The Marn came into orbit, and they deployed three ships to the surface. The railguns took out two of the ships and damaged the third. Once the Marn landed, the Rangers were ready for them, they exited the ship, there were two hundred Marn on the ground. They were heavily armed, and had all the weapons at the ready. They started firing as the Rangers were approaching. They had learned new strategy too. They no longer believed that the Guardians were just some backwater defenders of a dirtball planet that only had one use, to provide beasts for their arenas.
They had learned that they were the most skilled fighters they had ever faced. They were firing in non-stop volleys. The rail guns were effective but the fighting came down to the Rangers deploying with their rifles, and taking down the Marn in a firefight. The guns were effective. It still took a clean head shot to kill them, any other shot, only wounded them, and that meant close order combat. The Marn were all carrying swords and the fighting went from pulse rifles and phase pistols against the Guardians bolt rifles, to sword fighting fast.
They were bloody mess. The gore of the battle field was splattered all over the Guardians. The battle took over five hours for the Guardians to get the victory, there were casualties on both sides, and the Marn, as usual, fought to the death. Jason had command of one group of forces, Jamar another, and Whitlaw the last. They had descended on the Marn like a horde. In the time since the last invasion, the Guardians had doubled in ranks. They had deployed five hundred Guardians in the field and when it was over, the Marn dead were scattered all over the field. The Guardians had lost a hundred to wounds and fifty more were dead.
Whitlaw got his forces together, and they left the field and blew up the third ship with a railgun shot. The Marn technology hadn’t advanced. Linarro stealing the ship and all the plans when they escaped had taken any advances they might have made. It became painfully clear to Whitlaw that Linarro needed to be protected at all costs. If the Marn recaptured him, they would come back and destroy Embrellon, and then continue on to Earth space with advanced ships and Earth would fall as well.
It was four days before the Marn attempted to land again. This time they deployed fast, they came down and two of the ships made landfall, they had over four hundred troops on the ground. The Guardians deployed half their forces into the field, and the battle was pitched. The Marn had gotten into a defensive position and the Guardians were hard put to rout them. Jason took his forces up into the atmosphere, carrying bolt rifles, their only advantage was to attack them at dark. The Marn had learned not to have lights inside their camp. They had moved into a crescent shaped deployment to try and form a pincer move and catch the Guardians in between. Jason and his troops had taken their positions above them, and started firing on them in a hail of rifle bolts. They were taking heavy tolls on the Marn, when an explosion mid-air caught them off guard.
They were forced to retreat a kilometer, the Marn had launched a photon grenade, and it took down at least twenty of his troops. He got his wounded back, and contacted Whitlaw. This new weapon they deployed they stole from someone else, and he had no idea how to fight that kind of weapon. Whitlaw said to engage them on the ground and to rush them at full speed, mounted. Jason was surprised, his father had never ordered a cavalry charge before, even though they had practiced the maneuver countless times. Jason gave the order to form up for a mounted charge, swords at the ready.
They dashed forward at full speed, and when they came over the Marn defenses, they were taken totally unaware. The Marn tried to withdraw, but the mounted Guardians, swords drawn, were a terror to behold. They charged into the Marn, slashing left and right, some of them dismounting, and took the Marn stronghold. They had wiped out most of them on the first charge, and were mopping up the rest, when they heard the engines of the other ships. This wasn’t going well, the Marn had engaged them twice, were routed twice, and this time they were coming while the defenders were in the middle of the battle.
Whitlaw called for the railguns to focus on those ships, they were too far away for the ballistae to be of assistance; they had taken out two of the ships, and they had a heavy cruiser and a scout ship to contend with, he called for them to focus the railguns on the heavy cruiser, that ship had to be taken out. The cruiser sustained heavy damage and would probably never fly again but the scout ship and made landfall unharmed and the Marn poured out of both ships. Whitlaw called for the Guardians to retreat and regroup.
He commanded the railguns and the bolt rifles to focus their fire on the Marn, and he told them to open fire and to keep firing until the Marn were dead, or they ran out of ammunition. They had to end this, and it had to be fast. The railguns and leveled their barrels and opened fire. There was a hail of bolts tearing through the Marn. The rounds kept coming and the bolt rifles were being used to mop up whatever they missed. When they stopped, there was a handful of wounded Marn left and the rest were dead. Both ships had been destroyed, and the leader of the Marn had been captured. He was dying, and when Jason came to the field hospital, he recognized him. It was Shagon. He had survived the explosion, and had taken five years to make it to Marn to pursue him.
