A/N: sorry for the long wait. Marching band and high school got in the way. Also, a big thanks to Red Mage 04 for proofreading this beforehand. You're amazing, dude.
In a United Nations Coalition transport high in orbit of a desert planet, a veteran soldier stared through the cockpit's blast shield windows. For most other people, the planet would be considered boring and unattractive, but for the soldier, it gave him a sense of familiarity and a planet that he could call his second home. A faint, yet reminiscing smile formed on the veteran's mouth. His calm, calculating dark brown eyes relaxed as he continued to stare at the planet. He raised his armored right hand and gently placed it against the cool glass of the cockpit.
"I'm finally back…" the veteran murmured.
"Commander!" another voice erupted behind him. The veteran turned behind him and saw that one of his soldiers, a former British Special Air Services commando, stopped and saluted in greetings. The Commander returned the tradition as the soldier asked, "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"You may, Lieutenant Locke" he replied.
The El-Tee gave a bright smile and said, "I just want to say this, Commander, I can't believe we're actually here; the very planet where you met them!" The Commander couldn't help but give a small chuckle from the man's enthusiasm. "I'm serious, Commander! I speak for all of the other soldiers in saying that we can't wait to go down there. What does it feel like to be back here in the Solana sector after all that training, Commander Ramirez?"
Captain Louis Ramirez, former Marine of the Force Recon, test pilot of Humanity's first warp drive, and brother figure to Ratchet, Clank, and Clark, couldn't stop the spreading smile on his face. "It's good to be back, Lieutenant," Louis replied. It had been eight years since he crashed landed on Veldin and met Ratchet, Clank, and Clark. He was a grizzled Marine; combat tempered and wise beyond his age from nearly two decades of conflict. He had an impressive record of being a veteran of several major conflicts back on earth; he fought in the War on Terror, aided in the Second Russian Civil War, the Russo-American war, which escalated into World War III. He was a giant among soldiers, standing at a height of six feet and ten inches without his armor. Even though he hadn't reached the age of forty, his light-brown hair had already grayed from his accumulated years in combat. War tended to age an individual faster. His presence practically emanated an aura of professionalism and deadliness.
Louis, Locke, and the others inside the transport were all soldiers, but a different kind of breed. They were many of the hundreds of volunteers that became humanity's first super-soldiers. Hand-pick recommended by their militaries, evaluated and tested to their very limits, they are the tip of the spear in keeping peace within the galaxies. They are given state-of-the-art technology, trained by the very best from every nation, and—to enhance their effectiveness in combat—are physically, surgically, and chemically augmented. Increased muscle mass, nearly indestructible skeletal structure, inhuman reflexes and strength, and other top secret enhancements. One example of their post-augmentation abilities was validated during a strength test; the maximum load they could lift with their arms at the time was at 150 kilograms, without their armors. Overtime, however, their abilities would continue to improve. The United States of America was the first nation to propose such force, but the ranks of the Super-Soldiers included many Tier One operatives around the Earth. Locke, for example, was a commando in the British SAS. Louis's platoon consisted from the Polish GROM, American Navy SEAL and Delta Force, Russian Spetsnaz, German KGR, Swedish SOG, and many more. However, they also include volunteers that passed the requirements from the Marines, Army Rangers, and other foreign Special Forces units.
Louis and his soldiers are designated as Task Force Leviathan, in homage to Polaris galaxy's native Cosmic Leviathans, the deadliest predator of all. They were some of the best Super-Soldiers out from all of the volunteers in the program. They are specialized in Conventional and Guerrilla Warfare, Orbital Drops, and Black Op assignments. Like the Leviathans, each Task Force is trained universally, but each have their own unique strengths: Task Force Mako agents are trained for Naval, Maritime, and Spacecraft insertions and operations; Task Force Specter are for assassinations, recon, and sniper and covert missions; and last but not least, Task Force 141 is utilized for heavy assaults, POW rescues, and one of the first-response teams.
Each Task Force's armory contained hand-crafted, state-of-the art prototypes. Their power armor, for example, is an experimental suit made from Titanium-Carbonox alloy that is extremely resistant to ballistics, thermal damage, and fragmentation. In addition, the suits are EMP and Radiation hardened, withstanding anything short of a close range nuclear explosion. To add to the suit's defenses, each one is installed with a kinetic shield generator that constantly recharges after absorbing damage and high temperatures. In addition, the suits are imbedded with reflective glass optic fibers that enable the user the ability of passive and active optical camouflaged, rendering latest stealth field generation. However, the camouflage only works if the user moves slowly and not under fire. For close-quarters combat and low-profile assassinations, each suit is installed with a blade in each gauntlet, with ballistic launch options, similar to the Spetsnaz's trademarked ballistic knives. The boots for the suits are preinstalled with jet-thrusters at the soles, effectively allowing the user to safely descend from an orbital drop. There is an advance Heads Up Display installed in each helmet's visor that provides tactical information for the user, such as enemy positions, maps, intelligence on the battlefield, etc. All of the suit's systems are powered by a Micro-Fusion cell pack, which generates over 478 Megawatts of electricity similar to a small nuclear fission plant without meltdown fears. Despite the technological advantage, the Task Force agents are still human, and can succumb to injury.
