Ory'Hara fights back an Auroran invasion, frees the Vell-os, and enlightens Polaris society before merging with the Universe and disappearing beyond the Veil. Commander Krane of the Bureau of Internal investigation is herself investigated after Rebel accusations and found guilty by a Vell-os court of crimes too numerous to list here. She is sentenced to execution by lethal injection and the Bureau is, officially, dissolved. Nirvana Terraforming finishes their work on the planet Nirvana, and calls for colonists. 90% of the colonists are Bounty Hunter Guild members and their families.
The newly freed Vell-os take Wolf 359 as their own system, renaming it Llyrella. Using their unique technology, they "weave" a hypergate there which connects to five previously undiscovered systems in Western space which are otherwise not accessible (no hyperjumps have been mapped). They adopt an isolationist policy and decide to leave their old, ruined worlds as they are, as a reminder of the horrors of war.
Pa'Maru, despite rumors that she is insane, becomes the leader of the Mu'hari caste. The Rebellion continues to operate in Federation space, identifying and removing remnants of the old Bureau from the Federation government. The Bureau was everywhere, and this will take a considerable amount of time and manpower to accomplish fully.
Unknown to the Rebellion, what remains of the Bureau still controls the Auroran Moash house. In an attempt to retake the Federation, the Bureau arranges for an Auroran invasion of Federation space. With the Vell-os gone, they expect a clean victory. System after system falls to their Blitzkrieg as they advance steadily on Sol. The Federation, knowing they do not have enough ships left to fight off the advance directly, withdraws the Wild Geese, Raczek's Roughnecks, and most of their Carrier fleet to Sol. The remaining cannon fodder, in theory, should weaken the Auroran forces although suffering a near 100% casualty rate. The remaining battle-ravaged Auroran forces will hopefully be weakened enough to be turned back at Sol, after which the outlying colonies can be retaken.
The Moash house, fearing that the Heraan house is planning a takeover of the Auroran leadership with their new Thunderforge-class ships, orders Heraan warriors to the front lines to spearhead every attack, hoping this will thin the Heraan forces and doom any takeover attempt to failure. Things do not go as planned, however, when the success of the Thunderforges inspires the other Auroran houses to charge forward to victory alongside the Heraan. The Polaris continue to improve relations with the Wraith, and learn a great deal from them about the Northwest corner of the galaxy. They become increasingly interested in exploring the outer boundaries of the known galaxy, hoping to find a usable hyperspace path into new territory.
Several more Federation planets fall to the Aurorans. Due in part to the Thunderforges' sheer power and in part to the inspiration they provide to all the houses, the Aurorans are not losing the expected number of ships in these battles, and the Colonial Council begins to fear they will not be able to stop the advance at Sol even with the fresh, elite troops stationed there. The Moash house is also worried that specifically, the Heraan house is not losing the expected number of ships because the other houses refuse to forsake the glory of battle. Sigma Shipyards buys Pyrogenesis in a surprise hostile takeover, essentially securing a monopoly over civilian shipbuilding. Sigma then moves their headquarters from the Kane Band to Fomalhaut, which has not yet been attacked by Auroran forces.
Pa'Maru instigates a massive strike of the entire Mu'hari caste. The rest of the Polaris empire quickly discovers how dependant they were on the Mu'hari as their entire society grinds to a near halt. Since nearly every planet in Polaris space was dependant on the agriculture of the Ringworld at Tre'helov, many systems fall into a state of near-starvation as the Cambrian fleets are taken out of service due to lack of Mu'hari maintenance, which cripples interplanetary trade. Nil'kemorya battle ships are pressed into service as cargo haulers but are woefully inadequate to the task. The Vell-os, curious about Western space and now no longer threatened by the Krypt pods, decide to form an expeditionary force to explore. The force consists primarily of t1s and t2s.
The Auroran invasion force break through to Sol. All territory West, East, and South has been conquered. Only territory to the North remains. The elite forces at Sol are fresh, the best trained, the most experienced, and have the best equipment. Despite the fierce resistance, they are forced to quickly give up space, falling back again and again to Auroran forces that were not as badly ravaged by their previous battles as was hoped. Just when all seems lost, a huge fleet of Vell-os forces hyperjumps into the Sol system, armed for bear. They deliver an ultimatum to the Auroran forces: Leave or be destroyed. Now outnumbered and surrounded by fresh troops with advanced technology, the Aurorans retreat back to Auroran space. The Vell-os have no time to enjoy, or even explain, their eleventh hour save, however, they immediately leave the Sol system as though a great emergency had just called them away. The Federation forces are left bewildered by the unexpected help and equally unexplained departure.
Ten years pass as the Aurorans rebuild their forces and the Polaris society falls farther into chaos. Meanwhile the Federation, suffering from a lack of confidence from the colony worlds that the Aurorans invaded, falls into anarchy as outlying systems begin to declare their independence. Meanwhile, the Kane Band begins to empty as the various businesses located there can no longer afford the rent, and over the next several years becomes nearly empty. Sigma Shipyards, which moved out several years ago, buys Port Kane and makes it their main shipping hub.
Pa'Maru offers no explanation for the continuing Mu'hari strike as the Polaris empire continues to fall into a state of chaos and recession. The Aurorans, sensing weakness and (officially) seeking to recover loses in the failed push against the Federation, decide to strike Polaris. Unofficially, the Moash house is trying one more time to weaken Heraan forces and secure their position as the first family. A vote of no-confidence is finally called for in the crumbling Federation Council as a result of its failure to defend its borders.
