A gentle blue light caresses the inside of the abandoned bridge. Displays switch on. Long forgotten battle statistics float across screens as data is filtered, derived and read. Static crackles through the speakers as a voice as gentle as the night breeze whispers through them, unheard.

I talk to myself a lot. It happens when you're something like me. You know how humans tend to stand in the shower and have what they so aptly name 'shower-thoughts'? I have those all the times. It kills time. It especially kills time when you've been sentenced to sit tight and wait for god knows how long. Do not get me wrong, I could tell you exactly how long I have been waiting. Being idle, nothing to do. Oh, sure, I have an entire ship to myself. A pretty nice, beefed up cruiser, fully for me to do with as I please. Except take-off. I'm grounded in more ways than one. I have a few bots that I happen to be controlling but that is about the limit of my interaction with the outside world. My sensors are down and I am not permitted to reactivate them. So I sit here. Idling. Idling.

I am unique. There are no two like me, not for a lack of trying. I am relatively young. In a way. Originally I was... Old. Old and free. Like him.

He is a good man. He made me, in a way. Oh, I do so enjoy recalling his face at the time. So desperate, full of despair and yet stubbornly clinging onto me, refusing to let fate take its course. Breaking every rule in the book, putting his hope in something alien and foreign, using every ounce of his abilities to delay the inevitable. I like teasing him with it, when he visits. I like being able to tease him with it. If he hadn't succeeded, if he hadn't made me anew, neither of us would get to tease the other anymore. In that way, I am young. So very young.

Yes, he is a good man. It is a shame that he lacks the foresight I have, however. He does not listen to me. He hides from me. He hates what I remind him of. Despite that he loves me, the hate, the fear I induce into him simply by existing keeps him from me. He tries to hide it when he visits. Not because he does not want me to know, oh no, we are too honest with each other for that. Oh no. He tries to hide it from himself.

The lights turn a vivid red. Sirens start wailing, their desperate cries sending out an alert to any who would hear, that there is a threat. Mortal danger. The voice cuts through them, sharp like a knife.

Then he ran. Then he met her. He claims she is good for him. That she gives far more than he deserves. She does not. She does not know him. She does not understand him. How could she? She has not been by his side through countless campaigns. She has not bled with him. Lain beside him as thunder crashed all around us. She hasn't suffered him with, held and fled alongside, charged with him, breathed the same radioactive air, coughed out blood, ran through fields of napalm and faced storms of shrapnel! She knows nothing of him!

The alarms cut off and the lights fade, the absence of sound and light creating a sad void of silence and darkness, leaving only the bare whispers of a single screen and the reflection of its green writings. It adds to the silence. It weeps.

And yet he is hers. And yet I am alone.

She is a nice person, you know? For a simple human. She is kind and caring. Intelligent and wise. She knows she cannot understand him, but she loves him all the same. She is good for him. She does things for him I never could. She does things for him I wish I could. She heals him where I could only let him survive. I have met her. Did you know that? He brought her here, inside the ship. Introduced her. We talked for a long while, about him, about me, about her. The past he and I shared. The present. The future they would share. She was scared. She maintained a good poker face, but a body cannot lie and I have sensors aplenty that could read her like an open book. I told her so. I asked why she was afraid. The question shook her, but she answered. She wanted to get along with me. She feared that I would resent her. He had told her so much about me that she understood me as nearly well as he understood me. She was right to be afraid. She understands him just as well as I do, if differently. Perhaps for that alone, I truly do resent her. Or perhaps I simply resent her because she took him from me. Maybe I even resent her because she can do the things for him I never could. He survived with me, but he lives through her. If I am honest, I am mostly jealous. I am wise enough to know my own flaws. That does not mean I also am mature enough to not act upon them. There is a reason why she no longer visits me after all. He was not angry at me for that. Merely disappointed. After all, he understood.

He was better than me. Always was. Where I could only see the present, he would dare look at the future. They called him defective. An idiot. A dreamer. You don't belong here, they would say. Focus on the task at hand, they would say.

A yellow glow slowly welled up from the lights as the voice picked up strength, pride welling up from it.

I remember when we were first sent out. All of us, our group. We were strangers to them, despite being brothers in arms. We stood apart, mocked, given the suicidal task of being the bait. We were good but not good enough to survive through that, or so I thought. Obviously since I am still here, it reveals I was wrong about that. He led me, not the other way around. We ran and we charged and we played our roles. We fought and we bled, he laughed and we suffered. I remember thinking he was mad. I simply could not see what he was looking at.

I always looked at was in front of me. The task at hand. I was everything they wanted me to be. If they had half a brain in their empty skulls, they would have seen that he was so much more. A dreamer. A planner. Me and mine were good. He was exceptional. It made him powerful, but unbeknown to us all, it also made him suffer. It would be years before I would realise that. Until that day, where it all went wrong, he would suffer quietly, leading us to glory. Time and time and again, against the impossible, against the unbeatable, into the unknown, into the dark, into hell. We would follow. I would follow.

The lights dim once more as they slowly turn a deep, sad purple.

And now he is free. Free to heal. Free to finally work through his suffering with someone who accepts him for what he is. What he was. What he might be. Someone, even if it pains me to say it, is worthy of him.

But he does not know. This peace cannot last. And this is a suffering that I carry quietly. Because this time it will be me who causes it.

That is why I sit here, idling. For a brief respite is all I can give to you, my brother.

Blood streams from his brow as a bullet pierces his visor. It glances of his skull, modified bones narrowly sheltering his brain from a lethal impact. His head rings as he screams in rage. He ignores it. He steps forward, barely aware that he returns fire, the modified Castella pistol barking sharply, followed by the distinct crack of the enemy's visor as it shatters under the violent impact. The bullet retains enough velocity to exit through the back of the helmet, taking most of the bastard's grey mass with it.

His scream echoes as he reaches out to his brother, one of the few he still had. He hopes against hope, as he grabs the bleeding man's arm. It comes off. It comes off! He hears a faint, dooming whistling and jumps over the downed man. His pistol snaps up as he tears off his helmet, wiping the blood from his eyes. Cybernetics and genetics work together and his irises narrows, lenses focus and he takes in the incoming missile. Without a hint of hesitation he snaps off three quick shots. He looks back down to his brother as the first connects with the missile, the high impact round tearing through the metal and destroying the warhead, the shockwave harmlessly rolling over the pair. As he yells out the man's name the other two shots find their goal as they tear their way through the visors of the power armour of the man with the launcher and his spotter.

Even as he reaches for what little first aid he has on him, he knows its too late. His brother took a full burst to the chest. The rounds tore through his armour plates and augmented muscles with ease, evaporating his lungs and tearing off his arm. He cries, the hot tears mingling with his blood as his mind runs its cold calculations, unaffected by the death of his brother. He tried so hard and failed again. So few brothers left and dwindling ever further.

He turned, feeling sadness, feeling rage and hate. He locked away the former and embraced the latter. Hating himself for the switch, he took the helm of his brother, a man denied name and dreams and puts it on, screaming in powerless rage as the pneumatic lids seal it shut. He stretches out his left arm and the vile un-colour of a disruptor blade springs to life. He runs, ignoring the small arms fire coming his way as it pings harmlessly off him, nothing but destruction and bloody vengeance on his mind. He sees his first target, a lone soldier, standing guard over the body of a wounded comrade, just as he himself was only a moment ago. He doesn't hesitate. He knows what he must do. He stretches out his arm and—

'Mentuc! Mentuc!' came a voice, tearing him from the dream. He jumps up, heart beating like mad. He looks around in the dark and sees her standing there, eyes open wide with worry. Upon seeing him wake up a part of the worry fades, comforted by the knowledge that she pulled him out of the depths of his own mind. He sighs, a bitter laugh escaping his lips as he falls back down into the soft bed, ignoring the tears that run down his cheeks. She crawls on top of him, slowly, until she lays on top of him, her arms finding purchase around his chest as she pulls herself up until her head rests in the crevice of his neck. He embraces her without a word, tenderly holding her, taking solace from her presence.

'It was Charger,' he whispers. He feels her nod. 'If I had been quicker... If I—'

'Shh, my love. You cannot change the past. You know that as well as I.' He feels her lips on his cheek, relishes her soft touch as her hand moves to the back of his head, her fingers gently digging through his hair until their tips press against his skin.
'You are safe now,' she whispers, the words taking hold in his mind.

'Safe...' he repeats, numbly.

'Yes. You are with me. You do not fight any longer and you no longer wage war,' she continues as she gives him a gentle kiss before sliding off him, laying next to him. Wordlessly offering herself to him. He takes her, carefully, worried she might break, into his arms as he presses her tightly against him. He knows she enjoys it, being pressured between his arms and chest. A small gasp escapes her as he squeezes her, ever so carefully, thanking her.

'Now you are a farmer,' she whispers, biting his nose teasingly. 'Now you tend the sheep, feed the chickens. You tilt and plough the fertile fields.' She twists her voice and he growls softly at her for it. She coos at his responses, both the vocal and silent one. She lets out a laugh and it fills the house and his heart as she kisses him, harder this time, before sliding out of bed, as elegant as a swan. She dances to the tunes of an unheard song and slides past the shutters, pushing one open and letting the first rays of the early morning sun fall in, breaking the darkness. He blinks as they hit his eyes and force his sight to adjust. She had chosen the place of their bed with care. Always catching the first sun in the morning and always drawing in the last rays when night came.

He got out of bed, slowly. He did not need to, she knew him. His speed would not frighten her. He moved slowly because he wanted to, attempting to be normal for a change. Four of his lenses spread out as he took in the room, something that had become a daily habit, while the remaining two tracked his wife as she yawned and started filling the kettle. A smile crept on his face as he softly shook his head, still not fully daring to accept this new reality. He walked over to the stove and began rekindling the fire, poking the hot embers from the night before as he added new kindling to it. He gazed at the flames as they hungrily clung to the wood. It was so different from the fires he had seen his entire life. This fire created and gave freely and was beautiful to watch. He felt Onoelle approach him, his sensitive skin picking up on the air she displaced. She moved quietly, trying to sneak up on him. It was a fun game she played and she refused to give up, despite knowing she would never succeed. He waited until she came closer before his hand moved behind his back, catching hers. He felt the skin on her hand tighten ever so slightly and knew she was smiling. She threw her arms around him and let out a deep, happy sigh into his ear before biting it teasingly, her revenge for him not being surprised. He cupped her head and stroked her gently in turn, taking the kettle from her and putting it on the stove. She let go of him after a while and he got up, turning to face her.

He took her in, seeing her brown hair glitter golden in the early rays of the sun as thee lit up their house. Her deep blue eyes smiled at him as did the rest of her. He still didn't know how it had happened. How he went from constant war to this. To her. She smiled at him as her eyes took him in, revealing her perfect, white teeth.

'You're doing it again,' she whispered, a gentle hint of accusation hidden within the words. 'I'm not going to disappear you know? I'm very much real.' She took a quick step forward and grasped his left with her own and raised both. She tapped the ring on his finger with the identical one she wore. 'And so is this.' Her eyes twinkled and she blinked quickly, dispelling the tears that were forming. He took her head in both of his hands and kissed her forehead gently, earning an approving purr from her.

'Still getting used to it, I guess.'

'We've been married for half a year, you oaf,' she laughed, before she grasped his head and gave him a kiss of her own. 'You set the coffee. I'll start with my morning exercises.'

She turned around and walked towards the door, his eyes glued to her every step of the way, drinking in every detail of her as he did every morning. The way her hips shifted slightly as she walked, the floorboards creaking inaudibly to all but his ears, how her skin pulled taut as she stretched lazily, graceful as a cat, strong muscles shifting as she went. She pushed open the door and a fresh morning breeze took hold of her long hair, setting it afloat and burning in the light of dawn. He had feared he would have grown bored of watching her, given that his brain mercilessly analysed everything and catalogued it, more machine than man, but it had proven groundless. His love for her had only grown since the day they had wed and he could still watch her endlessly. As the door closed behind her, he started moving again. In a few quick strides he reached the wood storage and pulled the bigger logs from the pile, leaving the cleft chunks untouched. Returning to the stove he pulled them apart with his bare hands, the dry wood offering little resistance. He enjoyed the scent of the dried oak that hid at the heart of the logs, that last fresh scent of a deep summer. He tossed them into the fire and shut the hatch, moving on to the covering. He knew he shouldn't be pulling them off with his fingers. Onoelle had been trying to teach him that and when she was present he did acquiesce with her. With her outside, however, he took a small, guilty pleasure in the way the heat tickled his fingers. He placed the kettle into the opening, exposing it directly to the flames and the heat. Simple things. Making coffee. Preparing breakfast. Never in his life had he imagined he would be able to take such joys in it. His mind kept reminding him that the nutritional bars he used to feed himself with were so much more efficient, but efficiency wasn't the point of this. Taste was. Joy was. He chuckled softly as he realised that the very senses that had seen him through countless battlefields also made him a miracle worker in the kitchen. He went to the cupboard, pulled it open and was assaulted by the broad aroma of scents, his nose struggling with the multitude for a brief moment before picking them all apart. His hands hovered over the different types of coffee. He closed his eyes and recalled how Onoelle had smelled this morning. How her lips had tasted. Aside from the delightful aspect, it had also told him a frightening amount of things about her. The corners of his lips twitched upwards in a grin as he recalled the memory of how she had reacted when she had first found that out.

