Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 2

Published: 8 Apr 14


Copyright © by
Kyle Aarons

A Real Mission

It took only a couple of hours for them to get both their barracks and the barracks of the other six cadets ready for inspection. In truth, they enjoyed the break from testing and it gave them time for small talk and some good natured wise cracks at each other's performance over the past six weeks.

Just as they were finishing up Major Goddard entered. Joel called out, "Cadre Officer in the room!" and all ten cadets jumped up and stood at perfect attention.

Major Goddard looked around with an approving nod. "Good job cadets. I am sure your fellow cadets would have been quite relieved to have a break from normal duties after their initiation into full cadet status."

Candice frowned, "Would have been?"

"You'll understand in a few minutes." The Major replied with a note of seriousness none of them had even seen in him before. "You should all be proud of the way you have handled the last five months. Your actions have been more adult like than most adults could have hoped to have acted. On the other hand, seeing you are still willing to pitch in for your fellow cadets shows me you are still Blood's Honor cadets at heart.

Gabriel smiled, "It was Senior Lieutenant Price's idea sir."

"And a good one it was." The major tossed a disk to Joel and another to Candice. "After talking to your English instructor, I found out every one of you could get a zero and still get a B in his class, and since none of you could possibly score below a 50% even on the toughest test, you will all get A's so there is no reason to waste yours or my time. Those disks are your new orders. Candice and Joel, yours are identical. I recommend all ten of you watch it together first. Think it over and prepare your gear. You must be in the field in less than forty-five minutes after the mission briefing finishes. It is equipped with a countdown clock, so you will know exactly how much time is left. Just so you understand how serious we are, you need to understand the following.

"In forty minutes, all locks on your foot lockers will engage. Five minutes later, the locks on all the equipment we have authorized for this mission will engage if it is still in the secure perimeter. All food, water, weapons and ammunition on base is off limits at the time of forty minutes as well, so you best get organized quickly."

Major Goddard paused as if debating what he should say. After a moment, he sighed and spoke in a soft voice. "Understand the briefing is not just simply a training mission. Listen to it and take it with you and replay it. I also have extra disks; I hope you will all allow each other the time alone to view. Please do not play them until you have secured your first objective, however; as they will make more sense at that time.

Just so you understand what is coming, I want you to consider this. In many ways, it will be just like Andar. You are going to face live fire and there will be zero help from cadre. You will face active machines at least two times before you secure your first objective. Remember to take care of each other and I truly hope to see all of you safe within a month, two at the most. Goodbye and good luck." He took a moment to pat each cadet in the room on the back and then handed them each a large package of candy and a small holo-projector disk before he turned and left the stunned cadets looking at each other.

Chip Beck was first to speak, "Let's see it Joel!"

Joel shook off his astonishment as he moved over to the holographic console. He paused for a moment, then turned back to face everyone. "Let's get our basic gear ready and suit up first, 40 minutes isn't much time to do much or get any extra stuff if we aren't basically ready. But we best do so quickly, so the Major doesn't get angry with any delays."

Chip nodded, "Let's just do an alert drill!"

All ten cadets wasted no time pretending as if an alert had been sounded. They grabbed and readied all their combat gear, helped each other into the ecological suits, and went down a checklist with a pre-assigned partner. Finally, Candice and Joel checked over everyone in their squad followed by Gabriel rechecking Joel and Terrin checking Candice. Blood's Honor training showed its value as it took less than ten minutes for everyone to be double checked.

With all the basics ready, they knelt next to the holo-player while Joel slid in the disk.

The quality was poor which at first surprised the kids, but within seconds they understood it was meant to have the look and feel of a real transmission from someone in trouble. A man's face, blurred by static came into view with smoke and sparking wires behind him. "This is Zulu Foxtrot Four, we have been hit. We believe we encountered a micro asteroid storm, but whatever it was our PLC is crippled. We have multiple breaches on the lower decks and have lost three personnel in engineering. We have little choice at this point. We were coming in with the supplies you requested, but we're sure to have nearly catastrophic damage as she hits the ground and there is no chance we will be able to get the main engines back on line so she will be coming in warm at best.

"Our plan is to eject the three cargo pods you requested once we steer her though basic re-entry. We will then jump in the life boats and do a hard burn for our fold craft. Furthermore, damage to the lower sectors of the ship prevents us from doing an emergency discharge of the other cargo. All doors are jammed below Echo. As it is, we are going to do an explosive removal of the cargo pod bay doors. The equipment for replacement personnel we have with us will have to be provided by some other means. We are forced to take the replacements back to the ship with us and will advise command of the situation once we get back to our fold craft.

"Understand we are coming in hard. We have no time to do anything other than punch in auto eject on the three loaded pods. We will do an auto staggered ejection so they will not hit each other, but other than that, there is little we can do. This means the drop will be well outside of targeted areas, so we are following procedure, activating each pod's ECM. The sub-carrier of this transmission contains the best data we can give you on speed, angle of re-entry and altitude of cargo ejection. We hope this will be enough to let you find them. Good luck."

Static filled the holo-player for a minute before it cleared and Major Goddard's figure appeared. "The sub-carrier data we received can be seen in the upper corner of the holo-display. As you have probably guessed your first objective is to get to one of the pods. We have confirmed all three pods were ejected, and getting to any one of the three is all you need to complete the second stage of your primary objective, the first being to evacuate the base before the deadline. Please understand, this is not a safe practice mission cadets. As of now, you are two independent squads and each squad leader is to take three of the new cadets to augment you up to eight members. They are currently in the med tent and have been cleared, although none of them feel very well after the physical tests and the sonic stuns they got hit with. How you pick who goes with whom is up to you."

Major Goddard was replaced by Commander Lotus. She had a grim look as she took over the briefing. "Once you have your crews set you need to get mission ready. Each re-enforced squad has a pair of Dagger infantry hover tanks with standard equipment plus an auto-admin medical unit in each. As of the end of this briefing, all weapons are totally free and you have full access to any section of the base to grab whatever you want except the PLC, it is locked down already.

"Whatever equipment you can get aboard the Daggers in forty minutes is what you will have to survive and complete the mission. Cadet Senior Lieutenant Joel Price, your tanks are in the north motor pool and Cadet Lieutenant Candice O'Meyers, you will find yours next to the shooting range. You will then have five minutes to clear the five kilometer safety perimeter. If your tanks are not out of the perimeter, they will shut down and you will have to complete your mission on foot.

