Life is never fair. It just happens that way.
If it was, there would never have been the destruction of Peace River, the killing of so many apparent innocents, and the madness that followed.
For all on Terra Nova, life these past few cycles had been all out Interpolar War. In one way, the only good thing that came out of Peace River's destruction, was the alliance that came from its still-smoldering ashes.
Even as teams went in the investigate the causes for the explosion that claimed so many, agreements were being set up around the world. Perhaps the most important one was the creation of a new unit, one designed to investigate what was happening outside of Terra Nova. And thus the Black Talon Program was born...
* * *
32nd Summer, TN 1939
Sam Grafton ducked down the alleyway, eyeing the area behind him. It was probably nothing, but his time in the military had taught him to be damn careful when by yourself. And these were desperate times.
The sound of feet on the ground behind him made him stop in his tracks. The hairs on the back of his neck raised slightly and his stomach twisted slightly.
"Stay right there. We're coming to investigate you." Oh crap. So it was the police. Now was a very bad time for him to be caught. Not now. Any other day but now.
"What's the problem officer?" Sam asked, turning around. Ah. Even better. 3 Northern MPs.
"The problem is you sir. You look a little...shifty."
"Whatcha been doing?"
Sam shrugged dramatically, the dark jacket seeming to lift too high. Might be bad. "Nothing. Just a last night on the town..." As soon as he said it, he knew it was the wrong choice of words and actions.
One of the cops moved in and Sam could see the other two thumbing safety catches off their weapons.
"Just a last night on the town huh? Where you planning to go in a hurry?" The MP suddenly lunged out and grabbed Grafton by the front of his shirt, pulling him towards him. And about one foot into the air. Sam could smell berry or something artificial on the guy's breath. Well that almost made it personal in some weird way. People who had to use breath things that were really strange really annoyed Sam.
"Just came to visit this beautiful town" Sam's voice was dripping with sarcasm "And some friends in it."
The guard shook him heavily. "You little shit. Think you're gonna make another Peace River here? You Earthern-loving skag..." His voice cut off abruptly and his eyes widened. Sam had finally been able to reach for the pistol strapped to his upper leg under the heavy jacket and push it into the cop's stomach.
"You are going to put me back on solid ground and then turn and walk away. You didn't see me at all. I'm just a figment of your imagination. 1st Pride of the Republic. And thanks for the info." Sam's voice was little more than a whisper and he could sense the other two cops tensing up, ready to shoot. The MP finally dropped him and Sam landed effortlessly. The MP backed off, anger in his eyes. A murmur to his comrades who likewise glared at him, and then they left, safeties still off.
Grafton breathed a sigh of relief. No harm and the last part of info recovered. So it was definitely the Earthers who'd done it. Revenge was part of what he wanted. Peace River had been his birthplace 38 cycles ago and now it was just so many tiny pieces. As for some of his family...he had no idea what had happened to them. Then he laughed abruptly. His safety was still on on his pistol. Even in an increasingly dark age, humour was sometimes the best option.
Clap. Clap. Clap.
The sounds came from behind him and Sam whirled around, safety off this time just in case the MPs were back and wanted a firefight. And instead he found another single figure leaning against the wall of the alley.
"Congratulations on your use of tactics there."
Sam nodded at him, slowly. "Who are you?"
The man chuckled to himself. "Who I am is irrevelant Lieutenant Grafton."
Sam's eyes narrowed and he got a tighter grip on the pistol. "How do you know my name?" This time it bordered on a growl.
"My my. You certainly are full of questions tonight." The man stood up and put his hands in his pockets. "I know who you are Lieutenant, because I checked your record. 12 cycles service with the Southern Republic, 8 of which you were in the 1st Pride of the Republic. Rather impressive."
"That's all past history." Sam snorted. "What do you want."
The man chuckled once more. "This is not necessarily what I myself want. You wish to seek vengeance of the NEC? Then know this: the Talons want you."
"The Talons?" Sam ran a check through his memory to see if he knew of any rebel groups known as the Talons. None came to mind.
"There is not much time. Although I hate to rush you, I require an answer as soon as possible." The man looked around. "The streets and cities are no longer safe, nor is Terra Nova. I need to know: are you in?"