What forces the Polaris can spare are called to the Auroran border to defend Polaris space. All the mighty Raven warships are still required as cargo haulers, and this hurts the Polaris front badly. Their main defense are Arachnid warships, as they are of little use for cargo. The Aurorans fight hard, hoping to make up for the honor lost in the Federation push. The Federation Council loses all official power as a result of the vote of no-confidence. It remains as nothing more than a figurehead as even the systems nearest to Sol begin to retake more and more power back to their local governments; and the Federation eventually loses even the power to tax interplanetary trade. The Bounty Hunters Guild uses the opportunity to claim the planet Nirvana for themselves.
After years of battle with the Aurorans, the scientist and engineer castes of Polaris discover that the high-energy atmosphere of the Wraith homeworlds can be packaged, condensed, and used to fuel a powerful weapon. This turns the tide of battle back against the Aurorans as the new weapon enters mass-production. Sigma Shipyards attempts a hostile takeover of GLi-Tech, but are foiled by a combination of semi-legal accounting and a large number of loyal stockholders.
The Federation Council, broke and powerless, finally falls apart. What was once the Federation is now a collection of independent planets and systems. The Wild Geese unite a few systems under their protection and essentially become a government unto themselves. Raczek's Roughnecks join the Bounty Hunters Guild but are never quite fully accepted by the other members.
Sigma Shipyards begins to use their monopoly on shipbuilding to completely control interplanetary trade. This plunges the now-independent planets of the former Federation into a deep recession while making Sigma wealthy beyond belief. United Shipping declares bankruptcy. Sickness, disease, starvation, and crime run rampant throughout the old Federation. The Polaris step up production of their new weapon to push the Aurorans back out of their space, but the Wraith discover their atmosphere is being used up an at unacceptable rate. The Wraith forbid the Polaris from ever again entering Hot'A'Tanius and Hel'A'Forius. Fortunately, the Polaris have just enough of the gas left to finish pushing out the Aurorans.
Pirate groups - sick of the Bounty Hunters - and the free traders - sick of Sigma Shipyard's monopoly - join forces against Sigma's oppressive economic policies. Sigma, sensing a public relations crisis, decide to rebuild the Federation. This Neo Federation brings a sense of unity and protection to the independent worlds, but is secretly, completely under Sigma's economic control. Raczek's Roughnecks, never really accepted by the Bounty Hunter's Guild, leave to become the military protection of the Neo Federation while they build up a new defense fleet. The Auroran houses, sick of losing major wars that they should have won, turn against the Moash First Family. The Moash house points the blame at Heraan house, accusing them of selling information to their enemies. Heraan accuses the Moash of abusing their position as first family at the expense of all the other houses by attempting to use these wars to destroy Heraan house. The Dechtakers point out that Heraan warriors accounted for more enemy casualties than any other House, but their testimony is dismissed. As faith in the Moash falters, the Auroran Empire enters civil war. The Polaris meanwhile have their hands full just keeping the people fed while recovering from the Auroran war.
The Polaris, beaten, hungry, poor, and tired, are finally free to turn their attention to the Mu'Hari crisis. They call Pa'Maru to trial. Since the Mu'hari obviously cannot preside over this particular case, the Nil'kemorya are called to stand in judgement. Pa'Maru offers a guilty plea and makes no excuse for her actions. The Nil'kemorya throw her out of the Mu'hari caste, and she is sentenced to join the Pariah caste, the most severe Polaris punishment available. Pirate fleets step up their actions against Sigma shipments, further hurting the already economically destitute planets of the Neo Federation but also hurting Sigma. They hope the ends will justify the means. Sigma reacts by employing the old Rebellion to form the United Anti-Pirate Association.
The Polaris discover that their Cambrian fleet has fallen into a state of disrepair during the thirty-two year Mu'hari strike. There aren't enough Nil'kemorya ships left after the Auroran invasion to continue shipments. The Polaris enter a crisis the likes of which they have never before seen, several of their planets in danger of starvation on a massive scale. In desperation they turn to Sigma Shipyards to help them make life-saving deliveries. Sigma, however, charges so much for their services that the Polaris are unable to repair their Cambrians. Sigma blames continuous pirate raids for their prices, and begin work on bringing the Polaris government under their control. They reactivate the hypergate at the Polaris capitol.
Heraan house suffers enormous losses but, with the help of their Thunderforeges and the Dechtackers, manages to defeat the other houses. The Dechtackers suffer near-complete losses and are eventually absorbed by Heraan. Most of other houses, broken and defeated utterly, still manage to put up resistance to Heraan occupation. Only the Tekel government (due more to their physical distance from Heraan than anything else) managed to barely survive Heraan's wrath. Heraan's forces, stretched too thin to actually control the rest of the expansive Auroran empire, retreat back to Heraan space and are able only to control the capital worlds of the other former houses via the hypergates. The other houses, having lost their leadership, identity, and 60-80% of their battle forces, fall apart into independent systems nicknamed The Shard. Most of the Shard worlds agree to trade with Heraan, but several become hostile and xenophobic. Auroran space is cut off from the rest of the galaxy as Heraan forbids communication with the Neo Federation and disables hypergate access out of Auroran space. Heraan then builds a hypergate at Kontik and sets up a permanent mining colony there.
Darès wiped the last drops of water and sweat off of her forehead. It was another hot day on Earth, the temperature peaking at around 90, a record high for the season the continent was in, but definitely not as hot as the planet she'd trained on.
"Tensions have arisen between the Vell-os-Federation relationship, as Bureau activists protested at New York City, protesting against the Vell-os Ambassadors that arrived earlier today." The Holo-Vid cut to a man wearing an outfit, garnished with the now familiar symbol of the Krim-hwa.
