Back to the future...
Gregory P. Wong
Chapter 3: Entrance
"Uhh..." Nobunaga groaned as his eyes opened. He sat up. "What the..."
He has been lying on some type of bed. He last remembered the white light crawling over him...
"Noh?" He called as he spotted his wife next to him on a bed right next to his. She was just awakening.
Then he noticed that she wasn't wearing a purple night robe. What she was wearing was purple, but certainly not a robe. It looked like an ornate Japanese dress. It showed a bit of cleavage and plenty of leg. He examined himself.
To his surprise, he was dressed completely in tight black leather. Frowning, he got to his feet. The leather was tight, but didn't inhibit his movements. Then he noticed that some type of high orange collar was over his shoulders. He felt behind him, and felt a flowing cape that was fastened at his waist by a-big surprise-black leather belt.
"Nobunaga? Where are we?" he head Noh say.
"I don't know. Probably where that stranger wants us."
"That's a nice thought," his wife snorted.
Shrugging, he took a look around. The room had steel walls, and was pretty bare except for the beds and overhead lights. What looked to be a door was at the far end.
He strode over to his wife and helped her up. They looked each other up and down.
He spoke first. "I like the look. Purple brings out your eyes."
Noh chuckled softly. "I have always been impartial to violet." Her mouth arched into a small grin. "That outfit fits your personality. And it makes you look so... squeezable."
He laughed. "I don't think now is the appropriate time, Noh. I think it would be best if we find a way out of this-" He halted himself when the door whooshed up and open.
He and his wife stared out the door and into a long steel corridor.
"Humph... Interesting," he muttered.
The corridor continued on for about twenty blank feet, and began to curve to the right. He couldn't see what could be at the end.
"Shall we take a look?" Noh asked him.
"Yes... why not?" he asked rhetorically.
Staying close together, they left the plain room, and walked down the corridor.
Surprise, surprise, they came to another door. It looked like the room's twin. He looked at his wife, and shrugged.
Then, it slid open.
He peered past the door, into a large room. The chamber beyond was about sixty feet from the door's edge to the open door at the other end... where another couple came walking in. The man looked young, and was clad in red armor and a red headband. The women was about the same age-he estimated at around twenty-and was clad in what looked to be purple short pants that cinched at the knee, a clinging midriff-bearing tank top stamped with a floral design, and a sash that was knotted on the young woman's waist on the right side.
He and the armored man caught each other's eye. Frowning, he walked forward into the room.
It looked like he and Rong had just entered a really weird costume party. Bad enough Huo was dressed in some type of barbarian-king outfit, but his wife was dressed up like some Amazon princess. Seriously.
Shifting his gaze from one person to another. There was a scarred kid dressed in green armor and a tall helmet with a ceremonial crescent-crest; next to him was a young, pretty woman with large eyes, dressed in a white blouse and miniskirt. There was another couple, this time a large man with volumes of wild hair and a flashy crimson outfit with armor plates sewn onto the shoulders, bells tied to the waist, and some pretty weird looking shoes. That man stood next to a stunningly attractive young woman in a red dress and sleeveless shirt. There were others, but his attention wavered when he saw the Mindlancer kid-now completely solid-looking-walk into the room from yet another door. The kid jogged over to the center of the room.
"Hey, we gotta move! A Sraida ship managed to covertly drop off its forces, and they're heading here!" he called.
"Hell, no," he muttered. He was just dragged-or whatever-to this screwy place, wearing weird garb, and he damn wanted answers... "Hey, you! Mindlancer boy! I ain't leaving until I get some information."
The kid turned to him. "We don't have much time. A Sraida force of three hundred is inbound. We have to move /now/!"
"Maybe you didn't hear me, kid... I'm /not moving/."
There was a blur of black, and he suddenly found the Mindlancer in front of his face.
But he had been fifty feet away just a split second ago... how the hell...?
"Meng Huo, we don't have time."
"I don't care... you tore us from our homes. Answer!" called one of the men, this one in spiffy green armor. That guy was accompanied by an athletic looking woman clad in red shorts and red-and-white shirt who could probably give Rong a run for queen of hot Amazons.
The Mindlancer sighed. "I guess I do owe you some answers. But I'll have to make them quick. The transports that'll take us to the main base will be here in five minutes.
"To start off, I'm General Zachary Adrian of the Mindlancer Corps. I'm also sixty-seven years old."
All eyes stared at the officer. The Mindlancer smiled.
"I've aged quite well, haven't I? It's a side effect of so fully harnessing my psionic powers. I age ten times slower than the average person. Objectively, I'm sixty-seven. Biologically, I'm eighteen. Which I'll stay for a couple more decades."
He, his wife, and everyone around the room were speechless.
"I'm not that surprising. All psi-warriors have a far-extended lifespan. But, then again, so do you people. All you need to do is-" The Mindlancer jerked as a small black box strapped to his right wrist chimed."
"Urgent message from HQ!" a female voice piped from the box.
"Report," The Mindlancer said tensely.
"A Sraida marauder detachment has interdicted and eliminated the rescue unit. This facility is now isolated. Marauder force ETA is ten minutes. Main dropship force incoming in eighteen minutes."
The sixty-seven year old kid let out a string of expletives. The black box continued talking.
"HQ recommends that the inhibitor nannites be unlocked ASAP. Generals Resathel and Diakrestis are moving in for support, but they'll make it here in thirty minutes. Message ends."