He looked up from the gurney and saw Jason come into the tent. He raised up on one elbow, coughing up blood. “You did make it back. I wondered if you had survived to escape.” He laid back with a self-satisfied grin on his face. “You were the best swordsman I ever had the pleasure of seeing in the arena. I hope the skills serve you well.” He coughed again, and laid back dead. It was a bittersweet moment; Jason would rather have faced him with a sword. There were close to one hundred of them in the triage hospital, most were dying. The rest that were still alive, and would possibly survive, asked them to allow them to die with dignity. At least let them face someone with a sword and die like Marn. Jason wanted to deny them, he thought they had no reason to die with their boots on, but Whitlaw agreed. Of near one hundred survivors, thirty-six were able to fight, the rest were dead or dying. Jason asked them how long they needed to recover enough to make it at least a fair fight. They weren’t going to just butcher them. The Marn asked for five days to recover, and then they would face as many of the Guardians as wanted to fight.
Jason suspected that they were planning something, or stalling. He had Lantana come and read the Marn to see if they were hiding anything. She said if they were, the only they would be able to tell was if they took them to the Seers. That wasn’t something Jason was prepared to do, he asked Lantana to bring the Seers here. Yoran had told them that their staves could be used as a portable room. When they arrived they found a separate tent set up for them. It was lined on the inside with dark, heavy, curtains. The brought them in one by one, and during the scanning discovered that there was another force of ships, five that were still on their way. It was decided to hold their fight the next day. The Marn weren’t accomplished deceivers. They were used to conquering and issuing edicts, not receiving them.
The next day at dawn, the fights began. It wasn’t an actual fair fight, the Marn swords weren’t made of faron, they were made of a really strong metal, but it didn’t hold up to repeated strikes from the Guardians swords. By the end of the day, they had dispatched them and had four days to ready themselves for another onslaught. This time, they decided to hold their fire until the ships had landed, they weren’t taking any chanced that they would hit the engine in the air. This time they would hit the engines at ground level and explode their ships and then mop up what was left.
On the fifth day, they came, and their ships all landed at the same time. They had to split the railguns and use only four for each ship, they also had the bolt rifles, and could hit the engines and explode them, but they had to be within rifle range and they would get killed by the explosion. It would be a hard battle. The Guardians had been divided into five groups of two-hundred and fifty. They were all as prepared as they could be. This battle would take a while, and they had no idea how many forces each ship was carrying.
They let the ships land. The first group had scored a direct hit on one engine when the Marn were lowering their gang walk. That gave them reinforcements for the other four. The second group had missed the ship on several tries. The Marn had gotten completely off the ship and were on foot and marching. They didn’t want to be near that ship if it got hit. When they hit the ship, most of the Marn were out of the blast radius, that meant bolt rifles. The fighting got hot and heavy fast. The Marn were crack shots with their pulse rifles, and the Guardians were taking heavy casualties. The Marn thought they could see victory, when the first group arrived to reinforce them. They opened up and the Marn were being torn to pieces, when they were down to less than fifty, the Rangers led a cavalry charge, and dispensed with the rest.
Jason was in command of the third regiment when the ship touched down. He was on the railgun, and hit one of the engines and the ship never had a chance. The explosion rocked the ground. It forced them back almost a kilometer before they got free of the shock wave. He gathered all the forces he could muster, and headed to the nearest hot spot. Jamar was in a heated battle. They had landed and the four railguns had overheated. They couldn’t fire them. They were in an on the ground battle and they were facing an equal force. The fighting had gone back and forth, the Marn had broken their cavalry charge and Guardian and Skree were on the ground fighting their old enemies. Jason and what was left of the regiments, surrounded them and moved forward swords at the ready, Skree charging. They came in and the Marn had no place to retreat to. They wiped out the force of Marn, destroyed the ship, and then headed to the last location, commanded by Whitlaw.
They had Whitlaw’s forces pinned down. The railguns had failed here as well. The spring mechanism had lost its temper and the guns were inoperable. The same with the bolt rifles, this would be swords and bows, the Guardians had exchanged their crossbows for bolt rifles. They were hard pressed to get the upper hand in this battle, they were outnumbered. They fought on. They and the Skree were taking as many Marn as they could, and the battle was going bad. If they didn’t find a way to get the upper hand soon, it was going to set the Guardians back severely.
They had heart though, they took as many Marn down as they could. They had lost several hundred in this battle against the five ships. The only full force left was with Jana on the island, and they didn’t know if she had been alerted to the fighting. She had another three hundred with her there. They could use their help. This was going that bad. The Marn were getting shots in with their phase pistols and the consequences were deadly. There were dead Guardians and Skree everywhere. This battle could be the end of all Whitlaw had worked for.