"We don't want them here! They killed off the Bureau that had protected us for such a long time, and now they're trying to spread their filthy spiritual beliefs and ideals to our society. May their souls depart to hell!" In the background were many people carrying holy symbols and signs, some even with torches, all filling the streets around Federation Headquarters. Darès stood up, and looked down out the window, cradling her 4 month old child in her arms. The mob seemed so far away, so distant, but when she closed her eyes, she could see the hatred radiating like a plume of smoke from the ground.
"Its sad," a deep voice intoned behind her, her husband placing his hands on her shoulder, massaging deeply, not only with physical touch. "We try to help them realize the truth, we try to help them, but they reject us just as dark-skinned humans were rejected centuries ago in this very continent."
Another moment of silence enveloped the three, as they stood there, above the chaos, united as one; a family.
"It has been years since the Vell-os broke free of their Bureaucratic enslavers, seemingly disappearing. Ten years ago today they returned, offering peace, happiness; a galactic Golden-Age. But with all the violence and damage they've caused, many find it hard to forgive or believe what they promise. The Holo-Vid once again cut to an interviewee, this time in front of ruins, surrounded by tall, dense green grasses.
"Its been 30 years since both my parents died, I'll never forget the scenes of uncontrolled destruction that one person unleashed unto the building where my parents worked, slaughtering every person in sight without the blink of an eye. It was a damn good thing they were enslaved, as they are obviously more savage than the Aurorans. And it's a damn shame they aren't still. For all we know, they could be planning an invasion, and we all know how powerful they are..."
The Holo-Vid cut back to the reporter, now inside a large auditorium. "You heard it, live and direct. That was Barthus Crane. I'm now inside where the reception and speech from the two Vellosian Ambassadors will be given. We will have continuous coverage, just stay tuned to U-CNN, your most extensive news - "
The Holo-Vid shut off, seemingly by itself, but Darès saw Korchan's weaves manipulate the on/off switch. He kissed the top of her head. "Its time, dearest."
With that, Darès walked carefully over to the cylindrical crib that floated a couple feet off the ground. Placing her firstborn in, she softly shut the Plasteel top. The crib could now withstand 500 tons of pressure or explosive. The infant within began to doze off into sleep, surrounded by soft cushions. Darès and Korchan left the room, proceeding up several flights of stairs, to a room behind the small auditorium, where the president of the Federation usually made speeches to the press.
* * *
Outside, the mob was boiling, as it saw the conference on a large screen near the base of the Federation building. Drone fighters patrolled the air around the tall building, weaving through the buildings, skimming just above the crowd, scanning for trouble. 300 miles above, a lone ship plummeted at high speeds down toward the city, the atmosphere straining its shields. It was one of the old relic ships, an IDA frigate, on its last limbs, by the looks of it. The single pilot inside grinned, and pushed the accelerator to maximum, kissing his golden emblem, smiling in pious glee.
* * *
The President took to the podium. "My fellow Galatians. I come to you today to commemorate the second-ever Federation-Vell-os alliance in Galactic history. I - " The man stopped talking, pressed at something at his ear. He looked sadly up at the crowd of reporters, reached a shaky hand over to the podium, and depressed a button somewhere underneath. In a split second, a shield was over and around the president, and in another second, he, along with the podium and the floor he was standing on shot down through the ground, a secret escape tunnel.
For what seemed like an minute, the room was silent. Almost all at once, everyone began to rush to doorways, some even tried to jump down the shaft that remained in the area the president once stood. Darès and Korchan were oblivious to this, waiting for a cue. The two sat beside one another, hands crossed over each other's lap. - do you feel that?! - Korchan said telepathically, his eyes widening. - a ship... - Darès began, but Korchan was already on his feet, dragging his beloved towards the windows as fast as he could...
* * *
With a terrible roar, the ball of fire that was the IDA frigate smashed into the top of the building, sinking in like a foot into mud, at least 20 floors before exploding, completely destroying the top half of the building, metal, concrete, glass, flesh flying everywhere, smashing into buildings. The Baby giggled as it was thrown through the air, inflated cushions surrounding it as it crashed into another building, and out the other side, landing eventually in the small, lush park. The mob below began to cheer, as they saw the ship bearing down on the building. Seconds later, as huge chunks of metal, re-bar and fire plummeted towards them they realized how close to the building they were...
* * *
The Found child was adopted into a wealthy family, and eventually, that person bought a shuttlecraft for himself, hoping to find his true family someday...
Excerpts from the newly elected Emerald President's speech in Scarborough on Eriu
"Ladies and gentlemen, I speak to you for the first time as the president of our new Emerald Nation. I am deeply honored by your choice and will do everything to maintain our maturing states stability and success..."
"...We as a people will now be represented by more then just our military, we as people will not have to shed our blood for others, we as a people have a home to carve among these stars. It is not selfish to think of ourselves in these times, we have helped others for decades and earned our rest. We've fought with and against the Honorable Auroran and protected Federation borders for eternity. We have earned our peace! Only by helping ourselves now will we be able to help others when they truly need it..."
"From Earth we came and colonized these planets, now we take the next step in binding them together as a united force. Our enemies' animosity has not and will never scathe us, our rising nation will endure it all. We have persisted for centuries and we will for centuries to come, nothing will break us."
"I see great things for us, The Emerald Nation. Our legacy awaits."
Stepping down from the pulpit the new president was applauded enthusiastically by his people as he made his way to the escort. With grace and tact he left the building and entered the limo.
"Shoot me straight Seamus, how was that?"
"Simply stunning. You carried your audience and told them the truth; the Emeralds will be a force to be reckoned with! Can I pour you a drink Mr. President?"