The general didn't say anything. The officer's lips pressed together to form a white, bloodless line. The man's head snapped to the left, and he seemed to be concentrating.
He saw his wife look in that direction, and followed her gaze. He gaped open-mouthed as a procession of objects floated into the room.
He stared as a pair of metal boar's heads set down in front of him. They looked hollow, and there was an opening at the back of each head. He looked over at his wife, and saw her staring quizzically at some type of hollow triangle with sharp protrusions. He looked up. The Mindlancer was typing furiously as computer terminal. His fingers were moving at a supernatural speed. The Mindlancer typed in a final dozen commands, and then threw some type of switch. He felt and heard a humming in the room.
Then, he felt something like cold liquid metal invade his mind. His vision blacked out.
His eyes popped open.
Nothing about him changed. But everything changed. He was...
Yukimura Sanada, vassal of Lord Shingen Takeda, defender of Ueda Castle, the Immortal Legend. But he was also Yukimura Sanada, who had grown up in New York City, living as a martial arts teacher for the past two years...
He turned to the person beside him. Kunoichi, his bodyguard, his loyal friend, the Moon Goddess.
She was also Makie Sanada, a seventh grade public school teacher and his wife.
He and Kunoichi stepped away from each other as if the other was aflame.
"Luh... Lord Yuki... Yukimura?" the young woman stammered. For perhaps the first time for as long he could remember, she couldn't think of something witty to say.
"I... I..." He faltered. This couldn't be... female ninja were not supposed to fall in love like this.
He felt a weird something brush his mind.
"Dammit..." he heard the Mindlancer growl. "This is why I wanted you guys back at base. As if I we didn't have enough problems already. Christ..."
He blinked, and looked around the room. Several people were unknown to him, but he recognized Nobunaga Oda, the Demon Lord, Lady Nouhime, the Demon's Wife, Keiji Maeda, the Unbelievable, Mistress Okuni, the Diva, Lady Oichi, the Light of Hope, and Nagamasa Azai, Lord of Azai.
This was too much. At one moment, he knew the intricacies of sword forging; at another, he knew how to drive a car. The onslaught of information from two lifetimes, one real, one not, brought him to his knees.
He looked at Makie... Kunoichi. The little girl that had shown up at his father's doorstep had abandoned her real name when she swore service to his father.
"NO!" /I'm not your wife! I can't be/!" she broke into completely un-Kunoichi-like sobs. "I don't... know what... happened. I'm so sorry... Lord Yukimura!" she gasped between sobs.
"There's nothing to be sorry for, Kunoichi. I..." He couldn't think of anything to say. He just watched her sobbing form as her head drifted up. He saw Kunoichi's eyes fix on a pair of oddly-shaped daggers.
He leaped forward before the ninja could slash her throat with her own Kushinada daggers. He knocked the weapons out of her hands.
"Stop!" he yelled as the crying Kunoichi collapsed in his arms.
He was sure that his crimson armor wasn't the best thing to press against, so he did his best to present the softer padding to the weeping woman's cheek. The embrace reminded him of when she had learned that her friend had died in a horrific automobile accident, and he had hugged and comforted her.
Kunoichi probably had the same thought, and pushed him away. She fixed him with a red-eyed stare.
"Lord Yukimura, I've violated my honor, code, and most importantly, your honor. Let me commit seppuku, and end this blot on your character."
He reached out and grabbed hold of her shoulders. That was completely unlike the woman he knew... whether she was a ninja or his... his... wife.
"/No/," he said firmly. "I'll never allow that. You can't-"
"/You can't let me live with this dishonor, Yukimura/!" she screamed. He noted that she had left out the honorific.
"No, you haven't," he said firmly. "I don't feel like my honor has been violated, and I don't think yours has been, either."
She stared at him with her dark brown eyes which were quickly filling with tears again.
"Lord Yukimura, how can you say-" her voice was cut off as a powerful rumble reverberated through the room.
He heard the Mindlancer general mutter, "Damnation, they're early."
Before Kunoichi could say anything, he shook her. "Vow to me now that you will not attempt anything against yourself."
As her eyes misted over again, he lifted her chin so she stared directly into his eyes. Unconsciously, the ninja's hand grabbed at the round scar on her shoulder, a legacy not from surgery, but from a Tokugawan musket ball from a sniper's rifle she had taken to save him. "We still need to watch each other's backs."
Kunoichi's lips trembled. "Fine, Lord Yukimura. I won't try anything like that... yet. We'll talk about this... and then I'll make my decision."
He just nodded.
When he had been younger, when he spied the same-aged girl taken in by his father, he was struck by her good looks and lively character. When he learned that she was to be his bodyguard, any hope of a real relationship evaporated. Thus he settled for being a comrade of hers, even if was technically her superior. They watched each other's backs, they had saved each other's lives countless times, they had grown as close as friends possibly could.
Now... He wasn't sure how to proceed. One part of his mind wanted their marriage to hold fast... yet another part of him knew that a samurai did not marry a ninja... especially if the ninja in question was his bodyguard.
A crack rumbled through the room, and a section of wall screeched as it was torn apart. A mob of gibbering, nightmarish creatures flooded through.
He snatched up his cross-bladed spear, the mighty Susano, and charged the horde.
Insane... that was the best word for it. A group of over seventy of the Sraida things had charged into the room through a tear in the wall and seemed to be intent on feeding Keiji his own entrails.
