As unlikely that it is that anyone in the ME/C&C section hasn't already read Renegade, I cannot recommend it highly enough. This story takes place in the universe established by Peptuck, so credit for that goes to him while credit for the franchises go to Bioware/EA. For those of you unfamiliar with Renegade, there shouldn't be any problem with understanding this story. You'll get a timeline after this aside explaining the universe, and the events of this story happen a few decades before the events of Renegade.


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1994: United States Congress begins, at behest of journalistic pressure, investigation of numerous defense contractors under federal employ. Results show multiple clients to have ties to the Brotherhood of Nod, a group known to be extremist, but little else is known at the time.

1995: Tiberium meteor strikes Earth, causing widespread destruction and beginning the tiberium infestation. The Brotherhood of Nod throws off the veil of secrecy and grows rapidly in power, augmenting its already formidable power by taking control of numerous military facilities abandoned during the meteor impact. On October 12, the United Nations Global Defense Act is passed unanimously, creating the Global Defense Initiative.

1999-2002: The First Tiberium War rages for three years as the Brotherhood of Nod attacks the Global Defense Initiative with the goal of uniting the third world under its pseudo-religion. The GDI deploys one of its newest weapons, the ion cannon, to great effect. Nod experimentation with artificial intelligence culminates with the creation of the Computer Assisted Biologically Augmented Lifeform (CABAL). The prototype is heavily damaged in an ion strike. Fighting concludes with the apparent death of Cain, the leader of Nod, in Sarajevo.

2009: Otani-Lincoln Laboratories receives its first contract with GDI, developing groundbreaking fabrication and production technology over the next two decades.

2014: First widespread deployment of newly reconfigured Electronic Video Agents (EVA), elevating it from a relatively simply data compiler to the level of artificial intelligence.

2025: The satellite station GDSS Philadelphia is completed, becoming the primary command hub of GDI forces worldwide.

2030: Nod power returns under the leadership of Anton Slavik, and the Second Tiberium War begins in September after a broadcast made by Kane, revealing himself to be alive. The war, however, is ended by December, with the second 'death' of Kane.

2031: The Firestorm Crisis erupts, prompted by CABAL, lashing out even at his former Nod patrons. The threat of Earth becoming totally inhabitable due to tiberium growth is averted only by the discovery of the 'tacitus' data module, imparting valuable control and removal procedures to the GDI. CABAL is destroyed by an unprecedented united attack by GDI and Nod forces, beginning the hunt for the backup bunkers it had prepared worldwide. Anton Slavik is assassinated, and replaced by a Nod officer/demagogue known only as 'Marcion.'

2043: GDI closes nearly 60% of its military facilities worldwide, citing minimal Nod activity and the cost of maintenance. The last bunker of the rogue AI CABAL is destroyed, permanently ending his threat.

2047: The Third Tiberium War begins when Nod militants destroy the GDSS Philadelphia with a nuclear warhead. The retaliatory ion stroke against the so-called 'temple Prime' in Sarajevo ends in disaster as it ignites the liquid tiberium deposit beneath, causing a multiple-megaton explosion and transforming the surrounding area into a Red Zone. The detonation also serves to attract the extraterrestrial race known as the Scrin, who launch a global invasion of Earth. GDI forces successfully assaulted and destroyed the Scrin control node in Italy, crippling the Scrin forces. The aliens are driven form Earth within the year, and GDI declares victory.

2052: New Eden, the first Blue Zone to be reclaimed from a Yellow Zone using sonic technology, is unexpectedly consumed by the Northern European Tiberium Field. Reports begin to emerge worldwide of increased tiberium activity, and the ineffectiveness of proven countermeasures. GDI forces are driven from Red Zones by Nod-backed militia and the emergence of the cybernetic Marked of Kane.

2055: Virtually all GDI military might is withdrawn to Blue Zones to defend against attacks by Nod forces. Scientists are pressured more than ever to halt the spread of tiberium, and are able to slow the pace, albeit only slightly.








/%&**#######ulting in the first permanent settlement on Mars. Luna colonies further expand, occupying roughly 43% of its surface, providing further relief to the beleaguered citizens of Earth.