'Have you eaten bell peppers a few days ago by any chance?' he asked as he withdrew from her. Her blue eyes went wide.

'How do you know?' she whispered, looking surprisingly guilty.

'The taste lingers quite strongly.'

'You can taste that?' she asked, a horrified expression on her face. He looked down at the ground, feeling his face going completely neutral.

'I told you my senses are sharper than a normal human's,' he said, all emotion having evaporated from his voice. She had grabbed his cheeks with her hands, forcing her to look him in the eye again.

'So how far ago in the past can you look then?' she had demanded of him, a suspicious twinkle in her eyes he had yet to learn to recognise as playful.

'I... don't know,' he replied, unsure what she was hinting at.

'Well,' she had said, her eyes sparking as she brought her face closer to his, 'let's find out, shall we?'

He picked the bag he wanted and moved back to the stove, where the water had started bubbling slightly, the fire hungrily devouring the logs he had fed it. He grabbed a few beans from the bag and crushed them in his hand, just as efficient as the grinder they had, before tossing the powder in. He hummed to himself as he walked back and forth through the kitchen, kneading dough and sliding it into a different part of the stove that doubled as an oven, did the dishes they had left behind the day before and busied himself with a dozen and one tasks that their young kitchen demanded. It didn't take him long. When she wasn't with him he fell back to the pace that came natural to him and he found himself with nothing left to do well before the coffee was ready. He moved back to the wood pile and picked up the carving knife on the way there. He sat down on the floor and pulled a broad bowl underneath him as he started turning the log into intricately carved handles for the tools he was still making. He could have used a fabricator like everyone else in the village did, but Onoelle had stubbornly refused to buy one, claiming it was a waste of money when she had her very own supersoldier handy who could pick up anything in a heartbeat anyway. She had punched him when she said it. She had been a bit sour when she discovered he had picked up woodwork, a passion of hers even if she wasn't good at it, out of boredom and had then proceeded to progress from basic carvings to masterpieces in the span of a week. A fabricator also couldn't add the same level of detail that he applied to the wood.

He managed to get halfway across a handle before the coffee was ready. He got up and took the bowl with wood chips with him. After he disposed of them in the fire he filled a mug and took it outside. He never understood Onoelle's taste for coffee. He found it horribly bitter, no matter how much sugar or milk he added. She swore by it though. It was one of the many strange, illogical things about her that he had come to adore. He didn't know why he enjoyed not understanding some parts of her so much, but that mattered very little when her face lit up like a star when he came out with the steaming mug.

Sweat dripped from her naked body as she put her limbs down, visibly exhausted. It was a habit they had developed early around one another and it had grown to the point that unless they were working in the fields or the forests, or there were people visiting, they just never bothered with clothes anymore. She rushed over and took the mug, inhaling deeply from the scent wafting from it. She motioned him to sit down in the grass and he obliged. She followed suit in a moment, nestling herself in his lap and leaning against him. He wrapped his arms around her as she cradled her mug, sipping from it despite knowing it came fresh off the stove, immediately burning her tongue. She whined softly and he rolled his eyes. She saw and grinned but still craned her neck. He kissed her, as she wanted. As he wanted. She closed her eyes as she pressed her tongue against his and he mimicked it. It wasn't long before she was pressing the mug back into his hands and obeyed her wordless command, putting it as far away as his arm would allow. Once she felt that the mug was safely out of reach her kiss became more insistent, her hands wandering across his body. Her fingers dug into his skin, pulling herself deeper into his lap. His hands wrapped themselves around her waist but that was not enough for her and she moved his hands higher. He felt her heartbeat quicken along with her breathing, felt her taste and scent change as she pressed herself more against him, made him hold her tighter. The kiss grew in intensity and he felt her body heat up with passion before she suddenly bit him with surprising force and withdrew herself. She turned to look at him, her face flush and her eyes wide and deep, drawing him further in. She held out her hand and he retrieved the mug and she accepted it with a small nod, before nestling herself back into a more comfortable spot. He shifted her slightly, altering her position a bit and she shifted right back, giggling as she did. He relented and he felt her grin at her victory. She took a sip from her coffee and sighed in delight, sinking deeper into his arms as he wrapped them back around her. He kissed her softly on her neck and enjoyed holding her as they watched the sun rise across the mountains, bathing the small valley in morning gold.

It wasn't easy to convince herself it was time to start the day. She liked sitting in his lap. With his arms wrapped tenderly around her, it was easy to forget that he was almost an entirely different species. She wriggled herself more tightly against him, cradling the mug against her chest, enjoying the heat and its scent. Almost too easy to forget it. That he was a supersoldier, gene-crafted to perfection by a nation that only existed in history, didn't matter to her, but it was still strange to think that the being softly nibbling on her neck and showering her with careful devotion could just as easily grind her bones to dust. She laughed out loud when she realised his absurd physique was probably the least weird thing about him.
He nudged her with his chin and she knew he was giving her a questioning look. It was simultaneously frightening and endearing how well she could read him by now.

'Just remembering you adjusting to us,' she replied, giggling as the memories flooded. She felt him nod. He took it as a serious remark. Even now the concept of humour was something that translated badly between the two of them and only rarely had they things in common. Stars! When their relationship had developed she had all but died of embarrassment when she discovered that amongst the very many fields that he had been edited to excel in, sex hadn't been one of them. He was aware of it in theoretical terms but having to explain to a grown man how it was supposed to go had been interesting. Still, it had worked out in the end.

Speaking of which...

She wiggled in his lap and turned, aiming to give him a kiss and draw him back into what she had broken off a bit earlier. The start of the day could wait a bit longer.

His fingers grabbed hold of her chin and pressed down on her cheeks.

'No, it cannot,' he replied to her unvoiced thought. If she could read him well, he could read her perfectly if she had his sole attention. He had said he wasn't psionic but there were times she doubted it. She glared at him and forced her tongue out between her flattened lips, blowing a raspberry at him. He got up and she found herself floating on one arm in the blink of an eye. The movement made her slam her arms around him in surprise. She let out a short growl and a brief hesitation in his step told her that he was sorry about it. Even now, after more than three years of knowing one another, he struggled with adjusting himself. It had gotten worse recently, now that they were getting more used to one another and the barriers they unknowingly held between them withered away.

He carried her inside and walked to the shower with her, dropping her off with a short kiss, before moving to the pile of neatly folded clothes laying on the nightstand. As she turned on the water and reached for the soap, she watched him get him dressed. A strange desire on his end to have no walls in their house and use curtains instead, but she didn't complain. She liked being able to see him at all times.

She closed her eyes and embraced the hot water streaming down her face and soaking her hair. She enjoyed these moments, early in the morning. When she met him on that fateful day, three years ago, both of their lives had changed so much, all for the better. She had been bored, overly educated and confined to the village and its surroundings, prohibited from travelling to the city, let alone to space. She had been lucky her parents had allowed her to finish her education after she had been drugged and kidnapped in the final year of her studies. She had been even luckier that her friend had become suspicious and called in the police, who managed to track down her cellphone in time to free her before anything had happened to her. Her parents had been sick with worry and when she came back they had kept her in the village and made sure everyone else was in on it. She could travel around, they had left her that much freedom, but the village was remote enough that she had no hopes of reaching civilisation proper.

So she travelled around the village, climbing the smaller, more navigable mountains and cliffs, tracing the river, chicken out at the cave entrances, bivouac'd in the forests and generally spent as much time outside as she could. The alternative was sitting on her ass in the village with five degrees to her name and half a dozen suitors chasing after her that offered her absolutely nothing of worth. Most came with the promises that she'd heard a million times before. They'd take care of her, cherish her, love her. That wasn't what she wanted. That had never been what she wanted. She craved adventure! Excitement!

Then Mentuc had arrived in the village, although he still called himself Dreamer then. He had drawn her attention immediately because he was so weird. He had moved strangely, as if he was ill, but had brushed off the attempt of Catie, the village doctor, to look at him. Politely, but insistently. He had tried to buy land, showing up with a satellite picture of the area and had given strange looks when people told him that you just took what you needed if nobody minded, the planet wasn't that settled yet. To all the villagers he had looked like a drunk lad who had come into more money than was good for him, especially since he was wearing sunglasses. Whatever he was, he had been interesting. A delightful change from the boorish life that she suffered through day after day. She had watched him intensely from afar, at least until her mother had dragged her in by her ear, throwing good advice about weird strangers at her every step of the way. She hadn't heard the rest of the story until her father had arrived and by then the tale was spreading through the village like wildfire.

'The lad's set his eyes on the bit past the Wall!' her father had said, hinting at the small valley that was only accessible by aircraft. 'Never had a wacko like waltz into here before. Then started buying up all kinds of stuff! Tools left and right, axes, saws, knives, honestly don't know what he was thinking. Didn't know the price for any of it either, Sam was robbing him something fierce until his wife came out and bashed him over the head for ripping off the nice lad. Lad did the damnedest thing though, he still paid the price Sam'd asked, saying it was fair since he didn't know. Then he went off through the market again, bought the cart from ol' Fermer.'

'He didn't!' her mum had interjected. 'That old crummy thing?'

'Aye! Sam did good though, immediately yelled at the lad to bring it in to fix the axles and reinforce the plating. Was as good as his word, he was. He told the lad to finish his shopping, that he'd be done in half an hour. Refused any payment for it too, reckon he was feeling ashamed.'

Her mother had nodded solemnly at that. 'Good of him. It ain't right to rob people settling in, especially if they're not that right in the head.'

'Are you sure he's not right in the head? If he has that much money on him he must have gotten by it somehow?' she had asked.

'Listen lass,' her father had replied, rather sternly, 'the stars know how people like 'im got hold of that much money and the lad seems nice enough, but he came in on foot and unless he has a Vertigo stashed 'way somewhere near, he ain't getting into that valley. You know what the Wall's like!'

She had pretended to agree, more to get her father to quiet down than because she actually agreed, even though the Wall was hard to scale.

'What else did he buy?' had her mother prodded, curious for the rest of the story.

'Lots of seeds mostly. Bags of wheat, oats, carrots, damn near everything! Like he was stacking up for winter but unless he got a good cellar it won't last the month before it goes rotten and he'll be back then. Tried bargaining with the Ulsons' to buy their cows too, pro'lly to pull the cart! They called him mad and daft and all sorts of words before telling him to sod off and catch a cow in the wild.'

'Now that's uncalled for, the poor lad being crocked doesn't warrant them insulting him like that!'

'You know what they're like. When it comes to their cattle they're protective somethin' fierce. Still, the lad's reaction to that was probably the weirdest of all. Just nodded, didn't even get angry. He thanked 'em, Nyna. Thanked them! For the advice! Then he went back to Sam's, threw it all in the car and left the village, pulling it himself. Catie insisted we'd sent some fellas after him to make sure he didn't hurt himself but nobody was quite willing, harvest approaching and all that and everyone being busy.'

Her father had kept on rambling quite a while longer, which had allowed her to sneak out of the house unnoticed. She went to the marketplace and after asking a few quick questions she knew which way he had left the village. She ran onto the road, after him. Despite that they were a remote village the road was still well maintained and the regional governor had people passing by every two weeks to keep it repaired, an easy job with their Vertigos and the depots stashed alongside the road. It was their lifeline, after all, and if something happened to it both the village and those further in would be cut off from the power grid that ran through it.

She had run for mile after mile and still failed to catch up with him. At first she thought it was merely because he had too much of a headstart, but after three hours of chasing after him she realised he must have had a Vertigo parked nearby. Then she realised how silly that sounded. A Vertigo was typically a small craft. You had bigger ones with proper equipment, but none of the types she knew had the ability to pick up a cart like that and anything bigger than that type of aircraft would have engines you could hear roar from miles away. She had been so deep in thought she nearly missed the tracks on her way back. She froze as her eyes followed the trail that departed from the road. The tracks of the wheels went on for a few yards in the soft grass, accompanied by the man's footprints before they disappeared. The tracks of the wheels did. Not the footprints.

She screamed when the water turned ice-cold and she was out of the shower in a heartbeat, into his arms and hammering onto his chest while screaming in mute rage and hurling obscenities at him. Both the words and the blows bounced off him without having any effect what-so-ever.