"Just so you understand, forty-five minutes is the approximate time it would take a missile to reach us if the still un-located facility on this continent fired one. You can consider this the missile launch warning. Your mission is for each squad to find one of the dropped cargo pods and use what you find in them to locate and destroy the active production facilities. As a bonus, the first squad who finds one of the pods gets to go after the facility on this continent, the other has to cross the active lava and close to surface magma flows and travel all the way to the southern continent to find and destroy the other.

"Until both facilities are found and destroyed you will not get any more supplies and no help no matter what the situation, even if one or more of you is seriously injured. Each tank has an emergency beacon, but pushing it will be considered a mission failure. Please note the cargo pods are in locations where we know there to be active machines, so your tanks may be needed just clear the way to the pods. Also note, we have confirmation of at least two wheeled machines within fifty kilometers of the perimeter and moving this way."

Major Goddard's features re-appeared. "We expect you to act independently of each other. Just so we know the two squads do go opposite directions to start off with, you each have coordinates to get to where you will receive a burst transmission which will give you the activation codes of your gear once you find the cargo pods. These coordinates are in your respective tanks.

"In case you are wondering what success means, the stakes are high. A successful completion will give all of you a shot at full command over a cohort cadet frame force and you'll get your fifteen days going against one of the training areas." His face faded and was replaced by a clock with forty-four minutes and fifty-nine seconds and it kept counting down.

Joel felt his mouth hang open for a moment, "They are giving us a chance at being a real force command squad!" The total shock and awe he felt prevented any action as he digested everything he'd just heard. As the clock moved down to 43:30, the silence in the barracks tent was total.

Brandon was the first to squeak out something useful, "We got to get moving Joel. What's your orders?"

Joel shook his head to clear it. A million things went through his head, but looking around he realized everyone was looking to him, even Candice. He took a deep breath then looked around the room. "First things first, Gabe get one of our tanks and Terrin get one for your squad. The two of you get to the med tent and get the new cadets. I don't care who I get but we need to decide now so we can get their stuff ready and load it into the proper tanks. Candice who do you want?"

Candice swallowed hard, "I'd really like Jason." Her nervousness could even be heard in her voice as it shook slightly.

Joel picked up on this and decided to cut his friend a bit of slack, "Good choice, he is the oldest kid here and has the most leadership experience. You might as well take the other two from his command squad as well since it doesn't make much sense breaking up their team. I'll take the other three."

Candice's second in command, Terrin, whistled softly, "Are you sure? You're basically giving us the best."

"Maybe," Joel countered trying to sound more confident than he felt. "But the other three were all independent leaders who helped us and they didn't have support from others in a command squad like Jason did, so I just might be getting the better end of the deal without realizing it. Besides, we really don't have time to discuss this further we are down to under forty minutes!"

Terrin quickly nodded in agreement and turned to Candice. Let's just follow Joel's lead.

Candice nodded, clearly not knowing what else to do. She turned to Joel. "OK, what next."

Joel couldn't help being a bit aggravated by Candice's lack of leadership but he had a job to do and he decided to get everyone off on the best foot possible. He glanced around, "Beth get your other tank and bring it here, Jennifer do likewise with our second tank. The rest of us will gather the gear for the three joining our squads and have it ready to load."

Joel continued to give some instructions as he helped gather the gear of the three additional cadets joining his squad. "We better get all our clothes as well as theirs since we don't have a clue how long we will be on our own. Once we get this all loaded up, our secondary concern will need to be food and water. What else, anyone?"

Chip looked over from the far side of the room, where he was busy piling stuff in a portable chest, "We should also see what the Daggers are armed with and grab extra ammo from the motor pool if needed."

Brandon stuffed another portable chest full of clothing, pulling it from each footlocker belonging to cadets in Joel's squad, "We should also grab extra personal weapons from the range along with ammo and power packs for our stunners and laser rifles. Each squad should grab a couple of heavy infantry weapons in case we have to engage one of the machines on foot."

Cory put his own thoughts into the mix, "We'll need some small filter tents and a couple of shower tents unless we want to sleep in the tanks and smell real bad in a few days."

Even under the pressure the kids found themselves, this caused some giggles and snickers.

Karen shook her head, "The tanks should have those aboard, but we should verify, since we all know it is not above our cadre to say something has standard equipment only to find it doesn't. Expect the unexpected. We should, however, grab extra soap for both us and our clothing."

Joel paused for a second, "Daggers are pretty big and well armored, although a bit light on weapons. Each tank has room for a driver, gunner, navigator and top gunner plus fourteen infantry and extra ammo, gear and medical supplies, so we have room, almost too much room. Even as difficult as this mission is, nothing is ever this easy."

Chip didn't stop working as he concurred, "Yea, so what are we missing?"

Cory looked up realizing Joel was correct, "Well, for starters, we'll be separated by a quarter of a planet. I know we are independent, but we should still keep in contact with each other, say 0800 every morning?"

"Good idea." Karen agreed, "So we'll need long range commo gear. Then we will need lots of repair gear. One group will have to cross a lava and magma flow, so whatever squad gets stuck doing so will need to be able to repair their tanks' armor, hover skirting, and probably fan motors."

Joel smacked his head, "They gave us clues and a chance to save time by where the tanks were parked. We could have loaded all of it up before we moved them and the other tanks could have grabbed the heavy infantry weapons and cleaning equipment for the tank weapons and personal weapons at the range."

Karen looked up at the countdown timer, it read 38:53. "Having the alert saved us a good ten minutes. What we have to do is keep talking and not rush too much. Fear and excitement are our biggest enemies right now."

Chip smiled, "Karen's right. We have time and panic will kill us. We should get a solar water collector and purifier in each tank and a hydrogen converter in each one as well so we can refuel as needed. Also, let's make sure the last thing we do is to fill up each tank and if there are any in the motor pool, each squad should grab a full fuel trailer and an empty cargo trailer."

Joel stared straight at Candice in an attempt to get her to join in the discussion. "Great idea, but not an empty one, a full cargo trailer."

"Why full, we won't even know what is in it!"

Chip answered for his squad leader, "Joel's right. Who cares what's in it. The idea is the whole base is about to be destroyed. If there is stuff we don't need what difference does it make? If it has nothing we need we can empty it later, but the chances it will have nothing we need is pretty slim."

Joel hid his disappointment of Candice's response as he pointed at Chip, "What he said."