2142: Mars settlement grows rapidly, moving still more GDI citizens from Earth to the newly-colonized red planet. Faced with the prospect of escaping from the threat of tiberium, millions flee from Red and Yellow Zones to GDI-controlled Blue Zones. Nod morale and support plummet with the continued absence of their 'messiah' and the GDI's control of space flight.

2148: Human colonists on Mars discover a cache of ancient technology of unknown origin. It is decades, if not centuries, ahead of most GDI tech, and scientists race to reverse engineer these new technological wonders. Within the year, 'mass effect' fields are being explored, and GDI officials are optimistic that they may present some means of halting tiberium spread.

2149: One of Pluto's moons, Charon, is discovered to be a titanic piece of technology of similar origin to that which was found on Mars. Jon Grissom and his team become the first humans to travel by Mass Relay to the distant Arcturus System, nearly 36 light years away.

2150: A colony is established on the newly discovered planet Shanxi. The settlement soon becomes Talruum, the capitol of what would quickly become a booming world.

2152: Using plans dating back to the Third Tiberium War, GDI developers create the first 'Shapeshifter' infantry weapon. The original designs were deemed unfeasible, but the new integration of mass effect technology swiftly made the new 'Werewolf' weapon system the standard for GDI infantry, allowing each man access to numerous weapon modules contained within a single frame. Similarly, infantry armor is upgraded, integrating the first 'kinetic barriers' into the GDI Marine Corp, and allowing for the jump packs normally too bulky and expensive for anyone besides Zone troopers and Commandos to become standard gear.

2155: June 5th is declared a national holiday as mass effect technology all but halts the spread of tiberium, rescuing the Blue Zones from consumption. Reinforcement efforts are immediately placed underway, and Director James Garcia launches the first GDI offensive military effort in nearly a century. What few Nod strongholds remain on Earth are destroyed by the empowered GDI war machine. With its two biggest foes effectively defeated, the GDI turns its attentions to space and expansion.

2157: A small exploration fleet attempts to reactivate a dormant Mass Relay, but is attacked without warning by an unknown alien race, soon identified as soldiers of the 'Turian Hierarchy.' The alien fleet enters the Shanxi-Theta System, defeating several scout flotillas before arriving at Shanxi and beginning the first attack by an alien race on a human world since the Scrin.

November 24, 2157

Human colony: Shanxi

Shanxi-Theta System

Daniel Sullivan had been the first to die in what would come to be known as the First Contact War.

Others had died before him. The GDI expedition fleet had suffered losses at the Shanxi-Theta mass relay to the turian battle group, and more still fell as the alien fleet pushed to the Shanxi colony. They were brave men all, and had paid the ultimate price in service of the Global Defense Initiative, but as far as the 7th Armored Company was concerned, Private First Class Daniel Sullivan had been the first to truly die in the siege and assault of Shanxi.

Sullivan was well liked among the 7th, and had passed up multiple chances of promotion to avoid being moved from his present post. "I'm a tanker for life," he had said, "And if I left, who'd drive the Inferno?" He referred to the Mammoth Mk. IV Main Battle Tank, named for its commander, Staff Sergeant Phillip Dante. The hundred-ton monster sported twin 150mm cannons and matched eight-braces of anti-air missiles, not to mention reactive armor honed for decades to thwart the portable anti-tank launchers that insurrectionists favored.

Yet Sullivan had died outside the Inferno, without warning and without an enemy to return fire against. He had been caught outside the reinforced barracks when the turian battle group commenced their orbital barrage. One moment he had been alive, trotting across the frosty soil, and the next he had been gone. Hell had rained from the sky without warning or provocation, killing nearly two dozen of the 7th before the ground-based defense cannons returned fire.

But Sullivan had been the first of them, and it was his loss that pained the 7th the most.

Word came in shortly after the barrage to prepare for war. It seemed almost cruel to receive warning so late, but the turians were deploying for a ground campaign, and all Shanxi forces were being placed on full alert.

When news had reached the 7th that the aliens were bringing the war groundside, hate spread among the company like a virus: hate for the unprovoked attack, hate for the loss of their friends and comrades, and hate for being treated like unorganized rabble. The turians descended as if they were mopping up a bloodied enemy, but they would find that this claw of the Steel Talon division was far from dull.

