Hamish squinted his eyes as the massive shuttle slowly lowered itself to the ground. It had the all the proper markings of a Fleet shuttle—but what did that mean these days? As the engines spooled down and the front ramp slowly cracked open and began to deploy, he thumbed the selector switch on his rifle from safe to burst and seated it tightly against his shoulder.
The unexpected message had come over the wireless to his Resistance group twenty minutes ago . . . causing confusion and havoc among the people he viewed as his personal responsibility to keep safe. Not an easy task on occupied Virgon, to be sure. Especially after the major cities have been leveled from space with nuclear strikes—just finding enough anti-radiation doses had been a major concern. And that supply was running low; when it finally ran out, all of his people would die. HIS people, not the Prime Ministers, not the Ministers of Parliament, not the Colonial Quorum. All of those were dead, leaving only Hamish and the handful of guards that had been detailed to ensure the safety of the youngest son of Her Majesty the Queen.
Mum was dead now—she had died when Petrus Palace took a direct hit from the Cylon bombardment that devastated the planetary capital Boskirk. Along with his two brothers and his sister, his nephews and nieces, his aunts, uncles, and cousins . . . his friends. All dead, all gone. The only thing that Hamish Sean Patrick Reynolds, Prince of Virgon, had that remained was his duty to his people—and from that perspective, the transmission on the wireless had been a godsend. If it wasn’t a Cylon trap.
His lips twisted slightly, with his teeth barely showing—if it was a trap, well, that played both ways. The Cylons had to know—if it was the Cylons—that letting him select their landing spot was a foolish idea. Fast work by his people had prepped this landing ground, but Hamish prayed to Hestia that those preps weren’t needed.
A whine overhead caught his attention as the ramp continued to lower, and his heart sank. If that was Raiders, then . . . well, all hope was gone. At least they could take a few more of the damned Cylons with them. But then he spotted the source of the whine—a flight of four Vipers—VIPERS—tore across the sky!
He turned his attention back to the shuttle as the ramp hit the soil and a group of black-clad armed men deployed. Not the metal Centurions, and his heart skipped a beat as he swallowed. But . . . he had to be sure.
“HALT!” he whispered into his boom microphone, and from the three hidden speakers, his amplified voice echoed across the ground. “Remove your helmets,” he ordered.
The man in advance of the others raised one hand and he looked at the thick woods—but Hamish and his people were well camouflaged. “Colonial Marines!” the man yelled back in a surprisingly high-pitched voice.
“Sure you are,” Hamish whispered, the speakers repeating his voice. “So take off the fracking helmets or this shit is going to get real,” he said, dropping into the vulgar patois common to the men and women of the lower classes who made up the majority of the survivors in his group.
The Marines below were on edge, now—caught in the open with only the open maw of the shuttle for cover, their potentially hostile opponents hidden in the woods. Still, they crouched down and kept their weapons at the ready. Their point man, though, he released his rifle, secured to his load-bearing gear by a clipped sling, and raised his hands. And then he, no SHE
—damn, Hamish thought, with a sudden grin at the lovely sight of the woman’s face below. And it wasn’t the face of a skin-job he had ever before seen.
“Okay, my helmet is off,” she yelled. “Lieutenant Tamara Mayne, Colonial Marines! We’re here to rescue you!”
“And the rest of them!” Hamish just had to be sure.
“Oh, frack this,” muttered Tamara. “Helmets off, Marines,” she ordered loudly. “What next? You want us to strip?”
“That isn’t a bad idea, Your Majesty,” drawled Colour Sergeant Adrian Haast, formerly of the Royal Virgon Fusiliers—technically a Colonial Army Regiment, but staffed only with Virgon volunteers and charged with the defense of the Royal Family. “If the rest of her matches the face, might well be worth taking a look.”
Hamish chuckled. “No, just the helmets, Leftenant Mayne,” he answered, then covered the boom mike with one hand, “and you be quiet over there, Colour Sergeant.”
“Sir,” the body-guard answered briskly.
One by one, the Marines removed their helmets and Hamish nodded. “Ever seen any of them among the skin-jobs—or collaborators, Colour Sergeant?”
“No, sir—and they do like using multiple copies of the same skin-job; no two of those Marines are the same.”
“Quite right, Colour Sergeant,” Hamish answered. He safed the weapon and then stood, and he chuckled as the Colour Sergeant broke in a stream of cursing that would have scarred a street-walker in Hadrian.
“I do believe that you are indeed the Marines, Leftenant,” he said, while walking forward—his men and women slowly following behind him, but with their weapons still at the ready.
“Sir,” she said with a nod of her head. “I don’t see how you could mistake us for Cylons, but we don’t have a lot of time. How many people do you have needing transport?”
“Just forty-four here, but I have got ten times that back at my base camp. Colour Sergeant Haast!” he yelled. And the Virgon soldier/body-guard/batman of His Majesty the Prince stood, finally setting his own weapon to safe. “Get with the flight officer of this vessel and hand over the coordinates to Home Base—you and your lads took their own sweet time, lass. We were beginning to get a trifle concerned that you might be too late to the party,” Hamish said with a crooked smile.
Mayne nodded. “We were out-of-town on a special assignment—just returned today to find this,” she said, waving her hand around her. And that, along with what she had said earlier suddenly registered with Hamish, and he sucked in a deep breath.
“Leftenant, I think you need to let me use your wireless—it is imperative that I speak with your Commander immediately.”
“Can I tell him who is calling?”
The Virgon drew himself upright and patted his rifle. “Reserve Fleet Captain Hamish Sean Patrick Reynolds, Lord Malcolm the Fifteenth of that Name, Ninth Earl of Aragon, Prince of the House of Petrus, Fourth in Line of Ascension to the Throne of Virgon,” he recited with a bow as he held out one hand, which the shocked marine took; he then turned it to present the back of her hand and kissed it lightly, “at your service, madame," but then his smile faded. "And I regret to say, quite possibly King of Virgon, should none of those closer to the throne have survived the Cylon attack and occupation. Now about that wireless, Leftenant?"