- Resistance -
Prelude To War
Brandon J. Wysocki
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Cover Art By
With some elements furnished by NASA
Zaeleth had sprung to take action, but Johvad placed his hand on Zaeleth’s chest. Zaeleth wasn’t sure if Johvad was intending to shield him from the Faalcomana or hold him back, either way he was not happy. Zaeleth remained ready with hands positioned to draw weapons as he focused intensely on the Faalcomana.
The Faalcomana, in full armor, stood with his firearm at his side as he looked at the two men. It seemed as though only Zaeleth wanted to take action. Johvad removed his mask, revealing a slight grin which immediately drew the scrutiny of Zaeleth. At that the Faalcomana removed his mask to also reveal a smile.
“For a moment I feared it might not be you,” Johvad said relieved. Zaeleth was bewildered by the events as they transpired. He ripped his mask off and entered into the discussion.
“You two know each other?” he asked excitedly.
Johvad turned and responded, still with a grin. “We were hoping to meet here, but we weren’t sure if it would happen.”
“So you didn’t think it would be a good idea to let me know that?” Zaeleth exclaimed. Johvad took a moment to respond.
“Only in hopes of a good laugh,” Zaeleth grimaced at the comment as Johvad continued, “at your expense of course.
“Are you serious?” Zaeleth asked incredulously.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I forgot how emotional you can be,” Johvad continued as his grin evolved into a fuller smile. Zaeleth was stunned by the response. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and figure out what he wanted to say. Johvad put a hand on his shoulder to show support as he worked through it. Johvad and his Faalcomana companion did their best to reserve their smiles so as to not further upset Zaeleth. “Sorry if I lack your touch,” he said sarcastically, as Zaeleth had far from a perfect record in his attempts at humor. Zaeleth was at last able to crack a grin despite his adrenaline still rushing. Johvad took his hand off of Zaeleth’s shoulder and pointed toward the Faalcomana. “This is Quowaal. He has helped us considerably for some time now. He’s a good man and a fine ally.”
“I’m relieved to know all of that,” Zaeleth said derisively as he looked directly at Johvad. He stepped closer to Quowaal and extended his hand out to him. Quowaal grasped his forearm, and Zaeleth reciprocated; this was a standard greeting for the Faalcomana, especially soldiers. Though Zaeleth was a decent sized man, the size disparity was impressive. “Pleasure to meet you,” Quowaal bowed his head to show he shared the sentiment.
“I am relieved you made it. Have the others of you also?” Quowaal asked. Johvad looked down to his wristcom and pressed a few buttons.
“They have.” He quickly switched gears. “What do you know of that convoy?” Quowaal smiled before he answered.
“They are looking for all of you.”
“Oh, well they’re going the wrong way,” Zaeleth quipped. Johvad nodded his head.
“I suppose it’s better for all of us if they’re not here for this,” Johvad added.
“It is,” Quowaal responded with a hint of discontentment in his face and tone. Johvad immediately picked up on it.
“It’s unfortunate it has come to this,” he said.
“This is what my kind chose, not you,” he replied, obviously unhappy with the situation. Johvad and Zaeleth could do little more than share his moping expression as they looked at it from his perspective. They respected and appreciated that he was willing to aid them, and could understand how difficult it must be for him to assist in fighting against his own kind, a race that at its core desired only to survive. After a brief moment of somber silence, Quowaal continued. “Let us work,” he said in reference to their task of disrupting the Faalcomana communications. As they walked toward the communication array, Zaeleth took in his surroundings. The top of the East Tower provided an extraordinary view of the Central District of Kelgar.
The East Tower was the newest and consequently tallest of the four towers that now served as a Faalcomana base. The South was the oldest and shortest tower. Clockwise from the South Tower, the towers were progressively taller, culminating in the exceptionally tall East Tower.
A lot went through Zaeleth’s mind as the three walked over to the array. He wondered if this striking view might very well be one of the last sights he would ever take in. He reflected on what spectacular views Quowaal and other Faalcomana might have seen during their travels through space, and how he may never get the opportunity to experience anything like it. He, with his adrenaline still amplified, thought about Johvad’s joke. If these did in fact become his last moments, he was glad to know that he and his good friend were able to have one last laugh; even if it did come in an intense moment, and at his own expense. Zaeleth pulled out a compact explosive from a pouch and handed it to Johvad, who could sense his discomfort increasing. Johvad placed his hand on Zaeleth’s back.
“It will be fine, my friend. I chose you to be by my side during this because there is no other mortal that I trust more than you in situations like this. I know you will not let me down.” Zaeleth bowed his head in response to the sincere comment, and came to a resolve at that moment that he would not let his friend and mentor down.