He lowered his fork-bladed spear as a Sraida charged at him. With a jolt, the creature impaled itself on the blades... and still reached for him with claws the size of butcher knives. With a grunt, he twisted his body and catapulted the Sraida over his shoulder. He watched the corpse sail through the air and smash into another bug that was going head-to-head with the chick wielding bladed discs.
He liked insane.
With a sweeping motion, he slashed through a knot of charging creatures in a welter of black ichors. Sensing danger, he whipped the weight on the end of his weapon into the face of another Sraida charging from behind, caving it in. The bug dropped.
A tangle of three Sraida flew past him. He looked back, and saw Okuni brandishing that umbrella of hers. She was knocking back these alien things, all the while dancing away from claws, and she still looked great.
He was jolted out his train of thought when another Sraida made a lunge for him, claws reaching. He knocked away the arms with the shaft of his weapon, and sent a left uppercut directly into the monster's chin. It flew in the air.
He presented the blades to the falling creature, and was rewarded with a jerk as the body sank unto the dual blades. Black blood spurted. He catapulted this one forward and heard a satisfying smack as the body crunched into a knot of creatures converging on Noh.
Finding a lull in the battle, he ambled over to his wife.
"Y'okay?" he asked.
"I'm fine, Keiji. A lady can deal with oversized insects." She winked.
There was final screech as a surviving Sraida became a not-survivor, and all was quite. He spied several piles of chopped alien at the feet of the Mindlancer guy.
/Strong fighter/, he thought. /Gotta take him on one of these days/...
" Another transport unit is coming down. We should move south, where we can meet up with them."
He groaned. Running wasn't his favorite activity.
Liu Bei nodded to Shang, and dashed back to the spot where his swords' scabbards lay. When the Sraida had flooded into the room, he had unsheathed his twin swords and fought.
He gathered a sheath and strapped it behind him on the waist, the opening facing to his left. The other scabbard followed, this one put on his left, opening facing forward. He slid his two swords into their respective sheaths.
"Are you okay?" he asked his wife.
"I got scratched," she replied, showing a slightly oozing wound on her cheek. "It's nothing, really."
"It should be treated," he said back. He reached for the wound and wiped off some of the blood that had dripped down.
Shang grinned as she grabbed his hand and pressed it onto her cheek. He massaged the side of her face.
"That's why I love you so much," Shang said.
"You always care for others before yourself. And that's what got me to vow that Sun Quan wouldn't kill you."
He looked into her emerald eyes. "And your courage and liveliness were what attracted me... though those aspects intimidated me at first."
His wife was about to say something, when the Mindlancer called out "Hey! We have to move /now/!"
She rolled her eyes, and let go of his hand. They smiled at each other, and made their way over the bodies to the Mindlancer.
"Okay, now that we're all here, this is the situation. A whole swarm of Sraida warriors are converging on this position, coming from the northwest. Our ride, a squad of C-48E Armadillo APCs, is coming from the south. It'll be close, but if we leave now, we'll be able to make it to the rendezvous point before we get swarmed."
He heard two audible groans from behind. He looked back, and saw that the originators of the noise were Meng Huo, king of the Nanman, and a tall warrior with volumes of pale hair.
"I hate running..." grumped the Nanman king. "But fine, I'd rather run than get swamped by those bug things, anyway."
The officer nodded. "All of you, get going. I'll watch your backs."
The thought of several hundred Sraida spurred him to action. He gave his wife a look, and made his way for the tear in the metal walls.
Outside, he noticed that the ground was a dead brown color, with nothing growing for miles around. Swallowing deeply, he looked behind him.
The Nanman king and the Japanese fighter with the dual-bladed spear looked as if they couldn't run very fast.
"We stay together. I do not want any one of you getting separated and taken down."
One by the one, the other fourteen people nodded, accepting. However, the young woman with the floral-designed tank top looked at him with red eyes. She looked as if she had been crying.
"I'll scout ahead," the woman said emotionlessly. "I know enough tricks and I'm fast enough to avoid a fight if I have to. I'll-" she was cut off by the spear-wielding man in crimson armor.
"Kunoichi, you can't! I know how good you are, but if something goes wrong..."
The ominous looking man in black leather smirked. "Why not let her, Lord Sanada? She is only a servant of yours. Or is she?"
Sanada's-he wasn't sure if that was a first name or surname-eyes flashed as he whirled on the speaker.
"What would you know of such things, Demon Lord!" the spear-wielder spat. "If you couldn't be found massacring villagers, you could be found trying to kill your /wife/!"
The "Demon Lord" gave a sneering chuckle. "Perhaps, Yukimura. Nouhime and I have come to a mutual understanding concerning that." The man laughed. "Oh, my. I thought it was against the ninja's code to get involved with her master."
He drew his sword in time to block the spearhead thrusting towards the Demon Lord. His other sword stopped a couple of inches from the Demon's throat. The black-clad man's hand drifted away from his own sword hilt.
"Settle any arguments later, you two. We do not have the time for squabbles."
The two men stared at each other. Yukimura drew back his spear. He lowered his sword that had been blocking the weapon.
"This can wait for later, Nobunaga." The warrior in red turned looked at him, the impromptu mediator. "Perhaps with words, not blades."
Yukimura stepped away.
He looked at "Nobunaga".
"Humph. We will settle this in the future, Lord Sanada. Perhaps with words, perhaps not."
