From the Ashes of Interstellar Empire
The planet Renas is a world populated by humans with 1950’s-level technology. It is surrounded by a fleet of starships, crewed by human beings from a far-flung system who are refugees from a bloody interstellar war. Both sides are locked in a deadly struggle to determine the fate of this isolated world.
A plan to kidnap the child of a diplomat quickly spirals out of control, triggering a series of events that threatens to reignite another global war. Pavel Marino is caught up in a blood-soaked plot to overthrow his regent, while a growing insurgent movement lashes out against the fledgling star nation trying to establish a foothold on their world.
Terry Hannigan and his mates get the mission to assassinate a senior Trajan government official and end up in a conspiracy, getting in way over their heads. They become pawns in a grand game of life and death, manipulated by shadowy people and government agencies they barely understand.
Meanwhile, the people of Renas try to rebuild their lives under the guns of an interstellar fleet orbiting their world. All the while, that same fleet continues surreptitiously sending raiders to the planet’s surface, manipulating global events for dark purpose. Their interference in world affairs only continues to escalate as discipline within the defeated space fleet deteriorates, and desertions to the surface continue to rise.
It’s a race to determine the fate of an entire world. A race that no one can afford to lose.
Just outside the Renas System
Commander Cameron Zama paced back and forth on the cramped bridge after forcing himself to remain seated for the last hour. He kept looking up at the plot and continued scrolling through the filters. He knew he was driving everyone else crazy with this, but his patience was wearing thin. They should have seen something by now.
“Okay Ops, I’ve been on the edge of my seat for over a week now, what have you got for me?” Zama said, sitting back down in his seat.
“We’re just now getting some imagery from Oasis. Should be coming up now,” said the Operations Officer as she manipulated the principal holo display. “Okay, now that’s interesting.”
“That explains why we haven’t seen anything up until now,” said Lieutenant Commander Christoph Wash, the ship’s Executive Officer.
“You’re not kiddin’ there XO. Can someone explain this fuckery to me?” said Zama while chewing on his fingernails.
“It’s not making a lot of sense right now, Sir. The Vanguard should have pickets posted on the outer fringes of this system but they don’t. It appears that most of their ships are clustered around Oasis and are stationary. We haven’t picked up any evidence of patrol activity either,” Lieutenant Amy Jackson said, zooming in on the imagery for a better look. “We’ve made a positive ID on most of the vessels here, but some are on the far side of the planet so we can’t see them yet.”
“Can Naulochus and Hellespont see this too?” asked Zama.
“That’s affirmative Skipper, we’re sharing this with them on a tight beam,” Wash said before pointing over to the communications chief. “Are we still picking up their routine comms traffic?”
“Yes Sir, we’re picking up a lot in fact,” said the comms chief. “It’s pretty undisciplined. I’m surprised to be perfectly honest.”
“If I’m reading this situation properly then, we have the Vanguard of Home Fleet clustered around Oasis, with no semblance of tactical deployment or formation. On top of that, they have failed to update their ciphers and are using old crypto keys so we can monitor everything they’re transmitting,” Zama said, rising from his chair and pacing again. “Seems pretty sloppy if you ask me.”
“Makes our job a lot easier doesn’t it?” said Wash.
“Yes and no. I mean we will have an easy time gathering intelligence on the Vanguard, but it’s going to be one hell of a challenge getting closer to the planet to see what’s going on down there.” Zama stopped pacing and looked down at his boots with both hands clasped behind his back. “The good news is that the Main Body won’t get here for quite a while, so we can take our sweet time gathering our intel. We’ll just take it slow and deliberate.”
“XO, write up a preliminary report and attach a file with all of our gathered imagery to date. I want to send an update to Admiral Sulla by midwatch.”
“No problem, I’m on it, Skipper.”
“Good. I have the feeling that she’s going to be very interested in what we’ve discovered here today.”
Wolverine Assault Shuttle “Specter 1”
“Aegates, this is Specter 1, we’re making our pass at this time. Should have an update for you shortly.” Warrant Officer 2nd Class Mark Demir triple checked the drive system and the electronic countermeasures to ensure everything was working properly.
The shuttle had accelerated on the outer fringes of the system and was now travelling under its own inertia toward the planet they called Oasis. Only the minimal number of systems on the craft were running in order to lower its electromagnetic signature. They were trying to get as close as they could to the planet without being detected.
