Nova: The Lost Years Saga
Annihilation: The Guerilla War (Part 2)
Pinnacle of Light – Abyss of Darkness
Warning: Contains Mature Subject Matter
Chapter 2: Drax the Destroyer's Guide to Guerilla Warfare
Rich entered the holodeck closely followed by the Worldmind avatar and Yeoman Vas'Nur. Drax and Cammi were waiting for Rich; and Drax had already created a simulation of a park on the outskirts of a city. Drax smirked as he saw Vas'Nur adoringly admiring Rider. She appeared to be disappointed when Rider dismissed her from his side and sent her on an errand. Vas'Nur scowled at Drax as she walked by him. He merely responded with a toothy grin.
Once Vas'Nur was through the door and it had shut behind her, Drax turned his toothy grin on Rich. "Rider – if you ever decide to do anything about that, just remember that where you're from it's illegal in every state except maybe Texas."
Rich rolled his eyes and shook his head. Drax never seemed to tire of making sexual innuendo jokes at Rich's expense and cattle jokes at the expense of the Tauron. Drax deserved a sarcastic response. "With your attitude, is it any surprise the Tauron hold you in such high esteem? Tell me, exactly why did they have a price on your head?"
Drax's only response was another toothy grin; so Rich turned to Cammi. "Good Morning Cammi. What brings you out so early?"
Cammi, dressed in her stocking cap and school uniform, looked at Rich. She couldn't tell him the truth – that she missed seeing him and had a crush on him – so she smirked and with her typical pre-teenage disdain contemptuously said, "I just wanted to see you get your ass kicked again."
"Charming as always I see" laughed Rich, momentarily distracted.
The attack was sudden and unexpected. Drax's blow to the chest knocked Rich off his feet and he felt Drax's stainless steel knife at his throat. "First rule of guerilla warfare: Never let down your guard! Second rule: Trust no one! We know some Skrulls have joined Annihilus and are working as assassins! How did you know we weren't two of those shape-changing farkers sent here to kill the leader of the guerilla resistance forces?"
Rich was angered by the surprise attack. It would be useless to explain to Drax that the Worldmind automatically identity-scanned everyone with whom Rich came into contact as Xandar had been fighting Skrulls for centuries and was wise to their shape-changing ways. Drax was trying to make a point and he wanted Rich to respond with decisive action rather than talk. If Drax wants some action, by God he'll get some! Rich twisted away from the knife, broke Drax's knife blade with a quick flick of his hand, and threw Drax toward a tree some thirty feet away. "You'll have to do better than that to kill me dumb-fark!"
Drax twisted in mid air, flipped to slow his speed and change trajectory, and landed on his feet just in time for Rich to slam into him. Drax had anticipated Rich's move though, and as they grappled, Drax freed himself, placed Rich in a chokehold, and began landing blows to Rich's flank as he shouted another rule into Rich's ear. "Third rule of guerilla warfare: Always keep your cool. An angry, impulsive, emotionally motivated enemy is less dangerous than a cold, calculating, ruthless, relentless enemy!"
Rich caught sight of Cammi's self-satisfied grin; and he could feel even more anger rising from deep inside of him. Breaking free of Drax's grasp, Rich landed a blow to Drax's abdomen that sent Drax reeling. As Rich closed in, he noticed too late that Drax had merely been feigning injury to draw him in. Drax easily dodged Rich's attack and countered with a vicious thrust of his adamantium knife. Rich dodged the worst of the knife attack which would surely have pierced his chest if he had been a moment slower; but the tip of the knife caught his left flank and he felt searing pain.
Rich could hear Cammi laughing in the background, "First blood goes to Drax again! Wooo-hoooo!"
