I moved to the spaceport and watched. Most of the men had withdrawn to the shuttles. They were standing around them as if they were afraid their rides were going to explode.
I had to laugh.
Then I looked across the tarmac at the hanger standing open on the far side. There it was. It was a beautiful old star yacht. It was going to be a shame to destroy it. It took me the better part of two hours to get to the yacht, and another thirty minutes to get inside without being noticed.
Once I was in the pilot's seat, I pulled out my identity hacker again. I broke the code and started to plot a course for the yacht. Then I waited. The beeps sounded in my ear again. It was now one beep, repeated seven times. I set the time for the pre-programmed flight to occur and snuck off the yacht.
It took me another hour to move to another hanger. There I found what I was looking for. It was a small jump shuttle. Two hours later, I left it with a pre-programmed jump in place. It took a while to hack the flight control system and allow the jump. I hoped I had gotten it right. I moved to another location and waited. When the beeps hit a single non-repeated beep I moved out. I came to the first patrol I found and held my arms above my head.
I smiled to see Jax and his buddy in the group. They took my weapons and then chained my hands behind my back. I was led by them to another group. Once there I saw the leader of the duchess's men. He spun and back-handed me. Then he held up his hand in front of my face. The scar there was obvious. "I have waited a lot of years to get my revenge for this. I am going to make you watch as me and my men rape your women in front of your eyes.
Then I am going to kill you by cutting your balls off and letting you bleed to death." Then he drew back his rifle and hit me with the butt of it. I saw stars as the men started to kick and beat me with their weapons. I knew this would be rough, but I had to be in the right place.
After I was beaten until I was barely able to stand, they led me to the starport. Once we were inside, they led me to the controller's office. There inside were the countess and Lizell. Next to them was a man who made my blurry eyes sharpen. It was the leader of the duchess's forces.
But this one had no scar on his hand. I turned to look back at the man behind me and it all clicked. They were twins. I felt like an idiot! There were two of them. A voice spoke from the chair which was turned around at the desk. "I have waited a long time for this, Drake. You have interfered with my plans to become empress so many times. I wanted to be here when you died." The Duchess Daria turned the chair to look at me.
She was a handsome woman with a cruel smile. Her grey eyes held a tinge of evil that she could never hide. The long, almost white, hair that hung down past her shoulders was thick and full.
"I guess we will die together this day," I said, as I tried to crack a smile. My swollen lips hurt when I tried. "No, my poor little thorn in my side, you will die alone. After you watch my men rape these two women repeatedly." Then she turned to the leader of her forces.
"Dundal, have the men line up. This should be fun to watch." After she spoke she turned her chair to watch out the window. Dundal moved out the door and started to gather the men. "Who the hell is moving that old yacht?!" The duchess stood up and pointed out the window. The man behind me moved forward to look. As he passed, I spun on my knees and lashed out with my foot. He went down hard.
Then I rolled over as I extended my leg out of the summersault. My foot came down with all the force I could manage and impacted with the back of the man's head.
The man Angel had shot so long ago was now dead. The other two guards in the room tried to come after me. One of them was Jax, the other was his buddy. I rolled up and spun. My foot connected with Jax's throat. As he stumbled back into his partner, I continued the spin and broke his neck. Both had died as quietly as a mouse. The duchess was so wrapped up in the moving yacht that she had not even noticed our fight.
The duchess screamed as I rolled and grabbed the man's pistol. Out on the tarmac, the yacht accelerated and ran head long into one of the shuttles. Then the small jump shuttle suddenly jumped out of the hanger and came out of its jump inside the second shuttle. The resulting explosions rocked most of the city. The duchess just watched as I took out two more of her spacecraft.
She still was not aware I had killed the three men in the room. Below, men were yelling and running out onto the tarmac. The duchess had not realized what I had done to her men yet. I moved as best I could, and found the man's vibe knife. It cut my chains like butter. Then I stood and pointed the gun. "Grand Duchess Daria, you are under arrest, for more charges than I can name right now." The duchess spun with rage on her face.
