The Order of the Silver Star – The Return of the Angel
Memories Are All We Have Left
Juan Carlos was starting to regret getting out of bed. He was squatted down behind some bushes near the high school’s track and it was starting to drizzle on a day that was already way too cold. The world had been out to get him as long as he could remember and he was having second thoughts about today’s plans. Juan Carlos had thought the old man would be easy to steal from but this rain and cold was becoming irritating. This was his second morning to lay in wait and he was not sure if his victim would even show. The old man he was waiting for did not come every day and sometimes he skipped three or four in a row. Hopefully, the old man would have lots of money and credits card to make all the waiting and cold worth it.
The first time he saw the old man had been after a long night of partying. He had been walking home because he couldn’t remember where he had left his car. He took the path that went behind the high school and next to the track. It had been a cold morning, about 35 degrees, and when the old man got out of his truck in the track parking lot Juan was surprised. It was 4:30 in the morning and there was no reason for going to the track. Juan stayed in the dark near the woods and watched to see what the old man was up to. It turned out that the old man was there to run. That had not occurred to Juan because there were no night lights on the track. During the night, only the nearby street lights provided illumination and that was not much.
A couple of days later, Juan saw the old man again, so he decided to see if there was a pattern. It was the fourth time he saw the old man that he decided to rob him. The old man had left the track after running and stopped for gas on his way home. He had to have some money with to do that. So Juan Carlos made his plans.
Baptized Juan Carlos Diego Garcia III, by a single parent mother who was a drug user, Juan grew up on the streets. He moved in and out of juvenile detention halls many times over the years. He learned all the wrong lessons at those institutions and at 18 went to the big house. While in jail, he studied the law and discovered the benefits of planning. He served two years in one of the state’s jails studying the whole time to find ways to prevent himself from ever going back.
The direction he took with his studies was not what the system hoped when it provided him the materials. His time in jail taught him that planning how to commit a crime the “right” way could prevent him from being convicted. For example, if he broke into the old man’s truck and took his money, he could be charged with breaking and entering and theft. On the other hand, if he walked up and asked the old man for his wallet, he could argue that as a poor man he asked the old man for his wallet and out of compassion the old man just gave it to him. The key was to look and act scary enough while asking so that he didn’t actually have to pull a knife or gun. After he left jail, they had arrested him about ten times but he always got off because of his planning. Juan Carlos had decided that it was amazing how stupid the law was when you understood it.
He started to shiver and was about to give up when he heard the truck approaching. When it pulled into the parking lot he was able to recognize the old man right away. What a loser he must be to be coming at this time in the morning. That did not mean he wasn’t tough. Lonely perhaps, but a wimp, no. You cannot be a wimp and then go running when it is freezing out. Well this time the trip was going to cost him.
Juan waited until the old man finished running. The old man ran eight laps and Juan figured that would wear him out and lower the chance of him doing something stupid. Plus, people did not think straight when they were tired. So, when the old man starting walking back to his truck, Juan stepped out and intercepted him.
“Hey old man.”
The old man turn slightly so that he faced Juan directly and slowed to a stop.
“I could use some money. Why don’t you give me what you got? Now.”
The approach he used usually scared people into giving up all their cash immediately. Plus, Juan was able to see their credit cards when they opened their wallets so he could end up with a lot more.
The old man did not even flinch.
“Man you don’t know who you are dealing with. Now give me some money!”
Juan couldn’t believe it. Was this old man stupid? Was this one of those old people with that all timers disease or something?
“No. Now step aside.”
“Are you crazy or something? Do you want me to mess you up?”
Juan was getting mad and he started thinking about the knife in his pocket. He wondered if this old man was going to need to be hurt before he understood.
The old man sighed deeply and then asked, “Are you threatening me?”
“Yes, you idiot! Now give me the money.”
The old man stepped back one step and stretched out his arms. Then he moved forward a half a step and took up a defensive stance.
“You should walk away while you can.”
Juan was shocked to his core. He never had anyone, let alone an old man, stand so strong with no fear evident before. He pulled out his knife.
“I will hurt you if you don’t give me the money right now.”
The old man felt the change in his body as the energy flowed through him. On this planet, he was almost like everyone else; however, when needed, the power would come. He straightened as the strength he knew in battle reenergized his old body. Damaged knees and sore muscles disappeared as the warrior that was within was released and the character he played disappeared. He was himself again.
With steely eyes and a hard voice, the old man answered, “You can walk away or ride in an ambulance – your choice.”
Juan Carlos felt doubt creep into his mind as the old man spoke. There was no fear here and the old man almost glowed with an energy that he did not have moments before. The old man seemed powerful and unconcerned about the knife. Fear started to gnaw at Juan’s nerves and then his brain kicked back in.
The old man was bluffing. He might have been an actor or something like that. It was a good show and Juan almost believed it. He would have to remember what the old man did and practice doing it himself. Very clever but Juan Carlos was more clever and he also didn’t mind hurting someone if it was necessary to accomplish his goals.
“Well old man. I gave you a chance. Now I will have to take the money.”
Juan stepped in and the blade flashed in the dim light as it moved to the old man’s stomach. Except the old man was no longer there. Juan felt the fear return just before the old man’s feet crashed into his chest. The wind flew out of his lungs and pain blasted across his chest as he realized the old man had jumped up and toward him during the split second his knife was moving.
Juan flew back and slid along the asphalt of the parking lot. His hip caught on the curb and he felt pain slice into his back as the impact with the curb crushed bone. He twisted sideways in agony and came to a stop curled up on the grass between the parking lot and the sidewalk.
He tried to move and found that the slightest change in position created intense pain throughout his body. He tasted blood in his mouth and, for the first time, felt the fear that accompanies the realization that one might die. He heard the old man approach.
