Speed, give me what I need

Yeah, white lightning

Let's speed, on speed

On wheels, on wheels

Speed, oh, let it bleed

Yeah, greased lightning

Let's speed, on speed

On wheels, on wheels

-Speed, Billy Idol

New York, Terra

Chaos March

6th December 3068

New York, the Big Apple. The Statue of Liberty, restored. Countless monuments and museums scattered around the historical city. Even in the 31st century, New York had not lost much of its allure, and acted as a centre of trading and commerce. The famed Madison Square Garden still stood, featuring sporting spectacles almost daily. Broadway was more quiescent, showing mostly 'safe' dramas that the Word of Blake had deemed suitable for consumption by the masses.

Frank shivered a bit in the cold under the bright neon lights, the gaudy decorations for Christmas seemingly incongruous with the image of the city under the staid control of the religious Word of Blake. Curiously, the word 'Christmas' was completely absent, and Frank remembered walking by a group of schoolchildren and hearing them talk about some celebration of Gifts Day. It had taken him a moment to realise they were talking about Christmas. Renamed and sanitized of any religious connotations that might conflict with the 'Blessed Word'.

Take away their culture, their holidays, and BAM! You have them for life. Frank was pretty sure the Blakists knew what they were doing. Brainwashing an entire generation with their beliefs. Taking away the truth of their past, replacing it with their own twisted version.Down the memory hole… Calling it Blakemas would have been a real laugher, though.

He leaned nonchalantly against the building, his eyes slowly scanning the nearby non-descript corporate office for any changes. It was night, and most people were of from work, and generally relaxing, roaming the streets window shopping in the city's commercial areas, or staying at home watching holovids.

After their raid in South America, the rebels had two good leads, which they hoped would reveal the Word of Blake's real plans. Since they were unable to amass enough physical resources to push off the Blakists, the next best option would be to ferret out its secrets, and use those secrets against the Wobblies, if possible.

One of the leads was codenamed Vampire, and seemed to be closely related to the stealth technology Exterminator they found. It was located at a research facility at Salinas. The other lead was codenamed Blaze, and was located in a small hidden office in New York, of all places.

They had no idea what the Blaze project was about, except that it probably wasn't about Battlemechs. The cover of the urban environs meant that any attempt to find out what Blaze was had the best chance of succeeding, despite the many attendant complications that came with a covert operation that would likely get blown in the process.

For this reason, they had brought over nearly the entire team involved with the prison break in California. James Taffel had decided that nothing, not even the lives of his best operatives, was more important than getting to the truth of what the Blakists were doing with their numerous research programs all over Terra.

"How are you doing?" Frank turned slowly to look at Taffel, who had walked up beside him.

"Fine. My migraine quota for the day is filled anyway." Frank winced a bit, recalling the intense pressure in the morning, just after breakfast. So far, nothing he had tried had worked. He had concocted his own cocktails of COX inhibitors and morphines, but nothing seemed to work. He was thinking of just hooking himself up to a controlled current and seeing if electrical shocks could get rid of the migraines, but lack of equipment and the dubious looks at his suggestion put paid to that crazy idea.

Taffek looked over him critically. "Our people are already positioned. William, you up for it?"

"Hell yeah. I still owe them plenty." Frank felt his fingers twitch at the memories of his imprisonment. "Can't wait to shoot some Wobblies."

Taffel nodded. The plan was simple, or as simple as they dared to get. A fuel tanker would crash into the building, and spill its contents all over the street. The rebels, in the guise of local emergency services, would move in and infiltrate the building, picking up any data cores and software packages they found, before pulling out and dispersing throughout the city. They had obtained the building plans from the city database, but Taffel cautioned them against relying on it too much; if it really was a covert Word of Blake research centre, odds were high that the building's design would be different from the plans.

In short, they were striking into the unknown. They had no idea what sort of guards were present, what security systems were in place, or how soon Word of Blake reinforcements would arrive. All they knew was that the building was 100 a Word of Blake research facility for something called Blaze, and that was that.

High risks, definitely, but with potentially high rewards.

Taffel looked at his watch. "Time's almost up. Get to your position."

Frank nodded, walking into a nearby alley and climbing into the back of an emergency ambulance. Several more people joined him, all of them picking up weapons and double checking their condition. He pulled on a black ablative/flak concealable vest, followed by the red and white coveralls of the city's emergency services. There was no need for stealth suits because they did not intend to stick around that long.

"All right," his team leader, a man named Squarez, said, in a Mexican accent. "We do this nice and fast. All of you have dataports ready to jack in and obtain data." He stopped, and realized he wasn't saying anything they don't already know. "Be ready in," he looked at his wrist-chrono, "4 minutes."

For Frank, the next few minutes passed by in complete silence, as they waited in terse anticipation for the battle to come. James Taffel was convinced there would be a fight. No Word of Blake installation would ever be devoid of security forces. The issue at hand was, how tough were the guards, and how many of them there were?

Frank did not know he was about to have one of the longest nights of his life.


Precentor Lane Brandenburg-Curi grimaced with distaste at the men flanking him. They were all members from the extreme Sixth of June sub-faction of the Toyama sect. It almost did not matter that they were all members of the Word of Blake, dedicated to Jerome Blake's vision.

Because even so many years after their founding, they could not even agree on what Blake's vision was.

