Well, folks, I decided to make a sequel to The Outsider. I got an idea for it and I couldn't let it go. Hopefully, this one will be shorter than the first, simply because I really spent a lot of time on The Outsider. Really, this story is based less on the world Tom Fishbach (the original creator of TwoKinds, who is an awesome artist and author) created, and more on the ripple effect from Curt Lane's arrival into that world. If you haven't read The Outsider, do so before reading Burning Paper Tigers (It's in the same section on here); I don't do much in the way of explaining events in the original work here, simply because it is free and there's no reason you shouldn't be able to read both. I tried to make a balance of romance and action, but I'm not so sure how I did.
Useful, well-rounded feedback is always welcomed and thank you in advance. Also, it is worth noting that the uploader is doing something funny with italics, where it removed the spaces. I think I fixed all errors, but ignore any I missed.
As always, I hope you enjoy!
General Joseph Lane CXLVI stepped off the back of his dragon. The two Unity Nation escort hubschrauber gunships landed beside it while he and his staff dismounted. The gunships were standard Lane Industries Kobra Hubschrauber. The dragon was trimmed with gold armor and ceremonious fittings. Dragons had ceased to be United Species Alliance (USA) combat platforms in 1943, when modern Überschall-jets and hubschrauber began to exceed their performance. Joe's Grandfather, President Curtis Lane CXLIV, had ensured that dragons were still used in the military so as not to hurt their stubborn pride any more than necessary. They were still used in ceremonies and by royalty. While generals usually didn't rely on them, Joe wanted to rehonor the largely dishonored and disregarded magical creatures at least in some small way.
Joe sighed and made his way into the United Basidian Forces' main base. The guards at the front door stiffened to attention and saluted as he and his staff made their way through. He walked through the maze of corridors designed to deter the intruders that would never come and down to the meeting room. His staff went to a waiting area. Assembled in the room was the Board of Generals. The meeting began a few minutes after his arrival; mundane things were covered. Replacing aging panzer units, upgrading critical military and civilian infrastructure that was going on 100 years old, and, of course, the ongoing debate on replacing manna crystals with some form of more renewable energy.
As usual, Joe didn't pay much attention to the debate - industrial manna would last for a very long time, not counting the more refined but less concentrated manna in the ground. Also as usual, the Basidian generals didn't pay much attention either. Their people couldn't use the stuff, so what did they have to worry about? Plenty, Joe knew. Their machines still ran off manna crystals, their armor piercing rounds were still tipped with manna, even if they didn't use magic. They still didn't have as much to worry about as the Humans and Keidrans (not that Joe thought the Humans and Keidrans had much to worry about in the first place), but when everyone else started hurting, they would too.
Joe didn't much understand why the BoG discussed the topic - it was something better left to the president and his cabinet or the congress. It was an issue that would eventually confront the USA as a whole, not just her military. Joe remembered his brother, the current president of the USA, talking about it, too. So, if people over his head were debating it, why were he and his comrades? Bureaucracy, he thought with scorn and dismay.
Finally, the meeting moved on to the current state of security in the USA. "Nothing has changed from our last meeting, gentlemen," the Basidian consulate reported with certainty.
Joe's patience had honestly expired. "Nor will it by the next meeting," he said aloud, and more bluntly than he'd intended.
The other generals looked at him in shock.
He leaned forward in his seat, knitting his somewhat furry fingers fingers and leaning over the conference table. "Honestly tell me that you believe it will," he said. "We're nothing but a shell, gentlemen! None of us have ever commanded a real army. The last war fought on this world was five hundred years ago, as the Human Republic was united. The only thing we know about war is what the textbooks and military exercisers tell us. Why are we even still here? We no longer debate military matters. Look at us! Everything up until this conversation could have been handled by the Congress, or the President's Cabinet!"
"He's right," the Wolf General said. "Why arewe still here? There is no need for a military now. A stronger police force could do the job as well as we could while costing our governments half the money."
The other Generals looked at the Unity Nation and Wolf Generals in shock while trying to come up with a response.
Finally, the Basidian spoke up, "You two seem to forget the Basidian People's Republic, not a hundred kilometers from here, and the Mask Worshiping Republic of the Arctic Wolves."
Both were formal titles for the only two nations not part of the USA. They posed minimal threats to the massive USA. Joe chuckled and shook his head, feeling his Fox-like ears sway with the motion. "The Arctics pose no threat. They have no industry to speak of, no motor vehicles, no armor, no civilized weapons, heck, they don't even have a cavalry!"
The wolf delegate nodded, "The Western Basidians" - the less formal title for the Basidians not in the USA - "pose more of a threat, possessing motor vehicles and modern light arms, but their most advanced units are armored dragons, who don't even have the benefit of magically strengthened armoring. They are situated across a mountain range and an ocean from any USA territory. More importantly, they are in the middle of a severe economic depression and they refuse our help to recover from it. They cannot wage a war when their economy is so devastated. They're no real threat."
"They would be without a military of some form," the Fox General astutely observed.
Joe nodded, "What we need gentlemen, is a rethink. A full military is no longer necessary, but we still need to protect our peoples."
"Are you proposing some kind of defense force, General Lane?" the Dog General asked.