Less than twenty-eight minutes later Joel helped Gabriel hook up a fuel trailer to their second tank and checked to make sure others in his squad were filling the hydrogen fuel tanks out of the base's main fuel storage while the others were helping to get a cargo trailer loaded with whatever it was loaded with hooked to the other. The whole base was silent. Much of the equipment that had been out was already in portable storage units and most of the portable classrooms and even the kitchens were already broken down and removed from the base. There were no adults around to tell them what to do or how to do it. There was no cadre checking their weapons or telling them to be safe. There was not even a motor pool guard. It was as if the whole place was deserted.

As spooky as this was, Joel shook it off. He had seen how fast Blood's Honor could break down a full field camp many times. Even as he worked on getting his squad safely out of the area, he realized learning how to set up and break down a major field camp this quickly would be part of his future, especially if he got to take over a cadet frame force.

He watched as Candice's tanks turned and headed down the main road out of the motor pool. Once they were out of sight, he jumped off the tank and called Brandon and Karen over. "Help me hook up this trailer of scout ATV's with the light lasers on the top. We'll hook it to the back of your trailer so you will have to pull a double since the cargo trailer I'm pulling is so heavy."

Brandon helped to maneuver the trailer into position, "Just remember to take it slow over rough ground, then."

Joel nodded. "I will, but we will turn on ECM shortly after we clear the base, so if you need me to slow down have whoever is on top fire a quick burst of the top heavy machine gun to alert us."

Less than two minutes later Joel jumped into the lead tank and radioed over to the other one, "These wheeled trailers are going to slow us down but we still have just over nine minutes, so don't push it. These tanks are home for quite some time."

Joel then looked over to one of the new additions to his squad. "Lawson, I want you to ride up top and keep an eye glued to the road. I don't want to go over anything capable of damaging one of our trailer tires."

The kid looked a great deal more frightened than anyone in Joel's regular squad but reacted quickly, sliding out the top hatch even as he responded, "Yes sir!"

Joel then turned to Karen, "I want you up there as well manning the heavy machinegun. You watch the left. Radio over to the other tank and have Jennifer do the same, only she watches the right. I don't want any surprises from the cadre. Make sure you stay behind the gunner shield and get Lawson inside the turret if a hostile is spotted. Being topside is the most dangerous spot in a firefight."

Karen snorted, "It would be just like them to cripple one of our tanks and have us start out on a sour note."

Joel snickered, "Yup, it sure would" He then glanced over, "Let's get moving Gabe. Take the east dirt path just in case the cadre set up a surprise or two. They would be more likely to do so on the main road. Keep it under sixty so Lawson will have a decent chance of spotting anything in the road. Besides, even at fifty kilometers per hour it will only take us six and a half minutes to clear the perimeter and another five to get to the burst transmission point."

Gabriel guided the tank off the main road and kept it slow until he was sure the other tank was behind him. He then pushed the speed up to fifty-five. "What about Candice? Shouldn't we warn her to watch the road?"

"Probably, but now it is her against us. One of the reasons I waited to hook up the ATV's, was I didn't want her seeing."

"You helped her more than enough. You took over both squads."

"Yea, but I am the team leader and the highest ranking cadet here. It was my job."

"Then why hide anything?" Gabriel asked with a frown.

Joel's stare bored right into his best friend, "Because, I really don't want to be the squad going over the lava and magma flow and traveling thirteen-thousand kilometers. Just remember, whoever has to go down there will have to abandon the trailers because the trailers will not make it over the flows."

Gabriel cringed, "Ouch, I didn't think about the lava hitting the tires."

I'm going back to work on the cargo pod locations. I'll start by giving us a general direction to one of them so we are at least going in the right direction. Once we are outside the perimeter and have our codes, turn on the ECM so Candice can't cheat off of us. Then once we are an hour out, stop and we will have a meeting of the minds. I want to put you and Karen on getting us exact locations. You two are the best at math."

Gabriel nodded knowing Joel was correct, "No problem. Get us weather and wind information as well. We will have to adjust for drift. Since we only have a couple of more minutes with a link to the computer on the landing craft, download everything you can on atmospheric conditions at as many altitudes as they have. The more we have the better. Also, it would be nice if you could pull up a file on the call sign and see what type of cargo pod would be standard, size and shape will matter as well."

Joel shook his head as he moved to the back of the tank, "Crud! It never even occurred to me what all we would need to pinpoint the drop location."

Gabriel snickered, "That's why you're putting me and Karen on getting us to them. I seriously doubt Candice has even gotten a hold of her wits enough to task Chip with getting a fix. Last I saw he was ridding as top gunner on her second tank."

Joel entered the back and linked up with the PLC computer as he replied, "True, but Chip is the best gunner she has, so putting him up there was not a bad move either."

"Chip put himself up top. She didn't even assign crews. Terrin did."

Joel felt a cold shiver go up his spine. "I hope she pulls herself together or they will be in for a very bad time." Shaking his head he pulled up the cargo pod ejection information and put in a request for atmospheric information within one-hundred kilometers of the re-entry point. Just as he started receiving the data, the machinegun on the top of the tank started firing. Joel jumped up and hit the intercom. "Report!"

Gabriel answered, "We have a hostile wheeled rover. We got it covered. Get the info while you still can!"

Joel cursed as he heard a slight sizzling sound from the left side of the tank. A sure sign of a laser hit to the armor. "Fine, but keep us between it and the fuel trailer. We can't afford it taking a hit!"

"Already on it!" Gabriel shouted back.

Seconds later, the Dagger leaned slightly to the right as the eight pack micro missile launcher fired from the turret. Above Joel the sounds of the machinegun on full auto could also be heard as could the metallic sounds of the bullet casings bouncing off the top. He gritted his teeth knowing this was exactly what the cadre wanted. He had to depend on the others just like they were depending on him. He took a deep breath as he went to work on a basic re-entry equation. As he continued to gather all the information he could from the central computer aboard the command PLC, he heard two more sizzling laser hits scored on the side of the tank.

It took a great deal of effort, but he focused on uploading all the data Gabriel had requested. Just as he finished on the atmospheric reports, and started pulling up the information on Zulu Foxtrot Four he heard a gleeful cheer from one of the new additions to his squad, followed by a shout from Gabriel, "Great shooting Lawson!"

Lawson's voice carried through the tank as he jumped out of the turret, "Are we going to salvage?"

Joel turned and shouted, "Negative! We need to keep moving. Great work getting to the turret and even better with your shooting, but I need you back up top and watching the road."

"Yes sir!" Lawson responded without hesitation as he slid back out of the turret and slipped back up and out the top hatch.