Brandenburg-Curi was a True Believer, one of the highest ranking after Precentor William Blane. After the battle in South America, he had reason to believe that there would be an attack on one of their research facilities, notably the cleverly hidden New York center. After reporting to Precentor Martial St. Jamais, his superior had quietly 'recommended' to his command several of his Toyama elite, specifically the Sixth of June special operatives.

There was just six of them, but St. Jamais had been supremely confident in their abilities. Lane had heard whispers from his own troops about the Sixth of June, and the Manei Domini, who were supposed to be their elite of the elite, enhanced with cybernetic and myomer implants.

I can certainly see why, Lane thought to himself. Three of the Manei Domini operatives with him are Delta Banshees, two are Alpha Ghosts, and finally one who refused to identify his role, except for the gleaming sickly yellow Psi symbol on one shoulder.

In the Word of Blake, Psi-designated personnel are ROM, in charge of spiritual enlightenment. Brandenburg-Curi wondered how this particular Manei Domini would contribute to the upcoming fight he was sure was coming, but the other five seemed to defer automatically to the Psi.

"What plans do you have for apprehending the rebels?" Lane asked.

The Psi turned to him, "They will fall easily. You need not concern yourself. In fact," pale eyes stared right through him, "You do not even need to be here."

It was said as a suggestion, but the Precentor felt a… something pressing against his mind. Before he could react, it was gone.

"We should clear the databases. Prevent them from getting anything important."

The Psi waved it off. "It will set our efforts here back. Do not worry, the data will be safe."

Lane wondered privately if the Psi was really as confident as he seemed to be, but guessed that he owed the Precentor Martial the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, the facility's research project, the Blaze, was not that critical to the Word of Blake's military program, and was more of a blue-sky technology to push the boundaries of extra-light fusion engine parameters and hovercraft design.

They exited the corridor and entered a room where dozens of scientists and engineers are working, poring over data and busy hammering at their keyboards. The Psi said, "Once the rebels hit, evacuate all the personnel. We will do the rest."

He nodded. Now, if only the rebels will strike, and if ROM's intel on rebel movements was correct, they would be attacking that very night.

Then there was a very loud crash above the research office, and suddenly Lane wished ROM was not so correct after all.


The raid proceeded on schedule. The fuel tanker seemingly lost control while making a hard turn, and crashed into the building, making a nice convenient hole in one wall in the process.

Liquid spilled from the fuel tank, but it was only water mixed with some jelly to make it viscous and seem as though it was oil. The lack of the tell-tale smell of spilled petrol was a dead giveaway, but the raiders hoped the pedestrians would not notice, in the midst of the confusion and chaos engendered by the 'accident'.

"We're on." Squarez reported from the driver's seat as he sent the van moving from the alley towards the building. People were already running away from the scene of the accident, due to the likelihood of the fuel exploding. Which left the scene free of civilians for what they were going to do.

Frank flipped on a communications headset retrofitted with night-vision goggles. Every rebel raider had been equipped with digital codebreakers and data siphons, to extract as much information from the facility as possible. The codebreakers had already been configured by their resident hacker, Hierro 'Rod' Rodriguez, so all they needed to do was to find the nearest dataport and jack in the device.

As for personal weapons, they were all armed with melee and weapons designed for close-in work in the tight confines of the building. Frank had armed himself with a simple sword for close fighting and an automatic shotgun with plenty of spare magazines, along with a hold-out needler as a weapon of last resort. All the weapons were hidden under the medic's coveralls he was wearing, while the advanced medical kit he carried was also stuffed with additional codebreakers, spare data chips, and a more powerful ultrasonic detector.

The van veered to a stop beside the hole in the wall, where the fuel tanker laid on one beast like a wounded beast, the driver of the tanker stumbling dazedly into the hole in the wall.

The raiders quickly filed out of the door. Frank noted that the civilians had almost all disappeared from the immediate vicinity, and most were peeking at the accident site from a safe distance. To any observer, his team of raiders would seem like a group of paramedics who'd arrived right on time. About thirty meters away, a large firetruck, also under the control of the rebels, as well as a police van, had pulled up, and additional rebels clad in the appropriate disguises were running towards the hole.

Squarez was already running into the hole, and Frank turned to follow suit. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…"

The first rebel into the hole was the tanker driver, who quickly found the building's electrical grid near a set of lifts behind the 1st floor reception area. It did not take him long to hack the grid and sabotage the wires for the main lights. There was something else, too…

"All squads, Front here. They've backup generators for their workstations and servers."

Taffel's voice came in next, even as Frank and his team gathered near the lifts. "Cut everything."

"Roger."

The entire building plunged into darkness Frank stepped through the hole, with only the dim emergency lights providing some amount of illumination. He quickly glanced at both sides. Two security guards laid motionless about ten meters to his right, the night vision goggles showing them as two heaps on the ground, obviously taken out by Front, the fuel tanker driver.

If everything went as planned they should be in and out within 15 minutes, before the real local emergency services arrived. Rod had hacked into the city's emergency net, and was quickly signing off all calls to their location as having been responded to. Sooner or later, however, somebody was bound to notice.

