Act 1

The Birth of Harbinger Unit

Chapter One

"So, then, runt. Looks like you're our squad leader."

"But can we count on you not to get us killed?"

"Who cares? Not like any of us could do any better."

"This is only an exercise. If it doesn't work out we'll just replace him then."

Kevin looked at the faces surrounding him in the firelight and did his best to look unafraid as he said, "You have my word; I'll do my best to lead us all through this ordeal and all those to follow."

"An excellent speech, but altogether meaningless if your best isn't good enough."

Each member took up their respective equipment and moved to their posts. The one who had spoken last sat with a portable computer and monitored several instruments relaying messages to the others around the room. He had a neatly trimmed mustache that was no doubt the definition of regulations.

A girl sat with her uniform top unbuttoned at the machine-gun nest. Her red hair blazed down her back in an untidy ponytail and sweat ran freely down her neck and chest.

A non-descript man lay at a window looking out a rifle scope while he made silent adjustments based on the incoming data. His brown hair had been recently shaved to meet inspections.

A younger blonde man stood cross-armed by the door, a pair of automatic pistols and a baton in his belt. His hair feathered down his neck as he ran his fingers through it, clearly against regulations.

The fifth member of the squad couldn't be seen, but Kevin knew he'd be watching from somewhere with his amber eyes. Kevin heard a reassuring tap on the grate above him as he primed his own pistol.

Taking two grenades with him Kevin went upstairs to check the traps the squad had set up. In the three hours they'd been given to work with the team had managed to set up an impressive array of debilitating and distracting traps along the route to their point of defense, linking them with cameras that fed to the upper level. Unfortunately, though several had been triggered, there was no evidence of them being successful in their purposes.

"Bad news," Kevin announced as he returned to the ground level. "It looks like our enemies are pretty skilled. At least half our traps have been tripped on purpose already. Including the pitfall and the flash grenades."

"They're moving faster than we expected, then," said the man at the rifle.

"Not only that, but they're doing so without any sort of communication for me to tap."

"Relax. They'll get here when they get here," came the blonde one's answer.

"And then we'll mow them down," the girl finished.

"Kill the fire," came a voice above us. "I get a feeling they're coming."

Kevin put out the fire and retreated to the stairwell, checking the load in his weapon again. As he returned the pistol to its holster he heard the machine gun wind up and begin firing, shortly followed by several rounds from the rifle at the window.

"Got one," said the girl happily.

"Two, here," answered the sniper proudly.

The door burst in and fell to the floor.

"Trick-or-treat kiddies!"

The muffled sound of a pistol firing into someone's stomach came just before the thud of a falling body and the blonde's voice.

"I always liked 'trick', personally."

"That makes four already. That only leaves two."

A shout of pain came from the window, then another from the gunnery nest. Heavy footfalls came before two more cries from the blonde man and the one with the mustache.

"There should be two others. Check upstairs."

A shadow slid dimly along the wall as one of the intruders began to descend on Kevin. The grate crashed to the floor and the sickening crack of breaking bones echoed around the corner before a gunshot reached his ears. A few moments of silence followed.

"And that's six. Come on out, leader."

Kevin came around the corner sweeping the room with his pistol leveled ahead of him. He knelt to check his squad-mates' condition and was relieved to find they each had steady pulses.

"Looks like the stun tags work," he announced.

"Too bad he wasn't lucky enough to get one," the man said apologetically. "It'll take time, but his bones'll mend eventually."

With his concern for his team-mates passed, Kevin looked at one of the unconscious intruders, noticing the grotesque angle his arm had been bent into.

"What did you do?" Kevin asked with shock.

"I'm not really sure, myself. I was in the vent waiting for the right moment, then before I knew what was happening I was standing over this poor guy."

"Shouldn't we check to see if the others are alright?"

"I wouldn't worry. Remember, we weren't given the experimental tags. Just the standard rubberized bullets with the sleeping agent."

"But there have been complications with that drug before, haven't there? That's the whole reason for testing these tags. We'll have to round them up for the instructors anyway."

"Fine. Do what you want. I'm going to go check our traps, see if I can figure out how they spotted them."

The man was getting back just as Kevin had finished the knot on the ropes binding their six enemies together. Fortunately there was no sign of any complications, aside from a large number of welts and a clearly fractured rib in the case of the opposition's leader, who had been caught in the machine gun's fire.

"So, what'd you find out?" Kevin asked, wiping the sweat from his brow.

"They got lucky. Every single trap was triggered by wildlife. They were too small to be picked up on our monitors because we had to set them up so far away. Rabbits, birds, and even a squirrel."

"A squirrel?" Kevin said, surprised. "You sure? Not many of those running around these parts, what with all the deforestation going on around the major cities."

"Yeah. It bounced its way right into the center of the flash-bangs. Poor little thing's skull caved in under the pressure."

"Damn. Rotten luck. I suppose it's pretty much the same story with the rest of the animals, too?"

"Yeah. But with such hasty work it's no surprise so many of our traps got screwed with."

"So, now what?"

"Now we wait for the instructors to come along and announce the results of our trials. Until then, we take turns on the watch. There's nothing monitoring these games, and nothing to stop them from taking us down and saying they won if they wake up."

"I'll take the first watch, then. I've got to do something useful, right?"

"I'm glad to hear you're in agreement. Wake me up in two hours, then."

He went upstairs without saying anything else, or giving Kevin the chance to respond.

"Who is that guy?" Kevin asked the early morning air.