“You better not move as you may have internal injuries.”
Juan started to answer but found that he was in too much pain. He went to nod and that was a mistake also as pain shot up his spine and into his head making it feel like it exploded.
“Try not to move your head either. It hit the ground hard when you went from the curb to the grass. I imagine that you have a number of broken bones and a concussion. Not a very good line of work to be in.”
The old man reached down and touched Juan on the forehead. The touch felt good and the pain faded throughout his body until it was tolerable. Then the old man took his hand away.
“Why did you try to rob me?”
“I wanted your money.”
The old man shook his head no. His face was sad and he clearly did not enjoy seeing the young man in agony.
“You have wanted a lot of people’s money and you have not gone after it. Why did you go after my money?”
“Because you were an old man and I thought you would just give it to me.”
“That is much more honest. We can talk a bit if you promise to continue to be honest. If you answer my questions, then I will call for an ambulance. Otherwise, I will leave and you can wait till someone comes by. Do we have a deal?”
Juan believed that the old man would leave him and he knew he was in bad shape. He decided to do as the old man said.
The old man started the questioning with his favorite: “What kind of a life do you want for your children?”
Ten minutes later the ambulance service received a call for a pickup at the high school track. It was weird because the caller id showed the phone number at the coach’s office nearby but no one, except the injured man, was there when they arrived and the coach’s office was locked with the alarm still set.
The old man didn’t know if his conversation made a difference but every human being was worth the attempt. As he drove home, he considered his own life and where he was.
In real years, he was very old but, on this planet, he was dying for the seventh time. This was his station and dying was a part of the posting. The people did not live very long on this planet so all of those stationed here were required to have life cycles that were similar. In the past, he was able to avoid dying by changing his name and moving around; however, once the planet’s technology was able to track an individual from birth to grave things became more complex.
When the governments started to use DNA to track individuals, his life cycle changes became even more complex. He had become his own nephew five times now. Still, his original information was preserved by using alternative locations for the changed features with the deep coding done using the Awisd method. The end result was minor cosmetic differences with the tracking indicating only that he was a close relative to his previous self.
Naturally, he inherited all of his previous wealth, minus any taxes; however, his new identities tended to be poor or middle class so that he could blend in better. Still, if the money was ever needed, he had plenty stored away.
The old man entered the house and immediately knew he was not alone. All of his defenses came up and his warrior mode was activated for the second time that morning. Then he heard the soft laugh.
“It is only me.”
The voice was familiar and the old man turned on the light. Standing across the room was a tall woman.
Her black boots rose above her knees and had a silver band around their tops. On the front of each boot, in the silver area near the top was the symbol of the Order of the Silver Star, an outline of an angel with a star in her outstretched right hand. Her pants were laced with the light armor of Special Forces with vertical silver force lines glowing from her boots to her belt. The belt was silver and had a buckle with the symbol of freedom from the amulet engraved on it.
She wore a breast plate that covered her body from the neck to the waist. The plate appeared to be metal but flexed with her movements and seemed to change shape so that there was no discomfort to the wearer. She was wearing a long jacket made of dragon skin that ran from her neck to her ankles and was open in the front with a catch chain at the waist. Her helmet had a gold band that ran around her forehead and above it her head was covered with a black metal. The helmet came down and covered her ears and the back of her head and neck as it draped over her jacket. On her hands, she was wearing gauntlets that covered her jacket sleeves and ended just before reaching her elbow. The only part of her body showing was her face.
Her hair was in her helmet except for some that came out around her neck and flowed down over her breast plate. The hair was bright blue and so radiate that it seemed to glow. Her face was firm and delicate at the same time with deep hypnotic blue eyes. She had thin lips, a thin face, and clearly was a beautiful woman. She exuded power and when she came closer, everyone could see symbols engraved on her helmet’s gold band: άγγελο.
She was smiling sweetly and he walked over eagerly and received a hug. She hugged and shook him. Then she held his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek. It did not last long but the memories would. It is good to be loved.
The greetings lasted only for a little while. He could see she was in a hurry and finally he asked, “So, what is the reason for this early morning visit?”
“The Paladin and I were just called to a planetary system that is critical to the success of the Gate. Can you take over leading a battle on one of my client planets?”
The old man looked at the phone he was holding and asked, “When would I be back, in local time?”
“I can send you through the T’Klond portal and have you back here in five minutes local time. The Tall Man authorized the use and you can be in their system for up to one month during the five minutes.”
The old man was shocked. The T’Klond portal was extremely expensive to operate and had very limited transport capacity. The Angel’s activities must be extremely critical to the startup of the Gate in order for this to be approved.
“I would be honored to serve in the stead of a Steward of the Order.”
The old man bowed deeply and with humility. He had spent many years training her and knew how special she was and how broken she had been before the Tall Man saved her. In the years they worked together, he learned of her special abilities and watched as she gained her self-respect back while becoming a warrior that surpassed him by a mile. Whoever she was when she started on this journey no longer matter, she clearly was an important player now.
“Don’t bow. After all you have done, you will always be like a father to me. Besides, this is not an easy mission you will be taking on.”
Hours later, he thought about her warning and realized it was an understatement. He was on the ground in agony. His left arm no longer responded to his commands and his legs were on fire. The uniform he wore generally negated the destructive effects of energy attacks but it was not always effective for multiple or simultaneous bursts of extremely high energy weapons.
He wore the energy bands that were designed to absorb excess energies and he had the training on how to divert that capacity back into his sword. Still, this attack exceeded the capacity of his uniform and the bands. The energy overloading the uniform and bands leeched out causing damage all around him.
Whoever was providing the advanced weapons had planned for someone like him to be there. They were going to be slightly upset when they learned that he had lived. They were going to be very upset when they learned of the damage he had caused. He now knew why the Angel wanted him. Only a small number of the Order’s members would have survived the attack he just went through and hardly any were capable of unleashing destructive energies of this type back on their creator.