Knowing the danger of a confrontation with the Faalcomana, the ten men of the assault team transporting the bomb and supplies toward the heart of the city aimed to avoid the enemy while en route to rendezvous. Remaining as near to the east bank of the river as they could, Sivtal remained nearby those transporting everything while two soldiers named Hua and Embarnes scouted ahead to ensure a clear path through the wilderness and into the northern part of Kelgar. They were younger men who felt they had to be a part of the resistance fighting of the Coalition. Being passionate, exemplary soldiers, they gladly volunteered for every mission. Hua halted the group’s movement by sternly raising his fist in the air.
“I see movement. Northeast, forty feet back from the river,” Hua calmly announced. Embarnes quickly honed in on the area and identified the movement.
“Looks like foot patrol, two of them,” Embarnes added.
“Sergeant,” Hua radioed to Sivtal.
“Go,” Sivtal promptly responded.
“We have a visual on two soldiers ahead, how should we proceed.”
“We haven’t much time to spare. But we are too far to risk an encounter now.”
“Should we wade into the river?” Hua replied as a quick solution.
“That leaves us too vulnerable.” Hua agreed and began to think of another alternative. Embarnes however had already figured a way for the group to continue on their course.
“I’ll take care of this,” Embarnes said with energetic confidence. If there was anything Embarnes lacked, vitality was not it.
“Standby,” Hua radioed back to Sivtal. “What do you have in mind?” he then inquired of Embarnes, worried what he might try to pull off.
“Just wait here, it won’t be long. You’ll know when to go.”
“You…” Hua began to object but Embarnes quickly interrupted.
“Trust me, I’ll take care of this,” Embarnes said with conviction as he removed his gear pack from his back and handed it, along with his rifle, off. He then hastily unbuttoned and removed his tattered military style top, allowing it to drop to the ground as he remained watchful of the enemies they had sighted. At that, he nodded his head to his comrade and began to move through the woods and away from the river, armed only with a pistol concealed in his waistline. He crouched low while walking; even Hua was having difficulty seeing him well.
“Be ready to move, Sergeant, we may get an opening soon,” Hua radio back to Sivtal. Hua watched anxiously as he completely lost sight of Embarnes. Seconds seemed an eternity, between the enemy being nearby and his wildly unpredictable comrade seemingly putting his life on the line for the sake of the mission, the tension was overwhelming. Concerned and confused, Hua looked back to the group behind him, as though somehow he would find comfort and clarity from them who were even more out of the loop than he was.
Suddenly his attention was drawn to flailing in the distance, away from both the Coalition and the Faalcomana. It was Embarnes jumping and waving his arms and calling out to the Faalcomana. “Hey, buddy!” he yelled in a friendly way, immediately drawing the attention of the Faalcomana, who he then waved on.
Bewildered, the two Faalcomana looked around, believing he could not be waving for them. Embarnes continued enthusiastically waving for them, and at last got what he wanted. They began very hesitantly heading toward him.
Hua was uneasy as he watched them cautiously raise their rifles as they began to follow Embarnes, who was now running farther from the river towards what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse. For the time he was clearly not presenting any threat to the Faalcomana, and Hua hoped that would mitigate his punishment if he was captured. Regardless, he wouldn’t dare squander his friend’s effort, and so he resumed moving as soon as he felt reasonably comfortable doing so.
“Clear to proceed,” Hua radioed to Sivtal. As he did his best to put aside his concern for Embarnes, he began to move ahead.
Atop the east tower, Zaeleth and Johvad had placed several explosive charges on the array, ready to disrupt the Faalcomana’s communications with the push of a button. They were now finishing preparations to make their way back to the bottom of the tower, securing ends of two spools of rope Quowaal had generously provided. Were it not for the ropes provided for them, they would have had to work their way back down and out of the East Tower. They so dreaded their sneaking through the towers that they had considered risking a ride in an elevator both to and from the top. However, as it was with the rope, they could try to relax for a moment they before continuing their mission. Now the two, along with Quowaal, sat near the elevator and attempted to savor these final peaceful moments.
Zaeleth was growing increasingly anxious. The sun’s light continued to fade as the reflection of its light became more apparent on the sliver of a moon. Like sand in an hourglass, the night setting in was counting down the time Zaeleth had left before he and the others went to war. But the night also began to reveal the vast sea of stars the sun had been blotting out. Zaeleth was drawn to the sight of them, and managed to find tranquility in the sight. It took his mind elsewhere. “What’s it like?” he asked, as though Quowaal knew he had begun to focus on space. Quowaal and Johvad both looked to him in confusion. “Being among the stars,” he quickly added, only looking away from the stars and toward them for a brief moment. Quowaal and Johvad both immediately grinned at the twinkle they saw in Zaeleth’s eye.