Joel quickly turned to Gabriel "I'm glad we've got him on our squad. He really helped by getting into the armory and his shooting was fantastic on Andar."

"Yea, well his shooting is pretty awesome here too. Do you know where we are going?"

"I have a basic fix, once we have our release codes, head east southeast. One of the three pods went that way; the other two were ejected sooner and are further away. Both of them are almost straight east."

Gabriel glanced back. "Then we ought to head straight east. We can't pull our trailers over areas of the old lava fields. It would eventually shred the tires."

Joel almost smiled, "We'll go after the closer of them Gabe. We might split up once you get us a better fix. We can always drop the trailers and camouflage them in one of the abandoned towns or factories. If we can find a building to put them in, so much the better. We also need to patch our armor as well."

"Brandon didn't take a scratch, but one of the scout ATV's took a direct hit."

"No problem, they were a bonus and I doubt a single light laser hit will have done more than gouge the armor anyway. We may just use the number two tank to go after the closer pod. The faster we find out what is in them the better off we will be. What happened back there anyway?"

Gabriel shook his head, "I think the cadre disabled one of the wheeled machines, towed it back to the base, and then fixed it. My bet is they put a relay inside to prevent it from powering up then radio activated it once we left the base. From what I have heard from the cadre both the hover and wheeled machines have IR, radio traffic, and movement sensors. They attack anything man shaped or appears to be manmade, so it probably found us as you were downloading from the central computer.

"Lawson was almost perfect. He hit with fifteen of the sixteen missiles from the two turret volleys he fired. The second barrage blew off its front axle. It did a nose plant into the ravine and rolled over."

"Solid kill on a real hostile then. He deserves a kill ribbon."

"Agreed. I will keep a tally of what we both agree to for review by cadre later. If it is you, I'll discuss it with Brandon and if it involves me you should get with Karen"

"Sounds like a plan."

Gabriel chewed on his lip, "I still can't believe they are really putting us out here against deadly hostiles. We could have had a serious or even a deadly wound with people up top."

"I can." Joel sighed with a half wince, "After all the bragging we did when we got back from Andar, your mom and my dad probably demanded they find the worst possible place for us to go with a mission so difficult we would almost certainly fail."

Gabriel couldn't help himself. He grinned, "Yea, they would both be quite annoyed to find out this has actually been quite fun." His brief laughter was followed a moment later by a relieved sigh, "Both our tanks just cleared the perimeter. We're safe."

Joel gave a thumbs up, "And they cut my feed to the computer so what we have is what we have. Anything from Candice?"

"Nothing. She turned on ECM before she left the base."

"Might have been a good idea. It made us the only traceable moving targets for hostiles in the area."

Gabriel activated the ECM as he shrugged, "True, but it also means she wouldn't have been able to use the last few minutes to uplink to the central computer. There is no way she has as much to go on as we do."

Joel grinned, "Then let's not waste it. Stop as soon as we get to the burst location point and I'll take over driving. We'll have Lawson take over on the machinegun so you and Karen can get us a good fix."

"What about keeping an eye out on the road?"

"We're going off road. I'll have Brandon fall back about one hundred meters and slightly to our right Lawson will keep an eye out to the front and left while Jennifer will focus more on the back and right."

Seconds later a series of explosions sounded from where the Blood's Honor field base had been followed by the departure of the PLC. Lawson's voice came over the intercom, "Sir, the base blew up and the PLC just left!"

"It's OK," Joel responded with a bit of a grin while rolling his eyes, "It's part of the mission."

"Must be some mission we're on, sir!"

"Yes it is." Gabriel replied into the mike while nodding, "It sure is."

Joel half snickered as he turned to Gabriel, "Blowing up the base is going a bit far though, even for our parents."

Gabriel punched in a time set into the computer, "Agreed, but if they are going to this extreme it may be an important event. I just marked the time incase, because one thing I do know is your dad does nothing without an ulterior motive."

Joel shrugged and tossed up his hands, "Good point."

Ten minutes later Gabriel stopped the tank and less than a minute later the computer reported a successful burst transmission with eight numbers and four letters.

A couple of hours slid past as Joel watched for hazards on the reddish orange colored grassy plain. He detoured a couple of times just to make sure the trailer would not be put in any jeopardy, but for the most part, the drive was boring. A few times he saw herds of Brile Beasts, a thick hided buffalo like creature, but they fled as soon as the Daggers got close. According to the planetary information, they were edible so if food started to run low, they could always go hunting. With a note of concern in his voice he glanced back, "We have just past the one hundred kilometer mark and are less than an hour from the edge of the bluffs, what have you come up with back there?"

Karen responded, "It's not good Joel. They dropped the pods right over the northern jet stream. The first one is the hardest of the three to figure out, but you were correct, it is considerably closer. The other two are a good three hundred kilometers further than your original rough calculations."

"Wonderful." Joel groaned, "What about the close one?"

"Without the weather data we would be totally lost." Karen responded, "As it happens there was a massive wind shear right at two thousand meters up. This would have deflected it, but a lot depends on how the pod hit it. The call sign of the craft shows it was a Husky Class Planetary Landing Craft, which only has winged craft bays so it had to be equipped with glide pods. Because they were not an aerodyne, the formula became even more difficult.

"If the wind shear caught one of the fins then it would have put it into a spin and deflected it sharply to the south following the direction of the wind shear. This would put it about one hundred and fifteen kilometers due south. Following this projection, places it in the forest or the edge of the swamp just the other side of the ancient lava fields. If it entered the wind shear smoothly it would still be south, but not as sharply, but it would have glided a long way. If this is the case, it would have impacted in the heavy swamp about one hundred and eighty kilometers from here. Give us another thirty minutes and I think we will have it down to a five kilometer area for both possibilities."

Joel punched up a satellite image stored in the Dagger's navigation computer and centered it on his current location. "There are a couple of places to the south where we could stop and organize. The closest to where we are heading was a coal mining site, three or four buildings with a dozen mine entrances and one open pit where it looks like they started a strip mine. The second was a very large natural gas and oil drilling and processing station. It shows fourteen large drill platforms, almost three dozen buildings, and a PLC landing pad."

"Head there, Joel." Gabriel responded quickly, "There are way too many nocturnal wild animals on this planet. Those mines would make great dens for all sorts of big nasties."

Karen concurred, "More structures would also give us a better shot at finding a good building or two to base ourselves out of."