"C'mon, let's go." Squarez motioned to his team, with every team of rebels holding an ultrasonic detector. These devices were capable of using high frequency soundwaves that can pass and echo through barriers to detect empty spaces beyond walls and other objects that block visual sight. These particular devices were extremely rare, as they are produced only by a few specialized groups in Comstar and the Word of Blake. The very detectors they were using had been appropriated from Word of Blake espionage teams.

For all its advanced technology, the ultrasonic detector only had a range of 10 meters. Frank's team held the only improved prototype version that their own scientists had been working on, which improved the range to a whopping 15 meters. It was also a lot heavier, and had a voracious power appetite.

They advanced slowly, with Frank directing the device down at the floor. They were very sure from their scans and careful surveillance of the building from opposite blocks that the upper floors did not contain any secretive Word of Blake activity, and was only a normal collection center for data packages to be sent to one of Terra's many re-directing HPG stations. Which meant that any super secret project was probably conducted below the building. There was no basement car park, so the first floor was in fact the lowest floor.

Two minutes in, Frank got something. "Hold up, I think I've got something." He waited, holding the detector steady while the visual display solidified blurry lines into more coherent ones. "Got it. There is a basement. It's twelve meters down." Which meant that the original ultrasonic detectors would have missed it.

Yes, they had confirmed the existence of a basement. Problem now was, how were they going to get down to it?

"Uh, guys?" Bill, a member of Team 3, suddenly spoke up over the communications net. "The lift just opened in front of me. And there's a B1 displayed on its destination level. There's also an additional keypad that allows access to the basement."

Frank exchanged glances with Squarez. He shrugged. The tanker crash and shutdown of the electrical system might have done something to the local systems. They were not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The nearest team quickly gathered in the lift, which was big enough to easily accommodate all six members of a team, and armed their smoke grenades, doffing gas masks as they tossed one of the grenades into the lift. All of them then crouched down. That was the best they could do, since there was no other way to defend against an attack directed into a lift.

Thankfully, the lift doors opened, not to a hail of fire which Frank half-expected, but simply… nothing. They rolled some more smoke grenades out to cover their exit, then dashed out, taking up firing positions and sending the lift back up for the others.

Frank's team was the second team down. He found his fingers twitching nervously, no matter how hard he tried to calm himself. The tension of the entire operation was getting to him. Sweat beaded down his face. He looked at the rest of his team. Even under the low-light amplification, they all looked the same, pale and withdrawn.

They left the lift, quickly moving to occupy the spots taken up by the first team on the scene, while the forward rebels quickly moved forward to the nearest doors on either side of the long corridor they found themselves in. Reinforced glass doors were present on either side, locked by security keypads. There were a total of four glass doors, through which they could see numerous workstations and desks, even with the night vision goggles.

They quickly set their electronic codebreakers to the keypads, letting the numbers run while they waited for the other teams to arrive. The digital glare from the displays was the only hint of light in the pitch-black corridor.

Each end of the corridor was a dead end. Each team took up positions near one glass door, waiting for the electronic codebreaker to complete its work and for the doors to open.

One codebreaker chimed, lights turning from red to green, and the glass door slid open. The team that had assigned itself to the door prepared to enter, the two rebels nearest the door staying in a combat crouch with their guns ready while two of their teammates moved up in a classic leap-frog.

They never made it.

The first rebel to make it to the door suddenly jerked back with a scream. He doubled over, backing into the rebel behind him. Even with the relatively poor visibility through the night vision goggles, it was possible to see the thin piece of metal protruding through the man.

The rebel behind him stumbled to the ground even as all the rebels swung their weapons over to cover the new threat. It was a mistake by amateurs.

Two more of the glass doors exploded outwards, and before the nearest rebels could turn back to confront whoever was coming through, they were taken down by extremely rapid shots to the head.

Red laser sighting beams accompanied by automatic gunfire pierced the darkness, while a horrific laughter erupted in the corridor. There was no way to coordinate a defense over the din, and Frank could feel horror seeping into his very bones. He froze in place, while monstrous figures appeared from the smoke and dark, wreathed in heavy ballistic armor, laser sighting beams strobing forth from their eyes, pausing every few moments to pour more gunfire into the reeling rebels. Despite their bulk, they were fast, to a degree Frank found unimaginable. The rebels fired back, but their weapons did not seem to have any effect, ricocheting off the enemies' armor.

Two rebels tried to access the lift that brought them down, but the lift door refused to open. Figures, Frank thought. Stuck like rats in a cage. A cage of fire, ringed by unstoppable monsters.

A hand grabbed his shoulder. "Follow me!" James Taffel shouted. The final glass door had opened, and the remaining rebels, about ten of them, rushed through in a near-panic.

One rebel was hit in the leg as he was crawling towards the door. Frank grabbed one arm and pulled the whimpering man towards relatively safety. Three more rebels covered the door with their guns. Even as powerful as the ambushers were, even they were not so confident as to go through the narrow door without using smoke or stun grenades first. The laughter died out, and a deadly calm settled over the place.

Inside the office, Frank Taffel and some of the other rebels quickly got to work, taking out their data chips and slotting them into the ports. The dull glow from the small LED on the chips flashed green, indicating that data was being transferred.

While waiting, Frank concentrated on staunching and patching up the rebel who was hit in the leg. One nagging thought pulled at him. Why didn't the ambushers corner them completely? Why leave an out? Even if they could get the data, how are they going to get out? He had a feeling of being herded. It was a sensation he did not like at all.