“I do not know how to say what it is like. The colors of all of it, on the blackness around it…it is beautiful.” Knowing he delivered his thought clumsily, he took a moment to not just find the words, but to try to adapt them to their language better. “Among the stars, you see you are nothing, but so blessed to be even that because there is so much beauty and wonder.” Johvad and Zaeleth smiled at his warm and impressively eloquent delivery. “It will make you feel the same.”
Zaeleth tried to imagine it for a moment as Quowaal spoke. He liked that Quowaal had said ‘it will,’ as though Zaeleth would certainly experience it. He felt empowered by it, even if it was not the idea Quowaal was trying to express. He graciously put his hand on Quowaal’s shoulder to thank him for answering the question so well. Quowaal nodded his head in response. Then Zaeleth’s and Johvad’s wristcoms lit up, ripping away Zaeleth’s sense of serenity. It was time.
Zaeleth immediately switched gears. He instantly became focused and felt ready. In that moment, he was reminded that it was waiting that had always been excruciating, but the action was often second-nature to him. He had already made it through so much. With his training and his comrades, especially Johvad, by his side, he felt he could continue to make it through all things. He was the first to rise to his feet, Johvad and Quowaal following shortly behind. He walked to the south edge of the tower and looked out to the city, his two companions again following just behind him. Quowaal pulled something out from a pouch hidden behind his armor and handed it to Johvad.
“I made it for you,” Quowaal said as he handed the data disk to Johvad. “I do not know when we will meet again, or if, but this I have made for you.” Johvad immediately took the disk and placed it in a pouch that he hoped would keep the mysterious disk safe before the two embraced for what might be the last time.
Quowaal quickly turned his attention to Zaeleth and reached his hand out to him. Zaeleth did likewise and Quowaal emphatically embraced him by the forearm, pulling him close for a half hug of sorts. “Zaeleth, we believe that life has come from the stars, and so it is most natural to wish to be among them,” he paused briefly, “I think you will.” he said with a warm smile. Zaeleth nodded his head yes, but there was no twinkle in his eye any longer, only focus and determination. That only served to make Quowaal feel more confident in what he had said.
Quowaal turned his attention back to Johvad. “May all go well with you,” Quowaal said to Johvad.
“Thank you, brother” Johvad replied. Quowaal took a second to respond.
“Faalcomana,” he said, which was the first time he had ever spoken that to a human. For Quowaal, it signified a unity between both races – that their respective kinds could come together as one “kind” and make a better future for all. Johvad quickly picked up that he must mean it in a manner similar to that.
“Faalcomana,” Johvad said in return.
Zaeleth had again focused on the city. He pulled his mask over his face and watched on, Johvad did likewise. The city was very quiet. Humans were gravitating closer to their district as the streets of Kelgar were even less inviting at night. The Faalcomana kept the lighting very dim on the streets, both to deter activity and also because they had a distinct advantage in eyesight in the dark. Zaeleth’s fearful anxiety was all but gone, but now impatience was beginning to set in. Not a second too soon it began.
Explosions erupted in the southeast area of the city. Chained one after another, the explosions rang out and resonated through the city. The humans began to panic and seek shelter, even though the explosions were in a relatively unoccupied area of the city, especially in regards to humans.
Shortly thereafter, Faalcomana could be seen assembling and making their way to the scene. One of the patrol airships parked at the fortress lifted off and hovered toward the explosions. Zaeleth began typing a message on his wristcom as he walked along the west edge of the tower up to the north end of it, surveying the scene. Two additional squads of Faalcomana paired up into ground vehicles and began heading in the same direction, aiming to encircle the area of the explosions in hopes of catching the culprits.
Johvad walked over along the east edge doing the same, stopping at the two neatly wound bundles of rope by the northeast corner. Zaeleth surveyed for a moment more, watching as the last of the ground vehicles departed, then sent the message he had prepared. At that, he walked over to Johvad who now had a bundle of rope in each hand, one of which he handed to Zaeleth. The two men locked the rope into a couple of hooks on their belts then threw the rest of it over the edge. After each gave a quick tug to ensure that the end of their rope was securely tied off, they began to rappel down the tower. Zaeleth stayed on the north side, Johvad on the east. Quowaal watch on from the south edge. He was torn over this entire situation, but deep down he knew he had done the right thing by helping the humans.
In the northwest area of Kelgar, the assault team led by Sivtal made their way to the city streets, heading as quickly as possible to a few blocks away from the City Center. With the majority of the Faalcomana soldiers having left for their mission, and many that remained in the city preoccupied with the “fireworks” in the southeast region of the city, the men had to focus on speed more than not drawing attention to themselves.