Sam considered for a moment, the gun still aimed at the guy's head. Speaking of which, he was remarkably calm. Most would have collapsed to a cowering heap with a gun in their direction. After what seemed an age, Sam clicked the safety back on and holstered the weapon.
"I don't know what's going down, but count me in."
* * *
7 Winter, TN 1940
Black Talon HQ
Grafton splashed water over his face and looked in the mirror. The familiar face with jet black hair and green eyes grinned back at him and he stood, stretching his aching muscles. Today was a good day. He would be training with some of the best of the best in armed combat. Paint rounds of course, but there you go.
He'd had to leave pretty much all his gear behind with his old unit, including his Gear's Optical NNet. The Black Talons (as he'd discovered the team was called) did not wish to have any possible problems with their machines. So goodbye to 12 cycles of experience. Except in his mind of course. That still worked perfectly.
He dressed in a loaned uniform, a Northern one, and made sure he looked as good as an officer of his rank should. He winked at the mirror, scanned the room, and left for the mess hall.
It was a pretty quiet affair this morning. At the moment only about 20 pilots had been recruited. From what Sam had heard, they would all be assessed and then assigned Gears and teams depending on individual strengths and weaknesses. Only 7 or so people would get to go to the first team, the rest would remain for extended training...just in case something went wrong.
The food looked kind of slushy and inadequate, but the cawfee sure smelled good and strong. Sam grabbed a black one, something with a pale yellow colour and settled at that. He dropped them down to the nearest table and quickly followed them to his seat.
The yellow stuff didn't taste too bad, but it had a rubbery texture. He shrugged. Oh well. At least the cawfee tasted like it should.
Grafton scanned the room as he ate. There were 4 other people in there: One male, two females and someone who he couldn't tell for their long hair. After watching them for a minute or so, he decided it was another guy. The old patch on his uniform showed him to be from Peace River...Sam turned away so it wouldn't look like he was staring. The poor bastard looked as though he had trouble moving, let alone eating or piloting.
A quiet guy sat near a window going over a manual. Sam couldn't see the title, but it looked like one of those instruction guides. Must be a techie.
A pretty young female was the other one to catch his eye and Sam swore that she couldn't have been a cycle out of the Academy. But then again, looks could be deceiving.
The last lady he promptly forgot as he only noticed her while finishing eating. He stood and left the plate and cup there, moving off to the hangar bay.
Checking the roster, it was an interesting discovery to learn he'd be piloting a Warrior IV today. He had a fair bit of respect for the not-too-old machines, even though he'd only seen them in action once.
"Team Alpha, number 4." He murmured the words, simultaneously scanning the bay for his Gear. There it was. A quick few steps down some stairs and then he was able to pop the hatch and check it all out. All nice stuff. And then the noise of footsteps behind him again. He turned, smiling that he'd heard that familiar sound so much since that evening...
The young pretty woman was standing behind him. She saluted and Sam returned it, suddenly feeling self-conscious to the fact that he wore a Northern uniform.
"I just checked the roster sir. We're team-mates." It was an honest statement. Sam guessed that she really was young and wanted to be accepted in a group of experienced pilots.
"I see." Sam nodded at her. "A name might help me remember such a pretty face."
She blushed. "Sous-Caporal Morgausa Temple. Finished Academy training last cycle sir..."
"First assignment then?" She nodded.
"You'll do fine then if you're here. Only the best are going on this mission."
"Thanks sir." She smiled at him.
Temple had acquired a Cheetah for this little exercise. Evidently she was going to be their recon. Or something like that. Sam didn't care for those details much, but kept them locked away somewhere in his brain.
Time ticked away and soon enough they had to gear up and mount up. The exercise was on.
* * *
7 Winter, TN 1940
Desert (Classified Location)
"Alpha 5, tighten formation."
"Roger 4." Temple's Cheetah moved to within 10 metres of Sam's right-hand side. Turning his head to check on her, he smiled. She'd be fine.
"1 and 2, head over that ridge there." 3's Gear, a Hunter XMG, pointed to it's left. "5, get up and over that ridge and give us some info on our targets. 4, cover 5. I'll be on the opposing ridge. If possible, get them into an ambush."
"Roger that 3, executing."