Joel nodded and adjusted his heading, "Drilling station it is then." As he adjusted his heading he threw in an idea of his own. "You know, I have been on a Husky PLC before. Their bays are in the lower part of the ship just above the engines which is where this one got hit. What if the glide pods had damage?"

Karen stopped working on the formula for a second. "Good point. We will come up with some possibilities of massive damage as well."

Within an hour, Joel cringed as the ground got rougher. He could feel the trailer behind him bouncing. Knowing the other tank was pulling a double trailer set-up he slowed down. Just as he settled on forty kilometers per hour as a safe speed Gabriel slid into the seat next to him. "I think we finally got it."

"Great, what do you have?"

Gabriel sighed, "The most likely case is the deep swamp; the glide pod is pretty stable with a heavy load which we have to assume it has. They would not be sending us against any real danger without our frames, so if all it had was sixteen cadet frames, that is pretty heavy.

Because of this, we give it about a 60% chance of being within a four kilometer radius area of 129.43.06. There is a 30% chance of it being in a seven kilometer radius area close to the edge of the old lava field, but into the forest right about 173.20.94 and then we ran a calculation based on your idea of damage. There is a slim, 10%, chance of the wind shear snapping one of the glide wings and it slamming into the ground within a one kilometer spot right in the middle of the old lava field at 53.91.23."

Joel put his hand to his forehead. "There is no way we will be able to take the Daggers into the deep swamps …" His voice trailed off as a new look crossed his features. "Gabe, when Major Goddard was talking to us and handing us each huge bags of our favorite types of candy and personal holo disks to watch later, he slid in the fact he guaranteed we would have at last two encounters with hostile machines. Which location is in an area where the machines can get to?"

Gabriel snapped his fingers. "You're right! He was giving us a clue. The deep swamp is out for sure. There is no way either a wheeled or a hover tank could get in there. The other is in a pretty dense forest, so unless it is one of the hover tanks we could take it out of the mix as well. The last location is right on the edge of the jagged formations, but a wheeled tank could get close as much of the field is fairly smooth around the possible impact area. Any hover vehicle would have no problem."

Joel nodded. "Then we'll take the lava field as our primary target and the forest as the secondary. We'll forget about the drilling town and drop our trailers between a couple of hills and use radar and infra-red camouflage netting to cover them with. If it turns out not to be the proper area, then we'll hook back up and head to the town since it is basically on the way to the second location."

Joel continued to slow as the ground became even more difficult to pull a trailer over while Gabriel used the satellite terrain map to locate an area between two bluffs to drop and conceal the trailers less than twenty kilometers from the potential landing spot of the cargo pod. Finally Gabriel pointed to the left, "Just around the rocky hill over there is a pair of low hills. Park on the inside slope of the smaller one, so even if we get rain we'll be out of any flash flood areas."

Joel sighed as he finally pulled to a stop. He stretched and slid out of the pilot seat. "Karen, get one of the new cadets from the other tank to help repair the armor. Gabriel, have Brandon and the other one cook us up a quick meal then get a couple of others working on the netting. I'll take first watch and give Jennifer and Lawson a break. I need to stand and after being on top of the tanks manning the machineguns they need to sit and get some water."

Karen spoke as she exited the back of the Dagger. "I'll grab Paula. I don't know any of the other three very well, but I have heard Derek say he likes to cook and I saw Paula fix a couple of cadet frame problems back on Andar."

Joel glanced down at the activity below as he switched positions with Lawson. Patting the boy who was only slightly larger than Joel's little brother on the shoulder he forced a smile. "Take a break. I would love for you to be in the turret when we start our run on the pod."

Lawson shrugged, "You do realize sir, none of the rest of us has a clue what's going on. We got pulled out of the med tent with massive headaches and put to work grabbing gear, loading ammo, and hooking up trailers. Then, I got stuck up on top of the tank watching the road only to see one of the wheeled machines we were warned about come out of the scrub brush and fire at us. All I did was follow Command Sergeant Black's order to jump into the turret as she opened up with the machinegun."

Joel paused as he looked at the totally confused cadet. "I'm sorry; I should have stopped hours ago and let all of you see the mission disk."

Lawson shook his head, "With all due respect sir, you are in command. We didn't need to see anything to do what we did up to this point. To be honest, I figured whatever was going on had to be done quickly, and I was damned glad to get put with you instead of Lieutenant O'Malley. She was really freaking me out with the way she was running around back on the base."

Joel took a careful look around before turning his attention back to Lawson. "You're right. She didn't handle the situation as well as I would have expected either. Even though we talked about not panicking, I think she kind of lost it as she saw the clock counting down. Have a seat, drink some water and ask away. As soon as dinner is ready, we will show all of you the mission briefing."

"All I really would like to know is what we are doing some one hundred and fifty kilometers from the base which blew up minutes after we go out of the secure perimeter. I mean it's kind of obvious why we had to leave, but I'd love to know why it went up in three huge balls of fire and why our PLC left us.

"I'm also sure the others are freaking out a bit since we are out here with no cadre and one of the wheeled machines was allowed to get close enough to us to where I ended up having to kill it instead of the cadre. Just give us something to have it all make some sense and I'll be good."

Joel started to speak then stopped. He looked down and shouted, "Lieutenant McCurdy!"

Gabriel appeared a few seconds later and saluted, "Senior Lieutenant?"

Joel returned the salute. "I screwed up and it needs to be rectified right now. Let Ensign Scott, Master Command Sergeant Thompson and Command Sergeant Black finish up with repairs and cooking. Take the three new cadets over to the other tank and show them the full mission briefing. They don't even know what we are doing out here and they need to. Also, I am field promoting Cadet Lawson O'Malley to Corporal. He is going to be our lead gunner. Give the other two specialist ranks. Derek Mathis is our cook and Paula Swartz is our tech."

Joel nodded to Lawson, "I know he has lots of questions and I am sure the others do as well. Take as much time as you need and answer any inquiries they have. Once everyone is familiar with what we are doing out here, help them put up the cammo nets."

Gabriel quickly saluted again as he called the other new cadets over to the second Dagger.

Joel, finally alone, kept watch and thought over the whole situation. He glanced down at his watch which was keeping secondary time of how long it had been since the briefing had ended. Five hours and Thirty-two minutes showed on the display. Joel slowly shook his head as he yawned. It seemed a lot longer. The excitement and fear had taken its toll but stopping now was out of the question. He had to get his squad to the cargo pod and find out what equipment they would have to use.