Nobunaga stepped back. He lowered his other sword.
He looked at the young woman called Kunoichi. "I believe it would be best if you stayed with the rest of us. We don't know what kind of ambushes these Sraida are capable of setting.
Kunoichi was looking down at the earth. She kicked a small pebble, nodding somberly.
He sheathed his weapons, and pointed towards the west.
"We are heading in that direction. I suggest that we go /now/."
"That was well handled, my lord," Zhuge Liang said to Liu Bei as they marched south.
"I thank you for your praise, Minister Liang," the Shu ruler replied. "I hope a surge of hatred will not manifest itself at the wrong time."
"Yes," he answered his lord. He thought for a moment. "While the two of them seem calmed down, I cannot be sure. Perhaps someone should stay next to them. Ying and I can do that, Lord Liu Bei."
He saw Liu Bei shake his head. "Stay here, Minister. Shang and I will deal with it." Bei turned to Shang Xiang. "Shang, watch Yukimura. I'll watch this Nobunaga."
Shang offered a wink. "What, you don't think I can handle this Demon myself?" she asked rhetorically.
"I have every confidence in you, sweetheart." Bei offered a wink back. The two of them sped up, taking up their positions behind their charges. Shang's chakrams stayed within easy reach, and Bei's left hand rested on the hilt of the sword fastened horizontally across the back of his waist.
As they marched on, he felt his wife stride up next to him.
"Since when did Lord Liu Bei call his wife 'sweetheart', and when ever did he start to /wink/?"
He looked at his wife, dressed in armor and wielding her scythe-spear. "Most likely it is a result from living in the modern world for two years." He winked at her.
Ying cocked an eyebrow. "It seems modern life has affected you as well, husband."
He chuckled. "It would seem so, my wife."
He turned away from her and focused on the travel ahead. The land was stark and plain. Nothing except a few stunted shrubs grew for miles around. In the east, the horizon was broken by a mountain range that extended to their intended destination.
"Interesting. I hope this facility we need to defend is nestled in either those mountains or behind them. Our forces will have a strategic advantage up there."
He saw his wife nod, accepting the fact. "I only wonder if the technological-"
She was cut off as the ground exploded in front of them.
"Yaaah!" Oichi cried as a Sraida burst out of the ground. She stumbled as the dirt churned beneath her. The Sraida that had appeared in front of her leaped into the air, as if it wanted to crush her beneath its spiny bulk. She scrambled to get her kendama into play, but a spear flew from behind her and impaled the alien's head. The force of the spear arrested the forward momentum of the creature, stopping it in midair. The creature dropped like a rock. She looked behind her and saw Nagamasa dodging the claws of a Sraida. She delivered a kick to the kendama's crystal ball, and it flew forward, snapping the Sraida's neck. Her husband dashed past her, and snatched up his battle spear just in time to block a descending Sraida claw. Shifting his body right, Nagamasa forced the alien to stumble, and finished the shambling Sraida with a thrust to the throat.
She picked herself off the ground in time to witness the very ground around the group split apart as nightmarish monstrosities burst out of the soil.
A Sraida fixed her with a multi-eyed stare and charged her. With her kendama in an awkward position, all she could do roll out of reach of the monster's claws. She wasn't quite fast enough, though, to completely avoid the reaching blades. She felt something tear, and saw that a rip had appeared on her miniskirt. She cursed.
She liked that skirt, dammit.
As the Sraida plunged its claws for her again, she rolled out o the way, kicked the monster's arms, and somersaulted back to her feet. The off-balance alien screeched, but that didn't stop her from snapping its neck with a spinning kick.
"That felt so baddass," she muttered to herself as she entangled another Sraida's legs with the kendama string and yanked back. The alien toppled over, allowing her to deliver a fatal overhand blow to the fallen creature's head.
As she drew back the crystal sphere from the caved-in skull, she kicked backwards and connected with another yammering creature's face. She felt the carapace give under her heel, and the alien dropped with shards of shell in its gray matter. Or whatever color it was.
Then a Sraida body-checked her and knocked her to the churned soil. Before she could be stabbed , she twisted out of the way. She was intent on feeding the buglike bastard its left foot when a sword neatly decapitated the alien. She looked to the sword's owner to thank him... and found herself speechless.
The sword belonged to one handsome dude. Silky, neck-length brown hair held back by a red headband, perfect features, and a nice-looking body from what she could see under clothing that was at both ceremonial and martial. He reached down with his left hand, offering her a hand.
She took it and the man pulled her to her feet.
Then he raised his left palm to her. A high-five? Now!?
Then a fireball flew from the hand and struck something behind her with a sizzling crack.
Scratch the high-five.
Suddenly aware of more Sraida she whirled around, whipping the kendama ball around. The crystal ball broke a Sraida's leg, snapped another's neck, and knocked another one ten feet away.
Before the first body hit the floor, another mob of creatures were heading for her. She crouched and somersaulted, whipping the kendama crystal in a wide circle as she spun. She heard a series of satisfying crunches. As she revolved, she found the sword-wielding man engaged in an intricate dance that slashed Sraida left and right.
Gorgeous and skilled.
She landed, and just for the heck of it, she gave a nice little flourish, just as if she had finished one of her gymnast routines. Pointless gesture, sure, but satisfying.