Although they were still in the mid-twenties of the 21st century, the Task Forces' weapons received a major overhaul in recent years. A majority of their firearms, from assault rifles to light machineguns, were designed as Gauss weaponry. Gauss rifles and other firearms are based off of their own galactic fleet's primary weapons, the rail guns. The Gauss weapons work on a similar principle as the rail guns: electrically powered ordnances that accelerate a plasma-coated, conductive projectile along electromagnetic rails. Each weapon is powered by small electron charge packs, which generates enough power for a year and are much cheaper than their micro-fusion counterparts. The only other addition that makes their Gauss weaponry different than the standard rail gun is that it could be fired in either semi-auto or fully automatic, unlike the rail gun, without sacrificing accuracy and stopping power.
In short, the soldiers of the Task Forces are extremely deadly and should not be trifled with.
Louis then remembered part of the reason why they were back in the Solana galaxy. "Is our gift to Ratchet still in the back, Lieutenant?" he asked.
The British man couldn't help but chuckle faintly from his Commander's constant worrying. That's the sixth time he asked me that…he mused in his thoughts. He cleared his throat a bit, but he still had the amused smile adorned on his face. "Yes it is, Commander. It's still in its shipping container, fresh from the techie lads from Seongnam."
"Good." An unrelated, but amusing thought occurred in Louis' mind. He cracked a smile and laughed quietly. "You know, it's kinda ironic that our armor's manufacturers are from the same place as the armor of those fictitious super-soldiers."
Locke quickly got the jest and laughed as well. "Well, the bloody difference between us and those wankers is that we could survive both being in twenty feet of water and a twenty foot drop."
Louis' laughs soon increased in mirth from that statement. "You're never going to live that down, eh?"
"Bloody right, you yank. It's one of the concepts of them which I don't understand. Seriously, super-soldiers that were kidnapped at childhood, trained brutally, and augmented with dozens of others to be the guardians of humanity…and they can't survive a simple twenty foot drop or in twenty feet of water. Pathetic, eh?"
They had another round of laughter, which increased in merriment as the seconds rolled by. After a good thirty seconds of much needed laughter, they soon relaxed, but still smiled at the snarky comments. It was good to laugh once in a while; it reminded them that they're still human, that they're not completely emotionless and robotic. Initially, the media and their families worried that their indoctrination into the super-soldier program would render them as stoic machines; but they were proved wrong; after their training and augmentations, almost all of the recruits returned home to celebrate their success, exultant and proud.
Louis cleared his throat a bit before turning back to the console at the cockpit. "Let me make the call to see if he's at his home at the moment," he informed without looking over his shoulder.
As he was typing the number of Ratchet's home communicator, he didn't notice Locke waving excitedly at the other soldiers to come over. They soon quietly, yet quickly moved towards the cockpit, hovered over Louis' shoulders with anticipation. Louis didn't need to turn around to see that they were there; he could feel their breaths down his neck. He snickered quietly at their positive behavior; they were the best soldiers Earth had to offer, yet they still act like giddy school boys and girls at a candy shop having a sale.
After dialing the last digit for Ratchet's communicator, he started the call, not knowing that it would change everything…
In a garage on the surface of the desert planet of Veldin, one being was hard at work doing maintenance on his personal fighter. He was on a roller-board, lying on his back underneath the ship. His right hand held a large wrench as he used it to tighten some bolts. The wrench was both a tool and a part of him, as it had vast sentimental value from his adventures. With the last turn to tighten one more screw, he slid himself from the underside of his ship and got up. His chest was bare of any shirt, yet he wore a harness on his chest, green cargo-pants, large leather gloves, and dark blue boots. His fur glistened with sweat from a hard day's work, mixed with the occasional and accidental splotches of oil. His content aqua-green eyes looked at the result of his work, his lion-like tail swished back and forth with glee.
"All done, Aphelion!" he announced with so much satisfaction in his voice.
"Thank you for the maintenance, Ratchet!" his "ship" replied in a delighted, feminine voice. The ship had a personal AI installed; therefore it—she was self-aware and had her own personality. "Honestly, I don't know how that jam in the vertical thrusters happened."