They kept fighting, Jamar, Jason, and Whitlaw had all been wounded. They had severe burns from being too close to someone getting hit by a pistol blast. They kept fighting, Jason didn’t want to taste Marn justice again. He had fought too hard to get home for this to end in death. He battled on and then from the south, they heard the sound of a horn, it was the most welcoming sound his ears had heard so far this day. Jana had come, and the sound of three hundred horns blowing simultaneously was enough to make you feel the strength of battle returning to your limbs. They Marn were taken by surprise, they thought there weren’t any Guardians left to reinforce the battle.
Jana’s forces had crossbows, and regular bows, and they took out Marn left and right, they were dropping them like flies. They tide of the battle had been turned and they routed and utterly destroyed the Marn. The ships were blown, the Marn were rounded up, what was left, and Jana’s forces gave them swords and entered the melee. The Marn didn’t last long, Jana didn’t give them much of a chance. The heads rolled. When they were done, they had destroyed three thousand Marn, and fifteen ships.
Whitlaw got all the wounded into triage, they didn’t give the wounded Marn a chance, he had ordered them to be dispatched. All told, they had lost the largest number of Guardians in their history, twelve hundred Guardians had fallen that day. Regulon came out of nowhere, they hadn’t thought to call him to help reinforce them, they hadn’t seen them in five years. Regulon said the Skree deaths had reverberated through the homeland and he had gathered his forces and came as quickly as they could.
He spoke to Regulus in private, and then he and his pride, helped to remove the dead for burial. It was a somber day for all of them. The funeral pyre was the largest they had ever constructed. They had twelve pyres and each one had a hundred Guardians. The lit the pyres with flaming arrows, and watched them go to the Creator. Regulus told them that the Skree, Free and Bonded would care for the dead Skree, and asked for them to let them do what needed to be done. The Guardians returned to the temple, and in the common room, Yoran was waiting, he seemed visibly shaken. Goran, Risa, and Joran were there with him. Whitlaw looked at them trying to find out what was wrong with Yoran, and it was Risa who spoke. “The railguns and bolt rifles failed didn’t they?” Whitlaw looked at them “How did you know?” It was Goran who answered him. “When we designed the guns, we didn’t allow for the heat from constant firing to be factored in. The springs inside the guns probably lost the temper they needed to continue firing and the barrel rifling is probably clogged with the softer faron coating. To use the guns, we will have to redesign them completely. Until then, its crossbows and ballistae.” Whitlaw nodded his head, and told them to go and rest, there would be no feasting, or celebrating, they were all going to go to bed.
It had been the longest night that Whitlaw could remember. If Jana hadn’t arrived when she did, they would have lost the planet. This wasn’t an invasion for captives, they came with all the intent they could muster, this was a worldwide cleansing. They had turned them back, they had used every weapon they could bring to bear on them, and they just barely won. This wasn’t what he’d hoped for. He was impressed however by Jason and Jamar’s ability to command. They had launched cavalry charges, repositioned artillery, came to the rescue and turned the tide of the battle enough to hold on until Jana arrived. He no longer had the forces to maintain the island outpost. They would have to recall all the forces and get a full head count. This was setting them up for a fall if the Marn had the ships to mount another assault before they got their own forces replenished. Such is the way of command and Commanders. When everyone else is asleep, you are still awake trying to contingency plan for what might be coming next.
They had gotten the tally, they had a total of eight hundred Guardians left, that included the injured and the cadets. He needed to rebuild their strength back up to a thousand at the least before any more ships dropped in on them. He had no idea how many would come, and he still had to worry about the clones. Was Harlow cloned on Marn, or was he cloned somewhere else? Earth had outlawed cloning, they decided that after an ill-fated attempt to create a military force out of clones had gone very bad. The first time they went into battle, their synapses had failed, and the Earth forces were severely defeated. That was at Vega. This was a different technology though. He needed to know and he thought he knew who might have an answer.
