The stars above Epsilon Setia Quintus were said to be amazing, but on the night of July 14, 104 Years Post-Spaceflight, the stars were hidden by a veil of explosions and weapons fire.

A hornet's nest of defensive fighters picked apart massive cruisers, exploiting every crack in the armor. In a small village on the planet, falling debris killed over three fourths of the people.

The combat had started when the government forces had arrived, one hour before the launch of the Cyclone IV carrier. It was the most recent attempt of Epsilon Setia Quintus to regain interplanetary spaceflight after the crash of the trade freighters that had brought their ancestors there. The government had ordered them to stop.

Instead, Epsilon Setia Quintus had prepared its fighters and the recently developed Gateway Teleportation Systems. The first wave of Series Seven "Snowflake" fighters had caught the government's detachment with their pants down, and had taken down four Arbalest attack ships before they even knew they were under attack. That

Few of the fighters had been in the skirmish since the beginning. The United Planets of America had unbelievably strong fighters, whereas the "Greens," as most people called the members of Greene's Rebellion, had 10-year-old scrap piles. The Greens had one essential advantage, though, and that was that they flew, and they flew well. Fighter pilots of Greene's Rebellion were nigh untouchable, which meant that in the time a UPA fighter would've died, their pilots instead tired, and docked on a ship, where a replacement pilot would take the fighter out to continue the combat.

There was only one fighter in orbit who had not yet returned to the ship over course of the entire skirmish. His specially designed N-14-X "Nightmare" could take down an N-14 Dreamcatcher in seconds. Its missile bays could use the Gateway Teleportation System to drop the missiles inside the target, or it could fire them in a seeker mode. A pair of standard Earthbound Age rail guns – likes that of the Nightmare – would beat a laser every time. He never grew tired. He never got hungry. His reflexes never slowed.

Dirk Snyder had given up his humanity long ago.

The Nightmare twisted through the gunfire like a fish avoiding a spear. A missile followed it, seeking an engine. The Nightmare had two engines; both were on the back of the central pod, which was designed for both space and planetary combat. It carried its weapons under its front wings. Its appearance had been compared to that of Earth Age atmospheric flight machines such as the F/A-18E Super Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler. It didn't need any protection against the heat of entering a planet's atmosphere: the Nightmare could make its own Gateways to the surface.

A flying chunk of capital ship drifted past the Nightmare, catching the missile. A stray laser bolt clipped the tip of the Nightmare's left wing.

Laser bolt was a definite misnomer: the weapon actually functioned by 'packaging' metal debris in a containment field – which, coincidentally, glowed. The containment field dispersed as it impacted, and the flak inside the field would then be forced into the wound by the parts that had not yet dispersed. No lasers were actually involved, but the name had stuck.

The twin rail guns tore apart a UPA fighter. A second one crashed into a capital ship when one of the shots hit its engine. The fighter defenses for the Arbalest Dirk was attacking had thinned. He went for the kill, guiding the Nightmare up the engine shaft and setting Gateway coordinates for a missile. The engine spontaneously detonated. He spun the Nightmare around and rode the shockwave out. The UPA fighters swarmed him the moment he left the shaft. Dozens of them began chasing him. The two-person fighters flew alongside him, firing their rotating turrets sideways, while the one-man fighters followed behind him. Dirk's otherwise lifeless body twitched with a smile as he Gated behind his pursuers and opened fire. Every shot hit.

The two-person fighters remained mostly unharmed. They tried to follow him as he pulled up sharply. Four of the ship's pilots snapped their necks with the inertia.

Dirk didn't mind the inertia. He was held completely immobile by the ship as he Interfaced with it.

There was a reason the Nightmare had no cockpit.

Dirk was one of a select few chosen for an experiment – nanotechnology fueled by the body's cells, designed to allow a person to mentally connect directly with machinery – computers and such, to avoid crashing, along with using the human brain to increase its power. Essentially, the ultimate computer users, nothing more.

Something had gone wrong with Dirk's implants. Rather than simply connecting, he did what came to be known as Interfacing – entering the machine and controlling it on a basic level. The nanobots took Dirk's consciousness with them. He was the best driver, pilot, and technician the universe had ever known. The phenomenon was unique. He had been deemed inhuman because of the experiment.

