Jacob Angelus remembered the day Alice, and nearly one million citizens of the Northern Star Alliance left on the CSS Astrid. Though they had saved so many, nearly fifteen thousand soldiers remained, and perhaps twenty thousand civilians. The Viron's had done well, now that Morning Star was being mined for Zethane, the wrecks of over three dozen Terran ships around New Darwin. He looked out down LaCroix's Lane, the central street of New Darwin renamed after the evacuation.
Jacob could smell another wave of Terran's coming, Rho already set up with the Terran sniper rifle, almost invisible blasts from the barrel taking more Terran lives in a place that had cost the best of five divisions already.
'Going to be number six Boss,' Rho said over the radio. His next statements to the squads set up in the ruins. A mix of NSA and Terran weapons opened up on the advancing troops, and now some vehicles, the hoverdynes no match for the intense firepower. A Ravager fired it's twice cannon, HE shells exploding overhead, a blue glow from modified plasma shells incinerating infantry. They cast shadows for a second, then gone in the balls of blue flames.
'Terrans on the left!' one human soldier shouted.
Jacob traced the outlines of the attacking solders, his rifle chattering, barely moving in arms that were all too use to the recoil. One after the other the Terran's fell, a few Virons and NSA troops also falling. Just as quickly as it started it was over, the silence so supreme nothing dared break it, even the wounded slowly pulling themselves back to their own lines. Shortly after the usual clearing teams formed, NSA troops engaged in behaviour that would have seen them shot now the only thing keeping them alive in the vicious war. Survivors would be few and far between, and in the opinion of both Rho and Jacob, they'd not be human.
Jacob pulled a picture from his shirt, stained with blood that wasn't only his and dust. He longed to be with the woman in the picture, Alice who had led the evacuation. If it wasn't for the pod all that time ago, then he wasn't sure where he'd be. He walked back to the command centre they set up, tapping the code on the side of another ruined Ravager, one side of it burned through by a plasma charge. Barely half of the left side treads remained. His reply, a series of two bangs, followed by another two, followed him as he went to speak to Major Grant, he had hinted at an operation coming up.
Alice watched the people build a city in what felt like days. First small apartments, then factories were built. Roads followed, mines and crops going in shortly after they were done. The world they landed on was so like their own homeworld, if not for the fact it was it was third from the sun, just where the homeworld for their enemy was, Terra.
She watched as the population grew rapidly, perhaps a hundred thousand newborns in the first year, but her thoughts quickly returned to Jacob, and those they'd left behind on Morning Star Prime. She struggled with her thoughts, her hair growing thicker, many of the people in administration flirting with her, but none would get any reaction.
The more time she thought about how quickly they had rebuilt, the more she thought about what she left behind. The two moons had been settled, long range cannon built as well as training facilities for the navy. The first ship had been named the McNeal. She wondered what Jacob would think about it, but then he would have to wonder at how he would react when the second ship was named Jacob.
She looked out over the soft green ocean, the planet still had its surprises for the new inhabitants. She heard a mug placed on her desk, taken from the Astrid, the tea coming from the vast fields of seaweed that grew in the inland sea, no matter how much they harvested it, it grew back overnight. She took a sip, the bitter fluid relaxing in the long twenty seven hour day. What made it even tougher was that it was summer, nearly twenty hours of daylight at its height. Even with the air conditioning on full power it only took the edge off the heat, nothing could cool the buildings in the short night.
Jacob slowly pulled himself along the ruined floor, the dust leaving a trail, the blackened knife in his hands of a similar length and width to the one Rho carried. The two Terran sentries looked at each other, their language lost to his ears over the burning fire. As he crept closer he could make out Rho, his cloak leaving an inch of his armour revealed. Both men came up on their targets at the same time, both Terran silenced quickly.
One gesture from both Rho and Jacob had the rest of the strike team stand up, weapons sweeping the ruins. Bare steel stuck out from concrete, asphalt broken from countless shell impacts. An open sewer ran down half the street, the smell lost as the Viron's moved to cover their advance, Clan Guards taking positions in the strange vines that grown from the ground. The Viron's seemed to eat the plant for some reason, the Hroag delighted by the presence of this delicacy. One comment of Rho's stuck in his mind for a second, but he now knew what that big knife was for, after all he had his own.
He moved down the hallway, moving as quietly as they could they moved into the makeshift barracks properly, the other Terran's barely aware of their presence. Each man moved to a door, jamming them shut from the outside, Jacob moved quickly kicking the door to the CO's quarters down, the two guards on the inside quickly dropped by to shorts bursts from his rifle.