"I suppose I am," Joe said with a shrug. "We're all aware of the economic depression each of our nations is slowly sinking into. We could cut out billions of dollars of spending by reducing our militaries to only what is necessary. Pump that back into the economy..." he trailed off, allowing his argument to sink in.
"But how many jobs is the military providing?" the Basidian General asked.
"More in your nation than in any of ours," the Wolf General said, laughing toothily.
The Basidian didn't let any possible insult show. "Not just in the service itself," he said, "but also in manufacturing and support roles. The military is also a vital part of allour economies."
While Joe had to give that argument pause for thought, he was confident he was right in the long term and thus kept the discussion alive until the end of the meeting.
Scythe, King of The United Wolf Clan, looked to his High General in shock. "So, General Nari, you are proposing that, for the first time in eons, we cut our military?"
"Yes... Yessir, that is what I am saying. But I have good reasons and motivation."
"So you've said," Scythe said, standing up from his throne and walking over to a bullet and manna proofed glass window. Outside were angry Wolves protesting in the streets. "Now, however, is not a good time. Are you aware that our stock market has just collapsed?"
General Nari looked rather stunned. "No... No, sir... How bad is it?"
"Bad enough. Four hundred companies, mostly small businesses, have gone out of business. I don't even want to name how many are almost there. Suicides are off the chart... It's... Not going to end well."
"I'd say not, sir," Nari murmured. "Should I bring the military in to bring these riots under control? It doesn't look like the police are going to be able to handle this one very well."
"I thought the police was all we needed?"
"The plan involved strengthening the police, if you recall, and I await my orders," the General seethed.
"Yes, panzers, armored personnel carriers, hubschrauber. Try to disperse them from around the palace."
"Yessir," Nari said, bowed and walked out of the room.
Wolf High General Nari shook his head. The king was ordering the use of panzers, APCs and hubschrauber to defend the palace and get the riots under control. That meant that they were far worse than Nari had anticipated. The General had traveled to the palace via the same network of underground tunnels he was currently traveling through to get to the command center from the palace, thus avoiding the riots and leaving him blind to the trouble. He sighed.
He walked into the Wolf Joint Armed Forces Command (WJAFC) and started spitting orders.
"Armor and hubschrauber? Why?" his next in command asked after he finished giving his commands.
Military units were usually referred to in German; the only documents which contained German were from the Great Lane; the only of his kind, a man thrown from a distant and dying world; the first of his lineage. Those documents contained a modern word bank, with words for things that didn't exist in Human and Keidran, like panzers and hubschrauber. So, instead of making new words, inventors generally used the German term. It worked, though it ended up making for an interesting mixed vocabulary for those involved with matters military. APCs had a term for them in Human, as did jets. Überschall, hubschrauber, lazers and panzers? Not so much. "That is what His Majesty requested. I am not one to argue with him."
"Relaying orders to our motorpool and air bases now."
The Great Lane had done his best to end war in the first century. He'd done a good job of it, too. While he hadn't lived to see the fall of the Vast Human Empire, The Great Curtis Lane had been instrumental in bringing about it's collapse. When the Human Empire collapsed, his descendants carved territory-running from the Southern Coast north to the Azure Badlands, east from the Great Western Mountains to the Great Eastern. The nation was called the Lane Republic. Soon, decedents of a certain Flora and Trace Legacy moved into the newly formed nation. It was renamed the Unity Nation-unity of the Lanes and Legacies, unity of the species and, soon, unity of the nations.
In the year 1000, the Unity Nation started conferences to form the United Species Alliance, which, 1004 years later, was still around. Unity Nation had denied hosting the USA meetings, which left them to the only piece of ground that every nation refused to claim-Lyn'knol. 1004 years later, Lyn'knol was still, more or less, the capital of the world. The current year, 2004, on the other hand, hadn't been a very influential year, or at least, Nari didn't think so. Really, 1516, the re-unification and formation of the Human Republic, was the last year of any significance. More correctly, 1518, the year the HR joined the USA, was the last year of any significance. All the years after-all of Nari's years included-had been rather mundane in the whole scope of things. Granted, riots-especially of this scale- are pretty interesting, he thought as he made his way up to the roof of the WJAFC.
Taking out a pair of binoculars, he examined the surrounding city. The riots were indeed very violent, encompassing most of the palace grounds and a good deal of the financial district, along with spilling over onto adjacent districts. It's going to be bloody murder getting these under control, he thought with a look at a perfect formation of riot police failing to take control over much of anything. He didn't care to think about the fact that it might literally become bloody murder and thus ignored the metaphor. Motorcars and lorries were burned in the streets, windows broken, electronics stolen. Anywhere there were riots, there wasn't much left of the city.
He turned his glance to the motorpool, where panzers and APCs were rolling out in two fast-moving columns. Hubschrauber took off from hubschrauberlandeplatz deep in the heart of the base, near the runways.
This should be interesting, Nari thought as he watched the armor close in on the rioting crowds.
Wolf Army Captain Juniper looked around the APC she commanded. It closed in on the rioters in the capital city. She sighed with a look at the massive riot, covering more ground than she could see. She sighed again and added "This should be interesting," to her crewmates. Her APC was the leader of its column, which meant that it would probably receive a lot of hits and pelting from the rioters. That was fine. The machine was made to withstand hits from Manna Crystal Tipped (MCT) rounds. Rocks wouldn't hurt it. Me, on the other hand, she thought with a sigh, they can hurt. She wanted to sink back down into the turret and button the hatch, but knew better. One couldn't see half as good through periscopes and viewing slits as was possible when outside the hatch. If that meant that she took a few pebbles on the goggles and helmet, well, she could handle that.