Then she saw her men dead on the floor, and me standing there with a pistol. I moved over and used the vibe knife to cut the bonds on the two ladies. I saw the men on the tarmac turn and start running back towards the building. I smiled. She had contacted them with her ear bob. "Thank you, Daria. That will make it much easier when the troops arrive." She started to laugh.
"Your precious imperial forces will not arrive for another day. You will be long dead and I will be long gone by then." It was now my turn to laugh. "Daria, you have made this easy.
The beeps are a deteriorating signal. The last twenty-four hours was signaled by one beep. Did you really think you had another day?" "Supreme Marshal Daemon, this is the Tidal Wave. Please state your status." My bob had activated and an Angel's voice came into my ear. As I spoke, the thunder of multiple sonic booms started to sound off. The noise of twenty drop shuttles hitting the atmosphere was deafening. "Grand Marshal Angel Kita, it is good to hear your voice.
We are condition red. We are in the rats' nest and surrounded. Please advise." "We have twenty thousand troops deploying now. Have you located the perpetrator?" "Yes.
I have the Grand Duchess Daria in custody." "Hold onto her. The Emperor will give you her Grand Dukedom if he gets to hang that bitch." The Duchess was staring daggers at me as I spoke over the bob.
I advised the ship of her ability to eavesdrop. "Be advised the rats have ears." "Understood." I waited for the men to arrive at the office. None of the duchess' men showed up. They had heard the conversation and ran for the hills. Then I spoke over the bob again. That had told me they all had ears. "Dundal, if you surrender yourself and testify against the duchess, I will bargain for leniency." "Don't do it Dundal! He killed your brother!", the duchess said over the net.
Then the voice of Dundal came over the bob. "I think I will remain free for a while, Drake. I still have a vengeance to plan. Good luck. We will meet again." Within hours, most of the duchess's men had been gathered up.
They became amazingly cooperative when they realized the troops were here. I was still sitting in the office with a gun pointed at the duchess when Angel walked into the room. "Supreme Marshal," she said as she acknowledged me. Then she turned to look at the countess. "Your grace." Then she nodded to Lizell, "Lady". Once the greetings were past she turned to me again. "Drake, can't we let you go anywhere without having you make a mess?" "I was retired!
My mess-making days were over," I laughed as the duchess scowled. Angel turned to face the Duchess. "Don't worry -- you will have your chance to explain this to the emperor.
I am sure he will be most interested in why you decided to occupy the countess's world." Once soldiers had escorted the duchess out of the room, I turned to look at Angel. "Why don't you go visit your mother while you are here." She smiled and nodded before leaving the room. We boarded a drop shuttle an hour later. I had someone retrieve my bags and weapons from the countess's house before we lifted off.
Once we were on the carrier the captain tried to give me his quarters for the voyage. I refused, telling him we would only be here for a day or two. We were given an officer's room, though. I sat in the room after I had a shower. It felt good to be clean again. Then Lizell came out of the shower. She still had drops of water on her skin, and they glistened like diamonds in the soft light.
I wondered if she was regretting anything yet. Then she came over to me and dropped her towel. Her naked body was dazzling in my eyes. Then she sat in my lap and threw her arms around my neck. "What are your plans now, my love." "I am going to see the duchess safely hanged. Then I will return to Mud and finish retiring." "Drake, you can no more retire than I can become a duck. You need this life. What made you want to retire anyway?" "I wanted to find someone and get married.
Then I wanted to start a family. As a Praetorian Guardsman, I can't get married." Lizell looked at me. Her face assumed a slightly shy look.
"Does that mean…" "Does it mean, I am going to ask you to marry me? Yes, it does, as soon as this is over." "Why not ask me now?" "Because, I want to do it right. You should be asked in a romantic setting. You should be surprised and delighted to be asked." Lizell looked into my eyes.
