David walked down the hall of his monastery. Out of the glass windows, he could see a quiet and peaceful river that ran beside. Various aquatic life forms swam in the river; none of them were predatory. On the far side of the river, there was a garden full of the most beautiful flowers from all over the Galaxy. David passed by another monk on the way. The two exchanged greetings before they each went on their way. David reached the room under the surface of the large pond through which the river flowed. The room was walled entirely with glass that showcased the aquatic life. The fish, and other creatures that could be found therein, swam about as David searched through his files for a blueprint. He opened the file cabinet, and thumbed through until he got to the Ps. He retrieved from the file the designs he had been working on recently in his quiet and soothing cell. A new class of heavily armed bombing ship called the “P-52 Sweeper” designed to systematically kill off any remaining conduit populations on conquered worlds before human settlement could be made.
317 hid behind cover as his human opponent, Mike Garretson, searched for him. He pinpointed Mike’s location. He requested a random number. The result was 35703, which instructed him to shoot and miss. 317 emerged from cover. Mike shot him. 317’s health variable was reduced from 781 to 595. 317 ignored the damage and shot slightly up and to the left. Mike quickly dove in the opposite direction, sliding across the sandy desert, and switched weapons. He nailed 317 with the rocket launcher. Health variable reduced to -407. Health variable less than or equal to zero; enemy object 317 removed. A short musical theme played as the words “Congratulations, you won” were displayed for Mike.
The Image of a rocky desert faded away, leaving only the blank walls of what had become of the gaming console in the year 4299. Mike removed his virtual reality helmet. He spoke aloud to 317.
“Oh c’mon 317, you’re getting easier.”
“I have not altered any of my variables since you last instructed me to reset them to levels even farther beyond the highest difficulty setting I naturally possess,”
“Those stock settings are for 17-year-old children who are seeking to relax and kill a few simulations after school,” Mike said. “I am a heavily trained soldier, and the only reason they let me play around on this thing is to hone my skills. Hence, stop missing intentionally because you see your unlucky numbers.”
“Sure,” 317 replied.
“Also,” Mike said, “stop helmet-watching me when I get the sniper because it’s annoying and stupid.” As he finished his sentence a loudspeaker called him into another room to be briefed on his squad’s next assignment.
Mike arrived at the briefing room on the human ship, the Domination. He stood in line with his squad-mates, Tim, Molly, John, and Crystal, as he was briefed by their commander.
“Photons,” The Commander said “Today the Shadow Squad is targeting David Anderson. David is a Alexian Monk living in a monastery on 568 b. He is currently working on the designs for a new ship, the P-52 sweeper, designed to aid in our efforts to exterminate the Conduits by bombing conquered planets from orbit. We will be there guarding him when the shadows arrive, and we will ensure that they get a solid start on their upcoming losing streak. Am I understood?”
“Sir, Yes, Sir,” The Squad said in unison.
“Good then,” said The Commander. “Let’s go.”
Meanwhile, the Shadow Squad sat in a conduit drop-ship being cloaked by Kron, discussing their strategy as they headed toward the planet.
“Aaron, we need to learn from our mistakes.” Nax said, while crossing his arms. “We can’t rely entirely on Kron’s cloaking again. We need to use actual stealth.”
“I agree in theory,” said Aaron “But how else are we going to pull off our plan? We need to get one of us within inches of the glass while remaining outside of his field of vision.”
“There’s a waterfall on a nearby hill that leads into the river,” noted Mat. “If we land nearby, Dany can sneak up behind him from under the water.”
“Alright then,” said Aaron. “Let’s go.”
The Shadow’s drop-ship landed on the far side of a hill near the monastery. The squad emerged and Kron began cloaking Nax, who headed to the peak of the hill with his sniper, prepared to eliminate the target if he escaped what would remain of his cell when Dany was finished with it.