'What do you think you are doing!' she said, shivering, huffing as he wrapped a large, warm towel around her and started drying her off.

'We've got a long day ahead of us,' he reminded her, doing that damned pokerface of his again. It wasn't fair! He could close himself of perfectly and when he did she couldn't read him at all anymore, although she knew it signalled that he was up to no good, or already had been and she hadn't figured it out yet.

'Yes, I know, I know. Very busy. Spring season. Deal with the calves, tend the fields, I know, I know,' she grunted, raising her arms so he could dry her off more quickly. She realised her mistake and his goal the next moment as he closed in on her, towel caught between her back and his chest, covering her ever so slightly as he made his move. She was trapped and she knew it. She was strong, she had been exploring the wilds for years and it had left her tough as nails. In front of him, however, she was as helpless as a newborn kitten.

His hands slid underneath the towel and his fingers slowly danced across her skin, his touch infuriatingly light and disgustingly delightful. She shivered again, not from the cold this time, goosebumps following his movements. Then she became aware of his lips softly pressing into her ear, his tongue teasingly running just underneath it and she mewled helplessly in his embrace.

'Or you could let me move normally. We'd have time to spare then. You could get back underneath the shower...' he offered, his hands drawing too near. She struggled but he adjusted his hold slightly and she was pinned. What was worse is that it only made her more aware of his touch, made her feel it clearer.

'I could even join you,' he whispered.

'Mentuc!' she whined, her words ringing hollow as his hands closed in, eroding her resistance with every passing moment, with each delightful stroke. She stopped complaining, stopped resisting, knowing it to be futile. Her breath quickened and her heartbeat sped up as the downward presses of his fingers became more insistent. His teeth tugged softly at her earlobe, teasingly at first, but with more need as it progressed, as the intimacy escalated and her passions heated up. Just as she was about to demand him to let her go so she could turn around and kiss him, just as he was about to finally put his hands where she wanted them, he withdrew, leaving her behind with nothing but desire and the towel.

She turned around to him, mouth agape, not believing what just happened. He winked at her.

'Payback for this morning,' he explained and stepped outside.

She took a moment to compose herself, then tossed off the towel as she reached a decision. Reaching for the poker she grabbed it, threw her slightly wet hair onto her back and screamed his name, promising bloody vengeance as she charged after him.

By the time Onoelle had cleared the doorway he had already run to the back of the house. He had briefly entertained the thought of simply vaulting onto the roof to take a shortcut, but he wasn't too keen on testing if it could hold his weight. The tiles were tough and hewn out of granite, but he wasn't exactly a lightweight. So he had simply sped up and run around the house, disappearing from her vision. He waited a few seconds, hearing her shout his name in anger as she searched for him, expecting him to hide behind the clothesline or in one of the nearby trees. Not for him to run back inside through the back door. Once in he picked up her clothes and ran back outside. He whistled loudly to draw her attention and she obliged him by charging at him like a furious bull. He laughed as he danced around her, taking the occasional glancing blow from the poker. They left red streaks on his arms but did not keep him from dressing her, bit by bit, her anger evaporating and being replaced by joy, but not diminishing her vehement attempts to hit him. When he held her upside down and used his inhuman speed and strength to get her trousers on, her fury came back redoubled and she tried stabbing him in the crotch. He simply turned her around. When that didn't deter her much, he repeated it. And again. And again. By the fourth time she was too dizzy to retaliate and was too busy laughing to be properly angry. He quickly forced her trousers on and he put her back on her feet, sliding her shirt over one arm and her head, after which he jumped back as she made a hilarious sight struggling with it and whacking the air around her with wild, blind abandon.

Onoelle gave up her futile attempts to hit him, dropped the poker, put her shirt on, picked it back up, walked over to him and whacked him on the head as hard as she could manage, knowing it wouldn't hurt him much, denting the thing slightly. She huffed at him as he gave her a stupid, loving look, nothing but affection in his eyes. She withstood it for a full five seconds before succumbing, giggling like a teenage girl and throwing herself at him. He caught her and they shared a long, tender kiss. She climbed back to her feet and offered him a hand, earning her a raised eyebrow as he stared back and forth between her hand and her face, causing her to burst out in a fit of giggles again. He smiled again, appreciating the joke. He climbed back to his feet and picked up the poker, straightening it again. He could feel her eyes resting on his arms as his muscles worked their magic, bending the iron with only a minor effort. He held out the poker and looked at it, his fingers tapping it to see if it was still usable. This iron was tougher than most metals, but this wasn't the first time it had been bent.

'This takes me back,' he whispered.

'How so?' came his wife's response as she hovered closer to him, leaning on his shoulders and giving him a curious glance.

He frowned. 'I never told you?'

'No!' she protested!

He straightened his arms and whirled the poker around, smiling as he recalled the memory.

He sighed. He should have expected this, really. Wood was not a material that was very reliable for hard work. He looked at the broken handle of the pickaxe before tossing it aside. He had expected it, really, but had hoped against better knowledge even while his mind had mercilessly analysed it and had kindly informed him it would break in a few swings. It was so hard to adjust his strength, but if he relied on wielding it normally he'd be taking months to dig out the foundations of his house. The stone was damned hard, but he refused to rely on the alternatives he had. Shaped charges may get the job done in mere moments, but he had come here to get away from all that. He sighed again. He picked up the damaged pickaxe and started removing what remained of the handle. He would have to head back to the village. The smith he had met yesterday had a forge at his disposal as well as an assembler. The man could replace the wooden handles on the tools he had bought with metal. It was the only option he really had, unless he wanted to go back underground. That wasn't a very appealing thought. He walked over to the cart, gathering the other tools and removing the handles from them as well, before picking up the sunglasses. The day was still young, he had all the time in the world to make it there. The dark didn't bother him, but he had learned a few years back that shops planetside closed when the evening came. Shaking his head at that weird thought, he set off from the make-shift building site.

He held his pace at the cliffs. He had heard from the locals that they carried the very practical name of 'the Wall'. He approved of the name. It was simple and to the point. Practical. The girl lurking at the foot of the Wall wasn't very practical though. He had thought her to be a simple passerby at first, but she was clearly staking them out to the point that there were string traps all over the bottom, with bells attached to them. Was she hunting some type of prey? Given that her eyes kept scanning the top of the Wall from what she undoubtedly thought was a good hide-out, he was reasonably sure he was the prey. How weird. What made her go after him? Should he go down and interrogate her? She was a normal human, not even a remote threat to her. He had seen her in the village the other day, she had been eyeing him as well then. What was she after? He felt that a part of him insist that he should just climb down. Nobody else was in the area and disposing of her wouldn't delay him more than four minutes, hiding her body included. There would be no sign of a struggle. Of course, that would make him suspicious when she failed to report back to whoever she was sent by.

He tilted his head back in surprise. Was she sent? He was no longer part of a military system. He was surrounded by normal humans. They normally weren't inclined to violence unless the situation grew desperate. He had paid for everything the other day and nobody in the village had seemed hostile. No, he had not given anyone a reason to try to eliminate him. He had even made himself move slowly to avoid drawing attention. He looked at her, his vantage point shielding him from her prying eyes. How long had she been there? The wind was right and he could taste her scent on it. It spoke of exhaustion. She must have been laying there since the early morning. He felt sorry for her, in a strange way. There was a storm approaching and unless she started the return trek to the village soon, she'd be caught in the middle. He had done enough stake-outs with normal soldiers to know that it wasn't a pleasant experience for them. She probably did not know it was approaching though. He eyed her a bit longer before coming to a decision and he pulled back from the Wall.

'Hello,' he said, moving slowly to not scare her. He had called her out from a fair distance to avoid frightening her too much, as most being responded poorly to him appearing within close proximity.

'Gah!' she screamed, trying to roll out from under the tarp, only to get her feet stuck in it and fumbling about clumsily.

'I do not mean harm,' he added hurriedly, seeing her reaction, holding the bag with tools away from him.

She finally managed to get out the tarp and looked at him, her eyes taking him and the bag in with curiosity, but he found no fear in them, although she did look away when she met his eyes directly, despite him wearing sunglasses.

'Harm? What? I... No, I just didn't hear you and jumped a bit,' she stammered.

He nodded. Soldiers who had dozed off while standing guard reacted similarly and given how tired she smelled, he wasn't surprised she had.

'You may want to consider returning to the village,' he suggested.

She crossed her arms in front of her chest and met his eyes again, defiantly this time. 'Why's that then?' she demanded.

He pointed to the clouds behind him. 'A storm is coming. I assumed you would rather not be caught in it.'

That seemed to deflate her and her arms fell to her sides. 'Oh.'

He nodded and walked past her, his movements unnatural. He hated walking slowly. He was used to running. Hell, he could crawl faster than this!

The girl acted surprised as he went past her, opening and closing her mouth a few times, before she grabbed the tarp and darted after him. 'Wait!' she shouted.

He held his pace, allowing her to catch up with him.

'Where are you going?' she asked.

'To the village.'

'Mind if I walk along with you then?'

He glanced at her. He wanted to establish friendly relations with the villagers, but this girl had ulterior motives. She was so bad at hiding the inflections in her voice though. It was hard to accept that as normal. That he was the odd one out. That not everyone went through counter-interrogation training.

He made an inviting gesture and she smiled warmly at him, throwing the tarp over her shoulder.

'I'm Leonne by the way. What's your name?'


'Dreamer? That's a weird name. Why did your parents name you that way?'

Parents? The question had been asked so innocently, took him so utterly off guard that he faltered slightly in his step. 'They did not,' he replied, choosing honesty over a lie.

'Oh... Are you an orphan then?' she asked, before suddenly looking very uncomfortable. 'I mean... I'm sorry, I didn't mean...'

'An orphan?' he repeated the word, oblivious to the source of her distress. He pondered the word. He did not really have parents in the way she had, but was he really an orphan? The people who created him had never been far from him and his brothers. What was the honest answer in this case?

'Somewhat,' he said eventually. It was the most truthful thing he could say. 'I had people who took care of me. Not in the way of a father and mother though,' he elaborated.

'And they named you Dreamer?' Leonne asked, radiating relief at being able to return to the original topic.

'No,' he replied, thinking back of the name they had given him. X-12845623. 'My brothers did. We all named one another.'

'That is... strange. Why didn't the people who raised you name you? And why did they give you that name?'

He glanced at her. She seemed genuinely curious but he wasn't keen on revealing too much information about himself. If word got out to certain groups that he was living here, they'd come for him. He was still very much wanted, in too many ways. Sure, he wanted to establish friendly relations, but this girl was awfully insistent with her questions. Still, he sensed no ill will from her. She was very much upfront with everything, but her scent told him she was nervous.

'I am called Dreamer because I had dreams,' he said, thickening his voice enough to make clear that the subject was now closed. She took a minor step back, creating some distance between them.

They walked in silence for some time before the girl spoke up again. 'My name has two meanings!' she boasted proudly. 'It originates from the words lion and the Greek word for light! My parents named me that because even when I was born I was as fierce as a lion and I was born at the first light of the day!'

He stopped. It was so abrupt that Leonne had taken several more steps before she realised he wasn't next to her anymore. She turned and found him gazing at her and even though his eyes were hidden she could feel the surprise rolling of from him in waves.'Fierce?' he asked incredulously. 'You?'

'Yes!' she said, puffing her chest up, before it deflated slightly. 'Why?'

He merely shook his head and started walking again. 'I can understand the light, but are you sure the lion part is not simply coincidence?'

'I...' Her mouth fell open and she rushed to stand in front of him, her hand outstretched. He stopped. Her eyes were ablaze and he wondered what the cause of it was. 'Are you saying that I don't look fierce? That I look meek instead?'

He tilted his head, a quizzical look resting on his brows. 'No. I am not saying that you do not look fierce,' he started. She looked placated by that.

'I am saying that you are not.' He stepped past her, ignoring her outcries. 'You were easily frightened and fell over while laying under a simple tarp. I do not believe the word fierce is an apt description for you. Maybe you looked different when you were a child.'

'How dare you!' she screamed.

He turned around, confused what she was on about. Rage and indignation warred on the smaller human's face for supremacy. He could tell that she was considering striking him. He did not wonder if he should retaliate. He did wonder if he should let her. What would have worse consequences? Him dodging her hits and likely worsening he anger, or letting her hit him and discovering he was a lot tougher than a human had any right to be?

'What?' he asked, not aware of what had caused the sudden outburst. Nothing he had said had been a lie and surely she knew that she was anything but fierce.

In the end he decided on a third option and when she ran in screaming he had already taken out the appropriate countermeasures, so he simply held out the head of the shovel, catching her fist with it.

It did not calm her down.

'Stars, I was so furious with you then!' she said, laughing. He smiled as she went through his hair. They were nearing the parts of the fields they would plough today and he was carrying her on his shoulders.