"I could murder one. Yes, our nation is going to be beautiful, but we just need to settle the minor uprising that is postponing our total unity."
"With pleasure, Mr. President."
Fifty-thousand volts later the President was passed out on the floor of the Limo. Quickly, the president's aid injected him with a pale orange liquid.
"It was nice knowing you Mr. President."
Toasting to his own deadly success, Seamus downed his beverage and sat back to reflect on his work. Slowly a warming sensation grew in his in his sides, upper chest, groin, and head. Assuming the alcohol was just taking effect he poured himself another drink. The glass never made it to his lips.
Crashing to the floor Seamus flailed about the cabin in extreme pain. In a particularly severe spasm he hit his head on a metal fixture and lost all consciousness.
Within minutes every organ in his body was destroyed and the nano-probes were swimming to his lower chest to disintegrate in the stomach acids.
All human evidence was lost, dead.
The Home of the President
"Mrs. President, we must evacuate you; this is far more than just a terrorist act, other members of your Husband's council board have been turning up like your Husband's... I'm sure the resistance murdered your husband. If you would like I can have a ship ready for you within the hour."
Through tears the widow nodded, completing the conspiracy. As fast as the Emerald Nation had been born and come to power it was gone, destroyed by a faction that would plague the Emeralds. A few of the surviving Emerald empathizers escaped, seeking shelter they searched the stars.
"Sir, I've detected a powerful radio signal in the area. It seems to have stopped. I couldn't decode it."
As the newly appointed captain of this vessel, Raekar was astounded by its capabilities. Properly upgraded and outfitted, this machine was an awesome thing to command, or even behold.
Raekar Syagu had been a warrior of the Heraan house for over eighteen years, and had never seen defeat in his thirty-eight years of life. He was promoted to the rank of Danakzhae - essentially a spy with a warship - about seven years ago. At the moment, Raekar was seeking out an infamous Moashi battle group, nicknamed by the Heraani the "Fangs of the Pup."
Of course, no Heraani respects any Moash warrior, but that didn't hide the fact that the "Fangs" were doing considerable damage to the Heraani forces. System after system in Heraani space reported extensive damage to surface structures and heavy fleet losses. Some reports described several attacking ships, but others blurted that they'd seen hundreds of battleships. Many Heraani planets and settlements had begun building factories and arcologies underground to evade a possible devastating attack.
Raekar was sent out to find this fleet, and dispatch it. He'd been given a monumental task, but he'd also been given some of the finest and sexiest equipment that the Heraani ship builders had to offer. For one thing, the Thunderforge, christened the New Glory, had been outfitted with dual modified alluvial dampeners, reducing the time spent in hyperspace every jump from three days to one. The dampeners sucked shield energy, however, but the scientists had an answer for that as well, with several extra reactors placed on board. All the rest of the cargo space had been converted to fighter bays, making the New Glory's on board fleet as fearsome as an Auroran Carrier's. Several structural improvements had boosted the ship's performance in flight, and extra guns and turrets were mounted wherever they could fit. Not only would the Moashi not be able to outrun this ship, they would have a hard time out gunning it as well. Raekar simply had to follow the trail of destruction.
The Moashi had first hit Heraan Listening Post - "Arik," then moved on to Dominance, where it was reported that they had sustained heavy losses. It moved on to attack Heraan LP - "Heraan," and Lobos in the Sonete system. After that, the fleet had not been heard from for weeks.
Raekar assumed that the fleet had stopped at Auroran LP III, but clearly he had a strategic decision to make. Either the fleet would attack Heraan LP "Eyeya" or "Heron," the only two forks in the road. It was clear that the fleet would make an effort to take Heraan itself after weakening the outer defenses. Raekar had been passing in and around the Inci system, waiting for the next report of an attack. It came the next moment.
"Remember, everyone," Raekar announced to the bridge, "keep your eyes open on the news networks. We need every second we can get."
"Captain!" shouted Officer Traal, staring intently into a viewscreen, "This is it! They're attacking the listening post 'Heron!'"
"Excellent. Prepare the crew for hyperspace, and get us to Ivia on the double!"
It took four days to get to LP - "Heron," which meant the "Fangs" could've already arrived in Heraan Malo.
"Sir," announced the communications officer, "the Moashi fleet spent three days here dismantling the station. Apparently some scientists holed themselves up somewhere and are still broadcasting a message. If we leave now, we can catch the Moashi dogs before they can do any serious damage in Heraan Malo!"
"Good work, Officer Traal. Tomorrow will be the day the Moashi cry to their mothers." Raekar spoke into the ship comm. "Attention all personnel. We will be making a hyperspace jump into Heraan Malo. Prepare for Moashi resistance. Good luck, and may Kahl be with you all. We will show the Moashi dogs what we are made of!"
With that, Raekar left the bridge, and spent the day in hyperspace taking a long nap, in dreamless sleep.
Ever since the start of the Great War between the Federation and the mighty Auroran governments, the greatest of minds could not predict an outcome. Given the proper tactics or resources, either side could win. Both governments used all of their resources to succeed, beginning in around the year 1175 NC.
The Bureau of Internal Investigations, the secret ruling organization of the Federation, began sending diplomats into Moashi space, and eventually the Bureau and the Moash House had a treaty arranged. The Bureau would be given access to Auroran space, and in return, after the Auroran government were to be dismantled, the Moashi would control all of Auroran space and the Heraani would be defeated.
In around the year 1180 NC, the Heraan House discovered the plot, and used evidence that the Moash were shirking from their duties at patrolling Auroran borders, to overthrow the Moashi House from its First House position. The Heraani dedicated the next decade to dismantling the Moash House, and stripping the planet Moash of its resources, crippling the House entirely.