The Inferno lay in its shallow dugout, covered with a sheet of camo netting. It, like its brother machines arrayed across the frozen plains, was using out as little energy as possible without shutting down completely. The camo netting draped over it was as old as armored warfare itself, but it did its job well enough. As far as high-orbit turian vessels would be concerned, there was nothing to be seen on the plain but a few hills and a thin layer of snow. The cold, too, served to mask the tanks' already reduced heat signatures, rendering them as close to invisible as possible. If the ships came into a lower orbit, the ruse would be revealed, but the ground-based ion batteries had forced them back to an extent.

Still, the turians had found a way to dispatch landing craft and dropships, evading the ion cannons' line of fire and dispatching their troops and vehicles a scant few miles away. The 7th wasn't worried. If anything, they were eager. The Inferno's track guards were covered in scrawled messages from men throughout the company, both commemorating Sullivan and promising revenge.

Staff Sergeant Phillip Dante gazed through the high-amplification lenses of his helmet, lying alongside the Inferno. The advancing aliens had set off the proximity sensors the 7th had set up along the possible routes the veritable army could have taken, confirming that their predicted path would lead them right into the teeth of the 7th.

Dante slid under the camo netting and climbed back into the Mammoth Mk. IV's interior, sealing the hatch after him and settling into his command couch. Below him, gunner Dabis was tapping a boot against the floor with such frequency that Dante expected it to leave a dent. Corven, the tank's engineer, had a data slate in his hands and a pair of earbuds in his ears, watching some sort of inspirational speech by an ancient general.

Dabis was impatient, and Corven keeping his blood boiling. Most ill at ease, however, was their new driver. PFC Arthur Burns was Sullivan's replacement, and he knew that he was just that: a replacement. He was no less skilled a tanker than his predecessor, but he was sitting in another man's seat, hands wrapped around another man's control console.

Dabis had treated him with well enough, assuring him that they'd kill a dozen for each shot the turians had dropped on them. Corven treated him with polite indifference, opting to cope with the loss internally. Dante didn't want Burns feeling like he was an outsider. A tank crew had to function in perfect rhythm. They were the inner workings of the Mammoth, and even a single cog out of place could stall the entire machine.

"Hey, private," Dante reached down, shaking Burns' shoulder lightly, "You alright?"

"Yessir," Burns nodded, but his eyes betrayed his true feelings. Dante had no children, but he tried to give what he thought would seem a paternal smile.

"This is your place, private. Don't doubt that," Dante assured him, rapping his knuckles against one of the metal walls, "It's fitting for Burns to be in Dante's Inferno, eh?"

Burns cracked a smile. It was still tainted by nervousness, but it was an improvement. Dante glanced up at his console, noting a flashing green light. He tapped it once, opening the short-range comm.

"Dante here."

"Banks says it's three minutes 'til they're in visual range. Your boys ready?" It was Captain Robert Denver, the acting commander of the company. Colonel Josen had been among the fatalities of the bombardment.

"Inferno is good to go," Burns replied, flicking another switch the expand the comm channel, "All commanders, check in. Three minutes to showtime."

7th Company normally totaled an even two hundred men, but the bombardment had reduced their number by eighteen. Forty of the soldiers were dedicated to the company's ten Mammoth Mk. IVs. Another ninety were divided into three thirty-man platoons, accompanied by armored personnel carriers. Each man was armed and armored with the standard gear of GDI infantry: basic body armor with integrated kinetic barriers and jump packs, and the highly versatile 'Werewolf' adaptable weapon system. They were dispersed along the trenchline, most troopers having prepped their Werewolves as long-range rifles in an effort to give their weapons reach that could at least compare to that of the tanks.

Thirty smaller dugouts held single occupants, smaller than the heavy Mammoths, but large enough for their mechanized troopers. The Wolverine Mk. III bore a resemblance to a legged tank turret, with two stubby arms sporting 20mm autocannons on either side. Despite its clumsy appearance, it was swift and maneuverable, and the armor-piercing autocannons could tear through infantry and light vehicles alike. Not only that, but it required only a single pilot in place of the driver and gunner a wheeled recon vehicle would have needed. The Wolverines were subdivided into three groups of then, each assigned to an infantry platoon.