"I really don't care about that, Drake. I just know, I cannot think of any man who would be a better husband, and father to our children." "I do care, my love. You will only be asked one time. That is a once in a lifetime event and it should be something special." Lizell's lips met mine. Damn, she could light my fires quickly.
My body started to respond in less time than it takes to tell about it. I felt her hand begin to caress my hardening sword through my shorts. Then she pulled back her lips and looked into my eyes with an expression of pure love and trust.
"Make love to me, Drake." "You never need to ask. I am yours." She pushed on my chest making me lay back on our bunk. Her hands ran over my bare chest, as I slipped my hands under her bare bottom where she sat on my stomach. Then I lifted and guided her forward. My tongue found my target of opportunity and attacked in a savage assault. Her precious fluids began to flow as she fed me her essence.
She was moaning and crying out. I could tell she was building to a big orgasm. When I felt her start to quiver, I sucked her clit into my mouth. Then I squeezed it gently between my teeth and started to flick it with my tongue, while humming deep in my throat. She literally exploded as she screamed out her orgasm. She felt no need to be quiet. We were no longer in danger. Her voice told me how much she was enjoying my attention. She shook and convulsed on my tongue as her body was wracked with orgasms.
Then she began to pull on my hair between her legs. "No more, Drake! Please! You are killing me! Stop!" As I let her relax, she started panting. Then there came a pounding on the door. "Are you alright in there, ma'am?", a voice called through the door. Lizell and I started laughing. "I am better than alright! I am fucking fantastic!", Lizell called out to her protector.
We made love long into that night, we never even felt the carrier start its movement to the edge of the system. We finally collapsed in pleasant exhaustion a little after third hour. My eyes snapped open a little later. Footsteps in the hall had awoken me.
There was a polite tap at the door and a voice spoke softly. "Sir, the grand marshal requests your presence on the bridge." "I will be there shortly," I answered. My voice woke Lizell. "Is something wrong?" I could hear the fear in her voice. "I don't think so. If something was wrong, the ship would be at alert. Why don't you get dressed and come with me?" "Will they let me on the bridge?" "I doubt it, but we will ignore that," I smiled as we climbed out of bed to get dressed.
I was delighted to watch her beautiful body as she dressed with me. I refused to put on my uniform. I was retired. We arrived on the bridge. Lizell was in awe of seeing space through the huge windows on the bridge. "Status, Angel," I said, as I approached the grand marshal. "We are Status Green. All systems are responding normally. I asked you up here to inform you that the emperor authorized, no, I should actually say demanded, we use long jump protocols.
We made the jump while you slept. We will be pulling into orbit around earth in about twenty minutes." Lizell's eyes grew wide.
"You mean these ships can make a jump from rim to Earth in one step?" "Yes, ma'am," Angel replied. "It is not an ability we like to advertise." Then Angel looked back to me, "The emperor requests that you escort the prisoner.
He has waited a long time to catch this bitch with undeniable proof. He does not want her to get away." "I will escort her. Is she allowed to have bruises when she arrives?" "Protocol does not allow the mistreatment of prisoners. Make sure they don't show. You should be in uniform, sir. It is normal escort protocol." I gave Angel a hard look.
"I didn't bring a uniform with me." "I have one, sir," she said, with a malicious smile. My uniform was laid out on our bunk by the time I arrived at the cabin. Lizell took her shower first. Then while she dressed, I climbed into the small shower. When I got out of the shower, Lizell had my career bars in her hand and was looking at them.
"Drake, I have been through a lot of military information while doing my job. I know what medals most of these ribbons represent. But this one is unfamiliar to me. And what are these extra stripes on the ribbons for the Bravery, Valor, and Honor?" I sat down and lifted the bars out of her hand.
"For the standard medals they have the medal itself, if you win it a second time they give you a bronze cluster, which is shown by the metal bands at the end of the ribbon. If you win it a third time, they become silver, then gold, and finally platinum. The problem was that my career taught them people can win them more than five times. Each of these black stripes represents another medal." "Okay I can understand that, you won each one of them more than twenty times.
