess. Didn't want to be rude with my question. It's just the surprise, you know."
The purple-eyed male shook his head, again, with a smile.
"It's okay. I'm not into the nationalism thing, but the majority of us inside there definitely are. Maybe this is what made us exist and go on for a half millenia."
The other nodded quickly, in a slightly fierce agreement.
"Absolutely, absolutely! There are people who need to fight the wars that must be fought. You know, we also do this kind of stuff, or at least, help for others. Only that we do it for money." - he then took out a lighter and a small box from his pockets. "So if it's fine by you, then you can enjoy the time among us. Cig'?"
He raised the box towards the purple-eyed; what he saw was a hollow carboard box, with small dark red bars within it.
"Sure.", he smiled and took out one. The owner did so, and kindled both cigarettes.
After an initial drag, he sighed and told to the other male:
"Welcome to Habbard's Hawks, Ettar!"

After the main recruitment process, everything was ready for Ettar to settle in one of the caravans. The camp was already finished with the main tradings and only the administration was left for Rowley Habbard and his major officers – therefore it was way not an ideal time for the young rookie to explore the way of camp life. He was already aware that most of his time will be spent on those very long, bio-fueled caravan cars, after all.
So Ettar occupied one of the empty mattresses, put his gigantic backpack down, and laid down, alone with his thought – and about twelve mercenary soldiers around him, inside the narrow interior of the caravan car. Lots of boxes, little trash like empty bottles, cardboard slabs and rusty iron bars – and of course the mattresses, with the people.
Ettar actually got up for a moment after a few seconds, and sat up to a wooden crate next to his place - just to take a look around in the wagon and notice the fellows around him; they were placed in similar tight but long "chambers" like his own, in two parralel lines. The folks were chatting, preparing their weapons, playing cards, eating on their makeshift beds, some were even using certain touchscreen devices, however, some of these were way too ancient for him to know.
He was also slightly surprised, yet meanwhile satisfied by the diversity of these people; male and female soldiers from every ethnicity and faction he could recognize. The stylized sword-bearing fist above the cloud, the symbol of Free Heaven Movement; the hammer, the sickle and the human hand from the Red Fist; but even Anubis' all-seeing eye, the holy icon of the Church of the Cybergod felt natural to him.
And it had a reason – Ettar, growing up within the walls of Union Fort, saw a civilization that was risen on the cooperation of the posthumous remains of a once great land, and those who could appreciate this way of building a sanctuary – something more than a building of brick and concrete: a stable point in the stormy web of conflicts between seven human superpowers and four sentient race. Whatever enclosed his nation has become, it has actually always been opened for those who needed a community to be loyal to.

He again had a minor smile, when he laid back and was wondering on all these things, while staring at the dark grey metal plates on the roof. This purple-eyed male even questioned a little bit, why does he even leave this great sanctuary at all, but he knew he has something more to achieve in this life.

He's always known he has more to achieve.

In such a magnificent place like the Cosmic Disk – even if it floats alone within the vast emptyness…ESPECIALLY, if it floats alone within the vast emptyness, then he has more to achieve than construction industrial-grade robots, buried down inside the only mountain of an otherwise boring, foggy and cold grassy plain. Not he was against the concept – it was still safer than the other mountains around, or anything else he knew.

He was not even actually aware, what lays beyond those ranges. The planet known as Anberoi has never been much more for him, than the cream-colored brick borders of Union Fort. But it was natural to him.

And again, it had a reason.

