Janus was standing by what could easily be mistaken for a window had it not been suspended from the ceiling, meters from the cold metal wall. In reality it was a high resolution tactical monitor, displaying a live feed from an external camera. There was a star comparatively closer than the one in Janus' home system, but closer still was a large, revolving, gaseous ball surrounded by thirteen rings. They were close enough to see that the orbiting rings consisted of rocks, and that each ring was a different colour. The image began to shift slightly and Janus knew that it meant the ship was rotating. He folded his hands behind his back and twisted the ring on his left hand.
"Hey boys, we're taking position," he said without taking his eyes off the screen. "We should be able to see the wreck any second."
His update was then confirmed by the automated alert system; an out-dated, electronic female voice. It said "Attention: Operations Room. Primary target approaching optical range," and then it repeated the message.
There was a screech of metal on metal, followed by another, and another. Janus cringed and put his hands over his ears, stumbling away from the screen and the monstrous metallic man approaching him backwards, dragging his boots on the floor. Every inch of the suit was airtight, and it was bulletproof in as many places as possible. Across the high, heavily fortified shoulders, the words "Spaghetti Bob" were scrawled in yellow paint. Suddenly Bob raised himself up onto the toes of one boot and spun, planting his feet firmly on the floor with one hand raised and the other on his triangular crotch piece, thrusting his pelvis forward and screeching in a high tone.
"I swear to god, Bob, as soon as my suit's on!" The voice emanated from the mouth of a dark skinned, bearded man in the centre of the room with a finger outstretched accusatorily in Bob's direction.
"Bring it on, Raj," Bob said and began towards the man, reaching his monstrous mechanical arms forward as if to grab him, but stoping at the last minute and flicking him instead. Bob laughed.
"Oh, real funny, Bob. Real funny. Just you wait." And with that, a panel in the floor slid open and a thick metallic case came up to fill the space. The cover had not even finished opening before Raj was inside, harnessing himself into the machine he would wear as a suit. Green lights lit up along the case at once and Raj hurled himself upwards with mechanical strength and lifted Bob's foot out from under him. He fell heavily to the floor. Raj chuckled and shrugged as the chest of his suit closed, securing him inside its hardened shell.
Bob got to his feet in a flash and pranced nimbly on his toes, arms raised like a boxer.
"Ya wanna dance, big boy? Ya wanna dance?" he taunted, feinting with his left fist.
"You two are the most horrifying clowns I've ever seen," Janus interjected, approaching the centre of the room to wait for his suit.
"Shut it, map boy," Raj spat, his eyes on the circling Bob. "We can do this job without you, you know."
"No we can't," came a voice from the only doorway. The man, for his gender was evident in his voice, stood with a shadow cutting diagonally across his neck, leaving his face lost in darkness. His identity, however, was clearly labelled across the left breast of his grey singlet as Vincent Drave. On either side skin and muscles bulged outwards and down towards gigantic hands, one of which clasped a wooden clip board. There was a long, wooden crutch wedged into his left arm-pit and he leant most of his weight upon it.
The two metal hulks immediately dropped their stances at the sound of the voice and stood up straight, revealing the true height of their suits.
"He knows his way around these things. He's a valuable, so play nice," Vince said. "Janus, suit up."
The floor opened and a new case rose up. Janus climbed in and buckled the harness, and as he did so the alert system chimed out again.
"Attention: Operations Room. Primary target in optical range. Confirm."
"Yeah, I see it," Vince said loudly, turning to look at the monitor. "Ain't she a beauty."
"Whoa," Bob said. "Hey Raj, you ever seen anything like that?"
Raj moved closer to the monitor.
"Bloody hell," he said, his jaw hanging open.
Janus pulled himself out of the case, the chest piece closing as he approached the screen. In the midst of the asteroid rings was the long, grey hull of a large old warship. It had a flat top interrupted periodically by antennae and the bridge, which seemed to have been added as an afterthought. Its sides were smooth and curved inwards at the bottom, but it was the front that had them all in awe. It was like an open mouth, stretched wide in a perfect circle and reaching deep inside the hull, almost hollowing the entire ship.
"Forty-second generation Shonu-Messa frigate," he said.
Raj turned to look at him with his mouth open, ready to speak, but he stopped. His eyes widened and a smirk grew on his face. Bob kept his face away, but his suit began bouncing a little and the sound of suppressed laughter was growing. Raj began to chuckle too.