One thing at a time, Frank told himself, even as he finished bandaging the wound on the rebel's leg. "The bullet went through your flesh, but missed the bone. You'll be able to walk, but not run or put any real weight on it."

"Thanks. At least enough to reposition myself, eh?" The rebel nodded grimly.

Meanwhile, the other rebels, other than the three nervously covering the door through which they came, slowly moved through the room to secure it. They also had a secondary purpose, to find another way out.

Surveillance on the building showed that the only workers who went into the building through the normal exits accounted for almost all of the occupants of the upper floors. That meant those in the secret facility went in via another route.

Right now, their survival depended on finding that alternative entrance/exit.

A softpfffttt was the only hint of the next attack. One rebel went down, a barely visible tiny dart sticking out from her throat. She was dead before her head hit the floor.

"Sniper!" Frank hissed. There was no tell-tale strobing laser beam this time. The attack had been so sudden that none of them could even tell the direction of the attack.

They all flattened themselves on the ground or crouched against desk shelves and workstations, anxiously peeking up from under tables and chairs for their attacker. For all they knew, there could be more than one.

"How much longer?" Frank heard somebody ask.

"The data chips all read 70 to completion. Probably another minute and a half." Another minute and a half, and they might be dead if somebody didn't do something soon.

Frank closed his eyes, and tried to focus. The room is about twenty meters by thirty. There's the glass door in the middle of the shorter wall. We're kinda near the door. That rules out the sniper being near the door. He's probably on the far side of the room.

The problem was, how to locate the sniper?

Frank leopard-crawled for a few meters, then pulled out a stun grenade and a magnesium flare. He motioned for two of the rebels near him to pull out their own magnesium flares. Then he lifted up his NVGs.

Right now, we're at a disadvantage because we can't see as well in the dark as whoever is shooting at us. Might as well light it up.

He pulled the pin on the stun grenade, released the lever, and squeezed his eyes tight for 3 seconds, before throwing it up in a slow parabolic arc that would make it stay in the air for as long as possible. Hopefully, that would draw the attention of any snipers, while Frank initiated the second phase of his plan.

With his eyes still shut, he quickly popped the magnesium flare, flinging it in the general direction of the far end of the room, even as there was a sudden bang from the explosion of the flash. The other two rebels did likewise, in different directions.

Then he opened his eyes, and quickly stood up. The stun grenade gave them at least 5 seconds to locate the sniper before his eyes readjusted themselves to the pitch darkness.

There! About 4 meters away from the landing position of the flare he had thrown. A figure in a black sneak suit, crouching against the wall. The black suit itself was already turning the same color as the walls, a sign that it was one of the rare camo suits that could change its coloration to suit its surroundings.

Frank felt a sense of exultation sweep through him, as he quickly fired on the sniper, who quickly stumbled away behind a workstation even as his shotgun blasts punched numerous holes in the wall behind the space the sniper had just vacated.

The two rebels who had helped him quickly moved to the right, seeking to flank the sniper and pin him down before they finished him off. Three more moved to support Frank's position. With the three already covering the glass door though which they came in, that left Precentor Taffel with the data chips. By his own estimates, it'd still be another minute before the download was complete for any of the chips.

One of them went down after moving five meters ahead, caught by enfilade fire from a Blakist agent in a point somewhere in front of Frank, covered by another workstation. The rebel went down, his body armor cut to shreds by the flechettes of a heavy needler rifle, blood spraying from the numerous wounds opened up by the vicious thin plastic slivers.

"It's complete!" Taffel reported,

At that very moment, an opening appeared in the far side of the room, opposite the glass door. A single figure strode through, uncaring of the vicious firefight erupting. In that instant, all gunfire stopped.

Frank grimaced, another enemy to kill, but just as he was about to raise his gun, there was an abrupt… pressure in his head.

As a doctor, he had read about out-of-body experiences. On Einstein, he had also learnt about the existence of psi, but until now, he assumed the only real application that utilized them were the key machines they had used to open up the alien base. Everything else was blue sky stuff, because he thought nobody was able to figure it out anyway.

It was a reasonable assumption. It was also a mistake.

All the rebels fell to the floor, unable to move, their minds on fire, as the newcomer simply stood there, his black hood obscuring the cybernetic implants on his head, bulging out from his templates. He began to laugh, the same mocking laughter they had heard in the corridor. Two rebels collapsed to the floor as he laughed, blood seeping out from their nose and ears.

Frank felt pain, but it was not the same level of pain as the migraines, and he found himself still capable of thinking, of moving. He embraced the pain, his mouth open in a soundless roar. The other two snipers had moved out into the open, apparently confident that their compatriot had effectively disabled all the rebels.

It was the only real mistake the Word of Blake made all night.

Frank whipped his shotgun up, his finger already on the trigger as his teeth pulled back in a snarl of rage. The psi-manipulator stopped laughing, and the two snipers raised their own weapons hurriedly in response. They were the most immediate threat, so he shot at them, while the psi-manipulator, as he had tagged the guy, retreated behind a row of cupboards.

He hit one of the snipers in the hip, damaging the camo suit and sending the Blakist operative sliding to the floor. The other sniper took an entire salvo of buckshot to the chest, but still kept on coming!

Frank had only enough time to draw his sword and punch the blade through the man's right arm before sudden light exploded in his head.