“How’s it going back there, Chief?” asked the co-pilot, Warrant Officer 1st Class Mi Sook Pak, as she pulled up imagery of the planet.
In the back was the sole passenger on the shuttle, an intelligence analyst tasked with gathering as much information as possible on their first mission inside the system. He was monitoring a great number of things, gathering raw data. Once they passed through their short window shooting past the planet, he would spend the rest of their two-week trip back to Aegates making sense of what they learned. “It’s going well Ma’am, but I am picking up some weird shit.”
“Can you define ‘weird shit?’ It’s not exactly a doctrinal term,” Demir said, finally satisfied that all his systems were running at optimal parameters.
“I’ve been scanning through the electromagnetic spectrum recording just about everything. I started when we ceased acceleration last week and started our trajectory,” Chief Cisler said, pulling up some files from his workstation. “I didn’t pay any attention to them before, but I picked up some strange radio waves. Here, I’ll pipe it in over the intercom. Tell me what you think it is.”
The pilot and co-pilot listened to the unusual sounds Chief Cisler had been monitoring. Demir and Pak looked at each other with confused expressions on their faces. The audio feed shifted frequencies, treating their senses to an assortment of exotic noises.
“Okay, that is definitely some weird shit,” Pak said, shaking her head. “It sounded like a bunch of people speaking gibberish, and some other stuff that sounded like it could be a type of music.”
“That’s not even the strangest part. Not only is this stuff completely different from anything in our experience, there are literally millions of separate transmissions emanating from the surface of that planet,” Cisler said, pushing the data to the cockpit.
“Millions? What does that even mean?” Demir sounded incredulous.
A chime sounded, indicating that they had entered their window and could get a limited visual of the surface. Cisler pulled up the holo display and zoomed in to maximum magnification. It took only a few moments before the computer started pinpointing anomalies all over the surface of the planet. Anomalies that led to only one logical conclusion.
“Well Sir, if I’m not mistaken, it appears that Oasis is already a fully inhabited world. I believe our mission just got exponentially more complicated.”
Home Fleet Vanguard
Emperor Karga studied the chess board for a few minutes in silence, picturing and considering the multitude of different outcomes arrayed before him. It was early in the game with most of the pieces still in play, which offered all sorts of risks and opportunities. He always enjoyed the game but it gave him even more joy now that he had a competent human opponent to play with. While the simulation was interesting, it wasn’t the same as going up against a living, breathing adversary. It just felt hollow and unsatisfying. After considering his options, he moved one of his knights forward in an effort to elicit a response from the other player.
“What could you possibly have in mind doing that, one wonders. This is out of character for you, normally, you are much more conservative at this stage of the game. I find this very exciting,” said the royal consort, Empress Jennifer, as she tapped her dainty chin with a single index finger.
“Careful, Empress, when you go on about how excited you are, it might give one the wrong idea,” Karga said with an impish grin.
“Oh, Your Highness, you are such a cad,” she said, before licking her lips and suggestively stroking one of the pawns on the board.
“Perhaps we could take a short break from the game?” Karga suggested, while gently taking her hand.
“I think that is a marvelous idea,” Jennifer purred.
As the two of them rose from the table, the door chime sounded. It was Dobbins.
Karga sighed, “Sorry my dear, duty calls.” He disengaged the lock and spoke to the intercom, “You may come in, Michael.”
The door slid open and Karga’s former aide de camp, now special assistant, strode into the emperor’s chambers dressed in semi-formal civilian business attire. The suit itself was a Trajan style, but locally produced planet-side on Renas. The materials used were primitive and rough, which was just another reminder that the fleet still possessed a very limited capacity to produce even the simplest of things, such as proper clothing.
“Your Majesty, I sincerely apologize for disturbing you this evening and bothering you with this unscheduled visit,” Dobbins said to the empress, his head bowed slightly. “I hope you will forgive me.”
“Nonsense, Michael, it is no trouble at all. You know you are welcome at any time,” Jennifer said in her haughty, regal tone. A tone she quickly mastered after accepting Karga’s hand in marriage.
“One can only assume if Michael is calling at this hour, unscheduled and unannounced, there is some pressing piece of business that must be attended to that cannot possibly wait until morning,” Karga said while walking over to the liquor cabinet.