A very sharp and loud noise woke up the purple-eyed male from his nap. He immediately recognized that it came through a loudspeaker.
"Hey, pal", a voice from behind the crate next to Ettar's bed was hearable. "Hey, can you hear?"
Ettar got up with mild fatigue. He saw a bald, tan-skinned male with heavily unshaved face and wide shoulders.
"Can you gim'me a bag or something?", the guy went on, to which, as a response, Ettar drew out a white paper bag from the side of his backpack and silently put it into the hand of the worrying fellow.
"What's going on, anyway?", the purple-eyed asked while his last word faded into the noise of the loudspeaaker's repeat on the warning.
"We've reached the Planet Monument.", the other replied. "In a matter of minutes we'll cross a spatial warp to reach the next planet."
"So we're leaving Anberoi, I guess."
"Yup, but haven't you done it before?", he stopped for a second after which he smacked into the air. "Oh! You're the newbie from UF?"
The purple-eyed guy nodded, to which he said nothing, just offered his hand.
"Welcome to the camp, then! Atanas here, stormtrooper, from Dox Zagao."
"Ettar." The two shook hands. "Ettar Biledon, serial robotics engineer."
The stormtrooper whistled in surprise.
"That's cool! I assume you're assigned to the beauties back there, right?"
"Sorry?" - Ettar was unaware of the war machines of the caravan.
"The Walkers, didn't you see them?" - with a grin, Atanas jumped and sat to the separating crate for his comfortable place, still holding the bag. "Got them from the COTC some months ago, the finest anti-infantry vehicles I've ever seen!"
"You have Walkers too?!", Ettar was surprised. Now sitting in a corner, in front of the stormtrooper, he scraped his chin, indicating some spare thoughts. "Those are quite expensive. I mean, honestly, I expected only artillery, railgun cannons, maybe some exotic EEC stuff, not combined utility machines like Walkers."
"We have some great business partners! But you should be able to handle them either way.", Atanas laughed with cynism. "Not that you couldn't with some proper education but…you know, just prepare! We're not screwing around with paintball guns."
Ettar looked away in silence, until suddenly, a vibrating voice could be heard.
"Guys, it's coming!", a voice from the front of the wagon shouted. Sighs, swearing and minor sounds of retch could be heared very soon, but later these faded into the loud vibration.
"Oh great…", Atanas turned away. "Beware, boy!"
Soon, Ettar felt as if he was turned around his own axis a billion times in a second. Like just out of a spin-dryer, he suddenly shouted: "WHAT THE FU-", only to be interrupted by a sudden feel of mingle in his stomach. He grabbed another white paper bag just in time to avoid his lunch landing on the floor of his already small room.
Atanas would have laughed hysterically if he was not busy with his own stomach's content as well, but in his thoughts, he already made joke of the newbie first time crossing the spatial warp.
Atanas turned back carelessly soon and continued.
"We're here, boy.", he said. "The destination of our current mission. Wouldn't say you joined the right time, but…actually, it depends."
Ettar looked up to the muscular male, only to notice a suspicious yellow trail on his dark green chest armor. Otherwise, though, he reacted with incomprehension.
"What? Why?"
"For us, it's great", he replied. ", for you, it might be unlucky, though. We're here to kick out the brown scum and their mongrel warriors." - As silence and blinks were the response again, Atanas sighed and went on. "Oh come on…Justice Empire! You know, the racist anti-nontemp assholes with the symbol of four swords.They've got a nasty settlement here with a Dragon Trooper division."
"Oh.", it was the only word Ettar could say, to which the stormtrooper shook his head cynically.
"You won't last long with this reaction time, kiddo.", he said and went back to his bed to lay down.
"Wait a minute!", the purple-eyed stood up and leant to the crate, for a a reach to Atanas. "What do you mean it's unlucky for me?! It can't be that bad among the machineries, right? …RIGHT?!"
The tan-skin male dabbed while laying on his side, with his back to the rookie.
"Just kiddin, just kiddin'…for you, it's not the worst. The stromtroopers are the true victims here. But we've got used to it. Don't worry, the snipers are always back there to cover your ass.", he then sighed and went on: "Just don't let enemies surprise you."
He then went silent – Ettar assumed he's sleeping, so he went back and did so.