The woman got out of the bed, the same tattoos that marked the face of Vlaana marked this woman's face, her expression of disgust obvious. She was knocked out when Rho smashed the side of her head with his rifle butt, the two men easily lifting her out of the room, gone as quickly as they arrived. Jacob could guess what was going to happen. This was the tenth raid they'd done, the previous nine having gone just as well. Since the last planetary bombardment the larger water and sewerage pipes had become pathways that both sides used, at least till the Viron's had taken over some of them.
Clan Hroag kept their word to Jacob, and he was glad of them, but he had to wonder at how much of his humanity was left, not only from the friendly and honourable Viron's, but for what he knew would happen to this woman. He checked her shoulder boards, finding out she was a centurion. Rho seemed to notice this too, both of them wondering why it now felt like an ambush.
Alice watched as the troops gathered by their drop ships, more than she thought possible had volunteered for the mission to save Jacob, and those left behind. She watched as dozens of Liberators arrived at the air base, the unit commander looking a little flushed for some reason. She walked towards the command tank, the voice of the colonel on the other end clear in his disappointment with the captain, but cursing him for being lucky enough to be able to return to Morning Star Prime.
'Ma'am,' a soldier said as he saluted as he walked past her, his uniform announcing to world around him that he was a member of Jacob's unit, perhaps three quarters of it still on their home world.
'Private,' Alice replied, now far too familiar with rank badges. Before they left the best she could do was nod in reply, now she could tell the difference between the branches of the armed forces. A naval crew started to secure a mobile artillery piece to their drop ship, the wheel clamps and straps tightened quickly. She continued to walk through the area, the vast sound lost to her as she kept walking towards her private shuttle. She had someone ended up running the entire planet, she wasn't sure how the vote had gone, only being given a platinum medallion, one she would give to Jacob the moment she saw him again. She wished to be there with all her heart, yet even the vast jump they would make would still leave them a week from their destination.
She felt the shuttle take off once she strapped herself in, another trooper from Jacob's unit her escort. She stared out of the window, a forlorn look the only thing she could manage. The more she studied the Astrid as they finally broke atmosphere the more forlorn she felt. She could see the docking clamps for the warships, the four frigates built in record time. It was as if the whole world wanted her to bring those left behind back. She wondered if they could ever fit into the world she'd help build. The Jacob glided into position, just fore of one of the main mass driver batteries, its own weapons sealed inside the outer hull.
One week Alice promised herself, calling the captain of the Astrid on the comm as her shuttle docked. They'd leave in one hour, but it was one more hour she didn't want to have to wait.
Jacob and Rho looked out at the Viron quarter of New Darwin, the strange growths taking over the city. One of the few scientists to remain on Morning Star had tracked the progress in a sketch book he kept, every week drawing a picture from this spot. He'd been shot fatally by a sniper two days ago, but if the times in his book were accurate, then there was only a few more months before they'd have to shift their command centre, and another year before New Darwin was almost inhospitable to any human. Drahk'ma had explained that they no longer needed to mine Zethane, not expecting to have a world so quickly change to the type of world they needed to live freely on. Even small wildlife seemed to have appeared.
A sudden burst of brilliant blue white light turned the night sky to day, the ruins of a Terran cruiser falling from orbit, mass driver rounds leaving burning trials as they struck positions in the distance. Some Rho and Jacob knew about, but that was only a third of the number hit. The bombardment lasted for hours, the radio bursting with excited chatter, and a request Jacob never thought he would hear.
'Take the shield down,' he ordered. The soft blue glow of the EMP shield over New Darwin fading after a few seconds, trails of the drop ships as they shot towards the ground, boosters stopping them crashing into the ground. He could see the familiar shapes of Liberator terradynes in the distance, the armour cutting a swath through the thin Terrain support lines. He ran with Rho, organising what mobile units they had left to attack, infantry support the only that they could organise on such short notice. Then the sky lit up with artillery fire, not the blue rounds of the Terrans, but the red trails from NSA guns. Emplacements too hard for Jacob to assault were shelled into oblivion, the tanks following up, a slowly spreading circle of destruction spreading from the initial landing.
More drop ships continued to fall from the sky, fighters destroying what little was not either destroyed on the ground before it took off, or unable to take off.
'Rho, tell the men we're going home,' Jacob said.
Alice rode in her shuttle again, desperately listening to the chatter on the frequencies. She could see the NSA forces advancing, securing the surrounds of the drop area faster than she had anticipated, the more she listened the less time seemed to pass. She desperately wanted to hear Jacob's voice, to know he was okay. She heard her name called a few times, one of her few friends telling her what frequency to use.
'Grant, watch out, take the 14th from my right flank,' Jacob said.
