TWISTED MIRROR

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CHAPTER 1

He was sitting in a living room. A big one. He stood up, and walked toward a mirror, to comb his messed-up hair. But what he saw in the mirror..... "Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!!" he yelled.

Everything faded away.

The nightmare has ended, and he started to regain consiousness slowly. It was all a stupid dream. He stood up and looked around, trying to remember where he was.

Oh, that's right! The cloning vats!

They were all around him, pods that contained embryos as well as completed human beings. Chambers such as this were the heart of the ARM Alliance, where great warriors were cloned over and over again. Warriors such as himself.

He himself was extracted from a vat like those around him nearly 30 years ago, and was a complete and perfect clone of a great Arm officer, Brian Maulder. In his time, 120 years ago, Maulder was a great commander, that conquered 5 worlds in rapid succession without backup from other commanders. At the sixth world that he stepped onto, he was overwhelmed by Core tanks too quickly to build significant defenses or army, and after his squad of Pewees and Rockos was history, he started to fight and retreat slowly towards the galactic gate, where reinforcements awaited. He did never make it, but he took out 120 Core units in his frenzy, and another 40 in the final explosion of his death. Later, when the planet was conquered by the Arm, a giant memorial was set up for him on the spot of his death, which was completely lifeless, due to the hazardous radiation that remained there since Brian's explosion.

And he, Maulder148, was an exact copy of that great man, and possesed all his natural skills, as well as education.

There were over 200 clones of that man made. No clone of him, though, has ever succeeded in surpassing the original's skills and achievments, for now. Somehow, Maulder148 always felt somewhat inferior to the naturally born warriors. After all, their genes were completely original and unaltered, their potential capabilities were yet unknown, and they were more... more human!

Cloning technology was almost as bad in the eyes of the rebels, that 4000 years ago escaped to the edge of the galaxy to found the Arm, as patterning. But it was a neccessity. In a war in which a million casualties on average appeared every day that passed, the Arm had to come out with a method to replenish lossess as rapidly as possible.

And that, they did.

The enormous chamber around him, one of 10,000 such chambers on this planet alone, was a quiet testamony to that.

Maulder148 tried to remember why the heck was he sleeping here? Oh yeah, he remembered now! He entered here with a cute girl, formerly a commander on some backwater world far from the front, that was transfered to this planet 2 days ago. When they met, they wanted to get to know each other better, and the cloning vats were the closest desolate place they could find, so they entered and... well... you know.

Anyway, Maulder148 was really glad that nobody entered the chamber while he was asleep. Damn, he could've been caught! He put on his underwear, and exited the chamber, passed through the airlock, which was completely unneccessary because this planet was habitable, and stepped out of the building.

The base was alive with activity. Many people were running here and there, wearing nothing more than their underwear (just like Maulder148). That was no surprise, considering that this planet was Arafon-XQ7, a small and baren wasteland which was mostly covered with desert sands.

Wearing more than your underwear in these conditions was an oughtright suicide. Even with so little in the way of clothing, the feeling was like that of entering a freakin' oven.

Maulder148 felt the horrible wave of heat that washed over him when he exited the cool chambers. The sun rays have hit him in the head like a weightless hammer. He rubbed his head, and looked around.

He spotted a technician passing by, studying something displayed on a datapad in his hand.

Maulder148 stopped him. "Hey hey, hold it, what's the hurry?", Maulder148 asked.

"You weren't briefed 30 minutes ago?", puzzled the young man. But it wasn't his job to rebuke the COMMANDER, so he just continued. "Our Intelligence devision reports a speculated Core assault on this planet in 24 hours."

'So that's the situation', Maulder148 thought. Arafon-XQ7 was small, barren, hot, full in valuable metal deposits and located right in the middle of a vital Arm transport route.

A juicy target. The Core would've taken it a long time ago, if not for Arm command, who recognized the importance of this place a century ago and sent great deal of forces here to set up a permanent base. Today this planet was fully Arm property, with hundreds of secondary bases, such as this, and a single huge city-like base located on the Northen pole of the planet, where the temperatures were less extreme and easier to bear.

The Core, busy in pushing Arm borders closer and closer to Empyrean, preferred to use their forces elsewhere. But now, as a result of a series of quick Core victories over the past decade, the front lines were a lot closer to Arafon-XQ7 now, and the Core apparently decided to spare enough commanders to conquer this place.

"OK, thanks for the situation update", said Maulder148 sarcastically, and strided right into the main HQ of the base. There, he saw his superior, the regional commander responsible for a chunk of the planet 1000 x 2000 km big. He was apparently busy discussing something with his aids and advisors, showing them something on a big screen. It looked like a map of the area in his control, though Maulder148 wasn't sure. He was transfered to this planet merely a month ago.

Maulder148 walked to the superior commander. The thought of interrupting the commander made him a little-bit nervous, but he HAD to know his job in all this mess.

After all, he was one of 50 commanders on the planet...

"Ah... sir? Maulder148 reporting in, sir! Did I miss anything?", he really hoped that Denton1, his superior, a human born in the natural old-fashioned way of male-female bonding, was in a good mood today...

Denton1 looked into the eyes of Maulder148, and Maulder148 recoiled.

His hopes were in vain.

"WHERE THE F*** YOU WERE 20 MINUTES AGO MAULDER!?! You hanged out with a chick, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU? YOU DID! I see right through you Maulder, you can't hide a f***in thing from me!", the words shot out of his mouth faster than an EMG (Energy Machine Gun), with a lot of spit.

