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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

Hall of Mirrors
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written August 13th, 2020
Story Era Succession Wars Era

The War of '39. That's when it happened.

My DEST team was sent to Exeter in support of the Ryuken-go after ISF discovered that the honorless Davion dogs had set up a secret research outpost there, an offshoot of the New Avalon Institute of Science. Our mission was to locate the laboratory, kill the staff and recover what we could for the glory of the Dragon! Moral was high, especially as we were going into battle alongside Kanrei Theodore Kurita himself. We would strike the unsuspecting Davions like a hail of arrows, cutting them down without mercy.

It may only have been a raid, not a full invasion, but that did not mean that we could not teach them the error of their ways, punish them for attacking the Combine.

Unfortunately, while the initial attack proved successful. It soon became clear that the laboratory we were seeking was protected by an MI6 team, the accursed 'Rabid Foxes'. While they lack honor, even I have to admit that they are skilled and highly motivated warriors, certainly not an enemy to be taken lightly. At first, they refused to meet us in honorable combat, instead engaging in a series of hit-and-fade attacks that forced us to spread our already limited numbers securing our rear.

And, while that was infuriating enough, their attacks seemed, to be blunt, impossible: they would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, attack their target than vanish. Then, while we were still responding to the first attack, they'd hit another target, hundreds of kilometers away. Even using a DropShip to make sub-orbital flights, we had no way of keeping up with them. At first, we assumed that there were simply more of them than we had been led to believe, but it soon became apparent that we were dealing with a single team, all be it one able to move around the planet seemingly at will. However, fortune favours the prepared mind, and a battlefield observation satellite we had placed in orbit detected fain traces of massive energy spike coming from a mountain range that contained a number of long abandoned mines. Each spike clearly synchronized with the attacks, but made no sense, as they seemed closer to the IR spike associated with a hyperspace jump.

Still, it was the only lead we had, so the Sho-sa split the team in two, leaving half to provide additional security to the Kanrei, while the other half followed him into the mines to investigate.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of mines. So we ended up fanning out and taking one each, with orders to avoid contact. Then report back any finds so a proper assault could be planned. Which is how I found myself slowly making my way deeper into an old bauxite mine. I know that someone crawling through air vents is somewhat clichéd, given how most actual air vents are far, far too small for a grown adult to squeeze into, but with a lot of mines. The 'air vents' are actually secondary tunnels intended to act as emergency escape routs in an emergency, so I actually had plenty of room.

I was nearly at the point of giving and moving on to the next mine, when I heard the sound of distant voices, speaking with the unmistakable sound of Davion accents. I could not make out exactly what they were saying at first, but it guided me closer, until I was crouched below an open air-vent built into a blast-proof door.

" three hours." a clip voice, unmistakably military, carried from the other side, "Will it be ready by then?"

"Please, Captain, this is
a delicate scientific experiment!"
a second, softer voice complained, "It can not be expected to operate like... Like... Like some kind of bus!"

"Doctor Tywhite, the Federated Suns has seen fit to fund your work, to provide you not only with this laboratory, but with my team to at as security. Don't you think that a little cooperation on your part isn't too much to ask? Especially as we're trying to defend this world from the bloody snakes?"

"My dear Captain, if I can prove that my prototype not only works, but is stable and reliable...we could deploy the entire First Davion Guards into the Coordinators throne room on Luthien. Without them knowing any happened until after we had raised the Starburst over the Black Pearl once and for all! I am just as much a patriot as you are, Captain. I just use my head as something more than a blunt instrument."

I felt my blood run cold. There's nothing unusual about soldiers talking like that, I've said similar things about New Avalon and Tharkad enough times, but there was something about the certainty in his voice that shook me to my very core.

Moving as silently as possible. I lifted my head until I could just peek through the grill into the room beyond. It was very obvious that it was a makeshift lab, with equipment piled up on old shipping cases and hastily assembled tables. Power and fiberoptic cables snaked everywhere, connecting computers and equipment I had no idea the name or purpose of. But what grabbed my attention was what could only be described as a giant snowflake of pure energy, suspended in the air above a circle of equipment laid out in the middle of the chamber. It seemed to be made up of thousands and thousands of rotating shards, each one a fractal that had smaller and smaller versions of itself along every edge. It glimmered and glowed as it shifted, almost like sunlight on spilt oil, filling the room with an ever changing riot of color and shadow.

As I watched, mesmerized, two figures in combat gear stepped through, pulling off their masks to reveal a pair of Kyōkenbyō no inu, coming to attention before who I assumed was the Captain.

"Mission accomplished, sir." one of the two spoke with a wide grin, "Dracs won't know what hit them, next time they go to use that bridge."

"Outstanding work. Truly outstanding." the officer returned the salute, "Go get some rack time..."