Now completely embarrassed and enraged, Rich took flight and banked hard right, heedless of the pain and bleeding from his left flank. His only thought was to take Drax down. Both he and Drax knew there was no way Drax could outrun Rich. Rich was just too fast. Drax sheathed his knife and calmly waited for Rich to close the distance between them. Rich was no longer thinking, he was just enraged and out for blood due to the humiliating treatment Drax was dishing out. His only desire was to take Drax down. Drax easily dodged Rich's frontal assault, flipped onto Rich's back, and drove Rich face first into the ground for a blinding, muddy halt to the morning's combat exercise. Cammi could be heard whooping with laughter in the background and the sound stung Rich's ears.
The next sting to his ears came from Drax. "Fourth Rule of Guerilla Warfare: Find and capitalize upon your enemy's weaknesses – in your case, becoming easily provoked and having overconfidence in your invulnerability – then surprise attack with lethal force."
Drax hauled Rich to his feet and got right in his face shouting, "In my previous incarnations I've had bodies as powerful as yours and I've been killed despite that! You can't count on your invulnerability to protect you out here like it did on Earth! Unlike on Earth, there are a lot of bad-asses out here as tough as or tougher than you! I would have thought you'd have figured that out by now! That scar on your face should remind you of that every time you look in the mirror! Truth is, no way should I have been able to beat you! You are faster, stronger, more agile, and more powerful than this incarnation of my body! You were defeated from the start though because you were cocky, you lost control of your emotions, and you didn't strategize! You refuse to listen to what that infernal pretentious computer living inside of you tells you even when it's right; and worse, you refuse to absorb what I try to teach you about fighting strategy and just rush in trying to slug it out! You can't win a fight with a worthy opponent that way; and you especially can't win a war that way! I expect better than this from you in our next combat exercise! Now get away from me because I'm so disgusted by and embarrassed for you by your amateurish fighting this morning that I can't stand the site of you right now!"
Drax stalked off toward the door with Cammi tagging along behind him, occasionally looking over her shoulder and grinning at Rich contemptuously. Drax glanced at Cammi and smiled to himself. Bringing her along had worked just as he had planned. She had easily goaded Rider into making mistakes and losing control of his emotions. This was a good training exercise for Rider. He needed to have his weaknesses underlined if he was going to survive much longer out here. Rider had nearly gotten himself killed by taking on Annihilus before he was properly prepared to fight so powerful a being as Annihilus. Rider's inconsistencies were an enigma to Drax. At times, Rider seemed to have fighting and command skills beyond his years; and at other times he fought like a rookie. This inconsistency had to be corrected. Drax's plan to rid the universe of Thanos once and for all depended on Rider getting him close enough to Thanos to actually deliver a killing blow. That meant Rider had to survive for awhile. Drax had to ascertain Rider's weaknesses and help Rider overcome them or this guerilla campaign would be short-lived indeed – and Thanos would remain beyond his access. He now knew that emotionality and overconfidence in invulnerability were two of Rider's fatal weaknesses.
Rich could feel the pain in his left flank. He silently asked the Worldmind to supervise the nanites in the cleaning and repair his uniform; and in the healing procedures for his flank wound. Rich glanced at the Worldmind avatar silently standing beside him. "Go ahead." When the Worldmind said nothing, Rich rolled his eyes. "For once you don't have something to say to add to my humiliation?"
The Worldmind professed its innocence. "No, not at all – I was merely reflecting on how unfortunate it is to find myself in agreement with someone I find as objectionable as Drax the Destroyer."
Chapter Three: A Meeting of the Minds
Rich decided to minimize the pain of multiple meetings and collapsed his three morning and afternoon meetings into one long meeting. Seated in attendance around the conference room table were Admiral Richard Rider, Vice-Admiral Ga'Noth, Commodore Che'Noth, Drax the Destroyer, and Chief Engineer Rur'Kuul. Rich stood. "Let's begin this meeting. We have an extensive agenda today. Vice-Admiral Ga'Noth will be first to speak."