He rolled on the ground and slapped his legs putting out the fires. He hated burns and thought that they were one of the worst injuries that anyone could have. His right arm and the fingers on his right hand still worked. So he reached into his mouth and released the Formts virus mixture into his system.
The various virus components worked with his immune system to deaden areas of high pain and to enhance the speed of tissue repair. One virus component targeted his adrenalin production and another the release of endorphins. He felt the changes immediately after releasing the virus. He looked around at the destruction caused by the enemy’s energy blasts.
To the south the forest was on fire and smoke severely limited visibility. The edge of the grassy field was smoldering and there were craters where the blasts impacted. Fortunately, very few of his troops were in the main area of the enemy’s attack and the portable armory was intact. Still, almost all of their transport equipment was destroyed along with most of their food and non-lethal supplies.
To the east he saw the enemy’s forces in disarray. They had not been ready for his return of the energy. While he could not contain all of the energy, he did return a significant amount and their forces were now in serious trouble. He managed to eliminate all of their vehicles and reduced their storage buildings to rubble.
To the north it looked like the area he was in, devastation. Craters everywhere, burnt trees and shrubs, and, unfortunately, some bodies. He was not able to protect this area and the enemy blasts that were deflected mainly went to the north. His heart sank as he saw an area that contained about 50 bodies. Why had they not followed his directions? He may never know.
To the west was the main body of his troops and little damage. He had done a remarkable job of protecting them from the energy blasts. He noticed that one of the officers was approaching and he could only imagine what he looked like. He tried to brush himself off but that only caused more of his uniform to fragment and fall to the ground. He decided he better not do that again.
“Are you all right?”
“I will be fine. My uniform will regenerate but it will take some time due to the extensive damage.”
“What about the burns and your arm?”
He looked down and saw the raw flesh of his legs with blackened skin and dark red clotted blood sprinkled with fresh bright red blood. He could see healing on the edges but the legs did look horrible. His arm was worse and better. There was no blood or burnt flesh but the angles of the arm showed directions that are not possible with intact bones.
“I will need help resetting the arm but the rest is already being taken care of. Do you have a medic who can give me a hand?”
“Sure. I’ll go get her.”
He knew he only had a short lull in the battle to work with so he finished his review and motioned the commanders to come over.
“We need to attack now while they are in disarray.”
He did not get to say more as the commanders all started speaking at once. He held up his hand and pointed to one to start.
“We cannot face fire power like that. We will be destroyed.”
He looked at the rest and asked, “How many of you feel that way?”
All but two of them said yes. He looked at the two who were off by themselves.
“What do you two think?”
One of the men was young, barely old enough to be an officer and the other could have been his father. The older man looked at the younger and the later nodded. The older man turned back.
“We believe in you and the Order. This is the best time to attack if you say it is.”
Both of the officers bowed their heads and looked down. He could hear the other officers muttering under their breath comments they would not say out loud. He took one step back away from the group.
“We will attack. Those of you who do not want to attack can remove all symbols of the Order and leave the battlefield. You are welcome to take anyone with you who believes the same.”
He turned to the two officers and said, “You two are the new commanders. Welsty will take the three divisions on the north and prepare them and Truce will take the four divisions on the south. Be ready in two pades.”
Then he walked away from the stunned group to the waiting medic so that he could set his arm.
General Rowet examined his forces with a critical eye. What just happened was not possible according to the “advisors” his king was listening to. He warned the king that the Order was powerful and advised him to negotiate as the Order usually stayed out of those activities considering them to be local affairs.
The advisors had told the king that the Order no longer existed and that the enemy was weak. Well they sure were wrong. Still, this was his mess to clean up. The return of his own energy blasts was not expected and his inexperienced troops panicked making the destruction that much worse. Trying to retreat under fire caused more deaths than the counter attacks did.
His energy weapons were destroyed and he did not have any in reserve. They had been assured that the enemy had no defenses against his firepower. Truth be told, they didn’t, except for the old man. No one had figured he was dangerous. But, it was evident, everyone was wrong.
He knew that he needed to retreat but was not able to communicate with the various groups. Everything was chaos and he could only hope the enemy didn’t attack. He sent runners to the units with directions to reform and prepare to retreat. Then he sent a runner to headquarters about the situation and what he was going to do. It was his prayer that his units would be ready soon and that they could start the retreat before he heard back from headquarters as he feared they would not allow the retreat.
Colonel Tarsus was furious. Who did that old man think he was that he could dismiss him. He would have done better than the old man did if he had access to the technologies the old man was using. He also knew better than to attack the Watrums and General Rowet. He was going to get them all killed.
He tried to talk the soldiers into leaving with him but almost all of them wanted to stay. This business with the “Order” was a joke and they would all die. When all of this started he had command of 15,000 and now he was walking away with 154.
The old man was going to lose because if he lived today, which Tarsus doubted, Tarsus would kill him himself. He was so mad that he couldn’t see straight. He wanted to get back to the president and straighten this out. He needed to hurry before the old man killed all of his men.
The old man saw the small group cutting across the field. He had told them to stay on the road. It was a shame the Colonel was so angry. People made bad decisions when their emotions were out of control. He had just turned back to the maps in front of him when the explosions started.
Tarsus knew what had happened the moment the first explosions went off. They had walked right into a delayed land mine field. The fields were a favorite of General Rowet. He loved to retreat through the fields, knowing where the mines were, and then lead the enemy to their deaths.
The fields had long delay fuses to allow the forces entering to move deeply into the mines. Then, as the first explosions went off, the vibrations would trigger the delays to turn off. Thus trapping the group in a zone of death. He screamed for his soldiers to stand still. No one heard.