Upon arriving at the rendezvous point, they were promptly greeted by Faltensee and the rest of the soldiers who had been waiting within the city. They quickly divvied up the supplies and weapons, and two fresh men from within the city took over transporting the bomb. As soon as they finished that, they began to make their way the short distance to the north entrance of the fortress.
Sticking close to buildings and remaining on side streets, they quickly filed to the fortressed City Center. Though the streets were rather barren at that time in the northern area of the city, several citizens, both human and Faalcomana, caught sight of the forty-man assault team moving methodically but fearlessly through the streets. Whether they wanted to report the activity or not, they were unable to in any effective or timely manner. The sight of the assault in the making left the handful who saw it stunned.
Zaeleth and Johvad continued to scan beneath them as they rappelled down around the corner from one another. Johvad began to see the dim interior lights on the north tower go out, floor by floor, from the top down. They both descended as quickly as they could, taking a generous drop toward the end of their descent in order to speed it up.
As quickly as their feet hit the ground, they moved north hurriedly in a crouched position. The City Center grounds appeared to be devoid of Faalcomana for the moment. The two men reached the southeast corner of the North Tower, where they were to split up.
“I’ll see you on the other side, brother,” Zaeleth said, deliberately using the double entendre. Johvad’s mask concealed his grin. They clasped hands and quickly brought their right shoulders together in a brief hug. At that, Johvad continued north around the east side of the building, whereas Zaeleth headed west to go the long way around to the other side of the building.
Zaeleth remained low and vigilant as he worked his way across the south side of the tower. Trying to remain covered by any object that lent itself to such, he turned right and continued to survey his surroundings as he moved to the northwest corner of the North Tower.
At the northwest corner, he stayed near a decorative corner stone of the building. He looked to his right and saw Johvad doing likewise on the other side of the building. Once more, he looked for any sign of the enemy. “Clear,” he spoke into his wristcom. Nearly instantly, he saw Johvad begin heading straight toward the still closed north gate, where the assault team would be arriving at any moment.
With the power shut down to the gate, Johvad was now able to manually disengage the lock and begin to pull one side of the large gate open. The gates, much like the two-story tall hangar bay doors on the north side of the North Tower, were notable for not at all matching the style of the majority of the City Center, as they were alterations made by the Faalcomana. The focus of their alterations on Gratuak was almost always function and very rarely on aesthetics.
Johvad struggled to pull the right gate open, but steadily managed to make progress. Zaeleth struggled to remain posted up as he was supposed to, rather than aid his friend in his task. With the right gate pulled open, Johvad prepared to open the left gate in the same way.
A few hundred feet north of the gate, the assault team rounded a street corner and saw one half of the gate now opened. “They did it,” a Coalition soldier in the front said excitedly. Invigorated by the sight, the team continued their brisk pace to the City Center.
Johvad began unlocking the left gate, but just then, two young Faalcomana soldiers came rushing out of an entry door that was to the side of the large hangar bay doors. “Hey, stop!” one of them yelled in their native language, reducing its efficacy. The two soldiers hastily tried to put their helmets, which they had strapped to their belts, on to complete their suit of armor. Johvad immediately ran for cover past the left gate. Helmets on, the two Faalcomana soldiers drew their large caliber pistols as they moved toward the area they had last seen Johvad.
Making as little sound as possible, Zaeleth drew a pistol and attempted to move around and behind the Faalcomana. Just as he neared the first soldier, Johvad, not able to see what Zaeleth was doing, detonated the explosives on the East Tower, causing the soldiers to look backwards and instantly see Zaeleth. Zaeleth was surprised by it as well, but he maintained his advantage over the first soldier. With pistol in hand, he quickly managed to jump on the soldier’s back, wedging the pistol under the helmet of the soldier and wrapping his other arm around both the neck of the soldier and his own arm that held the pistol, further securing the weapon where he had jammed it. “Just get the gate!” Zaeleth yelled to Johvad.
With Zaeleth on his back and a gun pressed under his jaw, the soldier tried to fight free. He spun so that Zaeleth was now positioned between the two soldiers. Zaeleth wildly kicked both feet out at the second soldier, temporarily curbing his attempt to take action. He cocked his head as far out of the way as he could while fighting to maintain his grip, and pulled the trigger four times. The rounds in this pistol were specifically loaded to reduce sound, and as a consequence were not as powerful as they might otherwise be; but they were plenty effective in the manner in which he used them.