Ratchet, the last male Lombax in the current dimension, one of the heroes of the universe, and brother to Louis Ramirez, couldn't help but laugh at his friend's cheerfulness.
"Well, maybe because you were lazy?" Ratchet joked, snarkily.
"Hey!" the AI retorted in a faux upset tone, "Whose fault is that, eh? You, Louis, Clank, and Clark are the ones saving the Universe constantly. You're taking down bad-guys left and right, and putting me out of a job! Who am I going to shoot down now if all the bad guys are six feet in the ground?"
They both shared a laugh together, basking in the presence of their good friendship. It was nice to be in each other's company, especially since they were the only two around at their home. Clank and Clark were away to do more filming for another Secret Agent Clank movie called "From Reepor With Love." When Louis first heard about the title, initially he reacted with disbelief and he said something on the lines of "I don't know if Sean Connery would approve this or roll in his grave." Ratchet missed the two robots dearly; they've been gone for a few weeks now.
He had to admit to what Aphelion pointed out in her joke: life was getting boring. Ratchet and his brothers were once busy individuals that sought to keep peace and justice throughout the universe. They fought against greedy, corrupt corporate Chairmen; a former villain seeking revenge and a quick path to fame; a mad, robotic genius that had a vendetta against all organics; a malicious, charismatic game-show host that kidnapped and pitted heroes against heroes for the sake of entertainment; an enemy of the Lombaxes that pursued the extermination of all remaining members of that race; and a disheartening and heart wrenching battle with a good friend that almost destroyed the universe in a wild sense of desperation, all for the sake of altering the past. Now, Ratchet was lucky to even get a small assignment from the Galactic Rangers. All he did was work on maintenance on Aphelion, workout and train, eat, sleep, and repeat.
Ratchet gave a small sigh as soon as his laughter died off. I guess…no one needs a hero now…he pondered sadly in his thoughts. He looked up to Aphelion and tried to give a small smile. "Hey, if you want to fly around for a bit, go ahead," he offered.
If Aphelion had a face, she would give a small look of concern. "Are you sure you won't be lonely?" she asked, her voice laced with worry.
Ratchet smiled faintly, but reassuringly and nodded. "I'm sure, go on, Aphelion."
The front of Aphelion's ship bowed for a bit, her own gesture of a nod. She used her vertical thrusters to lift up from the ground a bit and activated her main thrusters. She flew by Ratchet, heading towards the blue sky to soar for a bit. Ratchet watched her disappear into the clouds before heading towards the door in his garage leading to his subterranean home. After the incident at the Great Clock, Ratchet move from his shared apartment at Kerwan to escape from the incessant media, as they pestered him and his friends every day. As he walked down the stairs, the home's automated lights turned on, illuminating the residence. It was a small residence; the living room composed most of the space, which served as a living room, kitchen, and dining; there are four bedrooms, one for Louis, himself, one for Clank and Clark to share in, and one for a guest, which was rare but does happen. Each of the bedrooms has their own small bathroom with showers. Ratchet went to the living room's coffee table and placed his wrench on it and picked up a small, framed picture. He couldn't help but smile proudly at the picture: it was him several years ago in his dress blues and Marine cap; a mameluke sword in its sheath on his side; and a reserved, yet proud smile adorned his face. Out of all of the thoughts that ran in his head, one was the most dominate of them all.
Was I really that small…?
Ratchet had good reason to ponder on such a question. Compared to his physique he currently had, Ratchet was barely tall enough to reach the Louis' waistline back then and he lacked a bit of muscle growth. Now, he was a few inches passed Louis' shoulders. Ratchet had an excellent combination of agility and muscle strength. His muscles had indeed gain mass and strength dramatically over the years, but they weren't over-exaggerated like that of a muscle builder on the holos or the time his name was slandered at Dreadzone for publicity. It was almost a stocky build but within a lithe frame. His arms and legs were well defined and chiseled and his abdominal muscles were definite, but his gold and white fur hid the lines of his physique. However, he did accumulate a collection of scars from his life of being a commando and adventurer. Underneath his fur, if one looked close enough, he had small, healed scuffs and cuts throughout his forearms and healed gashes on his back. The most gruesome of all was a healed blaster wound near his liver, a grim reminder of his recklessness during the Drek crisis.