"These hulls are pretty rare in themselves, but this... um... this one..." Janus' eyes were flicking from the screen to Raj and back again. "Sorry Raj, what's so funny?"
"Nothing," Raj said, barely able to keep his laughter in. "Nothing. Bob?"
Bob risked a glance at Janus, then lost control. He doubled over with laughter.
"No, nothing," he said finally, then after a pause, "Fairy man."
They both lost their composure and laughed loudly. Vince turned on his good leg and looked at Janus. The dark metal of his suit was patterned with sparkling swirls in pink and purple, and protruding from the shoulder-blades was a pair of white, fluffy fairy wings.
"Not bad, Bob. Not bad," Vince said. "Janus, you look lovely. Now, can we all pay attention to the matter at hand?"
"Yes sir, sorry," Bob snickered.
"As I was saying, these are rare enough," Janus continued in an irritated tone. "They only came about towards the end of the war."
"That's right. They escorted capital ships," Vince added, eyeing Bob and Raj, who were still smirking.
"Most of them, yes. But a few were modified. Do you know of the Wraiths of Tokyo Nine?"
"Whoa, the wraiths?" Raj asked. "Is this a wraith?"
"It is. They stripped the insides bare; all they used was the hull. No shields, no flak, no scramblers or guidance systems. No defences whatsoever, yet they're impossible to destroy because you just can't hit the bastards. They jump in, fire, and jump out. All you get is three seconds. There's nothing in there but a jump system, a massive generator and a jumbo Particle Agitator. One of those cruiser guns. Punches a hole right through all our armour. They had only six of these at Tokyo Nine. It's the only place we ever saw them."
Bob and Raj were staring at the screen listening, their giggles long forgotten. The Tokyo Nine incident was famous in every colony because no-one knew what really happened.
"So..." Raj began.
"You were at Tokyo Nine?" Bob finished.
Janus glanced at Vince. "Yes, I was. That's why I'm here now. That gun uses a shit load of energy, and they were only experimental. Four of them failed and lost power, one right outside the Tokyo. I was a block soldier on the boarding party. It was a mess inside."
"And that is why we need him," Vince said. "He knows the layout. He knows the dangers. Particle Agitators use a very unstable substance called Luschadium. When we get inside, we all do exactly what he says. Bob, that means no more dancing. Now, I've got to go put my legs on."
Vince lay his crutch down and awkwardly climbed into the case, while Bob and Raj almost tripped over each other trying to get to the door. Janus stared at the shipwreck on the monitor. He stared down the barrel of the ship-killer and muttered "Tokyo Nine" to himself.
He would never forget that day. The battleship had been running a rear-guard action to keep the heavy ships away from the transports. By the time the fleet had arrived in the Helsinki system the planet had been besieged for a week. There was a harrowing and bitter battle before they were able to secure a clear path for the evacuation, and the plan was enacted so fast that civilians and military gear were mixed across the ships, making them all fair targets. Janus' squad had boarded five different vessels during the assault, and as a block soldier he was first through the breach. In addition to the standard boarding equipment, block soldiers also carry a large reinforced shielding plate. They resembled very large doors, and his job was to draw the enemy's fire until either they were defeated or he was dead. The block soldiers had the highest casualty rate of the boarding parties, but reduced squad loses by 34.7%. After the boarding zone was secured, the squad planted a high-powered explosive device and evacuated with as much as they could carry. The Helsinki battle was the first time Janus' squad had made consecutive assaults without returning to their carrier, and the fiercest fighting he had ever seen. His boots had become slippery with blood and hydraulic fluid, and each time he fired his weapon the recoil forced him back an inch.
Once the battle was over, the remaining fleet was spaced along the transport line to escort the survivors, the Tokyo Nine and a handful of light frigates at the back. For five days the ships remained on high alert, with enemy frigates and destroyers hanging on the edge of their sensor range. They were almost behind the front line when the wraiths attacked, and it took them only fifteen minutes to rip the Tokyo Nine to shreds. It was a devastating loss.
"Must've been hell," Vince said, striding up beside him in his robotic chassis.
"It was the end of the war for me. They couldn't make me fight after that." He turned to Vince. "But right now, I need the money. Let's get to it."