As the soldier began to fall to the ground, Zaeleth wrenched his body to spin the solider, using him as a barrier between himself and the still alive and dangerous Faalcomana soldier. He groaned as the weight of the fully armored Faalcomana was almost entirely on him. Zaeleth now found himself lying on the ground, almost completely covered by the dead solder. He freed his hand holding the pistol and fired nearly blindly up at the solider. Anything less than the luckiest, most precise shot would do next to nothing to the Faalcomana armor, even at such a close distance. Zaeleth was many things, but lucky was not often one of them. The shots failed to do much more than nick the armor.
The solider, seeing his comrade was dead, fired three shots at Zaeleth. Though the rounds were powerful enough to penetrate the front of the dead soldier’s armor, they were unable to make it through the corpse and the back armor panel to Zaeleth. Realizing how protected he was, Zaeleth holstered his now empty pistol and began reaching for his primary pistol which fired full-power ammunition, although that was still likely to be ineffective.
Having finished cutting power to all of the elevators in the four towers, and identifying and cutting off as much power to all four of the towers as they could, save for the lowest levels of the North Tower, Faltensee and Kadel were now inside the hangar bay. Upon hearing the commotion outside, they knew it was time to take action. “Let’s get these open,” Faltensee said referring to the huge hangar bay doors. Immediately, he and Kadel pressed the buttons to open both doors.
The lone Faalcomana soldier saw the bay doors opening to his right. At nearly the same time, four soldiers of the Coalition assault team rushed ahead of the others to the open gate, fearing their new found allies might need help. The Faalcomana soldier began firing shots at the men coming through the gate. The four returned fire with their rifles, at nearly the same time, Faltensee and Kadel fired rounds from their pistols. With the enemy distracted, Johvad finished unlocking the left gate.
The Faalcomana soldier could not withstand the barrage, but he managed to hit two of the Coalition soldiers, killing one, before succumbing to the gunfire. Zaeleth shoved the Faalcomana corpse off of him, which was not the easiest of taskes, as the rest of the assault team came flooding to the gates. Johvad, with the assistance of a couple of soldiers, pulled the other gate open.
By this time, despite their communications being hampered by the explosive, the Faalcomana remaining at the City Center had begun to become aware of the situation developing at the north gate. However most of their weaponry was located on the lower levels of the North Tower, and much of the functionality in the four buildings had been crippled by Faltensee and Kadel. All the same, Faalcomana with a view to the northern wall of the City Center began doing what they could. Mostly that meant shooting through the windows of 3 of the 4 towers, mostly only with pistols.
With shots coming through the windows at the Coalition team at the gate, the team hunkered down and hurried through the gate and into the North Tower. Most soldiers returned fire, helping to suppress enemy fire and clear the path to the tower. Two more Coalition soldiers were wounded as everyone made their way into the hangar bay. Refusing to leave a fellow soldier behind, other soldiers pulled the wounded, even the deceased soldier, into the hangar.
The hangar bay had exceptionally crude, however efficient, alterations made to it. In order to house some of their larger vehicles within, the Faalcomana had almost completely knocked out the first three floors and supported the floors above as needed. Though some rooms remained along the outer perimeter of those floors, from within the hangar bay, at best the vestigial floor sections of levels two and three created a walkway around the outer edge of the now very open and spacious bay.
“Alright, you know what to do!” Lieutenant Doalan roared out amidst the crowd. “Let’s get those stairwells and entrances covered! Get the transports running and loaded! You know your assignments!” Soldiers rushed to fix their guns on the stairwells, while others planted mines near and in the stairwells. Four saw to the placement of the bomb towards the southwest corner of the hangar. The location was not terribly important, and that area was chosen simply because if was somewhat clear there.
Other soldiers scrambled to see which of remaining transports were operational. The plan was to stock and steal as many vehicles as possible. To that end, it quickly became a semi-organized scramble as soldiers dashed back and forth from supplies shelves and lockers to vehicles.
Johvad and Zaeleth walked up to Doalan. “Your selection is not as robust with so many soldiers mobilizing earlier,” Johvad said.
“I know. Do you have any ideas?”
“We could consider towing some of the vehicles that aren’t fully operational.”
“That’d be risky,” Doalan responded.
“What would you consider the rest of what we’re doing?” Zaeleth asked smiling. Doalan and Johvad both smirked at the comment. Zaeleth now turned his attention to the handful of aerial vehicles further back in the hangar. “Can any of you fly those?” he asked.
“I doubt it.”
“Well not with that kind of attitude,” Zaeleth again quipped. Doalan huffed and smirked, and nearly instantly gave in.
“I’ll have a few soldiers look into it.” Johvad gave Zaeleth a pat on his back and an approving nod for both his suggestion and his light-hearted but effective persuasion. Zaeleth nodded back to acknowledge his approval.