You also won so many other medals it is sickening, including five IMoH. What is this platinum ribbon with the black stripe?" "That is a medal that has not been seen since the early days of the empire. It is the Knight Protector's ribbon. It is only awarded to someone who has saved the life of an unborn member of the imperial family." "Tell me about it." ********* "Robert, whoever has been after Asta is going to try hard in the next few days. If your child is born, it will make it that much harder for them to force your hand by killing her." "I know, Drake.
That is why I have placed her life completely in your hands. Keep her and our baby safe. Please." The look in Robert's eyes told me volumes. He trusted me with the most precious things in his life.
"I will not let you down." "I wish my parents had lived to see this. They deserved to meet their grandchild." "I promise you, if we ever get the chance to exact vengeance on the person responsible for their deaths, I will be standing beside you." "I want to pull the trigger, myself." "I know, but that is beneath an emperor." "Vengeance is beneath no one, Drake." I left the emperor brooding in his office.
There had been more than ten attempts on Asta's life in the years since I had joined the Praetorian Guard. Not to mention the attempts on Robert's life. They were a regular occurrence.
I could feel the threat building. We all knew who was behind the attempts. We just never had the proof needed to accuse her. I knocked politely on the royal bedchamber door. "Enter!" Asta's voice came drifting through the door. I opened the door and stepped into the room. "Good morning, Asta," I said to her as she sat in the chair by the fireplace. Then I greeted her favorite lady in waiting, "Good morning, Taziel." "Good morning, Drake. Are you here to torture me with more details of what I am not allowed to do?" Asta's voice was full of the exasperation she normally felt.
She was nine months pregnant and due to pop any moment. "Good morning, Mister Daemon," Taziel said, as she blushed. "Taz, could you please get us a pot of tea this morning?" "It would be my delight, your majesty." When Taziel left the room, Asta looked at me with a smirk.
"You should take that young lady up on the offer her blushes make. You two would be a cute couple." I frowned slightly. "You know I will not do that.
I cannot offer her anything besides my friendship. No woman deserves to be cast aside when my career demands it." I hoped the pain in my heart did not show on my face. I had checked up on Grace a few times over the years. She was married now, and had her first child.
She had a good life. "She was very special to you, wasn't she?", Asta asked softly. "I do not know what you are talking about." Asta gave me a look that told me I was not fooling her. "Yes, it was only a matter of time. Then I gave her up for my career. I can't put any woman through that again." "So you confine yourself to affairs with your subordinates, who, like you, can not get married." "Ma'am, I would like to think what happens in that part of my life is allowed to stay private." Asta smiled.
"We did let you keep it private. However, Pralla could not keep quiet, and you had a habit of making her scream in her office." I blushed as I looked away. This made Asta laugh. "Asta, I still miss her. She was a good leader and a wonderful person. I think I am a poor substitute for her." "We knew about you and we approved. Pralla trusted you and we trusted her. Did you know, to our knowledge you were the only man she trusted enough to give herself to?" I looked up as she spoke.
My mind was full of confused thoughts. Had I betrayed another woman and not even known it?
Asta looked at me and saw my face as emotions played across it. "Yes, she loved you, Drake. But she, like you, would never let it come between her and her duty. She died to protect me and she would be proud of that.
I will always remember her last words to me." "What did she say to you before she died?" "She whispered in my ear, 'Trust him, majesty, he will get you home safe, even if it costs him his life.' I have followed her advice since before that day.
I have never regretted it." "Thank you, Asta." Taziel entered the room with a pot of tea on a tray. "Your majesty, the kitchen seems to be having problems. I had to gather the tea and stuff by myself. The staff would barely talk to me." I activated my bob immediately.
"Suspected threat! Make the rabbits run. Kitchen declared unsafe." Then I turned to Asta. "Your Majesty, it is time to move you to a safe location until the threat can be analyzed." "At once! Come with us, Taz." Asta needed help standing up. She was hugely pregnant, and that was going to make this really interesting. I snatched a chair with wheels on it. "Sit," I said. It was not a request. Soon we were moving down the hall like a tornado.
