Author’s Note: This is the first story I’ve written in a wide and expansive universe. I’ll be adding others with time, but I’m hoping to make each story stand on it’s own. I plan on focusing on the fun parts of the epic narrative, and letting the rest be up to the reader’s imagination. I don’t necessarily plan to write and release stories in a linear order, but I’ll keep them listed in chronological order in the index. That said, if I was doing this as a long epic, this would be the prologue.
Five Palantine corvettes emerged from the blackness of space over the planet of Garnax, their forward laser batteries fully charged. Immediately in front of them lay a ship escaping the war torn planet below being captured by three Ascendancy frigates. General Penrose, commanding from the bridge of one of the corvettes, gave orders to the relief group:
“Open fire on the lead frigate across its hull, I don’t want him bringing that civilian ship any closer. Start scanning transmissions from the civilian ship and patch through any of their hails.”
Blue streaks came streaming out from dishes mounted on the front of the corvettes, dancing over the surface of the ship which had the civilian ship in its tractor beam. After a second of fire, an explosion erupted from inside the frigate; one of the beams had hit their main energy storage block. A few seconds later, the frigate began breaking up. The other two frigates had now gotten their shields up, but had immediately begun retreating.
General Penrose continued, “Stay on course for the planet’s surface. Any word from the freighter?”
After a moment’s pause the communications officer replied, “Sir, the civilian ship is hailing us. Putting them on your headset now sir.”
A voice, still tense from the attempted capture, spoke in General Penrose’s ear, “Thank you for saving us, sir. We couldn’t let those barbarians carry off with everything we had again.”
Penrose responded, “You’re welcome. Make your way to the capital and you’ll be put in for resettlement to the Core Worlds. They are always looking for people willing to repopulate them.”
The voice replied, “Yes, we’ll do just that, thank you so much.”
The communications officer cut the line as the corvettes continued to the planet. A minute later they entered the atmosphere half as fast as an unaided re-entry. The hulls of the ships glowed as they entered Garnax’s atmosphere.
The corvettes cruised low over the ocean, approaching the settled continent. As they neared land, the corvettes formed a line and entered an opening in the cliff face. After advancing slowly the line stopped, and one by one, they turned entered a mountain cavern.
Once the corvettes had entered the cavern, flood lights came on and the room filled with soldiers. Across the inside of the hangar, they each set their landing gear open and their gangways slung into position as the corvettes lowered themselves to the ground. An honor guard, accompanying a tall, broad shouldered commander entered the room and stood in formation by the door they entered. Down from each corvette came twenty soldiers, each carrying a small pack of gear and a rifle. The clean white of their unactivated camouflaged clothing stood out against the local soldiers in plain cloth uniforms. General Penrose followed one of the platoons; he stood out wearing simple, loose clothing with a full beard and shoulder length hair. The gleaming hilt carried on his side in lieu of a rifle was not missed by a single person in the reception party.
The commander of the local forces marched out with two soldiers to greet General Penrose.
“Greetings General Penrose, I am the commander of the planetary defense force here on Garnax, General Odric. We appreciate the Senate sending us your support, it will be much appreciated when we strike at this year’s Ascendancy raiding party.”
“Yes”, General Penrose replied. “I am anxious to see your intelligence on the Ascendancy forces so we can begin preparing our strike.”
“Of course, we’ll go directly to my office and we can discuss the current disposition of their forces.” General Odric responded as the pair exited the chamber and went down a series of labyrinthine corridors carved into the mountain. Their black walls glistened as if they were slightly wet under the lights strung up every few feet.
As they walked, General Odric continued, “Don’t be surprised if there isn’t a good opportunity to strike soon. The raiding party has only been here a short while and hasn’t had time to become complacent and encumbered with plunder. We have to wait for the best opportunity. Their forces outnumber ours three to one in most years, this year it is closer to seven. We cannot afford to offer them a pitched battle. Their soldiers are easily replaced. Ours aren’t. Aside from local law enforcement, there’s only ten thousand of us to protect the two million settlers spread across the continent. There isn’t money to train, equip and support anyone else. Even then, most of my soldiers are just local farmers and craftsmen who come here at the first sign of the raiders, not professionals. We make due and protect our people as best we can. We make it as tough as we can on the Ascendancy raiders, but they’re not going to stop coming every year. I appreciate the help you’re bringing, and we’ll give them a good licking, but don’t expect any miracles. Those stopped happening long ago.”