He asked Linarro to come to his ward room, and when he arrived, he asked him. “Do the Marn have cloning technology?” Linarro said “Not that I know of. Why do you ask?” he told him of John Harlow and the fact that he lost an arm at Epsilon during the battle. Linarro looked at Whitlaw, and then he said “When I met Harlow, he was as you saw him. I assume you looked through Jason’s memories?” he didn’t wait for him to answer, but continued “The Vela didn’t have cloning technology, it would be against all we believe. I don’t know about the Marn, or what purpose it would have served them to clone Harlow, and if they had, where is the source material held?” it was something for Whitlaw to consider. As he sat there with Linarro, Yoran came in, and before he could say what he came for, Whitlaw asked him “Yoran, how many races do you know of that practice cloning?” Yoran sat their thinking in silence, then answered “The only race I know of who actually were able to make a stable clone were the Zatarians, and no one has seen a Zatarian for at least five hundred years. It is thought the race went extinct through some sort of biological explosion on their planet. Not unlike what wiped out the Companions, and the original Brellon.”
Whitlaw started thinking and decided to bring them into the thought process, when Yoran held up his hand for him to hold on, “let me get my father.” He went to the workshop and brought Goran back with him. “Now ask your question.” Whitlaw turned to Goran and asked him “How many races do you know of that practice cloning and have worked out the issues?” Goran sat there thinking, and came up with two, “The Zatarians were the best, but they died out almost one thousand years ago. The other race that practiced cloning, gene splicing, and that type of science was the Zeegat. I haven’t heard of them being anywhere near this parsec of space. They were at least one-hundred parsecs from here and they had no interest in any of the races here. They wanted genetically pure specimens to work with.”
He told Goran about Harlow, and the fact that when he last saw him, he had lost an arm, and the Harlow Jason and the others met, was whole of body. That caused Goran to think about it and then he said “limb regeneration?” Whitlaw nodded, “that lets the Zatarians out then, their technology was incredible, but they could only recreate what they had to work with. I don’t think the Zeegat could either, they wouldn’t have considered it worth their time to clone part of a man.” Then as they sat there, it was Linarro who asked the next question, “Where did you say that Harlow lost his arm?” Whitlaw said “The battle of Epsilon, he was my first mate, and he was injured when I engaged the Hyper-Drive in the atmosphere of Epsilon Four. That’s how he lost the arm, it was caught in the blast trying to close an outer hull vent and the jump to hyperspace took off his arm.”
Linarro asked him “Where did Harlow convalesce after the injury?” as they sat there looking at each other, he realized the answer was in front of him the whole time, “He convalesced on Dagmar Five. They had a critical hospital unit there. We were ordered there after the war ended. Our ships doctor couldn’t do more than keep him from feeling pain, he had closed the wound, but he said he didn’t have the expertise to do more than what he had done.” It was Goran who asked him where Dagmar Five was located, he pulled out some paper and a pen. He drew a map of the parsec they were in, and the drew a line back to the parsec where Dagmar Five was at, and then Goran counted the parsecs quickly, and looked up ‘that’s the Zeegat homeworld. But what would they have purposed in cloning a damaged man. They would have to sequence the DNA to rebuild the arm, and then they would need a pure specimen of genetic material to build it from.” That’s when it dawned on Whitlaw that they had all the genetic material they needed. “Human women accompany us into space, the genetic material they needed was in ample supply, all they would need to do was to harvest an unfertilized egg from a human female, and they would have had all the material they needed.” Goran said “I see. Then humans lay eggs too?” Whitlaw smiled at him and said “No, they have live births, but the babies develop inside their mother once the egg is fertilized.” Linarro said “It is the same for us Vela.” That resolved they could now concentrate on what to do about being ready for the Marn the next time.
“Goran, why did the springs in the guns fail. Faron alloy is nearly indestructible.” Goran looked at him, and then said “To make the springs work right, we had to use an alloy with less tanzite than is used for swords and armor. When we started the guns worked so well, we failed to realize that if we used them at full capacity for a long period of time they would heat up to the point that the springs would fail. We also failed to realize that the use of pure faron to coat the faron alloy bolts would clog the rifling and the guns getting hot caused the alloy to soften.” Whitlaw looked at him and asked him “is there any way to make the railguns and bolt rifles work?” Goran with a sigh and a sad look on his face said “If we had metals to work with other than faron, we could. But with only Faron available, we are limited by what we can do by making what does work more effective, and easier to transport.” That was a deep blow to Whitlaw. He had been excited by the fact that they had created guns that didn’t require explosives to work. Now they were back to square one. “I guess we have just about discussed this as far as we can. Let’s focus on replenishing what we do have to work with and go from there.” With that Goran and Linarro left him, and Jason came in to see him.
