14 November 3078
130 km Southwest of Denver, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate
The Legacy staggered into the ad hoc camp, a locked ankle joint giving it a stiff-legged gait that threatened to topple it with each lurch. Mercifully, it came to a stop near a dirty gray field tent and Alex clambered down from the cockpit, his hand rubbing along a laser burn marring the lower cockpit glass. As he reached the ground, an aide handed him a combat vest. Alex slipped it over his torso without second thought, jogging past the tent and towards a battered Skulker. Ever since Dodge City, he’d ordered all troops to remain armored even in camp. The sniper threat from Stone’s Coalition and local rebel cells was all too real.
The Skulker’s side door snapped open as Alex approached. “Precentor, good to see you back in one piece.” A dark-skinned woman, her raven-black hair pulled severely back served to highlight her prominent cheekbones and nose, called to him as Alex slipped inside the vehicle.
“Almost didn’t, that time,” he replied. Twisting around, he located his aide who had followed him. “Get the Legacy in the queue for rearming and then start packing up. I want us mobile in three hours.” The aide raced away as Alex closed the door on the chaotic noise outside.
“Rough hike?” Adept Twila Rogers didn’t bother looking up from her data screen, her fingers flying over the device. Alex knew she was already processing the data from his Legacy’s battleROMs. Her cybernetic links to the Skulker’s sensor suites—and by extension, to all of the Seventeenth’s combat machines—were yet another advantage over the invaders stalking the Word of Blake’s Seventeenth Division.
An advantage sorely needed ever since the disaster at Dodge City a few scant days ago.
Her grunt was Rogers’ only response. He knew from experience she was processing the data and let her concentrate. He exhaled slowly, releasing the tension he’d stored for the last thirty-six hours. They weren’t in the clear yet—far from it, actually—but any moment of respite was one to cultivate. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Devlin Stone. The Word’s own anathema, birthed within its own bosom. His so-called “Coalition” had invaded the Terran system a few months ago. Several task forces had landed around the globe, a multi-pronged assault that had taken advantage of the low state of defenses scattered around the world. Only a few Blakist Divisions were on-planet, augmented by TerraSec forces, the glorified reservists meant more for pacification and policing actions than active combat defense.
Nonetheless, the Word of Blake fought hard to resist Stone’s juggernaut. However Precentor ROM Kernoff spun it from Cairo, the Division commanders knew it was a losing battle. The Word’s elite forces were elsewhere, and it was up to those left behind to bleed the would-be conquerors dry.
Alex let out a sigh, squeezing his eyes closed at the flashes of memory from the Dodge City disaster. Misfortune had caught the bulk of the Seventeenth Division outside the city, where Alex watched more than half of his command die under Coalition guns. Barely two Level IIs had escaped the carnage, slipping west towards the last North American bastion not under Stone’s threatening gaze.
At least, not yet.
Precentor Martial Cameron St. Jamais’ original plan had been to withdraw from Stone along three separate axis in hopes that Stone would pursue one or two and allow the remaining Word forces turn and strike into the Coalition’s rear. Unfortunately, St. Jamais’ plan fell apart when a nuclear strike missed most of Stone’s forces; the enemy’s force had enough units to pursue each of the Word’s smaller groups.
With the Precentor Martial’s plan in tatters, and the man himself unavailable, it fell to Alex as the highest ranking commander to figure out what to do next. The burden of command weighed heavily on his shoulders, and Alex felt the yoke press him deeper into the Skulker’s bucket seat.
“A fine showing, sir,” said Rogers, her eyes never leaving the screen in front of her. Sometimes he wondered what exactly it was she saw through those green-gray eyes. “Blowing out a chunk of the highway was genius; they’ll need to go another two hundred kilometers around with their ‘Mechs. Assuming they don’t split their force; I’m seeing reports that they’ve got a sizeable VTOL contingent in play.”
“I think by now we know not to assume our own arrogance in this endeavor,” Alex groused. “Looking at it from their point of view, they’ve got enough forces to split pursuit.” He opened his eyes, shaking out the tension in his hands. “But I doubt they’d expect us to double-back and head into Denver.” Grabbing a mapsheet from a nearby seat pocket, he spread it out into his lap. The topographical map of the Rocky Mountain region was streaked with red and yellow arrows. A rust-colored stain covered the lower corner; Alex pointedly ignored it and the memory it threatened to provoke. Instead, he ran a finger along a black ribbon of road. “We’ll head northeast along Route 285 and move into Denver at nightfall. What’s the weather for today?”
Rogers tapped her pad. “Looks like the fog’s with us for the day; should give us coverage up until we pass Mount Logan.”
“Good. Notify any of our agents in Denver and arrange a rendezvous; drop the coordinates into my nav.”
“As you wish, Precentor.”
Alex leaned back, thoughtful. “Is Fort Collins still on lockdown?”
“Last we knew.”
“Find out. If we still hold it, connect me as soon as possible. I think I know how we can rid ourselves of our unwanted guests.”
Alex closed his eyes again, nodding off to the sound of tapping keys. A glimmer of hope remained. It wouldn’t be enough to stem the Coalition’s tide, but it could buy him and his people enough time to escape.
The Word had to live on. Even if it meant abandoning holy Terra.
It’s what his father would do.