The Mammoths, infantry platoons, and Wolverine squadrons reported in. No problems to report, and all a few switch-flips from being 100% battle ready. Burns knew that left only three additional units, all three of which were set up behind the firing line. They called out their readiness after the Mammoths, infantry, and mechs.

"Stonebreaker, all green."

"Thunderstruck, ready to kill."

"And Atlas makes last call," Captain Denver finished, "Fight well, soldiers. Gives these alien bastards a GDI welcome."

Burns joined in the chorus of affirmatives, and then all fell silent. Dozens of fingers hovered over control consoles, ready to power up generators and prime weapons at a moment's notice. The turian force was moving steadily forward, oblivious to the GDI battle line. They were already in range of the humans' bigger guns, but Denver had another trick up his sleeve. For it to have full effect, he would need a few more seconds…

Neither turian nor human was entirely sure of what they would face when they clashed on the ground. The turians had been completely victorious in space, but they knew from their own history that even civilians could pose potential threats if not guarded against. Thus, their troops tended to move in integrated groups, composed largely of infantry, but with vehicles and air support to ensure that they could combat any threat they should encounter.

This group was nearly battalion strength, boasting hundreds of troopers on foot and in transports, and dozens of armored vehicles. They ranged from light recon craft that zipped along the flanks of the formation to massive tanks, held off the ground by powerful lift turbines. If the soldiers were afraid, they did not show it. The humans had a few surprises at their disposal, but they were little more than gimmicks in the face of the Turian Hierarchy's might. The orbital defense cannons had been one such trick, damaging several members of the turian flotilla before effective countermeasures could be deployed. And yet, for their efforts, most of them now orbited the planet only as debris, leaving a handful and several human ships to try and fend off the turian fleet. It had been child's play to slip infantry carriers past them and onto the surface, with the goal of clearing out military resistance, claiming urban centers, and destroying the ground-based cannons.

Unfortunately, two dozen hubcap-shaped devices, buried under the snow, somehow went unnoticed as the battalion moved through the woods and towards the open plains. It could have been a simple user error, or a delay in the detection tools because of the literally alien origin of the devices. It didn't much matter which of the two it was. What mattered was that all twenty four of the devices were now below the turian battalion, and Captain Robert Denver pressed his thumb to the detonator and triggered them all.

Two dozen 'Lotus' anti-tank mines detonated in perfect unison, spread out among the turian force. Fourteen light vehicles were effectively torn in half by the heavy explosives, while six hovertanks were grounded as their engines were damaged to the point of failure.

"Kill 'em all!" Denver shouted, slamming out his portion of the Atlas's ignition sequence. His four crewman did the same did the same, and the interior of the war machine was filled with the roar of engines and clatter of weapons priming.

The Wolverines were the first to activate fully, roughly four seconds after Denver's order. They rose from their stooped positions and leveled their autocannons, pausing only an instant to pick targets among the surprised turians. The Lotus mines had wrought havoc among the turian vehicles, but they lacked anti-infantry capability, and dozens of vehicles had survived the explosions. The Wolverines had no such limitations. Their weapons were designed to dispatch infantry and even light vehicles, and the thirty mechs opened fire as one.

A sheet of armor-piercing munition slammed into the turian lines, shredding those troopers who were unfortunate enough to be caught in the open. The autocannons sliced through personal shields effortlessly. Smaller trees were blasted to splinters under the barrage. Avian troopers threw themselves to the ground or behind vehicles, desperate to evade the barrage of death.

A few recon craft came under fire from multiple Wolverines. Their kinetic barriers were noticeably stronger than anything an infantryman could carry, but the storm of autocannon shells was more than they could stand. After a few seconds, with the sound of shattering glass, the shields broke, exposing their bodies to the fire. Armor was pounded and beaten, but most weathered the damage. A few were caught at weak points: viewports, side armor, and the like. The rounds pierced, shredding the crew within and detonating internal munitions.