“They’re coming down!” a soldier suddenly yelled from near one of the stairwells. Zaeleth was much more comfortable being a predator in the shadows rather than a target stuck in the middle of a building, so he immediately looked to Johvad and his surroundings, hoping to find a way to again get the upper hand on the enemy. Just then, a loud boom resonated through the bay as one of the mines had been triggered.
Gun battles erupted at two stairwells. Time was of the essence. Sensing the urgency, Zaeleth rushed to help load supplies, leaving those soldiers who were well armed to defend the group. The sounds of engines starting up added to the chaos. The immediate enemy engagement was not quite how they hoped it would play out, yet it was a possibility they had tried to prepare for. It was particularly troubling to Zaeleth, who quickly began to feel like a caged animal, discontent to sit in the confines of the hangar and wait for the enemy to close in. He continued to hastily load what he could.
As the majority continued their respective assignments, the soldiers assigned to drive the commandeered vehicles began to move the loaded ground vehicles to the doors. It wasn’t the most graceful process as they slowly plowed an uncooperative vehicle and other unimportant items out of their way, but it was effective. At the same time, three of the air ships in the hangar began lifting off, one noticeably wavering as it hovered a few feet above ground.
Inside the wobbling aircraft, the pilot radioed out to Doalan and the others. “Sir, I don’t know that I can fly this thing.” Doalan was neither pleased nor surprised, but he was quick to resolve the issue.
“Do you think you can keep it in the air and just steer enough to not hit anything while we tow you?” The ship raised up a few feet more, then jerked back down a bit.
“Uh, sure,” he replied. His lack of total confidence was easily perceived, but so was his willingness.
“We need to get a tow cable from one of these ground transports to his ship,” Doalan commanded. Hua, who had just tied a tow cable from one ground vehicle to another and was always eager for another task, immediately went to work on it. He quickly zeroed in on an unencumbered transport and manually unlocked the tow cable. It took a little extra effort to first get it to unwind, but after that, it gave him little resistance as he dragged it over to the hovering ship. He spotted what appeared to be a well anchored piece of metal that he could tie the cable off on, and promptly did so.
Amidst the noise and activity, a bold Faalcomana soldier snuck through a door on the third floor and out to an area overlooking the hangar. The soldier nearly immediately caught sight of Hua patting the front of the ship to signal it was set. He quickly threw a remote detonated explosive as close to both the aircraft and Hua as he could, and promptly detonated it. The explosion rocked the ship, sent Hua’s mangled body into the air, and stunned everyone inside the hangar.
Shaken by the explosion, Zaeleth caught sight of Hua’s body on the ground, however, from his position, he could not recognize Hua’s lumbering, involuntary arm movement for what it was. All the same, it was extremely unsettling. He looked for cover while trying to get a handle on the situation.
Quickly the attention of the Coalition group was on the enemy soldier as they unleashed their weapons on him, knocking him back through the doorway he had snuck through. Every additional second spent inside the hangar would further jeopardize their safety and success.
“It’s time to go! Start moving out!” Doalan roared over the radio. At that point, every soldier finished whatever they were doing and worked to board a vehicle, with no more than 3 or 4 people aboard any one vehicle, they did well in maximizing their haul.
The soldier piloting the tethered ship radioed back, “The ship took some damage!” He pulled back on the controls slightly to pull the cable taut, verifying it was still attached. “But the cable is hooked and we’re still in the air; ready when you are!”
Soldiers rushed to Hua, covering as many of his wounds as they could with a blood-clotting cloth often simply called “trauma pads,” futile as that was. They moved his body aboard a soon to be departing transport, Zaeleth, among others, scanning the room as they did, hoping to avoid another sneak attack.
The makeshift convoy began pulling out of the hangar, Coalition soldiers hopping aboard transports as they continued to exchange fire with the Faalcomana who were attempting to retake the hangar. Coalition soldiers that were aboard transports with mounted guns quickly began utilizing them against the Faalcomana, some of who had begun to approach and attack from the outside of the hangar.
Zaeleth looked for and quickly located Johvad across the hangar standing in the opening of the side door of a slowly moving transport. Despite also seeing Kadel even closer aboard one of the untethered airships, he decided he would accompany Johvad. He considered Kadel, a younger man like himself, a good friend, especially among his Brothers. However, he felt closer to Johvad, and was at least a bit averse to flying. Zaeleth wanting to travel out into space, but not caring for flight of any kind was not too unusual for him, with his attributes and feelings often conflicting with one another.
He raced across the hangar, crouching as he moved as gunfire at least sounded as though it was all around him. Johvad watched him intently and immediately reached out to help guide him up and into the transport, then closed the door behind him. On the transport with some of the best soldiers of the Coalition, Zaeleth felt a certain sense of relief, helping take off the edge of what had just happened to Hua.