Seeing one last Sraida charging her, she rolled her eyes and kicked the kendama crystal, propelling it through the bug's chest in a welter of black gore. She pulled the sphere back, and dragged it in the dirt to get some of the ichors off. Unfortunately, there was precious little clean soil. She spied the red-dressed man, long saber sheathed at his side, walking towards her.
"Thanks for the save," she said without a waver. After the initial shock of the man's handsomeness, she didn't give it too much though.
"My pleasure," he said. "I don't believe I know your name."
Oh, man. He was trying to hit on her. If she hadn't met Nagamasa, she wouldn't have minded the attention; since she was already married to a wonderful and good-looking guy, she didn't want it. She frowned a bit as she called up a memory. He had seen him in the facility with that pretty woman who didn't look too much older than her. She was about to tell him to step off when the man raised his hands in a disarming gesture, perhaps seeing the look in her eyes.
"I just want to know your name. I'm married, too."
"Oh. So am I," she said, a bit sheepishly. "Sorry about the suspicion. I'm Oichi Azai. You?"
"I'm Zhou Yu. By the way, that is in traditional Chinese form, with my surname first. You can call me Yu."
She was going to reply when Yu visible stiffened. She looked behind her, and noticed that Nagamasa was behind her. She blinked as she thought about the situation. Husband finds pretty wife speaking with handsome stranger.
If they had been a normal couple, things would have been tense. But, she and Masa were faithful to each other, one-sex-thought-per-fifteen-seconds notwithstanding. Masa shifted his battle spear to his left hand and extended his right. Yu took the proffered hand and shook.
"The name's Nagamasa Azai," her husband said. She was relieved when she noticed that he hadn't put any sort of emphasis on the word "Azai".
"Zhou Yu," said Yu. He suddenly looked off to his right, and waved. She looked, and saw that the young woman in red and tan was walking over to them. She noticed that the newcomer was very pretty. She suddenly felt a bit self-conscious.
"Hi." The woman said, giving a wide smile. "I'm Xiao Qiao, Yu's wife."
"I'm Nagamasa Azai, and this is my wife, Oichi," Masa said, extending a hand again. The Qiao woman shook it.
Shrugging, she extended her own hand to the stunning women. They shook.
"I assume you two are from Japan?" Yu asked. "Your names sound Japanese, anyway," he added.
"Yep," said her husband. "I'm assuming you two were from somewhere, somewhen in China."
"Yes... with emphasis on the /when/," Qiao spoke with a shrug.
"This might be a bit of an assumption, but do you two know the other Chinese people?" Masa queried.
"Yeah," came Qiao again. "Well, that gigantic man over there is Meng Huo, king of the Nanman, she said, gesturing towards an extremely wide man in barbaric garb. The other woman then motioned towards a wide-shouldered woman in skimpy clothing. "The Amazon chick is his wife, Zhu Rong. Um... the man in green armor is the Shu king, Liu Bei, and the athletic woman in red is his wife, Sun Shang Xiang."
She and Nagamasa waited for the older girl to continue, but Yu took up the conversation.
"The man with the war fan is Zhuge Liang, the chief military adviser and prime minister to Liu Bei. He's considered to be the most gifted strategist to ever be born; of the people I know, they only approached Liang, never equaling or surpassing him. Sima Yi was the only person I know of to come close to his genius."
After the man finished, Qiao rolled her eyes and dug an elbow into Yu's ribs.
"He's being modest. He neglected to tell you that he was our kingdom's best strategist. He gave Zhuge Liang a run for his money a couple of times."
"But, I lost..." Yu muttered.
"Sure. But, like you've said, Liang is phenomenal. Making him think twice is compliment, Yu."
"I guess it is..." the other man said contemplatively. He motioned to a woman who stood next to Liang, clutching a scythe-bladed spear. While the woman wasn't a mind-blowing beauty, she had a lively attractivess, was well in shape, and had a regal aura to her. "She's Yue Ying, Zhuge Liang's wife. If Liang is the best strategist ever born, Yue Ying would be one of the best tacticians ever born. They work very well together."
She nodded, taking in Qiao's and Yu's information. She decided to introduce her "companions."
"Well, the man in the red armor is Yukimura Sanada, a samurai from the Kai region. He's a fearless and skilled warrior, and he's a good tactician, too. The ninja-girl following him around is known only as 'Kunoichi,' which means-"
" 'Female ninja.' I know a bit of Japanese. All those games Yu buys, y'know?" interrupted Qiao.
"Yeah. She's incredibly loyal to Lord Yukimura, though she has a very pronounced sense of humor. But, she's a good fighter and an excellent spy." She frowned. "Though I don't know what's been up with her lately. It's not like her to be this... melancholy." She decided to not dwell on the obviously distraught ninja for too much longer. "Um... The man with the blond bush for hair is Keiji Maeda, easily the best warrior for his era. All I can say about him is that he loves competition, and he lives for the fight, and the fight alone. The pretty woman with him is Okuni, one of the best dancers I have ever seen. And, apparently, a good fighter to boot."
Before she could continue, her husband took over.
"The man in black leather is Nobunaga Oda, Oichi's brother," Masa said softly. "I... I can't say too much about him, besides that he is probably the most ruthless person I've ever met. He... He's not a very kind person."
She looked deep into her husband's eyes as he finished describing her brother. He looked away. After all, Nobunaga was still her brother.
She laid a hand on his arm. After all, she was his /wife/.
"I know Masa. That's how he is."