The APC closed in on the edge of the crowd, which came out to meet it and the panzer that headed the other column. It wasn't long before rocks were thrown, pelting the outsides of the small infantry-carrying vehicles and larger armored gun platforms.
Juniper pressed the button that put her microphone on the speakers outside the APC. "Cease this action or you will be fired upon with nonlethal rounds," she called.
"Speak for yourselves, you paper tigers!" one loud protester called, "It's too late to make demands, you've got a riot on your hands!"
Juniper grimaced, switching her mic feed back to the internal feed and making a simple command, "Fire."
There was no response from her gunner other than the low thump of tear gas grenades being fired deep into the crowd and the rattling of the machine's two 15mm maschinengewehre firing beanbag rounds at the closer civilians. The panzerbeside her vehicle launched tear gas grenades and kept lumbering on at its slow pace. Thankfully, the rioters seemed to know better than getting close to it; doing so would likely result in their being crushed undertread. They hadn't been so wise with her vehicle, but they weren't stupid enough to say in front of it after her gunners opened up. Hubschrauber flew over the motor columns, their rotors beating the sky. They stopped and hovered over the city center, dropping tear gas and magical canisters, though Juniper wasn't quite sure what spell they were using. Neither did she know nor did she care; that wasn't her job.
Unfortunately, what was her job was about to get more difficult. She'd expected to see pebbles and stones fly her way. The blue bolt that streaked over her head was not a pebble. With that thought, she closed the cupola's hatch. She was very thankful she did when a bolt smacked into her primary view port and was dispersed by the protective spell on the APC's armor. She shivered when she thought what would have happened had she not closed the copula. "Gunner, do you have that idiot?"
"No, whoever it is is is somewhat deep in the crowd."
She cursed as she checked her computer ordinance readout. "Fire off those last two teargas grenades, try to fire after those bolts," she ordered. The teargas grenades were launched out of small canisters on the side of the maschinengewehre turret, meaning they could match a trajectory. Maybe. She heard two low thumps over the constant din of the maschinengewehre.
A voice came, crystal clear, over the comm stone in her helmet.. "Column halt," came the order from the colonel in the panzer to the right of her APC.
"Driver, all halt," she relayed to her crew. The vehicle stopped.
"Panzers are to move around to the palace and create a perimeter. APCs, we will have to pass in front of you, stay halted. Once we are clear, deploy your men and group into pairs of vehicles. Try and disperse the crowd as much as you can. Make sure the men stick to you."
"You got that, sergeant?" she asked the leader of her APC's squadron, who was also patched into the group's comm stone feed.
The panzer column passed in front of her slowly. As the final tank clanked by, she ordered "Alright sergeant, out with you."
"And a good day to you, too, ma'am," he chuckled with sarcasm, snidely commenting on her usual blunt manner.
"Hush up, James. Do your job," she laughed with a roll of her eyes.
She heard clanking as the rear ramp lowered and the infantrymen and women filled out. There was another clank as the door was closed automatically. "Driver, ahead full." She switched over to the feed for her entire column, "spread out, groups of two, you heard the colonel."
There was a chorus of 'Yessums' and 'yessirs.' Her men and women still couldn't decide whether to tell her yes sir or to use the seemingly less leader-like yes ma'am. It didn't bother her; she actually thought it was rather funny. The driver started moving forward. Another APC formed on her right flank, its squadron grouped around it, hiding behind magically reinforced riot shields. Her squadron was doing the same. "Driver, take us toward the financial district. Let's see what we can do there."
"And, gunner, save our ammo."
The maschinengewehre ceased their constant rattle, instead settling for short bursts at civilians in support of the squadron surrounding the vehicle. Juniper nodded in approval. She had a very good gunner. Actually, she had a very good crew in general, she thought as the two APCs rolled into the financial district, a hubschrauber hovering towards the end of the street. She noticed rioters throwing things at the rotary craft, bottles, bricks, rocks; nothing that could really do any damage to a high-flying hubschrauber. However, soon blue bolts and lashes, some tipped with dragon's heads and teeth, were flying towards the hovering craft. One such well-aimed dragon-lash spell grabbed hold of the hubschrauber's tail and bit it off. This won't end well, Juniper thought with a grimace.
The hubschrauber began to spin wildly out of control, heading down rapidly. The crowd that had previously refused to disperse now did so with alarming speed. The hubschrauber's rotors met asphalt and splintered, flying off into the crowd with devastating effects.
The comm stone was again filled with the colonel's voice, "All commanders, I've just got a message from His Majesty himself. Use of deadly force is now authorized. Please relay to your crew. APCs relay to your squadrons. Be prepared for the aftershocks of using deadly force. The gods be with you."
Juniper cursed quietly to herself. "Crew and squadron, use of deadly force is now authorized. I repeat, deadly force is authorized by the king's order." She switched back to the normal internal feed, "Driver, take me to the crash site as fast as you can."