"Errrr... well...", murmured Maulder148 but his commander did not intend to let him finish that sentence.

"COME OVER HERE RIGHT NOW, MAULDER!!! You see that map on the screen?", Denton1 poined on the map Maulder148 earlier saw. "This is the map of the region I have to somehow defend. THIS...", he pointed out an area painted in yellow, "THIS is the area I'm counting on YOU to defend! It's the western flank of my territory. If you fall, the enemy will have a straight route to this jungle here, and while we bugged it pretty good, we don't have spare troops to station there. A shame though. What a beautiful ambush it could've been...", a dreamy look spread on Denton1's face. Maulder148 started to wonder how sick and perverted his commander really is...

Denton1 snapped out of his dreamy state, and went on.

"The Core don't have the same problem we do. Their only limit is the resources availible to them, as they don't need to actually MAN their craft with living people that are too complex to nanolathe".

Maulder148 shuddered. Nanolathe living beings... people... what a horrible thought! And to think his commander would've done so without regret if he could!

Denton1 wasn't going to let him ignore his words. "MAULDER YOU PIECE OF SH**! ARE YOU LISTENING?", he screamed at him.

"Sir, yes sir!", shouted Maulder148.

"Very good. Now, where were I? Right, your strategy!", he gazed evilly at Maulder148. "Since we have already established thousands of plants and metal extractors on this planet, and since the Core would have a serious problem with resources at the beginning, I.... errrm.. SUGGEST, that you raid the resource buildings they establish, to cripple their ability to pump out units out of their factories. Yep, that should be your secondary objective, while your primary one is not to let any and all Core units to pass THIS line", he passed his finger vertically over a certain region, and a red line appeared. "If they do, well... I'll have even more job at hand.... Let's just F***in hope they won't decide to land commanders in this area at all, so we could just sit back and watch the show unfold elsewhere!", he exclaimed. "Well, that's all I gotta tell you. Move to that region and nanolathe a defensive perimeter right now. We'll let you know when the enemy arrive. And...", Denton1 whispered in a low and serious voice, "Good luck out there... DISSMISSED!", then he quickly turned to his advisors, continuing his mysterios preparations.

Maulder148 was deeply touched. He never thought that his commander could worry about someone's luck, let alone HIS luck! War always revealed the best and worst of all people, that much Maulder148 knew.

He went to the battlesuit hangar, shown his Commander badge to the lone Pewee guard at the entrance, passed his magnetic keycard through the keyhole and opened the door.

There he walked over to his personal Commander suit. He shouted to it: "Battlesuit Com-M-1-4-8! This is Maulder148, code number 2790030385-Yellow-Black-Black! Turn on main systems! Authorization password: 'Maulder is the best killer of Core scum in this galaxy!'".

The huge Commander suit just continued to stand there for a second, and suddenly responded with a deep robotic voice, that Maulder148 chose personally for his suit, just cause it sounded so cool. "Pilot code is correct. Authorization password is correct. Voice pattern match recordings. Welcome aboard, commander Maulder One Four Eight!". With these words the suit lowered it's hand. Maulder148 stepped onto it, and it immidiately went up, like a weird lift, raising Maulder148 to the hatch in the suit's head.

Maulder148 used his universal keycard again to open this hatch, entered the decorated cockpit, and closed the hatch behind him.

The red lighting in the cockpit was already turned on, the suit performing an automatic system check and finding everything is in top condition.

"Battlesuit Com-M-1-4-8 ready and awaiting!", reported the suit with it's emotionless metallic voice.

"Allright, let's roll!", Maulder148 ordered - "Inform HQ that wer'e leaving the hangar, tell'em to open the main doors, and tell the Pewee to stand clear".

Not 5 seconds passed, and the suit responded: "Already done!".

The hangar doors began to open slowly, the Pewee that was guarding the entrance was standing well clear out of the commander's path.

Maulder148 connected the proper wires into ports installed in different parts of his body. he gave an order to the suit: "Engage integration program!".

As the program activated, he started to actually FEEL the suit. He could move the suit at a slightest wave of his will, and could operate all it's systems, weapons and feel the resource flow availible to his Nanolathe system.

"Activation of integration program is now 100% complete! I'm all yours commander Maulder One Four Eight", the suit reported.

Maulder148 headed outside of the hangar.

As he stepped out of the hangar, he felt an incoming radio transmittion.

"Maulder! This is Denton. Look to your right!", and as he looked right he could see the small figure of Denton1 waving at him with one hand, and talking through a communicator in another. "You see this Atlas?", he pointed at a nearby machine, sitting idely on the sand. "It is all yours and ready to transport you to your destination, so we may begin to fortify the area as quickly as possible!".

Maulder148 acknowledged, feeling for a second an urge to smash the little insect talking to him down there on the ground. Of course he couldn't do it, and if he could he wouldn't. Killing machines, even machines with human minds, is one thing. But decimating flesh and bones was out of the question.

Maulder148 walked to the Atlas transport, as it lifted slightly of the ground, jets glowing brightly. It hovered above his head, then clamped 3 magnetic hooks onto the commander's hull, and lifted him off the ground.

The pilot was already briefed where to drop off the commander.

And on they flew, toward the setting sun.

West, to where Maulder148 will show everybody than he's not a bit worse than the original Brian Maulder!

...