Running back the way they came, thinking it was safe, a large group hit newly sensitive mines. This left the rest in a panic, fleeing in every direction, setting off mines all around. It was only a short time before Tarsus found himself standing in a field of blood and body parts with only Sergeant L’Reed at his side.
They knew what was coming. After the initial explosions finished, the hoppers would engage. Hoppers popped up from the ground and shot pellets 360 degrees at multiple angles to catch anyone left alive. The only defense was a shield barrier. The two of them formed up back to back but knew that they could not block out pellets from all angles and then they waited.
The old man heard the explosions stop and understood what was coming next. His officers had stopped the rescue attempts before they could start. This made the soldiers mad until they watched the scene unfold. Then they realized how many would have died. Still, most did not know what would happen now. This was one of those difficult lessons that the old man hated for anyone to learn.
The hoppers start with a short whoosh as a unit flies into the air. Then there is a screeching and a whining as it spins up. This is followed by a repeated popping. A sound similar to a child’s pop gun. Of course, the pops came in rapid succession as pellets shoot out. He could see the two men trying to barricade themselves with their shields and he knew that there were too many holes in their defense. He decided he needed to act.
He stepped away from the tent and moved where he had a clear view. At the first whoosh his sword came up and a tiny orange stream flew from it and destroyed the pellet canister in midair. During the next few moments, his sword spewed orange twenty times more. The whooshes stopped and he started to float up in the air. When he reached a height three times his own, a blue beam shot out of the sword burning a path double the height of a man all the way to the two men. He floated down.
He turned to one of the officers nearby.
“Take a small group of ten men and grappling gear. You are to stay on the blue path. Throw the grappling hook and drag the injured to the path. Then evacuate them.”
The officer gathered ten men and went work. At about the same time Welsty and Truce returned.
“We are ready sir,” Welsty said.
“Very well, your troops will follow me. Truce will move to the road and try to cut off their retreat. As you just saw, they have the other routes mined. Whatever you do, do not follow them off the road. If they move into a field, use your mortars to send weights into the fields around and in front of them to trigger the mines. Do not enter yourselves.”
After what they just saw he was confident no one would rush into a field. The old man walked to the front of the rapidly forming column. His clothes had almost regenerated and his legs and arm were working fine again.
General Rowet saw them coming through his scope. Once again the old man was leading them. That was not good news. Whoever the old man was he had experience and used it well. He scanned the group and saw that part of the forces had split off and were working to cutoff his retreat.
It no longer mattered. He had heard back from headquarters and they decided that it was important to make a stand against this rabble. Even with the evidence given, headquarters still did not believe that the Order was viable and felt that their weapons must have had a defect that caused them to blow up.
Rowett had seen the old man’s sword glow and watched the old man direct it toward them. He deliberately aimed at the energy weapons and methodically destroyed them. The resulting explosions annihilated the soldiers around the weapons. The chaos that followed caused many secondary explosions at the cost of thousands of additional soldiers. That was no defect.
Rowett scanned over his own troops. They were not even reformed yet. The enemy was outnumbered three to one but he was not sure that would matter today. He sent runners to his unit commanders to prepare for an assault. He wondered how many would live to see the night fall. He turned to his maps to prepare for counter attacks and to adjust the defenses as best he could.
The old man saw the runners head out from the command tent. He knew that General Rowett was an excellent strategist and he did not want those orders making it to the unit commanders. He called for his best archers. Each of the runners was wearing a red arm band to prevent being fired on by friendly forces. So he had his archers target the runners in groups of three. One fired ahead of where the runner would be, one fired where they thought he would be, and fired behind. This allowed for the varying speeds that some runners used to avoid being targeted.
The twenty groups took out the seventeen runners in short order. Some were only wounded and would find someone to deliver their message but that will probably be too late. The old man had his soldiers move to a light jog.
General Rowett watched the end of the archers’ efforts with a growing sense of despair. When he witnessed the groups of three firing together he knew his runners would not make it. He called forward his signal man. He needed to send the commands to the units now that the runners were eliminated. This would not be very effective because most of the signal men were injured or killed in the first battle but this would be better than nothing.
Rowett then called two of his nearby commanders to the command center and gave them directions on how to handle the forces coming down the road. He needed to try and delay them so that he could prepare for the retreat he was afraid he would need.
Truce was moving rapidly up the road when he saw the enemy taking up positions on the hills ahead. The road passed directly between two rises and the enemy was positioning themselves on both. He knew he could not go the south due to the mine fields and considered swinging around on the north. Still, he had been directed not to leave the road so he threw that thought away.
He brought his troops to a halt at a reasonable distance and took out his scopes. The old man had directed them to use mortars if the enemy was in a field. He ordered his mortar units to the front. He took his infantry and they locked shields in a barrier around the mortar units. He had them replace the regular charges with large ball bearings.
Truce then moved his archers into similarly protected groups behind the mortars. He instructed them to hold fire unless the enemy was on the road.
Truce directed the units to start their barrage on the edge of the forces as far away from the road as possible. They were to move along the edge from midway to the farthest away and then move toward the road. They were to follow this with strikes from the edge at the middle and then move toward themselves.
Commander Wster was surprised when the mortars started lobbing ball bearings into the fields around them. His surprise turned to dismay when they set off the delay mines. He could only look on in horror as his command was destroyed bit by bit. Moving set off more and soon the hoppers would begin their carnage.
He had planned on trapping the enemy and yet it turned out to be his own troops he condemned. Commander Stero was in the same situation on his side except that a large number of his men were still on the road when the attacks began. He immediately sent the men he had on the road to attack the enemy and stop the mortars.