Meanwhile down at the pond, David was in his work-room making progress on the Sweeper. The Photons were all nearby. The Commander was keeping direct watch over Anderson. Tim was watchfully pacing along the crystal clear river. John was on another grassy hill with a sniper. Mike and Molly were scuba-diving in pond itself. Mike was on David’s right and Molly was on the left. Lastly, Crystal was in the hallway of the Monastery, near David’s cell.
Dany went around the hill, and headed toward the waterfall. Nax, under Kron’s cloak, was on the hill, keeping close watch with his sniper. “Be careful,” he radioed Dany. “There’s a sniper on the opposite hill. He looks to be…” Nax paused in confusion. “It looks to be Human Special Forces.”
Dany looked up, and saw the human watching for movement on the river banks. He slowed down to be less noticeable. He made his way over to the waterfall and dove into the river. The resulting splash was indistinguishable from the churn of the waterfall. Dany swam below the surface. Once he got to the edge of the river, he saw the rest of the Photon Squad in and near the pond. He reached for his radio.
“Aaron, there are two special forces in the water. It will be impossible to proceed without them noticing. Can I get a diversion?”
“There are what?” Aaron responded, wondering what Special Forces would be doing around the Monastery. “I’ll send one over, I suppose.” He turned toward Mat. “Dany needs a diversion to force some divers out of the water. After Nax fakes out the sniper, make a big show of ‘sneaking’ along the river banks.”
“Got it,” Mat replied.
“Good. Nax, go for the sniper.”
“On it,” said Nax. Nax took aim and fired, going high and to the left of John.
Mat made his way down and walked along the river banks, trying to strike a balance between being obvious and not looking like he was trying to be obvious. He succeeded. The commander noticed him and, falling for the diversion, sent Tim after Mat. The rest of the squad, except Crystal, was sent after Nax on the hill.
Tim rushed at Mat with gun in hand. Mat did the same. Both fired. Their bullets hit each other in mid-air and dropped to the ground. Tim leaped up and tackled Mat, knife drawn. Mat, got knocked down by the force of the tackle. He quickly kicked Tim off of him before he could slash his throat. Mat, knowing that Tim was likely to speak his language spoke aloud.
“I’ve always noticed that you Humans are partial toward the mass death of unarmed non-combatants.” Mat said, referring to the sweeper.
Tim charged at Mat and managed to slash his arm.
“I’ve always noticed Conduits are partial to complaining about things that they not only are aiding in at the moment, but do all of the time and have been doing for thousands of years.” Tim replied.
Mat aimed his weapon at Tim’s head after he spoke. Tim ducked and evaded the shot.
“We are the judges of this universe, by divine dictate,” Mat replied “In addition, I happen to be an assassin. Thus, my body count is more quality than quantity.”
Tim lunged at Mat. Mat jumped up, and kicked Tim down. Tim landed on his stomach, but managed to turn over before Mat landed on his knees on top of him. As Mat reached for his own knife, Tim punched Mat in the gut knocking Mat off of him, then stood up facing him.
“Well, given that you just tried to pin me without restraining my hands, I don’t find it difficult to believe that you’ve never managed to kill a civilian.”
A loud explosion was heard at the pond. Tim turned to see what had happened. Mat quickly slashed him in the back with his knife.
The massive explosion Dany had caused shook the pond, violently detaching David’s chamber from the hallway it was previously connected to, briefly replacing visibility with churning white and bubbles. The plans for the P-52 Sweeper, as well as all of the other warships David had been working on, were waterlogged and dispersed throughout the serene little lake. Anderson himself was trapped under the chamber whose only open side was pointed down.
Dany spoke into his radio, “Mission accomplished sir.”
“Great,” Aaron said, “Now report back to the hill immediately.”
“Yes sir” Dany said, and did as instructed.
In the monastery, Crystal was startled by the explosion. She dove into the pond, seeing David trapped.
Before Mat was able to finish Tim off, Aaron called him to aid in the situation on the other side of the hill.