“There is indeed, Your Majesty,” Dobbins said with an apologetic tone.
“Well then, let’s not waste any time. Darling, would you please excuse us, I am sure that this will about some mind-numbing topic. Probably related to rearranging the royal calendar for the rest of this week.” Karga removed two glasses and poured a finger of whiskey into each one.
“Alright then, but don’t stay up too late. We’ve so much to do tomorrow and you need to get your rest.” The empress gave him a peck on the cheek before excusing herself and leaving the two men alone.
The emperor handed Dobbins one of the glasses before he took a sip. “The Renans never cease to impress me with the quality of their spirits. What I enjoy is most varieties are regional, with so many distinct flavors. Most of it is really excellent.” He swirled his glass and inhaled deeply, savoring the aromas. “So, what do you have for me this evening? I assume this is about the mission folder that was to be executed today, yes?”
“That is correct, sir. The Cheldan Liberation Front executed the operation we paid for, but it didn’t go as planned.” Dobbins took a sip from his glass and then set it down before producing a secure tablet. He pulled up the details and handed it to Karga.
“I see,” Karga said, scrolling through Dobbins’ report and the translated local newspaper stories. “The kidnapping did not end well and the ambassador’s daughter was killed.” He handed the tablet to Dobbins, then turned and took another sip of his drink. He swirled the brown liquid just a bit as he contemplated the situation, staring off into nothingness.
Dobbins stood silently, holding the tablet.
Karga turned to face Dobbins once again, his eyes bright. “I wouldn’t worry about today’s outcome. I think it still works just fine supporting the ultimate purpose, don’t you think?”
“I think it’s a bit early to tell, but I tend to agree. It would have been better if she lived and the CLF dragged this out for a while. In the end though, this should significantly ratchet up tensions.”
“Are the other mission folders ready to capitalize on conditions as they develop?” Karga settled into one of the comfortable chairs in the room and crossed his legs, still facing his assistant. He did not invite Dobbins to have a seat.
“Yes Sir. We’ve got plans drawn up and resources allocated against them. Assuming things go the way we anticipate, we will be able to exploit this.”
“Very good, Michael, you continue to outdo yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, with a bit of luck, we’ll have a nice little global war started down there within the next six months.”
Near the Trajan Diplomatic Compound
Dad Schmidt peered through a set of binoculars from his concealed location, tucked into a clump of bushes on the fringe of Clarkston’s largest city park. He was in a hide position, carefully constructed over the previous weeks, during hours of darkness. The position was well camouflaged and offered observation to the main entrance to the Trajan’s diplomatic compound in the capital city. It wasn’t perfect, but it was sufficient. Schmidt had spent plenty of time in similar setups in less hospitable places on the other side of the world.
He’d been in place for nearly a day now, having set in well in advance so as not to compromise their delicate operation. This was the critical evening, and the time he needed to be switched on and alert. He stroked his big, bushy black mustache while he glassed the main gate, watching the security team mill about. They were clearly bored and doing what they could to stay engaged. Dad must have seen the two of them smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in the last hour alone. Watching the glowing embers from a distance, he started hankering for a pull from his pipe. But that was definitely out of the question, so he did his best to force the thought from his mind.
All of a sudden, the two out front directed their attention inward and they opened the gates. A long line of identical cars pulled out, all with dark tinted glass. It was impossible to identify the target from where he was but that wasn’t his job. He was just supposed to signal the rest of the crew.
He slithered from beneath the bushes and faced away before pulling a battery-operated torch from his jacket. He switched it on and off several times, delivering the pre-arranged signal to a man concealed on the other side of the park . This man signaled someone in a nearby office building, who in turn picked up the handset of his telephone from its cradle and quickly dialed the number for the team waiting across town.
Jake Baker fanned his cards out and studied them with a neutral expression on his face. “James just found us a new flat in a really nice neighborhood. Once this job is over, he and I can finally move in together. Oh, and I raise you.”
Janovich momentarily pulled his eyes away from his cards to watch Jake toss some more money into the pot. He took another drag from his cigarette before tapping the ash into a nearby ashtray. “Who’s James?”
“You can’t be serious. You met him at the Armistice Day party three months ago. He’s my partner,” Jake said, shaking his head and looking seriously annoyed.