Large, thickly-muscled, black-furred, with piercing black eyes, deep bass voice, and curved gleaming-white horns whose tips sported golden caps bearing the symbol of his herd; Ga'Noth was an imposing figure by any standard. When the powerful Minotaur spoke, everyone listened. "Good morning Admiral Rider and good morning to my other distinguished colleagues in attendance here today. I am pleased to report that the fleet has been re-supplied from resources obtained from a hidden Tauron military cache. We have enough ammunition and fuel for one extensive combat mission and we have enough food for approximately four weeks of operations. All ships have been repaired and are battle ready. I have sent ships to retrieve supplies from other hidden caches; but I am concerned about the lack of a steady supply line."
Rich shook his head affirmatively. "Thank you for your tireless efforts Vice-Admiral. We are in agreement about the lack of a steady supply line. Right now, we have dual efforts in preparation to secure additional supplies for our campaign. I am to meet with the Adanacian Ambassador to Xandar this evening; and I plan to press him for military and material support. We will also be pressing other former allies of Xandar for military and material support in upcoming weeks. Unfortunately, these will likely be uncertain and inconsistent sources during this time of galactic upheaval. Drax has acquaintances within the Beliim Cartel; and will be departing soon to attempt to make arrangements for a steady supply line through them."
Drax shifted in his seat. "The Beliim Cartel can provide us with supplies and reliable intelligence, but it won't come cheap. No matter how much money is in the Xandarian Treasury, we'll eventually exhaust it supporting a fleet this size. We're gonna need those former allies to cough up money and supplies; but also ships and troops to replace those we lose in our military operations. You're gonna find it hard to get them to commit until you show them that you have a chance of being more than just a minor annoyance to Annihilus."
Ga'Noth grimaced. "I am forced to agree with Drax the Destroyer. From having fought the Annihilation wave and seeing 90% of the Tauron fleet lost, I can say with absolute certainty that even a hit-and-run guerilla campaign is going to take heavy casualties. I might add that we are also taking a terrible risk concentrating all our resources at one hidden base. We need to establish multiple hidden bases and that is going to require vast resources. That means we are going to require more than can be reasonably purchased from The Cartel. We need allies that have so far been unaffected by the invasion; and to get them, we need a decisive, high-profile victory over the thus far undefeated Annihilation forces."
Rich rubbed his chin, wishing he had already completed the 'War College' training so he would know what to do next. Go with gut instinct, he thought as he leaned forward in his chair. "Agreed. Vice-Admiral, prepare scouting missions to gather intelligence and identify possible targets. I know you are concerned about liberating Tauron and that remains at the top of my list of concerns as well. Send a mission to Tauron to determine enemy strengths and weaknesses so we may also begin planning for Tauron's liberation. Also send missions to scout for other possible locations for bases for the fleet. Drax, please make the purchase of military intelligence data about Annihilation Wave strengths and weaknesses a priority in negotiations with The Beliim Cartel. Since our fleet is at peak readiness, I want us to mount a high-profile strike against Annihilus in less than one week."
Looking around the table, Rich could see that he had said the right things as everyone appeared to be pleased with his decisions. "Next on the agenda would be the Aurora and Orion Projects. Chief Engineer Rur'Kuul, please report." Rich was anxious to hear Rur'Kuul's report. The XBS Vengeance was an incredible ship and Rich was fascinated by this new Xandarian technology. The Xandarians had realized that they had under-invested in ships and were in the process of remedying that mistake when the Annihilation Wave attacked. The Vengeance, Aurora, and Orion were to be the first in a new class of small, fast, and ultra-powerful battleships. Powered by Zero Point Energy – or as the Xandarians called it – Nova Force – and utilizing the latest advances in nano-technology; these new ships were literally grown by seeding an asteroid of sufficient mass and composition of nickel, iron, and carbon with hundreds of quintillions of self-replicating nanobots, similar to ones making up Rich's uniform and inhabiting each cell in his body.