As the seven second mark ticked by, the turians returned fire, but many were well off target. The 7th's camouflage was still largely intact, and the turian forces were still disoriented. But it was also at this point that the Mammoths were battle-ready and added their own firepower to the attack.

By chance, the Inferno received the honor of first barrage among the heavy tanks. Its twin cannons fired, sending a hovertank up in flames. Staff Sergeant Dante couldn't help but chuckle at how easily the turian armor fell before the GDI ordinance. Hover turbines made them significantly more maneuverable, to be sure, but they couldn't support nearly as much armor and firepower as treads could, no matter how dated the technology may have been. It had a certain poetic justice to it: twentieth-century tech supporting twenty-third century firepower.

The Mammoth itself was a testament to the GDI's integration of mass effect technology into their existing weaponry. It added powerful kinetic barriers to its defenses, making it all the more difficult to break open, and its mass effect power source made ammo the only concern for resupplying. Each 150mm cannon still used solid munition, but each shell was a marvel of engineering in its own right. Gunners could 'paint' their targets, allowing the shell's internal computer to correct its path mid-flight. It couldn't bend itself around corners, but it did ensure that every shot found its mark, even while target and Mammoth were both on the move.

The remaining nine Mammoths opened up, abandoning their camo sheets to free their rockets. The thunder of cannons was joined by the hiss of rockets racing from their pods. The foremost turian vehicles had been reduced to a flaming barrier of scrap, ironically providing some degree of protection to the infantry and vehicles that followed. The barrier proved problematic for the Wolverines, but the Mammoths' cannons pierced the unshielded debris effortlessly, tearing into what hid behind them.

Twelve seconds had passed. It was only then that the 7th's trump cards were brought to bear. The Stonebreaker and Thunderstruck rose to their full heights, towering over their Wolverine comrades even from within their dugouts. Normally, they would be set up miles away from the front lines, raining 200mm artillery shells on their targets through coordinates provided by infantry or sniper teams.

But the turians were close enough that, from their full height, the twin Juggernaut Mk. IV artillery mechs could simply level their guns and fire directly.

Between the two of them, there were six barrels, firing in sequence to provide a constant stream of shells. They outclassed even the Mammoths' cannons, sending great geysers of snow, dirt, and metal into the air as the reshaped the geography of the area. Even heavy tanks were helpless before the devastating firepower, hurled into the air as if tossed aside like toys on the whim of some child god. Infantry caught in the direct blast simply ceased to exist. The 200mm shells were intended to shatter armor and reinforced structures: the turian soldiers disintegrated as if they were afterthoughts of the twin Juggernauts.

As the two Juggernauts joined the attack, the Atlas joined the fight, letting loose with a blast from its main gun. Even through the sound-dampeners and thick armor, Denver heard and reveled in the banshee wail of the charging cannon, followed swiftly by the thunderous crack of discharge. The sonic cannon, like the ion cannon, had the added advantage of partially bypassing kinetic barriers; an invaluable trait on a battlefield where everything from the lowliest infantry to the heaviest tank carried one.

The Atlas was so large that its dugout had to be built into a small hill, but it had been worth it. The Mammoth Armed Reclamation Vehicle, or MARV, was easily the largest land-based vehicle in the GDI arsenal. It had been designed to rampage through Earth's tiberium-infested red zones, and it had done just that. It had given the GDI an ace that could pulverize anything the Brotherhood of Nod could bring to bear, even on their home turf. Its weight was so great that it required hover turbines built into its underside to help support its weight, though it followed after its smaller cousins in its reliance on treads.

The Atlas was the pride of the 7th, the personal war machine of the late Colonel Joson, inherited by Captain Denver when he assumed command. Under its fury, the turians began a retreat that most other foes would have begun started when the Mammoths opened fire. GDI infantry raised their weapons and cheered as the turians fired a few final shots before dedicating their efforts to escape. The Atlas fired once more, then its sonic cannon fell silent.

Denver allowed himself a small smile. The aliens hadn't known what hit them. They had advanced with nearly battalion strength and been driven off by a single armored company. This was the power of the Global Defense Initiative, of the Steel Talons. If this was the best the turians could offer, the GDI would have them crushed within the week.