She could hear the gasps over the intercom and comm stone. They hadn't expected to hear the order for deadly force. This was supposed to be riot control, not war. But... The hubschrauber that had been taken down was the command... Which meant that one of the king's closest friends was either dead or on his way there.
The driver kept the vehicle moving at a pretty fast clip, making her squadron have some trouble keeping up with it.
"Ma'am?" her gunner asked in a trembling voice, well aware of the power he now had, "Should I begin to fire?"
"No, hold off as long as you can, at least until we get the crash site secured," she said after a slight pause for thought. "Use beanbags as long as they hold them off. Eventually, they won't."
She hated it when she was right. Sometimes, especially with a kind as tough as the Wolf, when people got mad and determined enough, nothing short of death would stop them, make them listen. Nothing. Fortunately, the crowd was still hesitant to near the crash. The two APCs formed beside the crash while their squadrons went into the wreckage. "Sergent, how bad is it?"
"Pilot's barely here. Co-pilot's dead. Four passengers, all barely conscious. Let down the ramp, these people need to be evacuated."
"Got it. Driver" - who had the ramp controls - "Let the ramp down so we can take the injured crew in. We've got to get them back to base and now."
There was no response, but she heard the ramp lower.
"APC-2, sergeant, can you handle this until support arrives? Two panzers and two additional APCs are on their way, if my HUD reads properly."
"We're good," the sergeant reported.
"We can hold out," the commander of the second APC reported. "Get those men to care. Thegodsspeed."
The ramp clanked and the driver began to move forward without asking for her order. That was just fine with her. "Driver, full speed, don't mind the crowd, if we run somebody over, it's their own fault. Gunner, do try to keep us from running anybody over with however many beanbag rounds you have left."
As the APC flew down the city streets at near a hundred KPH, Juniper thought that the road was bumpier than normal. Had the riots damaged the streets that badly? Or were the eight wheels bumping over something more... disgusting and sinister? She decided that she was better off not knowing.
The chairs were thrown and tables toppled, their hands armed with broken bottles, but they weren't running, "We're not running!" Axe called. They were cornered by riot police and APCs in a small pub. All they had were broken bottles, barstools, Lane Cocktails and whatever magic the men and women crammed into the pub knew.
"Not running!" they called back.
Axe grinned, raising a fist into the air and pooling manna into it from a crystal in his pocket. He pushed the blue energy out of the fist and towards the riot police's feet. There was an explosion and an upwelling of ground. "We can win this fight!" he yelled. And they would.
A Lane Cocktail, its rag flaming, flew out above the crowd of riot police and crashed into the top of an APC. The crew started bailing immediately as the flames grew. A lash of manna from Axe's hands cut them down, one by one. The mob started charging outward, swarming over the policemen. An APC opened up with it's dual maschinengewehre. Bean bag rounds, Axe thought.
But they weren't. The crowd was cut down, blood was spilled and bowels burst. Axe dove for the ground, the lethal rounds barely missing him. He breathed heavily and listened as the remaining APC and policemen went away. He slowly stood up, shedding silent tears for those fallen. His fists were clenched. His teeth showed. "I will avenge you. I will," he snarled. "If I have to take on the whole world, I will make up for this injustice," he growled. He let out a howl. The howl of a hunter.
This USA BoG meeting was much more interesting than the previous meeting had been, or at least, that's what Joe thought. Then again, half of Wolf nation going into riots made for a pretty interesting situation to discuss. What made for an even more interesting discussion was the formation of a rebel Wolf army under a certain former construction worker named Axe. Thus far, it was small, but the potential for it to change the entire scope of world politics was... massive. If the USA lost one of its most significant players to rebellion and anarchy, it could upset the balance of world power severely. If that anarchic state managed to establish a stable government that decided not to join the USA, it would create a severe danger for every power anywhere close to it - Unity Nation included. Actually, Joe thought with a mental cringe, the Wolves have atomic missiles... Every nation on the planet is vulnerable.
That had been covered, of course, but there was nothing any of the other powers could do about it; the Wolf general stubbornly refused to turn his nation's missiles over, even temporarily. That presented a problem if the rioters ever got a hold on the missiles. Atomic weapons, which split the atoms of manna crystals, created a chain reaction that turned into an explosion that could destroy entire cities or armies. That was not the kind of power that needed to be in the hands of anarchists, much less an organized anti-USA government. Unless the board, congress or the president himself could get the Wolves to turn the missiles over, there was only one way the situation could end, and that was to say, badly.
Joe really didn't want to see how the situation would end, because he got the feeling, as prideful a people as the Wolf were, the situation was going to end badly. Very badly. The Wolf general shook him out of his thoughts, "We need assistance getting these riots under control! Send anything you have, we beg of you."
General Lane cut several other generals off with five sharp words, "Hand over the missiles first."
"We refuse to! If you provide us extra forces, there will be no need for us to hand over the missiles," Wolf General Nari replied flatly.
"General, have you ever heard the old adage, 'better safe than sorry?' I do believe this to be one of those cases," the Basidian General said in a flat voice, yet still managing to make the statement very pointed.
The Wolf let out an exasperated snarl. "Don't you see? I'm not allowed to negotiate! King Scythe has told me that we will not turn the missiles over. We need help if we are to prevent the world from going seriously downhill!"