General Penrose paused for a moment to absorb the situation. He and his men had been stationed with the main Palantine Army, camped around the capital and ready to respond to any of their threatening neighbors, not just the Ascendancy, that would seek to exploit any Palantine weakness. He hadn’t realized how much the Ascendancy raids had become a situation to be managed in the border worlds, instead of something that could be resisted.
General Penrose spoke, “My men and I will follow your lead on when the best opportunity to attack is. What have you got in mind until then?”
They had now reached General Odric’s office, who replied: “I suggest we stick to our usual plans. The Ascendancy forces spread out from a main, well guarded camp around their ships in groups. We send our men out in groups to shadow as many of theirs as possible. They load up whatever vehicles they have with loot, so their actual raiding force is on foot. Once the raiders are returning to their base camp, we wait until they expose themselves to an ambush. Then we strike, recover what goods we can, and melt away and rendezvous back here to start again. Eventually, they decide to get back on their ships and leave once they have enough loot and don’t want to risk their lives to get any more of it. They go home and enjoy the fruits of plundering our world. Then, the next year, they come back again.”
“I see, and what are your thoughts on my commandos?” General Penrose replied, “I’ve tried to prepare them to operate independently as a company, or split up into squads and mix with your troops. I can go wherever I’m most needed.”
Odric explained his plan, “I’d like to keep your company intact. The son of the Ascendant is here on Garnax learning how to raid and how to lead. It is his first raid alone, and he’ll have a platoon of the Ascendant’s Immortals with him for protection. He’ll probably be leading a fairly large force, maybe five-hundred raiders. I’d like you and your men to follow him, and kill him and his guard. It won’t be easy, but it will make the whole raiding force retreat immediately and it will be a great blow to the Ascendant.”
“It will be done.” General Penrose agreed, “I will prepare the men. We will be prepared to leave in three days time. We’ll need to configure our gear and acclimate to the air and gravity here. It’s a little higher in oxygen and lower on gravity than we’re used to, so I want to test how much better we can perform before we go into the field.”
“That’s just the kind of attitude that made me so excited to have you join us.”, Odric said.
General Penrose and Eagle Company assembled in the hangar, their corvettes shading them as they gathered their gear for the upcoming trek.
Major Gnaeus strode through the clamor of soldiers inspecting the progress of the packing. His gruff, veteran demeanor showed plainly in the way he carried himself as he walked.
At the base of one of the corvettes was a hook on a stand with a screen. A soldier came up to it with his assembled pack and hung it from the hook. The screen lit up as Major Gnaeus said:
“Twenty-five kilos? Did you actually complete light infantry training? That’s five kilos over the limit. I hope you are ready for this assignment. I know it’s your first time out, Miller. You don’t need to worry too much; this is a pleasant, temperate world. It’ll be just like those training runs. That is, until we’re outmanned five to one against Ascendancy raiders. Then, you’ll be glad you packed light.”
“Understood sir”, Private Miller replied.
He walked away sheepishly and started removing items from his bag.
Major Gnaeus stood alongside General Penrose as they watched each of their soldiers weigh their packs one by one. Once everyone had finished, General Penrose addressed the group:
“We head out tomorrow to disrupt the Ascendancy raiders here on Garnax as much as possible. You’ve all been trained to live off the land and survive by your wits. There’s no backup if we run into trouble, just an extraction team to pick us up when we’re done. Our goal, in addition to disrupting the raids, is to hit the party with the Ascendant’s son. Anything we can do to him will send the message that raiding Garnax isn’t worth the effort.”