Truce saw the enemy coming down the road in a desperate attempt to stop the mortars. He ordered his mortars to stop and drop. They laid on the ground with the infantry shielding them. As soon as they were down, the archers unleashed a torrent of arrows. In moments, the enemy’s advance stalled as row after row went down in a hail of arrows. Soon the attack was over and the remnant was struggling back up the road. Truce let them go.
Commander Wster watched Commander Stero go down with an arrow to his chest. Right after that the attack on the road was stopped and the survivors began their retreat. Wster ordered his remaining men to assist. He saw that the enemy was going to allow them to leave the field and he decided to take advantage of that while he could.
Truce moved up the road and cleared the bodies as they went. He wanted the road clear in case they needed it to travel fast. In addition, he thought that a few survivors returning might send a message that could help the enemy in its decision to surrender.
Truce heard the sounds of battle as he finished moving his forces in place. The exit was effectively blocked and the enemy would have to pay dearly to retreat in this direction.
The old man heard the mortars and the mines and knew what was happening. His heart sank at the knowledge that so many would die because a few were power hungry. It was an old story but sad just the same. Thousands of years did not change the pain although it did increase his understanding and ability to lessen the suffering.
He was running lightly and nearing the enemy’s positions. They were disorganized and most were still unaware of the attack. He started to run faster.
The old man headed for the highest density of enemy forces. They were located just beyond a small hill. As he came over the hill, he leapt high into the air and let out a banshee yell. The sound of his yell reached its loudest as he neared the highest point in his leapt. At that peak, he also released a burst of energy from his sword at the group of soldiers in front of him.
The ensuing explosion killed hundreds and completely destroyed any remaining courage the group had. As they started to pick themselves off the ground, the old man’s troops crested the hill and began their yelling and releasing of banshee cries. The enemy panicked and, those that could, ran away from the attack.
The old man had concentrated the entire force on this one area in hopes that it would fold. Even though it had the highest concentration of forces, it appeared to be the most chaotic. He had split the force in three with directions to separate after they penetrated the line. One group was to swing south and join up with their forces protecting the road – without entering the fields and then move east to the crossroads where they could join together and swing back north.
Another group was to swing north but try to stay behind the front lines so that they could destroy the supply lines and prevent the enemy from regrouping. They were to move up while protecting their own supply line.
His group was going to keep going straight and attempt to reach the enemy’s headquarters. They were to move as fast as possible and cut the head off of the snake with the hope that the rest would surrender.
The panic of the enemy at the point of contact prompted the old man to signal a change. He split his forces in two and added another group heading north. This one along the front lines to try and trap a large number of the enemy fighters in a pincer movement.
General Rowett was tracking the destruction of his center when Commander Wster arrived with news of the debacle on the south road. They now only had one escape route and his time to retreat was past due. He had a quandary on his hands. He could take his main group northeast to the last clear road of escape and abandon his forces on the northern line or he could reinforce them and lose the last avenue of retreat.
The General used his scopes and watched the progress of the old man’s forces. It was incredible. He was leading his troops like a laser from a gun. He cut through the few defenders like a scythe through grass and just as fast. His rate of advance was only slowed by his own soldiers’ lack of ability to keep up. The group was cutting a wide path and coming right at the headquarters. There was little time.
General Rowett had Commander Wster take the reserve units to the center to slow the old man down. He sent runners to the front lines to the north with directions to fall back to the northeast road. He sent runners to the front lines to the south but knew that there was little hope any could be saved. He gave them directions to retreat behind Commander Wster’s position as fast as possible. He doubted many would make it.
He ordered the headquarters staff to pack up the critical items only and head north to the northeast road. He called his staff together.
“This will be a battle to the end. Move your materials to the northeast road and set up a temporary command headquarters just beyond the forest’s edge. After that, you are to join the Guard and hold the road.”
They were serious and nodded their agreement. They knew that the enemy had them on the run and that the situation was dire. Still, they had great faith in the General and his ability to pull a victory out of a disaster.
The General knew most of those around him and had for many years. The Guard were his most loyal and experienced officers. Most had served years on the line and were given their post as a reward for decades of service. They would die before they gave up the road.
Welsty had given command of the southern group to Squatr, a young officer with a reputation for getting his job done. When they first split from the main group things had gone well. The enemy units on the front lines to the south were sparse due to the terrain. Moving quickly, he positioned his forces behind the lines and moved south in a double 90 wing formation. One wing ran east to west and directly engaged the enemy forces on the front lines. The second wing ran north and south to prevent the enemy from retreating in that direction.
At first this worked great; however, as they moved south it increased the concentration of enemy forces acting against them. The old man had felt that it was better to cut them off hoping for a surrender than to allow the various groups to join up with the rest of the enemy. Still, moving south was becoming more and more difficult.
To the north, Welsty was cutting through the supply lines easily. He was to move through to the northeast road and then cut back to the front lines entrapping the enemy forces on the line. He had received the information on the help coming up the line and was confident that he would be able to trap a large number of enemy fighters.
He was about to turn back west when he received word that the enemy was moving up the northeast road. He reviewed his map and calculated that they were trying to get the forest’s edge to hold the road. With no way to contact the old man, he decided to turn south and engage the enemy on the road.
To the west, the battle was moving north with relative ease. The forces they encountered were weak, disorganized, and quick to surrender. In a short time, they were moving large numbers west with small guard units. The old man had given command to Reref, an old veteran of many wars. Reref would quickly disarm those who surrendered, tie them up so that the could still travel, and then send them off with his weakest or wounded men. He was making great progress.
The old man saw that the reserves were being directed toward him and that another group had gone north. His communication with his southern thrust showed stiff resistance and very little to the north. If he could push the reserves back, he would cutoff the southern group completely and he could have Truce move to reinforce them from the south east.