The next three hours passed uneventfully. When the sky had turned to the bright blue of an autumn morning the sound of a helicopter landing outside reached the ears of the building's occupants, waking Kevin from his turn at sleep. An officer came into the shack and immediately assessed the situation, barking orders at medical teams who took the sleeping teams into the waiting helicopter.

"Which of you is the squad leader?"

"I am, sir," Kevin said hesitantly.

"Report."

"Sir! As you can see we withheld the enemy attack with the use of our available equipment and abilities while holding our own losses to what can be considered tactically acceptable."

"You consider the loss of two-thirds of your squad to be tactically acceptable?"

"Given the results it has brought, yes sir. If the mission brings death to its participants, then so be it. That's the fate of a soldier."

"Show me a soldier that believes in fate and I'll call him and everyone that came before him a coward, son. Nevertheless, you are technically correct. Now, our medical teams will have the rest of your squad revived within the hour and you will be briefed on your first legitimate mission. Henceforth your team will answer as Harbinger Unit. You will be my personal task force. You do not exist as any part of this army and no one is to know of your presence at any time. Any equipment or supplies you need will be obtained through me and me alone. The others of your team will be at that cave on the northern face of the mountains. I will expect you to be there when I arrive in one hour. Dismissed."

Thirty minutes later the defending team met up in a cave hidden from view by a shelf of the mountain. When all six of them had arrived they addressed each other casually, giving names and various other information relevant to their new position within the military. Kevin started things off.

"Kevin Weiss. Tactical analyst and hand-to-hand combat expert. Age: 17. No known parents or relatives. That's my file. I was raised in an orphanage for children whose parents died in combat or in accidents related to the war. As you know King Reynard began sweeping such orphanages for 'youngsters with moldable talent' in order to bolster his forces before beginning his uprising. I was trained to be an officer and a leader from the beginning, but this trial was my first practical experience. I apologize for the injuries you received on account of my inexperience."

"Johann Falkner," The blonde man began from where he leaned against the cave wall, drawing his finger along the wall in swirling patterns. "Call me Johann and I'll rip your lungs out. Close combat specialist and small arms marksman. Age: 21. My family has a long history with military service, though I'm the first to serve in nearly a century. The family turned to arms manufacturing after a while and became ridiculously wealthy. But when the King's army came marching through Old Germany they started kowtowing right along with the rest of the old toadies, sending their kids off to join the military as soon as the town was occupied. Because of my natural talents I was trained strictly for combat in low-mobility areas. I assume the idea was to make me a bodyguard for important persons, or an assassin. Unfortunately I also have what most of my instructors considered to be a problem with authority, so those plans never had the chance to take root. As it is, I've found myself sloughed off onto you as a way of removing a problem. Regardless, my life's a chip in your pile now, squad leader."

"Anita Greyword," The girl said with a flip of her hair. "Mobile armor gunner and pilot. Highly skilled with small arms. Age: 19. I'm an orphan, too. I'm told I was the illegitimate child of a politician in Old Austria. When he learned his mistress was pregnant with me he exiled her from the territory. I was told she died a few months after giving birth to me. Fortunately her being exiled saved us both from the first strikes from Italy that claimed the lives of the entire Austrian senate and their families. At some point I was adopted by the Falkner family and enrolled in military school. I was trained for tank duty, either as the commander or the gunner, and can perform as a spotter for artillery or snipers if necessary. It'll be a pleasure working alongside each of you."

"Ivan Mikhail Cosgrove," The man with the mustache said. "Data collection both in and out of combat is my specialty. From the current weather to enemy positions, if it's on the air-waves I can find it, given the time. Age: 24. I come from a long line of officers who all proudly served their countries. I was raised with a sense of pride in that fact and the notion that there was no greater honor than a military career. And so here I am. I was told that I am unfit for officer status, even after all the strings and favors my father tried to pull in. He was stripped of his rank for displaying such shameful behavior and hasn't come out of the bottle since. Still, I have a certain knack for the administrative end of things. That being said, I would be glad to act as your second-in-command if you so deem."

The man who had manned the rifle stepped forward. "Marcus Kain. Marksman. Age: 20. Former member of the British Child Army. As such I've been fighting since the age of twelve. I was an orphan, too. When the military came to our home they took me and two other children that they considered teachable to a truck. I broke out of camp one night and found my way back to the orphanage. They had killed the other people there. The staff, the other kids, even a pair of adults that had been visiting at the time. And they didn't even try to hide the bodies. Since then I've been working to prevent that kind of thing happening again. I turned traitor and came to the R.C.A. thinking they'd be my best shot at achieving that. Here's to high hopes."

Last to speak was the man who had hidden in the vent. "Nathaniel Drake. Infiltration and extraction specialist. Apparent age: 20. Actual age: Unknown. I have no memory of anything outside of my military service. The first memory I have is slitting a man's throat during a mission. I was born on the battlefield and that's where I live. So long as there's a job to be done, my life's in your hands squad leader."

"We are the members of Harbinger Unit," Kevin announced when everyone had finished. "Apparently we're General Garm's secret task force and don't exist as official members of the R.C.A. Which makes me wonder what we're supposed to do when they see us using their military's equipment."

"They won't," came the general's voice from the mouth of the cave. "Or at least they won't know it belongs to their military. Everything you will be using is very experimental, still in development. And when speaking of me from now on you will address me as Boss or Leader. My orders come directly from King Reynard. We're going to eliminate his enemies within the nation for him."