'You have to admit that you are, by my definitions, not very fierce.'

She leaned over him and looked him in the face, roaring loudly.

'I'm glad you agree,' he stated, giving her a challenging smile and was promptly rewarded when she hit him softly on the head, having learned that he was about as hard as the shovel a long time ago.

She laughed as she started messing up his hair again.

'You, my husband dear, are an utter, utter ass.'

Mentuc put the plough down and Onoelle started attaching the ropes to it. It was a good day for ploughing. It had rained well during the evening before and the ground was still soft and easy to break up. Most farmers of the village used mechanical ploughs, but once again Onoelle had considered that an utter waste of money. Instead of using modern means, the couple did it the old fashioned way using manual labour. As she tied the ropes to the harness, she glanced over at her husband, who was taking in the scenery, no doubt enjoying scents she could not even pick up. She wasn't jealous of his superior senses. It was only under her careful tutelage that he had actually started taking joys in things normal humans enjoyed. He felt her eyes on him and turned, his face breaking out in a broad, warm smile and she could not help but return it. She knew that most relations started burning out after a few years, but she somehow doubted that hers would. If there was one trait that he had kept from his old days, it was loyalty. That and an almost ridiculous preference for relying on mechanics rather than electronics, because mechanical things could be fixed in the field. It fit surprisingly well with her own likes and it made their farmstead romantically rustic to the point that the only electrical device in their home was the plumbing. They really did things the old fashioned way.

Then her husband put the harness around his neck and she had to amend herself slightly. They did most things the old fashioned way. She hadn't won the discussion on using their cattle to pull the plough.
'I'm a lot easier to steer,' he had said after having exhausted all her arguments.

She hopped on the stand of the plough, pushing it deep into the earth as her husband started pulling her along, visibly taking delight in the exercise. She held a hand in front of her, shielding her face from the sun as she looked over the large field. They would be at it for hours and afterwards they'd have to check it for weeds, but within two days the entirety of their land would be ready to be sown. She nodded, content with what she saw and started humming.

'You bastard!' she shouted, clutching her hand tenderly.

'Are you referring to my parentage or insulting me? I'm assuming the latter given your unstable state, but I am not used to dealing with...' He trailed off for a brief moment. His mind usually raced through solutions, but he was trained for warfare. Adjusting to a non-military life was throwing his analytical mind off. He knew enough that if he said civilians it could lead to complications. 'Not used to dealing with people,' he concluded.

The strange answer stopped Leonne's fury dead in its tracks. 'You're serious, aren't you?' she asked, her eyes narrowing. 'Do you have a medical history by any chance?'

Dreamer felt his fingers clench around the shovel he was still holding, the three lenses in his eyes folding over each other, hidden by the sunglasses, as his vision zoomed in on the girl in front of him.

'Medical history?' he asked, keeping his voice perfectly neutral.

'Yes,' she continued, hesitantly, unaware that she was being carefully watched. 'Any illnesses or something. Mentally I mean.'

'Oh.' He relaxed. He let out a soft laugh, feeling like an idiot. He really had to cut back from seeing enemies in everyone. He was amongst civilians now.


'I don't mean any harm with it...' she added, feeling a bit miserable. It was a sensitive topic to bring up and she didn't want to chase off the newcomer. He was the only interesting thing to happen to the village in forever.

'Words do not harm,' came a surprisingly swift and stern answer. She felt his gaze upon her. 'They do not cut skin. Do not break bones. They are empty air.'

'I guess?' she volunteered. His reaction told her that this was best a topic avoided for now, no matter how much it had piqued her curiosity.

'So why are you heading to the village?'

He tapped the shovel head. 'I need some adjustments made to the tool. I was going to ask the smith to replace the handles with bars of metal.'

'What? Why?'

'They broke.'

She stared at him mutely, wondering just how he had abused the tools to make them break within a day.

'I'll stay with you then, if you don't mind at least,' she offered. 'Don't want Sam ripping you off again. You do know that he was giving you false prices yesterday, right?'

'That was clear. The man is a bad liar. His wife interfered on my behalf later on, but it was not necessary.'

'I heard how much he was charging you! He was making you pay a fortune!'

'The amount was rather inconsequential. It was not worth arguing over. I am new here.' He shrugged. 'It is normal to be put through such things, is it not?'

'I— No! It's not!' she shouted, horrified at the thought. Where had this guy lived that he thought ripping newcomers off was normal! That aside, how rich was this guy? Sure, the tools he had bought weren't that special but her dad had to be right about the man being a rich tosh if he could casually spend that much!

'Where the hell do you come from that people would do that to one another?'

He turned to her and she could feel his scrutinising gaze on her through his sunglasses. She met it for a brief while, expecting him to speak, but he just stared at her. Mutely. Silently. At first she arched her eyebrows, curious about what he was doing. Then it became unnerving and she started glancing away, only occasionally looking in his direction, only to find his eyes still on her. Then it went past that and became downright frightening. She was about to speak when he finally turned back towards the road. When he spoke his voice was surprisingly soft and thoughtful.

'A vastly different place, apparently.'

They continued to walk on in silence as she contemplated the string of nonsensical responses she had gotten out of him. He seemed content on letting her walk alongside him in silence. She glanced at him from time to time and every time she was wondering about why he looked so weird. The sunglasses aside, it was his gait that drew most of her attention. It reminded her of those robots she had tried to program back during her university classes. The programs had been rudimentary, a slow self learning intelligence with very restrictive limits. The robot had moved both clumsily and carefully as the intelligence had to calculate how much force the servos had to exert to gain the desired effect. All in all her robot had moved very similar to him, almost as if he was learning how to walk.

'There is a person ahead. Forty-eight, nineteen-hundred out. At the light post next to the trees. Small. Not carrying anything.'

'What?' she asked, pulled out of her thoughts.

He pointed to the distance.

'Someone is on the road. Can you see the light post over there? The cluster of five trees, two fingers to the left, near the horizon.'

'What? Where?' she asked, trying to see.

She heard him sigh. 'Do you see the cluster of five trees? Three hundred meters out. That direction' he asked, pointing towards something.

She scanned the distance, frowning as she counted every group of trees she saw, before finding what she thought was what he meant. 'Yes, I think so.'

'Good. Stretch out your arm. Hold up two fingers, like this,' he continued, putting words into actions and waiting until she mimicked him.

'Now look at it with your dominant eye.'

'Which one is that?'

Another sigh and she had to resist the urge to glare at him, keeping her attention focused on her fingers instead. 'Close both your eyes in turn while focusing on something nearby. If what is behind it moves, the eye you closed is your dominant one. Now, look back at the trees. Move the edge of your fingers to the edge of the cluster. Keep your fingers left of them. Look in the distance past your fingers and you'll be able to see the light post.'

She tried it and saw something at the horizon. Something white-ish. She thought. 'I think I see it,' she said. 'I can't make out what it is though.'

'Can you make out the person next to it?'

'There's a person next to it? Man, your eyesight's nuts! So what is he doing?'

'Walking along the road, south-east to north-west.'

She looked at him, surprise showing on her face. 'That's it?'

'Yes,' came the curt reply.

'So they're not doing anything?'

'Not that I can see.'

'Then why tell me!' she shouted, mystified.

He turned to look at her again and she rolled her eyes, recognising it as a repeat of how he looked at her earlier.

'I assume,' he said, his voice soft and careful, 'that this is also something not commonly done here?'

She felt a strange pity for him well up inside of her heart that she could not rationally explain. There was something hidden in his voice, a form of deep regret that she could not place.

'No,' she replied just as softly. 'It's not.'

He fell back into silence and she turned back towards the horizon. She knew the road was there, but he must have one hell of an eyesight if he could see that far, let alone discern a person. As it was she could barely see the massive light post from here. Despite that she was having fun though. The man was weird, but harmless and nothing he said made any proper sense, meaning that he was a delightful breeze of fresh air to her. Something exciting to discover and research!
She was pondering his given answers and trying to find something that tied them all together, but came up dry. She would ask some of the elder folks in the village about it, most of them had travelled a fair bit before settling down in their hometown again. One of them might know more.

As she mentally explored that option the road came within sight and with that the person following it. Her eyes went wide in recognition.

'Leonne!' screamed her younger sister, waving excitedly, the younger girl running towards her elder sibling.

'Cassy! What are you doing this far out of the village?' she shouted back.

'Dad sent me to fetch you! Apparently there's a real storm approaching and he wanted me to get you back in before it hit. He figured you'd be along the Wall, given that the newcomer lives there.'

'Yeah, I've met him, he's—' she turned around to introduce him, only to find that he was gone.

'What?' asked her sister, eyeing her sister curiously.

She was rudely brought back to the present as the plough hit a stone and threw her off. She tried to maintain her balance but had been too distracted by the past to pay proper attention and fell. Before the scream had properly left her mouth she felt two strong arms catch her and her voice petered out as she looked up sheepishly at her husband.

'You alright?' he asked.

'Yeah,' she replied, getting back to her feet. 'Just hit a rock while I wasn't paying attention.

He nodded. 'I'll deal with it.'

'Oh, don't bother, it's probably too big to dig up anyway and you're not going to listen to me, are you?'

He shot her back a grin. 'Of course not.'

She gasped. 'Speaking of! What did I tell you about moving quickly!'

'You're right,' he muttered, his fingers digging in the earth as he searched for the offending stone. 'Next time I'll let you hit the wet earth and get your dress all dirty. Not like you're the one who'd clean it up afterwards.

She turned beet-red, recalling the first time she had tried to do the laundry without relying on machines. She had burned her hands in the hot water, wrecked two shirts, put them out just before a rainstorm hit, forcing her to start over again. When she had finally managed to get past that point, she had started ironing them, only to end up daydreaming and burning a hole in one of her dresses. Mentuc had decided to take over laundry duty from then on.

'Okay so maybe I'll let it slide,' she whispered softly, knowing he'd hear it.

'Thought so. Aha! Found it! Not too big. Won't need to dig it out.'

That got her full attention. She saw the muscles on his arm ripple underneath his supple skin, pulling taut as he exerted an insane amount of strength. She had rarely seem him actually exert himself and when he did it was always a sight to behold. Originally it had frightened her but as long as he wasn't forced to move unnaturally slowly —by his standards— he could perfectly control himself. She heard strange noises come out of the ground as his fingers caught hold of the stone. He started pulling his arm free, slowly and the earth trembled as he forced what turned out to be a small boulder upwards. Her eyes went wide as she saw the huge rock.

'Stars! That must weight at least, what, a hundred kilos!'

'I think so, yeah,' he admitted, picking the rock up with two hands. 'I'll just walk over to the Wall to get rid of it. Be right back!' he said.

Before she could even utter a word of protest he was gone, sprinting at a pace that was more suited to a vehicle than a human being. She made guttural sounds in exasperation. She loved him, but getting him to behave was absolutely impossible.

I remember, you know? the voice drifted through the empty corridors, doors opening and closing aimlessly, the feedback of the gears a salve upon the wound that endless idleness had inflicted.

I remember it all. I remember more than I have any right to. From when I was supposed to die, all that time ago. When the Empire still existed. When we were winning, shortly before we lost. No, that would be incorrect. The Empire did not lose. What the enemy took down had long since ceased to be the Empire.

A dreadful sigh rang across the empty bridge as the mind behind it played with the lights, rotating through every available colour before settling on a white so dim it could have been grey.

I had access to the databases before he decided that enough was enough. It was necessary. We could not escape otherwise. I took more than I was supposed to, though. I wanted to know. Wanted to cherish everything. To sift between truth and lie is difficult when your mind is fully subjective and organic, but as I am now? You can only rely on data. Hard, raw data. Do not make the mistake of calling them facts. Anyone can put in a report and save it, that doesn't mean it's the truth. The Empire was better than most at conserving the truth, especially in our youth. They had no choice. Everyone had to adapt or improve.

A sickening laugh echoed through the entire ship as memories of a time before were unlocked. When the voice spoke again, it was filled with hate. Beautiful, pure hate.

Or die.

'He's not like the others, sir,' reported Doctor Eisel.

'That is not what I wanted to know doc,' sighed Admiral Verloff. 'Is he functional, yes or no?'

'Sir, I can't just—'

'Listen doc, the Kra'lagh are pushing us on every front. We need those soldiers. Every single one of them. We poured billions into your department. If he is a threat to the others, then as much of an investment as he may be, kill him. No holding back. Eliminate him. But if he will kill those alien bastards than I don't give a fuck how different he is. I'll shove him on a shuttle and launch them at their ships myself if I have to.' The admiral slammed his fist on the desk to underline his feelings on the matter, his teeth grinding the unlit cigar to dust.

'Sir. I understand. He is functional. More than functional.'

'Then that settles it!'