Johvad, sensing unease in Zaeleth, placed a hand on his shoulder. In tense moments like these, that gesture had come to serve as a reminder to do his best to remain calm (it was not uncommon for situations and emotions to get the best of Zaeleth). Zaeleth immediately, nearly instinctively, took a few deep breaths, focusing on his breathing as he did so in order to help clear his mind.
Johvad then extended an assault rifle to Zaeleth, as he had been armed with one himself by one of the soldiers. As he slung the weapon over his shoulder, Zaeleth turned his attention to the Coalition soldiers aboard.
“Hey there,” he said in a hurried, awkward way, “thanks for the ride.” A few of the soldiers cracked a smile and nodded their heads in response.
Outside their transport, the convoy began moving out the gate through which the Coalition team had entered. Additional Faalcomana soldiers began to respond to the scene. However, as both sides of the fight were in Faalcomana vehicles, there was difficulty in differentiating between friendly and enemy units. Combined with the limited communication functionality, their effectiveness in assisting their mates was severely limited. All the same, volleys of gunfire were exchanged, with some friendly fire working in the favor of the Coalition.
With the diversionary explosions having successfully served their purpose, virtually all of the additional Faalcomana support was coming through the south entrances of the city center compound to provide aid to their comrades. This created a choke point as well as valuable time for the Coalition as they fled north to escape the city with their newly acquired weapons and vehicles.
Turreted vehicles posted up on each side of the gate, giving suppressive fire as the remainder of the commandeered vehicles exited the tower. The last vehicles to exit were the aerial ones; first the two untethered ships, followed immediately by the ship being towed behind a ground unit. The untethered ships almost instinctively flew out and up, as though stretching out and rejoicing in the newfound open space. The towed airship quickly worked its way into the midst of the convoy, providing extra protection for the otherwise more vulnerable combination of vehicles.
The chaotic volley of gunfire continued as the commandeered convoy of the Coalition streamed through the northern streets of Kelgar, eventually turning west onto Broadway, where a bridge led out of the city as it crossed the Ducog River. Broadway was once a bustling street before the invasion; a well-lit and thriving stretch of road that greeted travelers as they crossed the Broadway Bridge and entered Kelgar. Now, only old and neglected architecture and unlit, and often damaged, signage attested to what once was. The group of vehicles occupied both sides of the road, which was itself worse for the wear, as the vehicles in the rear did their best to hold off the pursuing Faalcomana.
The untethered aerial vehicles began turning back, effectively making bombing runs on the Faalcomana giving chase. It wasn’t the prettiest piloting, but it was incredibly effective is slowing their pursuit. Because of the power of the bomb they had left in the North Tower, the Coalition wanted to at least be on the bridge before detonating it.
A Faalcomana airship approached, looking to wreak the same havoc on the Coalition as the stolen airships were inflicting on the Faalcomana. Unfamiliar with the airships as they were, the Coalition pilots weren’t effectively utilizing the onboard radar (among other features), so they only became aware of the enemy ship after witnessing it begin to fire on the convoy. “We have an enemy in the air,” one of the pilots radioed out.
“Air, continue to focus on their ground units, we’ll focus on that ship from down here,” Doalan radioed out. The Faalcomana pilot was skilled and crafty, using buildings and side streets to make it difficult for Coalition gunners to maintain a visual on him for long, at least until he returned for his own attack run. That approach consistently gave the Faalcomana pilot an initial advantage in each exchange. However, it never took long for the Coalition to begin returning fire, helping minimize the damage he was able to inflict.
As the last few vehicles turned left onto Broadway, the Faalcomana airship hit a sweet spot, causing an explosion under one of the transports. The blast tossed the transport into the air, clipping another transport as it tumbled through the intersection. “We just lost a transport,” the clipped transport radioed out to alert Doalan and the others of the situation.
Zaeleth’s immediate concern, especially for his Brothers aboard other vehicles, could be seen in his eyes. He used his wrist communicator to send a message out to them, hoping he’d quickly hear good news. He did well in remaining relatively calm, at least outwardly, but the situation was again exasperating him. His anxiety was such that he would have preferred to be out on foot. It’d almost undoubtedly be more dangerous, but at least he’d be in control. As it was, he felt stuck inside the transport and at the mercy of chance as the battle seemed to be escalating around him.
“Downed transport, respond!” Doalan immediately called out. “Damn it!” he exclaimed to the pilot that he was seated next to before proceeding to call out again. “I need to hear from one of you!” He wasn’t sure what action he would take if they did respond, but he couldn’t just write them off.