He also thought about the overall mission objective. How would he find a machine base with nothing to go on, a base Blood's Honor and some of the richest corporations had not been able to locate during the Machine Wars? In addition to all of these concerns he had, some of the same concerns Lawson had voiced, only for different reasons.

Candice's actions from the time the briefing ended to the time they separated at the motor pool had been anything but orderly. She kept looking to Joel for orders and simply followed his lead with each and every major decision. He knew he was kind of competing with her, but she had been one of his friends from almost the time he could walk. Making matters worse, others in her squad, like Chip and Cory were among his best friends. The last thing he wanted was any of them getting hurt or even killed because Candice fell apart on them.

The only thing positive about Candice's squad was the fact the oldest cadet was one of the new ones and he and two others from his former command squad would be there to help her and possibly take over if the going really got rough. In some ways, he hoped Jason would take over and the others in Candice's squad would support him.

Even as Joel thought over his situation and worried about his friends, his orders allowed the field camp to take shape. Before he even realized the cammo nets had gone up around the three trailers, the shadows were getting long as day turned into evening and Lawson was handing him a covered plate of food.

Joel smiled and realized for the first time just how hungry he was. He had not eaten since breakfast and now, almost fourteen hours later, the smell of chicken and dumplings made his mouth water even through the sulfur smelling Brile air. "Are you OK to take over watch?"

Lawson nodded, "No problem sir. You are the last to eat per Lieutenant McCurdy's orders. He said you needed some time to think."

"I did." Joel confirmed. "Are we ready to move out?"

"Yes sir. Armor is patched, Daggers are refueled, primary weapons cleaned, and expended ammo replaced. Lieutenant McCurdy says we should expect to fight at least one more machine, so he was wondering if you wanted me in the turret the whole time."

Joel started to say yes, but stopped himself. "What do you think?"

"I'd prefer to do the same thing as we did last time. It may mean it gets off first shot, but sitting in a turret the whole time will slow me down, and if I am up top I can see what we are dealing with and know exactly where it is coming from. I have not mastered the sensor system in this Dagger yet, so I need a visual to get a good first shot."

"You are my gunner Corporal O'Malley, do what you think best. I trust you."

Lawson's smile was enormous. "Thank You Sir."

Joel took one more look around before saying anything else, "Let's get moving. Stay up here and keep watch. I'll have Karen come up and man the machinegun if needed. I'm going below to eat."

"No problem sir." Lawson moved over to the swivel mount, then turned back to Joel. "Sir?"

Joel glanced back, "Yes?"

"How is it you sometimes talk to and about each other with first names and other times rank?"

Joel snickered, "Lawson, over the next few days I hope you and the others will be doing the same thing. When it comes to giving orders or taking orders we tend to use rank, but if we are just talking we are all friends and don't like our ranks to get in the way. When around cadre, we always use ranks. Also, I am a Senior Lieutenant, but normally, even around cadre, it's OK to simply refer to me as ell tee. If you then refer to Gabriel as Lieutenant, then there is no question who you are talking to or about. The only reason the others in my squad aren't doing so is they are trying to keep you all comfortable."

"Ell Tee it is then."

As Joel disappeared down the top hatch, Lawson shook his head. Speaking to himself in a low voice he sighed. "It'll take a lot longer than a few days to break into this group and make friends." He had to grab the rail as the hover tank lifted off the ground and slid forward. This caused him to look skyward and gave him a view of a fairly large sized burst of flame in the deepening twilight. Another look confirmed his first suspicion as a second burst of flame shot out from under a descending PLC. He hit the intercom, "Ell Tee?"

Gabriel responded for Joel, "He's in back eating but can hear you. Go ahead."

"I have a visual on an incoming PLC." Lawson's voice tailed off as he saw three more heavy burns, "Scratch that sir. I have visual on three more. Four Planetary Landing Craft are burning toward a landing somewhere to the south east. All appear pretty large."

Karen responded. "Activate the gun camera on the machinegun and get us video. Also hit the range finder, it is on a toggle just below the trigger. Just don't fire. We don't want to be seen!"

Joel pulled up the holo-viewer, "Gabe, kill all external lights and use the ultra short communicator and tell Dagger Two to do the same. Any lights will stick out for kilometers. Karen feed the gun camera back here and record it. I want to see this."

Karen pushed a couple of buttons then jumped up and entered the back. "So do I."

Gabriel spoke up. "We are in luck Joel, neither one of us had lights on yet. Both of us have switched to passive UV and going with full ECM."

"Good." Joel replied as the picture came into view. "Gabe, stick to rocky ground so we don't kick up as much dust and keep us at a low speed until they are out of visual." Joel then switched on the intercom. "Great eyes Lawson. I can barely see them even though I know what to look for. What do you have for a range?"

"Sixty-four point zero-two kilometers to the one I first spotted, but they are still pretty high up there."

"Give me a guess so we can get an idea how far away from us they will be landing "

"About five kilometers up, they just hit their third hard burn."

Joel nodded, "Standard math guys "A" squared plus "B" squared equals "C" squared and we know C and have a good guess on A."

Karen grinned, "Already got it Joel. They are landing about sixty-three point eight kilometers from here."

Gabriel whistled softly. "Man, Lawson is good. The oil station we were planning on going to is right on line with where they are coming down and it is sixty-three point eight nine kilometers from here."

Joel took a deep breath, "And it has a PLC landing pad. I, for one, am glad we didn't go there first. Karen, clean this video as best you can."

Karen spent a few minutes playing with the enhancements. Finally a decent view of a quartet of flames could be seen blasting out of the bottom of an oval shaped craft. Within seconds, she had similar images of the other three. She sent the image into the computer for identification and within moments it came back with all of them being Albatross class PLCs. Reading the data out for everyone Karen's voice told of her concern. "Albatross haven't been made for over eight decades and were used as ferries and armor transport. They were phased out because they had duel fuel capabilities of petroleum based for in atmosphere and hydrogen based for space. They created such a nasty cloud on takeoff and landing with their petro-chem burns many planets refused to let them land. Some converted to hydrogen only, but according to this less than five dozen are known to exist and most are owned by mercs and there are quite a few reports of bandits using them on the outer edges of the Free Planets Association. What now?"

Joel didn't give it a second thought. "Get us everything you can on who we know owns them, and see if any own four of them, but right now we continue on to our primary. We have to see what is in the cargo pod before we can do much."

Karen shook her head, "There won't be much info; the database in this tank doesn't have nearly the power or information as the one on the PLC. Do you think this is part of the mission?"