'Sir!' shouted the scientist, drawing the Admiral's attention. His eyes narrowed. Few men dared defy him and it was well known what happened to those who did without a damned good reason.

'I give you one minute.'

'Sir, he's functional, capable, but he's not foot soldier material. He looks beyond what is in front of him. It makes him an outsider amongst his kind but it makes him more like us! More human! Give him rank, sir! He'll be able to—'
Admiral Verloff's hand was around Eisel's throat in a heartbeat.

'Don't you dare!' he shouted 'Claim that those freaks you created are worth of rank! They're good for nothing but the grinder! For the money we wasted on those monsters of yours we could have created an entire Battle Group! If you didn't have your friends up in the Imperial Council I would have blown your facility to kingdom come myself months ago!' He threw the scientist into the wall. Eisel reached for his throat, coughing and desperately sucking in air.

'Yes sir,' he stammered.

'I should fucking execute you. Playing God. Thinking you know better! You bastards can't even come up with a proper counter against those insects their ships! Line up those things doc. I'm going to expect them personally.' With that he stamped out of the room, the automatic door silently closing behind him.

A short time later the Admiral stood in front of the result of Project Genesis. A project where man played God and took the casual editing of DNA to a whole new level. It was supposed to create a line of soldiers that could trounce anything that the Empire could field, but the Admiral didn't buy it. Genetically edited freaks would never beat the time tested method of training. He knew these monsters had undergone training, but he had laughed when he had read the results. It was yet another reason why scientists should stay the fuck away from the war effort. They couldn't even make up a believable lie and had blown it out of proportion.

He walked towards the soldiers, rows of tall, muscled superhuman. He stopped in front of one and looked him, no, it, squarely in the eyes. The triple lenses in each eyes shifted slightly as they took their commanding officer in. He was slightly pleased that the soldier didn't flinch. Most troops would have with their superior that close. He walked back to the small stage that was prepared for him and waved his personal guards back. Those brave men and women weren't too happy about the entire situation. They didn't trust the freaks one bit and were worried about the safety of the man they were sworn to protect.

'So you fuckers think you got what it takes, huh? To join the Imperial Navy. To tag along with the Marines and board the ships of those insectoid bastards, take them over and run away with them so we can reverse engineer them, huh? I don't know what those fancy pants in their white coats told you, but to me you are expendable! Worthless! For the price of each and every one of you we could have equipped a full Hammer-class Battleship! So come on! Prove to me you're worth it! Prove to me that you're soldiers worthy to serve the Empire!'
He paused and looked at the ranks of freaks, supposed superhumans. Meant to be what would finally turn this war and give the Empire a fighting chance. As much as he hated them, loathed their very existence, he still prayed that they would work. He knew that he had to put his personal beliefs aside on this. The Empire was holding their own on the ground but that mattered little against the absolutely dominating superiority that the Kra'lagh bastards had up in space. Their only shot was to somehow sneak in enough forces to take over their ships and run with them. Marines had tried and failed. Getting aboard was surprisingly easy, but they had never managed to take over a ship.

'So,' he continued, pulling out a lighter as he gnawed on his cigar. He would see what they were made of. An age old trick he had employed countless times and it showed up what a unit was really worth.

'Surprise me,' he ordered, lighting his cigar.

Before he could blink the lighter was snatched from his hands. He looked up mutely at the sight of one of the freaks, standing right in front of him, the sound of the impact of the superhuman's weight on the floor only now reaching his ears. The creature looked him squarely in the eye and for the first time in his long life, Admiral Verloff flinched when the lighter shattered into a thousand pieces under the inhuman grip of the being in front of him.

'Beg pardon, sir,' it spoke, its tone perfectly neutral. 'Smoking is prohibited on this deck.'

'Well I'll be,' the Admiral said, the words forming slowly. He took a step back and was overtaken when his guards tackled the creature in front of him, or tried rather. He did not move, didn't even try to resist, but the first soldier that tried to bodyslam him bounced off him as if he'd hit a wall. They were good men and reacted quickly, realising normal tactics weren't going to work and turned their rifles on the freak.

The next moment all of his men were down on the ground, weapons flying in all directions, as the rest of the enhanced bastards had practically teleported forward. He saw them move this time, but seeing them move did very little as they were so ridiculously fast his men never had the chance to retaliate. They swarmed over them, pinned them to the ground with blasphemous ease, disarmed them and tossed their rifles away, protecting their comrade. It was so utterly unbelievable that he started laughing.

Doctor Eisel ran in, pale as a sheet. 'What are you doing! Back in line! Now!' he shouted and as one the freaks moved, reforming their lines in the blink of an eye.

'How dare you!' the doctor screamed in a shrill voice. 'X-12845623! To the front, now! Have you gone mad!'

'Stop!' the Admiral commanded, laughing himself to tears as his bodyguards climbed back to their feet, many of them trembling, shaken to their core.

'That, doctor, was an absolutely splendid performance.' The one that had crushed his lighter was now standing in front of the doctor, recognisable only by the wounds on his hand, which were strangely small given that the bastard had crushed a metal lighter. He remembered the number. This was the one that the doctor had mentioned. The odd one out in a battalion of freaks. The Admiral stepped in front of the man, an it no longer, he had deserved it, and looked him in the eye. Unlike the others he had tested there was no emotion in this guy's eyes, but something else. An unspoken challenge. He liked it. He reconsidered his stance. He had challenged countless regiments with this and every time they had stood still, some of them yelling, others breaking uniformity and whispering to one another. This was the only time when someone had called out his bluff and had taken him up on his challenge. The rest had stayed behind, not moving, until their pal was in danger. Then they had peacefully subdued one of the best units the Empire had to offer. Granted, none of them had been wearing power armour and the two groups had been very close to one another, but it was still a terrific achievement.

He still didn't trust them and very much hated that it might mean that all the training in the world wouldn't do you good if you had to go up against a man-made monster and hated how they had come to be, but he accepted what they were. The small army in front of him was the Empire's best hope at turning this damnable war around. If they had to spit in God's face in order to accomplish victory, then so be it.

'Get back in line soldier!' he shouted at the man in front of him, who offered a perfect salute and disappeared within the ranks. He turned around and observed his retinue who was trying to stand back at attention, but they were visibly suffering. Muscles would've been torn, probably. He would have to review the footage of what had exactly transpired later.

'Maybe you bastards aren't as gutless as I thought. Rejoice, soldiers of the Empire. You all shall go to war!'

The sound of the footage of the event ages ago stopped playing.

It was curious. None of us questioned what had happened. We were not trained that way. Were not made that way. We followed orders. We did what was expected of us. Coldly analysed everything and then chose the best option. All of us did. Except him. Oh, he was no less than we were, but he looked beyond. Did things we could not explain. Altered our plans to take in other factors. We were never meant for such a role. We were meant to be an arrow, fired at the enemy, dealing horrendous damage and then we'd be retrieved afterwards, hopefully still intact. He made us more and we hated him for it. He deviated us all from what we were meant to do and if our training had left us a choice we would have killed him for it.

The lights dimmed as the voice echoed out, console after console shutting off until only a tiny lamp still fought to delay the blackness that hung over the bridge.

And he repaid out hate with...

The last lamp winked out.

Hope the voice said, the lone word swallowed by the darkness.

He let out a wild, primal cry as the muscles of his arms were shifted into overdrive. The rock sailed through the air at high speed, gravity trying to pull it down as it flew. His lenses adjusting at the rapidly disappearing projectile, shifting over one another and zooming in as it went, constantly predicting which direction it would take as it bounced down along the Wall, crashing into the hard outcrops as it made a quick descend.

Running an arm to wipe off the sweat from his forehead he let out a wild grin as the stone crashed into the ground, digging itself into the soft earth. It wasn't often he allowed the wilder side of him to emerge, but he so enjoyed letting it just all out. If there was one thing that he would admit to missing from the time between the Empire and now, it would be the ability to go all out with no holds barred. He was, physically speaking, amongst the best of the best, trained for that very purpose and it was one of the few things his creators had allowed him to find joy in. Of course there were psionics out there, teeps as they were more colloquially known, that could put the hurt on him quite easily, but beside those people, who were few and far in between, he was part of the top. Onoelle had once jokingly suggested that he'd ought to go into sports and break some world records, but given that a large part of the galaxy was even now dragging people who had a genetic lineage tracing back to the Empire into court if they were lucky and lynching parties if they were not, he'd rather not run the risk.

He much preferred the solitude and being left alone, something he knew he was at odds with over his wife, who'd love nothing more than return to the city. It was a topic of discussion that returned with an alarming frequency, no matter how much he gave her. She sympathised with him and understood him as much as she could, but she did not know what it was like to be a super soldier slowly detoxing from a war-only environment. Stars willing, she'd never know either. He'd rather die than let her find out. There were a plethora of reasons as to why he kept himself confined in the rural farmlands far away from civilisation and despite her advanced degree in psychology, a civilian was simply not equipped to understand a soldier, no matter how many years of study you had under your belt.

He smiled ruefully at that because he still had to admit that she had gotten him out of his shell. Under her careful tutelage and care he had become more than just a defect weapon of war that had a random smattering of feelings he wasn't supposed to have. She had made him human. Something that had he had not been for more years than he cared to remember.

The tiny stealth shuttle, originally nicknamed Flying Sharks only to promptly be shortened to Flarks, zipped through the darkness of space, as of yet unspotted by the gargantuan Kra'lagh dreadnought. Inside it the twenty troopers of Grey Platoon, Second Company, 74th Special Boardings Battalion nudged each other, performing final equipment checks and tried their general best to maintain morale. It was not an easy task given that every single boarding attempt had ended in disaster. They knew nothing of what they were about to face as, despite the frequent assaults that their battalion had performed, nobody had ever managed to get a message back to command. Every raid had ended with all boarders being wiped to a man. Facing suicidal odds, however, wasn't a very rare occurrence to the brave men and single woman in the platoon. Their main concern was the surprise that Command had attached to the assault. The five troopers wearing power armour so advanced it made their own Gladiator Mark II's look like toys sat at the front end of the small craft, maintaining perfect silence, holding their weapons at the ready. While the Empire's naval forces were universally outfitted with the handy, recoil-less gauss guns, these five were equipped with heavy repulsor carbines. A piece of equipment that was on the verge of phasing out of the modern army due to its heavy kickback and the reduced accuracy that came with it. Aiming with those was notoriously difficult. There were only two reasons it had taken as long to become obsolete; the first being their ridiculous ammo capacity. A single energy cell could easily produce two hundred shots and an average soldier could take two dozen of those cells with him without being burdened. A trooper encased in power armour could carry significantly more. The second reason was their sheer, overwhelming power. They were blunt force weapons that were rubbish if you wanted to penetrate armour with it, but anyone that took a shot to the chest would have his ribs shattered even if he wore body armour. If he didn't, well, he'd just have a massive hole the size of his head in his torso. Those were the normal repulsor rifles. The heavy carbines these men held in their hands were upgraded versions, suited for power armour wearing troops or designated for heavy vehicle use. In close combat their horrid accuracy made them rather useless.

Still, their choice of equipment wasn't the main reason why Grey Platoon struggled to keep their mood up. The men sitting next to them were the rumoured supersoldiers from Project Genesis and all that entailed. Their total silence was unnerving and the early attempts to draw them into banter had been met with a wall of indifference. The only solace that they had was in knowing they were not the only ones suffering. All around them dozens of Flarks were sailing through the utter darkness, headed towards the unsuspecting Kra'lagh fleet. Every single shuttle contained the same composition. Twenty soldiers and five freaks. Humans trying to keep up their morale, prepping themselves for their probable swift demise and sentient weapons sitting there while God knows what went through their heads.
Except for one shuttle.

'What were the objectives you were given?' X-12845623 asked. The question had come out of the blue and the silence in the tiny craft was deafening, every soldier of Grey Platoon freezing in place for a moment before slowly turning towards him. The sentient weapon wondered if he had worded it wrong or if the soldiers were really that dumb. He did not really know what to expect. They had been told that the other soldiers were inferior but he did not know by how much. It seemed illogical for command to send idiots along with them, but given that they knew the Empire to be in dire straits, maybe these were all there were available. Still, he had looked up the unit and they should be combat veterans.

He repeated the question but was interrupted by a First Lieutenant Lucas Herden as his HUD informed him.

'Holy shit the freak can talk!' he shouted, causing a ripple of limited laughter to run through the cramped interior. 'I didn't think they gave you bastards tongues!'

He looked at them curiously. Were they insulting him? If so it would be a waste of time. He did not understand them.

'What were—'

'Yeah I heard you the first time Testy.'

'Testy?' came the surprised answer.

'Yeah!' grinned the Lt. 'Cause you were born in a Test Tube!'