"Captain, transmission from the Avalon," one of the Atlas' crewman called from below Denver, "Marked as urgent. Patching it through."

"…nel Jos…ear me?" a static-disrupted voice came over Denver's earpiece. Denver tapped a finger against it and replied,

"Say again, Avalon, not reading you clearly."

"…damnit, clean up th…onel Joson, can you h…"

Denver cursed, taking his finger away from the commbead and looking down to the radio operator.

"It's not getting through. Can you clean it up at all?"

"I'm trying, sir," the man replied, fingers flying over his console, "There's a lot of interference from ion discharge." The transmission came on again, still fuzzy, but decipherable.

"Colonel Joson, this is Captain Wheeler of the GDS Avalon, do you read me?"

"This is Captain Denver, 7th company," Denver replied, "The colonel was killed in the initial bombardment. I'm acting CO."

"Shit," the ship captain muttered, then raised his voice to reply, "Captain Denver, we're outnumbered and outgunned up here. We've been given orders to fall back." Denver sighed. He was afraid of this, even if he didn't want to acknowledge it. The fact that the turians had been able to successfully engage an orbital bombardment, however short it may have been, meant that their naval power was at least strong enough to contest the space around Shanxi.

"Understood. We'll fall back to the spaceport for evac," Denver responded.

"Negative, captain. Fall back to the capitol. We're pulling out now." Denver paused, taking a moment to fully grasp what he was hearing.

"Avalon, are we…?"

"Yes, captain," Wheeler said bitterly, frustration and sadness in his voice in equal measure, "Assume urban tactics until we can bring reinforcements. You can't be out in the open if they have orbital supremacy." Wheeler was silent for a moment. Denver heard what was either a burst of static or the sigh of a man who was burdened with a heavy choice.

"We'll be back, captain. God watch over you." The transmission ended. Denver didn't say a word for a few long seconds, paralyzed by the emotional whiplash of the situation. He'd just shown the invaders the power of the GDI ground forces, but in space, the situation was completely reversed. And that meant…

The enormity of the situation hit Denver like a rifle round. They needed to retreat. They needed to retreat now.

"Open a channel, all unit leaders," he barked to the communications officer, who complied quickly, despite his confusion. Denver struggled to keep his voice under control as he addressed all the commanders of the various components of the 7th.

"Denver to all unit leaders, fall back, repeat, fall back. Navpoint is Talruum." The order, and the urgent tone that accompanied it, caught all of the commanders off guard. There were three platoon commanders, two for the Mammoths, and six Wolverine lance leaders. Several of them asked for confirmation. From his command couch, Denver could see that most of the infantry were still celebrating their victory.

"Word from the Avalon is that the birds are about to claim orbital control," Denver explained as quickly as he could, choosing the somewhat derogatory nickname for the aliens common among infantry, "If we're not in Talruum by the time they do, we'll be sitting ducks."

The pin dropped in the heads of the commanders, and the direness of the situation passed from Denver to them. Most didn't even bother closing the channel as they relayed the commands to their men, giving some version of Denver's explanation.

"Triple time, people," Denver said into a universal channel, "Priority is speed, formation is not. Repeat, fall back to Talruum with all possible speed."

If the seriousness of the situation wasn't apparent enough, the order made it so. In an armored unit, normal operational procedure dictated that they were only as fast as their slowest unit when on the move. Infantry, in their APCs, and the Wolverines were easily the swiftest of the 7th, followed by the Mammoths. The Atlas was slightly behind the Mammoths, but the twin Juggernauts were not built for speed and always slowed the column. Under normal circumstances, their substantial firepower made this burden more than bearable. But these were anything but normal circumstances, and Denver was reluctantly aware of this.

"Stonebreaker, Thunderstruck," he addressed the two artillery mechs, hating himself for asking this of any pilot, "Set self-destruct sequences and join the infantry." The two commanders of either mech gave their replies of confirmation, but both were laced with anger. Mech pilots were notorious for their attachment to their vehicles, and most would sooner die than abandon them in the field. But Denver wasn't leaving any men behind, and the commanders knew he wasn't going to take any objections.