“Is he your new husband? Sorry mate, I don’t remember meeting ‘im at the party. I was on the piss,” Janovich discarded one of his cards and drew another from the deck.
“So what else is new? I shouldn’t be surprised that you were blackout drunk that night. Like usual.” Jake sighed and rearranged the cards in his hand. “Next time I introduce you two, I’ll have you do a field sobriety test first.”
“Whatever, I’m sure you two blokes make a lovely couple.” Janovich studied his cards while thinking hard about all the others he had seen go into the discard pile up to this point, and the amount of money in the pot. He ran the numbers in his head, calculated the odds, and decided to accept the risk. He laid his cards on the table and leaned back in his chair. “Okay mate, what you got?”
Jake smirked, just a bit, before laying his down as well. “Oh, all I got is this.”
“What? You sonuvabitch! You got to be shitting me!” Janovich exclaimed as he stood, pointing at the cards.
Jake scooped up the loot and dragged it to his side of the table. “Sorry, mate, that’s how it goes sometimes.”
“Get stuffed, you bloody cunt! There’s no way you could have pulled that off!” Janovich seethed, turning away with both hands on the sides of his head, vigorously rubbing his temples.
Jake said nothing while he sorted through the windfall, arranging the bills and coins neatly by denomination. “You wanna play another hand? Maybe get your money back?”
Janovich spun around, “Get fucked!” Then he stormed off into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him.
“Hey, Carl, I got another one for you,” Jake said, a big, toothy grin on his face.
Silence from behind the door.
“Where are average things manufactured?”
“I am not in the mood, you prick!”
“At the satisfactory!”
“I swear, when I come back from the loo, I am going to fucking kill you!”
The two of them had been occupying the hotel room for the last few days, and while it wasn’t very tidy, there wasn’t much in it either. They brought no luggage and very little else. They were dressed in catering staff uniforms with jackets draped over the backs of their chairs. The only other things they brought were a deck of cards, some take-out food, and plenty of cigarettes.
Jake started shuffling the deck again, knowing full well that once Janovich cooled down a bit, he’d be ready for another round. As the toilet flushed in the bathroom, the phone started ringing. He threw the cards down and snatched up the phone.
“It’s time,” the voice on the other end of the line said.
“Right,” Jake responded, saying nothing more before hanging up.
Janovich heard the phone ring and came out of the bathroom just as his buddy hung up. “That them?”
“Aye. It’s game time.”
Just outside Fort Lassiter
Home of the 18th Commando Regiment
Federal Republic of Belton
Most of the non-commissioned officers were married. It took some creativity and half-truths for some of them to get what was often referred to as the “Kitchen Pass” so they could go out with the boys. Lawson had to use one of his world-famous whoppers with his wife, telling her there was an op planned for the near future he’d be working late at the company, and he’d probably just crash on a cot there. Burbey told his wife that it was a mandatory unit event and spouses weren’t invited. Peterson wove a tale of woe about one of his men acting suicidal after a rough break-up with a girlfriend. He said he needed to stay with his subordinate to make sure he was okay. Lafferty, on the other hand, had recently finalized his second divorce and was officially a free man. Again.
The four of them had a table in one of the local dive bars the commandos liked to frequent. The wooden tables and chairs were covered in a thick coat of lacquer to protect it from routine scuffs and sloppy spillage. There were table games in the corner and music playing loudly. The place smelled of spilled beer and cigarette smoke, intermixed with a faint fragrance from the cedar paneling covering the walls.
The bar was reasonably busy but not too overcrowded and the staff was diligent in keeping up with the drink orders. The place was filled almost exclusively with men, with the exception of the staff. The girls waiting the tables were stocky and tough, most of them sporting tattoos.
The organizer—instigator really—of the evening’s gathering was Sergeant Joel Lawson, the Weapons Squad Leader and second-most senior NCO in their platoon. He was a black man of average size with deep brown eyes and platinum-blonde hair that he liked to dye often. In the field, he was the most focused and serious professional any of them knew. In the rear, he was the life of the party.
“Boys, we’re here tonight to celebrate the freedom of our friend Nate, who very recently secured his emancipation from a beast most foul. Now, if you will, please join me in a toast,” Lawson said while rising from his chair and raising a tall mug of beer.
“Cheers!” they said in unison before taking a long pull from the cold draughts.