He ran his gloved hand through the tuft of fur on top of his head, smiling softly as he placed the picture back on the table. He then walked to his personal quarters to rinse off the grim, sweat, and oil from his fur. The picture was from his graduation from the Marine academy at Paris Island. At first, it was for Ratchet to learn discipline on Louis' part and he loathed the thought, but Ratchet's initiative changed. Ratchet trained side-by-side with fellow recruits, and was immediately amazed at the dedication and honor they've put into their training. The men and women of the armed forces of Earth make the ultimate sacrifice every single day to preserve the ideas of freedom from tyranny and peace; he was honored and proud to serve with those individuals.
He soon entered his bedroom, which still was messy despite the training and discipline Louis instilled into him. There was a pile of dirty laundry that surrounded his laundry basket, magazines and books in a disorganized pile on his nightstand, and his bed was unkempt. The only things that were put away neatly were Ratchet's old Hyper-Flux armor at one corner of his room and his arsenal in a connecting room. The armor pieces were placed with care on the armor's stand, polished and ready to use at a moment's notice.
He walked to the door of the arsenal and typed in the security code in the keypad. The door to Ratchet's weapon gallery slid open. The familiar smell of cleaning oil created a sense of nostalgia in Ratchet's mind. That and the combination of the dull boredom had left Ratchet pining for a bit of the past. Adventure and excitement with Louis occupying his mind, he casually walked through the displays of weapons he had accumulated over the years. The fact that he needed a whole room to store them was in itself astonishing. His hand grazed over a familiar blue and black gun, the R.Y.N.O., with its twin, another R.Y.N.O., below it. In his youth they were the most powerful weapons that Solana had ever seen, it had cost his and Louis's entire life savings up to that point to buy the first one but had been worth every penny. The second one, however, Louis earned in a different method, one that involved dangling the Shady Salesman off the side of a bridge in Blackwater. He grabbed hold of its handles and started to lift it, muscles straining. Grunting, he hefted the behemoth to his shoulder and pointed it at a blank wall.
"Heh, lighter than I remember..." he mumbled to himself, his arms still in control of carrying the large weapon. "Like lifting a ship's plasma cannon!" He grunted. His memories soon drifted back to the time when he tried to lift the R.Y.N.O. in an epic fighting pose, but his strength in the past gave way to the horrible balance he remembered all too well. He gingerly placed it back in its rack and exited the armory,
Ratchet soon walked into his personal bathroom and began to strip himself of his oil-stained clothes. He tossed the laundry ungracefully into a pile in the bathroom, walked into the stall, and started the shower. The warm water trailed down his fur and released the tension that built up in his muscles. Ratchet sighed with relief as he continued to rinse off the grime and oil from his body. As he finished rinsing off, he then heard his computer ringing from his bedroom. Groaning a bit, Ratchet turned off the water and did his best to dry himself with a towel. He quickly tied the towel around his waist with a hasty knot and ran to his computer. When he reached his computer, a pop-up on his monitor alerted that he was receiving a call from a classified caller. Ratchet was immediately filled with worry; who was trying to contact him?
He tentatively answered the call and was immediately greeted by a familiar face. A grin began to tug at the corners of Ratchet's mouth as he breathed out the name of the person on the screen.
"Hey Ratchet, been a long time, eh?" Louis replied through the video chat, a grin forming on his own face. It has been six months since the Great Clock incident, which Louis immediately left after to participate in the Task Force program. He soon noticed that Ratchet was bare of any clothing except for the towel wrapped around his waist for modesty's sake and that Ratchet's golden fur was still wet and clung to his body. "Guess I interrupted something?"
Ratchet glanced down at his body and chuckled a bit. "Yeah, I was in the shower when you called me," he explained, the grin had never left his face. "You still have that infamous sense of timing of yours." The two shared a good laugh with each other, both longed for it. Their shoulders shook with mirth and their eyes filled with brotherhood.
As soon his chuckling subbed, Louis eyes returned to the monitor and idly looked around for another pair of people. "Hey, where are Clank and Clark, Ratchet?" Louis asked when he realized they weren't there.
"Oh, they're still shooting scenes for their new Secret Agent Clank movie," Ratchet replied. He then soon noticed the nineteen other human, eager looking faces that were over Louis' shoulders. A look of confusion appeared on Ratchet's face as he didn't recognize them. "Um, who are they?"
Without looking his shoulders, Ramirez jerked his thumb back to the other Super-Soldiers and replied, "These are my fellow troops, Ratchet. They're all under my command." He glanced over his shoulders and noticed that some of the female agents had a faint blush on their cheeks. Apparently, seeing Ratchet in a live video-conference was not the only reason they were amazed, as their eyes were drawn to Ratchet's toned torso, glistened and matted with water still. He gave a small chuckle and jested, "It seems that you have already made some fans, brother."