In 1189 NC, the Heraan House called the other houses together to finally join as one battle group and put an end to the Federation. Within one fierce year, every Federation Spacedock was dismantled or destroyed, and the Sol system was about to be taken over by an overwhelming Auroran fleet. During the battle, when the Federation had nearly lost hope, an unimaginably large Vell-os fleet arrived from deep space to aid the Federation forces. The Vell-os had been freed years before, and had left to seek solitude. They had not been seen in Known Space for over eight years, during which time they had multiplied and thrived. The Aurorans were overwhelmed themselves, and retreated. During the following years, Federation space was able to reassemble their society from the ashes under the protection of the Vell-os.
Soon after the Retreat from Sol, the other houses began to rise up in defense of the Moash House, declaring that it was the Heraani who were traitors, and that they were the ones who had been saving their ships by keeping them from border patrol. The real truth is that the expert Heraani scientists had designed their warships so cleverly that Heraan ships nearly always won battles and skirmishes. With the emergence of the Thunderforge, the Heraan superiority in ship design came into sharp relief.
The other houses declared war on the Heraani House in 1191 NC, but none of the houses would join forces with any other house, and the Heraani easily kept all their weakened forces at bay. This time of disruption between every house was the Shard War, which lasted over 40 years. The Heraani managed to maintain their defenses, but occasionally, special forces had to be called upon.
Raekar awoke to his alarm, set for an hour before the jump was over. He pulled on his outer garments, washed his face, and brushed his teeth. Nothing was worse than bad hygiene in the midst of a battle.
He arrived in the bridge, and took his seat.
"How much longer?" he asked to no one in particular.
"Just another fifteen minutes, sir," answered Officer Szidal.
"Hm. Good. The crew is awake and ready?"
"And the fighters?"
Szidel hesitated, checking a monitor. "The pilots are ready in their ships."
The next few minutes passed uneventfully, as tension mounted. No one aboard the New Glory knew quite what to expect.
No one expected nothing.
The New Glory emerged from the realm of hyperspace to a starry void, a blazing star, a peaceful planet, and a perfectly intact space station.
"This isn't right," mumbled the captain.
"Sir! I am picking up hostile ships! They are 70 kilometres behind us, and closing fast!"
"How many? What are they?" Raekar reacted.
"Just more than a dozen, sir. Carriers and Cruisers. It must be the 'Fangs!' 65 kilometres."
"Right." Raekar began making his orders. The mighty Thunderforge whirled around to face its adversaries. He saw them. Faintly, at first, but they were there. Exactly thirteen of them. Five Carriers, eight Cruisers.
Fenro, like most of those on board, had been waiting for an impact that never came. He and the rest of the engineering crew waited for four minutes before anything happened. The thing that happened was the afterburner. Millions of extra watts of raw energy flooding the engine, doubling the speed of the ship, is something anyone will notice. The engineers repeatedly tapped at their consoles to control the rapidly heating engine.
Fenro kept waiting, braced for the impact that was sure to come. How could they not hit this ship? A dozen enemies, one big target. Where in Kahl's name was the damn impact?!
"How many more missiles do we have?"
"Over 150, sir."
Raekar smiled. "Fire them all off. Don't let the railguns let up. Keep restocking the fighters."
Fenro sighed. He could feel that he had failed. The Moashi would surely frown upon him, if they ever even looked at him again. His brothers would all hate him, and he would be cast out of Moash society. He had told the Moash Victory Fleet where to find their pursuers, and now they were being crushed.
He began to wonder what he could do with the rest of his life. It wouldn't be long before he was found out. This wasn't fair. He was supposed to die in battle, in glory, not live in shame. Surely his House would send him away, if he ever made it back, and he couldn't just join another house. He had only one clear choice, but he didn't like it.
The battle raged on for another hour, the New Glory targeting and destroying ship after ship, while dodging the flood of enemy fire with superior agility. Eventually, the few Cruisers left made for their escape. The New Glory made another kill during the retreat, but the other two escaped.
"Let them spread the fear of Heraan through the hearts of their comrades," muttered the Danakzhae captain.
Everyone on the bridge, everyone on the ship, heaved a sigh of relief.
"Excellent work, everyone," Raekar praised. "We have saved Heraan. Congratulations."
"Status report, sir," Officer Szidal interrupted. "Shields at 71%, armor is 100% intact."
"Two Phoenixes and three Firebirds were lost in battle."
"May glory be upon them."
"We had only one onboard casualty, sir."
"Oh?" This caught Raekar's attention.
"A Fenro Grunn, from engineering. He was found dead, holding a blaster, shot through the head. Suicide."
"Are you sure?"
"There were no witnesses."
The New Glory had proven its worth, and Raekar "Hurricane" Syagu awaited a promotion as he took the ship home.
"Many tears were shed. Tears that would have filled oceans, more vast, and expansive than those of our Mutta-world. We were few, and while our materiel was superior to that of the Diabloostrem, they were as countless as the stars in the waters above.
The betrayal had become a war, which had become a siege, which had become a fight for our very survival. A blockade had been erected about our system. We were trapped, penned in, and with every day that passed, the picket moved closer. We estimated that we had as little as two standard weeks before the Diabloostrem would be in orbit. Two weeks. Two weeks until our walls would crumble and our foundations become as quicksand. Two weeks. If we did nothing, we would die. If we fought, we would be wiped from the memory of the universe. If we ran we would be shot in the back as we fled. We came to the conclusion that we could not live, they wanted us dead. We came to the conclusion that our only way out, was to give them what they most desired.