The old man disengaged with the front line and called a couple of officers to him. He would lead a feint to the northeast with the hopes of drawing off the reserves who were protecting the retreat of the headquarters. Once they committed to moving north, the main attack would come straight on against a weak line. This would seal the fate of the south if it worked.
The old man took a group and moved to the northeast corner of their penetration. The group attacked along a line that ran 50 degrees north of the original attack. Within moments then were breaking free of the reserves that had been arrayed against them. He moved steadily on his path but did not increase his speed.
Commander Wster saw the old man and the group moving northeast. If this was the main group, they could cutoff the only escape route left. Still, if it was a feint, he would be surrendering the all of the forces south, possibly including his own units. He decided to push hard against the center to see if they could gain ground and force the old man to return and reinforce his line.
The old man observed the movements of the enemy and saw that they appeared not to take his bait. If this was a feint, he should return to reinforce the line. So, he didn’t. Instead, he increased the speed of his advance.
Commander Wster was not able to push the line back and instead watched the enemy move even farther northeast at an increased pace. He no longer had a choice. He sent word to the southern forces by multiple runners and pulled back from his position. His reserves moved back to parallel the old man and then slowly shifted north.
The old man smiled when the news came that the enemy had broken off. His forces would not have held up much longer. He slowed his advanced and allowed his other group to catch up. As they were rejoining, a message came from the south that the last resistance had surrendered and his southern group was joining up with Truce’s force to drive north.
Welsty was in trouble. His decision to head to the road paid off and he was able to prevent the enemy from escaping; however, now he had the tiger by the tail. His small force was all that stood between the enemy’s main body and an escape route. The battle had been fierce and he was sure that it was going to get worse.
He had sent runners to the old man and to the rest of their units moving north along the former front lines but had no answer. Not that it mattered. He didn’t see how anyone could get to them any time soon. He was really worried about the remnant of the enemy in the west retreating right into his back. Plus, his front line was going be more and more difficult to hold as those retreating from the south join the ones in front of him.
General Rowett had to admire the officer who blocked in escape path on the road. It took guts to make the stand he did and skill to hold it as long as he had. Still, once his main force arrived, the little unit would have to be crushed and crushed fast. The old man’s soldiers were harassing his retreat and destroying as much equipment as they could.
In a way he was relieved. The old man could be targeting his men instead of his equipment. Of course this was probably not because of compassion. Rowett had noticed from the beginnning a tendency for the old man to destroy supplies and equipment. His conclusion was that the old man knew about the shortages back home and wanted to reduce the possibility of future actions.
He was reviewing the maps and plotting the locations of his units when a message came in from the northwest. The last of his troops along the former front had surrendered. Now there was only his group left. If he didn’t punch through the enemy blocking the room soon, the old man’s troops would push through Wster’s forces and catch him from behind. He called in his top remaining officers.
The old man was no longer behind Commander Wster. As soon as his group was at full strength had made a big show of coming around behind the enemy. Then he immediately took 200 of his fastest men and slipped off to the east. Running through the woods on old logging roads that the enemy had been using to transport their wounded, they passed the enemy’s main group before they reached the road block.
Things became more difficult then as they quietly and carefully worked their way across a couple of fields without setting off the mines. It was delicate work but his wrist bands accurately detected the energy signatures of the mines even though they were in passive mode. They were just coming up on the fighting as the enemy’s main group was preparing for a new assault.
Welsty had been about to pull his men back as he saw the enemy preparing in large numbers to attack again. But then he received a message from the old man. Once again, the old man shocked everyone in the command tent as he ordered Welsty to attack with everything he had just as the enemy’s main force was moving into place.
No one refused to participate but he could see the doubt. They all wanted to believe but were not able. Still, they had seen what the old man was capable of and so they were willing to give their life to the Order and their country on faith that it would serve a bigger plan. It was a sober group that went back to the line with the orders.
General Rowett was standing on a rise watching the battle preparations when he noticed the changes in the enemy’s formation. He could not believe his eyes. They were outnumbered 20 to 1 and, unless he was seriously mistaken, they were preparing to attack. Had he missed something or were they just crazy?
He scanned the horizon and almost missed the old man. Tucked neatly behind a hill on the east, of all places, was another small group of enemy soldiers. He looked back to the west. There on a far hill was a large force running full out for his position. He sighed. The old man had them boxed in. The forces in front of him only needed to hold for a very short time and the group from the west would hit, followed he was sure by the group from the south who were almost caught up.
Even with the group coming at him from the west he still outnumbered the enemy in front by about 4 to 1. Although, with the constant attacks on his equipment and supplies, the old man had seriously reduced his ability to last in a battle for any amount of time and the sun was setting. The old man was giving him a choice – surrender now or be crushed in the morning.
His orders were to fight to the death. Orders given by people who did not have to carry them out. Orders also given by people who would kill anyone who did not follow them. He called for his signal man.
The old man saw the signal the same time as Welsty did. The enemy wanted to talk. Finally. He told his little unit to hold their position and attack if anything went wrong. Then he stepped out to attend the parlay.
Welsty saw the signal and was stunned. They were so out numbered that he expected to be wiped out. As he started to head for the parlay he saw the old man. Clever how he managed to move into that position without being noticed. He arrived at the meeting point about the same time as the other two.
The old man walked up to General Rowett and said, “I wish we were meeting under other circumstances. I have always been an admirer of you and your tactics.”
“Thanks and I can say the same thing as of today about you. General Rowett at your service.”
“They call me the Drifter.”
They both exchanged salutes and then the old man introduced Welsty. They exchanged pleasantries for a few moments and then the General said, “I have orders to fight to the death.”
Everyone was quiet and just looked at each other for a while.
“We understand. Those who are not in the fight cannot understand the fight.”
The General said, “I am asking you to surrender or face an all out attack in the morning.”