Perhaps seeing an awkward situation, Zhou Yu cleared his throat.
"I think we best be going. It looks like the others are moving out."
"You think that's the convoy that the general was talking about?" Nobunaga asked his wife.
"I can't think of anything else it could be. Well, I could, but that would be much too depressing."
He grunted. "No, it's a convoy. It looks like a duo of hovering vehicles."
The group stopped and waited for the floating vehicles to approach. He squinted as a sudden gust of wind sprayed his face with dust.
This was truly a revolting world.
The armored personnel carriers-he couldn't think of what else they could be-stopped in front of them and popped a hatch at their rears.
A set of futuristic-or, more likely, up-to-date-combat armor tromped out of the APC and beckoned to them. Since the helmet was visored, he couldn't see what gender the soldier was.
"Let's go! We don't have much time!" came a rumbling baritone.
Giving his wife a glance, he stalked over to one of the open doors and climbed inside. Watching out of the open door, he watched the other temporally misplaced warriors clamber into other carrier.
Presently, he was joined by Keiji, Okuni, the Chinese man in green armor and his wife, and...
Yukimura and the girl ninja poked his head through the door, and froze.
"Maybe I'll take another one," Yukimura ground out from behind a frozen smile.
He grinned back at the samurai. He was sure that his grin was not a friendly one.
"As much as I would like to avoid your company, I do not think there's much room left in the other carrier."
The crimson-clad samurai said nothing and climbed in, followed by his ninja.
"Still with your... ninja, I see. I'm surprised you haven't let her commit seppuku yet." Kunoichi jerked as if she had been struck by a mace. "Oh, the dishon-"
"That's enough, 'Demon Lord'," the Chinese man cut in quietly.
He snorted in disdain. "By what right-"
"By no right but mine. This upcoming battle looks to be a bloodbath, and it will be more so if continue to antagonize him. Why not just show some human courtesy and drop this petty bickering?"
He bristled at the rebuke, but stopped when Noh laid a hand on his arm. She drew her mouth close to his ear.
"Let them alone. Please. I'm not an expert on this sort of thing, but Yukimura and the ninja seem to be suffering enough already."
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Apparently content, the Chinese leaned back on the headrest of the seat and offered a shoulder to his wife. A moment later, the two were asleep.
Seeing no point in saying more, he laid his head back on the rest and began to slumber.
"I hope, uh, that this wasn't too big a problem," Zhu Rong heard Huo mutter sheepishly.
"For the last time, Huo, it's all good," Qiao said exasperatedly.
The APC was a bit cramped, owing to her husband's massive broadness. At least his belly was gone though, or the ride would have been much worse.
"Okay, okay. I'll stop."
The Japanese duo, introduced as Nagamasa and Oichi Azai by Yu and Qiao, chuckled. Her husband blinked.
"Well, I do pride myself in my wideness."
She giggled. "Huo, just a moment ago you were worrying about your-"
"Hey, lady, let my self-contradictions rest in peace."
The compartment echoed with laughter.
Her husband seemed ready to start another meandering monologue on the sexiness of his muscular girth-well, she did like that body-when the pilot of the armored vehicle called out. She couldn't tell it was a woman until she spoke, since her face was hidden behind a visored helmet. Facing her, she could make a bit of facial featured through the opaque-blue shield.
"We're coming up on the outpost. We'll be there in ten."
She turned around and peered through what must have been a firing port and caught a glimpse of what must have been the largest citadel she had ever seen.
There was a long, narrow pass, about two miles long and a quarter wide that led through the mountains. The pass was overshadowed by a sure lot of outcroppings, most of which seemed to be filled with towerlike constructs. They had to be guard towers.
Jeez, there had to be over two hundred towers. Serious towers.
She also noted that the towers were connected to those on a lower level by what had to be zip lines.
In addition to the towers, it looked like piles of boulders were rigged to drop onto the pass.
Serious defenses... but those weren't all, she saw.
At the end of the pass, there was a wide open field, easily four miles in diameter. At the end of the hilly field, directly across from the pass' exit, was a... wall.
Jesus Christ, it was a huge wall. It made the Great Wall look like... well, Qiao to Huo.
It had to be over two hundred feet tall. The great barrier seemed to be constructed of solid metal of some sort, and there seemed to be no visible welding lines or seams, not counting a band of holey metal at the bottom of the wall. The top of the wall was dotted with towers identical to those in the pass, and she could spot more boulder piles that seemed rigged to fall down.
The bottom section of wall, a band raising fifteen feet from the ground, was dotted with holes, probably to allow soldiers to push spears and pikes through the wall.
As the APC closed with the wall, she could see a huge door, over thirty feet high and fifty wide. Adjacent to the great door were several smaller gates, no more than ten feet square.
In front of the wall, stood another massive building. It was so huge she hadn't really noticed it as a structure.
The tower's main unit was a vague bullet shaped, pointed parallel to the ground, at least 300 feet long, 125 feet tall and 140 feet wide. Centered on the main unit on either side were rounded off rectangles nearly one hundred feet by thirty feet, and about fifty feet wide. Two bars of metal, one on each side, nearly fifty feet long, twenty-five wide, and twenty broad, were connected to the protruding cubes, angling down and out from the main pod. Connected to those were units that were composed of a bar of metal 150 feet long, fifty feet high, and fifty feet wide connected right to another hunk of metal 125 feet long and at least thirty feet high and broad. Along the back of the bullet-shaped pod were two cannon-like constructs easily 275 feet long. Good Lord, the openings on those things had to be at least ten feet in diameter, at least.