“How much is this one costing you? Didn’t your last ex clean you out?” asked Burbey with a wry grin on his face, pushing up the thick dark-rimmed glasses that constantly crept down the bridge of his nose.
“Yeah, the first wife got the fuckin’ house and my old truck along with some alimony. Luckily, this one ain’t gettin’ shit. So I got that goin’ for me,” Lafferty said before spitting a long stream of tobacco juice into a nearby spittoon. Then he dropped a shot of liquor into his beer mug and chugged the whole thing down in a few deep swallows. He smacked his lips with satisfaction and ordered another round.
“How’d you get off so lucky this time?” asked Peterson who was fooling around with the huge razor-sharp combat knife he carried around everywhere.
“Easy, she had a better payin’ job than me for one thing. And the second thing was that she ran off with an officer.” Lafferty scooped out the wad of chewing tobacco from inside his lip and tossed it into the spittoon. With fingers still covered in brown saliva he plunged his hand into a bowl in the center of the table filled with bar snacks and stuffed some in his mouth. “It’s a win, win if you ask me. I got rid of the dirty whore and I kept my money this time.”
The waitress brought over another round of drinks and set them in front of each of the men.
“Thanks Tracy. Hey, did you know old Nate over there is a free man as of today? Just finalized his divorce,” Burbey said, draining his mug and reaching for the fresh one, his glasses sliding down his nose once again. “A girl like you could get lucky.”
“I’ll consider myself lucky if any of you deadbeats paid your bar tabs,” Tracy said, picking up the empty mugs from the table. “You guys gonna eat? Want me to bring you some menus?”
“Yes please, that’d be great,” Peterson said, sheathing the obnoxious knife and running his hand over the small patch of hair he wore on the top of his head.
As the waitress walked to the bar to fetch some menus, all four of them took a look at her rather ample posterior.
“I’ll bet that girl would be something else in the sack,” Peterson said, admiring the view.
“I don’t want to find out, she looks like she would have me begging for mercy,” Lawson said, carefully setting his mug down on one of the cardboard coasters. He smiled broadly and his white teeth seemingly glowed in sharp contrast to his midnight-black skin. “But you go ahead, she’s all yours.”
“Nah, can’t. I’m happily married.”
“If by ‘happily married’ you mean that you’re scared shitless your old lady would find out and then murder you in your sleep with your own knife, then yeah I buy it. Total marital bliss,” Lafferty interjected. After the shot and the beer, his cheeks were starting to glow with a slightly red hue.
“Fuck off, I love my wife. I wouldn’t cheat on her,” Peterson said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
“You mean you wouldn’t cheat on her again!” Lawson interjected. “Because the last time you did, she caught you in the sack banging her whore sister. She nearly cut your prick off with that fucking knife of yours that same night!”
The men erupted with howls of laughter, drawing attention from all the patrons in the bar. Burbey nearly choked on his beer and Lafferty almost fell out of his chair.
Peterson sat there with a scowl on his face, left with nothing to say on the matter.
The waitress came back and set menus on the table before refilling the bowl of salty snacks in the center of the table. “You guys want the usual, or are you going to actually look at the menus for a change?”
“Anything new on the menu?” Lawson asked.
“It’s the same thing as the last hundred times you came in here and asked,” Tracy said, wiping up some spilled beer with a bar towel.
“Then I think we’ll all get the usual then. Along with another round of beers,” said Peterson.
“And shots! We need more shots!” Burbey declared. “I feel the need to get fucked up tonight!”
At the bar the phone rang and the bartender answered. Nobody paid any attention to him until he hung up and turned the house music down. “Listen up everybody, if you’re assigned to 18th Commando, they just declared an alert for y’all. The message from your regiment is to muster within one hour. If that applies to you, please pay your bill on your way out the door.”
“Motherfucker! Just when I wanted to do a little celebrating!” Lafferty drained another mug of beer and grabbed his jacket. “Alright boys, let’s get the fuck out of here. Duty calls.”
All four non-commissioned officers finished their drinks and threw money onto the table. They joined the other patrons and headed straight for the door. All of them bitching the whole way and remarking about how they were definitely getting out of the army this time after their contracts were up.
It was the same thing they said the last time.
And every other hundred times before that.
B Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Commando Regiment
The skies over the Kingdom of Nace
2nd Lieutenant Liam Tucker’s head drooped, lolling from side to side as he slept sitting straight up. His seatbelt was secured and he was strapped in, along with the other forty commandos, into their mesh seats in the back of an Air Force cargo plane. The tight quarters and the humming of the engines put them all to sleep while flying late into the night, toward their drop zone. Like the others, he’d removed his heavy steel helmet and placed it on his reserve chute pack, situated just over his belly.
The booming voice of the jumpmaster snapped him awake. “Get ready!”
It was dimly lit in the back of the aircraft with a few small red lamps illuminating the compartment. Eyes were well adjusted and it was easy to see. Every one of the jumpers was awake now plopping helmets on their heads, and securing their thick leather chin straps. Seat belts were uncoupled and set aside.
Liam looked down the row of men packed into that tiny space to ensure that everyone was indeed awake and ready to move. All of the men in his platoon appeared to be alert, and most of them even appeared to be in good spirits. He could see that his non-commissioned officers were checking on their troops as well. Everyone was switched on.
The jumpmasters in the back of the aircraft opened the troop doors located on each side of the plane. “Stand up!”
Both long rows of men fought to get to their feet. They had been sitting for many hours now and their legs were stiff. Each of them was wearing more than their own body weight in parachute and gear and it was difficult to get out of their seats. Just standing was a minor miracle. Once they did, they faced toward the rear of the aircraft and the two open doors. The noise was now incredibly loud and almost drowned out the jumpmaster’s commands.
Each of them removed their parachute’s static lines and hooked onto the steel cables that ran the length of the cargo hold, just over their heads. They secured the safety latches on the static lines to ensure they didn’t pop off when exiting the airplane. If that happened, it would be a bad day. They all had a reserve chute, of course, but that wouldn’t matter on this jump since they were dropping at such a low altitude. If their main didn’t open, there would be no time to deploy a reserve chute. Liam wondered why they had even been issued the stupid things in the first place.
“Check static lines!”
They went through the arbitrary drill of checking the thick canvas cords secured to the cables, looking for frays or other imperfections. None were found.
The men checked their helmets, straps, backpacks, and weapons cases.
“Sound off for equipment check!”
Starting from the last men in line, they swatted each other in turn on the ass and shouted “Okay!” until it got to the very first man in line, right next to the door. The two of them on opposite sides of the aircraft both extended a knife-hand to their respective jumpmasters and sounded off with a loud “All oka,y jumpmaster!”
“Stand in the door!”
Liam extended his left arm straight out, presenting his static line to the jumpmaster. The NCO snatched the line, and then Liam stood in the open doorway, gloved hands grasping the frame. He looked out at the rolling countryside below, bathed in nothing more than starlight. His heart was really picking up the pace now and his mouth went dry.
Liam didn’t see the red light above the door turn green. All he heard was the jumpmaster’s command.
Just as he had done dozens of times before, he launched himself forward, out the open door and into nothingness. His hands firmly grasping his reserve parachute pack, he locked his feet and knees together, rigidly straight. As he had been conditioned to do in his training, he started to count. If the count went past the number “four” and he didn’t feel the shock of his main parachute open, he was supposed to deploy his reserve. A moot point on this night.
He was rewarded with a jolt when the parachute blossomed out, just like it was supposed to. He reached up and grabbed the risers with both hands and then looked around. As he descended, he could see everything perfectly, including the rest of men. The chutes looked like dandelion fluff drifting serenely toward the ground, bathed in tranquil silence. Everything was just as it should be so he focused on the next step, which was the inevitable encounter with the ground. Jumping out of airplanes is easy, it’s the landing that can be tricky.
He lowered his rucksack, which fell about twenty feet beneath him, still attached to a line. He then stared forward out at the horizon while bending his knees just a bit. He knew the impact was approaching, but he dare not look down for fear of unconsciously reaching for the ground and landing with extended straight legs. That would likely result in two broken femurs.
The impact came fast, and Liam rolled just like he should, suffering no injury. He unbuckled his harness and climbed out of his jump rig before gathering the rest of his gear. He removed his rifle from its case and shrugged on his heavy pack before scanning the drop zone.
Just a short distance away there was a dim light arranged in a familiar pattern. It was the Pathfinders who had arrived first and had established the rally points for them. Liam took off at a slow jog to link up at the pre-designated point and to get this mission underway.