While the Empress, Thomas and Juliet expanded their diplomatic efforts, Enigma and Brainiac were hard at work with their military power. By now, it was a foregone conclusion that war with Adam was coming. Their efforts were to make their airships more powerful. At this point, they had done all that was possible for the Knights and their ground forces. Enigma took to this new task with incredible determination.
He wanted to make a better shield. The fact was that the shields that airships had were a leech on the main drive core of each airship. This was because they blocked enemy fire directly. In his mind, this was a weakness on many levels. The first level was that the shield was imperfect. Physical rounds were no problem, unless it was a full-on barrage. However, particle beams were another matter. While there wasn’t a weapon made that could have a constant beam for an extended period of time, a shield blocking that would be draining the core like nobody’s business. That tied in to the second level, which was the fact that if the drive core of a typical airship was everything. It was the weapons. It was the propulsion. In most airships, it was their ability to maintain altitude. The Odysseus found a clever way around that – by using a particle field to keep it aloft. That way, if the core went offline, they would have a fair amount of time to get it back up and running before they crash. For most airships, if the core goes offline, they hit the ground. But even for a ship such as that, this was an issue. So, he sought to change that.
He called this new tech, Divergent Shielding (DS). A DS system could project a field when a projectile or beam weapon got close. However, instead of blocking it, the field would redirect it. What’s more, it wouldn’t need to be constantly up and running, like most shields. This system could operate with only a few or even a couple of the generators up and running at any given time. This wasn’t like the WASP’s shield. With that, constant calibration was necessary to keep it functioning. This shield would be like a burst weapon, except with a very limited range and it would only work to divert enemy attacks.
Preliminary tests on smaller airships showed great promise. Now, he had his new army of techs working to retrofit all of their airships, along with the Odysseus with it. They were also refitting older airships with their particle field drive mechanisms. The other nice thing about using Nova Particle fields to keep them aloft was that they could do turns with their smaller airships that would sheer a typical airship in half. Though working with these drives was very delicate. Nova Particle exposure had killed more than a few of the Empire’s engineering crews. Enigma wasn’t going to let that happen to his people. Specialized suits made for working in Nova Particle-dense zones were required at all times. Those who made mistakes were not given much leniency. Young as he was, he earned the respect of his peers by coming down hard on those who endangered others. The previous Emperor hadn’t cared how many died.
Brainiac, on the other hand, was working on the development of new weapons. The WASP was her model for new kinds of fighter-class airships. What set this vessel above its peers was the twin-drive system it employed. It had exponentially more power than a craft its size should, and that power was malleable. Once she cracked the secret behind its function, she was prepared to make a new armada of fighters to send to what was seen as the inevitable battle that was coming. A new fleet of fighters was being manufactured, utilizing this system. Old factories were being re-purposes by their military, with the people being able to find jobs that paid a living wage. The Empress had large calls-to-action where the people were given great incentives to join. For the ghettos, a new middle class was starting to form. Which brought them to that day.
Sebastian came walking in to the main audience chamber. Audra wasn’t far behind. Both were beaming with pride. As they got to where the Empress sat, they got on one knee.
“Empress, we have successfully brought down the last of the Aristocracy. The last House, the Longstreet family, has fallen!”
She smiled down at them. “Rise, my faithful Knights! You have done well. It’s a new day here in the Empire! I mean to capitalize on this accomplishment.” She looked over to Audra, who was looking down, suddenly nervous. “What’s on your mind, Audra.”
She fidgeted a bit. “I mean no offense, m’lady. It’s just…with the Aristocracy destroyed, what becomes of me now? It’s not like the Red Guard will have much to do. A soldier must prove their worth on the battlefield. There isn’t anyone to fight right now.”
Sebastian was smiling. So was Quinn.
“Audra, I don’t need you to be constantly giving us victory. I’m not your father. Change is coming for the Empire. In the world I wish to create, you are only judged by doing what is right, and doing it to the very best of your ability. To be able to think for yourself and pursue your goal without hesitation.”
The girl smiled, but looked even more ashamed. “I don’t have a goal, Empress. I don’t know what I want to do.”
Sebastian stepped forward. “You seem pretty good at being a soldier. You have the tenacity of a warrior, but the mind of a commander. A good quality, if one is to pursue this line of work.”
Quinn nodded to him, turning up Audra’s chin. “Stay with Sebastian, young soldier. He is a wise commander and a versatile leader. You can learn much from him. The Red Guard is not over. More is coming. Any day now.”
The girl smiled, snapping to attention. “Yes ma’am!” she saluted.