He turned to say something to the timed looking man in a disheveled looking lab coat, when something rolled out of the vortex. Everyone turned to dive for cover, but then it... It didn't explode, but rather emitted a high pitched noise that seemed to go right through me. I suddenly found myself unable to move, not even blink. Yet still fully conscious and aware of everything going on around me.

What came through the portal next... they had the form of men. However, they were more metal than flesh. One had the entire left side of its body replaced, with two grasping claws where his hand should have been. He examined the room, as his remaining human eye cold and unfeeling as he almost casually lifted one of the Rabid Foxes and placed their frozen form against the far wall. Next came what may have once been a woman, although her entire body seemed to be covered in what looked like liquid metal. She walked up to one of the computers, the fingers on her right hand turning into cables that snaked out until they found open ports.

The third, looked more human, but if anything, that made him somehow more intimidating. The right side of his face bore the mark of extensive reconstructive surgery. His left hand covered in what looked to be part of a deep purple body suit that covered him from the neck down, over which he wore a long brown coat. The shoulder of which bore a strange insignia: Sigma over the symbol for infinity. Upon his face he wore a pair of glasses with deep red lenses, completely hiding his eyes, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that he was looking right at me.

"Game faces, everyone! We're dangerously close to collapsing the quantum wavefront as it is. I for one would rather not have to sit through another of the Bosses little three hour lectures on cognitive causality." he spoke with a combination of authority and mirth, "She still hasn't forgiven Apollyon for that time he got drunk and decided to go back and kill Stefan Amaris as a child. Took her decades, subjective, to iron out all those ripples and get history back on track."

Two more figures appeared, quickly collecting pieces of equipment and carrying it back through the portal.

"My dear Dr Tywhite, it is a true honor to meet you." the leader walked over to the frozen scientist and offered his hand, only to suddenly shake his head, "Sorry: force of habit. Don't worry about the paralysis, it's only temporary. Another hour or so and you'll be back to normal." be stepped back to examine the lab in its entirety, "It is quite impressive, that you came so far with so little. But, unfortunately, humanity isn't ready for your work. Not yet. We... the group we represent. Well, we've run the simulations, and if your work was to get out, there's a 98.7% of a war more deviating than the First Succession War breaking out within two years. It's just too much of a game changer, it leaves the other Houses no choice but to attack with everything they have before we... No, that's the old me talking, before you can stop them." He walked up to the scientist and placed a hand upon his shoulder. "Now I have some good news and some bad news. Good news is that future isn't going to come to pass. Bad news is that's because it turns out that there is a microscopic manufacturing error in one of the power cells you used and it's going to explode in... Well, about two minutes from now, utterly destroying your lab and, I'm afraid, everyone in it."

I felt a sudden sense of relief that this terrifying new technology would no longer be used against the Combine, but also saddened that I would not be able to report what I had found.

"The lady who runs our little operation has decided that, as history says you die today. There's nothing wrong with us coming back. Well, I hate to be blunt, but forcibly recruiting you." he gave a faint smile at that, "Oh, don't worry too much, Doctor. I actually think you'll enjoy working with us. Most of our equipment is based upon your notes: it took decades to find anyone smart enough to make sense of them, but the Master has always been good at finding the right person for the job, and the Boss is, without a doubt, the smartest person I've ever met. I think you'll... I won't say like, because she's a hard-nosed bitch, but I think you'll understand what she says a lot more often than the rest of us." with that, he lifted the scientist up and over his shoulder like he was a duffle bag, "Oh, and you can call me Lucifer. I know, I know, but we don't get to chose our own names when we're reborn."

He started to head back towards the portal, when the creature that was half metal stopped and gestured toward the door I was hiding behind with its remaining human arm.

"What about that one?" it asked with a deep, rumbling voice.

"The survivor?" the man who called himself Lucifer turned his head to an unnatural degree to look right at me, "Someone needs to report what happened here. Otherwise the Boss will never look at our new friend here's notes."

They stepped through the portal, and moments later, the power cell exploded, and that was the last thing I ever saw.

I woke days later. I was strapped down to a hospital bed in a Davion military base. The raid had been successfully, and the Kanrei had ordered the withdrawal. Unfortunately, my team mates had been unable to reach me before the local security forces had arrived in numbers too great to risk direct contact with, so I was left behind. I do not fault them, as I am but a tool to be used, and discarded, as needed. It did mean, however, that I spent days being questioned by my captors about what had happened in the lab. They assumed that I had been responsible for the explosion, and my telling them the truth only confused them even more.

They did confirm, however, that the damage done to my eyes was permanent. That I was blind, and would never see again.

Eventually, a man came to see me. He offered no name or rank, but I could tell that he terrified the guards and doctors simply by his presence. He asked a few questions. He listened to what I had to say, then ordered that I be turned over to ComStar, who were handling the repatriation of the more seriously injured prisoners. I guess they decided that nobody would have use for a blind Commando.

Well, that was then, and this is now. You may call me...Ulysses.

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