The old man nodded thoughtfully and the General could see that he understood the situation. He wondered who the Drifter was. He had never heard of him but it was evident that he had lots of experience. He hoped the old man had a solution. He waited for more.
“I could arrange for you to be gassed and then capture you when you are unconscious.”
“I like that idea and appreciate the consideration. I will tell my men to prepare for a morning attack. You can gas us during the night.”
“Very well. We appreciate the help and will tell our soldiers that you asked for our surrender and gave us till morning to give up.”
“Excellent. It has been an honor gentlemen.”
The three men went back to their camps to prepare. When the General returned to his camp, he called for all of his officers to come forward. Commander Wster had just rejoined the main body and updated him on the recent losses. Almost all of their equipment and supplies had been destroyed or left behind in their retreat. In addition, none of the southern forces ever rendezvoused with Wster’s group.
This meant that they lost all of the troops on the line in the north, all of the troops on the line in the south and half of those on the line in the middle. All he really had left were the reserves, medical corps, and those handling the supplies. The old man had very successfully targeted high level enlisted and mid level officers. Basically, he cut the communications, then he destroyed their equipment, and finally he eliminated their supplies.
He explained to the officers present that they only had 20% of their fighting forces left, 5% of their equipment, and 15% of their supplies. They had one chance to destroy the enemy. If they could not take them in the morning, then they would lose. He gave the officers their orders and told them to position their troops before allowing them to sleep for the night. They were to be up and ready before dawn.
When all the officers were dismissed to process their orders, Commander Wster stayed back.
“May I speak with you in private General?”
“Yes. Step into my office.”
They both entered the General’s office in the center of the tent.
“What can I do for you?”
“The old man cannot be beaten with the forces we have.”
“Why do you believe that?”
“Because the men do and because he was able to stop our best weapons, none of which we have anymore.”
“Don’t you think that man to man we have a better chance anyway?”
“No. He fights as if he was 20 men and everyone around him rallies and fights harder then ever. Plus, on our side, he scares all that he comes near.”
“Can you not find a way to motivate the men to stand against him?”
“Yes. I believe they will stand and fight strong if they believe reinforcements and new supplies are coming. Can I tell them that?”
“Unfortunately, I have been assured that we have enough men and materials to handle the situation and that we should quit being scared of one old man and fight like warriors.”
The room was silent as they both processed the conversation and implications. The General looked at him and then went on, “The old man was not who we were to fight. We were told that the Order was sending a Steward to help, a female. This is one of her helpers. Can you imagine what it would have been like if she had showed up?”
“So you have us attacking when there is no hope we will win? Do we just all die for the mistaken beliefs of others?”
“You are starting to get a good grasp of how things work. I had hoped the advisors were right and this would be a quick battle; however, I know others who have gone against the Order and it seldom ends well. And, if the Order doesn’t carry the day, they come back with more and eventually win. The only time that is not the case is when a treaty was not broken.”
“We broke a treaty with the Order?”
“Yes. We broke it bad! Of course, all of the advanced weapons we attacked them with were a violation too.”
The General paused to give the young man time to consider what was said. Then he continued, “Now you understand – but orders are orders and they must be obeyed. Still, the men will not follow you if they believe you can only lead them to their doom. Plus, they will not follow someone who gives up or loses all the time.”
“Then what can we do? If we attack, we could be destroyed and the lives lost will be a waste. If we do not attack, we will look as cowards and we will have violated orders. Is there no way out?”
“Yes. Prepare to attack and trust that things will work out.”
“Shouldn’t we attack now? The enemy will be reinforced by morning and those following will be caught up.”
“Are your forces ready and able to take on the enemy?”
“No. But it won’t be any better in the morning.”
“Convince them that we have a plan.”
Commander Wster realized that the General did not want to tell him everything. Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t know. He considered the situation and decided it would be no worse in the morning.
“Very well. It will be done.”
“Thanks. Oh, one more thing.”
“Keep thinking and questioning. When done properly, as you have, it is a critical skill.”
During the night, a small group of the old man’s soldier’s silently moved in on the General’s encampment on the upwind side. They subdued the guards and slowly released sleeping gas. They moved silently through out the camp until all areas had been covered. Then they called in help and went to work.
When the General’s soldiers awoke in the morning, they found themselves tied together neatly in groups of four. The battle was over.
Two days later, Commander Welsty marched his forces down the streets of the capital of the Y’Wert Empire. The old man was long gone and the president had given him control of the army. He was to seize the enemy’s capital and demand a new peace treaty.
Behind him walked thirty of the officers of the fallen army of the Empire. They had refused to surrender but could do nothing to resist. Leading the group was General Rowett with his head held high. The news spread that he was taken in his sleep just before a major attack and yet refused to surrender. The news made him a hero among his people. Welsty had positioned four guards around him to enhance the view that he was a feared opponent.
Information was released throughout the Empire that before the war General Rowett had argued against violating the treaty and warned the decision makers that there could be a huge loss of life. Soon, everyone understood that he followed his orders courageously, kept the fatalities down by sacrificing equipment and supplies, and was a strong believer in the treaty made with the Order.
Forty cycles later, a woman in a cape and cowl with her hood drawn paid for an information packet with the latest news. It seemed that a group of Nobles in the Empire had started a petition right after the fall of the capital for the Emperor to step down and for Rowett to take over. It only took a short time and then there was a new treaty with the new Prime Minister of an Empire where the Emperor was now mainly a figurehead.
The woman walked back to the woods thinking that Prime Minister Rowett would do a good job. She smiled as she thought about the old man. He always came through for her. Maybe she would leave him a Rootbeer in his refrigerator for a reward. Her laugh was heard by those walking near by on the sidewalk. They turned in time to see her jump off the bridge into the dry river bed.