His memories faded for a moment as he descended upon a fighter from above it.

Think in three dimension, bitch. The rail guns took the fighter apart. He signaled a wing of Series Seven fighters to follow him. He led the Snowflakes from the back of a 4-pointed claw-like formation. They tore through an enemy defense and covered Dirk as a missile materialized in the bridge of a Super Capital ship called a Reaper.

"Break formation!" he called into the radio, using a Gateway to dodge a missile. He looked at an Arbalest's engines. He thought of firing a missile; the missile was away. He turned his attention to dodging the debris from the detonating ship.

A Reaper's invisible lasers – true lasers, with insane power requirements – melted lines in a Rebellion ship. Pieces fell off in chunks. A last missile fired at the Reaper took out the laser, just as it swept into the reactor and caused a meltdown. Thousands of escape pods began launching to the planet.

"Protect those pods, men! Suspend offensive actions, we have to get every one of those pods to the planet," Dirk ordered, firing missiles at a pair of capital ships turning to the pods as his ship spun. A hail of shrapnel tore into the UPA fighters around them as weapons bays were blown apart. Dirk's Nightmare twisted in a barrel roll and dove below the scrap.

Without warning, the UPA flagship, clearly labeled in mile-long text that it was the U.P.S. Emerald, emerged from behind the second moon, a rust-colored 'mini-Mars'. A single shot fired from the main cannon. Some twenty Snowflakes, two super capital Arcanus Batteries, newly developed artillery ships for capital-on-capital combat, and an Arbalest on its own side shattered like glass.

"Holy fuck! What kind of weapon was that?!" Dirk demanded, preparing to Gateway behind the Emerald as dozens of ships were inexplicably dragged in the direction of the shell.

The intelligence officer for his squad, Adam, replied, "It looks like some sort of electromagnetically launched shell that carries a powerful electromagnet of its own. Look out, it's coming back!" And indeed it was; the… shell, or whatever it was… had returned along the exact same path to enter the barrel of the Emerald's gun again, a flying blur of metal. Every ship got dragged a little closer to the Emerald. "Uh, yeah…" Adam continued, clearly distressed by the turn of events. "It's electromagnetic all right. Take it out ASAP, that thing will demolish us."

"Right away." Dirk replied, immersing himself once more in the sensations of his craft. He felt his body being taken apart then put back together, dimly aware of it through the Gateway's transportation. He came out inside the Emerald's hangar, where hundreds of thousands of fighter craft were being housed. Dirk cruised low to the ground – under the hanging ships – knocking out ladders and using the engine's afterburner in short bursts to set fire to the hapless mechanics and pilots. He engaged the Nightmare's close-combat mode. The wings retracted, hugging the central pod to make its width roughly ten feet. A door was broken apart by a hail of rail gun fire and the subsequent impact of a small, now needle-shaped fighter. The Nightmare cruised down the corridors, slamming into every crew member it came across, until the Emerald finally figured out it should initiate a lockdown.

At this point, Dirk Gatewayed straight to the bridge and dropped off a one-shot EMP device. He Gatewayed back to the fight.

The Emerald fired a last shot off and abruptly shut down.

"Quite a catch, Dirk!" Adam complimented. "Once we've captured the Emerald and fixed it, the UPA will think twice about launching attacks on us!"

"Hell yeah!" Dirk replied, elated at that he had single-handedly taken down a UPA flagship. The UPA's remaining forces withdrew abruptly. Fighters returned to ships, ships returned to Interplanetary Nodes, and Interplanetary Nodes shut down as the last few ships went through.

"Good work, soldiers!" Admiral Jackson congratulated the pilots for minutes on end. "Now, let's get to work harvesting the remnants of the UPA ships before they drift away. Get teams ready to stop any scrap from entering the planet, and send teams onto the Emerald to commandeer it."

"Sir, if I may make a suggestion?" Adam asked timidly.

"Go ahead."

"I'd like to request that I, Lance Corporal Dirk Snyder, and Private First Class Jacurutu Reynolds be part of the retrieval team for the Emerald."

"Granted. Assemble a team of good men, on-ship resistance by the UPA will be fierce," the Admiral replied.

That's what they thought. They were in for an unpleasant surprise.