Their universe is collapsing.
Every world struggling to survive.
Fear infects the stars. The plants feel it.
A poison that threatens to choke the future.
One man chases it. Every clue bringing
him closer to a horrifying secret.
Where will the people go when their world falls?
There is only one hope. Viridisia.
A paradise of towering evergreens and rivers pouring
over hills and pastures nurtured by dedicated caretakers.
Villages and cities are grown in hybrid harmony with
the ecosystem. A partnership with every species of plant,
animal, and insect. It is the emerald jewel of the solar system.
A beacon of hope.
The Order is her defender.
In the beginning and for all time Viridisia has been
a shining light that illuminates the truth.
A light that every leader of the Order is sworn to protect.
Today, that leader is Nia Kasai.
And yet how can one woman, one knight, save an empire?
Nia presses up against the peeling wall of a dilapidated house. Crumbling brick dust spills into the crevices of her armor, making her neck and ears itch. A nearby fuel cell is burning acrid fumes that coat her throat. Sweat drips in her eye and she blinks it away.
She slows her breathing before squinting to peer through a ragged crack in the wall beneath a broken window. Two Maribadden soldiers in makeshift reddish-brown
uniforms stand guard over a family huddled on the floor. One soldier is smoking, the other checks his ammo.
Nia slowly twists back and exhales a short breath. She blinks twice and her emerald green eyes grow dull. She taps once against the wall with her left hand and rolls around the corner on her right. Her thumb depresses a trigger and the charge she set during her initial recon obliterates the bottom of the door and wall. Nia lowers a shoulder and crashes through the door’s frame.
Debris sprays out in a cloud of red.
The soldier on the left lifts his weapon and fires in her direction. Nia crouches and slams her shield into the ground, spraying dirt in her face and leans into the oncoming blast with a soft grunt. The deflection sends the MLI soldier flying through a weakened wall. The smoking soldier casts his rifle aside and draws a black baton crackling with orange energy. As he fiercely strikies from overhead, his unstable feet shift in the loose dirt.
Nia parries his attack and swings her front foot to sweep his legs out from under him. He hits the ground with a thud. Nia grabs his arm at the elbow and wrist, and twists the baton into his chest. She smells electricity burning fabric until the charge knocks him unconscious. Nia spins to her feet and faces the hostages sitting rapt; mouths agape.
“Just two?” She asks. They nod.
“You’re safe now.” She says with a smile. “Stay here, my friends will evacuate you.”
Nia makes her way back into the maze of broken homes and burning wreckage. The smoke already clearing. The air is heavy with the smell of charred metal.
“Captain!” Fairchild calls out over the sound of her footsteps. She jogs to Nia’s side with a mane of shoulder length red hair trailing behind her. The air here makes it more curly.
“We’re all clear on the South,” she says. “All the buildings have been emptied except one.”
“What’s the status?” Nia asks, calling up the location on her display screen and checking the exits.
“One MLI. Ten hostages. Says he’s rigged the house to blow if we don’t leave the city.”
Five red lights show the position of the charges on Nia’s display.
“Tell them I’m coming.” Nia starts walking.
“This isn’t a show,” her voice raising with each word. “I want two units. Cleanup and medical. I expect a report when I return.”
Nia is already too far away to hear.
A call from Riiv rumbles in over the communicator, while Nia compares her readout with the buildings ahead.
“Captain Kasai, Commander Artana’s ship just broke the thermosphere.”
Nia nods and glances at the red sky. Twisting coils of black smoke obscure everything.
“I’ll be done before they land.” Nia approaches the building. A loud voice is shouting. She knocks on the door and the voice stops.
The door muffles his voice.
Nia’s voice is firm. “Grundle. This is Captain Kasai. I’m here to make your life easier.”
“When I’m here it is.”
“You don’t know why you’re here,” he says without raising his voice, but with more force. Nia rubs a smudge on her armor with her gloved hand. It screeches like a metal brush cleaning rust.
“We’re here because you’re holding innocent hostages.”
“There are no innocents.”
“I know exactly what Viridisian promises mean.”
Nia activates her communicator without taking her eyes off the door.
“Riiv, can you line up a shot?” Her voice is just above a whisper. “Non-lethal.”
“Working on it.”
“Sir, Grundle, please.” Her tone softens. “This can still end the right way.”
“This isn’t the end. Just the beginning.”
“First opening is too ugly,” Riiv reports.
“They’re safer with me than you.”
“I’ve got a 50/50 shot, now,” Riiv says. “Maybe.”
“We need better,” Nia says, before raising her voice, “Why don’t you tell me how this works, then?”
“Your sniper can’t find a shot.”
“He’s right captain. This spot is still only a little better than the last two.”
“Try two more. I’ll get you time.”
“Then you’ll try to stall.”
Nia’s heartbeat skips.
“Riiv!” she grunts. “Hurry.”
“But, it’s out of your hands.”
“Grundle, it’s not too late, to…”
A roar of wind from overhead whips the gravel on the dry, red earth into a frenzy. Nia sets her feet and looks up between sheets of reddened dust to see The Regalis. Its glowing green chassis shines like a star in the maelstrom. A hatch is already open in the ship’s underside and a blurry rush of dull green armor smashes through the rooftop.
Nia raises a forearm to engage her shield and kicks in the door. The settling dust burning her eyes reveals a hooded figure seizing an unshaven man by the neck to prevent him from pressing the trigger under his thumb. A green circle locks in place around his elbow with a chirp, and in one deft stroke, it lops his arm off with a hiss.
The soldier recoils in pain and hits the ground so hard he coughs and thrashes. His arm, hand still holding the trigger, are in the clutches of his assailant. The remaining hand reaches for a pocket on his leg and the hooded figure fires a single shot that burns his throat and stops his hand.
The figure looks down at the stunned expressions of the hostages, and inclines her head towards Nia.
“Never believe a terrorist,” she says. “You’re always safer with her.”
They rush to Nia, who realizes that Riiv and Fairchild are at her side. Hands reach up and lower the hood.
Uncovering short brown hair and blue eyes, before revealing a smile that twists the plasma scar on her cheek.
“Nyota…” she takes a deep breath.
“There was only one possible outcome.”
“Consequences never seem to faze you.”
“Does that faze you?” Nyota begins checking the body.
Nia collapses her shield.
“I think he was trying to tell us something.”
“You sounded like you were struggling. I thought I’d give you a hand.” At this, she waggles the severed arm letting it perform a disembodied wave. Fresh blood trickles to the floor in little splats that stain the ground.
“That’s not funny.”
“No. No, it’s not,” Nyota says, stepping closer. Blood drips on the floor. Nyota shrugs and hands the arm to an officer.
“Why are you here?”
“The Commander sent me to get you,” She smiles. “It’s time to go home.”
“Oh, and you’re welcome.”
To be continued...
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