In the end, it was very nearly a poem that we carved on the face of the galaxy. With the Diabloostrem as close to us as a shadow to its light, we drew our people together. We gathered them from the Ten Places of our world, and brought them to our cradle; to our crucible; to our sadness. To our hope.
We disappeared behind an annihilation veil of our own making. As our oceans sublimed and our lands evaporated, we passed from one to another. The cradle carried us. The crucible scolded us. Our sadness consumed us. And our hope? Our hope hung, torn and beaten and bleeding, like a thing that was slain. But it would be reborn, in Others.
Many tears will be shed. Tears that will fill many more oceans to come. But hold fast to this; hope. Hope in all its grace. Hope in all its mercy. Hope in those Others to come. Hope."
Detective Story Preamble
Mick watched Jim, his partner, head down the wide staircase to the mall's lower level. Soon Jim was engaged in conversation with the informant, detailing what to do if something went wrong. In a minute they'd both escort the informant to their ship and get him to safety. Then Mick noticed something strange. A guy sitting at a table across the way was staring at him. This wasn't just a normal "maybe I recognize that guy" type stare, but something else. But before he could decide, the guy looked back to his food. A quick burst of static over his earpiece returned his attention to his partner. He tried to call Jim over the encrypted com channel, and heard nothing... Well, not quite nothing he realized, but the kind of nothing you hear when someone forgets to take their thumb off the send button on an older model com device. Of course that wouldn't affect his and Jim's com channel, their earpieces could send and receive at the same time... Something was wrong here, he didn't know what, or even know how he knew, but something was wrong. Mick fell back on his training, he glanced down towards his partner. Jim and the informant were on their way back up, almost to the stairs. Nothing wrong there. He looked over to the guy at the table. The guy was starting to stand up, but nothing seemed wrong there either, he was just crumpling his trash getting ready to throw it away. Suddenly he saw a brief flash out of the corner of his eye, something on the next level up had caught the sunlight just right. He instinctively looked and saw someone in the shadows leveling a blaster rifle.... where... at Jim and the informant. He tried the com channel again, still nothing. So he did the only thing he could do. He stood and yelled "Jim, get to cover!"
Someone to his left let out a scared yell, "Look out, he's got a gun!" Jim pushed the informant out of the line of fire and shot back at the gunman. Each time one of them fired it made the distinctive electric snap of a blaster firing, followed by a tiny thunderclap as the bolt hit a solid object and burst. Then a much louder, closer snap and thunderclap occurred to his left. The guy who had been at the table was shooting at him! Mick dove behind a condiments bar, dodging the next shots. In an instant Mick had drawn his own blaster. Odd, there weren't sounds of gunfire anymore. He chanced a look over to Jim. His partner was lying crumpled on the ground, his gun had fallen from his hand. The informant was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he got away in the chaos. Mick decided he had to get out of there, had to warn somebody about this attack. He moved to the end of the island, and with a smooth motion he stepped out, saw his target, and fired. His gun snapped twice and the man fell back into a table, with two direct hits to his chest.
Mick broke into a run toward the closest emergency exit he could remember. He slammed through the red doors not even bothering to slow down. Ouch, bad idea, he thought as the fire alarm began to blare. But he quickly put the pain in the back of his mind. Having people shoot at you can sure give you a strange sense of perspective, he thought to himself. Mick took in his surroundings again. He was outside the mall, on one of its walls. There was a surface street full of traffic in front of him. The only thing to his left was a wide open parking lot, not an option, too wide open, he thought. He glanced to his right. Past the end of the large block was a neighborhood that would work well enough. Just as he started to head in that direction another shrill alarm sounded. Several hundred feet away the man from the lunch table, who he'd gotten two kill shots on, and the man with the blaster rifle emerged from another set of emergency exit doors. They were both looking towards the neighborhood. Mick knew he should have gotten out of there, but for some reason he froze. The lunch table guy must have been wearing a protective vest. The guy looked around, and his eyes locked with Mick's for the second time in as many minutes.
"Over there!" shouted the lunch table guy to his partner. Mick saw that the street traffic had stopped, and the traffic signal had just turned green. He quickly ran across the surface street, in front of the stopped cars. Just as he got to the other side his attackers' route was blocked off by the high speed vehicles. It would be a couple of minutes before they could follow after him. He ran away from the street, only slowing to a walk once it was out of sight. He looked around and realized he was in an old run-down factory section, and that luckily he was heading towards the spaceport and his ship. Finally he had a little time to think. Someone had been after the informant, well he already knew that. But someone wanted to kill that guy enough to pull a stunt like this out in the open. What about Jim? Well, he was obviously hit. Could he be okay? No. If they cared enough to keep coming after me there's no way they didn't finish him off first Mick thought. What about the com channel? What happened there?
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud clatter, mixed with a startled cats scream. They'd found him. But how? He ran and took a hard right, out of the alley he'd been in. There was no way they could have seen where he had gone after he had gotten away from that busy street. Are they tracking me somehow? he thought. The com channel! They had to be tracking his com signal. By realizing that bit of information, he knew he had them. The hunters become the hunted, he thought, followed quickly by, wow, that was cheesy... Mick jogged down the small back street until he found what he was looking for: a dead end alleyway. He pulled out his computer pad, switched off his earpiece, and closed the private com channel. He was right, it wasn't long before the lunch table guy came walking past the dead end alley, gun in hand, looking straight down the back street, and not where the danger really was. Mick was on one knee waiting. When the man walked past he opened fire. Three snaps and thunderclaps later the man was dead against the far wall, with two ugly blaster burns along his side, and one to the head.