"While the Church of the Cybergod has not made any clear statement in the matter, the public opinion stands against another renewal of the Justice Empire ceasefire" – these were the words coming out from the nearby radio the arriving woman catched when she reached the burning barrel, surrounded by her friends.
"Hi, ladies! How's doing?" she used her mechanic arm to comb her short black curls out of her sight. "What's this neofascist ceasefire again?"
"Oh, good evening, Helg!", a tan-skinned male with black fringe beard was sitting there in green outfit, who then turned away from the heat of the fire to greet his fellow, followed by the welcoming responses of the rest. "We cooked the fruits Olge brought from the last trade while cringing on the next conflict of the JE."
"This happened after the Justice Empire forces were swept out from planet Aica by the Church who then started restoring the local netw-", the woman spat to the ground without listening any other sentence from the report.
"Disgusting, I say.", she said with disdain. "The mongrels are rattling the cage again. Genocide and bloodbath, just 'cause they think they can scare Anubis…fuckin' dead end of civilization, I say…"
The bearded male laughed mildly. He knew Helg even before either she or himself joined Habbard's Hawks, so it was no surprise for him that this young woman had such a sharp tongue.
"You know", the words were coming from a turn-down blonde-haired male head. ", the irony is that even I can actually agree."
"Of course you do, Ettar.", another tan-skin, but bald male answered from his side. "What an UF pal would not despise these roaches on such a level?"
"Oh shut up, Atanas!", the bearded soldier reacted. "Most of the civilians there are the same of here or in the Republic. They just want to live a safe and rich life."
"Yeah, sure, try to convince the people on Gaovadar, or, heck, regarding Ettar, try to convince him about the executed UF refugees!"
"Listen, moron, I've lived among th-"
"What did you say?!", Atanas jumped out of his place suddenly, but before he would have made something he would regret, he put down his already empty skewer and left the light of the fire. "Damnit! Not gonna listen to your pathetic excuses. I'm outta here."
It did not took much time until Helg occupied his now seat. She then turned left, to the still turn-down Ettar, put her robotic hand on his back and said:
"No need to stress on him. He's a non-temporal, this is just a typical reaction from his type."
The mechanic looked up. He saw a slim, mildly curvy white woman. As she was sitting there in her dark green sleveless shirt, with her supporting artificial arm on his back, especially with those visible golden circuit lines in her left eye's green retina, Ettar has become amazed. There was something in this girl that made her different from almost everyone he has seen since the setting up of the camp.
"Helg De Vos, augmented infantry. Former deprovian bartender." - she smiled widely.
Ettar has become much happier and shook hands with her with enthusiasm.
"Ettar Biledon, from the robotech maintenance unit."
"He's the newbie I brought from Union Fort!", the bearded male proudly noted.
"Really? That nice to hear! And how's your first day going on?"
"Quite boring, so far." - the blonde guy laughed. "Met only Ezmo and Atanas so far, with the latter on the caravan ride. I wonder if I should take a look around after I finished here."
"Well, you can't enjoy your stay here if you miss the chance to meet the others. I mean, we're like a huge family, only a few douche make troubles the way Atanas do."
"Sure, sure, I'm not even worrying on him. Turned out we're sharing the same tent so I could get used to his nature, and I'm not anti-social anyway. It's just…a bit new. And the jet lag."
"Oh, the jet lag…" - a mild yet masculine voice could be heard from the left to Ezmo. A slightly long-haired guy with round face could be seen, wearing white long-sleeve clothing, being noticeably different from the crew in the camp behind him. "The jet lag always kill my workdays. I should keep on cooking even while crossing the warp but my head feels swirling after that. For an entire day I can barely work…"
Then he silently smoked a drag from his cigarette and looked up to the darkening sky, with the glowing red vortex and its gigantic bright stripe across its entirety.
"Daniki…" - Helg smiled whil grabbing a purple, pear-shaped fruit from the fire with the bald man's rod. "It wouldn't be first time you missed the spice ratio in your meal!"
"Go to Hell, Hewitt told me to prepare the rascal meat for tomorrow and my container is already out of salt. But shame on you, my hand doesn't get rusty if I try it!"
After this, Dan burst out in laughing, followed by the same reaction from both Helg, Ettar, Ezmo and even from the quiet gray-headed veteran from Daniel's side.
"Speaking of which", Ettar broke the laughter, turning to her. "Can I ask, what happened to you? I mean, I can see that your left eye's also different…military injury?"
"Boy, we're just met, you may want to wait asking such que-"
"Poor man's grenade.", the bearded man replied with an interruption. "She got an ugly hit."
"Ezmo, for fuck's sake! Stop speaking our private lives for strangers!"
"There's some spirit in this guy, he's not gonna use anything against you."
"You idiot, I swear one day this attitude will kill you."
"So be it!" The recruiter raised his shoulder. "Whatever happens, this camp needs people like me. But you can't say I've ever been wrong about the newbies."
"Yeah, whatever…" She turned towards the blonde male and went on, looking into his eyes with a sharp look unusual to her: "Both Ezmo and I are from the City State of Deprov."
"The former Justice Empire colony?", Ettar asked. Both nodded. "Damn, I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one from a similar place. I mean, of course only vaguely similar, but still, people rarely understand what is life like in a place like UF or Deprov."
"Deprov was different, though", the recruiter noted. ", I already implied at the camp. Imagine Union Fort, but higher tech, and, well…lower life."
"I used to be a bartender", Helg went on with dissatisfaction. "And let's say that some regions in Deprov are great hives of humanity's worst, including several Way of Justice fanatics. Never been in a good relationship with them, you know, thrashing and destruction even after a bunch of beers. Impossible to handle them, down there at least. Ezmo was the bounceman and after kicking out a JE scumbag, the next day he returned and hit me with some kind of bomb."
Ettar expressed his understanding.
"Sorry for your loss."
"Nevermind, it's been half a decade ago. I got these augs and become a whole human again. I had to sell the pub but Ezmo already had connections with Rowley back then, so I could find a new job."
"Hey, listen, kid, this is the best part!", the recruiter interrupted with laughter. "After joining, I've got to provide some military-grade enhancements for Helg! Standard Future Empire weaponry, really, nothing special. And when she fired the cannon in her arm the first time, the Republic shit their pants so much they added her an SNSH codename!!"
The mechanic, while the other deprovian was laughing next to him, turned back to Helg with wide eyes. He has already heard about people with supernatural abilities but has never got the chance to meet any of them personally.
"Oh come on!" The woman even blushed a little bit. "Nothing special. I mean, yeah, they call me >Culverin< De Vos, >Sniper of the Wasted< or whatever, but it's not a big deal. This camp is full of SNSH people anyway, Rowley got a great use of them. Dan is also one."
The chef ed in apathy.
"That's nothing. Just a bit of fiery tricks. Kind of a work requirement in my field."
"The matter is that it's not a unique thing here.", Helg went on. "Out of the two thousand mercs in the camp, there are three hundred SNSH folks at least. Including Rowley and all the officers."
Only now Ettar started to realize, what kind of mercenary team did he join to. That the barrels of fire, the old dusty tents, the exceptionally long caravan cars, the apparently pale paramilitary outfits, the clouds of cigarette smoke, and the disassembled anti-infantry mechas do not hide a simple desperate, starving mercenary group.
"Then I think we should not worry about the Justice Empire, right?", he asked faint-heartedly, trying to cover his previous doubts.
"Well…that depends", Ezmo replied. ", but this band has got a lot of foos, who are very professional at what they do."
"What you see around yourself is just a scratch on the surface.", Dan replied following the recruiter. "I've got my ass covered, and-"
The cook was interrupted by small jiggles from Helg.
"GOD DAMNIT HELG, CAN WE LEAVE OUT THE GAY JOKES FOR A SINGLE MOMENT?!", the male shouted and then carried on in the following fashion:
"As I said, I get the cover in the frontline I need, I mean, you should know that if a conflict takes weeks then even the furnaces are pushed into the middle ground of the front. That's heavily risky for the civilians like me and you, but once again, the camp is full of snipers and stealth guards, so most of the times, it's not we are who fall."
"I see", the mechanic said.
"Look, Ettar…", Helg continued after taking a final bite from the fruit. "There's a reason we're not like the Republic Forces, or the Free Heaven's Space Angels. We are not members of any official state military. We do everything on our own, under the orders of Rowley Habbard, and it has consequences. He's a lone star in the world of the borderworld fights, so our resources are scarce. We never starve, we never lack basic medicines or hot water. Nothing like that. But the minor equipments are indeed old. You must get used to it, but if you trust Rowley and his methods, everything's gonna be fine." - she then threw the remains of the fruit into the fire, put the skewer back to the ground and noted a final statement: "But it needs your dedication as well."
Ettar sighed silently, expressing a barely noticeable relief. He then stood up, stretched his arms and he said:
"Thank you very much for the info and things like that! It was really insightful, but I'm still dizzy a bit so I'd sleep."
"Do so, Ettar", Dan replied, searching the mild red glow on the sky once again. ", it seems that both the Sun and the Axis are setting."
"One last question, though…where's the shower tent?"
"Go to the courtyard, look for the toilets, far to the left of those you can find it.", Helg replied, with a careless leanback, staring the Axis on the sky like Daniki did. "Beware that it's coed and that you have limited water usage."
"Thanks! No problem.", the mechanic said from the distance, without even looking back. "Once again, thank you everything and good night!"
Then he disappeared soon in the loose throng of the camp tenants. The augmented woman tried to find him with her eyes after a minute, but quickly gave it up, after mistaking a wooden water barrel as Ettar.