Joe let out a smaller snarl of his own, "Don't you see? If you don't negotiate, there's no way to prevent the world from going downhill. There's only two ways this situation is going to end, general, and neither of them are too good. One is, however, significantly better."
The Wolf let out a low, seething growl. "Gentlemen, we are not diplomats. I am not here to negotiate. You want us to turn over the missiles, go to the king himself. I am not the one for you to aim your sharp words at."
Joe had to fight to keep the Tiger and Fox in him from bubbling up into another snarl. "Very well, then, General, I'll do that," he said and begun to get up from the table.
"General Lane, where are you going? You are not dismissed."
"Wolf country, general, Wolf country."
USA President Trace Lane looked at his brother in slight bewilderment. "You flew to the Wolf palace to talk to King Scythe himself, just like that?"
"Yeah, just like that."
Trace refrained from laughing as he sunk back into his chair, his Foxlike ears standing up in anticipation for Joe's answer to Trace's next question, "And how'd that go?"
Joe's own Foxlike ears drooped as he grimaced. "Ehh... Not so well."
Trace could no longer restrain his laughter.
"It ain't that funny!"
Trace brought the laughter under control, "Perhaps not. It's close, though."
"How do you figure?"
"Well, you're too used to bureaucracy. The Wolves have one leader, their king. Once he's made his mind up, it's final. There is no one who can sway him from his decision, no one who can argue with him. I never thought I'd see my brother, the great military man, too used to bureaucracy. I thought that was why you joined the military instead of going into politics?"
"As it turns out, brother, you can't escape the mess, no matter where you go."
Trace had to grimace that time, "There you're most certainly right, Joe."
"I'm painfully aware."
Trace shrugged, "Just another day in the world we live."
"I beg to differ," Joe said. "It's not just another day. Revolution is not typical of our world. It's not like it's just another war. War is not common here, brother, not any more."
The President of the USA sighed, "I suppose you're right there, too." He made a gesture to Joe's UN military uniform, "I reckon people in your profession are about to start earning their pay."
Joe shook his head, letting out a deep breath, "Yeah, I reckon so. I never thought I'd see a war. Never. Just yesterday, I was suggesting reducing our military, because it's useless, a shell."
Trace eyed his brother with careful criticism. "It is no longer useless. It may become essential shortly. A shell?" He sighed, "I fear it still is. No one in our military-now save the Wolves-has fought a war in their lives. You included."
Joe shrugged, "Now that's just another day in the world we live."
Trace had to nod solemnly and checked his watch. "Well, I do believe that it's time for us to go for what you're here for."
"It is," Joe agreed, motioning for his brother to precede him. There was a screening of the new movie, The Great Lanes, scheduled for the president and his staff, friends, and family. Joe was all three.
It was only the umpteenth movie made about the great Curtis Lane, but it was the first major production about him in twenty years. Film making had come a long way in that time and a lot of history about the original story had been uncovered. The film was supposed to be very accurate and also entertaining. The story of Curt and Michaela had became a classic nearly instantly, having a great and unlikely love story with a lot of action and twists and turns. It appealed to all audiences.
The movie started showing a beautiful Fox slave, actually famous actor Lauren Legacy, who was a Unity, escaping from the bonds of her master, a slave trader and drunkard. Lauren looked like a full-blooded Fox with a bit of makeup and she was certainly beautiful enough for the part of the famous (and famously beautiful) Michaela Lane.
Human actor James Earl Jones played Curt. He was very tall, even for modern times, making him tower over all the other actors and properly portray a man from modern times flung to ancient ones. He was also a good actor, portraying the part well.
The scene shifted from Curt looking around confusedly after emerging from the collapsed gate to his world to Michaela running full speed through the woods of the western UN... or, Human Empire.
It wasn't long before the two star actors collided in brilliant fashion. Curt held her to the ground by the wrists, looking at her in bewilderment. "What are you?" he asked distantly.
She laughed, "Like you don't know!"
"What are you?" he demanded, "I'm not kidding!"
"You really don't know, do you?" she said with shock-Lauren Legacy was indeed a good actress. "I'm a Keidran, you know, that race your people hunt down and enslave?"
Curt, or the actor portraying him, murmured silently to himself. Trace figured that the words would have been curses had the producers not wanted to keep the movie open to all audiences. "Well, then, Keidran, what's the hurry?" he asked as the Fox fought his grip.
She sighed, "I suppose you'd find out, anyway, but I'm running from my master. His control spell failed."
"Magic?" Curt muttered.
Michaela raised an eyebrow.
Curt rolled his eyes and sighed, "If I let you go, will you go running off?"
"No," she said, voice trembling.
He nodded and stood up, helping her stand as he did so.
Trace heard someone come into the theater, and walk behind him, over to his his brother. He looked over to see a plain clothes guard speaking into Joe's ear. Joe was nodding, then, suddenly, his movement froze and his face lit up. He looked over to Trace and motioned. They both got up and left silently.
"What is it?" He asked as they automatically made their way to the situation room in the bunker of the mansion.
"The Wolf rebel army has acquired advanced ground and air dragons from the Western Basidians," Joe answered flatly with a grimace. "They reinforced the composite armor with magic. They're giving panzers and jets a run for their money."
"The machines are still superior, right?"