He was intrigued. Yes, intrigued was the correct word. Since receiving the new implants, just a week ago, as a reward for his faithful service to the Master, he had tested his new, amazing implants on all sorts of targets. Stubborn servants of the heretic Focht, hardened agents of Wolfnet, highly-trained operatives from the various intelligence agencies of the Great Houses. Not one had the ability to control their bodies in his presence unless he allowed it. The exceptions came from O5P adepts; their training methods somehow gave them greater mental resistance.

On his own, he could put their minds into excruciating pain, prevent them from moving. He could, with enough power backing him up, pull memories and information out of his targets. With a reactor providing support for his implants, he could literally rewrite minds to the benefit of Blake's Blessed Word.

In his own mind, he could picture the minds of his targets as books, where he could erase entire pages and fill them with his own. Their feeble mental defenses were like a Rifleman's paper thin rear armor, requiring not much effort for him to incapacitate them, or employ his other more 'evolved' abilities.

But this rebel was different, even before he managed to shoot back. His 'mind shield' was somewhat thicker, but he had thought nothing of it.

Now that the rebel was shooting back, he took cover, and probed a little deeper. He could incapacitate targets by imagining in the metaphysical world a huge weight on their psyches, preventing them from getting off the ground at all. For the exceptional rebel, instead of a relatively flat psyche, there was a huge knot in the middle, which effectively prevented the huge weight from being completely effective.

The solution was simple. Rather than waste time disentangling the knot, he simply borrowed a page from Alexander the Great, and imagined a swift sword slicing away the knot.

The rebel shrieked.


Even during the worst of his migraines, Frank had never felt like this. Oh, to be sure, it was so painful he could not even think. But thisstabbing pain

Then it was gone. He exchanged surprised glances with the cybernetic enemy. His mind felt clear, there was no trace of mental attack, save for a slight pressure that he found he could push back rather easily. He grinned, and dashed forward.

The stabbed sniper whipped out with a leg, tripping Frank to the ground. Frank rolled to a stop, and when he came up again, the psi-user was already gone.

That still left the two snipers, and they scooted off in the direction of the glass doors, their guns barking as they cut down the other rebels, most of whom were already unconscious on the floor from the psychic assault.

Frank saw red, and he was about to go after them when one of the hulking monstrosities that had ambushed them in the corridor walked through the open glass door. And they were coming on fast.

"Horry…" Taffel groaned from his left. The Precentor was holding several of the data chips.

Making a quick decision, Frank quickly sheathed his sword, and dragged the almost unconscious rebel leader across the floor to the opening where the psi-user had appeared. He looked around frantically for a switch to close the door, and managed to find it just as the first brute reached it.

The door closed with a metallic clang, and he secured it with several locking bars. He sighed with relief. He took a quick moment to observe his new surroundings. Another dark corridor, but this time one end was clearly a cul-de-sac, while the other led off into the deep darkness. The corridor itself was dimly lit with red lights.

Just then, a tremendous boom burst from the door. Frank turned in amazement to look at the bulge in the metallic security door. There was another loud boom, and the bulge grew bigger. Those brutes were actually breaking down the door! This is like a bad horror movie… What the heck are we dealing with?

"Those are Manei Domini, our elite."

Frank drew his sword, feeling foolish as he did so, knowing that it was no defense against a ranged weapon. A man in his late middle ages appeared from the gloom, a laser pistol in his right hand. He wore the robes of a Word of Blake, and his rank insignia was that of a Precentor.

The Blakist said, regret in his voice, "We never expected you to get this far. No matter. There is no escape. Give up now, and you can expect a quick execution."

"Lane…" James Taffel wheezed, levering himself up on one arm. "Never thought you'll be the type to get down and dirty…"

"James, give it up. You can't win. Come over to us, and I'll put in a good word for you. You saved my life on Tukayyid. We need good men, commanders, and few are better than you."

Taffel shook his head. "I refused then, and I refuse now. Dammit, Lane, open your eyes! You're being fooled by the radicals!"

"They're only a small fraction of the Order. And all shall have their place, when the time comes for Blake's Vision to be fulfilled."

The rebel leader laughed. "You still subscribe to that crap?" His eyes narrowed. "You may well fulfill Blake's vision, but it'll be in fire, steel, and the blood of the innocent."

"We do not wage war on the innocent…"

"I heard what happened at Sandhurst, so you're either a liar or a fool. And you were always an honest man." James slowly got up to his feet, one hand holding the pouch of data chips, the precious information they had sacrificed so many to get. "And you know what? I don't regret saving your life."

"Why?"

"Because if it had been anybody else pointing a gun at us, I wouldn't have time to do this." Taffel suddenly dashed forward, and Lane instinctively squeezed his pistol, the beam punching a hole through the vest and Taffel's stomach.

The wounded man tackled the Blakist to the ground, at the same time sliding the pouch of chips towards Frank.

"Go!" He shouted through bloody lips. The metal door bulged again. It was close to breaking. The pistol whined several more times, and the Blakist sought to push Taffel off, but the dying man refused to let go.

Frank scooped up the pouch and ran into the darkness.


You can hear the pounding of your own heartbeat as you dashed down the corridor, your own breath heavy and panicked. You had put the NVGs back on a while ago, as the lights of the corridor dimmed completely just a few meters in. You have no idea where you're going, but you want to be as far away from those brutes chasing you as possible.