Both Gabriel and Joel answered at the same time. "No."

Joel watched the four craft descend for a few more seconds before speaking, "With ships that size they may simply be here to salvage the place, or grab some free oil since their ships run off of petro-chem. If not, then they are here hiding which means trouble."

"They didn't do a solid burn in." Gabriel stated.

Karen closed her eyes, "The only time Blood's Honor does an engine burst landing is when they are trying to cut down on the chances of being seen. It's a very dangerous way to land."

Joel put words to what all of them were really thinking, "Which means they're probably not here for any good reason. Especially since this is supposed to be a deserted world. We better stick behind this line of bluffs for now. Gabe, how long till we are in our search area?"

"Just a couple of minutes, without the trailers we are making great time."

Less than three minutes later Lawson's voice came over the intercom, "Driver halt! Ell Tee, I have a wheeled machine stuck in a ditch at three o'clock and a section of a broken wing at four. The machine has not spotted us and has dug quite a rut trying to get out. It looks like it kind of fell into part of the crash trench that goes just over the next small hill."

"Get in the turret and blast it!" Joel responded, while jumping up from the table and giving Karen a hug. "Great work guys! You found it!"

Lawson slid down into the tank and started to jump in the turret when Gabriel stopped him. "Hold up."

Lawson stopped but turned to look at Joel.

Joel turned to Gabriel with confused look, "The PLC's are well out of sight. What's the problem?"

Gabriel grinned, "Bare with me here Joel. Lawson, keep the hill between you and it but run over to the other Dagger and tell them to back down the hill away from the machine. Hurry before they decide to fire."

Joel shrugged and nodded for Lawson to follow Gabriel's orders. As Gabriel backed down away from the wheeled tank, Joel turned his attention to his second in command. "What are you doing?"

"Joel, this is perfect." Gabriel's voice was full of excitement. "We know the wheeled machines are run by solar cells and batteries. They run low on power at night, going on battery power only. With it trying to get out of a hole, it will expend its battery power faster and within just a couple of hours it will not even be able to fire at us! Those lasers are old tech, are big, bulky and use more juice than what we have now."

Karen's confused look changed to one of understanding as a huge smile lit up her features. "We could capture it!"

Joel took a deep breath. "Beautiful! We'll use our repair equipment to cut into it, kill the computer programming and see what we are really dealing with."

Lawson jumped back in the Dagger with a bit of a smile, "Ensign Scott sent Specialist Mathis to tell you to do the same thing you told me to tell them to do. We met right about mid way between the tanks. Are we really going to capture it?"

Joel nodded. "Yup. But we need one of the tanks to stay here while the other circles around and gets to the crash site."

Lawson rolled his eyes as he noticed Joel's gaze stayed fixed on him, "I'll go tell them to keep watch."

Joel gave a quick grin. "You won't be the lowest ranking one with me forever."

"I will for at least the next month or more though." Lawson half sighed and half laughed as he jumped back out of the tank, shutting the top hatch softly.

Joel couldn't help but laugh, knowing the truth behind the words. "You know I really like him."

Karen quickly agreed, "Me too."

Gabriel nodded, "Yeah, he fits in well with us. You know, I think you were right. We got the better end of the deal with just plain skill while Candice got the leadership she probably really needed."

Karen looked right at Joel, "I tend to think Joel gave her all of Jason's surviving command squad hoping Jason would be able to get her on the right foot, cause when she took off she was absolutely lost."

"She was and I did." Joel confirmed. "I am really worried about her, and for that matter us."

"Why us?" Gabriel asked.

"Because," Joel paused to make sure the words matched up with his thoughts, "For this mission to succeed both machine bases need to be destroyed. There are dual problems with this. First is, we have almost certainly already located the first drop pod and will get to go after the closer base. If we succeed, what are we supposed to do while Candice goes all the way south and then has to find and kill the other base?"

Karen kind of tossed up her hands. "Good question. We will have to give it some thought as we search out our target. What is the other problem?"

Joel bit his lip, "We are supposed to be in competition with her, so when and where do we draw the line and provide some help if she ends up needing it. Do we go so far as going all the way down south to help her find the second base? What about telling her where this drop pod is or one of the others since we know she couldn't have gotten all the info she needed? Her search, if she followed what information was given would put her off by over fifty kilometers, even on this one. The other two, well you said it yourself, I was off by hundreds of kilometers."

"Maybe the second disk he gave each of us will give you some answers once we do get whatever is in the pod." Gabriel spoke wishfully.

"We can certainly hope." Joel stated with little optimism. As they waited for Lawson to return, he looked over at Karen and Gabriel, "I am finding it hard to believe they really crashed the cargo pods, but it sure looks like they did."

Karen scowled, "I wonder what the condition of the gear or supplies inside the pod is in? It had to have taken some nasty damage with as hard as it appears to have hit the ground."

Gabriel shrugged, "There isn't much we can do about it other than deal with it."

Just then, Lawson jumped back in the Dagger. "They'll signal us with a short radio message if it manages to get out of the ditch, that way it should chase them and they will try to run it out of power and capture it anyway, but I seriously doubt it will be able to go anywhere."

"Good." Joel motioned for Gabriel to maneuver around the hill so the machine would not be able to spot them.

Less than ten minutes later, a very large destroyed glide pod came into view. It was actually split into two large parts with wreckage and several dozen crates scattered around it. It was clear nothing had been disturbed so there was no question they had gotten here before Candice. Joel whispered, "Wow. How real can you get?"

Gabriel brought the Dagger as close as he could without risking powering down over some debris. "What a mess. Where do you want to start?"

Joel looked out at the wreckage, "Give me a full NBC scan."

Karen pushed a few buttons, "We're clear. No radiation, biological or hazardous chemicals detected."

Joel put on his eco-suit. "Lawson …"

Lawson nodded and replied before Joel could finish, "I have the machinegun sir."

Gabriel gave Lawson a wink as he slipped into his own suit, "You really do work well with us."

"It doesn't take long to see how you operate with each person having a set task. It is pretty clear as the gunner what you expect from me at times like this."

Karen patted Lawson on the shoulder as she climbed down from the top of the tank, "But very few see it as quickly and fewer are able to jump in and fill in their part with the ease at which you have."

Joel waited until Lawson was set behind the heavy machinegun before moving out through the remains of the glide pod and its cargo. He paused several times to take a look at crates. Some were ammo, some food, some repair equipment; some extra electronics and some were weapons. Many were damaged, others were destroyed, but a vast quantity was salvageable.