"In the hands of well-trained pilots and commanders. Rookies? Not so much," Joe said with a grimace.
"What else do you know?"
"Nothing. That's why we're headed to the command center, unless I'm mistaken."
Trace nodded with a sigh.
They burst into the command center "Was ist das Problem?" Joe demanded in loud German. Military men were usually fluent in German.
The Tiger, Cat and Basidian generals looked at him in confusion. Or, at least, most do, anyhow, Trace thought and translated, "What's the problem?"
"The Wolf Rebel Army now has armor and aircraft, essentially. They're advanced armored dragons."
"How old are the dragons?"
"Some are ex-Templar, others were used by Lane Industries, the United Keidran, Eastern Basidians... They're all combat experienced."
"Whereas the Wolf pilots have no experience," Joe muttered and turned to Trace, "You've got to find a diplomatic solution. I'm doing the best I can."
Trace nodded and hurried out of the room to his office. Joe was right. If he didn't find a diplomatic solution, force would be the only solution, and with every passing day, force grew to be a worse solution. But a diplomatic solution, he thought with a grimace, ain't happenin'.
Axe looked over the map. The Army was holding down the capital sternly. There was no way they were taking it with brute force. Terror teams, saboteurs and spies were, however, working hard within the city. The mountains on the border with the Human Republic and Unity Nation where well under Rebel Army control. Axe's top generals were leading blitzkriegs towards key points all over the Wolf Kingdom. Ground Dragons weren't optimal against panzers, but they were holding their own pretty well, simply because the dragons knew what they were doing. The panzer commanders? They'd never fought a real battle.
The dragons in the air were having a much harder time, the jets they were competing against able to fire beyond line of sight and going upwards of three times their speed. Biggest problem was, jets were expendable. Dragons? Not so much. However, Axe thought, it's not as big a problem as it seems. Dragons want action, they want to do something! They've been inactive for a thousand something years. When put that way, Axe would want to do something, anything, should he be in the same situation. And that was how he'd secured advanced armor and experienced dragons from the Western Basidians. And how glad he was that he had. His ragtag army was holding its own against trained professional soldiers. That was remarkable. And I've done it, he thought. Me, a no-account construction worker. I created a revolution!
He had, too. Ever since he and a small group had walked out of that pub alive, he'd became a leader of increasing numbers of people. As it turned out, there were a lot of people fed up with the monarchy. The collapse of the stock market and the military's use of brute force to control the riots had been the breaking point.
Axe shrugged and sat his glasses on the desk with a gentle toss. It was time to call it a day in the mountain hideout. He stood up, his forming staff opening the door and filing out. Operators and officers stayed, and would do so around the clock. Running a war was an around-the-clock business. But one man, one leader, can only do so much, he thought. He walked out of the command building and some distance down the mountain to the house he'd had built for he and his wife.
He opened the door slowly, sneaking in on his paws. His wife turned from her place in front of the stove to face him, grinning, "Not today."
She shook her head as they wrapped in a hug, "Nope."
"This," she said and let their snouts meet in a kiss. It lasted for some time, a perfectly somber and honest embrace.
When the broke, he shrugged, "Well, that's pretty good too," and grinned a-very-toothy grin.
"It had better be," she said in a mock threat.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but you're talking to an important Wolf now," he returned in the same mocking tone.
"Important enough to be prideful and vain, I see," she said with a sheepish grin.
He shrugged, "If you want to put it so hurtfully, honey."
She rolled her eyes, "Just sit down and eat your food."
"Oh, now that, I have no trouble doing," he said, smiling, as hie made his way to the table.
"Good thing, too, I worked hard on this venison stew."
His mouth full, he managed to mutter, "Well, you did good."
She grinned toothily-even for a wolf-as she ate.
They didn't speak for the duration of the meal-as good a cook as she was, they rarely did, they were too busy stuffing their faces. In wolf country, it was a compliment. That didn't meant that, when they finished, he didn't compliment her. "Thank you, dear," he smiled. "As usual, it was delicious."
She nodded, "I do my best with what little you can get up here."
"Is that a complaint I hear?"
"It is!" she exclaimed. "Don't you see it? We've got nothing here, we're hiding and running. We can't get anything we need; that venison was hunted down by one of your men. We should be able to go to the market and get all the food we want!"
Axe shook his head. "You seem to forget the fact that nowhere in Wolf Territory is there a real, open market. Wolf Rebel Army or no, the country is in riots. I'm just putting some order to them."
She sighed, "Yeah, I guess so. It's just... Not... Not right, not normal, to me."
He sighed, too. "It'll get better. It will be better. That's why I did this, for us, for you and all of us, as peo..." His small speech was interrupted by a short kiss from his wife. "What was that for?" he asked as they broke.
"You talk too much. I understand. I don't like it, but I understand. I think it's better when you don't talk."
He grinned. "Really now? I can do better than kissing, you know."
General Lane looked at the USA BoG. The Wolf General was halfway through a speech begging for armed support form the other USA nations. "...you do not pledge support to His Majesty, the riots-and now the Wolf Rebel Army-will consume our nation. Worse for you, they will also find our atomic missiles. We cannot allow this to happen."
"Turn your missiles over to the USA and you will have full cooperation from the United Basidian Forces."