'Thanks for the help Jacob! I'll show them sum'bitches!' Major Grant replied. There was a long pause. 'You think she's back?'
'I don't know,' Jacob said. Alice about to open her radio to speak to him before the signal was lost. She sighed, a tear falling to her pants.
'Ma'am, time to suit up,' the marine said, passing her the body armour she would wear. The armour was much lighter than she thought, tightening the sniper collar. She tied her hair back before pulling the helmet on, one thought going through her mind. Don't worry Jacob, this girl keeps her promises.
Jacob swivelled the machine gun around as fast as he could, three light hoverdynes appearing on the right hand side of the Liberator. The main gun took one out, nothing but shrapnel and plasma flame from the shell. Two bursts from the machine gun dealt with the second, a rocket from behind Jacob taking out the final one. Terran infantry seemed to pour from the left side, the shouts from the vehicle crew reaching Jacob easily, his ears protected as best they could be from the blast of the main gun. He pre-empted the firing, keeping the large calibre weapon on target, each burst sending another handful of men to their ends.
The tank rounded a corner, a battered medium hoverdyne stuck on a shattered pillar, a Liberator Jacob didn't know parked beside it, the crew lounging on the hoverdyne, all of them smoking.
'The area is clear, marines just gave the all clear,' the tank commander said, sounding very relaxed. He finally recognised Jacob, before he looked at the cigar in his hands.
'Don't salute,' Jacob ordered, before a burst of machine gun fire sent the tank crew back to their vehicle. The Terrans started to counter attack, but the mix of marines and armour proved too hard a nut to crack, Jacob in command of the company as they moved towards the command centre. Every time they turned a corner they saw more NSA pattern vehicles, infantry cheering, passing rations, cigars and alcohol to their not forgotten comrades. Soldiers started to chant Jacob's name, the civilians quickly joining in on the impromptu street party. It seemed absurd to Jacob that what was once a warzone half an hour ago so quickly changed to a scene of life and rejoicing.
Jacob walked the rest of the way to the command centre, never having seen so many people in the open. It upset his instincts, expecting Terran artillery to open up at a moment's notice, yet the sky continued to burn with mass driver shots, perhaps three to five ships in orbit if he tracked the shots correctly.
'President wants to see you sir,' a trooper reported as Jacob entered the command centre. He followed the soldier till the door to his quarters, not that his name was on it. He opened the door, but it was shut just after he entered the room, the last person he expected to see, yet the person he wanted to see the most in front of him.
'Alice?' Jacob asked, his rifle falling from limp hands.
'I told you Jacob, this girl keeps her promises,' Alice replied. She passed him a canteen of water, watching him drink, and then wash his face.
'I never thought I'd see you again,' Jacob started. 'I feel like I'm dreaming, President?'
'I know, I thought you'd...' Alice started, both of them only able to hold the other for a long time, their tears washing the others of what sins they committed in their own mind. Jacob couldn't let go of Alice, her hair thicker than he remember, yet for every reason he loved then he could only add reasons.
'We found a home Jacob, it's different, but it's still home,' Alice whispered. She kissed his check, Jacob holding her as he brushed his lips over hers, their first kiss over as quickly as it started, the next carrying their feelings over. 'It's time to come home Jacob.'
Jacob smiled, still crying freely. He looked down at Alice, and the medallion she was holding. It looked to have the NSA badge on the front. He ran his thumb over the surface of it, the small gems glowing faintly.
'I want you to have this... for saving our people,' Alice started, her prepared speech lost as she focused on Jacob.
'I can't Alice, not this, not for me,' Jacob pleaded with her. He thought about Warhurst, and LaCroix, both of them long dead, but only one of them should have been.
'Then who?' Alice asked. When she heard Jacob's plan she could only nod, the second evacuation total, all Terran forces on the planet knew that they had been defeated, and none dared to stop the evacuation. When the orders came to leave the planet, they left silently, Viron's watching as more and more of the moon turned into an environment they recognised and rejoiced at seeing. Once more the Viron clans had a place to call home, and they swore an oath to the stars, to help those in need of assistance as Angelus-Jacob had, the Cai'Vi he led being warriors of honour and renown.
In the middle of a large open part, in the middle of the city of Morning Star, a dozen large pillars sat, carved on those pillars were countless names, of those who stayed behind, either in life or death, on Morning Star Prime, first homeworld of the Northern Star Alliance. On each of those pillars a platinum medallion, the insignia subtly different to the one they had adopted after the return of the Astrid. Constellations were named after battles, planets named after those not fortunate enough to make it. LaCroix was the second colony, followed by Antonia. What they lost was great, but for Alice and Jacob, what they finally had was worth more to them than anything they ever had before.