Several days after they landed, Eagle Company was on the march. They had tapped into previously established arrangements with locals to stay supplied. The soldiers had been monitoring civilian communications to try and plot the course of the various bands of raiders and to figure out which one had the Ascendant’s son. The previous evening, they had gotten tipped off that one of the raiding groups seemed to be the one they were looking for.
The radio transmission had described a group of raiders, well dressed and well armed, standing back during the plundering of a village, surrounding their leader. This was the best lead Eagle Company had found so far, so they moved to intercept this group of raiders.
After General Penrose ordered the company to break camp, Eagle Company moved swiftly out of the secluded mountain valley they had camped in and moved to nearby high ground. From there they could see the village where they’d go to get fresh supplies and gather information.
Major Gnaeus scanned the horizon with his binoculars. He fixed on a cloud of dust in the distance. He relayed what he saw to General Penrose.
“There’s a group of about 500 raiders. They look like they’re in rags. Except for one group. There, at the back, there’s twenty men in shiny armor. Looks like our group, General. They’re all on foot now. They’ve loaded all of their vehicles with loot. They’ll be moving slowly from here on out. Looks like their moving straight for the same village we are, General. Think it’s time we hit them?”
“Not today”, General Penrose said. “We have to wait until they’re moving back north through these valleys so we can set up a proper ambush. We can’t take them with those odds out in the field.”
“But they are just going to go into that village, take whatever they can, burn the rest, and kill anyone who gets in their way. We have to stop them.”, Major Gnaeus shouted.
“We are going to stop them. When we can. Look at this map, we’re here, north of the village. Further north still is their landing site. To get there, they have to go through the mountains we’re in right now. The widest, most direct root is here”, Penrose gestured on the map, “If we set up here we will have our shot.”
Eagle Company split in half, each side lining the wooded slopes on either side of a stretch of road, hiding amongst the trees and brush. With their active camouflage, Eagle Company was nearly invisible. General Penrose and Major Gnaeus took command of the opposite sides. They had picked a stretch of road perfect for an ambush. It was a straight section with two sharp turns on either end. There would be enough room for the whole raiding party to enter the field of fire of most of Eagle Company. Hopefully, the ambush would be over quickly with few escaping to tell about it.
Eagle Company lay there amongst the trees for hours as quietly as possible until they noticed a slight rise in the background noise. Eventually it became clear a large group, most likely the Ascendancy raiding party, was approaching. The sound of human and mechanical movement soon became loud and clear, and the first raiders turned the corner and entered the valley. Eagle Company remained hidden as the column plodded slowly down the road.
Eventually, the Immortals in their gleaming armor came to the center of Eagle Company’s formation along the road. Major Gnaeus fired the first shot, taking down a raider leading along a floating wagon of loot and plunder. Immediately both sides of Eagle Company began firing at will at the column of raiders. Dozens fell in the first volleys.
The raiders soon split into three groups, one at the front, one at back and one in the middle. They took cover as best they could in between their floating baggage carriers. The groups in front and in back managed to create cover for themselves that left them somewhat protected.
In the middle, the Immortals had a surprise. They deployed a Leach-field generator, which blocked incoming fire. They had lost half their number, but they, and their prince, were safe for the time being.
General Penrose yelled out to his men, and over the radio to Major Gnaeus: “Focus on the front and rear raiders. Try to flank them.”
As he said this, the hilt at his side lifted through the air into his outstretched hand. General Penrose grasped it in his hands as a whirring, shining metal blade shot out of the hilt. The edges of his vibrasword seemed blurry as the serrated edge whipped around the exterior of the blade. With three bounding leaps, he emerged from the forest and behind the Immortals’ shield, slaying two armored soldiers with a single stroke as he paused.
Penrose weaved through the Immortals with frightening speed. His blade went right through their armor as he savaged the tightly packed soldiers. They struggled to put themselves in position to shoot at him with their rifles, but in doing so, stepped outside the shield and exposed themselves to the well-aimed shots of Major Gnaeus, who was providing covering fire from the ridge.