"The Fox pledge their support with the same conditions."
"Same for the Dog."
"Same for the Tiger."
"Same for the Fox."
"Unity Nation pledges two infantry and one armored division, as well as one air wing."
The other generals stared at him in shock. "I am by no means complaining, General Lane, but why are you breaking from the other generals?" Wolf General Nari asked.
"If we end up fighting a war, I want my men to be able to fight-to know what war is really like. I wish I could commit more men, but it took some doing to get what little I did."
"I am thankful for it, general. The entire Wolf Nation is thankful. When can we expect to see these men?"
"Air strikes are en route. The ground forces are being assembled in the rally point nearest to the border. We will coordinate together at a later date. Now, I imagine, the BoG has things it thinks more important?"
"General Lane, with this action, Unity Nation is violating USA protocols."
"You could be removed from the alliance."
Joe laughed a chuckle that turned into a most evil-sounding cackle. "Good. That would free up all our forces to crush the Wolf rebels. Besides, you won't boot us out of the alliance anytime soon. You seem to forget that Lane Industries, based in the UN, supplies, what, seventy percent of the alliances' weapons? You can't remove us, it would hurt y'all far worse than it'd hurt us, and you know it."
The Dog general sighed, "He's right."
"Eighty," the Bastian general said.
"What?" the Dog asked.
"Eighty percent. Lane Industries supplies eighty percent of the USA's military hardware."
"So, you're telling me that you lost our general?" the Major screamed at the assembled airmen and technicians.
"Sir!" Technical Sergeant Amber Finney replied, "It was not our fault."
"And how is that, sergeant?" the Major said, getting right into her face.
"There was a tremor, a small earthquake, it distorted the portal's shape and changed the plane of the event horizon. It made the wormhole go somewhere else."
The Major relaxed a bit. "Where?"
"We're not sure. Instead of making a portal across space-to other locations-it made a portal through space-to another space, an alternative universe, if you will."
"We need to get our General back."
"I've handpicked and am prepared to lead a team through to rescue our man," she replied.
The Major nodded, "That's more like it. You're cleared. Get ready."
Amber and her squadron scrambled to the ready rooms and prepared for the mission ahead of them. Ten minutes later, they assembled in the portal chamber.
The sergeant didn't even brief her squadron. They knew what they were doing, where they were going. They knew their mission. There was no great, grand plan, just stay alive, grad the general, get out.
An automated computer announced the charging of the portal coils as technicians, Sergeant Finney included, imputed new parameters into the computer and changed the portal's destination to match where the error had sent General Lane.
That done, she stood as the portal formed and the airmen of her small team ran through. She charged after them, across the plank and through the blue. The additional distance between the two portals was perceivable. But she soon stepped off of the metal and onto grass with a sigh. Her squadron fanned out, making sure the area was secure. She surveyed the scene and realized that a granite monument with a walkway full of people staring at her and her men stood in the middle of the large clearing amongst giant trees in which they stood. About 400 yards away was a parking lot full of automobiles of a manufacture and form Amber didn't recognize. We're here, alright, she thought.
That's when she realized that the people we're human, but had ears and tails, some like foxes, others dogs, cats, wolves, tigers. Some were completely covered in fur, others with skin everywhere but their ears and tails. They were all staring. This should be good, she thought. "Lower your weapons," she said quietly to her men. Loudly, she called, "Do you speak English?"
One, in a uniform not to far removed from her own, stepped out of the crowd. "We speak Human, yes. Who are you?"
Shouldn't they have been shocked by the portal? Scared by the number of weapons they held, their sudden appearance? "We are from the United States Air Force. We had a man come here by accident, we are looking for him."
"USAF?" The man-like thing asked.
"Are you actors?"
"No, why?" she said cautiously, her gun still half-raised.
"What's the name of the man you're missing?"
"Major General Curtis Lane?"
Amber's eyes shot open. "Yes! How did you know?" her form tensed. All her mens' did. If they knew exactly who he was, they might hold General Lane.
The humanoid let out a startled-sounding laugh. "You're about 1500 years late." He started walking toward them. He met with Sergeant Finney and stuck out a hand. "Sergeant Kelly Youngston-Lane, Unity Nation Air Force. Just call me Kelly."
She shook it. "Sergeant Amber Finney, United States Air Force."
"General Lane never could quite believe that no rescue parties were sent after him. I guess I know why now. Follow me, sergeant, you'll want to see this," he said, motioning her and her men towards the granite monument. "Read this," he said once they had arrived.
On the base of the monument was an inscription, "LANDING PLACE OF THE GREAT CURTIS LANE, SAVIOR OF OUR WORLD."
Amber's mouth dropped. "What did he do?"
Kelly shrugged, "Invented democracy, modern warfare, brought us out of medieval times... I could go on for quite some time."
She looked to her first in command, a Sergeant Powell. "Well, sergeant, radio back home, they'll want to hear about this one."
He nodded, "Yes ma'am," and stepped away from the group, speaking into his walkie and radioing through the portal. The portal collapsed shortly thereafter and he returned to the group. "Command wants us to stay a while, see what we can figure out about the General, what he did here."
"Please tell me that they checked to make sure they can re-open the portal before they closed it," she said flatly.
"They did. Our trajectory was confirmed and tracked precisely, unlike General Lane's. We guessed to get here."