Damn, Mick thought as the sound of his shots echoed down the small enclosed streets, the other guy is sure to have heard that. Sure enough just a few seconds later Mick heard footsteps. "Hey, Tim? Did you see him? Oh... damn!" called out the second guy. He was still a few yards off to the left, and not yet in view from Mick's alleyway. The footsteps started up again, slowly coming closer. Mick readied his blaster again and waited. Nothing happened. Then suddenly the rifle guy made a smooth step into view. Mick opened fire, and caught the guy square in the chest, but the man quickly replied with two shots of his own. Mick felt the first bolt graze his side, he could feel the small bit of plasma burn his skin. The second shot caught him on his already bruised shoulder, vaporizing a section of skin, bone, and muscle. As Mick fell onto his back in agony he fired off a second blind shot: his last act of defiance.
Mick's mind was frantic, clouded with pain and fear. The second man must have had a protective vest on as well. It didn't matter anyway, he thought, that second shot must have gone a mile over the guy's head. He drew in his breath, bracing for the inevitable next shot, hoping it would all be over quickly. And then he released his breath. Where was the the next shot? He opened his eyes, expecting to see the gunman standing above him, waiting to make his extremely final point. All he saw was blue sky. So he rolled to his unhurt side, looked back down the alley for his attacker, and found him. The man was lying on the ground, in a heap. Mick forced himself to crawl over to the attacker, and saw to his surprise that the man was dead. That second shot had gone high after all, but instead of making a hole in the sky it made one right in the man's face.
Mick fell back to his side and let out a laugh and a painful groan at the same time. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his computer pad. He tapped a few buttons and reactivated his com channels. Then he pressed the small symbol off to the side that activated his specially coded emergency beacon. Hopefully another agent would find him before death did.
David and Timothy were used to working on their own. When they were first approached for the job they were very uneasy. A whole list of questions immediately sprung up: Who knew how experienced or inexperienced this third person would be? Would they need protecting? Would they be able to work quickly as a team with this third person? When their employer told them that the person would simply be there to help oversee the operation, and that he wouldn't even be helping out with the actual deed they were relieved and accepted the offer at once. The promise of double the usual pay didn't hurt either.
A few days later the operation was set up. Their job was, with the help of their contact, to track two agents from the Zeus & Apollo Private Investigation Firm to an informant that needed to be silenced. The death of the private investigators was also recommended but optional. Their contact would be in orbit, supposedly running atmospheric test, but in reality he'd be tracking the agents. Apparently he had some sort of inside info on the private encrypted com channel they planned to use. By tracking the PI's they could find the informant. David and Timothy were waiting at the spaceport for the PI's arrival.
"Hey Tim, the boss just called in. The two PI's just fired up their private com channel. He's tracking them now. They're heading south, along the surface streets." David said to Timothy over their own private com channel. David was the older of the two brothers, and thus he was nearly always the one in charge. While their contact skewed that a bit this time, his brother Timothy still took orders from him."Finally. Let's go." came the reply.
Fifteen minutes later the two PI's arrived at the Griffin Shopping Center, about twelve miles from the spaceport. The two "specialists" as they sometimes referred to themselves were only a couple of minutes behind. David stopped to listen to his earpiece.
"Yeah, roger that, we'll get into position." he said to the contact in the sky.
"Okay, they're inside," David called to his brother. "According to the boss, they're at a food court on the second level. I want you to head to the food court, and find them. I'll head up to the 3rd level and look out up there."
"Gotchya. I'm on my way now," Timothy called back over the com channel.
The brothers had done their homework, of course, on the surrounding area based on the information their contact had given them. This mall was one of the most likely places that they predicted the PI's and their target would meet. The mall was located at the end of a commercial zone, in a part of the city that had seen better days. The city slowly improved as it moved to the north, and to the spaceport. An abandoned factory district bordered the mall to its north, just across a busy high speed surface street. To the east, west, and south was a large neighborhood. They saw that the interior of the mall wasn't all that bad. The surrounding neighborhood was apparently fairly well-off, and thus so was the mall.
Timothy made his way to the food court. He bought a cheap burger combo and sat at a table that overlooked the lower level.
"I'm in position. So where are they?" he called over the three way com link.
The reply came from the contact above a few seconds later. "I see them, they're looking down at the lower level, I'd guess they'll meet down there. How you doing Dave?" asked Timothy.
"I'm in position now. I don't have a good view of them, but I have a great view of the lower level. I guess keeping track of them on that second level is your job."
"I've got in handled, big bro." Timothy assured him.
After about ten minutes, Timothy noticed something. "Okay guys," he reported, "the older one just headed off down the stairs. But just before that he pointed towards that clothing shop on the first level. I think I see the guy we're after."
"Yeah, I see the informant. Bad news if they split up. Tim when I open fire you'll have to take out the one your level. I'll take the other two... hold on a second. Ok, the boss says he's started jamming their com. I'll give the signal to move, we need to make sure we've got the right guy, and that we don't give them any time to react." David replied.
Timothy didn't know if it was the jammed com channel that alerted the PI he was watching or the fact that he might have been caught staring just a bit too long. Either way when the PI started to look worriedly around the area Timothy knew from experience that he should remove himself from the PI's mind as a potential threat. And he knew just how to do it.
"Hey Dave," Tim called, "the guy up here is getting antsy, I think he might have spotted me watching him. I'm going to move off a bit. I've got to throw away my lunch anyhow."
"Roger that, but stay close. I'll be making my shot in about a minute, maybe less."
David had taken out and assembled his "blaster rifle" a few minutes before. He now proceeded to aim at the target and the PI next to him. He never even saw the reflection the thin shaft of sunlight caused as he moved his weapon into position. But someone else did.