Sam and Temple broke away from the other 3 war machines, SMSs engaging as wheels touched the ground and allowing the two of them to speed towards the ridge. There seemed to be a lot of those out here.
Incline wasn't too bad and they were able to keep up their speed going upwards as well. Then they'd cleared the top and it was back to walker mode. Sam kneeled his Warrior and made a sweep of the area with his autocannon.
"5, there's a good spot over on that outcrop."
"Thanks 4. Cover me." Temple sprinted her Cheetah to the spot while Sam stood, ready to open fire. Yet there was nothing out there. Sam settled back down into a kneeling position and hoped Alpha 3 knew what was what.
His thoughts drifted for minutes as he stared out at the mountainous yet boring terrain. Thoughts spun around over everything, yet nothing could be pinpointed for long enough to think about in detail. Talons. Home. Peace River. Temple. Old unit. Academy. Temple. Temple. TEMPLE!
Snapping back into the now and reality, Sam could hear Temple:
"...move in to give support? Sir?"
Sam could suddenly hear the sounds of the rest of the team. It came to him. Alpha 3 had been wrong. They had the wrong spots and were being pounded. Now Sam and Temple were all that remained.
"Hold position 5. I want to surprise them. Lock and load weapons." A loud chinkt-CLACK came from his LAC as it was readied. A paintball was chambered and ready.
Team Beta practically came sauntering down the valley towards them. Sam couldn't believe it.
"Cocky bastards..." he muttered.
"Never mind 5. On my action, open fire. We want to paint as many of them as possible."
Sam guessed the range now to be about 600 metres. Nearly time...a few more seconds...
With a series of incredibly quick hand and feet movements, Sam's Warrior leapt to it's feet and pulled hard on the trigger. The LAC spluttered and the entire clip of shells discharged through the barrel. Unluckily for one Gear, Sam was a good shot. About 80 percent of them smashed into it, colouring it so that it looked like some kind of giant clown.
The whine of a missile being fired alerted Sam to dodge. He could see it coming, timed ready to leap left...and then a shot rang out and the missile exploded in a cloud of green paint.
"Nice shot 5." Sam really meant it. That was incredible. And Temple had doubts about herself?!
No reply was given and the firefight continued. Another Beta Gear went down under a combination of shells from both Grafton and Temple. Sam smiled. He hadn't even worked up a sweat yet. Temple slowly made her way towards him until they were nearly side by side.
Two more Gears were hit, leaving the last to attack. Sam, caught up in making sure his target was down, didn't even see the attack be launched.
"4 look out!" Sam looked up but it was too late. A full flight of rockets was heading straight for him. And Temple was in motion...She jumped...And 24 paint rockets smashed into her Cheetah's side. They weren't armed like their deadly cousins, but were sufficient enough. The weight knocked Temple to one side...The side with the cliff on it. Sam could only watch in horror.
Temple was eerily silent as it all seemed to go in slow motion. She was dead. Sam couldn't do a thing. Except...he jumped. Reaching out, he slid along the ground until he made a handhold with his left arm and feet. The right arm somehow found its way to Temple's Cheetah's and it snapped shut securely.
Sam was breathing heavily now and the sweat was definitely present. At least the last Beta wasn't still shooting.
"You alright Morgausa?" His concern overshadowed current mission protocol. They'd probably failed anyway.
The Cheetah's head nodded. "Yes thankyou sir."
Sam smiled behind his VR helmet. "Just call me Sam." He slowly pulled her Gear back up and over the cliff. Looking down, he saw that he'd been painted by now anyway.
"Alpha 4 here. Mission is over with victory for Beta. Send in the transport."
* * *
7 Winter, TN 1940
Black Talons HQ
It was much later. Sam rubbed his eyes much like he had earlier that morning and yawned. What a day.
After he'd gotten back, he'd been commended for saving Temple, but chewed out for failing the mission and damaging the Gear. But he knew from the slight smile on the officer's face that it wasn't really that much trouble. Ah well.
There was a knock at his door. He got up and opened it.
Temple stood there in casual wear, an innocent smile playing about her lips.
"May I come in?"
Sam pulled her to him. Looking into her beautiful eyes, he kissed her softly, simultaneously closing the door over with his foot.
He'd sure be tired in the morning.
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