The Atlas took up the rear by default, being the slowest of the 7th's assets, but even if it hadn't been, Denver would have opted to trail the company as the rear guard. Some of the sensors that they had set up in the woods for their ambush were still active, and they indicated that the turian infantry had regained their nerve and were on the move again, following in the GDI force's footsteps.

It was a bad sign, and Denver knew it. The 7th had a solid head start, but the turian vehicles were easily faster than them. He made certain that the Atlas trailed the retreat largely because it was the single most powerful unit they had. It could go toe-to-toe with even small groups of turian armor without support, and it functioned as a deterrent to any vehicles that managed to catch up with them.

But there was another implied danger. If the turian ground forces were advancing, it could be simply be a fresh attempt to push forward, but it could also be a sign that they finally had orbital support.

Denver released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Just hours ago, his company had sent the turian forces running, broken their morale as surely as his cannons had broken their tanks. But now, he was racing against the clock, running for cover while still inside the single mightiest ground unit the GDI had to offer.

The captain had managed to raise communications with other companies deployed across the planet, hearing a dozen stories that frighteningly echoed his own. GDI troops had met the invaders head-on with almost universal success, but had heard messages similar to what the Avalon had told Denver. Some were fortunate. They were close to urban areas or subterranean defenses and managed to go to ground. The turians seemed to have some degree of discretion when it came to deploying ordinance from space and only did so against confirmed concentrations of troops. Cities were a safe haven, but only if they remained hidden, and even then only until the turian ground forces moved in.

Others were less fortunate. They were caught in the open, too far from any viable defenses, or there was a turian vessel over them when they took control of Shanxi space. Too many company frequencies had gone silent, a few even cut off during transmissions with Denver.

It didn't take long for radio silence to be established. General Blake Williams had sent out a single transmission to GDI troops worldwide, ordering a complete communications blackout until further notice. Denver didn't blame him. There was a chance, however small, that the turians had cracked their comm network and could track them using their communications. Without that to work with, the fleet could only rely on little else than line-of-sight reports from troops groundside.

For whatever it was worth, Denver prayed. Denver prayed to whatever divine providence there might have been that his men make it to the relatively safety of Talruum. If a sacrifice was needed, he offered himself, and the Atlas. Anything to keep his men alive for just a short time longer.

His prayers were not answered.

The first turian hovercraft appeared just as Talruum had come into sight. The APCs and Wolverines were within minutes of the city, so close that they could taste it. The Mammoths and Atlas would take longer, but their speed was increased dramatically when they were able to move onto the highway.

The turian vehicle was a recon model, armed with a light cannon and pintle-mounted secondary weapon. Denver all but vaporized it with the Atlas' sonic cannon moments after it revealed itself. Denver hoped it had not managed to send out a transmission before its destruction. He knew that its disappearance would garner attention, but it would be a slower reaction than if it had called out their location before death claimed it.

Denver's hopes were dashed as two more vehicles appeared. It was not an isolated recon craft: it was merely leading the main body of turian troops. Denver fired another shot, but even as he did, he knew that it was a futile gesture. The cannon bolt went wide, blasting apart two lanes of the highway. A third shot destroyed one of the two, but more vehicles began to appear, among them turian heavy armor.

"Denver to all units, do not engage enemy units," he ordered into the general frequency, "Do not stop, do not slow down." He winced as an impact struck the Atlas's shields. They held, but the engineer announced the percent dip in protection. The turret swiveled, annihilating the offending tank with a blast of blue energy.

"Picking up a long-range transmission," the radio operator announced, "Can't crack it, but it's going off-world."

"They're calling the fleet," Denver growled through gritted teeth, savagely destroying another turian tank and damaging another. Twin blasts rumbled the super-heavy tank, and the shields dropped still further.

"Denver to all-," he stopped as another impact jarred him, then resumed, "Denver to all units. If you're holding anything back, now's the time to use it. We're dead men if their ships draw a bead on us." He finished as another turian hovertank died before the Atlas' fury. Multiple shots struck in retaliation, and the telltale sound of shattering glass announced that the MARV's shields had finally broken.