You take a proximity grenade from your waist pouch, pull the pin, and fling it behind you. It probably won't do any damage, but it should slow your pursuers down a bit. You hope it does its job well, because it's the only proximity grenade you brought for this FUBARed mission.

You don't have much left. You take stock of your inventory as you run. The sword, for all it'd do against those cybernetically enhanced monsters. A needler pistol, still unused. Another laser pistol palmed off Taffel when you were dragging him out. One flare stick. And you're out of grenades.

You almost trip over a pipe, but stumble forward, and continue running. You check your waist pouch reflexively for the data chips. Still there.

You've ditched the ultrasonic scanner sometime back, but you still have an electronic codebreaker. And you have a feeling you might need it for whatever is at the end of these corridors.

Pant, pant. You've lost track of how long you've been running. Was it five minutes, or ten? Your breath is becoming ragged, as the adrenaline and fear that drove you slowly wore off, leaving a bone deep fatigue that could be your death if you slow down or stop. You never much liked PT back at the NAIS, and becoming a mechwarrior and a rebel hasn't made you any more appreciative.

You wonder what is at the end of the corridor. More of what that guy called 'Manei Domini'? If so, you may as well give up now. It's only the hope, however faint, of finding something that could get you out of this mess that keeps you going forward.

If you listen carefully, you think you can hear the clop, clop sounds of your pursuers. It's some distance back, but it seemed to be getting slightly louder as you ran. Maybe they're gaining on you. You're not surprised if that's true.

Well, don't think about anything else! One foot in front of the other, and step it up, idiot! Or else they're going to catch you and mountyour head on a pike!

You are just about ready to collapse when you see an end to the corridor. Surprise, surprise, it's another security door with a keypad.

You quickly plug in the codebreaker, praying to God that it'll open the door before they catch up with you. You take in several lungfuls of air to get your breath back, then pull out the laser pistol. It seemed awfully inadequate, but that's the best you have.

Not too many choices you have at the moment.

They're getting nearer. Your fingers tighten on the laser pistol, and you're so afraid you're gripping the pistol so hard that you think it might break. Worse of all, your bladder is screaming for release. Then you did urinate down your pants.

Not exactly cut out for heroic last stands, eh? Despite all that knowledge rattling around in your brain, you're still pathetically Frank Meronac, underequipped, outnumbered, and as usual, wayyyyy in over his head.

The first enemy appears, and you obligingly miss high with your first burst from the laser pistol as he rolled to one side. It's one of the snipers, the one you hit in the chest with the shotgun. You can see ballistic plate armor under the remains of the sneak suit. No wonder he didn't suffer a scratch. But how the heck was he able to run so fast wearing ballistic plate?

The sniper runs at you with both hands bare and to his sides, his body posture low. You try to shoot again, but the laser pistol only gives a sad whine. It's out of power.

You toss the pistol at the sniper, trying to gain some time, but he's barely fazed by the impact of the weapon against one shoulder as he springs at you in a leap. You draw your sword. If the guy's foolish enough to go mano-a-mano without a weapon, you're only too happy to oblige.

You change your mind quickly when two blades suddenly pop out from between his fingers on both hands. You react fast enough to parry one hand, but the other slices painfully across your left shoulder, cutting away the armored vest and slicing deep into the shoulder.

You drop and roll away before coming up in a defensive fencing stance. The sniper stares you down, twin blades swinging dangerously at his sides. Blood dripped from his right arm blade. Your blood.

This is really like a bad horror movie. But it's one you've living in right now.

You've enough of being pushed around. You stutter step forward, thrusting the sword forward in what seems to be an unbalanced and clumsy thrust.

The sniper falls for the feint, as you deftly recover, pulling the blade back just enough to regain your balance, then swing, this time for real. The slash catches the sniper in his left arm, but you do not pull back, following the tip of the sword as you press your attack.

The new skills you've gained somehow take over, and you feel like a spectator as you employ moves you've never learnt before, moving like a snake, twisting and turning the sword like a living being. The Manei Domini isn't bad either, probably wanting to hold you in a stalemate until his compatriots arrive.

The codebreaker chimes, and the security door opens. You leap back through the opening, but before you could close it, the sniper follows, attacking fiercely to prevent you from closing it, and taking several hard blows to his left arm for his trouble.

You can't believe anybody fighting this way, sacrificing their limbs and bodies, but you see the fibers from his arm, and you understand. His arms are myomer limbs, and can always be repaired.

Your body is wholly flesh and blood though, and you'll lose your limbs if you're not careful. You yelp as his right arm blade stabs into your thigh, but you take advantage of his momentary difficulty in pulling out the blade to move in and stab your sword into his throat.

The sniper finally fell back to the ground, and you're left howling at the pain in your leg. Flashing red beams from beyond the doorway inform you of the impending arrival of the other Manei Domini. You have to get away.

You look around desperately. Your immediate surroundings seem to be a vehicle bay of sorts, with engines of all types racked in nice neat rows on one side, and various hovercraft parts on the other. The vehicle bay seemed to be located next to a river or the sea, as water lapped softly on the edges of a ramp. You think you can feel the cold night breeze drafting in over the water, which tells you there is a way out. If you can travel over the water.

And conveniently enough, in the middle of the bay, was one hoverbike.