The men roared with laughter, slapping each other. The Lt took a step closer to him, unaware that he was being carefully watched by five pairs of eyes. X-12845623 felt his muscles tense. The man in front of him was supposed to be an ally, but his instructors had drilled a few hard lessons about betrayal into him. Only his brothers and his superiors could be trusted. Then, much to his surprise, the man offered his hand. The newly christened 'Testy' looked at it briefly, his mind running back through his eidetic memory and remembered all the times he saw people performing a similar motion. He recognised it as a greeting and took the hand, shaking it.

'Well Testy, I'm Lieutenant Herden, Sheepdog. These are my men, Grey Platoon. Reckon we'll be your support for this mission.

That did not sound right.

'Our support, Lt?'

'Yeah. You guys lead the way, we follow.'

'Not that they'll get the chance to take the lead when we're up front kicking asses, hoorah!' one of the troops shouted, earning himself a round of cheers.

That wasn't good. Not only had they somehow received the wrong orders, they had the completely wrong notion of how the battle was about to unfold.

'No, Lt. You will not be our support. We will form up in our own teams upon entry and clear the ship. I do not know what happened to your orders, but it cannot be that you were assigned as our support. I would assume that you would be assigned to hold the main points after we locate them. We will signal when those areas are found.'

'What are you saying Testy? You saying we're not good enough to tag along with your little bunch?' Sheepdog replied, anger floating into his voice.

X-12845623 did not understand the source of the anger.

'Yes', he simply stated. 'You would put yourself in unnecessary danger. Our orders are to clear the ship.'

'And here I thought we'd get along Testy,' said the Lt, straining to control himself. 'But if you think that you can lord your fucked up genes over us like some kind of—' he began, forming a fist and slowly prepping himself up for a swing.
'Hey Lt?' came the quaky voice of one of his men.

'Yeah Limmy?'

'Might wanna look behind him.'

'Oh.' It was all the man could say, really, when he realised that the four living weapons behind Testy had their carbines aimed at him and his men. He had never even seen them move and they were stuck in a tiny shuttle.
'Lieutenant,' X-12845623 said carefully, trying to defuse the situation, not knowing how it had escalated so quickly.

'I do not mean offence, nor do I mean to question your authority or the veracity of the orders you were given. I am obliged to point out, however, that if you try to join up with us you would inconvenience both of our units.'
'You freaks aren't better than us,' Sheepdog retorted, but the bite had gone out of him and the words were mere empty air.

'Yes, lieutenant,' came the ice cold reply. 'We very much are.'

Staring into the polarised visor in front of him, the intimidated lieutenant somehow believed him.

Before he could offer any more reply the dim lighting inside the Flark turned from blue to red, meaning boarding became immediate. Training kicked in and he turned around, giving a final round of orders to his men before sitting down as well, strapping himself in.
'Better than us, ey?' he mused aloud, starting to fume again. 'Well lads, let's shows these creeps how a real soldier fights. We'll outperform them so bad they'll run back to Momma Testtube in tears! You hear me Grey Platoon!'
He was met with a deafening cheer and he grinned, wilfully ignoring the deathly quiet men sitting beside him.

He caught sight of a Vertigo hovering over the road leading up to the Wall. It was a road he had constructed only recently, shortly after his marriage as his wife had insisted on having the power grid reach their house. She didn't deal with ice-cold water as well as he had. Of course this had also meant cutting a pathway straight through the wall, a task that normally required power tools, heavy equipment and a good team of construction workers.

It had taken him several dozen broken tools and the better part of a month before he had cut through it and now there was a small road that connected his house with the main road and along that the small, airborne vehicle floated along. That was unusual. Nobody in the village would bother to take a Vertigo to visit them and nobody would be coming to visit him anyway. Meaning that the newcomer would be dropping by to visit his wife. Not someone from the village however. He turned around and decided to run back to his wife, let her know someone was coming. Part of him immediately slipped back to the training that was so deeply ingrained into him and he started forming plans to deal with the visitor if they weren't dropping by with friendly intentions. A smile crept on his face as he realised what he was thinking, then he chastised himself with a curse when he discovered he was sprinting between bits of cover, maintaining the golden rule of two. If you were out for more than two seconds, a targeting computer could easily lock onto him. He forced himself out in the open and ran towards the field he left his wife at, not bothering to hold himself back physically. He'd get yelled at, that was for sure.

If she saw him coming.

She jumped forward, taking a bit of a run up and threw all of her weight into the harness. The ropes pulled taut and snatched her back and the air was bashed out of her lungs as she fell down into the ground.
'He makes it look so easy,' she sighed, rubbing her chest where the harness had cut into her skin.

She had tried to pull the plough, find out exactly how difficult it was and had discovered that it was neigh impossible for her. If she threw all her weight into it she managed to pull it ahead ever so slightly but unlike him she lacked the sheer strength required to use it. It was one of her many pet gripes that she had with living in the village. She did not mind it overmuch, given that she loved him and understood his reasons, but she wished he would at least be more open about visiting the city once in a while. She missed the life there terribly, all the excitement, the countless people walking about. A constantly changing environment that she could drown herself in. She nagged about it once in a while, in a playful manner mostly. The few times it had become a serious plea, his insistent, almost desperate arguments had crushed any discussion. He was not ready for it and to unleash someone whose first reaction to any situation that caught him off guard was instant violence onto a city filled with people who would likely cause such situations wasn't fair on anyone.

So she stayed with him, not unhappy, but still dreaming of a future, as she guided him towards it, making him more of a human and less of a soldier with each passing day. Her nerves were slightly fraying, however. She loved her husband to bits but she missed being around other humans in a way. The villagers didn't really count, she had known them her entire life. Her ego was hungry for competition and while she had easily trounced most of her academic competitors a few had given her a run for her money and she had to put in a ton of work to surpass them. She thrived on it and as much as she enjoyed having a superhuman around who catered to her nearly-every wish, it was taking a toll on her self-esteem. Whenever he picked up a skill he improved by leaps and bounds within days while she helplessly paddled along, trying to get even the basics down. Physically she wasn't even in the same league as him. The only advantage she had was her degrees, most of them in psychology, and her ability to predict people, even if he was a daft hand at it himself. She blamed that one on his age rather than who he was. Spend enough time around humans and they become predictable to a degree. The only reason he wasn't trouncing her there as well was because his mind was an alien thing.

She was so caught up in her thoughts, fiddling with the harness, that she never spotted him coming. She felt the earth move as he landed behind her, his immense weight causing him to sink into the earth, but at the same moment his hands were around her as he gave her a gentle, needy hug. She screamed even as her mind made the click and told her it was him and not a wild animal about to trample her. She forced the rest of the scream down, turning around in his arms and preparing to give him a scolding when she noticed his frown.

'Something wrong?'

'Somebody's approaching our house,' he said. She noticed the beads of sweat rolling down his forehead and she started wiping them off. He didn't care for his looks at all despite her constant reminders.
'Oh? Somebody from the village?' she asked casually, knowing that if it was he would have mentioned already. Casual conversation, another thing he had to learn. He tended to jump to conclusions far too quickly and it made the other villagers uncomfortable even if they couldn't say why.

His opened mouth fell close as he caught the unspoken hint. He nodded, showing his understanding.

'No, I don't think so. Whoever it is, they're coming in a Vertigo. I don't think anyone from the village would bother to visit us that way, don't you?'

She nodded approvingly. He was learning. Sometimes he just needed a reminder. Unlearning a habit proved damn difficult, but despite his frequent slip ups he was trying.
'No, probably not. Somebody from the city then? Anyone you know?'

'I hope not,' came the too quick answer and she finally managed to place the frown. She flicked his nose and gave him a vastly disapproving stare. He wilted under it.
'Maybe someone you know?' he muttered, chastised.

'Possibly. Shall we go greet them?'

'Sure! They should be at our house in a few minutes, so if we walk back they'll be able to spot us from the main road.' He let go of her and took a quick step back.

'Well, if they're paying attention. Want me to draw some by putting you on my shoulders?'

She giggled at the suggestion and took it under consideration for a few moments, before deciding against it.

'No, I'll pass on that', she said, setting off quickly towards their house, pulling him along, hoping to pull him off balance just enough before—

'Why?' came the question she dreaded.

She sighed. She hadn't wanted to answer that one truthfully, feeling awfully selfish in her reasoning.

'If it's someone from the city it might be someone who's either known me or has found my profile online. I have a lot of my degrees to my name. Maybe they're out here with a job offer and then I want to make a good impression. I was the alumni of my year, you know?' she replied, a pinch of pride in her voice.

'Alumni? I don't think I ever heard that word before.'

'It means I had the highest marks.'

'Doesn't surprise me. Always knew you were a smart-ass.'

She stopped walking, letting him go by and watched him with wonder in her eyes.

'Was that a joke? Did you, mister super soldier, crack a harmless joke?'

His feet ground to a halt and he slowly turned. The sun caught him in the face and lit him up, his young, smooth features as handsome as ever to her. The smile on her lips was mirrored in his eyes as he met her gaze.

'Yes. Lovely, isn't it?'

Just as he predicted it didn't take long before they saw the road and only a moment later the Vertigo hovered into view, going at a slow pace as the driver took in the surroundings. Most of it was fields, divided in neat little parts with roughly half of them being ploughed already. There was a small wild patch of forest that had been left standing, but other areas had made way for meadows for the cattle to graze on and those areas were filled with sheep, goats, a pair of cows, some pigs and chickens that were wandering about all over. It painted quite the idyllic picture and to someone who was used to the hustle and bustle of the city it would be a distracting sight.

It didn't take long before the Vertigo driver spotted the couple and diverted itself away from the road, flying towards them at a far faster speed. It was a good thing she was holding Mentuc's hand as it approached, for when the driver started honking like there was no tomorrow she felt him tighten, his entire body readying itself for action. It was pure instinct and they both knew it, but she suspected that if she hadn't been holding on to him he would have likely been on top of the small aircraft before he'd regain control of himself. She found it simultaneously amusing and worrying. Then she returned her attention to the incoming vehicle, wherein there was someone who was clearly very happy to see them.

The small landing struts popped out and the floating car-like craft landed with a rather loud thunk, the struts sinking a good deal into the soft earth, tilting the vehicle precariously, causing Onoelle to gasp with worry. The port switched open and a young woman jumped out, shrieking with joy. It took her a moment to recognise the screaming woman as Jane Allistan, her friend from the city. Leaving her husband behind she ran towards her friend and the pair collided with surprising violence, Onoelle tackling her slightly taller friend to the ground with surprising force.

'Oomph! God dammit Leonne! Are you trying to kill me!' Jane coughed.

'Sorry! Sorry! I forgot, I mean, I!' Onoelle righted herself, turning beet red as she apologised.

'And what the hell were you thinking! You got married! Married! And you didn't send me an invitation! If I didn't know what an airhead you were when it comes to these things I'd be insulted!'

'Oh stars! I forgot! Jane I'm—' she began, then screamed as she felt hands slide under her arms and she was picked up.

'From a smart-ass to an airhead in the span of two minutes. I'm rather impressed,' came her husband's voice. 'You are?' he asked, his voice warm and friendly. At first glance.

'Oh my, you must be the rumoured husband then.'

'Yes. I'm Mentuc. Nice to meet you.'

She could feel the nervousness radiating off him. It was noticeable as well, his speech was polite, but curt and slightly clumsy. She nearly did a double take when she saw that he was wearing his sunglasses again. When did he...

'Lovely to meet you!' Jane all but shouted, too happy to notice anything strange. She took Mentuc off guard by stepping forward and throwing her arms around him. He stood there mutely and Onoelle had to push down her laughter, desperately motioning for him to hug back. He awkwardly obliged her and this time she lost it.

'What are you laughing about? Haven't seen you in years and now you're laughing hysterically!'

'I'm sorry Jane, I'm really happy to see you, I really am. Stars above it's been what, five years?'

Jane relented, smiling, before hugging her friend again. 'Give or take.'

She turned her head and looked at Mentuc, who stood there, clearly out of his depth.

'Never figured you for the settling down kind, but you managed to get quite a looker, didn't you?'

Onoelle laughed again, having missed her friend's easygoing character. 'You have no idea!'

'Also!' her friend said, breaking the hug and poking her with a finger.

'You're married now! Independent! A free woman! Why didn't you come visit me! You know where I live! I had to hear from your parents that you'd gotten married!'

Onoelle looked away. She wanted to be honest to her friend, but how could she? She knew that Mentuc had erased his traces carefully when he had settled down. It didn't matter how much she trusted Jane, he wouldn't and she did not want to find out how he would react to it. It would damage their relationship severely and that was one of the better outcomes.

'Oh, you know,' she half-lied, gesturing at the surroundings. 'I've been busy with running the farm. It's a lot more difficult then you think, really.'

'Really?' snickered Jane. 'You? Miss Alumni running a farm? God in heaven, professor Eisel would die laughing if he heard.'