Finally, he made it to one of the two large sections and looked at it. There was a door with a key pad. "Gabe, this one is for Candice, it has her squad, Team three bravo two, engraved on the key pad."

Gabriel moved over to the other large section, "Over here Joel. This is our squad's. It has our training unit on it, Team two alpha one. It looks pretty beat up."

Joel nodded as he headed over while motioning for Karen to keep an extra eye out for problems, "So does hers. Punch in the password we got on the burst transmission."

Gabriel quickly pushed the eight numbers and four letters. The key pad suddenly blinked green and the large door popped open and some light could be seen around the cracks and the holes in the side of the pod. Cautiously, he entered and stopped just a few steps in with his mouth hanging open.

Joel caught up and stepped in. As he made his way up to Gabriel, he too stopped and stared, "What the …" his words trailed off as his brain tried to catch up to what his eyes were seeing. There were eight Cadet class frames, five of them equipped with exactly what he and the others in his squad normally used on the left wall, all showing heavy damage, as if the micro-meteor swarm had breached the pod and mangled the suits. Wires hung out, hydraulic fluid could be seen leaking out of multiple areas, and limbs were mangled and in a couple of places ripped off altogether.

On the right side, there were eight brand new frames still in their hardened shipping cases, five Warrior class and three Rogue class. The hardened titanium boxes showed some damage, but were clearly still intact. A few actually had impact marks of micro meteors and a few micro meteor fragments were scattered around the cargo pod. There were also over fifty crates in the titanium hardened nose section packed with ammo, extra weapons, repair equipment, and everything need to unpack the new frames and get them combat ready. Less than a dozen of them showed damage.

A Holographic monitor suddenly flickered on. The third in command of all Blood's Honor, Field Marshal Kopfo's figure appeared. It cycled once, as it changed what it was programmed to say.

"Congratulations, Cadet Senior Lieutenant Price, for being first to find one of the cargo pods and even more impressive doing so in less than twelve hours. You are now tasked with finding the wheeled base on this continent.

"In addition, since you found your cargo pod so quickly, you are now promoted to rank of Cadet Major and everyone in your squad is also promoted one grade. The three new cadets each are given the rank of Senior Sergeant, with you selecting one as a Master Sergeant. Regardless of how well you do on the third part of the mission, to find and destroy the northern machine base, your promotions will stay with you on your return to Forest Garden.

However, you have a second pre-mission task which you must now complete. In this cargo pod, you have what you used to pilot and three other Cadet frames for your new squad members which we outfitted with reasonable equipment. For you to receive a passing grade, you are to pull all the weapons and electronics off of the cadet frames and put them on the new frames still packed in their cases. In addition, you will have to add weapons to the more powerful frames and at least one item of new electronics. This is a test to see how well you can outfit and upgrade a frame.

Commander Lotus' figure replaced the Field Marshal's. "Again, well done for finding your cargo pod. You will notice all eight cadet frames took damage from the same swarm that doomed the PLC. As you can also certainly tell, the mission briefing was real. The PLC we dispatched did indeed get hit and had to discharge the pods in the upper atmosphere. We felt the added realism was perfect for you to learn on the fly so we left it alone. We hope the crash didn't do too much extra damage, but the individual cargo containers for each squad were heavily hardened so there is a very good chance you will still be able to complete the upgrades and have plenty of ammo and food. However, if you need to, you can always find the other two pods and get more than you could possibly need. Good luck cadets."

The hologram again shifted with heavy static, but the figure of Major Goddard could still be made out and the sound had a bit of static in it. "Cadets, this is an emergency update and is not, I say again IS NOT, part of the planned training mission.

"Most of the Blood's Honor force had to pull out do to an emergency. Nova IV has come under attack by raiders of unknown origins and we are the closest non-engaged force. This is no longer a simple training mission and we are not kidding; you are on your own. There is a small Space Fold Craft with a single Invader Class PLC with a unit of cadre who can come and pull you off, but that is all we could leave behind. We would have already done so, but we are currently under total blackout do to an incoming suspicious heavily armed SFC. This burst transmission sent to each of the cargo pods will be our final communication until it is safe for us to resume normal operations. Making matters worse, is the fact you will have to go into hiding on Brile with active ECM so we will not easily be able to locate you once the way is clear for us to do so.

"My advice is to continue on with your mission and try not to worry about things you cannot control. However, we are going to have to order you not to activate the emergency beacons because it could easily be intercepted by the other SFC up here. It will take some time, but we will find you as soon as it is safe to do so. Remember, there are multiple cargo pods out there with lots of extra equipment if you need them.

"Furthermore, there are certain to be unknown people landing on the planet as we detected PLC detachment from the SFC before we engaged full cloaking. It is advised you steer clear of them. The most likely reason for anyone to come here is for salvage, but we cannot guarantee the new arrival is here for such an innocent task. One thing is certain; if they are here, they will have some decent defensive capabilities. No one comes to Brile unarmed, no one."

Even through the static, Joel could see Major Goddard wipe away a tear as his voice softened. "Gabriel, Terrin, Joel, Jennifer, Candice, Chip, Karen, Cory, Brandon, Beth and the new cadets I have not gotten to know very well, this is killing me to not be there to tell you this in person, but it is time for some truth to come out. Your actions on Andar saved not only a few thousand people, but also helped create the New Frontiers Coalition. Royal members of over a dozen worlds owe their lives and or the lives of their kids to you all.

"Unfortunately, your actions didn't go unnoticed by Lord Talborne either. As it turns out, one of those killed by the cadet resistance and pullback you all created, lead to the death of Talborne's oldest son. He was leading the final frame force against you all. So in addition to Talborne being furious over failing to capture countless members of royalty and their families and his units being bested by a hoard of kids, his words, not mine, he had to bury his oldest son.

"I know this may not be important to all of you, but one of the sixteen of you scored the killing shot. How Lord Talborne learned of this we have not yet been able to ascertain. However, he did and it has consumed him. Just so you know; Joel's father has made it a personal matter to find out and deal directly with whoever leaked this information.

"Anyway, in response to all of the reasons I just went over, Lord Talborne has put a hefty price for the capture or even the assassination of each of you. The whole reason you are on Brile has been to hide and protect you while Blood's Honor and the whole NFC dealt with the situation.

"As of now we cannot protect you as well as you can all protect yourselves. You are officially on your own. Good luck and may God help protect all of you. Major Goddard out."

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