With the entire convoy now on Broadway, whether on or approaching the bridge, it left them all exposed, namely to the enemy airship. Looking down at the smoking wreckage of the transport from the air, a Coalition pilot updated Doalan on the dire circumstances. “It doesn’t look good for that transport, sir. But the rest of the convoy is on Broadway.” The pilot looked out to the south and saw more lights in the sky nearing the City Center, a sure sign of aerial reinforcements. “And it looks like we have more air units inbound from the direction of the City Center.”
“Are they near the north tower?”
“They look close,” the pilot responded with a hint of doubt in his voice. It was difficult to gauge their distance in the night.
“We’re going to detonate that bomb! All ground units move full speed down Broadway. Air units, go north and circle back for one more sweep from the east for any enemies still following us after the explosion.”
The air units swept off to the north over the lake, firing at the enemy airship as it rounded for another attack. The Faalcomana pilot immediately rolled away in the hail of gunfire. Though they failed to significantly damage the ship, they disrupted its attack on the convoy. The Faalcomana ship continued south, only to be greeted by the sight of an enormous explosion from the North Tower.
The explosion ripped through the base of the tower, essentially cutting its feet out from under it. The effects of the blast went beyond the Faalcomana created barrier that surrounded the towers, particularly the northern section. The bottom stories of the North Tower crumbled as the rest of the structure dropped down onto the rubble of what was once its lower levels, ripping down the skywalks connecting it to the other towers and kicking up a huge plume of dust and smoke, as it did.
The upper portion of the North Tower balanced precariously on the rubble for the briefest of moments before toppling over onto the West Tower. Its fall was slowed by the West Tower, but the collision gouged out the edges of the towers that had come into contact with one another. The sight and sounds of it all was terrifically violent. The towers gave way to one another, allowing the the North Tower to continue to roll off the West Tower, raking its exterior as it continued its fall to the ground. The resulting cloud of debris began to consume the city.
Aside from the North Tower damaging the West, the blast itself had inflicted substantial damage on the surrounding towers of the City Center. It was total devastation. The Faalcomana casualties were unthinkably high. Stunned by the wreckage and the success of the Coalition, virtually all of the Faalcomana were uncertain how to proceed. Most instinctively wanted to aid their comrades while awaiting orders from their superior.
Disjointed and ineffective as they were, the minority who continued to pursue the Coalition did so at their own peril. Stunned by events, the Faalcomana pilot who had been giving the Coalition problems was overtaken by the human pilots. As the two ships fired upon his, the smoke from his ship, along with his ship itself, coalesced into the carnage of the City Center. The fates of the other airships were less clear; all the same, the convoy was vigilant. The last units of the convoy tossed mines behind themselves as they started onto the bridge, further ensuring a safe cushion.
Two Faalcomana transports turned onto Broadway and pursued the convoy. There was a frivolous exchange of gunfire, but it wouldn’t be long before the last of the convoy was out of sight, or before the mines would do their jobs. The Faalcomana had faced resistance before, but never on such a large scale. And they had certainly never suffered a defeat like this from the humans. Though the extent of their defeat and casualties were not yet known, it was all too clear that they were large and unprecedented. Leaving the dust cloud and debris behind them, The Coalition would continue on their way towards Southview.
As the assault on the City Center towers unfolded, information, including some images and video, had been being relayed to Tettarov aboard his space vessel. With their primary communications channel compromised, the information was being transmitted using alternative means, resulting in slow and clunky communication. That in itself was enough to anger Tettarov, but when combined with the news of the devastation, he was furious! Although he had reservations about Fre’erik’s plans, he never imagined it would result in this. Perhaps it had saved Faalcomana lives by so many being sent away, but in his mind, there was a better chance that the Coalition would have been stopped.
The rage nearly paralyzed him, as he had nothing he could immediately do physically or verbally to satiate it. It should have never come to any of this, from the placating of Jeccan and other human sympathizers to this scheme to gain their support. In Tettarov’s mind, more force was needed, both for the humans as well as the dissenting Faalcomana, perhaps even Fre’erik himself. He was so enraged, he struggled to separate his teeth when he finally went to give an order.
“Let them go,” he said very sharply. “Call the troops back to Kelgar and secure our city. We’ll deal with these pests soon…and swiftly,” he said before preparing to have his ship begin an approach to Kelgar. After spending so much time aboard their vessel in space before they invaded Gratuak, Tettarov was very comfortable in that setting. He had been enjoying his extended time in space, something he often did, but now his kind needed him. To him, it was now clear that where the Faalcomana had gone wrong was in not following him, his ideals, or his plans, closely enough. He was now resolute to begin changing that.
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