The Empress sat back on the throne. “In the meantime, now that we have gotten rid of the last of the Aristocracy, I mean to have our forces to work securing our borders. Negotiations are already in place with Canada and the AU. The AU’s military is supplementing their depleted forces, while Winter’s Shadow is securing here.” There was a display system in the room that came online. It showed a map of the world. “The reality is that our efforts now are more of a plan to lay the groundwork for the true endgame I have in mind. Adam’s forces are massing in Europe. We had quite a bit more defectors than I would have liked, but that’s war for you. However, we have gotten word through the Net that there is a plan that he has in motion. Something big. He has a new weapon, but what it is and how it works is a mystery to me. Unfortunately, Adam is every bit as cunning as the previous Emperor was. He is playing this close to the chest. Incredibly so. He’s going to make his move. I just don’t know how much time we have until he does.”
Everyone was rather quiet. No one knew what to say.
Finally, it was Juliet who spoke. She had a feline’s grace, when it came to entering a room silent.
“We should consider abandoning the Palace, m’lady.”
Everyone looked at her.
“Abandon the Palace…?” Eve whispered. “But it’s our home!”
Juliet walked over, resting an arm on her shoulder. “It was our home, mother. But Adam wants to destroy the new Empire that Quinn has made.”
That got even more people’s attention.
Gabby and Emily in-particular. “How do you know that name?”
She smiled at her. “She told me. It was a nice conversation. I truly believe that she can change this country. But Adam hates her. With every fiber of his being, he hates her. What’s more, he views us as traitors to his cause. He will kill us with her.”
“You’re damn right he will!” It was Elizabeth. “Death to the false Empress!” She pulled out a pistol, aiming right at Quinn’s heart. The sound of a bang erupted in the hall. Everyone looked to her, but she was fine. They looked to see Audra standing there, gun in hand. The round went clean through Elizabeth’s intestines. The girl was on the ground, sobbing in agony.
Quinn let out a sigh. “Well-done, Audra. Well-done.” She left the room, with Emily close behind. Her feet gave out after she got out the door.
Emily caught her. “I’ve got you! I’ve got you.” They kissed, heading away from the hall.
“How the hell did she even get in here?!” Deathstroke asked.
“She’s a member of the royal family. It’s only natural that nobody would have been suspicious,” Thomas replied, sorrowfully. “Take her to the hospital. Post guards at her door. She is not to leave and no one but the resident doctors and nurses are to go in. Understand?”
Two of the Red Guard saluted, calling in medical transport.
They got back to her quarters, with Quinn breathing hard. Emily laid her down at her bed.
“Emily, I was one second away from death! I nearly bit it back there!” She felt anger welling up inside. “Damn guards! They couldn’t stop one would-be assassin! How can they stop a thousand of them?!” Her breathing got quicker as tears formed in her eyes.
“I was so scared, Emily! So fucking scared.”
Her lover laid down next to her, putting her arm around her waist. “If you died, Quinn, I don’t know what I would do! I love you so much. If I lost you, I’d be alone!” The two held each other tight. Neither one wanted to let go.
“That idiot!” Adam shouted, pounding the table with his fist. “Not only does she fail in her objective to kill the Empress, but she also makes her even more suspicious. Eleanor is a brilliant enemy. She already has her people manufacturing more weapons for their army. She knows that I am coming. If nothing else, Elizabeth’s actions have made her want to speed up her work even more. She was getting comfortable in that throne. Now, she sees it even more as a threat. Damn Elizabeth!”
Mary was sitting at the desk, her feet up on the table. “It can’t be helped! Eleanor is the Wolf. In Elizabeth’s mind, she is the enemy. She wanted to redeem her sister’s honor.”
That took him back to what Juliet had said. “Juliet believes that the Wolf never had Amelia. Ever. She made a rather compelling case.” He thought for a moment. “It makes me wonder – when did Eleanor become this way? What happened to make her wish to kill our father? There is more to this story. I can feel it. The records have been destroyed, Lab 451 has been destroyed. The Wolf has been on a very determined mission to erase the history of this Empire. Some see it as a changing of the guard, but I don’t think so. Father was tied up in all this, and he was probably the last person who knew.”
There was a beep at the console. As he checked the message, a smile came to his face.
“At last! It’s finally here. Getting it down from Lagrange Four was hard work, but now we shall settle all accounts! Put the word out – we are assembling our army!”
In the hospital room, Elizabeth awoke. Her hands were bound to the side of the bed. She looked up to see Juliet sitting in the room, across from her.
“Why are you here, you traitor!”
The girl looked up from her book, setting it to the side. “Because you’re my sister. What kind of sister would I be if I didn’t stay and look after you.”
“What kind of sister would sit and break bread with the woman who killed Amelia?!”
She looked down. “Elizabeth, the Wolf never had Amelia. She didn’t tell me. I figured it out on my own. No one knows where Amelia is. That worries me more than anything.”
Tears started to flow down Elizabeth’s face. “I want our family back, Juli! I want things to be like they used to be!”
Her sister got up, gently stroking her sister’s head. “It can never go back, sister. Ever. We’re trapped in the mistakes our father made. Now, we are prisoners to its design.”
“Adam can take us back!” she cried. “He can make everything right again!”