She nodded, "Just so long as we can get home."
Kelly returned her attention to him, "Well, what can I do for you?"
Amber was a little taken aback. He was very kind and helpful. "Let's start with your name. Are you related to him?"
"Nearly everyone naturally born into this nation is related to Curtis Lane. That's why my surname is 'Youngston-Lane.' Since almost everyone had the same surname, we started using secondary surnames, clan names, some call them. Direct decedents or high-ranking men of significance use only Lane or Legacy."
Amber nodded. "Almost everyone in this nation? Lane or... Legacy?"
Kelly nodded. "We are a people called the Unity. We are Humans mixed with Keidran. Only two occurrences of successful cross-breeding ever occurred. One was between Curt and his future wife, a Fox Keidran named Michaela. The other between an important Templar named Trace Legacy and his future wife, a Tiger Keidran named Flora. There are few other surnames, as few other humans came into the nation."
Amber paused in thought. "Looks like we have a lot to catch up on. How do you know so much about General Lane?"
"Well, that was elementary school history, but my unit guards this memorial, so we have to know. All of my men are... almost... equally knowledgeable."
"Then I guess we came to the right place," Amber said as she shouldered her long gun.
One of Kelly's eyebrows raised in what was clearly curiosity. "Is that the same kind of gun the General carried? They're worth a pretty penny if so."
"Our pistols are. He shouldn't've carried a long gun," Powell responded.
"Trust me, he did," Kelly said, causing Amber and Powell's eyebrows to raise. "He said he carried it because he still sought revenge for his wife's death. 'A poor decision I'm glad I made,' were his words."
"Why don't you take us to your commander, Sergeant Youngston-Lane?"
"If you want to refer to me by my rank, stop at my clan name, and follow me."
General Lane raised binoculars to his face, watching his panzers tangle with Basidian made WRA Ground Dragons. Jets zipped over his head, firing missiles onto the battlefield. Infantrymen were crouched behind the panzers, waiting to come close enough to the Ground Dragons or enemy infantry to do some damage. Maschinengewehre mounted on both the WRA MGDs and UN panzers rattled away, punctuated by the booms of cannons on both. He could see the magical shields on both take the impacts very well. Nonetheless, a well-placed shot toppled a MGD somewhere on the far right of the front. In the middle, a panzer brewed up, earning a grimace from Joe.
"Where is our air support?" he asked as a second panzer, to the left, went up in flames.
"Tied up in a dogfight," his Air Force commander, a Samuel Winchester-Legacy responded.
"Then get us more. We have more aircraft that what're tied up in that."
"All other aircraft in the air wing we've secured are on the ground refueling or getting repairs."
Joe thought for a second. "Well, we decided to devote one air wing. Less than one air wing is in the air. See where I'm going with this?"
Sam grinned, his Wolf-like features making the grin very devious indeed. "I do," he said and made his way to the radioman. Minutes later, Überschall jets shot overhead, dropping cluster bombs and JADAM guided ordnance onto the enemy formations. Large groups of MGDs were closing in on his left flank. There were enough that they stood a good chance of winning over the thinly spread UN panzers. Joe turned around and walked to the circle of tables that composed his mountaintop command center. He stood over the communications table and tapped a communication stone that connected him with Wolf General Nari on the other side of the plain. "General, now would be an opportune time."
"Roger. Package is on its way."
Joe moved back to the edge of the mountain to see two giant Wolf Nation jet cargo transports swoop in miles from the right flank and level out a few hundred meters over the battlefield, their rear cargo bay doors open. Boxes dropped from the open doors, separating into halves and revealing massive arrow-shaped bombs. They dropped rapidly to the ground and detonated four feet above the ground. Red and orange rapidly radiated out, shooting out and up, along the ground and up. A shockwave shot out, sweeping WRA infantry off their feet and flinging them away. The waves reached the enemy armor, toppling them and burning them.
Brave Wolves and dragons got up to their feet again, and got back to fighting. His UN forces crushed the disoriented rebel fighters. The second bomb, which had dropped in the heart of the flanking enemy forces, had decimated the flanking maneuver. The panzers of the first UN armored division charged forward after retreating WRA forces. His infantry fanned out and eliminated fleeing infantry with precision.
"Let the rest run," he shouted to his radioman, how relayed his order to the forces that then halted.
"Well done, sir," General Winchester said with a pat on his back.
"We got lucky," Joe said with a grimace. "The Rebels already know how to fight. If we wouldn't have had those MOABs, we would have lost, and I am certain of it. Either way, make sure your fighters pound any of their supply lines they can find."
He nodded and went to his own radioman. Joe went to his, "Make sure they get as much of the field as they can. I want this front to move as fast as it can. If this war drags on, we will lose."
The shockwaves and sound from the two massive bombs hit them just then. Joe was nearly knocked off his feet, tents were blown, papers thrown far away. The sound was deafening, a thunderous, deep, growling boom reaching deep inside him.
"General Lane?" a younger boy called from behind him, ignoring the massive blast.
He turned to see a young airman. "Yes?"
"I've got some people you'll want to see."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, sir, honest."
"Not much can faze me, son. My brother is the most important man in the world," Joe said, being sure not to seem enthused; he wasn't.
"Not anymore, sir."