Next day, the first way of Ettar (after the morning preparation) led to the outskirts of the camp. Light grey mountain ranges from the sides, a gigantic rusty metal wall in front, accompanied by two huge towers, covering the way between the mountains – and the dark, enormous tower of the Planet Monument at back, with the belonging ring of spatial warps. A small stage and lots of chairs were put here during the night, for the first dispatch of the mercenary group since their arrival to Ramak Ainabon.
This entire scenery, especially in the dim reddish light of the Axis has felt much more exotic than anything Ettar has ever seen in his life; he was unable to be amazed, though. While he was indeed spiritually excited, he could barely convey this erupting enthusiasm into his appearance. The uncomfortable times in the tent, in the shower, in the dining yard and the harshly bitter taste of the cactus-coffee all made it a tough beginning of the day for him, despite all his efforts to prepare for a pseudo-military lifestyle.
He was not complaining, though. The mechanic, as a proper adult male, was aware that real life in the Cosmic Disk is not like a mediocre shounen-style cartoon from the Old Earth Ages; it can be challenging at any points – from the awakening to the final fight against a Cybergod Soldier. Therefore, he simply clenched his teeth (which was not hard for him anyway, because of the apparently contractile force of the bitterness in his mouth) and tried to got away the cold.

And so, in his fresh new (or at least new) light green long-sleeve dress, and his very strange dark blue bib shorts, he slowly walked out of the jungle of tents, and took a seat in front of the empty makeshift stage. The chairs were filled very sparsely so far; even the mechanic felt, it was an early arrival. He quickly took a seat somewhere on the left, took a huge gulp from the last sips of the coffee, and put his collapsible cup aside.
After the goosebumps of his mild agony, he took a look around. As usual: people of different ethnicities and presumably factions too; the mechanic could not notice differences in the latter, as everyone was wearing various shades of green, for symbolic reasons, rather than for the purpose of camouflage.
Then, when he realized he's unable to differentiate any factions, he stretched his arms and placed them on the two neighboring chairs, carelessly, while looking up to the sky. The mild light of the Axis stroke his eyes and in his empty and tired state of mind, he started wondering about it. The legendary galactic center, that has always been there, to show the plane of the Cosmic Disk and help navigation through the Planet Monuments with its perpendicular pillar of light. What kind of incredible force has been making it burn so bright since the dawn of the galactic civilizations?