“You got lucky this time,” Mat said, “Do not expect this to happen again.” Mat began running toward the hill.
Tim signaled for a wormhole back to the ship, but was denied.
“I don’t care if he lobbed your arm off,” the Commander said. “There are 4 Shadows on the other side of the hill, and you are going to be helping us out with them. Understand?”
“There is a rather severe wound in my back!” Tim shouted.
“Perhaps there is. I’ll tell you what, if you die from the bleeding, I’ll pretend to be sad at your funeral. Now move soldier.”
“Yes, Sir,” Tim said before rushing around the pond and to the other side of the hill with what little speed he could muster.
Crystal frantically looked around the lake as David grew closer and closer to drowning. She eventually found a large stone, which she could barely lift. She grabbed it and with great difficulty swam above the room and dropped it on top. The glass that walled the chamber shattered. She went inside, found David, and swam out dragging him behind. She pulled him ashore and gave him mouth to mouth. As he began to breathe again she requested a wormhole for them. It was granted. Having completed their mission, the rest of the Photon squad worm holed back onto their ship as well. The shadow squad, having failed, also returned to theirs.
The Shadow Squad conversed as they ate at the dinner table on The Righteous Judgment.
“It’s quite the coincidence that there just happened to be a Special Forces squad guarding the area,” said Nax.
“You note this for what purpose?” Aaron said.
“The incredibly obvious fact that they knew we were coming,” Nax responded.
“How could they?” Aaron asked, “They’d have to know who we were targeting, and there is no way to acquire that information. It’s not as if there are no safeguards against that kind of security breach.”
“Well it appears that they did know somehow” Nax Replied, before going off to bed.
Tim emerged from the medical ward on the human ship, Domination. He reflected on the battle.
“How could I allow myself to be distracted by that explosion?” he thought. “Crystal was able to save the target this time, but that may not always be the case. I can’t fail, I can’t ever fail again. Not after that … that awful failure.”
Aaron, having finished his meal, put his feet up on the table.
“Aaron, the general is ready to speak with you.” The briefer announced over a loudspeaker.
Aaron walked into what was usually his squad’s briefing room. “I’m here sir,” he said aloud.
“I can see that,” the General replied. “Now what is this I hear about my best squad failing?”
“We were able to destroy the plans. Not just for the sweeper, but everything he had in progress. But the target himself was rescued from drowning by Human Special Forces” said Aaron.
“Human special forces?” asked the general, “I find that interesting. And who is responsible for this failure? Was it because of your newest member?”
“No,” Aaron quickly responded. “He had nothing to do with it. He performed perfectly.”
“Me,” said Aaron “I should have anticipated that the humans would have someone stationed inside the Monastery and had Dany wait to take out anyone who attempted a rescue”
“I see,” the General said. He looked directly in Aaron’s eyes. “Are you afraid of me?”
“Yes,” Aaron replied. “I’m afraid that you will somehow punish my squad for my personal failure. All of them followed their orders and performed their appointed tasks perfectly and-”
“Aaron we no longer punish soldiers in excessive ways for failure.” the General said. “The knowledge of the innocent deaths that Anderson’s survival will lead to should be torturous enough for your entire squad.”
“Yes, sir,” Aaron replied. He went off to bed.
Later that night on Domination the Commander sat back in his chair, holding a drink in one hand, and read from a display screen in front of him.
Molly walked in. “What did you call me to see, sir?” she asked.
“The Shadow Squad’s target for a specific day isn’t decided upon by their leadership until the night before they receive a given assignment,” said the Commander. “But they keep a shopping list of individuals they are planning to get to soon.”
“Interesting,” Molly replied. “Why are you telling me this?”
“The Healer is on the list.” the Commander replied.
“Has he been contacted?” Molly asked.
“Of course he has” the Commander replied. “He should be out of harm’s way soon. We wouldn’t want to lose the sort of icon he’s become.”