Rur'Kuul was a grizzled old bull whose fur had grayed and whose horns and teeth had yellowed; yet he spoke with a strength and moved with an energy that belied his advanced age. "Approximately one week ago, two suitable asteroids were found within the planetary nebula which we are orbiting. As of this morning, drilling to the center of each asteroid was completed and the Orion and Aurora nanobot capsules were placed. All that is now required to proceed with shipbuilding is an order to the Worldmind from a duly authorized agent of the Xandarian government. Once the Worldmind activates the nanobots, they will begin building the Orion and the Aurora battleships."
Rich was anxious to add the XBS Vengeance's two sister ships to the fleet. "Worldmind, the order is given. Please activate the nanobots and build the ships."
The Worldmind shifted slightly. "Yes Admiral Rider. The nanobots have been activated and work has begun."
Rich turned to Rur'Kuul. "Construction time?"
The old bull stopped to consider some variables before responding. "Based on the time for completion of the Vengeance and considering our current unique and less than optimal circumstances; approximately three weeks until completion."
Rich nodded in affirmation. "Thank you. If there is no further business or discussion, this meeting is adjourned."
Ga'Noth nodded to Rich as he rushed out to enact Rich's orders, conversing with his daughter, Che'Noth, as she escorted him to the hangar bay. Drax also headed to the hangar bay, paging Cammi to join him there for immediate departure for his mission to contact The Beliim Cartel.
Rich and the Worldmind Avatar caught up with Rur'Kuul before he departed for the hangar bay. "Chief Engineer, when might I drop by to inspect progress on the shipbuilding projects?"
Rur'Kuul stroked his chin whiskers as he considered Rich's request. "Please contact me in one week Sir. At that point, some of the external features should be taking shape."
Rich nodded and dismissed Rur'Kuul. "Worldmind, let's inspect the bridge and then return to my quarters to begin 'War College' training."
As Rich and the Worldmind Avatar left the conference room, Yeoman Vas'Nur silently fell into step beside and to the rear of them. Rich suppressed a smile. At the age of 18, Vas'Nur was full of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm, anxious to do a good job for him and anxious to earn the praise of her Uncle Ga'Noth. Rich made a mental note to be more patient with her.
The travel tube deposited Rich, Vas'Nur, and the Worldmind Avatar on the bridge. Commodore Che'Noth jumped to her feet, surrendering the Captain's chair to Rich. "Admiral on the bridge!" she shouted as she snapped to attention and saluted Rich. The remainder of the bridge crew also jumped to their feet, stood at attention, and saluted Rich.
Rich was uncomfortable with all the military formality, but respected it as necessary and as an essential component for recognizing legitimate authority for a species with a herd mentality such as the Tauron. Rich returned the salute. "As you were." He watched as the bridge crew returned to their stations before turning to Che'Noth. She was still standing at attention beside the Captain's chair. "At ease Commodore. Status report please."
Che'Noth was considered quite beautiful among her Minotaur species. Her fur was roan-colored; but she had inherited the piercing black eyes of her father. Her gleaming white horns were covered at the tips with gold caps bearing the Noth herd symbol. "The fleet is fully prepared for battle. Rur'Kuul has departed for his mission within the nebula. Drax and Cammi are departing for their mission as we speak." She gestured to the main holo-screen where Rich saw an image of Drax's shuttle departing the hangar bay. "Vice-Admiral Ga'Noth has returned to the TBS Pride of Tauron and is coordinating the scouting missions you ordered."
Rich nodded in satisfaction. The ship and fleet were in good hands. It was time for his appointment with the Worldmind. "Thank you Commodore. I must meet with the Worldmind in private for an extended period of time. I would like you and Yeoman Vas'Nur to see to it that I am not disturbed unless there is an emergency."
"Yes Sir!" Che'Noth and Vas'Nur said in unison, snapping to attention.
Rich suppressed another smile. "Thank you. Commodore, you have the con. Worldmind, Vas'Nur, with me."
End of Part 2 of the story, "Pinnacle of Light – Abyss of Darkness"
"The Warlord of the Sky and Sea"