Suddenly, one of the Immortals stepped forward. He activated his own vibrasword, and ran it along the ground, spreading a shower of dust towards General Penrose. Penrose’s outstretched hand cleared the dust, but then the man’s raised hand rained bolts of lightning down at General Penrose, which he deftly dodged. General Penrose and the man in Immortal armor glared at each other, and Penrose noticed the man’s youth and complexion weren’t that of a Ascendancy Immortal. It was the Ascendant’s own son.
The prince spoke: “The Palantine army sent you all the way here just to kill me? I’m sorry but you won’t find me the easy prey you were hoping for. I am Malik, son of the Ascendant. I’ve been trained in the Goji mysteries my whole life by the very best instructors in the Ascendancy. I am more than a match for you.”
Penrose shrugged and bounded toward Malik, who was standing with an open pose. Their vibrablades clashed and sparks flew. A terrible sound came from the vibrablades as Penrose leaned into Malik, who ducked and spun away from Penrose’s blade.
With an outstretched hand, Penrose toppled boxes full of goods behind and around Malik, preventing him from escaping unless he wanted to risk going outside the Leach field. He leapt again at Malik, sweeping his sword. Malik barely dodged out of the way while Penrose’s vibrasword continued through it’s swing, course unchanged by Malik’s attempted parry. As Malik stumbled, Penrose tripped the Ascendant’s son and plunged his vibrasword through his chest.
After looking at the body and taking Malik’s vibrasword, General Penrose surveyed the field. There were about two-dozen Ascendancy raiders left who immediately surrendered at the death of their prince. Eagle Company had lost six soldiers, with another dozen wounded.
General Penrose called General Odric on his radio: “General, we ambushed a group of raiders and killed the Ascendant’s son. We have captured two-dozen Ascendancy raiders, along with all the plunder they’ve taken. Requesting evac as soon as you can.”
“Great job, Penrose”, Odric responded over the radio. “Transports will be inbound shortly to take you and your prisoners back to base. I’ll get a salvage crew together to handle all of that recovered loot.”
Back in the underground base, General Penrose, Major Gnaeus and Eagle Company were all preparing to leave Garnax and rejoin the main Palantine fleet. During the hurried departure, General Odric burst into the hangar and ran to General Penrose.
“General Penrose, you and your men have to get your things off those corvettes immediately. The Ascendant has learned about the death of his son and has sent an invasion fleet here to conquer us and bring us under Ascendancy rule.”, Odric said, exasperated.
“Well, that’s a surprise, I’d never have expected the Ascendant would try to invade right before their holy month.” Penrose replied. “Eagle Company, unload and get ready to head out again. An Ascendancy army is inbound and we have to hold out until our military can send a force to help us defend the planet.”
General Penrose ran up into his corvette and initiated a call back to Palantine command.
“Marshall Glass, this is General Penrose. The Ascendancy is launching a full invasion of Garnax and their troops will be landing in days. We request you send an expeditionary force to help us defend the planet from this invasion army.”
After two minutes, there was a response on the radio.
“General Penrose, this is Lieutenant Greer, I’m on Marshall Glass’ staff. I’ve relayed your report to the Marshal and he has commanded that you and Eagle Company return to the fleet to await your next assignment.”
“What, you can’t be serious?”, General Penrose yelled. “We’ve got a planet full of Palantine citizens and their militia, you’re just going to abandon them?”
The weak voice replied “Sir, Marshall Glass doesn’t think open combat against Ascendancy Forces is in our interests at the moment. One serious loss and our capital will be vulnerable. We can’t risk losing everything over Garnax. Please return immediately. Do you acknowledge General?”
“Yes, we’ll be returning to the fleet as soon as we can.” General Penrose conceded.
General Penrose and Eagle Company sullenly loaded everything on board their corvettes and departed. General Odric was left dumbfounded at the docks and set out making plans to defend Garnax against the incoming invasion force.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out my other short stories. And definitely check out this historical fiction story by Robin Pierson, it very much influenced me in crafting this particular story.