“Father, we have to reevaluate our attack strategy. I know we have the necessary skills to face the Marn in individual combat and prevail, especially if we are tapped into the strength of our Skree Bond-Mates. But we don’t have the firepower to face them.” Whitlaw looked at his son, and shook his head, he was at his wits end. Then Jason came up with an idea. “The ballistae placements here at the Temple work tremendously well, they are mobile, accurate, and could handle any attack that came here. How do we get that range and versatility without having to move the ballistae around the continent?” Whitlaw considered his son’s questions, and said, “On ancient Earth, they would build gun turrets, at intervals, so that the armaments field of fire would overlap.”
“What’s the difference between the ballistae ports, and the turrets?” Whitlaw looked at Jason and said “The ballistae ports open up from the front and the ballistae roll out on a track far enough for them to have a full one hundred eighty degrees firing radius side to side, and because they’re so far up on the side of the cliff, they have the same radius up and down. The turret is like the railgun mounting, except it’s behind or concealed inside something and has a three hundred sixty-degree field of fire and has about a seventy-five-degree upward angle field of fire.” Jason looked across the desk at his father, “How difficult would it be to use the old ballistae we used to transport with two Skree and mounting them in turrets.” Whitlaw consider it for a few minutes, and then he said “Let’s ask the engineers,”
“Yoran, we have a question for you.” He looked up from the mess of the railguns and bolt rifles, and said “I hope it isn’t about this.” He said pointing to the pile of metal. Jason said “No, I want to know how difficult it would be to install turrets every eight kilometers across the defensible part of our continent and install ballistae in them?” Yoran looked at him and then he said “Goran, Linarro could you come in here for a minute.” When they came in, he looked at Jason and said, “Go ahead, ask.” Jason looked at him and then he looked at Goran and Linarro and said “How difficult would it be to install turrets every eight kilometers with ballistae mounted in them across the defensible part of the continent?” it was Linarro who answered him. “It wouldn’t be that difficult at all, the hardest part is transporting the ballistae to the turrets. If you have a solution to the logistics, we could have the turrets ready in a month, then we would need to assemble enough ballistae and transport them, and load the turret with ballistae bolts, maybe three months’ tops.” Jason looked at Whitlaw and inclined his head, Whitlaw said “Then do it, we have to have defenses against the Marn, and I don’t think we will be cutting it to close if we make the turrets and mount the ballistae. All of the Guardians already know how to aim and fire them.” Goran, Yoran, and Linarro burst into laughter, and Whitlaw looked at them confused, it was Yoran who answered for them. “We were expecting you to ask us to fix these piles of metal and make working guns out of this, and we can’t. however, the gun mounts, we will repurpose. They are perfect mounts for the ballistae. It will mean we won’t have to remanufacture the ballistae mounts. We already have them.” With that they turned to their work and left Whitlaw and Jason standing there looking at each other stupidly, their engineers seemed oblivious to them once they had a project.
They had laid out what they would need and they went and recruited the stone craftsmen that they would have to employ to get the turrets cut. They had decided that to give the turrets the most effective way of deploying, they needed to be concealed, with an access for the operator to enter, and raise the platform. They used a similar mounting system for the top as with the ports, except they split the ceiling into to fitted parts, that would open fully and lay on top of the turret. Then they installed rails on the sides and used a counterweight and screw to raise the platform. The ballistae were mounted on the platform, and had the full three-hundred-sixty-degree field of fire and it was able to raise up to eighty degrees. They had created the turrets they needed. They had said it would take three months to get them operational, it ended up being nine months due to tunneling issues. It was done by years’ end, and they trained the Guardians on deploying and firing the ballistae. They no longer needed two Guardians to handle one ballista, that freed up the men to fight as well, it wasn’t necessary to deploy all the ballistae only the ones in the area of the attack. That gave them tremendous flexibility.
Whitlaw put the Rangers and Scouts back in the field, and they made the outposts better. Yoran and Linarro went to the caves and systematically increased their size and functionality by putting in all the advancements that Goran had done at the temple. Each of the outposts now had heat, water, plumbing, stoves with ovens, refrigeration, and furniture. They were as ready as they could be for the next invasion that could be coming.
Whitlaw had made sure they had the documentation of everything they had done, good and bad, the new turret locations were on a permanent map on the wall of the ward room, all of the Scout and Ranger outposts were clearly marked as well. They had given the planet the planetary defenses that it needed. As far as he could tell, when the next invasion took place, they would be able to repel it. What they didn’t know, was how long before they came.
He and Lara had their children and extended family about them. They were in the dining area of their apartment, playing with their grandchildren and seeing the family they had started, all grown, and parents themselves, with the desire to protect them from harm. Waiting for the next time that duty would call them all to defend their world from an invader who never stopped coming.