Realized that they were caught, one of the female agents gave small, yet sly smile. "Well, we can't help it, Commander. His graduation photo and the images from the news don't do him justice," the former Canadian JTF2 agent giggled.
Ratchet's cheeks soon heated up and were tinted in a light red color as he bashfully rubbed the back of his head. "Oh, u-um…thanks?" Ratchet replied as a small yet shy smile adorned on his face. Although he used to be in relationships with a few women in his life, they didn't last long and it has been years since his last date.
Louis couldn't help himself but laugh heartily at Ratchet's expense. Soon, the rest of the Task Force behind him joined in the merriment as Ratchet's face blushed to a more noticeable red and his ears drooped. However, a small, but embarrassed smile never left his face. Always leave it to Louis to embarrass Ratchet on the topic of the opposite sex. Ratchet fought against wild Leviathans and an army of Cragmites without batting an eye. When a woman gives him a compliment and appraises his body, however, he becomes flustered beyond belief.
"Ha, ha…continue laughing at my embarrassment, why don't you?" Ratchet remarked sarcastically, but the soft grin never left his face.
Louis's chuckles soon gradually died down, but his mischievous smile never left his face, either. "Sorry, Ratchet, can't help it," Louis said in-between a few more chuckles. "Anyways, we have a gift for you in the back here, and I think you'll li—"
However, Louis wasn't able to finish, as the dashboard beeped warningly from a radar scan. "Commander!" the pilot barked after reading the data. "We have an unidentified vessel a hundred klicks away from us, portside! It's descending through the atmosphere, into the Kyzil Plateau region! The make and model do not match any data from Coalition or Solana databases!" All sense of relaxation soon left the faces of all of the Task Force agents. They have been replaced with minds of seriousness, combat readiness, and cold, soldier professionalism.
"Bring the image on screen," Louis ordered the pilot, his calm face was now that of a veteran soldier. The pilot nodded and input a few commands on the keyboard. Soon, an image of the unknown craft appeared in their transport's monitors. The unknown vessel was a transport; not too big to gather attention, but enough to carry at least a platoon's worth of soldiers. Louis's augmented eyes scanned the hull of the transport for any identifying marks, and glimpsed an insignia emblazoned on the ship's hull. It was a crimson silhouette of Emperor Tachyon's profile adorned with his crown, the symbol of the Neo-Cragmite Empire.
"Shit…" Louis swore under his breath. He turned to his troops and ordered, "I want you all to go back and gear up! We may encounter hard contact!" After a chorus of "yes, sir's", the Task Force agents went back to get ready for combat.
Ratchet was confused as the agents left, but he knew what hard contact meant. They were about to encounter some sort of conflict with an outside force. His face grew serious as the rest of them, as he asked, "Louis, what is going on?"
Louis turned his attention back to ratchet and looked at him straight into his eyes. Now Louis wasn't on that would beat around the bush. In a deadpanned voice, Louis replied with one word: "Cragmites…"'
Ratchet's ears dropped to his skull and bared his teeth a bit. "Here in Solana? How did they find me?" Ratchet murmured, a faint growl rumbled from his throat. "Why are they after me, though? You're the one that put the bullet in Tachyon's skull."
The grim memory flooded back into Louis's mind. His face soon bore a frown as every detail from the event was relived in his head. Their fight, their victory, his execution on Tachyon with a high caliber handgun, his grim satisfaction as he watched the Emperor's corpse drifted into the worm hole, knowing that his brother was now safe.
"I know…" Louis replied, dourly. "but nonetheless get ready to hold them off. They might be still trying to fulfill Tachyon's old vendetta against Lombaxes. And whatever you do, do not destroy the transport."
"Because we can hack the ship's data logs from its navigation archives, find out where they came from," Louis replied in a crisped military fashion. "You know the value of intelligence, yeah?"
Ratchet gave a brief nod, as he understood what Louis stated. In the military, intelligence was the key to a decisive victory. Going blind into the field would lead to disastrous consequences. "Understood," Ratchet affirmed. "Just hurry and get your asses over here."
"Give us five mikes, and we'll be ready."
"Nothing takes five minutes, Louis," Ratchet replied, using a well known quote, before he ended the video chat.
Back in the transport, Louis heard metallic footsteps moving towards him. He turned around and saw Lieutenant Locke in his full gear with his helmet tucked underneath his arm.
"So…back into the fray, Commander?" Locke asked.
Louis gave another brief nod as he reached for his helmet on the empty co-pilot's seat. He picked it up and gently placed it over his head. It gave a soft hiss noise as the hermetic seals were activated and became one with the whole set of armor.
"Yes, Lieutenant Locke," Louis replied as his HUD blinked to life in his visor. "Same shit, different day."