My men fell in behind me. We had to move past the kitchen to get to the nearest safe room. As we came past the door to the kitchen, a man stepped out.
He was wearing the uniform of a wait staff person. I did not recognize him. My reaction was instant. I spun the chair so my body was between the man and Asta. I felt the slug rip into my back.
This time I knew it was bad. I spun, drawing my side arm. My return shot took him center of mass. Then I fell to my knees. "Get her out of here." My legs were not working right. I had to trust my men with the package. They moved on as one of them tried to help me up.
"Go!", I shouted. "Protect the package!" I tried to move my legs, as they ran down the hall. They were not moving. Then I heard men running down the hall. I lay still and waited. Feet ran up behind me and then past.
I lifted my pistol and took aim. Three quick pulls of the trigger and three men fell. Then they spun and opened fire. I felt the slug rip into my left shoulder. Then a slug ripped into my right. Then I felt nothing. As my mind drifted into unconsciousness my bob activated.
"The rabbits are caged, top is in danger. Serve and protect," the voice of an Angel informed me. Then the darkness claimed me completely… "Drake, wake the fuck up!", a voice yelled in my ear. "Damn it! Asta is refusing to have the baby until you are on your feet and can protect it." I pried my eyes open with great effort.
Robert was looking at me with concern in his eyes. "Recruit Drake Daemon, reporting for duty, sir," I croaked out. I was swept into more than one set of arms at that point.
"Damn, Drake, you scared the shit out of us!", Angel said, as she hugged me. "I told the doctor he did not know how to die," Asta's voice said from beside the bed.
As the arms let me loose, I looked over and saw Asta sitting in a chair with a tiny bundle in her arms. "Drake, I would like to introduce you to Cleopatra Joanna Stavio-Noir, the crown princess." When I was on my feet again a couple weeks later, I was awarded the Knight Protector's medal and then the Emperor put me into a tailspin.
"Grand Marshal Drake Daemon, I have wracked my brain for the last couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do with you. In the past you have won medals and rank, by sheer force of your loyalty and heroics.
However I can no longer promote you in the standard course of events. I am therefore declaring war on all who would seek the life of the royal family. I signed the declaration this morning. Therefore, by our standards and traditions, the military must be under the command of one man during the state of war.
Step forward, Supreme Marshal Drake Daemon, and accept the charge I give thee. Lead the forces of the empire to victory." There was a collective gasp from the men and women in attendance of the ceremony. The emperor had just put me in the one position that no man had held in over fifteen hundred years. I stepped forward and knelt on one knee before Robert. He placed my new collar pins himself. It was a little later, as I was walking beside the royal family.
"Why?", I asked simply. "You took a bullet to save the life of my family. You stepped into the path of a bullet aimed at my wife." He stopped walking at that point and turned to face me. "Drake, you sacrificed your life to save my wife and child. I will never forget that." "I did not sacrifice my life, Robert, I lived through it." "You are wrong, my friend. You died on the operating table four times.
The last time, the doctors gave up and were going to walk away. But after a full two minutes, your heart beat again, on its own. You refused to stay dead. Then after you had been repaired, the doctors said you would never wake up. They said they had been too late and the damage was too extensive. They unplugged the life support. You stopped breathing, and we waited for your heart to flat line. Asta was crying the whole time.
After almost five minutes, you suddenly took a breath again. You forced your way back from the edge of the grave to keep fighting on. The doctors tried to convince us it was a survival reflex and you were dead. They tried to tell us you would never wake up, but Asta and I refused to believe it. She told me what to yell in your ear, and I'll be damned if you didn't report for duty." I stood there staring at him.
I had actually died to protect them. "I love you like a brother, Drake. As far as I am concerned, you deserve the ultimate respect of the men who serve with you." ********* I finished my tale just as the announcement for shuttle boarding came over the intercom. Lizell took my hand and then she kissed me.