"Dave. Dave. I don't know what you did but the guy down here just looked straight at you. We've got to do it now!" said Timothy in a half yell over the com channel.
"Roger, take your guy out, I'll get these two," came his brother's hurried reply.
Just as Timothy started to drop his trash and pull his gun the PI across the way yelled down at his partner "Jim! Get to cover!" Timothy heard the shots being exchanged by his brother and the agent on the floor below as he aimed his blaster at his target. A woman to his right must have seen his weapon in the instant before he fired. She yelled, "Look out, he's got a gun!" That yell startled Timothy just enough to make his first shot to go low and into the table instead of the man's chest. His second shot also missed as the PI dived behind a condiments bar. He cursed and keyed his mic.
"Dave, I missed my guy, but I've got him pinned behind this wooden island thingy. I'll stay here and get him if he tries to go anywhere. Can you get him from above?"
"Let me check. No, there's an overhang right above that area, I can't see him. I got the other one, but I had to duck as he shot back at me. I lost track of our target in the crowds.
"Ok, I'll wait him out, he's not going anywhere. You might as well come down here and come up behind him just in case he stays back there."
"Roger, I'm moving now." David called back.
Timothy stood only a few yards away with his blaster pointed at the wooden structure his target hid behind. He was confident he'd be the victor, if only the wimp would stop hiding. The PI did, in fact, stop hiding, proving Timothy wrong. With a smooth movement, the agent moved away from his cover, and fired off two bolts, hitting Timothy right in the center of his chest. Timothy fell backwards into a table, not out of pain, but because of the heat and thunder-like sound of the bolts as they struck his protective vest. He didn't remember making any sound but he must have grunted something as his partner called over the com a second later.
"Tim! What happened? Are you all right? Tim!" came David's voice over the tiny speaker, clearly worried.
p"Relax, I'm fine," Tim called back as he took off his smoldering vest. "I just hit my head on this table. The guy managed to get a shot off at me, but he hit the vest, no harm done. Now what do we do?"
"The boss is tracking the guy, he 's heading for the North side of the building. He wants us to follow and kill him. There's a fire exit down the way on the level below where you are. We'll meet there and then make our next move."
"Roger that, Timothy called back, then muttered, "I never did like those stupid vests, maybe I should change my mind." He tossed the vest to the ground. Even though it had saved him it was badly damaged, and would only be a hinderance in its current shape.
A couple of minutes later the two emerged outside the mall.
They both looked around, but Timothy spotted their target first, off to the left.
"Over there!" he shouted. Both men readied their blasters, but before they could fire, the PI dashed into the street. He weaved his way among the stopped vehicles and was soon on the other side. Just as the two brothers got to the street, the traffic signal changed colors, and in a moment they were cut off from their target by a double wall of moving cars.
"Now what?" asked Timothy, to nobody in particular.
"Now we wait for the traffic to stop and follow him," David replied. "The boss is still tracking his com signal so he won't get far."
Two minutes later the two men had crossed the street and, with the help of their contact in orbit, they were able to catch up to their new target. The informant was at this point considered a lost cause. If they could kill the second PI perhaps nobody would realize that there was hole in their security. They were getting closer and closer every minute. Just as the PI came back into view Timothy tripped over a trash can, sending the metal lid, and a cat, flying. Their prey broke back into a run and was out of sight again.
"You idiot! We should have had him right here!" David yelled at his brother.
"Sorry," Timothy replied with shame and anger in his voice.
"Wait... Okay, the boss says that the guy took a right at the end of this alley, and was heading down the long back street when his signal disappeared. If we hurry we should be able to see him."
The two dashed to the back street, and were greeted with an empty alley.
This time Timothy was the one to give the orders. "He must be hiding behind that trash container down there on the right. You stay here on the right and I'll move down on the left. If he comes into view, shoot him. Otherwise, I'll get him."
"Right," his brother replied as he kneeled, and leveled his blaster rifle at the dumpster.
Timothy walked quietly along the left side of street, his sight was trained on where the man was surely taking cover. As he walked past a dead end alley he failed to notice his target waiting for him on one knee, with his gun drawn and ready. The first shot hit Timothy on his side. The plasma vaporized a small section of his skin and had just started to eat at his ribs when it died out. A painful wound to be sure, but it would not have been fatal if he had been able to get to a medical facility. But that wasn't going to happen. An instant later another bright orange bolt slammed into his side. This one struck what was left of a rib and burst sending the hot plasma splashing onto his internal organs, incinerating them. While he was not yet dead the damage to his body was far too great repair, and even with the best treatment he would simply die a long, drawn out, and painful death. Fortunately as he fell towards the wall a third shot hit his head, and ended any chance of that suffering.
David saw the quick succession of shots hit. He yelled to his brother, but received no reply. He charged forward determined to take revenge for his brother but then realized that rushing around the corner would leave him in the same position his brother had been in. He stopped and aimed, hoping the agent would come around the corner. Time seemed to stand still. After an eternity, David slowly moved forward towards the alley where his brother's killer was. He clinched his teeth, stepped cleanly into view, and leveled his blaster. He was hit directly in the chest with a blaster bolt, just as he expected. His protective vest stopped the superheated plasma and prevented any real injury, though he could feel the searing heat of the bolt through the vest and on his face. He returned fire with two bolts of his own, both slightly off target. The first grazed the agent's side, and the second connected with the man's shoulder, sending the agent falling towards the ground. David never got to take any pride in his victory though. As the PI fell he managed to fire off a second blind shot. The agent had still been aiming at David's chest but the shock of the hit to his shoulder caused his shot to go high, and it hit David right in the face. He died instantly. He didn't even have time to scream.