The bullet was connected by a "waist" to another unit, this 150 feet long and 60 feet tall, and nearly 100 wide. Connected to that were two support pylons, both strangely double jointed and articulated. The columns themselves stood 225 high. At the bottom were two more cubes, one for each column, each sixty feet long, fifteen high, and seventy-five wide. From those protruded four twelve foot long claws, three in front in a splayed fashion, and one on the back.
The whole damned thing was at least three hundred-fifty feet tall!
The color scheme was a camouflage hue mixing patches of brown, tan, and light gray, and she was sure the dots spread all along the pod were some types of weapons. On the two cubes stuck on the main pod were identical pictures of a black sphere floating in a pool of dull red blood. A drippy "9" was centered in the sphere in the same dull red blood.
What the hell was that thing? Could it be a-
"GAHHH!" she screamed as the pod rotated on its "waist" towards them. The "arms", now revealed to be a battery of cannons, tracked their APC.
Now, a bit closer-which meant about half a mile away-she could see there were three glowing strips of light running across the upper front of the pod, one on top of the other. Like eyes...
"Hey, ma'am, relax. That's just Nineball," said the pilot with a laugh.
"Here, lemme open up a commlink. Don't worry, he's a real gentleman," said the man next to the pilot.
She was about to ask what the hell that woman meant when the APC's communication equipment crackled.
"Titan CAW 19999-Nineball on station," came a smooth, heavily accented Russian voice. "Hello Gunnery Sergeant Robinson, Corporal Nyland. I assume you have four of our Special Forces warriors on board?"
"Righto, big guy," said the man, whom she presumed Robinson. "Talk to 'em."
"I would be glad, to, Gunnery Sergeant. To those who do not know me, I am Titan Continental Assault Walker 19999, designation Nineball. I'll be your massive robotic guardian for your stay here."
Despite herself, she let out a little chuckle.
"A comrade of mine, CAW 23485-Cobalt, is off on patrol. She is currently 16.071 miles from this base, where she has excellent conditions to probe the oncoming Sraida assault force.
"I thought technology can't hurt Sraida," commented Liang with a frown.
"You are correct, sir. However, Sraida ships are very vulnerable to anti-ship weapons. Both my comrade and I have the capabilities to engage starships from 5.25 light seconds out with dual singularity lasers, and mid-orbital ships with main weapons systems, two batteries of eight 155mm ultravelocity cannons. Atmospheric ships can be engaged with our gauss gatling guns, standard antiaircraft missiles, micromissiles, heavy blaster batteries, and, perhaps if we get lucky, our 305mm mortars."
She was sure her jaw was hanging open. It had to be. It was. She slowly drew it back up.
"Um, 'Nineball,' you said you pack 155mm ultras. Does 'ultravelocity' mean supersonic or relativistic?" she heard the Azai guy say. After he said that she noticed that his wife was looking at him funny.
Probably a sci-fi fan. Then again, they were living in a damned sci-fi novel.
"Both. Usually, my main batteries utilize-"
"Hey, Nineball. Ain't this classified?" interrupted the Gunnery Sergeant.
"Shouldn't be, Gunny," answered the driver. "After all, these people are basically Mindlancers, right? 'Sides, Nineball probably cleared it with HIGHCOM."
"Correct, Corporal. I took the liberty, once you opened up the link, to clear this information with High Command."
She could almost hear the frown in Robinson's voice. "Really? How'd you know they'd ask you questions?"
"I didn't. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
Then the Gunnery Sergeant laughed. "I keep forgetting how intuitive and humanlike you mechanical monstrosities are."
"Of course, Gunnery Sergeant," said Nineball with a sniff.
That elicited another nervous laugh from her and the other APC occupants.
"As I was saying, sir, my ultravelocity cannons can accelerate projectiles to significant fractions of C. My usual payload is a 50-pound carbon steel slug accelerated up to 379.03567 miles per second. The kinetic energy upon release, in joules, in accordance to kinetic energy formula E=Â½MA2, is approximately 4.2284 Â· 1012, which is slightly more than a one kiloton proton-shift explosive.
"You... you hurl tactical nukes around!?" yelped the Azai guy.
"Usually, no. My gauss-coil/linear rail systems' capacitors are rapidly drained when I use the energy to accelerate the slug to that velocity. I can sustain, with a single ultravelocity cannon, a three-slug-per-second firing rate for six seconds before my cannon system requires critical recharge. Normally, I accelerate the slugs to Mach 54, or about 11.932 miles per second. With that velocity, the steel slugs will impart a joule count of about 4.176 Â· 109, which comes to approximately the energy released in a one-ton bomb. Of course, I can tailor the velocity of the incoming rounds to meet battlefield needs."
"Uh..." she heard her husband mumble.
"However, I also carry another type of ammunition, a 145-pound steel-jacketed, depleted-uranium-cored discarding-sabot penetrator that I use to engage ships in orbit. This projectile, because of its specialized structure, can be accelerated to .5C, resulting in a total joule count of 7.3654 Â· 1017, which is approximately 175.7856 megatons. Because the velocity is so immense the cannon capacitors are completely drained, requiring me to charge them. Approximately 9.7542 minutes under normal recharge allows me to fire that particular cannon again. My depleted-uranium penetrators are only used to engage orbital craft, as the uranium dust that would follow such an energy release cannot be metabolized by Terrans and most human foodstuffs. On the other hand, carbon steel is a combination of iron and carbon, which are both completely acceptable to the Terran body."