Frank limped over to the hoverbike, ignoring the bleeding from his leg. He had to escape first.

It was not difficult to start the hoverbike up. There was a clearly designated 'on' switch on the panel in front of the rider. However, unlike most hoverbikes, there were no handlebars, just a HOTAS similar to that found on aerospace fighters.

A helmet laid on the rider's seat, and Frank quickly donned the helmet, then checked his pouches to ensure the chips are still secure. He climbed into the rider's seat as the engine started its activation sequence. And he was more than a bit terrified of the vibrations coming from the engine, since it was shuddering like some great beast tied to harness.

Frank found that the helmet was similar to a mechwarrior neurohelmet, projecting the HUD directly onto the visor.

Okay, here goes… He eased the throttle forward, and the bike fairly leapt off the ramp onto the water.

Frank's face was ashen white as his instincts took over, maneuvering the bike through the relatively straight waterway before emerging onto the Hudson River. The speedometer on his HUD read 200 kph. And that was with the throttle barely pushed forward.

Frank angled the bike around, trying to get his bearings. Now that he had effectively escaped, he had to evade pursuit and get to a safe location.

The sound of a chopper made him look up. A search chopper, by the looks of it, equipped with a large searchlight, scanned the river for him.

I'm not going to let you catch me that easily. And if this baby can do what I think it does…

He grinned, and pushed the throttle all the way forward.

It was a mistake. He found himself gasping as almost 9 Gs of force pushed him back into the rider's seat. The hoverbike barreled down the river towards the upper bay. Frank thought if he could get to the open sea, he could get back inland at any point along the coast.

As the bike continued accelerating over the bay towards the Atlantic, he suddenly found a wrinkle in his plan. The bridge linking Staten Island to Brooklyn was undergoing repairs, and there was some form of netting blocking ships from passing under the bridge.

He swerved the bike around again, and that was when the chopper found him.

Frank ignored the glaring light, and accelerated again, this time for the city. He had to throw off the chopper somehow…

He headed for Liberty State Park. There was a ramp for him to ride up, and he charged forward, right past the park. Into the city.

Traffic at night, especially at this hour, was light, which he was infinitely grateful for as he weaved his way through the streets, seeking to throw off pursuit. He was beginning to feel light headed from loss of blood, which was not a good sign.

He tried to make sense of the bike's readouts and displays. A small radar screen was cluttered with vehicle trackings, but two rapidly moving dots got his attention.

Frank managed to get onto the highway, just as he managed to lose the chopper. Close to the city limits, there were still a fair amount of vehicles on the road, allowing two hovercars to plant themselves behind him.

He fluttered the throttle a bit. Speed was not a problem, but he was not going to accomplish the mission if he ended up crashing the bike into the rear of a truck in his haste to escape. And there were far too many trucks for him to go as fast as he would have wanted.

They played a dangerous game on the highway, weaving in and out of the large vehicles on the road. Frank was getting desperate as he felt his vision clouding over.

Then suddenly, the vehicles thinned. Frank saw his chance, and pressed forward. The hoverbike shot like a bolt, leaving the two hovercars far, far behind.

Frank dared not stop moving. He went off the highway as soon as he spotted some farmland, and once he was on the plains, he went even faster. He headed north for a long time, before fatigue and blood loss made him slow down. He found himself in some nature reserve, and he barely had enough energy to stash the bike under a cave and bind up his wounds before finally falling unconscious.


Some things about this chapter. I had in mind the chase scene from the very start, though it's one of those things that seem more exciting in movies than on paper. Also, since the Blaze hoverbike is so fast, it's hard to contrive a longer scene.

How fast, you ask? Well, how about Mach 2? Constructed using HMV, so it's L3 legal. REALLY!!!

BattleTech Vehicle Technical Readout

VALIDATED

Type/Model: Blaze Hoverbike

Tech: Inner Sphere / 3070

Config: Hovercraft

Rules: Level 3, Standard design

Mass: 0.38 tons

Power Plant: 25 XXL Fusion Supercharger

Cruise Speed: 1857.6 km/h

Maximum Speed: 2786.4 [3715.2 km/h

Armor Type: Standard

Armament: None

Manufacturer: (Unknown)

Location: (Unknown)

Communications System: (Unknown)

Targeting & Tracking System: (Unknown)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Overview:

During the planning for their jihad, the Word of Blake realised they needed a vector capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction to targets.

Many options were explored, from satellite deployed missiles, to robotic hamster agents sneaking into enemy territory. In the end, they found that none of these could replace the innate cunning and the ability to plan and improvise of a human being.

For example, the surprise factor, which could be so crucial in a war, would not be attained if they tried saturating defenses with Arrow IV nukes. What if the key targets were not at the impact area? All these different scenarios led them to conclude that the best mode of delivery was having a believer actually bring the WMD to the target area, scoop it out for the best spots to place it, deliver the WMD, and then depart the area as quickly as possible.

As a result, a fast vehicle was needed for such duties. VTOLs were ruled out because they were too conspicuous. Tracked and wheeled vehicles were often too slow. So they created the Blaze, a hoverbike with unprecedented speed.

Capabilities:

The fastest manned ground vehicle ever built, the Blaze hoverbike is not meant to be ridden by the faint of heart. Capable of fatal acceleration from stop to top speed, the Blaze cannot be controlled by conventional means.