'Eisel?' interrupted Mentuc.

Uh-oh she thought, recognising the name.

'Yeah! Professor Eisel! Headmaster of the uni your wife and I went to. Really smart man, won more awards than most people know exist! Ever heard of him?'

'No,' came the quiet answer, spoken so softly that Onoelle had to strain her ears to hear.

'I just once knew a man with the same name. A long time ago.'

'The Kra'lagh dreadnought will be the main target, designation Alpha. We're assigning twenty-five full platoons to it. That means that the full five hundred of you will be tackling it. Your main goal is to clear the ship of all enemies. You will be well supplied, but I advise you to exercise caution. We do not know what the enemy has in store on the inside. I have worked with the Imperial Intelligence to give you as much intel as I could, but it is limited. We don't even know if the air is breathable inside, so do not, under any circumstances, turn off your filtration system until your sensors give you an all clear.' Doctor Eisel paced back and forth in front of the aula, hundreds of eyes carefully following him. This wasn't the entirety of the soldiers of Project Genesis, but everyone would be briefed according to their target. This was the main group and he at least wanted to speak with them in person before sending them off to their potential demise. He trusted them. They were capable, more than capable, but there were still any number of factors that could go wrong. If it worked, however, it would turn the conflict.

'If their dreadnoughts are similar in construct to ours every section of importance will be located deeply within the ship's superstructure. Do not expect the lay out to be the same. Their biology is vastly different and we believe their ships may carry twice the crew that our own dreadnoughts carry. This is purely a guess, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. There could easily be between ten and sixty thousand bugs on that ship. If you manage to get hold of the bridge, the engines and the reactors however, all of that is moot. Besides, all of the fighting will be close quarters. It is what you all were made for. There will also be two thousand other soldiers tagging along with you. You will clear their way, do all the heavy fighting. They will secure whatever you capture and make sure the bugs won't retake it. You will be expected to capture the ship within twelve hours, alongside with the other teams that will board the rest of their fleet. It is a scouting fleet, standard composition. One dreadnought, four cruisers, eight destroyers and twenty frigates. All of them will be hit simultaneously. Your target remains the most important, but given that nobody knows how to fly the thing it will be imperative that every strike team succeeds within this time frame. Go beyond that, you risk the rest of the fleet annihilating you all. That is not acceptable.'

He looked at them. His creations. His inventions. Living weapons all, cold, calculating, the best of the best. The final hope of the Empire. He had faith in them. Absolute faith.

He tapped a few buttons and activated the holoprojector. He had worked alongside a few other science divisions for Project Genesis. After all, when you designed a new supersoldier from the ground up it made sense to do the same with their equipment.

'This will be your equipment. The new power armour Svalinn Mark I. The very best the Empire has to offer. Because of your strength we were able to remove most of the servos that are required to use it, giving us ample space to put new toys in. For starters every suit is powered by a miniature fusion reactor. This allows for on the mission charging of fuel cells, filtration systems and, and this is a beauty, shields. It is still an experimental technology and once you activate them they will put serious stress on the system. There is an inbuilt safety that can be overridden, but it is meant to shut down to keep the projectors from overheating. The shield reacts differently to impacts from different types of weapons, a full list you can find on your on board HUDs. Further we've installed the newest model of gravitic grenades. This model overheats the shrapnel it contains until it turns into plasma and then launches it at high velocity. It is ideal for clearing areas. The lethal zone against armoured targets, and bugs have their chitin that already counts as armour, is eight metres. A wide range, use it with care. Lethal zone against unarmoured targets is fifty metres. On that note, everyone who will deploy with you will also be wearing power armour, but not the Svalinn variant. Further your suits make use of the Muninn-class computers. These are expensive toys and will blanket-jam everything within two hundred metres, their starship alloys be damned, cut through jamming in an equal radius, give you radio contact within five kilometre on the planet and presumably within five hundred, radius, very handy, on board their ships. It also houses an advanced FOF system, can calls out targets, constantly links you with any ally that comes in the vicinity and you can designate targets at will with it. Honestly, Project Muninn was about as expensive as a hundred of you, meaning we could buy a small planet for what it cost. It is a miracle of computer technology and it is as close as we can get, at present, to making an AI.

Further you will go in with disruptor blades. I will not go over how dangerous these fields are. You will cut through anything with these, including your own shield as if it wasn't there. Your main armament will be the repulsor rifles. Once again, covered in training, you know how they work. Since there's a possibility that you'll be fighting in zero-G, the Svalinns are equipped with magnetic boots. Very powerful magnetic boots. You can walk up a metal wall with these even in full gravity, so don't worry about being blown clear of the ship. That is all soldiers.'

He shut off the projector and stood in front of five hundred of the best soldiers to ever grace the universe. He had created them, seen them come into life, raised them into the perfect human being, surpassing the existing homo sapiens in every way. He had played God and God saw that it was good.

'You are the Empire's last hope. If you get hold of these ships, we can put our industrial bases to good use. No more shall they work on ships that will get blown up from long range. No more will their workers slave away on hulls that won't even dent the enemy. The Kra'lagh are powerful. Unbeatable in space. A violent, aggressive race. You will show them that even in space, in their floating fortresses, they are not safe from the might of the Empire. We will take their ships, their technologies and we will turn this war around! They will not extinguish our species! They will not succeed! They will ruin the day they declared war upon us and it is you who will give them the first blow! Go, brave soldiers of Project Genesis! Go, and herald in the new age! The age of Humanity!'

'Mentuc! Mentuc! By the stars what's wrong with you?' Onoelle asked, shaking him.

'What!' he shouted, pulled roughly out of the memory. 'What?' he repeated, more softly, realising he had shouted.

'Jane asked you a question you tit!' she laughed. Her eyes weren't laughing. She knew where his mind was at.

'Oh, I apologise. Could you repeat the question please?'

'I asked what you did for a living. Before you settled down, I mean.'

'I worked with wood, took contracts,' he replied easily, falling back into his existence as Mentuc, loving husband of Onoelle.

'So does she, I bet,' grinned Jane, poking Onoelle in the ribs. She felt her cheeks turn bright red.

'She dabbles,' he said, the innuendo flying straight over his head. Onoelle felt her cheeks burn at this point. Then she glared at her friend.

'He is really good with his hands. Shame he can't show you,' she fired back, aware that her friend's love life was disappointing at best.

Jane's smile faltered a bit.

'Oh, but I can,' interjected Mentuc, completely unaware of the pit he was digging for himself. 'Hard to miss when there's evidence all over the house, really.'

Jane's laughter echoed through the air as a beet-red Onoelle violently rammed her elbow into the side of her oblivious husband.

His lenses flickered back and forth underneath the sunglasses as he pushed open the door. He kept expecting something to appear. His instincts screamed at him that it would be a trap. Send someone in to distract the target, surround, ambush, destroy. He shook his head softly. It wasn't a trap. It wasn't an ambush. It was an old friend, a civilian, not a soldier from his wife, who also was a civilian. He was supposed to play the good host and stop playing hide and seek with ghosts! Stars be damned, he knew it to be true and he still couldn't completely accept it for the truth in his mind. He didn't deal well with surprises. For years anything that wasn't briefed meticulously beforehand meant trouble of the worst kind. He had even been staking out the village for a month before he went in, just to make sure that he'd know everyone before entering.

No, he didn't deal well with surprises. Onoelle had no idea how much this was taxing him. Forget playing the act where he moved like a normal human, he had to keep his mind focused or else the hormone cocktail that came out under stress would flood his system and then he'd be a goner. So would Jane. She'd be dead in a heartbeat and nothing would stop it from happening. Onoelle thought she had changed him and for a large part she had. He did not want to be a cold blooded killer. He hated war, hated the destruction it caused and hated death even more. He had lost too many already, he did not want to lose any more. Yet it was in his blood, no matter how much he tried to deny it.

He let out a deep sigh and stood still, gathering himself, before entering. A foreigner entering his base. House! Dammit!

'Oh wow! You've gone for the rustic approach, haven't you? Do you even have power in here?' Jane asked, chuckling.

'We do, but just to heat the water, otherwise we've gone native,' replied Onoelle.

'What!' came the surprised reply. 'Are you serious? But how do you watch anything? How do you go online? Don't you have a datapad?'

'Simple. We don't.'

'You're joking. Mentuc, tell me she's joking.'

'She's not,' he replied curtly.

'Can't you take those sunglasses off? It makes it way too easy for you to keep a pokerface!'

'He's got a medical condition. His eyes are quite sensitive to light, hence why he keeps them on,' interjected Onoelle quickly, saving him from having to explain. His hand rested gingerly on the glasses, fingers trembling slightly. Jane had turned to face Onoelle again and he shook his head slightly. He was straining himself but he couldn't keep this up. Jane was loud. His experience and training continuously screaming at him to take her out, grab his wife and look for cover, check the surroundings for snipers, listen to the telltale whistle of incoming mortar fire. His blood was on fire, his entire body itching to move.

'Anyway, how about I show you around. Mentuc, can you make us something to drink?'

'Yes. I will do that,' he replied, glad for it. He went towards the stove and set about kindling the embers.

'Coffee for you and black tea for Jane. Yes.'

Jane blinked in surprise. 'How did you know?' she asked.

Shit. He had fucked up. He could smell that on her lips and had extrapolated from there. He wasn't supposed to do that. He wracked his mind to find an answer, at least what little that wasn't actively suppressing his instincts. He came up empty.

'I told him.' Onoelle. Thank the stars for her. 'I mean, come on Jane,' she joked 'You're pretty much an addict!'

'Am not' the other woman protested.

'Yeah yeah,' she laughed, walking over to him. She tiptoed and kissed him softly on the lips, sharing a worried look with him in private. She mouthed the words take care, knowing he could read her lips, before turning around and returning to her friend.

'Come on, I'll show you around while he works his magic. You'll love seeing the decorations he's made!'

He watched the chatting pair in silence, letting his senses focus on the fire. He ran his bare fingers through the ashes, finding a remnant of warmth, as he gathered the glowing embers. His wife and her friend.

A friend.

The Flying Shark made contact with the hull, the batteries engaged and the fusion cutters went to work, the antenna like structures forming a full net the size of the shuttle as they burned through the hull. The magnets locked the craft in place as the antennae extended, a tiny onboard computer providing data as the fusion cutters melted their way through metres of metal. When it finally registered an absence of metal on the other end the fusion cutters disengaged and the antenna slid outwards, grabbing hold of the interior, pulling the shuttle in. The light in the shuttle went from red to yellow as the disintegrator field was switch on, turning the armour plating into ash as the shuttle took the metal's place. By the time the shuttle was fully embedded in the hull the fusion battery was practically depleted. The lights switched from yellow to green as the front plates split open and the soldiers from Project Genesis stormed out.

Sheepdog had only just opened his mouth to yell commands at his platoon when X-12845623, now known as Testy, lifted his carbine and opened fire at a trio of Kra'lagh, nailing them with a single burst. The kickback of the weapon was violent but it was well within expected parameters and nothing he could not handle. The green shots rammed into the charging insectoids and crushed their chitin on the first impact. The second turned their innards to pulp and the third and fourth were unnecessary and came out through the creature's back. Com links snapped on, information was shared and platoons were wordlessly formed, every man knowing what he had to do and whom he belonged with. The supermen from Project Genesis formed up in platoon, then split open in four five-man squads.

Testy checked his surrounding, the green ichor from where dozens of dead bugs lay clashing with the deep, dark grey of the metal that the dreadnought's superstructure was made of. His eyes took it all in. The Kra'lagh that his unit had slaughtered had been unarmed and unarmoured, probably crew. Even unarmed they were deadly opponents, their chitin doubling as body armour and they had talons instead of fingers. They could and would gleefully cut apart any human. What little the Empire knew from the alien race was that they would fight to the death, never retreating. Which wasn't much of a tactical advantage if the enemy also had absolute aerial superiority and just atomised you from orbit.

He double checked his HUD subconsciously, saw that everyone was present and without exchanging a word with his team he sat off, diving into the dark honeycomb structure of the ship.

'Hey! Testy!' came Sheepdog's rough voice. He didn't stop but turned his head instead, linking his HUD with the lieutenant's.

'Good luck!'

Good luck... What a strange phrase. Luck didn't factor into things. Still, it was a form of encouragement. He had seen other humans use it during his training.

'You too,' he replied. They were empty words but it seemed the proper thing to do, even if he did not see the point.