Ettar returned to reality when he felt poking on his shoulder. Opening his eyes, he immediately noticed a familiar guy – still wearing a white apron on his light green shirt.
"Daniki!" - the mechanic smiled and shook hands with the chef. "Wouldn't expect you're in the same squad as me."
"Actually, Ezmo and Hank are the only ones from different squads I hang out with.", he replied while sitting down next to the mechanic. "So it's not so surprising."
"Oh…I just didn't know."
"It's okay! You're new here. Speaking of which, how's the morning of your first day?"
The other male sighed weary – the chef just laughed.
"Not that bad actually, though.", the blonde started. "I mean, sure, Atanas' snore is bloody loud, but it's not a big deal."
"Did you sleep alone at home?"
"Actually, I lived in dorms for a while. Union Fort is quite big, you know, and secured, so it's not clear, how to reach a random point from another. It was much simpler to live next to the classrooms and all those fancy things."
"The coffee was ages better even down there, though!", he said with a clear moppet on his face.
"Oh, yes, Habbard said >caffeine is essential for battle efficiency< and he's damn right, but he was too pinching to spend on it…it's pathetic that we could afford another pack of DMT explosives for the general ammunition but buying some proper coffee instead of this thorny wasteland weed is too much for the budget."
"Even sugar can't help on this, though."
"That's what I'm saying too!", Dan was noticeably indignant. "This weed takes an hour to prepare and grind, it's simply not enough time to make it properly consumable. Of course, if it causes indigestion, it's me to blame…"
"I'm not even surprised at this point. The eggbread-onion combo was the best part of my morning."
"Yeah, that's much better. Still challenging, though…", the chef grabbed his left shoulder strongly, trying to reduce stress in his tired muscles. "Whatever, 500 people per chef in the camp, but if we take the military formation, I have to cook only for this squad. Gonna be easier. Yet a bit harder, with less ingredients."
"Formation? Are we already getting into fights?"
"Maybe… there's a village behind the wall. Rumors say the N.I.G.H.T. already swept out the JE Vigilantes out of this gate, but everything behind falls under the control of them.Theoretically there's a village right after you leave, and an entire city some kilometers down in the same direction. I presume that's our direction, as the other approach is defended by high-range artillery defense and maybe Dragon Troopers as well."
"You know, I'm getting excited!", Ettar grinned. "Didn't expect we'll have any fight today or even tomorrow!"
"In fact, Habbard prefers sending a squad or two ahead of the rest. I think he's already left with one to clear the way to the future camp location."
"Clearing the way, yes! Should've thought about it."
"Yeah, but we should wait for captain Hewiit for the details."
"Yeah…I think there's no much fight waiting for us, then."
"No, unless he waits us at a rendezvous point somewhere in between. Anything may lie between us and the goal location you know. Even the world's best intel can be fooled."
"It's a bit worrying actally."
"It is…but you can't do anything against. This is our life, unpleasant surprises are inherent to the mercenaries." - then the chef poked Ettar's side with his elbow and changed his tone into whispering. - "Wanna drink?"
Then he offered a bottle at the height of their knees, with the obvious intention to hide it. Ettar saw down and noticed a transparent liquid inside it.
"What the fu-"
"Honey Kingdom import, hive tequila. Found some barrels >left behind at a Monument gate<, let's say."
"Not sure if it's the appropriate time to drink, Dan."
"Just a sip. Not now, of course, but if you like it, I can give a bottle for 50 creds."
"RC or SSC?"
"Whatever you have, I'm not dickering with friends. And Ezmo's friends are mine friends!"
The chef then winked, to which Ettar raised his shoulders and grabbed the bottle.
"Whatever." - and took a sip. "Damn, this is sweet! Strong but sweet."
Daniki smiled.

"So you think, they stopped?"
"Most certainly.", the answer came from the long orange-haired woman who stood in front of Helg and black-haired white male.
"I wouldn't even waste your time, then, Zora.", he responded. "You must have plenty of relays to establish."
She just dabbed, though.
"Eh…piece of cake. Squads are leaving in every second hour only and it's not a huge distance anyway. I've got better things to do than staring a pitch black terminal with bright blue lines running on."
"Don't waste your time, lady!" - The augmented girl winked with a suspicious smirk. "Aren't you hated enough among the comm nerds?"
"Shut up cybie!" - the red-haired laughed. "Shame on you, in my case, only my hair is called rusty!"
The male also laughed heavily after this response. Helg approached her silently with a threatening shake of her raised index finger – however, right after she leant close enough the other girl's face, she also laughed out, gently hugging her.
"Be good, girl! And be careful!", the black-haired woman said with much more dearness.
"Stay sharp, gal!", the red-haired replied while requiting the hug.
Soon thereafter, Zora turned away and returned to a comparably huge khaki colored tent, with a satellite dish neighbouring it. Then Helg and the unshaven male turned to the other direction, where the stage and the chairs were stood – in this case, full of various people wearing various warm clothings, in almost every possible shade of the green, with occasional white, red and yellow patches on certain people in the crowd.
The male intended to make a comment on the relationship of the two, but has not gone through anything more than a sigh. Instead, he adjusted his loose, pale yellow trousers, knobbed a forgotten button on his liht green shirt and then, looked back to the scenery to find an empty place to sit.
"Hey!", he pointed his finger towards two empty chairs behind two male, wearing similar shirts. "Helg's, there are two places!"
The augmented woman attempted to find the place he was referring, being successfull only after half a minute.
"Oh, right!", she exclaimed on notably raised volume. "Right behind Daniki and Ettar!"
"Ettar?" - the male was slightly amazed. "You mean the newbie?"
"Yeah, yeah, haven't you meet him?"
"Not yet. It'd be refreshing to see the new enginner of my team!"
"Let's come then, quickly!"
Helg ran towards the site, to reach her new friend as soon as possible. The male in his pale trousers just rubbed his nape and slowly went on stepping in direction of the desired place.
He had a strange feeling staring this…actually, not even so young girl, acting so childish and cheerful. In fact, this way what he tried to express a few seconds ago, but failed to do so. He was just a simple engineer, feeling the age on his shoulders, and the fact that he's only a few years older than Helg made him wonder: what keeps her so energic even beyond the age of early, young adultery?
He had no time to find the answer, eventually, as his thoughts were creeping that he forgot realizing he has reached the edge of the row of chairs, and now, he was trying to get inside carefully, without too much ramble, or capsizing anyone's coffee, satchel, or chair.
Next to him, the robotic-armed woman did the same, quickly and loudly stepping towards the duo. He noticed her shaking hands with the chef and playfully hitting the head of the blonde, inducing a harsh turnback and a smooth laughter following that. Ettar could catch the middle-aged man just from the corner of his purple eyes, but it was enough the recognize him and waving to making him paying attention.