Two very worried men ran to bridge and looked down to see if she lived. Nothing was there except for gravel, sand, and rocks. Soon there were many more people combing the area for her but she was never found.
Juan Carlos woke on his twelfth day in the hospital feeling almost normal. He wiggled his feet and then his arms with only minimal pain. After a few deep breaths, he stretched and moved around a bit to find a more comfortable position. He was not able to find a comfortable spot and decided to raise the bed up. The controls were on the side of the bed where he left them and he lifted the head of the bed high enough that he could look around the room.
His room was a regular hospital room – boring. One wall had windows, with blinds, one wall had a large door in it so that beds could roll in and out, and the other two walls were plain except for one picture on each. The wall on his left had a picture of the ocean and the wall behind him had the controls for the bed and medical equipment. Something bothered him so he looked at the room again. His eyes detected movement in the corner and his gaze shifted there as he noticed a figure sitting in the chair in the shadows.
“Who is there?”
The soft voice hit him hard like a ton of bricks. He thought he would never hear that voice again. She was the only good thing that had ever happened to him and when she found out what he really was, she left with their two kids. Tears started to roll down his face as she continued.
“I received a call from the District Attorney. He said a friend of his told him I would want to hear what you had done. I asked what you had done but he wouldn’t tell me, except to say that you dramatically changed your life. I am curious. What did you do?”
Juan Carlos could not believe that she was in his room. He thought that he had lost Bethany for good when she found out that he had lied to her for years. He told her when they married that he had quit his life of crime. It was more than she could bear when she found out he had never stopped.
He had filled himself with anger at her leaving and blamed the cold, cruel world for being out to get him. The old man allowed him to see that it was his choices that led to his life’s disasters. He gathered his courage and explained what he had done.
“Once I recovered enough to have a clear head, I asked for District Attorney Rangel to come to my room so I could fill him in on some crimes. At first he said no, then I told him the old man said to tell him that the blue moon was rising. After that, his attitude changed and he was here within an hour.”
“Who is the old man?”
“He is the one I tried to rob. He fought back and I ended up here.”
“An old man did this?”
“Yes. Then he wouldn’t send for help unless I agreed to answer some questions for him. By the time he was done with the questions, I realized that the problems in my life were mine. So, I asked him what I needed to do.”
“And he said?”
“Come clean about who you are to District Attorney Rangel, and no other DA, and then you can become who you want to be. Then he had me memorize “the blue moon was rising” phrase. He walked away and I blacked out. I woke up in the hospital after surgery. A few days later, I call the DA and told him everything.”
“Yes. Every crime since I was 16.”
“Wow. What did he say?”
“He recorded it all, had it transcribed, and I signed confessions.”
“How long of a jail sentence did he offer?”
“He made no offer. I did all that to come clean with no conditions.”
He could see that she was shocked.
“The old man asked many questions but one hit me the hardest – What do you want your children to know about you?”
“What was your answer?”
“That I loved them.”
“What did he say to that?”
“If you truly love them, what can you do to show them? I said I didn’t know. He asked me what trait I respected most in others and I said “Honesty.””
“So he ask you to be honest?”
“No. I asked him what I needed to do and he said “Come clean” and what I told you earlier.”
“How many of the crimes did the DA say he would charge you with?”
“He said, before I started to confess, that he would charge me with all of them. That startled me but then I thought of our kids and realized that it was worth it.”
Tears were running down her face. She never thought this day would come. She truly loved Juan. Still, she absorbed his words with caution as he had deceived her before. The only reason she even came to the hospital was because of the call from the DA. She was about to ask him another question when the door opened.
District Attorney Rangel was a short man. He had short cropped hair and a pug nose with a short, thick neck. His stomach bulged with the results of good food but his eyes held the steel of a difficult life. He wore a full beard that did not completely cover a long scar on his right check. The suit he had on was a Ralph Lauren but rather worn although clean as can be.
Rangel surveyed the room as he entered, scanning every inch as if he was expecting an attack. His gaze stopped nowhere until the entire room was examined at least twice. Then he stepped up to the bed and with a nod to Bethany looked directly at Juan.
“I spoke to Judge Mojanik this morning about your case. He had one question – “Why did he confess?” So I told him about your meeting with the old man and the questions. He said he would back my decision.”
Rangel turned to Bethany.
“What do you think?”
“I believed in him once and he betrayed me. But I have never seen him confess a wrong before. He always dodged the dark side of his life. This time he has faced them. Once he is out of prison, I will be there with our children.”
Bethany walked up to Juan and grabbed his hand. Then she leaned over and kissed him on the check.
“I will bring the kids to see you every week.”
Juan had tears running down his face as he clenched her hand back.
“Thanks. I love you and am so sorry that I let you down so many times.”
Rangel took out a clipboard and placed some papers on it.
“Read them and sign the last one.”
Juan took the papers and flipped to the last page and signed it.
“I will accept whatever you think is fair.”
Rangel took the papers back.
“I thought you would say that. The old man has a strong effect on people – if they listen to him.”
Rangel turned and walked to the door. He opened it and started to step out. He turned back, half in and half out of the doorway.
“You have been given seven years of deferred adjudication. One false step, one crime during that time and you will serve 30 years. You will not have to report to jail and you will be contacted about your restrictions and monitoring. Good luck.”
Then he turned and left the room, leaving the two in total silence as the shock of what he said penetrated.
It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and the old man’s communicator buzzed. He answered, “Yes.”
“She agreed. He will have his chance.”
“Great. I will pray he uses it well. Thanks.”
The connection was broke and the old man returned to his dinner. The 10 minutes turned out to be worth it once again. He smiled as he reviewed in his mind the memories of all the others that had turned back to their good side. He would sleep well tonight. After all, at the end of the day, memories are all we have left.