The Atlas carried the most potent armor available to the GDI, but the difference between an impact against shields was a dramatically different thing than impact against the tank's body. Heavy munitions rocked the tank, whittling away at their protection. The driver struggled to correct the tank's path to compensate for the blasts. It was no small feat: the MARV was by no means an easy vehicle to maneuver, and being under continuous barrage made it exponentially more difficult. Denver would have had the man promoted for his skill had he not been so sure that he and the rest of the crew were going to die.

Another blast, this time accompanied by a rush of cold air. The engineer called out, but Denver knew that the hull had been breached. Their odds of survival had dropped from less than one to zero. Denver sent another tank crew to its grave before bracing himself for the shot that would pierce the Atlas's armor and end them all.

A few seconds passed, but the shot never came.

"They're falling back," the radio operator announced, astounded, "They're actually falling back." For a moment, Denver was relieved. Their show of force had been enough. The turians were unwilling to risk further casualties to kill (what they thought was) a single vehicle. A slow smile spread across the radio operator's face, and the driver let out a laugh.

But then the moment passed, and Denver remembered the turian off-world transmission, and realized that the turian 'retreat' had only gained them a few extra seconds among the living.

Staff Sergeant Dante had opened the top hatch of the Inferno to watch the now-distant battle between the Atlas and the turian armor through a pair of powerful compact binoculars. The Atlas was the single most powerful unit the 7th had, but even it could be overwhelmed without support. Dante was torn between orders and the desire to turn his tank around and fight alongside his captain. He had little doubt that his crew would have no issue complying with such an order, even if it was against what Denver wanted.

But the turian vehicles began to slow down, ducking off the highway into the surrounding woods from where they'd first come. The Atlas's shields were broken and its hull badly damaged, but if the turians were retreating for another attack, it might buy Denver enough time to restore his kinetic barriers.

Suddenly, the view through the binoculars went dark. A sudden blast of hot wind hit Dante, and he lowered the binoculars to see what had gone wrong.

A second sun exploded on the highway, engulfing the Atlas and all eight lanes of the highway. Dante shut his eyes instinctively, but the light shone through his lids. He frantically ducked back into the tank, pulling the hatch shut behind him. A tremendous thunderclap reverberated through the tank's internal speakers, and it took no time for Dante to realize what had happened.

"What the hell was that?" Dabis shouted. Corven was silent, having realized along with Dante what had happened. Burns glanced back from the driver's seat.

"Sir?" he asked hesitantly. Dante felt any chance of the 7th surviving the race to Talruum evaporate like water on hot asphalt.

"They're firing from orbit," he said with disbelief. He couldn't think of any other way to say it, but no other words were needed.

The development spread among the remaining commanders within seconds. Most had been watching the Atlas in some way, and thus most had seen its demise. A few cursed, others prayed, but most felt an unsettling feeling of complacency. They were traveling as quickly as their steel mounts could carry them already, and it was a straight shot to the city. Their odds of survival would only drop if they tried anything else now that the turian ship had them in its sights.

Under the barrage of death, the 7th Company raced onward. With each impact, men were burnt to nothing and armor reduced to bubbling slag. Just as the GDI weaponry had made such short work of their turian counterparts, the ordinance raining down on them was intended for combat between capital ships. When fired at units planetside, there was virtually nothing mobile that could survive a direct impact.

Yet the Steel Talons 7th armored company continued, even as their numbers waned. In the city, they could hold their ground. By no means would they thrive, but they would survive. And there was not a single man in the 7th who didn't want to survive to see the GDI reinforcements crush the turian invaders with the might that had defeated the Brotherhood of Nod, that had driven back the Scrin. Tiberium had all but consumed Earth, yet the GDI had survived. Tiberium could not be fought or killed. Turians could, and the 7th was eager to survive for that express reason.

Well, that's it for chapter one. R&R, anonymous accepted.

And let me stress again: Renegade is an amazing story, and I owe all credit for the foundations of this alternate universe to Peptuck. When you're done here, go read Renegade. You won't regret it.

In news related to this story, chapter two will cover the beginning of the urban fighting in Talruum.