"So it seems that Mrs. Robot-Armed-And-Dangerous arrived before me! Typical.", he said with a smile while shaking hands with the still held in the air hands of Ettar. "Ocnus Vallas, head robotech engineer, and your prospective boss. We'll meet often in the future I think."
"Oh..h…hello, Ettar Biledon, serial robotics engineer."
Then he shook hands with the chef as well and sat down.
"Hey, rookie!", he went on. "Just a small question: what was your thesis about?"
The purple-eyed turned back, while Daniki burst out in laugh, noting:
"Oh God, a newbie maintenance under the hands of a COTC veteran assembler…just like the movies." - and took a small sip from his hidden bottle, just for the fun.
"My thesis? I built a self-diagnosing radio phone assembler."
"Interesting…what did you use? Any Kopferit circuit?"
"No, tried to make it as basic as possible. An old military-grade cellular device for the sample, you know. The rest was a Future Empire series XA wheelpad, for the conveyor belt, and sixteen HEC arms. Four joints, microprecision endings and a simple microcontroller. ASW standards."
"ASW?! I know you meant >basic< but that's almost ridiculous…"
"I know, I know, it took months to align the channels. But it was worth, beca-"
"Because it decreases the processing circle's voltage to the tenth." - Vallas ended the newbie's sentence, expressing both experience and satisfaction. "Had to do stuff like that on the Neocairo front back then. Never thought such a young person would even bother with the different signal functions. Impressive, Ezmo's still great at finding the talents, it seems."
Ettar giggled in embarassment.
"It's really nothing, sir, just a matter of enthusiasm."
"And golden composite wires."
"And golden composite wires, indeed.", both the veteran and the newbie laughed. Dan took another sip while Helg sat back, crossin her legs.
"You were right, Daniki", she said. ", as always, Ettar woke up the cultist in Vallas."
"Oh come on!", the middle-age male responded. "Indeed I can thank a lot to Our Overlord, but Ieft the Church long ago."
"Didn't you say shit like >You can leave the Church, but you can't leave the Cybergod<?"
"Sure I did, but that is literal, too."
"And quite creepy, for sure…", the chef whispered to the blonde.
"A LITLLE ATTENTION, PLEASE!" - A loudspeaker could be heard at this point; the sound originated from a white male on the stage, wearing loose dark green clothing, a long black rifle on his back, and a camo cap. "I SAID A LITTLE ATTENTION, PLEASE!"
The crowd did not become more quiet, so he shouted in a sharp voice:
"I SAID SHUT THE FUCK UP!" - Silence came up immediately. - "God damnit, we're not an official army but still, show some respect!"
He looked around for a second to get the attention of every attending mercenary, and the number of empty chairs.
"Rrrriight…", he went on. "Good morning everyone, Corporal Vilkanauskis here. As most of you have noticed we have arrived on Ramak Ainabon, the heart of the powder keg of the Nation of the Independent Ghost Hunter Troops, or the N.I.G.H.T. - and it's an exceptionally well-paying contract, therefore it's time to take your job seriously, ladies and gentlemen!

Beware that on Anberoi, we were crossing a REPLEV5-class spatial warp, or a purple one if that makes more sense for you – there's no way to return there. If anyone desires to leave, do it right now, as beyond the wall, by the order of Colonel Habbard, we must response to any suspicious troop movement with shooting on sight. Spies, traitor, you name it, you may understand.

Also note that this silence around the Monument is only temporary; it's because of the recent bombings the pals from the N.I.G.H.T. did against the Vigilantes residing within the wall. After we leave, all the soldiers are gonna rush out through their warps and while I'm not saying we haven't left some surprise in front of the Justice Empire warp's decompression chamber…well, I have no guarantee that this place stays safe between our leaving and our return after the case of a successful victory.

Speaking of victory: as you may already know at this point, we're fighting the official military forces of the Justice Empire here. It consists of two essential parts: the Vigilantes, as I mentioned, they are the regulars - and the Dragon Troopers, the elite paramilitary of the Empire. The exact number and power of them are to be discussed, but for now, it's enough to know that by them, we should expect offensives of superhumans and supernatural individuals. This includes high-tech utilities and Ethereal Energy Channeling techniques alike, but you have no reason to worry, as by following the orders of Captain Hewitt, the majority of you can get significant protection against the supernatural means of warfare. You may expect heavy resistance, though, so it's vital to be as sharp, precise and rational as possible; our enemies are professionally trained elite soldiers this time!

That's for our initial briefing and the obligatory general informations. Now let me pass the word for Captain Jorge Hewitt for the precise details of our following actions. Thank you for he patience."

After his long speech, he left the stage, only to be replaced by an extremely tall, balding male. Even Ettar glanced with utter dismay, as he noticed the male almost twice as tall as the leaving corporal. Moreover, this gigantic male was already equipped with a full set of bulletproof armor, protecting the entirety of his arms, his legs and his chest – though, the ones on his arms were painted in deep blue color, rather than the expected green shades.
"Captain Hewitt, SNSH codename >Ingot<.", Daniki whispered to Ettar.
Soon, a huge table appeared behind the colonel; a white canvas rose out of the backside of the stage, followed by a map. This map had only a few interesting parts: brown cracks indicating mountain ranges, dark green patches of forests, a black C-sharped patch, a yellow X, a brown line next to it, and a V-shaped white form, in which various other color patches could be found.
Then the colonel stepped right in front of the microphone, cleared his throat and started his speech.
"Good morning, Squad 5!" - his deep voice echoed through the tight valley. "Now that everyone is in perfect condition, it is time to return to work and prepare for fights! Let's start with a general briefing.