“No, he can’t. All he can do is make things like they were with our father. I don’t want to go back to that! Back to when all I did was sit in the library and read. I have a place in the new Empress’ world. I mean to keep it.” She kissed the top of her head. “I love you, sister. Goodbye.”
The Red Guard and the rest of their military was loading up when Juliet got back.
“What’s going on here?!” she asked. Everyone looked nervous.
Sebastian ran over to her. “Prince Adam’s forces are on the move! Something big is coming. The official explanation is that our military is going on training exercises. We are keeping a token garrison. They know what is coming, but will hold the line. Their sacrifice will be honored. M’lady, you must get to the transport. We don’t have much time.”
Their airships left the space around the capital, heading to where they were meeting with Brainiac’s fighters. Everyone was nervous. Quinn called a meeting in the debriefing room.
“Alright, from what we’ve been able to deduce thus far, Adam and his forces are on the move. They have a new weapon. I don’t know what its capabilities are, but it’s big. It came down from orbit. They used a particle field much like those that suspend the Odysseus. However, they figured out a new use. By generating the field strong enough, they were able to make it so that the weapon could safely enter the atmosphere. Clever. It is remaining aloft about 1000 meters above ground.” The display showed an outline of the enemy’s weapon. It had a pyramid base and a four-sided diamond shape. It was massive, dwarfing all of the airships that they had, including the Hyperion. The group was in awe. “According to our scans, the weapon is roughly the size of a large city. Its weapon and shield capabilities are unknown. But I am assuming the worst. We are to rally what forces we can and gather at the Canadian border, just north of Michigan. Our border forces are not going to be enough. It’s a pretty safe bet that the main target of this armada is the White Palace. There was no way we could defend that place.” She looked to the royal family, a sad look on her face. “I’m sorry.”
Thomas shook his head. “It’s fine.” He looked to the rest of his family. “I care more that my family is together than where we are together at.” They all were very warm.
Quinn nodded, her face still being serious. “I’m going to have Oracle take you on the WASP to a safe-house I have here. It’s very private, very secluded and we will be fighting far away from it, I assure you. I’m sorry to say, but you all truly don’t have a place on the front lines of the fight to come.”
Audra stood up. “Ma’am, I can fight! Please, let me stay here and help!”
She looked to Eve. “You are their mother. By right, you are the head of this family, and still royalty. It’s your decision.”
Eve shook her head. “No, it’s not. Audra has come into her own. If she believes that she can aid you, then I will trust in her.” She stood up, hugging her daughter close. “But be careful, my dear. Come back to us, and we can celebrate your becoming a true soldier.”
She hugged her back. “Don’t worry, mother. I’ll be with the Wolf and Sebastian. I couldn’t imagine better commanders to lead us into battle!”
Quinn stood up. She set up a link to the entire fleet, along with their allies.
“To all who have stood with us, we are now to be tested! The fallen prince, Adam, is coming to our shores. His intent is to bring war and to destroy the world we are trying to create. He is a man stuck in the past, unable to face the future. The battle that is coming will decide the fate of the entire world! I ask you all – stand with us! I know that the wounds of the past cannot be immediately healed. We have much work ahead of us. But I ask you – stand with us! Or all the work that has been done will be for naught.”
The leaders of nations were already preparing to send forces. The world suddenly came alive, with what might be to come.
“And to each of you who will be fighting in the battle that is coming, know this – you are ALL heroes! From the person who mops the floor and runs the mess hall, to the soldier who will man the guns of an airship or the rifle in the field. Because you have stood with us, in the face of forces unknown, you are above the rank-and-file! Today, you will ALL have your chance to prove to the world that the peace we have garnered in this place is worth fighting for! I thank you all for your service. Stand with the Wolf, one last time! This will be the final battle! Long live Winter’s Shadow!”
Across the airships, even those allied with the Empire, the call was taken up. No longer a force of nations, they were a force of the ideals that Wolf stood for.
Back on the Odysseus, an alarm went off.
“Ma’am, something’s happening back at the White Palace! We’re getting HUGE energy readings!”
“Do we have a visual?!”
“Yes ma’am! Bringing it up now!”
What everyone saw made them sit in stunned silence. It was incredible. A glowing ball of energy. It was so dark in color that it appeared to suck light into itself. It grew, overtaking the entire palace, along with the surrounding city. It grew and grew, then collapsed in on itself. The entire area had literally vanished from existence. No one but Wolf could see, there were streams of particles in its wake, drifting about like a sad breeze.
“Mother of god…” Bane whispered.
Emily reached over, taking Wolf’s hand. “I’m scared, Quinn.”
“So am I.” They looked into each other’s eyes, then back at the screen. It looked like a giant perfectly-spherical chunk was taken out of the world. Nobody knew what to say.
Until next time, a quote,
“The crew has responded with the dedication I’ve come to expect of them. And like a thousand other commanders on a thousand other battlefields, I wait for the dawn.” -Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek: Nemesis