Well, the APC was pretty quiet at that. She just stared up-since the APC was pretty close to that walking mountain right now-and waited.
"The gate's opening now. See you later, Nineball. Out here," said the Gunnery Sergeant.
"A pleasure to speak with you all. Unit 19999 over and out."
The comm crackled, and she felt the APC glide forward, towards the opening gate.
"You have very developed defenses here," Zhuge Liang said to the lizard-woman.
Once they had gotten past the gates, the APC's hatch opened, allowing the occupants to debark. The slowly setting sun beat down from the east, since this world rotated in the opposite direction of Earth.
The open field the vehicles had stopped in was very large, giving sortie parties the room to maneuver. The field was enclosed by more walls, though none nearly as high as the main monstrous barrier.
Almost immediately after exiting, he had found himself face to face with a visored helmet, belonging to an armored soldier. The man was unarmed.
"Sir, I'm sorry that we can't let you rest much, but my superiors request your assistance." The soldier quickly added, "Your wife is requested, as well."
He had looked at his wife, read her nod, and had said "Lead the way."
The armored trooper, who stood well over six and a half feet, probably near six foot eight, led them into one of the walls, down several corridors, until they came in front of a door. The trooper stood silent for a few moments, and the door opened. The had soldier departed after being dismissed, and he had caught a glimpse of the room's three occupants.
The previous fifteen minutes had helped get over the initial shock.
Actually, the correct name for the alien's species was "Arcone," but he thought Lizard-woman fit much better. It really looked as if a slender model's body was combined with several aspects of a saurian one.
The being was about seven feet tall, and had a six foot long tail. The female alien's scales were the color of jade, and the belly-as he could see the stomach through the midriff-bearing skintight sleeveless top and four-flapped skirt-was a light gray. The alien's hair-yes, it had to be hair; what else could it be?-was dark red. The saurian head was reminiscent of a velociraptor's, with a projecting snout, two eyes that could see forward, two nostrils on the end, and no discernible outer ears. The snout of the Arcone was a bit shorter than a same-proportioned dinosaur-assuming that the Discovery Channel got those details right-and was almost completely flat on top. The pupils of the alien were heart-shaped and scarlet.
The clothing that the alien was clad in was clearly a military outfit, though it wasn't something human's wore.
Even though the alien was so human and yet so different, he could see a sense of feminine beauty, in a nonhuman sort of way.
"I would hope so," said the alien without any hint of malice. "The combined tactical knowledge of three species went into fortifying this place. Now that we have you, I hope it can become nigh impenetrable."
"I'm only a government official," he said with a slight bow.
The alien-her name was Krydeesa-Cordev-smiled, and bowed back.
"That's not what I hear. From what your recorded histories say, you are, for lack of a better description, brilliant."
"Thank you... er..."
"Grand Claw. The rank's equivalent to about a Terran colonel. But, since we're going to be working very closely together, you can just call me Krydeesa, or even Dees."
"Oh. You'll be working with my husband?" Ying asked.
"You can call me Ying. I'm sure my husband would have no objections to you calling him 'Liang'."
"Of course, Ying. However, Ground Force Commander Leeharodin Vir'lok and Colonel Kelly Ryan," she gestured to another alien and a tall, blonde woman, "will also be joining us. Of course, your skill as a tactician is equivalent with Zhuge's skill with strategy; as such, you're with us too"
"I cannot," he heard his wife say. He looked at her. She appeared to be blushing a tiny bit. "My husband is too-"
"Convinced of your abilities," interrupted the Gryth officer, Leeharodin Vir'lok.
For lack of a better description, A Gryth looked like a mythological werewolf. The body was vaguely human, with two arms, two legs, a head, and a very humanlike torso. The alien was dressed in what shockingly resembled traditional Arabian pantaloons and a low-collared, long-sleeved shirt, dyed a navy blue and piped with gold. The sleeves of the top were wide along the arm, but tapered to a cuff at the wrist.
Though he could see little of the alien's skin from the image, he could see that the Gryth was covered in short, soft-looking, tan fur, furthering the werewolf similarity. The alien's muzzle was a little wider than a dog's of the same proportions, and it had two stiff, pointed ears that seemed very mobile. The alien's thick, muscular arms ended in four-fingered hands. A short tail jutted out from behind the Gryth.
But other features clearly made the Gryth alien. The eyes had a dark brown pupil, with a slit of an iris like a cat's or snake's eye. The legs of the Gryth had an extra joint.
In contrast to the Arcone, the Gryth was heavily muscled, abdominal muscles pressing up against the fabric of the clothing.
"Really, everyone has confidence in your abilities as a tactician. You should too."
He gave a smile as his wife sighed.
"If you say so," she said apprehensively. "I hope I can meet the expectation of everyone present..."
"Which you'll have to very, very soon," came a familiar voice. He turned around and saw the Mindlancer General walk in.
Adrian returned the salutes of the three officers, and unceremoniously collapsed into a chair.
"Put all stations into Code Red status. CAW Cobalt reports that over three thousand heavy transports are inbound. She estimates, after subtracting the ships she and Nineball will be able to neutralize, that one-fifty thousand Sraida are going to make planetfall."