A joystick, along with a neurohelmet for automatic balance similar to that used by mechwarriors is utilized to control the Blaze. The driver does not actually use handlebars to direct the bike, as the shear forces at maximum speed would probably tear his arms off. A sophisticated aerospace-quality fly-by-wire system is installed to ensure that the Blaze gets to where it is supposed to.

Special protection for the driver is provided by a retractable canopy made of a flexible plastic that conforms to the aerodynamic shape of the bike, shielding the driver from the howling winds that could tear him off the bike when making sudden turns. In addition, special speed controls regulate the vehicle's acceleration to tolerable levels for a human body - the vehicle is capable of 80Gs of acceleration with the limiters off, which would kill a person instantly.

The use of an expensive XXL fusion engine causes it to pump out extreme amounts of heat, even when it is idling. As a result, a series of elaborate cooling jackets protect the driver from the intensely hot engine, shunting the heat into the back of the bike. When the bike moves, the air behind it shimmers, like for aerospace jets and thrusters.

The engine itself is a marvel of construction. Weighing just a mere 170 kilograms, it only needs to worry about overheating that would affect the

internal plasma bottling.

--------------------------------------------------------

Type/Model: Blaze Hoverbike

Mass: 0.38 tons

Construction Options: Fractional Accounting

Equipment: Items Mass

Int. Struct.: 4 pts Standard 0 .04

Engine: 25 XXL Fusion 4 .17

Shielding & Transmission Equipment: 0 .09

Engine Supercharger: 1 .02

Cruise MP: 172

Flank MP: 258 [344

Heat Sinks: 10 Single 0 .00

Cockpit & Controls: 0 .02

Crew: 1 Members 0 .00

Lift Equipment: 0 .04

Armor Factor: 0 pts Standard 0 .00

Internal Armor

Structure Value

Front: 1 0

Left / Right Sides: 1 0/0

Rear: 1 0

Weapons and Equipment Loc Heat Ammo Items Mass

--------------------------------------------------------

--------------------------------------------------------

TOTALS: 0 5 .38

Items & Tons Left: 0 .00

Calculated Factors:

Total Cost: 266,013 C-Bills

Battle Value: 2

Cost per BV: 133,006.56

Weapon Value: 0 / 0 (Ratio .00 / .00)

Damage Factors: SRDmg 0; MRDmg 0; LRDmg 0

BattleForce2: MP: 72H, Armor/Structure: 0 / 0

Damage PB/M/L: -/-/-, Overheat: 0

Class: GL; Point Value: 0

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In hindsight, it's a good thing I had a 3 year hiatus, because CBT gave me Manei Domini to play with for the Terra storyline! While canon fiction had 5 types of Manei Domini(Alpha Ghosts, Beta Wraiths, Delta Banshees, Tau Zombies, and Omega 'Pilots'), I added one more – the Sluagh, to fit in better with the more sci-fi aspect of my fiction, to tie in better with what has gone before, and provide an additional threat. Namely, the Word of Blake, in the two months following Frank's escape, have managed to perfect their rewrite technology. They then wedded that technology to another secretive project exploring psi to create the implants for the Sluagh, who're their brainwashers and indoctrinators. (MW3 rules for Sluagh up sometime in the future, when I have time to think it through more carefully…)

As for the other normal Manei Domini, I think you'll agree they're already frightfully scary to go up against. I also think this is one of the very few attempts to describe Manei Domini in close up action, and I wanted to do justice to their depiction as really scary foes with that 'we're fucked' factor when they appear. I know, I know, I wasn't 100 accurate, since Alpha Ghosts aren't supposed to have cybernetic limbs, but let's just chalk that one down to artistic license. Edit: No problem after Jihad Hot Spots 3072 cleared Ghosts for extensive myomer implantations and enhanced inbuilt weaponry. And damn! They even have MASC for prosthetic legs!!!

The 2nd person thing? Just trying it out. I also wanted to use that section to depart a bit from the usual norm of heroes being always larger than life, gung-ho, facing certain death with defiance writ large. So borrriiiing. So I went the opposite way for a bit, get in the mind of the character a bit. Instead of gritting his teeth, Frank whimpers. And even browns his pants. For a protagonist, he's really quite a wimp. But enjoy this character as he is now while you can, because it's not going to last.

Next chapter is, I think, again on Frank, and now that we've seen the Blaze, next up is the Vampire, a stealth omnimech, along with some progression of the Illuminati sub-plot. Hmm… heavy PPCs, MMLs… I'm lovin' it! (No, not the Celestials… yet.)

Edit: Just got my hands on Jihad Hot Spots 3072, and they changed the Manei Domini a bit, especially how the ranks and specializations work. The roman alphabet denotes rank(Alpha, Beta, Omicron etc), while the undead designation denotes role(Ghost, Wraith, Phantom, Poltergeist etc). As a result, I'm changing the Dominator designation to simply Sluagh, for the Irish captors of souls. Which is very appropriate. So a precentor who specializes in infiltration would be a Sigma Wraith, and an adept in brainwashing would be a Beta Sluagh. Also, Manei Domini who're of Precentor rank(Sigma, Omicron) also get a cool name, taken from those of demons and angels. Apollyon(Precentor Pantsless for those in the know), Naamah, Uriel, etc.