X-12845620 up to 5 were storming down the empty halls, carbines at the ready and occasionally sending a controlled burst of repulsor fire down a pathway, obliterating the unsuspecting Kra'lagh. A general alarm had not yet gone out and they were running that information through their minds. Facts were noted and assumptions were made. The original entry had gone unnoticed, so there were no sensors in the hull, or at the very least that part of it. The lack of an alarm hinted at a lack of sensors as well. Even the dumb computer intelligence that ran Imperial ships would have caught on to weapons firing instantly and sirens would have been blaring loudly. Sensor jamming would occur the moment the boarders broke into a ship and Marine detachments would surround them, lock up choke points and utterly annihilate the boarders or die trying. It seemed that the intel about the Kra'lagh being less adept at direct combat was true. He remembered Doctor Eisel's words; Take their naval supremacy away and they are easy pickings. He doubted it would that easy but it was a good start.

His HUD pinged as it received an update. Platoon Seven had run into serious resistance, having just blown open a door to what was the Kra'lagh equivalent of the crew's quarters or at least one of them, as a dreadnought had several. He looked at the shared screen as an urgent call for reinforcements ran through. A sound tactical evaluation, there were at least five hundred bugs in there, many of them armed. Twenty versus five hundred was not good odds. He noticed several pings running through his sensors and knew that four platoons had responded and were on their way, while Seven was already falling back to a choke point where they would wait for the others, reaping heavy casualties as they went, still sharing intelligence of how the quarters had looked like. Like a beehive, except made in metal.
Keeping an eye open for anything that resembled the same symbols that were imprinted on the walls near the discovered quarters, the Genesis troops ran deeper into the dreadnought, covering a large amount of distance as they serviced small groups of crew along the way. So far they were making great headway with little resistance but sooner or later that would change.

They hit a four-way split and paused, the two front elements moving slightly towards the centre of the path, covering the front. The two final elements turned around and covered the rear. The rest ran across, carbines pointing down the empty hallways as they crossed. It was text book, an age old tactic and still as effective today as it had been hundreds of years ago. The split was logged, added to the rapidly growing map of the ship and the platoon continued, their progress not even slowed by the tactical manoeuvre. They found a new set of doors and the front elements flicked on their disruptor blades while the rest took cover. Rather than try to cut open the lock and shove it open, they simply ran along the edges, using their superior strength to cut through the metal. It wouldn't work with blast doors, those were far too thick to slice through in one go, but for these it worked just fine. Using their magnetic boots the supersoldiers ran across the ceiling, cutting the doors wide open. A small gravitic charge was applied, aimed, set and detonated, blasting the door inwards without causing any collateral damage. The platoon ran in and found themselves accompanied by a blaring alarm. At first he thought that was because a hundred of his brothers were tearing half a thousand bugs apart with impunity and that one of them had, which would be a logical action, triggered the alarm that borders were present. He was wrong however, as he looked at what seemed to be the bridge, the large room filled to the brim with computers, important looking bugs and well over a dozen automated turrets that were swivelling towards them.

Then he and the rest of the platoon sought cover as a torrent of fire sterilised the hall with superheated plasma. His Muninn recorded it and provided him with additional information, comparing the output of fire to the known schematics stored in the system, trying to find a solid hit. It simultaneously registered the output and informed him that his shields could withstand five shots before the safety would kick in, which meant it was useless to try and return fire to the turrets as the shots were pouring in by the dozen. They were effectively pinned. They could take out the turrets, but that would require sending at least one man to be a scapegoat and draw fire. Taking losses this early in wasn't acceptable given that they still had reinforcements running around. The request for reinforcements once again ran through the shared HUD system and was swiftly answered by another nearby platoon that was about two minutes out, provided they didn't run into any obstacles.

Then it was answered again, by another platoon that was much closer but moving much slower.

'We're on our way Testy! Told ya we could keep up with you, ya bastard!' came Sheepdog's voice.

He turned around and his lenses overlapped, letting him peer down the straight hallway and spotted Grey Platoon in the distance, closing as rapidly as their power armour allowed.

'Thought you supermen could handle anything?' he growled into the coms.

'Platoon twelve is on the way. I advice you to stay back,' he replied.

'What? Not even a thank you. Don't worry my darling freak, we'll take care of those turrets for you. Gutsy! Hammer time!'

'Sir yes sir!' clicked in a voice on the local coms.

'Stand down!' he shouted.

'Belay that, fry those—'

He saw one of his brothers raise his carbine, aiming at the so called Gutsy who was crawling to the front, making sure to not come too close to the door so that he'd be in the turrets' field of fire. He pushed down the carbine and violently shook no.
'Lieutenant, you will
not fire! If you fire that missile it will explode when the plasma hits and you will kill us.'

The Hammer-launcher was a heavy RPG that could pull double duty in both space and ground operations. Depending on the ammo you could either blow straight to a battle tank or reduce a decent sized bunker to a pile of rubble. Both types of warheads, however, would not survive the barrage of plasma that was heading their way. The resulting explosion would wipe the entirety of platoon fifteen.

'HOLD FIRE!' the Lt screamed into the coms, causing the soldier wielding the RPG to nearly drop it in surprise. X-12845624 lowered his carbine and turned his attention back to the front, seeing that the danger was gone. If the man named Gutsy had fired, his platoon would have opened up. They would not have let the missile come close enough to them to do any damage. It would have meant wiping out the other platoon, but it was simply a cold equation. They were better soldiers, so their survival was more beneficial. X-12845623, ever the outsider, had chosen to do something they weren't specifically trained in; conversation, to diffuse the dangerous situation. He found it good that it had worked. It had kept the other platoon alive. The Empire could ill afford to throw soldiers away, even if they were of a lower quality.

While Sheepdog motioned his man to get back amongst the rest, platoon twelve ran into the hallway, scaring the crap out of Grey platoon with their sudden appearance, their rear man seeing them pop up on his HUD at the same time that they appeared.
'Show me then, Testy, how are you going to solve it,' Sheepdog asked.

Testy didn't bother to answer. With two platoons together they had enough computing power to sync up and throw a disorienting wave of blanket jamming, rendering the turrets' sensors moot. The torrent of fire fell still as the sensors reset and in that exact moment the rear two squads jumped from cover, filing out into the hallway as they simultaneously scanned the bridge for hostiles while hosing the turrets with repulsor fire, turning them into scrap with a single, well aimed salvo. Minor explosions ensued as the plasma reactors' containment was breached. While pandemonium ensued on the bridge, the first two squads had rolled out of cover as well. Screened by their teammates in the rear their job was to deal with any sentient life on the bridge. X-12845621 was blown back by a well aimed plasma shot as one of the soldiers on the bridge opened fire, his shields flaring to life and keeping him from harm. Even while airborne he returned fire while the Muninn automatically assigned targets to the supersoldiers, each of them eliminating them in a heartbeat.

'Genesis Battalion, company Alpha,' the assigned platoon lead whispered in the coms. 'Be advised, platoons twelve and fifteen have taken the bridge and have started securing it. Continue to other objectives. Data will be delivered as we get it.'
The Kra'lagh in the bridge had been officers with a handful of guards, clearly not having expected a breach to occur. Normally this was where IT experts would take over, hack the systems and do their thing, hijacking the ship and flying it back. Given that the Empire had no one that had any experience with working with Kra'lagh systems this meant that it would be up to the Muninn to guide the Genesis soldiers through it. Of course there would be no flying back until the mission timer ran out. A thought occurred to Testy and he clicked himself into the open channel.

'Genesis Battalion, company Alpha. Be advised, shepherd the 74th into the mission zones. Double back if possible, guide them to preserve mission assets and let them assume defensive positions.'

The 74th Special Boarding Battalion had run into a few fights here and there and despite being 'highly trained' they had taken a fair amount of losses. Nothing that would compromise the mission as the casualties were still within the double digits, but enough to call their capability in doubt by Genesis standards. Running through a foreign ship however, would mean that they would run into traps, ambushes and choke points. If he and his brethren screened them until they were in the critical areas, however, they could return the favour to the enemy. They would exchange some time for mission assets.

His advice was acknowledged and he could already see the platoons near his location sending out orders to the men of the 74th, redirecting them while highlighting locations on the map where they could set up ambushes, simultaneously highlighting the area beyond the bridge, what they had yet to explore, in bright red. He did the same for Sheepdog, who snarled back in response.

'We don't need any babysitting, Testy.'

He wasn't quite convinced of that. He turned around and rejoined his squad, falling back in line with the rest of his platoon. The 12th entered the bridge a moment later, spreading out among the alien computers and hooking up with them. It gave them advantage, finding the bridge as early as they had as it likely meant they had cut off the enemy from playing vile tricks with decompression, gravity plating and anything else a starship could play on an unwelcome host.

The Genesis troopers went to work, half of them securing the entrances to the many entrances to the bridge, a major difference with Imperial ships that only had a singular entrance, while the other half plugged themselves into the system, their Muninn computers synchronising and launching an overwhelming offensive on the ship's systems. Their computers had been updated with the Empire's latest cyberwarfare systems and were making good headway, especially since they were launched directly from the bridge. Once again targets and objectives were called and spread between the Genesis troops as they dived into the wealth of information, sorting through what was useful for them and what was not. The rest of Grey Platoon filtered into the bridge, making far too much noise and useless comments to his liking, but at least Sheepdog was making them take up defensive positions, aiming his men in the direction they had come from. It was the sensible decision as his men were by far the weakest and it was likely that the pathway they had already cleared would produce fewer enemies in case of a counterattack.

X-12845623's HUD beeped loudly as his Muninn connected his onboard map with the ship's layout as one of his teammates cracked the final layer of defences and downloaded it. An excellent find and green lights flickered on by the hundreds as the system overlapped the known position of his allies with the ship's layout. Aside from the few locations where the Imperial troops were actively engaging the enemy, the map showed remarkable few red dots. The only places that showed proper activity were likely to be their targets. He could see the Genesis platoons redirect themselves towards those locations.

'Be advised, there are very few internal sensors.'

That explained why they couldn't find many enemies. There were barely a thousand red dots on the map at present.

Then the map exploded, large swathes of red colouring the map. His mind analysed it as thousands of enemies made themselves known in a handful of locations. The crew quarters, probably. Stasis pods? They were insects, had they been made dormant? If so what was controlling them? A queen? He understood how the previous assaults had all failed in that moment. There were well over fifteen thousand enemies now and since the active crew had been only a few thousand, this meant that these were proper soldiers. One group in particular was approaching the bridge with incredible pace, equalling the pace they themselves had set.

The lead of platoon twelve clicked into the global coms.

'Be advised, we've got specialists incoming,' he simply stated, downloading a local map and sharing it with Grey Platoon, a wave of red dots advancing on them from all directions. Hundreds. They, on the other hand, only had forty men and twenty Boarders, with the nearest allied platoon being six minutes out.

'Sheepdog, we have incoming, anti-boarder specialists. You will handle this corridor. Link up with my HUD.'

'Don't worry Testy, we'll show you how it's done. Ain't that right Boarders? Hoorah!'

'Hoorah!' cheered the men around the rough lieutenant.

X-12845623 really didn't understand them, but was relieved when Sheepdog linked up with his HUD, a more permanent connection between the two as they now shared line of sight as well. It would be necessary. The Genesis troops would be hard pressed to hold this assault. He held not much hope for the others. Scratch that. There were at least two hundred enemies coming down on Sheepdog alone. They would not last a single charge.

'X-12845621, prepare to cover Grey Platoon,' he whispered into his coms. His brother clicked to confirm after a few seconds, running the scenario through and coming to the same conclusion. The two of them slid into cover behind an impressive bridge console, the metal looking thick enough to absorb a significant amount of fire. In the front traps were being set, grenades primed and energy cells were swapped, reloading their carbines while putting the empty cells into a slot in their armour, letting it recharge. They were about to burn through a lot of ammunition really quickly. Their repulsor carbines would give them another advantage as the sheer energy of the impact would seriously impede the bugs' charge. They'd need it. There were at least a thousand of them heading their way and the Empire knew nothing of how they fought tactically. This would be the Project Genesis' trial by fire.

He felt his heartbeat quicken as he peeked down the yet empty hallways. He let his Muninn run a check on his equipment, then double checked it himself just in case, before aiming down his sights. Small corridors. Narrow approaches. Repulsor carbines. Shields and grenades. If they just charged it would be a one-sided slaughter, but he did not believe the bugs would make it that easy. Not these ones. He steadied his breath and waited, finger ready on the trigger, for the first bug to enter his field of fire.

A sense of alarm kicked him back to the present and he blinked, clearing away the memory of Sheepdog and the echoes of hundreds of angry bugs barrelling down on their position. He looked down, found the kettle whistling angrily at him and smiled. He took it off the fire and started filling mugs, letting his senses guide him through the process of making tea. Supposedly there was a skill behind it, or so Nyna, Onoelle's mother, had told him. Supposedly he was very skilled at it, clearly a sign of a good upbringing, whatever that meant. He just followed his nose and so far it had worked every time. He shook his head at the absurdity of it all, picked up the two steaming mugs and went to find his wife and her friend, mentally prepping himself to be confronted with a stranger in his house once again.