During the following weeks, we are going to dwell here, on Ramak Ainabon, a minor military settlement of the Justice Empire. Our primary objective is to clear them out of eight major cities around the Planet Monument and provide stable reticence for the soldiers of the Nation of the Independent Ghost Hunter Troops. This includes the possibility to exterminate the entirety of their military forcing, up to and including the residing individuals of the Dragon Troopers. While it is noted as a secondary objective by our contractors, we desire to avoid this case scenario – the reasons are obvious."
"DEATH TO THE ANTEMP SCUM!", a harsh voice shouted out of the crowd, accompanied by supporting and agreeing exclamations.
"Gentlemen, please refrain from similar heated statements! We are not a death squad. Anyways, according to our contractor's informations, the central operations base are on the northern plains, where despite a major highway leads, it is under control of huge Vigilante forces, who could even set up a blockade. Therefore, not only we are unable to reach the headquarters, but the N.I.G.H.T. offensives are stuck behind the reach of the Planet Monument as well. Colonel Habbard defined three main segments of the objective.

During Operation F.E.A.R., Squad 1, 5, 12 and 17 are sent towards Renkeville, in western direction. This city is a huge central infrastructure node at the outfall of a local river. While we do not expect huge resistance at liberating Renkeville, a supply camp of the Justice Empire is set up in north-eastern direction that prevents us from crossing the river and meeting the N.I.G.H.T. divisions. After liberating Renkeville, we are going to storm this base and take control over the region.

During Operation Batstorm, we cross the river and establish connection with the trapped N.I.G.H.T. divisions. After securing their western side this way, we must put an end to the blockade, in case any reinforcement would arrive during the rest of our presence. Intel data shows lines of trenches at this location, therefore, fierce conflicts are awaited. Moreover, four major cities lay within our reach during this operation: one at the supply camp, one resided by the N.I.G.H.T. and two occupied by the Vigilantes.

During Operation Dragon Night, our final battle, we are to capture two major cities to the north, then cross the other branch of the river and destroy all three centers of the planetary Justice Empire offensive. Both sides of the river consist of vast corn fields, with no presence of hills and forests, thus heavy and strong clashes are expectable at this location. We are going to enjoy the support of the N.I.G.H.T. during this phase, though.

That is all for short; every detail will be revealed by the Colonel by the time comes. For now, we are to reach a rendezvous point with Squad 1 - which, with the leadership of the Colonel currently stays near a local village halfway between the Entry Gate and Renkeville."
"They haven't even spent the night here, I presume.", Helg whispered to the males.
"After we leave, the other squads will follow us, and a new camp will be set up in the city. The Colonel desires to hold a speech himself to the entire mercenary group, therefore I ask everyone for not wasting any time and reach both destinations as soon as possible!

That is for the vital informations. Two additional notes: one, whatever slanders you're hearing, I demand to stop them. So, once and for all: YES, it is true that the Dragon Troopers are no ordinary humans. Indeed, they are all members of the Harpy sub-race, but are still humans of full value.Whatever reasons they have got to join the galaxy's most racist faction, I forbid any means of atrocity towards them!

Two: the N.I.G.H.T. consist of rational and sane people. The Ghosts mentioned in their names are of true and existing threat towards humans, and I'm not willing to bear discrimination towards them! Their empire is our contractor right now and we must not bring shame on the name of Habbard's Hawks!

Dismiss. The caravans are on the sounthen section of the camp – pack up your belongings and get in! Departing time is 9:00 A.M., Galactic Poepra Time."
Speech of various people started appearing as Jorge left the stage. Soon, they started standing up, leaving their places and fleeing in the direction of the camps. The male trio and the augmented woman were not exception; while Daniel and Helg started stepping out in the opposite direction, Vallas put his hand on Ettar's shoulder and said:
"Look for the Artillery Pads, rookie! Rounded vehicles, carrying cannons on their backs. That is the meeting point of the Squad 5 engineering shift."
Ettar nodded and soon entered back to the lashings of tents, quickly separating from his supervisor. He barely noticed he has left all the familiar faces as he became mildly blunt mentally, as an effect of his former fatigue combined with a portion of the facts he has heard. Armed harpied, ghost hunters, Ethereal armament, trench war and hatred of non-temporal people… once more, the young mechanic felt doubt – and even a certain amount of fear.

"I hope you're not scared, though!", Ocnus Vallas laughed before drinking from his bottle.
"Sorry?", Ettar rolled out from below the engines of a strange machine. He still could only partially understand the function of that gigantic horizontal curved plastic strap, but he was still amazed by the bright reddish-brown angular carvings around it.
After some huge gulps, the engineer carried on.
"The briefing. Seemed like you took it as a surprise. I'm not blaming your but you don't need to worry about the tough guys."
The rookie listened to the middle-aged male with using his palm to cover the Sun. It was slowly rising and his supervisor stood exactly a meter away, just to not provide any shadow for him.
He was not dealing with so insignificant concerns, though. The caravan of Squad 5 was already moving, with the elongated lodge cars, the supply tracks, the tracked pads at the back, and several jeeps, filled with soldiers and automated rifle, distributed all around the cars and truck, with the purpose of protection. The head engineer was aware that the rendezvous point is near, and as such, he was shrinking his eyes, beholding the landscape of ocker colored grass, for any sings of the familiar trucks, equipment – or even a sudden change in the incomprehensible sizzle of their radio channel.
"Just stay cold-headed, boy!", he said with barely hearable volume. "That is vital."
"Speaking of cold: the cooling agent controller is on a high frequency here.", Ettar diverted the topic. "Not sure if it's valid but may affect usage efficiency."
Vallas dabbed.
"Leave it as-is, these babies are inclined to overheat."
"Then I think I'm done here, sir.", the purple-eyed wiped his oily hands and stood up from his service board. "Every ram-cannons are inspected and verified."
"Great!", the black-haired responded and turned towards the other people sitting near the edge of the pad, talking to the soldiers in one of the vehicles. "Ruven, Néstor, Evku, what about the others?"
The males, wearing bib like the head engineer and Ettar, quickly stood up and replied in order:
"The ram-cannons on the other pads are in outstanding condition, sir!"
"The railgun copes had some trivial voltage difference between the magnets, but it's fixed!"
"Sedo Cannons were low on fuel and ammunition, complemented from storage!"
Vallas nodded with admire.
"Great job! Professional and quick, as always!", he then turned towards Ettar. "Remember, Ettar: we are THE technicians! Our job is not to fix every single mistake in combat situations – I've got to train the machinery personnel for this purpose. We are for the worst problems, to repair, adjust and polish everything necessary, as fast as possible! There's no time to waste on the battlefield: we have the same function as the Pit during any car racing!"
"Yes, sir!", the blonde saluted.
"And now…would you like to try this beauty?", the old mechanic poked the gigantic rusty wheel of the strange machine while grinning. "You should learn to use them, in case of any terrible emergency!"
Ettar jumped into the seat without reply or hesitation; Vallas shook his head on the fierce of youth. He then pointed his finger towards a tiny black dot in one of the mountains in the far distance on the right.
"There's a suspicious cave right there. I think I smell a Vigilante sanctuary up there. Not sure if Habbard noticed, but if it is what I think of, then it's better not stop…and shooting on the run is a great way to keep the entire team in moving!"

The shift leader and his engineers were staring from a safe distance; the young colleagues were still amazed as the rusty colored notches on the strape turned into a sharp red glow. They could see this exotic artillery weapon working, nevertheless it was a shocking experience to see it fire.
"USE THE BLADE MODE!", Vallas shouted, with the rookie barely hearing him from the buzz of the engine as it was burning the prescious nanofuel at an incredibly efficiency.
The glow went brighter, the juniors stepped back – and finally, by pulling a trigger, Ettar released the energy of the plastic tool, that stood only hal a meter aways his head.
The result was a much louder and sharper buzz, and an oval-shaped energy projectile, glowing much brighter, turning almost pink, rather than red. The machine itself was properly attached to its pad, so it did not move, but the pad itself turned a degree or two away of its intended direction on the ground.
Everyone in the jeeps turned in the direction of the sound; some of the more careless soldiers even stood up, some of those even grabbed a rifle. The old engineer even noticed some helmets poking out of the doors of moving caravan cars. He reacted with a smile, especially for the fact that 4 second later, every single head turned towards the location of the impact, almost simulatenously.
What could be seen was a huge cloud of dust and smoke and two shady silhouettes jumping out of it. In the very same moment, Vallas' radio turned from constant white noise to hysterical laughter.
"AWESOME WORK, OCNUS!", it shouted. "FOR GOD'S SAKE, RIGHT IN THE BALLS!! I'dunno' how do you smell these but I can't breathe! Ahahah God ddamnit!"
The sender was then dsiconnected, followed by switching to various radio channels, from around the caravans, all of those conveying exultation, laughter and appreciation. That was until a final channel switch occured and a charming and very deep voice started talking:
"Ocnus Vallas, it is Habbard here. Your Repulsor has hit a Justice Empire hideout. Squad 1 spies estimate heavy casualties, including a Dragon Trooper. Receive my appreciation, Mr. Vallas!"
After the channel disconnected, the frozen dismay on the face of the junior engineers turned to endless joy, dragging Ettar out of the seat and praising his precise hit. The blonde felt like in university again, when he was the only one writing an "ASW heuristics" exam without errors. Soon, however, another channel connected to Vallas' radio:
"Right, ladies, Captain Hewitt here! This is for every unit! Vallas did it again so it's time to bait the scum out of their nasty pits! Rendezvous delayed, every moving squad is ordered to move on until Renkeville! I repeat, rendezvous delayed, by the orders of Habbard! Also beware of the two Dragon Troopers!"
"Is it so frequent?", Ettar asked, leaning out of the equivocal embrace of his colleagues, after the captain disconnected. The old male quietly raised his shoulders.
"What can I say…", he smiled, putting his index finger in front of his mouth, implying he has a nasty secret. "Our Overlord has a sharp sight!"
The purple-eyed male looked in incomprehension, but it quickly turned into a sudden wince, when explosions and sounds of firing rifles sounded behind his back. Turned out the Dragon Troopers assaulted Hewitt's squad, rather than dealing with the main forces.
Ettar scared more than he thought he will. These people actually had wings. They were not only simply winged – those wings had steel plating and armoring, not even talking about the spikes at their ends. Moreover, during assault, they cried out with terrible volume. The mechanic could barely think of hiding as he was staring at the gigantic metal masks of the two troopers, which served as the source of that terrifying sound.
"Move away!" - that's all he could hear. He turned, seeing Vallas, descended to one knee, grabbing a small handheld gun. The young mechanic then ran away, and moved into the lower parts of the artillery pad after opening a metal hatch, finding his mattress, hoping he stays safe within the gigantic vehicle.

Next chapter.
Final chapter.


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